10 Superstars who let power corrupt them
Everyone knows the old saying: absolute power corrupts absolutely; and these Superstars were indeed corrupted absolutely by the power they held. Whether through physical prowess, championship acumen or backstage pull, these are the Superstars who were legends in their own mind, who tried to pull all the strings and hog the spotlight; the men (and women) who looked in the mirror and saw the greatest of the modern age reflected in the glass. These are the Superstars who hijacked shows, stole titles, extorted lucrative contracts and fancied themselves the center of the WWE Universe. Proof as always that a little power and a lot of ego are a lethal combination, here are 10 Superstars who let power go to their heads.
This perpetual underdog shocked the world not once but twice in 2011: first, at Money in the Bank when he defeated seven Superstars to claim the coveted Money in the Bank contract, and later, at WWE Tables, Ladders and Chairs when he cashed in said contract on a vulnerable Big Show to claim the World Heavyweight Championship. Everyone assumed the hardscrabble Daniel Bryan would wear the legendary “Big Gold Belt” with honor and respect, but the title instead went straight to the submission technician’s head. Bryan was quick to talk up his own skills, screaming “YES!” upon picking up a victory of any kind, even via count-out or disqualification. In fact, by the time his reign was over, Bryan had canonized himself as one of the best Superstars in WWE ( “I DEFEATED TWO GIANTS IN A STEEL CAGE!”), one of the most prolific submission specialists of all time (“Who did Gene LeBell ever beat?”) and, of course, the world’s greatest lover.
You’d think Bryan’s ego would subside after losing the championship to Sheamus in 18 seconds at WrestleMania XXVIII, but in fact, the opposite occurred: The clout that Bryan had achieved upon winning the title continued to go to his head, transforming him into an irate egomaniac whose narcissism is, scarily enough, only matched by his talents in the ring. Just don’t mention goats around him, or he might just get angry.
As “The Next Big Thing,” Brock Lesnar took WWE by storm in the early 2000s, rocketing straight to the top of the food chain under the tutelage of Paul Heyman and handily defeating The Rock to claim the Undisputed WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2002. Of course, once he had reached the mountaintop, Lesnar didn’t prove the most beatific of champions. To put it lightly, he went on a brutal tear throughout the WWE roster, leveling anything and everything in his path until he lost the title to Kurt Angle.
After his return in 2012, Lesnar found himself holding a different kind of power in his hands: the power of expectations. Then–Raw and SmackDown General Manager John Laurinaitis made it very clear he had brought Lesnar back because of the “legitimacy” the former UFC Heavyweight Champion carried with him. But Big Johnny overplayed his hand in the name of hype and allowed Lesnar to strong-arm him into an absurdly lucrative contract that even demanded that Monday Night Raw be rebranded as “Monday Night Raw Starring Brock Lesnar.”
A monarch in his own mind, the five-time WCW Champion proved himself quite the royal egomaniac when he won King of the Ring in 2006. Not satisfied with just the celebratory title of king, The Master of the Spinaroonie literally fashioned himself into the WWE’s sovereign ruler, bedecking himself in an opulent crown and cape and assembling a royal court that included Finlay, William Regal and, of course, the inimitable Queen Sharmell. Winning the World Heavyweight Championship only served to bolster Booker’s ego, as his self-perpetuated legend grew even more with the title gold around his waist.
We will say this, though: “King Book-aahhh” was the very epitome of English decorum, speaking in a refined accent befitting a man of his station … until, say, Cryme Tyme stole his wallet, because then the façade would come crumbling down.
If there’s one thing CM Punk has proven throughout his career, it’s that he packs a savage elbow drop. If there are two things he’s proven, though, it’s that he packs a savage elbow drop and he has a singular ability to inspire a following among others. Punk has taken this unique power and abused it to the point of fanaticism on two separate occasions, founding the cultish Straight Edge Society and transforming The Nexus into his own personal, subservient goon squad — provided, of course, they survived his grisly initiation ceremonies.
The Second City Saint later took up the cause of the voiceless, christening himself their representative and inspiring the WWE Universe to rally around him as he became a two-time WWE Champion within a span of five months. Of course, Punk’s nine selfless months as champion seem to have come to an end, as his perceived notions of disrespect have provoked the champion to unravel at the seams, attacking both The Rock and Jerry Lawler and seeming more and more like his snakelike former self as the weeks past ( WATCH: PUNK DEMANDS RESPECT). All Punk has claimed to want is respect from his peers, which goes to show that sometimes it’s not always concrete power that goes to a Superstar’s head, but the perception of powerlessness that drives him or her over the edge.
