It’s not as common today (given WWE’s near monopoly of wrestling) but jumping promotions was a common thing for guys once. More than a few would leap ship and the Monday Night War specialized in shocking defections to get major attention. Often, it worked out well, the guys succeeding and adding to their fame and wealth. But other times, it turned out badly. Shane Douglas’ 1995 WWE run was a total mess but he recovered for runs in ECW and WCW. Sting’s run in WWE was also bad but he was near the end of his career anyway. Yet it’s remarkable to see that for every great success story of someone jumping promotions, there are just as many that warn you about being better off where you already are.
Sometimes, they’re pushed by circumstances while other times they had huge promise. In a few cases, it looked like they would work while others were doomed from the start. It runs the gamut from proven mega-stars to those who had a real shot at rising but cut down. It can be the character they’re given, bad booking or even their own bad work but in each case, these workers made a very bad mistake by going somewhere else and it cost them big time. It’s not just slowed down, many of these can truly be the cause of their careers basically collapsing (and in some cases their life with it). Here are 15 wrestlers who ruined their careers by going to another promotion and why the risks of that move are still huge.
Fred Ottoman had broken out in the business thanks to being Dusty Rhodes’ brother-in-law. When Dusty was running a Florida promotion, Fred was set up as Big Steel Man, the top heel. Dusty got Fred a job with WWE as Tugboat, a sailor guy who would be a fun person for kids. In 1991, he turned heel to become Typhoon. He and Earthquake were The Natural Disasters, a top heel team who held the tag titles. In 1993, Fred decided to rejoin Dusty, now in WCW. Dusty’s great idea was for him to be the mysterious masked partner for Davey Boy Smith and Sting at WarGames and later challenge Vader.
On a special interview segment, they announced The Shockmaster with a flash of explosives…and poor Fred tripped on a piece of wood as he smashed through the wall. His cheap helmet flew off to reveal himself as he tried to continue with a pre-recorded promo but the damage was done. He was remade into a more comedic character but nothing could salvage that and poor Fred is forever known by one of the most laughable moments in wrestling history.
14 Chris Harris
A rather obvious pick for many. Since TNA began, Chris Harris was rising up as a very talented worker. He and James Storm became America’s Most Wanted, the best team in the company with multiple reigns as tag team champions and feuds with various great tandems. Harris also had promise as a singles guy and hopes were high for him. He didn’t click in TNA as a singles star after AMW broke up and thus moving to WWE looked like the right move.
Assigned to the ECW brand, Harris was renamed Braden Walker and meant to be a serious worker. Then came the infamous promo. From the moment he made a knock-knock joke and “I’m gonna knock your brains out,” Harris had no chance whatsoever. His promos were laughable and his ring work seemed to suffer as well. Fans just didn’t buy him for one minute and his run with the company lasted only a couple of months. Thus, it has to rank as one of the worst attempts at a promotional jump as one bad name and promo were enough to ruin Harris majorly.
13 Marc Mero
In his prime, Marc Mero was a great worker but saddled with a bad gimmick.WCW wanted him to look wild as Johnny B. Badd and thus made him look like Little Richard with boas, fake lips and a confetti blaster. Mero made it work, becoming rather popular with runs as TV Champion WWE thought he could be a great star and signed him for a cushy contract. However, stripped of the Badd persona, Mero wasn’t as effective and his “Wildman” act was bland. He did have a run as IC Champion but it was short-lived before losing to Triple H and an injury later made him adjust to a boxer type that didn’t do well either.
The big factor was Mero being overwhelmed by his wife, Rena, better known as Sable whose stunning beauty helped push the modern “Diva” era. Mero really was a good wrestler but jumping to WWE ended up hurting his career badly, although ironically gave them one of their hottest ladies ever.
One of the best female workers of her time, Madusa rose up as champion in the dying days of the AWA and was skilled, strong and beautiful. In WCW, she was a side piece but WWE gave her a boost in the revived women’s division in 1993. As Alundra Blayze, Madusa rose up fast and reigned as champion, doing her best to elevate women’s wrestling at the time. But despite her skills, the company wasn’t totally backing it and in 1995, were making plans to dissolve the division. Not happy about this and angry about lack of proper payment, Madusa decided to jump to WCW. Not only did she not tell anyone in WWE but she went on “Nitro” with the women’s title which she then dumped in a garbage bin. It was a shocking moment that pushed the Monday Night War majorly.
However, WCW could never get a women’s division off the ground so Madusa was left floundering. She popped up a few years later to win the Cruiserweight title but nothing else and has regretted her defection that crushed not just her, but all of women’s wrestling for a time.
