WWE is the big dog when it comes to sports entertainment, there’s no doubt about that. Whatever issues people have with their storylines or style, everyone can agree it works on a mainstream level. But just because they’re sitting comfortably at the top of the mountain of wrestling, it doesn’t mean they always make the smartest decision when it comes to who to make into a big star.
Even now there are people at the company who a lot of fans think should be more utilized, like Cesaro or Neville. Great competitors with a strong work ethic and huge fanbases that seem to floundering in the mid-card while the company focuses on other superstars. Sometimes, wrestlers in these positions simply leave the company, or get let go from their contracts. Not surprisingly, they end up becoming bigger sensations elsewhere, proving that WWE was wrong to not have faith in them.
If you were to look at some of the biggest wrestlers in America right now that aren’t wrestling for Vince McMahon, you’d probably find they once did. Whether it was a brief stint as European Champion in the early 2000s, or a few try-out matches on Velocity, pretty much everyone has spent some time in WWE. Whether or not they work out is up to their performance and how they fit into whatever WWE is planning at that moment, and for whatever reasons, some of the biggest potential stars slip through the cracks.
So, here are 15 superstars who could have gone on to become huge stars, or even bigger stars than they already were, if they hadn’t slipped through Vince McMahon’s fingers.
15 Colt Cabana
Mostly famous these days for his controversial podcast episode with CM Punk, Colt Cabana actually did have a brief run in the WWE under the name Scotty Goldman. He spent over a year with the company before asking to leave, probably due to his extended developmental time despite him already being an accomplished wrestler, or due to his jobbing status when he finally moved up to TV.
Since then, he’s become an indie megastar. Multiple championships and a large online following shows Colt Cabana was definitely not being used to his full potential in the WWE.
If you’re going to introduce a character so clearly destined to fight The Undertaker, you should probably have him fight The Undertaker at least once before giving up on him.
Mordecai was a religious zealot who stood in creepy chapels judging people for their sins, eventually debuting at Judgement Day 2004. He had a few matches after that, before losing to Rey Mysterio and not being seen ever again.
I’m not saying Mordecai was a definite star in the making, but a creepy character that seemed like a great antithesis to The Undertaker would have made for an interesting feud.
13 Brian Kendrick
Currently working as a trainer at WWE, Brian Kendrick seems to finally slipping into place at the WWE. His first run with the company he hopped between gimmicks and mostly got himself beaten up for his troubles. His second run was more successful, winning a historically long Tag Team belt with Paul London, however during the 2007 Draft they were both lost in the shuffle, and Kendrick spent most of his time on the pre-shows.
But Brian was talented in-ring and had a great confidence on the mic, holding multiple championships around the world because of it.
12 Matt Morgan
I once went to school with a kid named Matt Morgan, and never liked the wrestler because I never liked the kid. I don’t know if WWE had a similar issue with him, as he always seemed to be hanging around with crowds, only being used to fill out a numbers game. When he was put on his own, he got a strange stuttering gimmick.
He never got to show what kind of guy he was until he joined TNA in 2007. Becoming one of the main players in several feuds, he established himself as a TNA star, and still returns sporadically to wrestle.
11 Rene Dupree
Rene Dupree seemed like WWE’s pick of the newest crop of superstars to make it big. He got a decent push while only 19, but a little guy named John Cena stopped that momentum. He got shuffled around a bit before eventually leaving the company.
After becoming a huge star in Japan, Rene let loose in a shoot interview where he leveled some serious criticisms of WWE’s handling of injuries and arrogant stars. He could have been a star in WWE, but instead they treated him badly and he became a legend for All Japan Pro Wrestling instead.
10 Brodus Clay
Brodus Clay should have been booked as more of a monster. The guy is huge, strong and scary looking, and it definitely was always jarring to see him come out dancing with cheerleaders. I mean, I didn’t hate the Funkasaurus gimmick, Lord knows there have been worse variations of “dancing colored man” on WWE TV, but I feel it didn’t help his rise in the company.
In TNA, he’s been acting as a bodyguard to EC3 and wrestling on the indies, and finding a lot more success in these runs. He’s definitely proven that he deserves to be booked as a tough guy, and dancing just ain’t his forte.
9 Montel Vontavious Porter
MVP had all the makings of being WWE’s own Booker T story. Like Booker, he was arrested at a young age, and used wrestling as a way to carve out a legitmate career for himself. And there was potential for one hell of a career.
