Imagine yourself following a certain wrestler’s gimmick, character development, or storyline on WWE television. You may love it or hate it, but either way, there are times when WWE would suddenly drop such gimmicks or storylines with little to no on-air explanation. In many of those cases, the company’s hands were simply tied.
In order to qualify for this list, a gimmick or storyline must have been dropped by the WWE due to unexpected circumstances oftentimes, but not always beyond their control. Wrestlers getting fired, fans reacting the wrong way to an angle, and new hirings/re-hirings prompting a change of plans – these are just some of the variables that could force WWE to axe a gimmick or storyline and, in most cases, barely make mention of it ever again. We’ll also mention times when WWE’s creative decision-makers seemed all-in on someone, only for the main decision-maker (Vince McMahon, natch) to nix plans that are already playing out on television. On the other hand, we’re omitting gimmicks/storylines that never played out, e.g. the AJ Lee/Dean Ambrose mental institution love story, Vince’s “love” angle with Stephanie, and others that were not approved for TV.
So sit back and join us, as we bring you 20 gimmicks and storylines that WWE had no choice but to drop.
20. Muhammad Hassan
A talented youngster who made his WWE debut at the tender age of 23, the Italian-American Marc Copani was cast as angry Arab-American Muhammad Hassan, a new twist on the tried and tested foreign heel gimmick in the sense that Hassan hated his fellow Americans for being prejudiced against people of Arab origin. The gimmick got him massive heat from the WWE Universe, but a poorly-timed segment led to his eventual downfall, and his decision to retire from pro wrestling before he hit his mid-20s.
Even if the segment where Hassan’s prayers summoned a group of masked, implied terrorists didn’t air on the same day as the London bombings of 2005, it was still one that hit far too close to home, less than four years after the 9/11 tragedy. With SmackDown‘s network UPN crying foul over the segment, WWE threw Copani under the bus, unceremoniously writing off the Hassan character and firing him instead of repackaging him once the furor died down.
19. Enzo Amore’s Cruiserweight Reign Of Terror
This is the most recent example in this list, and it revolves around one of the most controversial WWE wrestlers in recent years. Late last year, Enzo Amore’s legitimate backstage heat may have been responsible for WWE’s decision to move him to the Cruiserweight Division, then turn him heel as he beat Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship. He didn’t change his catchphrases, ring music, or anything substantial about his character – it was Enzo being Enzo, but with a lot more cheating and cowardly tactics to match his new heel persona.
WWE believed that Amore’s main roster name recall would help draw attention to the Cruiserweight Division, and they were partially right – many fans were onboard as they booed a man who was such a natural at playing the cocky heel. But with WWE sacking Amore after a woman accused him of sexual assault, the company has effectively hit the reset button on the cruiserweights, with a new GM (Drake Maverick, fka Rockstar Spud), and a 16-man tournament to crown a new champion.
18. Hade Vansen
Who, or what is a Hade Vansen? Well, if you didn’t watch the December 12, 2008 episode of SmackDown, you probably have no idea. Vansen was an English wrestler whose debut vignette aired on that date, and it seemed as if WWE had big plans for him – the kid was calling out none other than the Deadman himself, The Undertaker! As it turned out, that was pretty much it for Vansen in the WWE, as he never stepped foot in the company’s ring, having been released shortly after his one and only vignette.
While WWE seemed to have no problem having Vansen go straight for the big names in his very first (and again, only) vignette, the company had an abrupt change of heart, as Vince McMahon reportedly saw him in person for the first time, and didn’t see him as being big (in size or in name) enough to pose a credible threat to the Phenom. We’ll have to agree with him on Vansen not being big in name, but would it have killed WWE to at least give him something to do after the ‘Taker angle was shot down?