11 Davey Boy Smith
One would think Davey Boy Smith would be wary of going to WCW. He’d done so before in 1993 after a long run in WWE as tag team and IC Champion. It was not a good one as Smith was pushed as a face but wasn't clicking with fans and was soon gone. He returned to WWE for some success with Owen Hart as tag champions. But when Bret Hart got screwed in Montreal, Davey Boy followed him to WCW. This was a terrible move as, if they didn’t know what to do with Bret, they sure had no clue with Smith. He was lost in bad feuds and often forgotten angles.
The worst was at Fall Brawl when Smith took a backdrop onto a trap door that no one had been warned was even there. It ended up giving him a severe back injury that took him out and he was fired while recovering. Smith returned to WWE but wasn't the same physically or mentally, a total wreck who didn’t last long. It all contributed to his premature death and thus leaving hurt Smith in more ways than one.
10 Jake Roberts
Jake has made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he acknowledges this as one of the biggest. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Jake was one of WWE’s biggest stars. Amazing in the ring, his DDT was a huge hit and his promos were magnetic to get him over huge. But Jake was a huge drinker although he could appear perfectly fine to others and that hurt him badly. In 1992, WCW offered him a huge contract and Jake decided to accept. He even held up WWE for more money and a release by threatening not to put the Undertaker over at Mania as planned. But the day before he was to debut, Jake was called in by new WCW boss Bill Watts who literally tore the contract up and forced Jake to sign a much lower deal.
Roberts had a big splash attacking Sting. However, his personal demons were affecting him due to less money and the build to the horrible blow-off match was a mess. That led to the horrendous “Spin the Wheel, Make the Deal” battle with Jake forced to hold a cobra to his face and act like he was bit. Jake was soon gone, admitting that he should have stayed in WWE for a cushy office gig rather than a bad move that derailed his career.
9 The Sheepherders
Look up old video of The Sheepherders and you will be amazed. Luke and Butch were nothing less than savage monsters, brutal and wild and their tag team battles could often be bloodbaths in a way that makes ECW look tame. They had been carving out a career across various promotions and were truly a dangerous tandem. Thus, going to WWE should have been a big boost for them, maybe even including a run as champions to terrify crowds with their antics.
Instead, as The Bushwhackers, they were turned into a pair of goofballs who would walk around licking the heads of fans and acting like morons. It led to some success and better money but it also made took away everything that made them so great in the past. They were pushed just as moronic goofs and nothing like the great team they’d been, so jumping ship pretty much ruined them.
John Tenta had been a popular guy in wrestling circles. A skilled man for his size, he’d taken off huge as Earthquake in WWE, a fantastic monster heel. His programs with Hogan, Jake Roberts and others got huge attention and pushed him nicely. He and Typhoon were a good team as The Natural Disasters, including a run as tag team champions. In 1994, after a lowered standing in WWE, Tenta moved to WCW where he was named Avalanche and once more feuding with Hogan. He was then pushed to join The Dungeon of Doom, the rather laughable stable of nutty heels. He was renamed The Shark, which involved Tenta changing a tattoo (at his own cost) to a shark to fit the act and wear a fin on his head.
When the whole thing was dropped, Tenta wrestled with his own name but didn't get much headway. The man was well liked but jumping to WCW was a bad move for him.
7 Brutus Beefcake
Beefcake had a good style and got attention in WWE as an arrogant heel. He and Greg Valentine had a great run as tag team champions and Beefcake then turned face as “The Barber.” He was really over with his act and plans for him to have a run as IC champion in 1990. But then a terrible parasailing accident hurt him badly and pushed him down. In 1994, Beefcake jumped to WCW to join Hulk Hogan as “Brother Bruti” and helped out nicely. He was then revealed as the masked man attacking Hogan, setting up a big Starrcade main event. Fans never bought this lifelong mid-carder as a big challenger and Beefcake’s stock fell. That was followed by various characters like Zodiac, The Man With No Name and the Booty Man, none of which took off. While some benefited from joining Hogan in WCW, Beefcake instead saw his already rough career fall through majorly.
Tazz was a bit ahead of his time with his act. Before MMA truly took hold, his push as a “shoot fighter” type in ECW was notable. With his great mic skills and terrific submission moves, Tazz was on top with fantastic feuds with Sabu and Bam Bam Bigelow among others. He held the ECW TV, World and his own “FTW” belts and huge business. But like many in ECW, Tazz got tired of checks constantly bouncing and broken promises by Paul Heyman. So he signed up with WWE in late 2000 and made a big splash taking on Kurt Angle. At first, it looked great for Tazz, including a wild bit where, still with WWE, he won the ECW title and brought it to WWE for some cross-promotion.
