As Vince McMahon and his family will often tell you, WWE isn’t simply a wrestling promotion. They are a global brand name, a media conglomerate, and in being these things, they are in the entertainment business. As such, their wrestlers aren’t simply wrestlers either; Michael Cole will remind you each and every Monday Night Raw, they are the world’s greatest entertainers.
Although wrestling is the primary entertainment provided by WWE superstars, many of them try their hands at acting. Hulk Hogan had a few starring roles, and of course The Rock is one of the biggest movie stars in the world today. Other WWE superstars apparently weren’t quite as good at acting as they were at body slams, so their extracurricular employment opportunities didn’t quite reach the levels Rocky and The Hulkster did.
The levels of shame they should feel vary, but let’s be clear: we aren’t talking any kind of corporate sell out shame at all. These ads have something fundamentally wrong with them, either in their content or with the product itself. There isn’t anything wrong with an entertainer getting paid to sell Sprite or a t-shirt, unless you try to do it the way Sting and John Cena did. And fans are still stunned to this day when they learn about the entire WWE once having a partnership with an extremely controversial campaign.
10. Sting Obeys Thirst; Murders Child
In all fairness to WWE, Sting was in WCW while this Sprite ad aired around 1999. That doesn’t change how shameful the thing is. For the first 15 seconds, we aren’t even sure what this ad is for. Sting shows up at a kid named Timmy’s house and tells him he’s from “The Dream Come True Fantasy Foundation,” which kind of gives the implication Timmy is terminally ill. Sting has come to wrestle, and Timmy’s excited parents clear space for the two to spar. For one single second, Timmy takes a sip of Sprite. And then for 10 seconds, Sting beats the hell out of the kid for no reason.
It’s hard to decide who the real villain of this ad is: Sting, for beating a terminally ill fan, unprovoked; Timmy’s parents, for allowing a grown man to beat their sick child with a baseball bat, or the Fantasy Foundation charity for setting the whole thing up. Weirdly, as can only happen in logic, the true heel is Timmy. He was a fan of Sting and enjoyed the product they were trying to sell. Now that’s a heel.
9. Edge Poorly Imitates a Legend
For all the negatives this article will posit about wrestlers appearing in advertisements, there is one exception: “Macho Man” Randy Savage telling us to “Snap into a Slim Jim! Oh Yeah!”
These words transcend wrestling legend and reach a unique place in pop culture history, where even people who have never watched Randy Savage wrestle or eaten a Slim Jim probably would know what you’re talking about it if you said it. Several other wrestlers have attempted to recreate the magic, including The Ultimate Warrior and Bam Bam Bigelow, but none were as embarrassing as Edge.
Edge first rose to fame as a member of the goofy duo Edge and Christian, and in the right context, the two were hilarious. But eating a Slim Jim and turning into some kind of miniaturized Tasmanian Devil type is a sad campaign for a company that once created something iconic.
8. Jake “The Snake” Roberts Says “Don’t Do Drugs”
This one is more on Vince than Jake. This anti-drug PSA appeared in WWE Magazine in March of 1989, and was at some point turned into a poster, and later an Internet meme. It says “Just Say No To Drugs,” a very simple message, and not at all a message that any performer should be ashamed to send. Unfortunately, Jake “The Snake” Roberts was not at all the right performer to send it.
Jake admits he “felt nasty doing that poster, but you do what you’re told sometimes.” It’s rumored the WWE locker rooms were littered with drug use all throughout the 80’s, but what isn’t rumored, but rather on record, is that Jake Roberts himself was definitely filled with drugs all throughout the 80’s. His problems didn’t stop there, and only seemed to get worse in the ensuing years after the ad was made. WWE as a whole should feel a little shame for the ordeal as well, creating an embarrassing storyline surrounding Jake’s alcoholism in the mid 90’s.
7. Tom Jenkins Loves Working Out While Drunk
Tom Jenkins never worked for WWE as he died before WWE crowned its first World Champion, so that hardly precludes him from being a professional wrestling legend. In fact, Jenkins retired before there was ANY World Heavyweight Champion. Perhaps the best of his era, he was simply the American Heavyweight Champion, as in that point in history, it was too hard to unify titles throughout the entire world. Though a World Champion would exist in his lifetime, by then Jenkins had retired, becoming a trainer and hired by President Theodore Roosevelt to teach wrestling at the prestigious West Point Academy.
However, when looking at this ad, it doesn’t matter what company he was working for or when it was made. Printed in the Amsterdam Evening Reporter and Daily Democrat in New York, in 1905, the ad takes the words straight out of Jenkins mouth as he boasts that during his years as champion, “the only medicine I used was Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey!” Not only is whiskey medicine, it’s also “the greatest body-builder in the world,” and he “heartily recommends it to everyone who wishes to be strong and well.” Jenkins may have been from an era where wrestling was more of a legitimate contest than it is today, but advertising has always been shady.
6. Strangler Lewis Wants Kids To Drink
Ed “Strangler” Lewis is similar to Jenkins in many ways. He, too, never wrestled for WWE, because he retired way before they started naming champions. However, “Strangler” Lewis came a little after Jenkins, and thus did get the honor of being a multi-time professional wrestling World Champion. Not terribly much is known about the above ad, but it appears to be legitimate, and although there’s nothing wrong with a wrestler enjoying a drink now and again, we have a bit of the problem with the fact he’s specifically calling out to kids.
