In the world of WWE, the word “disgrace” can mean a lot of things. There have been many “disgraces” over the years, depending on who you talk to. Disgrace for the powers that be in WWE and disgrace for the fans can have very different definitions. The way everyone sees it, for example, Owen Hart died a hero for all of us. Anyone who loves wrestling loves Hart—anyone who loves good wrestling would love watching him work. The way he died, though, and the subsequent handling of that situation, many view as a disgrace.
But we’re not here to talk about Hart. In WWE, the end of a career is not always the end. Many times wrestlers return to resurrect their careers; superstars leave and we think it’s the end, but then they make a triumphant return and suddenly all is well.
So, this article will look at some of those wrestlers. However, we won’t look at Superstars whose careers ended in “disgrace”, rather those whose careers ended in some sort of controversy. These controversies, the way WWE sees it, count for disgraces. But, in the somewhat judgmental eyes of us fans, these were careers that ended thanks to mistakes made by Vince and Co.
Honestly, many of these wrestlers brought it upon themselves. But, the phrase “never say never” is exemplified best with WWE. A good number of the people on this list made a return to the company, all having been talked over and forgiven, and all was well.
Others exited the company in acrimonious circumstances and never returned, even though we would all like to see them return for a SummerSlam match with John Cena or a WrestleMania match with the Undertaker.
For the award of most controversial exit from WWE, here are the nominees. Here are 15 wrestlers whose runs in WWE ended in controversy.
There wasn’t any controversy with his first exit from WWE as he was simply interested in pursuing an acting career.
Four years later, in 2014, Batista returned to win the Royal Rumble, much to the ire of the fans. This plus defiant calls for Daniel Bryan forced Batista to turn heel. Word has it that Batista was meant to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 30 from Randy Orton. That was the original scheduled main event anyway. However, with Daniel Bryan entering the fray and the consistent calls by fans for Bryan to be World Champion, Batista and Orton lost the triple threat main event to Bryan.
Batista left the company in June 2014 after what was reported as “creative differences”. Story-wise, it was because Triple H refused to give him a shot at the WWE title.
14 Alberto Del Rio
Some schmuck made a stupid and ill-advised joke about Mexicans and Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio angrily slapped him in retaliation. Most of us would do the very same thing. It is understandable how Del Rio acted. Bizarrely, WWE opted to fire Del Rio for the incident rather than the racist jerk. It is difficult to understand WWE’s reasoning for that dismissal. The company claimed it was because of Del Rio’s unruly behavior, but what about the other guy?
A lawsuit was in the works, and rightfully so. You get the feeling WWE did not want the embarrassment and bad PR the lawsuit would have caused, so they probably settled the case by agreeing to give Del Rio his job back.
13 Lex Luger
Lex Luger’s departure could be seen as one of the first really controversial exits in mid-90s WWE. He left WWE (WWF) for WCW. Granted, that was not such an anomaly at the time, but the manner in which he left stung WWE.
Luger had just been given a huge push in WWE as its resident super-patriotic superstar. Though he was no Bret Hart, Luger was a star in his own right and for a while, he was featured prominently on WWE shows.
His contract with WWE had just expired and the two parties were yet to agree on the details of a new one. It is incomprehensible that WWE let the situation get to this point, as Luger was technically a free agent. One night he wrestled for WWE and the very next night, he was on WCW Nitro.
WWE seemingly takes no prisoners when it comes to releasing talent.
Paul Levesque and Joanie Laurer were a couple in the late 1990s when the latter wrestled as Chyna. According to Chyna, Triple H cheated on her with Stephanie McMahon, with whom he was working a storyline.
In 2002, Chyna claimed she left WWE to pursue an acting career and Jim Ross expounded on that, saying that both parties had agreed to let her contract run down so she could be free to go her own way.
But, in 2001, Chyna said that the Triple H-Stephanie situation played a part in her departure. She even stated that she met with Vince, who sent her home. Not long after, she received a fax (at a restaurant, no less) telling her that she was not needed anymore.
11 Rick Rude
If you thought Lex Luger was bad, then what will you say of Rick Rude? Rick Rude was signed to WWE on a pay-per-view-only deal (much like Brock Lesnar today) as part of D Generation X. But, this was 1997. The Montreal Screwjob happened and Rude, as disgusted as anyone, opted to walk out on WWE (considering he didn’t have an actual binding contract).
When he left WWE, he joined WCW and made an appearance live on Monday Nitro, where he talked ill of Shawn Michaels and WWE as a whole. Later still, a previously taped future episode of Raw aired and it featured Rick Rude.
10 Brock Lesnar
Everyone knows how Brock Lesnar feels about a full-time WWE job. The traveling, among other things, is not for him. This has always been the case. He debuted in 2002 and not long after, became WWE Champion. Not long after that, he was in the main event of WrestleMania. But that would prove to be it for Brock (at least until 2012).
He had made a lot of money in that very short time and he didn’t see a reason to stay as he was not happy. News of his departure ruined his WrestleMania XX showdown, as his opponent, Goldberg, was also on his way out. WWE was so concerned that they went the legal route to ensure Brock couldn’t wrestle for anyone but WWE ever again. Lesnar of course, sued WWE and went to Japan to wrestle, but the two sides have since made amends.
9 Jeff Hardy
In another life, we are talking about Jeff Hardy the multiple time WWE Champion and singles wrestling legend. Jeff Hardy would tell you he left WWE because he was burnt out and needed to recuperate.
WWE will tell you that Jeff was fired because of his constant drug use and refusal to go to rehab, his unbecoming behavior, his failure to show up at WWE events, and his lagging performance in the ring. It seems they had to cut their losses.
