Like any other organization producing a scripted program, WWE regularly runs the risk of needing to change their plans in an instant should something happen to one or more of the superstars intended to play an integral role on television. Given how dangerous and risky sports entertainment can be, it’s almost surprising how rarely real life steps in and forces Vince McMahon to shake things up. That said, reality has indeed intervened with WWE storylines on multiple occasions, either due to the industry’s perilous nature or more general issues that could affect people working in just about any profession.
Truth be told, the majority of incidents causing WWE or other wrestling companies to flip the script could have been prevented in one way or another. Aside from a few major events causing the whole world to change, plans typically only have to get adjusted if something tragic happens or an individual does something particularly stupid. Depending on how far ahead McMahon and his writers were planning, exactly what gets changed isn’t always clear, but WWE has never been that great at hiding decisions made on the fly, so it isn’t hard for seasoned fans to notice when the company desperately rushes to fix something after a non-wrestling incident messed up their plans.
Were it up to Vince McMahon, he would probably script every last second of his employee’s lives to ensure his toys were perfectly suited to what he wanted them to do. Unfortunately for him, no human possesses that power, and thus he’s just as helpless to anyone else when it comes to battling the unpredictable nature of the world we all live in. Keep reading to learn about 15 times real life interrupted WWE storylines.
15. Countless Title Vacancies And Injuries
Starting off this list with a more general issue than a specific one, it felt appropriate to jumble all of the various injuries that changed the business into one entry. While a broken bone or torn muscle can obviously change the course of WWE faster than almost anything else, writing out every time this happened could take an entire article of its own. No example better summarizes this problem than the WWE Championship, which has been vacated due to injury no less than five times—Shawn Michaels, John Cena, Batista, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins all had to give up the gold for one reason or another. It goes without saying that each time the biggest championship in WWE went up for grabs, the plans related to those superstar’s reigns with the belt were all tossed out the window, and the company needed to make a very quick decision on who deserved to take over as the top star. Luckily, things almost always turn out for the best, as it rarely takes more than a quick tournament or battle royal set things back on track.
14. Brock Lesnar Wants To Play Football
From the moment he debuted in early 2002, Brock Lesnar has dominated the WWE Universe like a true force of nature. Granted, he also walked away from the wrestling business entirely for the better part of eight years, preferring to spend his time pursuing outside interests. First, Lesnar wanted to live his dream of playing for the NFL, and then he found what might have been his true calling in mixed martial arts. What exactly Lesnar did in the off-time isn’t the point, though. All that really mattered to Vince McMahon is that when Lesnar told him he was done with wrestling, it didn’t just change a few months worth of planning, but it may well have affected the entire time period Lesnar was gone. The second Brock returned he was back on top, and there’s a good chance McMahon would have kept the Beast Incarnate in the spotlight all eight years he was gone, as well. Lesnar lost the WWE Championship barely a month prior to his exit, and could have easily held it for a lot longer had he stayed.
13. Bret Screwed Bret Or Vince Screwed Bret Or Who The Hell Knows
Few single days in wrestling have been as heavily discussed as Survivor Series 1997, also known as the Montreal Screwjob. To recap the event for the one fan who hasn’t yet heard the story, Bret Hart walked into the Pay-Per-View as WWE Champion and had no intention of losing. Vince McMahon really wanted Hart to drop the belt to Shawn Michaels, but Hart refused, citing a clause in his contract offering creative control. At the same time, however, Hart was prepared to leave WWE entirely as early as the very next night, having signed a new contract to perform for WCW. McMahon was worried Hart could double cross him by taking the WWE Championship belt to Monday Nitro and embarrassing him, so he conspired with Shawn Michaels and Earl Hebner to trick Bret into looking like he submitted to a Sharpshooter when he actually did not. Regardless of who screwed who, no part of this conspiracy was part of the original plan, let alone any of the many alternative plans Hart and McMahon attempted to work out along the way.
