Whenever wrestling controversies are mentioned, the Montreal Screwjob is always seen as the biggest. It makes sense as it was a huge deal with Vince McMahon costing Bret Hart the title on his final night in the company and “screwing” him in public. The locker room nearly revolted but in hindsight, it boosted WWE to new success by creating the “Mr. McMahon” character and Bret struggling in WCW. Today, Montreal has become the byword for wrestling controversies with many still claiming it’s the biggest of the bunch. Yet the fact is, wrestling has been courting controversy for decades and several of them manage to outdo Montreal in many ways.
Many of them involve sudden accidents or passings that got fans majorly upset. Other times it was horrible business decisions that hurt the industry. A few cases involved creative moments that got majorly out of hand for a very poor reaction. Sometimes, they could have been avoided but most were deliberate and the companies had to handle the fallout. Here are 10 of the biggest wrestling controversies that put Montreal to shame and show that “controversy equals cash” was a saying long before Erich Bischoff came around.
10 Sid vs Arn
In 1993, WCW had already taped footage announcing that Sid had defeated Vader for the WCW title at Starrcade 93 despite how the match wouldn’t be for months. During an October tour of London, Sid was boasting on how he was now the star of the company and Arn Anderson argued with him.
The fight continued to the hotel where Sid attacked Arn in his room and used a pair of scissors to stab him. Both men were arrested and WCW had no choice but to fire Sid once the news broke. Ric Flair then beat Vader for the belt as WCW suffered due to Sid’s stupidity.
9 Rob Feinstein's Dishonor
While ROH loves to boast about its great history, they tend to gloss over the guy who founded the company. Rob Feinstein had done a great job building Ring of Honor into a great promotion thanks to video trading and word of mouth. But in 2004, Feinstein was caught in an internet sting where he was soliciting who he thought was an underage boy.
The resulting chaos forced Feinstein to resign and TNA ended its working relationship with ROH which would hurt both promotions. ROH has done great since then yet still regret having to admit who started the company in the first place.
8 Pillman Has a Gun
In late 1996, WWE was making some bold moves to take back the ratings lead from WCW. Steve Austin and Brian Pillman had been in a feud despite how Pillman was on the shelf due to a shattered leg. It built up to a live broadcast on “RAW” where Austin threatened to attack Pillman in his home. To the shock of everyone, Pillman brandished a gun and was ready to use it.
The broadcast culminated with Austin storming into the house and Pillman firing the gun as the screen went black. The USA Network was blasted with so many angry phone calls that they nearly canceled RAW on the spot. It got major ratings but also big trouble for WWE.
7 Vince’s Steroid Trial
Never has WWE come as close to going out of business as here. After years of rumors and wrestler reports, the federal government indicted Vince McMahon on federal charges of distributing steroids and covering it up. Had Vince been found guilty and gone to prison, it could very well have put WWE under totally.
He was acquitted as the government couldn’t make their case properly. It did hit WWE hard as the bad press played a part in numerous wrestlers jumping to WCW and affected business for a few years. It’s hardly the last time WWE has faced issues regarding such problems and the specter of the trial still haunts Vince today.
6 Bruiser Brody
In his prime, Bruiser Brody was one of the best “wildman” characters in all of wrestling. Brody was brilliant working the various territories to make a name for himself and pioneered what we would now call hardcore wrestling. In 1988, Brody was working in Puerto Rico when he ran afoul of Jose Gonzalez over a payday and Brody not selling in a match.
Gonzalez stabbed Brody in the locker room where he succumbed to his wounds. Gonzalez was later acquitted of the stabbing while many U.S. wrestlers gave Puerto Rico a wide berth for a long time. It’s still the most infamous murder in the history of the business.
5 Owen Hart
At Over the Edge 1999, Owen Hart was to make a big flying entrance as his goofy Blue Blazer character with the joke that his harness would drop him face first into the ring at the last minute. Somehow, the harness came loose early and Owen suffered a fatal fall into the ring.
While the accident was bad enough, the decision by WWE to continue the show after his death has been long criticized with many thinking it should have been stopped at that moment. The following legal battle tore the Hart family apart and many fans still haven’t forgiven WWE for costing Owen’s life over a dumb stunt.
4 Mass Transit
This was a moment that nearly destroyed ECW five years early. Needing a partner for D-Von Dudley against the Gangstas, Paul Heyman agreed to let a young beefy worker named Mass Transit take part in the match. New Jack went wildly over the top bloodying the poor kid to within an inch of his life and nearly killed him.
It turned out that Erich Klaus was only 16 and had lied about his age which just made things worse. It got ECW’s first PPV canceled and the lawsuit almost wrecked the company. While they survived for a time, it was still a dark moment for ECW.
3 Sandman’s Attack
ECW crowds are infamous for being bloodthirsty and loving wild moments. But even they had their limits. In 1996, Raven had his goons beat down the Sandman in a harsh attack. They then tied the Sandman to a makeshift cross and put a “crown” of barbed wire on his head.
The obvious implication was hard to miss and for once, the ECW crowd reacted in just flat silence. Kurt Angle had been backstage and was so outraged by this, he vowed to never work for ECW. Paul Heyman ordered Raven to come out and apologize for the incident and it was one time ECW went way too far.
2 Crown Jewel
This was terrible on so many levels, it’s hard to count. At a time when foreign and political relations with Saudi Arabia were rough, WWE made a huge deal with several power players in the country for some major televised events. It made them a fortune but it also brought scores of bad press for dealing with a nation infamous for its poor treatment of women, denying equal rights and attacking other nations.
When WWE went ahead with it after a reporter’s death, both parties of Congress criticized them. That WWE continues these shows after such bad publicity shows how they put money ahead of everything.
1 Chris Benoit
Before the last weekend of June 2007, Chris Benoit was one of the most respected and loved workers in the business. In hindsight, the signs of his sharp temper and personal issues were there but no one could possibly imagine how Benoit would snap, take the lives of his wife and son and then his own.
His entire legacy was completely shattered while he brought the worst kind of media attention to wrestling. It instituted a new wellness policy and the question of long-time head trauma in wrestling. Yet Benoit still casts a cloud over the business that has sadly become his true legacy in wrestling.