Professional wrestling is, at its core, a simple business to understand. Babyface characters are the “good guys” who feud with heels who are, in theory, supposed to be disliked by casual fans. Heels have, in the past, ridiculed and mocked fans to get those personalities over and to make sure that they were not favorites among customers who purchased tickets for live shows and who spent money to view programs via pay-per-view and other services. This type of interaction between wrestlers and fans has helped to distinguish this form of entertainment from others because it requires fans to have makeshift relationships with performers.
While certain wrestlers treating fans like garbage is part of the act, there is no question that some performers went too far during segments or because of a brief lapse of judgment. Some of those moments resulted in wrestlers and/or the company paying that performer having to apologize for fans for the actions of the performer. Others instances of fans feeling as if they had been treated like garbage by wrestlers may have simply been examples of wrestlers playing up to gimmicks. One crime that has, for some fans and promoters, been unforgivable has involved wrestlers no-showing events. In those cases, fans feel as if they have been ripped off through no fault of their own.
15. Bret Hart
Anybody who has ever seen the Wrestling With Shadows documentary that was released after Bret “Hitman” Hart left the World Wrestling Entertainment for World Championship Wrestling has heard Hart explain that he didn’t love all of the heel promos that he cut on American fans during his last year in the WWE. Hart nevertheless cut those promos while playing that heel character, and some fans who had previously cheered on the “Hitman” were actually offended. That was the point, after all, as Hart had been turned into one of the top heels in the WWE, a role he would play up through the night of the “Montreal Screwjob.”
14. Shawn Michaels
For starters, we’ll mention how Shawn Michaels once stuck a portion of a Canadian flag up a nostril. Then, on the night of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” the “Heartbreak Kid” even humped a Canadian flag in the middle of the ring. Neither of these, as you will see later in this piece, would be at all acceptable in today’s WWE. Either may actually get a performer fired. Then, there are those rumors that Michaels faked or embellished a knee injury in 1997 just so he would not have to drop the WWE Championship. That injury remains suspicious 19 years after the fact because HBK was back in the ring just months after he had to “retire.”
13. Sasha Banks
Was it real, or was it all part of the show? That was the question fans were asking following the main event of the NXT: Takeover show that occurred in October 2015. Sasha Banks and Bayley were competing for the NXT Women’s Championship when Banks encountered Izzy, Bayley’s biggest fan, at ringside. Banks went classic heel and stole a headband from Izzy, making the young superfan cry real tears at the event. The two eventually made up once the WWE Network special finished, leading some skeptics to wonder if it all was a work. Either way, it made for a great segment that will be remembered for years.
There are certain lines that no pro wrestler, particularly one who is working for a multimedia conglomerate such as the WWE, should ever cross. John Bradshaw Layfield, better known as JBL, performing the Nazi “Goose-Step” and stiff-armed salutes while working in Germany in 2004 would be an example. CNBC, which had hired Layfield to work as an on-air analyst weeks before Layfield’s actions in Germany, understandably fired the wrestler. Being a heel is fine and acceptable, but Bradshaw learned the hard way about what happens when a performer goes too far.
11. Steve Austin
It is maybe the most famous walk-out in WWE history, even bigger than the one pulled off by CM Punk in 2014. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was unhappy with storylines written for him in 2002, and he no-showed a Raw event and then walked away from the company for a time. Even if Austin did have valid reasons to be upset with Vince McMahon and others within the company, walking out as Austin did burned the fans who were hoping to see their favorite wrestler. There was no long-term harm done here, but it is a moment of Austin’s career that should not be forgotten.
Perhaps you will feel that Sabu was justified for attacking a fan upon seeing the video of that fan reaching over the rail to take Sabu’s turban right off of his head. That, as diehard Extreme Championship Wrestling fans know, was not the first time that Sabu has done something to upset customers. Sabu was publicly fired by Paul Heyman in 1995 after Heyman learned that Sabu had no-showed an event to instead take a booking in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Sabu was, of course, welcomed back to ECW with open arms, and he eventually worked in the WWE.
