Let us get one thing straight: neither fans nor the wrestlers themselves can get a wrestler over. It's a bittersweet fact that no matter how much work a wrestler has put in and now matter how popular that same superstar becomes with the crowd every week, there is only one man who can guarantee that a wrestler gets someone a big top spot in WWE. That man, ultimately, is Vincent Kennedy McMahon. That should be simple enough. After all, at most jobs, a boss can recognize the hard work that an employee puts in and then decides to promote them. In WWE, where plans can change every second of every minute of every day, that isn't exactly the case. Especially in a company where the boss has proven time and time again that he is just as much of crafty, fickle, and crazy bastard as the Mr. McMahon character always suggested he was.
Vince McMahon is the type of guy who will get the entire interior of a new restaurant painted blue and then at the last minute right before the grand opening, decide to have it repainted orange. It's either his way, the highway, or no way. Which can be confusing when he has about 20 different ways on one idea that all get changed interchangeably before the last possible minute. It becomes increasingly confusing for viewers when we have to watch wrestlers on WWE programming get pushed to the moon as if they have a rocket tied to their back for months, only for their push to not come crashing down out of nowhere. This has happened far too many times over the past few decades with a wide number of superstars and has wasted the potential of several would-be main eventers. And it's all because Vince McMahon likes to change his mind about making someone a main eventer just as their getting red hot with the crowd or before they even have the chance to do that. Here are some examples.
20 Eric Escobar
You may not remember who Eric Escobar was, but when he debuted on WWE soil on the September 29th, 2009 episode of SmackDown, it was clear that the top brass in WWE had big plans for him. He debuted with Vickie Guerrero as his manager and on-screen lover. Keep in mind that Vickie was still the program's biggest heat magnet and had just finished managing Edge to multiple World Titles. Any heel attached to Vickie was bound for success and WWE gold. The same was expected of Escobar, who shortly after his debut acquired a spot on Team SmackDown for the Bragging Rights pay-per-view.
However, on the SmackDown right before the PPV, the entire team of SmackDown competitors were replaced by wrestlers who were actually over, which Escobar failed to get himself in a short amount of time. Still, he quickly got an IC Title match against John Morrison so all hope wasn't lost for him, right? Wrong. After losing the title match, he got berated by Vickie, which prompted a face turn from Escobar. Then he lost all of his matches afterwards, quietly disappeared from television, and was released in January 2010. No one knows why there was such a sudden pushback on Escobar, but considering how he entered WWE, it made his exit all the more underwhelming.
19 Kenny Omega
This is the only wrestler on this list who was signed as a WWE Superstar, but never made it to the main roster. Not a lot of people know this, but long before he was ever the leader of the Bullet Club, he was a member of WWE's developmental roster in 2005. In terms of guys like Dave Taylor priming him into a better wrestler, Omega looks back fondly on his experience. However, when reminiscing on training under the tutelage of guys like Hardcore Holly and Bill DeMott, Omega has been more critical. They were two of the reasons why he hated most of his time in developmental and asked for his release. When he did ask for his release, Omega claims the top brass in WWE didn't even try to convince him to stay, effectively giving up on the lad before he had a chance to begin with.
In an ironic twist of fate, WWE has reportedly asked Omega four times—once in 2014 and three times in 2016—to sign with them after he made a name for himself in NJPW. Omega declined every time with hopes of being the guy who didn't need WWE to be successful.
18 Brodus Clay
There was a time when Brodus Clay was expected to become a new monster heel for WWE. Clay debuted by being paired with Alberto Del Rio as the aristocrat's bodyguard and when that was over, several vignettes teased a monstrous return to prominence for Clay. Oddly enough, the vignettes which promised an emerging heel monster amounted to Clay debuting as the Funkasaurus babyface comedy act. While the character did manage to separate Clay from the average big man monster, it was a far cry from what anyone expected of him. By the time he eventual did get a monster heel turn a couple years later, no one cared. Since the latest heel rendition of Clay failed to get over, he was quickly cast aside from WWE. He now wrestles for Impact Wrestling under the name Tyrus.
17 Damien Sandow
As a throwback to privileged silver-tongued heels like Hunter Hearst Hemsley, big plans were expected for Damien Sandow as he built himself up as a top heel in WWE. After all, Sandow managed to get himself over in the role and even garnered the Money in the Bank briefcase, seemingly guaranteeing him to become a future World Champion. Shockingly, in a rare occurrence, Sandow lost his MITB cash-in. Afterwards, he was pushed significantly down the card as a jobber, swiftly losing his Intellectual Savior of the Masses gimmick and gaining a copycat gimmick, giving us such hits as Damien SandHart and of course Damien Mizdow, the latter of which made him one of the most surprisingly over acts of 2014. Despite his meteoric rise, WWE weren't keen on giving him a push to match his popularity. When Mizdow fizzled out, Sandow became Macho Mandow and when that was over, he was just a regular jobber before getting released in 2016.
