Although there are some days when it seems that the internet is reporting every single wrestler has backstage heat on them, there are plenty of real incidents when a performer crossed a line and draws the ire of either authority figures or fellow wrestlers in the back.
Of course, a big part of the reason that you hear about wrestlers drawing heat backstage is because it’s seemingly so easy to get. Wrestlers have found themselves in trouble for everything from forgetting to greet certain in-ring veterans, to becoming angry when they found out someone has used their gym bag as a toilet. We all know that the world of professional wrestling can be a… different kind of place, but the list of written and unwritten infractions is simply astounding at times.
The only upside to this laundry list of rules is that the person that breaks them usually takes their punishment off-camera. As strange as pro wrestling may be at times, at least it’s a place where the majority of errors are handled through traditional business world means like sit-downs with superiors, a group apology, peer reviews and having to buy food for everyone on the road for a week until the blowback from “the incident” dies down.
But then, there are those other times. Occasionally, it is decided that the only punishment worthy of whatever crime was committed must occur on-air. It’s not often that a company decides to go this route – and not often that fans know the reasons behind what they are seeing – but when wrestlers are punished on-air for backstage mistakes, it’s almost always a memorable occurrence that will forever mark the performer’s career in the eyes of fans everywhere.
At least that’s the case with these 15 memorable on-screen punishments.
15 Serena Deeb
As the story goes, Serena Deeb received the opportunity to be in CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society simply because she was the only female performer willing to have her head shaved for the story. Unfortunately, she was a little less committed to the whole "straight edge" part of the angle. Deeb reportedly was warned by WWE officials to stop drinking so much in public while she was a member of the group, and even had to endure having CM Punk verbally berate her in the ring after Deeb was caught in a bar by “security cameras.” Deeb would later be released outright for her behavior.
14 Ric Flair
Although Ric Flair helped put WCW on the map in the company’s early days, you wouldn’t know it based on how they treated him in the late ‘90s. During this time, Ric Flair’s backstage heat with the powers that be (which included Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff and Vince Russo) led to him participating in a series of embarrassing angles all aimed to take perhaps the greatest professional wrestler of all time down a peg. The “highlights” of this period would have to be the time Ric Flair got buried alive in the desert or the Nitro where he lost a match to Vince Russo and had his hair cut off.
13 Terry Taylor
When Terry Taylor joined WWE in 1988, many felt that the company had just acquired the next big thing. Taylor was young, talented, good-looking and could even cut a decent promo. Unfortunately for Taylor, he was also a world-class heat magnet. Apparently Taylor was fond on the telling WWE executives about other wrestler’s bad behavior, which earned him a reputation for being a rat. Since nobody likes a rat, WWE decided to assign Taylor the gimmick of a man who behaved like a rooster. The Red Rooster would quickly fade into obscurity, and essentially end Taylor’s ride to the top in the process.
12 Paul London
While wrestling history is filled with incidents of performers getting knocked down the card due to backstage incidents, few are more bizarre than the story of Paul London’s fall from WWE grace. As part of the now infamous angle that saw Vince McMahon lose control of his company and get blown up in a limousine, McMahon took one last walk through the back where wrestlers lined the halls. One of these wrestlers was Paul London. Since London had no idea what this angle was about, he decided to smile his goofiest smile as Vince walked past him. Vince became furious at London’s antics and decided to have him spend the rest of his short WWE career losing a series of embarrassing matches.
11 Perry Saturn
While veterans hazing young performers in the ring is something of a well-honed wrestling tradition, Perry Saturn took the concept a little too far when he took on Mike Bell in 2000. After Bell had ruined a couple of simple moves and endangered Saturn in the process, Saturn proceeded to go off on the young wrestler with a series of painful strikes and head drops. His punishment for this incident was an immediate gimmick change that saw him become infatuated with a mop he called “Moppy.” This embarrassing angle would conclude shortly thereafter, but the damage to Saturn’s reputation had been done.
10 The Ultimate Warrior
While WWE may have recently found peace with The Ultimate Warrior – and have even named a Hall of Fame award after the man – there was a time when the relationship wasn’t so rosy. Warrior may have made WWE boatloads of money, but he also drew quite a bit of backstage heat during his tenures with the company. As punishment for his various political crimes, WWE put out an Ultimate Warrior DVD in 2005 that completely shamed the Warrior’s career. The DVD will likely never be spoken of again by WWE, but stands as one of the most complete teardowns of a performer they’ve ever produced.
