Professional wrestling has been around for a long time, and things have sure changed since the beginning. Aside from the wrestlers themselves going from huge blobs of bulk to steroid nightmares to guys and gals today that could double as bodybuilders or models, we’ve seen a steady evolution in gimmicks and angles as well.
Some of these changes have been for the better, like increases in production value, special effects, technology, and the importance of good acting that make stories more interesting and entertaining. Yet other aspects have become more difficult as time has passed too, and coming up with new, exciting storylines is a good example. In addition to the general ability to create unique angles, today’s ultra-politically-correct societal attitude has added to the challenge too. Things that used to fly 25 or 15 or even five years ago might be frowned upon - or worse - today, especially with WWE’s recent move toward PG programming. Thus racism, sexism, xenophobia, and general prejudice - even in jest - are immediately met with forceful blowback, and especially as social media and the Internet become larger and larger parts of our lives.
This might appear to dampen the fun a bit (and it sometimes does), but in many cases, the lack of ability to pursue some gimmicks and angles is probably for the best. Wrestling got away with a bit too much at times, and seeing some of the past content can be legitimately shocking to those that didn’t witness it at (or live during) the time it occurred. Here are the Top 20 Offensive Wrestling Moments That Would Never Happen Today.
20 Stone Cold’s Second Amendment
During the great Austin-McMahon rivalry of the late ‘90s, one of the biggest moments culminated in Stone Cold “kidnapping” Vince and dragging him into the middle of the ring, but instead of laying a beat-down on him, Austin pulled out a gun, held it up to his boss’s head, and pulled the trigger - only to reveal it was a toy containing a flag that said, “BANG 3:16.”
Although seeing McMahon (kayfabe) pissing his pants was humorous, waving a gun around in the middle of a crowded arena wouldn't fly today with gun violence becoming a sensitive issue. The increased focus on gun control today makes the scene a bit disturbing and insensitive to watch in retrospect, and something we’re unlikely to see in professional wrestling again.
19 Seven’s Seven Minutes of Fame
Prior to the 1999 WCW return of Dustin Runnels (F.K.A. Goldust), the promotion began airing creepy vignettes of a character named Seven, a white-faced figure shown lurking outside of a child’s window at night. But in what way, exactly, was this supposed to be creepy? They were likely going for the monster-under-the-bed approach, but the whole thing, especially Seven requesting the child “join [him] in complete bliss,” was a lot more like something a child molester would say. (What do small children have to do with wrestling anyway?)
Turner Networks soon scrapped the character for this very reason, which makes one wonder how the WCW managed to film numerous clips and air them without realizing the tastelessness on their own. Or maybe they did and still decided to go forward. Either way, nobody would dare take that risk today.
18 Kai En Tai’s Dub Trouble
Generally speaking, the Asian community are pretty good sports when it comes to stereotypes and humor. But at some point, you gotta believe people will get offended. When the Japanese stable Kai En Tai made its debut, there was probably support of the group from Japan’s abundant wrestling fans - until the group quickly turned into a big joke.
Their main gimmick involved Shane McMahon doing an English dub over the members’ voices whenever they were on the mic, constantly using the phrases “evil” and “indeed,” in a stereotypically Asian tone. Most people probably laughed this off in the ‘90s, but in 2016, the gimmick likely wouldn’t even be tried.
17 Billy & Chuck’s Non-Marriage
The WWE’s portrayal of Billy and Chuck’s partnership was in questionable taste at first, and it only got worse. The angle involving their allegedly homosexual relationship eventually led up to a wedding, but the duo revealed at the last minute that the whole thing was just a publicity stunt. Although most people weren’t bothered too much, one group definitely was: the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Not just because the story made a joke of gay marriage and Billy and Chuck’s “coming out,” but because GLAAD had advised the WWE on the angle, and helped promote the event via mainstream media. With same-sex marriage now legal across the country, the storyline might still work today - but scamming GLAAD? Not a chance. One may have survived crossing them in 2002, but not in 2016.
16 JBL’s BS Salute
When John Layfield became the J.R. Ewing-esque heel John Bradford Layfield, his first promo saw him literally kicking out illegal Mexican immigrants attempting to cross the border. And yet this still wasn’t the most racist gimmick of his career. Once, during a match, JBL went for some cheap heel heat by goose-stepping around the ring while repeatedly doing a flat-armed Nazi salute. This move is tasteless and offensive in general, but the fact that he chose to do it in Germany made the action so much worse.
Not only did the gesture hit too close to home for the crowd, but it’s also illegal in the country. Considering this only happened in 2004, what would deter JBL from doing it if it were 2016? Probably YouTube, which wasn’t a thing until 2005. If it existed a bit earlier, JBL might have thought twice about doing something at a house show, knowing that despite it not being televised, the whole world was only a few clicks away from seeing it.
15 Rowdy Roddy Gets Racist
Although “Rowdy” Roddy Piper said a lot of things that crossed the line in his career, the adage “actions speak louder than words” will be invoked here for the most offensive moment. Or moments, because not only did Piper wear a “White is Right” t-shirt on more than once occasion when facing a person of color, but he also painted half of his body black for a WrestleMania VI match against Bad News Brown. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the worst use of blackface in wrestling (more on that later), but it’s still abundantly clear what Piper’s intentions were, and that something like this won’t happen again.
