Don’t let the high-octane environment fool you—the WWE Universe is one of the most political places in all of entertainment, sports or otherwise. The company’s owner and CEO, Vince McMahon, is, at his best, a benevolent dictator, his top stars, power hungry generals who lucked into spaces within the man’s inner circle.
To outsiders, a whole lot of WWE’s executive policies and decisions make absolutely no sense because most of the world has no idea just how arcane and political the process of “making a WWE superstar” can be. For one thing, a wrestler’s collective talents inside the squared circle and on the microphone only play a small role in how successful they’ll become in pro wrestling. The greatest wrestler in the world on paper may never get out of the independent leagues should his or her attitude fall out of line with what WWE and other mainstream promotions believe is appropriate for a sports entertainer.
Even wrestlers who seem like proverbial “made men/women” with a few major championships to their resume can see it all fall apart if they tick McMahon or one of his lackeys off in the wrong way. When the truth comes out about how some of these wrestlers have fallen from grace, fans naturally voice their confusion and distaste over knowing how WWE operates.
Sure, some wrestlers get fired or otherwise de-pushed for completely legitimate reasons, like failing a drug test or getting into constant backstage fights with other talents. However, there have been countless instances where WWE forced a wrestler to pay retribution for something completely stupid, things that no other business would ever reprimand an employee for having done. Keep reading to discover 15 dumb AF reasons WWE has punished employees onscreen.
15 Baron Corbin – Got In A Twitter War
In the modern era, social media is playing an increasing role in WWE television, to such an extent some fans feel their stomachs turn each time Michael Cole or Corey Graves says the word “trending.” Regardless of how fans feel about it, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and any other web sites wrestlers use to interact with fans directly are becoming incredibly important to some of their characters and, in turn, their success in WWE. On the other hand, certain rising WWE superstars are basically throwing away their careers online by making major faux pas, and in the month of August 2017 alone, Baron Corbin made a whole bunch of them.
It’s never a good idea for an entertainer to reply to everyone who gives them crap on Twitter because they don’t always know whom they’re talking to. In Corbin’s case, he had no idea the “loser in a high school gym” he was bullying happened to be a United States military veteran who had previously met Vince McMahon. Instantly upon learning this info, Corbin apologized and backtracked, but the damage was done. "Mr. Money in the Bank" when the incident went down, Corbin lost his briefcase the very week those messages were exchanged and has continued getting jobbed out since.
14 JTG – Squashed For Saying He Wanted Better
Anyone reading this list who doesn’t remember JTG, be secure in the fact that’s probably for the better. Nothing against the wrestler or his individual talents, yet the character Vince McMahon forced him to play was so patently racist, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have him and his partner in Cryme Tyme, Shad Gaspard, erased from history. Together or apart, the duo was presented as stereotypical “gangsta” thieves, hijacking other wrestlers' belongings for a laugh. After several years of this derivative character, JTG voiced his opinion on Twitter that he wished WWE would treat his talents more seriously. Rather than giving some thought to his words, the company then booked JTG in a series of high-profile losses on Raw before firing him, a move he believed was a direct response to his Tweets. From there, JTG has written two books in a series titled “DAMN! Why Did I Write This Book?” detailing the various bad times he experienced in the company. It’s hard to imagine anything worse than being forced to lose for daring ask to win.
13 Jim Ross – Tricked Into Retirement For Letting Flair Get Drunk
All of the examples of wrestlers getting punished featured on this list are pretty stupid, as is the point. However, the treatment endured by JR throughout pretty much his entire career really takes the cake, moving from merely stupid to almost outright cruel. However, that’s the totality of his career, with repeat angles mocking his name and forcing him to do disgusting things like literally kiss Vince McMahon’s ass for no reason. The specific incident we’re talking about wasn’t that bad overall, yet the fact it was supposed to be punishment nonetheless makes it absolutely ridiculous.
