Wrestling Walkouts That Caused Some Big-Time Controversy

One of the most fascinating things about following professional wrestling is all the drama that happens behind the scenes. From certain top wrestling stars that don't get along to power struggles between wrestlers and management figures, things that go on in or around the squared circle are just as juicy as the latest hubbub about a housewives cast or high-profile bachelors and bachelorettes trying to find love on national television.


When things get extra heated in wrestling, this can lead to wrestlers walking out of a venue before a show — or, sometimes, even during a show. Oftentimes, that show is set to air live on television, which leads to many people scrambling to alter a show at the very last minute, or even on the fly.

In the wild world of professional wrestling, walkouts have happened more than you would actually think. Here are just a few examples of wrestling walkouts that caused some big-time controversy.

Sasha Banks and Naomi

Sasha Banks and Naomi are just two of the latest wrestlers to make headlines after walking out before a show. Banks and Naomi walked out before the May 16, 2022 episode of "Monday Night Raw" due to reported issues pertaining to their booking as the WWE Women's Tag Team Champions. They were booked for the main event that evening: A 6-pack challenge where the winner earned a shot at the Raw Women's Championship.


One of the reasons why Banks and Naomi made headlines for walking out of "Raw" was due to WWE's public reaction. During "Raw" that evening, the company issued a lengthy statement via their official website where they said, in part, "[Banks and Naomi] claimed they weren't respected enough as tag team champions. And even though they had eight hours to rehearse and construct their match, they claimed they were uncomfortable in the ring with two of their opponents even though they'd had matches with those individuals in the past with no consequence." Banks and Naomi were also criticized on air by "Raw" color commentator Corey Graves and by "SmackDown" play-by-play commentator Michael Cole, who announced the wrestlers had been suspended indefinitely.


The fallout from Banks and Naomi's walkout has continued in the following months. Both wrestlers have been removed from the video intros on WWE programming. Additionally, all t-shirts and other merch items highlighting Banks and Naomi have been removed from the WWE Shop website. PWInsider reported in July the former WWE Women's Tag Team Champions had not been officially released from the company, but they were removed from the company's "internal roster." Neither Banks nor Naomi has yet to publicly and directly comment on their walkouts.

Stone Cold Steve Austin

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's 2002 walkout stemmed from issues he had with how he was booked on WWE programming and the creative direction behind his booking. Leading into WrestleMania X8, Austin wasn't booked as the "top guy" like in recent years. This was largely due to the New World Order (nWo) getting a significant push after joining WWE nearly a year after they bought WCW.


The Rock went on to face nWo's Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8, but Austin was originally booked to face the Hulkster. Per The Sportster, neither Austin nor Hogan wanted to lose the match. Jim Ross said in a June 2020 episode of his "Grilling JR" podcast (per WrestlingNews.co),"Austin had it in his mind that Hogan's style and Austin's style were oil and water. He just didn't feel the chemistry."

At WrestleMania X8, Austin faced nWo's Scott Hall in a match nowhere near the main event. Austin was so frustrated he no-showed the "Monday Night Raw" following WrestleMania X8 and even appeared on WWE's web show "Byte This!" that May and trashed his booking.

Before the June 10, 2002 episode of "Raw," things came to a head when Austin learned he was going to lose to Brock Lesnar in a King of the Ring qualifying match. As noted by Cageside Seats, Austin's walkout was acknowledged on "Raw" where he was criticized by a number of people, including The Rock. The following week's episode saw Vince McMahon address fans and deliver a now iconic promo where he said Austin "took his ball and went home," followed by toasting the wrestler and leaving a lone can of beer in the ring.


Austin and McMahon later patched things up, and Austin returned to WWE on the March 3, 2003 episode of "Raw," where he delivered a sincere thank you to the WWE Universe.

Jeff Jarrett and The Roadie

Jarrett and the eventual Road Dogg (real name Brian James) walked out of 1995's In Your House 2 following Jarret dropping the Intercontinental Championship to Shawn Michaels. During the match, there was some interference by The Roadie that backfired, which resulted in Jarrett's loss. What was supposed to happen following the match was a filmed segment of Jarrett and The Roadie splitting up with the bombshell coming to light being The Roadie had been the real voice behind Jarrett's song "With My Baby Tonight." However, that didn't come to fruition as Jarrett and The Roadie left the building following the match and quit the WWE.


Jarrett touched on this moment on a July 2021 episode of "My World with Jeff Jarrett" and express that he and The Roadie weren't happy with being split up sooner than they wanted. However, Jarrett regrets putting The Roadie's new career in jeopardy saying, "I wish I would've said, 'Brian, don't leave with me.'"

