In 2008, Darren Aronofsky’s film, The Wrestler, changed the way a lot of people look at professional wrestling. Yes, it’s a violent business full of colorful characters who stage combat. But it’s also a line of work that sees people get legitimately hurt, and not only physically, but psychologically given the amount of time on the road, substance abuse, and the mental impact of going from worldwide fame to relative obscurity in the blink of an eye.
Indeed, aged wrestlers can be sympathetic characters, clinging to the last of their celebrity and the last of their savings while willing their way through chronic pain and the knowledge that their careers are hanging by a thread based on every bump.
A wrestling fan’s inclination is to feel some level of pity for wrestlers who have seen their star fade, and particularly those who have endured major injuries or other losses in their personal lives. We recognize that these talents, in many ways, gave their lives or at least their wellness to entertain us. The WWE Hall of Fame and similar institutions at least offer some recognition, but it doesn’t feel like enough.
For every wrestler we might feel sorry for, though, there are quite a few who have caused us to care less over time. In some cases, they’ve made offensive comments, or revelations were made about the way they conducted themselves in real life. In other, more positive instances, talents recovered in ways that make us realize we shouldn’t feel so poorly for them after all. In any event, this article looks at fifteen wrestlers from yesteryear whom we don’t feel so sorry for anymore.
15 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock is an oddball talent for getting overlooked as a wrestling legend, despite having had a killer physique, very good ring skills, and awesome real life credentials as a mixed martial artist. There are many parallels between his assets and those of Brock Lesnar, Yet while Lesnar is allowed to hold world titles for the better part of a year while working a part time schedule, and will surely wind up in the Hall of Fame someday, Shamrock generally gets the snub by WWE.
So was Shamrock just ahead of his time and now underappreciated? It’s an arguable point, but Shamrock hasn’t exactly endeared himself based on his comments in interviews over the last year. It was clear he always had a high pinion of himself, and he was widely rumored to have priced himself out of a lot of pro wrestling opportunities since the late 1990s. His more recent claims that he ought to be brought in to feud with Lesnar, and claims that the only reason he’s not is because of Triple H’s ego come across as out of touch, self absorbed, and not particularly sympathetic.
14 Sid Vicious
In terms of look and star power, Sid Vicious is a guy whose wrestling legend ought to shine bright. He was a multi-time world champion across WWE and WCW and main evented WrestleMania twice. Ask any wrestling fan from the 1990s, and there’s little doubt he’ll remember him. He faded a long way, however, to wind up a guy more likely to show up in “where are they now” features than on screen for any high level wrestling promotion.
While fans are inclined to feel poorly for a guy who had it all and has seen it slip from his grasp. However, as the wrestling podcast, documentary, and tell all book markets have taken off, a lot of incriminating information has come up about him. These points range from having a scissor fight with Arn Anderson to nearly killing Brian Pillman with a pair of ill advised power bombs in War Games, where the roof of the cage was too low do deliver the move safely. Add on top of that allegations of him feigning injuries, and more recently no showing indie appearances, and you have a guy folks don’t have much sympathy for anymore.
13 Brutus Beefcake
Brutus Beefcake was a recognizable mid carder for WWE during the original Hulkamania years. He went on to get spotlighted more in WCW as a heel challenger to Hulk Hogan, and then a man of diverse gimmicks up to the end of the promotion. He got some extra consideration from fans on account of a parasailing accident that crushed his face and nearly ended his career in the early 1990s.
Like many wrestlers of his era, Beefcake’s star has largely faded. He hasn’t endeared himself much to fans since. His antics purportedly include selling counterfeit autographed merchandise of his former best friend Hogan, and engaging in a childish war of words over Twitter with The Hulkster. Combine that with his limitations as a performer and the widely held belief that Hogan’s friendship was the only reason he got so many opportunities in the first place, and wrestling fans don’t lose any sleep about how far Beefcake has fallen now.
12 Lanny Poffo
Lanny Poffo wrestled for WWE throughout the 1980s before settling into his best remembered gimmick as The Genius, and mostly working as a manager. From a more historical perspective, Poffo may be better remembered, not for his own work, than for the fact that he’s The Macho Man Randy Savage’s little brother.
It would be easy to sympathize with Poffo for losing his brother too soon, and after seeing his own career unfairly overshadowed in a time when light heavyweights weren’t given much opportunity to shine. Poffo hasn’t represented himself quite so positively over the years to follow his brother’s death, though. First, he appeared to be the gatekeeper, refusing to play ball with WWE when they wanted to induct him into the Hall of Fame (the two sides did ultimately resolve their differences). Furthermore, the revelation that Poffo reportedly earned a seven figure salary from WCW as a favor to Savage, despite never actually wrestling or appearing on television at all for the company, has made him feel less like someone to feel sorry for than a guy who lucked his way into fame and fortune.
