Like most things in life, and indeed in life itself, professional wrestling goes in cycles. There are peaks and valleys in popularity and quality and the wrestlers themselves come and go. Recently, we’ve seen some wrestlers achieve monumental success in their second runs with the company. Jinder Mahal went from a flabby jobber to a hardbodied WWE Champion. The Bella twins were little more than arm candy for RAW guest hosts in their first run and they came back to play a significant roles in the “Women’s Revolution”. And Brock Lesnar was a star in his first run, and an even bigger star now in his second run.
But bringing back wrestlers has not always worked out so well. WWE chairman Vince McMahon has had his fair share of misses. Sometimes, it’s partially, even largely, his fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of the wrestler who may have been lazy or unreliable in his second run. And sometimes things just don’t seem to work out, for whatever reason. Most of these wrestlers were pretty big stars in their first run, so Vince brought them back to recreate their magic. Some went on to bigger and better things after leaving the WWE, so Vince re-recruited them. And some never really got a fair shot their first time around. Whatever the circumstances, here are 15 wrestlers who Vince McMahon should never have brought back.
15 Alberto Del Rio
When Alberto Del Rio left the WWE for the first time in 2014, many fans were upset. Not so much because the character was gone, as it had grown stale. But more because of the circumstance that led to his firing. Del Rio slapped a WWE employee (non-wrestler) backstage after he made a racist comment. Many feel that Del Rio didn’t deserve to be fired for this, but the WWE was in a cost-cutting mode at the time and canned him. Del Rio then went on to find great success in AAA, ROH, and Lucha Underground. So Vince re-signed him (to a big contract) just over a year later.
Del Rio beat Cena for the US Title in his return match. But it was all downhill from there. He was inexplicably paired with Zeb Colter and the US Title quickly lost all the equity Cena had built into it. After an uninspired run in the ill-fated League of Nations, Del Rio was released in 2016 in the midst of a series of bizarre behavior from both he and his fiancée, Paige, as well as a wellness violation.
14 King Kong Bundy
King Kong Bundy is infamous for main eventing WrestleMania 2 against Hulk Hogan to working a mixed tag with little people at WrestleMania 3. Less than a year later he was gone from the WWE entirely. He returned in 1994. In the intervening six-plus years, Bundy didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. He sure wasn’t spending a lot of time in the gym. He was brought in as a member of the Million Dollar Corporation to feud with the Undertaker. He wrestled ‘Taker at WrestleMania XI. This was during a period where Vince liked to put Undertaker up against other big men. The result was a string of awful matches, Bundy’s being chief amongst them. The roster was thin and Vince had hoped that bringing a name back from the ‘80’s would help. But most of the kids who watched WWE in 1995 didn’t remember Bundy’s ‘86 run (or weren’t alive then) and so to them, Bundy was just a big, fat guy who couldn’t wrestle.
13 Scott Steiner
If you’re only familiar with Scott Steiner’s “Big Poppa Pump” character, it might shock you to learn that at one point, Steiner was one of the best in-ring wrestlers in the world. Though he was always jacked, Steiner was an incredibly athletic performer before he bulked up to truly ridiculous proportions in the late ‘90s. From late ‘92 to mid-’94, the Steiner Brothers were perhaps the best tag team in the WWE before returning to WCW. By the time WWE bought WCW in 2001, Scott Steiner was a big singles star, but was half the worker he once was. The WWE brought him in in late 2002 to feud with World Champion Triple H.
Steiner was miscast as a face and furthermore, Vince and Hunter were wrong to expect to get 20+ minute main event matches out of him. He wrestled Hunter at the Royal Rumble and No Way Out events in 2003 in two infamously bad matches. So bad were these matches that Steiner didn’t even make it onto the card at WrestleMania 19.
In her first run, Sable was a key player in the re-birth of the Women’s Division. While she was never a good wrestler, the quality of wrestling in general in WWE in 1997-98 was poor, so all she had to really be was a semi-charismatic hot woman for all the teenage boys to drool over. And she played the part well. But by 2003, fans expected much better work from female wrestlers after becoming accustomed to the quality of wrestlers such as Trish Stratus, Lita, and Jazz. So bringing her back was an odd decision. Furthermore, she played Vince’s mistress.
The Mr. McMahon character had become stale by this point and after Sable began feuding with Stephanie, it was just a lame rehashing of the Steph-Trish-Vince storyline of 2001. It managed to be both sleazy and boring.
