Because his business is the world of professional wrestling and because he has an ego the size of a medium-sized sedan, most serious business people don’t take Vince McMahon seriously. But they should. He took a small, family-owned business and turned it into a multi-billion dollar empire with hundreds of employees.
If there’s one thing that every college business course should teach out of the Vince McMahon playbook, it’s not to let personal feelings or the past get in the way of a good business opportunity. We don’t know if he truly knows how to forgive and forget, but the bottom line is that McMahon knows how to overlook certain things.
These days, professional wrestlers tend to be healthier than those of the previous generation, and that can be seen in the decrease in the number of wrestlers who get fired multiple times in their career. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, many more in-ring performers had to be let go because of being in trouble with the law or because of substance abuse issues. These days, wrestlers get fired because they lack the ability to stand out from the rest, and given the WWE’s history, that’s not at all a bad reason for a wrestler to be fired.
In the real world, once you’re fired, you’re usually not ever let back in the building. In the WWE, however, there are guys who have come and gone three or four times and still get inducted into the Hall of Fame. Maybe we watch pro wrestling not only because it’s escapism entertainment but also because it truly is a different world. Here are 15 Wrestlers Who Were Hired, Fired, Hired, Fired, Hired, then Fired again!
15. The Ultimate Warrior
First known as Blade Runner Rock when he broke into the wrestling business with tag team partner Blade Runner Sting, who would go on to be known simply as Sting for the rest of his career, the Ultimate Warrior had a tumultuous relationship with the WWE right up to the day of his death. Warrior joined the WWE in 1987, working his way up the ranks, first holding the Intercontinental Title and eventually capturing the world title as the man who was supposed to take the torch from Hulk Hogan. The problem was that he wanted Hulk Hogan-like money and respect, which some WWE officials didn’t provide, in his opinion. Tensions ran high, and he was let go after Summerslam 1991. He returned briefly in 1996 to try to recapture glory but started skipping house shows, which got him fired quickly. After spending more than 15 years burying the guy, amends were made, and Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. He made a quick appearance at Wrestlemania and Monday Night Raw a couple of days later. The following morning, he had a massive heart attack and died.
14. Jim Ross
Many would consider the treatment of Jim Ross by the WWE over the years to be among the worst, but you’ll never hear Ross himself complain about it. In 1993, he debuted at WrestleMania but was off TV by SummerSlam, being deemed “too southern” by Vince McMahon. After a project called Radio WWF didn’t take off, he was released in early 1994. With Vince McMahon’s steroid trial taking over his life in summer 1994, Ross was rehired to be one of the voices of Monday Night Raw. While he suffered from a few bouts of Bell’s Palsy, which took him off TV and was fired a few times in storylines, he was not actually fired again until 2013, when he was fired after a panel discussion he hosted went really, really bad. Rumors were that Ross was drunk, but he denied the charge. Ross made his return to the WWE at WrestleMania in 2017, calling the main event, which saw The Undertaker lose, and presumably retire, to Roman Reigns.
13. Charles Wright
Charles Wright was a great soldier for the WWE, but until the character of The Godfather was created, they just couldn’t find anything that clicked for Wright. After a house show run as the nondescript Sir Charles, the character of voodoo doctor Papa Shango was given to Wright. He ran with it for a few years but eventually was sent by WWE to the then-minor leagues of the USWA. It was a firing without being official, so Wright quit. He was rehired a year later and became Kama, the Supreme Fighting Machine, a clear ripoff of an MMA character. This didn’t click either, and he was morphed into a member of the Nation of Domination. In early 2000, he started the Godfather gimmick, but after two years, he was released from the WWE again because the character had run its course. He was brought back twice for appearances in 2007 and competed in the 2013 Royal Rumble. His last major appearance was an induction into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
12. Tony Atlas
Tony Atlas is the perfect case of somebody who could’ve been the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling, but he bought into the lifestyle, and it nearly killed him. His only major title was as tag team champion with Rocky Johnson in the early 1980s. His out-of-ring behavior and no-showing a series of matches caused him to get fired and bounce around indies for a few years until he was brought back as Saba Simba, an African tribal character that was quickly shelved, leaving Atlas without a job. He was brought back to serve as Mark Henry’s handler behind the scenes right around the time the WWE was launching the ECW brand. With a fake belly laugh, he was brought in as the sidekick on the Abraham Washington Show interview segment. Once ECW was canceled, however, Atlas was again sent packing.
