They call SmackDown Live the “land of opportunity,” and in the months since last year’s brand split, we’ve seen a number of wrestlers make bigger names for themselves, or at least return to relevance on the blue brand’s programming. A lot of fans tend to favor what they see on SmackDown — arguably, the brand offers better wrestling, better storytelling, and better characters, though your mileage may still vary when it comes to which of WWE’s two main roster brands is better.
But just because you enjoy what you see doesn’t mean everything is blemish-free about the wrestlers you watch on SmackDown Live. They may have been involved in some terrible storylines or worked (or come close to working) bad gimmicks, or they may be so far down the card that you just couldn’t buy them as developmental main eventers back in the day, had you not known that they were. Or they may have been involved in some real-life incidents that tarnished their reputation in one way or another.
We’ve covered WWE’s women across both brands, and we’ve covered the men of Monday Night RAW. And with this list, we shall be moving on to SmackDown Live‘s male wrestlers, listing one thing per wrestler (or group of wrestlers) that WWE would like you to forget.
20. BARON CORBIN WAS ONCE AN NXT JOBBER
Looking at how good Baron Corbin has been booked as of late, you can tell that WWE has huge plans for him. He’s still not the most exciting guy in the ring, and he can still be wooden on the mic, but he’s made big strides as he now prepares to contend for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 33. One would think he was always a force in NXT before getting called up, but as it turns out, he wasn’t.
As someone who had signed with NXT after his pro football career ended instead of passing through the indies, Corbin was introduced to fans of WWE’s developmental promotion in 2013 as an enhancement talent. If you’re a legit 300-pounder with great strength and good athleticism for your size, you normally wouldn’t be asked to do jobs, but in Corbin’s case, it was a young, raw prospect’s way of paying his dues while learning the ropes.
19. THE MIZ AS DIVA SEARCH HOST
Nowadays, The Miz stands out as one of WWE’s most gifted promo men, and his wrestling skills have also come a long way, even if we still can’t unsee his attempts to emulate Ric Flair with the Figure Four Leglock. He often lives up to his self-proclaimed status as the “Most Must-See Superstar” in the WWE. And it’s hard to believe that he was once a bumbling mess on the mic when he was fresh off the “Million-Dollar” Tough Enough and a stint in OVW, and hosting WWE’s Diva Search.
Need proof? Just enter “Miz first RAW appearance” on YouTube and get transported back into time as The Miz stumbles over his lines, with a hostile audience not making it any easier for the then-youngster with a silly, Red Rooster-minus-the-mullet hairdo. It’s a testament to his work ethic that he’s become much better since then, but back in 2006, The Miz was closer to “awful” than “awesome.”
18. CURT HAWKINS HAD HEAT WITH MARK HENRY
If you come to think of it, there’s a reason why WWE, when looking for old names to bring back as lowest-of-the-low-men per brand, had Jinder Mahal sign with RAW (despite old 3MB stablemate Heath Slater being on SmackDown) and Curt Hawkins make his return on SmackDown Live. And that reason is a little real-life feud the “Fact Man” once had with Mark Henry.
Back when Hawkins was part of WWE’s mass firings of 2014, he took offense to the World’s Strongest Man tweeting that he was “still here” in WWE after 18 years with the company. Feeling as if Henry was rubbing it in after so many wrestlers lost their jobs, Hawkins tweeted back, calling Henry an “idiot” and prompting an apology from the veteran. We’re not sure if the heat still remains, but we are again leaving it out there, and reminding you that Henry and Hawkins are on different brands.
17. HEATH SLATER’S ASSAULT CASE
Though you don’t get to see him too often on TV anymore, Heath Slater got over in a big way through his “free agent” storyline, as well as his many kayfabe children — he needs the job because he’s got kids, remember? In real life, Slater does have kids, as well as a wife who looks nothing like the actress who played her on SmackDown. That’s why his late-2014 arrest for allegedly sexually assaulting a female security guard three years prior raised quite a few eyebrows.
In the end, all criminal charges against Slater were dropped due to a technicality, and last year’s mini-career renaissance still took place. He’s also been firm in denying that the 2011 incident took place. But nobody wants to remember those allegations each time the One-Man Rock Band appears on SmackDown Live to remind us all that he’s a family man who’s got kids.
16. RHYNO ALMOST PLAYED MUHAMMAD HASSAN
Nowadays, we don’t get to see too much of Rhyno on SmackDown Live, and it’s almost hard to believe that he and Heath Slater had become the brand’s inaugural Tag Team Champions just a few months ago. At 41, he’s had a long and interesting career across several promotions, and one little-known nugget about the Man-Beast is that he was the first to pitch the idea of the Muhammad Hassan character to WWE Creative.
