Given his standing as the biggest name in sports entertainment for the last 30 years, when Vince McMahon asks a wrestler to do something, there’s pretty much no chance in hell they’ll dare refuse his request. Unless, of course, the thing Vince asks for is so unthinkable to the wrestler, they’re willing to sacrifice their careers so they don’t have to do it. Or maybe another way to look at it would be to say they were worried saying "yes" to the so-called genius of WWE could do more harm than good.
For all the power and influence McMahon has over wrestling, the fact of the matter is, not everyone wants to work for his company. WWE superstars work longer hours than almost any other wrestlers on the planet, they travel constantly, and they have very little control over their day-to-day lives. There’s also the issue that not all of McMahon’s ideas are as good as he thinks they are, and some wrestlers feel like the cartoonish nature of WWE storylines simply don’t fit their view of pro wrestling.
No matter how harshly a wrestler turns down Vince McMahon’s ideas, the surprising thing is, he’s been extremely forgiving about it on many occasions. Up and down the card, wrestlers have proven that it’s very easy to cross the boss and get away with it, so long as a reasonable explanation is given. To find out who found the right words to politely turn down a certified billionaire, keep reading for 15 wrestlers you never knew said “no” to Vince McMahon.
15 A.J. Styles
In January of 2016, “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles made his long awaited debut in the WWE Universe. For the 10 years prior to that monumental occasion, Styles had been wrestling around the globe for smaller companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and Total Nonstop Action. While Styles made quite a name for himself in these other organizations, reigning as TNA and IWGP World Champion on numerous occasions, many fans wonder what things would be like if he had been working for Vince McMahon all along. While the world will never be able to definitely answer that "what if," it actually came extremely close to happening way back in 2002. Still a relative rookie, Styles was offered a contract to train at the WWE developmental training ground Heartland Wrestling Alliance, but this would have required he move away from his new wife, a sacrifice he wasn’t willing to make. Instead, Styles went elsewhere and made a huge name for himself on his own. After several further offers, Vince finally made one he couldn’t refuse 14 years later.
14 Kenny Omega
Even if you’ve never watched a single second of wrestling outside of the WWE Universe, there’s a good chance the name “Kenny Omega” has been on your radar in recent months. In some respects, Omega is currently the biggest star in New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he reigns as the IWGP United States Champion and serves as the latest leader of Bullet Club. Omega might not always be in the main event, but he does have the biggest mouth in the company, and has gotten the most attention from WWE superstars. John Cena posted his picture on Instagram, Triple H mentioned him in an interview with ESPN, Chris Jericho made his long-awaited return to Japan just to wrestle the guy, and oh yeah, Vince McMahon offered him three separate contracts in 2015, all of which Omega turned down. Making an angle out of the offers, Omega has gone on record saying he simply thinks he’s better than WWE, not wanting to reduce himself to working in America. In reality, chances are, the guy just realized his career prospects in Japan are through the roof right now, and jumping to a different country might stall his momentum.
13 Manny Fernandez
Especially in a world where WWE has entirely cornered the pro wrestling market, it would be wholly understandable for younger fans not to know all that much about Manny Fernandez. Not that they aren’t missing out, as the “Raging Bull” was one of the preeminent baby faces of numerous NWA territories back in the '80s, and he twice reigned as Tag Team Champion with two future Hall of Fame partners in Dusty Rhodes and Rick Rude. The one thing Fernandez never did in his career was leave NWA to work for Vince McMahon, although he has recently claimed Vince McMahon did indeed make him at least one offer. In classic Vince McMahon fashion, though, he wanted the proud former champion to dig into his “Raging Bull” moniker and wear a giant goofy bull’s mask. For anyone needing a visual, though Manny himself didn’t make the connection, it’s very possible this idea soon turned into Mantaur. Not wanting to look like a moron in a cow’s head (no offence Mike Halac), Manny not only told Vince no, but he claims he told the chairman to outright “f--- himself,” possibly the most emphatic refusal on this list.
When Rhyno first arrived in WWE, he was a pretty big deal, whether fans realized it or not, as the final wrestler to hold either the ECW World or Television Championships. For this reason alone, whenever WWE decided to revive the ECW brand for another Pay-Per-View, TV show, or nostalgic angle, it made perfect sense “The Man Beast” would be one of the first people they called to help out. In line with this logic, Rhyno did indeed appear at the first WWE One Night Stand event, despite having recently been fired from the company proper. The next year, WWE were looking to forgive and forget two times over and possibly hire Rhyno back full time to get involved with the revived ECW brand, only for him to turn down Vince McMahon in a major way. At the time, Rhyno was working for Total Nonstop Action, and he made it very evident he’d rather stay where he was than go back to working for Vince. What’s less clear is if he regrets the decision at all, considering it’s 12 years later and he’s back working for WWE.
