Developmental, WWE’s own little talent farm, scooping up the best and brightest of the indie scene and turning them into megastars. Well, that’s what they’d like you to believe. WWE’s developmental systems, like FCW, OVW and NXT, have produced the biggest stars in the company today and, with some of them, it was easy to see that they’d be stars. One way to tell how the company viewed a performer right from the start was the various championships that developmental systems implemented to give future hopefuls a small taste of what being a champion felt like.
NXT, WWE’s most recent developmental system, boasts plenty of champions who went onto major title success on the main roster. Seth Rollins, Big E, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, all of these men have held various titles on the main roster and all can trace their roots back to the NXT Championship. Equally, men like Randy Orton, John Cena and Batista all won titles in their developmental systems and went onto become world champion, so, for the most part, developmental championship statistics can be a good way of judging a superstar’s future success. For the most part. As with any wrestling championship, sometimes the bookers get things wrong and someone who was pushed high in developmental found themselves floundering on the main roster, if they ever made it there in the first place.
If embarrassing failures is your kinda thing, then buddy, have I got a list for you? To clarify, we are only including wrestlers who held singles championships in their respective developmental systems. Also, no Sami Zayn on this list as I am limiting myself to wrestlers who have been on the main roster for at least year. I wanna give Sami some time here, I’m not totally heartless. So, time to turn back the clock and look at some of the best and brightest flops WWE has ever produced. Here are fifteen developmental champions that were never titleholders on the main roster.
15 Bo Dallas
We’ll start with a man who’s not only been a champion in one developmental system, but two. Taylor Rotunda, who originally wrestled under the name Bo Rotundo, won his first FCW (that’s Florida Championship Wrestling to you uneducated lot) Florida Heavyweight Championship on 3rd February 2011. However, this would be a short-lived glory for the future-Inspirational One as he would lose the title on that very same night. Whoops.
However, Bo would taste championship success twice more in FCW, reigning for a total of 132 days and holding the record for the most overall reigns with the Heavyweight Championship at three. Bo would break more records when FCW was rebranded NXT and he would capture the NXT Championship from Big E Langston on 23rd May 2013. Dallas would reign for a whopping 280 days before losing the title at NXT’s first ever Takeover special, a record at the time. Yes, two people have gone on to break that record since then, but Bo will always have that glorious period of time where he was the longest reigning NXT Champion ever.
Since then, Dallas has gone on to flounder on the main roster, lacking any real direction or story and, unfortunately, it looks like that is going to be the case for a long time. Dallas is a highly capable wrestler who’s great on the mic and even has a bountiful wrestling heritage as the grandson of WWE Hall of Famer, Blackjack Mulligan. Bo definitely deserves better, but, as much as I hate to say it, I don’t think it’s gonna get any better for him, especially when after his loss to Bin Wang in Shanghai. Enjoy those jobber squashes while they last, Bo.
14 The Ascension
Some more NXT flops now, both of which make it onto the list. Konnor and Viktor wowed audiences in NXT with their record-setting 364-day reign as NXT Tag Team Champions. Before this, both men had had great success in developmental.
Konnor found fame in Deep South Wrestling (DSW), a developmental system that existed from December 2005 to July 2007 and whose champions include The Miz and Xavier Woods, as Roughhouse O’Reilly. O’Reilly defeated Derek Neikirk to become Deep South Heavyweight Champion for the first time. He would reign for just over two months before losing the belt, but would win it again on March 8th 2007, just six months before the promotion closed down.
As for Viktor, well, he’s had a pretty incredible run in developmental. Much like Bo Dallas, Viktor reigned for less than a day with his first run with the FCW Championship, which is kinda strange when you consider Bo was the one who took the title from Viktor. Circle of Life, I guess. Viktor would win the belt back from Bo 27 days later but would reign for a week before losing the title just twenty-five days before FCW closed down. Viktor goes down in history as the man who spent the shortest total time as FCW Champion, but, if we go even further back, there’s more success for the guy. In Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), Viktor wrestled as Apoc and would win the OVW Heavyweight Championship twice, reigning for a total of 139 days.
