Wrestling, like any real sport, is packed with slews of “could have beens.” For all fans complain about terrible guys getting major pushes, there are also tons of great and promising guys who never become stars. They seem to have it all, the right look, the right skills, great in the ring but it just never works to stardom. Often, it’s because of mismanagement as too many guys have been saddled with terrible gimmicks or characters that ruin their drive and bad booking to keep them down. But then again, there are cases of guys who are often their own worst enemy. Vader was WCW champion but his own ego and temper cost him shots at the big time and he’s hardly alone.
It’s amazing to see the number of guys who seemed to have “future star” written over them but it didn’t happen. They have the look, the skill and even some good pushes. Some even have title runs but that just illustrates how poor they are making it click to become real headlining stars. In some cases, it’s bad luck, injuries and addictions but others just baffling how the guys given so many ingredients just never make it work. It seems unfair that too many folks struggle and don’t make it while guys who had it all end up blowing it. Here are 15 wrestlers who had the advantages to be mega-stars but just end up more as failures to show how unfair the business can be.
15 Tom Zenk
In 1984, Zenk tied with none other than Jushin Liger for the Wrestling Observer’s Rookie of the Year award. That should have showcased his promise for a very big career ahead of him but it didn’t happen. Zenk was muscled, skilled and very charismatic to win over female fans majorly. He was pushed hard in WWE with Rick Martel as the Can-Am Connection with plans to become tag team champions. But Zenk and Martel hated each other and a falling out over money led to Zenk leaving the company. After a brief run in the dying days of the AWA, Zenk moved to WCW as “The Z-Man.” There, he had a run as U.S. tag champions with Brian Pillman and TV champion but nothing of real flash.
He basically turned into a jobber, showing up to get crushed by guys before leaving in 1994. He finished his career in Japan, no major titles to show for it and is better known today for blowing his major chance in WWE rather than success on his own.
14 Buddy Landel
For a brief time, Landel looked like he was going to seriously be the next big thing. Coming into Jim Crockett Promotions, Landel soon took his own bit as a new “Nature Boy” guy, even using the same label. He’d come out in robes, had J.J. Dillion as manager and was a great arrogant heel. He and Flair faced off for the NWA title in 1985 in a massive sellout battle. Winning the National title, Landel was rising up more and the plans were to have him beat Flair for the belt for at least a brief run. But before that happened, Landel’s addictions to drugs got him in major trouble and a huge falling out with Crockett. This ended his run just before that title change was to take place.
From there, Landel drifted about, a return to the NWA in 1990 but it ended due to his drug problems as he sunk in low stints in WWE and the independents. Dying after a car crash in 2015, Landel’s whole life is a guy who had the push and the promise but his personal demons ruined his chances of rising up.
13 Chris Masters
This was a man who was everything Vince McMahon looks for in a worker. Tall, well-built, handsome and a major muscle man. Coming into WWE in 2004, Masters soon had a good push with his “Masterlock Challenge” of trying to get someone to get out of his full nelson finisher. While rough on the mic, Masters seemed to be just the guy McMahon would push up far with some title runs and succeed well. Instead, he was stuck in bad gimmicks and played for comedy. During a “trial” of Eric Bischoff, Masters came up to testify only for McMahon to openly say he was lying about his real name.
He left but returned in 2009 yet his spot on the roster was even worse. Even McMahon seemed to sour on him fast and never connected with the fans. While not as disastrous a muscle-man as others Vince has pushed, Masters just didn’t become the huge WWE guy most thought at his debut.
12 Tommy Rich
Becoming NWA champion should be the highlight of a great career. In the case of Tommy Rich, it just illustrates how lacking the rest of his in-ring work was. “Wildfire” was a hot newcomer, great and charismatic with fans. In 1981, he upset Harley Race for the NWA title and some thought he might be the new face of the future. But he dropped the belt just days later and it turned out he was only given the title as a favor to his promoter to prevent an ugly NWA board member fight. From there, Rich just seemed lacking despite good pushes as he could never replicate that same success. He was also badly affected by his infamously bloody feud with Buzz Sawyer that dragged on two years and Rich never the same afterward.