12. Matt Hardy Fans Aren’t Happy About Edge And Lita
Out of all the wrestling couples who came to prominence during the Attitude Era, it could be argued Lita and Matt Hardy seemed like the pair most perfectly suited for one another. In hindsight, that clearly wasn’t the case, but the two alternatively styled members of Team Extreme were obviously smitten with one another from the start and only seemed to get closer as their careers exploded. Then, out of nowhere, Lita cheated on Hardy with his best friend Edge in real life, and all three of their careers were changed forever because of it. No one knows what exactly WWE had in store for any of the three performers when Hardy took the story public, yet it’s highly unlikely Edge and Lita turning into the most hated couple in the company was something they could have predicted. In fact, Lita was working an angle as Kane’s demonic girlfriend at the time, something almost immediately forgotten when crowds refused to ignore the real world situation between her and Edge by chanting some truly vicious things in her direction. Before long, WWE treated reality as part of their show, moving Lita away from Kane into Edge’s arms.
11. Paul Bearer Dies So CM Punk And Paul Heyman Mock Him
Such is the state of wrestling these days that more than a few high profile WWE superstars have passed away in the middle of major storylines. The death of Paul Bearer is probably the latest example, and in a sense it comes with an asterisk, as Bearer was barely involved with WWE at the time of his untimely demise in 2013. However, Bearer’s long time friend and client The Undertaker was still an active competitor, and feuding with CM Punk and Paul Heyman at that, leading to the two of them creating one of the more offensive segments in recent WWE. In short, Heyman dressed up as Bearer and did an insulting impression, which Punk mocked in uncreative fashion. Less than a week prior to this segment, Punk and Undertaker were beginning a perfectly acceptable feud about respect and honor and all the other things Undertaker feuds were based on in that era. The worst part about this ordeal was that real life didn’t necessarily have to intervene with the feud, as Bearer’s passing could have easily been handled respectfully simply by separating it from what went down in the ring.
10. Vince McMahon Gets Disappointed In His Illegitimate Child
To most eccentric billionaires, the news of a potential illegitimate child can cause an empire to crumble. Were the news to hit that Vince McMahon fathered an illegitimate child in real life, it would almost certainly make this list in one way or another. Surprisingly, the same is apparently true about him pretending to have an illegitimate child on his programming, or at least that’s what happened when he tried to run the concept as a storyline. Shortly after McMahon’s botched onscreen death, Jonathan Coachman informed Vince that he was facing a paternity suit, sparking months of speculation towards who his bastard child could be. All signs pointed towards Mr. Kennedy, and rumor has it that was indeed the original plan, up until Kennedy went and ruined his chances by breaking the WWE Wellness Policy, thus earning him a 30-day suspension. Unable to go with the original choice, McMahon and his writers cut their losses by picking the most random possible second option in Hornswoggle. Obviously, Hornswoggle couldn’t use the role to his advantage like Kennedy could have, turning the whole mess into a giant bust that gets mocked to this day.
9. Dr. D Ruins His Own Career
In the modern era, the idea of kayfabe is pretty much dead. Where WWE once went to great lengths to protect the veracity of their storylines, these days, they produce multiple reality shows revealing exactly what takes place behind the scenes during the everyday lives of their top employees. Because of this shift in the industry, looking back on David “Dr. D” Schultz’s actions when he appeared on the ABC news program 20/20 are particularly shocking. That isn’t to say they weren’t at the time, as it’s always pretty unexpected when a reporter gets slapped in the face on national television. Naturally, exactly what Dr. D did to John Stossel when asked if wrestling was fake, and it pretty much cost him his entire career. Prior to this moment, Dr. D was one of the top heels in WWE, having feuded with Hulk Hogan and partnered with Roddy Piper. It’s unclear how far Schultz could have gone in the industry were he able to keep his hands to himself, but there’s no doubt he lost a significant amount of work for it, and probably indirectly cost a few of his potential rivals money, as well.
