Like everyone else, wrestlers only get one shot at a first impression, so finding the perfect time to introduce new talent is extremely important. Management has to make sure the wrestler is not only going to connect with the audience on the microphone, but has the in-ring abilities to back up what they say. They also need to be prepared to handle the rigorous schedule every WWE superstar must adhere to. This is why NXT is so important for wrestlers in this day and age. With WWE’s developmental system, talent is able to learn everything management ideally wants out of them.
Sometimes, wrestlers are able to nail their debut, continue to gain momentum, and carve out legendary careers. Take Kevin Owens for example. Before making it to WWE, Owens had trained for years, developing a tremendous in-ring style as well as the skills to cut amazing promos. By the time he went face to face with John Cena on Monday Night Raw, Owens had what it took to make an impact and has been able to keep the ball rolling.
Other times, a wrestler simply isn’t ready for the big leagues. There are many reasons wrestlers debut before they’re ready. Creative may think they have the perfect spot for them despite still being green, they may have impressed the right person at the right time, or it’s a now or never situation where it’s the talent’s only shot at success.
Here are 15 wrestlers (8 male and 7 female) who, when they first appeared on WWE television, were not ready and debuted way too soon.
15 The Miz
The Miz is currently one of the longest tenured performers on the WWE roster and has just about accomplished everything there is to within the company. Once his career comes to an end he is a shoe-in for the WWE Hall of Fame, but there was a time when the A-Lister’s future in wrestling wasn’t so certain. After participating in the fourth season of Tough Enough, and getting absolutely pummeled in the finals by Daniel Puder, Miz was offered a developmental contract. A little over a year later, he was all set to make his TV debut in April of 2006 only for it to be canceled because he was not ready for the WWE ring. He was then relegated to “hosting” Smackdown and later the Diva Search. When The Miz finally started wrestling on TV, it was in a series of boring and plodding matches against the likes of Tatanka, Funaki, and Scotty 2 Hotty that showed just how inexperienced the former reality star was. Definitely not ready for a solo career, he finally began to show progress when he began to team with John Morrison. Since then, Miz has put together an “awesome” career that many of us didn’t expect over a decade ago.
14 Eva Marie
Few people in the history of wrestling have been able to garner sheer hated like Eva Marie. For three years, the scarlet-haired diva would get nuclear heat from the audience. Not because she was a talented villain on the microphone, but because she was a god-awful wrestler who was constantly shoved downs the audience’s throats. Never able to convincingly take two steps in the ring, Eva Marie was mainly used as a marketing tool to promote whatever season of Total Divas was about a premiere. After an initial demotion to NXT wasn’t able to help her progress, Eva was sent to train with (The) Brian Kendrick. There were rumblings that she was finally improving, but once she returned to TV and performed the slowest and somehow most dangerous looking Sliced Bread Number 2, it was clear there had been no advancement. The “All Red Everything” experiment was finally done away with after a storyline series of mishaps thankfully prevented her from wrestling.
13 Mark Henry
It’s safe to say that most nicknames in professional wrestling are hyperbole. Mark Henry, however, does have a legitimate claim to the title of World’s Strongest Man. For over 20 years, he has laid claim to the all-time highest combined weightlifting and powerlifting total in history. This accolade combined with two trips to the Olympic Games made Henry an obvious choice for a WWE contract. After debuting on the March 11, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw without any training, it would be a mere six months before Henry had his first match on WWE television when he took on Jerry Lawler at In Your House: Mind Games. Henry’s offense could best be described as “shove-based.” To account for his opponent’s lack of training, the match was full of stalling, rest holds, and overselling from the King. It would take Sexual Chocolate a good 10 years before he was able to put on a noteworthy match. This isn’t unheard of, as many wrestlers struggle on the independent scene for a decade before being good enough to make it to the big leagues. Unfortunately for Mark, most of his grooming wasn’t done in gyms and VFW halls, but in front of the prying eyes of millions of fans.
A pre-Trish and Lita Attitude Era didn’t require a lot of actual wrestling talent from its females. The women during this time were almost explicitly cast to be ogled at by the audience while Jerry Lawler morphed into a Tex Avery wolf in front of their very eyes. That didn’t stop the WWE from trying to build a division around them. Since WWE was more interested in Playboy partnerships than impressing the audience with matches, they saw no need to train the leather-clad former valet. Playing into her actual attributes, I’m pretty sure Sable participated in more Evening Gown Matches than actual technical bouts. Sable would often go over more accomplished opponents like Jacqueline and Luna Vachon in matches that would be lucky if they lasted five minutes. Despite lacking any real athletic ability, Sable was ridiculously popular with the “horn-dog demographic” that accounted for a large portion of the fan base at the time.