It can be argued that Emma helped start the Women's Revolution. While WWE's Four Horsewomen often are attributed that credit, it was the matches on NXT between Emma and Paige that convinced WWE audiences that Diva matches could be more than just bathroom break matches. When Emma was called up to the main roster, even with a comedy gimmick, she was expected to lead a new wave of competition for the Divas Division. Then, she got arrested for accidentally stealing an iPad case, quickly fired by WWE, then rehired the same day due to fan backlash, and then relegated down the card as a jobber.
There was new hope when Emma was repackaged as her Evil Emma persona, but she got injured before she could do anything with it on the main roster. Upon her return, months of vignettes teased a more glamorized Diva throwback gimmick for Emma. Except, when Vince realized Emma couldn't play the part convincingly during rehearsals, he literally gave up on Emma in that role and in the blink of an eye, she was pushed back into her Evil Emma character.
15 Hade Vansen
Don't remember Hade Vansen? That's fair. Not a lot of people do and even less people ever even heard of the bloke. He was only featured on WWE programming for one pre-taped promo that aired on the December 13th, 2008 episode of SmackDown, but there were nonetheless huge plans in place for the rookie. Shortly after being signed following a WWE tryout, Vansen was told he was going to be in a big angle with The Undertaker that would've led to Vansen facing The Deadman at WrestleMania XXV. To be more specific, Vansen claimed in an interview that then-WWE writer Freddie Prinze Jr.—yes, that Freddie Prinze Jr.—told Vansen that he was going to lead a large stable of "X-Men style mutants" (whatever that means) to take on Taker and The Phenom would beat them all one by one before making his way to Vansen at Mania. After the promo aired, Vansen was sent home and told that WWE decided to put his feud with Taker on hold. Then, to Vansen's surprise, he was released without a reason why.
No one knows for sure why plans were scrapped so suddenly, as was his WWE contract. A big rumor was that Vince saw Vansen in person backstage and realized he was too small to pose a believable threat to Taker, but that was never confirmed.
14 Sean O'Haire
When the storylines of the WCW invasion wrapped up, Sean O'Haire decided to rebrand himself as something of a wildly convincing cult leader. Or, more appropriately, a literal Devil's advocate who persuaded crowds and fellow wrestlers to embrace sin. A flurry of vignettes centering him urged people to commit adultery, neglect church and religion, break laws, ignore taxes, etc. In one backstage segment, he actually successfully convinced Dawn Marie to flash the crowd, and in another, he convinced Brian Kendrick to streak. It was an incredibly unique gimmick that garnered the attention of Rowdy Roddy Piper.
This proved to be both a blessing and a curse as when Piper returned to WWE and asked to work as O'Haire's manager, O'Haire was stripped of his Devil's advocate gimmick and just became a regular guy. He had produced intrigue with that gimmick and as soon as he lost it, he fell out of favor with fans, losing popularity and momentum. He then lost Piper when The Rowdy One was quietly released and after a motorcycle accident put him on the shelf for a month, O'Haire was sent back to developmental. He was then released.
13 Mark Jindrak
One of the more obscure names of WWE's past, Mark Jindrak failed to make much of an impression during his run in WWE. Although, he is perhaps best remembered for what he didn't do (and almost did) in WWE rather than anything he actually did in the company.
After spending a couple years in WWE's developmental system, plans were in place in 2003 to call up Jindrak to the main roster in a big way. He was set to play the Arn Anderson-type role for a revamped Four Horsemen stable led by Triple H. This stable would later become known as Evolution, but Jindrak was noticeably absent from the equation despite filming promo footage with Trips, Ric Flair, and Randy Orton. For reasons that remain unknown, Jindrak's role as the muscle of Evolution was replaced by Batista. Jindrak was called up as a singles star, but ended up getting lost in the shuffle and failed to make an impact before being released in 2005.
Most readers will remember this face as belonging to the man who played the vampire Kevin Thorn—another unsuccessful gimmick—for ECW, but his 2004 role as Mordecai had some serious main event potential. The character's entire mission statement was to condemn the audience and other wrestlers for their sins, seeking to punish them for sinning. His look and character was essentially an antithesis of The Undertaker. In fact, there were plans in place for Mordecai to wrestle Taker at one point. However, due to being too green for the main roster and a bar fight that brought lawsuits in his direction, Mordecai was sent back to developmental, where he'd stay until his eventual release in the summer of 2005. He was rehired the next year under the guise of Kevin Thorn, but he never reached the same potential he had as Mordecai before WWE previously dropped the ball with him.
