The business of professional wrestling is one that features towering highs and crushing lows for its in-ring employees. There are no guarantees, and a career trajectory can go south in a matter of months, depending on the circumstances. Throughout the years we've seen plenty of wrestlers who have flashed unlimited potential and made there mark on a given promotion but at the same time were never quite able to succeed consistently on a main event level. They certainly weren't disappointments, but when it came down to it, they were a tier below the Hogans, Flairs and Austins of the wrestling world.
There are a multitude of reasons as to why this might be the case. Sometimes career stagnation is the result of poor booking and character development. Other times, it's the result of falling slightly out of favor with the fans. And then there are the unexpected events, like an accident or unfortunate death, which takes a wrestler away from the ring far too soon. Whatever the case may be, the wrestlers on this list are all fondly remembered, but they still had room for their careers to grow and should have been household names. Instead, their careers unfortunately stalled, and they weren't able to garner maximum recognition and achievement.
Ranked below are 15 former wrestling stars who were never able to reach their full potential.
15 Ron Simmons
While Simmons definitely had a successful career, first under his real name, and then as Faarooq in WWE, he never maintained the heights he was able to reach early in his career. While in WCW, he was able to capture the Heavyweight Title, and was one half of a top-tier tag team in Doom, and seemed poised to have a career-long run in the main event scene of any given company. As it turned out, a move to WWE made him a complimentary piece in stables like The Nation Of Domination, and in tag teams such as The Acolytes. It certainly wasn't a significant downturn in his career, but it was enough to stall Simmons as a main event singles wrestler. He mostly remained over with the fans after the switch, but in a different manner, and not as the headlining asset that he was earlier on.
Outside of his numerous runs in ECW, Raven never received the respect that he deserved as a main event-level talent, and the booking reflected as such. While he was always dominant in the mid-card, he was hindered by management in both WWE and WCW, who clearly hadn't done their research, and taken a look at the groundbreaking feuds that he had with Tommy Dreamer and others, while in ECW. Unfortunately, Raven never got the push that his talent warranted, and any hope of a world title run with a major company pretty much ended with that evaluation from the higher-ups. Severely underrated, he had the potential to be a headliner, and could have had some spectacular feuds with the talent in each promotion during the 90s.
13 Butch Reed
Oft-forgotten today, Reed was a rising star in the business during the 80s, and had dominated in the Indys/NWA-affiliated territories, before making the jump to WWE and WCW. He wasn't able to find much success in either company. It always seemed like they were gearing up to give him a big push, and something got in the way, or that management had backed out of the decision at the last second. Reed had the prototypical look of a superstar, which had contributed to his earlier success in the lower levels, but was deemed in sufficient for a major title run. He did have a run as a WCW Tag-champ as one-half of Doom, but the team was ultimately short-lived. Reed never achieved the singles success in a major company.
12 Kerry Von Erich
One of the most tragic stories in all of professional wrestling belongs to the entire Von Erich family, and Kerry was no exception to the rule. One of the biggest stars in Texas throughout the 80s, Von Erich was poised for a huge breakout, when he signed to the WWE ranks in the early-90s. Billed under "The Texas Tornado", he captured the Intercontinental Title, and was given a fairly sizable push for a period of time. It eventually fizzled out, and Von Erich fell out of favor, before departing. Soon after he left WWE however, he committed suicide, in the prime of his career. Von Erich had all the potential to be a superstar, but his own personal demons took hold before that was able to materialize for him.
11 Tommy Rich
"Wildfire" Tommy Rich was a major star during the territorial days of the 80s in the Southern regions of Georgia and Memphis. He held dozens of titles, and was a huge draw for numerous companies, but was hindered by hitting his peak popularity when wresting hadn't yet gone to a national platform. By the time he made it to WCW in the early-90s, he was out of his prime, and relegated to mid-card duty. While he was charismatic, and good in the ring, sometimes bad timing can have a negative effect on a wrestler's career, and that's exactly what happened to Rich. Had he come along 5-10 years later, he may have been more renowned, but in the territorial days it was much more difficult to garner a lot of recognition.
10 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
He's one of the more fondly remembered WWE stars from the 80s and early-90s, but Roberts simply didn't get the credit he deserved from the bookers at the time. Far ahead of his time as an innovator of psychology in promos, and in the ring, "The Snake" was one of the best and most enigmatic characters of his era. He held a minimum of titles, and is considered one of the best WWE talents of all-time to never hold the WWE Title. It's difficult to knock him for this, considering that he was at the mercy of management's perception of his character. There's no question that Roberts could have gone on to greater heights in the business, and that's before substance abuse and personal problems ended up taking a toll on him.
9 Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
Valentine certainly a long, storied career that included dozens of title runs, but interestingly enough he never held the top singles title in any national company. During his time in the NWA and WWE, he was limited to the mid-card singles belts, never receiving a run with the highest premium of gold available. Part of it has to be attributed to poor timing, as Valentine was an established heel that could work a great match. Pound for pound, he was probably one of the best in the business during his era, and definitely had the potential for main event success. It doesn't downgrade his career too much, but it's at least worth mentioning, considering how much of a staple he was for numerous promotions during his career.
