Considering he made more money through the industry than anyone else, it would be fair to call Vince McMahon a sports entertainment genius. That said, not even a genius can get it right every time, nor do they typically work entirely alone. In McMahon’s case, his creative mind was aided through the work of countless men and women he called WWE Superstars.
Together, McMahon and his wrestlers have sold out arenas around the world, and in theory, the boss rewards his best employees by letting them appear in more main events. Other times, however, the best wrestlers in the business are kept in the opening matches, and talents that could be called mediocre at best improbably make their way to the headlining spots.
It isn’t always McMahon’s fault alone when wrestlers wind up in the wrong spot on the card. There are also a handful of writers and advisors helping Vince out, chief amongst them his daughter Stephanie and her husband Triple H. Regardless of who specifically is to blame, the point is WWE’s pen holders don’t always make the best decisions about which superstars get to take over the WWE Universe. Keep reading to discover 8 talented wrestlers WWE completely wasted and 7 total duds they made World Champion.
15 WASTED TALENT: Damien Sandow
Truth be told, professional wrestling probably isn’t the right business for somebody who calls himself the Intellectual Savior of the Masses. On the other hand, Damien Sandow was an incredibly skilled wrestler in addition to a brilliant mind, not that WWE ever quite recognized this properly. If nothing else, Sandow did get a few memorable gimmicks and a run near the main event, albeit one that ended with a failed Money in the Bank cash-in that shunted him straight back down the card. Despite fans clamoring for Sandow to get a second World Championship shot and maybe even a championship win, he would never actually win a singles title in WWE at all, needing to settle for a single short Tag Team Championship reign. After getting dismissed by WWE, Impact Wrestling attempted to give Sandow a shot at Aron Rex, but it seemed his heart was no longer in the business.
14 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: The Great Khali
In all fairness, it’s not like any long-term WWE fans were particularly surprised to discover Vince McMahon had secretly been a huge fan of The Great Khali from day one. Nonetheless, the WWE Universe entered pretty dark days when the future Punjabi Playboy improbably won the World Heavyweight Championship in a battle royal on SmackDown. Unfortunately, McMahon was about the only person supporting Khali in his journey up the card, as fans found his borderline immobile offense dated and boring to watch. While a select few wrestlers eventually managed to get workable matches out of Khali, he never did anything to deserve a main event run on his own merits aside from being really tall. Of course, as WWE fans have known for a long time, that’s often all it takes to win McMahon’s favor.
13 WASTED TALENT: Cody Rhodes (Stardust)
History has shown more than once that merely being the offspring of a successful wrestler doesn’t guarantee one will be a wrestling great themselves. That said, there have been enough cases where talent has indeed ran in the family. WWE is always willing to give the idea a shot. Not only did Cody Rhodes have the legendary Dusty Rhodes as his father, but he’s also the half-brother of Goldust, who has likewise become somewhat of a legend in his own right. Despite the excellent pedigree, Cody never felt like WWE was using his skills properly, forcing him into cartoonish gimmicks like Stardust rather than listen to his ideas. Ultimately, Rhodes left the company along with his equally ignored wife Brandi/Eden Stiles to pursue creative endeavors elsewhere, and he hasn’t shown any signs of looking back.
12 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Stan Stasiak
Things were obviously much different in the WWE Universe back in the mid-1970s than they are today. There hadn’t been very many WWE Champions to begin with, and yet the unexpected victory by Stan Stasiak over Pedro Morales still seemed entirely out of place in the title’s lineage. Stasiak didn’t necessarily need to be as legendary as Buddy Rogers, Bruno Sammartino, Ivan Koloff, or Morales; he just needed to be memorable enough that a casual fan could name a single other notable match or feud he was involved in. Because that’s almost impossible to anyone outside of the most die-hard historians, the only way to describe Stasiak’s career is forgettable, the last word one would associate with a World Champion. Of course, with only 9 days holding the title, it’s not like anyone expected he would get remembered.