Rich just never got big shots in the main promotions, sticking to Memphis and while he had great feuds with Jerry Lawler, he could never be the big star promised. Thus, being World Champion just ends up showing how failing a career Rich had overall.
11 Brian Adams
This tall and very built figure looked to be a real young star in the making. After showing good stuff in Portland, he was hired by WWE as Crush, the new member of Demolition. He improved more as a singles star and in 1992, started a run as a babyface with a great look and build. It looked for all the world like Adams would take off and even was cited as a favorite to be IC champion. But injuries combined with a bad heel turn to push down his heat with fans. He was soon a bad heel, let go after an arrest and coming back as part of the poorly received “gang wars” angle of 1997.
Traveling to WCW, he became part of Kronik, a good tag team but hampered by the bad times of WCW. His return to WWE was forgettable to say the least and when he passed in 2007, many noted he was a classic case of a guy with all the ingredients of stardom but never quite getting there.
10 Buff Bagwell
Ah, Buff Bagwell, a man who just had the perfect wrestling physique but little else to back it up. He really was talented at the start when he was thinner worker, very handsome to win over female fans and had slews of promise. They paired him with several guys for runs as tag team champion and had major plans for him in singles work. Bagwell then got blown up to a huge degree and an arrogant persona to be moved up the card as a great singles guy. He then suffered his broken neck in a match and could have gotten over as a sympathetic hero. But of course, WCW ruined it with a heel turn and then Buff’s attitude got the better of him.
Soon, he was in trouble for his constant antics and his arrogance rubbing too many the wrong way. His disastrous bout with Booker T on RAW was the final nail in the coffin of WCW and for all his look and push, Buff never had “The Stuff” to be a real star.
9 Kerry Von Erich
So many tragedies surround the Von Erich clan but Kerry may be one of the biggest. Few times do you see someone with so full a package, a fantastic physique, stunning charisma and good ring skills. Kerry was great in Texas, fans loving him, especially female ones and pushed well as a singles star. But he was hampered by his addictions to the point where he was stoned out of his mind wrestling Ric Flair so Flair literally had to put himself in moves. It wasn’t helped by Fritz covering up like claiming Kerry was fighting the flu in that match. The reason Kerry’s run as NWA World champion was only three weeks was because they just couldn’t trust someone as famously troubled with a longer time on top. He was the key to World Class yet foolishly got into a motorcycle crash that ended up wrecking his foot and never the same.
WWE pushed him hard as IC champion but those addictions prevented him from being reliable so it was a short run. Finally ending his life in 1993, Kerry showed how a man can have so much going for him but just not working out right and one of wrestling’s sadder stories.
8 Jack Swagger
Swagger is a guy who clearly could have benefited from NXT existing during his rise. He had a good look, was decent on the mic and was fantastic in the ring. However, he was a classic case of a top mid-card talent being pushed to the main event level when he wasn’t ready. The “All American American” tag was confusing and his cashing in Money in the Bank for the title did not go over well at all. Swagger had all the ingredients to rise up but pushed beyond his capabilities, a guy not ready for the main event level scene and his bad business on top proved it. The ups and downs like a face turn and US champ just solidified it and he’s now gone from WWE. They tried over and over to make him a star but it just did not take as Swagger failed to be the main event guy he was pushed too far as.
Time and again, folks tried to make Sid the next Hulk Hogan and it never took. The guy had an impressive build and carried the aura of someone ready to kick your ass and enjoy it. But his lack of training and short temper ruined quite a few shots at the big time. He was sloppy in the ring, nearly breaking Brian Pillman’s neck with a bad power bomb and that gave him a bad rep. Sid was going to win the WCW World title in 1993 but was fired after stabbing Arn Anderson in a London hotel brawl. Sid was signed to WWE and two stints as champion but both quite short and obviously transitional. He later returned to WCW for a brief title run but more famous for breaking his leg in a bad jump. Sid truly was a case of a man who had the perfect look of a main event level star but making it work for the big time just never happened.
