It is of primary importance that any wrestling promotion attempt to create new stars on a regular basis. This is an age-old rule in the business, and we've the lack of intent to do it sink many companies over the years. For most wrestlers, there lies a set period of time where they can be a legitimate main event draw. After that, there needs to be a new wrestler on the ascent ready to take their place. It's the best way to sustain a promotion throughout multiple decades, and requires the consistent creation of new stars.
So naturally, it's not always going to work out. For one reason or another, a wrestler slated to be a main event figure isn't always going to see the process through. It could be through his general lack of talent, but it could also be the result of poor booking, among other things that are out of his control. We've certainly seen a lot over the years, so let's take a look at some at some would-be stars that just couldn't maintain their place at the top.
Raked below are 8 failed main eventers who actually had potential, and 7 who were absolutely awful.
15. Potential: Vader
On the ascent by the time he joined WWE in 1996, the plan for Vader was to put him in the main event scene as a monster heel that could actually put on a good match. After all, he had shown the ability to do that in WCW, becoming one of the foremost stars in the company over that time, and it was assumed that the transition to WWE would be in his best career interest.
While Vader had plenty of opportunity after the signing, much of the direction he was taken in was the result of haphazard booking. He'd have shots at both the WWE Title and WWE Tag Titles, but come up short on every occasion, and the transition between feuds was not well-executed. Vader left in 1998 due to his frustration, and would go on to Japan, where he was a decidedly better fit. WWE really dropped the ball on this, having a chance to make one of the best big-men ever into a certified star for the company.
14 Awful: Scott Steiner
Steiner's aspirations as a singles wrestler were always a little more than he could realistically handle, at least while being able to keep up the quality of his work. There's no doubt that his tag team resume is up there with the best of all-time, but WCW's decision to push him as a singles star seemed out of desperation, and Steiner's act grew stale very quickly.
While he accumulated the title reigns, there was simply no greatness behind any of the work. Steiner's character seemed contrived, and his in-ring work was just average at best most of the time. His new bulked-up look made him seem more cartoonish than anything, and the whole thing just didn't mesh. Overall, "Big Poppa Pump" is seen as a hallmark of WCW's dying days, instead of anything resembling a great champion.
13 Potential: Bobby Lashley
Coming along at one of the worst times in WWE history as far as booking was concerned, Lashley was lumped into a mid-2000s scene that had little direction or purpose, and after an initial push that saw him win the United States Title, he was on the decline, his career marred by bad booking decisions. When he was transferred to the ill-fated redux of the ECW brand, his career in WWE was just about caput.
Lashley was definitely something different at the time, and there had to be a better effort to get him over, and put him in situations that would lend a hand in doing so. There was never a full commitment to make him a star, just the tendency to put him as a title contender when it was convenient. Lashley would have an up-and-down career after leaving WWE, but this was his best chance at real success.
12 Awful: Jack Swagger
It's clear that WWE wanted Swagger to be a massive star that they could build the company around for years to come, considering how quickly his ascent to title-relevance was. First winning the ECW Title upon his debut, he went on to quickly win the World Heavyweight Title a short time later. But his character was always just so-so, and he just wasn't a believable champion.
Swagger always seemed to be a conglomeration of other, more popular wrestlers, instead of cultivating his own persona that could carry him for an extended period of time. He would get knocked down the card, until he was nothing more than a filler wrestler on B-shows. By early-2017, he was granted his request to be released from his WWE contract.
11 Potential: Jeff Jarrett
Double J's career has always been assisted by the fact that his father Jerry essentially ran the Memphis territories, and it allowed Jarrett to elevate his career far more than it would have been on his own merits. In both WCW and TNA when he was put into a main event role (or elected himself into a main event role), Jarrett never could never draw squat, and it was abundantly clear that he wasn't talented enough for that kind of spotlight.
Though he was undoubtedly good enough in the ring, and he had a degree of personality to his character. The problem was that ego always got in the way, and it didn't allow for Jarrett to produce as well as he could have. In reality, he was an upper-mid-carder masquerading as the top-dog, and it caused both WCW and TNA to suffer when they needed help the most.
10 Awful: Matt Morgan
WWE and TNA were both licking their chops at the thought of Morgan being a long-term main-eventer. He's the kind of wrestler that just looks good on TV; somebody that mainstream promotions covet, regardless of whether or not they can wrestle or cut promos. Well, Morgan couldn't do either of those things, and it really limited the kind of storylines he could be involved in with either company.
TNA tried to break him out moreso than WWE did, but they never were quite able to do it, despite a myriad of different angles and feuds for him to work with. The fact was that Morgan simply wasn't very good, and couldn't be trusted with consistent main event-caliber work, no matter how much management wanted it to happen.
9 Potential: Kevin Nash
Nash stands as one of the distinct few who were able to be a certified main-eventer in both WWE and WCW, but in both companies he was always booked just slightly better than his talent level. There's no about that he was more interesting and could work a better match than many big-men of the time, but oftentimes the booking would overshoot his capabilities. Nash was good in conjunction with other good talent, but if left to carry the bulk of the weight on his own, he was definitely worse off.
It only made matters worse when he essentially became the booker of WCW in the late-90s. Putting Nash into a managerial role served no purpose, since he really had no idea what he was doing. It was just one of the many factors that sank the company, and made it become a free-for-all. Kept in check, Nash was a solid talent, but otherwise he was a liability.
