Because a professional wrestler is, essentially, some combination of an athlete and an actor, the wrestling business can be a pretty weird thing. For example, while some off-screen shenanigans might result in an actor not getting a role, you can’t objectively say one actor is better than another; it’s a matter of personal choice. In professional sports, we do have objective data to inform us which player or team is superior. But barring the odd poor call from a referee, the best team or player always wins. You can’t have a situation in which, let’s say Chelsea has the most points at the end of the English Premier League season, but the league awards the title to Manchester United instead because the head of the league prefers the way they look.
However, that is exactly what we have with pro wrestling. Nobody who has ever seen more than two wrestling matches would argue that Hulk Hogan was a great ‘wrestler’, yet he was champion for over four years in the 1980s. And there have been many great wrestlers who never got big opportunities because they weren’t seen as marketable enough. Add to that all the backstage politicking and there have been plenty of wrestlers who didn’t get the spots they deserved. And that’s not including the guys who screwed themselves out of chances because of drug or other behavioral problems (such as Marty Jannetty, Rob Van Dam, or Mr. Kennedy). So read on and find out about 15 wrestlers who got screwed out of big opportunities.
15 CM Punk Never Main Eventing WrestleMania
CM Punk was at his hottest for WrestleManias 28 and 29. These were the years they did the two Rock-Cena matches. Now, you can understand why the WWE wanted to keep The Rock in the main event. However, it kind of sent a bad message to the guys who were working their butts off every week for the company; and none more so than Punk. Furthermore, the second match had considerably less hype than the first, despite the WWE taking the title off Punk to give it to The Rock at the Rumble prior. A better decision probably would have been to let Punk extend his 434 day title reign into ‘Mania and make it a triple threat match.
And let’s not forget that whole debacle between the amazing Money In The Bank match and Survivor Series in 2011, where Punk lost the title to Alberto del Rio thanks to Kevin freaking Nash, who couldn’t even work a match, so instead Punk fought Triple H...and lost. What?! Punk might be difficult to get along with, but he has reasons for being disgruntled.
14 Seth Rollins Not Getting The Return He Deserved
When Seth Rollins injured his knee in the autumn of 2015, some saw it as a blessing in disguise. Rollins was the reigning WWE Champion, but hadn’t been been booked like a champion. He was positioned as subservient to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. But he was undeniably a great worker, so many expected that when Rollins finally returned from his lengthy layoff, the fans would embrace him as a babyface. After all, absence makes the heart grow fonder. When Rollins returned unannounced and attacked champion Roman Reigns (who pretty much everybody hates anyway), the crowd loved him.
But the WWE was so tone deaf that they still tried to keep Rollins as a heel. The booking was entirely backwards. What’s worse, when they finally did turn Seth face in September, he had lost steam, and the crowd never took to him as strongly as they had before. With Seth out injured again, one can only hope they don’t botch his comeback a second time.
13 Sting Not Getting A Clean Win At Starrcade '97
When discussing the successes of WCW, somebody will inevitably mention the build to Starrcade ‘97. For a year and a half, the nWo ran roughshod over WCW, while the mercurial Sting watched from the rafters. When the Stinger finally confronted Hollywood Hogan and the nWo, the crowd went wild. Sting was the last babyface left to challenge Hogan and the anticipation for Starrcade was incredible. The only problem was, this was WCW, and screwing things up was seemingly in their DNA. They decided to book a screwball finish, probably because the 43-year old Hogan didn’t want to lose clean, and also because they wanted to play off the Montreal Screwjob from the previous month. So referee Nick Patrick made a fast count --or at least he was supposed to-- and Sting got screwed, only for Bret Hart to come down and reverse the decision. The title was eventually held-up. It was a horrible way to end their biggest show of the year and Sting never got the proper title reign he should have.
12 Shane Douglas Held Back By The Kliq
Shane Douglas was one of several victims of The Kliq. The Kliq were a backstage faction of friends Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Triple H, and X-Pac. Because of their star power, they held great sway over Vince, and they could kill the push of any guy they didn’t like. And nobody seems entirely sure why, but they didn’t like Shane Douglas. Now, you can’t blame The Kliq for the ‘Dean Douglas’ character. That was clearly the M.O. of mid-1990s Vince, when all his characters seemed to have non-wrestling jobs (Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese, Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg, etc.). So you could argue there was always a ceiling for the Dean Douglas character. Nevertheless, the guy who had been the star of the nascent ECW promotion and had garnered attention with fiery, angry promos based on real life events, never got the opportunity to showcase any of that side of his personality due to heat with The Kliq.
