Most sports you watch have certain age brackets for what is widely considered as a performer’s prime. Sports such as soccer and football feature something of an unwritten cut off point when a player is considered too old to carry on playing. There is no clearly defined rule and also no one actively forcing athletes to retire before they feel like they can’t perform in the same way that they used to. Also most athletes will have started playing the sport they play at an extremely young age, probably before they even reach the age of ten years old. Pro Wrestling is not your average sport, and because of that these rules can’t really be applied.
Not many of today’s Superstars began pro wrestling while they were children. There are exceptions but for the most part it just doesn’t happen. Due to the nature of the business, it also means that wrestlers can often compete way past what would be considered their prime. This would be especially true if they were playing a different sport. All of this effectively means that the career of a professional wrestler starts later and normally ends later than other athletes. That may explain why WWE often sign Superstars too late, thinking that they’ve got more time to develop and continuing to hold off on bringing them in. They let the performers cut their teeth at other promotions before capitalizing on their fame. WWE are also guilty of diving in head first far too early when certain wrestlers may not be ready for the big time. Here are eight examples of exactly that and another seven of wrestlers showing up too late to the party.
15. Too Early: Bobby Roode
It may seem crazy to have Bobby Roode on this side of the list since WWE recently signed The Glorious One and his arrival at the company was actually a long time coming. Roode has been wrestling for almost 20 years and is currently aged 40, making him a great asset to WWE. That said, it’s probably too late in his career for him to be one of the very top guys. The reason he is on the too early side of this list however is because he was an employee of WWE once before. Just a few years into his career, WWE had Roode competing in dark matches as well as on secondary shows such as Sunday Night Heat and Velocity. Perhaps if he had arrived some time between now and then he would have become a fully fledged WWE guy.
14. Too Late: Diamond Dallas Page
In 2001 WCW went out of business and WWE bought them out, thus bringing a close to the legendary Monday Night War between the two companies. For the most part many of the household names that had made WCW such a big deal decided to sit at home and see out their guaranteed contracts as opposed to coming to WWE right away. Diamond Dallas Page did not do that and instead decided to try his luck with WWE right away. Unfortunately it did not work out like DDP and his fans likely envisioned. Page is pretty unique due to the fact he didn’t start training to wrestle until he was 35 years old. If WWE were ever going to get anything out of him then they would have needed to steal him away from WCW as soon as he was ring ready. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.
13. Too Early: Kenny Omega
Kenny Omega is without a doubt the biggest thing in pro wrestling right now that isn’t already under the WWE umbrella. That was very much already the case a few months ago but that has been cemented recently by his current rivalry with Chris Jericho. While he’s the biggest star outside of WWE, Omega can’t be considered the biggest star to never compete for WWE. Believe it or not The Cleaner was once a part of the pro wrestling juggernaut’s developmental system. All the way back in 2005 Omega was signed to a developmental contract and competed for Deep South Wrestling. It’s fun to think where he might be if he had stuck around or if WWE had signed him once he was a more well-rounded performer.
12. Too Late: Mercedes Martinez
Earlier this year WWE staged a women’s only, single elimination tournament, the Mae Young Classic. The tournament featured 32 women from all over the world in what was another big step for women’s wrestling in WWE. It also showcased a lot of wrestlers that many fans would love to see competing in WWE on a more permanent basis. For a lot of the competitors there is plenty of time for that, but one standout performer who clearly should have been in WWE many years ago is Mercedes Martinez. The veteran wrestler has been competing in the ring since 2000 yet the Mae Young Classic was her first taste of being in a WWE ring. What’s even more frustrating is that WWE have been aware of her for a while. Sasha Banks recently revealed that she couldn’t use her real name in WWE (Mercedes) because of Martinez possibly joining the company at some point.
11. Too Early: Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner has enjoyed two spells under the WWE umbrella. The first run took place during the early 1990s and revolved around the legendary tag team he made up half of along with his brother Rick. The Steiner Brothers made an indelible mark wherever they went in professional wrestling and WWE was no different. They later moved on to WCW and had a terrific run there. While there, Steiner became something of a successful singles star and in early 2002 he went about bringing some of that success back to WWE. Steiner was one of those guys who didn’t jump straight to WWE once they bought out WCW and in that 18 month gap he only wrestled sporadically. When he finally re-debuted for WWE Steiner wasn’t exactly ring ready and his second run was doomed from day one. WWE should have waited until the veteran had shaken off that ring rust before signing him again.
10. Too Late: Hideo Itami
Over the past few years WWE has very much been in the business of signing pretty much all of the best wrestlers in the world. The likes of AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn all made names for themselves elsewhere as world class performers and were snapped up by either Triple H or Vince McMahon. Arguably the man that really kicked this poaching mentality up a notch was Hideo Itami. The newest recruit of 205 Live is pretty iconic in Japan and has been competing there since the turn of the century, so his addition to the NXT roster was quite rightly seen as a major coup. Unfortunately Itami has been wrestling for many years and clearly that wear and tear has made him prone to injury. If only WWE had signed him a decade ago.
9. Too Early: Samoa Joe
Vince McMahon must have been kicking himself when he first signed, met and saw what Samoa Joe is capable of in a pro wrestling ring. The Destroyer is a legitimate tough guy and that legitimacy very much transfers over to what he does on television every week. If WWE had picked up Joe ten or so years ago then he would likely be one of the company’s top heels by now and would have occupied that spot for many years. The funny thing is, WWE had their opportunity to do just that. At the very beginning of Joe’s career he wrestled for Ultimate Pro Wrestling which was an affiliate of WWE at the time. Bruce Prichard and Jim Ross saw him perform and apparently told him that he didn’t have a future in pro wrestling. Clearly they brought him on board far too early the first time around.
