Revisit ten of the backstage moments that rocked WWE and pro wrestling to the core.
When it comes to professional wrestling - equal parts soap opera, Shakespearean theatre, and variety show - sometimes what we don’t see can be the most captivating. This high-octane work environment may be built around fictionalized feuds, but there are always stories unfolding away from the audience’s glare. Once predicated on “Kayfabe,” a term that refers to maintaining the illusion of wrestling’s legitimacy, this formerly insular profession has become increasingly transparent since the mid-’90s.
In days gone by, news of the alleged affair between WWE commentator Corey Graves and Smackdown! Live superstar Carmella would’ve been suppressed to prevent the scandal from jeopardizing the on-screen product. With the rise of the internet, pro-wrestling “dirt sheets” have a wider circulation than ever before. Suddenly dispatches about the wrestler’s personal lives and backstage conflicts are available on-demand.
As If Kayfabe wasn’t already on its deathbed, the rise of social media, podcasts and “shoot interviews” has meant that everything from its sordid past to the inner-workings of the present has reached the public eye. From sophomoric hi-jinks and infidelity to more sinister blemishes on the industry’s reputation, the news of Carmella & Corey has provided a window to reflect on ten of the biggest behind-the-scenes scandals in the history of professional wrestling.
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X-Pac: Faecal Prankster
Decades after his debut, it seems as though soon-to-be WWE Hall Of Famer Sean “X-Pac” Waltman is finally getting his due. A staple of the Monday Night War era, “The Kliq” member may be seen as a pioneer for less statuesque wrestlers, but is perhaps equally renowned for his tasteless pranks. Like other locker rooms, “ribs” are rife among wrestlers, veering from comical to downright mean-spirited. In Waltman’s case, he is synonymous with a particularly malevolent caper.
As described on The Steve Austin Podcast, X-Pac was responsible for one of the most infamous ribs in WWE history after he defecated in Rena “Sable” Mero’s bag. Carried out minutes before a match, Waltman decided to give Sable a parting gift during her last night in the company and caused the divisive diva to become an “international s**t smuggler” after boarding a flight to the US with the cargo still in her bag. Now that she’s married to Brock Lesnar, X-Pac has expressed remorse over the incident, though he’s been less apologetic about allegedly doing the same thing to “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry’s Meatball Sub.
The Miz: Banned From The Locker Room
For all that the inner-workings may have changed, the code of etiquette and decorum in the locker room has remained firmly intact. No matter how well established, there are rare cases where people fall foul of the rules, and that was certainly the case with The Miz. As a former contestant on “The Real World”, the odds of Mike Mizanin making a seamless transition to WWE were always stacked against him, but he didn’t make it any easier on himself.
In a short interview with HighSpots, former WWE & current IMPACT! star John Morrison detailed how a few crumbs was all it took for the Miz to find himself blacklisted. “I remember 'The Miz eating chicken' incident. I think he was eating chicken over Scott Armstrong's bag,” explains Morrison. [Chris] Benoit saw him and kicked him out of the locker room. Forever. Like, completely kicked him out of the locker room." In the wake of the Benoit Family tragedy, The Miz continued to change out in the hallway until The Undertaker gave him clearance to re-enter. During a chat with Peter Rosenberg on Hot 97, MIzanin claimed that the incident made him a "better person."
Shawn Michaels/Sunny/Chris Candido Love Triangle
Prior to being “reborn,” it’s safe to say that WWE Hall Of Famer and GOAT contender Shawn Michaels wasn’t the most amiable colleague. Labeled “a f****g asshole” by the fiery Jim Cornette, The Heartbreak Kid is often portrayed as a drug addict with a penchant for self-destruction. As renowned between the ropes as he was reviled behind-the-scenes, it’s no surprise he committed one of the cardinal sins of the industry: sleeping with a colleague’s girlfriend.
Allegedly sparked by a scripted kiss, Shawn would soon advance on Tammy “Sunny” Sytch, a prominent onscreen valet and long-term partner of fellow WWF talent Chris Candido. In her autobiography, the manager turned porn star described how the affair took place right under her then-boyfriend’s nose. Although rumors were rampant, the two seemingly escaped undetected for the most part due to Shawn’s friends in “The Kliq” watching the door. Due to Shawn’s superstar status, former WWE executive Bruce Prichard believes that Candido was forced to grin and bear it in fear of losing his job.
Steve Austin Walks Out
When you see the letters WWF and or E, few names are more synonymous with the company than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Throughout the lauded “Attitude Era,” the hell-raising Texan was their biggest draw, remaining one of the most popular stars to have ever graced a squared-circle. Yet when it came time to pass the torch in 2002, Austin and his boss/onscreen fodder Vince McMahon no longer saw eye-to-eye. Deemed the heir apparent, the chairman asked his top talent to lose to Brock Lesnar on an episode of RAW, but Austin vehemently refused to do so. In Austin’s own words, he felt that it simply “didn’t make sense” and Vince’s insistence led to him walking out.
In hindsight, Steve admits he could’ve dealt with it more tactfully: "If you do want to do that match well let’s promote it, let's build it, and let’s make something of it then make some money on a Pay Per View. I should've went there and talked to Vince man to man and sell it rather than going home—it was the dumbest thing I could ever do." Upon returning in early 2003, Vince proved that no man was beyond reproach by fining his top star a whopping $250,000.
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Chris Jericho & Goldberg Fight Backstage
While your average workplace dispute is mediated by HRs, a skirmish between two wrestlers can turn volatile. Since their earliest encounters in WCW, Chris Jericho and Goldberg had maintained an uneasy truce; the animosity was initially caused by the Goldberg seeing Jericho as an unworthy onscreen adversary. At that time, Goldberg was WCW’s biggest homegrown talent and portrayed as an unassailable task for anyone, never mind a cruiserweight. After migrating to WWF, “Y2J” shattered all preconceptions to become the first Undisputed Champion.