Matters are made worse when you learn “Strangler” Lewis was also similar to Jake Roberts in a couple ways. He never exposed himself to a live audience, but he did have somewhat of a fall from grace, gaining a lot of weight and no longer being able to stay in wrestling shape. Many speculate his fall from grace was caused by, you guessed it, a drinking problem.
5. Kurt Angle Loves Pizza
Kurt Angle is an Olympic gold medalist, with years of experience as a legend in both WWE and TNA, beating the hell out of hundreds of opponents and instilling genuine fear into their minds as he forces them to tap out to his Ankle Lock. He’s also an absolute goofball.
This commercial is pretty special, as it’s the only one on this list that was actually used in a wrestling storyline to shame and embarrass the wrestler in it. The small local ad was made around 1997, before Kurt was a WWE or TNA legend, and merely an Olympic hero. But it became famous in January of 2001, when The Rock aired it on Raw to embarrass the then WWE Champion. Kurt really does look like a loser in the commercial, but given what we know about him now, it’s possible he was really drunk and his pizza was genuinely fascinating him.
4. The Ultimate Warrior Makes an S-Car Go
Virtually every last detail about these commercials for a local car dealership featuring the Ultimate Warrior should be deeply embarrassing to the WWE Hall of Famer. The ads all feature an evil Texas Billionaire type, with seemingly no relation to the Warrior, yelling clichés and performing hokey magic tricks, which are more than enough to captivate Warrior.
The plots of the ads don’t make much sense, either, throwing far too much information at the viewer for any of it to really connect. Throughout the multi-ad partnership, there’s hypnosis, a prison scene, something about giant snails, and, weirdest of all, Warrior petting a stuffed llama.
But the ad itself isn’t even the most embarrassing part of these videos. The commercials were filmed right before the Ultimate Warrior debuted in WWE, while still in WCCW. Before Vince gave him his much better title, he was known, for reasons unknown, as The Dingo Warrior. Makes about as much sense as the llama.
3. John Cena Beats Up A Super Fan
John Cena is the biggest star in WWE, and as such, is their biggest merchandise seller, and has been for years. It’s safe to assume that a good deal of that merchandise is sold at shop.wwe.com, formerly called the WWE Shop Zone. It’s also safe to assume that someone who would purchase all of John Cena’s merchandise and imitate him is a pretty huge John Cena fan. So why the hell does John Cena give a massive wedgie to his best customer?
Fans have long felt WWE ignored their wishes and refuse to give them what they want, with fans booing Cena being one of the biggest issues at hand. Others question how exactly a company based on people beating each other up for minimal reason can take such a strong anti-bullying stance and ask people to Be A Star. Creating an ad where their biggest star beats up a fan who actually likes him, for absolutely no reason, is a move that lends credence to those who feel this message might not entirely be genuine.
The fact the fan meekly whimpers, “Come on, man!” only for Cena to scoff really drives home the fact Cena is just a bully. The ad was made several years ago, before Cena was the face of the company he is today, but the basic concept of beating up a fan was just as questionable several years ago as it is today.
2. Every Wrestler With a “Maximum Sweat” Toy
Some of the other items on this list focus on wrestlers advertising questionable products. Sometimes they just weren’t a good fit, or the product itself was embarrassing or goofy, making them hard to take seriously. Maximum Sweat is different, in that ads for Maximum Sweat could only possibly feature wrestlers, and yet no wrestler should ever have attached their name to this product.
Action figures have been a staple of wrestling merchandise since the early 80’s, and not much has been needed to improve them, though some have tried. Good ideas included simple props, or themed toy lines that interact in various ways. Terrible ideas include making the action figures look like gross steroid monsters who, by the way, actually fucking sweat.
The header says every wrestler involved in this toy line should be embarrassed, but actually, it’s probably Gangrel’s biggest break, so he can rest easy. White Wolf should be pissed though.
1. Saturday Night’s Main Event Becomes An Ad For Generation Rescue
Everything else on this list can probably ultimately be pegged down to a questionable business decision. In the days leading up to and including August 2, 2008’s Saturday Night’s Main Event, WWE loudly, proudly and repeatedly promoted Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy’s autism -elated “charity.” To explain it as calmly as possible, Generation Rescue claims that autism is curable, which it is not, and can be prevented and reversed, which it can’t, by refusing to give children vaccinations, which are vital for their survival.
It’s hard to say how much blame WWE deserves for attaching their name to such a controversial, unfounded and publically maligned charity campaign. It’s reasonable enough to assume WWE entered the partnership as part of their continued attempt to become the media conglomerate they view themselves as, working with huge stars like McCarthy to somehow raise their public image. What isn’t reasonable, and in fact may be as unreasonable as Generation Rescue’s false claims, is why no one in the company would do any fact checking as to whether or not this charity was at all reputable. The entire corporate structure of WWE has to answer for this partnership, along with Jeff Foxworthy, Carmen Electra and Ben Stiller, who appeared at the event in support of McCarthy.