We’ve heard it all before from WWE broadcasters and agents alike – “you haven’t been anywhere until you’ve wrestled in WWE.” It’s somewhat of a laughable statement, when you consider the past WCW, NWA, and promotions like NJPW, AJPW and even TNA during its early glory years. There are plenty of promotions to hone your craft as a wrestler, yet WWE feels like you haven’t exactly made it until you’ve stepped in their ring. It’s something they’ve been marketing for years, mainly to put their company on top of others when it comes to a wrestling ranking system.
For the most part, it’s true. WWE has a tight grip when it comes to television and PPV, thanks to the global expansion of Vince McMahon during the 1980s. Furthermore, there’s a specific style WWE expects its wrestlers to impose, and you can’t deny the prestige that comes with being a WWE wrestler. But that’s not to say that other wrestlers should be considered secondary by any means.
Unfortunately, that’s what we’ve been used to by WWE. The company insists its homegrown talent goes over a debuting wrestler time and time again, as well as guys (who will be mentioned on this list) who continuously find a way to go over. On top of that, over the course of numerous decades, we’ve also seen terrible business decisions and mishandlings of massive superstars that make the transition to New York, sometimes burying wrestlers who were massive stars in other rings across the globe. Other times, as fans, we just scratch our heads, wondering how they could misuse someone who should have amassed a world title instead of an embarrassing six-month run. In a lot of ways, these wrestlers had their talents wasted, as some were never able to recover from their horrendous WWE runs.
Here are a number of wrestlers that were massive stars that had their talents wasted by WWE:
15 Ricky Steamboat
Despite being in one of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time against Macho Man Randy Savage at The Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan at WrestleMania 3, Ricky Steamboat didn’t have much of a purpose years after coming back.
He would go on to have five star matches against the likes of Ric Flair in the NWA, and was a big main event player. In what seems like a vengeful tactic against NWA/WCW superstars now, Vince McMahon decided to have Steamboat come out as a “Dragon,” sporting a dumb costume while blowing flames out of his mouth before matches. He was an exceptional talent, and you definitely saw that in the ring, yet it wasn’t exactly what you’d expect from a guy who was going one hour almost every night against Ric Flair shortly before his WWE time. If you think about it, Steamboat was used as an attraction for regional shows like WWF Superstars, and wasn’t even noticed on PPVs in high profile matches.
14 The Freebirds
They were one of the hottest tag teams in wrestling history, literally living up to the rock star gimmick. Not only did they have legendary matches against the Von Erich boys, they were a main attraction all over the USA.
But when Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts made their way to WWE in 1984, they seemed like they were destined for failure. Apparently, the Freebirds were too much for the WWE locker room, getting into trouble everywhere they went. Andre The Giant were upset at them for arriving late to a show, which led to their departure, but they were gone too soon, and when you think about the wrestlers who came after them that caused similar trouble, it’s safe to say the Freebirds’ time was cut short. They did have themselves to blame, yet the Southern boys could have made magic in the ring against some of the tag teams of the 80s.
Vader was immediately billed as a monster when he debuted in Japan, defeating Antonio Inoki – who was the founder of NJPW – in just five minutes, ensuing a riot in Sumo Hall that resulted in the promotion being banned there for 2 years.
Much like his Japan run, Vader was a beast in WCW, challenging the likes of Sting, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, and when he came up short, he looked good doing so, which is the right way to build a heel without him taking too much of a blow when it came to his character.
Fast forward to 1996, and WWE had secured the services of Vader, who was equipped with the mouthy Jim Cornette by his side. But like WWE had done so many times before, they really messed up with the Mastodon. Unlike Sid Justice, who was more or less always in the WWE main event scene, and even won the company’s top title, Vader had a terrible WWE run, mainly because Shawn Michaels didn’t want to do the job to Vader at SummerSlam 1996. In a match infamous for Michaels’ outburst, Vader never recovered from it, and despite being in high profile matches against Bret Hart and The Undertaker, he became a strong mid-card wrestler when he should have at least won a world title and defended it a few times.
12 Steve Williams
Dr. Death’s best years were in AJPW, where he was a great heavyweight star. When he was brought into the WWE, his real life friend Jim Ross has handpicked him to win the Brawl For All tournament, the nasty boxing venture WWE thought would be a good idea. Even more so, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, legit martial artists, wouldn’t even be included in this tournament, because the general consensus would be that they would ultimately sweep the floor with WWE’s talents.
It turned out Bart Gunn, the tournament’s winner, brutally knocked out Steve Williams and ended Dr. Death’s hopes of making a huge impact by winning the tournament. The problem was nobody believed Williams to be the legit bad ass that he was after this whole ordeal. He wouldn’t last in WWE, and died several years later. Had that tournament never happened, Williams would have been a top heel for others to work with.