But he had yet to gain the respect of his backstage adversary. Transported from one hyper-masculine melting pot to another, Goldberg’s 2003 WWE arrival fanned the flames and led to a scrap erupting in the locker room. Despite giving up over 80 pounds to the former NFL Defensive Tackle, Jericho came out on top of the fight.
Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious’ Stabbing Battle
Professional wrestling has no off-season. Burdened with a perpetually hectic schedule, it can take little more than one throwaway comment for carnage to ensue. During a 1993 European tour, WCW legends Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious found this out firsthand after a near-fatal brawl. Initiated by a derogatory remark about Ric Flair, a Frankfurt hotel became a battleground that resulted in both men spending time in the hospital with numerous stab wounds.
While there’s a lot of varied accounts, few capture the horror of the scene better than 2 Cold Scorpio’s: “I get down there and Sid Vicious and Arn Anderson are down there just brawling. They were covered in f****g blood. Sid Vicious got the scissors and got Arn Anderson by the hair and he’s booting him in the f****g face, stabbing him with the scissors every which way.” Although no charges were filed, Sid was let go from the company after numerous wrestlers threatened to walk.
The Jimmy Snuka Cover Up
Since inheriting the business from his father, WWE owner Vince McMahon has been fiercely protective of his talents and company alike. Whether this manifests in combativeness during interviews or fending off the feds during a steroid trial, McMahon has been unscrupulous in safeguarding his inner circle. Although it’s normally above board, there are some that believe he's gone above and beyond when necessary. Regarded as the most notorious example, there are witnesses who claim that Vince’s intervention prevented Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka from catching a murder rap in 1983.
When the Fijian was apprehended in relation to his girlfriend Nancy Argentino’s death, Assistant District Attorney Robert Steinberg has said that Vince acted as “the mouthpiece, trying to direct the conversation." Even in his own autobiography, the highflying Hall-Of-Famer disclosed that “All I remember is [McMahon] had a briefcase with him, I don’t know what happened.” Although the case was reopened in 2015, the charges of third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter were dropped on January 3rd 2017 after the 73-year-old Snuka was deemed unfit to stand trial. 12 days later, he died.
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Matt Hardy Vs Lita & Edge
It’s often said that wrestling is at its best when reality and fiction become indivisible from one another, leaving the viewers in doubt as to whether they’ve veered off script. In 2005, a case of art imitating life took place when Matt Hardy sought revenge on Adam “Edge” Copeland for stealing his onscreen & offscreen beau Lita. When the pair were designated for separate shows, Hardy thought nothing of Edge and Lita traveling together, as they’d all been friends for many years. Little did he know that while he was heading to Smackdown tapings, his long-term partner and Copeland had become an item. Upon discovering their affair, Hardy aired his grievances via an online mudslinging campaign that would result in his unceremonious departure from the company.
Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the WWE writers used the fans’ knowledge of the affair to their advantage and paired Lita & Edge together, making them into a loathed double act. With dollar signs looming above their heads, the company pulled the trigger on Hardy’s return and embroiled the two in a bitter feud that blurred the lines between manufactured hatred and real-life disdain. Years on, Edge cited the period as “the most stressful point of my career, just from a personally taxing standpoint.”
The Montreal Screwjob
In accordance with tradition, any departing star endorses the next top guy on the way out. In the case of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, his refusal to do so for longstanding nemesis Shawn Michaels spawned one of the most infamous moments in wrestling history. Once the WWF’s perennial attraction, relations between the multi-time world champion and owner Vince Mcmahon began to sour over the company’s shift to a raunchier direction and Bret’s repositioning as a bad guy or “heel.” With his departure to competitors WCW looming, Vince told Bret that he’d have to lose the WWF championship to Shawn Michaels - whom he’d previously engaged in a real restroom brawl with - in his native Canada at Survivor Series 1997.
Needless to say, he balked at the idea. Revered as a hero in his home country, he agreed to hand the belt over to Shawn the next night on Raw. To WWF’s top brass, this simply wasn’t good enough. Fearful that he’d take the title with him to WCW and desecrate it on-air, they hatched a plot to change the finish of the match without his knowledge. Beautifully chronicled in Paul Jay’s Wrestling With Shadows, everyone from referee Earl Hebner to Michaels deceptively assured him that there’d be no shenanigans.
As Shawn pulled Bret’s own Sharpshooter submission on him, Vince called for Hebner to ring the bell and left him awestruck. Once viewed as a “father figure” by The Hitman, Bret allegedly exited the company by punching Vince so hard that the chairman sprained his ankle. After years of estrangement, Bret finally took his rightful spot in the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2006
The Murder Of Bruiser Brody
Bruiser Brody ever gracing Vince McMahon’s ring were left in tatters at the hands of Jose Gonzalez. After asking Brody to step into the shower to talk business, a fracas between the two wrestlers would conclude in Brody being stabbed with a knife so sharp that it cut his ponytail off. As a result of congestion around the arena, paramedics took 45 minutes to respond to the call, by which time it was too late. While there was plenty that could attest to Gonzalez’ guilt, he evaded prosecution on the grounds of self-defense.
With no shortage of testimonies, WWE Hall Of Famer Tony Atlas provided the most poignant and heart-wrenching depiction of all during a shoot interview. "The last image I got of Brody was him laying down, holding his intestines in with one hand. The other hand he was holding onto a picture of his son. That's how the man left this world. Holding his intestines and his son... that's how he left this world."