Wrestling means entertainment for the fans – fans who tune in to see action and great athletic feats performed in the ring. Fun is great and all, but you’ve also got to remember that wrestling is a business, a lucrative, cutthroat money-driven business, and business is a war and sometime in war you get burned. No matter how good a wrestler seems to be --he/she might have all the skills, the looks, the charm, charisma and wrestling prowess -- if something happens backstage, such as disagreements or backroom brawls (it's happened before) between the wrestlers and the bosses, no amount of butt-kissing can save a wrestler from an unscrupulous firing.
It’s often said that all you need in order to make it big in WWE and wrestling in general is talent, work ethic and luck, but for these sorry athletes, luck seemed to have deserted them when they needed it the most. Get on the wrong side of Vince McMahon and his cronies and you might as well start packing your bags. Piss off some big shot executive or other and wave goodbye to your wrestling career with that company. It may seem unjust, but that’s just how the business of wrestling works.
Here are 15 instances where careers were destroyed by backstage politics.
16 Shane Douglas
Douglas did actually enjoy quite a successful career before it was cut short by Vince McMahon. He was credited for being the face of the ECW and helped paved the way for the many athletes who followed in his footsteps. Having held a dozen championships across all the major wrestling promotions, you may be wondering why Douglas is on this list. He’s on it because his career in WWE was ruined by Shawn Michaels and The Kliq, consisting of Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Triple H, and X-Pac.
In 1995, Douglas embarked on his second stint with WWE, this time returning as the first former ECW World Heavyweight Champion on the main roster. But for some reason or other, he fell on the wrong side of Michaels and The Kliq, and they relayed a lot of bad stuff about him – true or not, we’ll never know – to Vince McMahon. Vince loved The Kliq at the time and trusted their every word. So when they tried to get Douglas fired, he was inevitably given the boot, left wondering what the hell had happened and what could have been in a career with WWE. The whole drama was nothing more than childish playground stuff really.
15 The Nexus
The Nexus – a stable consisting of eight rookies from the WWE NXT TV series, would definitely feel that they were unjustly treated. They stormed onto the scene and really took their opportunity in a memorable debut during which they launched a fierce attack on Cena, Punk, Luke Gallows and the every bystander at ringside, a debut which culminated in them tearing apart the ring, dismantling everything in their wake. John Cena had to be removed from the ring on a stretcher, but this was just the start of their feud with Cena. Fast forward a couple of weeks to SummerSlam 2010, and Cena put together a team which included Chris Jericho and Edge, to face The Nexus.
The hot newbies lost, schooled by the WWE veterans, but it was later revealed that for some strange reason, Jericho and Edge wanted Nexus to win. Perhaps it was to give new talent a chance, but Cena didn’t stick to the plans, instead doing his usual Super Cena comeback for the win.
After the event, The Nexus were essentially finished; Cena actually later admitted he was wrong, but by then, The Nexus' days had already been numbered, screwed by backstage politics. Strange goings-on in WWE.
14 Ken Anderson
Ken Anderson, aka Mr.Kennedy, would definitely feel he bore the brunt of some tattle tailing from some of the big names in WWE during his time. After dislocating his shoulder in a match against Shelton Benjamin in 2008, Anderson was given time off in a recovery period that lasted nine months. Upon his much anticipated in-ring return on an episode of Raw, he competed in a 10-man tag team match, from which his team emerged victorious. Anderson was understandably cock-a-hoop, as were his fans, but the jubilation was short-lived as he was fired just four days later.
Why? It had a lot to do with Randy Orton’s groaning and whining. Orton had apparently gone running to Vince McMahon, claiming that Anderson was using improper wrestling techniques and was being reckless – in reference to a potentially career ending move Anderson carried out on Orton during which he landed on his head and not his back. John Cena also weighed in – teacher’s pet – and so of course Vince listened to his stars and terminated Anderson’s contract, four short days after his comeback. Vince actually seemed to like Anderson but others got involved and twisted his arm – just the way the business works.
13 John Morrison
Now this is truly a WWE soap opera. Let’s begin by talking about Morrison and his on-again, off-again relationship with the feisty Melina Perez. In 2011, it was all systems go for the couple. But Morrison had lost respect from his peers and the bosses and he was kind of the outcast of WWE. This all began when rumors started to circulate around the company – rumors that Melina was cheating on Morrison and sleeping with other wrestlers – a lot of other wrestlers if the rumors are to be believed. It was alleged that Melina was getting with Batista and a number of other high profile wrestlers at the time, but let’s reiterate that these were just rumors and nothing was ever confirmed -- or denied, come to think of it.
