If there’s anything a certified billionaire business executive hates, it’s when a subordinate costs them money. In most businesses, unless an employee is absolutely indispensible, costing their boss and company in the neighborhood of $100,000 or more is typically grounds for immediate and permanent dismissal, and maybe a complete blackballing from the industry. Of course, professional wrestling and the WWE Universe in particular are nothing like “most business,” largely due to the man who runs it, Vince McMahon.
For all the talk of ruthless aggression, McMahon is arguably the most forgiving and understanding employer in the world (sometimes). Sure, the dude can blow a gasket at the drop of a had when his wrestlers so much as use the wrong phrasing during a pre-written promo, but it takes a serious offense for the WWE Universe to outright ban a wrestler from working there. Then again, Vince has done exactly this on a few occasions, when talent said or did something so heinous it directly cost him thousands or more.
The surprising thing is that even after McMahon has gone on TV and blatantly said a given wrestler would never, ever work for him again, a few years down the line, well, they worked for him again. In many cases, these wrestlers didn’t step back in the ring, merely returning to WWE for a requisite induction to the Hall of Fame, arguably an even greater sign of contrition about what went down on behalf of their former employer. For all the details on which bygones Vince McMahon made bygones, keep reading to learn about 15 wrestlers the WWE CEO forgave after they cost him boatloads of money.
15 Jeff Jarrett
Since the fall of WCW, most sports entertainment insiders have considered Impact Wrestling, previously known as Total Nonstop Action, to be the main competition for WWE. This means as the co-founder and driving force behind Impact for most of the company’s life, Jeff Jarrett was a personal rival of Vince McMahon. More than that, Jarrett was also Impact’s top star for its first decade, making him a living microcosm of the sort of wrestler that would reject McMahon’s status quo in favor of truly self-made independence. On top of it all, Vince already hated Jarrett due to an incident before any of this happened, when WWE lawyers forgot to roll over Double J’s contract past a scheduled Pay-Per-View date.
To ensure Jarrett would wrestle without a contract, Vince had to pay him some $300,000 on the spot, the sort of major loss that could make anyone bitter for decades.
After many years, though, the enmity finally appeared to fade, when Jarrett was shockingly announced as an inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018.
14 The Iron Sheik
It only took a one month reign as WWE Champion for The Iron Sheik to be considered amongst the most legendary and important wrestlers in company history. Granted, a lot of that had to do with who Sheik won and lost the gold from, serving as the transition from Bob Backlund’s era to Hulkamania.
Nonetheless, Sheiky Baby was still a huge star after winning and losing the gold, moving on to a role as WWE Tag Team Champion with Nikolai Volkoff.
Sheik stayed on top for a few more years until 1987, when he and Jim Duggan were the focus of one of wrestling’s biggest scandals. Pulled over on suspicions of a DUI, police caught the two with a large amount of substance. More troubling than that was the fact they were enemies in the kayfabe era, when heel and face superstars weren’t supposed to mix. For obvious reasons, both Sheik and Duggan lost their jobs, and Vince McMahon lost a serious amount of face as wrestling’s big lie showed it’s first public cracks. Even so, both men were back in WWE the next year, and in the Hall of Fame by 2004.
13 Jerry Lawler
According to Jerry Lawler, it’s only good to be the king “sometimes,” but his life and career suggest that last word might be a matter of modesty. For decades, Lawler was without a doubt the biggest star of Memphis wrestling, winning literally hundreds of titles in his own territorial promotions from the '70s all the way to the '90s. The King also made occasional trips to the AWA and around the NWA at this time, always using his trademark name and gimmick. This became a problem for Vince McMahon when WWE cam to Tennessee around 1986, when Harley Race was using a similar “King” gimmick, and got billed as such on promotional materials.
Lawler took McMahon to court over the infringement, and actually won, forcing WWE to change Race’s nickname while they were in the state.
Rather than be bitter for years over the legal defeat, McMahon actually found a strange respect for Lawler through the incident, later hiring him to perform the role he’s been doing the better part of 25 years now.
12 Paul Heyman
Believe it or not, infamous huckster Paul Heyman is less responsible for costing Vince McMahon a bunch of money than most names on his list. Well, that’s not entirely the right way to put it — more accurately, Vince simply should have known he was never getting back the half million dollars he “loaned” Paul E. to helps with the cost of operating ECW. McMahon and Heyman are the only two people who know exactly when the partnership began, but both have since admitted WWE was secretly helping fund ECW all along, with Vince presumably viewing the hardcore Philadelphia promotion as a solid breeding ground for future potential stars.
As anyone should have expected, McMahon did this at a massive loss, with Heyman never able to pay back a dime no matter how popular or successful ECW seemed on the surface.
As it would turn out, Vince probably did realize this from the start, because he never resented Heyman for it in the slightest, immediately hiring him full-time once the ECW experiment was over for good.