He was charismatic in the ring, and always fun to watch. If WWE had capitalized on him during and after his U.S. title run, he could have easily been a main event player.
Since then, he’s had minor runs on TNA and in Japan. A story that had all the makings of an inspirational classic, MVP’s career never reached the highs it should have.
8 Bobby Lashley
Bobby Lashley, you poor soul. Touted as the next big thing in the company, he just couldn’t get over enough with the crowds to warrant pulling the trigger. In a way, he was sort of like the modern Roman Reigns. However, they could never quite push him correctly, and eventually he left the company after an unexciting sting in ECW. He fared better in TNA, but it was always the goal to make Lashley the big face of WWE, and it was an opportunity that slipped through Vince McMahon’s fingers.
7 Ultimo Dragon
During a time when Rey Mysterio was quickly becoming the most over guy in the company, Ultimo Dragon could have easily worked his way through the ranks with a similar look and exciting martial arts style. A highly decorated wrestler, even holding multiple championships in WCW, Ultimo Dragon really could have been amazing in WWE.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be, as WWE never gave him a push or spotlight to shine. We never even got to see him go the distance with Rey, with the two only sharing a very brief match on Smackdown.
6 Solomon Crowe
This one is just sort of confusing. NXT has a great history of bringing up indie stars and utilizing to the best of their abilities, but Solomon Crowe didn’t seem to get that treatment. Most likely due to his strange hacker gimmick, the indie star never got over on NXT, and was quietly released at the tail end of 2015.
He immediately re-entered the indie circuits under the name Sami Callihan, and seeks to add to his already impressive arsenal of titles. Strange to think he, at one point, would be uttered in the same breath as Neville and Dean Ambrose when talking about the biggest indie stars.
5 Chris Masters
Chris Masters was set to be a main eventer at the WWE. He was given a huge push in his first year, becoming a real hot heel with a punishing finishing submission, but the moment he got his WWE Championship opportunity he just sort of…degraded down to the midcard. It was strange to see, as within months he went from a big name to a big nothing.
He eventually went back to the indie circuits and will forever be a weird footnote in WWE’s history. Which is a shame, as the guy had all the tools to make it at the top of the card.
4 Drew McIntyre
If we’re talking guys groomed for the main event, Drew McIntyre got the biggest boon when Vince McMahon declared him the “chosen one”. He went on to win the Intercontinental Championship after winning some big feuds, but he ended up turning into the real victim of The Nexus.
When The Nexus debuted, there were suddenly lots more hot young talents in the WWE, and Drew got lost in the shuffle. Eventually he ended up in jobber group 3MB, before leaving the company. He’s gone to become one of the major faces of TNA and Progress Wrestling, showing his star power is still there, and WWE really dropped the ball on him.
3 Ethan Carter III
During one of the earlier iterations of NXT, there was a fun little guy named Derick Bateman who was tutored by fan favorite Daniel Bryan. He quickly got himself over with his goofy antics with Bryan, and showed impressive in ring talent. For some bizarre reason, WWE didn’t see him as a serious competitor and released him.
Derick Bateman went on to become Ethan Carter III, the leading heel and company face of TNA. TNA does a lot of things wrong, but they saw the potential in Bateman and turned him into the star fans always knew he would be.
2 AJ Styles
AJ Styles performed twice for the WWE, and for his efforts was offered a fairly low-cost deal that required him to move states to developmental, which he declined. A few years later he’s making huge waves on the indie circuits. A few years after that, he’s becoming a more recognized name on TNA.
And now? AJ Styles is considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the world, if not THE best wrestler in the world. He’s won more titles than most can fathom, and has won several awards throughout the years. Styles became a megastar everywhere but the WWE, who probably are regretting not offering him a better deal all those years ago. They've reportedly signed him now, but with Styles in his late 30s, it might be too late for him to reach the top of the card in WWE.
1 CM Punk
You know, it’s quite easily said that there’s no “potential” about CM Punk, he simply was a star they let slip away. But I think Punk represented something much more. This guy could have easily been the new face of the company, and they let him slip away.
He was the perfect wrestler, with amazing charisma and incredible in-ring ability, and fans would have happily accepted him replacing Cena as the big dog at WWE. All the makings were there, but due to backstage politics, he eventually left. It was definitely too early for Punk to leave WWE, as he really should have entertained us on Raw for many more years to come.