A common refrain heard throughout professional sports holds that the more success you enjoy, the bigger the target gets on your back. Vince McMahon and the WWE know this to be all too true, as they have reigned as the top dog ever since McMahon Sr. emerged from wrestling's territorial era with national ambitions. Sure, there was the once-formidable challenge from Ted Turner and WCW, but WWE has, for the most part, been rather ruthless in their reign atop the professional wrestling empire.
That sort of dominance is bound to make you some enemies. McMahon Sr. led an emergence that crippled many a local promoter, leaving indies with fewer available touring wrestlers thanks to exclusive talent contracts. Since then, his son has overseen continued gains of the now-global corporation, often coming at the expense of potential rival federations. The WWE has not been shy about stealing talent away from competitors, nor have they shown any qualms about mocking the opposition.
As the dominant force in the business, WWE has to step on its fair share of toes - and not just those of rival promoters. Countless wrestlers have been "future endeavor'ed," as being fired is known in WWE parlance. Others have been de-pushed, cast aside or simply just never gotten a real shot at the big time, leading to plenty of feelings of resentment and ill will.
Among the following list of 20 wrestlers who have bashed the WWE, many of the names listed here are familiar to the Universe. Such is the nature of the wrestling business that, if you stick around long enough and have the right talent and look, you're likely to cross paths with the big dog. If these wrestlers and wrestling personalities haven't previously been tied to WWE, chances are they have tried to crack the roster or may even be active WWE superstars at present time.
21 Terry Funk
There are few better examples of the inherent inevitability that WWE presents than NWA and ECW legend Terry Funk. Funk's remarkable 50-year career has been filled with many great moments away from the shiny spotlight of WWE, but it has still included three short and somewhat reluctant WWE runs. Among the Hall of Famer's many issues with WWE, Funk particularly took umbrage with their shoddy treatment of ECW after acquiring the brand. He opted to appear at Shane Douglas' "Hardcore Homecoming" event instead of the more lucrative "ECW One Night Stand" WWE event, feeling that it was more genuine.
20 Randy Orton
Third-generation superstar Randy Orton has spent his entire wrestling career under the WWE umbrella, but even he's been known to express vocal frustration over the direction of the product. The outspoken Viper openly campaigned for a heel turn in 2013 (and eventually got his wish) and hasn't been shy on critiquing the direction of his character on social media. More recently, Orton responded to a Twitter question about why non-John Cena merchandise was unavailable for children by tweeting:
18 Davey Richards
Despite never appearing on WWE TV, Davey Richards received a WWE tryout prior to eventually landing in TNA alongside American Wolves tag team partner Eddie Edwards. He doesn't exactly have kind words to offer from the experience. In speaking to Newsday.com last year after being informed via email that they weren't going to earn a WWE contract, Richards spoke out about the 'weird' vibe in Stanford, Connecticut. "That place is so weird, man," said Richards. "It gave me the creeps. Everyone's just walking around on eggshells."
17 Stacy Keibler
You would have to think that WWE, in their eternal pursuit of pop culture relevance, would have been delighted by the 2012 and 2013 romance between former Diva Stacy Keibler and Hollywood A-lister George Clooney. However, Keibler left WWE to participate on Dancing with the Stars and hasn't looked back since. In interviews looking back on her wrestling career, Keibler has likened her experiences to waking up every morning with the feeling of having hit by a train. When DWTS came along, she was already looking for a way out.
16 Josh Mathews
The former Tough Enough contestant and WWE announcer landed in TNA earlier this year, and has quickly embraced the anti-WWE bandwagon. While he likely wasn't enamored with McMahon's well-documented need to provide real-time input and talking points to his announcers, Mathews opted to take WWE to task over its hypocritical handling of NXT signing Samoa Joe. Specifically, he expressed outrage over WWE announcers recognizing the former TNA star as a big deal upon arrival while not acknowledging the existence of their struggling competitor.
15 Gail Kim
There reportedly exists a current rift within WWE between McMahon and Triple H over the direction of the Divas division. While McMahon is happy to maintain the status quo of the afterthought division, his son-in-law wants to enhance the division and give women more exposure on WWE TV. This rift was recently highlighted by former WWE Diva and current TNA star Gail Kim, who took McMahon to task on Twitter over what she felt was a sexist attitude.
While Kim seemed to avoid using the WWE-centric hashtag #GiveDivasAChance, she created her own #WomenCanMainEventAnyDay. Not as catchy.
WWE's treatment of ECW made them a number of enemies, particularly among extreme legacy stars that helped make the original ECW hugely popular. One such original was Rhino, who was so disenchanted with WWE's watered down ECW that he used a live TNA event as a platform to reject a contract offer from WWE to appear at a "One Night Stand" PPV. A month later on TNA TV, he dropped a replica ECW title belt in the trash to protest WWE's treatment of the brand. In what is an ongoing trend here, he would find his way back to WWE (or NXT, anyway).
13 Honky Tonk Man
Any wrestling fan of a certain vintage will be readily familiar with the name, "Honky Tonk Man." Fewer fans will recognize the name Roy Wayne Farris, which is why the Honky Tonk Man has been so determined to use his popular character name rather than his real one. I admittedly don't know the legalities regarding who holds the right to the HTM name between Farris and WWE, but Farris has been pretty outspoken about his right to the name and has even gone so far as to threaten to sue WWE if they stand in his way.
12 Bobby Fulton
Perhaps the least recognized name here, Bobby Fulton was one half of The Fantastics tag team alongside Tommy Rich that enjoyed solid runs in NWA, WCCW and a number of other territories, including a brief spell in WWE. Earlier this year, following the release of McMahon's cover story in "Muscle and Fitness" magazine, Fulton took to Facebook to rip the WWE Chairman over royalties he felt he was due. "Vince sure is ripped," wrote Fulton. "He's a master of ripping people off, like all the wrestlers like me from the territory days. He stole our likeness, who we are, and our intellectual property of our matches."
