I assume when a person takes a job like league commissioner or General Manager, the first first thing they prepare for is something going wrong and making their life miserable. Anything that can go wrong, and create some sort of controversy, will come up out of nowhere and make taking that job seem like a horrible idea. From star players being caught hitting a spouse on camera or a team owner saying he does not want people of a certain race at his team’s games, controversy is never really beneficial to a sports league.
Like any sport in the mainstream consciousness, pro wrestling has had its share of controversies. From harassment suits to steroid abuse, there is a long laundry list of things that have left a dark mark on the history of pro wrestling. There is no rhyme or reason as to why something happens to create a controversy, it just happens and the only thing to do is try and weather the storm and push through it.
This list is here to take a look at some of those controversies that will remain in the minds of wrestling fans. They could be funny or horrifying, but for whatever reason, they now have their place in the history books and are used as examples for what not to do in a given situation.
19 Stone Cold/Brian Pillman Gun Segment
In a moment that could have not only ended the Attitude Era and the Monday Night War, but also the WWE, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Brian Pillman were involved in an angle that seemed almost too real to certain people. The background of the angle was that Pillman was at home recovering from an injury being interviewed when he learned that Stone Cold Steve Austin was coming to attack him. Soon Pillman had a handgun in his hand aimed at the door, waiting for Austin to come through, threatening to shoot him. Austin eventually showed and fought a few of Pillman’s friends before a shot rang out through the house and the camera cut out. It cut back in with both men screaming at each other, which included some uncensored and colorful language. The segment got the WWE in some very hot water with USA Network, who threatened to cancel Raw outright if something like that ever happened again.
18 Matt Hardy/Edge/Lita Love Triangle
In a case of life affecting art, an actual love triangle took place on WWE TV. While Matt Hardy was home nursing a knee injury after being released by the WWE, his real life girlfriend Lita began an affair with fellow wrestler Edge. News of the affair soon became public and fans began to chastise the couple at WWE events. After a fan petition to have him resigned, the WWE brought Hardy back after Hardy gave a couple promos bashing Lita, Edge, and the WWE, for how they treated him. He would immediately feud with Edge, the two trading wins over one another, ending with Edge winning a World Title shot and Hardy being forced to leave Raw for SmackDown.
17 Stone Cold “Taking His Ball and Going Home”
In 2002, the WWE was coming off a lackluster angle involving a war with former WCW and ECW wrestlers, the nWo being brought back at the behest of Mr. McMahon, and a young wrestler by the name of Brock Lesnar climbing up the ladder of the WWE. After being replaced by The Rock in a match against Hollywood Hulk Hogan after a finish could not be decided, Austin was put in a match against Scott Hall at WrestleMania 18, which he would come out victorious. Austin would then battle with The Undertaker and Ric Flair for a couple months before becoming frustrated with how WWE creative was treating his character, as they intended to use him in feuds with Eddie Guerrero and Lesnar. Austin refused to lose to Lesnar on Raw, feeling if he were to lose to a rookie that it should be on a big show rather than given away for free on Raw, given his star power. He would then no-show events leading to McMahon showing many interviews on WWE TV claiming that Austin “took his ball and went home,” trying to bury one of the men that was instrumental in the WWE’s survival in the mid to late 90s. Austin would return in 2003 for a retirement match, but would remain on WWE TV in non-wrestling roles.
16 Awesome Kong vs. Bubba the Love Sponge
As a driving force behind the success of TNA’s Knockouts Division, Awesome Kong was not your typical female wrestler. Big and powerful rather than petite and demure, Kong was a mainstay of the division, playing the monster heel role for years. Yet in 2010, after Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff were brought in to add new elements to the TNA product, Kong would soon find herself at odds with Hogan hanger-on and shock jock, Bubba the Love Sponge. The two would eventually get in a fight backstage after Bubba made disparaging remarks about Haiti, which Kong took offense to as she was pushing hard trying to get donations sent to the hurricane ravaged country. After back and forth fighting, including Bubba verbally attacking Kong on his radio show and other radio shows, Kong was granted her release from the promotion, in what was just another horrible management decision made during the Hogan/Bischoff reign of terror within TNA.
