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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8 Bobby Lashley
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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