The WWE is just like the real world — some things work out, some things don’t.
When you’re trying to figure out a talent who can take your company to the next level, there is a lot of time and effort that goes into that. Substantial pushes, long term booking, and putting wrestlers in the right position to succeed all help — but in the end, it’s what the wrestlers do or don’t do that ultimately decide their fate.
Just look back in the history of the WWE. Vince McMahon put a lot of time building up Triple H as a potential star. But because he was a part of the infamous Curtain Call, Stone Cold Steve Austin ended up getting his push instead. I guess you can say that worked out…
In addition, there’s always crowd reaction that helps as well. When The Rockers broke up, both Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were supposed to go on single’s runs. But because the fans reacted to Michaels a hell of a lot more than Jannetty, he ended up having a Hall of Fame career.
Sometimes it’s because of the wrestlers, sometimes it’s because of outside interference; but either way, here are eight wrestlers who were supposed to be the guy and eight who took their places.
16. Supposed To Be: Gangrel
When looking back, not much changed in terms of characters between the New Generation Era from the mid-90s to the Attitude Era in the late 90s-early 2000s. While the former era has been laughed at for their hokey and cartoonish characters — and rightfully so — the latter one had their fair share of them as well. One of them is Gangrel.
Gangrel, of course, was pushed as a vampire, including fake teeth and drinking blood before he entered the ring. He was placed as the leader of The Brood, a dark stable with the combination of great music and a unique entrance. In the early stages of the tandem, Gangrel was clearly positioned to be the top member and eventual solo act as he was always seen as the focal point. Unfortunately for him, his underwhelming in-ring ability and lack of promo skills only forced him towards the bottom of the card — and that opened up the door for one of his stable-mates to take the reigns.
15. Took His Place: Edge
When Gangrel was trying to make a name for himself on Monday Night Raw every week, he was typically flanked by his cronies at the time in Edge and Christian. But whenever the trio would share the ring with one another, one thing became blatantly obvious — Edge, not Gangrel, was the clear-cut star of the group.
After breaking off from Gangrel, Edge and Christian turned into one of the greatest tag teams in wrestling history, both because of their charisma and five-star matches they put on with the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz. From there, Edge became a solo act, and after spending some time in the upper-mid card, he branched off as a main event player. Before seeing his career end prematurely, The Rated-R Superstar finished with 11 World Title reigns and victories in the Royal Rumble, King of the Ring, and Money in the Bank matches.
14. Supposed To Be: Ted DiBiase Jr.
From the day he stepped foot in a WWE ring, Ted DiBiase Jr. was poised for stardom. Making his intentions known that he planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a champion, he captured Tag Team gold in his first pay-per-view match as Cody Rhodes — another second generation star — turned on his partner Hardcore Holly and aligned with DiBiase.
From there, the duo became known as The Legacy and joined forces with Randy Orton. While the duo of DiBiase and Rhodes wrestled against plenty of opponents, it was the Million Dollar Man’s son who typically picked up victories. But as the Legacy stable died down, so did DiBiase. While the company tried a number of other gimmicks including giving him the Million Dollar Belt, a combination of poor mic skills and average charisma was his downfall.
13. Took His Place: Cody Rhodes
Like DiBiase, Rhodes suffered from inconsistent booking when his storyline with Orton was finished. It didn’t take long for him to take off, however, as Rhodes became an Intercontinental Champion a few shorts after the WreslteMania blowoff match. Working as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, he was positioned as a future star of the WWE.
Things didn’t necessarily turn out as grand as Rhodes hoped. Nonetheless, he was still the star of The Legacy faction. Not only did he work in memorable programs with Rey Mysterio, Damien Sandow, Goldust, and as the Stardust character, he was also a two-time IC Champion and six-time Tag Team Champion. Frustrated with his booking, Rhodes has taken his talents to the indies and has revitalized his career. Putting on top-tier matches with TNA, ROH, New Japan, and PWG, amongst others, it’s only a matter of time before Rhodes returns to the WWE as a top star.
12. Supposed To Be: John Morrison
John Morrison began his career as the Shawn Michaels of MNM. Teaming with Joey Mercury, Morrison — who went by Johnny Nitro at the time — stood out in all facets of the wrestling game. His in-ring ability and look were second to none, and while he struggled on the mic, he gradually got better as a speaker. His main event push on ECW furthered that narrative as he was positioned as the top face of the brand.
