Wrestling is a harsh business and too many times, a good guy gets screwed over. It’s the way of the game, everyone knows that and most try their best to handle it but often hit a hard block. In some cases, a firing can be understandable with someone breaking the rules and paying for it big time. It can be a guy holding out for too much money, making a huge fuss or being arrested outside the ring. Those reasons are all understandable. It’s harsh but that's how it is, the business is rough and if you don’t toe the line, you pay the price. Look at Alberto Del Rio, who may feel justified attacking a guy who made a racial slur, but fighting an employee of the company is a line that shouldn’t be crossed without consequence.
Wrestlers can be released very easily, as they are independent contractors on paper, rather than employees of the company. Many are only paid by appearances and many have to pay for their own travel expenses. The WWE today has power over a wrestler's future as well, as they can impose a no-compete clause for a while, preventing a wrestler from making money elsewhere for a while, even though it's what they do for a living. It's another harsh aspect of the business and a harsh aspect of being fired.
But sometimes, the firing is not justified by any means. Often, it’s due to backstage politics more than any real cause and comes at a terrible time for the guy himself. He (or she) has done nothing wrong by any means yet are given the pink slip and often when they’re at a low point. It’s harsh and brutal and often coming off quite petty and making the company itself look the worse off yet the nature of the beast means it happens a lot. This isn’t just someone laid off in a wave of firings or such but someone who was let go for no true cause or made the scapegoat for something.
Here are 15 wrestlers who were unfairly given the axe and showing off how brutal the wrestling business can be.
15 Steven Regal
Regal has been up front about his problems in the 1990s with addictions and drinking. However, by most accounts, his firing from WCW in 1998 had nothing to do with any of that but because he just did his job. The company was putting the push on Goldberg as the next big star, feeding him various jobbers in short matches but wanting to give him some depth. So Regal was put against Goldberg with orders to make it a competitive match.
The six minute bout was rough to say the least as Goldberg was obviously out of his depth and Regal hitting him with true stiff shots, clearly in control and while he lost, he had exposed the limitations of Goldberg as a worker. Regal defended himself on just doing what was expected but the fact he was given his termination notice almost immediately after this shows management wasn’t happy about their new superstar looking weak in any way. Sometimes doing your job gets you screwed no matter what.
14 Awesome Kong/Kharma
Among the bigger mistakes of TNA was hiring Bubba the Love Sponge up for backstage interview stuff despite how horrible he was. In early 2010, Bubba decided to put out a tweet trashing Haiti after the nation had suffered its devastating earthquake. Awesome Kong, who had been leading efforts to help those in the country, took exception and snapped at Bubba backstage. Things soon got out of hand as Kong laid Bubba out in what was called one of the most brutal beatdowns ever witnessed by veteran workers.
Kong was fired despite how many were backing her and Bubba bad-mouthing her constantly. She moved to WWE where her push as Kharma was ended by her real-life pregnancy and her return short before she was let go by the company. In both cases, a bad treatment of a good worker who stood up for what she believed in and paid a price that wasn’t called for.
Mixing romance and the business is almost never a smart move and often leads to some heartbreak. When Chyna broke out in the business with Triple H, the two had a good relationship going behind the scenes that grew as they each achieved fame. Chyna’s star would rise on her own in 2000 with a Playboy spread and other bits of fame while Hunter would move onto the storyline of him and Stephanie getting married.
However, in early 2001, Chyna finally uncovered that it wasn’t just a storyline but the two were really in a relationship together. She angrily went to Vince only to discover he’d known all along. Chyna left the office in tears with Vince telling her to go home and take some time…and when she arrived, her termination notice was already waiting there for her. An obvious victim of a political power play, it sent Joanie Laurer into the spiral she’d never recover from and a sign of why romance and wrestling often ends badly.
12 Davey Boy Smith
As 1998 went on, WCW’s once strong hold on the Monday Night War was gone as WWE was taking over. The New World Order was a bloated beast split in two with Davey Boy Smith of all people among their members. At Fall Brawl, War Games was turned into a baffling mess of various teams going at it with no real flow or storyline. During the fight, Smith took a back body drop that landed him right onto the trapdoor in the ring that was to provide an entrance for the Warrior.
