The history of pro wrestling is a wasteland littered with the chewed up and spat out remains of wrestlers who almost achieved legendary status. While some have managed to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and remain a fixture at the top of the sports entertainment mountain, still many others failed even to put a crack in the glass above their heads. As much as promoters like Vince McMahon like to talk about how the audience makes the star and the job of the booker is to give the fans what they want, the fact is most superstars who make it to the very top of the food chain do so because they were hand-picked to be the guy. The mythical brass ring that all performers strive to grab is, in truth, something handed down by the gods (the bookers), not plucked from the heavens by eager superstars.
The trouble is, the bookers aren’t actually gods. They are flawed men who can’t see the future or predict how well a performer will handle the pressure of carrying a promotion. For every Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin, there are countless others who were handed a bright and happy future on a silver platter and then farted it away.
With that in mind, here is our list of 15 superstars who almost made it big. These aren’t wannabe scrubs who could only dream of being given the keys of the kingdom but in reality never were and never would have been (cough cough Ryback); no, these are the performers who were given a shot and they blew it. They were handed the brass ring and they let it slip off their finger and down the drain, either thanks to backstage issues, personal issues, or the cruel fate that is “bad timing.” These are the top 15 superstars that were told “here’s your one chance (fancy)…” but then let their promoter down…
15. BOBBY LASHLEY
Vince McMahon was so determined to get his new amateur recruit over as a big deal he booked him as the babyface competitor in the biggest match on WrestleMania 23’s card, “The Battle of the Billionaires” (featuring Vince McMahon in one corner and…I don’t recall the other guy). No matter what Vince tried, however, the fans never clicked with him. This promo best sums up the problem…
Now I know he said “bastard” and you know he said “bastard” but someone out there thought he said “bath turd” it became a running gag that haunted him for the rest of his WWE career. No matter how many times they tried, Lashley was never able to string five words together without either putting the audience to sleep or drive them to giggles with his flubs. After ECW fizzled he moved to RAW and feuded with John Cena, losing clean in a title match. That was basically the end.
The Caribbean wrestler (son of the legendary Carlos Colón Sr.) came to McMahanland with great support from WWE writers. He also came with an enormous chip on his shoulder. While some have joined the company and received an instant main-event run, Carlito started out in the midcard. Nevertheless, the charismatic superstar was presented by commentary as a future main-eventer from day one.
Unfortunately, Carlito’s attitude prevented him from ever taking advantage of the pushes WWE wanted to give him. On one occasion he was poised to make the jump to the top of the card but his off-screen demeanor cost him: He was one of the finalists among WWE writers to win Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 23, but an interview complaining about not being used on PPV nixed it. He was this close to having what he complained about not having, but because he complained, he missed out on having it.
13. CHRIS HERO/Kassius Ohno
Hero is currently getting a second chance in NXT but seems like less of a big deal than he was before he left the company the first time. What’s funny is he left the company last time after barely appearing WWE TV. He joined the company in 2011 with more fanfare leading up to his debut than any he received after it.
Triple H was a vocal critic too, telling him he needed to spend more time in the gym (he was not that flabby, but he was getting there) and after refusing, he was released. Soon after he left, NXT started gaining serious momentum in the run-up to the WWE Network launch. Had he stuck around and gotten into better shape he might have been among the first big call-ups. Instead he disappeared to the indies only to recently return even more out of shape than when he left.
12. JEFF HARDY
In the late-2000s Jeff Hardy was one of the few popular holdovers from the Attitude Era without a main-event push. That changed in late 2008 when he finally captured the WWE Title. Even though he didn’t hold the title for long it was clear the company considered him a “made man” ready to pick up the ball at the next opportunity.
That opportunity came soon after WrestleMania XXV when he won the World Heavyweight Title and began a hot feud with CM Punk. By then, Hardy was incredibly over with everyone and was moving merchandise better than even Golden Goose John Cena. It looked like he was poised to receive a long main-event run but continued drug problems combined with two wellness-violations (a third would mean automatic firing) kept WWE from fully committing to him. Hardy’s past had finally caught up with him and prevented him from holding onto the brass ring after he’d finally snagged it.