As we now know, Muhammad Hassan was eventually played by Marc Copani, and a poorly-timed “terrorist” beatdown on The Undertaker and Copani’s supposedly crummy locker room attitude forced WWE to kill off the character post-haste. And since WWE basically washed their hands of Hassan, they’d probably prefer you don’t think of Rhyno as the guy who suggested the gimmick as a way to freshen up his character.
15. THE ASCENSION AND THE VAUDEVILLAINS’ NXT SUCCESS
Remember when The Ascension had held on to the NXT Tag Team Championships for one day short of a year? And do you remember when The Vaudevillains had also held those belts, with their Charlie Chaplin- and Ford Model T-era throwback gimmick getting over with the fans? If you still do on both counts, then the WWE would probably prefer that you don’t.
It’s happened numerous times in recent years — hyped NXT wrestlers (and we don’t mean Mojo Rawley) get called up to the main roster, only for them to turn into jobbers. And usually, this is because Vince McMahon tires of them quickly, and doesn’t have the patience or the advance planning to ensure they still get over on the main roster. As such, WWE might want you to think of both Ascension and Vaudevillains as job guys, not as former developmental champs.
14. THE KATIE VICK STORYLINE
For the most part, it’s us 30-and-above fans who still have vivid memories of Glenn Jacobs’ first two WWE gimmicks — evil dentist Isaac Yankem and evil Kevin Nash impersonator Fake Diesel. But most younger fans became familiar with Jacobs’ work when he was already known as The Undertaker’s kayfabe half-brother Kane. Yes, WWE may also want you to forget that Kane and ‘Taker really aren’t brothers. But most of all, they’d want you to bury any memory you may have of that infernal Katie Vick storyline.
For a TL;DR version of this tasteless storyline, it involved Triple H accusing Kane of killing his high school sweetheart Katie Vick in a drunk driving accident when they were teens, then having sex with Katie’s corpse. Weeks later, a “video” of this incident was shown on RAW, with Triple H pretending to be a young Kane and humping a cheerleader dummy, ostensibly the “late” Katie Vick, as it lay in a casket. Any questions? Good. Now let us never talk of this storyline again.
13. FANDANGO NEARLY WON THE IC TITLE
Once upon a time, WWE appeared to be getting it right with the wrestler once known as Johnny Curtis, having transformed him into the ballroom dancer Fandango. In the first half of 2013, he looked like one of those rare occupational gimmicks that would truly go over with the fans, and they were loving his gimmick and ring theme, briefly turning “Fandango-ing” into a thing. Cut to four years later, and he’s one-half of a jobber tag team in a weak tag team division.
Due to Fandango’s unexpected popularity upon his debut, there was talk that he’d be due to win the Intercontinental Championship from Wade Barrett at Payback 2013. But an injury would take him out of commission and effectively kill any heat he had at that time, quickly plunging him to lower-card status upon his return. Since Creative doesn’t seem to have any more big-time plans for ‘Dango, it may be best not to think of what could have been, especially since he’s looking like a prime candidate for future endeavors this year.
12. ERICK ROWAN AS A BABYFACE
For about 90 percent of his time on the main roster, Erick Rowan has been known as a loyal member of The Wyatt Family, and has left and rejoined the stable repeatedly since the Wyatts’ mid-2013 call-up. But for a few months from late-2014 to spring 2015, Rowan was “set free” by his master, and was part of John Cena’s Survivor Series team that beat The Authority with the help of a finally-debuting-in-WWE Sting. After that storyline ended, Rowan was a lower-midcard babyface with an underdeveloped gimmick as that of a “genius bruiser,” and he was soon recruited back to the Wyatts and turned heel.
It may be because of his look — it’s impossible to think of Rowan without a sheep mask and without his bearded associates, or to think of him saying anything beyond the word “run.” But it may also be because he doesn’t have the charisma or promo skills to be anything more than a heel lackey, which is such a pity, as he’s a more than decent worker.
11. WHAT APOLLO CREWS’ RING NAME POSSIBLY MEANS
You probably get this all of the time, especially since Daniel Bryan once accidentally referred to him as “Apollo Creed” — it’s just impossible not to imagine Rocky Balboa’s rival-turned-friend each time you see Apollo Crews hit the ring, usually to do the job for somebody higher up on the card than he is. And while your mileage may vary when it comes to WWE renaming indie talents, we have to take exception with the former Uhaa Nation’s WWE rebranding.