8 Awful: Ryback
A failure of epic proportions, and one of the most derivative wrestlers in recent memory, Ryback's outright ripoff of Goldberg was one of the most cringeworthy things seen in modern wrestling. And that's saying something, all things considered.
Worse yet, he actually got a chance with the Intercontinental Title and was involved in the mix for the WWE Title as well. It was clear that management wanted to push Ryback through the roof. He's pretty much a generic template for a WWE star. The issue was that he had no talent, so even though he was handed the IC strap, as soon as he lost it, it was abundantly clear that he didn't deserve the opportunity to rise to the very top of the roster. Ryback's push was a mistake from the very beginning.
7 Potential: Mr. Kennedy
Kennedy was the best United States Champion that WWE had seen up to that point in 2005, and his unique mic skills combined with formidable in-ring skills created a potential standout star. It was clear that management saw this, but they waited to long to push Kennedy into the WWE Title scene. Like so many others, he was eventually lost in the ECW brand scene, which wasn't getting the attention that WWE had hoped when they decided to relaunch it.
From there, Kennedy's tenure with the company was nowhere near what it could have been. Foolishly, he was getting jobbed out to wrestlers who were aging, instead of putting over the young star in Kennedy. In 2009, he was released from his contract, allegedly due to being unsafe in the ring, and he was never to be seen in WWE again.
6 Awful: Lex Luger
Despite many attempts to get Luger over in the biggest way possible, he was never more than a lukewarm main-eventer. While he had the look, and certainly wasn't the worst in the ring, he never did have the "X factor" that was present in so many other stars of the '90s. Particularly in WWE, Luger's time at the top of the card may represent the worst of the decade.
Luger was always best when he was a supplement (no pun intended) to the top of the card, instead of one of the main attractions. So much of his career just felt forced, and in the end, he never was able to reach the heights that many thought he would early on in his career.
5 Potential: Goldberg
Obviously, Goldberg was a rousing success in the beginning of his career, and became a phenomenon in the wrestling world. The problem was that it was a relatively short shelf-life. He was shoehorned into the dying days of WCW when he should have been taking the next step, and it permanently hindered his growth into being a consistent main event talent.
But he was actually a better overall talent than many are willing to remember. He had tons of charisma, was legitimately intimidating, and had the potential to be carried to a very good match. In all, Goldberg was simply entertaining, even though he didn't have the resume of some other main-eventers. There was a ton of potential there, but the buyout, along with WCW's failure created too much chaos to capitalize on it. By the time he made a return to WWE in 2003, it was too late, though he did have a surprisingly solid return in late 2016, despite being 50-years-old at that time.
4 Awful: The Ultimate Warrior
In his time, the Warrior was one of the biggest stars in the business, and was one of the hallmark characters for an entire era of WWE. There's no denying his stardom, and that he was more over than anyone else of his era, barring just a few. That doesn't make him a great main event talent however, and really, the Warrior was always going to have limited shelf-life.
The problem was, once you with a character that extreme, it's difficult to alter it in any way to give it longevity. Once the Warrior won the Intercontinental Title and WWE Title, there wasn't much else for him to do. He was billed as a lunatic, and started on the upper end of the roster. There was no buildup to give him any nuances to his gimmick. Once he fell, he fell quickly, and never rose to prominence in another promotion ever again.
3 Potential: Billy Gunn
WWE toyed with the idea of giving Gunn a huge singles push, and for a while, it looked like it was about to take off. But switching him back and forth between the tag division didn't help him any, and he never became the frontline star that they perhaps thought he could be.
Part of the issue was that he was so tenured with the company, that it would have looked like recycling an old star. Gunn debuted in 1993, and by the time the early-2000s came around, he already had some many feuds under his belt with various gimmicks, that it was difficult to cultivate new ones that meant anything. Always one of the more charismatic WWE stars, Gunn's push came several years too late to make an impact.
2 Awful: Mabel
For a brief time in 1995, Mabel was pushed to the moon, slated to become the next big-man heel in the company. He won the King Of The Ring that year, and everything appeared in line for a huge ascent to the top of the card. WWE wasn't working with the best personnel at that point, but it looked like they were going all-in.
Then, some disputes over Mabel's in-ring work surfaced, and he was quietly pushed down the card, until he eventually departed, only to return as Viscera a few years later. It was really a blessing in disguise, because he was an even worse wrestler in the mid-'90s than he would be later on. Shoddy in-ring mechanics cost him a chance at the top, though it figured to be a brief stint anyway.
1 Potential: Sid Vicious
Perhaps no other legitimate star transferred promotions more times than Vicious did, and he did so under numerous monikers, appearing under the moniker of Sycho Sid, Sid Justice and the aforementioned Vicious. He's one of the few to hold the WWE and WCW Title on multiple occasions, and seemed to be omni-present throughout the decade.
His nomadic ways however, always prevented him from getting as over as he could have been. After a year or so in any given company, he would always jump ship somewhere else, never giving him the time to establish legitimate rivalries and marquee feuds. He was a powerhouse of a wrestler, had a distinct look, and was intimidating enough on the mic for a heel, but he was simply never around long enough to become a consistent star in any one place.
In reality, Vicious is better than many like to remember, and he was at one time one of the top heels in the business. Had he stuck around in either WWE or WCW for a greater length of time, his fortunes and legacy would have been much greater.