11 Wrestlers Who Left Companies After Refusing To Lose

Throughout wrestling history, there are many tales of wrestlers refusing to lose. From Hulk Hogan not handing over the torch to Bret Hart in 1993 to The Kliq’s Shawn Michaels not putting over Vader, there’s a tradition of grapplers “refusing to do business.” We delve into the narratives of eleven wrestlers whose discontent with a proposed loss prompted them to exit the arena before the first bell rung!

1 – Honky Tonk Man

Honky Tonk Man, during his early babyface run in the WWF, helping Hulk Hogan after a beatdown.
Honky Tonk Man, during his early babyface run in the WWF, helping Hulk Hogan after a beatdown. Photo Credit: Denny Burkholder, WWE.

The most notable aspect of The Honky Tonk Man’s brief stint with WCW in 1994 was his firing.

Former WCW Senior Vice President Eric Bischoff would later express that it was his all-time favorite firing.

When Hulk Hogan joined WCW in mid-1994, he brought along a band of his closest friends, including John Tenta, Ed Leslie (Brutus the Barber Beefcake), and Jim Duggan among them. One of the most ill-fated was The Honky Tonk Man, who later stated that Bischoff told him upfront he was not a fan of his gimmick.

During his phone call to WCW, wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer noted the one-time longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion was working as a physical education (P.E.) teacher.

On-screen, Honky Tonk was placed in a program with Johnny B. Badd (later known as Marc Mero in WWE) over the Television Championship. The feud was perhaps a natural fit with Honky a faux Elvis and Badd a fake Little Richard.

The two were set to clash at WCW’s biggest annual event, Starrcade, having faced twice previously in title matches, albeit with inconclusive results.

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Honky Tonk Man’s Annoyance For Having to Lose to a Particular Opponent

Photo Credit: WWE.

Honky Tonk Man has since stated his annoyance at being booked to open the card and losing to Johnny B. Badd, noting how he had sold out the same arena eight times previously as one of its biggest attractions.

Bischoff has since called Honky "the only guy I’ve ever really enjoyed firing.”

On his podcast 83 Weeks, Bischoff has many times described his disdain for Honky and reveled in the joy of firing him, saying he would love to do it every day. Bischoff has said his perfect day would be: “a cup of coffee, stretch out a little bit, take the dog for a walk, and fire the Honky Tonk Man.”

Elvis had left the building.

2 & 3 – Sasha Banks and Noami

Sasha Banks and Naomi after winning the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania 38.
Sasha Banks and Naomi after winning the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania 38. Photo Credit: WWE.

Sasha Banks’s 2022 departure from WWE was one of the most high-profile walkouts in recent history.

It is fair to say that since their inception in 2019, the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships have not been the most effectively booked.

Even WWE commentator Corey Graves has referenced on his After The Bell podcast that “It’s never been a strong division. It’s been an amalgam of thrown-together tag teams. ‘I’m going to team with this person tonight; we have a tag title match we didn’t win; okay, time to get a new partner.’ It’s always been very transient and constantly in flux.”

At WrestleMania XXXVIII, Sasha Banks and Naomi won the tag straps.

On the May 16th, 2022, episode of Raw, it was noted how Sasha Banks and Naomi were supposed to wrestle in a six-pack challenge match.

Feeling the team had been disrespected as champions, however, the match would never take place as Banks and Naomi (who was scheduled to win the match), per a WWE statement: “walked into WWE Head of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis office with their suitcases in hand, placed their tag team championship belts on his desk and walked out.”

It should be noted that their issue was not solely losing but seemingly more of WWE’s ambivalence to their own performers’ storylines.

It was not the first issue “The Boss” had had over the belts. One of the inaugural titleholders, she lost the belts shortly after that. This was followed by a multi-month absence for mental health matters, during which she asked for – but was denied – her release.

Nonetheless, the duo’s walkout was unprecedented.

Sasha Banks’ Previous Issues with WWE

Sasha Banks had previous issues with WWE over the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship.
Sasha Banks had previous issues with WWE over the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship. Photo Credit: WWE.

A few days later, the WWE stripped the champions of their titles while announcer Michael Cole chastised Banks and Naomi as unprofessional.

Although rumors abound that they were to be a part of the swathe of rehired talent under Triple H’s premiership as head booker, they never were.

Naomi, later Trinity, went on to become Impact! Knockouts champion.

