When it’s time for WrestleMania, everyone in WWE tries to be on their best behavior. Nobody wants to be the person who draws attention away from the biggest wrestling show of the year, the crown jewel event of WWE. In fact, wrestlers have been heavily disciplined, and even fired, for their actions during WrestleMania season, as WWE attempts to keep everything incredibly professional. Unfortunately, that isn’t always possible, and the Road to WrestleMania is full of headline-grabbing stories that occasionally overshadowed the event itself, which have often led to dire consequences for those involved. Here are some of the more incredible things that have happened over the years.
10. Rhyno Fights Plant, Loses
In 2005, an incident broke out on WrestleMania weekend which resulted in WWE Superstar Rhyno actually losing his job with the company. An argument with his wife spilled out into a hotel lobby, and at some point, Rhyno was accused of throwing a potted plant and breaking it. It sounded somewhat hilarious at the time, but the aftermath was far more serious, as Rhyno found himself unemployed, a punishment which many felt was in large part due to Rhyno creating negative publicity around WWE’s most important show of the year. Rhyno would fulfill an agreement to appear at the One Night Stand Pay Per View a few months later, but remained absent from WWE for several years, until a surprise return to NXT in 2015, where he acted as a veteran presence and coach for the developmental roster. In the years that followed, Rhyno revealed that the incident had been a bad combination of an ongoing divorce and custody battle, made worse by alcohol. Rhyno has said that he (and his ex-wife) laugh about it now, but he also recognized how serious it was at the time, and he spent a long time afterwards cleaning up his life as a result.
9. Faarooq Inadvertently Creates JBL
The APA were one of the staple tag teams of WWE during the Attitude. Consisting of Faarooq and Bradshaw, their exploits as a pair of mercenaries for hire who had an office backstage (that consisted largely of a door and a table where they could play cards and drink) were legendary. When the team reunited in 2002 after a failed Bradshaw singles push, fans were very happy. Unfortunately, that joy turned out to be short-lived, as Smackdown GM Paul Heyman fired Faarooq on-screen on a Smackdown just after WrestleMania. The firing came seemingly out of nowhere, and it was later revealed that it was not just an on-screen dismissal. While the full details were never revealed, it seemed that Faarooq had been fairly unprofessional during pre-WrestleMania activities, and his attitude in public, combined with a rumored drug problem, led to his sudden firing. As a result, a new singles push for Bradshaw began, this time playing on his real-life affinity for the stock market. And thus, the infamous character of John Bradshaw Layfield, or JBL, was created, and he would quickly be pushed into the main event of Smackdown, winning the WWE Title a few months later and holding it for most of the year.
8. Scott Steiner Banned From The Hall of Fame Ceremony
The Steiner Brothers, in their heyday, were one of the best tag teams on the planet, and Scott Steiner was expected to be a big singles star for WCW in the future. After several delays related to Scott not wanting to break up the team with his brother, that prediction mostly came true, as Scott, in his new gimmick as Big Poppa Pump, would become a WCW World Champion. Unfortunately, by that point, WCW was in its death throes, and Steiner had earned a reputation for a hot temper that made him a touchy subject. Years later, a still-active Steiner, having burned his bridges with most major North American promotions, continued to lean into his reputation for an “unpredictable” nature. And in 2015, that sort of behavior ended up costing Steiner, as he was specifically prohibited from attending WWE’s Hall of Fame ceremony, with pictures of him posted at security stations and instructions to deny him entry. Reportedly, the basis for the banishment was an incident involving Steiner and Hulk Hogan’s wife in an airplane prior to the event, although details were never fully revealed (And months later, Hogan himself would be on the outs with WWE as well, but that’s another story).
7. Kurt Angle Keeps Putting Off Neck Surgery
One of the most anticipated matches for WrestleMania XIX was between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, where fans expected Lesnar to finally be allowed to show off the wrestling skills that had made him an NCAA wrestling champion and one of WWE’s hottest prospects against the highly skilled Angle. There was even a rumor that we might finally see Lesnar debut his Shooting Star Press at the show (which, technically, he did). However, in the weeks before WrestleMania, it was revealed that Angle was the latest in what was quickly becoming a trend of WWE Superstars requiring spinal fusion surgery due to serious neck issues developed over a career in pro wrestling. At the time, the expected recovery period from such a surgery was a year, minimum, and WWE was unsure if Angle could put off the surgery until after WrestleMania. They were so unsure, in fact, that they immediately scheduled a WWE Title match for that week’s Smackdown, where it was assumed that Angle would drop the title to Lesnar. Except that’s not what happened, and Angle remained WWE Champion. Twice more over the next few weeks, WWE would schedule title matches between Lesnar and Angle, and everyone would assume that they’d finally reached a decision on Angle’s surgery, only to have Angle retain somehow. In the end, the match at WrestleMania went off, with Lesnar winning, and Angle went off to have neck surgery. Which he returned from in under a month, due to attempting an experimental procedure that drastically cut down his recovery time.
6. Too Much Pyro
It has become a tradition in recent years, basically since WWE began running WrestleMania in gigantic open-air stadiums, to end the show with a massive pyrotechnics display after the main event ends. It’s always been an impressive show, and helps make WrestleMania more special (especially since WWE has largely cut down on pyrotechnics during their weekly Raw shows). But even for a company like WWE, which has years and years of extensive experience with pyrotechnics, pure random chance can lead to an accident. And this was what happened when WrestleMania XXIV ended, with fireworks exploding around the Citrus Bowl and The Undertaker celebrating his victory in the ring. A cable designed to send fireworks flying across the sky overhead snapped, sending it and a mass of fiery sparks hurtling into the upper levels of the stadium. 45 people were reportedly injured, with several of them hospitalized due to severe burns, and WWE was roundly criticized for the incident. To make matters worse, upon review of the event, it was possible to see the fireworks dive into the audience on television, and videos of the accident quickly circulated. An investigation into the accident was launched by WWE, but the results were never made public, and it has mostly been forgotten at this point.
