Every wrestler aspires to achieve main event stardom and attain the riches and perks such a position provides. In WWE, many main eventers work part time schedules and fly first class and are provided with tour buses at the company’s expense. Furthermore, as we have seen in recent years with The Rock, Steve Austin and John Cena, main event stardom can lead to lucrative opportunities outside wrestling.
Of course, most wrestlers never receive the chance to headline in WWE because they do not meet head honcho Vince McMahon’s main event specifications. Not every wrestler is built for or capable of holding down a headline spot in McMahon’s eyes, for a multitude of reasons, no matter how long, hard or diligently they work in his company.
That only intensifies feelings of frustration and resentment among other wrestlers and fans when those talents who do ascend the top of the card and earn the juicy contracts and have the world at their feet seem to take their positions for granted and use their privileged status as an opportunity to do less than their very best.
The following is a list of wrestlers, past and present, who we believe allowed themselves to grow complacent after they reached a certain level of stardom and did not represent either themselves or their industry to the fullness of their abilities. For some, it was just an aberration, a temporary loss of motivation. Others, unfortunately, lost the drive and determination permanently. As we explain, fame and fortune can have a detrimental effect on a performer.
15 BROCK LESNAR
The former UFC champion returned to WWE in 2012 for a brutal and exhilarating headline match with John Cena at Extreme Rules. Though Lesnar lost, his main event status was preserved by his contract. So bankable had Lesnar been in UFC, he was able to negotiate a multi-million-dollar WWE deal that required him to work select dates only.
Most felt Lesnar deserved the preferential treatment. His aggressive style infused his matches with a realistic aura others lacked. Lesnar was a special attraction due to the way he was presented and the way in which he wrestled.
Something changed in 2016. Lesnar seemed bored at Royal Rumble and, particularly, against Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania. Ambrose was still irked about it when he appeared on the Stone Cold Podcast in August. “I felt like I was pulling teeth to turn that match into something epic,” recalled Ambrose. “Artistically, Brock didn’t want to do anything.” Lesnar’s SummerSlam match with Randy Orton was a letdown as well.
For Lesnar, it seemed his priority in 2016 was his UFC comeback, not WWE which had paid him millions for years.
Despite Lesnar’s claims that he will leave WWE when his contract expires in 2018, a cynic might argue that Brock is attempting to make himself invaluable again because he’s eyeing a renewal at his current rate of pay.
14 LEX LUGER
Lex Luger coasted for so long that many forget he ever sparkled in the squared circle.
Travel back to 1989, and you’ll discover a different Luger from the man who for most of the 1990s was the poster boy for phoned-in matches. Luger’s 1989 feuds with Ricky Steamboat and Brian Pillman in WCW were thrillers, his match with Ric Flair at Wrestle War 1990 was outstanding, and he had one of the hottest matches of 1991 at SuperBrawl I, where he teamed with Sting to battle Rick and Scott Steiner.
In July 1991, two months after the SuperBrawl classic, Luger was set to capture the World title from Ric Flair at The Great American Bash. It was to be the culmination of an epic journey for Luger, who had never been able to dethrone Flair, despite innumerable opportunities. However, Flair was fired by WCW and stripped of the title before the show, and Luger’s long-awaited championship victory came in a flat match with Barry Windham.
It was a bitter pill for Luger, whose night of glory had proved to be a damp squib. It seemed to have a profound effect on him: Luger never regained his passion for wrestling in WCW or WWE, where his 1993-1995 run fell well short of expectations. We can only wonder what might have been, had Luger strived to reclaim his old form, and not settled for mediocrity.
13 BIG SHOW
Paul Wight was a lean, mean fighting machine when he debuted for WCW as The Giant in 1995. In addition to his excellent conditioning, he received rave reviews for his advancement as a worker throughout 1996.
Turning babyface, The Giant became one of WCW’s most popular acts in 1997. Unfortunately, his rising stardom diminished his desire to train and eat healthily. Partially due to junk food and cigarettes, his conditioning and, inevitably, his performance level declined in the second half of the year.
