You see them everywhere in "traditional" major league sports. You've seen Chandler Parsons waste millions of the Memphis Grizzlies' money in the NBA and Chris Davis do the same to the Baltimore Orioles in the MLB. Over in the NFL, the state of Florida is home to two massively disappointing quarterback busts – Jameis Winston and Blake Bortles – who have both regressed big-time in the 2018 season. But even if professional wrestling is predetermined, sports entertainment has given fans its share of epic disappointments through the years. And that's as true as ever in the WWE.
They may be high-profile new signings who weren't pushed as expected due to Vince McMahon's everlasting love for big, sweaty men or for other reasons. They may have been longtime WWE superstars whose booking prevented them from capitalizing on opportunities for main event glory. Or they may have been returning talents whose comebacks failed big-time. In all cases, "personal demons" and locker room issues may or may not have contributed to their failure.
Whatever the case may have been, let's now take a look at WWE history from 1990 to the present and look at the most disappointing wrestler on the company's roster in each of those years, based on the criteria we mentioned above. We've also included some honorable mentions in our list – one each (or occasionally two) from 1990 to 2009, and three for each year but one (we're not spoiling anything yet!) in the current decade.
29 1990: Bad News Brown
Honorable mention: Dusty Rhodes
Actually, he could qualify as 1989's most disappointing as well. Despite being on the wrong side of 40, former U.S. Olympian Allen Coage (aka Bad News Allen in the territories) was a top signing for WWE in 1988 under the tweaked ring name of Bad News Brown. Essentially, he was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin well before Stone Cold, refusing to play nice with anyone, even his fellow heels.
Unfortunately, 1990 saw him in a completely tone-deaf feud with Roddy Piper leading into WrestleMania VI, and after a few other unsuccessful feuds, Bad News quit WWE after SummerSlam, claiming Vince McMahon broke his promise to make him the first black WWE Champion.
28 1991: The Dragon
Honorable mention: Jake Roberts
Was WWE really so steamed (pun half-intended) over Ricky Steamboat's desire to be there for the birth of his son that the company kept burying him four years after the fact? That's how it seemed as he returned to WWE in 1991 as The Dragon. No, not Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, just plain old "The Dragon," wearing distinctive headgear and breathing fire before matches.
There were occasional mentions of the fact he once was Intercontinental Champion, or that he won that title in a classic match versus Randy Savage at WrestleMania III. But there were no mentions of the name "Ricky Steamboat," and this second run was so unsatisfying that he quit before year's end after a house show loss to lower-card kayfabe crocodile hunter Skinner.
27 1992: Kerry Von Erich
Honorable mention: El Matador (Tito Santana)
Most of you are probably aware of the sad story of Texas' "first family" of wrestling, the Von Erichs.
Out of patriarch Fritz Von Erich's sons, Kerry Von Erich was the only one to compete in the WWE but didn't even get to officially use that name at first, as he was simply billed as "Texas Tornado" upon his 1990 debut. Still, WWE thought highly enough of him to give him a brief reign as Intercontinental Champion.
By 1992, however, injuries and personal issues were getting the better of Von Erich, as he was essentially shunted down to jobber-to-the-stars level. He left the WWE in August that year, just months before his untimely passing at the age of 33.
26 1993: Bob Backlund
Honorable Mention: Lex Luger
With close to a decade having passed since manager Arnold Skaaland memorably threw in the towel to give The Iron Sheik a transitional reign as WWE Champion, his old protege, Bob Backlund, returned to the WWE in 1992. One year later, fans saw how out-of-step he was as a 44-year-old, squeaky-clean babyface with tons of technical ability, but little charisma to speak of.
Indeed, 1993 looked like much ado about nothing for Backlund's comeback run, despite his ostensible success in the ring. Fortunately, the best was yet to come, as a heel turn in 1994 transformed the boring milquetoast into a deranged old dude with an irrational beef with the "new generation." Thank goodness for Crazy Bob, or should we say, "Mister" Backlund.
