Wrestling often tries to find new, exciting and unexpected ways to entertain us.
Whether it be creating an undead zombie that can produce lightning and has druids during his entrance, or a group of gospel singers turned into pancake eating, cereal flogging unicorn lovers or a certain man obsessed with his genitals – wrestling constantly breaks the mould. However – there have been many occasions where a character’s direction has gone the way of controversy and angered/entranced an audience in a way few have done before. Below, please find five of the most controversial characters that wrestling has produced for one reason or another.
1. D-Generation X
Yes, I know; not one wrestler and it’s kind of a cop-out to start with. But it’s impossible to discuss either The Attitude Era, late 90’s television or WWF at the time without speaking about the group that caught lightning in a bottle – D-Generation X. Literally by their names it was a sign they weren’t here for the ‘family friendly fun’ of the mid-’90s. Marketing themselves as ‘degenerates’, the original group of Shawn Michaels and Triple H with Chyna as their bodyguard came out, making phallic jokes, breaking the rules and having a complete disregard of any and all authority. The group’s antics on television ensured parents up and down America (and the world for that matter) were incensed that this new style of content was being watched by their children. Now – it is clear that DX helped shape the company’s future for years to come and, this year, made it into the WWE Hall of Fame.
2. Billy and Chuck
Controversial for a different reason now; in the mid-2000’s – WWE made the decision to turn Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo into a tag team with hugely homosexual connotations. The commentators would make consistently homophobic leaning jokes, the two men would play up to the stereotype – eventually culminating in a ‘wedding’ between the two men that was interrupted as both Billy and Chuck stated it was a ‘publicity stunt that went too far’.
Whilst, for many watching, the angle wasn’t too important – for those in the LGBTQ community – it encapsulated everything wrong with the way gay men are perceived in the media. The ‘Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’ worked with WWE during the storyline but, upon the culmination, released a statement saying; ‘The WWE lied to us two months ago when they promised that Billy and Chuck would come out and wed on the air’. Since the angle – Billy Gunn has stated he has no regrets and enjoyed his time during the run together.
3. Brian Pillman
Over the past few years, when looking at the WWE roster; the name of Brian Pillman was often linked with ‘The Lunatic Fringe’ Dean Ambrose. Similar in looks, wrestling style, and character; everyone wanted Ambrose to channel Pillman more into his character. However, one of the most infamous segments in RAW history involved the ex-Hollywood Blonde titled ‘Brian Pillman’s Got a Gun’.
The segment involved ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin calling out the, then injured, Pillman following their well-documented break up as a tag team. From his house via satellite, Pillman announced he had ‘The only tag partner he ever needed’ and pulled out a gun. The segment cut to commercial just as Austin entered the house and the gun was pointed at him – causing millions of fans around the world to wonder if the segment was real or not or, even worse, if anything had happened to Austin. Of course, when we came back, the gun had not been fired and Brian was on the floor. However, this segment caused the WWF at the time to publicly apologise for the angle.
4. Muhammad Hassan
A much more serious two final entries of this list, Muhammad Hassan has one of the more tragic stories in the annuls of pro-wrestling as all the things that caused him to be taken from TV were nothing to do with him personally. Originally coming out as a young man who hated the way Arabs were perceived in the general, western media, it seemed like a breath of fresh air for WWE. However, he was then turned into a generic ‘foreign heel’ that played up to all the stereotypes he had previously fought against.
The tragic moment is when, during an episode of Smackdown that was taped on July 4th, Hassan prayed at the top of the entrance ramp which summoned several men in black masks with clubs. The men and Hassan then proceeded to beat down The Undertaker and eventually carry him away. Three days later, the 7/7 bombings took place in London. As a result, UPN forced WWE to remove Hassan from television following worldwide criticism from major news outlets that, regularly, did not report on wrestling news. At ‘The Great American Bash’, Hassan was written out of WWE after Undertaker hit him with a Last Ride through the stage. Hassan then retired from wrestling at the end of 2005, several months later upon his release, and has since wrestled once in 2018.
The angle has been called one of the most controversial in WWE history.
5. Sgt Slaughter
Maintaining the seriousness of wrestling angles; the Sgt Slaughter ‘Iraqi Sympathiser’ angle in 1991. With Slaughter returning to the company earlier in the year, the decision was made to turn the usually pro-America sergeant into a sympathiser towards Iraq. This came at the time where the Gulf War began which brought mass attention to the story-line. Slaughter was provided a kayfabe, Iraqi general to stand with him. He then became WWF Champion at the time and feuded with Hulk Hogan.
It has been reported at the time, and by Slaughter himself, that during his time playing the character he regularly feared for his life. Having to wear a bullet-proof vest when he was out in public, Slaughter has gone on record to state that he received multiple death threats from American citizens during the run of the story. Additionally, the location of WrestleMania VII, where Hogan would challenge Slaughter for the title, was reportedly moved to a much smaller area for ‘security measures’ as the fear was that the event would be targeted.