WWE is the largest wrestling company in the world and has been doing business now for a very long time, including over thirty years with Vince McMahon at the helm. McMahon is a hands on leader who does much more than overseeing the company’s business decisions, but also its creative direction and choices regarding slotting talents on the roster. For all of this time in control, and all of the talents who have made their way in and out of the WWE roster, you have to assume McMahon has had his regrets.
There are those talents McMahon must regret signing. Whether they were creative busts, caused problems backstage, or underperformed in the ring, these are the talents who hurt the company by squandering WWE’s good will and not advancing the larger cause of the promotion, or actively hurting or embarrassing WWE.
On the flip side of the coin, there are special talents WWE missed out on. Some were stars whom the company could never nail down. Others were ahead of their time, or wound up more talented than WWE may have initially given them credit for, and thus wound up feeling like ‘the ones that got away.’
So, this article tackles McMahon’s regrets from both ends. From as far back as stars of the 1980s to as recently as guys who are arguably still in their prime, and whom WWE might realistically still pursue, we’re taking a look at 10 wrestlers Vince regrets hiring, and 10 he wishes he’d signed when he had the chance.
22 Regrets Hiring: Kaval
Low Ki was an indie star who had enjoyed particular success in the early days of TNA. Hardcore fans were excited to see him sign with WWE, even if it was under the new name of Kaval and even though, despite his veteran credentials, he was cast as a rookie for the NXT television show. Things looked be on the upswing when he actually won the kayfabe NXT competition and transitioned to the main roster.
The character floundered on the main roster, though, as WWE didn’t seem to know if they really wanted to push him as an underdog character, use him as fodder for larger wrestlers, or just not use him at all. He’s exactly the kind of talent who might have thrived in the 205 Live ranks, but came at the wrong time and during a largely directionless angle in which LayCool tried to mentor him, he ultimately asked for his release. Both sides seemed happier going their own ways.
21 Wishes He’d Signed: Christopher Daniels
Christopher Daniels may not have been the greatest fit for WWE given his technical style and small stature. Just the same, when we see guys like AJ Styles and Samoa Joe tearing it up on the main roster today, Daniels’s absence, and the fact that he never got a shot with the company stands out as a missed opportunity for one of the premier in ring workers of his generation never performing with the biggest wrestling company in the world.
While it’s still possible that Daniels could get at least the call for NXT—and he surely would if he were still in his 30s or younger, now that the guy is 47 it’s likely that WWE has missed its window on using the guy effectively.
20 Regrets Hiring: Braden Walker
As The Wildcat Chris Harris, Braden Walker built a nice little legacy for himself on the indies and particularly with TNA. He was half of the successful America’s Most Wanted tag team and went on to get the best of an excellent follow up rivalry with James Storm before working the upper mid card. Unfortunately, when the guy went to WWE and worked the ECW brand, very little of his considerable potential was realized on the big stage. The performer just couldn’t really click within the bounds of WWE. Between falling out of shape at the worst possible time, and his incredibly lame catchphrase, “I’m Braden Walker and I’m going to knock your brains out,” the guy just couldn’t hack it in WWE.
Braden Walker is exactly the kind of talent who may thrived with NXT as a transitional brand, and with a little more freedom to be himself. As it stands, his run with WWE was largely an embarrassment.
19 Wishes He’d Signed: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega actually was under contract in WWE’s developmental system for a time, but never crossed over to the main roster, and has generally not had much positive to say about his time with Ohio Valley Wrestling.
Today, Vince McMahon may regret not giving this guy more of an opportunity to be himself, cut loose in the ring, and connect with the national audience. Since progressing to Japan in particular, he’s come into his own as one of the very best in ring workers in the world, not to mention that he’s got good charisma and cut a promo. After his classic with Kazuchika Okada at WrestleKingdom, rumors abounded WWE might pursue him but, at least as far as the public knows, there’s been no progress yet.