8. The Iron Sheik and Jim Duggan Walk Into A Bar…
Continuing the subject of how kayfabe was far more important back in the 1980s, let’s discuss an incident where two wrestlers committed a private act that was arguably more damaging than Dr. D’s very public incident with John Stossel. Representing the USA and Iran respectively, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik were natural rivals on television and in the ring from the moment they first met eyes. Outside of the ring, however, Duggan and Sheiky Baby had fairly similar personalities, and happened to enjoy several shared activities on top of that, making them fast friends and traveling partners despite their cultural differences. Not all friendships are entirely positive, though, and it turns out one of the wrestlers’ mutual interests was heavy drug use, leading to the pair getting arrested together when caught high on marijuana and carrying cocaine en route to a WWE event. In response to the arrest, fans could no longer buy the two as enemies, so Sheik was temporarily released, Duggan was suspended, and their feud was pretty much thrown straight out the door.
7. Eddie Guerrero Dies And Rey Mysterio Becomes A Star
One can only hope WWE will never experience a tragedy like the one felt when Eddie Guerrero shockingly passed away at the top of his game. Granted, in a truly perfect world, Guerrero’s loss too could have been prevented, but the fact remains he is gone, and the entire professional wrestling world has suffered greatly for it. That said, if one were to be extremely cynical about things, and wrestling fans certainly have that tendency, it could be argued that at least one career benefitted greatly by Guerrero’s passing, and making matters worse, it was the man claiming to be his best friend—Rey Mysterio. While Mysterio was always popular, it wasn’t until Guerrero’s death that he suddenly skyrocketed to the main event, earning a World Championship run many feel was a reaction to and capitalization on the attention Rey was receiving through his connection with Eddie. Whether you choose to look at this through a suspicious lens or not, either way, it’s definite Guerrero’s death caused WWE to change things all over the place, as they lost perhaps their most talented athlete.
6. Tazz Wins The ECW Championship While Working For WWE
Although the creative peak of ECW came a few years earlier, chances are the company achieved its highest profile in 2000, more specifically, in mid April of that year. In a span of mere weeks, the ECW Championship changed hands four times and through drastic circumstance, and one of those times, it wound up on an episode of SmackDown in a non-title champion versus champion match between Taz and Triple H. The real world event causing this all to go down began when the previous ECW Champion Mike Awesome signed a contract to work for WCW, appearing on an episode of Nitro while still technically holding the belt. While the actual ECW title belt never appeared on WCW TV, many ECW loyalists were furious, demanding Awesome lose the title ASAP before he had a chance to betray the company further through his continued WCW appearances. When WWE employee Taz was chosen as an interim champion, Vince McMahon saw an opportunity to show his dominance, changing whatever plans he had for his own programming that week and allowing his top champion to squash ECW’s, proving which brand was superior.
5. RVD Celebrates Winning The WWE Championship
Let’s face it—not a single soul amongst Rob Van Dam’s sea of fans was in the least bit surprised when he was arrested for marijuana possession less than a month into his sole reign as WWE Champion (and ECW Champion). Throw in the fact his long time friend Sabu was with him, and it almost should have been expected. Sure, a couple of fans may have been disappointed, not to mention upset, annoyed, or a whole mess of negative emotions that can hit a person when they remember their idols are imperfect, but certainly not surprised, considering “no one flies higher than Rob Van Dam.” Although marijuana is becoming more acceptable in the public eye, there are still plenty of states that don’t allow it, and Vince McMahon immediately decided the face of his company shouldn’t be doing drugs that a large percentage of his audience views as illegal, or perhaps even immoral. Days after getting caught, RVD lost the WWE Championship and ECW Champion on back to back nights, followed by a drastic descent down the card from main event status to that of a glorified veteran jobber.
