WWE has given audiences decades of entertainment in the form of scripted aggression and over-the-top storylines.
Sadly, even WWE cannot be expected to strike gold every time. Creative has been known to indulge in storylines which were tasteless, offensive, or simply left fans cringing.
In a genre that is always going to be a little predictable, with all disagreements by nature settled through a clash in the ring, the storylines that build up the relationships and conflicts of the superstars beforehand are critical.
Unfortunately, some plots have promoted misogyny and racism as cheap ways to sell heel heat. While other stories were just plain out-of-this-world ridiculousness. You might think that the late family of a wrestler would be off limits for dragging into scripted promotions, or the death of a superstar would be above exploitation, but sadly all these things have been referenced over the years for easy controversy. Main storylines that are decidedly not family-friendly viewing have made it into the WWE universe at some point.
When audiences are left thinking no one should find these jokes funny (except possible Vince McMahon), it is clear that a scenario has crossed a line.
Here are 15 Times WWE Storylines Went Too Far.
15 Jinder Mahal's Problematic Remarks
Shinsuke Nakamura is the hottest thing in WWE right now. The rockstar of WWE came over from Japanese Pro Wrestling only to win the 2018 Royal Rumble match to robust fan response.
In the meantime, Shinsuke and Jinder Mahal began an in-ring feud over the WWE Championship at SummerSlam. Larger-than-life heel Mahal made things personal by making fun of Nakamura, mocking his voice and his facial expressions. Mahal also referred to Nakamura as Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid, mimicking the superstar’s martial arts moves.
Many wrestling fans were not amused by the personal attacks and felt the mocking of his accent and comparison to a famous Japanese character were racist. It was a cheap way to make fun of his opponent and the audience was not particularly impressed by it.
14 Vince McMahon Vs God
When audiences thought wrestling could not get any sillier, Vince booked a match that pitched himself and his son Shane against Shawn Michaels and his father, The Holy Lord, God.
The whole point was that Michaels, an outspoken born-again Christian in real life, had God on his side. So, during an ongoing feud between Michaels with McMahon, Vince declared a match between them that included the Lord.
“God” was portrayed by a spotlight on the stage and before the match, McMahon even forced the referee to check “God” for any sort of illegal weaponry. It was a strange spectacle and fan reaction was not positive.
Of course, the match was meant to draw heat. In a way, McMahon was making fun of his own famous ego by challenging God to a match. Yet at best, fans found it silly and at worst, downright blasphemous.
13 Trish Stratus Barks Like a Dog
Trish Stratus is a record-setting seven times Women’s Champion but before she was proclaimed "Diva of the Decade," she was Vince McMahon’s arm candy.
The fitness model turned pro-wrestler was first used by WWE’s Chairman Vince McMahon as a way to humiliate his own wife, Linda McMahon. The blonde bombshell features in several steamy storylines and begins life as a heel, managing tag team T&A, before moving to center stage in her kayfabe affair with McMahon.
Unsurprisingly, evil Mr. McMahon would eventually turn on Stratus – all in the name of wrestling drama. However, the scene where she is humiliated and forced to bark like a dog is a step too far.
Her character got her revenge by slapping the CEO himself in Wrestlemania 2001 but that did not make that barking scene any less awkward.
12 Vince’s Illegitimate Son
As current audiences watch a cringe-inducing story unfold proclaiming Jason Jordan as Kurt Angle’s illegitimate son, it is easy to forget that this has been done before. It was just as awkward the first time round.
In 2007, Vince McMahon wanted a storyline revolving around the discovery of his illegitimate long-lost son, who actually worked for him in WWE. It was a big set up for a big reveal on Monday Night Raw.
Then the son was revealed to be Hornswoggle.
At 4ft 5 inches, billed as being from Dublin, Ireland, Hornswoggle was the butt of several ill-thought out storylines in his time. As he was a fan favorite due to his position as humorous underdog, this particular story received heavy criticism from wrestling fans. Eventually it was announced that it was a mistake and Finlay was the real father of Hornswoggle, but the damage was done.