17. The “Love Quadrangle”
It was a steaming hot mess from start to unexpected finish. Dolph Ziggler and an uncomfortably babyface Lana had terrible chemistry as an onscreen love team. As she didn’t have the charisma or mic skills Lana does, Summer Rae was a second-rate copycat of the real thing. Through it all, Rusev was awesome and unexpectedly entertaining on the mic, though like the other three participants, he didn’t benefit an iota from the storyline when it ended. And while fans collectively groaned and wished the “love quadrangle” mess would soon be over, you could almost hear Vince McMahon letting out his trademark chuckle as he watched it play out backstage.
The storyline did reach its merciful end, albeit with a lot of deus ex machina involved – that was because Lana confirmed to TMZ that she and Rusev, who had broken up on TV, were engaged in real life. Up to now, her push has yet to recover, and it’s only now that WWE seems willing once again to give the Bulgarian Brute another chance to move up the card.
16. “Devil’s Advocate” Sean O’Haire
In the last few years of WCW, Sean O’Haire emerged as one of the top young talents to watch, and the sentiment remained the same during the ill-fated Invasion angle. All he needed was something interesting to do once the Invasion nonsense ended. That came in the form of his “Devil’s Advocate” gimmick, which he teased in a series of highly entertaining vignettes early in 2003. He did get to play the gimmick on SmackDown, coercing Spanky (later Brian Kendrick) and Dawn Marie into acts of indecent exposure. Truly, he wasn’t telling them anything they didn’t know.
Then came Roddy Piper, who returned to the WWE in April of that year, and took O’Haire on as his protege. With WWE thinking that the Hot Rod could give O’Haire more of a rub, the Devil’s Advocate gimmick was shelved without fanfare. With that, he became little more than one of the guys, and with a motorcycle accident sidelining him in November, he was gone from the WWE in 2004. His is a case of “what could have been” that’s especially poignant, considering his subsequent battles with substance abuse, and how he killed himself in 2014, aged only 43.
15. Friar Ferguson
Religion is often a very touchy subject in the world of professional wrestling, though that hasn’t stopped WWE from stunts such as booking “God” to team up with Shawn Michaels against the McMahons, and giving “Him” an 0-1 career record, as Michaels lost that match. Years before that, the company actually tried to add “wrestling monk” to its growing list of occupational gimmicks, debuting former WCW and Stampede Wrestling big man Mike Shaw as Friar Ferguson. He was on TV for such a brief period of time that it’s hard to tell if he was supposed to be a face or a heel.
You can blame (or thank) the Catholic Church of New York for that, as they vocally complained about the gimmick, forcing WWE to take Shaw off television for a repackaging. But let’s go back to the last sentence for a moment – we’re inclined to choose “blame” rather than “thank,” because Shaw returned a few months later as the slovenly, disgusting Bastion Booger.
14. The Meta Powers
Instead of putting him over once again as a mid-card threat, the WWE had Damien Sandow lose his feud with The Miz, upon which he seemingly retired his impersonator/”Mizdow” gimmick, only to start imitating Curtis Axel line for line as they engaged in a rather meaningless feud. The two would then form an alliance, with Axel continuing his “AxelMania” gimmick as a Hulk Hogan impersonator, and Sandow truly back to his old ways as the Randy Savage-knockoff “Macho Mandow.” Together they were the Meta Powers, and while they were a jobber tag team, at least they were still entertaining as comedy lower-carders.
That all ended in July 2015, as the real Hulk Hogan was fired by the WWE over those infamous leaked racist comments. As the company wanted to distance itself from the Hulkster, AxelMania ground to a halt, as Mr. Perfect’s kid continued jobbing it out in the singles ranks as his old self. But at least Axel still showed up television, and was later on a Social Outcast – Sandow fell even further down the card and was barely seen on TV, with no semblance of a defining gimmick by the time WWE cut him loose in the spring of 2016.
13. Jack Swagger: From Future Champ To “We(ed) The People”
Just when you thought Jack Swagger was finished and probably due for future endeavors, he returned in early 2013, accompanied by Dutch Mantel as the Tea Party-spoofing Zeb Colter, and revitalized as a xenophobic top-tier heel. The All-American American was put in a feud against Alberto Del Rio, and the original plan was for the immigrant-bashing Swagger to beat the Pride of Mexico at WrestleMania XXIX and become a two-time World Heavyweight Champion.