4. Kharma Gets Pregnant, Disappears Forever
To this day, the WWE Universe has never seen a woman nearly as destructive as Kharma. Beating the hell out of so called Amazons like Beth Phoenix and even giving the “Ninth Wonder of the World” Chyna a run for her money, Kharma destroyed every female in her path and barely said a word while doing so. It was immediately apparent that Vince McMahon had big plans for his new hulking female monster, and they may have even kicked off the women’s revolution a few years earlier had they come to pass. Unfortunately, life intervened constantly and in some bizarre ways, ultimately causing Kharma to suddenly drop from a potential game changer to a footnote in history. Abruptly ending her warpath, Kharma broke down in tears one week on Raw, then confessed on the next episode that she was pregnant, and would be taking a leave of absence to have her baby. Sadly, TMZ later reported that she lost the child, which could have contributed to an agitated mental state making her unfit to compete in a long term role. Whatever the case, Kharma more or less disappeared after one last appearance in the 2012 Royal Rumble, and has never been seen nor heard from since.
3. Rusev And Lana Feud Their Way Down The Aisle
Thinking about how many wrestlers have hooked up or eventually wed after starting their romances while working for WWE, it makes sense Vince McMahon might consider himself a low key matchmaker. That said, it takes a pretty giant ego to use that status to attempt and break up employees who he thinks shouldn’t be dating, which was apparently the case with Rusev and Lana. The Ravishing Russian and the Bulgarian Brute seemed perfect for one another from day one to everyone except McMahon, who thought a gorgeous blonde deserved better than a hulking monster like Rusev. Of course, this wasn’t his decision at all, but McMahon tried to make it so by splitting up Rusev and Lana onscreen when they brought their romance public, shifting both into relationships with Summer Rae and Dolph Ziggler, respectively. Ignoring whatever lesson McMahon was trying to send, Lana and Rusev got married in the middle of the angle, and then posted happy messages about this fact on social media, as is the style these days. This ruined the perception that they had broken up onscreen, not to mention the idea they were in other relationships, and caused WWE to bring them back together almost instantly.
2. Chris Benoit Dies And Vince McMahon Comes Back To Life
It’s almost always a tragedy when a person dies, unless they happen to be faking their own death, in which case it can be kind of bizarre. A spectacular kayfabe demise was Vince McMahon’s plan in June of 2007, starting with his limousine exploding at the end of a Monday Night Raw episode. Less than one month later, death became no laughing matter, when WWE superstar Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child before taking his own life. While sports entertainment is not to be blamed for Benoit’s actions, it goes without saying talking about a fake death in the light of several tragic real ones was a horrible idea, and so McMahon immediately came back from the dead in and out of the ring. Rumor has it McMahon’s fake death was supposed to be the biggest storyline of the year, with plans that spanned months in advance, and it all needed to get thrown out the window entirely because of Benoit’s actions. On top of that, there were plenty of plans involving Benoit himself, and those obviously were scrapped entirely, as well.
1. A National Tragedy Causes Olympic Fever
Alright, so the majority of the incidents mentioned on this list were confined to the actions of a few individuals. Sometimes, though, events are so massive they effect the entire world, and that includes the WWE Universe. For example, September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the United States by destroying the World Trade Center. Patriotism was at an all time high in the wake of this tragic moment, and as a former Olympic gold medalist, Kurt Angle was more popular than he had ever been before. It may be cynical to say Angle only won the WWE Championship at Unforgiven 2001 because of a terrorist attack, but there’s enough evidence pointing towards that idea some people have been arguing that theory from the day it happened. Angle winning the gold didn’t look like it was in the cards until 9/11 went down, and that he lost the belt mere weeks later despite a massive ovation probably means his reign wasn’t really part of WWE’s original game plan. Instead, it may have just been a reactionary move to lift the American crowd’s spirits shortly after national tragedy, and maybe WWE shouldn’t be blamed for that one given the circumstances.