14 Hawk Takes a Dive
When it comes to humorous topics for angles, suicide and real life drug struggles don’t sound like good ideas. Yet that’s exactly what WWE did during their Attitude Era, which saw Road Warrior Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) taking part in an angle that involved his actual addiction problems, as well as suicidal tendencies. It culminated in November of 1998 with Hawk climbing to the top of Monday Night Raw’s giant TitanTron screen during a (kayfabe) suicide attempt, and his teammate, Puke, pushing him off of it. Puke then said he was enabling Hawk’s drug issues in order to replace him.
If you need a good indicator of how wrong this entire angle is, the tag team both quit WWE shortly afterward. Given the failure of this storyline and the disturbing amount of wrestler suicides, these topics are essentially off-limits now.
13 Jake’s Snake Meets the Earthquake
In the early ‘90s, Jake the Snake (just before turning heel) had an ongoing feud with Earthquake, which culminated in the latter entangling the former in the ropes, dragging a bag supposedly containing Jake’s beloved pet snake Damien into the middle of the ring, and “squashing” it with a pair of Earthquake splashes, as a horrified Jake the Snake (and the audience) could only watch.
The instance of animal cruelty was so disturbing, even the WWE cut away at the moment of impact. Much later, it was leaked that the bag actually contained hamburgers stuffed into pantyhose, but not before the promotion milked the incident for all it was worth. Despite only being kayfabe, one would think PETA and the ASPCA would still never allow this to occur today.
12 Sgt. Traitor
When Sgt. Slaughter returned to the WWE and turned heel, he did so in the worst way a military man can: siding with the enemy. It was during the Gulf War, and an angle was created in which Slaughter felt spurned by the United States, started wearing an Arab headdress, and was said to have made friends with Saddam Hussein. This topped any of the foreign enemy heels, and the fan reaction was especially harsh, with Slaughter receiving actual death threats that required him to wear a bulletproof vest and travel with security at all times. Robert Remus (Slaughter) himself even said he was uncomfortable with the new gimmick. Could they get away with this angle in today’s patriotic, politically correct world? Well, is treason still punishable by death?
11 Owen’s Homophobic Chant
Back in the old days, wrestlers could basically get away with saying anything, including a certain homophobic slur that would occasionally find its way into a match. During a WCW Power Hour back in early 1991, Owen Hart was facing a pink-clad Rip Rogers, and Hart began the match by making a hand gesture that insinuated Rogers was gay and leading the crowd in a vulgar chant of “F----t! F----t!”
Fast forward 25 years, and we’ve all hopefully learned that not only is this a weak insult, but it’s an offensive term that nobody should be using, and especially shouldn’t encourage the audience to say. Although it has happened numerous times before, it’ll hopefully never happen again.
10 Virgil the Manservant
Michael Jones’ character Virgil has been around since 1987, and wrestled as recently as 2010. He is generally known as the “bodyguard” for Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, as he is both a wrestling partner and and an assistant, but this wasn’t always the term of choice. For his debut, Virgil was introduced as DiBiase’s “manservant,” a title that absolutely cannot be applied to a black man in this day and age. Plus, DiBiase said he owned Virgil, who replied with a cringeworthy, “Yessuh!” After four years, an angle was developed that saw Virgil turning on DiBiase and smacking him with the Million Dollar Title Belt, but it’s almost certain that if the character of Virgil was conceived in 2016, he either wouldn’t be played by a person of color, or he’d never reach fruition at all.
9 Vince Dogs a Diva
The WWE Divas might not get the respect they deserve as performers, but women have still come a long way in the world of wrestling. “The women were simply storylines, they were on the side. Now, we are actually a viable part of the program,” Trish Stratus said in a recent interview. And she should know: only 20 years ago, Mr. McMahon himself involved her in one of wrestling’s worst offenses. In an attempt to humiliate Trish, Vince demanded she strip down, get on all fours, and bark like a dog.
However, this marked a turning point in wrestling, especially considering Trish came back to slap Vince at WrestleMania X-Seven. And if you don’t believe a scene like the barking one would be unacceptable today, consider the fact that its footage was used prominently in smear campaigns during Linda McMahon’s failed 2010 Senate campaign.
8 Waldo Von Erich’s Anti-Semitic Sentiment
Want to know what got people in the 1960s all riled up? Poorly-timed holocaust jokes. Yet that’s exactly what former “German” (actually Canadian) NWA/WWWF wrestler Waldo Von Erich went for during a televised appearance in Buffalo. “What’s the difference between an apple pie and a Jew?” he asked. Without repeating the tasteless punchline, let’s just say it involved an oven.
As expected, people were outraged by the comment, and the Buffalo promotion was canceled as a result. A similar reaction would probably occur today, half-a-decade later, but with all the money currently invested in professional wrestling, the moment would be unlikely to happen at all.