In the summer of 2013, JR was hosting a video-game event with Mick Foley and Ric Flair, and all three allegedly behaved in a questionable manner. JR and Foley shared some cross words, while Flair was notably drunk, telling inappropriate stories about John Cena. Instead of punishing all three in some way, WWE placed all the blame on JR for being in charge, and the reaction was truly over the top. It would have been one thing to simply fire him, but WWE went a step further and used the company Twitter account to claim he “retired,” a total falsity they created for PR alone.
12 Trish Stratus – Wouldn’t Do A Pointless Lesbian Angle
At this point in time, Trish Stratus is respected as one of the best female wrestlers in WWE history. Guaranteeing Stratusfaction with her every match, Trish won the WWE Women’s Championship a record seven times en route to an induction to the Hall of Fame, an honor she more than deserved. In the beginning of her career, however, fans were a little reticent to accept Trish as a wrestler, having been introduced as a gorgeous albeit fragile manager. That perception started changing when Stratus first won the belt she later made history with, as she defended the title valiantly for three months before suddenly losing it to Jazz.
According to Stratus, the sudden stall in her momentum was due to refusing an angle that she felt didn’t make any sense, and we completely agree. Apparently, WWE wanted Trish and Torrie Wilson to compete in a sexually charged pose off against Billy and Chuck, ending with the ladies sharing a passionate lip lock. Trish was even willing to do the whole thing without the kiss, but WWE stood firm, so she ultimately refused. As a punishment for making a logical career move, Stratus lost her belt and didn’t gain it back for another three months.
11 Zack Ryder – Jobbed Out For Getting Popular On His Own
Of all the reasons a wrestler could get punished, Zack Ryder’s is definitely the most absurd. In fairness to WWE, sometimes it makes perfect sense they de-push a wrestler or treat them badly onscreen, and it doesn’t even take that much for them to make the decision. However, we’re talking about wrestlers who don’t have a significant number of fans chanting their name, as the only explanation for a wrestler falling down the card should be that they aren’t entertaining the audience. If anything, Ryder has done the exact opposite, finding a highly personal connection with his fans, albeit outside of the WWE umbrella. Ryder’s fame is largely related to his YouTube series, Long Island Iced Z, which made him a popular comedy act much to Vince McMahon’s bizarre chagrin. Instead of capitalizing on this fame, WWE keeps Ryder firmly at the bottom the card, a practice they’ve kept for so long, even Ryder’s die hard fans no longer see him as a viable star.
10 AJ Lee – Treated As A Scapegoat For Marrying CM Punk
In many respects, the way WWE treated AJ Lee during the tail end of her career really wasn’t surprising, no matter how unfair it all was. After several years of receiving the spotlight in a way few females before her were able to receive, AJ slowly faded out of the spotlight, starting around the same time she got married to CM Punk. To recap a brief history lesson, Punk had also worked for WWE in an even higher profile role than his wife up until early 2014, at which point he walked out on the company and started a bitter war of words with them. Given how hostile relations between Punk and WWE were, it was basically a matter of time before the company started treating his spouse poorly on screen. AJ went from being a respected, multiple-time WWE Divas Champion to a lower tier also-ran, and things got even worse after she called out Stephanie McMahon on Twitter for issues regarding the gender pay gap in pro wrestling. All of one month later, she was out of the company and retired from wrestling.
9 Drew McIntyre – Got Assaulted By His Wife
For all this list has said about WWE’s treatment of their employees, it’s fair to point out nothing on this list is necessarily illegal or even questionable from a business perspective, per se. The closest WWE has come to actively behaving badly when de-pushing a star was when they decided Drew McIntyre was no longer deserving of the clearly huge things they once had in store from him. Initially, McIntyre was billed as the future of wrestling, introduced by Vince McMahon himself as someone who would definitely become WWE Champion in short order.
For the first two years, that seemed possible, with WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Championship runs suggesting McIntyre was indeed on the path to greatness. Then, he got in a domestic violence incident with his wife Tiffany/Taryn Terrell. Now, had McIntyre been the abuser, WWE would have been right to fire him for it, yet the twist in this story is that he was actually the victim, having needed to call the cops on his wife for one reason or another. Allegedly, this made Vince McMahon have trouble viewing McIntyre as “a man,” hence him turning into a comedy character. Hopefully, that’s all out of his system with McIntyre back in NXT.
