There are plenty of perks being a superstar in World Wrestling Entertainment. Obviously, there’s more money that comes with being a WWE Superstar, but if you have a certain look that members of WWE management prefer, then you may also enjoy the perk of getting a little more leeway. They don’t have to be the most athletic or the most charismatic to be kept on the WWE roster.
Not all superstars on the WWE roster have ever been considered among the best that professional wrestling has to offer. They often seem like they were made relevant by the WWE, despite having matches filled with botches or things that you’ve seen over and over. Other times, they aren’t even that great with whatever character they are given.
This isn’t a new issue in WWE. An argument can be made that some of WWE’s top stars in history have not been able to find success outside of the company for a variety of reasons. The flaws they have were covered up by how WWE protected them on television or with how they have been booked over recent years.
The following are 15 current wrestlers who wouldn’t get anywhere without the help of the machine that is the WWE.
When looking at Konnor, he is one of those larger athletes who should have the physical tools to be a success in the WWE. This isn’t his first run in the WWE either, as he was initially in the company from 2005 to 2007 under developmental before taking a break. Since coming back to Florida Championship Wrestling in 2010, this giant has had various character changes that started with the very rat-like Conor O’Brian.
Then he was shifted into a much darker Ascension gimmick with Kenneth Cameron -- a team that had a bit of a supernatural and demonic demeanor. With Cameron’s departure and the addition of Viktor, Konnor has only regressed in the WWE. One has to assume that the WWE is only keeping Konnor in the WWE because of his physical look. His inability to improve since first coming to WWE in 2005 doesn’t help his chances of finding success with another promotion elsewhere.
14 Erick Rowan
The Wyatt Family appears like a collection of giants who looked scary standing behind their leader in Bray Wyatt. Luke Harper has found success on his own when the family first split up in 2014 that included a short reign as the Intercontinental Champion. Unfortunately, Erick Rowan was unable to do the same. His move set is not as flashy as someone like Harper and his personality is about as dry as toasted rye bread.
Rowan is basically a man with a big red beard that wears a sheep’s mask. The WWE was smart to put him back with Wyatt as his enforcer. It is pretty much the only thing he can be used for at this point. The likelihood he would find his place in wrestling television outside of WWE is also low. There are plenty of big men who are a lot more talented on the independent circuit.
13 Braun Strowman
The WWE creative team has made the right decision to have Braun Strowman have a chance to develop into a monster among men on the RAW roster. There were rumors that the WWE had considered placing Strowman in a match with The Undertaker earlier this year, but Strowman is still relatively new to professional wrestling and that showed early in his run with the Wyatt Family.
However, the WWE does know how to make a large man look good so that they can buy time in making him better in the ring. None of the other promotions would have given him the exposure he’s received from the WWE right away. Strowman is in a good place, thanks to the WWE machine. Eventually that winning streak will move from “local competitors” to lower-card superstars. They could give him a run similar to Ryback, but without pushing him to a WWE Championship match too quickly.
12 Baron Corbin
Professional wrestling companies, including the WWE, have had a history of recruiting former football players to be trained as superstars. Baron Corbin is one of the recent examples of someone who played on the offensive line in the National Football League before being signed by WWE in 2012 under a developmental contract. He’s shown some potential, but he still has a lot of growth with some fans feeling that he was called up to the main roster a little too early. He didn’t even receive any hype for his sudden debut in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal match at WrestleMania 32.
While the WWE is still bringing in some of the best talents in the wrestling scene, they are the ones most likely to give former football players a chance to be on television. Corbin will not likely be considered a viable talent in Japan, nor would he fit into the ROH or TNA molds. His success is dependent on the direction from the WWE creative team.
11 Titus O’Neil
The promo that Titus O’Neil delivered a little more than a week ago did not do him any favors. There has already been some disinterest building up for the former Florida Gator. The frustrating part is that he once showed a lot of potential when he was in a tag team with Darren Young – The Primetime Players. But as a singles wrestler, O’Neil's flaws have become a lot more noticeable. It’s a shame because he is a large man with a good amount of charisma. Remember Rufus “Pancake” Patterson?
O’Neil is another former professional football player who was brought into the company through development. Similar to Baron Corbin, O’Neil is someone who might have been rushed to television before being fully rounded. But at age 39, time is ticking away on getting O’Neil truly ready for prime-time. Maybe he can join the commentary booth and replace David Otunga. Everyone would end up winning.
10 Darren Young
Speaking of someone who didn’t find a lot of success after the end of The Primetime Players tag team, Darren Young hasn’t really flourished much beyond a few wins here and there. The catchphrase with Bob Backlund being Young’s coach was “Make Darren Young Great Again.” The problem is that Young was never that great to begin. He is weak speaking on the microphone, which might explain why the WWE decided to bring in Backlund to be his manager.
There is an argument that Young is kept in the WWE because he has been providing a positive role model of sorts. The news that he announced he was homosexual led to good publicity for the company, so the WWE is probably going to want to keep him on the roster. Still, that would not necessarily save him from being fired in a company like TNA, ROH or in territories like Japan.
9 Sin Cara
There might be a curse on the character Sin Cara. The original superstar to have the gimmick, Mistico, made a number of mistakes and suffered multiple injuries before the current Sin Cara – Hunico – took over the mask. Whether he was feuding with the original Sin Cara as the doppelganger or in a tag team with Camacho, he was never able to find his niche. While not injured as often, a poorly timed shoulder injury last December hurt the tag team push he and Kalisto had at the time.
This is a bit of a letdown considering he showed a lot of promise working for AAA in Mexico and Chikara in the U.S. Now at the age of 39, this Sin Cara is not going to attract a lot of interest outside of his current WWE contract. The WWE does want to have the luchadores like him and Kalisto to help attract fans when they go on tours in Mexico and South America, which might be the only thing keeping him around.