15 Bruiser Brody Killed By Promoter
With a monstrous physique and a brawling style, Bruiser Brody was a sight to behold for fans. Another thing that Brody was known for was sticking it to many of the promoters that he worked for and not selling moves against guys he felt disrespected him. Before a match in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Brody was asked by promoter Jose Huerta Gonzalez to talk to him in the showers. The story differs between who’s telling it but most accounts have words being exchanged between the two before loud moans could be heard from the showers. Tony Atlas ran into the shower to see Brody hunched over holding his stomach and Gonzalez holding a knife. Brody was then taken by paramedics to the hospital but died shortly after. Gonzalez was initially charged with first degree murder but the charge was dropped to involuntary homicide. Wrestlers like Atlas did not return to Puerto Rico to testify and the knife used in the stabbing was never recovered, which left the prosecuting attorney without much of a case and in 1989 Gonzalez was found not guilty, citing self-defense.
14 Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious Stabbing Incident
During a WCW tour in the United Kingdom in 1993, there was an incident that occurred after a night of drinking and arguing about the future of the business. At the time, WCW was filming many of its TV episodes months in advance in order to save money on production and allow for a more open touring schedule. This caused problems from time to time as a person shown as being a champion on one show may not have actually won it yet as the PPV where he won the belt had not occurred yet. Other times injuries caused WCW to change title holders on the fly and edit shows to fit the new lineup, an example being when Brian Pillman was injured and his fellow Tag Champion Steve Austin was paired with Steven Regal, whom he had never worked with up to that point.
This incident occurred with Sid as he was shown as being the number one contender for the World Heavyweight Champion at many of these tapings, which went right to his head. So while both Arn and Sid were getting drunk, they began to argue after Sid began boasting about how he was the future of wrestling and that the older wrestlers like Arn and Ric Flair needed to accept that their time at the top was over. Blows were thrown and the two were eventually separated and Arn returned to his room. Unfortunately Sid followed him and knocked on his door, and the fight continued. Furniture was broken and at one point Sid grabbed a pair of scissors and stabbed and cut Arn a total of twenty times. Again they were broken up, Sid was detained, and fines were paid, before Sid was promptly fired.
13 ECW and WCW’s Fight over Mike Awesome
As the WWE was pulling away from WCW in the Monday Night Wars, Eric Bischoff was looking for anyone who could add life to the dying promotion. But since the WWE had basically all of its stars signed to ironclad contracts, he looked to a promotion he had pillaged before, ECW. He would eventually decide on offering a contract to current ECW World Champion Mike Awesome, similar to what he did with Bret Hart years prior. Awesome accepted the deal, but before anything could happen, Paul Heyman declared the deal impossible as he had a contract with Awesome’s name on it.
The two promotions went back and forth before it was decided that Awesome would appear on WCW TV to promote an upcoming ECW show where he was scheduled to lose the world title. Unfortunately the segment went against what was agreed upon, so it took a six-figure settlement for Heyman to release Awesome. Awesome would then lose his title at a house show against then current WWE wrestler , Tazz, a match setup that Heyman thought was brilliant by having a WCW guy lose the ECW World Title to a WWE guy. Awesome would then flounder in the WCW midcard with such characters as “That 70’s Guy” and “The Fat Chick Thriller.”
13. WWE's Scandal in 1992
Sexual harassment in pro wrestling seems to be a constant issue. Seriously, this list could have been made up of only these harassment suits. Yet, one that really stood out was one involving Bob Orton, ring boy Tom Cole, and announcer Murray Hodgson and their allegations of harassment at the hands of Terry Garvin and Pat Patterson. The claims ran the gamut of "personal" favors requested of the men, with Orton and Cole claiming that Cole was fired because he would not give into Garvin’s requests. Patterson and Garvin would be let go along with ring announcer Mel Phillips who was also named in the suit, and even Orton who Vince felt caused the whole issue to blow up by answering questions on this issue on the road. Patterson would eventually find himself working again in the WWE, this time as the on-screen lackey of Vince.
12 WWE Steroid Scandal of 1994
Before the various controversies brought upon by the Attitude Era, the WWE faced a much bigger issue in a federal investigation involving steroid abuse and distribution within the WWE. In 1994, Vince McMahon was put on trial for allegations of distributing steroids to his wrestlers. The trial featured numerous wrestlers called to testify, including Hulk Hogan and Vince himself. Hogan was meant to be the star witness for the prosecution but would ultimately admit that he had never seen Vince give wrestlers any steroids to take. Vince would be found not guilty on all charges but the damage was done and the WWE would go in a slump for the next few years as the company tried to recuperate from the long trial.
