Over the years, WWE has made it clear that they're going to do things "their way or the highway." They push certain wrestlers over others, just because they have a look or skill set that management finds superior. It's clear that there's been a kind of template for wrestlers to succeed within the confines of WWE, and much of the international talent they've brought in over the years just doesn't have it, at least in their view. As a result, a lot of formidable talent has been pushed aside, left to wallow in the mid-card, or even a lower spot on the overall roster.
While there are notable exceptions to this in WWE's history (Rey Mysterio Jr. being the prime example), it's clear that there's been an issue in how the company best incorporates it's signed international talent. They aren't put in quality storylines, their feuds are pedestrian, or they aren't given the leeway and time to have a truly great match. Sometimes, it's a combination of all three. Let's take a look which international talent was never able to succeed in WWE, and why that may have been the case.
Ranked below are 15 international wrestlers WWE buried over the years.
15 Lance Storm
The fact that Storm rose to wrestling prominence during a very uncertain time in the industry (dying days of ECW and WCW) didn't do him any favors, but WWE was equally responsible for not giving him a fair chance. The Canadian-born star wasn't buried to the degree that others were (with an Intercontinental Title run to his credit), but he still wasn't used in the best possible way at all.
Storm left the company in 2005 to become a trainer, and also spin his wheels on the Indy circuit. While his run wasn't a complete failure at all, he still didn't have the level of microphone skills or flair that WWE generally wants out of its top-tier talent. It was clear there was going to be a cap on the amount of success he could achieve.
14 Shinsuke Nakamura
Whether or not he eventually gets a title reign, it's obvious that Nakamura's current WWE run has been a failure from all angles. As one of the top stars in NJPW before coming over, this should have been a clear situation where a push to the incoming wrestler would benefit everyone. Instead, Nakamura has largely stagnated during his time with the company, and despite a few title shots, the overall outcome is likely to be one not deserving of Nakamura's skill.
A horrifically booked match at SummerSlam may have put a fork in any hope of Nakamura finding title-based success in WWE. As usual, they fail to realize what an asset a wrestler like this could be to the roster, and how a well-booked high-profile match involving them can provide a nice contrast to the more tradition American style of wrestling overwhelmingly found in their ranks.
By far one of the toughest men to ever set foot inside the squared circle, Haku's stories of altercations outside of the ring may be more notorious than his matches inside. He did two stints with the company, and his first one in the late-'80s saw him become one of the best tag wrestlers they had at the time. Despite this, he only captured a single tag team title, in a sub-par team with Andre The Giant, in an angle that served to put Andre over just before his retirement.
So Haku deserved much more of a shot to succeed in a greater role with the company than he was given. He was fortunate to get a shot in WWE as early as he did, just a few years after completing his training in Japan. However, it was clear that his methodical and unorthodox style wasn't going to catch the eye of WWE's bookers, and he was marginalized as a result.
12 Super Crazy
Super Crazy had paid his dues all over the wrestling world before he came to WWE in 2005, and at the time it was a pretty high-profile signing to wrestling fans in the know. Not only had he been a staple in the latter days of ECW, he had made his name in Mexico and Japan as well. Of course, none of this mattered to WWE, and he got exactly zero runs with any title during his three years with the company.
Being placed in the borderline embarrassing Mexicools gimmick didn't help him any, and the end result was that of a lost cause. He would leave in 2008, and go on to both prominent reduced roles in other promotions until dropping his workload heavily in recent years. He was one of the more talented luchadores WWE has ever had, and they squandered the opportunity.
11 Hakushi (Jinsei Shinzaki)
WWE wasn't known for signing much puroresu talent in the mid-90s, so the fact that Shinzaki was able to have a substantial run as Hakushi was kind of amazing. The only problem was that he was of course sentenced to the mid-card with zero chance of climbing the ranks no matter what he did. The caliber of matches he could have had in the right situation and booking would have been astounding.
But that wasn't the case. Shinzaki was placed in bad situation after bad situation, and it hindered every chance at development within the company he had. He left early in 1996 to go back to Japan, which was ultimately the best decision for his career.
10 Taka Michinoku
It's fair to say that WWE was willing to push Michinoku during his early days with the company. But a lot of that had to do with the fact that they were forming their cruiserweight division, and introducing the Light-Heavyweight Title. This meant that they were willing to actually and properly showcase this style of wrestling on a grand stage, which they did at the Canadian Stampede pay-per-view in 1997, which saw the debut of Michinoku.
It was all downhill after the first year or so, however. Once WWE had the division established with a decent level of fan interest, they bumped Michinoku down to mid-card level and below, pitting him in the Kaientai stable/tag team, making him look ridiculous in the process. Michinoku would go back to Japan, where he is still active in NJPW.
9 Yoshi Tatsu
Maybe Tatsu wasn't a prime level puro talent that WWE could have brought in, but if they were going to sign him in the first place, they would have done better to give him more of a push. He was up on the main roster by 2009, and proceeded to do almost nothing of note in the years following.
If a talent like this was going to be signed, there's little reason to not feature them in some kind of prominent role. Granted, Tatsu hasn't won dozens of titles in the Japanese ranks either, but seeking him out and then not developing him shows a distinct lack of foresight on WWE's part. At this point however, we had all come to expect it, when dealing with these kinds of personnel situations.
