Forget about WWE Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase — professional wrestling’s true “Million Dollar Man” has always been his former boss, Vince McMahon. No one individual has made more money from sports entertainment than the WWE CEO, and the only wrestling adjacent personality who could match his fortune was rival WCW owner, Ted Turner. These two had so much more money than the average wrestling personality it was almost inevitable they’d both get sued for it dozens of times throughout their careers.
Nothing makes this issue clearer than the fact Turner’s wrestling company went under over a decade ago, and his lawyers still have to deal with some residual legal matters related to its rise and fall. Because McMahon’s empire is still flourishing, he faces even more lawsuits related to the way he does business. This isn’t to say everyone who tries suing them was necessarily taking advantage, as plenty of the wrestlers taking their bosses to court did so with darn good reasons. Sable, for example, may have had a point with her landmark $110 million harassment suit, and the same was true for Missy Hyatt’s similar case against WCW before her. Not that it really mattered, as McMahon and Turner’s billions can afford attorneys much better than most wrestlers ever could.
Win or lose, and whether the case had merits or not, it takes serious brass to cross the boss, so each of these wrestlers at least deserves credit for being courageous in their own way. Of course, there are times when that’s simply a symptom of low-key insanity, which might explain why they tried taking a billionaire to court in the first place. Whatever the reason, keep reading to learn all about 15 pro wrestlers who tried suing their bosses.
15. Sable — $110 Million Harassment Lawsuit
During the height of the Attitude Era, Sable regularly boasted she was the woman men came to see and women wanted to be. That first part may have been true to a certain degree, but if the female fans of WWE knew what was going on backstage, they probably wouldn’t have traded places with her despite the fame and attention it would bring. This became public knowledge in mid-1999, when still at the height of her popularity, Sable dramatically walked out of WWE and sued the company for harassment. Few details about the case were ever made public, but now that it’s all said and done, several wrestlers including X-Pac have basically admitted Sable was telling the truth, and they were seriously abusive to her backstage. She also wasn’t happy with Vince McMahon repeatedly pressing her to go topless on Pay-Per-View, a story that sounds wholly believable. Perhaps knowing there was no way out, WWE quickly and quietly settled her $110 million suit, albeit for a presumably smaller sum.
14. Chuck Austin — $26.7 Million Injury Lawsuit
Due to worker’s compensation laws, when a person gets hurt on the job, their employers need to pay for whatever hospital bills this causes. Vince McMahon learned this the hard way with independent contractor Chuck Austin, who was hired to team with Lanny Poffo in a losing affair against The Rockers despite having been in the business less than a month. The resulting match was a disaster, with Marty Jannetty botching a Rocker Dropper so badly that the inexperienced Austin broke his neck. Austin’s injury was so severe he became paralyzed from the neck down, and he naturally wanted compensation from the company that let this tragedy happen. Not even Vince McMahon’s expert lawyers could argue against this one, although they did talk him down a little bit beneath the original demand for $26.7 million. The $10 million WWE settled for was still a hefty amount, especially for Jannetty, who was personally forced to pay $1 million. Of course, it hardly makes up for the pain Austin feels to this day.
13. Nicole Bass — $120 Million Harassment Lawsuit
Even in a post-women wrestling revolution world, there may never be another female pro wrestler quite like the mammoth and destructive Nicole Bass. Her time in sports entertainment didn’t last long, yet it was immediately memorable to anyone who witnessed her incredibly unique look. Apparently, this look was quite attractive to some backstage WWE officials, who Bass claimed harassed and abused her the entire time she worked for the company as the bodyguard of superstars like Sable, Ivory, and Val Venis. Ultimately, courts dismissed the case, but Bass never stopped claiming her story was true. In addition to specific claims of personal abuse, Bass claimed WWE fostered a generally misogynistic atmosphere, with men regularly walking into the women’s locker room “by accident.” Fellow former WWE superstar Ryan Shamrock corroborated this claim, though it would appear courts didn’t find her story believable, either.
12. Larry Zbyszko — Failed Gimmick Infringement Lawsuit
As the internet is fond of reminding us, there are plenty of wrestling fans who feel the sport is still real to them, damn it. Apparently, there are also a few wrestlers who feel that way, considering that’s the only explanation for Larry Zbyszko’s failed lawsuit against WWE and Chris Jericho. Zbyszko filed charges of gimmick infringement because Jericho started calling himself “The Living Legend” on television, with no less than Vince McMahon repeating the phrase in reference to the first ever Undisputed WWE Champion. The thing is, Zbyszko never owned the trademark to the term. In fact, WWE did, having filed for it way back in the 1970s when Bruno Sammartino originated it. For whatever reason, in Zbyszo’s mind, he felt that by beating Bruno for the phrase in a match way back when, he also somehow earned the legal copyright. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, and the court was thrown out in short order without Zbyszko making a dime.
