The wrestling world is no stranger to controversy, but not all scandals are created equally. In fact, it may shock many current day fans of the industry that at one time the fact that the match winners and losers are predetermined (calling it fake doesn’t give it the credit it deserves), was Earth-shattering for many.
When we sat down to consider what the cream of the crop of wrestling scandals was, a lot of crazy events fell by the wayside. Sid Vicious stabbing veteran wrestler, Arn Anderson, with a pair of scissors just wasn’t crazy enough. Jeff Hardy’s clearly intoxicated “match” at TNA Victory Road didn’t make the cut. Lita cheating on Matt Hardy with Edge, that could happen in anywhere. Hell, even the long-rumoured reason for the strained relationship between Randy Savage and Vince McMahon wasn’t awarded a spot. So, let’s find out what stories we deemed the most shocking in the history of Wrestling.
10 The Montreal Screwjob
If you’re a wrestling fan you knew this had to make the list. When Vince McMahon encouraged Bret Hart, a wrestling megastar, to negotiate with their competitor WCW, all that was left to do was figure out how Bret would lose the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Seems easy enough, right? Well no. Unfortunately, Bret had a real-life long standing feud with Shawn Michaels and refused to lose the title in his home country of Canada to him. The resulting events boil down to a conflict between wrestling tradition and contractual obligation.
Bret had it guaranteed on paper that he had reasonable creative control in the final days with the company. Vince expected Bret to live up to the tradition of a champion, lose the belt to the person of the promoter’s choice on the way out of the company. One night in Montreal, when Bret was in his own move, the sharpshooter, the bell was rung even though he hadn’t submitted. The match wasn’t supposed to end there, according to secretly recorded discussions from earlier in the day, but the WWE pretended Bret had tapped out and awarded Shawn the belt. Bret freaked out in the ring, punched Vince in the back, left for WCW and debate as to who was most at fault continues to this day.
9 Signature Pharmacy Scandal
After Eddie Guerrero died in 2006, the WWE created the Wellness Policy, to protect themselves and their talent from poor health, drugs and controversy. The following year another major star died, under horrific circumstances, and everyone jumped to blame steroids. The second wrestler (more on the Canadian Crippler later) was being drug-tested, so that can’t be a problem, right? Unfortunately, he was included in a list of twenty WWE wrestlers who’d purchased various drugs banned under the policy, from Signature Pharmacy, as recently as four months before his death.
Edge, Randy Orton, Booker T and Batista were all also amongst the names listed as having bought from Signature. Mr. Kennedy, a man who’d been tapped to be portrayed in storylines as the bastard son of Vince McMahon, lost his place in the story due to the suspension he was given. Kennedy spent time speaking in interviews about how the Wellness Policy, makes it impossible for wrestlers to take the drugs it was now known he was buying, which made him and the policy look like a joke. The company and twenty of its performers looked horrible in one fell swoop at a time when they were desperately trying to rehab their image.
8 The Cursed Von Erich Family
McMahon, Hart, Guerrero. Few families mean more to the history of wrestling than The Von Erichs. Fritz Von Erich had to be a proud father when his five sons followed him into the wrestling industry and spent years working for him. Forever enshrined in the minds of their fans for a fantastic feud with The Fabulous Freebirds, they are unfortunately almost entirely gone.
David Von Erich died in Japan under highly contested circumstances and his death is the least tragic of his siblings. Kerry, Chris and Mike Von Erich killed themselves either by gunshot or injecting themselves with a lethal dose of tranquilizers. Dying one by one over several years, their fans were rocked with grief again and again for a family that barely survived the mid-nineties.
7 Jimmy Snuka Charged with Murder
One thing happened for sure, in May of 1983, Nancy Argentino, the girlfriend of famed wrestler Jimmy Snuka, suffered “undetermined craniocerebral injuries”, which resulted in her untimely demise. What led up to her death, however, has been a long-whispered about scandal bubbling under the surface of a WWE Hall of Famer’s life.
On the night that she perished, officers and hospital persona say Jimmy said he pushed her and she hit her head which could have killed her. Nearly a month later, Snuka is re-interviewed with WWE head honcho Vince McMahon present, for some reason, and he is never prosecuted. More than thirty years later, the case was revisited and Jimmy was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Jimmy, now reportedly suffering from dementia and stomach cancer, will finally see his day in criminal court. We’re not certain if that means he will finally have the opportunity to clear his name or be punished, however.
6 Hulk Hogan’s Racist Tirade
For people that grew up believing that Hulk Hogan was a symbol of what was right and good in the world, recent events are likely to have been more than a little shocking. A massive star during the eighties and nineties, Hulk was embarrassed when a short segment of a sex tape, reportedly recorded without his knowledge, was released online by Gawker. Angered by their decision to release the clip without his permission, Hulk sued the site.
