In professional wrestling, much like in life, things don’t always work out the way you’d originally planned. Whether it’s an unavoidable circumstance or one fatal mistake, everything can come crushing down in an instant. But hey, that’s the fun of the business we all know and love, right? Right?
Wrong. Every single name on this list had the potential to truly become someone in the industry, and while a few of them actually did accomplish some great things, it’s failing to reach that next level which is the reason why they’ve landed themselves here. Some of the entries are extremely debatable, but others are undeniable no matter how optimistic or pessimistic you may be.
Regardless of who your favourites may be you can never avoid disappointment in this industry, but thankfully that often evens itself out with some joy and hope. For these fellas, however, their winding slopes have been a bit rockier than many would’ve anticipated.
The irony of this list is that one or two are actually still plying their trade in WWE, or could potentially be on their way back very soon. Nonetheless, it’s their past that we’re choosing to focus on which could ruffle a few feathers depending on which way you look at things.
15 Bobby Lashley
In the words of CM Punk, The Shield were the most pushed guys in the company since Bobby Lashley and that’s saying something. The MMA heavyweight was seemingly being groomed by Vince to take over John Cena’s spot as the number one guy, with the two even having a WWE Championship match with one another.
Unfortunately, an injury left Lashley’s momentum in a heap, and within a few months he was gone from the company. It was a surprising and slightly odd drop from the spotlight for Bobby, but thankfully he was able to recapture some of his magic in both Impact Wrestling and Bellator. Still, though, it’s nothing compared to what he could’ve accomplished in WWE.
14 Rob Van Dam
RVD, as advertised, was indeed The Whole F’N Show back in 2006. The high flyer was at the peak of his popularity after years of being underutilised, with the former ECW standout finally reaching the top of the mountain by defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship. He was finally set to realise his potential of being a bonafide main eventer: and then it happened.
The master of the Five Star Frog Splash was caught with marijuana in his possession alongside Sabu, and in the weeks following the incident he lost both the WWE and ECW Championships. Van Dam would never again ascend to such heights, leaving many of his fans frustrated at how badly he dropped the ball.
13 Jake Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts had it all back in his day. The guy was one of the most over superstars in all of pro wrestling, with his psychology in the ring only being matched by his actual wrestling ability, in addition to his promo skills. Roberts was the epitome of a future World Champion, but that’s when everything changed – and not for the better.
Roberts’ demons got the better of him when it came to his addictions, which eventually led to his career spiralling out of control. He quickly became a shell of the performer he once was, but thankfully in the present day he’s seen the light and has taken the right steps towards improving not only his life but his legacy within the business.
12 Scott Hall
Much like Jake, Scott Hall was one of the most fascinating characters in all of wrestling on his day. He’s been credited with getting many legends into the business and showing them the ropes, with the most ironic thing of all being how similar Roberts and Hall were. That’s not just in terms of wrestling, either, but in terms of their downfall.
Hall also allowed his demons to get the better of him, never reaching the pinnacle of becoming a World Champion as many people thought he would. The two men were pulled out of their dark places by Diamond Dallas Page, and thank God they were, otherwise these posts may have been more of a eulogy than tribute to living legends.
11 Daniel Puder
This may be a bit of a controversial choice, but Daniel Puder seemed to have everything necessary to thrive in pro wrestling. During his time on Tough Enough, Puder proved himself to be a colourful character who possessed charisma, the look and the wrestling background that had many people tipping him for success.
Unfortunately when offered the chance to further his career, Puder declined, instead choosing to focus on his MMA career before brief stints in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He certainly found a degree of success in the combative nature of mixed martial arts, but he may still regret putting Kurt Angle in that Kimura lock to this day.
10 Sean O’Haire
Whenever you see lists about superstars who had the potential to thrive, the odds are that Sean O’Haire is featured. The former WWE superstar was tipped for great things in the company which is hardly surprising given his look, I- ring work and his ability to make any character that he was given work. Seriously, he was that good.
A number of circumstances led to his downfall, with O’Haire going on to compete in the world of MMA as opposed to fulfilling his potential inside the squared circle. A few years ago, Sean tragically passed away of a supposed suicide at the age of just 43. A horrific end for a man who could’ve had a much greater legacy within this business.
9 Muhammad Hassan
When it comes to Muhammad Hassan the best way to describe his unfortunate WWE run was that he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Following a solid first few months in the company, Hassan was thrust into a feud with The Undertaker, with rumours suggesting that he was scheduled to go on and eventually win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Alas, things didn’t work out that way, with a controversial angle involving the two on SmackDown coinciding with the London bombings. The timing was awful and following the incident, Hassan was released from the company and he subsequently retired from professional wrestling. Looking back, it may have been the right decision, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Umaga was one of the biggest and best monster heels pro wrestling had seen in years upon his debut, spending two years being featured in some huge feuds on Monday Night Raw. He was rubbing shoulders with the best of the best, and even competed in a WrestleMania match that included the likes of Stone Cold and Vince McMahon – well, kind of.