11. Jerry Lawler — King of Gimmick Infringement Suits
A regular force in WWE since he made his debut way back in 1993, it’s almost hard to remember that Jerry “The King” Lawler was once amongst Vince McMahon’s greatest rivals. Though not quite on the level of the NWA or WCW, Lawler’s Memphis territory was one of the last standouts that McMahon couldn’t absorb during his national expansion. Not only that, but Lawler even managed to get a few victories over McMahon in court, basically rubbing salt in the wounds. The legal showdown took place when WWE promoted “King Harley Race” would be appearing in a few Tennessee area house shows, either not knowing or not caring that Lawler had the rights to the trademark. Realizing this was a very open and shut lawsuit, the case never actually went to court, with McMahon immediately kowtowing when Lawler made it clear Nashville police were on his side. Rather than hold a grudge, Lawler and Vince’s relationship only grew stronger for this, with McMahon respecting the King for standing up to him.
10. Brock Lesnar — The Battle For The Beast Incarnate
More than a full decade after it happened, Brock Lesnar deciding to leave WWE for the NFL remains one of the most shocking and unexpected decisions in recent wrestling history. Absolutely everything would be different had Lesnar stuck around, and Vince McMahon knew this. The WWE CEO had no choice but to let the Next Big Thing leave, but he could still be bitter about it and attempt to hinder Lesnar’s chances elsewhere. Granted, WWE has done this to absolutely everyone since the Attitude Era, putting “no-compete clauses” into all contracts, saying wrestlers can’t work for any other companies for a certain amount of time after they leave WWE. Lesnar thought this got in the way of his ability to make a living, and his lawyers were able to convince McMahon of this fact pretty quickly. Lesnar didn’t make any money from the suit directly, but it did allow him to make millions more in New Japan Pro Wrestling and UFC.
9. “Superstar” Billy Graham — A Liar Taking Advantage Of A Lie
This list should make it pretty clear Vince McMahon has spent his fair share of time in court. Due to this experience, he was able to beat the federal government not once but twice, first on charges of tax evasion and then when they accused him of steroid distribution. The government wasn’t the only entity to challenge McMahon on that second issue, as several wrestlers looked to cash in either by helping the plaintiffs out or filing their own suits after the fact. One such individual was former WWE Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham, who sued both Vince McMahon and Dr. George Zahorian for “forcing” him to take steroids. However, the suit was almost immediately thrown out when evidence clearly proved Graham had been on the juice since way before he even started to wrestle. The “Superstar” later admitted he was simply hoping for a quick settlement because he needed money, but neither McMahon nor Zahorian fell for that dirty trick.
8. Buff Bagwell — Wanted A Piece Of The WWE Network Pie
Dial back the clock a mere 10 years and no wrestler ever could have imagined the WWE Network would exist, keeping their legacies alive forever. Of course, this also means no wrestler factored such a thing into their contracts. However, many performer agreements do include clauses about talent getting paid for any “future video releases,” meaning VHS tapes, DVDs, and the like. The question of how exactly streaming services factors into that has been debated since the rise of Netflix, and several wrestlers have brought the subject to courts when Vince McMahon start profiting off their old work. One of the longest cases of this nature came when former WCW Tag Team Champion Buff Bagwell sued WWE for likeness rights. The case lasted over a year and ultimately settled out of court, and though details aren’t known, chances are WWE walked out of the ordeal in better shape than Bagwell.
7. Missy Hyatt — The Original Wrestling Harassment Suit
Because exact numbers were involved, not to mention Vince McMahon, the harassment suit Sable filed against WWE is probably the most notorious in the business. However, a mere five years earlier, there was another major scandal when announcer and manager Missy Hyatt filed an incredibly similar claim against her employers in WCW. Eric Bischoff in particular was named as someone who repeatedly ignored her complaints and may have even punished her for them. This is despite Hyatt’s anger being entirely justified, as anyone would be mad to walk into their employer’s corporate headquarters and see a giant naked photo of them blown up on the wall, something she claimed to experience. After Hyatt told Bischoff and got no response, she attempted going over his head to Turner executives, which infuriated Easy E and caused him to fire her. There was also an issue related to Hyatt missing out on significant back pay before she was released. Ultimately, the case was settled out of court three years later, with Hyatt reportedly making out huge on the deal.
6. Bruno Sammartino — The First Showdown For Likeness Rights
An innovator and trendsetter in every sense of the words, Bruno Sammartino broke ground in WWE like no other. Not only did he reign as WWE Champion longer than anyone else, selling out main events at Madison Square Garden for a cumulative 11 years plus, but he was also perhaps the first superstar to take the McMahon’s to court over confusing language in his contract. In addition to feeling he deserved more money for re-broadcasts of his old matches, Sammartino also held the belief Vince McMahon, Sr. had underpaid him for a number of sell-out matches at marquee arenas like the Garden and elsewhere. Ultimately, courts threw out the first case, stating that WWE owned all footage of Sammartino they were re-airing, and thus the wrestler didn’t have any stake to it. However, Vince McMahon, Jr. acknowledge his father was indeed bilking Sammartino out of some paychecks, settling on that matter out of court by bringing the legend back as a color commentator and giving his son a job.
