In the cockles of WWE history, there are countless stories of “what could have been.” Stories of superstars who got so over with the crowd that WWE had no choice but to push them to the moon, but for some reason or another didn’t.
Right now, we’re in the midst of seeing this with Kofi Kingston, who after over a decade is getting what is essentially his second run near the top of the card. We are behind the high flying New Day member completely, and hopefully, by WrestleMania, we’ll see him lifting the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for the first time in his career. However, history could repeat itself — it was only 10 years ago where, after months of support from fans, he was taken out by Randy Orton.
Unfortunately, he’s just one of many superstars who WWE got a little gun shy with when it came time to pulling the trigger. So, with that in mind, here are 10 other superstars like Kofi Kingston in the WWE.
10 Zack Ryder
How WWE managed to mess this up is almost beyond comprehension. Ryder took the WWE by storm after producing his own YouTube series, Z True Long Island Story. He got over and was actually one of the main reasons fans tuned in to Monday nights in the early aughts alongside other Internet darlings CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. He even stood in the middle of the ring holding the US Championship while the Best In The World told the crowd it was a new era in WWE!
That run was short-lived, however. John Cena stole his girlfriend and Kane threw him off the side of the stage. Somehow, he still gets a pretty solid crowd reaction when he walks down the ramp — you just have to wait months between TV appearances.
9 Roddy Piper
It’s insane to think that Rowdy Roddy Piper never held the WWE Championship in his career. Sure, he was a smaller wrestler in an era that had names like Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, and Randy Savage, but Piper was always featured in a prominent role in the company.
Goldust was easily one of the most interesting characters in WWE history. As an androgynous, bizarre deviant, Dustin Runnels managed to strike a nerve in conservative America by hitting on superstars and kissing almost anything with a pulse. There was a point where the character was generating some of the loudest reactions in the arena, yet WWE never pulled the trigger and put their top belt on him.
7 Matt Hardy
Following the messy business between him and Lita, Matt Hardy had a groundswell of support form the WWE fanbase. Yet, instead of pushing him to the moon, Hardy was let go by WWE.
Despite all that, fans would fill every arena Vince McMahon ran with Hardy chants, so they had no choice to bring him back. The result was one of the most intense rivalries in recent memory and some really great matches between V1 and Edge, the man who Lita left him for. Hardy would never get the better of the Rated R Superstar and slowly slid further down the card.
The Ninth Wonder of the world was truly unique in the Attitude Era. Debuting as the muscle of D-Generation X, Chyna quickly became a favorite among fans, and even took on male opponents.
It wasn’t long before she started carving out a character of her own, and eventually was scheduled to face Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWE Championship. Unfortunately, the Texas Rattlesnake thought it would hurt his character, so those plans were scrapped. Instead, they put her in a feud with Jeff Jarrett, and she managed to have a few runs with the Intercontinental Championship. While that’s not a bad consolation prize, it’s not the marquee spot she deserved.
5 Bray Wyatt
Do method actors think about Bray Wyatt for inspiration when they need to get angry?
The Eater of Worlds had the WWE universe eating out of the palm of his hands when he debuted on the main roster alongside Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. As the leader of a truly dominant faction, Wyatt captivated audiences with his promos and overcame some awful booking that saw him face off against Kane in his first feud.
Riding a wave of momentum, Wyatt was fed to John Cena in 2014, and he never truly recovered. Until he did. By 2015, the momentum was back in Wyatt’s corner as he literally carried a feud against The Undertaker, selling the audience on a match against the Dead Man at WrestleMania 31 — the year after The Streak ended. Despite his best efforts, there was no way an up-and-comer would defeat Taker when he needed another win, so the rest was history.
He managed to win the WWE Championship in 2017, but even then, he was treated as an afterthought.
4 Ken Shamrock
In reality, Ken Shamrock could have been the blueprint for Brock Lesnar. As an intense UFC fighter in an era where that type of competition was pretty much outlawed, Shamrock really brought a level of legitimacy to the WWE at a time where there was no shortage of tough guys.
While he managed to have a healthy run in the company—winning a few intercontinental championships in the process—The World’s Most Dangerous man never got that run on top he deserved. Sure, he was competing with names like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but we don’t think it’s unrealistic to see shoot-fighter take down any of the company’s biggest names at the time.
3 Owen Hart
Owen Hart was probably the best wrestler the WWE had under contract at one point in time. Yet, the Black Hart always found himself in the shadow of his older brother Bret. Still, the talented technician had some memorable matches against his brother, Shawn Michaels, and pretty much anyone he was put against in the Attitude Era.
His reward? He was called a turd nugget then became a superhero. Sometimes, wrestling can be frustrating.
We can’t think of a single wrestler who’s managed to stay as consistently over as Rusev, despite being consistently given some of the worst storylines in WWE history. With a gimmick of being a Bulgarian Russian nationalist, Rusev won the United States championship and constantly got the crowd behind him. He even showed up to WrestleMania in a tank!
Unfortunately, he would lose the title to John Cena, lose his manager to Dolph Ziggler, and became and joined the League of Nations in a forgettable run.
Then, he discovered Rusev Day. He and Aiden English created something special, but WWE was always a little gun-shy in pushing him. Rusev lost a title match to AJ Styles and eventually, the team broke up. He was given a short run with the United States Championship but then fell out of favor for that title’s contention too. Hopefully, he can bounce back again.
1 Booker T
Okay, so Booker T was too talented to be put down by awful WWE storytelling, but at one point, he looked like he’d be another casualty. Going into a high profile WrestleMania match with Triple H, the former WCW champion was subject to some pretty brutal promos from the game, commenting on his hair and suggesting that once he gets to the big match he would “do what people like you always do” and lose.
It took Booker T a long time to climb back up the mountain, but thankfully, WWE made right by that awful decision back in 2003. Unfortunately, by that point, the World Heavyweight Championship wasn’t really what it used to be. Still, he’s a WWE Hall of Famer, so he was probably hurt the least. We just wish we could have seen what he was truly capable of.