There’s a long history of second, or even third generation wrestlers thriving in the wrestling business. Performers like The Rock, Barry Windham, and Dustin Rhodes all proved themselves to be historically great. Meanwhile, contemporary stars like Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, and Charlotte Flair continue to prove the benefits of coming from a wrestling family. Not to take anything away from these individuals’ talents or hard work, but having their family name behind them and growing up in a culture of wrestling offered them a huge leg up on setting them up for successful wrestling careers.
Not every second generation wrestlers pans out, however. Consider the case of Bruno Sammartino and his son David. The two looked a lot alike, and even worked some matches as a tag team, or with Bruno working has kid’s corner man. David never had his father’s charisma, though, and was hurt by WWE shifting its aesthetics and creative direction just as David was coming up, away from more realistic wrestling in favor of super heroes and larger than life personalities like Hulk Hogan. So, while Bruno was the longest reigning WWE Champion of all time, David’s biggest claim to fame is probably having worked a match that went to a draw at the original WrestleMania.
This article takes a look at ten current wrestlers who, despite coming from wrestling families, don’t stand much chance of real stardom with WWE at this point. On the flip side, we’ll also take a look at five second generation talents who have already achieved some degree of success and have legitimate potential to become bigger stars with WWE in the years to come.
15 No Future: Curtis Axel
Curtis Axel is the son of Curt Hennig, better known to WWE fans as Mr. Perfect. Axel enjoyed some success earlier in his WWE career, including when he was rebranded from Michael McGillicutty to his current moniker and booked to defeated Triple H and John Cena on episodes of Raw.
Whether it’s a matter of charisma, his look, or the booking around him, he never quite got over.
Axel’s job is safe, not just for his family lineage, but for being a trusted, respected worker who, among other things, was charged with working one-on-one with The Rock behind the scenes to get him back in ring shape for WrestleMania XXVIII. Nowadays, though, he’s mostly spinning his wheels working as a sidekick for The Miz. There comes a point when a guy is so established at a certain level for fans as well as management that there’s very little opportunity for career advancement. Unless something radical happens, Axel seems destined to never exceed the lower mid-card in WWE.
14 No Future: David Benoit
Chris Benoit tragically took the life of his youngest son the same weekend he did so to his wife and himself. He had an older son, David, however, who was not involved in the family catastrophe. He lived on and decided to go into wrestling himself.
Word is that David is skilled and in many ways resembles his father. Generally speaking, if a young worker emulates his former WrestleMania main event winning father, that’s a surefire ticket to at least a brief run with WWE.
Unfortunately, no matter how good David may be, his family name and his look are likely going to disqualify him from ever getting a WWE contract.
The Benoit tragedy is one of the biggest black eyes WWE has ever suffered, and it’s hard to imagine WWE will ever take a risk on his son, if only for the degree to which it would remind fans of what happened back in 2007.
13 Can Still Make It: Bray Wyatt
There’s a fair argument that Bray Wyatt has already made it, as a WWE Superstar going on five years, who has won a WWE Championship, and worked one on one WrestleMania matches opposite no lesser stars than The Undertaker, John Cena, and Randy Orton. However, for all of his successes, and all the times he’s been featured, Wyatt’s character has also by and large felt directionless, moving in circles and often culminating anticlimactic matches and moments. Most recently, he’s felt completely bogged down in back to back meandering rivalries with Finn Balor and now Matt Hardy.
The son of IRS is good worker and can be a great talker when he has something to say.
The good news is he’s still young, and has one of the most distinctive gimmicks in WWE. If WWE ever does figure out a more coherent direction for him, or pulls the trigger on his face turn, there’s a lot of potential for the character to still reach new heights.
12 No Future: Lacey Von Erich
The Von Erichs are one of the most famous wrestling families in history. While their lineage is littered with tragedies—suicides and accidental deaths that withered a way a vibrant generation of brothers—those issues happened away from WWE, and the family name remains generally respected in WWE circles. Kerry was the lone Von Erich to have a sustained run with WWE, and his daughter Lacey had the opportunity to work in the developmental system for a spell.
The trouble with Lacey is that, while she’s got a pretty face, she has never demonstrated much aptitude for in ring performance or skill on the mic. After the WWE developmental run, she had her most famous tenure with TNA which only confirmed her limitations as a performer. Most recently, she showed up on Steve Austin’s podcast, touting a new women’s promotion she was starting up, working with Brooke Hogan and other daughters of wrestling stars. The interview came across as completely tone deaf, as Lacey seemed unaware of WWE’s “Women’s Evolution” of recent years. If her comments there were any indication, there’s not much reason for optimism about the new business venture.
