Sports entertainment is unlike any other scripted program on television, largely due to how important the live crowd can be to how a given show is perceived. Although the WWE owner and CEO Vince McMahon has been doing just about everything he can as of late to silence his own audience, people watching at home will still be able to hear the honest and true reactions fans in attendance give on the spot, so long as they have ears. In the past, and in ideal circumstances, this works in McMahon’s favor. Wrestling fans are generally in tune with the script, and cheer the good guys and boo the bad guys accordingly.
Unfortunately, for McMahon, though, sometimes he misses the mark entirely, and gives a high profile role to a superstar fans simply don’t care about either way. It isn’t an issue of pushing a natural heel as a face or vice versa; McMahon’s biggest repeat mistake is presenting untalented or uncharismatic wrestlers as a main event level talent due to their looks alone, and refusing to give up on the matter when fans make it clear they don’t view things the same way he does. Ultimately, this has outright ruined careers, with McMahon’s stubbornness largely at fault. Keep reading to learn all about 15 wrestlers who Vince McMahon clearly loved, but fans absolutely hated.
15 Roman Reigns
Might as well get this one out of the way right off the bat. No one wrestler better represents the concept of this particular list than The Guy himself, Roman Reigns. Despite most fans instantly pegging Reigns as the weakest member of The Shield upon that group’s debut, Vince McMahon was blinded by his family heritage and impressive physique just as quickly. Nothing about Reigns character has ever been presented as particularly villainous, yet fans boo him louder than anyone else on the roster solely because they don’t think he deserves to be the center of attention. This attitude has obviously gotten exponentially worse with each passing accomplishment Reigns achieves, from his first Royal Rumble win to thus-far three WWE Championships. The worst part is that instead of accepting that his audience disagrees with him, McMahon has been editing crowd reactions to make Reigns look more popular than he is.
14 Billy Gunn
For the majority of Billy Gunn’s career, he was considered the slightly more talented half of some very successful, if not necessarily groundbreaking tag teams. The closest he came to being an actual main event-worthy talent was in the late-‘90s, as a member of D-Generation X and one of the New Age Outlaws. However, the catch was that as per usual in Gunn’s career, he was only popular with a partner to make up for his shortcomings. Vince McMahon reportedly always believed Billy Gunn had “the look,” though, which was all it took for him to get crowned King of the Ring in 1999. When that bombed spectacularly, McMahon waited a year and then tried again to give Gunn a shot at going solo by way of an Intercontinental Championship reign. That didn’t work out too well, either, and McMahon was forced to give up, sending Gunn back to the tag division.
Quite frankly, Vince McMahon still doesn’t seem to be all-in on the women’s wrestling revolution his daughter and son-in-law are promoting, and things were even worse for females in sports entertainment during the Attitude Era. For this reason, any woman at all who achieved success prior to the modern era must have been a favorite of McMahon in one way or another. Nine times out of ten, most people would assume with Vince, this meant something lascivious. In Jackie’s case, if it wasn’t that, McMahon might have appreciated her physique, because it certainly wasn’t her poor mic work or lackluster wrestling skills that made her a two-time WWE Women’s Champion. Her later Cruiserweight Championship and Hall of Fame inductions really drive home that Vince saw something special in her. Fans, however, never quite cared, and responded to everything Jacqueline did with a bored sigh.
For a crash course in things Vince McMahon loves that the general public has absolutely no interest in, make sure you've got 93 minutes of free time to watch No Holds Barred. For those who don’t have the time, maybe it would be easier to read up on Hulk Hogan’s co-star in the film, Tiny Lister, better-known to wrestling fans as Zeus. In the acting world, Lister is reasonably well-liked for his stints in Friday and The Fifth Element. When it comes to wrestling, though, Zeus fit the old cliché of being unable to tell a wristlock from a wristwatch. Despite his lack of training, Zeus was instantly thrust into the main event of SummerSlam 1989. Two more PPV matches followed, both heavily maligned for Zeus’s poor performances. Even so, rumor had it McMahon wanted Zeus to stick around for a lot longer, and potentially headline the next WrestleMania.