7 Vince Drops the Bomb
It doesn’t matter if they are playing a character. It doesn’t matter if it’s done as a joke. It doesn’t matter if it’s a different form of the word. And it doesn’t matter if rappers say it all the time. Unless you’re a black person, you can’t say the N-word. (And even then, you probably shouldn’t.) So why, in the name of all that is holy, did Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE, think he could say it during a 2005 pay-per-view event? Especially when the gag involved Booker T and Sharmell overhearing him. Even though the incident was only 11 years ago, you gotta believe if Mr. McMahon tried to pull this today, he’d probably be looking at an early retirement. Or at least some Black Lives Matter protests.
6 Muhammad Hassan’s Bad Timing
Enemies of America have always been used as heels in wrestling, and Muhammad Hassan, an Arab-American character who debuted with WWE a few years after 9/11, is just another example, except a few things went wrong with this gimmick. First, instead of giving the role to an actual Arab, it went to Mark Copani, who has an Italian heritage. Casting decisions like this have come under fire in recent years. But the worst part of this character had nothing to do with Copani himself. On July 4, 2005, Hassan faced The Undertaker and after Hassan’s 2-on-1 partner was bested, he began praying.
Five men in black shirts, camo pants, and ski masks suddenly appeared and beat and choked Undertaker into submission. Tasteless in general? Sure. But the worst part was although this match occurred only three days prior to the 7/7 London terrorist bombings, and it aired on UPN the very same night. If it was 2016, you better believe not only would it be yanked from the air, but the footage would probably be immediately scrapped, along with the Muhammad Hassan character in general.
5 Wrestling’s Rebel Yell
Here’s one that’s difficult to cite as a single moment. But hey, the title doesn’t say each entry has to be one specific instance, so sue me. Following the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, the citizens of this country rallied against what many deemed a Southern symbol of historic hate - the Confederate Flag - which was subsequently banned in numerous places across the country.
So unless a promotion is looking to lose a large number of fans, we’re not likely to see the rebel battle flag associated with wrestling again. In the past, the Briscoe Brothers, the Godwinns, and the Fabulous Freebirds all used the symbol, including a memorable instance where the birds painted the flag on their faces for the 1985 AWA Superclash at Comiskey Park.
4 Goldust’s Black Face Becomes Blackface
Dustin Runnels played numerous characters throughout his wrestling years, but none more popular than Goldust. Although he sometimes dressed in drag (an un-PC move that wouldn’t win him a lot of fans today), his getup almost always involved some combination of black and gold face paint in addition to whatever he was wearing. On one occasion though, Goldust took it too far.
The event occurred during a January 1998 match against Flash Funk, an African-American wrestler, whom Runnels wished to mock by dressing as a pimp, complete with giant afro, gold chains, fur coat, boom box, and - you guessed it - an entirely black-painted face. Really. Although black makeup was a trademark of Goldust’s image, it’s obvious how blatantly offensive and racist the short-lived “Artist Formerly Known as Goldust” character was.
3 Kurt Angle and Sharmell
There are some subjects that just shouldn’t be portrayed in a wrestling angle, and rape has to be at the top of the list. Even so, there have been a surprisingly large amount of instances that generally implied it was about to happen (and there was that time Triple H claimed he “consummated” his marriage to a passed out Stephanie McMahon multiple times) but whenever something was about to occur, the scene would end before going too far. Until Kurt Angle made good on his desire to have “beastiality sex” and “perverted sex” with Booker T’s wife, Sharmell. After bursting into her dressing room, Angle pushed her onto a couch, mounted her, and held his hand over her mouth while he did just that, for entirely too long. Though this only occurred in 2005, it couldn’t possibly air today.
2 Tim White’s Career Suicide
Former WWE referee Tim White began his career back in the ‘80s, and didn’t leave until 2009. Maybe he should have called it a day a few years earlier though. In 2005, he took part in a segment where he was (kayfabe) drunk and depressed in a bar while being interviewed by reporter Josh Mathews. White then took out a shotgun and - offscreen - supposedly killed himself. Not only was this one of the most tasteless and disturbing segments in wrestling history, but they repeated the gag each week for several months, calling it “Lunchtime Suicide.” This was only 11 years ago, but with society’s recent increased focus on mental health and its ties to violence, there’s no way the WWE would allow it today.
1 Triple H Desecrates the Dead
Triple H made a lot of claims about Kane during their feud back in 2002, but none more heinous than his accusation that Kane committed necrophilia with the corpse of an unrequited love, Katie Vick, following a car accident. To make matters worse, Triple H showed a video of Kane (actually himself in a mask) sneaking into a funeral home and desecrating the corpse (a mannequin) of Vick. And this wasn’t the typical brief allusion; it was an excruciatingly-long, seven-minute video showing Triple H fondling the deceased’s breasts, removing and smelling her undergarments, taking off his own shirt, mounting the body, and claiming to have “screwed [her] brains out.” The video aired with a disclaimer, but the public outrage was still massive, and most fans shunned the angle. With the WWE currently in PG-mode, there’s virtually no chance of a despicable event like this happening today.
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