Unfortunately, with Swagger busted in February for DUI and marijuana possession, WrestleMania XXIX was the beginning of the end for his push. After losing to Del Rio at ‘Mania, he still had a bit of a push as one-half of the Real Americans tag team with Cesaro, but a babyface turn plunged him into total irrelevance. Swagger asked for his release early in 2017, and, aside from his usual indie bookings, he’s due to make his MMA debut in Bellator’s heavyweight division later this year.
12. The Kat Joins Right To Censor
Jerry Lawler’s ex-wife, Stacy “The Kat” Carter, wasn’t much of a wrestler. But in an era where bra-and-panties and evening gown matches were par for the course for women’s wrestlers, she was pushed heavily by the WWE, even winning herself one Women’s Championship. By 2001, she was feuding with the moral guardians of Right to Censor, fighting for her “right to nudity,” which, of course, capitalized on her exhibitionist shenanigans at WrestleMania 2000, where she unashamedly showed off her “puppies” to the Anaheim crowd.
The storyline with Right to Censor led to The Kat forced to join the uptight faction, as she had inadvertently cost Lawler a match against stable leader Steven Richards at No Way Out. However, she was fired just a couple days later. According to Lawler, this was because creative really wasn’t planning to have her join the RTC after all, thereby having nothing for her. There are, however, several allegations claiming that WWE simply had enough of The Kat’s backstage attitude, which, to be honest, makes more sense considering her abrupt dismissal from the company.
11. The Tom Magee Experiment
It’s no secret that Vince McMahon likes his main eventers to be jacked, ripped, shredded, or whatever adjective you can think of to describe his big, sweaty pet projects. Canadian bodybuilder-turned-wrestler Tom Magee was one of those pet projects, as Vince rushed to sign him in 1986, despite having precious little experience competing in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. Much to Bret Hart’s chagrin, he was asked to do the job to Magee at a television taping, with Vince knowing that Bret, even at his young age back then, could get a good match out of practically anybody.
Indeed, the Hitman knew what others didn’t, as he was familiar with Magee from his brief stint in Stampede – the guy could barely tell a wristlock from a wristwatch. But the WWE soon cottoned on to Magee’s lack of experience and in-ring talent, as the arrival of The Ultimate Warrior (who wasn’t that much better in-ring, but much more charismatic nonetheless) turned the “MegaMan,” as he was called, into a hardly-utilized afterthought.
10. Natalya’s Relationship With The Great Khali
Soon after her flatulence gimmick, well, went over like a fart in church, Natalya was given yet another talent-wasting gimmick, as she was paired up with The Great Khali, with Hornswoggle serving as the kayfabe couple’s sidekick/mascot. This was one faction that had no chance of getting over, and smart fans knew that a Khali/Nattie love team made absolutely no sense. It was common knowledge, after all, that Natalya had been dating Tyson Kidd since they were teenagers. And we haven’t even told you yet about all that bad dancing.
Two things happened in the summer of 2013 that forced WWE to separate the two onscreen lovebirds. One, Nattie and Tyson finally tied the knot in June. Two, Total Divas premiered in July, and that show prominently featured their adventures and misadventures as a newly married couple. There was no way anyone was going to buy Khali as Nattie’s love interest, and as far as WWE is concerned these days, those two had never dated.
9. Mr. Kennedy As Vince’s Illegitimate Son
In retrospect, Ken Anderson was perfect for the role in question. His arrogant Mr. Kennedy gimmick was over with the fans. He was legitimately talented in the ring and on the mic. His in-ring surname was the same as Vince McMahon’s middle name. And while we’ll be dealing separately with the storyline that would have led to his reveal as Vince’s kayfabe illegitimate son, we’re going to focus here on how Kennedy (KEN-NE-DY!) blew his shot at playing what could have been a career-defining role.