11 Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page was screwed from the get go – slated to be The Undertaker’s stalker, he tormented The Deadman’s ex-wife Sara, through a voice-changing mechanism in vignettes, sounding like a huge creep. It wasn’t that the angle was bad; it’s that this was a chance for Vince to shove it to WCW and its stars, making Taker squash DDP and having his brother Kane lay out the WCW talent when he teamed up with Kanyon, too.
If you think about DDP’s time in WCW, he started out as a heel, but he was one of those babyfaces who blurred the lines between both good and evil, and the fans loved him. Instead of having him flip the switch and simply use Sara to get to Taker to prove he was a better wrestler, he became a shell of himself and never recovered from that feud. He then went on to be a happy-go-lucky comedy gimmick, when it reality, DDP could have been one of the better technical brawlers WWE would ever sign.
10 The Brain Busters
Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were household names in NWA, part of the prestigious Four Horsemen faction. They were incredible talents, and when they came to WWE, it was only fitting that Bobby Heenan would be their manager.
Tully Blanchard had messed up and failed a drug test prior to Survivor Series 1989, which prompted WWE to let him go. But before the whole fiasco, the tandem had only won the tag titles once, and WWE really had a gem on their hands with the amazing tag team division they already had, including The Rockers, Demolition, Strike Force, and The Hart Foundation. You would think that the WWE would try and secure the Brain Busters as their go-to tag teams, since heels like Honky Tonk Man had such long reigns with titles. After Blanchard’s departure, Arn left for the NWA, and the team pretty much split up when Blanchard joined the AWA.
It’s true that Sabu was fired from WWE when news hit that he was arrested with RVD on the road, having a plethora of drugs on them, but it’s not like WWE did anything with him before that. Every time Sabu would hit an arena, appearing after the lights went out, fans went ballistic for him.
He had a great match against Rey Mysterio at the second One Night Stand PPV, which was a testament of how he could go. But WWE did not value his style and instead of having him work maniacal matches and bring a hardcore element to their ring, they wasted his talent, much like they did when he had a brutal SummerSlam match against Big Show – one of the worst in the PPV’s history.
The promotion wasn’t really keen on the ECW originals going over the new ECW talents, so it’s not like they gave Sabu a fair chance from the get go. But him and RVD could have definitely challenged some of WWE’s tag teams for their gold – they would have been the best one out of them all in an era where tag team wrestling was all but dead.
8 Mistico/Sin Cara
Sin Cara had a torrid time competing in WWE, botching almost every match to getting into real heat with Alberto Del Rio. But Mistico, Sin Cara’s character in Mexico, is completely different. Mistico is one of the greatest Lucha Libre wrestlers to ever grace the country, and despite looking kind of similar in the Sin Cara outfit, there is something mysterious and mystical about Mistico.
The problem is that WWE implements and values its own styles over anywhere else, which is understandable, but in this case, it really holds guys back. If Mistico wasn’t able to adapt to the WWE style, they should have listened and perhaps try to find an alternative, keeping him on the B-shows and in house shows trying to get it together. Instead, the original Sin Cara (since Hunico now dons the mask) will go down as one of WWE’ biggest failures ever.
7 Hakushi/Jinsei Shinzaki
Unless you only watched WWE growing up, it’s hard to believe that Hakushi, the Japanese sensation who was covered in head to toe in tattoos (kayfabe), was a huge star. In 1995, Hakushi debuted as a heel, and much like a lot of Japanese talents in WWE his true potential was wasted. He had some pretty good matches against Bret Hart and the 1-2-3 Kid, but when he turned face, he was resorted to jobbing against much lesser opponents alongside his newfound friend Barry Horowitz. His storyline departure included him leaving the WWE after being victim of the branding iron by Justin Hawk Bradshaw.
Jinsei Shinzaki, however, was completely different – having wrestled in AJPW and NJPW, he currently owns Michinoku Pro, and he even competed in ECW – along with the talented Hayabusa. He was a tag team champ in All Japan as well as Michinoku Pro, and instead of having him wither away in WWE, he could have started a tag team with someone like Owen Hart, who could have really brought out the best in him.
6 Kerry Von Erich
Better known in the WWE ring as the Texas Tornado, Kerry Von Erich came from the esteemed Texas wrestling family, the Von Erichs. Arguably the most talented, charismatic and brightest of the bunch when it came to his future, Kerry was scooped up by WWE, and while he was an Intercontinental Champion, and even had high profile tag matches, he was never quite the main event product that he was in the territories.