Banks, aka Mercedes Mone, campaigned in both New Japan Pro Wrestling, where she won the IWGP Women’s championship, and Stardom as well.

4 – Steve Austin

Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. Photo Credit: WWE.

To put it lightly, 2002 was a tumultuous year for relations between Steve Austin and WWE management!

At WrestleMania that year, “Stone Cold” reportedly could not come to terms with a match against Hulk Hogan. While Austin told WWE that this was due to him feeling Hogan would not keep up in his advanced age, Hogan has commented that there was genuine heat between the two.

On an edition of the WWE’s phone-in Byte This! show, Austin sharply criticized the company’s output and direction, explosively vocalizing: “**** right, I’m unhappy! The writing’s pretty ****. I don’t know if anything is gonna change with the creative ******** but something better and **** fast!”

On Raw, WWE advertised a King of the Ring qualifying match between Austin and Brock Lesnar. Seeing as “The Next Big Thing” would go on to win the entire tournament, it meant Austin was to lose. Austin vetoed such an idea by deciding to no-show the event, which had the subsequent effect of cutting short a planned feud between “The Texas Rattlesnake” and the recently returned Eddie Guerrero.

Austin subsequently explained that such a move – to have Austin lose with zero build – would have been damaging. “I was very protective of myself, maybe too much so, but it took me seven and a half years to get there, so no one was going to yank the carpet out from underneath my feet, not even Vince [McMahon].”

Austin later espoused in WWE Raw Magazine that the booking was nonsensical. He discussed, “I’m not the first in line for Brock Lesnar. I’m the last in line. I’m happy to do business with anybody — when it’s time to do business. That was the dumbest business decision I’ve ever heard in my life.”

In his book The Stone Cold Truth, Austin makes it apparent that it was not losing to Lesnar that he had an issue with. He has praised him many times, with Lesnar saying he understands Austin’s actions from a business perspective.

The WWE On-Screen Burial of Steve Austin that Followed

Brock Lesnar and Steve Austin.
Brock Lesnar and Steve Austin. Photo Credit: WWE.

Following Steve Austin’s 2002 departure from WWE, there was a subsequent on-screen burial.

Jim Ross, a close personal friend and involved party being the Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, berated Austin while The Rock cut a company promo. Vince McMahon accused “Stone Cold” of “taking his ball and going home.”

A detailed Confidential episode later aired to give fans a further peek behind the curtain.

Perhaps more painful was the $250,000 fine Austin was slapped with, a figure Austin reportedly had brought down from $650,000.

Fortunately, the two sides could see eye-to-eye by 2003, setting the stage for Steve Austin’s 2003 retirement match against The Rock.

5 – Stan Hansen

Stan Hansen as AWA World Heavyweight Champion.
Stan Hansen as AWA World Heavyweight Champion. Photo Credit: WWE.

In the 1980s, the American Wrestling Association was one of the three significant North American wrestling promotions.

In December 1985, Stan Hansen unseated Rick Martel as AWA Champion. The result was two-fold in terms of a surprise: firstly, Martel had been the reigning AWA titleholder for over 18 months, and secondly, Stan “The Lariat” was a far bigger entity in Japan, where he spent most of his time.

Hansen himself has admitted that he never even expected to win the belt.

At the time, he was irritated by his poor booking as the titleholder, competing primarily in squash matches as champion when on television and not having sufficient notable programs or feuds. After a lackluster reign, he was set to lose the title to AWA cornerstone Nick Bockwinkel, against whom he had retained the title via disqualification at WrestleRock.

As Bockwinkel later stated in the WWE documentary The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA, “[Hansen’s] loyalty was to himself and Japan,” so Hansen refused.

The AWA nonetheless stripped Stan of the championship. Yet, with Hansen still possessing the physical belt decided to go off and defend the belt in Japan under Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling.

Meanwhile, the AWA awarded Bockwinkel the title and had to use a tag championship to serve as the de facto world title belt.

Did Stan Hansen Incident Leave a Dent in Relationship with Wrestling Promoters?

Stan Hansen refused to drop the AWA World Championship belt to Nick Bockwinkel, something he was ordered to do by Verne Gagne and the AWA.
Verne Gagne and Stan Hansen. Photo Credit: WWE.

When the AWA threatened legal action, Hansen allegedly ran over the AWA belt with his tractor, mailing back the title with mud tracks evident.

Hansen has generally stayed vague on the details but told John “Bradshaw” Layfield (JBL) and Gerald Brisco on their podcast that “it was a piece of **** to start with. I sent it back, and it was beat up a little more than when I got it!”

