The professional wrestling business is anything but typical of the business world in general, and a big part of that is related to Vince McMahon being the most powerful person in the industry. In most companies, if an employee makes a mistake or gets in an argument with management, they’d either get fired, suspended, or face some other baseline if completely reasonable punishment for their actions. In the WWE Universe, should a wrestler cross the boss, they’ll probably keep their job, but what that job entails tends to change dramatically depending on how annoyed the boss was over what they did.
The most interesting elements related to Vince McMahon punishing his employees have always been a mix of who he chooses to discipline and how he chooses to do it. Sure, he’ll occasionally just fire a person or dole out a hefty fine, but the real crux of his business strategy seems to be embarrassing the hell out his employees to prove who’s in control. For whatever reason, wrestlers have been willing to endure these punishments for decades, and a few of them have even turned their fortunes around by using what was supposed to humiliate them to make themselves cult stars.
Not every wrestler is talented enough to turn a shame into fame, and most simply fade into obscurity shortly after falling out of corporate favor. Whether they manage a comeback or not, the stories of how Vince McMahon has disgraced his most hated wrestlers deserve repetition to any newcomers who might disagree with him in the near future. Keep reading to discover 15 humiliating ways Vince McMahon and WWE punished his wrestlers.
15. Daniel Puder Got Chopped To Bits At The Royal Rumble
As the only Olympic Gold Medalist in WWE history, it would be reasonable to assume Kurt Angle is also one of the best amateur wrestlers the company has ever seen. While that’s definitely true, even the greatest athlete in the world can get bested by a lucky rookie when he isn’t ready, which is exactly what happened with Angle and Tough Enough contestant Daniel Puder on an episode of SmackDown in November 2004. Puder caught Angle in a Kimura Lock during an impromptu match, nearly breaking his arm until referee Jim Korderas saved the situation with a quick pin count. Angle and most other WWE veterans were furious, taking it out on Puder after he earned a spot in the Royal Rumble by winning Tough Enough. Hardcore Holly, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero took turned chopping the hell out of Puder’s chest before eliminating him in seconds, apparently an in-ring assault that was approved by if not outright demanded by management. While the Royal Rumble doesn’t always have the best results these days, at least no one is getting intentionally injured.
14. Perry Saturn Beat Up A Jobber And Fell In Love With A Mop
Exactly what happened between Perry Saturn and perennial jobber Mike Bell during a match that later aired on WWE Jakked is a little sketchy to this day. What we know for sure is that Bell made a few mistakes in the ring and Saturn retaliated by throwing him out of the ring, causing Bell to land on his head in a pretty nasty bump. Most insiders believe Saturn was trying to hurt the poor jobber, while Saturn himself claims he “had his bell rung” when Bell botched a hip toss, so Saturn threw Bell out of the ring to collect himself, dropping him on his head by mistake. Whether intentional or not, a few weeks after the bout took place, Saturn’s onscreen relationship with Terri Runnels suddenly ended when he fell in love with a mop. Saturn’s character had been a little loopy dating back to his WCW days, and the truth is fans responded pretty well to his simplistic humor. Even so, there’s no way to spin falling in love with a mop as anything but embarrassing, and the sort of punishment only someone like Vince McMahon would be able to come up with.
13. Triple H Had His Crown Taken Away
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall leaving WWE for WCW was responsible for bringing Vince McMahon closer to bankruptcy than he had been in decade. It took a few months before they formed the nWo and really gave Vince a run for his money, but Hall and Nash made it tough for WWE immediately following Nash’s final match with the company. Nash lost to Shawn Michaels during the main event of a Madison Square Garden house show, followed by Scott Hall and Triple H joining them for a group hug since referred to as the Curtain Call. With Nash and Hall leaving and HBK reigning as WWE Champion, Triple H was left to take the entire brunt of the punishment, which meant losing a promised push that would have made him the 1996 King of the Ring. HHH’s career eventually recovered when he won the Intercontinental Championship later in the year, followed by earning the King of the Ring title in ’97. In today’s WWE, HHH has gradually become one of McMahon’s closest confidants by marrying his daughter, more or less a get-out-of-punishment free card for as long as the marriage continues.