11 Imposter Kane (Luke Gallows)
In 2006, Glenn Jacobs aka Kane wasn’t sure how much longer he had in the wrestling business. With 14 years in the business behind him, the Big Red Machine understandably believed his career would soon be winding down. This is when the WWE had the “brilliant” idea that just because the man playing Kane would retire, that didn’t mean the character had to go as well. Taking a page from a playbook that has literally never worked (see: Fake Razor and Diesel and Fake Undertaker), they decided to create a new Kane. Believing Drew Hankinson, a big man from Deep South Wrestling, could literally fill the boots, WWE put him in a replica of Kane’s original costume and slapped one of the worst wigs you’ll ever see on his head. The imposter would spend weeks tormenting the original recipe Kane before the two wrestled at 2006’s Vengeance pay-per-view. Even though the phony Kane picked up the victory, the match was a travesty. It was full of botched spots and boring sequences that proved he was not ready to replace the real deal. Thankfully, the fake Kane’s career would rebound after a run in NJPW (following a stint as Festus and his first run as Luke Gallows) and he has since found his way back to the WWE alongside fellow Bullet Club alumnus Karl Anderson.
10 Kelly Kelly
Initially, Kelly Kelly did not debut as a “wrestler” per se, but as an “Exhibitionist” who would strip for the audience during episodes of WWE’s revamped ECW. She was often being paired with boyfriends like Mike Knox and Balls Mahoney, whose beastly looks did not match those of the beautiful Kelly. Her career would last from 2006-2012 and involved one reigns as Divas Champion, but those six years were an incredibly ho-hum time for most women within the company. Kelly’s entire career took place during a weird in-between time for women’s wrestling. The WWE wasn’t ready to abandon their salacious tendencies, but had brought in talented ladies like Beth Phoenix and Natalya who were more than capable of delivering in the ring. Had Kelly spent more time in developmental instead of floundering in mix-tag and “lumberjill” matches, she could have honed a formidable moveset that would have made her a welcome addition to a blossoming division. Instead, she ended up a pretty face in a sea of beautiful models.
9 Tom Magee
Lex Luger withstanding, is there an athlete who seemed to be the total package more than Tom Magee? The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Canadian had an amazing physique, a martial arts background, was a world champion powerlifter, placed second in the 1982 World’s Strongest Man Contest, and trained with Stu Hart in the legendary Hart Family Dungeon. Signing him was a no-brainer on the part of WWE, especially after Dave Meltzer claimed Magee was, “the greatest combination of strength and agility the business had ever seen." His tryout match pitted him again Bret Hart and was critically acclaimed by everyone in attendance. However, it seemed that with each subsequent match he had, Magee appeared to get worse and worse. Most folks nowadays attribute the success of his tryout match solely to Bret, who could pull a decent match out of just about anyone. It also didn’t help that WWE soon signed another bodybuilder who would go on to become The Ultimate Warrior. WWE shouldn’t have bought into the hype and let Magee get more training under his belt before committing to the wrestler.
8 The Kat
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. During a time the WWE didn’t care about their women putting on exciting and technically sound matches, a beautiful young "Diva" with absolutely zero wrestling skills was able to make it to the top of a division thanks to her sex appeal alone. Mere months after Sable left the company, WWE was ready to do it all over again, this time with The Kat. Since the female talent had been seen in their underwear more often than not, creative needed to find new ways to get crowds interested in women wrestling. Sadly, it wasn’t by training them to be competent performers who knew how to put together a show stealing match that could rival what the men were doing. It was through nudity! The Kat had no fear when it came to removing her top, doing so on multiple occasions. It would be about another fifteen years before the Women’s Revolution.
7 Kenny Dykstra
When I was 19, I was a sophomore in college, had no car, no job, and ate at the on-campus pizzeria after 10 at night because that’s when the food was discounted. I was in no way, shape, or form ready for a job in the real world. When Kenny Dykstra was 19, he had already been wrestling for four years and had just began to wrestle on Raw as part of the Spirit Squad. He was also not ready for the real world. After the quintet of male cheerleaders was unceremoniously shipped back to Ohio Valley Wrestling in a crate, Kenny was the only one who stuck around. Initially, he showed a great deal of promise in ring when he feuded with the legendary Ric Flair. After claiming to be both a “future WWE Hall of Famer” and “future WWE Champion,” Kenny would never find success in the company. Despite having a great look, charisma, and the ability to put on great matches, Dyskstra apparently rubbed a lot of people in the back the wrong way due to his brash attitude. Throw in the fact that his fiancé Mickie James cheated on him with John Cena, and Kenny was never able to recover. Unfortunately, Kenny’s return to WWE in 2016 (alongside Spirit Squad Mikey) fizzled out even quicker than his original run.
It’s never a good sign when you’re the first person eliminated from a season of Tough Enough. Such was the case for Cameron. She was booted from the competition when the trainers felt she did not have a passion for professional wrestling after dubiously claiming her favorite match of was a battle between Alicia Fox and Melina. WWE should have cut their ties with the future Funkadactyl then and there. Instead, they signed her to a developmental contract, and after six months of training she debuted on Raw. This was a gross misstep on WWE’s part. They had to have known Cameron didn’t spend nearly enough time learning the basic mechanics of wrestling, something she would never comprehend as, years into her tenure, she tried to pin a facedown opponent and screamed at the referee to "count it." To make matters worse, Cameron’s lack of talent was magnified when she was paired with the naturally talented Naomi who instantly shined in the ring and has grown more and more talented over time.