Both accomplished singles wrestlers, The Ascension were booked incredibly in NXT as a tag team, but, their run on the main roster has been an absolute mess. Such a promising start in developmental, it’s such a shame to see The Ascension still being used as enhancement, even in the brand split era. Will we ever see a dominant Ascension on the main roster? Possibly. And by possibly, I obviously mean no.
The Man That Gravity Forgot and everyone’s favourite Geordie (which isn’t saying an awful lot), the man formerly known as Adrian Neville is a little bit of a legend down in NXT. Not only is the high-flyer the only man to hold both the NXT and NXT Tag Team Championships in his career, but he was also the first man to win the same championship twice in NXT and remains the only man to win the NXT Tag Team titles with two different partners. Add to this the fact that he was the longest reigning NXT Champion of all time before Finn Balor broke that record and that he main evented the first ever Takeover special with Bo Dallas and Neville could be seen as one of the reasons NXT is what it is today. So, why hasn’t he won a championship on the main roster?
Well, for a start, his debut was totally ruined by Byron Saxton. He said nothing for about a minute before sounding the most uninterested any human being has ever sounded about anything ever. He didn’t even sell the Red Arrow! Can you do anything right, Saxton? Then he floundered for a bit, mainly appearing on the pre-show and failing to win big matches such as King of the Ring and Money In The Bank, a match I personally think he should have won. Things looked like they were picking up when it was revealed Neville was destined for the multi-man ladder match at WrestleMania 32 for the Intercontinental Championship. However, these plans got cancelled when Neville got injured just weeks before the Showcase of the Immortals and would be out until late July.
Whether it was lack of direction or just bad luck that had prevented Neville from being a champion, we’ll never know, but he seems to be on the right path now and, hopefully with Cruiserweights now on Raw, things can improve for old Adrian. Let’s just hope WWE give him some more character development than “he has a cape now”. We get it, he’s like a superhero, we’re not idiots.
12 Adam Rose
Wow, the party sure did end quickly for Adam, didn’t it? Rose, or as he was known in FCW, Leo Kruger, won the FCW Florida Heavyweight Championship on the first of September 2011 in a fatal four-way match that also featured, of all people, Dean Ambrose, Damien Sandow and Bray Wyatt. Developmental is great. Kruger would reign for 154 days before dropping the title, but he would regain the title just 21 days later. However, for the third time on this list already, Kruger would lose the belt on the same night he won (what the hell was going on in FCW?) to Seth Rollins in what would be his final run with the belt.
When he moved to NXT, the Kruger character turned into a psychotic hunter and it was pretty damn good actually; you’ve not seen crazy till you’ve seen Adam Rose crazy. Then it was a bit bleugh. After losing to Bo Dallas in a match for the NXT Championship (Adam Rose vs Bo Dallas for the NXT Championship, imagine), the Kruger gimmick disappeared and, in its place, was the worst Russel Brand impression you’ve ever seen. The new character, Adam Rose, was a party animal, except, he couldn’t be a proper party animal with drink and drugs and stuff, because WWE is PG, so he was a bit lame. Also, he was followed everywhere by a bunch of people in silly costumes and his most high profile feud was with Justin Gabriel in a rabbit costume. Ugh.
After a run with The Social Outcasts and an arrest for a domestic disturbance, Rose was released and now finds himself working on the indies, leaving a pretty damn terrible WWE career behind him. I’d feel sorry for you, Adam, but those Rose Bush segments were worthy of a firing on their own. Just try and disagree with me.
11 Richie Steamboat
Oh, what could have been. Richie Steamboat is the son of WWE Hall of Famer and former Intercontinental Champion, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who was widely regarded as one of the best in-ring workers wrestling has ever seen. Talent is obviously genetic with the Steamboats, because Richie was something of a phenomenon in his short-lived career.
