Being the only mainstream athletic competition where the results are openly predetermined, professional wrestling has the advantage over other televised sports in that genuinely unpopular performers can theoretically be prevented from achieving fame. However, the thing about theoretical thought is that powerful enough people are able to override logic and do whatever they want, and the whims and desires of Vince McMahon are things the general public will never understand.
Even if the vast majority of McMahon’s WWE Universe is vocal about disliking a wrestler, he can decide to make them superstars by hook or by crook. To clarify, we aren’t talking about when crowds boo a wrestler because they’re good at playing the bad guy. When this article says a wrestler is disliked, we mean audiences simply don’t care about the performer at all, changing the channel or hitting the concession stands whenever its time for them to perform.
Amazingly, audiences running away in droves still doesn’t change McMahon’s mind about wrestlers he finds special. In fairness, Vince isn’t the only one guilty about this, as WCW, NWA, ECW, and virtually every wrestler company out there has pushed someone to the moon regardless of how little fans wanted to see them there. Sometimes, they managed to redeem themselves, but most of the time, McMahon simply refused to stop digging the hole that pushing the wrong talent created. Keep reading for 15 wrestlers who were initially hated by fans but became stars anyway.
15 Kevin Nash
Sometimes, all it takes for Vince McMahon to believe someone has the potential to be a star is a tall frame and long, flowing hair. Kevin Nash had both of these qualities when Shawn Michaels suggested he get hired as his new onscreen bodyguard, an idea McMahon agreed had strong potential that eventually proved correct. However, there’s a chance Nash never could have become a star if Vince ever saw his earlier work in WCW, performing as characters like Vinnie Vegas, Master Blaster Steel, and worst of all, The Great and Powerful Oz. These gimmicks are presented in the order fans least enjoyed them, yet make no mistake about it—people hated them all. The fact Nash had the right look for wrestling hardly overcame the idea he was a wizard or gambler or whatever, and it’s almost surprising that switching things up to being a trucker completely saved his career.
14 “Diamond” Dallas Page
With all due respect to what “Diamond” Dallas Page would go on to accomplish in his career, there were lots of factors working against him when deciding to become a wrestler full time. For one, DDP was a solid 10 to 15 years older than the average rookie, and he had spent five of those years getting himself pigeonholed as a manager, making it hard for fans to take him seriously when he got in the ring. Also, Page was known to be good friends with WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff, meaning every bit of success he earned was cast aside as a reward for their friendship, making many wrestling insiders claim he was undeserving of his success. Before long, however, Page made it clear he wasn’t messing around, planning out brilliant classic matches against men like Goldberg and Randy Savage, more than earning his eventual WCW World Championships.
13 Roman Reigns
In the modern era, no one superstar better exemplifies what this list is all about better than The Big Dog himself, Roman Reigns. Three runs as WWE Champion has done nothing to change the minds of most wrestling fans in regards to the man Vince McMahon apparently believes should be the face of his company. Nor has this rampant rejection stopped McMahon from holding that belief, which is causing serious problems for his programming’s ratings and interest in WWE in general. While most people can accept Reigns is pretty good in the ring when the situation calls for it, he simply doesn’t have the charisma required to be in constant main events. Reigns also lacks the ability to play a heroic character, naturally looking mean and angry half the time, a quality WWE should dig into if they want his reputation to finally start improving.
12 Jinder Mahal
Right next to Roman Reigns is Jinder Mahal, another modern wrestler who has been pushed to the moon for almost no reason aside from Vince McMahon’s confusion and fickle inclinations. Like Reigns, Mahal simply doesn’t have what it takes on the microphone to be a WWE Champion, and fans are letting him know it each and every time he opens his mouth. On top of that, Mahal lacks anything special to give inside the squared circle, making it all the more curious McMahon decided to pluck him from jobber-dom and make him a star. As per usual these days, rather than accept he made a mistake when fans harshly rejected Mahal as a top contender, WWE doubled down on the idea and continue to push him as their champion to this day. Bizarrely, some insiders are even starting to come around on the idea. We’ll assume it’s some strange method of guarding their sanity.