5 Mike Kanellis
A wrestler debuting on Raw or Smackdown before spending time in NXT is almost unheard of nowadays. Sure, AJ Styles and The Club got a free pass to the main roster, but even well-established grapples like Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, and Samoa Joe were forced to do time in the farm league before being able to join the red or blue brands. For some reason, Mike Kanellis, who already had stints in ROH and TNA under his real name Mike Bennett, was able to bypass NXT entirely and head right to SmackDown Live with his wife Maria. In a legitimate surprise, the Kanellises (Kanelli?) appeared on the 2017 Money in the Bank pay-per-view where they were put into a program with Sami Zayn. Even though Sami has a natural ability to get a passable match out of just about anyone, the duo lacked any in-ring chemistry. Kanellis could have benefitted from a couple of months down south learning WWE’s style. Now that his wife is pregnant and off the road, Mike is struggling to get noticed on a roster that’s full of wrestlers people have gotten to watch grow and mature since their days in NXT.
Before being called up to the main roster of WWE, Serena already had five years of wrestling experience under her belt. She was already a six-time Ohio Valley Wrestling Women’s Champion, and while in WWE’s development, won the title of Queen of Florida Championship Wrestling. Upon her debut in 2010, Serena was thrust into one of the most promising storylines in recent years, CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society. Shaving her head in her first appearance, Serena became the faction’s sole female member. Serena would only have one televised match, teaming up with stablemate Luke Gallows to pick up an impressive victory over Kelly Kelly and The Big Show. She didn’t debut too soon because she was an inexperienced performer, she debuted too soon because she wasn’t mature enough to handle everything else working for the WWE entails. Serena was let go from the WWE for having an alcohol problem that was definitely not conducive to the straight edge lifestyle she was supposed to be portraying. Thankfully, she has been able to pull her life together and recently appeared on WWE television in the Mae Young Classic.
3 Bo Dallas
Bo Dallas was destined to be a professional wrestler from birth. The third-generation superstar is the grandson of Blackjack Mulligan, son of Irwin R. Schyster, and nephew of Barry Windham. While in NXT, Dallas was a throwback to the fiery babyfaces of the 1980s southern wrestling territories. Making it to the quarter-finals of the tournament to crown the first ever NXT Champion, the happy-go-lucky Bo was often a focal point of NXT’s early shows despite being unable to connect with the audience. It wasn’t long before he was brought up to the main roster. In a span of less than a month, he entered the Royal Rumble and feuded with Wade Barrett over the Intercontinental Championship, trading victories with the King of Bad News. The WWE Universe was uninterested in the “aww shucks” good ol’ boy Dallas was portraying and he was soon sent back down to Florida. There, his character was revamped to that over an overly-positive motivational speaker who told the audience all they had to do was “Bo-Lieve.”
There is a long history of wrestlers becoming managers once their time in the ring is finished. People like Paul Ellering, Freddie Blassie, and Maryse were able to make a seamless transition from Superstar to supervisor. The same cannot be said for managers who decide to become wrestlers, Lana included. When she was paired with Rusev in both NXT and on the main roster, Lana had a good thing going on. Acting as the beautiful and cunning mastermind behind the Bulgarian Brute, Lana played her role to pitch perfect excellence. Despite not having the best Russian accent, Lana was able to rile up audiences for years with her anti-American rhetoric. Then, the Ravishing Russian decided to she wanted to become a wrestler. Her flaws were able to be hidden in her first match, as she took part in a 10-women tag at WrestleMania 32. The brass in the back knew she wasn’t ready for singles matches, as it would be over a year before she returned to the ring. After a brief feud with Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, Lana’s wrestling career seems to have stalled once again in favor of her managing Tamina. Lana continues to train behind the scenes in hopes of one day having what it takes to join the Women’s Revolution.
1 Drew McIntyre
By the time Drew McIntyre was christened Vince McMahon’s “Chosen One” in 2009, he had already wrestled for eight years and this was WWE’s second attempt at getting the young Scot over. Most people don’t remember his first debut with the company in 2007 when he was under the tutelage of Dave Taylor. As soon as a pre-taped interview played, where McIntyre boasted applying for a dual citizenship, it was clear to see the 22-year-old was not ready. His wooden delivery was incredibly forced and the match that followed was instantly forgettable. When Drew re-debuted two years later, it appeared WWE was not ready for him. Despite being touted as a future world champion by the chairman himself and winning the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships, WWE somehow never figured out what to do with a 6-foot-5, 250-pound wrestler with a great look and solid in-ring skills. His placement within 3MB would be McIntyre’s death knell and he would be unable to reach his potential. After being released, Drew was hungrier than ever and made a huge splash outside of WWE. After winning the Evolve, ICW, and TNA World Championships he has embarked on a promising return to WWE where he has taken up residency in NXT.
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