18 Regrets Hiring: Buff Bagwell
When WWE bought out WCW, Buff Bagwell looked nicely situated to be a star given his physique and his ability to draw heat. After WWE signed him, they plugged him into the first and only WCW branded match aired on WWE television—a Raw main event opposite Booker T.
The pair stunk out the joint.
There are conspiracy theories—not least of all put forth by Bagwell himself—that the match was setup to fail by being given no build, getting slotted in too high profile a spot, and being booked for the wrong city when Raw would air from a WCW hotbed the following week. Whether the failure were intentional or not, the match was historically bad, and to make matters worse, Bagwell would purportedly be difficult to work with behind the scenes, too, including the infamous incident when his mother called in sick for him. (Bagwell denies it ever happened—regardless, WWE wasn’t happy with him.
16 Wishes He’d Signed: Magnum TA
In the 1980s, Hulk Hogan was the definitive top face of WWE. On the Mid-Atlantic/Jim Crockett/WCW side of things, guys like Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, and Sting were at the fore, but there’s little question that they had been grooming Magnum TA for that top spot.
Magnum had the looks and physique to be a true break out star, not to mention that he could actually go in the ring at a high level. While one star alone can’t make a wrestling company, Magnum actually came across as a legit challenger to Hogan’s spot as the man in the business. And if WWE could have gotten their hands on him? Maybe he would have toned down his in ring game and brutality, but he probably could have really maxed out his star potential.
Tragically, before Magnum could go all the way down south, let alone defect to WWE, he got in an automobile accident that meant neither he, nor any wrestling promotion could fully cash in on everything he had to offer the business.
15 Regrets Hiring: Kharma
Before she was Kharma, Awesome Kong was a breakout star in Japan and then TNA as an awesome spectacle, skilled worker, and on the short list for greatest female monster heels of all time. She was special enough that WWE took a chance on her. In a time when the company focused on pretty faces, Kharma was a throwback to legitimate wrestling and the company set up an interesting angle of her destroying Divas and haunting Kelly Kelly.
Things all fell apart when Kharma got pregnant in real life just as her push was gathering steam. She’d miscarry and while the whole story remains vague, it seems she and WWE couldn’t come to terms about how much time she needed in the aftermath. In the end, she’d be a character WWE invested money in, who generated buzz, but who never realized her potential and was gone for personal reasons, and WWE had to subsequently scrub her from this period of its history.
14 Wishes He’d Signed: Manami Toyota
In recent years, WWE has come to celebrate the virtues of women’s wrestling. Between NXT’s star women’s division, and the evolution of women’s wrestling on the main roster, and the innovation of the Mae Young Classic, there’s no question that the company is now taking its female stars seriously.
Manami Toyota is one of the best wrestlers who never worked for WWE, and almost inarguably the biggest and best female star not to work with WWE who was in her prime after the company’s national expansion. Missing out on a top Japanese star, and a female wrestler may not have seemed like big deals in the 1990s, but as we look upon the women’s wrestling as WWE presents it now, it seems like a travesty that Toyota never got the spotlight of the biggest wrestling company in the world.
13 Regrets Hiring: Jeff Jarrett
Jeff Jarrett was a solid performer in the ring, and while we can debate his business acumen, most would agree he has a good to great mind for the business as well. For all of these virtues, and for getting two separate opportunities to work with WWE, there’s little question Vince McMahon would just as soon not have worked with him.
Jarrett played WWE and WCW off of one another throughout the 1990s in pursuit of more money and better positioning on the card. This, in and of itself may have left a bad taste in McMahon’s mouth, in particular for a guy he never valued higher than as a mid-card talent. To make matters much worse, though, Jarrett purportedly held up McMahon for money to drop the Intercontinental Championship before his final defection to WCW. On top of that, Jarrett founded TNA and GFW which have, at times, aimed to compete with WWE. All in all, Jarrett is someone McMahon would probably prefer didn’t exist at this point, and surely regrets ever having on his payroll.
