For most professional wrestlers, a WWE contract a dream. To work with WWE is to reach the most watched wrestling company with the most money behind it, the best production value, and the most opportunities for fame. As much as WWE may not have always been a haven for great matches, it’s a prime spot for a wrestler plying his or her trade to get noticed and build a legacy. Sometimes that leads to a lengthy tenure with the promotion or having the legitimacy and name recognition to facilitate a lucrative run on the indies. Regardless of the path a guy follows after WWE, just making it to the big dance, and having opportunities to appear on Raw, on PPVs, and at WrestleManias means that a wrestler can’t really be called a failure.
For all of the great things a WWE tenure entails, there are those performers who do not emerge the better for having worked with WWE. There are those that WWE ran into the ground with poor creative. There are those who collapse under the pressure of WWE—living in the public eye, the insane schedule on the road, and doing all they can to maintain their spots on the roster. Some of them leave WWE on no greater, and potentially worse footing than they started for bad booking. Some develop problems with substances or serious injuries that effectively end their wrestling careers, at least as they had known them. This article takes a look at 15 young wrestlers who got totally destroyed by WWE.
15 Sin Cara (Mistico)
There was a great deal of buzz surrounding the masked luchador known as Mistico for a time, and when he signed with WWE, there was reason for optimism that the company may have found the heir to Rey Mysterio’s throne as a fast paced, masked high flyer with particular appeal for a Latino audience.
Renamed to Sin Cara, the young wrestler transitioned to the world of WWE. He got a unique entrance and style to his matches, including vaulting into the ring off a small trampoline and having a yellow light cover the ring when he wrestled. WWE seemed intent on making him a big deal.
Sin Cara struggled, though. His lucha libre style didn’t jive with the work of his American colleagues and his lack of fluency in English made it hard for him to connect with fans. Sin Cara ultimately became a test case for the NXT platform to help even the most promising stars have a chance to transition to WWE’s style. For the man himself, though, he saw himself replaced in his gimmick, damaged in the international market place for having not cut it in WWE, and biter toward the company.
14 Eva Marie
Eva Marie is that strange wrestler who showed up in exactly the right place in exactly the wrong time when it came to WWE. She was an undeniably attractive woman and reasonably athletic, but didn’t catch on very quickly or very well to the nuances of working as a professional wrestler.
By the time Eva Marie was ready for prime time, WWE had had a paradigm shift to take women’s wrestling more seriously, and prioritize not just pretty faces but legitimate workers who could hang with the men. Eva Marie wasn’t up to that par and saw her stock drop in the company before she could even make it to the main roster on a full time basis.
Eva Marie had a Wellness Policy suspension, and rumors abounded about her history of alcoholism and mental health issues. In the end, it seems WWE, particularly in this era, was not the best thing for her.
Test looked to have a lot of key tools in place. He had a killer look, power, and athleticism, all paired with the strong push of getting a kayfabe relationship with Stephanie McMahon when she was still a new character.
Things started unravel for Test on screen when Triple H kayfabe stole her away from him, and he never even got a meaningful shot at retribution. He wandered the tag and mid card ranks for most of what was left of his first tenure with WWE, including flickers of hope like winning the Survivor Series Immunity Battle Royal at the end of the InVasion angle and getting a fresh start as a fresh paired with Stacy Keibler. Still the character never really got the opportunity to take off.
Meanwhile, Test got into painkillers. When he died at 34, it looked like it was a result of an OD. Perhaps even more damning for WWE, evidence later came it out that his passing at a young age was a result of the cumulative effect of head injuries from wrestling.
Droz looked to have a bright future as a WWE Superstar. The guy debuted in the Attitude Era and combined his ability to vomit on command (well documented in the Beyond the Mat documentary) with muscle and athleticism. He got an early push as a new member of the Legion of Doom and looked to be settling into his role as a singles star when tragedy struck.
In a match that has never aired, Droz took a powerbomb gone wrong from D-Lo Brown and wound up a quadriplegic. He has since regained some movement in his arms, but nonetheless saw his whole life change in an instant as a result of what happened in a WWE ring. As a testament to who he is, he never held it against Brown, telling him he knew it was an accident. He went on to work as a writer and commentator for different WWE projects.
11 Alex Riley
Alex Riley looked to be a blue chip prospect, with good size, good looks, and solid charisma. He got the early pushes of teaming and then feuding with The Miz and looked like he had the potential to be a main eventer or at least upper mid card talent.