11 Scott Hall
By firing the initial shots in the war between WCW and the New World Order, it could be said Scott Hall cost Vince McMahon more money than anyone else working for WWE’s greatest rival. Of course, anyone working for WCW or the nWo in particular during their peak similarly caused fans to tune away from WWE to the alternative, causing McMahon’s bank accounts to rapidly diminish, but Hall’s status as one of the group’s top members nonetheless meant he took more eyes away from WWE than most.
Despite this, shortly after WCW and the nWo crumbled, McMahon was happy to immediately forgive Hall, not to mention Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hogan, as well, bringing them all back to WWE in 2002.
The story doesn’t end there, though, as Hall soon proved he wasn’t ready for the opportunity, regularly getting drunk and embarrassing himself, leading to a dismissal and more wasted money a few months later. Luckily, Hall was able to clean himself up about a decade later, allowing McMahon to forgive his behavior yet again, this time via a Hall of Fame induction.
10 Verne Gagne
Technically speaking, Vince McMahon took a whole lot of money from Verne Gagne than the other way around. Before Vince McMahon took turned pro wrestling into sports entertainment, Verne Gagne could easily rank within the most popular wrestlers in America. Gagne achieved this status as the owner and top star of the American Wrestling Association, the biggest competition to the NWA prior to McMahon purchasing WWE from his father and going mainstream. This also made Gagne a major source of competition to McMahon, Sr., and he remained one of the last holdouts when Junior decided to take things national.
While the McMahons ultimately won the war in a total blowout, Gagne sticking around as long as he did still took a little bit of money and attention away from WWE, especially in the Midwest where the AWA operated.
Presumably as a sign there were no hard feelings when the war was long over, McMahon later inducted Gagne into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
Long before the women’s wrestling revolution was even a glimmer in Stephanie McMahon’s eyes, a former model became the most popular female WWE superstar in decades simply by being in the right place at the right time. Wrestling fans during the Attitude Era were largely teenage males who went wild for a gorgeous woman like Sable, meaning all she had to do was show up and smile to earn rapturous applause. Throw in a Power Bomb against some random foe just for fun, and fans were already demanding WWE revive the Women’s Championship just so Sable could hold it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before there was trouble in paradise, with the blonde bombshell claiming rampant harassment amongst the WWE locker room, a story some of her coworkers including X-Pac would later shamefully admit.
Because of this attitude, Sable left WWE and sued for $110 million in a case Vince McMahon quickly did whatever it took to settle out of court.
Shockingly, it was only four years later that Vince suggested he was genuinely sorry about what happened, when Sable returned to WWE, this time without any complaints.
8 Kevin Nash
Standing next to Scott Hall and Hollywood Hogan in the New World Order of WCW, Kevin Nash could be called equally complicit to the two of them in millions of fans tuning away from WWE in the 1990s. For that reason, Nash is obviously also equally responsible for the money Vince McMahon lost when audiences abandoned him, and perhaps even more so, considering Diesel was WWE Champion just a few short months before it all went down. Nash also hurt Vince worse than the others in the sense he rose extremely high within WCW’s corporate structure, once serving as the company’s head writer, his sole job being to create a show better than what WWE was producing.
Granted, Nash didn’t get this promotion until WCW already started falling from grace, but the fact remains he was trying to take money away from McMahon.
Despite this, just as Vince forgave everyone else in the nWo, he was quick to forget how Nash tried to run him out of business, inviting him back to WWE for multiple main event runs prior to a Hall of Fame induction in 2015.
7 “Superstar” Billy Graham
Everyone on this list cost Vince McMahon money, but surprisingly few of them did so in a vindictive manner. Even those who sued McMahon generally believed they were legally owed the money they asked for, which may have been what took the sting out of things in hindsight. Not so in the case of “Superstar” Billy Graham, who outright admitted he tried extorting McMahon and the WWE Universe on at least one occasion. The former WWE Champion who truly defined what a superstar should be in the 1970s committed the act he himself later called “shameful” in the early 1990s, claiming on multiple news outlets he personally witnessed WWE employees abuse children during the company’s infamous scandal.
Graham completely made it up, simply hoping to hurt McMahon’s image after years of bitterness, or make a quick buck through hush money.
While he didn’t succeed in getting any cash, making a public accusation like that was outrageously damaging, perhaps more so than anything else on this list. Amazingly, McMahon still forgave the Superstar about a decade later, and even inducted him to the WWE Hall of Fame.
6 Bruno Sammartino
Some records in pro sports will never be beaten, and Bruno Sammartino’s seven year reign as WWE Champion is certainly one of them. Because Sammartino’s landmark stint on top took place during the company’s formative years, he was also the first man to define what the McMahon family thought a main event wrestler should be. Naturally, this status made Bruno highly respected by everyone in the industry for decades to come. Well, except for the McMahon’s, that is. Apparently, Vince, Sr. always bilked Sammartino out of money, leading to a lucrative lawsuit in the early '80s. That time around, Vince, Jr. immediately forgave Bruno and gave him a job as a commentator, only for the former wrestler to grow even more disillusioned with the sport through the role.