This might have to do with Vince McMahon’s obsession with trademarking, and wanting every wrestler of his to implement a gimmick that the boss could forever own. He was a shell of himself in WWE, and that may be because of the deaths of his brothers before him. If you think back on the family’s legendary feud with The Freebirds, and him being as popular as he was in the mid-80’s, it’s as if WWE didn’t know what they had on their hands. Not only was he a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, he also won over 20 titles under the Alliance’s umbrella.
5 Scott Steiner
“Big Poppa Pump” was slated to be a massive attraction when he resurfaced in WWE shortly after WCW’s Invasion angle. When the sound of the siren hit at Survivor Series 2002 in Madison Square Garden, fans popped huge for the returning star. He was one of the few missing pieces that hadn’t made the transition when most of his WCW peers did in mid-2001, being one of the more successful acts WCW had during their dark times before closing up shop.
The problem was WWE matched him up in a big feud against Triple H, who was World Heavyweight Champion at the time, and even though the latter wasn’t exactly keen on putting people over in during that part of his career, WWE didn’t do Steiner any favors by having him come up on the short end of the stick time and time again. Both wrestlers had terrible performances in their matches, and while Steiner came out on top against the likes of Test, it’s true that he wasn’t a great wrestler and his mic skills were atrocious, but a quick title win or even having him capture a secondary title (like the Intercontinental Championship) would have helped his cause.
4 The Great Sasuke
The Great Sasuke was simply astonishing to watch, mixing high profile aerial moves with sublime submission skills. When he was on excursion for WWE from Michinoku Pro in 1997, he ended up being part of the WWE's Light Heavyweight Championship tournament, to crown its inaugural titleholder.
Sasuke, though, bragged to Japanese media that he would win and only defend the belt in Japan, refusing to drop the title on WWR TV. He was fired from WWE, with Taka Michinoku, another product from the same Japanese promotion and someone Sasauke had beaten on WWE TV won the tourney instead.
Maybe Sasuke went into business for himself and ruined any possible chance of something good, but WWE could have made an angle out of this, turning Sasuke heel and having him work without wanted to defend the title. They could have even tended to Sasuke’s wishes and had the title defended on Japanese soil, furthering a partnership with Michinoku Pro.
3 Dusty Rhodes
Arguably the greatest United States Champion that ever lived, the son of a plumber Dusty Rhodes had monumental feuds against the likes of Ric Flair and Antonio Inoki to name a few, and was the flag bearer for the NWA for so many years. When the NWA’s territories dissolved and WCW began their operation, Dusty was a major player on the booking committee, and most respected him for the blood, sweat and tears that the likeable underdog put in over the years.
But for some reason, WWE wanted to make a mockery of Rhodes when he began his tenure in the late 80s-early 90s, dressing him up in yellow polka dots (which would become an iconic look for a tribute after his passing), and having him all but imitate an African-American with the lingo and all. Complete with his manager Sapphire, Rhodes was never elevated from the mid-card, even though he feuded with big names like Randy Savage and the Undertaker. It was ridiculous to watch someone who was a respected world champion being delegated to a gimmick like that one.
While Bill Goldberg did receive a successful push when he made his WWE debut (getting the better of The Rock), everyone recalls the abysmal idea for Triple H to retain his title at SummerSlam 2003 in the Elimination Chamber match, when Goldberg had all the reason to win. It would have solidified Goldberg as a monster (who was a wrecking machine during the match), and anything but him winning was a mistake. While he eventually did win the gold, fans started to sour on the WCW-bred superstar, and low profile feuds against the likes of Chris Jericho should have never happened.
Considering Goldberg was WCW’s best homegrown talent ever, WWE once again proved that they would rather have one of their own boys to topple someone else from a different company, for reasons only the Connecticut-based company can explain.
It’s interesting that Sting felt as if WWE wouldn’t know what to do with him had he signed for the company during the Invasion angle. He was by far the most anticipated debut a WWE could home for, since Sting was the biggest star in WCW history, or the most loyal, for that matter. He was The Undertaker for the company across the pond, and his signing never materialized for WWE. Instead, he took some time off and then decided to join rival and WCW offshoot TNA Wrestling.
So when Sting did make his debut for WWE after appearing at Survivor Series 2014, setting up a match against Triple H at WrestleMania 31, it was almost a lock that Sting would beat the former DX leader. Instead, after multiple interferences from that said group and the nWo, Triple H pinned Sting, angering fans across the world that felt the boss’ son-in-law once again decided to put himself over.
In his next match, it wasn’t so clear that Sting would best a young and blooming Seth Rollins at Night of Champions 2015 for the world title. Sting ended up being injured from a buckle bomb, never appearing in a ring to wrestle again. Going 0-2 in WWE wasn’t what everyone hoped for, yet it’s not like he had much left in the tank. Still, there were roles outside of being a wrestler that could have been filled, not to mention that going 1-1 in his short tenure would have been so much better.