Most success stories in wrestling usually come from wrestlers gradually building up good will with fans and working their way up the card before entering the main event picture. Stars like Steve Austin, Mick Foley and CM Punk ascended naturally as they climbed the mountain with smaller pushes culminating in the big push they have earned. Many others cases have seen wrestling promotions try to push stars instantly without credibility and it doesn’t work. Even worse, if the company tries to make fans accept someone that isn’t very talented, it can turn into a complete disaster and ruin the person’s chances of getting over in the future as well.
Some of the stories on this list will look at wrestlers who eventually became successful after a failed push that they weren’t worthy of because even though the first one didn’t work, they were loved more organically when forced to rebuild. Not on the list, but the best example of this concept is The Rock. Fans hated The Rock when he debuted because he was inexperienced and unimpressive but because of his potential, he was pushed instantly and forced down the throats of the viewer. Of course we know how Rock turned that around and became one of the biggest stars in all of entertainment so it’s possible to rebound from flopping in an undeserved push if you have the talent.
Undeserving is a strong term but in the wrestling world, it’s truly accurate for many wrestlers as some are given the ball of opportunity due to a specific look, their size, friends and family or just being loved by a certain person with power in the company. There is more of an emphasis on those who couldn’t deliver with their push here as they deserve more criticism for showcasing why they weren’t worthy of their opportunity. However, while the performer is the one who controls his physical skills and actions, the booker can cause the wrestler to fail by putting them in a bad spot and deserve more of the blame, so there will be a mix of the two. Regardless of who is to cause for it, these are the 15 wrestlers who had the most undeserved pushes in wrestling.
After failing to impress as a member of The Nexus, Skip Sheffield was repackaged as Ryback. The problem is that when Ryback debuted, fans rejected it and would chant “GOLDBERG,” as anyone could tell it was a blatant rip off of the Goldberg formula. Ryback would win short matches with ease via a very limited array of power moves. WWE flat out assumed that someone with an impressive physique would get over but his lack of seasoning exposed him. After his undeserved push failed, Ryback has bounced back and earned good faith with the crowd in the recent months but at the time of his hopeful main event push, it was a disaster.
14 The Sandman
Many ECW wrestlers could be chosen for this list but the most flagrant offender of getting a push he didn’t deserve was The Sandman. The key attributes to the success of Sandman were his love of getting drunk, smoking cigarettes, having a great (illegally used) entrance song and hitting others with a kendo stick. Not much talent was involved in Sandman’s wrestling career and quite frankly, any other person could have done this act and succeeded at the time in ECW. Considering he was a poor in-ring performer and that many wrestlers didn’t want to work with him, it's mind boggling how successful Sandman’s undeserved push was.
13 Erik Watts
Nepotism was on display when Erik Watts received a push in WCW due to being the son of booker “Cowboy” Bill Watts. The second generation wrestler was signed by WCW just three months into his wrestling career and given a ridiculous push that any fan watching would roll their eyes at. Immediately into his WCW career, Watts defeated one of the most respected wrestlers in the company when he scored a victory over Arn Anderson. Despite working against a great wrestler, Watts still looked terrible in the ring and when his dad was removed as booker, Erik was relegated to a jobber before getting released.
12 Garett Bischoff
Yet another case of nepotism in wrestling, as TNA tried to push Garett Bischoff because he was the son of the man in charge of creative, Eric Bischoff. Garett was a referee for a few months before randomly turning face and feuding with his father, as Hulk Hogan endorsed him. At one point, in front of a rare large TNA crowd in the United Kingdom, Hogan tried to cut a promo proclaiming Garett was the future of professional wrestling as the crowd booed viciously. Keep in mind this was a crowd that cheered huge for Hogan, but Bischoff was so awful that his undeserved push caused them to boo someone they loved. Bischoff failed, was released from TNA and no wrestling promotions want to book him.
11 Bobby Lashley
This is one of many instances where WWE tried to push someone who isn’t ready into a main event spot because they like his look. Very early into his wrestling career, Bobby Lashley was made the ECW Champion at one of the worst shows in WWE history, as ECW December to Dismember was a train wreck. Many questioned the decision of giving Lashley the win instead over a more talented and over CM Punk. A few months later, Lashley feuded with Vince McMahon and gave us some very lackluster television. Between his inexperience and weak promo skills, Lashley failed to deliver when given the ball.
10 Lex Luger
Debuting at a time when physique was all it took to get a push, Lex Luger was given opportunities right away in WCW. A few years into his tenure at WCW, Luger was given the WCW World Championship and flopped in the role. Unless he was facing the superb Ric Flair, his work was very disappointing. Somehow, lightning struck twice as Luger was given the same push to a larger extent when WWE wanted him to become the face of the company after Hulk Hogan left. Fans just didn’t buy into Luger because he wasn’t as impressive as Bret Hart, who WWE changed plans and gave the belt to at WrestleMania X.
