Professional wrestlers can often have the most difficult job of all athletes; especially in the WWE Universe. There could be years of training that goes into the conditioning to be able to pull off the various moves that make up a specific wrestler’s style in the ring. At the same time, just about as many hours have to go into the developing the psychology of the character they bring to the WWE ring with.
All of that work goes into a superstar having that small window of opportunity to make an impact in the WWE. There have been a number of WWE superstars who have had only so much time to succeed before getting pulled within a few months. Or maybe the WWE released them before they reached their full potential as a potential main event superstar.
At the same time, there are a number of wrestlers who many fans would argue should have been taken out of the WWE main roster picture for years. Some of these sub-par wrestlers were guilty of having a personality matching a wet block of wood. Others began to move in the wrestling ring like a snail. It could also be that they simply passed their prime and should have been eased into retirement.
The WWE has been guilty of giving up on several talented wrestlers too soon and others who they kept around the roster for far too long. The following are the 10 best examples of each kind of situation.
20 Too Soon - David Hart Smith
The WWE looked like they had something special with The Hart Dynasty from 2009 to 2011. The team of Tyson Kidd, David Hart Smith and Natalya would evolve into a decent team in the WWE. They won both the World Tag Team Championship and the WWE Tag Team Championship during their two-year run in the company. When the team split, there was a lot of attention put on Kidd as the more athletic wrestler.
That wasn’t to say that Smith wasn’t as good in the ring. But he never had a true opportunity as he would rarely be seen on WWE television before he was released in August 2011. Since then, he’s grown a lot through working for various wrestling promotions as a talented big man at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds. He’s won even more tag team gold in both New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan.
19 Too Long - Curtis Axel
There seems to be an ongoing problem with how the WWE attempts to book second- or third-generation superstars. Curtis Axel is someone who had a lot of expectations as the son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. After three years of wrestling in Florida Championship Wrestling, he debuted on the main roster as with the Nexus group under the name Michael McGillicutty. The name didn’t have the ring of a superstar and neither did his personality at the time.
Repackaged as Curtis Axel, he failed to really capture the attention with the WWE Universe. Even with a run as the WWE Intercontinental Champion and being named a “Paul Heyman guy” didn’t help raise his stock in the WWE roster. The one thing he did well was acting as a Hulk Hogan parody after his non-elimination from the 2015 Royal Rumble. One would assume he will be among the next set of roster cuts within the next six months.
18 Too Soon - Mordecai
Kevin Fertig had a couple of different gimmicks during his time with the WWE. There was a lot to like about a talent who stood at six-foot-three and weighed about 270 pounds. In 2004, Fertig made a WWE main roster debut under the nickname Mordecai. It was an interesting character because he seemed to be a very religious based wrestler who felt he was going to punish WWE Superstars for their sins. He would also condemn the audience for their sins.
It had a lot of potential and was even considered a potential feud for The Undertaker. Two large men who represent the light and the dark of the world would have been an interesting storyline. However, Mordecai’s run in the WWE only last about three months before Fertig was sent to development to receive more training. He would try a few more gimmicks before being released in 2010.
17 Too Long - Darren Young
Darren Young is another current WWE superstar who is a surprise to see is still on the active roster. Considering the amount of time he’s been with the company between the WWE main roster and in their developmental territory in Florida, Young has had his chance to become a successful superstar that the fans care about. He’s been a heel with the Nexus and failed in 2010 and 2011.
The only positive thing in his career was the partnership with Titus O’Neil for The Prime Time Players. But that team has split up twice since 2012. The recent attempts by Bob Backlund to “Make Darren Young Great Again” are laughable at best. Young is almost like JTG from a few years ago. Young is looked for in reports of WWE releasing talents and keeps making the cut to remain employed.
16 Too Soon - Elijah Burke
When the WWE decided to make ECW a brand meant as a way to call up newer wrestlers to WWE television, Elijah Burke was one of the call-ups who got a chance to make an impact in front of WWE cameras. He originally debuted with former mixed martial artist Sylvester Terkay. But the WWE was right in making Burke a singles star. He showed potential through his amateur boxing background before going into wrestling.
Burke showed plenty of in-ring skills and some decent microphone skills, but it felt like Burke never got a true chance. Burke even said a world heavyweight championship match was “the last thing on my mind” in 2007. Burke would be released from the WWE in 2008 and he was able to find moderate success as D’Angelo Dinero – both in the ring and at the commentary table.
15 Too Long - Ryback
Ryback is a victim of strong booking for an initial start in the WWE and then little to nothing after his first set of defeats. While he had a previous run in the WWE with The Nexus in 2010 as Skip Sheffield, the Ryback gimmick earned him quite the winning streak in 2012 that resembled the one Goldberg had in the 1990s.
