It’s hard enough to make it to the main event in professional wrestling. The stars have to align just right for a successful run at the top of the company. Not only does the wrestler need to have some sort of connection with the audience, but creative has to fully get behind them. Once given the green light to be a top star, wrestlers like the Rock and Austin were able to take the ball and run with it, becoming two of the most popular performers of a all time. You can name countless awesome main events the two had. Not just with each other, but against various other wrestlers as well.
However, WWE doesn’t always pick the right superstar to be perched at the top. Sometimes they try too hard and shove a wrestler down the audience’s throats, only for them to be rejected. Other times, they were never meant to be the company’s new golden child and were only slated to be used as cannon fodder to get over another talent, seemingly wasting them. There are also the stories of a superstar who should have been the next big thing, but due to injury or bad booking never achieved the greatness they were seemingly destined for. More often than not, they just don’t have what it takes.
Let’s take a look a that talent that was wasted, forgotten, mismanaged, and hopeless. Some of whom we couldn’t stand, and some of whom we still cherish to this very day. Here are eight failed main eventers we loved, and seven we hated.
15 Loved - Umaga
A throwback to wildman gimmicks of yesteryear, Umaga should not have worked as well as he did in the mid-2000s. He was a badass savage who brutalized foes in the ring with his incredible speed and power. Umaga was Kamala done right. Like many folks on this list, after debuting, the Samoan Bulldozer quickly began to pick up steam by dispatching everyone in his way. With his undefeated streak in tact, Umaga soon challenged John Cena for the WWE Championship, losing to the Face the Runs the Place at both New Year’s Revolution and the Royal Rumble. The first via roll-up and the second after failing to answer the ten-count in an incredible Last Man Standing match. Umaga would eventually claim mid-card gold by winning the Intercontinental Championship twice, but would be unable to reach the top of the mountain. It’s unlikely we’ll see a character like Umaga anytime soon, but he was proof that if the right person is given the right gimmick, they can make it work.
14 Hated - Giant Gonzalez
You’re off to a rocky start when the best thing you can say about a wrestler is, “at least they didn’t give him airbrushed genitals.” Upon his WWF debut, the muscle suit-wearing eight-foot-tall monster was all set to be a formidable opponent for the Undertaker. If height was all you needed to be a superstar, Gonzalez would be the G.O.A.T. Too bad that’s not how it goes, and he was pure trash in the ring. His awful Wrestlemania match against Taker is only notable for being the Dead Man’s only DQ win at the event. After less than a year, Gonzalez was gone from the WWF.
Here’s an odd piece of trivia. While trying to find a picture of the hairy Argentinian, I thought I was suffering from the Mandela Effect, as searching for “Giant Gonzalez” on WWE’s website yields zero results, but “Gonzales” does. I soon found that on their website it is spelled “Gonzales,” but on their YouTube channel it’s spelled “Gonzalez.” It seems WWE doesn’t even care enough about their flop as they can’t make up their mind as to how to spell his last name.
13 Loved - Mr. Kennedy
There was a time when we thought Mr. Kennedy (Kennedy) was going to be the second coming of Stone Cold Steve Austin. He was one of the best talkers the industry had seen in years and had a hard-hitting style that was reminiscent of the Texas Rattlesnake. He was also able to set himself apart by performing his own ring announcing with amazing bravado. Mr. Kennedy (Kennedy) was destined for greatness, and it seemed like a run as World Heavyweight Champion was imminent. Unfortunately, during his tenure in the company, Kennedy suffered no less than three injuries that kept the loud mouth from reaching the top spot, and even resulted in him being the first Mr. Money in the Bank (Money in the Bank?) to lose his briefcase. He also made some powerful enemies behind the scenes. People like John Cena and Randy Orton believed him to be an unsafe worker after he dropped the Viper on his head during a botched spot.
12 Hated - Great Khali
How do you get a lumbering giant who can barely walk a straight line without tumbling over themselves over? Why you have them destroy the Undertaker in their debut of course! It worked so well for Giant Gonzalez, it was bound to work for the Great Khali! Granted, Khali’s career in the WWE was much more successful than the man he was modeled after (thankfully without the bodysuit). Not only did he score a decisive win over The Undertaker, but the Punjabi Playboy was also able to capture the World Heavyweight Championship. He would have a slew of main event pushes that all ended the same way, with him being fed to the biggest faces of the time like John Cena, Batista, and Triple H. He was never able to put together a compelling or even competent match. As his losses to real main eventers piled up, Khali quickly lost his luster.