Billed at 487 lbs, Nelson Frazier Jr. was never a good wrestler. But as Mabel in the mid-1990s, he had a role to play. And as Viscera, he helped bolster the ranks of the Ministry of Darkness in 1999. But there was no reason to bring him back in 2004. He didn't really have any character at first, but after a few months he was re-branded as the “World’s Largest Love Machine”.
This was the exact same gimmick that Mark Henry had a few years earlier; a super heavyweight, black guy who is obsessed with sex. While Henry’s character was embarrassing, at least he had a charm in how he played it. Apart from being repetitive, Viscera’s gimmick had no charm to it. In 2007, he was re-packaged as “Big Daddy-V” and put on the ECW brand, but this didn’t work either.
10 Barry Windham
Barry Windham has frustrated a lot of fans throughout his career. There have been few wrestlers with as much natural talent and as a good a look as Windham had. Yet, Windham was not always motivated, and when he wasn’t, he could really phone it in. And Windham was not motivated in 1996. But can we blame him for that? When Vince told him about his new “Stalker” gimmick, what must have Windham thought? This was a far cry from teaming with Mike Rotunda in the US Express or being part of the Horsemen in the NWA. What was this? He wore camouflage pants and facepaint and was billed “from the Environment”. Why? Then he was thrown together with Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw (JBL) to form the New Blackjacks. Side note: whenever a team is labeled the “New” version of an old team, they will fail.
9 Curt Hawkins
Most people probably don’t see a lot of money in Curt Hawkins. He’s a fine wrestler, but he’s unlikely to ever be a main eventer. The highlight of his first run was with Zack Ryder as “The Edgeheads” - Edge’s lackeys. But after the brand split last year, the WWE needed more wrestlers on their roster, so they rehired Hawkins. That’s fine, I’m glad he’s getting a paycheque. But the problem is with how Vince and WWE promoted his return. He was hyped up with dated Chuck Norris style jokes only to be brought back to job. I’m not sure if he’s won one match in the past year. Why bring him back just to make him a jobber? They might as well just use various local talent for the same role.
8 Gail Kim
Gail Kim was easily one of the best female wrestlers of the 2000s. And yet, the height of her success was in TNA wrestling as both her runs in the WWE saw her under-utilized. Which is saying something because she won the Women’s Championship in very first match in the WWE. But things were downhill from there. She was released in 2004 due to cost cutting measures. But after an impressive stint in TNA with great matches with Awesome Kong and others, Kim returned to WWE TV in 2009. And she did...nothing.
This was at a time when the women’s division was still largely a joke. Instead of using Kim’s considerable talent as a worker, Vince just wasted her in awful angles such as a love triangle (quadrangle?) with Daniel Bryan and the Bellas. By 2011, Kim was restless and annoyed with her booking and that of the women’s division in general and she left, infamously eliminating herself out of a battle royal and quitting backstage right after.
7 Scott Hall
In the winter of 2002 when Mr. McMahon announced he was bringing back a reformed nWo, some fans were excited, but many more saw it as a desperate attempt to boost flagging ratings and return the WWE to its glory days of before the disastrous Invasion angle. When the WWE bought WCW, many of WCW’s wrestlers were on guaranteed contracts and could still collect their pay without wrestling, so that’s why the Invasion lacked many of the big names. But by 2002, Vince was desperate and paid the big money to bring Hogan, Nash, and Hall in. And Scott Hall was certainly not worth that money.
He was perplexingly booked to work Steve Austin at WrestleMania X8 in Toronto in what was probably Austin’s worst ever ‘Mania match. Hall then fell down the card and his substance abuse problems resurfaced. He was fired by the WWE shortly after the “plane ride from hell”, though it’s unclear what role Hall played in that whole mess. It would be many years before Hall got his life back together, which, thankfully, he appears to have done.
6 Kevin Nash
While Kevin Nash wasn’t the HR headache that Hall was, he was hardly worth bringing back. If Hall reverted to type by having substance abuse problems, then Nash reverted to type by almost immediately getting injured. A variety of injuries saw Nash wrestle only a handful of matches between 2002-04. And they weren’t very good matches. While overall, the nWo in the WWE was a miserable failure, you can’t say the whole thing shouldn’t have happened at all, just because that Hogan-Rock match at WrestleMania 18 generated an amazing atmosphere. But beyond that, the nWo didn’t help matters at all.
Oh, and the less said about Nash’s brief return to WWE television in 2011 as part of the CM Punk-Triple H feud, the better.