The signs started to change, however, when he was put onto the Raw and SmackDown rosters. After teaming with The Miz, Morrison’s lack of promo skills grew even further, making it hard to give him a true main event push. While Morrison was a multi-time Intercontinental Champion, he was never able to break that glass ceiling in the WWE. While he’s doing a much better job in Lucha Underground, his failures in the biggest wrestling company in the world stand out.
11. Took His Place: The Miz
Even when The Miz and Morrison were teaming, it appeared as though the latter was going to become a marquee star. But when it was apparent that The Miz could verbally destroy Morrison, he was put in a position to succeed — and to his credit, The Miz took the ball and ran with it.
Whether it’s been working as tag teams with Morrison, Big Show, and R-Truth, wrestling with Hall of Famers like Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler, or his multiple Intercontinental and United States Championship feuds with the likes of Dolph Ziggler, MVP, and Daniel Bryan, he push to the top was deserved. After winning the Money in the Bank briefcase, The Miz successfully became WWE Champion and main evented WrestleMania XXVII. He’s gone through some downfalls since then, but the brand split has reinvented his character as The Miz is SmackDown Live’s top heel. With another World Championship reign a distinct possibility, The Miz is still killing it to this day.
10: Supposed To Be: Bobby Lashley
Oh, what could have been. From the moment Bobby Lashley debuted on WWE television, you knew he was going to be a World Champion. Was he the best when it came to in-ring skills? Not even the slightest. But his look and size alone warranted an automatic push from Vince McMahon, which included being placed The Battle of the Billionaires match at WrestleMania 23 where he represented Donald Trump.
During his time on the ECW brand, the creative team tested the waters on Lashley as a main eventer. He was a solid champion, sure, but his lack of wrestling prowess and mic skills seriously hindered his potential. Once sent to Raw, Lashley wrestled for the WWE Championship against John Cena but was released after a six-month injury. It was a far fall from grace for a man who was supposed to carry the company into the next decade.
9. Took His Place: CM Punk
When Bobby Lashley first captured the ECW Championship at December to Dismember, Paul Heyman abruptly quit. Not because he didn’t like Lashley — it was because he wanted CM Punk, one of the company’s fastest rising stars, as the show’s figurehead. Punk may have not won the championship that night; but it’s safe to say his career ended up just fine.
Once moved to the main roster, Punk had the masterful ability to jump from good guy to bad guy, all the while having the fans eat up his every word. A two-time Money in the Bank winner, he had memorable moments with the Straight Edge Society and the New Nexus before becoming arguably the biggest name in the company. This was never more apparent than Punk’s 434-day reign as WWE Champion, one that included a number of great matches along the way. His run with the company may have ended in an unceremonious fashion, but there’s no denying that Punk was a top star.
8. Supposed To Be: Wade Barrett
There have been a ton of memorable debuts in wrestling world, but one that stands out above the rest is when Nexus first appeared on WWE television. After starting out as eight rookies on the first season of NXT, the youngsters destroyed everything in sight on their first night. Wade Barrett, who won the competition, was positioned as the leader — and after getting a WWE Championship shot just one month into his career, it appeared as though the sky was truly the limit.
Unfortunately, however, that never came to fruition. Barrett did climb up the card, won the Intercontinental title on numerous occasions, and had some memorable character adjustments — the best of which was his “Bad News” gimmick — but injuries continued to derail his pushes. After being the low man on the totem pole in the League of Nations stable, Barrett saw no more upside with the WWE and the two sides agreed to part ways.
7. Took His Place: Daniel Bryan
A lot of people forget that Daniel Bryan wasn’t only on the first season of the NXT show but was also a part of The Nexus debut. But because he choked out announcer Justin Roberts with his tie, he was released. His absence didn’t last long as he was brought back weeks later and quickly became an underdog and fan favorite.
At this point, everyone knows the awesome story that is the career of Daniel Bryan. After scratching and clawing his way up the card, a revolt from the fans forced him into the event of WrestleMania XXX, where he finally had his crowning moment and became WWE World Heavyweight Champion. His career may have ended prematurely due to various concussions but the YES Movement is still alive and well and Bryan’s still one of the most beloved superstars in WWE history. While he’s never going to wrestle again, his presence on SmackDown Live makes the show even better than it already is.
