The concept of the push is essentially how any given wrestler is able to "make it" in the business, especially in the confines of WWE. Sure, the exception of the wrestler's character and their in-ring work has a lot to do with the success or failure as well, but most of them need to be given a chance in the first place. A push doesn't always go as planned, and or have the desired effects that a promotion would like, and sometimes the plug can be pulled on it prematurely. It's relatively common in the business, and lots of names, though recognizable, have been knocked down a peg in the middle of what would have been their big break.
It's tough to say whether or not all of them would have been main event players for very long, but at least a few of them likely would have broke through. For various reasons however, they were cut short of being given a full opportunity, and they went the rest of their careers without such a chance again. Let's take a look at some of the biggest pushes in WWE's history that were derailed midway through, and hindered the wrestler's standing from there on out.
Ranked below are 15 WWE wrestlers who had their push taken away from them.
15 Mr. Kennedy
One of the rising stars in WWE during the mid-2000s, Kennedy was considered to be one of the future pillars of the company. He won the United States Title in short time, and many thought his trajectory was on an upward trend. Kennedy was exciting enough in the ring to go along with his skills on the mic, and his push was executed in hopes of creating a legitimate new star.
His fallout came quickly, and after a while it was clear that Kennedy was not going to fulfill the promise of becoming a marquee WWE name for the long-term. For the most part, nobody would have seen it coming. Kennedy only won the one title during his time with the company. He was released in 2009, and promptly went to TNA.
14 Paul Burchill
WWE tried to break Burchill in as a top-flight member of the roster, but never quite ended up succeeding. He had several gimmick changes in an attempt to get him over with the fanbase, but ultimately nothing really came of it. His haphazard pirate gimmick was never able to make any waves, nor was a switch to the ECW brand a short time later.
In the end, Burchill is just one of many WWE names around this time who was never able to meet his potential on the main roster. There were a lot of failures around the mid-2000s, and he was just another in the long line of them. No matter what WWE tried to do with Burchill, it just wasn't enough to elevate his character to superstardom.
In an effort to lead the company into the '90s, many pushes were given out in the mid-card in order to establish a new marketable star. Tatanka, with his Native American gimmick, was one of the primary ones to come down the pike during this time. Marketed as a clear-cut face initially, he was given an undefeated streak, and received numerous shots at the Intercontinental Title.
It seemed only a matter of time before Tatanka was given some kind of a title run, but it just never happened. The emergence of other up-and-coming stars such as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Lex Luger had a large hand in casting him out of the top-tier of the company. So while he started off strong, Tatanka was mainly mid-card fodder for the last half of his WWE run.
12 Chris Kanyon
The buyout of WCW allowed tons of new talent to emerge in WWE starting in 2001. It was a mass exodus of great (and not-so-great) wrestlers now suddenly on the WWE roster, with plenty of pushes to give out. Kanyon ended up getting a short one with the United States Title, and it was a major surprise when he fell out of favor a short time later with the company.
A series of health issues and a lack of ability from creative to completely get Kanyon over precipitated his demotion to WWE developmental territories. Kanyon was a wrestler whom many thought would be an integral member of the main roster for a long time, but his demise in WWE was quick, and it never ended up coming to fruition.
11 Alex Riley
The trajectory for Riley seemed to be on the upswing shortly after his debut. He was involved in angles with the likes of The Miz and John Cena, which seemed to signify a future title run for him. Many thought this would come when he feuded with Dolph Ziggler over the United States Title, but unfortunately Riley never was able to break through and land a WWE strap of any kind.
By 2012, it was clear that there weren't any significant future plans for him. In fact, Riley's descent came quickly, and he was never able to gain a good standing in the company after this time. His move to commentary in 2013 was the end of his run as an active wrestler for all intents and purposes, and he was out of the company entirely a short time later.
10 Brutus Beefcake
Ed Leslie is seen as a punchline today, and rightfully so, but there was a time where he was actually in a high-profile tag team and capture gold in WWE. The Dream Team, comprised of Beefcake and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, were actually a successful pairing, managed by "Luscious" Johnny Valiant. In the mid-'80s, they were one of the top teams in all of wrestling, holding the WWE Tag Team Titles.
The team fell off quickly after their run with the titles, however, and when Beefcake was relegated to the singles ranks, it was clear his character was going to be used for comedic purposes only, not to contend with any title holders. It was ultimately the right move, as he never had the staying power to be a top-flight star.
9 David Hart Smith
The Hart Dynasty were able to capture the WWE Tag Team Titles, but were unsuccessful in any attempt at a repeat when they lost the straps to Cody Rhodes and Drew McIntyre. It wasn't long before Smith and Tyson Kidd were written into a brief feud with each other, and the team was over, which signified Smith's regression in the company.
Before long, he was almost exclusively on B-shows in the singles ranks, and his departure was imminent. It's a bit strange that WWE never gave him the opportunity for a legitimate run outside of the tag ranks, considering his father, Davey Boy Smith's success. Smith was pretty much dead weight outside of The Hart Dynasty, and he left for good in 2011.