After quitting, Sammartino went on an anti-WWE crusade for years, decrying the company’s crude storylines, always turning older fans away from wrestling when he did so.
Shockingly, it was Triple H who finally got Bruno to calm down and talk out his problems with Vince, leading to a public reconciliation and induction to the Hall of Fame in 2013.
5 The Ultimate Warrior
Representing the power of destrucity and truly possessing the spirit of a fighter, the wrestling world will never see another man like The Ultimate Warrior. Flying to the ring like a wrecking ball, Warrior was one of the fastest rising stars in WWE history, going from an unknown to WWE Champion in less than two years. Unfortunately, the only thing faster than Warrior’s meteoric rise was his sudden fall after winning the gold, as ticket sales plummeted with him on top. Vince McMahon took the signal to pay Warrior less than prior stars, a decision that lead to years of legal battles. The former WWE Champion also repeatedly left the company after public spats only to return a short while later. These sabbaticals got longer each time, from months, to years, to decades.
Point is, Warrior was always forgiven despite suing and publically badmouthing WWE whenever he was gone, costing McMahon serious money in legal fees.
Amazingly, none of it was enough to stop the company from later inducting Warrior into the Hall of Fame, and even making an award dedicated specifically to his image.
4 “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Was there bad blood between Vince McMahon and “Macho Man” Randy Savage? Oooh yeah. Aside from Hulk Hogan, most critics would consider Savage the greatest asset Vince McMahon had access to in the 1980s, with his unparalleled charisma and boundless energy never ceasing to entertain fans in unique and exciting ways. For whatever reason, though, Savage and McMahon started to disagree about what the Macho Man should be doing in the early '90s, with WWE forcing the still expert wrestler to sit in the announce booth rather than remain in the ring. This left Savage unfulfilled, causing him to follow Hulk Hogan to WCW, McMahon’s slowly rising competition.
It was bad enough the Hulkster left, and with Savage’s departure, it looked like WWE was rapidly losing all of its stars to Ted Turner. The perception was soon reflected by the fact Vince McMahon was indeed starting to see his bank account dwindle.
McMahon was more bitter about Savage leaving than Hulk, and held out on forgiveness a whole lot longer, but finally acquiesced and posthumously welcomed the Macho Man to the Hall of Fame in 2015.
3 Bret Hart
Although Bret “The Hitman” Hart definitely cost his former employer a good deal of money, most wrestling fans would agree the only person with any apologizing to do in the ordeal was Vince McMahon. Unlike most wrestlers who jumped from WWE to WCW, the Hitman actually made a serious effort to remain loyal to the McMahon’s. Eventually, though, the price tag simply got too high for WWE to pay, leaving Hart with no choice but to switch companies. The only catch was that he still held the WWE Championship, and didn’t want to lose it to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series as planned, leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
That event alone cost Vince a great deal of cash in legal fees, plus the headache of multiple wrestlers walking out on his company.
Bret also went on to make tons of money for WCW and turn fans away from WWE, albeit not in anywhere near the level he could have. Despite it all, Hart and Vince eventually reconciled, with the Hitman accepting a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2010.
2 Hulk Hogan
Truth be told, it’s hard to imagine anything that could actually drive Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan apart for good. Fans will always debate about whether WWE could have become mainstream without Hulkamania or vice versa, but the fact of the matter is that McMahon and Hogan achieved international success together, as a team, and not independently. This is why Vince will always forgive the Hulkster when he strays, and Hogan pretended wasn’t listening when WWE mocked his age, baldness, or deteriorating performance in the ring during the Attitude Era. The one thing McMahon couldn’t pretend was that Hogan leaving WWE for WCW didn’t destroy his bank account for several years, especially as the rival company exploded in popularity with the nWo.
As the face of WCW during its most popular era, Hogan was directly attacking McMahon each time he made a promo about being the true icon of wrestling, telling fans there was no reason to watch WWE after he left.
Still, McMahon always respected how huge a star Hogan once was, inviting him back to WWE on multiple occasions after WCW inevitably went out of business.
1 Eric Bischoff
While everyone on this list took money out of Vince McMahon’s bank account, only Eric Bischoff made it his mission statement to actually run WWE out of business. Obviously, Bischoff didn’t succeed at his goal, but he came a lot closer than fans may realize, truly making him McMahon’s greatest real life rival. Granted, it’s not like Bischoff was necessarily vindictive; his drive to destroy McMahon merely came out of a desire to cement WCW as the number one wrestling company in the world. From 1996 to 1998, it looked like Bischoff might actually pull it off, with Nitro creaming Raw’s ratings, and McMahon’s funds dwindling to near bankruptcy levels.
As everyone surely knows by now, though, McMahon and WWE gradually fought back with the Attitude Era and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, which coupled with WCW’s own corporate ineptitude soon brought the Monday Night Wars to the end.
Rather than blackball Bischoff from the industry or force him to work for Jeff Jarrett, McMahon only waited one year before publically forgiving him with a big hug and a job as the longest serving General Manager of Raw.