Wrestling is a massive industry, and the way it conducts business, the way it keeps its fans, attracts new ones, and gets people to tune in week after week, is by drumming up a lot of hype and creating a buzz. It’s all about marketing the product of wrestling, but there’s a certain way to do things, and some antics are just a no no. Some promotional stunts, antics from some of the world’s top promotions, have been utterly deplorable. Many have totally flopped, didn’t serve their purpose, and others have gotten a lot of attention, but the wrong kind of attention. But people like Vince McMahon – most of these stunts over the years have been down to him – and his cronies, don’t seem to really care. They must have had people in their ears telling them that what they were about to do was just seriously wrong, but they bore these warnings no attention, went ahead with them anyway, and consequently we’ve seen some of the worst wrestling publicity stunts imaginable.
These stunts have been a mixture of being shameful, scandalous, distasteful, and just downright abhorrent, things that, looking back at them now, even Vince would want to obliterate from the wrestling archives. They really don’t show him, his wrestlers, or wrestling in general in the best light, and unfortunately for him, we’re not going to forget about these stunts in a hurry. Read through this list and you’ll find yourself simultaneously cringing and shaking your head in condemnation. Here it is, 15 of the worst wrestling publicity stunts.
15. Vince McMahon Crashes And Burns
As a wrestling fan, you want to be shocked, in awe of what you’re seeing, not have to set your eyes on something so over-the-top ridiculous that you know it’s not real; you know it’s not real anyway, well, that it’s scripted, but you get my drift, you still want to watch wrestling events and get the impression everything that’s unfolding is 100% real. Vince McMahon being engulfed in flames, crashing, and burning to his death was not one of those time. There wasn’t an ounce of realism in the event – it only had the effect of making people feel really hot and bothered because of that mighty inferno. Vince’s limousine exploding was a publicity stunt that epically flopped. His promotion’s aim was to stir up plenty of media attention, and it did for the wrong reasons, but it was even more embarrassing when Chris Benoit died a matter of days after the stunt – it resulted in Vince’s tribute being really awkward.
14. Lawrence Taylor Hits The Big Time
Does anyone have a clue who Lawrence Taylor is? Nope? You’re not the only one. Actually, you probably do know who he is, but wouldn’t put that Lawrence Taylor and wrestling together.
Taylor was once regarded to be one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. He enjoyed a huge amount of success with the New York Giants, but it was a career that was marred by controversy, mainly due to his drug use. After he said goodbye to pro football, he was looking to get into something else, and for some reason, Vince McMahon and WWE saw it fit to give him an opportunity in wrestling. That’s all well and good, but they didn’t just give him an opportunity – they thrust him right onto the biggest stage of them all. The right to wrestle at WrestleMania is meant to be for the biggest stars in the promotion. Taylor wasn’t even a wrestler at that point, let alone a star, but he was billed to compete at WrestleMania, and in the main event at that. It was ludicrous on WWE’s part, and the fact that Taylor won the match didn’t really matter. It was a dire match, the fans thought so and people let Vince know it.
WrestleMania XI occurred just after that infamous steroid trial, so Vince needed something that would shock, that would get people interested in wrestling again. But going with Taylor, a wrestling novice, backfired horribly, and ended up heaping a whole lot more heat on the company and Vince’s shoulders.
13. David Arquette’s Wrestling Career
You probably all know David Arquette the actor. He’s a big name in the acting industry, but how many of you would even fathom the idea that David could be a decent wrestler? There aren’t many people I can think of that look more unlike a wrestler than David, but for some reason WCW saw something – god knows what it was.
WCW’s – what turned out to be a suicidal – decision to get David involved, was so they could drum up a bit of publicity for their recently released film. That was ultimately the extent of their logic – they wanted to promote their investment. But getting David involved as a wrestler, and that too as the WCW Heavyweight Champion, although he was a measly 160lbs, really was a dire decision, and actually an insult to the great wrestlers who’d held that title before him. Pretty much everyone – including David, who’s admitted he was a disgrace to the profession – detested that angle, and in the end, it was a major contributing factor to the demise of WCW as a promotion.
12. Kevin Federline Fiasco
Over the years, WWE’s welcomed a whole host of celebrities into their promotion. I’ve just mentioned two, and how shambolic their angles turned out to be, and here’s another one, another so-called celebrity who had a dire time in wrestling. The reason I’m calling Kevin Federline a so-called celebrity is because I bet most of you probably don’t have the foggiest who he actually is. At the time of his appearance, people didn’t have a clue either – just some random dude who was suddenly on the scene and was beating the likes of John Cena. He’s probably achieved the most of his fame for being married to Britney Spears at one point. WWE wanted some of the publicity that was coming his way around the time of his divorce to the pop princess, so they brought him in, hoping some of that publicity would rub off on the promotion. But it was an utter fiasco – one of the worst angles ever worked by a celebrity in WWE.
11. Distasteful Heart Attack Angle
Ok, so this is going back a bit here, and despite all the shenanigans that have gone on in wrestling since then, it’s still one of the worst publicity stunts in wrestling history.