The weight gain nearly had severe consequences at Souled Out in January 1998 when Kevin Nash was unable to hold him on a powerbomb attempt and accidentally dropped him on the back of his head. Though Wight was not seriously injured, it was a frightening moment. Nash had successfully powerbombed a slimmer Giant in a match at SuperBrawl in February 1997.
Many were hopeful The Giant would turn over a new leaf when he joined WWE on a near-$1-million-per-year contract in 1999. However, the guaranteed money seemed only to demotivate him. The company fought with Show for years over his slothful attitude, and frequently ridiculed him on the air.
Show did become a star in WWE, but never reached the heights forecast for him in the 1990s. Today, aged 45, Show’s in his best shape in two decades, ironically. If only he had acted sooner.
12 DEAN AMBROSE
The man who lambasted Brock Lesnar on the Stone Cold Podcast last year for his “laziness” has received criticism in 2017 for the repetitive nature of his matches and humdrum delivery of his promos.
It’s a trap into which many wrestlers fall. They establish a series of signature moves and mannerisms that provoke a reaction and become reliant upon them, instead of consciously evolving in an attempt to remain fresh and current.
In his defense, Ambrose was hampered by a feud with The Miz that long outstayed its welcome. That did appear to end on RAW this week when Ambrose pinned Miz in a handicap match in which Ambrose teamed with former Shield associate Seth Rollins.
According to the story line, Ambrose is teaming with Rollins reluctantly, due to Rollins’ betrayal which torpedoed The Shield three years ago. Will this story be the stimulus Ambrose needs to become interesting and relevant again?
Sting was a double disappointment for WCW.
The colourful, bleach blond wrestler who was groomed to replace Ric Flair as figurehead in 1990 — and did so when he toppled Flair for the NWA World Championship at The Great American Bash in July that year — did not grow into the role of babyface champion and make it his own. Had Sting possessed the drive and tools to flourish on top, he would neither have been replaced as champion by Flair in January 1991 nor would WCW have hired Hulk Hogan as its new star babyface at huge expense in 1994.
Reborn as black and white Sting in 1996, he was the central figure in arguably WCW’s greatest story line that led to a match between Sting and Hogan for the latter’s WCW World Title at Starrcade in December 1997. The disputed finish will forever be debated. However, most agree that Sting’s performance that night was far from electrifying and, when he captured the WCW Title in February 1998 to resolve the Starrcade controversy, he brought nothing new to the title. Sting was outshone by others on the roster, including the powerful and charismatic Goldberg, who became the star Sting could never be.
10 SAMOA JOE
Samoa Joe lived up to the reputation he had crafted in Ring Of Honor when he burst upon the TNA scene in 2005. Racking up wins in superior matches, Joe was a sensation. His series of matches with Kurt Angle in 2006 are still among the finest in company history.
Joe had to wait until TNA’s Lockdown pay-per-view in April 2008 before he captured his first TNA World Title. Old rival Angle did the honours in an incredible cage match. Joe could not have asked for a better opponent or match to kick off his reign.
Alas, the rot quickly set in: Joe had an unexceptional reign. It was telling that after he dropped the TNA Championship in October 2008, he never held it again.
Questionable character changes and TNA’s crackpot ideas might have been contributing factors in Joe’s decline in later years, but these cannot be used to explain or excuse his lacklustre title reign. Joe has to shoulder the responsibility. Simply put, he didn’t bring it as champion.
9 PLAYBOY BUDDY ROSE
“I worked hard for this body,” read the self-deprecating message on T-shirts the rotund Rose wore to the ring in the 1980s.
Trained by Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson in the early 1970s, Rose weighed around 210 pounds when he made his pro wrestling debut in December 1973. Renowned for his athleticism and conditioning, Rose was capable of working 60-minute matches, if necessary. He was an accomplished performer and top star in the Portland territory, where he had a blistering feud with Roddy Piper in 1980, and headlined major arenas on the other side of the country two years later as a challenger to WWE Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund.
As gifted as Rose was, he is unfortunately remembered by many as an overweight enhancement talent in the WWE from 1990, and for his faux Blow Away! diet commercial, first broadcast on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Sadly, Rose was never able to regain control of his weight, which ended his career prematurely and likely contributed to his death, aged just 56, in April 2009.