11 WASTED TALENT: Eugene
Generally referred to as one of the most offensive gimmicks in professional wrestling history, let alone WWE, the less to be said about Eugene, the better. To put it bluntly and briefly, Eugene’s character was that of Eric Bischoff’s mentally challenged nephew. By hook or by crook, Eugene became an unlikely hit at the onset of the Ruthless Aggression Era, but that doesn’t help shake the feeling that Nick Dinsmore could have done so much better with a more respectful persona. Prior to appearing in WWE, Dinsmore had been one of the most promising talents in Ohio Valley Wrestling, heavily lauded for his in-ring skills and ability to have a good match with any opponent. Turning Dinsmore into an offensive joke ruined his potential immediately, and his career has unfortunately never recovered.
10 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Jack Swagger
Looking like Back to the Future bully Biff Tannen and with the amateur wrestling background to transition that likeness to the squared circle, it’s hard to blame Vince McMahon for trying with Jack Swagger. More American than baseball and apple pie and condescending enough to use this for evil, Swagger was a natural heel, and his skills in the ring weren’t anything worse than average. On the downside, nothing about his persona was ever able to connect with fans, even when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract against Chris Jericho to become World Heavyweight Champion. Anyone who can name a memorable match during Swagger’s run with the belt has probably spent time on his Wikipedia page recently, and his later run as a Real American was more embarrassing than entertaining.
9 WASTED TALENT: Chris Candido (Skip)
When a wrestler claims to be so talented he needs no gimmicks, there may also be an underlying message that the WWE Universe isn’t for him. To wit, Chris Candido was probably making a sly reference to this fact when he started using the “No Gimmick Needed” persona directly after Vince McMahon had turned him into Skip the Bodydonna. In all fairness, Skip did manage to become a WWE Tag Team Champion alongside his partner Zip (a.k.a. Tom Prichard), and his girlfriend/manager Sunny didn’t do too badly for herself, either. That said, Candido’s ability in the ring was top notch enough he could have been a considerable solo star, and the silly physical fitness expert gimmick bogged him down so harshly he couldn’t even get taken seriously after jumping to ECW.
8 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Sgt. Slaughter
With all due respect to the WWE Hall of Famer, there was a point in time when Sgt. Slaughter could have made a fine WWE Champion, or the top star of any promotion for that matter. Unfortunately, that time had long since passed by early-1991 when he actually won the belt. Not only was Slaughter out of shape in comparison to his heyday the previous decade, but his gimmick had taken a dramatic turn from a vicious drill sergeant into an Iraqi sympathizer during the Persian Gulf war. That atrocious character choice made a bad idea even worse, and Slaughter’s brief reign and WrestleMania main event were both embarrassments for the company. Amazingly, Vince McMahon was unable to take the hint for months, keeping Slaughter on top for months after he lost the belt to Hulk Hogan.
7 WASTED TALENT: Drew McIntyre
Earning Vince McMahon’s stamp of approval is usually a sure sign a WWE superstar will one day become a main eventer regardless of their talent level, as the other half of this list can contend. On the other hand, McMahon is notoriously fickle in some of his opinions, and when he gives up on a wrestler he once supported, he generally does so for good. Take for instance Drew McIntyre, known better today for his work on the indy scene under his real name, Drew Galloway. From day one, McMahon himself lauded McIntyre as a “future world champion,” and it looked like that prediction could come true. McIntyre soon won the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships en route to proving his boss correct, only to suddenly fall out of favor and get shafted into the comedy team 3MB. Hopefully, things will be better the second time around now that McIntyre proved himself elsewhere.
6 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Randy Orton
No matter how many complaints are levied against Randy Orton’s unoriginal, unentertaining, bland and boring personality, Vince McMahon will apparently never get the picture. It doesn’t even matter that those negative adjectives also apply to Orton’s in-ring abilities half the time, with WWE officials blinded by the few times Orton has managed to get it almost right and look like a moderate star. It doesn’t matter how many WWE Championships Orton is handed, though, as even the most die-hard supporters of all things McMahon are starting to give up on the guy after his bomb of a feud against Bray Wyatt. In fairness, maybe a couple of Orton’s World Championship reigns weren’t that bad, but .500 is a pretty horrible batting average. Throw in that his latest run on top was nearly unforgiveable and that’s sufficient to label him a dud overall.