But after being unsuccessful in WWE Championship pursuits against CM Punk, his stock fell to near-jobber status in a tag team with Curtis Axel. The WWE tried to make him a mid-card champion with the Intercontinental Championship, but with all of the new talents that have come into the WWE since Ryback’s debut, fans haven’t cared about Ryback since the feud with CM Punk a few years ago.
14 Too Soon - Ethan Carter III
Before he found success as a two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion as Ethan Carter III, he was Derrick Bateman in WWE. His career was mostly spent in Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT. Over time, Bateman was doing well with a comedy gimmick where he came across as energetic and goofy. There was some potential seen when he was teamed with NXT pro Daniel Bryan during the fourth season of the NXT competition.
But it felt like the WWE was never going to truly give Bateman a true chance to succeed on the WWE main roster. He would eventually leave in 2013. He went through a character overhaul into Dixie Carter’s spoiled nephew. While he was a heel, he had a great run that led to him defeating top names like Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy.
13 Too Long - Sheamus
When looking at Sheamus, there isn’t a lot about him that screams main event superstar. He’s a big Irish man who is booked as a striker with some power moves. Sheamus has held plenty of championship gold during his WWE run. That includes the WWE Championship, the United States Championship and he possibly has some tag team gold is in his future. But other than his physical size, there’s nothing truly special about Sheamus.
Sheamus has never been one of the best personalities in the WWE for the last 10 years. He was never able to be a credible champion during his first run with the WWE Championship in 2009. Sheamus also couldn’t succeed leading his own faction with the League of Nations. Then again, that wasn’t a good situation for anyone in that group. It might partially explain why Wade Barrett finally left.
12 Too Soon - Colt Cabana
The Midwest has produced plenty of wrestling talent over the years. In recent years, it can be argued that Colt Cabana has become one of the more successful independent wrestlers today. He’s found a lot of success wrestling for Ring of Honor here in the United States and also for various promotions throughout the globe. But similar to his real-life friend CM Punk, Cabana would receive an opportunity to go to WWE in 2007.
Cabana spent some time with Ohio Valley Wrestling before he was brought up to the SmackDown brand as Scotty Goldman. As Goldman, he was able to maintain a little bit of his goofy character he was known best for. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for Goldman to become a jobber before being released in 2009. Cabana seemed to make a joke of it with a web series with Marty DeRosa titled “Creative Has Nothing For You.”
11 Too Long - Big Show
The Big Show has certainly had a very long career in professional wrestling that dates back to his 1995 debut in WCW. One has to commend him for doing what he’s done for a long time. He’s also been a six-time world champion between the WWE and WCW – not counting the ECW “World Heavyweight Championship” in WWE. The problem with The Big Show is that he’s been very boring to watch for several years now.
Not a lot about his move set has changed, except the addition of the knockout punch. The modern-day giant has also slowed down a bit in terms of his in-ring conditioning and skills. One has to assume he’s going to retire sooner rather than later. But fans have been thinking that for the last three or four years, at least.
10 Too Soon - Drew Galloway
History shows that it can be pretty difficult for a professional wrestler from Europe to find success in the WWE. There are a few exceptions, but it’s mostly filled with examples of missed opportunities and some wrestlers not turning out as expected. The case of Drew Galloway competing in the WWE seems to be a result of poor booking from the WWE. As Drew McIntyre, he was quickly named the 'Chosen One' by Vince McMahon.
But when the preferred treatment he received was gone, he struggled to remain relevant in the WWE from 2011 until 2012. It didn’t get much better when he was put into the 3MB faction with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal as he barely earned wins until he was released in 2014. That departure allowed him to be the Galloway fans have known him. This allowed him to return to Ireland and also win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship earlier this year.
9 Too Long - Mark Henry
Mark Henry is another superstar who has been around for more than 20 years. He’s seen a lot and gone through a number of gimmick changes through the Attitude Era and the Ruthless Aggression Era. We haven’t seen much of him on WWE television since shortly after the recent brand extension draft. But maybe that’s a good thing considering there’s not a lot left for him to prove.
While he’s certainly been an okay powerhouse wrestler, he’s never really had an entertaining gimmick. He was barely acceptable as the World Heavyweight Champion on SmackDown back in the original brand split in 2011. But similar to other big men who have competed in wrestling for the last two decades, his move set has not evolved a lot and his matches have become more boring over time.
8 Too Soon - Angelina Love
It’s safe to say that Angelina Love has found plenty of success as one of the best female wrestlers in TNA Wrestling history. During her time with TNA, Love won the TNA Knockout Championship on six separate occasions, as well as the Knockouts Tag Team Championship with Winter. But many wrestling fans may not know that the Canadian wrestler actually spent time in the WWE developmental system before going to TNA.
Love spent three years with WWE in their Deep South Wrestling developmental territory from 2004 to 2007. She started as a manager for Johnny Parisi before going into singles action for herself. Unfortunately, her developmental contract was terminated shortly after the WWE moved their development operations to Ohio Valley Wrestling. It’s a shame because she was truly able to find her niche after leaving WWE.
