We’re well into WWE’s so-called “new era” where they promise, among other things, that new superstars will be given new opportunities and new feuds will be promoted. They never said it outright, but implicitly: Out with the old, in with the new.
They then promptly rehired Jinder Mahal and Rhyno.
But hey, it could be worse. And odds are, if you stick with the program long enough, WWE will (as they always do) cycle back around to the garbage they always end up settling with for long stretches of tedium and misery before finally rebooting for another “new” era/generation/whatever.
In fact, the history of WWF/E is filled with “what, why?” moments where seemingly the worst possible guy—either in general or just in that moment—was pushed too much, too soon. Vince McMahon loves to think of himself as a starmaker, that any Joe Nobody can be given the old McMahon spit-shine and sent through the curtain to make (Vince) millions. There’s a long list of guys, however, that fell flat on their faces every time they were given the ball. Let’s look at just a few.
These are 15 superstars pushed in the wrong way, at the wrong place, in the wrong time. For some, there was great potential, but it was squandered by poor management. For others, it was a fiasco from the word go. The first five on the list are guys who only barely deserve the cut. The middle five are some of the most textbook examples of Vince picking the wrong guy to make into a star. The final five are the worst of the worst; they are the worst examples of Vince saying “watch me make this work” and despite protests from fans, he just... kept... pushing.
14 Buff Bagwell
Buff kicks off the list but really he’s like that annoying kid on Polar Express; he’s not even supposed to be here. I mean the guy had, what, one match in WWE? He had only one that anyone remembers at least, but that’s why he’s on the list. Buff was chosen to be one half of the new face of WCW. The other half was Booker T (which is fine). But…the other half was Buff Bagwell.
He was given dozens of chances to make it in WCW and even they eventually recognized his level of sucking. What was Vince thinking? WWE’s hopes to reboot WCW ended on the very first night they tried and Bagwell deserves a lot of the blame…and so does the guy who put him out there. All Bagwell really had going for him was his look and he could cut a decent promo from time to time, but that doesn't merit the chances he got.
14. Roman Reigns
Vince’s current pet project will probably find his way onto similar lists like this for years to come, but truth be told he’s not all bad (which is why he’s so low on the list). With the right opponent he can put on a great match and unlike some on this countdown, he’s got a million dollar look and a good work ethic to boot.
The problem with Roman is everything around him. There’s just too many incredible talents in the company right now that pushing Roman seems like such a waste. Yet here we are. His recent suspension seems to have cooled down his push a little, as he now finds himself in the midcard, while Finn Balor has seemingly taken his spot. Roman's probably right where he should have been last year, as his rise to the top of the WWE should have happened organically, rather than WWE shoving him down our throats.
Sid Justice, Sid Vicious, Sycho Sid, whatever you want to call him, had a long career across multiple promotions. WWE fans knew him as the big guy brought in as a babyface that fans actually ended up responding to a little too well. Hulk Hogan’s paranoia led to him pushing Vince into turning Sid into a villain (and, naturally, WrestleMania VIII Hogan victim). That wasn’t the last of him though.
Years later he popped up again and was given a monster push. He ended up main-eventing another WrestleMania (the atrocious WM13), giving him TWO main-events to CM Punk’s ZERO, if you're keeping score. He never had charisma. He never had grace. He never had talent. He was big, lumbering and stupid. No wonder Vince loved him.
In fairness, Vince wasn't the only one who seemed enamored with him, as WCW pushed Sid quite a bit whenever he was employed with them.
12 Jack Swagger
Swagger may have his defenders. I don’t know them, nor have I ever read their works, but he may have them. If you want a good reason to include him on a “worst of” list, it’s the fact that he was almost single-handedly responsible for ending Dolph Ziggler’s red-hot World Title run in 2013. If he hadn’t been pushed, Ziggler wouldn’t have gotten injured/concussed thanks to a sloppy kick and who knows; his entire career might have turned out differently. Swagger has been MITB winner, ECW Champ, World Champ, WrestleMania title match participant and probably has more accolades I don’t want to bother to look up. Multiple attempts of pushing Swagger have all come back to bite WWE in the behind.
He is sloppy, goofy, awkward and occasionally, really terrible. Yet he’s been pushed over the years better than a lot of amazing talents around him. Boo this man.
