Especially in the modern era, it seems as though fans of sports entertainment get more pleasure complaining about the WWE Universe far more than they do actually watching the product. Even before it felt like Vince McMahon stopped trying to please his audience, the genre of “wrestle crap” became so popular, it earned its own website where disgruntled viewers could go and freely bicker about the “absolute worst of pro wrestling.”
This isn’t to say that WWE is all bad, of course, as the company is responsible for literally hundreds of hours of amazing content, along with the occasional duds and misfires. Unfortunately, when pro wrestling misses the mark, it gets really bad, really fast, and audiences have a lot of trouble forgetting about McMahon’s mistakes and moving on after he so falters. An unexpected side effect of this is that when one stops and thinks about the lowest moments in WWE history, they may find that a few of the worst angles the company surprisingly produced contained hidden positives no one seemed to notice at the time.
Pro wrestling is one of the most diverse forms of entertainment in the world, blending so many genres in such a fluid way that every second of WWE content is multifaceted and multilayered whether fans are paying attention or not. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with missing out on a minor detail that later turned out to be super important, and even if there was, we’d be here to fill in those gaps for you and connect the dots before you miss them. In this regard, keep reading to learn about 15 horrible WWE storylines everyone forgets had a bright side.
15. Reverend D-Von Anointed An Animal
Oh, testify. One of the hinted threats during the first WWE brand extension draft in 2002 was that some connected at the hip tag teams might get forcibly ripped apart, which is exactly what happened to Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley. By and large, the separation didn’t change Bubba all that much, but being on his own inspired an awakening of sorts in his half-brother. Taking his catchphrase literally, D-Von decided to join the cloth and become a Reverend, giving the WWE Universe sermons on their bad behavior before passing around the collection plate. Quite frankly, we feel a little mixed in calling this a horrible storyline because the idea itself wasn’t that bad, aside from the fact WWE did almost nothing with it. However, it was just controversial enough that some fans hated it immediately, and either way, the more important issue is that D-Von soon introduced a “deacon” named Batista as his right-hand man. That same Batista soon became a WWE Champion several times over, an elevation that definitely justifies D-Von Dudley getting a silly gimmick if only to introduce Dave.
14. Saba Simba Gave Tony Atlas A Reason To Live
All one needs to hear to understand what a failure the Saba Simba gimmick was is an audio recording of color commentator “Rowdy” Roddy Piper dismissively howling, “That’s Tony Atlas!” during the character’s infamous debut. Indeed, it was the former WWE Tag Team Champion making a comeback in a gimmick that can only be described as racist. Why? Because Vince McMahon forced the once extremely popular athlete known as the “Black Superman” into a goofy African headdress and told him to dance around the ring despite Atlas having no personal connection to the continent beyond his race. However, don’t go telling the future WWE Hall of Famer the gimmick was a bad idea, though, because in his own words, getting hired to play it saved his life. Prior to Vince McMahon giving him a second chance, Atlas was homeless and living on a park bench, and returning to the spotlight inspired him to entirely turn things around and get back on his feet. Could Vince have accomplished this without being racist as hell? Probably. But Atlas himself didn’t mind, so we’ll say the good outweighs the bad this time.
13. Jake Roberts’ Ultimate Path To The Dark Side
Even two bona fide wrestling legends are bound to make a little crap every now and again, which is the only way to explain how the early ‘90s program where Jake “The Snake” Roberts “trained” The Ultimate Warrior to… uh… do stuff was such a bomb — well, that and the fact their goal was so vague, we can’t even be bothered to figure it out in retrospect. Whatever they were trying to accomplish is irrelevant anyway because the focus here is the awful vignettes where Roberts had Warrior navigate through a horribly lit dungeon filled with fake rubber snakes, which naturally freaked him out to the point of panic despite the snakes being inanimate and immobile. Before long, bait met switch, and Roberts attacked Warrior, revealing his only true training was the age-old adage to “never trust a snake.” It was goofy, ridiculous, and made a mockery of two of the biggest stars in WWE at the time, but on the plus side, Jake Roberts slowly started creeping toward the vicious heel persona that would define his career before. Roberts had been a bad guy before as well, but the next run was when he truly became a legend, feuding Randy Savage and redefining what “evil” meant in pro wrestling.