5. Jerry Lawler Quits, Immediately Regrets His Decision
In 2001, WWE was firing on all cylinders. Steve Austin had recovered from his neck surgery and was on a collision course with The Rock at what was shaping up to be one of the best WrestleManias of all time, their chief competition in WCW (as well as one of the largest remaining independent organizations, ECW) had just gone under with WWE buying up the assets for pennies on the dollar, and they were making so much money that Vince McMahon was about to start his own football league! But one person wasn’t happy, and that was long-time announcer Jerry Lawler, whose wife, Stacy “The Kat” Carter, had just been fired from WWE for reasons that were never made entirely clear. In protest, Lawler also quit the company, leaving WWE without a color commentator just before one of the biggest WrestleManias in history. Left with few real options, WWE reached out to none other than Paul Heyman, who needed a job due to the many debts ECW had incurred before folding, and who was (and is) one of the best talkers in the business. Heyman was a smash hit with fans, while Lawler’s life spiraled out of control post-WWE, as his wife first cheated on and then left him (complete with pictures of her and her new boyfriend hitting the Internet). A broken Lawler would return to WWE by the end of the year.
4. Randy Orton Hands Rey Mysterio His First World Title
Remember how Rey Mysterio was inspired by Eddie Guerrero’s tragic death and used that motivation to win the Royal Rumble, then went on to WrestleMania and won the World Heavyweight title for the first time in his career? Well, that second part almost didn’t happen, because Randy Orton was originally planned to win the title, and it’s possible that Mysterio wasn’t even supposed to be in the match, as he originally lost his title shot to Orton at No Way Out in February, only to be re-added to the match afterwards. It seemed odd at the time, and eventually, the reason why Mysterio was put back in the match leaked out. It turned out that Orton had failed a Wellness test, and since the entire Wellness policy had just been introduced in the wake of Guerrero’s death and was being followed very strictly at that point, due to increased public pressure, Orton had his title victory taken away and given to Mysterio, and was immediately suspended after WrestleMania ended. While Mysterio’s win was probably a better story anyway, it does explain why his victory celebration wasn’t given much time on the Pay Per View, and he ended up as one of the worst-booked World Champions in history, losing repeatedly to larger wrestlers like Mark Henry, The Great Khali, and JBL, during his reign.
3. Jack Swagger, Really High American
So, for some reason, in 2013, WWE decided that Jack Swagger had earned another shot at the World Title. And because the current champion was the recently face-turned Alberto Del Rio, they decided to go with old-fashioned racism. Jack Swagger became a “Real” American, overly concerned with people from other countries coming to America and taking away jobs, and yes, it was exactly as distasteful as you might imagine. Everything seemed to be setting up to a WrestleMania match between Swagger and Del Rio, and with Swagger’s character actually getting mainstream attention (not the good kind, of course, but WWE has long lived under the slogan of “Any PR is good PR”), there were rumors that he might actually win the title. Fortunately for those of us who lived through the first disastrous Swagger World title reign, that never came to pass, because in the weeks before WrestleMania, he was pulled over for speeding, and then arrested for DUI when the officer discovered marijuana in his vehicle. Any small chance that Swagger might win the title were quashed, and while WWE didn’t immediately turf him from WrestleMania, Swagger quickly slid back down the card, and into irrelevance, a position he continues to hold.
2.Brock Lesnar Joins The NFL
For the twentieth edition of WrestleMania, WWE tried to put on an even bigger show than usual, with some heavily hyped matches such as the return of The Undertaker in his classic gimmick after a few years as a biker, John Cena challenging for his first title in WWE, Chris Benoit finally getting to main event WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Title, and a match that fans had been anticipating ever since Goldberg made his WWE debut a year prior, Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar. It was assumed that Lesnar, who had been set up as one of the pillars of WWE for years to come, would defeat Goldberg, whose contract was expiring the day after WrestleMania and was very public in his intentions to not re-sign. But three days before the show, a bombshell dropped: Lesnar stood up at a talent meeting and announced that he was quitting WWE and planning to become an NFL player. The entire wrestling world erupted, as WWE was suddenly going to lose one of their biggest stars on incredibly short notice, leaving WWE in the lurch and throwing one of their biggest matches at WrestleMania into chaos. In the end, the match itself was roundly booed by the MSG fans, Goldberg took home the victory, and special referee “Stone Cold” Steve Austin ended up handing out post-match Stunners to both men on their way out of the company. And none of it was ever mentioned again by WWE.
1. Hulk Hogan Chokes Out Detective Munch
Eleven days before the original WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan did something that could conceivably have sunk the event before it even happened. While making a promotional appearance on the late night talk show Hot Properties, Hogan was goaded by host Richard Belzer (who you may recognize from his long run as a detective on Law and Order: SVU, among other roles) into showing off some wrestling holds. Belzer spent most of the interview mocking pro wrestling as “fake”, and Hogan clearly felt pressured to “protect the business” (it was common practice in those days for wrestlers to respond to those sorts of accusations with real violence, and Belzer probably should have known that), and agreed to put some moves on Belzer. He immediately locked Belzer in a chokehold, causing the actor to lose consciousness almost immediately. When Hogan released the hold, Belzer fell limply to the floor, suffering a head injury in the process. Hogan was quickly apologetic, but the incident quickly became big news, and after repeatedly showing the footage on his show, Belzer ended up suing WWE over the incident (the suit was settled out of court).