Oh, you have a bad boss? Let’s see: Has your boss ever robbed a Hall of Famer of a World Championship — in his home country — then denied all responsibility for it? Has yours ever pursued a vicious vendetta against his most valuable “Stone Cold” employee, robbing him of any power by employing some phantom underling to raise a briefcase just out of his reach in a Ladder Match? Has he ever forced various individuals to plant a smooch on his own posterior? Has he lorded over an entire roster of competitors to such a degree that he’s inspired them to actually step into a wrestling ring and fight him? Scratch that. Has he lorded over his own children to such a degree that he’s inspired them to actually step into a wrestling ring and fight him? Did he abuse his power to such a degree that he inspired a man to quit his company out of spite the very same night he won its highest honor?
No? Your boss hasn’t done those things? Well then. Check and mate, pal. Check and mate.
Refined only in name, William Regal was the persnickety, power-mad Commissioner (and later General Manager) of Raw who the WWE Universe loooooved to hate. Such was Regal’s pomposity that he actually pulled the plug on Raw itself, barging into the production truck and shutting the show down when it wasn’t to his liking. Regal didn’t have the killer instinct of Mr. McMahon when he was running things, but his snobbish attitude was more than enough to make enemies out of more than half the WWE roster. Suffice it to say, when Chris Jericho relieves himself in your Earl Grey tea, your managerial skills might need a bit of tweaking.
Speaking of which ...
Everybody knew from the get-go that Chris Jericho had himself a bit of an ego. It takes more than just a little guts to make your WWE debut by cutting The Rock off mid-speech and coining the term “Raw is Jericho” in the span of about five minutes. But what really shot Y2J’s sense of entitlement into the stratosphere was his greatest victory: defeating The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a tournament to unify the WWE and WCW Championships, thereby creating the first-ever Undisputed WWE Title in history. The very next night, The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla sauntered down to the ring to claim the twin prizes and gave his victory speech: a heartwarming thank-you to the person who made all his successes possible … himself.
And, like a true egomaniac, Jericho didn’t even tell himself “you’re welcome,” either. No respect.
Not all power is measured in championship gold. Case in point: The nWo, the controversial faction that not only changed sports-entertainment forever, came to define WCW and, ultimately, became a catalyst of its implosion. When Hulk Hogan joined Scott Hall and Kevin Nash at Bash at the Beach 1996 to form The nWo, the trio forsook the adulation and respect of the fans for the sake of sheer intimidation. The group, which had achieved untold success in rival WWE, cast a massive shadow that the rest of the WCW roster struggled — and often failed — to overcome. Not only did they run rampant in the ring, eventually conscripting rival competitors into their ranks, but they achieved a fair amount of front-office pull within WCW as well, recruiting WCW President Eric Bischoff himself. The combination of in-ring prowess and unchecked ego proved too much for any organization to contain, though, and The nWo’s hubristic reign eventually came to a crashing end when its warring members split the crew apart into numerous offshoots (nWo Wolfpac, anybody?) that engaged in on-and-off conflicts until WWE purchased WCW.
Even the Divas can get power-mad at times. Michelle McCool let success go to her head in a big way as part of the mean-girl tag team Lay-Cool. Alongside Layla, McCool not only went on a vicious tear through the Divas division, but she and her partner also embraced their beauty and referred to themselves as “flawless,” lording their looks over Divas who they believed to be beneath them in both appearance and class. Of course, the joke was ultimately on both of them, as they eventually had a falling-out and McCool was forced to leave WWE after Layla defeated her in a Loser Leaves WWE Match at Extreme Rules 2011.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin & Triple H
Few twosomes in WWE history have reached the heights of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin & Triple H, whose unlikely (unholy?) alliance formed after The Rattlesnake aligned himself with Mr. McMahon at WrestleMania X-Seven en route to winning the WWE Title from The Rock. Triple H (already a cohort of The Chairman) quickly followed suit with a championship win of his own, claiming the Intercontinental Title and aligning with Austin as the Two-Man Power Trip. Their MO: To destroy various Superstars with their formidable steel chair–sledgehammer combo. They did so with great enthusiasm. The team eventually completed the championship set, putting their titles on the line against The Brothers of Destruction’s Tag Team Championships at Backlash 2001, claiming the Brothers’ titles after The Game clobbered Kane with a sledgehammer for the win.
Festooned with every major WWE Title there was, Austin & Triple H continued, with The Chairman at their back, to impose their dominant will over any Superstar who stood in their way. Their union only met its end via an act of unfortunate serendipity — the infamous quadriceps injury in 2002 that sidelined The King of Kings for nearly a year when he tore the muscle completely off the bone mid-match. If there was any kind of silver lining, though, it’s that the Power Trip’s reign of terror was finally, mercifully, at an end as a result.