8 Dolph Ziggler – From World Champion To Midcarder For Calling Out Randy Orton
Back to the subject of social media for a second -- one thing the stories involving Baron Corbin and JTG left out is that WWE actually encourages them to frequent the same platforms these wrestlers have inadvertently damaged their careers using. More than that, multiple wrestling companies have actually suggested or even demanded certain wrestlers Tweet negative messages at others to play into their ongoing feuds and storylines. In a more old-school mindset, the same is theoretically true about out-of-character interviews on a talk show. For example, even if Dolph Ziggler is talking to a news reporter, there’s "no harm, no foul" in him ending the interview with a line about how he’s going to beat up Randy Orton in the near future. In theory, that is. Apparently, it was a statement just like that which infuriated WWE management, who felt Ziggler’s negative statements towards Orton were out of character and inappropriate. In a case of truly bad timing, this was during Ziggler’s long-awaited reign as World Champion, and the controversy led to the company taking that title away from him and more or less ensuring he’d never see it again.
7 Titus O’Neil – Got Too Playful With Vince On Raw
There’s no denying Vince McMahon is an intimidating presence, and that goes double for anyone looking to get involved with the wrestling business. That said, a select few have managed to get inside his inner-circle, and these people surely know a different Vince McMahon than the rest of us… right? Well, that was the assumption until one of McMahon’s closer buddies on his roster, Titus O’Neil, got a little too friendly during the closing moments of Daniel Bryan’s retirement ceremony. In what initially looked to fans like a playful hug, O’Neil grabbed McMahon during his exit from the Monday Night Raw stage to let his daughter Stephanie leave before him in accordance with “ladies first.” In truly over-the-top fashion, McMahon responded by suspending O’Neil for 90 days merely for touching him and making a scene while cameras were rolling. Fans complained, getting that suspension lowered to 60 days, yet the damage had already been done, as the public knew McMahon went way overboard.
6 Rusev and Lana – Split Apart For Getting Married
When Vince McMahon calls his company “the WWE Universe,” in a way, he’s doing something fans long suspected he does in private all the time: calling himself "god." Vince is obviously the leader and mastermind of his company, creating sports entertainment as we know it today, so it’s not like he’s entirely delusional, but as usual, McMahon goes way too far with a simple metaphor. No mere mortal can dictate the free will of other human beings, especially when cameras aren’t rolling, a fact that's infuriated McMahon on more than one occasion. Most recently, the situation came up when McMahon decided Rusev and Lana, two WWE employees who were dating in real life, weren’t a good fit.
To clue his talent into breaking up, Vince separated them on screen and moved each into newer, less fitting relationships. Rather than take a hint, Rusev and Lana defied their boss and got married, publically announcing it online to ensure the company would have to drop pretending they were apart. Not long after this, Rusev got injured and would have been offscreen for a while anyway, yet his treatment as a low carder upon return despite massive crowd responses suggests the company hasn’t forgotten the “betrayal.” As for Lana, the less said about her current direction, the better.
5 Ricky Steamboat – Wanted Time With His Newborn Son
Throughout all of wrestling history, only a handful of performers have come anywhere near the in-ring skill of former NWA World Champion Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. World renowned for his second-to-none ability, Steamboat also had a significant stint in WWE during the mid-'80s, once holding the WWE Intercontinental Championship a few years before earning the competition’s top prize. Steamboat won the prize against “Macho Man” Randy Savage in a match lauded as one of the best in history, yet he unceremoniously lost it all of two months later -- and to a comedy character jobber in The Honky Tonk Man at that. Why did WWE immediately change their minds on such an obvious legend? Well, his wife was pregnant with their first child, and ever the family man, Steamboat made the grave mistake of asking for some time off to be with them. Rather than grant the reasonable request, Vince McMahon was furious, taking away the newly won title and never letting him get close to it or any other gold again.
