Throughout the years in the WWE, thousands of wrestlers sign a contract hoping for fame, fortune and WrestleMania moments. While a handful get to fulfill their dreams, there are so many that just get left behind in the wayside and never get to perform to their full potential in the biggest stage of professional wrestling.
It's understandable for so many wrestlers to truly succeed in the WWE: this is the entertainment industry- its cutthroat, dirty and dreams will be inevitably be crushed. Wrestlers do not have full control over their fate as they face obstacles of the creative team, management and other wrestlers who are just as driven to achieve the same goals. Whenever you read an article that lists a bunch of superstars and divas being wished well on their future endeavors, its nothing more than just the cycle of the WWE machine. With WrestleMania having just passed, expect more in the coming weeks.
However, it's quite baffling to see how many amazing talents walk in the door, only to be taken to directions so misguided that there's no turning back, or are ruined to a point where its a miracle for them to pick up a win or appear on TV, even though you know that they're capable of so much more than they are given.
This list compiles a group of WWE talent who would've been or continued to be major players in the WWE, but fell victim to poor booking and treatment, and as a result, wasted on the world's biggest wrestling company.
15 Scotty Goldman
Revered in the independent wrestling scene as Colt Cabana, he is a marquee name around the world, and a staple in the revered "Ring of Honor" promotion. Colt signed with the WWE in 2007 and never made it past the lower card. It seems like their was a disconnect between Scotty and creative: the latter didn't understand or care for the character he wanted to be: a fun loving comedian with great technical skills. In 2009 he was released even though he has the comedic chops to legitimately make people laugh, but WWE were dismissive of his talents from the start.
14 Solomon Crowe
Another independent wrestling standout known around the world as “Sami Callihan”, Crowe was part of NXT, which has grown into a popular phenomenon. However, he never got to ride the hype he got from his independent tenure like others such as Kevin Owens and Finn Balor. He signed with WWE in 2013, but due to unfortunate injury setbacks, he debuted on TV in 2015. He never entered any meaningful feuds and often lost his matches. On November 24, he requested for his release, citing unhappiness with his career direction. He was an asset to the WWE, as he had a unique look and brought this intense brawling style that enhanced the believability of his matches.
13 Trent Barreta
Trent was unique: he had this weird sense of humor, was in a fun tag team called the “Dudebusters”, and is a great high-flying wrestler- but you wouldn’t really know that if you weren’t watching WWE Superstars or NXT when it was a competition series. He wasn’t given much attention to begin with, and in February 2012, tore his biceps and was out for six months. Once WWE scheduled his return in NXT, it became apparent that he would never be viewed as a top priority. On January 11 2013, he was released. However, as an indie wrestler, he’s thriving and competing around the world in places such as New Japan and Ring Honor, thus proving he actually has the skills to be a top wrestler.
12 David Hart Smith
Throughout Smith’s WWE career, he was mostly viewed as an afterthought, which was pretty confusing considering WWE’s favoritism towards wrestlers with historic lineage, for example: Cody Rhodes, Randy Orton and Roman Reigns come to mind. Smith’s father is the British Bulldog, his uncles are the Harts, and he has great wrestling ability, but yet, he was never treated as a big deal. However, he did experience some success, as he is a former WWE tag team champion with Tyson Kidd, but that’s it. You can’t really pinpoint moments throughout his career that define a legacy. It seems like a waste of someone with such a prestigious pedigree.
11 Jim Ross
Okay, so he’s not a wrestler but his contributions to the wrestling industry is undeniable. It’s amazing how WWE let the most iconic voice in pro wrestling commentary slip away. Despite being ridiculed by the company multiple times, he still stuck with them as a loyal workhorse. Whether it was on Raw or SmackDown, his iconic southern voice enhanced the in-ring product. It’s rather strange regarding the situation of his firing: he was let go after a WWE 2K14 press conference where he failed as a host to control the behavior of an intoxicated Ric Flair. Jim Ross was let go unceremoniously, even though it was at the expense of someone else’s actions.
10 Derrick Bateman
Now wrestling in TNA as “EC3”, the artist formerly known as Derrick Bateman is proof of just how successful you can be if you are given the ball to run with. He has sky-rocketed to the main event as both a villain and hero, and has become a two time TNA world heavyweight champion. Even when stuck in WWE’s lower card, he was always entertaining. He brought this vibrant energy, over the top humor and charisma that is hard to come by with a lot of WWE superstars. Releasing him in 2013 was WWE’s loss, as he is showing the pro wrestling world how entertaining he can be when given the freedom.
Before WWE, “Low Ki” wrestled around the world as a big independent star, and became known for his hard hitting, MMA based offense. After signing with the company in 2010, he was rechristened as “Kaval” and won the second season of NXT. After that he moved to Smackdown where he lost most of his matches and the only significant moment he had was a PPV Intercontinental title shot against Dolph Ziggler. It wasn’t long before he was back on the indies. Kaval is a big “what if”- he might have been more successful in the current age of WWE. They are now more receptive to independent stars, and despite his small stature, he had a great skillset that could’ve made him a staple in the midcard division.