12. Mark Henry’s First Decade In The Company
One has to be pretty bold to stand up to the World’s Strongest Man, although it might be a little easier if that person is also responsible for perpetuating the World’s Strongest Man’s nickname. Vince McMahon and WWE actually tried a dozen different names and angles for Mark Henry in addition to that one, and yet none of them quite worked out, making McMahon heavily regret the $10 million, 10-year contract Henry signed sight unseen in 1996. WWE quickly realized they made a mistake in signing him for so long, so McMahon gave him increasingly embarrassing gimmicks in order to make him quit. Henry’s odd characterizations generally revolved around who he was dating, a list that included Chyna, the senior citizen Mae Young, Henry’s own sister, and a prostitute named Sammy who Henry somehow didn’t realize was transgender. Amazingly, he persisted through it all with a smile, keeping his job until WWE finally found something that catered to his talents with the Hall of Pain.
11. JBL Lost To The Blue Meanie…For Beating Up The Blue Meanie
Compared to most of the minor issues some other wrestlers were punished for on this list, John Bradshaw Layfield actually deserved some comeuppance for his longstanding reputation as one of the biggest bullies in WWE. Countless superstars big and small have complained about mistreatment from the SmackDown color commentator, including Mark Henry, Joey Styles, Chris Masters, René Duprée, and referee Billy Silverman, just to name a few. The most infamous example of JBL’s bullying took place live on Pay-Per-View at the 2005 ECW revival One Night Stand. During the show capping inter-promotional brawl, JBL legitimately attacked The Blue Meanie for no particular reason, leaving the ECW original a bloody mess. In order to ensure Meanie wouldn’t sue, WWE signed him and the other bWo members to short-term contracts, their debut appearance seeing Meanie defeat JBL only a few months after his landmark WWE Championship reign ended. Even in ECW, Meanie had always been a comedy character and basically a jobber, making the loss particularly meaningful for him – and embarrassing for JBL.
10. Adrian Adonis Was Ironically Called Adorable
The worst examples of WWE punishing wrestlers are the ones where the embarrassment was strong enough that their pre-humiliation careers have been entirely forgotten. Adrian Adonis is one of the textbook examples of this trend, with most fans unaware that the so-called Adorable One was at one point a bad ass New York biker who dominated the tag division until Vince McMahon turned him into an offensive stereotype. The gimmick change was apparently the result of rampant weight gain, allowing WWE announcers to mock and belittle Adonis as he fell further and further out of shape. It would be one thing if WWE simply shined a spotlight on his ballooning figure, but they also decided to have Adonis start wearing makeup and acting effeminate, using whatever homophobic cliché they could imagine to get fans to boo the man who hosted The Flower Shop. Given the time it happened, Adonis indeed was able to become a hugely hated heel, especially during his feud against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. In hindsight, however, there’s nothing about Adonis becoming adorable that wasn’t offensive, and there’s no reason he couldn’t have remained a biker as he put on some weight.
9. Lana Married Rusev, So WWE Pretended She Cheated On Him
They say the heart wants what it wants, but that’s hardly enough to stop the whims of Vince McMahon. The Russian Bombshell Lana started dating her onscreen client Rusev almost immediately after they were paired in NXT, and they’ve since taken their partnership to great success on the main WWE roster. Their relationship has been even closer outside of the ring, leading the couple getting married in 2016. The only downside to their engagement was that it occurred simultaneously with a breakup storyline on WWE television, with Lana having allegedly moved on with Dolph Ziggler, and Rusev spending his time with Summer Rae. Understandably, Lana was overjoyed when Rusev proposed, such to the extent she posted about it on social media, exposing the storyline as a lie and revealing she never left Rusev in real life. WWE had no choice but to scrap everything with Ziggler and Summer Rae, additionally deciding to take Lana off TV for some time as punishment. When she came back, it was implied she cheated on Rusev with The Rock, further dragging her name through the mud for daring to admit to the world who she really loves.