8. Too Late: AJ Styles
AJ Styles is probably the best wrestler on the planet right now. What Vince McMahon and those who only watch WWE don’t realize is that he has been just that for a number of years. When in New Japan and TNA, Styles was wowing wrestling crowds, all be it much smaller ones. The Phenomenal One’s rapid ascent up the WWE card has been incredible and just goes to show had he been there all along he may very well be considered the greatest of all time by now. AJ may be closer to the end of his career than the beginning but that isn’t stopping WWE from getting all they can out of him. They quickly realized they should have signed him years ago and have made him a top guy so that he can be one of the faces of the product for as long as he possibly can.
7. Too Early: Also AJ Styles
No you are not seeing things and no this is not a mistake. AJ Styles has indeed appeared on both sides of this list. In all fairness there are a fair few Superstars who warrant being on either side of this list but we kept it to just The Phenomenal One. As detailed in the previous entry AJ has arrived in WWE a lot later than fans likely would have liked. However, 2016 wasn’t the first time Vince McMahon had Styles under his employ. All the way back in 2002 the now two time WWE Champion wrestled two matches for WWE, one against The Hurricane and then another against Rico. WWE clearly saw something in him as they offered him a developmental contract. It required AJ to move across the country and at the time it would have affected his wife’s college plans so he declined. WWE really should have continued to pester him in the years that followed.
6. Too Late: Kharma
Many of you may see this entry and think that it warrants a place on the opposite side of the list, but we beg to differ. Yes Kharma would make one heck of an impact on the WWE women’s division in the present day, but she has now retired from in ring competition so signing her wouldn’t just be too late, it is currently not possible. When WWE did recruit Kharma, the women’s division was a very different place than it is now. The truth is though if her run had gone to plan then maybe the changes we’ve seen over the past year or two could have happened a lot earlier. Clearly WWE had a better women’s division in mind even as far back as when they signed Kharma. The timing was just extremely poor and the only match she ended up competing in was a Royal Rumble.
5. Too Early: Jeff Hardy
It probably feels like Matt and Jeff Hardy have been a part of the wrestling business forever. This year they made their triumphant return to WWE at WrestleMania 33 and are still going strong, or at least Jeff will be once he returns from injury. Although they didn’t begin wrestling together as The Hardy Boyz on WWE television until 1998 the two of them have actually been wrestling for the company since 1994. Despite that, Jeff has actually only just turned 40. The math wizards among you will have already worked out that means he made his WWE debut at the age of just 16. Most would likely agree that 16 is too young to be wrestling for WWE. Well WWE didn’t realize that Jeff was only 16 as he told them he was actually 18. The one instance on this list where they literally signed a Superstar too early because of their age rather than their ability.
4. Too Late: Goldberg
Former WCW Champion Goldberg recently enjoyed a successful return to the squared circle. It was a short run and one that he just wanted to do in order to show his wife and young son what he used to do for a living during the second half of the 1990s. That period in WCW was Goldberg’s most successful time as a pro wrestler, there’s no disputing that. When he arrived in WWE a couple of years after WCW had folded things didn’t really go to plan. Now the best time for WWE to sign Goldberg would have been when he was at the height of his fame in WCW. That would have been almost impossible though. What they could have done is persuaded him to come across right after they bought out his former employers. Those extra two years could have made all the difference for Goldberg’s WWE career.
3. Too Early: Luke Gallows
Many of the more hardcore fans among you will likely know exactly how Luke Gallows has gone about making such a big name for himself. Wrestling in TNA and then being an original member of the Bullet Club in New Japan put the tag team wrestler on the map in a big way. If you’re like Vince McMahon though you won’t have realized that Gallows actually competed in WWE before his current run under the ring name Festus. For those unfamiliar with the Festus character, he was a simple minded Superstar who would go from a catatonic state to an in ring destroyer upon the ring bell sounding. It was a terrible gimmick and along with Imposter Kane it’s probably safe to say that Gallows’ first arrival in WWE came far too early.
2. Too Late: Sting
There is no one in all of pro wrestling history that WWE missed the boat with more than Sting. For over a decade The Icon fought in the corner of WCW and quickly became one of the biggest names in all of the industry. Even though he was one of those guys that didn’t come straight over to WWE in 2001 fans were excited to eventually see him in WWE because Sting’s arrival there was inevitably coming right? Well, sort of. Sting did eventually arrive in WWE, but it wasn’t until the tail end of 2014. There are various stories out there as to why it took Sting so long to come to WWE including the man himself saying that he didn’t trust what they would do with his character. It pains us to think of what could have been if WWE had tried to earn Sting’s trust sooner. The Icon versus The Deadman is probably everyone’s dream match.
1. Too Early: Drew McIntyre
Before his recent injury, Drew McIntyre was tearing it up in NXT. His reign as NXT Champion came to an end at the hands of Andrade Almas at NXT Takeover: WarGames. This isn’t the Scot’s first go around in WWE however. At the age of just 21 years old, McIntyre was signed to WWE’s developmental territory FCW and less than two years later was called up to the main roster and dubbed ‘The Chosen One’. Vince McMahon clearly saw potential in McIntyre but unfortunately his signing and push came a little too early in the British Superstar’s life. Drew became Intercontinental Champion and there were likely plans for him to go even higher than that. He burned out too fast and too soon however and before long he was wrestling as a part of 3MB. He’s making amends during his second time around though.
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