There are many reasons why a professional wrestler could fail once he or she has made it to the big time. More often than not, it's not their fault, and you can ask Gene Snitsky all about it. But on a more serious note, bad gimmicks and bad booking happen all the time, and often result in wrestlers missing the mark badly and never recovering from the creative team's mistakes.
Then you've got wrestlers who had missed the mark due to their own doing. Getting arrested, suspended for drug use, showing up in poor shape, or getting on a booker or fellow wrestler's bad side are all common reasons for failure, and usually, it's fully on the wrestler themselves. Other times, they may not have done something particularly bad in the eyes of the average fan, but had nonetheless rubbed a colleague or superior the wrong way. Either way, it all results in failure, disappointment, and fans wondering what could have been had these mistakes not been committed.
With that all said, let's introduce you to 15 wrestlers who committed big mistakes that led to disappointing careers which didn't live up to expectations. (NOTE: This list will be limited to wrestlers who worked for a major North American promotion within the last 25 years, meaning WWE, WCW, and/or TNA/Impact Wrestling.)
You've seen it so often in sports — the next version of (place superstar athlete name here) ends up so far removed from the legend he supposedly emulates. So if we were to put things in perspective, Kalisto may be as much "the next Rey Mysterio" as Martell Webster, for instance, was "the next Paul Pierce." How did this two-time United States Champion lose most of his promise and become a regular punching bag to the similarly-floundering Dolph Ziggler? Three words will answer that question — "good lucha things."
While being interviewed during last year's brand draft, Kalisto was a nervous wreck as he stumbled through a promo that concluded with those three words, unless you consider that one unscripted swearword he muttered as he ran off in shame. Like the aforementioned Mysterio, Kalisto is a talented wrestler whose high-flying moves compensate for his lack of height. But does he at least have Rey-Rey's decent promo skills? Obviously not.
14 Titus O'Neil
Now you can argue that Titus O'Neil's push was already dead in the water at the time he made this mistake — well, at least Vince McMahon saw it as a mistake, and one bad enough for him to consider firing the former Prime Time Player. But if Titus was buried in the midcard before he excitedly hugged McMahon after Daniel Bryan's retirement speech last year, he is now a complete afterthought on the RAW roster and increasingly looking like a candidate for future endeavors in coming weeks.
In the end, O'Neil was "merely" suspended for 60 days for his supposedly unprofessional gesture, and when he came back, he was put in a go-nowhere feud with former tag team partner Darren Young. Now he's working the "Titus Brand" gimmick, and as far as the WWE Universe is concerned, it's a pretty worthless brand with close to zero value.
13 Adam Rose
It was WWE's mistake to give Ray Leppan a new gimmick that had such a potentially short shelf life — having him transform from bounty hunter Leo Kruger to Russell Brand-knockoff Adam Rose. Sounds like Brand's Aldous Snow character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, doesn't it? It sure does, and while some of Adam Rose's Rosebuds (Braun Strowman, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss) would go on to great main roster success, the Rose gimmick, sadly, was a lemon.
Unfortunately, Leppan/Kruger/Rose has no one to blame but himself for two things — first, his decision to publicly contest his 60-day Wellness Policy suspension in 2016, and second, his unfortunate domestic violence arrest shortly thereafter. That last mistake ended his WWE run, and Leppan recently announced that he would be retiring from pro wrestling after 2017. Truly a wasted talent.
12 The Vaudevillains
The Vaudevillains were big stars in NXT, no doubt about it, but we're talking about their WWE run here, now that Simon Gotch has been released by the company. While their old-timey gimmick admittedly might not have had much of a shelf life on the main roster, two things contributed to their eventual demise, starting with how they accidentally gave Enzo Amore a concussion at Payback 2016. From then on, it was downhill all the way as they found themselves buried deep beneath the card.
Gotch's supposed lousy backstage attitude didn't help things at all — aside from a scuffle with Sin Cara, there have also been reports that he'd often show up late and mouth off too much for his own good. It's a shame indeed for these former NXT Tag Team Champions, and we can only hope Aiden English fares better in singles than as he did as one-half of the now-disbanded Vaudevillains.
11 Aron Rex
We won't deny that WWE dropped the ball big-time with Damien Sandow, as he had two great gimmicks the company failed to capitalize on — his original Intellectual Savior gimmick, then his run as Miz body-double Damien Mizdow. He took whatever was given with him and ran with it. But he probably should have thought twice when Impact Wrestling asked him to work a Liberace-inspired gimmick in early-2017. And gotten in better shape too, might we add, instead of joining Impact in late-2016 with a dad bod.