Anyway Morrison didn’t bat an eyelid – he didn’t retaliate or attempt to get revenge and was therefore considered weak and as having no backbone from the others in the company. Vince decided he lacked spine and personality; thus, he soon grew irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. His career was also ruined when he decided not to cooperate with Trish Stratus. Trish and Melina had a long-running feud going on, and therefore Morrison treated Trish pretty badly. You don’t treat the a Hall of Famer like Trish Stratus badly and get away with it.
Edge and Christian were essentially tag team royalty, decimating opponents in their way and enabling Edge to win 11 World Championships. But Christian wasn’t so fortunate and quickly fell by the wayside once the tag team duo split up in 2001. The split was due to Christian, whose character grew petty and unaccepting of Edge's Intercontinental Championship win at SummerSlam 2001. The two were given opportunities when they embarked on singles careers; it’s just that Edge’s wrestling ability shone through more than Christian’s, and ultimately Christian was left in the lurch.
It was just that at the time, the WWE was saturated with new talent, and Christian got lost in the midst of it all. He fizzled out of the limelight and never really recovered, leaving for a short time to TNA and then returning to WWE five years later. Even when returning to WWE, Vince just never really saw Christian as a main event guy and we saw this first hand when Christian was given an incredibly short reign following Edge's retirement in 2011.
The Kliq were responsible for ruining a lot of careers including that of Vader’s. Big Van Vader made his debut, a heavily hyped one, at the Royal Rumble in 1996, after which he spent time trying to establish his "monster" persona in the WWE ranks. He was rather successful at it too, gaining popularity and establishing heat -- that was until he was put up against Shawn Michaels of The Kliq at SummerSlam. This match-up was an utter fiasco – Vader beat Michaels via disqualification, but the match was restarted, after which Michaels prevailed. But Michaels wasn’t too happy with the way things went. After he felt Vader hit him too hard, he told Vader that if he hit him like that again, he'd get him fired.
Vader then had a few run-ins with The Undertaker; it was this combined with the fact that The Kliq hadn’t liked Vader from the get-go that pushed Vader into leaving the company in 1998. It's the prime example of backstage bullying at its worst. The WWE bosses were basically puppets in The Kliq’s hands at that stage and could do nothing to prevent it.
10 The WCW Wrestlers Brought In For The Invasion
Wrestling changed big time when Vince bought WCW in 2001. Until then, Eric Bischoff, for all his faults, had been bringing in a stable of wrestlers and innovative concepts – trust Vince to screw things up. That doomsday meant that there was now one major wrestling promotion and that Vince was at the helm of it. One of the first things he did when he acquired WCW was create a feud between the wrestlers from the two companies. But what Vince overlooked was the fact that many of the top wrestlers from WCW actually belonged to Time Warner, Vince didn't buy out the stars' contracts deeming them too expensive. Vince went ahead with the invasion angle anyway, without the star names.
He created an invasion angle, but it turned into a massive flop, and for some reason, the WCW guys now with WWE were held responsible. They guys who didn’t partake in the event – because they were signed with Time Warner – were also looked down upon and many had their careers destroyed, all resulting from backstage contract issues that they couldn’t really do anything about even if they wanted to.
8 Matt Hardy
You hear the name Matt Hardy and you instantly think of Matt and Jeff, the Hardy Boyz. But Matt did venture out on his own singles career at one stage, a career that certainly didn’t go according to plan. Again, a love angle contributed to the disaster. Matt Hardy was dating fellow wrestler Lita, on-screen and off-screen. Things were going along swimmingly before Lita cheated on Matt with Edge. Matt was understandably distraught and made a big show of things as most would – well, not John Morrison – and made a big deal about trying to get Edge booted out of the company.
He complained to anyone who would listen, saying they wouldn’t be able to work together. But Edge was an up and coming wrestler at the time – he was undoubtedly the bigger star. The company agreed the two couldn’t work together, but fired Matt instead. Matt would eventually be brought back, but ultimately, the WWE decided to have Edge go over in the feud, taking a lot of steam out of Hardy's run.
7 Bret Hart
This is an example of backstage politics gone nuts. It all started with Bret Hart, former WWE Champion. At the time of this disaster, Hart had the title but had also agreed to sign with WCW. This, of course, meant that Hart had to vacate his title – it was decided Shawn Michaels would be the next title holder, but when and where was still being organized.
McMahon wanted Michaels to win the title in Montreal at Survivor Series, in Hart's home country. When Hart insisted he didn't want to drop the title to Michaels in Canada, Vince agreed that it would be done another time. As we all know, the Montreal Screwjob went down and Hart was helpless as he got screwed over by McMahon and Michaels in Montreal and his WWE career ended in bitter fashion. Backstage politics certainly took center stage that night.
Hart's career in WCW would again be ruined by backstage politics, coupled with some ineptitude, as Hart, being the hottest star in the business, was completely wasted by the company. Some say it was due to some of the company's big stars purposely holding Bret down.