8 Bo Dallas
While part of a very talented family bloodline in professional wrestling, Bo Dallas isn’t really up to par with his family. While he had some success in WWE developmental, his move to the main roster was definitely one of the bigger flops among the recent NXT call-ups. Fans were seemingly interested at first at the comical motivational speaker gimmick, but it lost momentum when his undefeated streak ended in 2014.
Dallas was mostly mediocre before being given the character change, especially during his time when Florida Championship Wrestling was the developmental promotion for WWE. The Social Outcasts faction gave him some good lines, but now he’s likely to fall into low-card purgatory. It’s not like he has the same skill set as another third-generation superstar in Cody Rhodes. He also has a pretty average physique. If released from WWE, don’t expect him to be showing up for another televised promotion.
7 Eva Marie
This goes without saying, but Eva Marie hasn’t really done well in the WWE. Sure, she does look very good physically, but when it comes to her abilities in the WWE ring, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done to get her ready for a live match. The sad part is that there was a period of time last year when Eva Marie was actually being trained by "the" Brian Kendrick, a former WWE Tag Team Champion.
The WWE has spent some time in protecting Eva Marie by having her as a heel with numerous excuses not to compete on SmackDown Live – fake injury, wardrobe malfunction and even bad traffic. The WWE is allowing her to be on television. There isn’t a question of how Eva Marie would have done with another promotion. She wouldn’t make it to the ring with companies like Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling, but maybe with TNA Wrestling.
6 Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger is an interesting case as another athlete that was recruited to come to WWE and jumped around the different developmental territories for about two years. The former Oklahoma Sooner football and wrestling star has struggled to really connect through the microphone. His vocal abilities are very mediocre at best, but the WWE doesn’t want the time they’ve put into him to be wasted. This is the same superstar who was expected to win the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania XXIX in 2013, but ruined that by being caught with marijuana.
Not even Zeb Colter could save Swagger’s chances of being a main event superstar in the WWE. The WWE might still change that, but it’s hard to see Swagger having those kinds of opportunities in other promotions. Wrestling outside of WWE is so competitive with everyone stepping up their game. It might be a tougher pool of talent in which to stand out compared to the WWE roster.
It is extremely likely that Goldust is going to retire as a member of the WWE roster. As Dustin Rhodes, he wasn’t able to make enough of an impact in World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s. It was actually part of his infamous promo as “Seven” where he said he was told that “Dustin sucks.” He’s not able to get beyond having a gimmick where he paints his face and acts a little off.
Even when he went to TNA in 2008, he had to go with the Black Reign gimmick that was like taking Goldust, changing the colors and adding horror-film elements to him. That character would eventually flop and lead to another return to the WWE. He’s actually had five separate runs with the company, which proves that he’s unable to find success outside of the WWE. Maybe there was some truth to that WCW promo that plain ol’ Dustin wasn’t very good.
Sheamus was recruited as a decent talent from his time in his native Ireland and for various British promotions. However, his biggest success has been found in the WWE, where he has held the Money in the Bank briefcase twice, won the Royal Rumble and the King of the Ring. That has led to being a four-time world champion in the WWE. However, he probably wouldn’t be able to have that kind of success outside of the sports-entertainment giant.
Additionally, being in the WWE has led to a number of other opportunities he might not have had a chance to get without the WWE. It took about three years in developmental before he made his debut on WWE television with the ECW brand. Many other promotions might not have been as patient with the Irish wrestler. The WWE kept him on despite his seeming lack of ability and minimal charisma.
3 Nikki Bella
The WWE has been notorious for hiring female talents who come into the company without any wrestling background. Both Nikki and her sister Brie were models who signed up for the 2006 WWE Diva Search. Both would be signed to a developmental contact in 2007 and have not had the most success in the WWE. Matches were filled with botches and it seemed as if they were only kept on television to be eye candy for the male audience. If they were with any other promotion, they would have been fired.
While they were released from their contracts in 2012, they returned in 2013 with Nikki having reclaimed the WWE Divas Championship. However, she still had some poor matches and feuds over the last few years. She’s improved since she first came to WWE television in 2008, but the WWE is likely the only televised promotion in which she will compete.
2 The Miz
Before becoming The Miz, Mike Mizanin was a former star on MTV’s Real World. The reality television star had the desire to become a professional wrestler who would quickly enter WWE’s Tough Enough. His eventual signing and debut for the company included hosting the Diva Search and having a very goofy and confident gimmick. His abilities were limited early in his wrestling career, but he would improve and has become one of the most decorated superstars in recent history.
The thing about The Miz is that he probably wouldn’t have gotten the chances to be in the WWE if it wasn’t for the fact that he already had some popularity. Someone like him wouldn’t have had a chance to succeed elsewhere. The WWE was able to keep giving him the resources to develop both in the ring and on the microphone, which ultimately led to a chance to main event WrestleMania XXVII as the WWE Champion.
1 John Cena
For several years, the Internet was filled with jokes about how John Cena’s move set was limited. One that comes to mind includes Cena being shopped into an image of the Pokemon games that said “Cena can’t learn more than four moves!” The WWE took someone who had a decent look and could cut a good promo in the form of a rap and made him the Ruthless Aggression Era’s version of Hulk Hogan – a top main event wrestler who can get numerous movie roles.
There’s no denying that Cena is very popular among the younger audiences and has become a great ambassador for what a WWE superstar should do (i.e. Make-A-Wish visits). He’s also improved greatly in his feuds with guys like Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, which has recently earned him more respect from the WWE Universe. Still, he would have never had a long career and 15 world championships outside of the WWE.