In most businesses and professions, when an employee screws up in a major way, their employers would normally “punish” them, so to speak. Whether it’s a simple firing or a pay deduction, most punishments that employees find themselves in are usually reasonable. Most businesses have the decency to keep the discipline behind closed company doors and out of the public eye. However, WWE is not like most businesses.
This may sound like an understatement when talking about a company that promotes grown men pretending to hurt each other for the sake of entertainment, but this is also a company that has been linked in the past to the ribbing and hazing of their wrestlers. Since WWE (particularly Vince McMahon) is clearly fond of blurring the lines between fiction and reality as well as settling any legitimate backstage differences between employees by putting them in the ring. They’re also no strangers to forcing employees to embarrass themselves on national television whenever they step out of line or at least step out of line in the eyes of WWE executives. No one is ever left unscathed from onscreen humiliation either. From wrestlers to announcers and even to referees, WWE has never hesitated when it comes to making their employees the butt of a joke on the air when that employee does something wrong. Sometimes the employee is besmirched in a way that they can never recover from. Sometimes the live degradation only makes the WWE look petty or childish for taking extreme lengths to penalize an employee over a small issue. These are just a few examples.
In 2006, Rob Van Dam was on the heels of receiving the biggest push of his career. It all started at WrestleMania 22 when he won the Money in the Bank contract that guaranteed him a WWE Championship match at any time within that year. RVD would cash in two months later against John Cena in the main event of One Night Stand 2006, the pay-per-view commemorating the return of ECW to national television under the WWE banner. RVD would not only win the WWE Championship but also the ECW Championship. As a dual champion, it seemed like RVD was on a roll. Turned out that wasn’t the only thing that RVD rolled in his spare time.
On July 3rd, RVD and fellow wrestler, Sabu, were arrested for marijuana possession. For most of his career, RVD had been portrayed as a reefer enthusiast, but to actually be arrested for his cannabis escapades while holding the WWE Title was something WWE wasn’t going to let fly. Shortly afterwards, RVD lost the WWE Title on an episode of Raw to Edge and the ECW Title to Big Show on the next night. He was then slapped with a 30-day suspension without pay and permanently exited the main event scene.
14. Jack Swagger
Much like Rob Van Dam 7 years prior, Jack Swagger was due for a major main event push before a bag of weed found in his car put an end to that.
Despite a brief run with the World Heavyweight Championship a couple years beforehand, The All American-American has always had trouble gaining popularity among the WWE Universe. To rectify this problem, WWE repackaged him as a “Real American” alongside manager Zeb Colter in 2013. The two became a pro-American anti-immigration duo that fans loved to hate and Swagger was slotted for a WHC match against champion, Alberto Del Rio, at WrestleMania 29. A little over a month before the show, Swagger was arrested on charges of driving under the influence and marijuana possession. Not only did Swagger go on to lose his Mania match, but he wasn’t even allowed to have his entrance televised. Swagger would have a bit of a losing streak in the following weeks and to this day, his career has yet to recover. At least RVD maintained relevance following his arrest. Nowadays, Swagger rarely gets featured on WWE programming, yet alone comes out a victor.
13. Adrian Adonis
Most wrestling fans remember the much maligned “Piggy James” storyline from 2009 that was used to punish Mickie James for gaining weight. Which was ridiculous because Mickie James had a perfectly healthy body type at the time and didn’t look anywhere close to overweight. What many fans today don’t know is that WWE’s strange fixation with their wrestler’s weight is nothing new, and male wrestlers weren’t exempt from weight criticisms.
Adrian Adonis entered WWF as a dark-haired, leather-clad biker brawler and ended his run as the bleach blonde, pink gear wearing, ambiguously gay “Adorable” Adrian Adonis. Yet, what happened to cause such a drastic change in character was that WWF execs were mad at him for gaining a bunch of weight, and that’s it. For one thing, it’s weird that the company’s answer to their worker becoming “obese” wasn’t to recommend a workout routine or something like that, and instead chose to poke fun at their weight on national television like a couple of schoolyard bullies. Second, the irony here is that the “Adorable” shtick would become Adonis’ most memorable gimmick and one that fans today remember fondly about him. Adonis took a sour lemon of a punishment, and turned it into sweet lemonade.
