Whenever Mr. McMahon appears on WWE TV, his arrival is announced by the familiar opening notes of “No Chance in Hell,” The lyrics probably seem a little too appropriate for the many wrestlers that McMahon didn’t deem suited to fit his concept of a WWE superstar. After all, say what you will about the rather divisive Chairman, but Vincent Kennedy’s word remains final.
This means there is one singular, foremost opinion on what a WWE superstar should look like and that is McMahon’s. As any smark or long-time WWE fan will tell you, that idealized image comes down to a big, hulking, muscle-bound, larger than life figure with charisma - the Hulk Hogan model. That being said, McMahon has softened somewhat in recent years regarding his stance on what a WWE superstar must be. Even his prideful rejection of anyone with WCW ties or a non-WWE wrestling history has grown less pronounced.
Still, the McMahon approach has cut its fair share of WWE careers short. As the world's biggest wrestling promotion, WWE has done plenty of things right, but also dropped the ball on certain personnel. Here are 15 talented wrestlers who were given “no chance” in their WWE run:
15 Paul Burchill
The broad strokes of WWE’s cultural appropriation of talent hit athletic British star Paul Burchill hard upon his debut. Arriving on SmackDown after a successful stint in OVW, Burchill was initially aligned with fellow Englishman William Regal as a snooty British heel duo. When that quickly ran its course, Burchill was repackaged as a pirate character, touching on an evidently fictional family heritage that he claimed could connect his lineage back to the famed pirate Blackbeard. Despite a compelling debut complete with a cool entrance via swinging rope, the ceiling on the pirate character was predictably low and washed out soon thereafter. Rumor has it that McMahon hated Burchill's Captain Jack Sparrow-like take on the character, preferring a more cartoonized image of a pirate. He kicked around on Raw and on the ECW brand for a while, aligning with on-screen sister Katie Lea Burchill in what was reportedly supposed to be an incestuous storyline, before getting released when ECW folded.
14 Terry Taylor
Wrestling lore holds that it was Terry Taylor, now a trainer in NXT, who was originally supposed to fill the iconic Mr. Perfect gimmick before it was handed to Curt Hennig. It presents a fascinating ‘what if?’ scenario – would the veteran Taylor have been able to carry himself with the charisma and believability that Hennig brought to the role? We will never know, as the former NWA and WCCW standout was saddled with the cheesy Red Rooster character, where he donned red tights, a ring coat and rooster-like hair and even strutted around the ring like a rooster. Even worse, instead of promoting his strong wrestling pedigree, he was booked to look like a novice while constantly appealing to manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan for direction. Perhaps a glutton for punishment, Taylor kept coming back to the WWE, working his way through four stints and even staying on to this day as an NXT trainer working out of the Development Center.
13 Brian Kendrick
You’d think that a good look and high-flying athletic talent would be a winning combination for a WWE hopeful, but apparently that’s only the case if you also have the size. Brian Kendrick may have been a world champion if he were five inches taller. However, the 5’7” cruiserweight star still made the most of his talent by enjoying a lengthy run as World Tag Team champion alongside fellow high flyer Paul London. A singles career was a different story, and although he drew massive heat during a cocky heel run in which he was known as The Brian Kendrick, his push as a member of the SmackDown brand never really took off. That WWE saw Kendrick as a high-flying cruiserweight who lacked personality has been proven foolish by his more recent runs in New Japan, ROH and on the indy circuit. Maybe his participation in WWE's Cruiserweight Classic will change that, but I won't hold my breath.
12 Dean Malenko
In McMahon’s WWE, simply being an elite technical wrestler isn't enough and entertainment is a key component of any performer. While it was this emphasis on entertainment that helped WWE grow from a regional promotion to global brand, this also meant that a main event push for Chris Benoit came along slowly and begrudgingly and that Lance Storm had to become a dancing babyface to counteract a serious heel persona that was considered bland. The same could be said for diminutive technician Dean Malenko, who came to WWE alongside Benoit as part of the buzzworthy Radicalz stable along with Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn. Despite becoming the Light Heavyweight champion early in his WWE run, the “Man of 1,000 Holds” Dean Malenko was not spared from being booked in a more “entertaining” way. Malenko was given the nickname “Double Ho Seven,” turning his character in a self-styled ladies man and a knock-off of James Bond.
There was a noble intent behind the WWE’s efforts to spark an exciting women’s division that would suit their ECW on Sci-Fi brand. To get the division started, they snatched talented high flyer Trinity from TNA, where she had been the first woman to challenge for one of the promotion’s male titles. At one point, they viewed her in the mold of Lita, a valet to help get over other wrestlers who could also hold her own inside the ring. After a short stint in OVW, Trinity debuted as the manager for The Full Blooded Italians (FBI) stable, but would soon see her arrival cut short after suffering a knee injury on a moonsault attempt. While injured, Trinity suffered from the instantaneous, 'out of sight, out of mind' mindset of WWE. When she returned from knee surgery, the only win she collected came not in a match but in the ECW Diva Halloween Costume Contest.