11 Vince Russo
The famous and infamous booker has had plenty to say about the WWE since he last left in 2002. While Vince Russo wasn't afraid to pull any punches in his 2010 book "Rope Opera," his most recent contention with WWE was the company's treatment of Chyna in both a personal and professional way. Personally, Russo took Triple H to task for allegedly dating now-wife Stephanie McMahon while still seeing Chyna. Professionally, Russo took umbrage with WWE's litigation of Chyna for the rights to her name and objected to Triple H insisting on Steve Austin's podcast that she would never appear in WWE again.
10 Jesse "The Body" Ventura
The former Governor of Minnesota made his triumphant return to WWE for one night only as a guest host on Raw in 2010. While he displayed some of the trademark bravado that made him a larger than life star in the 1980s, it was his comments on ESPN Radio afterwards that raised some eyebrows. Ventura told ESPN that he witnessed wrestlers being treated unfairly and being denied benefits based on their classification as independent contractors rather than employees. Don't think he'll be invited back any time soon!
The Icon Sting was the last big name holdout from the WCW days who hadn't bitten the bullet and joined WWE before making his long-anticipated debut at Survivor Series last year. For years, Sting resisted the move out of concern for both his Christian religious beliefs and the legacy of his WCW years. During the WCW Invasion angle of 2001, Sting took particular exception to what he perceived to be a disrespectful promo between The Rock and Booker T, in which The Rock was dismissive of Booker's WCW achievements and even pretended that he didn't know who Booker was.
8 "Superstar" Billy Graham
Ten years after his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, "Superstar" Billy Graham announced via Facebook that he was done with WWE programming. After a May 2014 episode of Smackdown!, Graham decided he'd had enough and offered a lengthy rant to explain why he couldn't watch their ridiculous PG content. He specifically cited Bo Dallas ("running around like an idiot and hugging his opponent") and Adam Rose ("effeminate Pete - sic - Rose sucking on a lollipop, followed by maybe 15 of his circus troupe of freaks and geek’s, he gives me the creeps") as part of his tirade.
7 Bruno Sammartino
Say what you will about McMahon, but he has never been one to let a personal grudge get in the way of the business. That has never been clearer than in his (and, more accurately, Triple H's) dealings with pre-Hogan megastar Bruno Sammartino. In the 1980s and 90s, Sammartino became an outspoken critic of the rampant drug abuse in what was then the WWE, creating bitter tension with the Chairman. However, even a decades-long grudge can be smoothed over, as was the case with Sammartino's 2013 induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
6 Stone Cold Steve Austin
As quickly as McMahon can mend fences, he has been known to be equally adept at destroying relationships. That's why few superstars have ever enjoyed the teflon status of Steve Austin, whose podcast has frequently aired on the WWE Network, even when it has included content that WWE probably would rather not have aired. Earlier this year, immediately before conducting a live podcast with Paul Heyman that was televised on the Network, Austin criticized Raw in comparison to the well-regarded NXT brand, saying that Raw has become "wrestling for morons."
While many wrestlers seem to overcome their beef with McMahon and find their way back into the WWE's good graces, Joanie "Chyna" Laurer still hasn't mended fences after a checkered post-WWE foray into drug abuse and the adult entertainment industry. Curiously, though, it is the Divas division that has been the driving force behind Chyna's disenchantment with the company that has seemingly turned their back on her. In 2011, she identified Natalya and Beth Phoenix as her "modern day ripoffs" and chastised "barbie dolls" Eve Torres and Kelly Kelly - both of whom are no longer with the company - for being poor workers.
During his hiatus from WWE between 2010 and 2013, Dave Batista wasn't shy about explaining why fans weren't seeing him on Raw every week. In a 2011 interview with the UK's Daily Star, Batista decried the current WWE product, saying, "It’s brutal. I can’t watch it. I can’t connect with it. I no longer know this business. I don’t do PG wrestling.” He also spoke openly about leaving on account of his disagreement over the direction of the company. As is a common narrative in WWE, he was brought back into the fold in 2013 and could well be back again down the road, though he did take a jab on the way out.
3 Brock Lesnar
Few WWE superstars have been as candid about their pro wrestling existence as Brock Lesnar has been over his career. A supreme athletic freak, Lesnar dabbled (and found success) in amateur wrestling and pro football before eventually becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion. Many fans, though, know him best from his WWE stints, which came about from, as he plainly puts it, his desire to make money. In a 2009 ESPN E:60 profile, Lesnar said that he never watched wrestling and didn't care for the entertainment aspect of it nor the travel demands. He openly said he was in it for the money.
2 CM Punk
"Never say never" is a long-held axiom in the WWE Universe, and for good reason. Many superstars who were thought to have burned their bridge with WWE ultimately found themselves back in the fold. It's still early in CM Punk's post-WWE career, but he doesn't look like a guy who will be back any time soon. Not after ripping Dr. Amann, current superstar Ryback and making steroid allegations on his friend Colt Cabana's "The Art of Wrestling" podcast last November. Dr. Amann is currently suing Punk, real name Phil Brooks, for defamation.
1 The Ultimate Warrior
There aren't many relationships that McMahon has had with wrestlers that became as toxic as the one he had with The Ultimate Warrior, who left under bad circumstances on three occasions. Typically angry over money, the Warrior and WWE engaged in back-and-forth litigation throughout the mid-90s between 1996 and 1998. While WWE felt that he had held them up and manipulated them for more money, he believed that he hadn't received money that he was owed. Fortunately, Warrior and WWE made amends in advance of a Hall of Fame induction and Raw appearance just days prior to his death in 2014.