WWE is a publicly traded company with literally millions of fans that draws audiences in the tens of thousands on a weekly basis to its live shows. With that kind of audience and exposure, it’s a company that has to remain protective of its image. From a business perspective, WWE has advertisers and other business partners to keep happy. It’s a high profile enough organization that it needs to be conscious of public opinion, lest they draw the ire of mainstream critics and various organizations that could easily be offended.
And then at the core of WWE’, it’s a professional wrestling company. Though Vince McMahon rejects that verbiage in favor of sports entertainment, for all of WWE’s bells and whistles and non-wrestling related endeavors, the company is still at heart a wrestling promotion. No, WWE, doesn’t go to the extremes of Mid-South Wrestling, for which promoter Bill Watts purportedly told his wrestlers never to shy away from a fight in public, and to be sure they won to confirm the toughness and legitimacy of wrestlers. Just the same, there is a core of projecting tough guys—real or kayfabe—and top tier athletes in the illusion of combat with one another. To preserve that illusion, and allow fans to lose themselves in the stories pro wrestling aims to tell them, wrestlers need to maintain a certain image. Moreover, WWE is also invested in projecting professionalism, as exhibited by a dress code that compels workers to travel to arenas in business attire.
This article looks at twenty embarrassing photos that WWE would not now approve of, be they from Superstars’ personal lives, their careers before WWE, or other moments of questionable judgment.
20 John Cena
John Cena was the long-term face of WWE and the ultimate company man—tireless, loyal, and clear of any scandals. Just the same, the guy has had his moments of questionable judgment, and one of the most prominent instances came up this past Halloween.
In celebration of the day, Cena and his then girlfriend, now fiancée Nikki Bella opted to dress up as each other. Bella clad as Cena was harmless enough and funny. Cena dressing up as Bella? While it was funny, it brought up more questions. First of all, Cena, the top wrestler of his generation, did look awfully goofy in drag and imitating his partner's mannerisms. All the worse, the video that Cena and Bella independently recorded and released to the world may have suggested a sense at poking fun at women, transgendered individuals, and people who actually do cross dress in their daily lives. While it’s doubtful Cena and Bella meant any harm, a photo like the one above was not exactly WWE approved.
19 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is a super straight laced, smash mouth wrestler. His old school style does not see him play for laughs, dress flamboyantly, or even project a superhuman physique like many of his colleagues. On the contrary, he has the look of an everyday joe, combined with wicked in ring and talking skills, to add up to one of WWE’s purest, most straightforward heel acts. He arrived at what may have been his single best moment in WWE in the Festival of Friendship Raw segment that saw kayfabe ally Chris Jericho try to celebrate their friendship in over the top ways, only for Owens to beat him into oblivion.
Owens’ persona on the indies generally wasn’t so different from what he’s doing in WWE now, but he did have his moments of lapsing. This photograph of him with The Young Bucks, dressed up sort of like a psychedelic Elivs, playing championship belts like guitars really undermines his more serious persona and WWE’s image of professionalism for a top tier player.
Paige dated Kevin Skaff, a guitarist and backup vocalist from the band A Day To Remember early in her WWE tenure. The timeline is a bit fuzzy as to whether this was before on concurrent to whatever relationship she may have had with Brad Maddox. Afterward, she moved on to WWE’s least favorite coupling of all—her and the rebellious Alberto Del Rio who has gone on to insult the company mercilessly since he left.
This provocative image of Paige and Skaff captures a lot of what WWE may like least about her. She’s young, wild, and in the aftermath of her sex video and photo leak, the last thing WWE wants to remind anyone of is her sexuality. Appearing with yet another boyfriend here only underscores, too, her promiscuity. A fair argument could be made that that’s none of WWE’s business, but all signs point to WWE not being happy with a number of her personal choices.
17 Eric Young
Eric Young stands alongside talents like AJ Styles and Bobby Roode as super talented, long term indie stars who looked like they’d never make their way to WWE. Lo and behold, the success of guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan reopened WWE’s mind to the potential value of indie-bred stars. That’s not to mention that the launch of NXT presented a new platform for these kinds of talents to prove themselves and offer a different kind of value to the company as they helped groom future stars.
Young has enjoyed a solid run thus far in NXT as a leading figure for the Sanity stable. WWE clearly appreciates both his rock solid mechanics, and his ability to play a character for this unique gimmick. WWE is probably not as big of a fan, however, of Young’s TNA work—in particular that strange era when he simultaneously played the gimmicks of Eric young and goofy super hero Super Eric. This photo captures him at his most cartoony, working precisely the style of silly gimmick that WWE has no patience for.
16 Randy Orton
At first blush, a photo of a top WWE star when he was a Marine cadet would seem like the kind of image WWE would be proud of and all too eager to share. In this case, however, the photo portrays Orton as a Marine, before he would wind up dishonourably discharged for disobeying orders.