11 Brian Pillman Packs Heat
Perhaps the one taboo that is almost never broken in WWE is the use of "real" weapons. Sure, people are attacked with tables, chairs, and ladders but very rarely will anything resembling a knife or gun appear. If a knife is used, it is most likely an exaggerated version, such as a machete, used almost exclusively for show.
However, there is one infamous appearance of a gun used to threaten a wrestler in a segment and fans were not all on board for it.
In a controversial episode of Monday Night Raw, Steve Austin was confronting Brian Pillman at his home during an ongoing feud. Only this time, Pillman pulled a gun out and pointed it at Austin, prompting a chaotic scene.
The moment was so unexpected and so far from family-friendly that it almost got the show kicked off air.
10 Mae Young's Hand Baby
Mae Young is one of the pioneers of women’s wrestling, during the 1940s. She had a somewhat odd career resurge when she began wrestling with WWE in her '70s.
A woman who proved she really was up for anything, Young entered into a storyline that involved a kayfabe romance with 29-year-old “Sexual Chocolate” Mark Henry in 2000. The story saw Mae powerbombed through a table (twice) by the Dudley Boyz and a fake pregnancy where she eventually gave birth to a hand.
The whole thing is one of the most bizarre and uncomfortable storylines ever to grace WWE.
Mae Young’s legacy is definitely far more than some ridiculous, painful storylines from the '90’s. But it is difficult to unsee the moment where an elderly woman gives birth to a hand.
9 Al Snow eats a dog's dinner
Al Snow was known for some eye-opening segments during his time in WWE. He shared a close bond with a severed female mannequin head named "Head" which he spoke to during promos. In 1999, Head was ruined so Al filled the void with a new friend, Pepper the chihuahua.
It was likely that this pairing would also end in tears, but no one could have foreseen the route Creative would decide to take with the puppy.
During a storyline where Al and the Big Boss Man fought over the Hardcore title, poor Pepper was dognapped. Boss Man agreed to return the dog if Snow defeated him in a match and later invited Snow to his hotel room to talk man-to-man over a respectable meal. Not long after, this meal was revealed to be Pepper.
It is easy to imagine that parents were not pleased to have to explain that one to their children.
8 Charlotte’s Brother
Bad girl Paige made a shocking reference to her opponent, Charlotte Flair’s, late brother in a scripted promotional segment on Raw.
Paige taunted the champion by saying her brother "didn’t have much fight in him" to start an in-character brawl. Both women carried the segment well and the feud that followed was undoubtably intense. Yet, Charlotte’s father, 16-times champion Ric Flair reportedly broke down in tears when he heard his late son’s battle with addiction referenced.
It seemed that neither Flair, nor his ex-wife Elizabeth, were consulted about the reference to their son Reid, who had died two years previously from an overdose. As the young man had never worked with WWE, using his name to give a scene more heat is hugely disrespectful.
Yet, as Flair later commented, it is likely that neither Paige nor Charlotte were in a position to question the creative decision, even if they privately found the dig distasteful.
7 Paternity Battles
In another infamous storyline that used what could be a uncomfortably relatable real-life experience, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio fought over Rey’s real-life son.
The late great Eddie Guerrero, a man famous for having his real-life struggles with addiction used slightly tastelessly in storylines, wanted to do a storyline with his friend and fellow wrestler, high-flyer Rey Mysterio. The angle kicked off in the summer of 2005. Eddie declared that he had a secret about Rey's son, Dominick, claiming the boy was really his own from a fling during his wilder years. The plot brought in Vickie Guerrero and Rey's wife, Angie, as well as Rey’s real-life son Dominik.
Behind-the-scenes, family and crew made sure Dominik knew the whole thing was made up but it is easy to image a few young fans being quite scarred by the family feud. Hardly fun for all the family.
6 Ellsworth on a Leash
James Ellsworth is an objectively vile character. He is a cheat; he ruined the first ever Women’s Money In the Bank Match; his ‘help’ lost Carmella as many matches as it won.
To keep her man in check, Carmella puts Ellsworth on a leash.
In behind-the-scene shorts, audiences are able to see Carmella train him to behave. She commands him to sit, to bark, and to play dead.