11. The British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith first came to the WWE in the mid-1980s as one-half of the popular tag team, The British Bulldogs. After a 5-year run, they left under bad circumstances, although it’s unclear if they were actually fired for improper backstage behavior. Smith returned as a solo act, calling himself The British Bulldog (which he was smart enough to put a trademark on) in 1990, but a scandal with steroids in 1992 saw him released from the company for the first time. The company let him back eventually but released him again in 2007 following the Montreal Screwjob of one-time brother-in-law, Bret Hart.
10. Hulk Hogan
Dating back to the mid-1970s and going all the way through just a few years ago, Hulk Hogan has been employed by the WWE on five occasions. We know that he was fired the last time after a tape of him making racist statements was released in conjunction with his sex tape scandal. Before that, he left over a pay dispute, but it’s not clear if he was fired. The time before that was a certain firing. Most will remember this WWE stint as the time he was doing the Mr. America gimmick, not long after his famed WrestleMania match with The Rock and final short run with the title. Before that was his long WWE run, which it seems like he just walked away from. Going all the way back to the beginning, he was first fired back in 1981 by Vince McMahon, Sr., for taking a role in Rocky III against his demand that Hogan not appear in the film.
9. The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik is one of those guys who seem like they were their own worst enemy during their career. In the case of the Sheik, a well-documented addiction to drugs, which can be seen in the documentary Sheik, is likely the cause. Drugs were the reason the first time he was fired from the WWE in 1987 after his first very successful run. He was fired after being pulled over by the police (along with Hacksaw Jim Duggan) and was found with marijuana and cocaine. He was hired back a year later, but was woefully out of shape and fired before he could get back any of his former glory. He came back four years later as General Adnan, but the same demons were there, and once a big angle with Sgt. Slaughter was done, he was let go again. He returned in 1996 to manage The Sultan, but quickly failed a drug test and was fired again. Despite four firings, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame
8. Rowdy Roddy Piper
It’s hard to know exactly how many times the WWE and Roddy Piper took breaks from each other on good terms and how many were firings since they always seemed to need breaks from each other in the mid-1990s. He left after WrestleMania III, following his “retirement” match with Adrian Adonis. He returned when Hollywood wasn’t as hot as he had hoped, eventually grabbing the Intercontinental Title but disappeared once again after dropping it to Bret Hart in 1992. He came back two years later in 1994, but after a few months, disappeared again. This happened again a year later. And again a year after that. After a lengthy stay with WCW during the NWO years, Piper returned in 2003 but bad-mouthed wrestling during an appearance on a Bob Costas talk show and was fired as a result. He made sporadic appearances the rest of his life with WWE, usually in rambling Piper’s Pit segments where he looked like a shell of the former Rowdy One.
7. John Tenta
In today’s Internet-driven world, we know everything that happens to every wrestler behind the scenes the minute it happens. There are also plenty of old-timers who fill us in on what happened in the past via shoot interviews, but for one reason or another, the late 1980s and early 1990s are a hard time to get a real answer on for a lot of wrestlers’ employment statuses. John “Earthquake” Tenta is a great example. After a long run with the WWE, he “left” in 1993, but no real reason was given anywhere. That happened again after he returned a year later. After years cashing in at WCW, he returned to WWE in 1998 as a member of The Oddities, but that stable went nowhere, and he was released in 1999. The Internet was around by that point, so of course, we know he was fired. Odds are, one, if not both of those mid-1980s abrupt departures were about bad behavior behind the scenes, and he didn’t leave because he thought it was a good idea.
“The Japanese Buzzsaw” has seen more starts and stops with WWE than even probably the most hardcore fan remembers, dating back to 1997 when he briefly appeared in the dismal light heavyweight division under his full name, Yoshihiro Tajiri. TAKA Michinoku was the Japanese star the WWE put their emphasis behind, and at that time, WWE didn’t usually have more than one foreigner from any given country on its roster. He returned after ECW folded and carved out a decent career for himself 2001-05 but left when he claimed he wanted to pursue a career as a journalist (which never happened). He made off-and-on appearances for WWE until the summer of 2016, when he resurfaced as part of the Cruiserweight Classic. This led to him being signed to the cruiserweight division, but an injury made the WWE think twice about their decision and Tajiri was fired.