5 WASTED TALENT: Kaval
The early days of Total Nonstop Action were notable primarily for their innovative X Division, with AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Low Ki serving as particularly important stand out stars. As the first of these vanguards hired by WWE, fans of the new style presented by Vince McMahon’s competition were hoping Low Ki could inject some of that flair into Raw or SmackDown. Instead of utilizing Low Ki’s talents in the ring or relying on his martial arts inspired bad ass persona, Vince McMahon made the strange choice of renaming the former X Division Champion “Kaval” and having him mostly hang out with females while wearing pink. It’s not that this idea was altogether terrible, as it might have worked with the right talent, but whether called Low Ki or Kaval, he simply wasn’t fit for the role and it ruined him from the start.
4 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Jinder Mahal
Mere seconds into Jinder Mahal’s historic reign as WWE Champion, lifelong wrestling fans hit social media to voice their utter confusion at the move. Maybe it’s a little too soon to judge his entire reign as a dud, yet his entire career leading towards the victory certainly gives the WWE Universe reason to be wary. Up until he was suddenly named number one contender to the belt, Mahal hadn’t won a WWE bout in several full months, and the fact is a single big win did almost nothing to legitimize him to most of the audience. The one thing Mahal has going for him is that Indian fans feel better represented on WWE television than ever before, although this is somewhat cheapened by his cliché character, which some feel even borders on racist.
3 WASTED TALENT: Bam Bam Bigelow
Modern WWE fans are no doubt familiar with the Beast Incarnate, but little do some of them know Brock Lesnar was nearly predated with a different Beast From the East. Granted, Bam Bam Bigelow didn’t quite possess Lesnar’s technical acumen, although he more than matched his intimidation factor through the fiery head tattoo alone. Bigelow was no slouch in the ring, either, able to fly off the ropes like a man half his size, leading many insiders to see big things in him upon his late-‘80s WWE debut. Although not much happened, fans were still hopeful when Bigelow jumped to NWA. Repeat the pattern for a second stint in WWE followed by a run in WCW, and the best thing one can say about how both companies mistreated his talents is that neither was alone in doing so.
2 CHAMPIONSHIP DUD: Roman Reigns
So much has been said about the failure of Roman Reigns to capture the hearts of WWE fans everywhere that even announcing there’s nothing left to say on the issue feels a little redundant. When the experiment began and Reigns was merely one-third of The Shield, all was well in the WWE Universe, as he had Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins at his side, hiding The Big Dog’s weaknesses. Left on his own, Reigns has proven awkward on the microphone and uncreative in the ring, not to mention wholly unable to adapt to a hostile audience. Rather than give up on his pet project, Vince McMahon has quadrupled down and made Reigns WWE Champion no less than four times as of this writing, and it doesn’t seem like the near universal rejection is going to slow things down in the slightest.
1 WASTED TALENT: Cesaro
Sometimes it feels like the only subject more beaten to death than how horribly WWE and Vince McMahon overestimate Roman Reigns is how sorely the wrestling community at large underestimates Cesaro. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has called Cesaro the Most Underrated Wrestler for five years running now, and Hall of Fame superstars like Ric Flair and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin have both voiced similar opinions. Austin even said it to Vince McMahon’s face, earning a bizarre response about how the Swiss Sensation lacked the “It” factor everyone else knows full well he has in spades. Still employed by WWE and hardly at the bottom of the roster, there’s still a chance Cesaro’s talents will finally get recognized. Sadly, however, prospects do not currently look good, with Cesaro wasting away in a thrown-together tag team (albeit one that just won back the RAW Tag Team belts from the Hardys) instead of competing for the World Championships he has long deserved.