There’s drama, and then there’s WWE drama. Through the years, so many stars have come and gone, have tested the waters elsewhere, eventually making their way back to the WWE after finding that the grass isn’t always greener. Let’s face it, one does not just leave a company that raised and nurtured their careers “just because”; there is typically a decent amount of frustration or unhappiness that goes along with any departure. Sometimes it is something as simple as contract and financial disputes that lead wrestlers into other companies.
In other circumstances, however, wrestlers find themselves caught in more intense predicaments that lead to ugly exits with no certainty of a future return. While some ties seem to be cleanly severed, all too often we find Vince McMahon feeling slighted in someway, shape, or form, leaving plenty of room for hostility. Vince McMahon, ever the businessman, is not quick to fold under pressure from some of his biggest name superstars’ demands. However, that mentality has spelled out trouble for the company one too many times, and in the decades of his reign as CEO of the WWE, he has found himself in quite a few predicaments with discontented employees.
So we’ve compiled a list for you of 15 of the most notorious circumstances of WWE employees walking out the door on less than favorable terms.
15. Stone Cold Steve Austin
In 2002, Steve Austin gave the WWE a big ol’ middle finger when the toughest SOB finally realized he was burnt out and desperate for a change. Austin claimed he was unhappy for quite a while about the WWE’s creative team pushing his character in the wrong direction. After voicing concerns to no avail, Austin decided to take matters into his own hands and hit the road – his way. On the night of a scheduled Raw appearance in which Austin was set to wrestle (and lose) against Brock Lesnar, Austin simply didn’t show up to the match. Instead, Vince had to enter the ring to explain the circumstances of Austin’s absence to the crowd, stating that Austin was “taking his ball and going home.” Eight months after the incident, Jim Ross convinced Austin to speak with Vince and make amends. Ultimately, Austin returned to the WWE about 8 months later, and has since apologized and admitted that the way he chose to go about everything was unprofessional and that he was in the wrong.
14. CM Punk
For a long time, CM Punk was silent about the precise reasons behind his leaving the WWE. However, Punk recently vocalized what went down backstage during his career, and what lead him to have such a hostile attitude toward his former employer. Mainly, their lack of concern for his health and safety are what did him in. In one instance, Punk suffered a knee injury that required a solid four weeks or more for full recovery. During this time, he was scheduled in a TLC match just three weeks post-surgery. The final straw was being told that a mass that was discovered on his neck was nothing, yet it turned out to be quite a serious staph infection that could have easily claimed his life if left untreated for much longer.
Following his departure from the WWE, Punk infamously received his contract termination papers on the day of his wedding to fellow WWE star A.J. Lee. Although many stars do make returns even after leaving on bad terms, Punk has adamantly denied that he will ever make a return to the WWE.
13. Hulk Hogan
Hell hath no fury like a scorned Vince McMahon! Longtime wrestling icon Hulk Hogan was fired from the WWE in 2015 after a sex tape of the superstar surfaced online. As if a sex tape with his friend’s wife wasn’t bad enough, it was Hogan’s racist spiel on the tape the ultimately landed him in the unemployment line.
As a result, the WWE not only released Hogan from his position in their company, but also pulled everything Hogan-related from their stores and websites in the aftermath of his now-public tangent. Hogan has since apologized for his vulgar language and offensive words, stating that it is “not who I am”. Maybe Hogan has had an epiphany since the recording, or maybe he was just trying to save face and work on damage control. Either way, the recent split with WWE was certainly not on the friendliest of terms.
12. Vince Russo
The former head writer resigned from the WWE after finally being fed up with how he was treated, mainly by Vince McMahon. Russo states that McMahon’s blunt disregard for Russo’s finances or his emotional well-being as the end of the line for him in the WWE. In 1999, McMahon debuted a new program, SmackDown, a show that Russo acknowledges would bring in millions of dollars worth of revenue. Not only did McMahon not give Russo a proper warning of the new program in the works, Russo also claims that even after the revenue increase, the salaries of those involved remained the same – unlike their workload.