After signing with WWE in 2009 and being assigned to FCW, Steamboat caught plenty of people’s attention with his incredible talent. Steamboat would become one of only two men, the other being Seth Rollins, to win every single male championship in FCW: the FCW Tag Team Championships (with Seth Rollins of all people), the FCW 15 Championship (a title only contested for in fifteen minute Iron Man matches) and the FCW Florida Heavyweight Champion, of which he was the final holder.
Things were looking bright for Richie when he made the jump to NXT, competing in the tournament to crown the inaugural NXT Champion, before feuding with Kassius Ohno (that’s Chris Hero to you). Then, just as things were looking bright for the younger Steamboat, he suffered a serious back injury and was off TV for over a year before it was announced (by his father, no less) that his wrestling career was over. Had this injury never occurred, I have no doubt that Richie would be one of the top stars on WWE today, much like his peer, Seth Rollins, is, but, that’s just the way things go in wrestling, even if we don’t like it. Still a shame though.
10 Matt Morgan
Hey, look, it’s that guy from Brock Lesnar’s Survivor Series team in 2003! When was the last time you thought about him?
Matt Morgan was picked up by OVW after appearing briefly in the second season of Tough Enough, which he was forced out of due to an injury, and it wasn’t long before Morgan’s intimidating size and strength caught the eyes of the top brass. Less than two years after his debut (even less time when you consider he worked the main roster as well at this time), Morgan won the OVW Championship from Nick Dinsmore (yes, that’s Eugene) and would reign for 182 days; the third longest in history and the longest whilst OVW was a part of WWE. Morgan would eventually lose the title to Caylen Croft (one half of the Dude Busters), but would win it back from Elijah Burke a year later and reign again, this time for just two weeks.
After a proposed partnership with Brock Lesnar fell apart when The Beast left the company in 2004, Morgan was recast as a stuttering big man who didn’t take too kindly to people mocking him. Right, because if anything’s gonna get this huge, muscly guy over, it’s a speech impediment. Despite an alliance with Carlito, Morgan was released in 2005 with very little fanfare. He has gone onto some success; winning the TNA World Tag Team Championship twice and appearing on American Gladiators as Beast. He also appeared on an all-TNA episode of Family Feud. Go and watch it, Matt gives the answer “Push Up Bra”. It’s amazing. Dammit, now I’m gonna have to go and watch that again. Thanks a lot, guys.
9 Tyler Reks
His name was T. Reks. That’s all you really need to know. Reks won the FCW Championship from Drew McIntyre on 11th June 2009 and would reign for 63 days before dropping the title to Heath Slater. Reks debuted originally on ECW as a surfer, but would transition into a monster heel gimmick on Smackdown, feuding with the likes of Chris Masters and lasting 34 seconds in the 2011 Royal Rumble match. Reks did manage to assist his team in winning the 2010 Bragging Rights trophy but that was about it when it came to T-Reks and he found himself relegated to NXT by September 2011 and unemployed by 2012.
However, as it turns out, this wasn’t really a problem for Tyler, as, after his release from WWE, he decided wrestling wasn’t for him. Reks has gone through a number of careers, including a motivational speaker, ambassador for the charity Dream Factory and even a politician.
Reks is one of the rare examples of a successful wrestler deciding that wrestling wasn’t for them and finding success outside of the business. For the first time on this list, I really don’t feel bad for the person on it. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe I should stop thinking about it.
8 Brent Albright
Here’s a name you may not have heard of unless you’re familiar with a very specific promotion. Brent Albright won the OVW Heavyweight Championship twice – once in 2005 and once in 2006 – once by defeating Matt Morgan and then again by defeating CM Punk in the finals of a tournament following the vacation of the title. Albright did have a brief run on Smackdown as Gunner Scott, scoring multiple pinfalls over Booker T and getting beaten and thrown into a body bag by The Great Khali. Swings and roundabouts.
Despite being released by the company later in 2006, Albright went onto plenty of success in the wrestling world. He won the NWA Oklahoma and Universal Heavyweight Championships. However, his greatest acheivement came on August 2nd 2008 at Ring of Honour Death Before Dishonor VI, when he defeated Adam Pearce to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the oldest established Heavyweight Championship in America, ending Pearce’s reign of 336 days.
