CM Punk shocked fans and World Wrestling Entertainment when he announced he was leaving wrestling. On Monday January 27, prior to the airing of RAW, he informed Vince McMahon he was packing his bags and going home to Chicago. Punk is under contract until this summer, but due to his actions, it’s entirely possible we’ve seen the last of him in WWE for the foreseeable future. If he is indeed gone for good, it marks the WWE losing one of its top stars.
It’s not a new challenge for the company, as there have been many surprising departures in the past, particularly when WCW was around. With a billionaire in Ted Turner owning WCW, the company offered guaranteed contracts, with heftier salaries and less work dates. Wrestlers often left Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation for greener pastures. There have been superstars who have flat out quit, and superstars who were released from their contracts to the shock of wrestling fans.
Superstars have left in controversial ways, such as Bret Hart being screwed out of the title in Montreal. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were part of the infamous ‘curtain call’ at Madison Square Garden when they broke character in front of a live crowd and revealed their real-life friendship with Triple H, Shawn Michaels and the 1-2-3 Kid. However there departures were anticipated. Vince McMahon claimed he could no longer hold up his end of the contract with Hart and told him to sign with WCW. Nash and Hall’s deals were expiring and their departure was evident for a while. Hulk Hogan‘s departure from the company in 1993 was also expected for a long time, as word was that he was retiring from wrestling for an acting career, (which didn’t quite work out and he signed with WCW in 1994). The Rock left wrestling quite early to pursue an acting career, but his departure was slow, as he began to phase himself out gradually from the WWE. The more success he experienced in Hollywood, the less fans expected him to stick around in pro wrestling. This list of superstars will focus on the more shocking, abrupt departures. Ones that fans never saw coming.
10. Rick Rude, 1997
All of you internet-browsing sweat hogs, keep the noise down while I take you back to the Ravishing One, Rick Rude’s WWE departure. Okay, so a villainous promo doesn’t have the same effect in writing. Anyway, Rick Rude was no longer an active wrestler for the WWE in 1997, but his departure was a shock nonetheless. Who else can say they were on RAW and Nitro at the same time? No one. Rick Rude appeared on a taped episode of RAW on November 17, 1997 as well as debuting for WCW live on Nitro that same night.
Rude had actually left WWE for WCW in 1991 for a better contract, before a back injury forced him to retire in 1994. He returned to WWE in 1997 as the “insurance policy” for D-Generation X. Rude quit the WWE in protest after the Montreal Screwjob in November, 1997. Since Rude was not signed to a full-time WWE contract, he was able to negotiate a deal with WCW quickly and sure enough fans soon saw him on two shows in the same night. Rude may not have been in his prime at this time, but he was still a big name and he definitely pulled something off that you’ll never see again.
9. Lex Luger, 1995
Lex Luger helped WCW get the first blow in during the Monday Night Wars. He made his return to WCW on the inaugural episode of Monday Nitro, after having wrestled for the WWE the night before.
The shocking part about this was that Luger’s contract had in fact expired and he wrestled for the WWE briefly without a contract. This allowed him to bolt for WCW without informing Vince McMahon beforehand. Former WCW vice-president Eric Bischoff said in WWE’s ‘The Monday Night War’ dvd that he only offered Luger 20% of what he was making in his first WCW stint years earlier, anticipating Luger to turn down the offer. Bischoff was not a big fan of Luger’s, but to appease his top star, and one of Luger’s closest friends Sting, offered Luger the contract. Luger signed and made an impact for a brief amount of time. The Monday Night War had officially begun.
8. Edge, 2011
Adam Copeland made a crushing announcement to wrestling fans on April 11, 2011 when he announced his retirement on RAW, eight days after defending his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. Edge’s departure had nothing to do with him being unhappy with the company, or the WWE wanting him out. However, it was abrupt, shocking and very rarely does it happen with a current champion.
Edge revealed on television the reason he was retiring. He had his cervical vertebrae fused a few years prior and had begun feeling numbness in his arms. An MRI diagnosed him with cervical spinal stenosis. Doctors could no longer medically clear him to wrestle without him risking paralysis or even death. It was shocking and sad, but it was probably a blessing. Had he not taken the MRI, who knows what tragic fate he may have suffered. Edge retired at the age of 38, still on top of his game and his last match was for the World Heavyweight Championship at a WrestleMania. It’s definitely the most heart-warming entry on this list.