5. Jimmy Snuka
Much like the Iron Sheik, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was another guy who was given chance after chance by the WWE but never could get his act together. Of course, when you may or may not have had a hand in your girlfriend’s death, we suppose anything is possible. The truth was never discovered despite Snuka being indicted shortly before his death. Anyway, after a successful, if not turbulent run with the WWE leading up to the first Wrestlemania (where he appeared in the corner of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in the main event) Snuka was released from the WWE for the first time. He came back in 1989 but was used mainly as a jobber to younger guys, including The Undertaker, who had his first WrestleMania win against Snuka. He quit or was fired, depending on the storyteller, in 1993. He made sporadic appearances over the years for the WWE and on the indy scene, wrestling well into his late 60s. His final firing from WWE came in 2015, when he was suspended from his Legends contract after police officials in Pennsylvania officially charged him with a role in the death of his girlfriend in the early 1980s.
4. Marty Jannetty
If you look up the definition of “The Other Guy” in the wrestling encyclopedia, you’ll see a picture of Marty Jannetty. It’s not that he didn’t have a decent career — he was even briefly WWE Intercontinental Champion — it’s that he’s going to go down in history as Shawn Michaels’s partner in the tag team The Rockers. Michaels, arguably the greatest ever, went on to huge fame while Jannetty just bounced around, becoming the butt of jokes, including a T-shirt that said, “I’m the Shawn, You’re the Marty.” Jannetty was first released from the company in 1992 after he was put on house arrest for six months for attacking a police officer in real life. Jannetty was rehired, but after a wrestler who was gravely injured by Jannetty sued the company right around the same time Vince McMahon was on trial for steroids, he was released so as not to draw attention to the matter. When that settled, he was rehired, but he made such a stink about a “New Rockers” with Al Snow, the WWE let him go again. Jannetty was hired and fired at least two more times over the next 10 years.
3. Road Warrior Animal
Joe Laurinaitis, based on all accounts, was the responsible, sane member of the Legion of Doom/Road Warriors tag team, but as the old saying goes, when you’re part of a team, you’re all as strong as the weakest link. That would have been Road Warrior Hawk, Michael Hegstrand. So, Animal – who is Johnny Ace’s brother in real life – had to deal with the fallout from Hawk’s well documented issues with drugs and the behavior it caused. He was released at the end of 1992 after an injury put him out of action. Animal stayed away from the ring to collect on a sweet insurance policy for many years, but when that ran out, the Legion of Doom returned for a bad run in WWE, punctuated by a storyline that played off of Hawk’s real-life alcoholism. When even that didn’t catch on, the duo was released. Animal made a return in 2005 as a solo act, ditching the face paint and shoulder pads, but that unsurprisingly never caught on, and he was released in 2006 when the creative team had nothing for him.
If there was one guy in wrestling who, over the years, was dedicated to his character, it has to be Kamala, played by James Harris. Known as “The Ugandan Giant” and “The Ugandan Headhunter,” Harris was so good at his role — much like like George “The Animal” Steele was — that it was easy to forget there was a normal guy playing the character. Kamala was in and out of the WWE many times in the mid 1980s, when guys would get fired for something but brought back three months later. His last major run ended with the WWE in 1993. He was advertised for both the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania but was let go by the company before either of those events could happen. Kamala made sporadic appearances in 2005 and 2006, but the WWE let him go before signing him to a full-time deal. There’s just so much you can do with a character that doesn’t speak and is so far out there in this day and age.
1. Curt Hennig
You have to wonder if Curt Hennig came around a little too early or if he nailed the timing perfectly. Today, Hennig’s physical gifts are expected out of every wrestler, but back in the 1980s and 1990s, he stood out as one of the most gifted athletes. If he wouldn’t have been recognized for his physical skills, he still would have stood out verbally, and it’s easy to understand why many consider him among the all-around greats. His biggest drawbacks would be a cocky attitude that rubbed promoters the wrong way and a bit of a drug issue later in his career. He wrestled as a bland babyface from 1982-84 in the WWE, but was let go by Vince McMahon, when he took over from his father. Hennig returned as Mr. Perfect, but injuries forced the WWE to relieve him of his wrestling duties in 1991 and again in 1994. Another short return in 1996 went nowhere. He did, however, come back in 2002, and although his in-ring track record isn’t memorable, the way he was fired is. Hennig was one of the casualties of the “Plane Ride From Hell,” which saw a lot of hijinks from WWE personalities not end well on a transAtlantic flight. Hennig was fired for wrestling with Brock Lesnar in the aisle, which almost caused an emergency door to open. Razor Ramon was also fired because of his behavior on the flight, which saw Michael Hayes’s mullet cut off while he was passed out drunk and Ric Flair parading up and down the aisles in nothing but his robe.
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