In the late 1980s, World Class Championship Wrestling had become known for – as morbid as it sounds – the promotion people went to to die. Quite a few big stars who were with the promotion at the time met their untimely deaths, and others had left for the big money contracts being offered by WWE, who were just snapping up all the star names. Consequently, World Class Championship Wrestling was a company in dire straits, so they started doing anything to drum up some publicity.
Fritz von Erich, who owned the Texas-based promotion, had endured a life riddled with tragedy. Three of his six kids had died, and because he was still cradling so much grief, he’d have been the last person you’d have expected to take part in such a distasteful angle. During a match in which his son was in the ring, Fritz collapsed, faking a heart attack, exploiting his personal real-life devastation in the effort to gain some interest for his ailing promotion. But by this point, what few fans WCCW had left were fed up, and this angle pushed them over the edge, and pretty soon after, the promotion was no more.
10. Homosexual Wedding
It’s never a great outcome when WWE try to address social issues. It’s always overly dramatized and ends up just being downright cringeworthy, either that or they get it wrong entirely and actually end up causing offence.
When WWE tried to incorporate a pretty big social issue – homosexuality – into one of their angles, you just knew it wasn’t going to turn out great. The promotion’s hardly known for being cool towards gay people, so when this whole storyline emerged, people were right to raise their eyebrows.
Billy and Chuck’s love for each other continued to blossom, and then eventually Chuck proposed and they ended up almost getting hitched. It’s pretty obvious why this was a publicity stunt. WWE wanted to show that they were all up for gay and lesbian rights, that they’d finally emerged from the dark ages, that their days of disrespecting the homosexual community were over. When Chuck popped the question it actually turned into a pretty big deal. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation got involved and actually endorsed WWE, paid to cover the marriage. But obviously, the marriage didn’t go ahead because the whole thing was just a massive publicity stunt that had been taken way too far. GLAAD were understandably furious, and WWE were right back where they were before the angle, in the doghouse with the likes of GLAAD and other such organizations.
9. Guest Hosts
Some celebrities that WWE brings into the mix – so long as they aren’t around in a wrestling capacity – are actually pretty decent. They can lend a whole lot to a night of wrestling entertainment, but again, that’s only if they’re half decent. Sometimes WWE have brought in celebs just for the sake of doing so and they really don’t lend anything to, well, anything.
This was in fact a whole year of publicity stunts. From mid-2009 to 2010, every episode of Monday Night Raw was hosted by a different celebrity. Some were pretty decent, but after a while the concept of a celebrity host was beginning to wear a little thin. After a few months, it became really cringeworthy, just awful to watch, and fans weren’t shy about voicing their displeasure.
WWE’s aim was to get famous faces involved, whoever was getting publicity and was famous at the time, in the hope of drawing more fans to wrestling and to WWE. But they really should have gone about it another way, because it ended up being a really dark period for the promotion.
8. Tasteless Melanie Pillman Interview
When your husband’s just unexpectedly died, you want to be left alone, left to grieve in your own way. But unfortunately for Melanie Pillman, she didn’t get that chance.
Brian Pillman died in 1997 of heart disease. He was a family man, and left his two kids and his wife utterly devastated. Brian was only 35 years old when he died, and the news shook his family and the wrestling world. Melanie needed some help after his passing, needed some support, needed to unload her emotions onto someone. A grief counsellor would provide her the perfect opportunity to do just that. Vince McMahon was a real sweetheart, and arranged for Melanie to have a session with a grief counsellor. Sweetheart? Yeah right. He set it up, but only so he could record the whole thing and play it out in a live TV interview.
Of course, Vince was trashed because of that interview. Perhaps he did it so WWE could distance themselves from Brian’s death, so people knew it wasn’t the drug culture in wrestling that had led to his passing, or maybe he just saw it as an opportunity to boost his ratings. Whatever the reason may have been, Vince was trashed from all corners of the wrestling world, and rightfully so.
7. McMahon Leaning On Trump For Publicity
Nowadays we’re all aware of the Trump effect. We all know the type of person he is, what he gets up to, how he likes to do things. But Donald Trump’s been in the limelight a hell of a long time, before he became a so-called politician. Of course, there’s his flourishing businesses, but he’s also lent his face and personality to various shows and events, and he actually used to be a common face in the wrestling industry. The billion dollar men, Trump and Vince, are actually good friends, and Vince has frequently borrowed his friend’s popularity and has periodically gotten him involved over the years. Most of these instances have been pretty embarrassing, as is the fact that Trump’s been inducted into the WWE Celebrity Wing of the Hall of Fame. The guy’s made appearances at no less than six WrestleMania events, and every last one of them have been dire publicity stunts.
6. 2009 NBA Playoffs
Most guys who are involved in sport, or sport’s entertainment, support other sports. But if scheduling affects that way you want to do things, you forget all that. It’s war.