WWE has long fostered a relationship with the US military so having such a prominent star have a checkered past with the Marines is far from ideal. The situation grew even worse when WWE aimed to cast Orton as the lead for a film in it’s The Marine franchise, only for the real Marines to formally condemn the choice because of Orton’s real life history. WWE wound up giving in to the military’s request. Orton has recovered from the PR issues—it didn’t hurt that he spent several lengthy spells as a heel character—and is now back to playing a hero on TV, with this issue largely behind him.
15 Finn Balor
On screen, Finn Balor is one of the coolest wrestlers in the world, who makes his entrance either in a bad boy leather jacket, or all painted up in his demon persona. He’s one of the most fluid in ring workers active today to the point that, despite his relatively small size for a WWE Superstar, he nonetheless remains a credible main eventer rather than getting ushered aside to the Cruiserweight ranks.
A photo like this one, capturing Balor in downright silly mode at Medieval Times is not what WWE wants us all to see. It’s all the worse for him appearing right along side Matt Bloom, similarly hamming it up, when his public persona is that of a hardened coach at the WWE Performance Center.
14 AJ Styles
Long before he came to WWE, AJ Styles had a lengthy tenure as one of the centerpieces of TNA. While he had some truly extraordinary moments and came of age with the smaller company, he was also subjected to some less celebrated storylines and gimmicks.
At one point AJ Styles became a lot like Sting’s Crow character. It’s a persona he wore well enough based on staying serious and letting his slowed down, more technical style in the ring speak for itself. Things didn’t work out as well when Styles took on a Ric Flair-like persona, under the on-screen mentorship of Flair himself. This photo captures Styles in the heat of that run, looking less like his phenomenal self than a cheap knockoff of The Nature Boy.
13 Jeff Hardy
The Hardy brothers’ Broken Universe earned them a ton of attention and praise for how outlandish, bold, and creative it was. While the gimmick may have never gotten to take flight had it originated under the WWE umbrella, it nonetheless feels like one that probably could have been a bit better with someone like Vince McMahon contributing to help rein in some of its more questionable moments.
This photo captures one such occasion, with Jeff Hardy training by literally sparring with a kangaroo. This is the Broken Universe at its campiest and least logical, when TNA really did afford the Hardys near unlimited creative control over their gimmick. From WWE’s perspective, it’s not a good look at all for two of their most popular stars.
12 Scott Hall
Scott Hall is an icon of the wrestling business, whose work as Razor Ramon and later with the New World Order was not only wildly popular but also influential for generations to come in professional wrestling. There’s little debate that he’s one of wrestling’s great minds, particularly when he has his head on straight.
The trouble is that Hall having his head on straight has rarely been a foregone conclusion. The man has infamously struggled with substance abuse throughout his life, as well as the trauma of an incident that predated his wrestling career, when he inadvertently killed a man while bouncing at a bar. This photo captures hall at a lower point, as a broken, older man, alongside his more fit son whose physical presence only underscores how far Hall has fallen.
11 Alexa Bliss
At the present moment, Alexa Bliss is arguably the single top female star in WWE. She reigns as the Raw women’s champion, and has been getting progressively more over for her strong character work and talking skills. On a recent visit to Chris Jericho’s podcast, however, Bliss discussed the brief period in her NXT tenure when WWE appointed her to the position of ring announcer rather than wrestler.
Accordingly to Bliss, it was a disaster. She had trouble remembering what she was supposed to say and in particular blew Rusev’s introduction a number of times. She took bringing a Post-It note to the ring to attach to the microphone to help her remember her lines, but her colleagues quickly caught on and didn’t appreciate that either. Soon enough, WWE cut its losses and took her off of these duties.
10 Sami Zayn
Before he came to WWE, Sami Zayn made his name for himself as the masked wrestler El Generico. Under this particular gimmick, he honed his unique in ring style and became one of the very best workers anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, with his signature mask and his cape, he also looked like a total and complete goofball—the worst caricature of the kind of indie wrestler WWE doesn’t want anything to do with.
This photo captures Zayn at his unabashed goofiest. While the gimmick worked well enough on the independent scene, and Zayn earned WWE’s attention while he was using this character, the look nonetheless remains a bit of a black eye for the man, and a part of his history that WWE would just as soon have all of its fans forget about.
Sheamus got over in WWE as a great big bruiser. While he’s been a successful enough face at points, he’s generally seemed more natural and appealing as bully heel. When he started his most recent run, debuting a spiked mohawk, he hit a certain sweet spot—simultaneously kind of a badass, while also looking kind of absurd. The look suited him because it nailed the sweet spot between being unique and tough, but also looking foolish enough for fans to have something to poke fun at him for.
This photo captures Sheamus away from WWE looking lithe by his standards, informal, and completely out of character, including having the mohawk flattened down, as if he just got out of bed. He doesn’t look much like the larger than life character WWE wants to portray him as, but much more like a an ordinary bloke.
8 Chris Jericho
Long before Chris Jericho became the man who defeated Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night, or the timeless legend who has carefully reinvented himself, made the most of time away, and stretched his career well past the twenty year mark, Jericho was an up and coming cruiserweight in WCW.
