One of the few downsides of being extremely wealthy is that virtually everybody you know is going to want a piece of your fortune. WWE Chairman Vince McMahon certainly understands this in many ways, most harmful to his bank account in the fact veritable hundreds of his past-employees have sued him and his company for a long list of reasons. Vince and his vast team of legal experts tend to win these cases and leave the wrestlers begging for their jobs back or blackballed from the industry as a result, but sometimes the plaintiffs actually win and Vince needs to give them a hefty payout. There’s one lawsuit in particular currently in action that could cause quite the stir within the sports entertainment industry if the wrestlers beat Vince, and fans are anxiously waiting to see how it turns out.
In late July of 2016, over 50 former pro wrestlers joined attorney Konstantine Kyros in a class-action lawsuit against WWE citing a laundry list of offenses, primarily centered around long-term mental health problems related to CTE, and looking for millions of dollars in damages and retroactive health care coverage. WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt’s official response was to deride the qualifications of Mr. Kyros and claim this lawsuit “is another ridiculous attempt by the same attorney who has previously filed class action lawsuits against WWE, both of which have been dismissed.” While that may be true, new evidence continues popping up that shows these wrestlers might have a stronger case than ever before, and the results could hurt more than Vince McMahon’s pocket. Keep reading to learn 15 wrestlers you didn’t know were currently suing WWE, and whether or not we think they have a case.
Slick will forever go down in history as the first black manager to achieve any notable success in WWE. The Doctor of Style debuted his character for small promotions in Texas and Kansas City, managing a slew of charges against his father, wrestler Rufus R. Jones. Slick joined WWE in 1986 while managing “The Natural” Butch Reed, and quickly made a name for himself by purchasing “Classy” Freddie Blassie’s wrestlers, as well. Slick’s greatest success was managing Akeem and The Big Bossman, collectively known as The Twin Towers, leading the team into many battles with The Mega Powers. Slick turned face late in his career by referencing his real life status as a born-again Christian and ordained minister, becoming known as Reverend Slick.
Slick very rarely got into the ring, even for a manager, and wasn’t exactly wrestling in an era when managers were taking tough bumps in the first place. He also wasn’t with the company for a particularly long time, further muddying the waters of how badly his time with WWE actually could have hurt him in the long run. Slick’s latest WWE appearance was as recent as April of 2016, when he inducted The Bossman into the WWE Hall of Fame. Given his status in this lawsuit, it’s unlikely Slick will be receiving a similar honor himself any time soon.
14 One Man Gang
One Man Gang spent a few years in WWE, but his true successes in the wrestling business came before that, when he was dominating Mid-South Wrestling during its early days as the UWF. Gang also spent a few years as a monster in World Class Championship Wrestling as a member of Devastation Incorporated. His time in WWE is remembered less fondly, due to the fact his run as The One Man Gang was cut off by the decision to turn him into an ancestrally African man ready to re-embrace his roots. Fans are probably aware there is indeed a significant Caucasian popular in certain areas of Africa, but the idea was still patently ridiculous, and turned Gang into a joke. He was still moderately successful, teaming with Big Bossman as Akeem in The Twin Towers for several years.
Regardless of whether they called him One Man Gang or Akeem, one relevant fact about George Gray’s time in WWE is that it was only a small portion of his career. Gang spent the better part of 10 years in the Southern territories, followed by a few runs in WCW and on the independent circuit for long after his WWE career. Gang might have injuries stemming from a long pro wrestling career, but WWE doesn’t seem terribly complicit in his problems in particular.
13 Marty Jannetty
Marty Jannetty has the unfortunate and by this point unshakable reputation as the textbook example of what can happen to a tag team wrestler who gets outshined by their partner. Jannetty met Shawn Michaels early on in their respective careers and the two formed The Midnight Rockers. The Rockers amazed fans wherever they went, most notably in the AWA and then WWE. The duo never managed to win the WWE World Tag Team Championships, and instead was known for their controversial backstage partying and otherwise unscrupulous behavior, but The Rockers continued to awe fans in the ring in spite of it all. Shawn Michaels eventually cleaned his act up, or at least got better at politics, and left Jannetty behind as a cautionary tale of what can happen to a potential talent who gets lost in drugs.
Jannetty was hired and fired by WWE a handful of times since the initial Rockers split, and has spent enough time with the company that he has a better argument for suing the company over concussions than some others on the list. However, Jannetty also worked for WCW for several years, as well as plenty of smaller independent promotions where he’s hurting his aged, drugged out body far more than he did in WWE.