11 Hulk Hogan
Few professional wrestlers have ever taken as steep of a fall from grace as Hulk Hogan. After becoming the biggest wrestling star in the world via his WWE work from the mid 1980s to early 1990s, and reinventing himself as an iconic heel in WCW, he enjoyed yet another swing on top as the ultimate nostalgia figure, starring again for WWE and then TNA.
Hogan lost it all, though. He went through a messy divorce, then had a sex tape released of him. From there, audio leaked of him using the n-word over and over again. These tapes cost him his contract as a WWE legend and largely tarnished his name with not only wrestling fans, but the rest of the world.
Hogan came across as pitiful in the days to follow, largely remorseful in interviews and on social media. However, he has largely fumbled efforts to recover his reputation, making clumsy comments in response to the Black Lives Mater movement, coming across as morally dubious in suing Gawker out of business, and continuing to charge steep fees to fans seeking to meet him and get picture or autographs at public appearances.
Virgil was never the most celebrated star, best remembered for stints as Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard in WWE, and as a lackey for the New World Order in WCW. While he had a briefly successful run as a face who stood up for himself against DiBiase’s bullying, that quickly gave way to him becoming just a notch above jobber status.
It’d be easy enough to pity Virgil as a never was, and to feel poorly for him infamously going to conventions and not drawing much of a line for his autograph sessions. This dynamic transitioned into the “Lonely Virgil” meme and less a cause for sympathy than a joke. Virgil lost further credibility when news broke that he was trading on Dibiase’s name, getting bookings for the two of them without ever even telling the Million Dollar Man. Virgil collected paydays he probably never would have scored on his own and Dibiase started to get a bad rep for no-showing before he caught on and put the word out not to trust his former on screen partner.
9 Lacey Von Erich
As a wrestling fan, it’s hard for your heart not to go out to anyone left in the Von Erich wrestling family. As the daughter of The Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich, she not only lost her father to suicide, but a series of uncles to other premature deaths. Lacey would follow the preceding generation into the wrestling business and not do particularly well for herself. She’s a pretty face, which combined with her last name, got her a shot in WWE’s developmental system and later a stint with TNA. It seemed that her story in wrestling wound up disappointing and sad.
Lacey made an appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast last year, and discussed a number of these dynamics. The point came up that she was working with other daughters of famous wrestlers like Brooke Hogan and starting a new wrestling promotion. Any sympathy for her quickly faded as she spoke with remarkable ignorance about the contemporary landscape for women’s wrestling, speaking disrespectfully about WWE’s women’s division in particular, and making it clear she hadn’t paid much attention to the women’s wrestling market in the past five years or so.
8 The Dynamite Kid
The Dynamite Kid is best remembered to American fans as half of the British Bulldogs tag team. His partner, Davey Boy Smith, would go on to greater notoriety as a singles star, but it’s widely held bt serious fans that Dynamite was actually the more talented wrestler out of the pair. Despite being smaller, and arguably having less charisma, Dynamite was ahead of his time as a fast paced, high flying worker. Fans felt sorry for him for suffering a back injury that cut him short in his prime, such that he’d never work more than the occasional show after his run with the team.
While Dynamite’s talents may have justified more opportunities, his attitude makes people less inclined to feel sorry for him. Word has gotten around that he was a mean spirited bully to many of his fellow talents. Additionally, as Bret Hart wrote about in his book, and other wrestlers have corroborated, he became a bitter old man living alone back in England, cruel and critical toward those who reach out to him, and those who have gone on to greater success than him.
7 Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas was an important wrestler for ECW—the chosen wrestler to throw down the National Wrestling Alliance World Championship belt, and effectively launch Extreme Championship wrestling as its own autonomous promotion. He had reasonable stints as a mid card talent for WCW and WWE as well, though he never made much headway in those companies.
Word came out in recent years that, in addition to still wrestling part time on the indies, Douglas now worked at Target. Soon, people started to either feel badly for Douglas or, in a few cases like Ric Flair, openly mock The Franchise for how far he’d fallen.
While most former stars in this article don’t have fans feel poorly for them anymore on account of unethical behavior or the like, Douglas’s case is different. People don’t feel sorry for him, because he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He has owned working at Target, very reasonably explaining that he needs to consistently provide for his family.
6 Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner rose from tag team stardom to be a legit, full on main eventer for WCW in the dying days of WCW. He’d get a shot at working with WWE for a spell after WWE bought out WCW, and after the InVasion angle had flopped. That short tenure was largely disastrous, including an embarrassingly bad showing against Triple H in which the company miscast him as a face, after which WWE most relegated him to a mid card role. Steiner would play out the rest of his career working for TNA and on the indies.