Despite the incident, it failed to leave a notable dent in his relationship with promotors.

Notably, however, he never made an in-ring return for the AWA before its closure in 1991.

6 – Disco Inferno

Disco Inferno as WCW Television Champion.
Disco Inferno as WCW Television Champion. Photo Credit: WWE.

In 1997, Eric Bischoff was so insistent that Disco Inferno lost to Jacqueline, then going by Miss Jackie in WCW, that his refusal led to his firing.

The first woman to crack the Pro Wrestling Illustrated 500, Jacqueline was a star on the rise in WCW. By 1997, Miss Jackie was coming off a high-profile Kevin Sullivan versus Chris Benoit angle in which she had betrayed “The Taskmaster,” who had brought her into The Dungeon of Doom as its final member.

Behind the scenes, booker Sullivan booked Jacqueline to go over Disco Inferno at Uncensored.

Disco was hesitant, but Bischoff was insistent, not wanting to cave to the demands of a mid-card performer.

In a pre-Chyna wrestling industry, a loss to a female performer was thought to be a huge credibility killer, and the gridlock over the booking led to Disco being given his notice.

Although courted by WWE during his no-compete clause, Disco would eventually return to WCW. Sting was integral to Inferno’s return to the promotion, with the Wrestling Observer noting upon Disco’s release how he had the backing of the locker room when he was let go.

The Tony Manero-like character also had the support of agents such as Terry Taylor, who gave Disco the WCW Television Title to try to derail the Jacqueline plan.

Nonetheless, Bischoff pressed ahead with the match, with the loss being part of negotiations for bringing Disco back into the fold.

Disco Inferno on Miss Jackie’s ‘Stiff’ Clothesline

Miss Jackie and Disco Inferno in WCW.
Miss Jackie and Disco Inferno in WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

Jacqueline would pin him at 1997’s WCW Halloween Havoc.

Disco Inferno would later attest to Miss Jackie having “the stiffest clothesline” he had ever received!

Ironically, the bout would be Jacqueline’s only televised WCW encounter as she would be out the door by December that year, allegedly after refusing to agree to a beatdown angle with Miss Elizabeth.

7 – The Midnight Express

"The Midnight Express" Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton with manager Jim Cornette.
“The Midnight Express” Stan Lane and Bobby Eaton with manager Jim Cornette. Photo Credit: WWE.

Due in part to Jim Herd, a former Pizza Hut manager, in 1990, the wrestling world was left without a Midnight Express for the first time in seven years.

Just days after curtain-jerking (wrestling the first match on the card) at Halloween Havoc 1990, the team who had set the tag world on fire throughout the 1980s departed from their WCW home.

Even prior, however, there had been issues between management and Jim Cornette, Bobby Eaton, and Stan Lane.

In early 1990, the trio had been given pink slips, with Jim Ross pleading with the promotion to rehire the team. They were offered 33% of their previous deal.

Writing in WhatCulture magazine, manager Jim Cornette blamed the new and much-maligned WCW President Jim Herd:

“Six months earlier, The Midnight Express had been main eventing six-figure houses, but Herd’s management so far had seen house show gates drop to unheard-of lows and T.V. ratings continue to sink, so he was low-balling us since he had no idea who we were or what our track record had been the previous decade.

“We finally got a barely acceptable deal and began our relationship on a rocky road.”

Another factor in turning up the tension was Cornette’s slipping grip on creative after many disputes with Herd, upon whom Cornette stated, “I hope he dies a horrible death to this day, painfully, in front of his family.”

A member of the booking committee, Cornette’s idea of bringing Eaton and Lane into the Four Horsemen was agreed upon by all fellow bookers – that was until Herd vetoed such an idea.

On October 29th, the team turned up to a World Wide Wrestling taping to find they were not booked, therefore forcing the men to lose a day with their respective families. The next day, they arrived at World Championship Wrestling to find they had four matches, all of which they would lose.

After confronting booker Ole Anderson, Cornette was dared to leave if he did not like it, which he did!

Cornette went with Stan Lane, although Eaton was more hesitant.

The Wrestling Observer noted, “Bobby Eaton, the other half of the team, decided to stay since he had a wife and several children to support and was getting a guaranteed income of more than $2,000 per week.”

The Blunders of Jim Herd

Jim Herd during his time as WCW booker.
Jim Herd during his time as WCW booker. Photo Credit: WWE.