8. How The Ultimate Warrior “Self Destructed”
Despite the whitewashing of his life that always occurs after a pop culture figure passes away, there’s no way around the fact the Ultimate Warrior was a controversial athlete. His in-ring work left plenty to be desired, and his promos were nonsensical rambling that barely resembles human speech, but on the plus side, it totally worked, and he became on of the biggest stars of his era because of it. Things weren’t always so smooth backstage, though, with Warrior and Vince McMahon regularly at arms over his paychecks and other legal issues. In 2005, still bitter over Warrior’s actions in the past, WWE released a DVD titled “The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior,” a borderline propaganda film featuring modern day wrestlers insulting and mocking Warrior, castigating him as unprofessional if not outright insane. Warrior was so offended by the portrayal that he sued WWE for the umpteenth time for slandering his career, although the case was ultimately thrown out. Amazingly, things between WWE and Warrior cooled down in 2014, when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame days before his sudden death.
7. Bart Gunn Got Knocked Out For Winning the Brawl For All
From top to bottom, the Brawl for All was one of the worst ideas Vince Russo ever had, and that’s saying a whole lot. While most of Russo’s stranger ideas simply made for bad or confusing television, the Brawl for All lead to no less than six injuries and seven destroyed careers, the last of which paradoxically being the guy to win the damn thing. Problem one was that the tournament was legitimate and unscripted, and yet WWE still had a chosen winner in mind, Dr. Death Steve Williams. Ruining their plans, Bart Gunn knocked Williams out in the second round, and WWE didn’t have anything planned for him when he won instead. Rather than capitalize on his potential, WWE punished Gunn by having him face a legitimate boxer at WrestleMania XV. The fighter in question was Butterbean, a man with a 43-1-1 record at the time, which quickly shot up to 44 in under a minute when he knocked out Gunn with a strong right hand. Gunn’s career in America was never able to recover, although he did enjoy a successful tenure in Japan as the man who knocked out Dr. Death.
6. The Rebirth Of The Blue Blazer
Through no real fault of his own, Owen Hart was put in an outrageously difficult situation in the wake of the Montreal Screwjob. His brother Bret had been publicly double-crossed at Survivor Series 1997, with brothers-in-law Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith leaving the company in protest over the situation. Owen’s contract meant he had to stay, though, and he was forced through a number of embarrassing gimmicks as a result of his family’s feud with Vince McMahon. First came a promo where Shawn Michaels mocked him as the “nugget” that kept popping up after the rest of his family were flushed down the drain, followed by dozens of losses to Triple H without ever getting his comeuppance. When DX got tired with Owen, WWE made him revert to the Blue Blazer gimmick he used earlier in his career, making a complete joke of perhaps their most talented employee. Worst of all, it was the regression to the Blazer gimmick that accidentally lead to Owen’s death, although it isn’t entirely fair to blame the McMahon’s for how the story ended in this particular case.
5. Making The American Dream Live A Nightmare
Vince McMahon has never been fond of his competition, regardless of what he says on the matter. He claims his philosophy is to help himself without hurting the other guy, and yet whenever he got the other guy to work with him, they found themselves significantly less successful when they were on their own. Case in point, Dusty Rhodes, one of the NWA’s top stars while WWE went from a territorial New York company to a worldwide sensation. Not only was Dusty an NWA main event wrestler, he also booked for the company and had a significant role backstage on top of that, making him one of Vince’s biggest enemies in the business. Despite all that, Dusty and NWA head Jim Crockett had a falling out in 1989, so the American Dream looked to Vince McMahon for a change of employment. Vince hired Dusty, but instead of treating him like a charismatic legend, he made Dusty a literal plumber, introducing him through increasingly disgusting vignettes that saw him shove his hand down countless used toilets. Proving his reputation as one of the greats, Dusty nonetheless became a hugely popular star in WWE with the gross gimmick, earning his legend all over again.