Much to WWE officials’ (and fans’) dismay, Kennedy was suspended shortly before the big reveal due to a Wellness Policy violation. But missing out on a potentially big-time character twist was just the tip of the iceberg for the pride of Green Bay, Wisconsin. His role went to Hornswoggle, and since that further muddled up an already convoluted storyline, ‘Swoggle’s status as an illegitimate McMahon was retconned, as months later, it was announced that he was actually Finlay’s kid. Oh well.
Why try to fix something that isn’t broken? Although Emma’s momentum in the WWE was often stalled by nagging injuries, her “Evil Emma” gimmick was fine as it is, and miles better than the silly dancing gimmick she started out with. Then again, we’re guessing WWE thought Alexa Bliss was doing such a great job playing the mean girl, that the company decided to repackage Emma for her post-brand split debut, making her over into a vain, old-school “Diva” character called Emmalina.
For SEVENTEEN WEEKS, fans had to wait for Emmalina to make her debut on Monday Night Raw, and when she finally did, it was only to announce the “makeover from Emmalina to Emma.” Allegedly, this was because WWE’s creative team wasn’t happy with how she was rehearsing the gimmick. It only added to Emma’s frustration, and while she’s now a cautionary tale for wrestlers who choose to rant about creative on social media, you can’t blame her for being miffed at how WWE was wasting her talent through such nonsense.
7. Heel Michael Cole
It started out small, with snide remarks against Daniel Bryan during the first season of NXT‘s game show version. Soon, he was sucking up to Bryan’s mentor, The Miz, at every possible opportunity. Michael Cole’s heel turn eventually saw him feud with, then get in the ring against Jerry Lawler, interrupt Divas matches, become the annoying spokesman of the Anonymous Raw General Manager, and have his own personal announce booth unimaginatively dubbed the “Cole Mine.” To this day, no announcer has gotten on the nerves of the WWE Universe like heel Michael Cole did from 2010 to 2012.
Despite feuding so intensely with Lawler that he insulted the King’s recently-deceased mother, Cole recognized his fellow announce table veteran as a real-life friend, and went out of his way to break character when Lawler suffered a heart attack on Monday Night Raw. That essentially ended Cole’s run as a heel, while also earning him the respect of fans who appreciated his efforts to keep them updated during Lawler’s medical emergency.
6. Heel Jim Ross, Parts 1 And 2
While Michael Cole’s heel turn was, in a way, quite effective, the WWE simply couldn’t turn Jim Ross into a convincing villain. He was first turned heel in 1996 so he could help them troll WCW by debuting the fake Razor Ramon and Diesel. Soon enough, both impostors were soon reduced to lower-card status, while Good Ol’ J.R. was quietly switched back to his familiar babyface role, with nary a mention of his beef with Vince McMahon, whom he outed as WWE owner as part of his heel turn.
Three years later, WWE tried once again to turn the beloved J.R. into a bad guy, as he took on “Dr. Death” Steve Williams as his personal enforcer, and took his frustrations out on a young Michael Cole, who had replaced him behind the announce table due to a real-life Bell’s palsy attack. That heel turn ended quickly as well, and all you had to do was to see how the fans cheered when Ross floored Cole with a nut shot – the exact opposite reaction of what WWE was hoping for.
5. Brock Lesnar’s Feud With Shane McMahon
Looking back, this rivalry didn’t make much sense, considering both men were on different brands. But the seeds were being planted at SummerSlam 2016, as Brock Lesnar laid a savage beating on SmackDown Live commissioner Shane McMahon, who had tried to stop the Beast from further bloodying Randy Orton at the end of their main event match. This was supposed to lead to both men squaring off at WrestleMania 33. But something happened on the way to Shane O’Mac’s trip to Suplex City, and that was the unexpected WWE return of one Bill Goldberg.
With Goldberg signing a short-term deal with WWE later that year, WWE had him feud with Lesnar instead, starting with an 86-second squash victory over Brock at Survivor Series. The Goldberg vs. Lesnar trilogy (which, of course, got off on the wrong foot more than a decade earlier at WrestleMania XX) ended at ‘Mania 33, with Brock going over in a quick, but decent match, while Shane had a surprisingly good match earlier in the card, losing against AJ Styles and helping solidify the Phenomenal One’s face turn.
