Most professional wrestling fans are aware that there is a lot of turnover in the overall roster at WWE. Being considered the premier stop for the best wrestlers in the world means having to constantly make changes to the main television roster and the group currently in the NXT developmental program.
WrestleMania weekend has included plenty of talk of wrestlers being signed to debut or return to WWE – e.g. Matt and Jeff Hardy. Those new contracts mean that there’s likely going to be a tag team let go. Another side of WWE roster changes means calling up a superstar from NXT like Shinsuke Nakamura and having to release or demote another wrestler.
These changes happen throughout the year, but they get a lot more attention in the weeks that run before and after WWE’s biggest show of the year. But not all of the roster changes are well received. Nor do they always go the way the WWE officials were hoping.
For example, the WWE debuted Lord Tensai in 2012 the night after WrestleMania XXVIII. Unfortunately, the new monster heel continued to receive “Albert” chants as it was not Matt Bloom’s first stint with the WWE. While not one of the 10 worst signings in WWE history, it does act as an honorable mention.
The WWE also sometimes lets go of talented wrestlers for questionable reasons. This can include backstage friction between wrestlers where some argue the wrong superstar was punished. The WWE was also once accused of firing a female superstar for becoming pregnant. The following is a list of the 10 worst signings and 10 worst firings in WWE history.
20 SIGNING – Ultimo Dragon
Sometimes, a signing is considered a failure when the WWE doesn’t do someone justice. It feels like Ultimo Dragon was just one of many missed opportunities the WWE has been guilty of. In May 2003, the WWE signed Ultimo Dragon. He is still arguably one of the most decorated cruiserweights in wrestling history with championships in World Championship Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and beyond.
Ultimo Dragon joined a talented WWE cruiserweight division that also featured Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero; both of whom he’s worked great with in WCW. But the WWE didn’t utilize Ultimo Dragon much on television. He was barely a factor in the Cruiserweight Open at WrestleMania XX, aside from his slip on the entrance ramp. It was one of the worst signings because it didn’t lead to anything great for the wrestler.
19 FIRING – Drew McIntyre
One bit of positive transaction news that came out of WrestleMania 33 weekend was Drew McIntyre being signed to the NXT brand. After time being one of the biggest names outside of WWE, bringing back McIntyre seems like a great move by WWE officials. However, the WWE probably shouldn’t have let McIntyre leave the WWE in the first place. The company released him back in 2014, which he responded by saying he was annoyed, but “fired up.”
McIntyre’s first stint in the WWE saw him debut in 2009 as The Chosen One. McIntyre was set up with a great push out of the gate with the WWE Intercontinental Championship and being “hand-selected” by Vince McMahon. The character was great, but the follow-up afterwards was underwhelming. McIntyre was able to show his potential as a main event star in TNA Wrestling and other promotions since 2014, the WWE is trying to rectify their mistake of firing him in the first place.
18 SIGNING – Kharma
The WWE has a history of signing women based mostly on their looks. While that trend has slowed down with the focus on quality women’s wrestling, most of them still have a level of attraction to them. In 2010, the WWE went against their own grain by signing Kia Stevens to a contract. Through her time in Ring of Honor, TNA and other promotions, she was known best as Awesome Kong.
Now named Kharma in WWE, the 270-plus pound Stevens was booked to be a monster heel, the likes of one never seen in WWE. Shortly after her debut, Kharma announced she was pregnant and had to leave the WWE. But she miscarried and lost the baby. This led to her becoming depressed and gaining weight. She was released in 2012 after reports of being out of shape. This is an example of a signing that didn’t live up to expectations for either side.
17 FIRING – Dawn Marie
Dawn Marie was a popular female wrestling star for Extreme Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s. Her time in the WWE was pretty successful as she had a memorable rivalry with Torrie Wilson. Many wrestling fans who watched the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression Era can recall her relationship with Wilson’s father and the hotel room offer to Wilson herself in 2002.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding her release from the WWE in 2005. Marie was previously told that her job would be safe when she informed officials of her pregnancy. She would file a lawsuit in 2006 with a settlement coming in 2007 for an undisclosed amount. Marie might not have been the best overall female talent in WWE at the time, but she deserved better treatment from the company.