12 Wishes He’d Signed: Chris Adams
Chris Adams was a very talented wrestler from England, who achieved particular success working in Dallas for Fritz Von Erich’s World Class Championship Wrestling. He a stint working in a fairly low profile position with WCW in the 1990s but to today’s fans, his greatest claim to fame is that he was responsible for training the man who would become Stone Cold Steve Austin, and even worked Austin’s first real feud opposite him.
Take the connection with Austin, and add on that Adams was widely respected as a solid hand and good showman, and you have a talent Vince McMahon, in retrospect, probably wishes he could have used as at least a mid-carder in his prime. Adams definitely could have been a useful veteran hand to have around.
11 Regrets Hiring: Mike Adamle
Mike Adamle came to WWE with a legitimate broadcast background, not to mention his experience as a football player. There was reason to believe he’d help bring professionalism, policy, and legitimacy to the WWE play-by-play position.
Unfortunately, one thing Adamle was not was a wrestling guy.
Adamle became a bit of a joke in WWE for his frequent flubs, including identifying wrestlers by the wrong name. WWE ultimately shifted him to a general manager role to still get some value from his employment and, according to some reports, to cast as something like Steve Carell’s Michael Scott on The Office as an incompetent boss. The character didn’t go over, and Adamle mercifully kayfabe resigned a few months into his tenure, never to be seen on WWE television again.
10 Wishes He’d Signed: Zack Sabre Jr.
Every now and again, and indie talent gets some legitimate buzz around him. Zack Sabre Jr. is exactly that sort of special performer who got over for his work in a variety of settings, including working in England and Japan, besides starring for red hot indie Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
Sabre would appear for WWE in the Network exclusive Cruiserweight Classic and performed impressively. Many were shocked when he was eliminated before the tournament final, only for it to be leaked that the probable reason for him not reaching the last round of the tournament was because he’d refused to sign a WWE contract.
At age 30, Sabre still ought to have some mileage left on him, but it will be interesting to see if WWE ever does get him tied down to a full time deal.
9 Regrets Hiring: Sin Cara
It made all the sense in the world for WWE to sign Mistico, one of the top luchadors of his day who’d theoretically take the torch from Rey Mysterio as a fringe main event guy and kid friendly merchandise mover who appealed to the Latino demographic.
Unfortunately, Sin Cara would turn out to be a bit of a train wreck in WWE. He struggled to acclimate to the WWE style, and in so doing became the test case for sending international and indie veterans to NXT first to adjust before coming to the main roster. Sin Cara was also strong minded and upset with the promises he felt WWE had made and their lack of follow through.
So, the original Sin Cara would leave the company in a huff and the worker who’d briefly (and confusingly) played a heel version of him took over the gimmick altogether. WWE kept the gimmick around but with clear ceiling on it as mostly a jobber to the stars and tag partner to Kalisto.
8 Wishes He’d Signed: The Great Muta
When you think about wrestlers who broke new ground and were influential in terms of the in ring work that happens in American wrestling from the late 1980s and early 1990s, The Great Muta stands out as a star. While he was based in Japan, he came in for multiple stints with WCW and its predecessors, most often working heel. His acrobatic but hard-hitting style, not to mention his tendency to spray mist at his opponents made him a fresh contributor, especially in the WCW upper card to main event.
Muta never worked for WWE, and while the company has come to retroactively celebrate his legacy here and there in Network specials and DVD releases, there’s no mistaking he’d be celebrated more if he had worked under the WWE banner. He’s exactly the kind of game changing talent Vince McMahon would love, at least now, to claim as one of his own.
7 Regrets Hiring: Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner was a perfectly respectable tag team performer for WWE for a year period in the early 1990s. After he returned to WCW, he seemed to evolve into a talent who could really thrive in WWE—more aggressive and, in particular, more vocal. This adjustment started when he was on the vanguard of WCW warring against the New Word Order, and evolved into him becoming a cornerstone of the heel super group in his new Big Poppa Pump persona.
And it’s exactly that Freakzilla that WWE sought to bring in in early 2003 to diversify the main event pool and cash in on the WCW faithful by having one of their mainstays take a starring role as challenger to world champ Triple H.