Whether Vince McMahon is in charge or not, men shaped like Mabel will always have a place in professional wrestling. Unfortunately for Mabel specifically, unless these wrestlers have a particular charisma to them, they shouldn’t be placed in main event roles. For a brief period in time, Mabel was actually popular with fans due to his dancing and rapping manager, Oscar. However, once Mabel and tag team partner Mo turned on Oscar, they were left with only subpar wrestling skills and a mediocre presence on the microphone. Naturally, McMahon rewarded this sudden plummet in the act’s overall appeal with the biggest push of Mabel’s life, making him the 1995 King of the Ring. Mabel is almost universally considered the worst wrestler to wear the crown, and his subsequent SummerSlam main event likewise has few fans. Aside, of course, from the McMahon who booked it, and kept booking Mabel for years after the fact.
In the middle of 2004, career midcard performer Bradshaw went from being the less relevant member of a tag team fading in popularity to suddenly winning the WWE Championship. More than a decade later, fans are still surprised at how fast it all went down, and the only real explanation is that Vince McMahon had been a big fan of the man now calling himself JBL, and had been waiting for him to come up with a money gimmick all along. Granted, the idea of JBL playing up his real-life status as a Texas millionaire was more marketable than him being just another angry redneck, the stigma of being a lower level tag team performer never quite washed off. The result was fans having trouble accepting JBL his entire WWE Championship reign, more or less cementing SmackDown as the second tier show for all eternity.
9 Iraqi Turncoat Sgt. Slaughter
With all due respect to Sgt. Slaughter, there was indeed a point in time when he was both a great performer in the ring and on the microphone, making him more than worthy of a main event run in WWE. That said, this time ended somewhere in the early-'80s, and Slaughter’s run as WWE Champion didn’t happen until 1991. By then, most of Slaughter’s in-ring finesse had been lost, and several dozen pounds had been gained, making him an unlikely face to build a wrestling company around. Worse than Slaughter’s declining appearance was his new gimmick, having turned his back on America to support Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Practically everyone in wrestling and the mainstream media found the idea horribly offensive, including fans watching the product, but McMahon loved it enough to keep Slaughter in the main event until SummerSlam 1991, months and months after the first Iraq war ended.
8 Ludvig Borga
That evil Finnish environmentalist Ludvig Borga spent only a few months in the WWE Universe is actually what confirms Vince McMahon must have loved the guy, considering he wrestled in main events almost his entire run in the company. Borga started making appearances in the summer of 1993, decrying America for polluting the skies and sea while squashing smaller talent everywhere he went, including, but not limited to Marty Jannetty. As with any evil foreigner, Borga’s eventual stop was the top patriotic babyface, who in his day was Lex Luger. While McMahon couldn’t resist the urge to instantly put the obvious feud in motion, fans never actually accepted Borga as a major threat to their country of their favorite wrestlers, Made in the USA or elsewhere. Fact was, Borga simply didn’t have the charisma to make people care about him, unless they happened to share McMahon’s strange brand of xenophobia.
7 The Great Khali
There are certain tropes Vince McMahon will always buy into, with natural giants and evil foreigners high atop the list. Once in a while, a freak of nature like The Great Khali comes along and checks both boxes on McMahon’s list, blinding him so completely he doesn’t even think to check if his new monster can wrestle. Unfortunately for the WWE audience, they would soon find out the answer for McMahon, which was that no, Khali absolutely could not wrestle, at least not in the traditional sense. Despite Khali almost being immobile in the ring, McMahon didn’t second-guess himself one bit, crowning the Punjabi Nightmare as World Heavyweight Champion barely a year after his debut. Thankfully, Khali’s reign didn’t last very long, but he still managed to stick around for several years, with McMahon quite possibly his one and only fan.