He may have only reigned for 49 days before Pearce reclaimed the title, but Albright joins the likes of Ric Flair, Harley Race, Sting, AJ Styles, Ricky Steamboat and many more illustrious competitors to have held that prestigious title. Albright is a shining example of a successful career outside of WWE and goes to prove that, even when the odds are against, you still make something of yourself. Fun fact, Albright has a move that’s like the 619, but it’s with his knee. It’s called the “61-knee”. Ugh.
7 Jay Bradley
One for the TNA buffs now. For a man plenty of wrestling fans will not have heard of, Jay Bradley was a five-time champion in WWE’s developmental systems. Beginning in Deep South Wrestling, Bradley won their top title three times under the incredibly original ring name of Bradley Jay, feuding with the likes of Xavier Woods and Konnor from the Ascension.
He then moved to OVW, where, once again, he would find success, capturing the OVW Heavyweight title, this time under the name Jay Bradley. He would first win the title in a triple threat between Paul Burchill and Damien Sandow and the second against Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne) and, in doing so, became the first man to win the title after OVW ended its partnership with WWE.
Bradley now plies his trade in TNA as Aiden O’Shea and won the TNA Gut Check Tournament in 2013. Not a massive player, but, for a man with such a decorated career in developmental, you’d have thought he’d have at least had a push on the main roster, but Bradley was barely used on Smackdown as Ryan Braddock. But, at least he can always say he got wrapped in bubble wrap by Jesse and Festus. That’s gotta be worth something, right?
6 Big Vito
Hands up if you remember this guy? I’m imagining not a lot of hands. Big Vito, or, as he was known in developmental, Vito (presumably he was a lot smaller before), may not be a household name, but he’s worked for some of the biggest companies in wrestling history.
He began working for WWE in 1991 and worked a few matches on Raw as Von Krus, an evil foreigner who used his size to intimidate men like Bret Hart and The Undertaker, although I think trying to intimidate Taker is about as useful as trying to teach a dog gymnastics. After a few years with WWE, Vito then moved to ECW, where he wrestled a few matches in 1999, before turning up in WCW, where he would team with Johnny the Bull (later known as Johnny Stamboli) to win the WCW Tag Team Championships twice, as well as having two reigns with WCW’s Hardcore title.
After the buyout of WCW by WWE, Vito had a miniscule run in TNA before resigning with WWE as Big Vito in the newly-reformed Full Blooded Italians. He would team with then-Cruiserweight Champion, Nunzio, before turning on him because, and this is where things start to go a bit weird, he started wearing a dress. Yep. His entire gimmick was of a big, scary man who liked to wear dresses. Creative genius. Naturally, WWE handled this character with the upmost respect; by having various superstars like MVP, William Regal and JBL insult and make fun of the character, even claiming that they were sexually harassed by Vito to get out of matches with him. Good job, WWE. Anyway, despite a length undefeated streak, Vito was released in May 2007, just four months after he won the DSW Heavyweight Championship from Jay Bradley and three months after he lost the belt back to Bradley. His run as developmental champion may not have been impressive, but Vito’s time in wrestling was some of the most diverse in history and for that, he deserves our respect. Fun fact, he’s also the first wrestler to have worked for major American companies to wrestle in Nepal. Who knew?
5 Mason Ryan
Not many people can say they made their WWE debut interfering in a match between John Cena and CM Punk, but even this wasn’t enough to earn him a title.
Mason Ryan earned prestige by appearing on Gladiators in the UK as Goliath. He also played centre back for a small Welsh soccer team. If you don’t know what that means, then you’re probably American, therefore all attempts to explain soccer to you will be useless, so I’m just not going to bother. After winding up in WWE, Ryan won the FCW Championship in July of 2010 and would reign for 196 days, the second longest reign in history behind Jack Swagger, who reigned for 216 days.