25 1994: Lex Luger
Honorable mention: Tatanka
Luger was 1993's honorable mention as most disappointing, even if it was his count-out win over Yokozuna at that year's SummerSlam that solidified his status as Not Hulk Hogan. Contrary to the stipulations of that match, Luger got more chances to win the WWE Championship in 1994, but after blowing those chances, it was straight to the mid-card for the man Vince McMahon hoped would be his next great babyface hero.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Luger's rivalry with Tatanka, who was our honorable mention choice for '94. The pointless feud over which man "sold out" to Ted DiBiase didn't do favors for either of them, simply put.
And Luger was still Luger – he looked the part of an alpha babyface but didn't have the charisma or talent to play the part.
24 1995: Dean Douglas
Honorable mention: (King) Mabel
Thanks to his work as ECW's "Franchise," Shane Douglas became a highly sought-after free agent in 1995, a huge departure from the colorless nobody he was in two previous WWE stints. However, WWE bungled his return from the get-go by repackaging him as a college educator named Dean Douglas, because you know the deal in those days – practically every mid-card talent needed to have a day job back in WWE's New Generation Era.
Being a cartoonish caricature of a mean professor was bad enough for Douglas. He also ended up making his share of enemies backstage (The Kliq, for those who aren't aware), and by 1996, he was right back at ECW, having sworn never to work for the WWE again.
23 1996: Vader
Honorable mentions: Ahmed Johnson, Jake Roberts
Former WCW World Heavyweight Champion Big Van Vader was, literally and figuratively, a huge free agent signing for WWE in 1996. After all, this wasn't your ordinary super-heavyweight with a lot of size and little skill. His work was realistic, and he moved like a man who weighed 250 pounds, and not 450. Then came his WWE Championship match against Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam.
Supposedly, Michaels wasn't a fan of Vader's stiff in-ring style, and since he had Vince McMahon's ear and then some, that's what appears to have led to his demotion to the mid-card soon after.
He may have been huge in WCW and New Japan, but in WWE, his legacy is sadly that of someone who failed to live up to his advance billing.
22 1997: Rocky Maivia
Honorable mention: Marc Mero
Yes, you read that right. And there's a very good reason why we're calling him by his original ring name. Dwayne Johnson's persona as The Rock emerged rather late in 1997, and we all know how well that turned out. But Rocky Maivia was a jabroni, to borrow from one of Rock's favorite expressions, and fans weren't having any of what that guy was cooking.
WWE pushed "The Blue Chipper" Maivia to the moon despite his lack of experience, and while he did show potential before going down with an injury soon after winning the IC title at WrestleMania 13, his smiling, generic babyface persona didn't fit him, and the fans knew it. We still can't be thankful enough for that SummerSlam 1997 heel turn.
21 1998: Steven Regal
Honorable mentions: Steve Williams, Taka Michinoku
Again, we'll have to make some distinctions here. Sure, William Regal could have achieved more in the WWE during his time as an active wrestler, but he had a long, successful career as a solid mid-card hand. You wouldn't have guessed it, though, when he was originally presented to WWE fans in as 1998 as the "Real Man's Man," Steven Regal.
Despite his reputation in WCW as a talented worker, WWE brought Regal in as a gimmicky lumberjack/Brawny Man parody at a time when grittier, raunchier, and/or more realistic characters were becoming the norm.
As such, Regal's first WWE run ended very prematurely, with his personal issues at the time also contributing to his initial failure.
20 1999: Bart Gunn
Honorable mention: Meat/Shawn Stasiak
Steve Williams was one of two honorable mentions in 1998 because WWE completely bungled his push and wasted his talent through said shoot-fighting tournament. For 1999, however, we'll have to go with the first and only Brawl for All champion, Bart Gunn, for one reason, and one reason only – Butterbean.
Despite WWE's efforts to present Billy Gunn's less successful kayfabe brother as a legit butt-kicker, Bart's 35-second loss to 400-pound pro boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch at WrestleMania XV completely embarrassed him and nullified whatever tough guy cred he built up at the Brawl for All. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before WWE released Gunn with zero fanfare.
19 2000: Tazz
Honorable mention: Davey Boy Smith
Continuing in the Shane Douglas tradition of ECW stars failing to make a splash in the WWE, Tazz debuted for the latter company at the 2000 Royal Rumble with a lot of hype. But in what was probably a consequence of his being on the short side, the Human Suplex Machine never got the push he deserved, mostly wallowing in the mid-card scene and eventually stepping up as the "Voice of the Alliance" in what would be a sign of things to come.
