Professional wrestling is famous for using soap opera-like storylines in order to heighten interest in matches. In fact, sometimes bookers, particularly in WWE, get so caught up in building drama that the big encounter itself suffers. While a convoluted, overdramatic storyline is never far away in pro wrestling, the business has seen more than its fair share of real-life controversies. There have been walkouts, backstage fights, and, of course, lawsuits.
The walkouts and backstage fights are no doubt worthy of their own articles, but today we’re going to be focusing on the lawsuits. Jerry McDevitt first started working with Vince McMahon in 1987, when Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart found himself in a spot of bother after supposedly punching a flight attendant in the face. McDevitt stayed on with WWE after that case (which he won), although there have probably been numerous occasions over the years, when he wished he had never gotten involved with the organization at all.
Vince McMahon and WWE have been involved in countless lawsuits over the past couple of decades, and McDevitt has been there for all of them. He actually has a pretty good win-loss record, but there’s no denying that in some cases, the super-lawyer was fighting a losing battle from the moment he stepped through the courtroom doors. Here, we’re going to be looking at some of WWE’s (and Jerry McDevitt’s) most acrimonious, vicious, and brutal lawsuits. We’re also going to include a couple of lawsuits involving former WWE superstars which have been just as barbaric as the battles they fought during their careers.
Here are 15 of the nastiest WWE lawsuits ever.
15 Larry Zbyszko vs. WWF
Easing us into things is former wrestler and commentator, Larry Zbyszko. Zbyszko had a pretty impressive in-ring career and by the time he arrived in the WCW commentary booth, he had become known to fans all around the world as “The Living Legend”. Some had a problem with Zbyszko using that monicker as it had previously belonged to Bruno Sammartino. As the longest reigning WWE Champion in history, Sammartino certainly had a more legitimate claim to the nickname, but Zbyszko considered himself worthy of it nonetheless. On top of this, Zbyszko had been trained by Bruno Sammartino, so it only seemed fitting that he should take the name.
Unfortunately, Zbyszko did not take as kindly to a younger talent using the nickname as Sammartino did, and when Chris Jericho began referring to himself as “The Living Legend” during his reign as WWE Undisputed Champion, Larry was quick with a lawsuit. There was a lot of back and forth - Zbyszko even challenged Vince McMahon to a fight, for some reason – and Jericho stopped using the “Living Legend” nickname shortly after.
14 Jesse Ventura vs. WWF
Jesse Ventura is one of the most colorful characters to ever enter the world of professional wrestling and politics. His refusal to put up with anybody’s crap made him popular with both wrestlings fans and the American people. It also lead to him suing WWE in the early 90s.
Insisting that he was owed extra money because his commentary had been used on video tapes, which was not mentioned in his contract, Ventura took Vince McMahon and the then WWF to court. Jerry McDevitt tried his darndest to score a victory for the McMahons, but "The Body" ended up walking away with almost $1 million. WWE vowed never to make the same mistake again and changed all talent contracts shortly after. The question of unpaid revenues has come up a lot recently, mainly due to the WWE Network, but it is unlikely the company will be forced to pay out anything like they gave to Jessie Ventura.
13 Nicole Bass vs. WWF
Nicole Bass is currently a member of Howard Stern’s Wack Pack, but she was at one time among the most promising bodybuilders in America. After leaving the bodybuilding world in the nineties, Bass signed with ECW before jumping ship to the World Wrestling Federation, where she debuted as Sable’s bodyguard.
Bass seemed like she was set to become one of the biggest stars the WWE’s women’s division had ever seen, but she suddenly left the company in 1999. Shortly after leaving, Bass took her former employers to court for sexual harassment. According to the former diva, she had been sexually assaulted backstage by Steve Lombardi, otherwise known as The Brooklyn Brawler. Both The Brooklyn Brawler and the WWE denied these allegations and Jerry McDevitt’s services were once again required. McDevitt managed to get the win on this occasion, and the case was dismissed in 2003.
12 Charles Austin vs. WWF
Charles Austin was not quite the star that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became. He wasn’t quite the wrestler, either. Then again, Charles Austin never really had a chance to prove himself, as his career was cruelly cut short after a botched move left him paralyzed.
After only six months of training, Austin was recruited by the World Wrestling Federation to work as an enhancement talent, and was placed in a tag team with Lanny Poffo for an encounter with The Rockers. The Rockers, consisting of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, did their usually schtick and dominated their opponents for the majority of the match. Everything was going alright until Jannetty went in for his finish. Perhaps due to Jannetty’s carelessness, but more likely the result of Austin’s inexperience, the move did not go as planned and the wrestling novice wound up with a broken neck. Austin was left paralyzed and went on to sue the WWF for $26.7 million. Unsurprisingly, the court sided with the plaintiff and he left court a broken, but much richer man.