16 SIGNING – Original Sin Cara
In 2011, the WWE held a rare press conference for a new international talent signing one of Mexico’s top stars in Mistico. The luchador seemed to be planned to be an heir apparent to the veteran Rey Mysterio at that time. Despite being given a lot of hype and attention as Sin Cara in WWE, he struggled to get through a match without making any mistake. This led to the original Sin Cara being joked about by fans as he was often injured.
Things became awkward when there were two wrestlers using the Sin Cara gimmick before the WWE finally let Mistico go in 2014. The WWE officials were reportedly frustrated with how he wasn’t adjusting to their style of wrestling. One could argue that the WWE shouldn’t have tried to fit a round peg in a triangular hole. But adjusting to WWE’s style hasn’t stopped newer superstars like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and AJ Styles.
15 FIRING – Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy might not have been a main event star like his younger brother Jeff, but he is considered one of the best tag team wrestlers of all space and time; especially with his recent “broken” gimmick. But many have questioned how Matt has been handled and used in the WWE. In 2005, there was a lot of criticism for his termination from the company. Matt had just learned about his long-time girlfriend Amy Dumas (a.k.a. Lita) having an affair with fellow WWE superstar Edge.
The WWE decided to fire Matt Hardy since they were building Edge up to be a world championship main eventer. The backlash was expected as fans felt Matt Hardy was treated unfairly. The good news is that the WWE did eventually bring him back to start a feud with Edge; which really did nothing but feed Edge’s push as the Rated-R Superstar.
14 SIGNING – Tazz
Originally billed as Taz, this man was easily one of the most popular wrestlers to come out of ECW. Taz was a two-time ECW World Heavyweight Champion, two-time ECW Television Champion and won tag team titles three times before receiving offers from both WWE and WCW. In 2000, Tazz debuted in WWE and looked impressive right away against Kurt Angle. But Tazz never reached his full potential.
Tazz suffered a number of injuries and also gained weight during his time with the WWE. He was slowly shifted into the full-time role of color commentator; mostly for SmackDown. While it was considered a good acquisition back in 2000, Tazz would turn out to become a bust when it comes to WWE bringing in previously established veterans.
13 FIRING – Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin built a reputation for himself as one of the best all-around athletes on the WWE roster. As a singles superstar from 2004 to 2007, fans knew they were likely going to get a great show with “The Gold Standard;” especially if it involved ladders. While he had a fair number of reigns as United States and Intercontinental Champion, Benjamin never won a world championship. Despite being one of the most underrated wrestlers in WWE, he would be let go in 2010.
Jim Ross stated that Benjamin was never a world champion because he failed to “tap into his charisma.” Usually, a wrestler would be given a manager or valet to make up for that kind of thing. Instead, Benjamin was paired with “Momma Benjamin.” His shortcomings in WWE were not all his fault, which made his 2010 termination that much more frustrating.
12 SIGNING – Scott Steiner
Since the closure of WCW and WWE’s purchasing their rivals from the Monday Night War, it feels like the majority of WCW icons who came to WWE were not used properly – aside from Booker T. Scott Steiner would be signed to a three-year deal with the WWE in 2002 and made his debut as a “free agent” at the Survivor Series pay-per-view that year. The fans popped and he would be pushed to challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship.
But large muscles and an impressive physique can’t make up for poor conditioning and the inability to work longer matches. The WWE would then place Steiner in terrible gimmicks and feuds, including his attempts to win the heart of Stacy Kiebler over Test. Steiner has since verbally trashed the WWE for his time there. But Steiner was not able to live up to the hype he had when he first came to WWE.
