Behind the scenes, WWE is a political minefield. Egos collide on a regular basis, and those that rise to the top are the ones that know how to play the never-ending political game taking place. The true masterminds of this game are the ones who, over the years, acquired power backstage and used it to their benefit. Unfortunately, that old saying about power is true in WWE just as much as it is anywhere else: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The sad truth is, WWE’s decision-making structure is all about politics. Even if a wrestler is a fantastic athlete that can put on a 5-star classic with a broom, if they’re not ‘in’ with management, they don’t have a chance at reaching the top of the company. Case in point: Cesaro is one of the most exciting and naturally-interesting wrestlers on the WWE roster, but since management (read: Vince McMahon) doesn’t view him too favorably, he’s not likely to rise any further in the company.
Then there are those wrestlers that achieved greatness chiefly due to the power they acquired. These ten individuals were given far too much power during their respective WWE tenures, which led to a series of major problems for the company. Some of these cases were small, leading to minor problems in the locker room. In other cases, the ramifications of the power these wrestlers held was so profound that they changed the course of wrestling history.
If there’s one lesson to be learned from these wrestlers, it’s this: be careful when giving someone more power than they can deal with. Once you open Pandora’s Box, there’s no closing it.
10. Ric Flair
Even though he’s lauded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, many of his former colleagues have bemoaned Ric Flair’s backstage antics. It’s widely believed that his seemingly-permanent status at the top of Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW was due to his closeness with then-booker Kevin Sullivan. When management tried to make him change things about him, he walked away from the company (as seen with the Jim Herd fiasco).
Flair is also alleged to have wrestled only a single, specific match style, one that made him look the best, at the expense of his opponents. It’s further alleged by these same former colleagues of his (including Bret Hart) that Flair would sabotage a match if it wasn’t going his way, and then use that performance to admonish his opponents (while assuring that he himself could never put on a bad match).
9. Chris Benoit
Unlike others on this list who acquired their power through direct dealings with the powers-that-be in WWE, Benoit was a well-respected veteran by the mid-2000;s, which made him into a kind of secondary locker room leader. He had a strong voice in the disciplining of rookies, and would punish them whenever they transgressed. It was Benoit’s (not a referee’s) bag that Miz accidentally got dirty in 2005, which led to him being kicked out of the locker room for six months.
No one stopped Benoit or questioned his actions because, a) he was a tough and respected wrestling veteran, and b) it’s the wrestling business, where toughness and displays of sophomoric hazing were considered the norm. Although Benoit never really harmed anyone on the level of someone such as JBL, the fact that he was able to dish out these sorts of punishments demonstrated that he was well-connected during his WWE tenure.
8. Brock Lesnar
Ever since Brock Lesnar returned in 2012, he has been given a considerable amount of power backstage that influences his entire career. He can decide when he appears and who he fights. He gets to be promoted as a ‘special attraction’ and get special billing. He gets to appear whenever he wants, no matter how sparingly, even when World Champion. That is a huge amount of power given to him by the powers-that-be backstage. Of course, this is Brock simply recognizing his own star power.
He was arguably the biggest draw in MMA history. Brock has become a household name in many places, and has a unique magnetism to him that makes him ‘bigger’ than everyone else. The athlete even managed to coerce WWE into signing him to a special and extra-lucrative contract recently out of fear that he would go back to MMA and that they’d lose such a huge draw. Clearly, once Brock saw what power tasted like, he acquired as much of it as he possibly could.
JBL was a notorious bully during his peak years in the WWE locker room. Thanks to his close relationships with both Vince McMahon and the Undertaker, Bradshaw was capable of doing pretty much whatever he wanted. When people acted out of line, or even if he disliked someone in the slightest, JBL would work extra stiff with them or make their lives a living hell. Many wrestlers have had to deal with his sophomoric antics, from Edge getting soaped up by him in the showers, to beating up the Blue Meanie for real, to constantly bullying Mike ‘the Miz’ Mizanin during his early years.
Although he didn’t have as much power as other wrestlers on this list, JBL did use what power he did have to maintain the status quo and ‘put people in their places’ whenever they got out of line. This, combined with his allegedly abrasive attitude, led to many people, including even ordinary WWE employees, to look unfavorably towards JBL for many years.
6. Randy Orton
Randy Orton was a protected star from the very beginning, as seen with his early World Title push. That status rapidly transformed into an enormous backstage problem, as Orton was known to throw fits backstage when he didn’t get his way, especially when it came to his opponents.
Two particular cases stand out for Orton. First was his role in the release of Ken Kennedy. In his last match, it’s alleged that Kennedy dropped Orton on his bad shoulder, and he used his clout backstage to badmouth Kennedy as a dangerous worker, which led to his release a few days later. This was a huge shock, as Kennedy was earmarked for a top spot in the main event, but Orton’s backstage clout ended up costing him his WWE career.