It would be the first of many Jim Herd blunders during his time in WCW, with talents such as Shane Douglas and The Road Warriors dashing for the exit under Herd’s tutelage.

Most famously, world champion Ric Flair walked to the WWF in 1991 after Herd infamously requested he become Spartacus.

With Dusty Rhodes soon taking over as booker, many thought it was only a matter of time before The Midnight Express would return.

Yet, Cornette had other plans, with Smoky Mountain Wrestling opening its doors in 1991 on October 30th, the exact date Cornette and Lane departed WCW the previous year.

8 – One Man Gang

Kevin Sullivan and One Man Gang shave rival El Gigante's head in WCW.
Kevin Sullivan and One Man Gang shave rival El Gigante’s head in WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

If fans remember any of One Man Gang’s WCW appearances, they will most likely remember his time in The Dungeon of Doom or as United States Champion rather than his 1991 run.

After his big program with El Gigante (who later went on to become Giant Gonzales in WWE), Gang was moved onto a house show feud with the rookie P.N. News, a vibrantly-clothed hip-hop-inspired wrestler.

In a “Splash vs. Splash Match,” in which the first to hit their finisher would win, News was set to go over, which Gang protested. He has described such a move as the “one time in my whole life” that he “bucked the system.”

News notes how it was potentially fueled by backstage figures who stoked up hostility.

Not under contract at the time, Gang was sent home after his refusal.

One Man Gang Reflects on PN News Incident

P.N. News during his time in WCW.
P.N. News during his time in WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

Booker Dusty Rhodes would later offer One Man Gang his job back. However, only if he agreed to put over P.N. News on national television. Gang again put his foot down, leading to him being fired.

Reflecting on The Hannibal TV, Gang expressed his regret over the incident, calling it “the stupidest thing in the world,” trying to reason that “my ego took over.”

9 – Neville

Neville as WWE Cruiserweight Champion.
Neville as WWE Cruiserweight Champion. Photo Credit: WWE.

Even after the success of the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, the Cruiserweight division mostly fell flat on the main WWE roster.

Given little time to effectively create audience engagement through character work, the moves were awe-inspiring, but little did fans care. That was until Neville splashed onto the scene in 2016.

Reinventing himself with a new, more striking appearance while crafting an angry, snarling heel character, the self-proclaimed “King Of The Cruiserweights” would quickly capture the title.

Reigning for over half a year (except for a six-day period where Akira Tozawa was champion), Neville was often credited with rejuvenating a floundering division.

At No Mercy 2017, Neville dropped the title to new competitor Enzo Amore, who won with a low blow.

On the October 9th, 2017, episode of Raw, over two weeks later, Neville was expected to lay down for Big Cass’s former tag partner again but walked out.

As it happens, his replacement, Kalisto, actually went on to beat Enzo that night and win the title – perhaps as a jab at the outgoing Neville.

Aftermath of Neville’s WWE Departure

Enzo Amore and Neville.
Enzo Amore and Neville. Photo Credit: WWE.

The incident was met with mostly silence for almost a year outside of Cedric Alexander labeling Neville a “quitter” on Twitter. Neville stayed under contract from October 2017 to August 2018 but did not wrestle during that time.

“The Man That Gravity Forgot” left WWE in late 2018.

In a later Instagram Q&A, Neville briefly explained his reasons for the walkout, remarking, “Putting the title on [Enzo] was bad, especially beating me; I was worth more than being jobbed out to jobbers – that’s why I left.”

Neville has since gone from strength to strength as Pac in All Elite Wrestling, where he was brought in as a top star in the early days of the promotion, getting victories over future world champions Kenny Omega and Adam Page.

10 – Kamala

Kamala is introduced into The Dungeon of Doom in WCW.
Kamala is introduced into The Dungeon of Doom in WCW. Photo Credit: WWE.

Kamala had many runs in major companies across his storied wrestling career, many of which involved monetary disputes – and his WCW run is no exception.

In 1995, WCW created The Dungeon Of Doom. A cartoonishly spooky swarm of villains, the group comprised many of Hulk Hogan’s closest friends, with Hogan personally reaching out to his old rival Kamala.

By this point, The Ugandan Giant’s in-ring days were essentially over, but he was willing to put on the body paint once again.

Kamala was brought in short-term, never being offered a contract but instead a per-appearance deal.