Russo went to McMahon about his financial concerns, and also about the well-being of his family and life at home. He admitted that his family was being neglected, and that he was being “milked dry” by the WWE. It was after McMahon stated “I don’t know what the problem is, I pay you enough to hire a nanny to take care of your kids”, that Russo decided enough was enough, and he needed to make his exit.
11. Bret Hart
Towards the end of his contract with WWE, Bret Hart began showing signs that he was ready to move on. The aging superstar began his descent as he demanded more and more money, although his physical abilities were deteriorating and not worthy of a sky-high paycheck. Hart decided to make the switch over to WCW, although he requested to win his final match against Shawn Michaels in order to retain his title belt and go out on top in WWE. Although Vince initially agreed to these terms, he suddenly ripped the rug out from under Hart and thus began the infamous Montreal Screwjob on November 9, 1997. Humiliating Hart in front of the crowd, Vince set it up so that Michaels would win the match, unbeknownst to Hart. The stunt led Hart to spit directly into Vince’s face on live television.
Nearly a decade after the “Screwjob”, Hart was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006, and has since made amends with the WWE.
10. Alundra Blayze
Debrah Miceli began her wrestling career in WCW, making a name for herself under the ring name Medusa. In 1993, Miceli was brought into the WWE where Vince adjusted her moniker to Alundra Blayze. After winning three women’s championships during her two years in WWE, Blayze was released from her contract, however the exact reason why remains unclear. What is clear, however, is the fact that Blazye was none too happy with their decision.
After her release, Miceli made her return to WCW on an episode of Nitro, interrupting and grabbing the mic from the commentators. During the stunt, Miceli brought out her WWE title belt and dropped it into a garbage can – on live television! A great big metaphorical middle finger to the WWE and Vince McMahon.
9. Stacy “The Kat” Carter
Stacy “The Kat” Carter’s WWE release story is pretty short, sweet, and to the point. Although her WWE career was short-lived, she managed to earn herself one Women’s Championship win during a Four Corners Evening Gown Pool match. However, what Carter was most notorious for during her time in the WWE (besides nudity) was her horrendous attitude backstage. It’s no secret that she was not too well liked by her coworkers behind the scenes, as quite a few have come forward and openly admitted what it was like working with her. This is the alleged reason that she was ultimately let go from the company, however the fact that her release came so abruptly, and in the middle of a story line with The Right to Censor, has left room for speculation. In protest of her release, her then-husband Jerry Lawler also packed up and left the WWE. However, once their divorce became final shortly after, Lawler returned to the WWE sans Carter.
8. Rick Rude
The ever arrogant Rick Rude debuted in the WWE in 1987 after already successfully making a name for himself in WCW. The first time Rick Rude left the WWE in 1991 was over a contract dispute; as a result he headed back to WCW for a better deal.
However, after a devastating neck injury in 1994, Rude was forced to retire from WCW. After two years in retirement, The Ravishing One made his way back to WWE, however he stayed out of the ring. He returned as a personality up until the infamous Montreal Screwjob. Rude heavily disagreed with Vince’s decision, and decided to pack it up and leave for good in 1997.
7. Matt Hardy
Any longtime WWE fan can recall the Lita-Edge-Hardy triangle, and exactly what led to the demise of Matt Hardy‘s WWE career. In Hardy’s own words, he left the WWE “mad, angry, bitter”. During his time on the sidelines rehabbing a knee injury, one of his best friends, Edge, swooped in and swept Hardy’s longtime girlfriend, fellow wrestler Lita, off her feet. The two engaged in a silent affair for a while before it all finally came to light. Hardy couldn’t quite get over the intense betrayal he suffered, taking jabs on social media, posting hostile videos and words on his website. Due to his unprofessional handling of the situation, WWE decided that it was time for Hardy to get the axe.