4. Kerwin White
Chavo Guerrero has played a number of questionable gimmicks in his long wrestling career. He became an Amway salesman in WCW, and also became the second Guerrero (after uncle Hector, aka the Gobbledygooker) to wear a bird costume in the WWE, as the Swagger Soaring Eagle. But those indignities paled in comparison to Kerwin White, the character Chavo played in 2005 as he renounced his Mexican heritage in favor of identifying as a middle-class white man. His catchphrase, “if it’s not (Kerwin) White, it’s not right,” and his feuds with non-white wrestlers said it all – the gimmick was tasteless and racist.
After losing his rivalry with Shelton Benjamin, White hired the future Spirit Squad Nicky/Dolph Ziggler to act as his caddy/enforcer, and WWE still had no plans to put the gimmick to rest. Unfortunately, it was the tragic death of Chavo’s uncle Eddie that forced WWE to have Chavo play himself once again, though that didn’t stop them from involving him in the “Eddiesploitation” storylines that soon followed.
3. Batista’s Road To WrestleMania XXX
WWE loves showcasing part-timers in the road to, and during WrestleMania. So when the company brought back Batista toward the end of 2013, plans were made to give him another world championship run at WrestleMania XXX, with the Animal playing the babyface and defeating former Evolution stablemate Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Thing is, fans saw through these plans early on, when they took a hot dump on his Royal Rumble win, mere weeks into his WWE return.
Of course, it was Daniel Bryan whom the WWE Universe wanted as their conquering hero at WrestleMania, considering how Orton and/or The Authority had screwed him multiple times in the second half of 2013. Recognizing the power of the “Yes! Movement,” the WWE made last-minute plans to acquiesce to the fans by giving Bryan the big title win at ‘Mania, and turning the surprisingly unpopular “Bootista” into a heel. That left a bad taste in Big Dave’s mouth, as he left the company in mid-2014, severely disappointed by what he felt WWE had become.
2. The Ringmaster
When the former “Stunning” Steve Austin made his WWE debut early in 1996, it looked like the company was all ready to waste his talent and potential, as he was debuted as The Ringmaster, Ted DiBiase’s new Million Dollar Champion. Up to now, we still have no idea what kind of character he was supposed to be – all we saw was a guy who seemed excited to be out there in “TV land,” and while technically sound, used his manager’s finisher, the Million Dollar Dream, instead of something he could call his own. You know, like that move that partly takes its name from his WCW moniker.
Not surprisingly, Austin wasn’t impressed by the gimmick WWE had slapped him with, and he almost instantly asked that his character be tweaked. With its hand forced, WWE gave him all sorts of stupid ring name suggestions to match the cold-blooded, antisocial character he wanted to play, but sanity prevailed when he was allowed to go by the name “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Thank goodness, because Chilly McFreeze or Otto Von Ruthless would have certainly been downgrades from being The Ringmaster.
1. Vince McMahon’s “Demise”
And Vince McMahon loved sports entertainment so much that he decided to fake his death on television so convincingly that some outlets thought it was for real. That’s as close as we could get to “Vince 3:16,” and it aptly describes the limo explosion that ostensibly killed Mr. McMahon on the June 11, 2007 Monday Night Raw. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Kennedy was slated to play Vince’s illegitimate son later on in the storyline, though the role later went to Hornswoggle, and an elaborate three-hour memorial show was planned for the June 25 Raw.
In a completely unexpected development, the WWE ended up using that show to pay tribute to Chris Benoit, who, together with his wife and young son, was found dead earlier that day. Vince did, as scheduled, disappear from television after informing ECW viewers later that week that the WWE was aware of the circumstances behind the Benoit family murder-suicide. He returned in August to continue the illegitimate child part of the storyline, but could only provide a weak explanation to justify how he faked being “blown to smithereens” in the limo explosion.
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