After moving up to the main roster, Ryan would join Punk’s “New Nexus” and would even challenge for the WWE Tag Team Championships alongside Punk numerous times. Ryan’s main issue on the main roster was injuries, either real or scripted, as he spent months off TV hurt, either for real or as part of a story, even missing WrestleMania 27 because of a injury, which might have actually been a blessing. Ryan would feud with Dolph Ziggler in late 2011, but would be sent down to NXT, where he had an impressive singles run throughout 2013. After a feud with Enzo and Cass, Ryan would lose to Tyson Kidd on 30th April 2014 in what would be his final WWE match. Now plying his trade in Japan, Ryan had a lot of potential in WWE, but, mainly due to injury, he was never allowed to reach his full heights. However, he will always be known as the undisputed greatest wrestler to ever be born in Wales, coming in just ahead of second place, uh... uhhhh... uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...
4 Alex Riley
Many great wrestlers have had, at some point, someone associated with them that failed to emulate their success. For Shawn Michaels, it was Marty Jannetty, for Shelton Benjamin, it was Charlie Haas and for Moppy, it was Perry Saturn. For The Miz, it was Alex Riley, but A-Ry wasn’t as unsuccessful as you might assume.
Joining WWE in 2007 as part of FCW, Riley wouldn’t find success until late 2008, when he adopted the gimmick of a cocky high school jock. His character was very chummy with FCW General Manager, Abraham Washington, and, as a result, Riley had several FCW Championship matches, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Until March 18th 2010, that is. Riley beat Justin Gabriel and Wade Barrett in a triple threat match to become FCW Heavyweight Champion for the first and only time in his career, reigning for 126 days before dropping the title to Mason Ryan.
Riley would then join the second season of NXT and this is where he would meet his future mentor, The Miz, who was Riley’s official mentor during the show. Riley followed Miz to Raw as part of his heel gimmick, often interfering in his matches and taking beatdowns for him. Riley was present during Miz’s WWE Championship run from October 2010 to May 2011, even interfering in the main event of WrestleMania 27 as his mentor battled John Cena for the WWE title. Riley’s partnership with The Miz came to an end when Riley turned on his mentor in mid-2011, even earning a pinfall victory over Miz at Capitol Punishment that year. He entered Money In The Bank, had a programme with United States Champion, Dolph Ziggler, and even teamed with John Cena on an episode of Raw to battle Miz and R-Truth. Riley’s success wouldn’t last long, however, and he soon found himself in a commentary position, covering both Superstars and NXT as a colour commentator. Despite a promising return to in ring action earlier this year, Riley was let go by WWE on 6th May 2016. Riley had so much potential to be a huge star in WWE; he had a hot feud lined up with a former world champion, in-ring talent and he looked good in the ring too. He just didn’t have the right force behind him and, as a result, is now nowhere to be seen. Ah well, at least his last WWE match was against Shinsuke Nakamura, so that’s nice.
3 Tyler Breeze
I write about Tyler Breeze a lot for this website, so you’d think reliving how tragic his career has become would get easier. It doesn’t.
Breeze made a name for himself in FCW as Mike Dalton and would win the FCW Heavyweight Championship on 2nd February 2012, defeating Leo Kruger to do so. Kruger would win the belt back from Dalton a month later and Dalton would never be champion again, which led to a low period in his career. However, in mid-2013, Breeze’s fortunes would change dramatically as he would re-debut in NXT as Tyler Breeze, a self-obsessed supermodel who took selfies everywhere he went (funny thing, this was actually Triple H’s idea). Breeze got over in a big way with the fans; his heelish antics and superb wrestling skills made him one of the most beloved stars in NXT, and this was in a time where Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Finn Balor all still wrestled for the yellow show. Then came the main roster.
Breeze debuted on the main roster in October of 2015 and even defeated former World Heavyweight Champion, Dolph Ziggler, at Survivor Series, but this would be it for the supermodel. Breeze went from hot up and comer to jobber deluxe in about five seconds and he doesn’t show any signs of improvement. Jeez, I gotta stop writing about Tyler Breeze. I’m getting depressed.
2 Matt Cappotelli
Here’s a name you probably haven’t heard of, but, as I’m about to explain, there’s a good reason you haven’t.