7. Brock Lesnar, 2004
How can you label the departure of the company’s top young star anything other than shocking? Brock Lesnar made such a huge impact in WWE in such a short amount of time. He debuted the night after WrestleMania X8 in 2002, a beast of a 24-year-old. By June, he had won King of the Ring. By August, he had defeated The Rock for the WWE Undisputed Championship. He also beat The Undertaker in a series of matches, won the 2003 Royal Rumble, headlined WrestleMania 19 against Kurt Angle and had an ongoing feud with the Olympic Gold Medalist which was tremendous.
Quite simply, Lesnar had risen to the top of the WWE in such a short amount of time and seemed to have many years as the top star in the company ahead of him. However, a few weeks after losing the WWE title to Eddie Guerrero in February 2004, rumours began to surface that Lesnar was leaving the WWE after WrestleMania XX to pursue a career in the NFL. Lesnar had decided that the hectic lifestyle of a professional wrestler wasn’t for him. The rumours did not go past the raucous New York crowd at WrestleMania and Lesnar was booed out of the building. His lasting image in the WWE was being stunned by Stone Cold following his loss to Goldberg. He would return eight years later in 2012, following a successful UFC run, but Lesnar left professional wrestling at the ripe age of 27. How much more could Lesnar have been to pro wrestling had he stayed?
6. CM Punk, 2014
While we don’t know yet what will come of CM Punk‘s recent departure from WWE, for now, it’s the top story in the world of sports entertainment. A top star has left the WWE, right in the heat of WrestleMania season. It’s a big blow for the WWE and fans to take in. Punk was as good as gone in 2011, as his contract was set to expire the day of the Money in the Bank 2011 pay-per-view. Punk’s famous ‘pipe bomb’ promo led to newfound popularity and WWE signed him to a new, more lucrative contract. He’s carried a huge load for the past three years, and yet his initial frustrations with WWE never seemed to fully go away.
He decided he was finally fed up with the direction of the company. He’s also is banged up at 35 years old, with about 15 years in wrestling taking its toll on his body. It seems he has decided the headaches he’s had to put up with, the pain and creative differences with WWE are no longer worth it. His contract was set to expire this summer, and WrestleMania XXX looked like the last big payday coming his way, but obviously he feels financially secure enough to walk away now. We don’t yet know all the facts or how this story will eventually play out, but for now it’s an enormous pipe bomb itself.
5. Kurt Angle, 2006
No other wrestler in history mastered the art of professional wrestling as quickly as Kurt Angle. Angle debuted for WWE at Survivor Series in 1999 and within a year, he became the second Grand Slam Champion, winning the WWE European, Intercontinental, Tag Team and finally the WWE Championship at No Mercy 2000 from The Rock. He also won King of the Ring that year.
Angle constantly produced match of the night performances and even honed terrific skills on the mic. He constantly evolved his character, never getting stale and by 2006, had already established himself as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. In August that year, he was shockingly released from his WWE contract, at his request.
Angle stated in the Kurt Angle: Champion documentary that he had requested to take time off due to injuries taking their toll on his body. He said he regularly was working in severe pain. Due to him not being allowed to take time off, he asked for his release. He said that at the time of his departure, he was WWE’s highest-paid wrestler. He soon signed with TNA, as he was able to work a lighter schedule. He’s gone on to have success in TNA since then and is still the best thing that has ever happened to the company. This still stands as a huge shocker.
4. Sgt. Slaughter, 1984
Sgt. Slaughter was a top star for the WWE in the 1980’s just as the company was embarking on its Golden Era, with Hulk Hogan carrying the company to unprecedented heights. His departure in 1984 may have been at the worst possible time, with WWE just about to launch its greatest creation, WrestleMania.
Slaughter never quite recaptured the momentum he had in his initial WWE runs from 1980 to 1984. He was initially brought in as a villain, offering $5,000 to anyone who could break his signature Cobra Clutch. He eventually feuded with champion Bob Backlund and Pat Patterson. Slaughter briefly went to NWA in 1981, but came back in 1983, once again as a top contender for Backlund’s championship.
Slaughter’s career really reached its peak in 1984, after he turned face and defended America’s honour against the hated Iron Sheik. Slaughter and the Iron Sheik feuded until the summer of 1984, culminating in a boot camp match at MSG. His newfound popularity as an American hero launched him to stardom, being a close second to Hulk Hogan in terms of popularity. Slaughter was let go in 1984 after demanding six weeks of paid vacation and no-showing an event in Toronto. Other factors included the WWE’s refusal to allow Slaughter to cash in with a role in G.I. Joe’s toy line. That dispute led to Slaughter leaving what was soon to be the king of sports entertainment. He would return years later, but never quite recaptured the fire he had in 1984.