It’s easy to feel poorly for a top talent who was misused and fell from great heights. Steiner didn’t exactly draw a lot of sympathy from fans when he’s maintained his outspoken persona in his real life. In a variety of interviews, he hasn’t hesitated to go on expletive laden rants against former colleagues and bosses. While his rants can be entertaining, they ultimately suggest he probably wasn’t a very pleasant person to work with himself.
JBL after a lengthy tenure as a WWE Superstar, JBL got a rocket to main event status in 2004 when he was rebranded from barroom brawler to a millionaire bully character. A combination of management’s faith and good timing got him a WWE Championship push for the better part of a year.
From there, JBL’s career largely stalled out.
To be fair, he had a lot of miles on him and couldn’t necessarily have expected a long career after that year on top. He’d be in and out of regular performance for about four years to follow and never recapture world champion status before he retired from the ring for good.
Fans may have been inclined to feel badly about JBL’s short time on top and subsequent fall from notoriety. However, as time has gone on, more and more unflattering stories about JBL have surfaced. Whether it was his own whim or directives from management, he was known to take liberties with other performers in the ring—particularly incoming guys from ECW like Public Enemy, The Dudley Boyz, and The Blue Meanie. Additionally, rumors abound about him picking on smaller guys, and particularly broadcasters, including Justin Roberts and Mauro Ranallo. Joey Styles was purportedly picked on, too, but had the gumption to stand up for himself and actually punched out the much bigger wrestler backstage.
4 Bret Hart
The tail end of Bret Hart’s wrestling career, and the years to immediately follow read something like the wrestling equivalent of a Greek tragedy. First, he was the victim of the Montreal Screwjob and thus exiled from WWE. From there, WCW criminally mis- and under-utilized The Hitman, jeopardizing his legacy. His brother fell to his death in a stunt gone horribly wrong during a live show. Finally, Hart took a kick to the head from Goldberg that gave him a concussion and led to the end of his career.
While many of us do still have some sympathy for this fallen hero of the wrestling world, he hasn’t fully endeared himself to the wrestling community in the years to follow. He’s been vocally critical of his colleagues and successors, first in a tell-all book, then in interviews, rating various stars as “4 out of 10” in terms of talent, or accusing guys like Seth Rollins of being too reckless in the ring. Hart now comes across as hypercritical and perhaps a bit bitter, taking away from how fans receive him.
3 Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn is that odd case of a wrestling star who seems like he really ought to have been a bigger star than he was, but never quite reached main event level. He was a loyal company guy for WWE who evolved with the times, from a lame cowboy tag team gimmick to a cutting edge half of The New Age Outlaws in the Attitude Era. He was powerful with a good physique, and had impressive athleticism for a guy his size. To be fair, WWE did demonstrate intentions of going all the way with him, including winning King of the Ring and once feuding with The Rock. Gunn never caught on with the fans, though, and will forever be remembered as a tag team guy.
We can feel bad for Gunn not realizing all of his potential. However, he hasn’t made the greatest decisions since leaving the limelight. That includes working a tired Outlaws retread for TNA during which time he focused on criticizing his former employers at WWE. From there, after rejoining WWE, he used performance enhancing drugs to further a powerlifting career that he kept secret from the company until he got caught.
2 Greg Valentine
At first blush, Greg Valentine looks like the embodiment of the kind of character captured in The Wrestler. He got started with pro wrestling in the 1970s, was a very big star in the 1980s, and hung around the national scene for most of the 1990s-a beneficiary of the Monday Night War and WCW’s hunger to sign talent of any name value at all. Valentine has remained active, not only making spot appearances for WWE on occasion, but also still working the indies well into his 60s. This all bespeaks a guy who just can’t give up the business (and may need the money).
It’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for Valentine given his comments at times. Some of it is a sign of the changing times, but Valentine’s suggestion that women had no place in wrestling and ought to be at homemakers instead wasn't taken well, particularly in an era when the wrestling business takes its female performers more seriously.
1 Hugh Morrus
Hugh Morrus came across as an unconventionally talented big man, who proficiently worked a more aerial and technical style than most men his size bother to learn. Despite his talents, he was never elevated higher than mid-card fodder for WCW—a warm body to ably fill stable spots, most memorably with the Dungeon of Doom. His brief tenure as an in ring talent for WWE was little more auspicious.
Morrus seemed to have found his calling after his in ring career came to a close, moving on to become the lead trainer in WWE’s developmental system. As he coached along top stars of the next generation, it was easy to feel bad for him never having had the chance to really shine in his own right. However, as time moved along, more and more allegations came up of Morrus abusing his power as head trainer. That included physically and emotionally abusing the younger wrestlers he worked with, stepping way over the lines of professionalism and good taste. He was ultimately relieved of his duties, to be replaced by the well liked Matt Bloom.