11 FIRING – Mickie James
The WWE has been known to do a little bit of spring cleaning annually after WrestleMania. In 2010, a number of wrestlers were released for various reasons. Aside from Shelton Benjamin standing out, Mickie James’ termination came as a bit of a surprise. However, James time with WWE has seen a number of backstage incidents that include her relationship with WWE superstar John Cena.
But it was believed that James had developed a lot of heat for pursuing a country music career while working the full-time WWE schedule. At the time, the WWE apparently did not like wrestlers doing side projects. Things like weight gain and being tardy for travel on a European tour were just the final straws. Regardless, James deserved better treatment in the final months of her first WWE stint.
10 SIGNING – Vader
Leon White should be viewed as one of the best big men to ever set foot in a pro wrestling ring. He won several championships during his time in the American Wrestling Association, NJPW and WCW through the 1980s and 1990s. So when Big Van Vader was announced to make his WWE debut at the 1996 Royal Rumble, there was a lot of hype and excitement. His original push was perfect as he attacked wrestlers after being eliminated from the Royal Rumble match.
Unfortunately, the WWE would fail to utilize Vader to his full potential. After feuds with Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, Vader found himself falling down the WWE card. Vader was not used properly and should have been a monster heel with a lengthy WWE Championship reign. This might be one of the earliest examples of WWE burying WCW superstars.
9 FIRING – CM Punk
This one might be considered a little iffy. CM Punk did tell Triple H and Vince McMahon that he was leaving after being frustrated not only with his status in the company, but also with how they were originally booking Daniel Bryan for WrestleMania XXX. His issues with WWE were made public during the viral podcast with Colt Cabana in 2014. Punk would reveal his frustrations with the WWE medical staff and not being able to be in a true WrestleMania main event.
Punk would state in a November 2014 episode of The Art of Wrestling, he was actually sent termination papers on his wedding day. That should usually be one of the happiest days of anyone’s life – only second to maybe the birth of a child or walking your daughter down the aisle of her own wedding. The pill might have been easier to swallow if McMahon at least got something off the wedding registry to go with the pink slip – like matching coffee mugs.
8 SIGNING – Sting
Years ago, Sting commented about why he never signed with the WWE after Vince McMahon’s corporation bought out WCW. At the time, Sting wasn’t a fan of the WWE’s product, which had a focus on sexuality and over-the-top antics. That’s why he worked for TNA Wrestling for more than a decade. Fans would be initially excited when he signed a contract in 2014. But that faded after losing to Triple H at WrestleMania 31 in his first ever WWE match.
Sting commented that if he would have known he was going to face Triple H right away, he wouldn’t have signed on. But he did look forward to his match against Seth Rollins during Night of Champions in 2015. While many fans feel that Sting’s signing was a mistake, he does take some positives away for being able to pick and choose WWE-related events like Comic-Cons and more.
7 FIRING – Daniel Bryan
The first season of NXT as a “reality competition” was a huge success with having Daniel Bryan (formerly Bryan Danielson) and Wade Barrett as the two popular stars. Barrett would win the season but form an alliance with all members of the season. When The Nexus debuted on RAW in June 2010, they destroyed everyone and everything in a memorable way never seen before. But Bryan was released shortly after for using announcer Justin Roberts’s tie to choke him.
It was not a work as Bryan was punished because there were concerns for backlash from some sponsors. Bryan also noted that he felt him spitting in John Cena’s face during the attack was also a factor in his termination. Everything blew over a few months later when Bryan returned for the WWE vs. Nexus match at SummerSlam that year. But some feel it was an unnecessary termination that could have been replaced with a fine or suspension.
6 SIGNING – Goldberg
This is a two-parter considering that Bill Goldberg’s two separate runs in the WWE are met with controversy. When he first debuted in the WWE in 2003, Goldberg had a lot of hype because of the success he had in WCW. It was still relatively close to when the Monday Night War ended and the WWE bought WCW. But outside of one short World Heavyweight Championship reign, Goldberg’s matches felt underwhelming – especially the terrible WrestleMania XX match with Brock Lesnar.