12. The Spirit Squad Brought DX Back Together
Ready? Okay! Making their debut in January of 2006, Kenny, Mikey, Johnny, Mitch, and Nicky weren’t necessary wrestling’s first male cheerleaders, but they were definitely the most infamous. For over a full year, the Spirit Squad dominated WWE’s main event storylines, much to the chagrin of wrestling fans everywhere who thought their gimmick in no way deserved that spot. On top of that, the members were all fairly inexperienced and didn’t exactly deserve the attention for their ring skills either. There was a method to the madness, however, and we’re not simply talking about the fact Nicky later turned into Dolph Ziggler after a quick repackaging. Prior to that even happening, the Spirit Squad were the impetus for Shawn Michaels and Triple H finally letting bygones be bygones and reviving D-Generation X. Would this have happened without the Spirit Squad bringing them together? Probably, but facts are facts, and it was their stupid cheers that ultimately proved that the WWE Universe was rrrrrrready to suck it once again.
11. Doink The Clown Wasn’t Always A Joke
History has a funny way of messing up the details in retrospect, causing people to misremember perfectly good angles as being horrible simply because they didn’t turn out the way people had hoped. This unfortunate fate is the only way to explain the public perception of Doink the Clown, often maligned as one of the worst cartoonish gimmicks Vince McMahon ever created. While it’s true that Doink was never a serious threat to the WWE Champion or anything like that, it’s nonetheless a serious disservice to the talents of one Matt Borne to throw away the character entirely. Originally, Doink was an evil mastermind who dressed like a clown to both fool his opponents and terrorize children in the audience, making him a brilliantly despicable monster. He was also considered an amazing technical wrestler, and with all that said, maybe he could’ve challenged for some serious gold after all. The only problem was Doink’s reign of terror didn’t last long, as the gimmick’s originator, Matt Borne, was fired due to a drug problem, and his replacement chose to play the role as a silly babyface, ruining everything Borne had worked toward.
10. Shelton Benjamin’s Momma Helped Him Win The Gold
Of the many, many terrible celebrity appearances in WWE history, one could make a pretty strong argument for Thea Vidale’s being the absolute worst. The whole point of having a celebrity in a wrestling ring is to capitalize on his or her fame, and instead of recognizing the former sitcom star and stand-up comedienne for who she was, Vince McMahon stuck Thea in a wig and made her Shelton Benjamin’s Momma. Worse than simply wasting a celebrity, the practice of putting one in a regular wrestling role also shattered the concept of kayfabe worse than ever before, and the whole debacle with Momma Benjamin just got worse from there with how the roles were performed. The biggest tragedy of all was the fact Momma was constantly dragging down her highly talented son through association, which would’ve defeated the whole purpose for a third or fourth time over had it not been for one key detail: in Momma’s final appearance, she helped Shelton recapture the Intercontinental Championship for the second time, bringing a little spotlight to her very talented son. Once he had it, she never appeared again, making his big victory a double in the eyes of many Shelton fans.
9. Jake Roberts Sees The Light? Oh, Hell Yeah
After several years of being the most despicable human being in sports entertainment, Jake “The Snake” Roberts made a sudden return to WWE and announced he was a changed man. Not only had the decades-long alcoholic stopped drinking, but he did so through the power of Christ, and he wasn’t afraid to tell people all about his great revelations. While it was nice to see Jake in good spirits and all, most of his fans felt this new gimmick was a complete miscast, no matter how uplifting it would’ve been if true. At the same time, though, it was the essential albeit indirect spark that ignited the entire Attitude Era, as it inspired the most iconic sentence in sports entertainment history. It was because of Jake’s new Bible-toting personality that one of his rivals trademarked the phrase “Austin 3:16,” which, as all wrestling fans are surely aware, “means I just whipped your ass.” The second Austin said those words at the 1996 King of the Ring, the crowd roared in approval, a noise that only got louder and louder as he rose to fame.