8 Owen Hart
For a long time, Hart wasn't able to break the shadow of his older brother in WWE. Bret Hart was a top star for the company, and had the longevity there as well, having arrived three or four years before Owen was able to set foot in a WWE ring. Owen would eventually break through as a draw, and be incorporated with a heavily promoted, legendary feud with Bret, but there were limitations put on him. Far too often, Owen was cast off with awkward tag team partners during the mid-90s (Yokozuna), and seemed to get lost in the shuffle. He was certainly involved in several high-profile angles, but his talent always seemed to warrant a better booking situation than management was willing to give him. Of course, he sadly passed away in 1999, when he still had plenty of time left to ascend to the top of the WWE ranks.
7 Tony Atlas
Atlas was a specimen of his era, possessing charisma and elite strength. After a run in NWA-affiliated territories to start his career, he went over to WWE, where he and Rocky Johnson became one of the most beloved tag teams of the era, as the Soul Patrol. They won the tag belts, and the sky seemed to be the limit for them and their potential. After they lost the titles however, Atlas began suffering from numerous personal problems, including substance abuse, which halted the push that management was about to give him. He would wrestle again, but never achieved the same level of popularity, falling down to the lower ranks of the WWE card, before disappearing entirely. Atlas would eventually get his personal issues under control, but his career took a bit hit.
6 Curt Hennig
Much like the aforementioned Greg Valentine, it's difficult to criticize Hennig's career when he's recognized as one of the best in-ring talents and promo-cutters of his era. Looking back at his resume of title reigns however, and it's confusing as to why he received so little gold over the course of his career. He was one WWEs most popular stars as "Mr. Perfect", but over five years with the company netted him just two Intercontinental Title runs. In WCW, he was even more of a non-factor in the title scene. It's just surprising that a wrestler with so much talent wouldn't get more of a consistent push, but the fact bear out. Hennig definitely deserved more credit from management, but as it stands, he was obviously seen as a replaceable talent, who couldn't elevate their performance in the main event scene.
5 Dean Malenko
From a technical standpoint, Malenko is without question a top-five wrestler of his era, and could put on a quality match in his sleep. He's always been considered one of the best in the ring, but never fully got the respect he deserved from the mainstream audience. He did receive some title reigns here and there, but in WCW and WWE, Malenko wasn't often allowed to stretch his matches into the length of time needed to truly maximize his ability to put on a mat classic. For most wrestlers, it's ill-advised to have a match go longer than 25 minutes, because it quickly becomes stale. For a talent of Malenko's caliber however, matches running closer to 45 minutes are always welcome, and he never seemed to be able to do it so much in the mainstream spotlight.
4 Tito Santana
Santana was one of the longest-tenured WWE stars of his era, yet seldom got the big push that could have elevated his career to another level. He was one of the most popular faces of his day, but sans an Intercontinental and Tag Team reign here and there, he went without any gold for the better part of 15 years in WWE. He never did quite achieve the success that his popularity warranted, as he was a consistent draw for nearly his whole career with the company. Certainly firmly entrenched of the legendary WWE figures of the time, but it's difficult to pinpoint more than one or two standout feuds that Santana ended up being a part of. It's not a career-killer, but Santana probably should have been given a few more opportunities to prove his worth on a greater scale.
One of the legitimately toughest men to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, Haku was all over WWE and WCW programming for about 15 years. Despite this, he was only given a grand total of two title reigns, and was periodically slotted into generic mid-card gimmicks that were below his talent level. When he was used correctly, he was actually one of the most versatile and interesting characters in the company during any given era. Unfortunately, he was just never seen as a viable asset to the main event scene, and most of his work came on the lower ranks. He was always underrated, and could have benefitted from some more sensible booking, which would have aided the best aspects of his enigmatic character.
2 Dynamite Kid
One of the most influential in-ring workers of all-time, Dynamite Kid served as the prototype for a whole generation of wrestlers who came after him. Whether it was his work as one half of The British Bulldogs in WWE, or his time spent in Japan wrestling in Juniors divisions, he always performed in a stiff, hard-hitting and technical style that always stood out in an era where move sets were limited and matches seemed to run together. A true innovator that never put in enough time on the mainstream stage in the States to ever become a household name as he deserved. Unfortunately, years of substance abuse and health problems made him retire early (in 1996), and has left him paralyzed in a wheelchair. Dynamite Kid will always be remembered for being one of the best and most intense in-ring workers of his day.
1 Magnum T.A.
Another one of wrestling's most tragic stories was that of Magnum T.A. In the mid-80s in Jim Crockett Promotions, there was no bigger rising star in the business. T.A. had it all, from the superstar looks, to a fast-paced in-ring ability that made him a draw with audiences in any promotion that he appeared in. In 1986, he looked to be taking over the mainstream of professional wrestling, on a star level that only a few throughout the history of the sport have achieved. As fate would have hit, he was involved in a car accident, which left him paralyzed, ending his in-ring career. He would try his hand at managing and commentary, but ultimately spent most of his time away from the business after the accident. It's a most unfortunate story, and hindered T.A. from ever reaching the massive heights that were completely attainable for him, leaving wrestling fans everywhere to wonder "what if?"