None of the wrestlers had been told the door was there at all and thus Smith was unprepared, suffering a spinal infection that nearly left him paralyzed. While he was recovering, he got the notice that WCW had terminated him without even admitting to their own fault in his injury at all. It was a move made sadder by how it accelerated Smith’s untimely death and yet another terrible public move for WCW.
11 Wendi Richter
Long before Bret Hart, the original screwjob in WWE was on Richter. She had been rising high as the Women’s champion, sparking the division up and becoming just as hot in her own way as Hogan. Richter believed it, asking for a bigger raise from Vince who saw such a move as tantamount to treason. Not only did he get rid of Richter but he did it in wild style as she was to defend her title against masked journeywoman the Spider. However, the Spider looked rather familiar pulling out various moves before “pinning” Richter despite Richter clearly kicking out at two. She then unmasked to reveal herself as the Fabulous Moolah as a confused Richter tried to keep the match going, not realizing how she’d been double-crossed.
Richter left immediately with her pink slip soon following and showed that when Vince McMahon wants to fire you, he’ll tend to it with some style, no matter how much good you’ve done.
10 Sean Waltman
By his admission, Waltman was up to some antics in WCW which makes sense given the hard partying style of the New World Order dominating the company. But his actions were really not much worse than anything Hogan, Hall or Nash were doing and they were given passes. Yet Waltman was singled out as a cost-cutting measure by an over-confident Eric Bischoff who waited until Waltman was at home nursing a neck injury to Fed Ex his termination papers.
Waltman was pissed as hell and thus, as soon as he could, jumped to WWE to join with DX and launch himself as a major player, bad-mouthing Bischoff in his arrival promo. It was a sign of the cockiness that would lead to WCW’s downfall and how firing a guy when he was low was never a good move.
9 CM Punk
The relationship between Punk and WWE has always been fraught with tension and complications. This is, after all, the man who openly talked about how much the company sucked and trashed Vince, Triple H and most everyone else in charge on live television and just got cheered more for it. Punk was making noise about issues behind the scenes in 2013 leading up to his walking out on the company in early 2014, pushed a bit by the treatment of Daniel Bryan and other issues.
It’s that walkout that marks this a bit lower on the list as Punk was making it clear he wasn’t that interested in coming back as he was nursing several injuries. But still, that didn’t excuse how WWE sent his termination notice on the day of his wedding, a move that was totally mean-spirited by Vince, meant to hurt Punk more. It backfired, of course, pushing Punk’s popularity even higher and solidifying his turn to MMA and just a petty maneuver that put WWE in even more of a bad light.
8 Daniel Bryan
Much has been written about Bryan’s work in WWE but it’s remarkable how it almost ended before it began. Bryan was meant to be the leader of the Nexus when they debuted in 2010, taking part in the massive beat-down and destruction of the ring that got fans excited and talking big time. During the fight, Bryan was shown strangling a ring announcer with his tie, which fit into the story of the Nexus as wild rebels.
However, when a sponsor spoke out against it, WWE fired Bryan which shifted up the entire angle. It was a bad move as Bryan was just doing his best to act things out and the sudden dismissal was a hair-trigger response that harmed the angle. They would take Bryan back and he’d achieve his great success but Bryan is still annoyed that this happened and nearly set a good career back.
7 Bret Hart
Boy, WCW sure did enjoy using Fed Ex for pink slips. The bungling of Bret Hart remains one of the company’s biggest mistakes as they paid millions for one of the hottest stars in wrestling then basically gave him nothing to work with until it was too late. Bret endured slews of bad character turns, the death of his brother Owen, and a brief run as champion but nothing truly special. It built up at Starrcade ’99 when he took the bad kick from Goldberg that gave him a massive concussion, putting him on the shelf.
True, he hadn’t wrestled in a while and he wouldn’t for a long time but still, for WCW to give him a re-signing bonus in October of 2000 and then turn around and mail his termination letter was a bit much, especially given how they never openly admitted to any fault in the incident. After all Bret was put through, to be dismissed like that just hurt more and showcasing how badly WCW dropped the ball there.
6 Matt Hardy
Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. In 2005, Matt Hardy was recovering from injuries when he uncovered evidence that girlfriend Amy “Lita” Dumas was cheating on him with Edge. Needless to say, Matt didn’t take it well, snapping at them backstage and getting more and more angry and lashing out at both. Rather than understand the guy was in obvious pain, WWE instead gave Matt his walking papers.