But like so many stars of other promotions, Vince wasn’t sure of Tazz and pushed him down hard. He lost to Triple H and others, had a bad feud with Jerry Lawler and was booked to look like the weakest link of The Alliance. Not helping were injuries piling up, pushing Tazz to become a commentator instead. While ECW was already on the downslide, Tazz’s jump to WWE just served to hasten his career ending.
5 Bret Hart
For once, Vince McMahon was dead right. He’d always tried to talk Bret out of going to WCW as “they wouldn’t know what to do with him.” Bret was loyal to WWE but of course, everything changed after Montreal. With no recourse, Bret went to WCW, expecting to show up Vince by succeeding massively. Sadly, Bret was soon hitting the brutal wall of backstage politics and bad management that marred the company. Rather than use Bret as a top star right away, WCW just made him a pawn in the never-ending war with the nWo and never took advantage of Bret’s white hot heat.
Bret himself is up front on how it was a total mess, with WCW having no clue how to use him properly. They quickly killed a program with Ric Flair right off, failed to sell the dream feud of Bret and Sting and more. The topper had to be when Bret received a brutal kick from Goldberg that would end his in-ring career. Bret has admitted going to WCW was a huge mistake that would end his career in a bad way and leave the Hitman floundering.
Vader was truly a monster worker. A big beefy man who could take off the ropes with ease, he was a huge deal in WCW, crushing everyone in his path and reigning as champion for a year. Vader was going great but the arrival of Hulk Hogan to WCW would push him down. When Hogan no-sold Vader’s dreaded power bomb before their big PPV battle, that killed a lot of his heat. Not helping was Vader beaten down by Paul Orndorff in a backstage battle. Thus, he thought moving to WWE would be a terrific move. Instead, he had to take time off right away for surgery and when he did return, he came up on the losing side of a feud against Shawn Michaels. Vader would be stuck in various bad feuds, a poor face turn and more that killed his drive. True, his bad backstage attitude didn’t help but it’s amazing how WWE ruined a proven star in such a blatant way.
3 Terry Taylor
This is just painful to look back on. Terry Taylor had been a great star in the Mid-South/UWF area, skilled as either a face of a heel. He was terrific in the ring, good on the mic and could work with almost anyone, including Ric Flair. He had runs as TV champion and could have been a great mid-card talent for WWE when he joined in 1988. According to urban myth, it was a flip of the coin between him and Curt Hennig for the “Mr. Perfect” gimmick.
Poor Taylor lost that big time as he was saddled with the horrible gimmick of The Red Rooster. He was forced to have a red streak in his hair and interviews involving crowing. At first a heel, he turned face but the entire act was impossible for fans to get into. Taylor was never the same. Clearly the entire Rooster bit killed his drive and broke him badly for a terrible character turn.
2 Monty Brown
Monty Brown really could have been something for TNA. He was skilled, had a great look and charisma, good on the mic and his “Pounce” finisher had fans going. The heat on him was big as he kept it up, challenging for the world title and becoming more and more popular. He could have been the home-grown star the company needed. But in 2005, they turned him heel with no warning, an idiotic move that completely killed Brown’s momentum. He hung out for another year before deciding to give WWE a try. Debuting in the ECW brand as Marcus Von Cor, Brown had some chances but didn’t work out. Family issues soon distracted him as he would eventually leave WWE and then the entire wrestling business.
True, the damage had been done to Brown by TNA but moving to WWE just crushed him more and ruined what could have been a great career for a power star.
1 Mike Awesome
Maybe it was weird karma. For years, Mike Awesome had been building up a fantastic career in ECW. Skilled at technical wrestling and high-flying, Awesome lived up to his name smashing guys through tables, a sight that always impressed. Fans were wild for him as Awesome would hold the ECW crown and take on all comers. At the height of his heat, Awesome agreed to jump to WCW and even showed up to attack Nash while still champion. Naturally, ECW fans were outraged at this betrayal and slammed Awesome. The situation was complex and ended with Tazz (then with WWE) showing up to beat Awesome for the belt.
As it happened, moving was the worst thing for Awesome. Rather than recognize what they had, WCW saddled Awesome with the horrible character of a 1970s lounge lizard and an interview segment, neither of which fit him at all. When that naturally failed, they made him “The Fat Chick Thriller.” It was astounding how badly they bungled it and Awesome never recovered from being this total joke although Paul Heyman must have been laughing.