The former mistake is largely on Impact — after the renamed Aron Rex's initial push fizzled out quickly, they trotted him out in garish nude trunks, and had him act like a flamboyant pianist whom many fans born after 1987 (the year Liberace died) might not be too familiar with. As for the latter mistake, that's on him, as he shouldn't have let himself go after WWE let him go.
Rex has just been released by Impact, and to be honest, we can't say we're surprised.
Like some of the wrestlers in this list, Ryback's time in a major promotion wasn't a total washout. After an underwhelming run as kayfabe cowboy Skip Sheffield, the Las Vegas native completely shaved his head, and became Ryback, the poor man's Goldberg. He flirted with main event stardom thanks to a long winning streak and a heel turn that had lots of momentum at first, but after failing to win the WWE Championship from John Cena twice in 2013, he tumbled down to the midcard and never tasted the main event scene again.
Little of this was the Big Guy's fault, but his big mistake was going on the warpath against WWE over pay issues in 2016, while he was inactive and waiting for his contract to run out. Now that he's gone from WWE, he's continued ranting about Cena, Vince McMahon, and Triple H, among others, in his podcast
Grievances Conversations with the Big Guy. WWE probably wouldn't ever want him back, and other major companies may be wary about hiring someone with a reputation as a big-time complainer.
9 Jessicka Havok
A ten-year veteran of the indie scene when she joined Impact in 2014, Jessicka Havok was a huge, imposing presence as a female wrestler, standing six feet tall and weighing a burly 250 pounds. And she did get quite a good push in her one year in the then-TNA, winning its Knockouts Championship one time and getting involved in a feud with another big woman (Awesome Kong) before she left the company. A WWE deal could have been forthcoming in the summer of 2015, but that was also when the Wrestling Observer dug up some disgusting details about Havok's past.
As it turns out, Havok was quite the racist, frequently using the n-word in tweets, and even using it to describe African-American WWE wrestlers R-Truth and Mark Henry. Obviously, WWE wasn't going to touch her with a ten-foot pole, and while she's now working for Ring of Honor, it's doubtful that any major company would want to hire her due to her previous unabashed use of racial slurs.
8 Zack Ryder
Can we really call Zack Ryder a failure after a long WWE career that has included a few midcard title wins? Judging by how popular he is with the WWE Universe, and the fact that he's not bad in the ring or on the mic, he deserves much better. And ironically, his biggest mistake, again in the eyes of Mr. McMahon and probably Mr. McMahon and his cronies alone, was trying to get himself over without the help of WWE.
Ryder did this through his YouTube series Z! True Long Island Story, and while it did achieve its goal of getting Zack over, it also may have come at the price of his push. By 2012, he was getting cheated on and emasculated by Eve Torres while erstwhile buddy John Cena and Kane feuded, and that resulted in Ryder almost exclusively doing jobs until his 2016 mini-renaissance. We can only hope he doesn't return to light-counting duties when he comes back from his knee injury.
7 Teddy Hart
The first two generations of Canada's Hart wrestling family have produced their share of Hall of Fame or Hall of Fame-worthy talent. The third generation only has Nattie Neidhart as a (mildly disappointing) bright spot. Then you've got David Hart Smith, who incurred a Wellness Policy suspension during his underwhelming WWE run. But that one violation pales in comparison to the attitude issues of one Edward Annis (seriously, his real name) after he became WWE's youngest-ever developmental signee as an 18-year-old in 1998. You may know him better as Teddy Hart, and he could have been great if only he knew how to keep his head straight.
In the span of three WWE runs (1998-2002, 2005, 2006-07), Hart spent most of his time in developmental, and when he did show up on the main roster, he was strictly a jobber. And it was all because of his crummy, "I'm a Hart and I'm untouchable" attitude, something that's also the main reason why he's never lasted long in any other promotion he's worked for in nearly two decades as a pro wrestler.
Standing 6'5" and weighing close to 300 pounds, Kevin Wacholz was a big, intimidating guy with a non-intimidating, high-pitched voice. That's why when WWE hired him in 1992 as the ex-convict Nailz, his voice was digitally altered to a death metal growl, making him at least look AND sound like a fierce threat to Big Boss Man, who had, in storyline, abused him while he was doing hard time at the Cobb County prison.
While WWE seemed to believe in the feud enough to put Nailz and Boss Man on the cover of the January 1993 issue of WWE Magazine, Nailz was actually out of the company when that issue hit the press, having physically assaulted Vince McMahon the month prior during an argument over money, or lack thereof. Wacholz would then move on to WCW, where he worked as "The Prisoner," and reprise his ex-con gimmick in smaller promotions before he retired in 2000, never becoming a big star in wrestling's major leagues.