Then things changed. Riley was off TV, then working exclusively the commentary booth for NXT. All the while his social media posts hinted at wanting to get back in the ring. While some speculated it all might be an elaborate work, no sign of that ever showed up on screen, and rumors have only gathered steam (including substantiation from Ryback) that John Cena torpedoed Riley’s WWE career due to personal differences related to Riley not taking backstage ribbing well. Whatever the reasons, a bright young star quite possibly saw his physical prime squandered in a WWE Network only, non-wrestling role.
10 Lance Cade
Lance Cade was a student of Shawn Michaels’s short lived wrestling school which ought to tell you something about his potential and the fundamentals that he left training camp with. After a successful enough tag team run paired with Trevor Murdoch, Cade looked to break out as a heel star, paired with Chris Jericho.
And then he was gone.
Very little is known regarding the details of Cade’s release from WWE, though Jim Ross would later indicate it was a result of Cade using very bad judgment in a specific instance. Perhaps Cade may have made amends and found his way back to WWE down the road, but rumor has it he was already abusing substances at the time. Shockingly, Cade would pass away just two years later due heart failure that doctors suggested was associated with his drug use. Cade was still under 30 when he passed.
9 Chris Nowinski
Chris Nowinski rose to fame as a mid card heel based on his real life Harvard pedigree. He was big, athletic kid, too, and while the Ivy League would probably only take him so far, there was every possibility for him to outgrow the character and rise higher as a star.
Nowinski would never have that chance on accounted repeated head injuries that forced him to retire very, very early in his professional wrestling career. It may be Nowinski’s academic pedigree that set him up for life after wrestling. While a career in his dream profession came to an abrupt end, he would remain in the public eye after writing a book called Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis that called on his own experience and a verity of accounts from NFL players. That would all lead to continued research into concussions and the founding of the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Through these efforts, he’s become a major figure in concussion research and advocacy work.
8 Joey Mercury
Joey Mercury had an interesting career in WWE, which mostly consisted of two acts. He was the less celebrated half of the MNM tag team with John Morrison, which was a very good team for a stretch. From there, he was a very good henchman, first backing CM Punk in the Straight Edge Society, and later working alongside Jamie Noble as Seth Rollins’s J&J Security backup.
During that first act of his career, Mercury’s most memorable moment may have been a brutal ladder shot to the face at Armageddon 2005, that saw him busted wide open in front of a live audience. He’s cited that incident as igniting his issues with pain killers. While he already had a history with drug use, that particular issue landed him in rehab and cost him his WWE contract. While Mercury’s latter day roles were entertaining and memorable, they’re also a bit said to reflect on given just how much potential the man demonstrated earlier on, and how far his old tag team partner Morrison would rise in WWE and later Lucha Underground.
7 Jean-Pierre Lafitte
Jean-Pierre Laftitte got his start in WWE as half of The Quebecers, and earned his keep as a heavyweight who could also work a high flying style. Years after he was out of the spotlight, Lafitte revealed in a number of shoot interviews the origins of the pirate character he took on later. He lost most use of one eye in a childhood accident with a pellet gun. He decided to pitch the idea of more explicitly wearing an eye patch to demonstrate overcoming a disability and being an inspiration to fans as a face character. In the simple, cartoonish era of WWE programming, Lafitte wound up playing a heel pirate.
As if the pirate gimmick weren’t enough to keep him from being taken seriously, Lafitte saw his in ring progress derailed when he butted heads with the Kliq and thus faced political damage as well. That put a ceiling over his WWE prospects, and ultimately what he’d accomplish anywhere in the wrestling world.
6 6. Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder probably wasn’t supposed to be a star. As half of the forgettable Major Brothers faux familial tag team with Curt Hawkins he seemed like a reasonable enough tag guy. In the follow up run as one of Edge’s sidekicks, he seemed fine, but not exactly like someone WWE had big plans for. Ryder turned it all around, though, taking advantage of still fledgling YouTube and social media to create his own mini-media empire through grass roots promotional efforts.
Ryder’s campaign to get himself over with the WWE audience experienced unlikely success as fans chanted for him at live events until he was actually something of a success story. He went from a scarcely used afterthought to a US Championship contender, to the U.S. Champion after beating Dolph Ziggler in a hot opener at a TLC PPV.
WWE effectively buried Ryder from there, however, first in an angle that did him no favors—terrorized by Kane and betrayed by Eve Torres. He found himself back in the lower card, and this time, too far down the totem pole for fans to reinvest him over again. While he did get one more, out of nowhere mid-card title run with the Intercontinental Championship, and is now teaming with Mojo Rawley, it looks as though Ryder has already peaked in WWE and there’s little reason for long term optimism for him.
5 Taka Michinoku
Taka Michinoku was a bright star in Japan who got off to a great start in WWE’s relaunched light heavyweight division. His combination of stiff striking game, plus technical and aerial ability immediately standout and feel as though he might be not only a big deal in WWE, but the kind of star who was influential over the product as a whole.
