In today's PG Era of the WWE, it's rare when a promo pushes the boundaries of "good taste" or "proper decorum."
Sadly, Miley Cyrus certainly won't get invited to stop by Monday Night Raw to smoke up all the Divas and #freethenipple while refereeing a main event between Roman Reigns and Luke Harper. Marilyn Manson won't show up at a PPV, pretend it's 1997 again, do something ridiculous to distract John Cena, thereby costing him the world title in a Hell in a Cell match against Bray Wyatt. Lena Dunham won't stop by to be a guest ring announcer, only to drive the WWE universe into a frenzy by mentioning that abortions aren't the worst thing in the world.
On the bright side, Donald Trump, probably won't be making any more wrestling appearances until his presidential campaign inevitably fails. So we've got to take the good with the bad.
Nonetheless, a recent angle involving Paige, Charlotte, and a deceased member of Charlotte's famous family pushed some buttons and was promptly erased from WWE continuity. This incident reminded us of a handful of questionable promos and angles of yore.
Putting together a contemporary list of promos that crossed the line presented some unforeseen problems. When worked "shoots" were common, it was the '90s and '00s, and some of the segments that seemed edgy at the time scan as relatively tame by modern standards. For instance, many people were deeply offended when Raven crucified The Sandman in ECW. Later, after The Undertaker crucified The Big Boss Man, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and tried to string up The Rock, crucifixion in wrestling didn't seem like such a big deal anymore!
So here's the best we could do for promos and angles that crossed the line, and could still make people at least a little uncomfortable these days.
15 Paige Mocks Reid Flair (Sorta)
In a segment leading up to last Sunday’s Divas Title match between Paige and Charlotte, Paige noted that “he didn’t have much fight in him, did he?” in reference to the death of Charlotte’s brother, Reid Fliehr, after he lost an apparent battle with drug addiction in 2013. Does using such a real life tragedy seem insensitive to the Fliehr family, or, for that matter, the tens of thousands (hundreds?) who have lost loved ones to the rampant opiate addiction epidemic in the United States? Very much so! And it certainly would’ve made Paige look like an insufferable jerk, thereby adding much needed sizzle to her heel turn and feud with Charlotte.
Unfortunately, Paige wasn’t allowed to use words like “heroin” on camera, so hardly anyone outside of internet wrestling fans and the still-grieving Fliehr family knew what she was talking about, and the incident got retconned out of WWE continuity anyway. The half-cocked execution prevented this angle from helping Paige, but it did manage to upset at least a few people. Way to go, WWE creative.
14 CM Punk Makes Fun of Jeff Hardy’s Drug Problems
Of course, Paige dancing around words like “drugs” or “overdose” wasn’t the first time WWE used a real life addiction for an angle. However, this addict was and remains alive, as well as present during the segment. On this occasion, CM Punk noted that he had never done drugs, while Jeff Hardy had done lots, and lots, and lots of drugs. CM Punk advises Hardy to start living a clean lifestyle, a suggestion Hardy eventually accepted from the present-day UFC star. Had Hardy listened to Punk sooner, maybe the main event of Victory Road 2011 would’ve gone better.
13 CM Punk and Paul Heyman Mock Paul Bearer's Death
Not that William Moody would’ve had it any other way (or so we suspect), but the death of the man who portrayed Paul Bearer was exploited in a storyline to dump heat on the WrestleMania confrontation between The Undertaker and CM Punk. Arguably, the match didn’t need a tacky angle to get massively over. Then again, having CM Punk do a bunch of interviews where he talked about how much he respected The Undertaker would’ve been more than a little bland.
As an additional bonus, Bearer could look on from the afterlife and know that even as a dead non-wrestler, he was still more over than 75 percent of the WWE roster.
12 AJ Styles Testifies, Ruins Tournament Ending
Here’s a gem from 2005. Having just defeated AJ Styles to win the PWG Battle of Los Angeles Tournament, Chris Bosh began a tribute to Steve Austin’s legendary “3:16” promo. Either not understanding the reference or not caring about context, Styles rose from the mat, retroactively no-selling his defeat, and chewed out Bosh for what most would consider a minor blasphemy. Styles comes off like a self-righteous nitwit and Bosh gets his big win overshadowed by the bigger star’s tantrum. Way to go, AJ.
Side-Note: Wikipedia tells us that in this same tournament, Bosh defeated El Generico/Sami Zayn and James Gibson/Jamie Noble, then went on to feud with Kevin Steen/Owens. He’s retired today, but there’s probably an alternate timeline where Chris Bosh is NXT Champion.
11 Basically Every Dudley Boyz Promo On Audiences in ECW
Look, before we even begin with this entry, we can't include any video evidence for this one, as the language is a little too graphic for our humble site.
They might as well be the Bushwhackers milking one last nostalgia run before retirement these days, but back in the ‘90s, The Dudley Boyz were the zenith of heeldom. Flanked by Joel Gertner, “Big” Dick Dudley (RIP), and Sign Guy Dudley, Bubba Ray and D-Von would single out a paying customer or two in the front rows,and verbally abuse them with some of the worst insults imaginable. The subjects of these tirades often concerned sexual interactions that supposedly took place between members of the Dudley clan and their targets’ immediate family members. Ensuing riots were entirely common. It was glorious.
10 Scott Steiner Wants to Go Watch Stone Cold
One sign that WCW wasn’t doing so hot - overlooked only because it was one of so many - was the time Big Poppa Pump sauntered into a Nitro ring and announced that a great many fans preferred watching WWE, especially its adventures of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Scott Steiner’s been known to say and do crazy things now and again, but this time, he was making total sense. Also, you can’t tell if he’s saying “back stabbin’” or somethiiiiiing else during that second where the audio cuts out. We can’t confirm this suspicion, but that might’ve been an F-bomb.