That, of course, was a more sustained role as a member of the WWE announce team, where he made his name mostly as a heel commentator until leaving the company in 2009.
As solid as he was on commentary, Tazz could have been so much more as an actual in-ring performer in the WWE.
18 2001: Buff Bagwell
Honorable mention: Diamond Dallas Page
Sometimes, all it takes is one match for someone to be the biggest WWE flop of the year, especially if that one match is all you get while working for the company. That applies to Buff Bagwell, who was definitely missing "the stuff" when he got to WWE after they purchased WCW in 2001.
While he was pushed as a big enough deal to face Booker T for the WCW Championship on a July 2001 episode of Raw, that match was thrashed by fans due to how awful it was. One week later, he was fired due to a number of reasons, including accusations of poor backstage attitude and constant demands from his mother (she of "Judy Bagwell on a Pole Match" infamy) that her boy Marcus take more time off to recover from injuries.
17 2002: Diamond Dallas Page
Honorable mention: Justin Credible
Spoiler alert: The early 2000s section of the list is very WCW-centric. And it's little wonder why, as many have claimed that WWE, may it be Vince McMahon or his homegrown talents, didn't think much of the post-buyout wrestlers who made their name in WCW.
The aforementioned Buff Bagwell mostly had his attitude to blame. Diamond Dallas Page, on the other hand...
Had he not been an honorable mention in 2001, we would have revisited how weak and silly DDP looked in his feud against The Undertaker and his then-wife, Sara. But since that sapped whatever momentum he had as a top WCW star, 2002 saw him holding or feuding for the low-level European Championship before he quietly left the company in April.
16 2003: Scott Steiner
Honorable mention: Sean O'Haire
For close to two years, fans who saw All-American babyface Scott Steiner transform into Big Poppa Pump in WCW and confound everyone with his so-nonsensical-they're-good promos awaited his arrival in the WWE after WCW folded. Toward the end of 2002, those fans got their wish, but as the old, oft-repeated saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
What the WWE Universe got was a lazy, unmotivated Steiner, whose World Heavyweight Championship match against Triple H at the 2003 Royal Rumble is still one of the worst singles matches in the event's history. That was enough to convince WWE not to give Steiner a similar push to the one he got in the final years of WCW.
15 2004: Goldberg
Honorable mention: Brock Lesnar
Goldberg may have been edged out by Scott Steiner as 2003's most disappointing WWE Superstar, but he has one match to blame for his being the biggest flop of 2004.
That match, of course, was his much-anticipated (and ultimately, much-reviled) encounter against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX, where both men completely mailed it in due to the fact they were on the way out of the company.
Of course, in the year before that, WWE failed to book Goldberg like the unstoppable force he was in WCW, and it took a good 12 years before he would unretire from wrestling, return to the WWE, and have the satisfying, if slightly polarizing, run he didn't get to have in the early 2000s.
14 2005: Muhammad Hassan
Honorable mention: Eugene, Chavo Guerrero/Kerwin White
It's not every day when someone so young joins the WWE and gets a rocket push almost right out of the gate. That was what happened when Muhammad Hassan was introduced to the WWE Universe toward the end of 2004. Most of the first half of 2005 was spent building him up as the future world champion he was supposed to be, and as far as his gimmick went, it was an instant heat magnet for patriotic audiences around the country.
Through no fault of his, Hassan was part of a controversial segment with The Undertaker that aired on the same day as the London bombings of July 2005. Facing heat from network officials, WWE shot the proverbial messenger by throwing Hassan under the bus, writing him off television, and releasing him just two months later.
13 2006: Rob Van Dam
Honorable mention: Chris Masters
How could Rob Van Dam be the biggest WWE disappointment of the year when he was, at that time, a double World Champion, holding both the WWE and ECW Championship belts for little more than a month? The answer lies in the latter part of that sentence – outside-the-ring troubles led to RVD losing both titles in quick succession early in July 2006.
After Van Dam returned from a 30-day suspension that soon followed the twin title losses, he pretty much lost his top-tier status in the WWE and left the company in 2007.