11. MR. KENNEDY
Kennedy won the MITB contract at WrestleMania 23 and immediately promised to cash-in at WrestleMania XXIV, ensuring himself a main-event spot on the biggest show of the year. It was arrogant heeling, but also a signal that Vince was ready to go all-in.
Unfortunately, the injury bug spread like crazy in 2007 and Kennedy was an early casualty. He might have weathered the storm if then-World Champ Undertaker had not also gone down with an injury soon after. Needing someone to win the title and Kennedy no longer able, Kennedy became the first superstar to lose the MITB briefcase (to Edge, who won the title…and then got injured).
That’s not really his fault though…
True, but what about getting busted with a wellness-violation mere days before being outed as Vince’s bastard son? That’s blowing your shot. He went from being the Jon Snow of WWE to being…I dunno, Podrick? He blew it is all I’m saying.
10. JACK SWAGGER
First of all, let’s not even count Swagger’s World Title run in mid 2010 as any kind of “brass ring grabbing.” He never sniffed even the main-event of a random June episode of SmackDown in those days.
But later Swagger was given a real chance to be a big something, when he was paired with Zeb Coulter and a highly-infectious “we the people!” chant. Really though, it was never Swagger who was over; it was all Zeb, but managers can only manage; Swagger was given a major push in the run-up to WrestleMania XXIX. He feuded with Alberto Del Rio and together they managed to get the crowd excited about both of them (no easy feat). Swagger was set to win the World Title at Mania too, and likely would have been given a legit main-event run but he pulled an RVD and got himself busted for weed weeks before the show. So long brass ring.
9. WADE BARRETT
Wade Barrett’s career is one big “blown opportunity.” For the better part of six years WWE held out a brass ring for him to take, begging him to seize it. Barrett just kept running away from it as hard as possible, and on those few occasions where he said “fine, I’ll take your stupid brass ring” fate stepped in and said “lolno.”
Barrett was never hotter than when he lead The Nexus against Cena’s ‘superfriends’ at SummerSlam 2010. A win there would surely have propelled him to the WWE Title picture and a likely win. Nope: Cena’d. Then, after climbing back to the top, he was again given the green light, which would have included a MITB win and title run. Nope: Injury. Then, miraculously, he got over again as Bad News Barrett and looked poised to have another main-event run, only to again get injured. By then WWE finally gave up on him.
8. DANIEL PUDER
If ever there was a superstar that blew his “one” shot, it’s Puder. The MMA upstart won the 2004 WWE Tough Enough competition and soon after debuted on SmackDown when Kurt Angle called out the next generation to come out and make a name for themselves. That was scripted. He then locked horns with Angle, showing himself a confident rookie. That was also scripted. Puder then twisted Angle like a pretzel and placed him in a kimura lock. This was not scripted; the hold was legitimately applied and might have broken Kurt’s arm had the Olympian not quickly rolled the rookie onto his back and called for the ref to give him a three-count (despite Puder’s shoulders being up).
In the days before the “Women’s Revolution” there was never a WWE Diva quite like this one. After a long and successful career in Japan and later TNA as “Amazing Kong” and “Awesome Kong,” the six-foot, 270 pound monster of a woman debuted in WWE with a killer name: Kharma.
A month’s worth of vignettes and teases preceded her debut, which was rare for a female talent at the time; WWE clearly believed they had someone special to build their division around. When she finally appeared in May of 2011 she spent three weeks running roughshod over every diva in sight and looking like the second coming of Andre the Giant (the female version). And then…she was gone. Not even a month after debuting she announced she was pregnant and would be stepping away from the ring. Though she made a surprise appearance at the 2012 Royal Rumble, she never returned to fulltime WWE work.
6. JOHN MORRISON
Throughout the late-2000s John Morrison had the look of a WWE main-eventer. Though small, his flashy moves and killer body (those abs) kept him popular and in 2011 it looked like WWE was ready to give him a main-event opportunity. Instead, they pulled a headfake and tossed the ball to, of all people, R-Truth. Truth went on to get the main-event rub (even getting a one-on-one PPV match with John Cena) while Morrison soon after left WWE all together.