9 Triple H
When Triple H joined his good friends Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Shawn Michaels in a group hug at a house show in Madison Square Garden, he probably thought that he was creating a simple moment the group would be able to remember forever. Instead, it would turn out he was just setting himself up for a few months of hanging out at the bottom of the card. As punishment for breaking his character during the MSG farewell, HHH lost his opportunity to win that year’s King of the Ring tournament, and instead was forced to spend the next few months trading wins with some of WWE’s smallest and dullest stars.
8 Owen Hart
When Bret Hart left WWE in 1997, it was reported that Owen had also received an offer to come along with him to WCW. Owen wasn't released from his contract and had to remain in WWE. Unfortunately for Owen, it turns out that WWE’s only plans for him involved humiliation. As punishment for Bret’s departure and Owen speaking out against WWE’s raunchy content, Owen would spend the rest of his WWE career being referred to as a “nugget” and playing the uber-righteous Blue Blazer who also doubled as a parody of WCW’s biggest stars.
7 Bret Hart
Even though Bret Hart had been a loyal soldier and world-class worker for WWE during his initial 12-year run with the company, none of that seemed to matter when Bret decided to leave WWE in 1997. Bret did not want to lose the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels in Canada and tried to talk Vince into merely letting him surrender the belt instead the next night. Vince was already on rocky terms with Bret at this time and was furious that Hart would not drop the belt as instructed. Hart’s on-air punishment would turn out to be the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” which forced Bret to lose the match without his knowledge or consent, despite having creative control in his contract.
6 Jim Ross
Although good old Jim Ross is beloved by wrestling fans and wrestlers the world over, the one person who never seemed to have any affection for the man is Vince McMahon. While the exact nature of their divide is still up for debate – many believe it has to do with their differences in business philosophy – it has led to many instances over the years of Vince mocking JR on the air. The most unforgivable of these instances may be the time Vince McMahon impersonated JR by mocking the announcer’s bell’s palsy disease. Whatever specific instance caused McMahon to take out his frustrations on JR in this way probably didn’t fit the punishment.
5 Lilian Garcia
When talking about Lilian Garcia being punished on-screen, it’s almost impossible to pick just one instance. Do you comment on the rumors that she was made to kiss Christy Hemme as a result of her conduct infractions during a WWE UK tour? Should the mention go to that time she accidentally announced Zach Ryder and proceeded to be berated by Michael Cole on-screen? Or is the best of them all the time that Triple H made promo references to her “horse-like” looks, and Jerry Lawler began to make horse noises from the announce booth. Whichever you go with, there are few performers who’ve received more on-screen punishments than Lilian has.
There are few performers that drew more heat than Sunny did as a WWE performer in the mid-90s. While certain backstage rumors like her relationship with Shawn Michaels remain unconfirmed, Sunny still drew ire from the workers in the back for her general attitude and reported inability to fit in with the backstage environment. According to wrestler Dennis Knight (Phineas Godwinn) her punishment came one night when Knight dumped a bucket of “slop” on Sunny’s head. Though the bucket was empty when Knight announced it would be used on Sunny, he later returned to find that many wrestlers made their own physical contributions to the mysterious substance.
3 Dusty Rhodes
Although making a lot of money is certainly not a crime in professional wrestling, it is nothing short of a backstage felony when you happen to be doing it for the competition. Dusty Rhodes learned this the hard way when he entered WWE in 1989 and was immediately thrust into an over the top “common man” gimmick. From his blue-collar, bathroom humor introduction vignettes to his famous polka dots ring gear, the entire gimmick was designed to humiliate Dusty Rhodes who had been a big draw for WWE’s rivals for years. Of course, in natural Dusty fashion, his personality still managed to make the awful gimmick memorable.
2 Road Warrior Hawk
WWE has never shied from using wrestler’s real life stories as part of on-screen stories but, on occasion, the company has refused to see there are some very obvious lines that should not be crossed. There are few better examples of this shortcoming than the case of Road Warrior Hawk. Hawk’s real-life drinking problem in the late ‘90s was earning him some heat backstage for his sloppy behavior. Rather than try to help Hawk, WWE decided to publicly shame him by having him participate in an angle where a supposedly drunken Hawk tried to commit suicide on-screen. Yes, that actually happened.
While many of the incidents on this list revolve around top officials punishing wrestlers, sometimes the wrestlers merely decide to dole out the punishment themselves. Such was the case when a drunk JBL cut a scathing promo at ECW One Night Stand 2005 and proceeded to legitimately cut open The Blue Meanie with some vicious punches. Meanie’s friend Stevie Richards decided JBL’s verbal punishment for this incident was not enough. Instead, he interfered in a match with JBL and The Blue Meanie just a few weeks later and decked JBL with one of the hardest unprotected chair shots in the history of wrestling.