Another member of the Mexicools stable of the mid-2000s alongside Super Crazy, Psicosis was a veteran luchadore, and one of the more accomplished wrestlers on the WWE roster at the time. With the bad gimmick already applied, there was little room for him to establish himself in the same way that he had with promotions like WCW and ECW, not to mentioned his extensive history in Mexico.
Yet again, this was a signing that was seen as a pretty big upgrade for the roster in 2005. There just wasn't a lot of talent with that kind of skill set (save for Mysterio and a few others), and it seemed like WWE had turned the corner on this. It ended up being a false alarm, and Psicosis was placed in few notable situations.
7 Luis Urive (Original Sin Cara)
The character of Sin Cara has most notably been played by this luchadore, who has had one of the more impressive careers in Mexican wrestling during recent history. He's won a bevy of titles south of the border, most notably in CMLL, and of course saw no such success in WWE.
The height of his run was likely his team with Rey Mysterio, as well as his portrayal of Sin Cara, and that's a poor use of a talent that has shown massive success in the singles ranks. They should have retained his prior gimmick of Mistico, and allowed him to succeed in the cruiserweight division at the very least. Unfortunately, it was another talent from Mexico squandered over the last few years, and now he's back in CMLL.
6 Mil Mascaras
It's easier to see why WWE may have been reticent to give Mascaras a true shot at championship success, as luchadore-type wrestling wasn't commonplace in the United States during the 1970s. He made numerous appearances for the company over the decade, and although it was certainly an attraction for the time, it didn't yield any long-term success.
Mascaras was prevalent in introducing American audiences to Mexican wrestling during this time, so it's hard to say that this was a booking decision that should have happened in terms of title victories. Still, it would have been nice to see him been a more consistent figure in WWE, and have a more defined role.
5 Ultimo Dragon
You're not going to find many resumes more impressive than Dragon's has been during his career, as he's been a world-traveled and title-winning wrestling for a bevy of companies. Finally getting his shot in WWE in 2003, he predictably didn't get a shot at a major title of any kind. It was becoming clear at this point that they weren't going to push a talent that didn't fit their template for a successful wrestler.
Not that he needed to be considered one of the best wrestlers of his era, but it's still worth mentioning as an egregious mistake on WWE's part. Again, this was becoming the norm around this time, and Dragon unfortunately never got a chance to hold Cruiserweight gold, despite the fact that he was one of the best options available.
4 Essa Rios
Also known as Mr. Aguila and Papi Chulo, Rios was a staple of the light-heavyweight division during The Attitude Era, and suffered a bit due to the massive influx of stars that were appearing around that time. While he did have one Light-Heavyweight Title-reign to his resume, that's an awfully slim list of accolades for a wrestler who ended up spending four years with the company.
Rios would ultimately leave and head to AAA and elsewhere, continuing to establish himself as a consistent talent. More opportunity and better feuds should have been granted to him, but most of the booking energy was focused on the main event at the time, which was absolutely stacked in the WWE ranks.
The other half of the aforementioned Kaientai tag team, Funaki was nearly as talented as Michinoku was, but was made into a comedy character quite early in his WWE tenure. One reign with the Cruiserweight Title in roughly 10 years doesn't mean that he was given a fair shake. Of course, his situation was a little bit different, because he was able to parlay his wrestling career into a broadcasting one, and is now one of the lead Japanese commentators for the company at the moment.
It would have still been nice to see him not have to undertake a comedy role, when there were multiple other wrestlers who could have fulfilled that at the time. At least he got a good consolation prize as an announcer.
Konnan ended up being one of the most notable mid-level stars in WCW during the '90s. That was not the case in WWE, as he portrayed the Max Moon character for a stint during the early part of the decade. The entire gimmick was one of the most cringeworthy of the time for WWE (at a time when there were many cringeworthy gimmicks), and it pretty much buried Konnan's chance right then and there.
He would wind up betting on himself, and nixing his run with WWE. It ended up paying off, as he's had an extensive career in Mexico, as well as in WCW, where he was placed with a far less ridiculous gimmick. Konnan is one of the more recognizable wrestling of the '90s era in both Mexico and the U.S., and it probably wouldn't have been that way had he stayed with WWE.
1 Juventud Guerrera
The third and final member of The Mexicools stable during the 2005-06 run, Guerrera had, like the others, established himself in WCW, ECW and in Mexico during the preceding years. Also similarly, the signing was praised at the time for WWE actually having the foresight to pony up for some legitimate international competition. Unfortunately, the same problems also plagued Guerrera.
Guerrera arguably had the most impressive resume out of the three, and at the very least deserved a run with the Cruiserweight strap. Predictably however, that wasn't going to be in the cards for WWE, who put him squarely in the mid-card with the others, only to be buried in due time. Guerrera would rebound, but winning titles in both WCW and WWE would have been beneficial for his resume.
The Mexicools gimmick was truly one of the most botched WWE angles of the mid-2000s, and was a supreme waste of talent. To the dismay of many wrestling fans however, it's only proven to be par for the course as the years have progressed.