While you can say what you want about RVD's outside-the-ring proclivities, you also can't deny how they gave WWE's creative team trust issues when it came to booking him as a main event talent.
12 2007: Mr. Kennedy
Honorable mention: Carlito
In 2007, Mr. Kennedy was two years into his WWE run, and he seemingly had it all – a great gimmick, a great look, and lots of in-ring and on-mic talent. All signs were pointing to him as a potential breakout star, and when he became Mr. Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 23, it seemed as if a world championship would soon be served up to him on a silver platter.
Alas, it wasn't to be, as Kennedy lost his MITB briefcase to Edge just one month after winning it. And while he still looked to be a main eventer in waiting, his personal issues cost him a chance to be booked as Mr. McMahon's illegitimate son later on in the year. (Adding insult to injury, that role was ultimately given to Hornswoggle.)
11 2008: Braden Walker
Honorable mention: Umaga
Working under his real name, Chris Harris was one of the mainstays of TNA's early years and had a successful tag team run alongside James Storm as America's Most Wanted. A free agent early in 2008, he signed with WWE in January of that year, and soon showed up on television with the new name of Braden Walker and the impression that he really let himself go in the months since he was last seen in TNA.
Oh, and he showed up with an awful "knock-knock joke" gimmick too.
That helped turn him into a wrestling punchline, together with the fact that he wrestled all of two matches before WWE released him in August 2008.
10 2009: Drew McIntyre
Honorable mention: Charlie Haas, Kizarny
Yes, we're cheating a bit, because McIntyre's true descent into lower-card limbo would start two years later. But 2009 was the year he made his honest-to-goodness WWE debut (two years after a main roster cup of coffee), as Vince McMahon christened the Scottish youngster "The Chosen One." Was he booked like a future world champion, though?
While McIntyre did have successful feuds versus the likes of Finlay and John Morrison and even won the Intercontinental Championship before the end of 2009, he wasn't booked like any kind of threat to the main event scene, as a "Chosen One" should be. That was as good as it got until this year, when he made his triumphant return to the main roster after redeeming himself in Impact Wrestling and NXT.
9 2010: The Nexus
Honorable mentions: None needed
Yep, that's right, an entire stable of wrestlers gets the nod as 2010's most disappointing.
All eight members ran amok on Monday Night Raw to send a powerful message to everyone in the locker room, and that, as you know, was a segment so controversial WWE temporarily fired Daniel Bryan to appease its sponsors.
Things, however, came undone at SummerSlam, as John Cena, in a moment he now regrets, engineered some last-minute booking changes to ensure that he almost singlehandedly helped Team WWE defeat the remaining Nexus members in a 7-on-7 elimination tag match. That made The Nexus look weak, and ensured they were never taken seriously again as a faction.
8 2011: Kharma
Honorable mentions: Drew McIntyre, Gail Kim, (Original) Sin Cara
After an impressive run in TNA, Awesome Kong signed a deal with WWE toward the end of 2010, and expectations were high. In an era where WWE still prioritized looks over skills for its female wrestlers, the renamed Kharma was not like anyone else the company hired for its women's divisions.
Built up as a monster heel who could easily destroy much smaller "Divas," Kharma surprisingly broke down in tears after one of her random attacks, and announced a week later that she had to go on hiatus because she was pregnant. Sadly, WWE never gave her a real chance (read: not even one singles match) afterward, which means she'll mostly be remembered in WWE for joining the 2012 Royal Rumble match and scaring a heel Michael Cole into elimination.
7 2012: Zack Ryder
Honorable mentions: Evan Bourne, (Lord) Tensai, Natalya
It can sure be a bummer if you lose your title, then lose your girlfriend as she cheats on you with your best friend and emasculates you on the Grandest Stage of Them All. It's even worse when said series of unfortunate storyline events results in your nice mid-card push evaporating in front of your eyes. Readers, welcome to Zack Ryder's 2012 in a nutshell.
Yes, it started out so good for Ryder, who lost his U.S. Championship and got betrayed by Eve Torres (and, by proxy, John Cena) in quick succession in the lead-up to WrestleMania XXVIII.