12 Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas is barely a footnote in WWE history, unless you look at their video library as an extension of the WWE Universe, in which case he played a rather key role. Douglas only spent a few months in WWE over two runs several years apart, but he played one of the most important roles in the formation and early success of Extreme Championship Wrestling. Douglas was the man to officially name the promotion as extreme, and he gave the company their greatest early publicity by throwing down the NWA World Championship and declaring he’d prefer to be the ECW World Champion, instead. As for WWE, Douglas spent a few months in 1990 with the company under his own name, and then spent a few months in 1995 competing as Dean Douglas.
ECW was a stiff, violent, hardcore promotion where many wrestlers, including Douglas, hit each other over the head with chairs on a nightly basis. Most of the wrestlers for that company probably do have a reason to sue their former boss if they wound up with head injuries, but that former boss wasn’t Vince McMahon. Douglas spent such little time in WWE that it’s laughable for him to claim any damage he suffered was the fault of McMahon, and his name is undoubtedly one of the most tenuous on the list.
11 Judy Martin
Judy Martin is arguably amongst the lesser-known names on this list, but fans who think the women’s wrestling revolution just recently started might want to check her name out. Martin competed for WWE throughout the 1980s as one of the various wrestlers challenging Women’s Champions Wendi Richter and The Fabulous Moolah, and she broke out into a minor star in her own right when she started teaming with Leilani Kai as The Glamour Girls. Managed by Jimmy Hart, The Glamour Girls were years ahead of American women’s wrestling, spending years touring Japan and taking a feud with The Jumping Bomb Angels stateside for Survivor Series 1987 and the original Royal Rumble broadcast.
Martin and Kai together deserve significantly more credit than they’re given for making women’s wrestling exciting and groundbreaking as early as the late 1980s. The fact they were amongst the first women performing and receiving more complex suplexes and power bombs might add to Martin’s case as one of the few women on the list of plaintiffs, since shots like the ones she took could have contributed to concussions. It’s also fair to point out, though, that she learned her craft while wrestling in Japan, and the overseas promotions she tested her craft would thus also be complicit in any health problems she’s trying to earn compensation for.
10 Henry O. Godwinn
Henry O. Godwinn, as his name implies, was one half of The Godwinn brothers along with Phineas I, better known for his later tenure as Mideon. The Godwinns started their careers teaming together as Shanghai Pierce and Tex Slazenger in independents and briefly WCW, switching to their better-known names when they joined WWE in the mid 90s. Henry infamously started his time in WWE with a short solo career, engaging in a feud with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who of course nowadays has worked his way up to become one of the highest ranked defendants in the lawsuit we’re discussing. Godwinn and Triple H were also good friends at one point, but there’s a chance this legal issue may have come between the old pals.
Godwinn could have a case against WWE, in that he suffered several serious neck injuries while working for the company, and spent a longer time under the McMahon’s employ than any other wrestling promoter. Godwinn’s career ended primarily due to WWE rushing him to return to the ring faster than he should have, so whether or not they directly contributed to his concussions, he may have an argument in regards to improper health care and dangerous working conditions.
9 "The Natural" Butch Reed
“Hacksaw” Butch Reed started wrestling in the late 70s for promotions in Florida and Georgia, achieving regional success and winning tag titles with a variety of partners. He broke out as a major solo star for Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling, where he stayed on the top of the card for several years feuding against The Junkyard Dog and then as a top face in the promotion when JYD left for WWE. It wouldn’t be long until Reed left for WWE, as well, however, which he did in 1986. Reed dyed his hair bleach blonde and began calling himself “The Natural,” and although rumors have stated there were big plans for him upon his arrival, Reed lasted less than two years with the company before jumping to WCW. After further tag team success with Ron Simmons as Doom, Reed finished his career on the independent scene.
Reed’s status as a wrestling legend is clear amongst any fans of Mid-South Wrestling, but his impact on the WWE Universe was borderline nonexistent. Outside of a popular myth claiming he was supposed to receive The Honky Tonk Man’s legendary Intercontinental Championship reign, Reed’s actual contributions to WWE history are slim and none, with all of his relevant wrestling career occurring elsewhere. WWE being held primarily responsible for Reed’s mental health is as reasonable as believing his hair is actually blonde.