11 Vickie Guerrero
When WWE announced they had hired Vickie Guerrero, the widow of Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero, less than one year after his passing, fans understandably had mixed feelings. On the plus side, the company was taking care of a performer’s family after his untimely passing, something that could be commended in different circumstances. However, fans reacted extremely negatively to Vickie’s promo skills, plus the idea she was around at all felt like she and WWE were desperately trying to cash in on her deceased husband’s fame. Unexpectedly, Guerrero took these feelings of enmity and used them to transition her character into an out and out heel, greatly excelling at the role for all the reasons she wasn’t working as a face. In due time, Guerrero’s promos skills were highly respected, offering a hearty and forceful, “Excuse me!” to anyone who dared doubt her.
10 Michael Cole
Only in professional wrestling could the most visible and famous announcer of the modern era also have a reputation for being one of the worst in the sport’s long history. Pretty much from the day he made his debut in the late-‘90s, Michael Cole has been castigated for his lack of knowledge about pro wrestling, combined with an all too eager willingness to say absolutely whatever Vince McMahon tells him to. True, Cole has his moments of greatness now and again, yet for the most part, he’s a shrill catchphrase robot with no emotional connection to the product he’s watching. Nonetheless, he spent almost two decades as the lead announcer of World Wrestling Entertainment, the biggest wrestling company in the world. Especially when there was an actual legend available in Jim Ross, few fans can comprehend why McMahon pushed Cole so hard as the voice of his promotion.
9 Mark Henry
Having been a member of the United States weightlifting team during the 1996 Olympics, Mark Henry entered WWE as a readymade star. Unfortunately, that star knew virtually nothing about what it took to be a professional wrestler, which is why his first World Championship didn’t come for another 15 years after his WWE debut. In the interim, Henry struggled to put on basic matches no matter who his opponents were, and fans groaned at the vast majority of his storylines, most notably one where he impregnated septuagenarian Mae Young. However, Vince McMahon couldn’t fire the guy without paying him millions of dollars due to a questionably lucrative contract the World’s Strongest Man was offered practically sight unseen. Luckily, Henry was willing to put the work in and improve, slowly but surely turning into a monster able to send his foes to the Hall of Pain without second thought.
8 Triple H
They say the winners write the war, and for that reason, talking about the time before Triple H was considered a bona fide legend in pro wrestling is more or less banned from WWE. A more full view of history remembers the Game spent the first year of his career in WCW, where he was an almost entirely forgettable lower midcarder who fans didn’t care about in the slightest. When HHH jumped ship to WWE, that reputation largely stuck, as the idea of a posh aristocrat fighting pig farmers didn’t exactly set the world of wrestling on fire. Fans could pretty much take the blueblood or leave him until late-1997, around which point his friendship with Shawn Michaels began getting showcased on TV. That's when he developed into a star people might actually want to see in the main event. Whether or not they like what he does in the board room is another story.
7 Trish Stratus
All right, so given her looks, there was never really a time when the average male wrestling fan “hated” Trish Stratus, per se. However, there was a solid two-year stretch when absolutely no one believed the blonde bombshell could excel as an active wrestler. If anything, Trish’s phenomenal beauty made it hard for fans to take her seriously, not to mention the two years or so she spent managing lower level talent like Steve Blackman or T&A. When she was suddenly inserted into the Six-Pack Challenge for the WWE Women’s Championship at Survivor Series 2001, Trish was the last person anyone expected to win, making it that much more shocking she went on to hold the title an additional six times. Of course, each reign wound up better than the last, as Stratus grew into her own as a performer with incredible speed, improving leaps and bounds with every match.