11 Loved - Mabel
Admittedly, this one might just be for me, and that’s okay. There are fourteen other entries here that you might agree on so let me have this. I was there, that fateful night of the 1995 King of the Ring pay-per-view in Philadelphia. I was seven years old, and grew up in a house that loved every fat mid-card heel. The bigger the better. Seriously, the Natural Disasters are practically saints in the Kerstetter household. So when Mable became King Mable by defeating The Undertaker (there’s that name again) and Savio Vega, I was ecstatic. For his push, he was given some sweet, sweet theme music, an entrance that involved him being carried to the ring, and new royal gear. It seemed like Mabel could be gearing up for the big times. Then came his main event match as he took on Diesel at SummerSlam 1995. He performed recklessly inside the ring, injuring Big Daddy Cool with a butt splash to end all butt splashes. His career would never recover, but I’ll always have the memory of the night Mabel was on top of the world.
10 Hated - Lex Luger
During his prime, Lex Luger had one of the most impressive physiques wrestling fans had ever seen. However, by the time he was all set to replace the aging Hulk Hogan as the WWF’s resident super hero, the times were drastically changing. No longer was the classic bodybuilder look in vogue. As audience was becoming more interested in ring work than flexing, Luger never stood a chance. That didn’t stop Vince McMahon from shoving him in our face. Donning an All-American look, Lex was the first person to ever bodyslam WWF Champion Yokozuna. When given a title shot against the sumo champion, Luger won by countout. Although he didn’t win the championship, he confusingly celebrated like he was the new face of the company. Confetti and all. WWF apparently never felt comfortable giving Luger their all, as he and Bret Hart tied in the 1994 Royal Rumble and once again failed to win the championship from Yokozuna. Had the Total Package gone to the WWF five years earlier, he could have been a big star, instead of a guy who couldn’t get the job done.
9 Loved - Wade Barrett
Whether you prefer him as Bad News or King, it’s easy to forget that Wade Barrett was once a main event player within the WWE. Immediately after winning the first season of NXT (when NXT was more obstacle courses than WarGames matches), Barrett was thrust into the main event picture, feuding with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton. With the Nexus by his side, Barrett was the focal point of WWE storytelling from July through December of 2010. He seemed to have it all, a great look, terrific mic skills, loads of charisma, and could go toe to toe with the best that WWE had to offer. Unfortunately, like Mr. Kennedy (Kennedy) before him, Barrett fell victim to multiple injuries early in his career. From there, he was exiled to the mid-card, as behind the scenes creative refused to fully get behind someone who was so injury-prone. Gimmick change after gimmick change failed to boost his cache, and by 2016 Barrett had asked for his release.
8 Hated - King Kong Bundy
This one might be one of the more controversial entries on this list. Just think about it for a second. When you look at the main event of the first three Wrestlemanias, Mania 2 is definitely the outlier. The first one not only had the star power of Mr. T, but it also was a great showcase for the Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper feud. Wrestlemania 3 contains one of the most iconic moments of all time, where Hogan musters up all of his strength to bodyslam the gargantuan Andre the Giant. In the middle, we have King Kong Bundy in a steel cage. He just can’t compare to these other epic events. Bundy’s WWF career started out hot as he defeated S.D. Jones at the first Wrestlemania in nine seconds. Two years later, by the time Hogan was wrestling Andre, Bundy was slotted in a heatless six-man tag match involving Hillbilly Jim and four little people. Proving that his main event run was out of place.
7 Loved - R-Truth
Sometimes, even wrestlers who have been around for years are able to reinvent themselves in a way that can take them from being a fledgling mid-carder to a serious threat. After wrestling briefly for WWE in the early 2000s and then TNA until 2008, WWE re-signed the man formerly known as K-Kwik and positioned him as enhancement talent. He was able to win the United States Championship in 2008, but his reign lasted less than a month. Constantly underperforming eventually took the toll on Truth, and he began to crack. Blaming the “Little Jimmys” of the WWE Universe for his failures, he turned heel on former friends and finally saw himself main event a pay-per-view. Too bad it was the oft-forgotten Capitol Punishment where he lost to Cena in a lackluster match where an errant cup of ice water proved to be his downfall. R-Truth soon formed The Awesome Truth with the Miz, which saw the duo doing some of the best work of their career, believing themselves to be victims of a conspiracy. Unfortunately, the team was unable to keep it together following a loss to John Cena and The Rock and soon disbanded.
6 Hated - The Patriot
In 1997, the landscape of the WWF was changing dramatically. No longer was it cool to “say your prayers and take your vitamins.” No superstar was effected more by this shift than perennial good guy Bret “The Hitman” Hart. American crowds began to turn their back on the former fan favorite, and he turned his back on them in favor of his home country of Canada. To combat all of the Canadian pride, WWF brought in The Patriot. A musclebound flag-waver with a “love it or leave it” perspective. The gimmick proved to be incredibly corny and was not well received. Fans had no patience for the masked do-gooder who’s only discernible trait was his love for his country. This was right on the cusp of the Attitude Era and people would have much rather seen someone like Shawn Michaels or the up and coming Stone Cold Steve Austin be pitted in the rivalry against the dastardly Canadian. The Patriot would not last long and was out the door just as WWF was trading flag salutes for “one finger” salutes.
