As Mel Brooks once said in the classic movie Spaceballs, merchandising is where the real money is made. And nobody knows that better than WWE, who has parlayed the catchphrases, logos, and personalities of their Superstars into a multi-million dollar merchandising juggernaut. Chief among their interests are the sheer number of t-shirts plastered with anything that could potentially relate to one of their wrestlers. But in the rush to market every possible part of their product, some truly terrible decisions have been made. Witness, now, the wrestling t-shirts that should never have been made, yet so many people actually bought.
10. John Cena – Ruck Fules
It seems hard to believe, now that he has a new rainbow-colored t-shirt every couple of months, but there was a point where WWE had trouble coming up with a best-selling shirt for the man who would become their cash cow, John Cena. In fact, many of Cena’s early t-shirts are truly terrible, and this one is worse than most. In a deliberate attempt to show Cena’s character as edgy, and possibly recapture some of that crassness that made the Attitude Era so popular, we have this shirt, which can best be described as “WWE blatantly tries to get a curse word past the censors”. Never mind that Cena had never even used the phrase before in his life (because, quite frankly, what sane person would), the shirt wasn’t half as clever as it pretended to be. Oh, and then WWE would blur the words on the shirt when it was on TV, in an attempt to make it seem like it was “too hot for TV”. In reality, the networks didn’t care.
9. APA – Always Pounding Ass
The best part of this shirt comes from knowing the men who it was designed to represent. Faarooq and Bradshaw, the APA, were a pair of hard-drinking, cigar smoking, tough guys whose gimmick was that they would beat people up for money. So you can see where someone thought that this shirt would exemplify their ass-kicking lifestyle. When it hit shelves, however, many people had a completely different interpretation, and it’s hard to blame them. The shirt disappeared roughly a week after its release. For added “hilarity”, during his WWE career Bradshaw earned a bit of a reputation as a locker room bully, who would threaten to perform certain inappropriate acts on wrestlers. To some people, the fact that his name got attached to this shirt seemed like a form of karmic justice.
8. Chris Benoit – Toothless Aggression
All right, so this shirt is a bad idea that evolved from another bad idea. The original bad idea was the concept “Ruthless Aggression”, from an infamous Vince McMahon promo on Smackdown where he gathered all the wrestlers in the ring and told them what they would need to make the show better and get a push. John Cena used the phrase to justify his debut in the Kurt Angle Five Minute Challenge, it was actually all over the show as WWE tried to get it over as some sort of new mission statement for the product. It failed, obviously, but found new life as a Chris Benoit t-shirt, playing off his trademark missing tooth. Who would even wear a shirt with those words on it? They don’t actually make any sense, even when we put them into context!
7. DX – Mooning
The original D-Generation X was a cutting-edge stable that helped catapult WWE into the Attitude Era and launched the career of several big stars. The late 2000’s revival of D-Generation X as the team of Triple H and Shawn Michaels was a tired nostalgia trip full of poop jokes and other examples of grade school humor, while they literally shilled their merchandise as part of their weekly promos. Almost nothing encapsulates the cynical nature of the return of D-X quite like this shirt, which features cartoon versions of Triple H and Shawn Michaels dropping their paints on the back, in a lame attempt to recapture the “edgy” nature of the original act. Because everyone should want to wear a t-shirt with cartoon wrestlers showing off their butts, right?
6. Big Show – W.M.D.
Here’s an idea, let’s name Big Show’s finisher after a term that was used to refer to deadly nuclear missiles held by terrorists that want to destroy the civilized world! If you thought that was a great idea, you too could work for WWE Creative! While there may not have been any WMD’s in Iraq, there was definitely some amount of backlash towards WWE’s misguided decision to refer to the Big Show’s fists as world-ending potentially genocidal weapons. That didn’t stop them from continuing to use the term for a while, before dropping in favor of the less-creative but also less-offensive “KO Punch”. Frankly, we’re pretty sure they could have found a middle ground between “lame” and “horrifying”, but maybe that’s why we don’t work there.
5. Carlito – Spit or Swallow
Yes, WWE, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make a shirt that references blowjobs. Even crazier, the wrestler who it was made for, Carlito, was being portrayed as a babyface at the time! Granted, he was a terrible babyface playing a character who worked far better as a heel, but still, the mental gymnastics required to make this a good idea must have been spectacular. On the bright side, if you ever actually saw somebody wearing this shirt, you pretty much instantly knew to avoid them at all costs. Seriously, who thinks were a shirt asking about blowjob preferences is a good idea? That was a rhetorical question, please don’t let us know.
4. Rikishi – Back That Ass Up
Arguably, at least the slogan is appropriate for the character of Rikishi, the gigantic sumo-style wrestler who was fond of dancing and whose offence was based around using his enormous posterior. But it’s not the writing on the shirt that made it terrible. In some versions of this shirt, which we can’t show you here out of a fear of violating Internet decency regulations (they really do exist), the other side was decorated with a gigantic, photo-realistic picture of Rikishi’s giant, dimpled ass. Because if there’s one thing people love, it’s wearing shirts with someone’s butt printed on them!
Becky Lynch – Lass Kicker
A more recent example, WWE initially decided to pull the men’s and children’s versions of this shirt off their online store, presumably once someone pointed out that it wasn’t exactly a good idea for men and children to walk around wearing something advertising a desire to beat up women. Why it was okay for women to do it is unclear. In any event, the shirt was slightly modified by adding Becky Lynch’s name to the front, which apparently made it acceptable to put back on the market for both genders (although child sizes are still not available, but that’s probably because someone figured that children also shouldn’t be wearing shirts containing permutations of the word “ass”).
2. DX – Vince Likes [Rooster]
Not only did this shirt somehow make it onto shelves, it was one of the highest selling items at the time! Seriously! As part of the reformed D-Generation X’s battle to annoy Vince McMahon, one night on Raw they took over the video production truck and used it to literally write “Vince Loves Cock” on the screen while Vince was in the ring cutting a promo. And because wrestling is nothing if not incredibly juvenile when it comes to dirty words, soon enough, WWE’s online store was selling these shirts. We’re not making this up, they actually sold these shirts, and many, many people actually bought them. No wonder Triple H and Shawn Michaels spent their entire time shilling merchandise. Clearly, fans were willing to buy anything with a DX logo.
In the dark times of the mid-2000’s, Eric Bischoff was the General Manager of Raw, and charged with creating a show that brought in viewers and money. And, since he’s the guy who coined the phrase “Controversy Creates Cash”, and because WWE was still trying to recapture the adult-oriented glory days of the Attitude Era, one of the first attempts at making Raw more interesting was the promise of HLA, otherwise known as Hot Lesbian Action. Obviously, WWE was never going to deliver on that promise, in fact, the models hired to tease the audience got beaten up by a team of evil Samoans, ended up getting injured due to not actually being wrestlers, and sued WWE for damages. But hey, they did make and sell t-shirts to commemorate the occasion! Which nobody bought because the angle was stupid and created absolutely no buzz for the company.