11 The Rob Feinstein Incident
In 2004, wrestling promotions TNA and Ring of Honor had a talent-sharing agreement that allowed for wrestlers in either promotion to work for both. Unfortunately, ROH founder Rob Feinstein would be caught in an internet sting when he was unlawfully speaking with an underage boy who turned out to be an undercover adult. In the fallout, Feinstein resigned from the promotion and sold his company stake to Doug Gentry. Upon hearing the news of the allegations, TNA cut all ties with ROH and cancelled all ROH dates that were set for their contracted wrestlers, including AJ Styles and Daniels. Wrestlers would then be forced to choose which promotion they would remain with, which caused some bad blood between wrestlers who had chosen one promotion or the other.
10 Sting vs. Jeff Hardy at Victory Road
In 2011, TNA was building up towards its Victory Road PPV, set to be headlined by World Champion Sting defending his title against Jeff Hardy. The problem was that TNA was getting some unwanted attention by having Hardy on the payroll, as he was currently facing charges of drug trafficking in his home state. The day of the event, Hardy was not around until a couple hours before the show and was not in proper shape to wrestle that night once he had arrived. As the entrances started and Hardy made his way to the ring, everyone could see that there was something not right with Hardy, as he appeared high out of his mind. Eric Bischoff would then come to the ring and make the match a no disqualification match before whispering to both wrestlers. As the match began, Hardy was holding onto the ring ropes and walking around, feigning that he was going to throw his t-shirt to the crowd for the better part of a minute. Finally, Sting got a hold of him and hit him with his finisher the Scorpion Deathdrop and forcibly pinned Hardy only 88 seconds into the match. Fans screamed in anger, with Sting even audibly yelling that he agreed with them, and shortly after Hardy was sent home for a few months.
9 The Sandman's Crucifixion
In the early days of ECW, the wrestlers were given a lot of free reign over their storylines and characters, mostly for the benefit of the promotion, but sometimes it went too far. In 1996, the Sandman was embroiled in a feud with Raven, who had brainwashed Sandman’s wife and son. After a moment when it seemed that his son was finally coming back to him, Sandman was attacked from behind by Raven and was then propped up and crucified, complete with barbed wire, on a large wooden cross in front of the audience.
The usually blood thirsty ECW audience was silent as it all happened and eventually Raven came out and apologized for the incident. Someone who was even more affected was recently crowned Olympian Kurt Angle, who was considering signing with the promotion. He was so upset that he immediately left and told promoter Paul Heyman that he was not signing, wanted his appearance fee, and that if he was shown on TV in connection with the crucifixion he would sue the promotion, according to the The Rise and Fall of ECW DVD.
8 The Plane Ride From Hell
In 2002, the WWE was flying back to the United States after a tour in the United Kingdom. Drinks were flowing and a plane full of egos soon became too much for the small and confined space. Curt Hennig would get into a fight with Brock Lesnar over who was the better wrestler, which led to Hennig being released. This was followed by a drunken Ric Flair walking the plane in just his Nature Boy robe, Goldust grabbing another attendant and saying they were going to get together, and Scott Hall making advances on the staff. After all was said and done, Hennig and Hall would be released by the company. A lot of those are rumors and are not certain to be true, but it's still some pretty insane stuff.
7 The Von Erich Family "Curse"
Seen as one of the golden families of wrestling, the Von Erich’s seemed poised to hold onto the pro wrestling world with an iron grip. Unfortunately, the family comes across as cursed in the eyes of wrestling fans as five of six Von Erich sons would die before their father Fritz. While firstborn son Jack died at the age of six due to being electrocuted, David would die of acute enteritis (though many would claim this was a cover up of a drug overdose), Kerry would become addicted to painkillers after having his foot amputated and later shoot himself on his father’s ranch, Mike overdosed on tranquilizers, and Chris would shoot himself after a failed wrestling career. Sadly, none of these men would be over the age of thirty-five. These last four deaths would become a focal point as to what many people think happens to all former pro wrestlers, and in many cases it is unfortunately true.
After his death in 2005, there was a large void in the WWE without Eddie Guerrero. Unfortunately, the WWE felt the best way to fill this void was to use Eddie’s name and memory for numerous storylines for over a year. The night after he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Rey Mysterio would be given a run with the World Heavyweight Title in dedication to Eddie, while Randy Orton got cheap heat from the crowd by saying that Eddie was burning in hell and destroying Eddie’s infamous lowrider. To top it off, his wife Vickie and nephew Chavo forming a heel group using Eddie as a bounce off point to get a reaction from the audience. Many fans saw all this for what it was and angrily turned on anything the WWE did using Eddie for promotion.
