After the Attitude Era ended, the WWF transformed into the WWE, and the Ruthless Aggression Era kicked off, with a good share of risqué storylines, but not as many as there were in the days of Attitude, and an enormous roster owing to WWE’s two-brand, and later three-brand setup. Even the lower-card talents got good exposure back in those days, as many casual fans were still tuned in, despite wrestling’s waning popularity. But with the very rare exception (see: Cena, John, Orton, Randy, et al.), the wrestlers of the Ruthless Aggression Era saw their WWE runs eventually come to an end, and for many, they never came close to reaching the heights they reached while under the employ of Vince McMahon.
Not every wrestler who fell from grace and has sad-looking photos to prove it comes from wrestling eras at least two decades removed from present day. The Ruthless Aggression Era may have ended just about a decade ago, but there’s still a plethora of wrestlers from that era who found themselves in dire straits after their WWE runs ended – substance abuse problems, irrelevance in the indie scene, medical issues, you name it. As you’ll see with these 15 wrestlers, it’s often sad to see how far they fell after they left the WWE. Though that’s not to say that this list doesn’t come with its share of redemption stories, as you’ll see with some of these wrestlers.
15. Jeff Hardy
The Hardy Boyz are one of those rare tag teams who achieved success across not just one or two, but three eras in the WWE. As for the younger half of that tag team, Jeff Hardy, his peak in the WWE definitely came during the Ruthless Aggression Era, as the company was dead-set on pushing him as a main event star, especially in the era’s final years. He ended up with one WWE Championship and two World Heavyweight Championships as a singles competitor, though he was, at the time he left the WWE in 2009, a mess of injuries and substance problems.
While Hardy enjoyed success in TNA soon after leaving the WWE, it’s still hard to forget how he looked like at 2011’s Victory Road pay-per-view, as he infuriated fans and co-workers alike by showing up drunk and/or high, with TNA calling an audible and having Sting beat him in just 88 seconds in their main event match. Fortunately, he’s since found sobriety, enjoyed a renaissance as “Brother Nero” in TNA’s Broken Universe, and while currently injured, he and his now-“Woken” brother Matt’s WWE return has been well-received for the most part.
14. Jillian Hall
When it came to gimmicks for WWE’s female wrestlers in the Ruthless Aggression Era, Jillian Hall arguably got the short end of the stick more often than not. From having The Boogeyman chomp up a gross, obviously fake “mole” on her face, to those times when she tortured the eardrums of fans with her god-awful singing, Hall wasn’t taken too seriously by WWE’s creative team, though she did end her WWE run with one Divas Championship.
While the photo above was shot in 2011, one year before she was arrested for battery following a domestic dispute with her then-husband, it almost puts Jillian in Sunny territory as far as getting out of shape is concerned. Granted, she was able to peel off the pounds shortly thereafter, and she hasn’t been in any sort of trouble since the 2012 domestic incident, but the above photo proves how big a difference several months of inactivity (since her 2010 WWE release) could make.
13. Matt Hardy
Jeff Hardy’s problems with drugs and alcohol may have taken up a lot of space on wrestling headlines back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but older brother Matt was no saint either. The above mugshot comes from a 2011 arrest, which took place after he was booted out of court-ordered rehab for a failed breathalyzer test. Not long before that, Matt had infuriated his fans by faking a suicide note on YouTube, where even Jeff Hardy’s wife took to Twitter to call out her brother-in-law for “trying to work the internet.”
That said, the Hardyz were definitely not in a good place back in 2011, and it didn’t get better right away for Matt, as he was arrested in 2014 for an allegedly violent domestic dispute with Reby Sky, just one year after they got married. But with the Broken/Woken gimmick getting over huge with wrestling fans, and his family members willingly helping him out as part of the Broken Universe, Matt Hardy has turned things around just like his brother has.
Sabu is more recognizable to fans for his 1990s heyday as one of ECW’s top stars, but he did enjoy a brief one-year run in the WWE from 2006-07 that didn’t live up to expectations due to multiple reasons. First was the fact that he was already in his early 40s at the time he signed his WWE deal. The second? Well, he was the other guy in the car when Rob Van Dam was arrested in July 2006 with drug possession, effectively killing his main event push. Sure, he did fairly well if everything is considered, but this wasn’t the Sabu ECW fans knew and loved about a decade prior.
Now 53-years-old, Sabu has yet to officially retire, and that’s despite the fact that he needed hip surgery last year. And while many older wrestlers still compete on occasion because they love the business, it often seems as if Sabu’s still competing mainly for the money, which is often in short supply, as evidenced by the GoFundMe campaign launched last year for his surgery.