The one thing we remember about Madusa (Alundra Blayze) is her tossing the WWE Women’s Championship belt into the trash on WCW TV. The word “controversy” has never been better embodied. As a result of that stunt, Madusa was blacklisted by WWE.
Her exit was not so much controversial as it was unfortunate. WWE was experiencing financial troubles at the time. As a move to cut costs, some people needed to be laid off. Unfortunately, Madusa was one of them. She was released from her contract and stripped of her title as Women’s Champion. The exit was unfortunate. There were others on the roster WWE could have gotten rid of rather than Madusa. The controversy came about when she threw the belt into the trash can on an episode of Nitro. Of course, today, she is a Hall of Famer (as Alundra Blayze, though).
7 Stone Cold Steve Austin
When you are the man WWE is built around, you will naturally develop a sort of arrogance. It is human nature. You are used to a certain standard and you will refuse to go any lower. Stone Cold Steve Austin was no different. He was the man in WWE for a long time. However, the time came for him to begin winding down his career. This meant, obviously, that he couldn’t stay at the top of the company (at least not full time).
Vince McMahon met with Steve and told him that the company would take a new direction.
That, and the fact that a “money” match between Stone Cold and Brock Lesnar was to take place on TV rather than pay-per-view, only fueled Austin’s frustrations. He literally walked out on the company, in what was perhaps the most shocking departure of all time.
6 Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
WrestleMania III was huge for Ricky Steamboat. He beat Randy Savage in an amazing match for the Intercontinental Championship. Three months later, when he requested some time off to spend with his pregnant wife, WWE had him drop the title to the Honky Tonk Man. His career then began to take a downward spiral after his return.
WrestleMania IV then came around and he was entered in the WWE Championship tournament. Unfortunately, he exited in the first round and subsequently left WWE.
5 The Ultimate Warrior
Today, we remember him with his Hall of Fame position and the Warrior Award. But Ultimate Warrior has not always been someone WWE could be proud of.
Let’s go back to 1991 when Ultimate Warrior wrote Vince McMahon a letter in which he requested various new things in his contract, such as a compensation of $550,000 from WrestleMania VII. He stated that the $550,000 was the least he should make considering his contributions to the event, and threatened not to show up at SummerSlam if his demands were not met.
WWE agreed to the monetary request and even told Warrior that no one would earn more money than him for pay-per-view events. But, after SummerSlam in 1991, Warrior received a letter from Vince telling him that because of the ultimatum, he was suspended. The reason Vince agreed to the request in the first place was so that Warrior could perform at SummerSlam.
But Warrior would have none of it. He refused to accept the suspension and thereby handed in a letter of resignation.
4 Macho Man Randy Savage
You will have to conduct quite a bit of research (and not on the internet) to find out the real story behind Macho Man’s beef with Vince McMahon. We will probably never know. Today, Randy Savage is a WWE Hall of Famer with legendary status attached to his name. But, it hasn’t always been like that.
In 1994, Savage was working commentary rather than wrestling. Many say this irked him. It seemed a punishment for something. Apparently, he had given his word to Vince that he would sign a contract extension and stay with WWE rather than make the move to WCW. However, Macho Man went back on that word and joined WCW anyway. On top of that, there was a steroids scandal surrounding WWE and as a result of that, the company lost many sponsors, including Slim Jim, of which Randy was the poster boy. By going to WCW, Randy Savage took the Slim Jim sponsorship with him and Vince was irate.
That is the story.
3 CM Punk
By now probably all wrestling fans know about CM Punk’s story. He was frustrated with the way WWE was handling business and talent. According to Punk, he had been mistreated for some time by being asked to compete when he was clearly not fit, among other things. All he wanted was change and the only way he could get it was to leave. Punk even said that he thought WWE made those changes after he left only to spite him.
WWE was clearly stung by Punk’s exit. They don’t even mention his name on TV—he is getting the Christ Benoit treatment. Yet, it is worth remembering WWE delayed sending him his termination letter until his wedding day; perhaps as a cruel joke.
2 Bret Hart
This was the night Vince McMahon turned from commentator to the big boss (on-screen). It was the night when all the attention would be taken from WCW and brought to WWE, a company that was floundering.
Bret, seeing the very possible demise of WWE on the horizon, opted to leave for WCW. But he was the WWE Champion. And, he was not about to drop his title to a man he had legitimate beef with in Shawn Michaels. This meant that, in Bret’s final match at the time, Vince had to resort to drastic measures to ensure the belt remained in WWE.
So Shawn Michaels went ahead and put Bret in the Sharpshooter. Bret did not tap out but Vince had already come down to the ring and demanded the referee ring the bell. That concluded the match and Shawn was the new WWE Champion.
Bret was disgusted, as was everyone else, and he left the company in the most acrimonious circumstances in wrestling history.
1 Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan has had several WWE departures. His first one in 1992, stemmed from a steroid scandal surrounding the WWE. After denying allegations that he took steroids, Hogan took a leave of absence from the company. He briefly returned in 1993 and after winning his fifth WWE Championship, he would leave after jobbing to Yokozuna at King of the Ring. This was after refusing to drop the title to Bret Hart as was the plan.
His latest WWE run though, is what makes the list. While the WWE didn't mind bringing Hogan back despite a sex tape of his being out there, they did mind when racist comments from that tape were leaked. Once the news leaked, Hogan was released from his contract. It is unknown whether WWE will ever welcome him back, but you'd suspect they will, given they've welcomed back so many others.