As mentioned, the “Apollo” part of the ring name may likely come from Apollo Creed. The “Crews” part? Chances are WWE drew inspiration from another bald-headed African-American — actor, comedian, and former NFL player Terry Crews, who reportedly loved the ring name. Still, it was a lazy attempt at renaming an indie signing, and we’re still hoping he gets a better push to go with his unusual blend of in-ring skills.
10. AJ STYLES = “MR. TNA”
Thankfully, WWE is far more comfortable these days making references to a wrestler’s accomplishments before joining the company. And when AJ Styles made his phenomenal, pun intended, WWE debut at last year’s Royal Rumble, the announcers made it a point to bring up such accomplishments, particularly the titles he won in New Japan Pro Wrestling. But they also made sure not to mention one little detail about the Phenomenal One’s pre-WWE career — his long and successful tenure with the company now called Impact Wrestling.
In all, Styles won five World Heavyweight Championships and six World Tag Team Championships for the now-Anthem-owned company, but most notably, one of his many nicknames in the promotion was the oh-so-descriptive “Mr. TNA.” As far as WWE is concerned, TNA/Impact doesn’t, and never did exist, and that remains true even as the relevance gap between both companies keeps on widening for the most part.
9. THAT “GOOD LUCHA THING”
Despite the fact his selection by SmackDown Live in the 2016 brand draft meant the end of the Lucha Dragons, Kalisto was nonetheless excited to be picked by the blue brand as he was interviewed by NXT’s Greg Hamilton. So excited was Kalisto that his interview soon degenerated into a jumble of fillers, upon which he ended the promo by talking about a “good lucha thing.” Then uttering a mild profanity as he ran off, embarrassed at what was one of the worst promos in recent WWE history.
To Kalisto’s credit, he took his interview botch in stride, poking fun at his own goof while some of his real-life locker room buddies, including Big E and Apollo Crews, did the same. Unfortunately, that also showed the WWE Universe why Kalisto may need to work on that “good promo thing” if he expects a better push in the future.
8. ZACK RYDER GOT HIMSELF OVER WITHOUT WWE’S HELP
Remember Z! True Long Island Story? That was Zack Ryder’s own attempt to make his own name in the WWE, with the company refusing to give him a better push. And this YouTube series worked, as it helped him move up to upper midcard-at-best status, at least for a while. Then everything ground to a halt in early-2012, when WWE Creative, mainly through John Cena, Kane, and Eve Torres, made him look like a chump. It took a good four years before Ryder regained any semblance of a midcard push.
Evidently, Ryder was trying to grab those invisible brass rings Vince McMahon loves talking about. But as his 2012 burial showed, WWE wasn’t too happy about Ryder being so proactive on social media to help himself get over. Credit to Zack for sticking around for so long despite the fact he was once buried so deep in the card he became a running joke of a jobber.
7. THE USOS’ DAD’S FINISHER
We admit this is a rather weird entry. But we should now remember that The Usos are heels, and while that hasn’t exactly given their careers the shot in the arm that they need (that’s mostly on the blue brand’s underexposed tag team division), they’re no longer the fun-loving, face-painted twins who want you to shout “So!” when they shout “Uce!”
It’s a well-known fact that Jimmy and Jey Uso are the sons of WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi and are also related to a plethora of former and current WWE Superstars, including Roman Reigns. But given the Rikishi connection, we think WWE would like you to forget that Papa Uso, if we can call him that, once used the Stinkface to flatten opponents with his ample rear-end. It was a rather goofy finisher for someone often booked as a jolly sort, and the heel Usos definitely aren’t the goofy or jolly types.
6. LUKE HARPER’S “FAN CLUB”
Luke Harper is, as we’ve often stated, one of the most underrated workers the WWE currently has. And his locker room friends know it, with Chris Jericho leading the way and posting an Instagram photo of several wrestlers who make up the so-called “Luke Harper Fan Club.” That photo featured a mix of heroic and villainous wrestlers, and since WWE has this weird love-hate relationship with good ol’ fashioned kayfabe, Jericho got a lot of heat for the pic and took it down soon after.
That said, it would seem that WWE doesn’t see Harper as anything more than Bray Wyatt’s second-in-command, a big guy who could put on good matches, but take the pin to make the main eventers look good. He’s got the makings of a bigger star, but at 37, we don’t know how much time he has left to enjoy a better push.