She doesn’t get brought up too often by wrestling fans, but Jazz was one of WWE’s leading female talents of the Ruthless Aggression Era, winning two Women’s Championships in close to three years with the company. She also spent some time in both the original ECW and WWE’s neutered version of the iconic hardcore promotion, though by the time of that second WWE run, she was barely used, except if to put over younger, more promising women’s wrestlers.
Jazz has been staying busy in the independent scene since leaving the WWE, and is, in fact, the reigning NWA World Women’s Champion, having held that title for well more than a year. And while she’s only 44-years-old, photos such as the one above show how poorly she’s aged since leaving the WWE – if we didn’t tell you her age earlier, you probably would have guessed she’s already in her mid-50s.
10. Kevin Thorn/Mordecai
Mordecai is, by and large, considered one of the biggest failed gimmicks of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Initially conceived as a Bizarro, religious-zealot version of The Undertaker, Mordecai went nowhere on account of Kevin Fertig, the man behind the gimmick, being too green for the main roster. He was eventually repackaged as Kevin Thorn, and just like many of the other wrestlers in this list, he was mainly used on WWE’s ECW brand, never once looking like a threat to make the main event scene on Raw or SmackDown.
While he’s not as old as many of the other wrestlers in this list at 41, Fertig is still wallowing in irrelevance in the indies, either working as Mordekai (because WWE copyrights, we guess?), or reprising his vampire role as Kevin Thorn. That’s him in the photo entering the ring at an indie show, accompanied by fellow kayfabe vampire Gangrel, whom we would have included in this list, had he not been far more identifiable as an Attitude Era wrestler.
9. Rene Dupree
At Bad Blood 2003, Rene Dupree made WWE history with newly-crowned World Tag Team Champions La Resistance, as he became the youngest champion of any kind in WWE history, and the first teenager to win a title belt, at the tender age of 19. Yet that was the peak of what turned out to be a fairly average WWE career. He was only 23-years-old when WWE released him in 2007, meaning he was a flash in the pan at an age when many WWE wrestlers are just getting their careers started. In NXT, might we add.
Now 34-years-old, Dupree is no longer a kid, but he’s still young enough to get another shot at the big time. Instead, he mostly toils away in the lesser indies, particularly those in his home country of Canada. As seen in the photo above, that includes shows wrestling in small-time gyms and arenas that may usually serve as venues for high school basketball games.
Together with Nidia Guenard, Maven Huffman became the first co-winner of WWE’s Tough Enough rookie search, and he was able to parlay that into a decent mid-card run for the company, which is more than what could be said about future Tough Enough winners like Andy Leavine and Josh Bredl, who never sniffed the main roster. And since this year’s Royal Rumble is coming up soon, we should remind you of that time in 2002 when Maven eliminated The Undertaker. That didn’t lead to much, did it?
It’s not strange for aspiring pro wrestlers to get work as bouncers before they make it to the big time. Maven, on the other hand, took the opposite route, as he notably took a job as a bouncer at a New York sports bar in 2013, which is where the above photo comes from. That also came one year after news of his painkiller addiction broke, and not long after he accepted WWE’s offer to undergo rehab. He’s since returned to the wrestling business, though we can’t imagine WWE being too crazy about signing a 41-year-old who hasn’t been relevant in the ring for over a decade.
7. Tyson Tomko
Tyson Tomko was a solid mid-card hand during the Ruthless Aggression Era, usually working alongside Christian as Captain Charisma’s “problem solver,” or in layman’s terms, his bodyguard. While WWE tried to book him as a monster heel after the brand draft broke up his partnership with Christian, two straight squashes at the hands of John Cena essentially sealed his fate; he was good enough playing someone’s enforcer, but not the type of wrestler whose overall skillset screamed “main eventer.”
After playing a similar role alongside both Christian and Kurt Angle in TNA, the former Limp Bizkit bodyguard had his share of struggles with the proverbial personal demons, though he’s since cleaned up. In 2011, he was arrested for allegedly robbing a CVS pharmacy of 210 Oxycodone tablets, an incident which led him to accept the WWE’s offer to sponsor his rehab just a few days later.
No, we don’t really think this is a sad picture, but it’s a very interesting example of how a onetime Ruthless Aggression Superstar is working a completely different job unrelated to their pro wrestling career. Chances are you may remember Shaniqua, who was co-winner of Season 2 of Tough Enough, and worked one of the oddest gimmicks of her time as the dominatrix manager of The Basham Brothers. You better believe that didn’t get the generic-as-bleep Bashams over, or make them remotely more interesting.