5 The British Bulldog
The British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith, had multiple great runs in the WWE. Whether it was in the ‘80’s as one half of the British Bulldogs with Dynamite Kid, as the babyface singles star who wrestled Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Title at Wembley in ‘92, or as a member of the heel Hart Foundation in 1997, Bulldog was always shockingly athletic for man as muscular as he. But by 1999-2000, all that extra weight, and what he took to amass those muscles, had caught up with him. Bret had left WWE after the Montreal Screwjob and retired from WCW in 2000, Owen Hart had died in 1999, and Bulldog was the last vestige of the Hart Foundation. Except he was wearing jeans for some reason. He looked unhealthy. And he was. He would die two years after his release.
4 KroniK (Brian Adams and Bryan Clark)
If you are big, Vince McMahon will give you every chance to succeed. Or in the cases of Brian Adams and Bryan Clark, every chance to fail. Repeatedly. Brian Adams didn’t work as Demolition Crush, happy Hawaiian Crush, angry Hawaiian Crush, or biker Crush. And Bryan Clark didn’t exactly set the world on fire as Adam Bomb, either. But the two did find success in the end times of WCW. They were simply booked as two big dudes who squashed guys. Funny how that always seems to get over. Oh, and there was lots of pot smoking innuendo, which appealed to wrestling’s then largely teenage boy fanbase. But even by WCW’s end, the gimmick ran thin.
They were brought into WWE as part of the Invasion angle and were only there very briefly. Their only feud of note was against the Brothers of Destruction. But ‘Taker and Kane didn’t want to give them anything and just buried KroniK in every match. And these matches were terrible. But what could you expect?
3 Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt, Slaughter is a fondly remembered Hall of Famer, but it’s interesting to note that none of his runs with WWE were ideal. He started off in the early 1980s as a good heel to work WWE Champion Bob Backlund before becoming a very popular babyface. But by then, Hulk Hogan was the face of the WWE’s national expansion and Slaughter hit a ceiling, so he left for the AWA. By 1990, however, the ‘80s wrestling boom was tailing off and neither Hulk’s run at Hollywood nor the Ultimate Warrior’s run as WWE champ went particularly well.
With the onset of the Gulf War, Vince tried to capitalize on the news by bringing Sgt. Slaughter back as an Iraqi sympathizer and throwing the title on him almost right away. The problem was that most fans saw this as very distasteful. The WWE likes to portray this as great “heat” that Slaughter got and that they received so many threats that they had to move WrestleMania VII from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the Los Angeles Memorial Arena, but the truth is that they couldn’t sell out the Coliseum because this whole angle was bad for business.
2 The Ultimate Warrior
Speaking of the Ultimate Warrior, that his 1990 run with the title didn’t do great business wasn’t really his fault, more the result of wrestling’s peak popularity waning. However, Warrior’s unreliability --holding up Vince for money before SummerSlam ‘91 and his dismissal for steroid use in ‘92--were his fault. So it was odd that, after three-and-a-half years of inactivity, Vince brought the Warrior back in 1996. His name value didn’t help the WWE which was near dire straits at this point. Neither did his attitude. He showed no interest in making younger guys look good, let alone putting them over, as evidenced by his squash of Triple H at WrestleMania.
He barely lasted three months before again being fired for no-showing events and a dispute over merchandise. Warrior would pop up in WCW in 1998 for an equally abysmal run as the “One Warrior Nation”.
1 Hulk Hogan
Perhaps the worst wrestler Vince brought back never even wrestled in his last run. Earlier in this list I pointed out that Hogan’s return was the one good thing about Vince bringing in the nWo in 2002 (though putting the title on him was probably a step too far). Hogan was a semi-regular character until 2003, after which he only made a handful of appearances up to 2006, at which point he left to focus on his reality TV show and an ill-fated stint in TNA.
But Hogan finally came back to the WWE fold on a Legends Deal in 2014. Everybody felt good about this; it was natural that Hogan should be part of the WWE. But after seeing Hogan routinely flub his lines and get flustered (including calling the New Orleans Superdome the “Silverdome”) fans started to question his value. Then of course, there was the bombshell. In July 2015, The National Enquirer and Radar Online published a previously unreleased portion of Hogan’s infamous sex tape in which he goes on a racist rant and repeatedly uses the ‘n-word’. WWE quickly terminated their contract with him and erased almost any mention or image of him from their website and programming.