12. Perry Saturn
During a WWF dark match, Saturn wrestled a jobber by the name of Mike Bell. After Bell botched an arm drag that caused Saturn to land on his head, a furious Saturn would legitimately clobber Bell. Saturn went as far as to roughly toss Bell out of the ring, and made Bell himself land on his head after a nasty fall. To punish Saturn for unprofessional conduct in front of a live crowd, he was given an infamous “Moppy” gimmick. The gimmick saw Saturn speak to and fall in love with a mop. Yes, it was just as ridiculous as it sounds, and it legitimized why some fans are embarrassed to admit they enjoy watching wrestling.
Much like Adonis before him, Saturn is best remembered for a gimmick meant to punish him. Only in Saturn’s case, the gimmick may be remembered today for all the wrong reasons. Carrying a mop proved to be the kiss of death to both Saturn’s credibility and his WWF career. While recovering from an ACL injury in early 2002, he would be unceremoniously released with nothing substantial to his WWF credit, apart from a mop.
11. Daniel Puder
As previously stated, WWE has been linked to the hazing of its wrestlers. Usually, the hazing is kept inside of the locker room, but for Tough Enough winner Daniel Puder, his hazing was quite a public one.
On the November 4th, 2004 edition of Smackdown, Kurt Angle looked to make an example out of the Tough Enough finalists by challenging them to a shoot fight in an unscripted segment. Puder accepted Angle’s challenge and after taking the rookie lightly with disregard to Puder’s MMA background, Angle found himself in a Kimura lock. If the referee didn’t think fast and call a 3-count that wasn’t there so that Angle would win, Puder could’ve snapped Angle’s arm. Angle was visibly furious afterwards, and threw a fit backstage. The incident, as well as the cocky way Puder carried himself for a rookie, garnered Puder some heat among the locker room. So when Royal Rumble 2005 came around, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Hardcore Holly took it upon themselves to chop the daylights out of Puder in the ring for around 5 minutes. Shortly after, Puder would be released from his contract.
Oh, what a difference a year makes. A year ago, WWE suits were high on making Lana the face of the Women’s Division in the same vein as Miss Elizabeth or Sunny. To capitalize on her growing popularity, they split up the Ravishing Russian manager from her client, Rusev, and paired her with Dolph Ziggler. Rusev would acquire the managerial services of Summer Rae and this all transpired into a four-way feud that fans did not care for. It was a lackluster storyline that was put out of its misery (as was Lana’s push) in October 2015 when Lana confirmed online that she and real life boyfriend, Rusev, were engaged. WWE must still believe that wrestling is real because they were enraged when Lana let the cat out of the bag. After being briefly taken off TV for the situation, Lana was Rusev’s onscreen manager again. She was also given significantly less promo time, and WWE went as far as having The Rock rave to Lana about a sexual encounter the two had in a segment while Lana just stood back and awkwardly took the sexist insults with a smile on her face. Yet, it was awkward for audiences to watch as well.
9. Triple H
One of the most infamous and well-documented stories in WWE history was that of the 1996 Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden. That night, young up-and-comer Triple H would join an in-ring group hug alongside Shawn Michaels, Diesel, and Razor Ramon. The latter two would leave for WCW shortly after and so they decided to break kayfabe and share a special moment with their Kliq buddies, which didn’t sit well with backstage management. In a time where wrestling was still real to audiences, this moment was seen as exposing the business since Triple H and Diesel portrayed heels while Michaels and Ramon were faces. Since Diesel and Ramon were leaving and Michaels was WWF Champion, the punishment fell solely on Triple H. Triple H not only went on a losing streak, but he lost the main event push he was slotted for and was kept on a lower-tier card level.