A World Champion in Europe, Japan and Mexico, Vader entered WCW in 1990 with a fearsome pedigree. Two years later, when he joined the company full-time, he supplanted Sting to add the WCW World Title to his list of accolades.
Vader’s WCW matches with Cactus Jack and Ric Flair were characterized by their drama and brutality, and his long-running series with Hulk Hogan drew WCW’s largest pay-per-view numbers of 1995.
When Vader resurfaced in WWE in 1996, fans salivated at the potential matches, and confidently predicted that he would capture the Heavyweight Title. But in the company with the largest worldwide presence, he was unable to replicate his prior success. Initially, Vader claimed to have been hampered by a shoulder injury from which he had insufficient time to recover. While this might explain his early woes, he spent nearly three years in the company, and enjoyed few highlights.
Perhaps it’s harsh to state that Vader stopped trying when he reached WWE, but something was clearly amiss.
7 ROB VAN DAM
A true innovator in ECW, Rob Van Dam was a dazzling flyer and risk-taker, and ECW’s premier star in the last two years of its existence.
Joining WWE in 2001, RVD was one of the few invaders to excel in the invasion story line. His career soon waned, however. His fans blamed obstructive booking, especially losses to Triple H, for his lack of upward mobility. But looking at it objectively, with the exception of a few magical moments in WWE’s ECW revival from 2005-06, Van Dam grew frustratingly complacent: he eased into a familiar routine that left the viewer with the impression that he was content to clock in and clock out each night. Innovation was the furthest thing from his mind.
RVD left WWE after a six-year run in June 2007. All arguments that free spirit Van Dam was hamstrung by the regimented WWE system were dispelled when he employed the same bag of tricks in TNA in 2010.
Unlike contemporary Chris Jericho, who constantly revamped his character and image, Van Dam for the last decade has used the same moves, mannerisms and costumes and even has the same hairstyle. It’s easy to understand why few are calling for his return to WWE.
6 CURT HENNIG
WWE’s Mr. Perfect is fondly remembered by many longtime fans. But when you stack it all up, he does seem to be the beneficiary of selective memories: the bad far outweighs the good.
Sure, there was his sensational SummerSlam 1991 match with Bret Hart, the Survivor Series 1992 bout with Randy Savage against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon, and the King Of The Ring 1993 match, again with Bret Hart. But there was little else to shout about. He spent the next four years on the sidelines, due to a combination of back and knee injuries and financial disputes with Vince McMahon.
When Hennig joined WCW on a mid-six-figure contract in June 1997, he sported a sizeable gut which Scott Hall ridiculed in a tag match at Bash At The Beach 1997.
Hennig’s three-year WCW run was characterized by listless matches and audience apathy. WCW was taken for a ride: it never received value for money from Hennig. Like Bret Hart, Hennig’s peak earning years were his worst in terms of quality output. No wonder his fans have selective memories.
5 KEVIN NASH
Lost among WCW’s escalating problems in late 1998 was Kevin Nash’s enormous popularity. He was viewed as the deserving winner of the battle royal at WCW’s World War 3 event in November 1998 and a worthy challenger to World Champion Goldberg at Starrcade five weeks later.
Nash’s match with Goldberg at Starrcade was entertaining, and the reaction from a sold out MCI Center in Washington, DC when Nash lifted the title from Goldberg was extraordinary. It was the summit of his career.
A mere eight days later, Nash dropped the title to the returning Hulk Hogan in their notorious match on the January 4, 1999 Monday Nitro. The ramifications of this result for Nash have also been overshadowed by the greater crisis WCW had created for itself.
The goodwill Nash had built with the audience was undone once he turned heel and stepped back into Hogan’s shadow. Meanwhile, he became discouraged: realizing the path to the top was blocked, Nash abandoned his aspirations to become WCW’s top man and languished in a supporting role.
Nash would never regain the popularity he had from November-December 1998, and spent the next 15 years living off past accomplishments.
The artist formerly known as Kokina Maximus appeared to hit the jackpot when he was reborn as Yokozuna in WWE in 1992.