11 Sin Cara
When WWE signed Mexican sensation Mistico and rebranded him as Sin Cara, there were plans to make him their next big masked luchador since Rey Mysterio. Unfortunately, WWE made the mistake of bringing Sin Cara to the main roster right away without getting him to work in developmental or getting him proper English lessons. Though he was a bonafide veteran by time he got signed in WWE, working the WWE style is vastly different from the style he was used to in Mexico. This was why the guy was so prone to WWE botches in virtually every one of his matches. His lack of interest in learning English didn't make him any easier to work with, as he couldn't communicate spots in the ring with his opponents. Mistico has since left WWE and the former Hunico replaced him in the role. Hunico has proven to be much more lucid and impressive under the mask, but with the heavy stigma attached to the Sin Cara name, don't expect any major push to come his way.
10 Vladimir Kozlov
Likened to become the Ivan Drago of WWE, Vladimir Kozlov was at one time touted to become the latest major monster heel foreigner of WWE. He was quickly pushed into the main event scene with a clean win over The Undertaker and found himself in a WWE Championship match against Triple H at Survivor Series 2008. Unfortunately, Kozlov's in-ring work proved to be, for lack of a better word, unremarkable. That's a generous way of saying Kozlov was stiff, had bad offense, and couldn't sell. He was shortly sent back down to ECW (which was often used as WWE's developmental system) and when called back up to RAW, he was in a babyface comedy tag team with Santino Marella. In this time, Kozlov actually managed to improve in the ring. Nonetheless, despite improving as a wrestler, his character and place on the card was damaged beyond repair and was unceremoniously released.
9 Luke Gallows
When he first debuted in WWE, Luke Gallows was better known as Festus, whose unorthodox character and in-ring style managed to get over and impressed many. Gallows impressed WWE officials enough to rebrand him as a monster heel, pairing him with CM Punk for a nice rub in his Straight Edge Society. By pairing Gallows up with a former World Champion, it seemed like this was going to be a stepping stone to make Gallows into a main event player. However, when the SES did finally split, Gallows briefly turned face against CM Punk and the two had their blowoff match on television with Punk getting the easy win. This not only killed Gallows' momentum, he was released shortly afterwards. Thankfully for Gallows, he was able to make a new name for himself in Japan as part of the Bullet Club and is now back in WWE in a successful tag team with Karl Anderson. However, it'll be a long time before we ever see Gallows as a singles star.
8 Nathan Jones
Thanks to his massive physique and background in both powerlifting and MMA, Vince McMahon thought that Nathan Jones would be the perfect subject for a rocket-sized monster push. Vince was so confident in Jones' potential that he booked for Jones to have his in-ring debut in a tag team match at WrestleMania, teaming with The Undertaker against Big Show and A-Train. However, a slew of unremarkable dark matches proved to Jones that he was too green for the big leagues, and WWE refused to let Jones make a fool of himself on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Instead, Jones was taken out by Show and Train during the pre-show and the match was made into a Handicap match. Jones then started wrestling on pre-taped shows for SmackDown, but his abilities weren't improving. WWE tried to do the best they could with Jones—going as far as to place him on Team Lesnar in a Survivor Series match against Team Angle—but Jones wasn't getting any better in the ring. WWE finally let him walk away in December 2003 when Jones was tired of the travel schedules.
7 Jinder Mahal
Originally debuting in 2012 as the kayfabe brother-in-law to The Great Khali, Jinder Mahal was expected to get a big push as WWE's biggest Indian superstar. He started off strong with an intriguing program against The Great Khali, wins against midcard talent like Ted Dibiase Jr., and a short feud with Randy Orton. However, Mahal didn't have the best win-loss record and in due time, losses piled up every week for Mahal. Soon enough, he was pushed downwards to NXT developmental where it seemed like he would actually rise back to prominence from there. Not only did he rack up plenty of wins in NXT, he made it to the finals of a tournament to crown the inaugural NXT Champion (he lost to Seth Rollins). Still, it seemed to be all for naught as upon getting called back up, he became an unabashed jobber as part of 3MB before getting released in 2014. He has since returned and in miraculous fashion, he's been awarded a WWE Championship match with Randy Orton. Only time will tell where his career goes from here.