Plenty of wrestlers have scary nicknames, but it’s hard to argue with a moniker like “the suicidal, homicidal, death-defying man,” Sabu. Sabu is famous for performing stunts no other wrestler would have dared consider trying, occasionally failing at those stunts and ripping his body into shreds, and then piecing himself together and moving on to the next stunt a few minutes later despite the fact his body is in pieces. Sabu once broke his jaw and duct taped it back to his face, and another time was so entangled in barbed wire neither he nor his opponent Terry Funk could move. Of course, the majority of these actions occurred in ECW where Sabu was a Triple Crown champion, or in Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling where his hardcore career began.
Sabu spent just over one year wrestling for WWE, from April of 2006 to May of 2007. He primarily competed for the revived ECW brand, wrestling in the closest thing to his classically hardcore matches WWE was willing to put on at the time. Sabu threw caution to the wind while in WWE as he always does, and probably hurt himself working for Vince McMahon, also as he always does, but the regularity of Sabu injuring himself makes it hard to blame any one company or promoter. In fact, Sabu stands as a personification of the argument all of these wrestlers know what they’re getting into when wrestling for WWE, and might hurt the overall case more than he helps it.
7 King Kong Bundy
“The Human Condominium” King Kong Bundy has the sort of appearance that screams professional wrestler even to someone who has never viewed the sport. Bundy’s ring attire was purposefully simple to accentuate how gargantuan he was, proving not all wrestlers needed to rely on flash and pomp when they had the natural size and power of a man like Bundy. Bundy started his career in World Class Championship Wrestling, and quickly spread his talents through the AWA and NWA before moving to WWE in 1985. Bundy became one of the biggest heels in the company, cementing that status by headlining WrestleMania 2 in a losing effort against Hulk Hogan. Bundy left the company shortly thereafter, and outside of a failed nostalgia run in 1994, he mostly worked for independent companies until he retired in 2006.
King Kong Bundy isn’t generally recognized as one of the top WWE stars of the 80s, but his WrestleMania resume speaks for itself. He was involved in major moments at all of the first three Manias, and was a generally big name in WWE throughout the three years surrounding those events. Bundy was more of a dominating wrestler than one who took punishment, but if wrestling itself is to be blamed for long-term mental health issues amongst wrestlers, WWE could in fact be complicit in this case.
6 Earl Hebner
Earl Hebner is a unique name amongst the former WWE employees currently suing the company over CTE related issues, in that he was never officially a wrestler for the promotion. Hebner only wrestled less than 10 matches his entire career, and they were hardly drawn out classics that could have lead to lifelong injuries. However, Hebner has long been known as one of the greatest referees in the professional wrestling industry, and that reputation was strongly cemented during his time working for WWE. Hebner was the head referee for WWE events from the mid 80s until 2005, when he and his brother Dave, also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, both were fired for illegally selling company merchandise.
The fact Hebner is a referee hardly precludes him from being a valid entry into this lawsuit. If anything, it strengthens his case, as referees are often expected to take bumps on moves performed by much larger wrestlers, who could easily slip and actually hurt them. Considering Hebner was with the company for as long as he was, it’s definitely possible he could have sustained some long-term head injuries that were never appropriately cared for while working for WWE. There would still need to be tests done to gauge the severity of the damages, if any, Hebner’s mental capacity has received, and considering the fact he still referees for TNA, he might be exaggerating his problems. But if Hebner’s complaints prove valid, all referees could have a case against WWE in addition to the wrestlers, and that could cause lists like this to explode in length.
Kamala is one of the most questionable “classic gimmicks” in professional wrestling history. The Ugandan Giant was infamous for his savage and frightening antics, or should we say that was the case at the time, as anyone gifted with the benefit of hindsight can see how outrageously racist the idea would pan out today. Kamala was presented as an African wild man, although in reality the character was portrayed by a juvenile criminal from Mississippi named Jim Harris. Harris wrestled for several years as “Sugar Bear” Harris before devising the Kamala gimmick with Jerry Lawler in Memphis, and he would bring it to fame while working for WWE throughout the mid 1980s. Kamala left WWE shortly thereafter to return to the Memphis territory USWA, and outside of a brief WWE return in 1992, he spent most of his career in Memphis and other small territories far away from the mainstream spotlight.
Kamala is yet another wrestler who might have a case against the wrestling industry in general, but his time in WWE wasn’t quite significant enough to blame them for all of his problems. Kamala only wrestled for WWE for a few years, in short stints far apart from one another, and any long-term damage done to his body is the fault of every promoter he worked for, not Vince McMahon in particular.