11 Billy Graham vs. WWF
Despite being one of the biggest drawing stars the company has ever seen, “Superstar” Billy Graham has had a number of problems with Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.
During the steroid scandal which plagued McMahon during the early 90s, Billy Graham presumably saw the chance for a major payday and brought his own suit against WWF and the company doctors. Graham claimed that the medical staff at the World Wrestling Federation had provided him with anabolic steroids during his time in the company. To be honest, the doctors probably did supply the former WWE Champion with steroids, as they probably did with a number of superstars. However, Graham had been using steroids long before signing his contract with Vince McMahon, and so the case was dismissed. This has not stopped Billy Graham from ranting and raving about WWE in recent years, and he regularly takes to Facebook to vent his frustrations with the company.
10 Bruno Sammartino vs. WWF
We spoke about Bruno Sammartino’s pupil, Larry Zbyszko, and the problems he has had with WWE, but the real "Living Legend" has also had reason to take the company to court.
Sammartino was a very close friend of Vince McMahon Sr., and together they established what was then known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation as the premier wrestling promotion in the world. Sammartino’s relationship with the WWF was rocky even before this period, and he took the company to court after discovering he had bee shafted by the McMahons, who failed to pay him what he was owed for certain performances. The case was settled out of court, but created a rift between Sammartino and the WWE, which took more than two decades to repair.
9 Alberto Del Rio vs. WWE
Former WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio was released from the WWE in 2014 after slapping a social media employee who had made a racist joke about him. The employee threatened to sue the company if Del Rio was not punished, and so the multiple-time world champion saw his contract terminated. Unfortunately for WWE, by trying to avoid one lawsuit, they left themselves wide open to another.
Most WWE contracts have a no compete clause, which means any superstar who has left the company cannot perform for another wrestling promotion for at least 90 days. Alberto Del Rio, believing he had been unfairly terminated and eager to get back in the ring, took WWE to court to dispute this. Fearing their former world champion would head to TNA and give the competition a ratings boost, WWE tried to keep the clause in place, but Del Rio wound up winning the case and was free to work anywhere he chose (which turned out to not be TNA).
8 Chris Amman vs. CM Punk
After CM Punk walked out of a WWE Raw taping in January of 2014, wrestling fans everywhere waited eagerly for him to break his silence. He did so several months later on The Art of Wrestling, a podcast hosted by his good friend, Colt Cabana.
In the podcast, Punk said a whole lot of disparaging things about Vince McMahon, Triple H, and the WWE; not too mention many of the company’s employees. A major source of Punk’s frustration was the subpar medical treatment which he received. Although he never named the supposed quack doctor who failed to diagnose a number of potentially career threatening injuries, WWE doctor Chris Amman filed a lawsuit against both Punk and Cabana, claiming he had been a victim of slander. CM Punk, never one to back down, disputed the case and insisted he had done nothing wrong as he had simply stated the facts and had avoided mentioning Amman by name. Cabana, for his part, has claimed that he was only acting as a member of the media and could not be held responsible for what his guest said. The case is ongoing.
7 Brock Lesnar vs. WWE
Since returning to WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII, “The Beast Incarnate” has broken The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak, demolished John Cena, and held the WWE Championship for 224 days. Obviously, Brock Lesnar is on pretty good terms with WWE these days, but after he left the company back in 2004, there was a lot of bitterness between the two sides. Lesnar, wanting out of his contract early in order to pursue a career in the NFL, agreed to a no compete clause, which was to have kept him out of a wrestling ring until 2010. After Lesnar’s run in the NFL proved unsuccessful, however, he decided to challenge the no compete clause and take WWE to court.
WWE launched a counterclaim against the former "Next Big Thing," claiming he had breached the deal by performing at a New Japan Pro Wrestling show. The case was settled out of court in 2006, and shortly after, Lesnar began his career in mixed martial arts.
6 Sable vs. WWF
Like husband, like wife; although, to be fair, Sable’s lawsuit came a couple of years before Brock Lesnar took Vince McMahon to court. Towards the end of her first stint in the then World Wrestling Federation, Sable was having more and more problems with what the creative team were asking her to do. This was perceived by the rest of the locker room as Sable being too much of a prima donna, and she was the focus of a number of ribs which went way to far (including X-Pac defecating in her gear bag). After leaving the company in 1999, Sable filed a lawsuit against her former employers. Claiming she had been a victim of sexual harassment behind the scenes, she sued Vince McMahon for $110 million. McMahon, not to be outdone, counter-sued to prevent her from using the name “Sable” outside of his company.
The two sides settled out of court and Sable went on to make a number of appearances on television – including one on World Championship Wrestling – and even released her autobiography. She eventually returned to the company in 2003, a run during which she met her future husband.
5 Hulk Hogan vs. Gawker
Hulk Hogan’s fall from grace has been devastating and seemingly never ending. I suppose it only makes sense that his descent back to Earth lasted so long, as he had been on top of the world prior for years prior to it.
