WWE blasted with bullying accusations

WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon speaks at a news conference on January 8, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest pro wrestling company in the U.S., has been dogged by accusations of bullying over the last week after the sudden departure of a popular television announcer and a book published by a former ring announcer.

Mauro Ranallo, who announced ice hockey, mixed-martial arts and boxing before being hired by WWE in 2015, was missing from a broadcast of WWE’s “Smackdown Live” on USA Network several weeks ago. Ranallo’s broadcast partner, John Layfield, blasted Ranallo’s absence on Twitter, saying weather wasn’t an excuse because the “rest of the crew made it” to the arena. He later deleted the tweets. Layfield made negative mention of Ranallo during the broadcast.

>> Read more trending news

Ranallo, who in the past suffered from bipolar disorder, was dealing with depression according to an exclusive report from Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer, who broke the story in his weekly newsletter. Layfield also blasted Ranallo during a non-character interview segment on the company's streaming service, WWE Network.

Ranallo’s situation gathered more attention after the recent release of a book by former WWE ring announcer Justin Roberts called “Best Seat in the House.”

Roberts wrote about being bullied constantly by Layfield, including him asking two wrestlers to steal his passport while WWE was on an overseas tour. He was later teased about the incident by WWE owner Vince McMahon after a meeting.

After Layfield denied the allegation on Twitter and referred to Roberts as an "idiot,” former WWE wrestler John Hennigan told the website Deadspin the incident happened.

In an interview with writer David Bixenspan, Hennigand said he and his tag partner were asked by Layfield to take Roberts passport.

“I remember it ‘being a thing,’ you know?,” Hennigan told Bixenspan. “We were looking at Justin, he was a few rows ahead of us on this plane, sleeping. We were like, ‘What do we do?’”

Hennigan said he was a frequent target of Layfield’s bullying, and discussed with his partner about participating in what Layfield labeled “a great prank” in order to keep from being targeted themselves.

“Ultimately we considered our options and decided not to do it,” Hennigan said.

After Roberts’ book was released, Meltzer said he was contacted by 15 former WWE employees who said they were bullied by Layfield, and was approached by more in Orlando during WWE’s Wrestlemania event last weekend.

“They like humiliating people,” Roberts wrote in his book, quoted by Bixenspan of Deadspin. “They like laughing at people. The way wrestling is entertainment to us wrestling fans, humiliating people was just entertainment to the bosses.”

Layfield is a former wrestler and a noted stock expert who regularly appears on Fox News business programming. He has been a subject of controversy in the company for years for bullying and using real punches and kicks in the ring against wrestlers who were below his level in the company hierarchy.

Numerous wrestlers have spoken out about Layfield after they left WWE. YouTube has dozens of interviews where former performers discuss harassment, bullying and taking real blows from Layfield while wrestling him in supposedly choreographed matches.

CBSSports.com reported Ranallo is not expected to appear again on WWE television. He also deleted all mentions of WWE from his Twitter account. He will remain the lead play-by-play commentator for Showtime boxing.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted the Deadspin article, stating Hennigan said he took Roberts passport, when he's actually quoted in the article stating he didn't.