6. Randy Savage
Randy Savage, one of the most notorious faces of all time in professional wrestling, was banned from the WWE for quite a long time after his departure in 1994. So many rumors swirled over the years, speculating what went wrong prior to the superstar’s sudden exit from the WWE. From rumors about a rendezvous involving an underage McMahon daughter, to stories of a potential steroid bust – fans were left wondering. However, the real story seems to be that Vince thought Savage would be better suited outside the ring, yet Savage wasn’t quite ready to hang up his costume just yet. After Vince refused to allow Savage back into a storyline, Macho Man took his talent over to WCW, taking his Slim Jim endorsement moolah with him – much to the dismay of Vince. Whatever the reason, clearly old wounds eventually healed, as the late Randy Savage has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
5. Jeff Hardy
In the 90’s, Jeff, alongside his brother Matt, built a successful wrestling career as a tag team titled The Hardy Boyz. After a while, Jeff was pushed as a singles competitor where he won multiple championships. However, as time went on, Vince noticed a decline in Hardy’s performances, and explained to him that he needed to visit a drug rehab. After Jeff’s refusal to seek treatment, the WWE made the decision to terminate his contract. Hardy went on to have a relatively successful career in TNA, with whom he just resigned. Although the success has not quite reached the level he had in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, he seems to have done well enough for himself considering the manner in which his WWE career came to an end.
4. Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was basking in all of his success in the WWE in 1990, yet after SummerSlam just one year later, he suddenly up and left the company leaving us to wonder what went wrong. Because of his massive fan base, that had been compared to the popularity of then-superstar Hulk Hogan, Warrior felt that he deserved the same benefits that were bestowed upon Hogan at the time. When Vince refused to pony up the cash that he was dishing out to Hogan, Warrior called it quits and figured he could do better elsewhere (and by elsewhere, I obviously mean WCW – where else?). Warrior ended up with a suspension due to an “unprofessional stunt”, and that led him to quit the company altogether. As most usually do, Warrior let his anger pass and eventually made his way back to the WWE and was inducted into the HOF, just days before his untimely death.
3. Brad Maddox
Brad Maddox had to learn the hard way to watch what he says in front of a crowd.
Maddox, a rising talent and title holder in FCW, debuted in the WWE in 2010 as a referee for a brief time before being bumped up to general manager of Raw. While cutting a promo one night at a taping of SmackDown, Maddox referred to the crowd as “cocky pricks” – a damning comment that led to his abrupt release in 2015. Although his departure was unfortunate, fans have hope for Maddox who has shown plenty of promise and talent. Many believe that his time as GM was a great stepping stone, and that he will have no problem making a name for himself outside the WWE.
2. Alberto Del Rio
After a bit of speculation, it was finally confirmed that Alberto Del Rio was fired as a result of assaulting a manager backstage during a taping of SmackDown in 2014. Manager Cody Barbierri made an offensive comment towards Del Rio and his ethnicity, stating that it was Del Rio’s job to clean the dishes in catering due to his Mexican heritage. Big mistake. After refusing to issue an apology, Del Rio slapped Barbierri so hard that he fell to the ground. Del Rio was initially suspended for his actions, however once Barbierri threatened to sue the company, it was ultimately decided to give Del Rio the axe.
1. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is currently on top of the WWE world. However, things were not always running so smoothly for the superstar. Remember back in 2004 when Lesnar suddenly decided to high-tail it out of the WWE to pursue other things. When Lesnar joined WWE, the company, and Vince, poured tons of time and resources into the up and coming star. However, once Lesnar booked it out of the blue, he left the company in quite a dilemma with ratings plummeting after his departure. Vince was none too happy that all of his energy seemed to have been wasted on him. However, the story ends happily, as you all know, because Brock is currently killing it in WWE now, becoming one of the biggest superstars in the current lineup.