5 Alex Riley
As we mentioned in the intro, the mistakes committed by these wrestlers aren’t mistakes in the eyes of everyone, but rather in the eyes of the person they offended. Such was the case with NXT rookie search alum Alex Riley, who looked to have a promising WWE main roster career as The Miz’s faithful lackey. He had all the potential to become a bigger star, but instead floundered after turning on Miz, getting jobbed out, losing TV time, and ultimately failing repeatedly to reinvent himself, first as an announcer, then as cannon fodder for NXT’s up-and-comers.
A-Ry hasn’t come clean on what exactly he did to piss off John Cena, hence the loss of his push, but fellow lower-card mainstay Tyler Reks claimed that Cena would often embarrass Riley in front of the locker room and “look for reasons to get him fired.” If that was what Cena really wanted, then he got his wish in the spring of 2016, when WWE released Riley after an ultimately disappointing tenure with the company.
4 Perry Saturn
It's difficult to call Perry Saturn's overall body of work in WCW, ECW, and WWE to be a failure, but you have to remember he made his WWE debut in a faction (The Radicalz) that also featured Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Dean Malenko was in there too, though he did retire rather early in 2001. As for Saturn, he could have at least had a strong upper midcard push in WWE, had he not gone nuts on jobber Mike Bell in a 2001 dark match.
As punishment for his legitimate attack on Bell, Saturn was repackaged that year as a concussion victim who was so out-of-touch with reality that he fell in love with a mop called Moppy. And while fans loved the gimmick, we've got to take note of two things in hindsight. One, it was a comedy gimmick that limited Saturn's potential. Two, it's one that hits way too close to home in present day, as Saturn's battle with traumatic brain injuries has turned him into a sad shell of the comparatively short (5'10"), yet physically-imposing force he used to be.
3 Muhammad Hassan
You certainly cannot blame Marc Copani for his Muhammad Hassan gimmick and the death of his super-push through that ill-fated "terrorist" attack on The Undertaker that was aired days after the London bombings of 2005. That was all on WWE, and it's certainly a mistake that they didn't exert damage control soon enough, and that they threw Hassan under the bus by essentially writing him out of the company. But Hassan's overall failure in WWE can also be blamed on the man himself.
The oft-reported story is that Hassan, who used the Camel Clutch as his finisher, was tricked by Kurt Angle into asking Eddie Guerrero to stop using the move. This, of course, made Eddie rather irate, as he told the young rookie that the move was invented by his father, Gory Guerrero. Call it a rookie mistake if you will, but common sense dictates that as a rookie, you don't tell a respected veteran to stop using one of his moves. That made Hassan into a locker room pariah, and he still had nuclear heat in the locker room at the time WWE cut their ties with him.
2 Drew McIntyre
Now that he's back on NXT and fresh off a successful run in Impact, Drew McIntyre has another chance to make good after his last WWE run ended in abject disappointment and a faux-rock star gimmick. So with that said, we shall be looking at the (debatable) mistake that ended McIntyre's decent midcard push as the "Chosen One," while also taking stock of how he's still young enough (31) to make his second WWE run much better than the first.
In August 2010, McIntyre and his then-wife Taryn Terrell (a.k.a. Tiffany in WWE) made headlines after they got into a bad argument in a Los Angeles hotel. Drew wasn't arrested for his involvement in the domestic dispute. But for what could have been WWE feeling McIntyre looked weak for being allegedly getting his butt kicked by his wife, that was it for what should have been a mega-push in the offing. Tiffany did get suspended for the incident, and was released in November 2010 before she could return to the ring.
1 Jack Swagger
He was going to win a belt, but he was high. He and Zeb made their presence felt, but he was high. Now he's jobbing right and left, we all know why, I said, because Jack got high, because Jack got high, because Jack got high.
Of course, that above paragraph was sung to the tune of Afroman's "Because I Got High," and that tells you everything you need to know about how Jack Swagger lost his nice main event push in 2013. With mere weeks to go before WrestleMania 29, Swagger, who won the Elimination Chamber match for a right to fight Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship, was arrested for DUI and possession of marijuana. That effectively killed the All-American American's last major WWE push and cost him a chance at regaining main event gold.
Miraculously, Swagger lasted four more years in WWE, and nothing seemed to bring him back to relevance. Suffice to say, Swagger's push wasn't worth jack at the time he left WWE earlier this year.