His return in late 2016 was different. After years of the WWE building Lesnar as an unstoppable monster, Goldberg defeated him in less than two minutes at Survivor Series. In addition to that, Goldberg would defeat Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship in less than 30 seconds. The rematch with Lesnar at WrestleMania 33 was longer, but still not up to par. Considering how much he was paid, it’s annoying that he claimed to the media that he was “miserable” in the WWE.
5 FIRING – Alberto Del Rio
While Alberto Del Rio’s departure last year has a mix of fans who either side with or against his termination, his 2014 termination was actually completely wrong by the WWE. In August 2014, Del Rio was let go from his WWE contract for conduct deemed unprofessional and a physical altercation with another employee. Reports came out that Del Rio slapped a web producer who allegedly made a racist joke about the former world champion.
The employee in question, Cody Barbierri, threatened to sue the WWE and that forced WWE to terminate Del Rio. Barbierri was reportedly fired himself shortly after his job title was posted online by WWE. Everything worked out the way it should have as Del Rio would return to the WWE in 2015. Unfortunately, that run wouldn’t last long as Del Rio had failed multiple wellness tests and began a controversial relationship with WWE female star Paige.
4 SIGNING – The Great Khali
The WWE obviously only judged this book by his cover. Dalip Singh was arguably one of the largest men to ever be discovered by the wrestling powerhouse, or any other promotion for that matter. He was well above the seven-foot mark and weighed more than 400 pounds. The problem is that he was never really any good in the ring. This was evident when his 2006 debut against The Undertaker saw him move so slowly in his attacks.
For eight years, he never improved. But he was still awarded the World Heavyweight Championship, which he won in a battle royal in 2008. Khali was terrible at taking bumps and never progressed as a pro wrestler. The WWE also didn’t do him any favors with turning him face and into the Punjabi Playboy. The fact that he lasted as long as he did in the WWE is a shame.
3 FIRING – Chyna
While she had her personal demons, there was a time when Chyna was the most popular women’s wrestler. Chyna did what no other woman has done by winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship; not once, but twice. But her departure from the WWE was mired with controversy that arguably affected her personal life well after her time in wrestling concluded. It’s well-documented that she was in a serious relationship with Triple H.
Chyna accused Triple H of having an affair with Stephanie McMahon, the boss’s daughter. She has noted how she approached both parties about the situation. The WWE felt having all three in the same arena was not going to work out. Because they obviously wouldn’t fire Stephanie McMahon or their rising star in Triple H, Chyna became expendable in the company’s eyes.
2 SIGNING – Mike Adamle
In June 2008, the WWE announced that they had signed Mike Adamle to become a part of the television broadcast team. It seemed like an surprising move, but he had experience working for a local NBC affiliate in Chicago, Ill., and also as the main commentator on the original American Gladiators television series. Unfortunately, he often made verbal flubs in pronouncing wrestlers and moves both at commentary and in a general manager role on TV.
To be fair, recent stories have reported that Adamle has suffered from the effects of dementia. This includes lapses in memory and mood swings. It’s believed to be linked to his time playing in the National Football League where he took repeated blows to the head as a running back. It would likely explain his struggles in the WWE. Regardless of his mental condition, he was not a good signing by WWE in any case.
1 FIRING – Jim Ross
Jim Ross has had an emotional few weeks. But the legendary WWE broadcaster was able to return to WWE at WrestleMania 33 to call what might have been The Undertaker’s final match. It was great for wrestling fans to see and hear one of the best return to the company he’s become synonymous with for approximately 25 years. It is the kind of acquisition that rights the wrong from Ross’s 2013 termination from the WWE.
Ross was assigned the responsibility to be the lead of a symposium revolving around the video game WWE 2K14. Ric Flair was one of the speakers and he attended said symposium in an intoxicated state. While the WWE wasn’t happy with the Nature Boy, they felt that Ross was responsible for losing control of the event. Most wrestling fans felt that Ross deserved better treatment for his contributions to WWE both on television and behind the scenes.