9 Ezekiel Jackson
Ezekiel Jackson was the prototypical “body guy” as a massive man with huge muscles, weak promo skills and a lack of wrestling ability. When WWE’s version of ECW was ending, Vince McMahon decided to make Jackson the final ECW Champion to start his push going forward. After trying to push him harder with an Intercontinental Title reign, they finally realized that Jackson wasn’t all that good. If only the title of the last ever ECW Champion and time invested in pushing Jackson was used on someone else that deserved a push at the time.
8 Jack Swagger
Money in the Bank is one of the coolest matches in WWE and the winners are usually clear cut choices of star talent. Whether it’s budding stars entering the main event scene like Seth Rollins and Edge or established talent like Rob Van Dam and Randy Orton, the winner is almost always respected. The term “almost always” would be erased if not for Jack Swagger. Everyone was surprised when Swagger won the briefcase and even more shocked when he cashed in to defeat Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship. Swagger did nothing to impress before the title reign and did nothing to impress after and would go down as one of the most unimpressive champions in WWE history.
7 Buff Bagwell
One year into his career at the age of 21, WCW signed Buff Bagwell and saw a world of potential in the young man – a mindset the company would have for almost a decade. Bagwell was given a few chances in tag teams but his biggest push came when he joined the nWo. One of the first young members to join the powerful faction, Bagwell never improved and actually became arguably the worst person in the group. During a transition period in WCW with the New Blood storyline, Bagwell was once again viewed as the future of the business and given a feud with Ric Flair and Roddy Piper, but he once again flopped.
After a stint in the fun but not very talented tag team known as Men on a Mission, Mabel was pushed into the main event scene as a monster heel due to his very intimidating figure. Winning the King of the Ring and adopting the name King Mabel, his biggest match came in the main event of SummerSlam 1995. Mabel challenged Diesel for the WWE Championship and lost in one of the worst main events in the event’s history. Nash has stated in interviews that working with Mabel was tough because he was reckless and didn’t care about his opponent’s well-being. In just about every important factor, Mabel’s push was a failure and one WWE regretted.
5 Roman Reigns
The most recent case of an undeserving mega push came at the 2015 Royal Rumble when WWE decided Roman Reigns was going to be the new face of the company and the fans revolted against it. Following an extremely successful debut as the powerhouse of The Shield, Reigns floundered when the faction broke up and all three members delved into singles action. Roman was doing a decent job but his matches weren’t anything special and his promos were weak. The wrestlers that the fans wanted to see pushed at the time, such as Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, were getting shuffled to the side in favor of him, so resentment grew even stronger for Reigns. After this happened, WWE removed Reigns from the main event picture and went with Seth Rollins as the new champion instead.
4 Vladimir Kozlov
Due to his impressive size and background training in various forms of combat sports, WWE saw something special in Vladimir Kozlov. At best, Kozlov was basic and mundane in the ring. At worst, he was clumsy and boring. Kozlov was inserted into the WWE Championship title picture and in a feud with arguably the two most popular wrestlers in WWE at the time, Jeff Hardy and Triple H. Even the popular talent couldn’t help as Kozlov dragged them down, especially in a singles match against Triple H at Survivor Series 2008 that was one of the worst of the year. Kozlov’s most entertaining days would come when his push was stopped and he entered a comedy tag team with Santino.
3 Ahmed Johnson
During that time period in the 90s between Hulk Hogan leaving and Steve Austin ascending, WWE was looking for their next big star. At one point, it looked like Vince McMahon actually believed Johnson could be the face of the company and he was presented instantly as a star with a big push. Johnson was portrayed as the best friend of top babyface Shawn Michaels in hopes to get him loved by fans. Unfortunately for WWE, Johnson was one of the worst in-ring workers and promos in the industry. Once he suffered an injury that took him off TV and ruined any momentum he built, fans never cared again.
Basically, JBL was pushed into the WWE Championship because he was loyal to Vince McMahon. After working with the company for a decade in the midcard, Bradshaw used his "full" name John Bradshaw Layfield and defeated Eddie Guerrero to win the gold. Partly due to not having anyone else thanks to talent like Brock Lesnar leaving the company and Kurt Angle suffering injuries, WWE basically gave JBL a reward for his long tenure in the company and a very lengthy title reign with the belt. Many often wondered when exactly SmackDown started to become irrelevant during the brand split and it was when JBL became the face of the program.
1 The Great Khali
The Great Khali is arguably the worst in-ring performer in WWE history. He’s unable to speak English coherently and can barely move at a speed more than walking. The reason Khali was given a push at all is because he’s extremely tall. His introduction to the WWE was dismantling and defeating The Undertaker. Many proclaim ‘Taker to be the most respected WWE wrestler of all time and he had to put over a complete stiff. Despite failing to connect with an audience that no longer accepted any tall monster heel with limited talent, Khali was still given multiple opportunities, including a World Heavyweight Championship run. Considering the opportunities he was given and how awful his work was, The Great Khali was given the most undeserving push of all time.