Receiving a huge push, Yokozuna won the 1993 Royal Rumble and the WWE Title from Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX. Though he lost the title the same night in an impromptu match to Hulk Hogan, Yoko regained the belt from Hogan two months later at King Of The Ring.
Yokozuna needed to be a big man to make the sumo-wrestler-turned-sports-entertainer gimmick work. However, Yoko continued to pile on the weight to such an extent that he became a danger to himself and others in the ring. When he failed his physical examination with the New York State Athletic Commission in 1997, Yoko was unable to wrestle in over 20 U.S. states. The ban cost him his WWE job.
WWE, to its credit, had pulled Yokozuna from in-ring duty the previous year and sent him to a health farm to encourage him to lose weight. It didn’t work. Yokozuna, who weighed over 700 pounds at his heaviest, died in October 2000 on a wrestling tour of England, aged 34.
3 KASSIUS OHNO
In 2012, Chris Spradlin, professionally known as Chris Hero, followed in the footsteps of former tag team partner Claudio Castagnoli and signed a WWE contract.
While Castagnoli, renamed Cesaro, doubled his efforts in the gym and got himself into the best shape of his life to better fit into the WWE/NXT environment, Spradlin, as Kassius Ohno, made no such effort to impress his superiors. Bear in mind, this was the pre-Kevin Owens era: a wrestler’s physique usually dictated how far he would go in the company.
No complaints were voiced about Ohno’s ring work, but his physique was considered such an impediment that he was removed from live events in summer 2013 and given instructions to improve his physique. Ohno never did, and he left the company before the end of the year. The WWE dream appeared to be over.
Spradlin returned to the independent circuit, where he received strong reviews over the next three years. Though he gained a lot of weight in the process, his reputation was sufficient, and attitudes had sufficiently changed, that he was re-signed by WWE to its NXT brand this year. We’ll see how far he goes this time.
2 SID VICIOUS/JUSTICE
There may be no better or worse example of a wrestler whose progress ceased once he realised wrestling promoters were infatuated with him.
Sid first came to national attention as one half of The Skyscrapers tag team with veteran Dan Spivey in WCW in 1989. A towering, menacing muscleman, Sid looked the part, and made quite an impression in squash matches and short bursts in tag matches.
Proclaimed the “next Hulk Hogan”, Sid allowed the adulation to go to his head, enabled by promoters who handed him the superstar treatment before he had proved he deserved it. His main event with Sting at WCW’s Halloween Havoc 1990 pay-per-view was dismal, as were his bouts with El Gigante in 1991.
Undeterred by Sid’s shoddy skill set, Vince McMahon signed him, as Sid Justice, to a huge contract and pitted him against Hulk Hogan in the top match of WrestleMania VIII in 1992. It is remembered as one of the worst WrestleMania main events ever.
Though Sid had little to offer wrestling beyond his physique, he received contracts from WCW and WWE throughout the 1990s. He bounced from one company to the other, until he suffered a horrific broken leg on a WCW event in 2001 which effectively ended his career.
1 BRET HART
Bret Hart went from WWE’s top star and Heavyweight Champion in 1997 to just another member of a bloated WCW roster in 1998.
The brilliance of Hart’s matches against Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 and The Undertaker at SummerSlam 1997 and his work as a member of The Hart Foundation only accentuated how run-of-the-mill his efforts were a year later in the rival company. In the meantime, of course, there was the matter of the double-cross at Survivor Series that had ended Hart’s WWE career on the sourest note imaginable.
WCW has rightly been slammed for failing to maximize Bret’s talents during his two years in the company as an active wrestler, but Hart is blameworthy as well. Most of the energy, conviction and imagination he brought to his WWE matches had deserted him by the time he laced up the boots for WCW. Demoralized by the Survivor Series incident and unwilling to fight the political battles for power in the star-laden organization, Hart was a shadow of his former self in WCW.
While poorer in the ring, Hart, as he confirmed in his autobiography Hitman, was far richer in financial terms: he earned $2.5 million per year as a WCW wrestler, more than twice as much as he’d made in his best year in WWE. Nevertheless, Hart does not cherish the memories of his WCW tenure. Nor do his fans.