3. The Ultimate Warrior, 1991
The Ultimate Warrior was handed the torch to carry the WWE into a new era, when he defeated Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI. However, Warrior was apparently difficult to deal with behind the scenes and he couldn’t quite fill the big shoes left by Hogan.
On July 10, 1991, Warrior demanded significant raises in his new contract. He requested $550,000 from Vince McMahon for his performance at WrestleMania VII (a match against Randy Savage), as well as a guaranteed number of working days, travel accommodations and a higher percentage of merchandise sales. The WWE responded by granting him all his wishes and promised to make him the highest-paid performer for pay-per-views. It turned out the WWE only gave in to these demands to ensure that Warrior fulfilled his contractual obligation to wrestle at SummerSlam 1991. Following the event, McMahon suspended Warrior, informing him the only reasons his demands were met was to honour the WWE’s promoted match for SummerSlam. Warrior refused to follow the suspension and quit.
The WWE brought him back in 1992, but again, his momentum was derailed and he never quite reached the stardom he did in his initial run. One day he was teaming up with Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam, the next day he was gone. Is that not the ultimate shocker?
2. Randy Savage, 1994
A true icon of the business, the WWE lost one of its top stars of all time, when Macho Man Randy Savage left the company for WCW in 1994. Savage was reportedly unhappy about being phased out as a full-time wrestler in favour of colour commentary. His last pay-per-view match for the WWE was at WrestleMania X, in which he defeated Crush in a Fall-Count-Anywhere match. It was a match overshadowed by classics put on by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, as well as Bret and Owen Hart. Savage clearly wasn’t going to be used as a top star, and clearly he felt he still was one.
Savage’s contract expired in October 1994 and he abruptly left the company in favour of WCW, who had signed Hulk Hogan earlier that year. Savage went on to have several great years in WCW, proving he still had something left in the tank. However, it was a huge blow for the WWE and for Vince McMahon. Savage has still not been inducted into the WWE hall of fame. There are endless rumours as to why the WWE have not done it, but a popular one is that McMahon was close to Savage and was hurt so badly by Savage’s abrupt departure from the company. All of us fans know for sure is the WWE lost an icon and Savage’s forgettable 1994 year will always go down as his final one with the company. RIP Macho.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin, 2002
Barring the many tragic deaths that have occurred in professional wrestling, June 10, 2002 was possibly the most shocking day a wrestling fan has experienced. Picture Michael Jordan leaving the Bulls in the middle of a playoff run. Picture Wayne Gretzky walking out of a Stanley Cup final. Picture Peyton Manning leaving the Broncos a week before the Super Bowl. You get my drift. Stone Cold Steve Austin is arguably the greatest superstar in WWE history. He won multiple world titles, engaged in the epic feud with Mr. McMahon, set records in merchandise sales, pay-per-view buys and TV ratings and cemented himself as the most popular superstar of his generation.
However, on June 10, 2002, Stone Cold Steve Austin quit the WWE and broke the hearts of fans across the world. The WWE and Stone Cold patched things up in 2003 but at the time, it was perhaps the most unfathomable event a wrestling fan could imagine. The departure had been stemming from creative differences involving Austin and the WWE. That year, following Hulk Hogan‘s signing with WWE, the WWE’s plan was for Austin to face Hogan at WrestleMania. After an agreement could not be reached on a winner, Hogan instead faced the Rock and Austin faced Scott Hall in a match he, and many fans felt, was below what Austin was worth.
In May 2002, Austin shocked the world on WWE television when he called out WWE’s creative direction, and the company’s direction in general. Vince McMahon tried to downplay Austin’s comments, saying it was not part of story-lines and Austin was just difficult to work with at times. Austin was eventually booked to lose to rookie Brock Lesnar on RAW in June in a match with no build up. Austin felt it served no purpose for a rookie like Lesnar to lose to Austin on free TV when an Austin/Lesnar feud could’ve meant months of pay-per-view money. Austin didn’t show up for RAW in Oakland on June 10 and his story lines were dropped. Vince McMahon addressed fans out of character on RAW and said what the world had already heard through the internet. Austin was gone.
Austin was banged up by injuries and felt he was not being given good story lines, particularly for someone with a name as big as his. McMahon infamously stated Austin “took his ball and went home”. It was a dark and ugly divorce between a mega star like Austin and a global corporation like WWE. Thankfully things eventually worked out and Austin returned in February, 2003. Still, this was as shocking and ugly as it gets in terms of departures. Fans will never forget what they felt that fateful day.
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