9 Vince Fakes His Own Death
While not technically a “promo” due to its lack of verbal content, we’re including that one time Vince McMahon made it look like he died in a car explosion because cripes, man. Had this angle been executed as it was originally intended to, Vince would’ve set the same precedent for WWE that Superman did for superheros when he died and came back from the dead. Once Vince inevitably revealed himself as alive and well after the limo explosion, death in wrestling wouldn’t be taken seriously anymore and, by this point in history, John Cena would’ve been murdered and risen from his seeming grave several times. Vince's kayfabe death was scrapped after the Chris Benoit tragedy.
8 Scott Hall’s Boozing
WCW invited a bit of backlash in the late ‘90s when Scott Hall’s mythic battles with substance abuse became fodder for an inter-nWo feud. Even if you believe this decision was made in poor taste - if not a little hypocrisy, given the amount of Hall’s peers and coworkers who were also struggling with substance problems - you’ve got to admit, it was worth it to see Scott Hall throw up on Eric Bischoff. Luckily, Hall eventually got clean - so we can all laugh at stuff like this now, instead of watching it and getting really uncomfortable.
7 Pillman 9mm
In this infamous segment aired on Raw in 1996, Steve Austin is on his way to break in Brian Pillman’s house, presumably to beat him mercilessly in his own living room. Pillman - whose injured leg prevents him from protecting himself in a conventional manner - notes that Austin 3:16 may not be able to hold up to Pillman 9mm, then brandishes a firearm. Pillman never actually shot Austin, but he did drop a mighty “F”-bomb on live TV in the heat of the moment, for which he later apologized. Despite protests from the NRA and second amendment absolutists, guns have since been banned from WWE.
6 “Jumpin’” Jeff Farmer
Easily among the most offensive pro wrestling promos of all time, "Jumpin'" Jeff Farmer appalled wrestling fans worldwide with his flippant talk of turning the tables the wrong way and his stated ambition to become the one who is doing the challenging. But the cherry atop the sundae of horror appeared when Farmer threatened to go "full force." WWE, as the leader in wrestling worldwide, had to settle more than 5,000,000 lawsuits from fans who slashed their own ears off and/or stabbed sharp pencils into their own ear canals immediately after Farmer's diatribe. WCW and ECW both went out of business, following the public's backlash against the entire sport of professional wrestling.
5 Dreamer Accidentally Blinds Sandman
A lit cigarette in one eye and a Singapore Cane in the other led to the Sandman’s “retirement” back in the early ‘90s. The angle was taken to, pun intended, “extreme” lengths, with Jim Fullington refusing to leave his house to prevent anyone from noticing his eyes still worked. Tommy Dreamer dedicated the rest of his career to his sightless former adversary.
Assuming Sandy would legitimately spend the rest of his days without any vision, the ECW faithful showered the chain smoking alcoholic with sympathy. Then Sandman revealed that he could still see just fine and caned Dreamer's guts out. Manipulating the audience to that degree was wildly innovative at the time and not simply due to shock value.
4 Basically Every New Jack Promo In Smoky Mountain
Picture a militant Black Rights Matter protester character in the most racist indie promotion in the deep south and you’ll get some idea what New Jack and Mustafa Saed - then known as The Gangstas - were up to during their criminally underrated tenure in Smoky Mountain. We couldn’t find the promo where he said something like “two less to worry about” regarding OJ Simpson’s alleged double homicide, so here’s New Jack invoking slavery to explain why he isn’t interested in Jim Cornette’s managerial services. And even though it didn’t technically cross any lines, here’s a rare promo of The Gangstas preparing for a match against The Undertaker. New Jack is the greatest.
3 Jeff Jarrett Makes Hulk Hogan Look Like Al Sharpton
This one doesn’t pop up on too many “most racist things done in wrestling” lists, probably because it’s so easy to forget about Jeff Jarrett - the lamest wrestler of all time. As Jarrett made his “meh” return to WWE in 1997 after a year in Atlanta, he chewed out Vince McMahon for matching him against, “a clown [Doink], a drug addict [Louie Spicolli? Scott Hall? Sean Waltman? That could be a bunch of people], and a black man who can’t even speak the English language [Ahmed Johnson].” Here, Jarrett is pretty much telling an audience that being black is equatable to being a clown or a junkie, which was racist as hell, even by ‘90s standards.
2 Jerry Lawler Loses His Mind
In the last promo, Jarrett stops short of dropping the “N-bomb” or waving the confederate flag. Jerry Lawler shows no such restraint in this promo. Apparently to hype an upcoming match with Goldust, without any warning or lube, the onetime “King” of Memphis stuffs homophobic hate speech into the earholes of the WWE universe. More disturbing yet, Lawler accuses Dakota Runnels, Goldust’s daughter, of promiscuity. Dakota was born in 1994, meaning she couldn’t have been much older than three years old at this point. That's too young for sexual innuendo, even by Jerry Lawler’s standards.
* Sidenote, we don't support the sad commentary at the end of this video.
1 Come On, Vince...
Vince McMahon certainly won’t go down in history as a great feminist ally for at least a dozen already well-documented reasons. Even if we set aside the handful of real world sexual misconduct charges against him, plenty of his onscreen interactions with female stars have been pretty thoroughly icky. But this instance of Vinnie Mac threatening to arrange for The Undertaker’s wife (who might’ve been Michelle McCool, depending on when this aired) to be sexually assaulted by a biker gang is just…...The only words that come to mind are “No.” and “Please, Never Again.”