4. Making Goldust Bizarre To Insult His Father
Being a second-generation superstar is often a mixed blessing, something anyone who fits the description will definitely agree with. Having a famous parent can help a wrestler get their foot in the door, but they need to differentiate themselves quick or else get forever stuck in their parents shadow. Dustin Rhodes almost had this problem in WCW, only to spectacularly break away from his father Dusty when he jumped to WWE in 1995. He did so by painting himself gold and acting increasingly bizarre as Goldust, getting involved in such controversial and creepy storylines that manner insiders felt the whole thing was another punishment on Dusty for competing with Vince in the ‘80s. Once again, however, the Rhodes family proved their mastery at sports entertainment when Dustin made Goldust one of the most hated wrestlers of the year, and he continues to do so today now that the character serves as popular comic relief. The one thing that may have genuinely upset Dusty is allowing Dustin’s wife Terri to escort him as Marlena, as Big Dust never much cared for his son’s first wife.
3. When All Else Failed, Tensai Was Forced To Rely On His Tons Of Funk
Although Japan and the United States are perhaps the two biggest wrestling loving countries in the world (Mexico being a close contender), it goes without saying there are countless differences between what audiences in each land wants to see. Japanese wrestling is more ring based, with the entire show connected, matches flowing and building on one another throughout the night, while WWE is all about what’s happening in the now with bright and colorful characters. Because of this, not every wrestler has been able to translate success from one country to the other, including current WWE Performance Center head coach Matt Bloom, aka Lord Tensai, aka Albert, aka Prince Albert, aka Jason Albert, aka A-Train, aka Giant Bernard. The list of names alone makes it clear he had trouble catching on with WWE audiences, and yet that last one is all he needed to become a big star all over Japan. When WWE hired him back after an overseas stint in 2012, he still couldn’t get over despite a main event push, and at that point Vince McMahon was getting mad that the investment didn’t payoff. Rather than keep trying to make Bloom a star, Vince cut his losses and turned him into a comedy character, putting him in the goofy dancer tag team Tons of Funk with Brodus Clay.
2. Ricky Steamboat Was Turned Into A Dragon For Being A Father
When it comes to in ring talent, few sports entertainers have better defined what it means to be a wrestler than Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. No matter where he was working, Steamboat exhibited a mastery of the profession in his every match, plus picture perfect crisp delivery of his every move. While Steamboat truly shined in the NWA, he did pretty well for himself during his first WWE run as well, specifically during his feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The war culminated at WrestleMania III when Steamboat defeated Savage for the Intercontinental Championship, the only downside being this would also be near the end of Steamboat’s WWE career. Being a family man first and an athlete second, Steamboat asked for a vacation to spend time with his pregnant wife, which Vince McMahon apparently took as some sort of insult. Steamboat dropped the title in a manner of months and left the company the next year, not returning until 1991. When he came back, there were no references to his past, and he was forced to wear very cartoonish ring gear and breathe fire while exclusively referred to as The Dragon. Though he was undefeated on television during this time, Steamboat didn’t appreciate having his history ignored and left the company again in less than a year.
1. Matt Hardy Was Fired For Being Upset Lita Cheated On Him
In many respects, getting fired can in and of itself be a humiliating and embarrassing process, and given Vince McMahon’s penchant for firing people in spectacular fashion, he’s probably brought a few former employees to tears with little effort in this manner. However, we left out most mere dismissals to make room on the list for the more elaborate punishments Vince has doled out. That said, Matt Hardy’s story is special in that Vince had his cake and ate it, too, so to speak, first firing Hardy outright and then hiring him back only to repeatedly embarrass him on live television. In all fairness, unlike anyone else on this list, Hardy was a little bit complicit in how he was reprimanded. While it was Matt’s idea to turn his real life drama into a feud, he probably didn’t intend for the feud to end with him looking like Edge’s bitch when he pitched it. In a manner of weeks after his return, Matt went from extremely possible to a complete loser who looked like he couldn’t win at his most passionate, killing his career for so long it’s no surprise he had to break himself completely before he could fix it.