By the end of 2012, he was in a go-nowhere tag team with Santino Marella (Team CoBro) and on his way to super-jobber status in most of the following years.
6 2013: Ryback
Honorable mentions: Cesaro, Jack Swagger, The Miz
Thanks to his rants on his Conversation With the Big Guy podcast and his ridiculous demand that WWE pays everyone equally regardless of push, it's hard to remember the time when Ryback was once a serious threat to win the WWE Championship. But that's what he was for most of 2012 and the first half of 2013, as WWE rode his Goldberg-lite gimmick to a main event push.
Unfortunately, things fell apart when the guy who asks people to "feed [him] more" was turned heel and fed to John Cena. He just didn't have the tools to be a successful heel, even if the promise was often there, and by the last few months of 2013, Paul Heyman was trying (and failing) to get him and Curtis Axel over as a generic heel tag team.
5 2014: Batista
Honorable mentions: Damien Sandow, Cesaro, The New Day
Talk about much ado about nothing. Batista's return to the WWE late in 2013 got a lot of fans excited, but all goodwill went out of the window when he was booked to win the 2014 Royal Rumble, much to the chagrin of everyone who hoped for a Daniel Bryan victory.
The backlash was so strong that WWE had to make some 11th-hour changes so that Bryan would win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
Of course, it was a now-heel Batista who tapped out to Bryan at 'Mania, and while WWE tried to get mileage out of Big Dave by rebooting Evolution, he was off to Hollywood in June, never to return until SmackDown's 1,000th-episode special just this October.
4 2015: Dolph Ziggler
Honorable mentions: Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes/Stardust, Wade Barrett
One can say that Ziggler's weirdly irrelevant 2017 could qualify as well, but we might as well go back to 2015 when The Show Off would have ideally been on the road to a main event push, thanks to his epic performance at the previous year's Survivor Series. Instead, he was soon turned into fodder for Sheamus as he debuted a new haircut and new gimmick where he picked on underdogs.
Hold on, though, for it gets worse. Ziggler was also a key player in the infamous "love quadrangle" storyline, having little chemistry with Lana as they feuded against Rusev and Summer Rae.
And you wonder why it's always a case of "will he or won't he" when those Ziggler contract rumors swirl.
3 2016: Neville
Honorable mentions: Bray Wyatt, Paige, American Alpha
The next two entries had a precedent in the sense that they were super-talented and over former NXT Champions who were too small for Vince McMahon's liking. Back when he still had a first name, (Adrian) Neville looked like, at the very least, a mid-card champion in the making. 2016, however, was when he became the man creative, and not just gravity, forgot.
For most of the year, Neville toggled between injuries and irrelevance, as WWE's creative team didn't seem to have an idea how to book him properly. His run as Cruiserweight Champion for most of 2017 changed that in a big way, but as fans soon found out when he walked out of WWE, it was too little, too late, and not enough to keep him happy.
2 2017: Sami Zayn
Honorable mentions: Bray Wyatt, Rusev, Dolph Ziggler
It didn't matter if he was part of the Raw brand or SmackDown Live, where he moved to in April 2017 via the first WWE Superstar Shakeup. Sami Zayn was that guy who got great reactions from fans but couldn't get lucky in terms of enjoying a sustained push. Not even a heel turn at Hell in a Cell, where he aligned with erstwhile bitter rival Kevin Owens, could help turn things around for the former NXT Champion and indy sensation.
At least his main roster "rookie year" in 2016 was promising, thanks to his feud with Owens.
2017 was an exercise in futility for Zayn, and we're guessing his patience is wearing thin as he prepares for a similar mid-card role once he returns from injury early next year.
1 2018: Finn Balor
Honorable mentions: Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Asuka
It'll take a miracle push for Finn Balor to avoid becoming this year's biggest disappointment in the WWE roster. He's pretty much been running in place since returning from the injury that ended his Universal Championship reign in 2016 after just one day, and this year is no exception, with inconsequential feuds against the likes of Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley.
With Brock Lesnar holding the Universal Championship hostage for a second time, Braun Strowman and Drew McIntyre looking good in the main event scene, and Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose likely feuding for the Intercontinental Championship, Balor remains stuck in Raw's mid-card and dare we say, might be better off taking his talents back to New Japan.