Jeff Hardy

Jeff Hardy walked out mid-match through the crowd during a WWE house show on December 4, 2021 in Edinburg, Texas where Hardy was teaming with Drew McIntyre and King Xavier Woods in a six-man tag match. Considering his past issues with substance abuse, many had speculated the episode could have been related to Hardy relapsing. Hardy was released from WWE less than a week following the Texas house show incident with Fightful reporting, "WWE reportedly offered Jeff Hardy help and rehab, and it was not accepted."


Hardy denied he relapsed saying on "The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy" podcast (per F4W Online), "That night in Edinburg, Texas, for some reason, I finished my heat, I took the heat, and I just said 'I'm ready to go.' Went over the railing, disappeared into the crowd and naturally, they think I took something, like drugs or whatever, but I didn't."


Neville, who was a massive star in NXT, grew increasingly frustrated with how he was used on the WWE's main roster in the cruiserweight division. According to The Sportster, Neville thought he would eventually move back to the regular roster, but that never happened.


Neville walked out before an October 2017 episode of "Monday Night Raw" after he learned he was booked to lose to Enzo Amore in the main event. According to F4W Online, Neville and WWE spent months in negotiations to have the wrestler return to television, but little progress was made. At one point, WWE froze his contract, which put in place an ultimatum of sorts: Return to WWE or both parties would have to come to terms on a deal to have Neville released from his contract. Neville was eventually released from the company in August 2018.

In 2019, Neville — now Pac — was one of the first wrestlers to sign with All Elite Wrestling.

Jerry Lawler

Jerry Lawler's 2001 exit from WWE was a matter of love. The color commentator walked out during a February 2001 episode of "SmackDown" in support of his then-wife wrestler Stacy "The Kat" Carter, who was recently fired from WWE.


The Sportster wrote in a retrospective on the incident that Lawler took issue with Carter being fired without any WWE personnel tipping him off beforehand, and he wanted to stand in solidarity with his wife. WWE was surprised he even considered leaving taking into account how popular he and commentary partner Jim Ross were, especially during WWE's Attitude Era.

Lawler's exit from WWE didn't last terribly long. He returned to his commentary role that November after he and Carter separated. Lawler continues to work with the WWE to this day, making periodic appearances on various premium live event pre-show programs, and he still occasionally wrestles on the independent circuit.

Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit's walkout is certainly an interesting situation. At WCW's 2000 pay-per-view "Souled Out," Benoit defeated Sid Vicious for the vacant WCW World Heavyweight Championship. Despite being the champ, he walked out of WCW the following day before "WCW Monday Nitro."


Benoit wasn't the only one on their way out of WCW. He was joined by Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn. All four wrestlers were tired of the chaotic and toxic environment that was WCW. Malenko said in an April 2020 episode of the "AEW Unrestricted" podcast (h/t WrestlingNews.co), "Things started going south a little bit after [the] nWo came. After the whole nWo thing came in and then with [Kevin] Nash kind of taking over there. And we had a conversation between us all, everybody in on the conversation, [saying] 'it's time to move on.' Because of the politics."

Less than a month later on the January 31 edition of "Monday Night Raw," Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko and Saturn showed up on WWE programming and were dubbed "The Radicalz."


Tay Conti

Tay Conti had initially signed a developmental deal with WWE in 2016. Then known as Taynara Conti, she took part in the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Mae Young Classic and was primarily utilized on the NXT brand. After nearly four years in the company, Conti grew frustrated with her role, or lack of one, in the women's division.


Per Fightful, Conti walked out during an NXT taping in January 2020 after refusing to take part of a battle royal. In May 2020, Conti detailed her frustrations with the WWE in an interview with "Ring The Belle."

"I was trying to have conversations, asking for opportunities. I never asked for something big. I never asked for a TakeOver match or title shot," said Conti. "I was in the same spot for a long time, doing 3-4 minute matches to put someone else over and I was not able to show what I was able to do. ... I pitched like 100 different gimmicks. And they were like, 'No, keep doing what you're doing.' I tried to change my hair, my gimmick, and they were like, 'No, don't change, the opportunity is coming.' The opportunity never came. So, I was not happy."


Conti was eventually released in April 2020. She debuted on AEW that August and signed with the company in September.

Tom Zenk

Every situation has a "first," and according to FanByte, the first wrestler to quit the WWE and be dragged on programming was Tom Zenk.

One half of the Can-Am Connection with Rick Martel, Zenk suddenly quit following a house show in July 1987. This led to Martel delivering two separate, but very similar promos of him ranting how he wasn't a quitter.


FanByte cited Zenk finally breaking his silence about his exit during a May 1992 appearance on "Pro Wrestling Spotlight" where he mentioned having a "real bad contract from Vince," but he also alluded to the 1992 Ring Boy Scandal that had recently broke.

