They used to say that anything can happen in the World Wrestling Fe....Entertainment, but nowadays fans are much wiser and see that no string gets pulled without Vince McMahon's say so. WWE Superstars are rigidly and meticulously held to their current place in the hierarchy, never able to break free from their slot unless the stars align just right or the boss decides it's your time.
Stars like Daniel Bryan and to a lesser extent CM Punk managed to break through to the top after lengthy journeys with a bit of luck thrown in, but not before dozens of Vince's handpicked projects got their turns first and many times over. In both Bryan's and Punk's cases it seemed like Vince was actively working against them at various moments before being essentially forced to make money with those guys, and it also feels like he isn't a fan of being proven wrong. Hence, opportunities and chances are handed out piecemeal and some of the best in WWE have to scramble to get their fair shake.
When one man above all others is the final decision-maker and controls every aspect of thousands of employee's lives it is literally down to his moods, preferences, and subjective opinions on where you end up. Vince is one of those people and while his successes are well documented the missed opportunities are evident in equal measure. Here we list Vince's favorite sons and his red-headed stepchildren, all working to grab that brass ring but some being made to work monumentally harder for far less of a payoff.
15 Rejected - Bray Wyatt
The badass bayou preacher has never been far from the top of WWE's hierarchy so you may not immediately think of him as 'rejected'. But, any close scrutiny of the way he's been used and presented over his time shows a callous disregard for the character and the guy behind it. Vince has devalued Bray Wyatt's legitimacy by feeding him to his highest stars over and over again, or using Bray as the guy you feud with when you're killing time befor a bigger feud.
Now Bray is looked at more like Kane than The Undertaker, in that while he might be spooky and have a cool entrance he is largely forgettable and prone to being lame rather than intimidating. He even has the same token WWE Championship reign that Kane did to alleviate all the losing he has to do. If Vince had just treated the character with a little more care Bray right now could be approaching mythical status as an untouchable demon instead of the pontificating nuisance he is now viewed as.
14 Shoved - John Cena
Why shy away from the obvious? Cena was reportedly a fourth string choice as Vince's go-to guy behind Randy Orton, Batista, and Brock Lesnar, but once Vince gave him the ball he refused to back away from him.
Cena has somehow remained their main draw despite crowds revolting against the product for years on end, rejecting him in particular. The entire philosophy of the company changed to 'any noise is good noise' as a way for WWE to rigidly maintain their support of Cena even when they were in the minority. Vince only sees the dollar signs from Cena's merch instead of the potentially greater windfall from actually compelling television by turning the naturally heelish jock into a bad guy.
We seem to be in the twilight of Cena's career with Hollywood beckoning, but no doubt he will be Vince's new part-time attraction in place of Undertaker, showing up for the big PPVs and being milked as long as he can be, whether it helps newer talent or not.
13 Rejected - Dolph Ziggler
At a few key points, Dolph Ziggler could have been a decently big deal in WWE. Through a combination of unfortunate timing of injuries and Vince never wanting to truly give Dolph the ball to run with he now feels like he's sliding down the backside of his career before exiting for good. For someone who has had entire buildings shaking for his skills in the ring, it is a crime he never got a legit shot.
Ziggler is almost the quintessential example of someone Vince will vehemently not get behind. Only when backed into a corner through injury and circumstance like at the 2014 Survivor Series will Dolph be allowed to showcase his skills to shine bright, but as with his title reigns it will be reversed and nullified within weeks to preserve other more preferred talents.
Ziggler is probably not going to get another shot at the top so the best we can hope for is that Vince doesn't notice him enough so that he is able to sneak in a last quality run before it's all over.
12 Shoved - Jason Jordan
It's only simmering right now, but Vince doesn't latch a tag team guy to a Hall Of Famer like Kurt Angle unless the plans for his future are massive.
Jason Jordan was absolutely floundering in NXT, stuck going nowhere until Chad Gable brought some personality out of him. Suddenly they were champs in NXT than on SmackDown off of the back of Gable's likable goofiness. Jordan somehow seems to have leapfrogged Gabel in Vince's estimation, his larger size and crazy-face during hot tags no doubt resonating with the often visually-swayed chairman.
Jordan is now all over Raw and is getting the same goofy 'comedy' segments that they tried to get Roman Reigns over with, to middling responses. Throwing vegetables at Elias and being a smiley, happy person who hugs his dad each week between getting showcase matches will surely backfire, but Vince seems set and he isn't known for changing course these days. Expect Jason Jordan to be everywhere for the foreseeable future and hopefully we see his personality develop to match his ring skills.
11 Rejected - Zack Ryder
The poster child for having momentum and fan support completely leeched away due to Vince's machinations. Zack Ryder somehow got the crowd behind him in 2011 without even being on WWE TV, his Youtube series using comedy, charm, and earnestness to gain fans despite zero screentime. While it amounted to a United States Championship at TLC '11 it was only a moment surrounded by Vince's rejection.