Being an extremely stubborn individual, it can be almost impossible to convince Vince McMahon he’s wrong about something, no matter how absurd the opinion may be. Like, for example, that a highly motivated athlete who just wants to wrestle should instead be behind the scenes working as a producer. Not even Raven is really sure why Vince misread him in this fashion, but it was very clear that back when the ECW Champion was known as Johnny Polo, his employers simply didn’t want to see him inside the ring. Time and again, Raven would beg them to let him show his stuff between the ropes, only to get promoted backstage and receive the cushier office jobs, which he found easy albeit extremely boring. These differing opinions culminated in Raven getting offered a six-figure job that would have made him pretty much set for life, at least by his estimation, only for him to turn it down and instead leave WWE entirely so he could work somewhere that actually let him in the ring.
Until he finally took the plunge in 2014, most sources were in agreement that Sting was the biggest star in wrestling never to work for the WWE Universe. That said, any statements like this always came with the caveat that it wasn’t for lack of interest, as WWE contacted the nine time WCW World Champion at least once shortly after Vince McMahon purchased the Stinger’s former place of business. However, it was seeing how WWE handled the much maligned Invasion angle that made Sting realize the company might not be for him. Specifically, a moment where The Rock cut off Booker T to ask his trademark question, “Who in the blue hell are you?” offended Sting, feeling his former colleague shouldn’t need to answer such a thing. In general, Sting was worried that McMahon would do something to damage his character and legacy, preferring to work for TNA, where he felt his history would receive more respect.
Given how often WWE goes down the controversial well to get viewers interested, there should be no surprises to the fact they once tried going further than the wrestlers involved were willing to take them. Well, maybe it’s a little surprising actually, in that the wrestler who turned them down had previously been no stranger to controversy, serving an integral role in one of the most political and heated angles in company history. As the partner and manager of Muhammad Hassan, Shawn Daivari spoke regularly about how the United States was far from a perfect country. Even after Hassan was released from the company, Daivari stuck around and continued spouting low-key anti-American beliefs as the manager of Kurt Angle. It isn’t clear exactly how it would have worked, but according to Daivari, the company actually tried to take a complete 180 on the idea shortly after Hassan was taken out of the equation by having Daivari revamp himself as a new character named George W. Bush. Realizing this was a bad idea about ten times over, Daivari rejected the idea and convinced Vince it just wouldn’t work, saving himself and the company from even more negative publicity.
8 Rob Van Dam
Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with what Rob Van Dam did in the following story. On the other hand, of all the people who said no to Vince McMahon, RVD was probably the most selfish about it, if only because he was saying no to participating in a charity event. That said, the whole point of volunteer work is that the person doing it doesn’t actually have to, and thus forcing someone to participate in “charity” strongly cheapens the idea. In that same vein, if a business calls something volunteer, they really can’t force employees to do it, which is what WWE and Vince tried doing after RVD turns down their plans to have him tour Iraq in late December. This ordeal came shortly after they had originally told the former WWE Champion he would be getting the holidays off, gradually tipping the scales back over to his side.
7 Owen Hart
While plenty of the wrestlers on this list got here by making completely reasonable choices, only one could be considered downright honourable for how he turned down WWE. This is because Owen Hart wasn’t just saying "no" to Vince McMahon for himself, but also for his wife and children. Backing up a bit, in 1999, Owen formed a WWE Tag Team Championship winning duo with Jeff Jarrett, in turn acquiring Jarrett’s valet/manager Debra as his own. McMahon wanted the team to break up the old-fashion way, with tensions slowly brewing as it become clear Owen and Debra were up to a little something something behind Jarrett’s back. Although wrestling is scripted and what happens on camera doesn’t reflect real life, Owen nonetheless felt that doing so would be unfaithful to his actual wife Martha, and could lead to problems with his kids, as well. Therefore, he harshly rejected the idea, and WWE, instead, had him revert to the Blue Blazer persona from earlier in his career, which indirectly lead to his death later that year.
6 The Young Bucks
Although they’ve never wrestled for WWE, and in fact there’s a good chance they never will, it could easily be argued that brothers Matt and Nick Jackson, aka The Young Bucks, are the greatest tag team in wrestling today. The two have been achieving great success everywhere they go, winning the Tag Team Championships in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and a number of other indy federations around the globe. The one place they may never see gold in is the WWE Universe — when the company offered them a tryout back in 2014, Matt and Nick “politely declined” the offer. Since then, WWE have largely ignored the Bucks' existence, either feeling slighted by the rejection or simply moving on. The Bucks haven’t forgotten the fact they don’t need WWE, though, often commenting on the company derisively with their Bullet Club buddies Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes, who similarly rejected Vince McMahon in their own rights, as well.