Matt Cappotelli made his name in WWE by winning the third season of Tough Enough, an honour he shared with the future John Morrison. Cappotelli would make a few appearances on the main roster, mostly teaming with Morrison, before being sent down to OVW, where he would form a tag team with Johnny Jeter (who would win the World Tag Team Championships as Johnny in The Spirit Squad) called The Thrill Seekers. Cappotelli would suffer a number of injuries during his time in OVW, including one controversial incident in which Hardcore Holly left the rookie concussed at an OVW live event, an incident that helped contribute to Holy’s image as a rookie-hater.
Despite these injuries, Cappotelli would defeat his former partner, Jeter, on November 9th 2005 to capture the OVW Heavyweight title. However, things were not as triumphant as they appeared, as, just 91 days later, Cappotelli would be forced to vacate the title when it was discovered he had a malignant brain tumour and would require surgery. Cappotelli relinquished the title in an incredibly emotional speech that, despite being hard to find, is definitely worth watching. Cappotelli would undergo surgery and, thankfully, it was a success. However, following this harrowing ordeal, Cappotelli never wrestled again and WWE lost an incredibly bright prospect. When you consider Cappotelli was viewed on the same level as John Morrison and you see how talented Morrison is, it speaks volumes of how big a star Cappotelli could have been. It was no one’s fault, but, damn, does it sting to know how good it could have been. Cappotelli deserves a lot more recognition as one of the brightest hopefuls to have his chance taken away and, hopefully, now a few more people know his amazing story.
1 Muhammad Hassan
One of the most famous names WWE will never mention and perhaps the most notorious gimmick in WWE history, certainly over the past few years. If you don’t know this guy, then boy, do I have a story to tell you.
Marc Copani arrived in OVW in 2002, under the ring name Marc Magnus, and would win the OVW Championship in August of 2003, defeating Johnny Jeter to do so. After reigning for just 56 days, Copani dropped the belt after a double pinfall scenario and would remain in OVW until WWE executives came looking for a wrestler to portray an Arab-American character on the main roster. Despite being Italian in heritage (which is already pretty worrying for Copani and we’re just getting started), Copani took the gig and his fate was sealed.
Copani debuted as Muhammed Hassan, an Arab-American tired of the American public’s increased persecution of Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Hassan was not only treading dangerous ground by faking an ethnicity and religion, he was also bringing up an issue still very much on the mind of the American people, invoking the name of the nation’s single biggest tragedy just three years after it happened. Even after complaints from Muslim viewers at Hasan’s continual praise of Allah, Hassan continued to mention these sensitive subjects, attacking wrestlers such as Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Jerry Lawler and Shawn Michaels, all of which were faces at the time. Making Hassan a heel was extremely dangerous; here was a man bringing up real issues about the persecution of a minority within the American community, yet, he was presented to audiences as the bad guy. What sort of message was this sending to WWE’s millions of viewers, many of whom were young children? Hassan would appear in the championship picture for numerous titles, including the Intercontinental Championship, for which he had a match on Raw. After walking on eggshells for months, Hassan finally crossed the line when his partner, Daivari, lost to The Undertaker on an episode of Smackdown. After Taker defeated Daivari, Hassan would “pray” and summon five masked men, who would proceed to beat up Taker with clubs and piano wires. This segment, clearly a reference to Hassan’s religious and the terrorist connotations it carried, aired on the July 7th 2005 Smackdown episode – the very same day as the terrorist bombings in London that left 52 innocent civilians dead.
Despite WWE not being to control the timing of this event, there is n way this segment can be defended. It was tasteless, it was offensive and it was just an appalling use of television. WWE should be ashamed of themselves, not only for all the offence they caused, but for sabotaging the career of an impressive young talent like Copani. Copani remains off the grid to this day, following his dramatic departure from the WWE at The Great American Bash, a few weeks after the controversy. With original plans for Hassan including a World Heavyweight Championship victory (which would have made him the youngest World Champion in WWE history), perhaps its best that he never won a title on the main roster. But spare a thought for Copani; he didn’t deserve this.