11 The Ultimate Warrior
It’s no longer en vogue to speak ill of the former-Jim Hellwig. Ever since his fateful final four days (WWE Hall of Fame reception, WrestleMania honoring, Monday Night Raw appearance, sudden death the next day), you’d have to be a stone cold jerk to bash the guy. But in life he was entitled, conceited, hate-filled and even mean to sick young fans. He was a crook and a bit of a scum bag.
Maybe he changed in his final years, I don’t know. But in his earlier years, when Vince was pushing him, he was a Jerky McJerkface and never lived up to the spot he was given. He was never anything more than a roided-up cartoon character and his time on top in the WWE led to terrible attendance numbers and diminished fan support.
The WWE thought they had their successor to Hulk Hogan, but Warrior's title reign proved that wasn't the case.
10 Big Show
Big Show still has another decade to go to match the thirty years that Andre the Giant gave to the business, and there’s probably nothing he’ll ever be able to do to match the affection fans have for Fezzik. But he’s also managed to stay much healthier and work much better than Andre ever did. He deserves a lot of praise.
Nevertheless, unlike Andre, Big Show has not been viewed as an actual “threat” or “menace” or “terror” or anything to match his giant stature since his WWE debut year in 1999. Since then he’s been the oversized butt of too many jokes. He is pushed frequently, performs boringly, and is defeated constantly.
Show has said he has no plans to retire, despite the frequent "please retire" chants constantly yelled in arenas across the country. Perhaps it's just a case of the business having passed him by, but because of his size, WWE continues to use him.
9 Bobby Lashley
Lashley has been on a bit of a comeback in TNA, but since it’s TNA it might as well be happening on Neptune. In WWE he was “the guy Vince pushed in ECW instead of CM Punk.” He had a short stint on SmackDown and later on Raw, including a decent match with John Cena at the 2007 Great American Bash, but for the most part his WWE career is linked to his time in the ill-fated ECW and his feud with Vince McMahon. The highlight of that was a WrestleMania 23 match featuring, on the sideline, Donald Trump (best known these days as Biff from Back to the Future II) and a promo wherein he referred to Vince McMahon as a “bathturd.” That about sums it up.
It was easy to see why Lashley was pushed, as he clearly has the type of look Vince has always loved out of his superstars. Unfortunately, he didn't have much else.
8 Lex Luger
Before there was Roman Reigns, there was Lex Luger. Bret Hart was beloved. Bret Hart was popular. Bret Hart was a good worker. Bret Hart was a locker room leader. Bret Hart was a role model. Lex Luger had muscles though. Glorious, Vince-loving muscles. Yes he frequently stunk up the joint in the main event while Hart put on the match of the night in the undercard, but he had muscles. So to the top he went!
Thankfully, by WrestleMania X, Vince had seen the light and he decided that Bret would walk out of Madison Square Garden with the WWE Championship. Thus, nine months of billing Luger as the American hero went down the drain and it was all time that could have been spent keeping Hart in the main event picture.
Luger got plenty of chances to be a top face, but didn't have the goods to back up his looks.
Ryback (now known officially as “The Big Guy” on the independent circuit… available today for your birthday parties kids!) debuted in 2004 and for over a dozen years he wrestled like he debuted yesterday. Has there ever been such a discrepancy between in-ring experience and actual “skill”? Some guys never reach the level of an Eddie Guerrero or Shawn Michaels, but John Cena was pure smelly poop when he debuted and last year was basically the guy you counted on to have the match of the night, every Monday night. People do get better. Ryback never did. And yet he was pushed and pushed and pushed, to diminishing returns every time.
Ryback probably would have been better suited in a tag team, with somebody who could carry a majority of the in-ring work, but unfortunately, his weaknesses were constantly exposed as a singles star.
6 Ahmed Johnson
Before there was Ryback, there was Ahmed Johnson. Big, clunky, and at times dangerously unprepared to work a match, Johnson was nonetheless given a big push in the mid-90s WWE. There have been some football players to transition from that no-nonsense physical sport to the more-nuanced realm of pro wrestling, but there have been many many more who never knew what to do or how to do it.
Johnson's in-ring work was sloppy and he couldn't cut a promo for his life. Often times, you couldn't quite understand what he was saying. If you can't wrestle a decent match, you should at least be able to talk the talk. Johnson could do neither.
He often looked lost in the squared circle. Ahmed Johnson frequently wore his elbow pads on his biceps. That about sums it up.
Eventually injuries are what put an end to Johnson's push, as well as Vince realizing he had been pushing the wrong guy.