Despite popularity with fans, Morrison ruined his chance to be main-eventer after a backstage incident. His girlfriend Melina began an affair with Batista and when Morrison found out, he backed down from a fight with the future Drax the Destroyer. That act of cowardice ruined him in the eyes of Vince, who was already no fan of his weak-looking offense. After his non-fight with Batista, Vince wrote him off from that point forward.
5. ROB VAN DAM
It’s often said that if Vince wants to push you, there’s not much you can do to keep him from giving you a shot. On the other hand, if he doesn’t see the appeal in you, then you can be sure that any slip-up will be all the excuse he needs to declare his instincts right and drop you like a hot potato.
Enter “RVD, WWE Champion.”
It’s not a phrase Vince would have uttered just a year before it happened, but by 2006, Vince was looking to restore the ECW brand and needed to appeal to the cynical and suspicious ECW fanbase. So, Vince put his most cherished title around the waist of the most popular ECWer he had…who then decided to get busted for weed. You can’t really blame him (weed is what he does), but it was all the excuse needed for Vince to declare RVD’s one chance “blown” (inhaled?).
4. WILLIAM REGAL
It’s a relief that Regal is clean and sober today but that wasn’t always the case. For most of his WCW and early WWE career, Regal was always a reliable utility/mid-card heel but never was seen as having the potential to be more than that.
Then, in 2008 Regal (who was also serving as Raw’s GM) rigged the King of the Ring tournament to give himself an easy path to the finals, before defeating CM Punk in an upset. After that he took the kingly-title to heart and began wielding unchecked power over the WWE. He even shut off the lights on Monday Night Raw!
The angle was hot and Regal looked set for his first main-event run. And then his demons got the best of him and he was suspended for 60 days after his second wellness-violation. He returned to the company and sobered up for good, but never again got another chance at the top.
3. BUFF BAGWELL
To say the WCW acquisition failed to live up to expectations would be an understatement. If the failure of the aborted WCW relaunch could be condensed into one phrase it would be “Buff Bagwell.” Someone, in what had to be a rib, convinced Vince that he didn’t need to spend money to buy the contracts of Goldberg, Nash, Hall, Steiner, etc, and that the midcarders that came with the package deal when he bought WCW would be enough to relaunch the brand. The laboratory to put that experiment to the test was the July 2, 2001 edition of Raw.
Imagine being Buff Bagwell, standing in the back, waiting for your cue to go out there and main-event the intended-relaunch of WCW, as the main-event heel of the brand. And then, 20 minutes later, walking back knowing you not only killed your own career, but also the entire business strategy of a billion dollar company.
2. THE SHOCKMASTER!
I mean, this pretty much is the point of the article, right? Fred Ottman had a pretty decent career up to this point but no one ever expected him to get a legitimate chance as a main eventer. He was known mostly as Tugboat in WWE and WCW decided to throw him into the main event of War Games where he would team with Sting, British Bulldog and Dustin Rhodes to take on the heel team of Sid Vicious, Big Van Vader and Harlem Heat. Sting hyped up a mystery partner during a segment of ‘A Flair for the Gold’ claiming he was going to “shock the world”. Then this happened… Well, you can’t say Sting was lying; we were all legitimately shocked by what happened here.
1. DANIEL BRYAN
For years, Daniel Bryan wrestled with a style that could only be described as “reckless abandon.” When he signed with WWE, the company took one look at his top-rope dropkicks, suicide dives and Benoit-like flying headbutts and told him to tone it down for his health’s sake.
Even when he finally got his deserved main-event push, the company begged him to bring the crazy down a notch, to ensure a longer, healthier career. He refused. When he won the title at WrestleMania XXX it was an ending to one of the best stories ever told in pro wrestling.
And then, not two months later, he was laying the title down and walking away, barely able to use his right arm. He returned a year later and won the IC title…before relinquishing it and retiring for good.
He had his shot, but then career of recklessness caught up to him and took it all away.
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