6 Marc Mero
In his prime, Mero really was a great worker, very athletic with a boxing background and given the right chances, he could have taken off. He was given pushes but not quite the right ones. In WCW, he was Johnny B. Badd, made up in outlandish outfits to look like Little Richard and acting as gay as possible to rile up fans. He did tone it down but only got as high as the TV title. He moved to WWE, given a guaranteed contract that had him making more money than Steve Austin and most of the other major stars of the time. He had a brief IC title run but a knee injury shifted him to a brawling style.
Really, his major contribution to WWE was introducing wife Rena, better known as Sable. The man had several chances and the money to push him on but never became the huge star he could have been.
5 Mr. Kennedy
Rarely can you find a guy who had “main event star” written over him and it just didn’t happen. Kennedy had a great look, a fantastic entrance, good in the ring and the charisma to make it all come together. There were so many plans for him, including winning Money in the Bank and using it for a title run, being made “Vince’s Secret Son” and numerous title pushes. But almost every single time that Kennedy was ready to rise up, he was hit by a nasty injury or a suspension that ruined his plans. It was astounding how much bad luck the guy had, just never able to rise up before something cut him off. Finally cut, Kennedy moved to TNA where as Mr. Anderson he had a brief run as champion but once more, just hit so many bad breaks. This guy should have been among the major stars of his time but just couldn’t find the right timing to make it work.
4 Wade Barrett
There was so much going for this guy but he could never make it all click. Barrett was the breakout of The Nexus, taking over the leadership role after Daniel Bryan’s suspension and rising up well. Barrett was great on the mic, an impressive guy in the ring and looked to be the next main event heel. However, the way WWE buried The Nexus just as they were rising hurt Barrett’s own drive which was also hampered by injuries. His transformation to “Bad News” seemed to push him up again, winning the IC title only for an injury to force him to vacate the belt and pushed down again. “King Barrett” had serious promise, leading to The League of Nations but it just didn’t work for a main event run and he was soon released. There were so many chances for Barrett to really rise up and take off but somehow it didn’t happen so the only bad news was for his career.
3 Roman Reigns
There’s really no way to say it other than Roman Reigns is a failure thanks to the way he’s been pushed. Had he been put on as a major heel, fans would have responded and a title run would have been terrific. But having him as a smiling babyface who does things honorably is not fitting for him. That’s not to mention bad promos and angles that hurt his standing even more. The big issue is that Vince McMahon is obsessed with turning Roman into the face of WWE, a position he’s totally unsuited for. Roman just isn’t accepted by the fans as “The Guy” they want on top and flock to support. His wins at the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania were booed massively and fans have turned on him big time.
It’s really the fault of WWE who failed to realize that shoving a guy down the throats of fans with so much “you MUST cheer for him” angles is just going to keep him from the top.
2 Ahmed Johnson
Johnson really had a lot going for him when he debuted in 1995. He had a good breakout in USWA before snatched by WWE. His push was very good, body-slamming Yokozuna to have a huge debut and pushed quick. His interviews were rough but he was strong, a great build and his Pearl River Plunge power bomb finisher was an impressive sight. He really was taking off, winning the IC title and looking ready to rise up more. But then he suffered a kidney injury forcing him to give up the title and never the same afterward. His feud with Farooq and The Nation of Domination hurt his drive bit more and a bad heel turn pretty much killed it. He was gone by 1998 and fading afterward before hanging it all up and a sad case of a guy who looked the full package and never got to that top level.
1 Alberto Del Rio
He really was given a monster push most thought he would utilize well. However, that same push may have backfired on him. Del Rio had a big run in WWE with his arrogant style making him a natural heel and he was decent on the mic. His push was big, including winning the Royal Rumble and he was soon WWE Champion. The problem was, Del Rio just didn’t connect with the fans, even in a “love to hate him” sort of way. An ill-fated face turn just made it worse as Del Rio was far better off as a heel and he was soon bouncing up and down the card.
Not helping was his temper, fired after slapping a guy for a racist slur. He returned and looked ready to rise up more but lose with the League of Nations bit. Del Rio is now in Global Force Wrestling and a champion but it’s seen as a major step down for him and despite all that charisma, skill and push, he could never make it work for a true WWE star.