That led to his famous online rants and a brief ROH stint as well as how crowds chanted his name and booing Edge and Lita like crazy. That reaction got WWE to bring Matt back for a big feud so it didn’t last long, but firing a guy who already got dumped by his girlfriend for a good friend is really cold even by Vince’s standards.
5 Steve Austin
It’s a firing that changed the course of wrestling forever. In the early ‘90s, Steve Austin was taking off nicely in WCW, holding the TV, U.S. and tag team titles, embraced by crowds as a hot heel and ready for bigger things. Reportedly, Flair liked Austin enough to suggest a series of bouts between them but before that could happen, Hogan came in and began shifting the company up. Austin was forced to lose the U.S. title in just 30 seconds to Hacksaw Jim Duggan of all people and came up short in rematches.
Suffering from a torn triceps, he was resting at home when he got a call from Eric Bischoff telling him he was being fired. He received a FedEx package shortly after. Naturally, that pissed Austin off, the fire he would take into ECW and then WWE as he remade himself into “Stone Cold” and set out to prove Bischoff wrong for his move. Bischoff may try to excuse himself but the fact remains that his own short-sighted firing led to the rise of the man who would help WWE crush WCW in the end.
4 Ric Flair
It’s a legendary story but deserves attention. In 1991, the struggling WCW basically begged Ric Flair to be World champion again with Flair doing some good booking for his reign. However, boss Jim Herd felt Flair was over the hill for the modern audience and wanted to change his image like cutting his hair and taking on the name “Spartacus.” Naturally, Flair did not like that one bit as the two would battle it out in various arguments with Flair naturally thinking he had the upper hand as surely Herd wouldn’t be stupid enough to fire the best guy in the company and world champion right before a major PPV, right? Wrong. Herd did let Flair go just days before the Great American Bash and that show ended up being a massive debacle because of it.
Flair immediately jumped ship with the WCW title belt on WWE television, instigating some lawsuits and ended up pushing Herd out of the company. It’s still one of the worst ideas imaginable and a key reason behind WCW’s slow but steady collapse.
3 Muhammad Hassan
It’s a classic case of things getting truly out of hand for WWE but much of it their own fault. Hassan’s entire gimmick of an angry Arab type had been prone to some bad stuff already but it got a bit worse on SmackDown as he was set in a feud with The Undertaker with some rough events going around. On an episode of SmackDown, Hassan attacked The Undertaker alongside a troop of masked men, an obvious terrorist gimmick. That would have been bad at any time but it was worse as the episode aired the same night as bombings in London.
Needless to say, the backlash from the mainstream media was huge and WWE reacted by firing Hassan who really had nothing to do with the angle itself. A shame as the guy had some talent but ended up the scapegoat for a bit that never should have aired in the first place and never recovered from it.
2 Jim Ross
Good ol' JR has had an up and down relationship with Vince McMahon over the years to say the least. He was let go from WWE in early 1994 just two weeks after suffering his first bout with Bells’ Palsy. When McMahon was put on trial by the feds, Ross took over as announcer for a time and did a good job. When Vince came back, he immediately fired Ross on the idea the guy had been leaking stuff to journalists but in reality because Vince felt having half his face paralyzed made Ross look too bad for commentary. It was a damn bad move, making Vince look like a true jerk and while Ross was brought back, he would publicly use the event as part of the infamous “fake Razor and Diesel” angle to make it more notable. They’ve cooled down today but the pain of that still affects Ross and not one of Vince’s best moments.
1 Jesse Sorensen
It’s one thing to be cold to a worker. It’s another to pull a move that makes Vince McMahon look like a saint. Jesse Sorensen was rising in 2012 as a talented performer for TNA, pushed in the X Division with great skill and drive and seemed ready to make a bigger jump. At Against All Odds 2012, Sorensen took a bad hit from Ion that shattered his vertebrae, putting him on the shelf for at least a year. It led to massive fan sympathy over him being injured so badly in his work and Dixie Carter openly stated that Sorensen “had a job for life” in TNA for that effort. It drove Sorensen to get through physical therapy, determined to make a comeback and a “new beginning” and surely when he returned, he would get a big push.
However, just as he was about to return in 2013, he was made part of the massive layoffs TNA was doing at that time to cut costs. Yes, the man promised a “job for life” after nearly killing himself for this company was fired just before he could make his return and it would turn out TNA didn’t even bother giving him any help for his medical bills. That is cold.