Initially, MVP was killing it was this cocky, self-absorbed athlete. He had great rivalries against Chris Benoit and Matt Hardy, as well as winning the US and tag titles. But after losing the U.S. title to Matt Hardy, he experienced a downward spiral that he never recovered from. He had a losing streak that lasted for five months but never had a payoff. He won the U.S. title again, but the reign was short and forgettable. Instead of building MVP as a top villain, he became a utility player.
He was never inserted into feuds where he could showcase his ring skills and mic ability; all he was used for were meaningless matches. In 2010, MVP had enough and requested his release, hoping to pursue better opportunities such as wrestling in Japan.
7 Brodus Clay
Brodus’ dancing gimmick was never a hindrance. Instead of being another generic “monster heel”, he tried something different and stood out for it. It worked for a while, as he had a long undefeated streak and the crowds were getting behind him. But the biggest reason why this character ultimately failed was because Brodus Clay never evolved: all he did was win matches without inserting himself into interesting storylines or feuds. His appeal wore thin with the audiences and eventually everyone just stopped caring. WWE made him fade into obscurity until his 2014 release even though he was able to portray this entertaining, yet believably intimidating force.
6 Evan Bourne
Bourne’s demise may have been of his doing. After so many years of just being the guy who did the shooting star press, he won the tag titles with Kofi Kingston as “Air Boom”, and were heralded as the forefront of the re-emergence of the WWE tag team division. Unfortunately, in the middle of the reign, Bourne violated the Wellness Policy for smoking spice, and was suspended for 30 days. Air Boom dropped the titles, and before Bourne could redeem himself, he was violated the Wellness Policy again. If that wasn't enough of a setback, he suffered a severe leg injury that put him out of action until his 2014 release. Perhaps Bourne would've achieved more in the company if he didn’t make such bad decisions.
Kaitlyn developed into one of the most improved WWE divas ever. Although a season three NXT winner, she was so green in the ring. However, as time progressed, she was getting better. Then she won a battle royal-by accident- for a Divas title shot, and once she inserted herself in the Divas’ main event scene, she held on and proved she belonged. She became a very likable personality and pulled off entertaining matches.
After capturing the title in an emotional win in Houston, she had one of the better women’s feuds of the 2010s against AJ Lee, culminating in a great PPV match where she lost the title. Then that was it- WWE soon stopped caring about a valuable asset, and faded her into obscurity. Disgruntled with her direction, she left the company on January 4, 2014 and retired from wrestling.
4 Drew McIntyre
Upon his debut, Vince McMahon himself dubbed McIntyre as a “future world champion.” He had everything needed to be a main eventer: size, look, skill and support from management. He quickly won the intercontinental and tag titles, and was legitimizing himself as a major player. But then he got into an altercation with his wife at the time, Tiffany, who got arrested for domestic disturbance.
McIntyre’s stock plummeted to a point of no return. WWE stopped caring, and he was put in the comedy jobber trio; 3MB until his 2014 release. WWE’s loss is TNA’s gain as he is now at the forefront as the company’s heavyweight champion, and is one of the most sought out indie talents, because despite mistakes in his personal life, he is a great wrestler.
3 AJ Lee
The last few months of her career were so undeserving of someone so talented. After the immensely controversial departure of CM Punk, she became stigmatized by association because she became his wife, and he was suing the company due to the negligence of the WWE doctor Chris Amann. Also, in a divas division that was so intent on solely promoting Total Divas, AJ was a beacon of light because as Divas champion.
She tried her best to promote women's wrestling amidst two minute matches and spotlighting petty reality show drama. After a while, it felt like she lost her spark, as seen through her less than stellar matches. After WrestleMania 31 she retired from the company and wrestling altogether. With the WWE now introducing the Women's Championship, now would feel like a perfect time for AJ to mix it up with the other women emerging in the company.
2 Muhammad Hassan
Hassan managed to highlight the insecurities of Americans against the Arab community. He exposed their ignorance by eliciting USA chants even though he claimed to be Arab American and his promos consisted of valid points against the institutionalized racism in the country. But WWE pushed the storyline too far at the wrong time- after doing an angle with the Undertaker that mirrored terrorist acts, the character and WWE faced scrutiny from major news outlets and in the process, Muhammad Hassan’s TV tenure came to an abrupt end. Had WWE not overstepped their limits, they would have had a legendary villain at their disposal- Muhammad Hassan showed that a “foreigner” gimmick didn't always have to be so one dimensional- he had many layers that made him a compelling character, and not just another pro wrestling villain.
1 CM Punk
This may seem like a played-out answer, but CM Punk was such an influential and impactful superstar in modern WWE. His popularity rivaled John Cena, he was a top merchandise seller and he had an enormous fan base around the world. Such an unceremonious, abrupt departure leaves so many “might-have-beens” and what-ifs. Granted, CM Punk was very unhappy in his last years with the company, so it leaves the question: had WWE treated him better and listened to what he had to say, maybe WWE would still have a genuine main event superstar and money draw at their disposal, but instead they severed their relationship with CM Punk to a point where he became disenchanted with pro-wrestling in general.