11 No Future: Ted DiBiase Jr.
The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase is a true icon in WWE history—a terrific heel who was featured in one of the hottest period’s in the company’s history, and a universally respected ring general. His son, Ted DiBiase Jr., got ample opportunities to succeed in WWE, including being booked in Randy Orton’s Legacy stable and working a memorable rivalry alongside Cody Rhodes against DX. Unfortunately, a combination of the son’s limitations as a performer, and erratic booking meant that he never really got over despite years of trying.
DiBiase Jr. has reportedly moved on from wrestling to concentrate on his family and private business ventures.
After the middling success of his WWE tenure, and given he’s not getting any younger or taking any recognizable steps to further his wrestling skills, there’s little chance he’ll ever surface for WWE again in any meaningful capacity.
10 Can Still Make It: Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes worked the first decade of his professional wrestling career under the WWE banner. His father was Dusty Rhodes, and his older half-brother was Goldust, so there was very real reason for optimism about his potential. While he fought an uphill battle against being a relatively physically small wrestler, he made the most of opportunities. He was never treated as a guy with main event potential, but thrived in a range of gimmicks and roles.in the mid-card.
Cody left WWE after his father passed on, and claimed his dad advised him to leave sooner. The rationale was that he wasn’t getting big opportunities with WWE, so he’d might as wel hone his craft and prove his worth elsewhere. Cody has succeeded at just that, performing nicely for Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and a variety of indies. While size and age aren’t necessarily on his side, Cody has been doing well for himself, and has a foundation of stellar skills he’s only building upon. He may never be a WWE main eventer, but could certainly thrive if the company were to ultimately bring him back for an NXT run, or one last tour of the mid-card.
9 No Future: Bo Dallas
Bo Dallas was a star in WWE’s developmental system, and a test case for what NXT could do as he transformed from too goody two shoes to a heel who riffed off how naturally annoying that gimmick was. After a solid run as NXT Champion, he got his second berth onto the main roster—only to fall completely flat.
Despite being the son of well-tenured heel and current agent IRS, and the brother of the better featured Bray Wyatt, Dallas simply hasn’t found his footing on the main roster.
After four years, and having settled into the role of a stooge for The Miz, there’s not much reason for optimism about Dallas’s long term prospects. At best, his in ring talents and family connections may keep him afloat under contract for years to come, but it doesn’t look like he’ll escape the lower mid card.
8 No Future: Richie Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat is one of the best respected wrestlers in history, who put on true all time classics of the late 1980s opposite Randy Savage and Ric Flair. The Dragon was somehow still about go twenty years later and over decade post-retirement, when he got back in the squared circle for a program with Chris Jericho. When word got around that he had a son who was a successful amateur wrestler and who had designs on going pro, there was understandably reason for optimism about what the next generation Steamboat might accomplish.
While Steaboat did reasonably well in the fledgling days of NXT, nagging back injuries waylaid his career and ultimately forced him into retirement in 2015.
More recently, the younger Steamboat has made mention in interviews that he’s healed up and may make another go of it, but at 30 years of age, and after a middling first run with WWE’s developmental system, the ship has probably sailed on his WWE career prospects.
7 Can Still Make It: Carmella
Unlike a lot of the names on this list, Carmella’s father wasn’t exactly a legend, but rather a regularly used WWE enhancement talent, billed as Paul Van Dale. There’s little question that the original Ms. Money in the Bank has already exceeded her father’s legacy by a number of measures. Still, the argument could also be made that she has stalled out, not being considered a believable challenge to the top women in the division, and supplanted by the Riott Squad for a top up and comer position.
For Carmella, however, there is still plenty of potential to succeed. As of press time, she still has the Money in the Bank briefcase in play, and given that the SmackDown women’s division is relatively wide open , there is room for her to move up. Moreover, as an attractive woman who has improved in the ring, she’ll likely still have a spot, and plenty of opportunities for years to come.
6 No Future: Jesse White
Big Van Vader is widely regarded as one of the greatest super heavyweights in pro wrestling history, boasting a particularly decorated career in Japan and with WCW. His son, Jesse White, has been mentored by has dad, and got a shot in WWE’s developmental system from 2011 to 2013, billed under the name Jake Carter.