5 Chris Jericho
Promising the WWE Universe a new millennium of excellence, Chris Jericho was a huge star from the moment he made his debut on Raw is Jericho. From there, Y2J won just about every title the promotion has to offer, but it may never have happened if he signed with the company the first time they made him an offer. Before making a name for himself in WCW, or even achieving minor notoriety in ECW, Jericho claimed that WWE offered him a very strange role that not even he could have taken to international fame. Based on the fact Jericho’s father, Ted Irvine, was a moderate hockey star in the '60s and '70s, Vince McMahon felt he would be the perfect wrestler to portray a jersey-wearing, stick-carrying character he had recently devised. Recognizing that this goofy character could pigeonhole him forever, Jericho tried out those other companies first and proved he was no mere Goon — the name given to a similar hockey playing wrestler portrayed by Bill Irwin.
4 Bret Hart
For the most part, the wrestlers on this list who said "no" to Vince McMahon suffered almost no consequences. That wasn't really the case for Bret Hart, whose refusal sparked one of the most controversial moments in WWE history. Of course, Vince was the one who exhibited some seriously questionable behaviour, conspiring with Shawn Michaels to take the WWE Championship away from Hart at Survivor Series 1997 without the Hitman’s approval. However, this was only necessary because Hart refused to lose to HBK in the first place, despite Vince practically getting on his hands and knees and begging Hart to do so. The situation was a whole lot more complicated than the typical case of a wrestler not wanting to lose their gold, as Hart had a problem with HBK specifically, and the fact the show was taking place in Canada also played a major role. All that matters for the purposes of this list, though, is that it all began with Hart giving Vince a firm “no” when asked to do his job.
3 Shawn Michaels
In many respects, there was nothing different between Bret Hart’s request not to lose the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels and the behaviour HBK was regularly displaying when wearing that same title. Well, aside from the fact Hart was en route to WCW, thus playing Vince’s hand, and the fact a close friendship with HBK caused the chairman to let Michaels get away with a whole lot more than Hart ever dared request. Michaels was as notorious for his diva like behaviour behind the scenes as he was known for his excellence in the ring. Stories of him refusing to lose the title were a monthly occurrence throughout 1996. Michaels was originally supposed to drop the gold to Vader at SummerSlam only to have a legendary hissy fit and demand he keep it until his friend Sid could take it from him instead. Then, when HBK was supposed to lose to Bret Hart at the next WrestleMania, he pretended his knee was so badly broken he had to retire for all of two or three months. He only directly said no to Vince in the first example, but the message was the same both times.
2 Mark Henry
Once upon a time, Mark Henry claimed on WWE television that he had regular sex with his sister, and less than a year later, he got a septuagenarian Mae Young pregnant with his child. Obviously, if he was willing to say "yes" to these outrageous ideas, it must have taken something pretty darn serious to get him to actually turn Vince McMahon down. Apparently, while he’s completely willing to virtually leap well beyond the barriers of good taste, the one line Henry won’t ever cross is supporting racism in any way. For a little while, it almost looked like Henry was going to let WWE get away with calling him “The Silverback,” as in a gorilla, as in the animal African American have been compared to for centuries by bigots and otherwise highly prejudiced individuals. There’s no reason to necessarily think WWE was insulting or intentionally offending Henry or black people in general by giving him the nickname, but the implication couldn’t be ignored for long, ultimately forcing the former World Heavyweight Champion to tell his boss he couldn’t keep calling him that. Okay, so this wasn’t an outright no; it’s more like a "yes" that changed its mind. Nonetheless, the situation is still basically the same.
1 Stephanie McMahon
Of all the people in the WWE Universe, one might expect the two souls most amenable to even Vince McMahon’s wildest ideas would be his two children, Shane and Stephanie. To the contrary, Shane once walked away from Vince entirely for a seven-year stretch, and as for daddy’s little princess, she was forced to turn down probably his most insane, disgusting idea ever. According to the 2006 WWE DVD release, McMahon, during Stephanie’s first pregnancy, pitched the idea they run an angle where the identity of the father was unclear. Naturally, an investigation would soon prove Vince was the father of his own grandchild. Grossed out and probably a little bit scared, Stephanie immediately told her father "no," only for him to then suggest that if he couldn’t be the baby daddy, maybe Stephanie would consider a different type of incest instead, and allow her brother, Shane, to be announced as the child’s parent. For the second time, Stephanie gave that one a hard pass, and probably never looked at her father the same way again.