8 Rene Dupree
It was clear that WWE wanted to use Dupree and La Resistance to give the tag division a jolt when they needed it most in the early-2000s. It was a necessary move, and the team was able to succeed on some level for a substantial amount of time. Many believed that Dupree was in line for a big push as a singles wrestler after they disbanded, but it actually made him a derivative heel character who wasn't able to sustain success.
Outside of the tag ranks, Dupree wasn't able to accomplish much of anything, and when he was moved to the ECW brand in 2006, his WWE run was pretty much caput. The company got some good mileage out of him, but Dupree's talent could only carry him so far.
7 Ken Shamrock
The crossover from MMA to the wrestling world hadn't yet happened in the late-90s, and Shamrock served as a precedent for all of the athletes to make the transition in the future. He was actually fairly successful considering his background. He was able to win the Intercontinental Title, and WWE was willing to give him a significant push, but only to a certain point.
They clearly weren't comfortable with a legitimate main title run for Shamrock, and he regressed after losing the title. His feud with The Rock is one of the notable clashes that ended up getting both wrestlers over, but one's success was far more notable than the other. In all, Shamrock's relevancy was short-lived in the long run, and he was gone by 1999.
6 Alberto Del Rio
WWE wanted Del Rio to become a top-flight star for the long-term, and that was obvious from the beginning. In what amounted to just several years with the company, he amassed a bevy of title wins, and actually has one of the most impressive resumes in the history of the company. It's strange to think now that Del Rio was such a major player in WWE, but that was certainly the case in the early-2010s, and he was consistently pushed through the roof.
But attitude problems led to an early demise for him in WWE, and he was let go in short order after alleged racist jokes and general conduct that wasn't suitable for a working environment. Del Rio went on to Impact Wresting, but his massive WWE push was squashed because of his own doing just months after being involved in major feuds in the title scene.
5 Cody Rhodes
Clearly, management thought that Rhodes was dead weight much earlier than he was. He held both the Tag Titles and Intercontinental Title on numerous occasions, and was one of the most visible WWE personnel figures for many years. But when creative latched the Stardust gimmick to him, Rhodes was clearly done in terms of being a relevant upper-tier member of the roster.
While the descent of Rhodes from the WWE roster was swift, it turned out that he had much more to offer in the business. He's been on fire in the indie scene recently, as well as making some appearances in NJPW, and it looks as though the second wind of his career is opening up. Perhaps WWE should have reconsidered letting him change his gimmick, and continued to use him as a vital part of the company for a few more years.
4 Bobby Lashley
Lashley was caught up in the United States Title scene around 2005, and when he captured the title, everyone thought WWE had a surefire main-eventer on their hands for the long-term. He had the look and the in-ring excitement to sustain a long career with the company, and all the signs were there for Lashley to become a major star.
Though he was also able to capture the ECW Heavyweight Title when he was moved to the brand, it also had a hand in killing his WWE run. As Lashley was off Raw, he became increasingly less significant as the year wore on. When he was eventually drafted back there, it was clear that he wasn't carrying the clout that he once had. After suffering an injury in 2008, he was gone from the company entirely six months later.
3 Gene Snitsky
The feud between Snitsky and Kane in 2004 was absolutely one of the most bizarre WWE maneuvers of all-time, and the fallout from it was equally perplexing. Putting a green and limited talent like Snitsky in an angle with one of the most revered WWE stars of his era seemed to signify that he was in line for a big push right away, but it never fully ended up coming to fruition.
Management as a whole overestimated the appeal of Snitsky's character. They thought the feud with Kane was going over well, so they were willing to give him significant air time right away. After the angle was finished, however, Snitsky never ascended past mid-card status, and was rendered irrelevant fairly quickly.
2 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Another talent that WWE gave up on far too soon, Roberts always seemed right on the cusp of breaking out into some kind of title run, but it never ended up happening. He had a feud for the Intercontinental Title with Randy Savage, and a big feud with Honky Tonk Man which culminated at WrestleMania III, but Roberts was always held back due to management's perception more than anything else.
Yet they ended up giving him some big matches in his early years with the company, never to fully capitalize on it. Roberts had a great finisher, excellent mic skills, an intriguing character, and good in-ring ability, but the opportunities he was given never translated into becoming the star that he really should have been. It's probably one of the biggest missteps in WWE history.
1 Sean O'Haire
Unfortunately for O'Haire, he was caught in the no-man's-land that was WWE, after the WCW buyout in 2001. He was mixed up with so much other talent, that his own abilities never were able to stand out, even though he could have become one of the biggest stars in the company. A natural with mic skills, and very good in the ring, he should have become a main-eventer in no time for WWE.
His Devil's Advocate character was just OK, and although he was certainly given plenty of air time and significant victories, the push was cut midway through. Once he was aligned with Roddy Piper, all the uniqueness of O'Haire and his character were quickly abandoned, and he essentially became a lower mid-carder almost overnight.
It was the wrong move on WWE's part to give up on the singles run so quickly, as O'Haire could have been a top-flight star for at least a few years if booked properly. Instead, what was a the beginning of a great push was let go in favor of burying him as Piper's subordinate, casting him off the in the mid-card. After sustaining an injury, O'Haire was let go in 2004.