11 Bret Hart Not Getting His Return Match at WrestleMania 13
WrestleMania XII could not have been easy for Bret Hart. Apart from the grueling one hour match, Bret had to surrender his WWE title to the younger Shawn Michaels, signalling a passing of the torch. One of the things that made it palatable for Bret, though, was the knowledge that the plan was for him to win the return match at the following WrestleMania. Fast forward 10 months, and Shawn Michaels “lost [his] smile”. Michaels vacated the title due to a questionable knee injury. It was behavior like this that made Bret detest Shawn. Bret would win the vacant title, but only hold it for a day, as Vince chose Sid defending against Undertaker as his new ‘Mania main event (a truly awful match).
The bright side was that Bret went on to have maybe the greatest WrestleMania match of all time with Steve Austin. And hey, Bret would eventually get his rematch against Shawn at Survivor Series later that year in Montreal. That didn’t go quite as Bret had wanted, though…
10 Ric Flair Not Getting The WrestleMania VIII Main Event
When NWA Champion Ric Flair appeared on WWE programming in 1991, everybody anticipated a mega-match. The longtime face of WCW/NWA could finally wrestle the face of the WWE, Hulk Hogan. The WWE ran a house show loop headlined by this match, which was standard practice at that time; you did the feud at live events before the big match on Pay-Per-View. Only, the tour didn’t draw very well. Apparently in response to this, the WWE decided Flair would defend his newly won WWE title against Randy Savage, but the main event would be Hulk Hogan against the other recent WCW recruit, Sid Justice.
The main event was a disqualification finish and it sucked, memorable only for Papa Shango missing his cue to interfere. The title match was good, but the build-up was weird with Flair claiming to have compromising photos of Miss Elizabeth. Yes, the house show tour was poor, but one has to believe some backstage politics were involved in here.
9 Triple H Denied Winning The '96 King of the Ring
On May 9, 1996, Kevin Nash (Diesel) and Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) wrestled their last matches for the WWE at a house show at Madison Square Garden. Hall and Nash were leaving for WCW for bigger contracts, but were sad to leave their friends behind, specifically Shawn Michaels and Triple H. After Michaels defeated Nash in the main event, Hall and Triple H came down and the four hugged to say goodbye. A touching moment, only it broke kayfabe as two were faces at the time and two were heels. Vince McMahon was angered by this and felt a punishment was in order. Only, Hall and Nash were now gone, and Michaels was his world champion. Thus, only Triple H was left to be punished.
Hunter had been slated to win the King of the Ring tournament the following month. Instead, that honor was given the Steve Austin. Between Austin’s famous “3:16” promo and Hunter winning the tournament the following year, everything actually worked out rather well.
8 Ricky Steamboat Being Relegated To A Bit Player
At WrestleMania III, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat defeated ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Championship in what some consider to be the greatest WrestleMania match ever. One would have thought this would be a launching pad for both men to go straight to the top. And Savage did, winning the World title the following year (more on that later). Steamboat, however, would never again reach such heights in the WWE. Just a few months after winning the IC title, he asked Vince McMahon for time off to be with his newborn child. A reasonable request, but Vince was taken aback, as he never would have given the title to Steamboat had he known ‘The Dragon’ would want time off.
The IC title was moved to the Honky Tonk Man (apparently quite randomly) and when Steamboat returned he was never anything more than a lower midcard wrestler. There was a great opportunity for Steamboat and Savage to meet again in the WrestleMania IV tournament, but they had Steamboat lose in the first round to Greg Valentine.
7 Billy Kidman Being Held Back By Hogan
Hulk Hogan strikes again. In 2000, WCW was in a death spiral. In one of their many attempts to right the ship, they set up two new factions: The New Blood and the Millionaire’s Club. The former were a group of up-and-coming talents that felt they had been held back in WCW. The latter were a collection of well-paid, older stars. Makes sense except, The New Blood were the heels and The Millionaire’s Club were the faces. It was completely backwards. It was also weird watching the literally baby-faced Billy Kidman play heel against the much bigger Hogan. Hogan repeatedly ran Kidman down, on WCW television and off it, infamously saying Kidman couldn’t draw a crowd at a flea market. What’s worse is that Hogan beat Kidman. Twice. At back-to-back pay-per-views. ‘The Hulkster” always did know how to get over young talent, huh?
6 Bam Bam Bigelow Not Getting His Promised Push
In 1995, Vince McMahon tried to recreate what worked so well a decade previous and have a mainstream star wrestle at WrestleMania XI. The star was NFL player Lawrence Taylor. Vince had to choose a charismatic heel who was a good enough wrestler to get a decent match out of Taylor. Also, crucially, the wrestler had to be willing to put over a football player. As a result of being promised a big push later that year if he cooperated, Bam Bam Bigelow stepped up to the plate, and actually had a half-decent match with Taylor. Bigelow turned face shortly thereafter, but his push was never forthcoming. Nobody’s entirely sure why, but most figure The Kliq had something to do with it. Bigelow was one of several wrestlers The Kliq disliked and they used their stroke to keep Bigelow out of the main event. Bigelow was pushed further and further down the card until he left the company late that year.
