Pro Wrestling

10 Times WWE Ended Up Fighting Someone…In Court Source:

The business of professional wrestling has incurred its fair share of lawsuits over its history, and since pro wrestling is, at its core, a pretty shady business, most of those lawsuits are entirely deserved. Whether defending themselves against accusations of negligence or distribution of illegal drugs, or trying to defend their copyrights against infringement, WWE’s legal team has been caught up in some decidedly high-profile cases, some of which ended up affecting the entire company for years to come. In fact, there have been so many examples of legal action involving WWE that it was a chore to narrow down this list to a few of the biggest cases. And just like in wrestling, in the courtroom, sometimes the good guys don’t always win.

10. Charles Austin

If you don’t know who Charles Austin is, that’s okay, nobody does. He was a no-name enhancement talent who had been training to be a wrestler for a whole six weeks in 1990, when he was put in a tag match against a hot young WWE tag team called The Rockers, made up of Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. During the match, Austin took a Rocker Dropper (you might also recognize the move as Billy Gunn’s Fameasser, which is now one of Dolph Ziggler’s signature moves) from Marty Jannetty incorrectly, broke his neck, and ended up partially paralyzed. Austin sued The Rockers and WWE for $3.8 million, and the court case dragged on for several years before a jury awarded him an incredible $26.7 million. Already on shaky ground after bouncing in and out of WWE following the breakup of The Rockers in late 1991, Jannetty was released almost immediately after the judgement was rendered. While no one has ever publicly admitted that Jannetty was fired due to the results of the lawsuit, it’s also widely assumed that this was the case. Source:

9. The Parents Television Council

The Parents Television Council, or PTC, is an advocacy group that spends a lot of its time complaining about mature content on television and how it is almost certainly damaging our children. It should come as no suprise that one of their chief causes in the late 90s was the fight against WWE, which was deep in the heart of the Attitude Era at the time. There can be no doubt that WWE at the time was far more mature and edgy, and they crossed several lines in the process, making them a pretty easy target. The PTC was successful in getting several prominent sponsors to abandon WWE (though nowhere close to the 30-40 that they claimed), while WWE fought back by creating a heel stable of wrestlers called the “Right to Censor”. So as you can tell, the whole thing was handled very maturely by both sides. The entire thing hit a new low when the PTC began accusing WWE of being complicit in the deaths of four children who were tragically killed by people allegedly emulating wrestling moves (claims which, it turned out, were based on false testimony). WWE sued the PTC for defamation in 2000, which was settled out of court when it was clear that WWE was going to win fairly easily. AS a result, the PTC was forced to issue a public apology and retract several of their statements, pay the WWE $3.5 million, and was also prohibited them from ever talking about WWE again. Source:

8. World Championship Wrestling

During the Monday Night Wars, WWE and WCW went to court a lot, usually over claims of copyright infringement when a wrestler jumped ship and showed up on the rival promotion in a suspiciously similar gimmick, but mostly because they were trying to annoy each other. The most important example of this, however, would actually end up affecting the direction of professional wrestling forever. When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash showed up on WCW and began what would become the New World Order, they did so while implying that they were still working for WWE and had been sent by Vince McMahon to destroy the competition. Hall, in particular, retained a lot of the mannerisms that were part of the Razor Ramon gimmick he’d played in WWE. The lawsuit from WWE was immediate, and dragged on for years, until it was settled in 2000, with WWE agreeing to drop the suit in exchange for one small concession: that if WCW were ever put up for sale, they would have the first chance to purchase the company. Although it was impossible to predict at the time, just under a year later, the unthinkable happened and WWE would actually purchase WCW’s assets for a ridiculously small amount after Time Warner cancelled all WCW programming and rendered it basically worthless to anyone who didn’t already have multiple hours of programming to fill. Source:

7. World Wildlife Fund

This may surprise younger readers, but once upon a time, WWE was known as WWF, the World Wrestling Federation. This actually caused some amount of confusion, as there was also a global environmental organization called the World Wildlife Fund, or WWF. The two companies realized this early on, and a mutually agreed settlement was reached: the wrestling company would only refer to itself as “WWF” in North America, and as the World Wrestling Federation on a global level. That changed during the Attitude Era, when Vince McMahon basically started ignoring the agreement in favor of turning his company into an international juggernaut, re-branded the company under a new logo, and just started using “WWF” everywhere. The World Wildlife Fund quickly sued, and since they were completely in the right, the wrestling organization was forced to change its name, settling on World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. As a result, WWE was also forced to go back through all their old footage, blur out all instances of their logo and mute the announcers every time they said “WWF” (although the old “block” logo and references to the “World Wrestling Federation” were exempt), which led to some pretty hard-to-watch footage. Fortunately, in the lead-up to the WWE Network, WWE and the WWF reached an agreement that would let them show old footage without being forced to alter it (although in some cases, WWE still used the blurred footage, likely as a cost-saving measure since that footage was already digitized). Source:

6. Alberto Del Rio

In an effort to prevent one of the more exciting things about the Monday Night Wars, which was the possibility that wrestlers could jump ship one week and appear on the competition’s show the next, WWE instituted a 90-day non-compete clause in all their wrestlers’ contracts. Wrestlers who were fired or quit the company were prohibited from wrestling for anyone else for three months, which to an intelligent person would seem to fly in the face of WWE’s claims that all wrestlers are “independent contractors”, free to work for whomever they wish. As it turns out, WWE Superstar Alberto Del Rio is an intelligent person who grew up in the wrestling business, and he had an issue with the non-compete clause. You see, Del Rio was fired from WWE for allegedly slapping a member of WWE’s social media team who had, also allegedly, been making racist remarks about Del Rio’s Mexican heritage. In what would turn out to be incredibly ironic, WWE fired Del Rio in order to preventing the other employee from suing them, and the assumption was that once the entire thing was forgotten, Del Rio would inevitably be re-hired. Instead, Del Rio sued WWE over their 90-day non-compete clause, claiming that since he was no longer an employee, WWE had no right to prevent him from making a living as a wrestler for someone else. A judge agreed, and Del Rio quickly began wrestling for independent promotions, including AAA in Mexico, and the upstart Lucha Underground, earning rave reviews for his work. This case becomes even more interesting when you realize that it relates directly to two other lawsuits filed against WWE in the past, which we’ll examine next. Source:

5. Brock Lesnar

In 2004, Brock Lesnar suddenly quit WWE to pursue his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, which would quickly be replaced by his lifelong dream to fight in the UFC. However, Lesnar was actually under a fairly lucrative contract with WWE when he decided to quit, and to get out of it, he agreed to the most restrictive non-compete clause in history, agreeing that he could not work for any wrestling company on the planet for the rest of the next decade. When his NFL career didn’t pan out, however, Lesnar went to Japan and began wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling, while also taking WWE to court, claiming that WWE was preventing him from earning a living. Of course, WWE was only preventing him from working in a singular chosen field of employment, but the courts stood with Lesnar and forced WWE to amend the non-compete clause, preventing Lesnar from wrestling in North America only. This set a precedent that would come into play years later when Del Rio made a similar argument, and also is most likely one of the major reasons why WWE no longer regularly fires wrestlers, and instead just lets their current contracts expire. Source:

4. Raven

Remember how we talked about WWE’s definition of wrestlers as indepedent contractors seems to conflict with how they treat them? Well, that’s an issue that a lot of people have questioned over the years, and in 2008, they were sued by three former employees over their loose definition of the term. A wrestler named Raven, who is legitimately one of the smartest people in wrestling (and also one of the most vocal, which is probably why he doesn’t get talked about in WWE a lot), along with a couple compatriots, sued WWE for treating them like regular employees in terms of only allowing them to work for WWE, but denying them things like company-provided health insurance and other benefits due to their classification as independent contractors. The lawsuit was dismissed, but it’s important to note that this was not because the case didn’t have merit, but because Raven and the other claimants had not worked for WWE recently enough to fall under the statute of limitations as they applied to the case. Raven has said publicly that the entire goal of the case was, at minimum, to force WWE to provide benefits to wrestlers, which isn’t the worst cause in the world to fight for. Frankly, it’s really only a matter of time before someone with a stronger claim actually takes WWE to court over the definition, and in that scenario, there’s a very good chance they could win. Source:

3. Sable

Everyone who watched WWE during the Attitude Era remembers Sable, who was portrayed as one of the sexiest women in the world and became a regular on WWE TV, appearing in a highly publicized photo spread in Playboy, and becoming such a focal point of WWE that they brought the Women’s Title out of mothballs, basically making it a vanity belt for Sable. And then, suddenly, in 1999 she vanished from WWE as if she’d never existed. The reason behind this is that Sable had quit the company and immediately filed a lawsuit for $110 million, claiming sexual harassment and unsafe working conditions, after reportedly refusing to appear topless on WWE TV. She eventually settled with WWE out of court for a number that was allegedly around $50 million, and in the meantime became the first woman to appear in Playboy twice in the same year, while still advertising herself as Sable despite no longer working for WWE (something WWE counter-sued her for during the lawsuit). Sable would eventually return to WWE in 2003, pose in Playboy a third time, and somehow ended up married to Brock Lesnar, leading to her retirement from wrestling in 2004 to spend more time with her family. Source:

2. A Bunch of Wrestlers With Concussions

In one of their biggest ongoing problems that could change the company forever, a bunch of former WWE wrestlers (as well as the estates of several dead ones) have filed multiple class-action lawsuits against WWE. They are claiming that WWE mishandled treatment of their concussions during their time with the organization, leaving them with lingering (and likely lifelong) medical issues related to post-concussion syndrome and CTE. They are also accusing WWE of covering up the potential effects of repeated concussions, both internally and in public forums. Although several have already been dismissed, the suits persist, and the eventual outcome could cost WWE millions of dollars, as well as a significant hit to its public image, depending on how strong the evidence is against WWE. The ongoing specter of these lawsuits is seen as a likely reason why WWE was so adamant about keeping Daniel Bryan out of the ring when it was revealed that he was suffering from concussion-related issues, and to be fair, that turned out to absolutely the correct decision. Source:

1. The United States Government

This was both the darkest period in WWE’s history, and somehow also their greatest victory. After trying to connect Vince McMahon to steroid distribution for years, the FBI finally managed to arrest Dr George Zahorian for selling steroids to bodybuilders, and the doctor was convinced to testify that he’d done the same for Vince and his wrestlers. With Hulk Hogan forced to testify and plenty of evidence against McMahon, a conviction seemed certain, and WWE was actually preparing contingency plans to replace Vince while he served jail time. However, the prosecutors massively bungled the case at pretty much every turn, Hogan’s testimony did nothing to implicate McMahon, and the only witness who actually tried to do so was shown to have a personal grudge against Vince. Only a single charge survived to jury deliberations, who quickly returned with a “Not Guilty” verdict, and Vince McMahon somehow walked away free and clear, something that he likes to remind the world about every chance he gets. Source:

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.