Before even WrestleMania the next year Zack had been beaten for his championship, confined to a wheelchair and neckbrace, repeatedly assaulted and destroyed by Kane, and finally cuckolded by none other than Vince's golden boy John Cena. When Eve Torres finally kicked Zack in the balls at WrestleMania it was clear. Getting over without Vince's express approval is not going to be taken lightly.
Zack has hung in there though, clearly determined beyond measure to prove the doubters wrong. In that way, he still has kept a lowkey fanbase invested in him and his successes, sparse though they are.
10 Shoved - Charlotte Flair
Charlotte is deserving of a lot of the support she gets within WWE but her pedigree with being 'The Nature Boy' Ric Flair's daughter and clearly a Vince favorite has had her placed front and center in every women's division she has competed in despite her ability in the ring far outclassing her skills on the mic. Heck, she's already a five-time champion!
Charlotte is seemingly able to have great matches with most of the WWE women, only eclipsed by Sasha Banks and Asuka who are in distinct classes above the rest. Her stilted speaking patterns and undeniably bland persona are reminiscent of Roman Reigns for someone being physically gifted but charismatically limited. Only approval from Vince and presumably Triple H keeps Charlotte positioned so safely. Sasha Banks at times got frustrated over WWE's prioritizing of Charlotte when Sasha showed her undeniable abilities in both necessary categories, Charlotte even recounting a story where she told Sasha that WWE had to 'make' her before Sasha could get her shot.
With Charlotte clearly less charismatic than Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks, and not clearly superior to Banks or Asuka in the ring, it is Vince's hand that keeps her at the forefront wherever she is competing.
9 Rejected - Rusev
What does a guy have to do to get a shot at being more than a generic foreign heel?
Rusev is sadly on the outer in WWE and if Vince could just see what potential he has in front of him before it's too late, Rusev could be one of his most valuable commodities. Rusev is charismatic, can wrestle damn well and not just for his size, and is equally good at being a badass beast as he is a goofy patriotic fighter. If Rusev had been born in the USA Vince would have another Kurt Angle on his hands, instead, he's treating him like Vladimir Kozlov.
Rusev got himself and Lana into a bit of a doghouse back during a feud with Dolph Ziggler when he and Lana got engaged and upended a love rhombus storyline that was wasting everybody's time. It seems that since then Vince can't see that Rusev is simmering with fan appreciation that is waiting to be tapped into. Now Rusev exists as perpetual cannon-fodder for Cena, Orton and other top stars, but it would be more fitting if he found a way to regain his momentum.
8 Shoved - Mojo Rawley
It's lowkey for now, but Mojo Rawley is looking dangerously like he's going to be another Vince pet project that eclipses other guys we'd much prefer to see given the spotlight. Mojo's WrestleMania Battle Royal win seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere and was entirely predicated on Mojo being close buddies with Gronk so that Vince could get his celebrity fix for WrestleMania.
Outside of that Mojo has gotten some spotlight as an individual while Zack Ryder was out injured and now all signs point to the pair having an imminent split that you know is going to be good for the guy with celebrity connections and who isn't the perpetually overlooked Ryder.
Mojo has steadily but unremarkably improved since his days sitting on dudes in NXT but if Vince pulls the trigger anytime soon and really forces Mojo as a thing it's going to get pretty ugly.
7 Rejected - Sami Zayn
Recent heel turn aside Sami has been one of the most remarkably badly used guys on the main roster. Zayn is arguably THE guy who made NXT what it is today as a performer. His feuds with Cesaro, then Neville and finally Kevin Owens were a perfect journey and encapsulated so much goodness that they elevated NXT beyond its foundation.
Now he is the perpetual hard-fighting loser. Sami is that guy who you put in there to make others look good while his skill keeps people invested in him. For someone as naturally likable as he is it's a crime to waste that quality without rewarding the fans who get on board.
Sami recently said that Vince personally mapped out his heel turn and that he sees the potential in the change now that it's underway, but the recent European Tour mishap could see any hope we have of Sami being taken more seriously evaporate with Vince's disapproval taking hold of his career.
6 Shoved - Jinder Mahal
We're not sure why Vince brought Jinder Mahal back in 2016 but we're much more sure of why Vince decided that Jinder Mahal was going to get an almost six month WWE Championship reign. Jinder's physical transformation from being simply a tallish guy to an outright monstrous bruiser was a sure way to get Vince's attention and it paid off for him even if it sucked for us.
Mahal's title reign will go down as one of the weakest of all time, continuing several months passed its expiration date due to Vince wanting Jinder at the top. Whether because of marketing opportunities in India or simply his new look, Jinder got put front and center on SmackDown against almost all common sense and decency.