"I knew what was going on," said Zenk. "Not with any teenage kids or anything, but there were innuendoes when you walked out of the shows. There was ... an incident the last night I worked, um, I just never said anything. I went my own way. I knew I was going to work in Japan. I lost the best job I ever had. I went to the office to Vince McMahon and his wife Linda. I just said it was the money. I didn't feel like bringing up anything at that time. My goodness, five years later, and look at everything that has happened. I guess I knew."


Gail Kim

Gail Kim's wrestling career included two stints with WWE, and it was during her second stint with the company where she walked out in rather epic fashion.

Kim, who had grown incredibly frustrated with her place in the then WWE Divas division, was booked to be part of a Divas Battle Royal on an August 2011 episode of "Monday Night Raw." According to PWTorch, Kim was told to get eliminated from the match within the first minute, so she took matters into her own hands, eliminating herself and promptly quitting.


Kim said of the incident in March 2016 Reddit AMA, "I think a few people noticed but I just had had enough and was done, and I wanted to say again that I would never have done that if it would've compromised anything else in the match. Because it did not matter, I did it and I don't regret doing it either."

Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels walked out of WWE before the episode of "Monday Night Raw" following the June 1997 King of the Ring PPV. The walk out was due to a brawl with Bret Hart following the infamous "Sunny Days" promo. Bruce Prichard said in a June 2019 episode of his "Something To Wrestle With" podcast (per 411Mania), "[Jim] Cornette and I were in Vince [McMahon]'s office when Shawn burst into the room holding two huge clumps of hair. ... Shawn went on to talk about 'unsafe working conditions' and 'he's not going to take it anymore' 'he's gonna go home.'"


Michaels returned to WWE a month after his walkout, but the tension between him and Hart continued for months. At the time of his walkout, Michaels was one half of the WWE Tag Team Champions with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin was later paired with Dude Love, and they were the new WWE Tag Team Champions. Jim Ross said on a June 2021 episode of "Grilling JR" (per Sportskeeda), "Nobody appreciated Shawn walking out on the company. I can tell you that Austin was not happy about him walking out on Steve, so it was just tumultuous times." (This drips with dramatic irony, considering Austin walked out of WWE five years later.)

As for Michaels and Hart, their drama eventually culminated in November 1997 at Survivor Series in the beyond infamous "Montreal Screwjob," which, of course, caused even more drama in the wrestling world. It took well over a decade for Michaels and Hart to put an end to their feud, and they publicly made up on a January 2010 episode of "Monday Night Raw."


Ultimate Warrior

The Ultimate Warrior infamously threatened to walk out of WWF and no-show 1991's SummerSlam the day before the pay-per-view event unless he received a significant raise. It was later discovered in 2014 via two letters that surfaced, which can be viewed on the "Babyface v. Heel" Substack, that Warrior's pay demands were sent via letter to WWE Chairman/CEO Vince McMahon about six weeks prior to SummerSlam. Despite granting Warrior his raise, McMahon served the wrestler a suspension via letter dated for SummerSlam, indicating he had long planned to suspend Warrior, who eventually left WWE in November 1992.


That said, Warrior actually walked out of the WWE shortly after he returned to the company in 1996. The "Babyface v. Heel" Substack noted he no-showed a number of events and said it was due to him mourning the death of his father. McMahon wasn't buying that reasoning and said Warrior actually had an estranged relationship with his father. On the July 8, 1996 episode of "Monday Night Raw," Gorilla Monsoon said that Warrior was suspended indefinitely unless he posted an "appearance bond" that would prove he would show up as advertised at events.

That episode was the last of Warrior's work with the WWE, until he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. Tragically, Warrior died just days after his induction on April 8, 2014. 


CM Punk

CM Punk walked out before the "Monday Night Raw" following the 2014 Royal Rumble, where he competed in the Royal Rumble match for 50 minutes. Punk then infamously appeared on Colt Cabana's "Art of Wrestling" podcast in late 2014 where he spilled all the tea on the situation, including receiving notice from WWE on his wedding day that he was released.


Punk said (per Cageside Seats), "People can ask questions and there's a lot of assumption out there from people: I was disgruntled with my storylines, I was banged up, I was mad that I wasn't the main event of WrestleMania, I was mad that I was wrestling Triple H; there's an element of truth in all of those things but I can't say there was one big thing that led to my decision and, actually, the big thing that led to my decision was my health."

One of the biggest health factors for Punk was a long undiagnosed staph infection. When he went to a doctor that actually diagnosed and treated the infection, Punk detailed the doctor physically cut and squeeze the infection on his back, which the wrestler called "the most painful experience of my entire life."


Punk was absent from professional wrestling for seven years. He made his return in his native Chicago on August 20, 2021 with his debut in AEW.