4 Chavo Guerrero, Jr.
Chavo Guerrero, Jr. is the youngest and currently most active member of the legendary Guerrero wrestling family. Chavo’s grandfather Gory started the tradición familiar in the late 1930s, and his father Chavo, Sr. continued the legacy alongside brothers Hector and Mando throughout the 1980s. Uncle Eddie Guerrero would take the family name to new heights in WCW and WWE, and Chavo would often be working somewhere in the same company as Eddie, occasionally forming a team with Eddie known as Los Guerreros. Chavo spent the better part of 10 years working for WWE from 2001 to 2011, at which point he asked for his papers. Chavo has since worked for Total Nonstop Action and, more extensively, Lucha Underground. Chavo spent more time working for WWE than some of the older legends on this list, so he may have a stronger case than others. However, it’s also notable that Chavo is the youngest wrestler on our list, and unlike most of the others, Chavo also continues his in-ring career to this day. It’s pretty hard to believe he’s been suffering life-altering injuries while still main eventing Lucha Underground, and thus Chavo may actually wind up having one of the overall weakest arguments on the list. His father, Chavo Classic, is also involved in the lawsuit.
3 Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka
Plenty of critics might say “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka has some nerve daring to get involved in a lawsuit given his current life situation. The WWE Hall of Famer is himself on trial for the 1983 murder of Nancy Argentino, a crime he had been accused of for decades, but only recently went to trial. Snuka has avoided legal proceedings in his own trial by claiming he lacks the mental capacity to undergo questioning, and perhaps as an effort to strengthen that case, he has entered the WWE CTE lawsuit, as well. Snuka wrestled for WWE throughout the early to mid 80s as one of their top face superstars, but also made a splash in a variety of other promotions around the country while he did so.
Snuka is an especially questionable plaintiff against WWE considering the many legal problems he has of his own. Regardless of whether or not any of the other wrestlers have a serious case against Vince McMahon, Snuka’s involvement turns the whole thing into a sham attempting to get a potential murderer out of finally facing his alleged crime. Of course, should it prove Snuka’s complaints are valid and WWE could actually be responsible for his mental state, that could make his other case far more interesting in more ways than one.
2 "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff
Paul Orndorff has unfairly been forgotten as one of the most important rivals of Hulk Hogan, although one thing about his legacy will never be forgotten. Orndorff teamed with fellow WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper for the main event of the first WrestleMania in a losing effort, said loss the result of Hogan pinning Orndorff. Orndorff and Hogan also engaged in a legendary feud that culminated in The Big Event, the show that momentarily held WWE’s highest attendance record prior to WrestleMania III. Orndorff also wrestled for a variety of territories prior to signing with WWE in late 1983, and continued his career working for WCW and other independents after leaving the company in 1988.
Mr. Wonderful is yet another wrestler on this list who might have a case against WWE, but only with the caveat that WWE was hardly alone in any crimes they may have committed against him. Orndorff has been open in interviews that he would have done anything to succeed and become a star, as well, more or less admitting that all of these wrestlers are a little complicit in their actions to begin with. Of course, if it turns out that isn’t enough, and WWE is still declared partially responsible, Orndorff could be one of the few wrestlers who truly deserves his payout.
1 Road Warrior Animal
As his name would rather plainly imply, Road Warrior Animal is one half of the legendary tag team The Road Warriors. Alongside Road Warrior Hawk, Animal dominated virtually every wrestling promotion to exist while the team existed, starting in the Georgia territories before moving to the AWA, NWA, NJPW, WWE, AJPW, Zero-One, and other wrestling companies all around the globe. The Road Warriors won World Tag Team Championships nearly everywhere they went, and dominated all comers while they did so. Hawk passed away in 2003, and Animal’s career continued for several years after that as a solo wrestler before he mostly retired in 2006.
The Road Warriors probably caused more concussions than they received, but if indeed they received any, WWE are once more as responsible as any of the multiple promotions Hawk and Animal competed for. The counterargument is also the same, in that any of these other promotions could therefore be considered part of the problem, lessening the culpability of WWE and helping their chances of having the lawsuit dismissed.
One thing remains clear throughout all of these wrestlers, whether or not their name adds to the WWE CTE lawsuit or hurts it: Pro wrestling is a painful industry, and that pain can often last far beyond one’s career. Saying WWE should pay every single wrestler with health problems for their medical bills is a bit of a stretch, but lawsuits like this are helping define the grey area of exactly how long one needs to have worked for WWE before their health starts getting affected.
Sources: WWE Concussion Lawsuit, Bloomberg
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