Now that it's in the rearview mirror, and hopefully not anywhere in our future, the Jinder experiment is hopefully out of Vince's system. However, WWE is usually good at protecting their former world champions to a certain degree, so we can, unfortunately, look forward to Jinder Mahal having a large presence despite his lack of entertainment value.
5 Rejected - Luke Harper
If nothing else Vince's philosophy for the longest time has been about 'who brings in the dollars?', and that often translates to 'who looks best on our poster?'. In the case of Luke Harper, we can safely guess that no matter how much he excels in the ring or changes his tanktop color, Vince does not see dollar signs due to the rustic, disheveled appearance of this underrated big man.
Harper had his chance earlier this year when Randy Orton imploded The Wyatt Family to actually have a spot in the WrestleMania WWE Title match. Harper was getting loud 'Luke' chants for weeks after and the story easily allowed for him to make the Orton vs Wyatt match a triple threat. What we got instead was Harper being summarily drummed out of the way so Randy Orton could have one of the most lukewarm title wins in WrestleMania history, suffocating interest in Harper and then Wyatt.
Harper wasn't allowed to follow any of that momentum up, instead being held back to team with Erick Rowan for the 32nd time. It appears that unless Harper can sell a metric tonne of tank tops to the WWE fans he is slated for nothing higher and that's beyond insulting.
4 Shoved - Michael Cole
'The Voice Of The WWE' and to many fans the reason they watch on mute. Michael Cole had the unfortunate job of following the greatest wrestling announcer of all time in Jim Ross and despite over a decade since the changeover, Cole has seemingly gotten worse instead of better. People accuse Vince McMahon's micromanaging of his announce team as the culprit but when other announcers like Corey Graves, Mauro Ranallo, Matt Striker, and Booker T have all sat at that desk and been far superior at various times, the only answer for his retention is that he is decidedly one of Vince's pet projects.
Cole may not be as bad as he was during the unforgivable 'heel Cole' phase that led to the Jerry Lawler match at WrestleMania XXVII, but he does drag down the announcers around him weekly without reprimand. His inflections, intonations, his voice and his faux excitement hamstring the entire wrestling product we're supposed to buy into more than almost any of Vince's wrestler favorites and it's inescapable.
The sooner he hands the headset over to someone else the better, but for now, he enables Vince's whims without regard for quality commentary.
3 Rejected - Gallows & Anderson
A tag team killing it all over the world is brought back to WWE and wasted to the point of comedy. It's a tale that has been told by many and Gallows & Anderson are the latest victims of Vince simply wanting to take away another companies toys.
Debuting with a bang on the Raw after the Post-WrestleMania Raw, Gallows & Anderson looked legit, standing tall and seeming like WWE had big plans for the duo and that their trip back across the Pacific Ocean would be a fruitful one. Besides a token tag team championship reign they have been essentially jobbers on Raw, losing to singles main eventers and the top tier tag teams their entire run.
You can't even say their comedy stuff is working when it results in the awful Old Day segment as well as the recent Trick Or Streetfight debacle. Gallows and Anderson are obviously dispensable in Vince's mind and it's now clear to the audience they are not worth investing in because of that.
2 Shoved - Roman Reigns
No surprises here with the pet project since 2012 getting recognized for the fact that under Vince he has unlimited chances to fail as long as Vince can put him on a poster. Vince's own hand is forever trying to sway and manipulate the fans into finally accepting the new 'Guy' but until recently with The Shield reunion, it's been an abject failure if the loud booing every week is an indication.
Like Cena before him, WWE has taken the 'any noise is good noise' tack to marginalize the fans' disapproval of having their favorite chosen for them. Vince reportedly personally wrote Reigns' promos during the "sufferin' succotash" and "tater tots" phase that took whatever cred Reigns had as a cool badass and flushed it away, and yet Vince unwaveringly persists.
Now Reigns is finally returned from another badly timed hiatus to rejoin his Shield brothers and we'll see if the absence has softened the fans' rejection or galvanized it. Either way, Vince isn't changing regardless so we're along for the ride all the same.
1 Rejected - Cesaro
One of the wrestlers we know for a fact Vince doesn't see 'It' with, Cesaro is criminally underrated by the one guy who counts and revered by the rest of us. On the Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast back in late 2014, Austin asked Vince to his face what he thought Cesaro was missing and Vince simply shrugged it off, admitting he was simply unable to get behind Cesaro for his own reasons.
We can probably all agree that Cesaro's mic presence isn't great, and now a bit comical with his mouthguard in and his teeth smashed around, but he is undeniably great between the ropes. For someone who has never held a world championship, he has a ridiculous amount of memorable moments, eclipsing recent WWE Champions like Bray Wyatt, Jinder Mahal, and Randy Orton for bringing crowds to their feet.
Cesaro may never win a world championship in WWE at this rate, and if that eventuates Vince will have the blame promptly aimed at him.