How hard did Vince want to push the 6’8 Heidenreich? He debuted on Smackdown in 2004 as (1) a disciple of Paul Heyman and (2) a major challenger to The Undertaker himself. He was stiff in the ring; not “stiff” like a hard-hitter, but “stiff” as in “he lumbered around like Frankenstein’s monster.” Despite being afforded the gold standard feud (a series with Undertaker), Heidenreich never clicked with fans, never developed in the ring, and even seemed to regress over the years. A failed experiment he was and I didn’t even mention his attempted(?) rape of Michael Cole.
Eventually, Heidenreich was turned face and formed a new Legion of Doom with Road Warrior Animal, which was just about the biggest farce of a tag team you could ask for. The fact that a wrestler like Heidenreich was allowed to carry the torch for the greatest tag team of all time was baffling.
Also known as “that cock-eyed criminal that foils the Joker’s plan at the end of The Dark Knight Tom Lister is also known as “that cock-eyed wrestler whose plans are foiled by Hulk Hogan at the end of No Holds Barred.” The movie (financed by Vince McMahon) flopped. But because Vince never saw a bad idea that he couldn’t milk for more bad ideas, Zeus was brought from the silver screen to the squared circle and entered a feud with Hogan on WWE TV.
The feud culminated in a one-match PPV event (also entitled No Holds Barred, because obviously). The show actually contained four non-televised matches (featuring guys like Dusty Rhodes, Demolition, Andre the Giant, Curt Hennig), all of which were better than the one (!) match that Vince actually aired.
Zeus even teamed up with Randy Savage to take on Hogan and Brutus Beefcake. Thankfully, Zeus didn't pick up the win.
3 Great Khali
This guy held the World Heavyweight Championship for over two months, despite being unable to even bend his legs, walk more than half a mile an hour, or exert any physical action beyond lifting his hands and bringing them down (slowly) on his opponent. Most amazingly: He was a former police officer. How did he catch any criminal? But he’s tall (7’1) so there’s your explanation. His greatest claim to fame isn’t even his title win. His most memorable WWE moment came on an episode of RAW that spent two hours slowly building to the reveal that he was John Cena’s next feud. Throughout the night other potential Cena-challengers were all shown to be incapacitated backstage. The mystery built as to who the terrible force was that took them all out…only for Great freaking Khali to be revealed as the guy. Only a “Price is Right loser horn” could have made that final Raw segment any better.
2 Giant Gonzalez
Before there as Great Khali, blah blah blah. Apparently Vince’s real gift is not discovering talent or conceiving breakthrough concepts, but is recycling bad ideas a generation after they failed. Thankfully Giant Gonzalez never won a world title. The former NBA washout was originally signed to WCW after his basketball career ended, but he never amounted to much under Ted Turner. Never one to pass up a big man (that’s the real pattern to this list, it seems), Vince brought in 8’0 tall Gonzalez in 1993 to feud with, naturally, The Undertaker. In classic Vince fashion, however, he immediately cut Gonzalez’ legs out from under him by putting him in a full-body suit that sported fake hair and airbrushed-on muscles. Also in a classic McMahon move, Vince jobbed out his new big man in his first big feud, once again confirming that he secretly loves wasting money just as much as he loves making it.
1 The McMahons
Who else belongs in the number-one spot? Who are the most over-pushed, over-emphasized, over-exposed people in wrestling history, with very little to show for it lately? You might argue that the McMahons aren’t actually wrestlers, but the counter-argument would be “they all have wrestled..except for Linda, but she once kicked Vince’s grapefruits in the middle of the ring during the biggest WrestleMania of all time, so it counts.”
The McMahons have even won several championships. Vince McMahon is a former WWE Champion and ECW World Champion. Shane is a former European and Hardcore Champion, while Stephanie once held the Women's Championship for 146 days.
Vince McMahon’s time as “the evil Mr. McMahon, nemesis to Stone Cold” made for some amazing television…between 1997-2000. After that it’s been an increasingly staler, more derivative, pale imitation of those glory years, with “evil authority leader” after “evil authority leader” rising up to stick it to the babyface champion. It has never worked as perfectly as it did with Stone Cold in the 90s. But no matter how many times they say “we’re moving on to a new era” they always come back to it.
Ratings slip, panic sets in, Vince catches a bit of Eminem’s “Without Me” on his Spotify, and he thinks “I’M VINCE McMAHON; THEY NEED ME!” And if not Vince, then Stephanie. And if not Stephanie then Triple H. And if not Triple H then the newly-returned Shane. And on and on it goes.
Out with the new, in with the old.
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