7 Too Long - Kane
Kane has been a great wrestler overall in his career. Even when the WWE booked him in random tag teams with names like X-Pac and Rob Van Dam, he made it work. Kane was at his best before taking off the mask the first time in 2003. Since then, his character has shifted between face and heel several times over. It’s actually one of the more frustrating things about Kane’s character.
While he’s better in the ring overall than other big men like Big Show and Mark Henry, Kane’s matches have also fell victim to boredom caused by Father Time. It didn’t matter if he was a demon, corporate, masked or unmasked. Kane’s move set had become predictable. Fans have also grown tired of the lack of consistency his character has been given by the creative staff.
6 Too Soon - Damien Sandow
Sometimes, you can tell when someone has the right stuff to be a WWE superstar. After struggling to stand out as Idol Stevens, Aaron Haddad was able to make a mark through WWE developmental as Damien Sandow. The character of someone who showed how much smarter he was than everyone around him made him perfect as a heel. In 2013, he would win the Money in the Bank briefcase. Unfortunately, his cash-in opportunity resulted in a loss to John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
After that, Sandow went on a huge losing streak and was unable to be taken seriously as a contender. Even though he was able to get over with the crowd as a stunt double for The Miz, the WWE never rewarded him with a real push. This led to him eventually leaving the WWE for TNA, where he’s already achieved more championship success there in one month than he did several years with the WWE.
5 Too Long - Alberto Del Rio
Putting Alberto Del Rio on this list isn’t necessarily knocking him as a professional wrestler. He is very good at what he does. The problem was, it never meshed well with what the WWE was wanting him to do. It was evident when he made his recent return to the WWE in 2015 when he was paired with Zeb Colter for Mex-America. It was awkward and very few fans thought the storyline made any sense.
Del Rio still had some great matches with the likes of Kalisto for the United States Championship. But once again, the booking officials put him in a faction with Sheamus and Rusev that did little to help Del Rio. The former Dos Caras, Jr., still had a hand in his recent issues with WWE due to the Talent Wellness Program violation earlier this year, but considering how big of a star he is in Mexico, it might have been a blessing in disguise.
4 Too Soon - John Morrison
Being one of the most athletic competitors in professional wrestling doesn’t always lead to winning heavyweight championship. After winning a contract in the third season of Tough Enough in 2003, he would develop into one of the most consistent mid-card talents in the WWE. There was plenty of success with five tag team championships, three runs as the Intercontinental Championship and the ECW Championship.
But it felt like the WWE was letting Morrison walk away in 2011 with a lot that wasn’t accomplished. Granted, he let his contract run out because he wanted to have more control in his career. It’s turned out well with holding the AAA Latin American Championship in Mexico and also a major star in Lucha Underground. Johnny Mundo is showing he can be a main event star outside of the WWE.
3 Too Long - The Great Khali
Unlike some of the great big men on this list, The Great Khali was never really a good wrestler. Some would argue that he was never really average. Khali probably would have never made the grade in a pass/fail assessment. And yet the WWE brought him in to the SmackDown roster in 2006 – with less than a year of training in Deep South Wrestling. He did wrestle in other parts of the world, but that didn’t mean he was any good.
Fans saw that in his first fight with The Undertaker. Khali moved so slow to the point where even a dazed Undertaker had enough time to dodge his karate chop to the head. Khali is arguably the worst heavyweight champion in WWE history and his in-ring abilities got worse over time. Khali couldn’t even take a bump without needing a timer to see how long it took for him to fall down. The fact that he was with the WWE until 2014 is surprising.
2 Too Soon - Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega certainly has become one of the biggest names in professional wrestling outside of the WWE. But the current leader of the iconic Bullet Club faction was actually training under Deep South Wrestling in WWE from 2005 to 2006. He would speak about his experience in WWE developmental back then. He said he learned a lot from Dave Taylor who helped him become a better overall professional wrestler.
But Omega requested to leave the company in late 2006. According to Omega, his time with head trainers Bill DeMott and Bob Holly were a big part of why he hated working in Deep South Wrestling. It turned out to be a good move by Omega as he’s become a two-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and a one-time IWGP Intercontinental Champion with New Japan Pro Wrestling. It was unfortunate the WWE couldn’t keep him under contract to see him flourish under their brand.
1 Too Long - The Undertaker
There’s no denying that The Undertaker is going to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame when he retires. The Phenom was an integral part of the Attitude Era and wrestling overall for the past 25 years. However, The Undertaker has seemingly limped along the past few years. Ever since he lost to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX, the luster of him appearing on the biggest stage in wrestling has worn off significantly.
The once great legend has been tarnished in lower-quality matches with Bray Wyatt and Shane McMahon. One has to think what he has to gain from making another WrestleMania appearance, besides the massive paycheck he’ll get for the short amount of time he’s on television. The Undertaker should have honestly retired after his WrestleMania streak was ended almost three years ago.