6. Supposed To Be: Dean Ambrose
If The Nexus had the best debut in WWE history, The Shield wasn’t too far behind it. The trio of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns — three of the top stars in developmental — ran roughshod during the main event of Survivor Series and were originally positioned as muscle for CM Punk. Eventually, the team branched off into their own category, with Dean Ambrose serving as the leader.
It’s hard to argue that Ambrose wasn’t pegged to be the top star. Not only was he the mouthpiece of the group, but he was the only one to capture singles gold when together and even wrestled The Undertaker on SmackDown, which was a request from The Deadman himself. Ambrose is by no means struggling — in fact, he’s currently one of the top stars in all of WWE. But he’s not the top dog…
5. Took His Place: Roman Reigns
Speaking of which, that honor obviously belongs to Reigns. When looking back, the signs were obvious; Reigns typically was the one scoring the pinfall for The Shield and was positioned as the silent muscle. Even CM Punk claimed that Chris Hero, not Reigns, was supposed to be in the group but Vince McMahon and Triple H handpicked The Big Dog.
Yes, his booking has been questionable. Instead of branching off and doing his own thing like Ambrose and Seth Rollins, Reigns has kept the same music and attire that he had when he was with The Shield. He’s also booked like an underdog when he was much better off as the aforementioned silent muscle. But it’s clear the company is all-in with Reigns, and he will be the company’s franchise player for years to come.
4. Supposed To Be: Lex Luger
When Hulk Hogan left the WWE, Vince McMahon should’ve received the hint. Not only could he never duplicate what The Hulkster brought to the company but, because Hogan was being booed towards the end of his career, he should’ve transitioned to a different type of star to lead the Next Generation. Instead, McMahon tabbed Lex Luger as “The All-American.”
Equipped with the “Lex Express” tour bus, red, white, and blue trunks, and “Made in the USA” nickname, Luger was clearly being placed as the WWE’s future star. Unfortunately, however, crowd responses were never in his favor, which had the company pull the plug on his main event push. Luger wrapped up his WWE career being far from the top star that he was supposed to be as he wrestled in a tag team with Davey Boy Smith before departing for WCW. But fortunately for McMahon, he had someone ready to take his place.
3. Took His Place: Bret Hart
While Vince McMahon was firmly behind Lex Luger, there were a number of other members of the WWE that wanted Bret Hart to be the next face of the company. When the crowd followed suit, the decision was made to have Luger and Hart become co-winners of the Royal Rumble in 1994 which resulted in both men receiving a championship match at WrestleMania X.
Of course, Hart went on to become one of the greatest and most prolific stars in WWE history. Whether it was feuding with his brother Owen, putting over an up-and-coming Stone Cold Steve Austin, or having the infamous program with Shawn Michaels, Hart was putting on some of the best matches in company history. The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be wasn’t just a phrase as the future WWE Hall of Famer ended up winning the WWE Championship on five different occasions.
2. Supposed To Be: Randy Orton
When looking back at some of the greatest factions in wrestling history, you have to rank Evolution at or near the top. Triple H has been mocked for burying young talents during his wrestling days but that couldn’t have been further from the truth during this era as he elevated both Randy Orton and Batista. With Ric Flair as the final piece, the foursome dominated Raw throughout their reign.
As the group began to fade, it was obvious that Orton was declared the chosen one. After all, he was the first man to break off from the group and ended up becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion at the time. Unfortunately, Orton proved to be too immature and fans weren’t getting behind him as much as the company wanted, cutting his reign short. Like Ambrose, Orton has done wonders for himself as will go down as one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. But initially, he was supposed to be the guy — and he wasn’t.
1. Took His Place: Batista
With the Orton experiment temporarily failing, the Vince McMahon went in a new direction for their star — and they didn’t have to look far. As Evolution was nearing its final months, Batista was received more and more positively by the WWE Universe. After capturing the Royal Rumble victory, he had the choice of facing JBL for the WWE Championship on Smackdown or taking on Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship.
To the crowd’s delight, Batista chose Triple H, all but cementing his face turn. The Animal received his crowning moment at WrestleMania 21 and was on top of the wrestling world for the better part of four years. Even though they started at the same time, Batista didn’t have a run comparable to John Cena — but at the time, he was just as big, if not even a bigger star than him. All in all, Batista was a six-time WWE Champion and will no doubt be a member of the Hall of Fame someday.