6 Jinder Mahal
Vince McMahon’s tour of angry foreign heels continues with his latest offering to the genre, Jinder Mahal. That said, in contrast with most wrestlers on this list who Vince McMahon immediately fell in love with, it took the CEO a little while to come around on the self-proclaimed New American Dream. In fact, McMahon seemingly had no interest in Mahal from his WWE debut in 2011 to his initial release in 2014. Two years later, Mahal made a sudden return to WWE appearing to be in significantly better shape, and slow began his slow descent up the card that suddenly kicked into high gear when he became number one contender to the WWE Championship. By and large, WWE fans have been more confused than upset at Mahal suddenly getting skyrocketed up the card, but they clearly don’t like it, while McMahon obviously does, or else he wouldn’t have allowed it to happen.
5 Randy Orton
In all fairness to Randy Orton, the so-called Viper is more technically proficient than most WWE Superstars fans have rejected. On the other hand, technical proficiency doesn’t mean much when one applies it in the most bland and boring ways possible, something Orton has been guilty of doing his entire career. This hasn’t stopped Vince McMahon and his family from treating Orton like one of their greatest superstars for over a decade now, giving him a near record 13 runs with various World Championships. Each time Orton walks into WrestleMania with a high profile title match, fans seem to react to him less and less, and still the McMahons haven’t been able to take a hint after multiple extremely high profile bombs. Orton’s latest mess with the Wyatt Family might be his lowest point yet, but thanks to McMahon’s unwavering support, the crowd’s silence is nothing for him to worry about.
4 Bobby Lashley
Much to the surprise of critics everywhere, Impact Wrestling has succeeded in at least one area where Vince McMahon and WWE had failed. Specifically, they turned Bobby Lashley into a credible main event threat. More so than simply the fact Impact Wrestling did something competent for once, the real reason this was such a shock to fans owes to how hard McMahon tried to turn Lashley into that sort of major player, but to no avail. Granted, the actual wrestlers were almost entirely overlooked, but Lashley was actually involved with one of the highest profile matches in WrestleMania history when he represented Donald Trump in the Battle of the Billionaires. From there, Lashley and McMahon had a personal feud related to that event. And still, fans didn’t connect to the guy at all, viewing the problems with Vince as more a comedy distraction than the road to greatness.
Presently a rather unique case in WWE history, there are two distinct phases of Batista’s career, and wrestling fans tend to have divergent opinions about them. During his first and longer WWE run, most fans progressively enjoyed Batista more as he went on, feeling he earned his various World Championship reigns without any question. When he returned to the company after a stint in Hollywood, however, things had changed considerably. Though some fans were happy to see the Animal make a comeback, others felt he was stealing the spotlight from regular superstars they wanted to see more, like Daniel Bryan. This was especially catastrophic for Vince McMahon, who wished to use Batista’s newfound movie star status for cheap publicity. Disappointingly for them both, Batista was so heavily booed he couldn’t resume his main event status as intended, soon replaced by Bryan as he should have been from the start.
Thanks to WCW allowing Kevin Nash to be himself, Big Sexy would eventually get accepted by fans as one of the more popular wrestlers of the late-‘90s. At the same time, though, Big Daddy Cool Diesel had none of the charm Nash would go on to display, instead acting as a vacuum of charisma whenever forced into a role he very clearly wasn’t suited to perform. Said role was the traditional happy-go-lucky smiling babyface, something Diesel simply didn’t have the demeanor to pull off. Nash’s inability to play the role in no way caused McMahon to hesitate in letting him play it for over an entire year, as the WWE Champion, no less. It’s no coincidence that 1995 is considered one of the worst years in WWE history, with Diesel’s status as the top star driving away fans en masse.
1 Rocky Maivia
WWE fans can be a fickle bunch, and sometimes a given wrestler can do something that will actually make them change their minds. In especially rare occasions, in doing so, that superstar will vindicate Vince McMahon’s random whims, and no one better illustrates this than Rocky Maivia. The third-generation WWE superstar made his debut at the 1996 Survivor Series and was popular enough, but before long, fans hated his smiling babyface act so badly they chanted “Die, Rocky, Die” on a weekly basis. McMahon still loved his blue chipper, though, so he didn’t give up, rebranding Maivia as The Rock and letting him do his thing on the microphone. Free to be himself, it took The Rock little time to show the fans what Vince saw in him all along. Of course, not everyone is The Rock, so stories like his remain the exception and not the rule.