6 Drew McIntyre
Few superstars in the history of WWE could have asked for a better debut than the one Drew McIntyre received. On his first night on the SmackDown roster in 2009, Vince McMahon himself gave a ringing endorsement to the Scotland native, dubbing him The Chosen One of WWE upon introducing him. He was made as one of the program's focal points, quickly winning the Intercontinental Championship and having a long run with it. There were even WrestleMania XXVI plans for McIntyre to either face The Undertaker or win Money in the Bank before it being decided it was too early in his career to do either. Still, he was being primed as a top heel until a public divorce and domestic altercation with ex-wife, Taryn Terrell, put a halt to that in 2011. McIntyre was subsequently pushed down the card, joined 3MB, and moved into a jobber's role where he remained until his 2014 release. The fact that he was able to make a global name for himself as a multi-time World Champion in that time has allowed him to return to WWE quarters. We'll see if he manages to live up to his potential this time around.
For the bulk of his wrestling career, Matt Bloom has been a man of many names—Albert, A-Train, Giant Bernard—but his Tensai character was predicted to finally launch him into the main event scene of WWE. Shortly after reappearing on WWE soil in 2012, Tensai racked up a win against John Cena of all people. This was enough to signal that there were big plans in place for a monster push for the big man. However, strangely enough, Tensai's winning streak soon turned into a losing streak. He went from wrestling main event stars like Cena and CM Punk to losing to lower tier guys like Tyson Kidd and Sin Cara. The final nail in the coffin for him came when he was forced to wear lingerie on WWE television and then become a comedy act with Brodus Clay. Eventually, he was moved down to NXT. Initially, the once-again renamed Jason Albert (Bloom's middle name + his former ring name) worked as a commentator before becoming a trainer at the Performance Center, where he continues to work as the head coach.
4 Muhammad Hassan
When the Italian-American Marc Copani was saddled with the Arab-American gimmick of Muhammad Hassan, he quickly became one of the most hated characters in WWE history in post-9/11 America. Early into his career, Hassan was being put in major segments with legends like Jerry "The King" Lawler, Hulk Hogan, and The Undertaker. His program with The Undertaker going into The Great American Bash pay-per-view was meant to be a launching pad for Hassan to enter the main event picture, with plans for him to beat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam. Unfortunately for Hassan, those plans went south when bomb attacks struck London the same day that an episode of SmackDown aired with Hassan orchestrating a terrorist-lite attack on Taker. The controversy and some backstage heat on Hassan led to the character getting written out of WWE TV at Great American Bash, and Copani was subsequently released.
2015 saw Kalisto have the clear breakout moment of the year at TLC when he crashed an Uso through a ladder in a Three Way Ladder Match for the WWE Tag Team Titles. Though him and Sin Cara lost, everyone came out of the match talking about Kalisto's big spot. Early into 2016, Kalisto generated enough buzz to earn himself a singles push as the company's new top luchador. This led to a feud with former WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio that saw Kalisto become a two-time United States Champion. Sadly, despite the shock and positive ovation that Kalisto sustained for his first title win, it failed to produce longterm popularity. Not even his pre-show WrestleMania title defense against Ryback could get him anything other than crickets. He lost the title to Rusev by the turn of the summer and then was pushed down the card significantly, sometimes barely showing up on the card at all. Now, with a new look and (fluke) win over Braun Strowman, it seems like Kalisto is being pushed once again. Question is, how long will this push last before WWE drops the ball on him again?
2 Chris Benoit
His crimes aside, Chris Benoit as a wrestler was never supposed to reach the pinnacles of success that he did in WWE. He was always considered to be one of the best wrestlers to ever grace the ring, but without the atypical look and charisma of a WWE superstar, no one expected him to become a WrestleMania main eventer. That's exactly what happened as he closed out WrestleMania XX as the World Heavyweight Champion, but despite being RAW's top champion, Benoit was never exactly a focal point of RAW. He was often overlooked in favor of programs involving guys like Triple H and Shawn Michaels. When he finally lost the title at SummerSlam, he was effectively pushed out of the main event due to failure to produce ratings or boost ticket sales. He was pushed back down to the midcard to either wrestle for the United States Championship or work as enhancement talent to get guys like Edge over.
1 Dolph Ziggler
The sheer and clear highlight of Dolph Ziggler's career was when he successfully cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Alberto Del Rio's World Heavyweight Championship to a raucous ovation. In a spot that was long overdue and well deserved, Ziggler had cemented his spot as a main event player in WWE. That was until a couple weeks later when he sustained an injury at the hands of Jack Swagger, effectively cancelling the original WHC match at Extreme Rules between himself, Swagger, and ADR. Ziggler then lost the title back to Del Rio at Payback. From then on, Ziggler was deemed injury prone by the top brass of WWE and after finally achieving the brass ring, he had it snatched away from him, likely to never get it back.
Due to fear of Ziggler getting injured again at an inopportune time, WWE has been reluctant to ever put the main strap back on Ziggler and instead mostly use him as enhancement talent to get other wrestlers over, with Shinsuke Nakamura possibly the latest example of someone for Dolph to put over.