It all worked out in the end, though. Stone Cold Steve Austin received Triple H’s push and became a megastar. Meanwhile, since Triple H accepted his punishment with stride, the punishment didn’t last long and he earned the respect of wrestlers and company heads in the process.
8. Drew McIntyre
On a September 25th, 2009 edition of Smackdown, Vince McMahon came to the ring and introduced Drew McIntyre as not only a “future World champion,” but also the Chosen One of the WWE. That’s the highest praise that anyone could ask for upon entering WWE. After a winning streak and winning the Intercontinental Championship, it seemed that McIntyre was indeed destined for greatness. That was until McIntyre was involved in a domestic dispute with then-wife, Taryn Terrell. He quickly fell out of favor with WWE officials and from then on, McIntyre’s winning streak and push evaporated. He disappeared from major storylines and television altogether. When he did show up, he was on a losing streak. He was demoted down to NXT briefly, and upon returning to the main roster, he found himself in the comedy jobber stable known as 3MB. As a member of the group, McIntyre went on to lose matches against the likes of WWE’s resident jobber, Brooklyn Brawler, and WWE’s resident dwarf, El Torito. McIntyre was then released in 2014. For the sake of his career, being released was the best thing to happen to McIntyre. He found a career resurgence on the indie scene and in TNA under his real name, Drew Galloway.
WWE chose Serena to join CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society not necessarily because of her skills as a performer (though she was quite the talented wrestler), but mostly because she was the only female wrestler down in WWE’s developmental territory, FCW, willing to shave her head for the role. It’s unfortunate that this kind of commitment wasn’t present when it came to her character’s Straight Edge lifestyle.
The big gimmick behind the Straight Edge Society was that they were a group that prided themselves on living a drug/alcohol-free lifestyle, and would denounce anyone who didn’t live up to that same lifestyle. Unfortunately, Serena had a drinking problem in real-life and produced a reputation for partying hard on the road. An angle was made of this on a July 2nd, 2010 episode of Smackdown that showed footage of Serena drinking at a bar. Shortly afterward, Punk expelled Serena from the Society in a storyline, while in real-life, Serena’s lifestyle got her released from WWE. Was it harsh on WWE’s behalf to fire Serena instead of putting her in a rehab facility when she clearly had a problem? Perhaps, but regardless, this severed her ties with the company. Nowadays, Serena remains retired from wrestling and has been alcohol-free for years.
6. CM Punk
During his time in WWE, CM Punk stepped on a lot of toes, as if that wasn’t already obvious by the fact that running his mouth is what got him in an ongoing lawsuit with WWE doctor, Christopher Amann. Punk’s mouth would become a frequent troublemaker throughout his WWE run.
In 2009 during a live tour while Punk was World Heavyweight Champion, someone (stories say this “someone” could be anyone from a WWE executive to The Undertaker) approached Punk about dressing more appropriately since he was representing WWE as their World Champion. Punk’s response was somewhere along the lines of “Would you tell that to John Cena?” Punk’s statement was taken as him being full of himself, and put him in hot water. The decision was then made for Taker to beat Punk for the title at Hell in a Cell in quick, dominating fashion. This proved to slow down Punk’s momentum, push him down the card, and keep him out of the main event scene for about a year.
5. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy’s history with drug abuse has been well-documented, and these issues put a halt to many of his main event pushes. Drugs were the reason he was released from WWE in 2003 and after returning to the company, he was booked to win the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 24. However, before Mania, Hardy failed the drug wellness policy and was forced to drop his Intercontinental Title to Chris Jericho on an episode of Raw before beginning a 60-day suspension, which resulted in missing Mania altogether.
This wouldn’t be the last time Hardy dealt with some onscreen repercussions to his actions. After being fired onscreen in 2009 after losing a Cage Match to CM Punk, a door was left open for a return. That door seemed to close when Hardy was arrested on charges of drug trafficking. Shortly afterward during WWE Breaking Point, Punk made a crack at Hardy, claiming that his mugshot in the paper proved that he was right all along when criticizing Hardy during their TV feud earlier that summer. It’s unclear whether the line was on or off script, but Hardy wound up in TNA afterwards.