To be fair, Jericho made the most of his time in WCW. Despite management not wanting to push, he used his personality to carve out a niche for himself and become a memorable character amidst the ranks of an otherwise forgettable cast of excellent athletes. Still, a photo like this haunts him for looking so absurd with his heavy metal hair and his silly sidekick Ralphus as he tries to look cool on his way to the ring during an episode of Nitro.
Kane would wind up one of the most iconic big men in WWE history. While the gimmick of The Undertaker’s deformed monster brother seemed to have a pretty finite shelf-life, he managed to reinvent himself as a character, and hone his in ring game to keep himself relevant for nearly 20 years.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Kane, though. Earlier in his career, he cycled through gimmicks like Isaac Yankem DDS and the fake Diesel in WWE, and before that played a Christmas monster for Jerry Lawler’s USWA promotion, and worked under the moniker Unabomb in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. If you think that theming a wrestler off real life bombing attacks is in poor taste, you’re not alone. The chapter of Kane’s career captured in this photo is one WWE would prefer we never look back at.
6 Luke Gallows
Luke Gallows went off to Japan and honed a stiff, badass persona. His work was noteworthy enough that WWE brought him back into the fold alongside tag team partner Karl Anderson to become a prominent piece of the Raw brand.
Before going to Japan, Gallows worked in WWE as a heater for CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society stable. While he lost enough that WWE would probably just as soon have us forget that chapter of his career, it’s not really embarrassing. Gallows’s gimmick prior to that point, though? He found himself playing Festus.
Festus was a strangely anachronistic that saw the big man cast as a mentally impaired farm hand who somehow sprung into action when he heard a ring bell. It was a largely tasteless and illogical gimmick that didn’t fit the landscape of its time that well, and is all the worse suited to contemporary WWE with its more inclusive programming and anti-bullying stance. This photo captures the Festus character at his worst.
5 Mickie James
Like a number of WWE Superstars, Mickie James cut her teeth in the wrestling business on the independent scene. That included a great deal of work under the name Alexis Laree. Through this work, she honed many of the skills that would ultimately make her one of the best female workers of her generation.
Despite steadily progressing, and arriving as a legit star, James nonetheless went through a lot of the silliness of the indies, including trying on different gimmicks and attire. This photo captures her in absurd knockoff Road Warrior shoulder spikes—not exactly her best, most professional look. Notice, too, the minimal crowd behind her, most of whom look like they could care less about what James and her opponent might be doing in the ring.
4 Bray Wyatt
For all of its campy elements, Bray Wyatt’s sinister swamp preacher character is one of the most serious on the current WWE landscape. The company has gone to great pains to try to get us to forget about the man’s earlier work as Husky Harris. Meanwhile, some veterans have knocked him for not keeping kayfabe on social media or in public, including mugging for photos with his wife and kids.
This photo takes things to the next level, capturing Wyatt not only out of character and with family, but look even goofier than his real life brother Bo Dallas in a pirate costume. No, this Halloween, Wyatt really went for it, clad in a positively goofy Fred Flintstone costume that completely undermines his on air persona.
3 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan is now a WWE legend who had to leave the professional wrestling profession too soon. He remains active as an on air authority figure, and remains popular based on the work he did when he was an active wrestler.
As much as a part of Bryan’s appeal always was that he was undersized and a little dorky, he nonetheless grew into more of a traditional man’s man during his time with WWE, including growing out his beard and thickening is physique. This photo captures Bryan from an earlier point in time, when he was working with Ring of Honor. This stage in his career was crucial to his development and he probably never would have arrived as one of the best in WWE if he hadn’t first honed his game first on the indie scene. Unfortunately, Bryan also looks small, young, and completely unintimidating in this old photo—not exactly the image WWE loves projecting of one of its top stars from recent years.
2 Braun Strowman
Today, Braun Strowman is a bona fide main event level talent who has gotten over huge with fans based on his feats of strength, badass persona, and deceptively sharp in ring game. WWE has built him to this point, and many fans may remember his more lukewarm beginnings as a member of the Wyatt Family.
Even before Strowman associated with the Wyatts, though, he had another on air role on the WWE main roster. He was part of a different entourage then, rolling as one of Adam Rose’s Rosebud partygoers. At that time, his outlandishly big size was a big of a joke to add a different dimension of spectacle to Rose’s entourage. It’s funny to think that, a couple years later three years later, Rose is a guy who never rose out of the lower mid-card before getting released, while one of his sidekicks, Strowman, is viewed as a legit threat to Brock Lesnar.
1 The Undertaker
The Undertaker is a truly legendary figure in WWE lore. Vince McMahon in particular takes the Deadman persona so seriously that he reportedly hates the Biker ‘Taker gimmick from the Attitude Era and any references to it for undermining the gravity of the character.
WWE can’t be wild, either, about more recent photos of The Undertaker in normal life when he looks less and less like a Phenom or even a more general badass, and more like an old man. This photo is particularly incriminating for The Undertaker holding a cane that he appeared to be using to get around (and this is before he retired) though it was later clarified that the cane was just a prop to pose with and not something The Undertaker was actually using to support himself. Despite the very reasonable explanation, this photo remains a look at The Undertaker exactly as WWE would prefer you not remember him.