Just prior to the case seeing the inside of a courtroom, an audio clip of Hogan speaking before getting busy was released to the public. Discussing his daughter Brooke dating a black man, Hulk say is she is going to, he better be “worth a hundred million dollars”, “like a basketball player” and admits to being “a racist, to a point”. Fired by the WWE and scrubbed from their website, other than streaming his matches on the WWE Network, Hulk is still persona non grata to this day.
5 Bruiser Brody’s Untimely End
Bruiser Brody is infamous in wrestling circles for his Wildman persona, which according to many was pretty close to the true demeanour of the man. Practicing his craft all over the world and for many promoters, Brody’s unpredictable behaviour put butts in seats wherever he went. If only he was anywhere else on that fateful night in July of 1988.
Prior to wrestling against Dan Spivey in Puerto Rico, a place he’d wrestled in without incident many times before, Brody went to discuss the match in the showers where he would be fatally stabbed. What exactly caused the violence that ensued is unclear, what we do know is that according to eyewitness Tony Atlas, he saw José González grasping a knife immediately after hearing two screams. Though Jose was acquitted, many of his peers and fans believe to this day that Bruiser Brody was murdered that day.
4 The Steroid Trial
It is an agreed upon fact, amongst those in the know, that Vince McMahon puts a huge premium on the size and muscles of his performers. Many of the men who have worked for him over the years have had impossible physiques and have admitted that they abused steroids, years afterwards. According to prosecutors, Vince McMahon deserved to serve up to eight years in prison, for his role in a culture that made that necessary.
Dr. George Zahorian, set up shop in WWE locker rooms in several locations, to hand out steroids to many wrestlers, and was subsequently convicted of 15 charges of drug trafficking. Indicted for his role in bringing the Doc, to his events to hand out “candy” to his employees, Vince potentially could have served as much as eight years in prison. Acquitted of all charges, partially due to the very sloppy prosecution, his company with him at the helm won the Monday Night Wars and broke all of their previous records in the following years. Had McMahon been sent away, wrestling as we know it could be very, very, very different today.
3 Owen Hart Falls
One of the WWE’s greatest strengths in the late nineties was how much attention went into even their relatively minor storylines. When Owen Hart reverted into The Blue Blazer persona he’d portrayed years earlier, to comedic effect, the decision was made to have him descend from the rafters like a superhero. Intended to slip and fall after he hit the ring, it was all designed to illicit a chuckle, which we have to admit could have been pretty great.
Something went horribly wrong. The release mechanism was triggered while Owen was still in the rafters and the beloved wrestler fell 78 feet to the ring below. Dying due the resulting injuries, Owen’s death has resulted in years of lawsuits, a family losing their father, husband, uncle and brother and a lot of anger. Even resulting in a minor scandal in 2015, when the WWE released a documentary on his career that they had to heavily curtail due to previous settlements they’d made with Owen’s wife. Owen and the scandal his death created will never be forgotten.
2 Mel Phillips, Terry Garvin & Pat Patterson Scandal
If you’ve never heard of Mel Phillips, that makes perfect sense, as like other controversial people who’ve worked for the WWE at some point, they’ve attempted to erase him from history. A former ring announcer, Mel was the subject of headlines for the first time in his life when in 1992, Mel and former WWE employee Terry Garvin made advances to minors. Terry resigned and Mel was fired but WWE hall of Famer and revered creative mind Pat Patterson also resigned due to the controversy.
Tom Cole, one of the boys who was victimized, stated that Pat had done nothing wrong, so his involvement in the controversy may be strictly based on his sexual orientation. Discussed in detail on the Phil Donahue show in 1992, the company’s image was horribly tarnished at the time. Pat was re-hired a year earlier but if the commonly believed account is true and he had nothing to do with any underage boys, the fact that he was put in a position to resign strictly because he was gay is disgusting.
1 The Benoit Tragedy
Chris Benoit was a fierce wrestler, who over a twenty-two-year career had earned fans and respect wherever he went. Tapped to main event WrestleMania XX, in a match where he won the World Heavyweight Championship, for that moment he stood on top of the wrestling world. For many people, including his former WWE bosses, none of that matter after how he died, however.
Over three days in June of 2007, Chris murdered his wife and son and then committed suicide by hanging himself with a weight machine cord. Nobody who was present during the awful events that weekend unfolded survived the ordeal, so we can’t be sure what caused his evil deeds, but no matter the inciting incident what he did was horrific. Placing the industry he’d loved in the crosshairs of the media, the wrestling world was embroiled in more controversy than it had ever seen before in the immediate aftermath of his death. In fact, the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated the WWE and even TNA in the months that followed.