Orton’s second infamous case of backstage influencing was with Kofi Kingston during the latter’s major singles push. After Kofi botched the finish for a match against Orton, the Viper called him ‘stupid’ very obviously, and made him look bad on camera. Kofi would go on to spend five years in mid-card limbo, which goes to show just how much backstage clout Orton once had. Then there are the allegations that he constantly harassed rookie Divas during his early years, and got away with it because of his high position on the card.
5. John Cena
While a lot can be said about John Cena’s positive demeanor and commitments to improving WWE’s image, even he is guilty of abusing backstage power once given to him. He has admitted that he will never turn heel, even if doing so would do fantastic business and add a degree of interest not seen in today’s WWE. This allows the circle of events that sees Cena constantly win to keep perpetuating itself, keeping things as they are instead of changing them.
The most glaring example of his backstage clout was his decision to change the outcome of the Team WWE/Nexus match at SummerSlam 2010. For some strange reason, Cena thought it would be better for him to defeat the last two surviving members of the Nexus and get up after a DDT onto the concrete floor, instead of allowing the Nexus rookies get over and become certified stars, as his veteran teammates Edge and Chris Jericho had suggested.
The result was the utter destruction of the Nexus and creative purgatory for its members. This was particularly devastating for Wade Barrett who, after numerous gimmick changes and creative faux-pas, has opted to leave WWE later this year.
4. Diesel/Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash first got his taste of backstage political power during his first WWE run, during which he formed a close bond with Shawn Michaels. Given this closeness, coupled with his large stature, it was only a matter of time before he was getting match finishes changed and manipulating creative events to his benefit.
Unlike other wrestlers on this list, however, Nash’s biggest transgressions took place not in WWE, but in WCW. As a major force behind the NWO, Nash managed to guarantee himself considerable backstage power in WCW, which had serious ramifications. From single-handedly crippling WCW’s cruiser-weight division (and coining the term ‘vanilla midgets’) to ending Goldberg’s white-hot undefeated streak, to the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom, Nash was a prime example of a wrestler being given far too much power and causing considerable damage with it.
3. Triple H
The stories of Triple H abusing power backstage are legendary, especially given the ‘evidence’ used to support these claims. HHH formed a close friendship with Shawn Michaels during his rookie years that gave him formidable power backstage, which was later amplified a thousand times over when he legitimately married Stephanie McMahon.
Some of the most significant results of HHH being given too much power include: his role in the Montreal Screwjob, refusal to do jobs of any kind (some have reported that he’d tear up scripts from writers that had him losing), to alleged ‘burial’ of top stars (including Kane, Goldberg, Rob Van Dam, and Booker T, just to name a few), to constantly manipulating the backstage atmosphere so that he would stay in the world title picture, as seen with his long time in that position from 2002-2005, again in 2009, and even now in 2016.
Clearly, HHH is a cunning backstage politician who knew how to play the game (no pun intended) from the moment he first walked into WWE.
2. Hulk Hogan
Given just how enormous a star he was for so many years, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Hulk Hogan managed to abuse the power he was given by WWE’s authorities. For years, he managed to find his way into the main event spotlight, even after his star power had long since waned. He was an expert at politicking backstage, and managed to change creative directions on many occasions.
The most notorious examples of this power in action was the ending of WrestleMania IX, when Hogan managed to influence Vince McMahon enough to have him pin new WWE Champion Yokozuna minutes after winning it. He’d continue the same trend in WCW for years, and later during his returns to WWE in 2002-3 and in 2005, proving that old habits really do die slowly.
1. Shawn Michaels
There has never been a WWE Superstar who abused his power backstage more than Shawn Michaels. As the creator of the Kliq, Michaels used his close relationship with Vince McMahon to benefit him and his inner circle of friends at the expense of the entire roster. He had matches and their finishes changed when he didn’t like them. He acted like a prima-donna when it was suggested he lose to other wrestlers. He demanded that everyone treat him differently as a wrestler. In doing so, HBK damaged the careers of many wrestlers, from lower-carders and jobbers, to top athletes like Vader.
Then there’s the Montreal Screwjob, which stemmed from the bitter personal rivalry between Shawn and Bret Hart over the WWE Championship. Simply put, if Shawn didn’t like you, your career was in serious jeopardy of being messed with. It took an enormous dose of cosmic justice (in the form of a debilitating back injury that led to a four-year hiatus) for Shawn to see the errors of his ways and change his entire outlook on life. Yet even though he did change for the better after that period, one cannot forget the damage he caused backstage stemming from the power he was given.