4 Mark Henry – Signed A Contract He Didn’t Deserve
There’s a way to look at some of the examples on this list as counterproductive since the alternative to WWE using TV time to denigrate their employees is to, you know, create good wrestling. Countless hours have been wasted solely trying to make talent feel bad about themselves and/or quit their jobs that could've easily been devoted to making new stars or simply putting on good matches. These thoughts feel relevant in relation to Mark Henry because few wrestlers have had more time devoted to their demotivation than the World’s Strongest Man, and it’s all because Vince McMahon stupidly paid the guy way too much for his services sight unseen.
On day one of his pro wrestling career, Henry signed a 10-year $10 million contract, which McMahon instantly regretted and spent a solid decade punishing him for, knowing cutting him loose would be even more expensive. Instead of putting on good programming, McMahon booked multiple angles intentionally mocking Henry, including one where he impregnated a septuagenarian and made her give birth to a human hand. Literally, no action in the known universe, WWE or otherwise, deserves that type of retribution. "Cruel" and "unusual" doesn’t even begin to cover it.
3 Dolph Ziggler – Dropped Down The Card For Being Too Funny
When WWE got mad at Dolph Ziggler for bad-mouthing Randy Orton, he was reigning as the World Champion, so it was pretty easy for them to punish him. The solution was so simple it barely bears repeating, but here it is: they had him lose the Big Gold Belt. There wasn’t much worse they could do from there except stop letting him challenge for the title in a serious manner, instead dropping Ziggler down to Intercontinental or United States Championship level and refusing to let him work his way back up -- unless, of course, WWE got even madder at Ziggler for something that made even less sense, like booking a stand-up comedy show on one of his days off. Instead of appreciating that the young man was expanding his career and trying to build some character, WWE was again furious with Ziggler, this time for daring to make a public appearance without expressed written approval. No longer World Champion or close to it, all WWE could do was keep pushing Ziggler further down the card despite ever-present positive crowd reactions.
2 Triple H – The Infamous Curtain Call
It was pro wrestling’s biggest story of 1996. Former WWE Champion Diesel and his friend, former WWE Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon, two of the company’s top stars, were both leaving for the greener pastures of WCW at the same time. On their last night in the company, Diesel challenged the new champion, Shawn Michaels, for his belt while Razor wrestled a rising star named Hunter Hearst Helmsley. When the night was over, all four men entered the ring together and shared a group hug, confusing fans in attendance and shattering kayfabe, then still a strongly upheld concept. Because Diesel and Ramon were leaving, WWE couldn’t reprimand them in any way, and HBK was their top star and frankly, only marketable performer left, so he was off limits, too. Therefore, low-level Triple H took all the blame, altering plans he was set to be that year’s King of the Ring, plus the subsequent push that no doubt would've come next. Eventually, HHH recovered in a major way, yet he still seems bitter about this era when speaking retrospectively about his rise.
1 Owen Hart – Turned Into A Joke For Being Faithful to His Wife
Before anyone goes and jumps the gun on this one, to suggest the events leading up to Owen Hart’s death are necessarily the fault of WWE or its executives is a bit of a leap from the information we’re about to discuss. That said, the tragedy could've been avoided had WWE not first decided to punish Hart in particularly petty and bizarre fashion in the weeks leading to his fatal accident. Owen Hart never would've fallen to his death at Over the Edge 1999 had he not been using The Blue Blazer gimmick at the time, a cartoon comedy superhero way beneath his talent level.
The only reason WWE forced Hart into the role, a rehash of a character he used at the start of his career, was that he denied a different suggestion of theirs. Vince McMahon felt a better idea would have been if Hart had begun an affair with Debra, making his tag-team partner, Jeff Jarrett, jealous and leading to a feud. Owen felt this was disrespectful to his actual wife and didn’t want his kids to see him cheating on her every Monday night, both completely reasonable excuses for an angle that, quite frankly, has been done millions of times before. Unfortunately, WWE reacted very negatively, forcing Owen back into the bright blue suit that unexpectedly spelled his doom.