5 Loved - Rey Mysterio
Creating a successful main eventer out of Rey Mysterio should have been the easiest thing the WWE had ever done. His in ring performance was unparalleled, he had a cool look that included bright colors and awesome masks, and he spoke to a portion of the audience the WWE had struggled to appeal to. Couple all of this with the undersized Mysterio being the ultimate underdog and the job should have done itself. Even when Ray won the 2006 Royal Rumble and Smackdown’s World Heavyweight Championship, he was always on the losing end of matches against much larger opponents like Mark Henry and Great Khali. Vince McMahon must have had a field day, watching the man who was supposed to be the blue brand’s flag-bearer fail week after week. Sure, he would win the World Heavyweight Championship once again and the WWE Championship, but it would live up to Mysterio’s true potential.
4 Hated - Vladimir Kozlov
Oh boy, Vladimir Kozlov plays like a greatest hits of failed main event wrestlers. Let’s run it down. Foreigner? Check. Heel? Check? Beats up The Undertaker? Check. Terrible at wrestling? You better believe it. The Russian sambo enthusiast was on a hot streak when he first entered the WWE in 2008, quickly squashing everyone in front of him, leaving a trail of decimated jobbers in his wake. He also had a dope entrance, walking down to the ring in silence with only a spotlight on him. Then came time for him to wrestle actual matches, and boy did they stink. To hide his abysmal abilities, Kozlov was often the third or fourth most important man in triple threat or fatal four-way bouts. He had a few shots at the WWE Championship, but always came up short. Eventually, he was moved to ECW and was paired up with equally green big-man Ezekial Jackson, before being saddled with a comedy gimmick.
3 Loved - The Miz
Who would have thought that when The Miz made his debut on Tough Enough in 2004 he would go on to have the career he’s had? The guy went from being an annoying host of Smackdown to being able to cut some of the best promos in recent history and has become one of the most competent in-ring performers in the company today. He has gone on to win just about every title there is, and sure, he is a seven-time intercontinental champion, but it’s his time as a main eventer that was bungled. After successfully cashing in his Money in the Bank contract against Randy Orton, it seemed like the former reality star was destined for greatness. Sadly, even as WWE Champion, he was the third most important man in the main event of WrestleMania XXVII, which was only held to promote the next year’s Rock vs John Cena match. The Miz is currently a go to guy the WWE can count on to have a good match with just about anyone, it just doesn’t seem like he’ll ever return to his former glory as the company’s top bad guy.
2 Hated - Muhammad Hassan
When the character of Muhammad Hassan first came to the WWE, he was a breathe of fresh air. It was 2004, and he was an Arab-American who was sick and tired of the increased prejudice that had been growing since 9/11. He wanted a fair shake at the wrestling business and wanted to be free from all of the stereotypes that had followed him around. Quickly, all of the nuance and tact that separated Hassan from say, the Iron Sheik had gone out the window. Hassan had become a full-on Muslim caricature. He was allegedly scheduled to win the World Heavyweight Champion, but that would not come to light. WWE aired an incredibly insensitive angle where a group of masked terrorists viciously beat and abducted the Undertaker (man, this guy’s had his hand in a ton of trash) that aired the same time as the 2005 London bombings.
Also, to make things much worse, Hassan wasn’t even Arab. He was just a really, really tan Italian-American.
1 Loved - Vader
Before he even set foot in the WWF in 1996, the man they call Vader had already enjoyed an incredibly successful career in places like New Japan Pro-Wrestling and WCW. He was a multi-time world champion the world over and had garnered accolades like Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Wrestler of the Year in 1993 and was awarded a 5 Star Match from Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It seemed like he was ready to take his success to the next level when he signed to WWF. The fact that when he debuted in the Royal Rumble match, Vader’s singlet was on backwards should have been taken as an omen for the backwards booking that would plague his WWF career. He was written off television the very next night to deal with a shoulder injury. When he returned, he was able to challenge Shawn Michaels for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam. Michaels would prove difficult for Vader to work with to say the least. The Heartbreak Kid berated Big Van Vader in the middle of the ring after the Mastodon failed to properly set up a move. His WWF career was unable to replicate his past successes, with his most notable victory being a pinfall win over Jake “The Snake” Roberts on an episode of Boy Meets World.