4. Owen Hart
When Bret Hart, British Bulldog, and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart opted to leave WWF following the Montreal Screwjob, Owen Hart tried to leave for WCW with the rest of them. However, Vince wouldn’t allow Owen to leave so easily. Vince went as far as to promise Owen that he had big plans for him. Those plans never came to fruition and for the rest of his career, Owen found himself either losing feuds or being just below the midcard. This could’ve been punishment for Owen trying to leave and the same can be said for everything surrounding his Blue Blazer gimmick.
In 1999 while teaming with Jeff Jarrett, Owen was approached about having a storyline where he would start feuding with Jarrett after it was revealed Owen was having an affair with Jarrett’s manager, Debra. Owen refused to do it because he didn’t want his wife and children to see it. Shortly after, Owen appeared on television donning his old school Blue Blazer gimmick. It’s been speculated (but never confirmed) that the Blazer gimmick was used to punish Owen for refusing the angle. If that’s true, then frankly, that’s a shame. Not only did it waste Owen’s talents, but obviously because bringing the gimmick back is what led to Owen’s tragic death.
When wrestling fans recall the infamous Matt Hardy/Edge/Lita angle that blurred fiction and reality, it’s hard not to feel bad for Lita. She endured the absolute worst repercussions during the whole ideal. The situation spurred into basically punishing and vilifying Lita onscreen both as a character and as a person. She would constantly be put in segments meant specifically to degrade her. The most infamous one would come on the night of her retirement from in-ring competition. Her real life BFF, Trish Stratus, was given a hero’s retirement in her hometown a couple months prior. Lita, however, had her personal belongings (undergarments, sex toys, yeast infection cream, etc…) auctioned off by Cryme Tyme in a “Ho Sale.” One can argue this was just an instance of a heel getting one last comeuppance, but considering everything she’s sacrificed for this business, she deserved a more tasteful send-off. Amazingly, Lita was able to forgive WWE for everything they made her go through and continues to work for WWE today as a producer following her 2014 Hall of Fame induction.
2. Trish Stratus
In 2001, during one of WWE’s most distasteful segments, Vince McMahon made Trish Stratus come down to the ring, strip down to her bra and panties, get on her hands and knees, and bark like a dog until she was brought to tears. In a current WWE world where women are held to an equal status to male wrestlers, angles like this would be deemed far too sexist to make it past the PG censors. Thinking back on this segment still leaves a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. Even in a 2001 risque Attitude Era world, this made for uncomfortable viewing. At least it was uncomfortable for anyone who wasn’t one of the hundreds of males cheering it on in the audience that fateful night. WWE came under intense media scrutiny for the angle, and some countries flat out refused to televise the segment. Rumor has it that the segment happened because Stratus was reportedly hard to work with backstage due to her ego. Yet, the only egotistical person in this scenario appears to be the Chairman who was known for booking female employees to do things like this.
1. Ultimate Warrior
While this technically might not count since The Ultimate Warrior wasn’t employed at the time of his biggest punishment, but this instance still remains the biggest form of company payback towards a WWE employee, both historically and currently.
When he was employed with the company, he had a knack for rubbing people the wrong way. This is the same man who held Vince McMahon up for money while Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter seriously considered roughing up Warrior after he threatened to do a no-show at Summerslam 1991. Several years after leaving the company, WWE proved that there were still sour grapes on their end when they released the documentary, The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior. The documentary was made solely to criticize Warrior on how difficult he was to work with, and how bad he was as a wrestler. This was certainly the most shameless, damning way to slander anyone who has ever worked under WWE’s umbrella. This proved to bite WWE in their backside when Warrior filed a libel lawsuit against them. Warrior would lose the case in 2009 due to his own disparaging comments against WWE that went against a previous 2000 settlement. All things considered, it’s a miracle that both parties were able to make amends in 2014, right before Warrior’s death.