After the “news” website Gawker published excerpts of his sex tape in 2012, Hulk Hogan brought a lawsuit against the company, and proceeded to run wild all over them.
After a couple of years of Gawker trying to get out of it (probably because they knew they would get their collective rear kicked if it were taken to court), the trial finally began in March of this year. It lasted for two bizarre weeks, during which Hogan explained that Hulk Hogan and Terry Bollea (his real name) had different penis sizes. The Hulkster ultimately emerged victorious and received an initial $115 million, despite the fact he had only asked for $100 million. Hogan was awarded an additional $25 million after the trial, because apparently some of the jury had been Hulkamaniacs growing up.
4 Martha Hart vs. WWF
The death of Owen Hart is perhaps the most infamous event in the history of professional wrestling. In 1999, at an event called Over the Edge, Hart had been due to make a grand entrance by descending from the ceiling, similar to Sting in WCW. However, something went terribly wrong while Hart was still dangling from the ceiling of the arena and he ended up falling over 70 feet into the ring below. He died shortly after, having never achieved his full potential.
Owen’s widow, Martha Hart, understandably held the World Wrestling Federation responsible for her husband’s death, and took them (along with the company who supplied the harness for his entrance) to court. While Vince McMahon is usually a stubborn, Ebenezer Scrooge-esque miser who isn’t willing to part with a penny, he knew there was no way he was going to win, and the longer the case went on, the more his company would suffer. In an attempt to avoid financial disaster, McMahon agreed to an out of court settlement and paid the widow Hart $18 million. Martha Hart used much of the settlement money to fund The Owen Hart Foundation, which provides scholarships for young people who may not be able to afford college otherwise.
3 The Steroids Ordeal
In 1993, Vince McMahon was brought to court in a trial which almost destroyed the McMahon family and the World Wrestling Federation altogether. McMahon stood accused of trafficking anabolic steroids and encouraging his talent to make use of them.
McMahon was so certain that he would be sent off to prison that he began putting plans in place for the WWF to survive during his time behind bars, and even handed control of the company to his wife, Linda. The prosecution called a number of witnesses, all of whom provided damming evidence against McMahon. Former WWF superstar Nailz took the stand as part of the prosecution’s case and insisted that his former employer had forced him to take steroids in order to get bigger. Fortunately for Vince McMahon, Nailz was unable to hide his hatred for him and so his testimony was viewed as one without merit.
The trial, which was heading towards a guilty verdict, took a shocking turn when the prosecution’s key witness, Hulk Hogan, testified that Vince McMahon had never ordered him to take steroids. Owing in no small part to Hogan’s testimony, Vince McMahon was exonerated and resumed his role as the maniacal owner of the WWF.
2 Various Disgruntled Veterans vs. WWE
Jerry McDevitt has had his hands full over the past couple of months, as one pesky lawyer, seemingly determined to get his hands on some of that sweet, sweet WWE money, has represented numerous former performers against the company. In a strange twist, the wrestlers suing WWE were convinced by the aforementioned pesky lawyer to bring the case against the their former employer rather than conceiving of the lawsuit themselves.
Each lawsuit has claimed that Vince McMahon, through his failure to provide adequate testing and treatment for concussions, is responsible for hearing loss, memory loss, and depression suffered by ex-WWE superstars in later life. So far, each lawsuit has been thrown out due to the fact every wrestler suing the company performed for other organizations before and after their time in WWE, meaning McMahon could not be responsible for their health issues. The most recent concussion lawsuit instigated by this lawyer sees over fifty former WWE superstars suing the company for head injuries. The case is still ongoing, but Jerry McDevitt has stated that he is confident the case will be thrown out, which it probably will be.
1 Jimmy Snuka, Murderer?
2016 is turning out to be a pretty busy year for “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka. Snuka is one of the many former superstars suing WWE for head injuries sustained during his time working for the company. It is not the first lawsuit which Snuka has been involved in this year. It is, however, the first in which he will not be the defendant.
Earlier this year, Jimmy Snuka was informed that he would be taken to court and stand accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in 1983. On the night Argentino died, Snuka called an ambulance and informed them that he had returned to his hotel room to find his mistress gasping for air and fighting for her life. An autopsy suggested that Argentino had been beaten to death, and Snuka became a prime suspect, but he was never charged. Despite this, the case remained open and finally found its way to court earlier this year. Snuka’s attorneys argued that he was innocent, and also claimed their client was in no shape to stand trial, as years of head shots and hard partying had left him suffering from dementia. Despite the prosecution presenting a tape of Snuka performing in a wrestling ring in 2015, the judge ruled that the former WWE superstar was not mentally competent to be tried.
Jimmy Snuka left court a relatively free man and quickly booked an appearance at WrestleCon 2017.