In all fairness to Kane, place any wrestler in history in his position, having debuted as an evil dentist and then becoming a pale imitation to a different wrestler would be bound to wind up on a list like this one. Regardless of the work he put into the roles of Isaac Yankem, D.D.S. or the fake Diesel, fans were going to hate the man attempting to earn a living by playing these outrageously stupid characters. Only because Kane was clearly willing to do whatever Vince McMahon told him to did WWE keep giving the Big Red Monster chances, giving him an extended vacation so fans would forget about the awful gimmicks he started out with before bringing him back strong as The Undertaker’s long lost brother. This time around, the gimmick was such a winner not even further stupidity could take his star power away.
Similar to Kane’s problems as an angry dentist, just about any wrestler would have trouble overcoming the origins of Batista, who made his debut as a silently vicious “deacon” carrying Reverend D-Von’s collection plate. To some fans, D-Von’s character was a decent midcard joke, but it was obvious his lackey was nonetheless extremely low on the WWE food chain. Most fans of the time probably would have been hard-pressed to remember Batista’s name when he was accompanying D-Von to the ring, and certainly didn’t see the guy as a potential future star. Once WWE scrapped the religious stuff and shifted Batista into a role with Evolution, fans who were paying attention wondered if that quiet weirdo was really ready to have such a high profile role. Little did they know the move was all it took for Batista to start becoming a major star.
Long before he was a loudmouth bully seated at the WWE announce booth with his millions of dollars, JBL was merely the latest in a long line of wrestling cowboys fans of the modern era no longer had any time for. Calling himself Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, the future WWE Champion was a forgettable midcarder who never even competed in a notable feud throughout his first two years in the company. It wasn’t until Bradshaw began teaming with Faarooq as The Acolytes that he started winning championships, and even then, no one bought him as a solo star when they broke up. Out of nowhere, Bradshaw traded his traditional cowboy hats for a shiny white one, digging into his real life persona as a self-made millionaire, and he was WWE Champion within a manner of months. It took some time before fans accepted him in the role, but sure enough, he was eventually able to make people hate him in all the right ways.
3 Dustin Rhodes
An entertainer following in a parents is truly a double edged sword. While a famous father or mother can make a wrestler a minor star the second they walk in the door, the situation also makes expectations unfairly high that the legend’s offspring will reach their level. Quite frankly, very few wrestling fans believed Dustin Rhodes had what it would take to come anywhere near “The American Dream” when he first started getting pushed in WCW. During this era, Dustin was achieving great success in tag teams with Barry Windham and Ricky Steamboat, further making fans believe he didn’t deserve to get paired with such iconic wrestlers, who they also believed were doing all the work. Dustin was only in his early-20s at this point, making it all the more impressive he silenced critics almost immediately, providing more than his share of action in multiple classic matches that began to legitimize him as a performer.
2 Braun Strowman
Less than two years ago, Braun Strowman was the fourth string in Bray Wyatt’s Family, and almost entirely indistinct from his partners Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. Strowman was so blandly monstrous his finishing move was a weak bearhug, making wrestling insiders outright mock WWE when they started pushing the guy towards the main event. At this point, however, just about everyone can agree Strowman is the most popular rising star in the company, with some even suggesting he already deserves to main event WrestleMania. How did this transition happen so quickly? Basically, WWE changed Strowman from a bland, random monster to an over-the-top and destructive one, letting him wreak havoc on everyone. He still hasn’t won a WWE Championship or any gold for that matter as of this writing, yet the sky is the limit for how big his star could shine, something unfathomable prior to his massive turnaround in this year alone.
1 The Rock
While all the wrestlers on this list were hated by fans in one way or another, only one of them was so viciously despised millions of people actually chanting for him to “die” each and every week. Two decades later, and that same wrestler is world-renowned as the most electrifying man in sports entertainment history, not to mention the highest grossing star in Hollywood today. Yes, we’re talking about The Great One himself, The Rock, who as Rocky Maivia regularly received loud death threats from the audience—when they were supposed to be cheering him. Not even Roman Reigns faces this sort of enmity, and the sole reason fans hated The Rock so much was that they felt he didn’t deserve the success he found within months of his debut. That may have been the case, and either way, the hatred inspired The Rock to massively improve his promo skills and then in-ring abilities, soon losing his few haters and winning over millions and millions of fans.