6 CM Punk
Punk was the longest reigning WWE Champion of the "modern era," and held a stack load of other titles during his wrestling career, a career that could have reached even greater heights had it not been for his long-running feud with Vince and the backstage political pettiness. There are theories as to why Punk left WWE but no one knows for sure. He’s always been very vocal in his dislike of WWE, and of Vince in particular – all these issues and feuds reeked of politics that Punk ultimately had no influence over. It was the way the company was run that didn’t tickle Punk’s fancy.
Take 2009, for instance, and the Straight Edge Society – a concept developed by Punk himself. Watch that angle and you’ll see how much Punk was hated. It was also remarkable that someone of Punk’s stature and pedigree never headlined a WrestleMania event. WrestleMania 30 was the final straw for Punk. Batista/Orton was the planned main event, while plans called for Punk to face Triple H. Punk was promised a WrestleMania main event several times, but kept getting passed over and finally had enough.
5 Kofi Kingston
Kofi got on the wrong side of wrestlers more prominent and established than himself, and consequently landed himself in hot water with the company. Kofi was a mid-card talent, but worked hard, developed and gradually rose through the ranks, becoming mighty popular in the process. His most notable achievement was winning the Tag Team Championship with CM Punk, but a few mistakes here and there thereafter spelled disaster for Kofi’s career in WWE. It was the feud with Randy Orton that ultimately stalled Kofi’s career. The two fought in 2009, a match during which Kofi missed the prearranged finishing move, causing Orton to shout "stupid," "stupid" and ridicule Kofi publicly.
Simply because Orton – who was one of the top wrestlers at the time – was extremely vocal about Kofi’s botched move, Kofi never caught a break at the big time and turned into a permanent mid-card wrestler, never progressing to bigger and better things.
4 Marty Jannetty
Marty had a lot of issues inside and outside the ring, but a major issue was that of backstage politics. Marty’s relationship with Shawn Michaels – one of the top competitors at the time – certainly contributed to his downfall. During the 1990s, Shaun held a lot of sway with the company and the bosses and was responsible for single-handedly destroying the careers of many promising wrestlers, Marty included. Michaels seemed to take delight in thinning the herd. In Marty’s case, in 1993 during their Royal Rumble match, Michaels began a rumour that Marty was wrestling under the influence.
The company believed him – whether it was true or not, we’ll never know -- and Marty was released. Although Curt Hennig vouched for Marty, what Michaels says usually goes and despite returning a year later, Marty's career was never the same. Michaels hurt Marty’s credibility, but the Charles Austin court case certainly didn’t help matters.
3 Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn had an average career, was a mid-carder and never really did anything special. He wasn’t one of the main guys and seemed content just to be in the WWE ranks, but nevertheless, his career was knocked down a peg because of Triple H. This won't be seen as strange to many wrestling fans because Triple H was normally thought of as one of the someone who would keep a lot of talents down for the sake of his own ego and standing in the company.
Billy complained that Triple H ran things, which is why he was always part of some stupid gimmick or other, such as the Billy & Chuck tag team and was never given an opportunity to progress through the ranks. Was it Triple H that was to blame for Gunn’s mediocre career or was it just because Gunn never excelled in the ring? Who knows, but Gunn certainly felt it was Triple H’s influence over the company that held him back.
2 Bam Bam Bigelow
This guy was a decent wrestler. He had the size, the physical presence, power and speed – he seemed to possess what many would think to be the whole package. But Bigelow certainly wasn’t lucky and always seemed to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and certain instances pushed him to the bottom of the pecking order in both WCW and WWE. Bigelow exploded onto the scene in WWE in 1992 as a heel, but got pushed down again, simply because he wasn’t in tight with the dominant Kliq at the time. The bosses turned Bigelow’s face, but two of the most dominant members of The Kliq -- Shawn Michaels and Diesel -- had also done so and wanted the top spots for themselves. They forced Bigelow out and he eventually left the company in late 1995, just because WWE was more concerned about connections and backstage politics than about talent.
1 Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in the sport. He held 30 titles during his professional wrestling career and his most notable years were with the WWE. Despite his accomplishments and prowess, DiBiase is also known for being the company’s most despised villain. But despite winning all those titles, he never once got his hands on the big one. According to DiBiase, he was constantly being promised a shot at the big time, but when push came to shove, nothing materialized. DiBiase has also shared his grievances on WrestleMania IV – where he was scripted to win the title.
It’s believed that in this instance, Savage had Vince’s ear and persuaded him to give him the title instead. It’s also been rumored that Hulk Hogan often muscled in and used his influence to push his buddy Randy to the top at the expense of DiBiase. Whatever the specifics may be, winning the championship would have been the cherry on top for DiBiase, who ultimately left the WWE unsatisfied with the backstage politics.