Unhappy with his pay, his friend Hogan was the middleman between himself and management, with Kamala stating he never spoke to Eric Bischoff.

Kamala on His Low Pay in WWE

Kamala was part of 1995's WarGames match when The Dungeon of Doom took on Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger.
Kamala was part of 1995’s WarGames match when The Dungeon of Doom took on Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, and Lex Luger. Photo Credit: WWE.

In an R.F. Video shoot interview, Kamala explained how he was only paid $800 for a match with Hulk Hogan.

Later, speaking with The Hannibal TV, Kamala explained that “the final straw was when they booked me against Randy Savage, and they wanted me to put Randy Savage over.”

As referenced earlier, this was not the first low-pay Kamala claims to have had.

In the 1980s, he left after a main event feud with Hulk Hogan in which his pay continually dwindled, and he was not even on the WrestleMania III card, which would have netted a hefty payday for “The Ugandan Headhunter.”

More famously, he claimed to have gotten just 2% of his opponent The Undertaker’s salary for 1992’s SummerSlam, with Kamala getting just over five figures to ‘Taker’s reported half a million.

Kamala is said to have returned to truck driving, earning $500-$1,000 daily doing deliveries.

WCW came up with the rather shoddy kayfabe explanation that, scared of Kamala, Kevin Sullivan had given the 400-pound African a beating before sending him back to Uganda.

11 – Terry Funk

Shawn Michaels with his nights at WWF Survivor Series 1993.
Shawn Michaels with his nights at WWF Survivor Series 1993. Photo Credit: WWE.

In 1993, just eleven days after losing his ECW Television title at ECW’s November To Remember, WWE had planned for “The Living Legend” Terry Funk to compete at one of the biggest shows on their calendar.

For the Survivor Series event that year, WWE planned on a storyline in which The Hart Family would take on Jerry “The King” Lawler and his band of knights.

The initially discussed plans would see all of Lawler’s knights being unmasked after being eliminated, with names from the past being under the masks, such as Greg Valentine and Jimmy Snuka, with a young Glenn “Kane” Jacobs also penciled in.

One of the other names thrown around was Terry Funk, who, according to his autobiography More Than Just Hardcore, was also set to take over Pat Patterson’s role as head booker. Such a match would have been the Texan’s first WWE match since 1986 (except a 1987 Paul Boesch retirement show).

Bruce Prichard also noted how Funk initially agreed with the plans that Bret Hart had put to him. “The Hitman” would beat Funk, playing the Red Knight, with the sharpshooter and unmask him.

Terry Funk Opens Up About How Regret Started to Seep In

Terry Funk.
Terry Funk. Photo Credit: WWE.

Terry Funk later recounted in his book how, after a night of drinking, regret started to seep in.

“I went up to my hotel room and went to bed. As I lay there, I got to thinking, ‘I’m not sure if I want to follow through with this deal.'”

Funk left the Knight suit outside Bret Hart’s door and walked.

The “Middle Aged and Crazy” one left the hotel before anyone from WWE could contact him and ignored his pager at the airport. “I came home,” he writes, “I escaped.”

Terry famously left behind a letter to Vince, reading: “My horse is sick. I think he’s dying. I’ll see you later.”

In the match, the role of the Red Knight was instead played by Barry Horowitz. With the three knights now consisting of Valentine, perennial enhancement talent Horowitz, and virtual unknown Jeff Gaylord, the company decided to scrap the unmasking angle.

It is still not precisely known why Funk backed out. He has described the North East as a “culture shock,” with the heavily urbanized and densely populated nature of New York standing in stark contrast to his spacious ranch in Amarillo, Texas.

Another reason was simply the repercussions of playing a goofy gimmick and being fairly easily forced to submit, which carried some weight considering his ECW World Heavyweight Championship win the next month.

The story does have an amusing denouement, with Vince McMahon’s first words to Terry upon rejoining the WWF years later being, “So, how’s your horse?”

Yes, “refuse to lose” has quite often resulted in the end of a run for many a wrestler. These are just eleven such notorious cases.

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Griffin Kaye is a life-long pro wrestling fan and historian with a love for '80s and '90s WWF, the NWA, WCW, ECW, and AEW. His favorite wrestlers include Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart, William Regal, Tito Santana, Stan Hansen, Mr Perfect, Ric Flair, and Chris Jericho. He can be reached on Twitter @GriffinKaye1, as well as on Instagram at @TheGriffinKaye and @WrestlingInTheYears.