Response was mixed. It made sense for Carmella to finally break away from her reliance on her slimy boyfriend and the Princess of Staten Island is not meant to be entirely likable either. Yet, as no one was on Ellsworth’s side in the first place, most people were nodding along to his comeuppance.
Ellsworth might be a worm but this segment alludes to abusive relationships in a way that should not be portrayed in a positive light.
5 Vince Stages A Car Crash
Wrestling may be staged but professional wrestlers have been seriously injured and have even tragically died due to accidents doing stunts in the ring. It would seem only right that an organization that deals with the threat of death would be sensitive to the seriousness of it. Instead, they stage the death of Vince McMahon.
In 2007, Raw featured McMahon entering his limousine, only to have it explode, apparently killing him. The WWE website reported it as a legitimate explosion and the storyline was set to lead to a big surprise return after some months.
Then wrestler Chris Benoit killed his family and then took his own life. It would have been hugely insensitive to continue the plot after the real-life deaths linked to the organization and the storyline was dropped.
Perhaps they should have realised how insensitive a fake death plot was before such a tragedy?
4 Val Venis
Back in the Attitude Era, it was perfectly natural to introduce a character with an in-ring name made entirely to rhyme with the male member. Val Venis was, unsurprisingly, something of a ladies' man.
During a feud with Japanese wrestling stable Kaientai, Venis had an "affair" with his opponent's female manager. Revenge was inevitable and predictably tasteless. Yamaguchi produced a video of him chopping a salami with a katana and before anyone could put the breaks on the whole trainwreck, Venis was hung in the locker room with Kaientai ready to katana his manhood.
The camera was placed behind the wrestler so all audience’s saw was Venis’ behind before the screen faded to black.
A week later, Venis enters Raw in a wheelchair, pushed by John Wayne Bobbitt.
If they had not already found the line, there it is.
3 Katie Vick
Kane, the Big Red Machine, is something of a magnet for ridiculous storylines.
In 2002, while feuding with Triple H, Kane is accused of murder and desecration.
Yes, they crossed that line too.
Supposedly, in Kane’s murky past he had known and loved a young girl named Katie Vick, who had tragically died. The young lady had died in a car crash in High School and Triple H accused Kane, not only of killing her, but of spending time with her, in her coffin, when she was dead.
Triple H would go as far as to say he had video footage of the heinous act. It was later revealed that the footage was simply Triple H himself in a Kane mask, pretending with a mannequin inside a coffin.
That was certainly a storyline audiences could have done without.
2 Lita’s Loss
WWE has a bad track record of writing storylines for their female superstars. In a tale that began with forced marriage – a wife won in a wrestling match no less – it is easy to anticipate that the end of the story would not be pretty.
Hall of Famer Lita contributed a lot to the perception of women’s wrestling during her time high flying in the Attitude Era. Yet the storyline that saw her abducted, impregnated, and married against her will to Kane was not the most nuanced of kayfabe romances.
During a match between Kane and Gene Snitsky, Lita interfered, stopping Kane from hitting Snitsky with an elaborate chair attack. In response, Snitsky took the chance to attack Kane, causing him to fall on top of his "pregnant wife." The camera follows Lita in an ambulance to hospital where she suffers a tragic loss.
Apparently no one told WWE that miscarriages are not particularly entertaining.
1 Islamic Terrorist Gimmick
At the height of the war on terror in the 2000's, WWE instigated an Islamic terrorist gimmick and even went as far to name a character "Muhammad."
In truth, the character Muhammed Hassan was good in the ring and his angle predictably got a ton of heat. He shot to success, feuding with the Undertaker. On an episode of Smackdown in 2005, Hassan came out on the ramp and "prayed" while the Undertaker looked on, only to have the Undertaker jumped by five masked terrorists.
A few days before the episode was set to air, London was the victim of the 7/7 terror attack. In the UK, Sky edited the episode out but the American network told WWE in no uncertain terms that they would not be featuring Hassan on the show ever again.
Sure, the show was the victim of bad timing, but running an Islamic terrorist angle was perhaps the most thoughtless thing WWE has done. So far.
What other times as WWE gone too far? Share your thoughts in the comments.