Prior to becoming a Tough Enough hopeful and a short-lived WWE Diva, Shaniqua was known by her real name of Linda Miles, and was previously a college basketball player for Rutgers. And while the photo above shows her in a referee’s pinstripes, that’s not a wrestling match she’s officiating, but rather a women’s college basketball game. Hey, at least she’s still connected to the sport she played prior to her brief brush with WWE fame.
5. Balls Mahoney
Jonathan Rechner was only 23-years-old when the WWE asked him to play a rather embarrassing, seasonal role on TV – that of “Xanta Klaus,” Santa’s evil brother. It would be ten years before he’d be back on WWE television, and by then, he was well-established for his ECW persona as Balls Mahoney. That allowed him to enjoy some success on WWE’s ECW brand, though by 2008, he was deemed surplus to WWE’s needs. He then spent the next eight years in the indies, until his untimely death in 2016, just a day after his 44th birthday.
Not long after his death, Mahoney was posthumously diagnosed with CTE, which means he was most likely spending the final years of both his wrestling career and his life suffering from a brain injury. The above photo shows how poorly Mahoney had aged since leaving the WWE, as he looks closer to 50 than his actual age of 40 at the time of the interview.
4. Perry Saturn
Although they debuted in WWE during the second half of the Attitude Era, The Radicalz are a stable whose legacy is mostly connected to the Ruthless Aggression Era. After all, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were two of the latter era’s biggest stars, though we obviously can’t include them here; Guerrero died while active and in the prime of his career, while Benoit chose the most heinous, ultimately fatal way possible to fall from grace. Dean Malenko’s in-ring career was essentially done by the time Ruthless Aggression kicked off. That leaves Perry Saturn, he of the “Moppy” gimmick you’ve probably read about on these parts countless times.
After leaving the WWE and retiring from pro wrestling, Saturn practically fell off the face of the earth, and he later revealed that he spent several years post-retirement homeless and/or addicted to meth. While he did eventually kick drugs, his traumatic brain injuries have left him a shell of the physically-imposing beast he used to be, and his inability to work has left him and his family deep in financial troubles.
3. Teddy Hart
This may be stretching it a bit, as there really wasn’t much grace to fall from. But for all intents and purposes, WWE made a big deal about Teddy Hart signing with the company at the age of 18. He was Stu Hart’s grandson and, at the time, the youngest person to sign a deal with the WWE. But he was also a major piece of work who was fired multiple times by the company, and when he did finally make appearances for the WWE in 2005 and 2006, he was merely enhancement talent.
Even now that he’s in his late 30s, Hart continues to play the part of entitled man-child, as his odd in-ring behavior extends to shoot interviews, where he tends to say the silliest things about his colleagues, or about his runs with various wrestling promotions. It’s actually strange that he turned out that way – most literature on the Hart family shows Teddy’s mom Georgia Hart as one of the more level-headed of Stu’s children, with his dad, former Stampede Wrestling star B.J. Annis, similarly low-key, unlike the average Hart in-law.
2. Justin Credible
Although he can qualify as a wrestler from the New Generation Era (as jobber PJ Walker and jobber-to-the-stars/jockstrap-wearer Aldo Montoya), PJ Polaco is best-known to wrestling fans as Justin Credible, as he underwent a huge transformation from light-counter to hardcore mainstay upon joining ECW. He was rehired by the WWE in 2001 with great hype, but never did much beyond join X-Pac and Albert in the X-Factor stable before the company released him early in 2003. He also made a brief return in 2006, competing in two matches, including one where he did the job for a debuting CM Punk.
Credible has been in the news in recent months due to his battle with the bottle, and just as fans thought he’d already gotten clean, he had a very public relapse late last year at a Connecticut indie show. He’s now trying to get sober with the help of DDP Yoga, but the photo above shows Credible at one of the lower points of his indie career, looking out-of-shape and bloody as he cuts a promo at a sparsely-attended event, circa 2015.
1. Kurt Angle
Of course, things are looking up right now for Kurt Angle, as he’s enjoying a great return to WWE as a 2017 Hall of Fame inductee who also calls the shots as Raw‘s general manager. (Don’t get us started on his storyline son, though.) He’s also happily married to his second wife, and most importantly, he’s been clean and sober for several years running. But it wasn’t always that way for the former Olympic gold medalist, as he left the WWE in 2006 due to myriad injury problems, with an addiction to painkillers he was convincingly hiding from the company’s higher-ups.
During those dark years, Angle wasn’t just pilled up more often than not, but was also dealing with a serious drinking problem. The above photo comes from his 2013 DUI arrest, which took place during his time in the company then known as TNA. It was definitely not a good look for him, though that arrest proved to be the catalyst for his decision to get clean and turn his life around.
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