The road to WWE stardom is not an easy one. Some toil their whole lives in the independent scene, destined never to see the bright lights of a WWE arena. Others are hand-selected by top officials, virtually guaranteed a spot atop the most coveted roster in the pro wrestling world. There is, however, a third class of wrestlers. Extraordinarily talented performers, some with dazzling move-sets, others oozing charisma out of every pore on their impeccably toned bodies, and others still with that unidentifiable “it-factor” that just makes people want to watch them. Wrestlers that, under the right circumstances, could light the wrestling world ablaze, yet seem somehow unable to grasp the metaphorical “brass ring.” These are the workers that have everything they need to at the very least become a popular and entertaining act in the WWE, but seem incapable of doing so due to shoddy writing, backstage politics, or lack of adequate TV time. Some have been in the company for years, some have even made it to the top of the company even for a brief moment. But as injuries plague many of WWE’s top stars, and WrestleMania grows closer with each passing day, now is the time to give these 15 criminally underutilized wrestlers a shot at breaking through the glass ceiling, and potentially becoming the next great act in WWE.
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15 Tyler Breeze
WWE’s resident King of Cuteville, Tyler Breeze made a name for himself in NXT as one of the most promising prospects the developmental system had to offer. With a constantly entertaining gimmick, innovative entrance, and solid in-ring and promo skills, Breeze should have been a shoe-in for prominence when he finally made his main roster debut. Yet, he has found himself spinning his wheels essentially since his debut, as he began his career with little fanfare on SmackDown, was saddled with an unnecessary valet in Summer Rae, and has since been taking pinfalls in the few matches he receives on TV. Tyler Breeze could be an incredibly entertaining upper-midcard act with the right booking, and simply needs more TV time and credibility to cement himself as a major draw in the coming months.
14 Adam Rose
When Leo Kruger debuted on NXT television, he was a breath of fresh air. As a dark, twisted hunter from South Africa, his eerie smile and captivating promos showed great promise in becoming a major force in WWE. Creative, however, had other plans, and forced a gimmick change that resulted in the debut of debaucherous party-boy Adam Rose, an entertaining gimmick with an inherently short shelf life. Now, Rose finds himself in a stable of equally-creatively-stunted superstars called the Social Outcasts. As a performer, Adam Rose has all the tools necessary to be a convincing midcard act. All he needs is a change of gimmick and the ability to shine as he is so capable of doing.
13 Jack Swagger
One of the longest-tenured WWE Superstars on this list, Jack Swagger tasted the main event scene years ago, winning Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 26, winning the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown, and quickly being forgotten about. Since that short and forgettable reign in 2010, Swagger has been languishing in the lower-midcard, occasionally putting on memorable performances in his remarkable feud with Rusev in 2014 and while challenging for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 29. For the past several years, Swagger has done almost nothing of note outside of an entertaining pairing with Cesaro, but with the right push, he has all the potential in the world to change that. Assuming he finds the right mouthpiece, Jack Swagger is such a talented in-ring performer and storyteller (watch his match with Rey Mysterio at Money in the Bank 2010) that he should have no problem rising to stardom once again.
12 Curtis Axel
The chains are very much on for Curtis Axel, as after a promising debut alongside Paul Heyman including a technical defeat of HHH, he has found himself as little more than comic relief. A strong in-ring competitor (he worked with The Rock to get him into in-ring shape for his match with CM Punk at Royal Rumble 2013), Curtis should have ascended to a comfortable spot in the upper-midcard, but after feuding with the likes of CM Punk and winning the Intercontinental Championship, he quickly sputtered out, lost Paul Heyman as his mouthpiece, and has been little more than a Royal Rumble filler spot ever since. With a few chances to demonstrate his in-ring skill and a partnership with someone more credible than The Social Outcasts, Curtis Axel could be a big name in wrestling for years to come.
11 The Miz
When the former Real World contestant and professional guy-who-has-an-insanely-punchable-face arrived in WWE, he was met with scorn and disdain from the fans and the locker room alike. However, The Awesome One defied everyone’s expectations and quickly became a talented in-ring competitor while maintaining everything fans hated about him in the first place, riding a wave of unprecedented heel heat into a WWE Championship reign and main event of WrestleMania. Since then, his career has skyrocketed downward, as the Most Must-See Superstar in the History of WWE has been doing little more than augmenting other people’s feuds via Miz TV. He is fantastic in that role, as he is with most things that require mic work, but The Miz is capable of, and should be doing, so much more.
10 Luke Harper
It’s hard to feel that Luke Harper has been shafted or looked-over on WWE TV. He is featured prominently and consistently as a member of The Wyatt Family, and has wrestled matches against some of the biggest stars in the company. However, the former Brodie Lee is simply capable of so much more. As one of the most versatile big men on the independent scene, Harper was a revelation. However, as yet another disposable member of The Wyatt Family, seemingly to soon be upstaged by Braun Strowman, he seems a little wasted. His time apart from Bray Wyatt should have been his big moment to escape the specter of the Wyatts and establish himself, but he was left doing very little until eventually reconnecting with Bray. Luke Harper makes for a fantastic member of Wyatt’s faction, but it’s difficult not to be left wondering why he’s not doing so much more.