Steiner completely flopped. On one hand, you can argue WCW set him up for failure by booking him as a face when he was a much more natural and experienced main event heel. To WWE’s credit, though, Steiner also appeared out of ring shape—badly gassed in his most infamous match with The Game at the Royal Rumble that went a long way toward defining his WWE run in the mind’s of fans. To make matters worse, after this run he became one of WWE's most vocal critics.
6 Wishes He’d Signed: Velvet Sky
When you think of the most attractive women in wrestling history, names like Miss Elizabeth, Sunny, Sable, and Stacy Keibler come to mind; maybe Kelly Kelly or the Bellas or Paige for more contemporary examples.
And then there’s Velvet Sky.
Sky was never a particularly polished wrestler (though she was trained and competent), but she was one of the most beautiful women in wrestling, particularly during the time she was featured in TNA programming. Sky did have a few one-off appearances as a jobber or background character for WWE, but was never signed which was a real missed opportunity, particularly for the period when WWE prioritized looks over athletic talent in its female performers. No, Sky wouldn’t have changed the course of WWE history, but she’s a prime pinup-type that McMahon missed out on.
5 Regrets Hiring: Nailz
There are ways in which Nailz represented the prototype for a WWE signee in the early 1990s as a big, powerful guy with a menacing look, slid into an over the top gimmick. Nailz was cast as an ex-convict who claimed to have been brutalized by The Big Boss Man as a prison guard, and who was out for revenge in the ring.
That Nailz had little in the way of real wrestling skill actually fit this character, but his limitations nonetheless put a ceiling on his long term success. Nailz wasn’t only a questionable hire as a talent, though, but a nightmare to deal with. According to a variety of reports, he physically attacked Vince McMahon backstage because he felt he’d been misled about his prospects in WWE, and later tried to spin things with a claim McMahon had sexually harassed him. Needless to say, Nailz will probably never appear on WWE television again.
3 Wishes He’d Signed: Abyss
Abyss has often been criticized as a hybrid knock off of Mankind and Kane for his masked madman look, his monster heel style, and the elaborate mythology TNA built around him. Beneath all of the gimmickry, though, is a rock solid big man worker who was always willing to sacrifice his body in the hardcore style—a unique combination of assets that could have made him valuable to WWE.
According to Abyss in various shoot interviews, he was in talks with WWE more than once and there was interest in him. Abyss suggests that it was on the table for him to come in and work a program with The Undertaker in the mid-2000s. He instead remained loyal to TNA—the company that he’d been a part of since its early days, and that had made him a star in the first place.
2 Regrets Hiring: Chris Benoit
There are some guys who embarrass wrestling by association based on their outlandish behavior outside the ring. Chris Benoit took reflecting poorly on the business to a whole new level in 2007 when he did the unthinkable—he murdered his wife and child before killing himself.
Not only were Benoit’s final actions horrific, but they’re made even worse for wrestling by the initial theory that his violent acts were related to steroid use, and the later consensus that they connected to brain issues resulting from decades of head injuries. Thus, not only was a former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and WreslteMania main eventer a murderer, but his murderous actions were likely caused by his lengthy wrestling career.
While Benoit was an undeniable top tier talent in his day, none of his contributions justified how his life ended, and just how badly it all looked for WWE.
1 Wishes He’d Signed: Nikita Koloff
Nikita Koloff was an all time great heel foreigner. In the 1980s, he was booked in Jim Crockett Promotions as The Russian Nightmare, a natural foil for The American Dream Dusty Rhodes and friends. By many accounts, Koloff was a rough in ring performer in the early going, booked to squash opponents in no small part to hide his limitations. He grew into a talented performer, though, particularly in working the powerhouse style of the day. He was a terrific heel, and would even have a respectable run as a face later in his career, particularly after long time rival Magnum TA was forced into early retirement.
Koloff may well have been an ideal opponent for Hulk Hogan had WWE ever brought him in, but Koloff was an NWA guy through and through and has indicated in interviews that he was never in serious talks to go to WWE.