8. There Was A Higher Power Than The Higher Power
In all fairness to Vince McMahon — and even Vince Russo, who helped write the angle — the whole mess WWE created with the Corporate Ministry and the Higher Power was extremely popular in its day. That doesn’t mean the story made any goddamn sense whatsoever at the time or in hindsight, though, and removed from the context of the Attitude Era, Vince McMahon’s whole secret plot where he pretended to help Steve Austin remain the WWE Champion with the ulterior motive of ensuring Austin would never be the WWE Champion (yup) is total wrestling crap in every sense of the expression. Even so, there are still a few glimpses of pure gold in all the insanity that make us remember why it was so popular. For example, the same night the Higher Power was revealed, Linda McMahon named “Stone Cold” Steve Austin the new WWE CEO, a position he held for three short, glorious weeks before the other McMahons won it back. CEO Austin didn’t do much with his power, but everything he did was absolutely hilarious, while also furthering his epic feud against McMahon in a manner that actually made some dang sense.
7. Two Total Duds Use Failure To Become Outlaws
How a successful tag team forms invariably becomes a major part of their legend, as it’s the natural place where their story together begins. Some are friends for life, others were enemies who noticed a common similarity, and others still simply realized they shared the same goals in their careers. And then, there’s six-time WWE Tag Team Champions The New Age Outlaws, who began when “The Road Dogg” Jesse James approached “Rockabilly” Billy Gunn before they were supposed to have a match and essentially said, “Hey, wanna fail upwards?” The two future champions were literally doing nothing of note with their careers at the time, Road Dogg freshly on his own after parting with Jeff Jarrett and Billy slumming as a protégé of the Honky Tonk Man. In other words, they were involved with crap, crap, crap, and crap, and it looked like there was no way out of it until WWE gave up and fired them. Cutting through Occam’s razor, the Roadie noticed something the rest of us didn’t know, and before long, it became our ass’s duty to call somebody.
6. Angry Jim Ross Helped Set The Tone For The Attitude Era
With many critics considering him the greatest wrestling announcer of all time, Jim Ross is the last person fans would ever buy as a heel. Case in point: the time WWE tried to turn him into one, having him rally against Vince McMahon’s ruthless corporate decisions and generally act like a bitter jerk. No matter how one looks at it, the bitter jerk part really didn’t work, as Good Old JR is a naturally affable, friendly individual who excelled at making fans feel like he was always on their side. That said, the second piece of the puzzle, with JR specifically hating on Vince and repeatedly cluing fans in to just how vicious an executive he could be, in many respects, set the tone for the Attitude Era. A full year before Austin versus McMahon broke up, the equally long-lasting war that was Ross versus McMahon came first, with the more aware WWE fans joining the battle somewhere in between.
5. Eric Bischoff Acts His Way Out Of A Plastic Wedding
In 2002, Billy Gunn decided to recreate his New Age Outlaw formula of teaming up with another random singles star who wasn’t doing anything, again striking gold. Well, perhaps, we should say he struck pink because the next duo he created was the infamous Billy & Chuck. There would be absolutely nothing wrong with WWE running an LBGTQ-themed gimmick if they could do so with the slightest amount of sensitivity, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the childish jokes and innuendo that were supposed to lead the way to the company’s first gay wedding were instead revealed as a publicity stunt gone wrong when Billy Gunn needed to reassure the world he totally wasn’t gay, you guys. Real GLAAD members were invited to SmackDown and left in disgust, feeling two straight guys were mocking their way of life for attention. Believe it or not, though, even this major offense had a minor positive, in that the priest officiating the wedding did an outrageously good job disguising himself. Even on repeat viewings, it remains a huge shock when he drops the act and reveals his true self, standing as one of the best performances in Eric Bischoff’s career.