5 The Mass Transit Incident
While the Sandman crucifixion cost ECW Kurt Angle, the Mass Transit incident cost the promotion so much more. It involved a 17 year old named Eric Kulas offering to work a tag match with D-Von Dudley against the Gangstas (New Jack and Mustafa Saed) after D-Von’s original partner Axl Rotten could not make the show. Kulas claimed he had been trained by Killer Kowalski and that he was 19 years old, which was supported by his father and another wrestler. The Gangstas would double team Kulas and eventually New Jack would blade the young man, causing him to bleed profusely.
After the match, footage of the match made its way online and lawsuits were filed against New Jack and ECW for how Kulas was treated in the match and that he was a minor at the time. Yet after evidence came out about Kulas lying about his training and age, along with the fact he asked New Jack to cut him in the match, the court ruled against Kulas.
4 WCW/WWE Trademark Lawsuit Over Razor Ramon & Diesel
As the Monday Night War was heating up, Eric Bischoff was looking for that edge that would allow him to usurp the WWE as the top wrestling promotion in the world. He would soon find his answer in the form of two former employees of the company, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. As both men appeared on WCW, they began talking about bringing war to WCW and that everyone knew who they were, heavily implying they were talking about their former characters Razor Ramon and Diesel. The WWE would soon file a lawsuit for copyright infringement as the two men were portraying themselves as characters that were owned by the WWE. The two promotions would go back and forth for years before the WWE dropped the suit in exchange for being able to purchase the WCW rights should they come up for sale, which ultimately happened in 2001.
3 The Montreal Screwjob
In 1997, the WWE was in the midst of a ratings war with its chief rival WCW, which was leading the way with strong storylines featuring the nWo and great wrestlers like Ric Flair and Sting. Unfortunately for the WWE, the contract of its World Champion, Bret Hart, was an unfeasible cost (a reported 20 year deal worth millions for Hart) at a time when money was tighter than ever. Vince McMahon would give Hart his blessing to leave the WWE and sign with WCW, just as long as Bret dropped the belt before going. Unfortunately, the man Vince wanted Bret to lose to was Shawn Michaels, who Bret hated (Shawn felt the same).
It was then decided that their title match at Survivor Series in Montreal would end in a disqualification after interference from both sides. Yet, at the end of the match, when Shawn locked Bret in his own finishing move the Sharpshooter, referee Earl Hebner called for the bell saying that Bret had submitted. Afterwards, Bret would tear up the area around the ring and get into a fistfight with Vince backstage, as captured in the documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows. The incident would lead to Bret going to WCW and Vince becoming the WWE’s top villain who would feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, helping to usher in the Attitude Era.
2 The Death of Owen Hart
At the Over the Edge PPV, Owen Hart was scheduled to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship under his gimmick, Blue Blazer. The start of the match was to feature Hart descending to the ring on a wire system similar to what Sting had used prior in WCW, but Hart’s character was meant to get stuck a few feet above the ring before falling in a comedic pratfall. Unfortunately, the rigging was unable to hold Hart’s weight and he fell 70 feet into the ring and his chest hit one of the turnbuckles. Hart was quickly taken to a hospital where he was announced dead an hour later. In a move that many question still to this day, the WWE decided to proceed with the show and finish out the remaining matches. The next night was a tribute show to Owen and the Hart family eventually sued the WWE for the wrongful death of Owen and received a settlement of $18 million.
1 Chris Benoit Murder/Suicide
Over the course of three days, the WWE would face quite possibly its biggest controversy after top superstar Christ Benoit murdered his wife Nancy and son Daniel, before hanging himself. Coworkers started to get worried when Benoit did not show for scheduled house show appearances and after he had texted Chavo Guerrero that he was trying to get a new flight so that he could make it to the PPV he was scheduled to appear in that Sunday. Cops were soon asked to check on the family and the bodies were found, Nancy and Daniel were strangled and Chris hung from some exercise equipment. The night following the PPV, there was a memorial show held for Benoit but once it came out that Benoit was the one responsible for the grim scene, the WWE was quick to back away from anything he was involved with. As speculation grew as to what caused Benoit to do such a thing, blame flew everywhere from the WWE, steroids, and even massive brain damage caused by concussions. To this day, the WWE has done its best to whitewash Benoit from its history, only naming him with the smallest of whispers, and have gone to great lengths to limit in-ring concussions by banning unprotected chair shots to the head.