As was the case with the majority of others on this list, however, Umaga was the master of his own demise as he picked up two Wellness Policy violations before refusing to go to a rehabilitation facility. Because of this, WWE released him from his contract and the big man was never quite able to reach that next level that many had expected of him.
7 Mr Kennedy
You all know how to say it by now. Mr Kennedy appeared to be on a rocketship to superstardom in WWE, with some members of the WWE Universe even tipping him to become the next Steve Austin. Of course, that would’ve been considered an overstatement for most, but Kennedy had a certain spark that allowed the audience to really gravitate towards him.
Unfortunately lately, a series of incidents, including a Wellness Policy violation and a botched backdrop on Randy Orton, led to his downfall with Kennedy even being stripped of the Money in the Bank briefcase. It was a dramatic fall from grace for a guy who could seemingly do no wrong, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more of him in the main event.
6 Wade Barrett
We’re afraid that we’ve got some extremely bad news – well, for anyone who’s a fan of Wade Barrett, that is. The King of Bad News and the master of the Bullhammer seemed destined to become England’s first World Champion after debuting on the main roster back in 2010, with his leadership of The Nexus being one of the hottest angles in years.
But for some reason Vince didn’t see main event potential in Barrett and after a few near falls and some poorly-timed injuries, he left the company last year. The former bare knuckle boxer has largely stayed away from wrestling in order to focus on his acting career, which is a shame as he could’ve been one of Britain’s greatest bad guys.
5 Shelton Benjamin
"Failed" is a word that can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and in this instance it was the company failing Shelton Benjamin. Well, in our opinion it was. Shelton was one of the best wrestlers in the world during his time in World Wrestling Entertainment, and it seemed as if there was nothing the guy couldn’t do.
Some will suggest that he didn’t have enough charisma to thrive at the highest level, but he was never really given an extended chance to show that. His Gold Standard stuff was pretty good, but things never clicked enough to warrant Vince putting him in a main event position. He seemed set to return last summer, but we’re still waiting to find out whether that’ll come to fruition following his injury.
4 Jeff Hardy
Oh Jeff. Why did you do this to us? The Charismatic Enigma had one of the best stories going in WWE, with the high flyer never quite being able to grab the brass ring until one day he did. He eventually became WWE Champion, going on to also become a two-time World Heavyweight Champion before leaving the company in 2009.
Why did he leave? Because Jeff could never seem to stay out of trouble, and despite clearly being on the same level as John Cena, it wasn’t enough as he picked up yet another Wellness Policy violation and was given the boot. Sure he’s back in the company now as one half of the Raw Tag Team Champions, but he could’ve achieved so much more.
3 Evan Bourne
Evan Bourne was the ultimate underdog before Daniel Bryan made it cool, with his athleticism and hard-working persona capturing the hearts of many in the WWE Universe. Following a singles victory over Chris Jericho, it seemed as if his career would sky rocket, perhaps leading to a mid card title victory, but then he messed up big time.
A couple wellness Policy Violations coincided with an unfortunate injury and before we knew it, Air Bourne was nowhere to be seen in a WWE ring. He returned to Ring of Honor and has just recently signed with Impact Wrestling, and is still putting on great matches to this day, but let’s be honest with ourselves – that’s not where you want to end up when you get into this business. There’s only one end game.
2 Alberto Del Rio
The irony of this entry is that Alberto Del Rio quite literally went on and on about his “destiny” from the moment he stepped foot into a WWE arena. The submission specialist was given an almighty push which included winning the biggest Royal Rumble in history, winning the WWE Championship and also becoming World Heavyweight Champion.
Unfortunately Del Rio couldn’t maintain his success, and it’s not even because of his initial firing. Alberto was given another shot at glory during a second run with the company, but even then he messed things up by, you guessed it, collecting a good old fashioned Wellness Policy violation.
No one man is bigger than the WWE, Alberto. But you already knew that.
We’ll get this one out of the way early because otherwise we’re going to sound like a broken record: yup, Carlito was also a naughty boy when it came to the Wellness Policy and refused to go to a rehab facility. Before that, though, things weren’t exactly going great with the former IC Champion not being featured on the weekly programming all too much.
It was a big change of pace for the man who, on his first night in the company, beat the odds to defeat John Cena and become the United States Champion. He also came within a whisker of becoming WWE Champion during his appearance in the Elimination Chamber, but it wasn’t to be.
We know that not everyone can realistically make it to the top, but a few of these guys really didn’t help themselves.