5. Jesse Ventura — $2 Million Royalty Lawsuit
Predicting a long career in politics, Jesse Ventura was one of the first wrestlers to sue WWE and win with absolutely no strings attached. It was for this reason a man who many would consider one of the best color commentators in history suddenly disappeared from Vince McMahon’s company in the early ’90s, and wouldn’t return for almost a full decade. Usually, the case when wrestlers sued McMahon past or present was that their contract made promises WWE ultimately didn’t cash. Ventura’s situation was a bit different, as McMahon openly lied to the Body during contract negotiations, saying only “featured” performers received royalties for video releases. In fact, anyone on the video can theoretically be entitled to some money, a lie Ventura thought was worth $2 million in compensation. A federal jury decided $801,333 was close enough, but the message was sent that they were on Ventura’s side.
4. Raven — A Healthcare Issue Worth Up to $225 Million
An iconoclastic hero to alternative wrestling fans everywhere, Raven has actually taken WWE to court on multiple occasions. After hearing about the Buff Bagwell case outlined elsewhere on this list, Raven immediately joined in as a co-claimant, having long felt WWE owed him more money than he was ever paid. That wasn’t the first time Raven brought WWE to court, though, as about a decade earlier, he teamed up with Chris Kanyon and Mike Sanders to challenge the held-held status that Vince McMahon’s employees were “independent contractors,” and not full-time hires. This means WWE doesn’t pay crucial health care benefits, nor are they required to give any vacation time. According to Raven, the group was genuinely trying to change the business with this lawsuit, but courts ultimately dismissed it for being beyond the statute of limitations—all three men had left WWE years prior to filing charges.
3. Hulk Hogan — Sued Vince Russo For Getting Too Real
Anyone who didn’t experience WCW in the year 2000 will never understand how chaotic it was. Head writer Vince Russo was way too open about the fact wrestling is scripted, plainly having superstars and announcers admit this fact on screen. Then, in the ultimate swerve, they’d pretend that, well, no, some of it actually isn’t scripted. Of course, it still was, and fans knew this, but that didn’t make it less confusing how they tried selling the lie. This bizarre internal logic bit back Russo in a major way after the 2000 Bash at the Beach Pay-Per-View, when he gave a promo blurring storyline and reality, in essence firing Hulk Hogan on screen. This was a huge problem because Hogan’s contract gave him creative control over his character, meaning no one could even talk about him on screen without his approval. Russo ran Hogan down in a very personal way, saying things he never would have signed off on. Hogan also stopped appearing in WCW after the event, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in appearance fees. Courts agreed since Russo was speaking off the cuff, he broke Hogan’s contract.
2. “Hardwork” Bobby Walker — $2 Million For Racial Discrimination
Even fans who caught every single episode of WCW Nitro, Thunder, and Saturday Night might have a little bit of trouble remembering “Hardwork” Bobby Walker. He wasn’t alone in this landmark lawsuit, but the same is probably true of his co-claimants Hardbody Harrison and Sonny Oono, none of whom amounted to all that much in the industry. Walker deserves the not for perseverance, though, suing WCW over racial discrimination twice in two years, making out better and better each time. First, he brought his bosses to court in 1999, quickly settling with a deal that netted him more money and promised he’d be better utilized on TV. When the second part of the deal didn’t happen, Walker went back to courts with Harrison and Oono in tow, all claiming WCW held them back because of their race. Though critics argued these three superstars didn’t get pushed because, well, they weren’t any good and juries felt that wasn’t a good enough reason, awarding all claimants roughly $1 million each.
1. The Ultimate Warrior — $5.8 Million Lawsuit for Wrongful Dismissal
More so than almost any other wrestler, The Ultimate Warrior’s career was defined by dramatic ups and downs, especially in relation to his relationship with WWE. Coming in like a wrecking ball, Warrior was one of the most popular stars of the late 1980s, which transitioned into a huge WWE Championship win at WrestleMania VI. Unfortunately, the success very quickly got to Warrior’s head, and he started demanding McMahon pay him top dollar for his erratic performances. That rift eventually smoothed over, but less than a year later, Warrior plainly admitted to experimenting with human growth hormone, an illegal performance enhancing drug. This was right in the middle of McMahon’s steroid trial, so he naturally fired Warrior in short order. Warrior claimed this was a breach of contract costing him millions in promised Pay-Per-View payouts, which may have held some water, since he was supposed to main event Survivor Series the same week he was released. However, the HGH thing was a pretty legitimate reason to fire someone no matter what their status in the company, so McMahon walked out of this one without paying Warrior a dime.
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