Vince wasn’t pleased when the schedule for Denver Nuggets’ playoff match against the LA Lakers in 2009 was released. There was a conflict of schedules that would ultimately result in WWE being ousted from the Pepsi Centre, which they’d booked months previously to host an episode of Monday Night Raw. Vince and his company were booted out, and were left fuming about it, and he wanted people to know it. But what he did next was rather petty. Their change of venue happened to be the home of the LA Lakers, and they ended up spending the entire show trashing the Nuggets. It was a pretty pathetic publicity stunt, very child-like, but it got people talking, so you’ve got to say that in the end Vince achieved his goal.
5. Stand Up For WWE Campaign
Wrestling and politics should stay totally separate industries that should never mix, people from each industry shouldn’t cross paths or try and make it in the other. Just thinking about it, you can imagine the outcome. But it has actually happened, quite a few times over the years. One of those who’s made the transition from being a wrestling personality to a politician has been Vince’s wife, Linda McMahon. We’ve seen Linda in quite a few storylines over the years, and being married to Vince she’s no stranger to the goings on in the wrestling business, but she’s now Administrator of the Small Business Administration, under the Trump Administration.
When Linda campaigned for Senate in 2010, those running against her never tired of using her association with Vince and WWE to tarnish her reputation. Her political opponents trashed WWE during Linda’s failed campaign, and Vince wasn’t about to sit back and let that happen. He couldn’t use WWE to openly campaign for his wife, but he kind of did, in a sneaky kind of way. He launched the “Stand Up For WWE” campaign in an attempt to get fans to show their love for the company. But it was also indirectly a campaign for Linda. These sneaky tactics didn’t go unnoticed. His motives were picked up on and he was heavily criticized for it. It actually ended up doing Linda more harm than good, and both his and Linda’s campaigns failed miserably.
4. Creating A Buzz For Brock
Will he come back, won’t he? Those were the questions on pretty much everyone’s minds when Brock Lesnar left wrestling to try his hand at MMA in UFC. WWE knew this and exploited it.
Leading up to the UFC 168 event in 2013, there was plenty of hype, mainly due to people discussing the possible return of Brock Lesnar, who’d been out of the octagon for quite some time. There were tons of rumors that had been circulating, that either Brock was going to get in the octagon and compete, or at the very least he’d make an appearance and enter into discussions with Dana White about future plans. The event came and people were eagerly awaiting the return of Brock. But he wasn’t to be seen. He was a no show, and that’s because he wasn’t planning to make an appearance in the first place. Those rumors were just rumors, and it’s thought they were kick-started by WWE. Brock was due to make some WWE appearances in the coming months, so this was the company’s way of creating some hype, some buzz for Brock. But all those MMA fans who were eagerly awaiting his return weren’t pleased.
3. Getting Patriotic
As you’ve probably learned by now, WWE love jumping on the bandwagon and exploiting certain situations for their own gain, for their own publicity. They are generally distasteful angles, but this has to be among the worst.
In 1991, WWE was losing popularity. Its once almighty fan base were leaving in droves, and therefore the company was desperate. Even Hulk Hogan, arguably the greatest and most popular wrestler of all time, was losing his edge, and was thus losing fans.
So, what did Vince do? He exploited the Gulf War that was raging on in the Middle East. The country’s military personnel were fighting and dying, but Vince thought he could extract some publicity from the situation. Sgt. Slaughter made an appearance as an Iraqi sympathizer, and the Hulkster got in on the act too, a despicable publicity stunt exploiting a terrible and serious situation. That’s just the way Vince and his cronies operate.
2. Brawl For All
Wrestlers may look tough, and most of them are – you’ve got to be to do what these guys do for a living. But that hasn’t stopped people from trashing them. Wrestling is, after all, scripted, so despite how they look, wrestlers still get a lot of flak from real sportspeople in other industries, especially boxers and MMA fighters. For these guys, everything’s real; when they get punched they get punched, when they get kicked they get kicked, and so they hate comparisons being made between what they do and what wrestlers get up to.
In 1998, Vince was getting tired of people saying his guys weren’t tough enough. So, in an effort to prove their metal, he pitted them against each other in a Brawl For All competition. To see these guys lace up the gloves and actually go against each other and box was pretty hilarious, but WWE would end up regretting the decision. A number of wrestlers got injured along the way, and to be honest, none of the matches were great spectacles.
1. McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania
There were quite a few to choose from but this just had to make it into number one position on this list. This is an incident in which Vince basically paid people to pay attention. Think about how that sounds, how desperate he must have been to improve his ratings. It seriously reeked of desperation.
The Million Dollar Mania was basically Vince cold calling unsuspecting viewers of Raw. If they told him the secret password, they’d win cash. As simple as that. Except that it wasn’t. A lot of those who picked up the phone didn’t have a clue what was going on, and there ended up being a ton of wasted calls which cut a significant amount of time out of WWE airtime. But what was even worse was that the whole thing was just a publicity stunt leading onto something else. Vince had given away $500,000 when there were explosions, the stage tore apart, and Vince basically ended up crushed. But this meant that the Million Dollar Mania was no more, so fans didn’t really give a damn.
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