White never made it far in developmental, and it would appear his window of opportunity with WWE has passed him by.
While Vader himself did work with WWE for a period of years, he was never at his best, nor allowed to work his best, stiff style while with the company. His absence from the WWE Hall of Fame remains conspicuous, particularly given that he has been vocal about it without WWE offering any acknowledgment. As such, it’s not clear WWE is going to do the son any favors on account of who his old man is, and thus White’s chances with WWE seem to have dried up.
5 No Future: Tamina
The daughter of Superfly Jimmy Snuka is big, powerful, and athletic. She had an in with WWE based on the icon that her father was, and has had a deceptively long tenure with the company now stretching nearly eight years and bridging the gap between eras of women’s wrestling in the company.
Unfortunately, the game seems to have passed Tamina by. She went from hot new prospect, unique for her powerhouse style, to a face in the crowd amongst featured talent like Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Asuka, and Sasha Banks, not to mention that Nia Jax largely usurped her heavyweight role. While Tamina is capable enough, and an imposing enough presence to keep her job for the time being, she doesn’t look like she’s moving up. Moreover, the controversy over her father perhaps having killed his girlfriend—and the allegations resurfacing at the end of his life—mean WWE is less likely to push her for legacy purposes either.
4 Can Still Make It: DH Smith
Davey Boy Smith has a successful run as a tag team wrestler, mid card staple, and fringe main eventer. Moreover, he married into the famous Hart wrestling family, meaning that his son was akin to wrestling royalty when he went into wrestling for himself. WWE treated him accordingly upon his main roster debut, immediately establishing him as a big deal. Before long, though, he’d lost direction and was mostly used as a lower card guy, before riding out his tenure with the somewhat successful Hart Dynasty tag team, alongside Tyson Kidd.
Smith was open about his frustrations with WWE’s use of him, and the company ultimately released after five years on the main roster.
Smith has gone on to some notoriety working in Japan. While he hasn’t caught fire, his willingness to stick with the business and continually improve, paired with how respected his family is mean that WWE fans may well not have seen the last of him.
3 No Future: Carlito
Carlito is one of the wrestling sons of legendary performer and promoter Carlos Colon. He got a big opportunity with WWE in the mid 2000s, when he debuted and immediately made an impact, defeating John Cena for the US Championship. He’d remain an upper mid card fixture for years to follow, but saw his stock fall just as rumors surfaced that WWE management perceived him as lazy. While Carlito enjoyed a brief resurgence teaming with his brother Primo, he only rose so far. Toward the end of his WWE tenure, rumors also came up that he was struggling with painkiller abuse and refused to go to rehab.
Carlito headed to the indies afterward, and has enjoyed particular success back in Puerto Rico, working for his father as a main event level talent. This is a situation in which, despite talent, Carlito doesn’t seem to have been a personality fit for WWE, whereas he seems quite happy with his current spot, far removed from the biggest wrestling company in the world.
2 No Future: Paige
Coming from a prominent Bristish wrestling family, Paige’s time with WWE has been nothing if not tumultuous. She was a pioneer of the so called Women’s Revolution in NXT and then on the main roster, only for WWE to wind up booking talents like Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks to surpass her. From there, neck surgery, a controversial relationship with Alberto Del Rio, and a sex tape scandal all called into question if she’d ever work for WWE again. When she did make her high profile return, she quickly suffered a new neck surgery that put her in ring career in jeopardy.
It’s unclear if Paige’s body will allow her to wrestle again.
It seems clearer WWE won’t let her, particularly after taking such a conservative approach to injured talents like Daniel Bryan who have wanted to return to the ring. Paige is popular enough that WWE could reasonably keep her on as a manager or in a broadcast role. As for now, though, it appears her WWE in ring career is done, and if she insists on wrestling again, it will have to be elsewhere.
1 Can Still Make It: Tessa Blanchard
Tully Blanchard is a hugely underappreciated star. He was a terrific technically oriented heel and a core contributor to the best iterations of the Four Horsemen. Involvement with that stable was a double edged sword, though, as he tends to be overshadowed by Ric Flair and even Arn Anderson, as opposed to standing out for as good as he was in that era.
Tully’s daughter Tessa has built a name for herself on the indies, and has briefly worked with NXT. An appearance in the Mae Young Classic suggested WWE still sees something in her. As a solid worker with a lineage and a perfectly reasonable look, there’s reason for optimism she will still have her chance to shine uner the WWE banner in the years ahead.