9 Bo Dallas
The story of Bo Dallas is a very strange one. He debuted in NXT to indifference, quickly became the most hated man in the developmental program as a white-meat babyface, debuted at the Royal Rumble to an apathetic response, had a short feud with Wade Barrett, returned to NXT to embrace everything the fans hated about him, quickly became the best heel NXT had, returned to the main roster as some sort of bastardization of his smarmy, overly positive heel character in developmental, and… disappeared. As comic relief, he’s wonderful: a perfect combination of solid comedic timing and and a goofy appearance, but Bo is a very capable worker in every aspect of professional wrestling, and to be relegated to a comic relief faction that wrestles on Main Event on a good day seems a waste of great potential.
8 Alberto Del Rio
For a man who has won the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships several times, wrestled for and defended the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, main evented several pay-per-views, and beat John Cena clean to end his reign as US Champion, Alberto Del Rio certainly doesn’t seem like much of a star lately. He returned with Zeb Colter for no discernable reason, became a member of the lukewarm League of Nations faction, lost the US Title to Kalisto out of the blue, and has since been doing little but stand around as Sheamus occasionally does important things. Del Rio is a seasoned and talented in-ring worker with a solid body of work and impressive mic skills (check out his run in Lucha Underground as Alberto El Patrón), and deserves far better than what he’s currently been given.
7 Damien Sandow
Poor Damien Sandow.
In the span of under two years, Damien Sandow went from the incredibly entertaining genius heel character to losing his Money in the Bank cash-in in an extraordinary match against John Cena to playing whatever “topical” imitation WWE had in mind for him that week to being The Miz’s stunt double. In all that time, he managed to get each and every one of those characters over, and every time, just when he seemed on the precipice of breaking out and becoming a top star, he disappeared for weeks on end, halting any momentum he had accumulated. The fans are definitely still behind Sandow, however, and he still has a long career ahead of him, but as of this writing, Sandow has been one of the biggest wasted opportuties WWE has produced in a long time.
6 King Barrett
When Wade Barrett made his main roster debut in 2010, he seemed a shoe-in for wild success. He had the foundations of a spectacular faction in The Nexus, a great look, solid in-ring and mic skills, and built in feuds with almost all of the top guys in the company at the time. Sadly, little has been made of Barrett since then. He’s floundered around in different characters, constantly developing and improving, but every time he seems to get a little momentum he is stopped dead in his tracks. WWE had a sure-fire main eventer on their hands in 2010, and now, in 2016, Barrett is a much better performer. It’s a shame we rarely get to see it.
5 Stardust/Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is a perfect example how badly a mediocre gimmick can hold down a great wrestler. As Stardust, Cody has shown incredible commitment to character as well as range, but the Stardust character simply has no chance of succeeding in today’s environment. As we’ve seen in the past, Cody has the potential to make big money for WWE, as he became one of the company’s biggest babyfaces almost overnight at Money in the Bank 2014, and rode that momentum into a feud with Damien Sandow that showcased both his incredible ring work and his promo ability. His pairings with Sandow and Goldust were both immensely popular and successful acts, and it's about time Cody Rhodes gets his time in the spotlight outside of the goofy Stardust character.
Rusev is one of the best wrestlers WWE has on their roster. He is constantly entertaining, an effortlessly charismatic and believable talker, and capable of putting on a good match with seemingly anyone. Which makes it all the more upsetting that he has been so often ignored on WWE TV. Going from one of the top matches at last year’s WrestleMania to being almost entirely left off of the build for this year’s is a dubious accomplishment reserved previously for The Miz, and seeing Rusev tumble down the card so quickly (he was entirely left off of the Fastlane PPV) has been disappointing to say the least. Here’s hoping the Bulgarian Brute will make an impact in the post-WrestleMania months.
The Man WWE Forgot, the artist formally known as Adrian Neville is one of the most outstanding high-flyers in wrestling today. With a move-set rivaling Rey Mysterio at his peak and the insanely muscled look WWE still lusts after, Neville seems like he should be ruling the card. Yet something just hasn’t come together creatively for Neville, as he’s been stuck in meaningless tag matches and breather segments for months. A guy as marketable to all age groups as Neville deserves much better than the treatment he’s receiving right now.
2 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is a victim of a lot of blunders on WWE’s part since he arrived to great fanfare in the summer of 2013. He has decisively lost every major feud he’s entered, from John Cena to The Undertaker, making all of his grandiose and eerie speeches seem like empty words. He has lost and regained his “family,” transitioned from creepy cult leader to total paranormal entity, and is now residing somewhere in the middle of deranged hillbilly and otherworldly force. The Bray Wyatt problem lies not in the feuds he engages in, which are generally excellent, but the fact that he has failed to come out of a single one looking as good or better as when he entered it (except maybe against Daniel Bryan). He simply has lost too much credibility over the past two years to be considered a major threat in the company, and this is an easily remediable and vital problem for the company to address.
Topping the list as the most underutilized wrestler the WWE has on payroll at the moment is the Swiss Superman: Cesaro. He is one of the most impressive in-ring workers of his generation, with matches that never cease to astound and surprise. His character and mic work have been vastly improving and his crowd support has never been higher. He may be off of the show as of right now with an injury, but as soon as he returns, it’s time to push this man to the moon. He’s not only earned it with years of incredible performances (I was lucky enough to be in attendance for his match against John Cena on RAW in 2014, which was the best match I’ve ever seen live), but due to his support from the WWE fans as well. Cesaro, get well soon. WWE needs you.
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