5. DOLPH ZIGGLER’S BROTHER ALLEGEDLY KILLED SOMEONE
You’re probably aware of Dolph Ziggler’s dating history – among others, he’s dated John Cena’s current flame Nikki Bella, and comedian Amy Schumer, whom Cena co-starred with in the 2015 film Trainwreck. You may also be aware that his younger brother once wrestled in NXT as Briley Pierce, and had recently ventured into the writing business, having edited JTG’s two hilarious autobiographies under his real name, Ryan Nemeth. Unfortunately, Dolph’s other younger brother hasn’t done too well for himself in recent years, and is currently behind bars for supposedly having committed a very serious crime.
In May 2016, 29-year-old Donald Nemeth and another man were accused of killing a U.S. Marine during a drug deal a few months prior, with Donald allegedly having attempted to rob the victim before shooting him thrice. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the last we heard of him, he was being held on $1 million bond.
4. THE YOUNG RANDY ORTON’S BACKSTAGE MISADVENTURES
We all know that Randy Orton has had some issues with his anger and with authority, having been discharged from the Marines for disorderly conduct. We’re familiar with the drug suspensions and backstage altercations. We’re also aware of how he had reportedly taken a dump in at least one then-WWE Diva’s gym bag, and how he had slut-shamed Kelly Kelly in a radio interview. Now can we move on and focus on the Apex Predator’s in-ring accomplishments and third-generation legacy instead?
For more than a decade now, Orton has been a consistent main eventer in the WWE, and as we illustrated above, he certainly was no saint in his younger days. But now that he’s a veteran presence in the SmackDown Live locker room, as well as a new father with his second wife, WWE would likely think that it’s best that fans forget about his days as an angry young Viper.
3. EVERYTHING ABOUT DEAN AMBROSE’S CZW MATCHES
Unless you’re a die-hard indie fan who still holds it against WWE for renaming almost every indie darling who signs a contract with the company, you don’t mind calling Jonathan Good by his WWE ring name, Dean Ambrose. He cuts promos with a deranged look in his eyes, is willing to put his body on the line as far as WWE would allow him to, and that’s what brings us to that one thing WWE isn’t comfortable about the Lunatic Fringe’s fans remembering.
Back in his indie days, Ambrose was known as Jon Moxley, and it was in CZW where he built up a reputation as someone who didn’t care one bit about what he did to his body in the ring. This was a promotion that thrived in “ultraviolence,” and was notorious for bloody matches involving glass, barbed wire, fire, and other implements of destruction. And the future Dean Ambrose was one of its biggest stars. Believe us when we say the above picture is a very tame example of the risks he went through in CZW.
2. HUSKY HARRIS, THE TAXMAN’S SON
He’s a scary backwoods cult leader who was just recently baptized in the ashes of Sister Abigail, the supposed sister of Satan himself. He claims to have mystical powers as the “Eater of Worlds,” and even without a Family to call his own, there’s always the chance Luke Harper and Erick Rowan will come back to the fold and aid Bray Wyatt in his WrestleMania 33 match against Randy Orton. Oh, and he’s also the reigning WWE Champion, and it’s been a long time coming for him.
Being that the Bray Wyatt character has such an evil, supernatural mystique to it, it’s fair to think WWE doesn’t want you to remember his old guise as Husky Harris, the “Army tank with a Ferrari engine” whom Orton, mind you, punted out of The Nexus back in 2011. And they probably don’t want you to think of him as the real-life son of a man whose kayfabe colleagues scare a lot of us as April 15 draws closer — Mike “IRS” Rotunda, whom Harris admitted he was the son of in his NXT rookie vignette.
1. JOHN CENA ALLEGEDLY BURIED YOUNG TALENTS
We definitely wouldn’t lump John Cena together with Hulk Hogan, ’90s-era Shawn Michaels, and miscellaneous other Kliq members as a nefarious backstage politician. But there have been some stories of how the “Face that Runs the Place” allegedly threw some younger and/or lower-card wrestlers under the bus. The Nexus’ pathetic showing from SummerSlam 2010 onward immediately comes to mind, then there are also claims from the likes of Alex Riley, JTG, and Tyler Reks about how Cena, in one way or another, made sure they wouldn’t get over.
Be that as it may, Cena appears to be well-liked in the locker room (with now-former WWE Superstar Ryback being a very obvious exception), and he did express regret for how he unintentionally (or intentionally) made The Nexus look bad at SummerSlam. But since he’s a big draw and merchandise seller, not to mention still a capable main eventer as he draws closer to his 40s, WWE would probably want you to forget the above-mentioned allegations and others.