5 Road Warrior Hawk Abandoning Animal
When The Road Warriors finally came to the WWE in 1990, it should have been a match made in heaven. While it started off okay, The Road Warriors (rechristened the ‘Legion of Doom’) never quite had the run many had hoped. And when a ventriloquist dummy, Rocco, was added to their act, that was too much for Hawk. Hawk had always been the more headstrong and prickly of the two, so it should come as no shock that he quit the WWE after SummerSlam 1992 (perhaps after a binge-drinking tour of London).
Animal, however, felt obligated to serve out the rest of his contract. He wrestled in singles and in tags along with Crush. It was during this period that Animal severely injured his back and was sidelined for over three years. Some reward for being principled and responsible. Hawk, on the other hand, would have several successful years in New Japan Pro Wrestling teaming up with Power Warrior, Kensuke Sasaki.
4 Batista Not Having the WrestleMania XXX He Was Promised
When Batista returned to RAW shortly before the 2014 Royal Rumble, he drew a very large rating, supporting Vince McMahon’s decision to have the aging movie star win the Royal Rumble and challenge WWE Undisputed Champion Randy Orton at WrestleMania. But there’s one thing neither the WWE nor ‘Big Dave’ counted upon: Daniel Bryan. The diminutive, outstanding wrestler was gaining more crowd support every week. When fans realized Bryan would not be in the Rumble match, they turned on it hard, booing constantly. And in the subsequent weeks, they turned on Batista, seeing him as the personification of the WWE trying to hold Bryan down.
The WWE eventually had to relent and put Bryan in the now triple threat main event. Batista did the right thing, tapping out to Bryan and putting him him over strong. But Big Dave was not happy with this run and how things were booked. He has not returned since.
3 Wendi Richter And The Original Screwjob
Even casual fans are aware of Bret Hart and the “Montreal Screwjob”. But what many don’t realize is that it wasn’t the first such incident. The “Original Screwjob” occurred in 1985. Wendi Richter was the WWE Women's Champion and her involvement with Cyndi Lauper sparked the “Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection” that helped to propel the WWE to new heights in the 1980's. Unfortunately for Richter, she would not be with the company for much of this golden period., Richter became disgruntled because she felt that she and the other women were underpaid. She and Vince had difficulty negotiating a contract extension, so on November 25 at Madison Square Garden, the WWE planned for Richter to lose her title to a mysterious opponent known only as “The Spider”.
Richter, however, was not informed of this plan and lost due to a fast count from the referee, despite kicking out. “The Spider” was then revealed to be Moolah. Richter was furious and left the company. While Bret’s screwjob was awful, it was his last WWE match regardless, so he didn’t miss out on any opportunity. Richter, however, still had time left on her contract.
2 Bruce Hart Not Getting His WWE Run
At Survivor Series 1993, the Hart Family defeated Shawn Michaels and his Knights, with only Owen being eliminated. This led a jealous Owen to turn on Bret at the following Royal Rumble and “kick [Bret’s] leg from under his leg”. The two would feud throughout 1994 and have two excellent matches at WrestleMania and SummerSlam. It was great. But the original plan was actually for Bruce Hart to turn heel. Bruce was not a regular wrestler for WWE at the time, but they wanted to bring him in for this angle. Bret, however, suggested that Owen would be a better choice. While Bret was probably right, Bruce felt betrayed by Bret. Owen already had a full time job with WWE and Bruce has stated he could have used the money at the time. Bret’s decision is still a sore spot between the brothers to this day.
1 Ted DiBiase Not Getting the WWE Championship
Ted DiBiase is the only wrestler to have been promised both the NWA and WWE titles and to have received neither. DiBiase was skeptical about whether he’d ever get the NWA title, so left for the WWE, partly because of the promise of a bug push. And he did get a big push, but he never got the title. The initial plan in 1988 was to get the title on DiBiase. However, the Honky Tonk Man’s refusal to do a job set off a chain reaction. Honky, who only won the IC title because Steamboat wanted time off, didn’t want to drop the belt to Randy Savage. Vince decided to let Honky keep the IC belt, and reward Savage with the World title. Savage was then booked to win the championship tournament at WrestleMania IV. The title was vacant because Andre the Giant beat then-champion Hulk Hogan thanks to ‘evil twin’ referee Earl Hebner, and then tried to sell it to ‘the Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase.
Because Savage was now scheduled to win the tournament, Vince couldn’t keep his promise of giving the belt to DiBiase. That’s why they made the Million Dollar Championship for DiBiase, as a consolation.