9. Big Show
Big Show has been a mainstay of national pro wrestling companies for two decades. He has also had his fair share of moments that he would probably like to forget. While working for WCW, Show had a run-in with a fan that ended with the larger-than-life athlete breaking that fan’s jaw. Show was found not guilty in that matter. Show was back in the news in 2014, however, after he tore down the Russian flag as part of a storyline. The WWE eventually offered an official apology because of that television segment, just one reminder that the industry is not what it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
8. Chris Jericho
Go to your favorite Internet search engine and look for “Chris Jericho” and “troll,” and you’ll find yourself busy reading on multiple incidents of Jericho having some fun with fans online. Not everybody has always laughed alone with Jericho, though, particularly when Y2J mistreated a Brazilian flag during an event in Brazil. Jericho was forced to apologize for his actions, and the WWE went one step further and suspended Jericho. All wrestlers who are trying to make their way up the ladder in the business would do well to realize that certain actions that were OK decades ago are no longer acceptable.
7. Kurt Angle
Still convinced that wrestlers having certain kinds of interactions with flags is no big deal? Here is one more example. In January 2016, the WWE issued a formal apology because Kurt Angle once wiped his nose with an Indian flag. That incident occurred all the way back in 1998, and it is one that obviously left a lasting impression on some fans who were watching at the time. Just because you personally may not have been bothered by Angle’s actions or by something similar happening in the WWE Universe does not mean that there are not fans somewhere who feel mistreated or wronged. It’s a new day (yes, it is).
6. Ultimate Warrior
Pockets of WWE fans may suggest that some of the words that Ultimate Warrior wrote and said during portions of his life should not be attributed to the character that he played on shows that are featured on the WWE Network. It should not be ignored that the only reason people, particularly wrestling fans, cared about what the man had to say was because of the Warrior character. Homophobic, racist and other offensive comments that Warrior made over the years do not disappear simply because the man tragically passed away days after he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame back in 2014.
5. Jake Roberts
Just because a wrestler is dealing with personal demons that cause him to miss out on a show or event does not mean that the fans have not been wronged in those instances. Jake “The Snake” Roberts had a long history of either missing certain obligations or showing up “in no condition to perform.” The hope, moving forward, is that Roberts has, thanks to Diamond Dallas Page, gotten his life in order and that he will no longer experience any similar slip-ups. Roberts has unintentionally wronged fans in the past, but there is still time for his story to have a happy ending.
4. Scott Hall
One could copy the Jake Roberts portion of this piece and paste it here for Scott Hall. Hall, like Roberts, has battled a variety of personal problems and setbacks over the years, and the former “Bad Guy” missed an event in the summer of 2015. It was learned later that same year that Hall, who has also received help from Diamond Dallas Page, had decided to enter a rehabilitation facility. Wrestling fans are pulling for both Roberts and Hall, and not just because they hope to see these legends of the ring at conventions and at future events promoted by the WWE.
3. Vince McMahon
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon has arguably done more positive things for the pro wrestling business than any other one individual in history. With that said, McMahon has also been accused by fans and by wrestling journalists of not doing right by his customers during on-air segments and with some of the decisions that McMahon has made behind the scenes. Remember that time when McMahon booked himself to win the ECW Championship? That may have been the greatest instance of McMahon trolling members of his company’s fan base, but not every fan was entertained. McMahon also once “feuded” with God, a portion of his on-air career that should be left buried in the past where it belongs.
2. Brock Lesnar
Accidents can happen in any line of work, but one would hope that Brock Lesnar has learned real lessons about tossing certain items into crowds of fans. Lesnar has allegedly twice accidentally struck fans while getting a little carried away during segments. “The Beast” once threw a monitor into a crowd of people. When he was feuding with WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins in 2015, Lesnar threw a car door – yes, a car door! – into the audience. Both Lesnar and the WWE were fortunate that no serious injuries occurred during those two events.
1. CM Punk
Whether he was simply living up to his heel character of the time or he was having a bad day, there is no denying that CM Punk has had some regrettable interactions with wrestling fans in the past. A fan once recorded Punk dropping a homophobic slur during a WWE event (Punk later apologized for those comments). At a different event, Punk threw an elbow toward a fan in the crowd after a different fan had repeatedly shoved Punk in the back. Even the biggest Punk fan out there would have to admit these those moments serve as reminders that wrestlers would be better off not interacting with fans on some nights.