Unfortunately for Michinoku, he came of age in WWE at the dawn of the Attitude Era. While the Attitude Era did have its great workers and matches, it was a period far more defined by big personalities who could sell their personalities on the mic. With his limited English skills, Michinoku wound up relegated to a comedy role alongside Funaki as the Kaientai tag team. While the team made the most of it, and continued to deliver in the ring alongside the shtick they were saddled with, Michinoku was largely ruined as a more serious act in the U.S.
4 Kenny Dykstra
WWE did Kenny Dykstra few favors by debuting him as part of the Spirit Squad, a group of heel male cheerleaders. The extent to which the gimmick worked for him was that he was cast as the leader of the crew and got the chance to interact on air with DX toward the top of the card. However, in the end, Triple H and Shawn Michaels thoroughly buried the youngsters, packing them in a box to ship back to Ohio Valley Wrestling, the primary developmental territory of the day.
Dykstra looked like he might still break out when he returned as a solo act and as he teased alignment with Edge and Randy Orton’s Rated RKO group, but after he was rejected there, he faced to lower mid card status, en route to a mostly enhancement talent tag team with John Morrison before WWE started taking him more seriously. Finally Dykstra was released.
Rumors abound that Dykstra’s lackluster run with WWE is directly tied with his relationship to Mickie James, and interaction with John Cena who purportedly had an affair with her. Regardless, it’s telling that Dykstra only got a short run back with WWE in 2016, and that was entrenched in him reprising his male cheerleader role for nostalgia value and to call back to Dolph Ziggler’s rookie campaign. In short, Dykstra was a talent with big star potential whom booking and politics totally sabotaged.
3 Evan Bourne
In a time between eras when WWE celebrated smaller wrestlers and a more athletic style, Evan Bourne found himself in the unfortunate role of cruiserweight who was all about high flying acrobatics. Given his size and no proper cruiserweight division, he was limited to the mid card and tag teams with minimal direction and not taken seriously. Just when he looked as though he might get some purpose, paired with Kofi Kingston as Air Boom, he hit Wellness Policy suspensions.
Bourne had back to back suspensions, widely associated with marijuana use—an association confirmed when he was busted with pot in Japan three years later. The stagnated and ultimately prematurely cut off career devalued Bourne and made his WWE run largely feel like a failure. It’s all a shame because, switch up the timing or creative direction, and he might have been an electric addition to today’s Cruiserweight Division.
2 Muhammad Hassan
Muhammad Hassan was a steady hand in the ring and a good talker who looked to be on the rise as a major wrestling star. He got a unique push upon his debut on WWE’s main roster as an Arab American who felt discriminated against post September 11th. As time went on, Hassan became increasingly heelish, capitalizing on wrestling fans’ fears of the known, and potentially racist sentiments against people of the Arabic descent.
The gimmick may have seemed like a gift for distinguishing Hassan and drawing heat for him. However, things hit a tipping point in his feud with The Undertaker. The program was widely considered to be agrooming him for a main event push, but when masked men jumped The Deadman and choked him out with piano wire. In a stroke of particularly bad luck, the incident aired on WWE television the same day as terrorists struck London.
The result, UPN, which aired Smackdown at the time, said they didn’t want Hassan on their network any more, and WWE subsequently seemed to recognize their missteps and scrap the character altogether. Hassan, for his part, opted to retire from wrestling rather than try to transition to a different gimmick, hence squandering a solid young wrestling talent and his dream before he really got out of the gate.
Paige was a bright young star fresh out of England when she got signed to WWE. She grew up in a wrestling family and by her own account got started in the ring at the age of thirteen. WWE held off on her main roster debut until she was twenty one, in theory she’d stay out of trouble on the road. In the meantime, she was crowned the first NXT Women’s Champion. (She’d go on to vacate that title after winning the Diva’s Championship in her debut match on the main roster.)
Paige would struggle over time. There’s her relationship with Alberto Del Rio, which put her out of favor with WWE management. You can pair that with Wellness Policy suspensions (which, to be fair, she claims were a result of drugs she was prescribed). Then there was a lead of videos and photos capturing Paige in a number of lewd scenarios.
In the past four months, Paige has expressed suicidal ideation over the video scandal, and has been suggested to have been involved in an abusive relationship based on domestic violence charges against Del Rio. While WWE can’t necessarily be blamed for all of her troubles, it was after she came to WWE that she saw her life go into turmoil and now, in her mid-20s, looks conspicuously like someone at risk of dying young, or becoming the sad subject of where are they now stories.