4. 18 Seconds To Stardom
Anything can happen in the WWE Universe, but when a match is advertised as one of the main events of WrestleMania, fans tend to expect it’ll last more than a few minutes. If not, they probably hope it will at least last one full minute and not a mere 18 seconds, which was all fans got when Daniel Bryan defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Sheamus at WrestleMania 28. Prior to the match, Bryan kissed his then-girlfriend AJ Lee, then turned around and walked right into a Brogue Kick from the Celtic Warrior. Three seconds later, he was no longer the champion, and to say the WWE Universe was upset about this would be the understatement of the century. For the next two full years, fans rallied against WWE booking at increasing volumes with one simple message about what — or should we say “who” — they wanted to see: Daniel Bryan. It took a long time for WWE to get the message, but the fact they held off for so long was also key to how popular Bryan ultimately became, so maybe they knew what they were doing with this one all along.
3. A Pre-Executive Order Says Goodbye To Santina Marella
Less than a decade before he became America’s most controversial representative, Donald Trump was one of the most controversial men in the WWE Universe. Not yet fully vested in politics, Trump spent his spare time dropping by Raw to feud with Vince McMahon, first challenging the WWE CEO to a “Battle of the Billionaires” and then purchasing Monday Night Raw from him a few years later. By and large, the Trump-controlled episodes of Raw only had bad results, including the introduction of the much-maligned guest-host era and a whole lot of focus on Vince McMahon’s ultra-rich friend with the tiny hands. There was a minor and unexpected benefit to Trump taking over WWE for a few weeks when the former Apprentice host got to utter the famous catchphrase he stole from McMahon and told Santino Marella “you’re fired.” At that point, Santina had been boring and offending fans for about three months, and banning her from TV once and for all was the sort of strong leadership choice that actually made people happy. On the other hand, if his reasoning had anything to do with a certain Tweet made a few years later, we take it all back.
2. Sparks of Brilliance Throughout the Invasion
To this day, there are former pro wrestling fans who will never again watch the WWE Universe because of what they did to their former rivals WCW during the much-maligned Invasion storyline. From June to November of 2001, week after week of Raw and SmackDown was dedicated to various WWE superstars making a mockery of those who came from WCW, instantly burying the division along the way. None of the promises made by combining the two companies were delivered, and instead, fans got a confusing mess that made everyone look bad — well, almost everyone anyway, as there were nonetheless a few incredible matches, promos, and mini-angles throughout. Most notable of all good things to happen during the Invasion was the rise of Chris Jericho, who went from a career midcarder to a bona fide main event star for life through back-to-back feuds with Stephanie McMahon and The Rock. Rhyno, Booker T, and Rob Van Dam also all looked better than ever before, albeit at the expense of practically everyone else from The Alliance who were treated as cannon fodder.
1. The Comedy of Steve Austin’s Heel Turn
By shaking hands with the devil himself, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was, in many respects, ending the Attitude Era in one swift move. Austin’s war with Vince McMahon was just one of many elements that made WWE famous during this time period, but it was the biggest and most important, setting the tone for everything else happening in sports entertainment at the time. Turning the feud into a rivalry upset many fans and caused ratings to absolutely plummet, but we’ve gotta say, everyone who stuck around was in store for one hell of a hilarious show. Obviously, Austin wasn’t as popular as a heel as he was a face, and fans didn’t necessarily want to watch him get his butt kicked either. However, each time Austin got backstage with Vince McMahon or Kurt Angle was bound to be a laugh riot, whether they were singing campfire tunes or getting into furious hug wars. That’s not even mentioning the true gem of the era, when Austin begged for therapeutic advice from Tajiri, despite not even being able to correctly pronounce the Japanese grappler’s name. Did it kill the business? A little. Was it funny anyway? Oh, hell yeah.
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