10 Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas had already enjoyed two stints in NWA/WCW and a cup of coffee in the WWE - although he did last a remarkable 26 minutes in the 1991 Royal Rumble - before his career-altering turn as “The Franchise” in ECW. It was in ECW where he infamously trashed his NWA title belt and christened himself as the ECW champion, thereby ushering in the era of extreme wrestling for which the company became famous. After great success as a foul-mouthed, arrogant and controversial villain, he returned to WWE where he was booked as … a mean teacher? Dean Douglas would get a run as Intercontinental champion, one that would last all of 11 minutes, but his smug teacher character carried none of the qualities that made his ECW main event heel character so compelling. Instead, he was reduced to cheesy promos in a classroom setting and limited by a glass ceiling created by The Kliq, who had a stranglehold over the main event picture.
9 Scotty Goldman
Yes, independent circuit superstar Colt Cabana had a WWE run as Jewish wrestler Scotty Goldman. No, as you might imagine, it didn’t exactly work out. Despite coming in with a solid cult following from his time as a comical character on the indies, WWE shelved the ‘Colt Cabana’ name and reportedly adorned him as Goldman just an hour before his SmackDown debut, which happened to be a two-minute loss to Brian Kendrick. The only glimpse of personality he was allowed to display came on his WWE.com show, "Good as Goldman." It was no surprise, then, that he was released just six months later after only a sporadic handful of TV appearances. Most WWE-exclusive fans are probably more likely to remember Cabana from the ‘shoot’ promos in which CM Punk expressed frustrations about WWE's treatment of his real-life friend during the Summer of Punk than anything that Cabana actually did in a WWE ring.
8 Justin Gabriel
After Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan, explosive aerialist and South African standout Justin Gabriel was probably the most hotly anticipated prospect on the first season of NXT and, later, in T he Nexus faction. But with Barrett entrenched firmly as the leader and Bryan getting released after choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his own tie during the faction’s invasion angle, Gabriel was soon shifted into the background as one of an interchangeable group of supporting parts, although he did win the tag titles alongside Heath Slater. Through Nexus, Gabriel serves as a prime example of an angle that started out hot but failed in getting anyone - other than Barrett - over. As The Nexus and, later, The Corre factions dissolved, Gabriel was left to float around various lower mid-card programs aimlessly, typecast as a high-flying lightweight. Soon after his release, Gabriel appeared on Chris Jericho’s podcast and revealed he was Adam Rose’s bunny. Perhaps it's for the best that he left the companu.
7 Derrick Bateman
Rarely do talent decisions come back to burn WWE in quite as harsh a way as Derrick Bateman has. As any wrestling fan will tell you, Bateman has risen to the top of TNA as Ethan Carter III, or more commonly EC3. As EC3, Bateman has proven adept at playing both an entitled, detestable heel and charismatic babyface, serving as a regular highlight on some otherwise tedious Impact programming. But before his time as a TNA main eventer, Bateman was something of a career minor leaguer in the WWE ranks, featured prominently on NXT without getting much of a sniff on the main roster. Once the real-life Michael Hutter was let go by WWE in May of 2013, TNA clearly saw what WWE didn't, bringing him into the fold immediately after his no-compete clause expired and debuted him with much fanfare as the spoiled nephew of heel TNA owner Dixie Carter.
6 Kassius Ohno
There were signs that WWE did, in fact, know that they had a special and interesting talent on their hands when long-time independent star Chris Hero arrived in their developmental system in 2011. Following his Kings of Wrestling partner Claudio Castagnoli (better known as Cesaro), Hero was given the cool name of Kassius Ohno and characterized as a methodical, pain-inflicting and, most significantly, interesting heel. He was given plenty of mic time, lots of TV time and was even handed a key feud with kayfabe NXT Commissioner William Regal. But there was still the issue of the skinny and not exactly chiseled Hero failing to fit within the idealized physical mold of a WWE superstar. When Hero apparently didn’t agree to participation in WWE-mandated physical conditioning programs, which was the company's way of saying that they wanted him to develop jacked up biceps, he was released. CM Punk was evidently an exception to the rule, whereas Hero was not.
5 Diamond Dallas Page
Aside from maybe Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page might have been the biggest WCW star to take part in the infamous 2001 Invasion storyline. But instead of letting the charismatic wild man be his "Diamond Cutter"-ing WCW self and allowing fans familiar with his work to cheer him, he was introduced to the WWE audience as the psychotic stalker of Sara, then the real-life wife of The Undertaker. A debuting star can't exactly complain about being inserted into a feud with one of the top stars in the company right off the bat, but the creative department had shoe-horned Page into a role he wasn't suited for and a feud he was destined to lose. This ill-fitting characterization served to confuse viewers and limit his rise within WWE, where he became a tag team champion but never got a serious singles run. He eventually became an over-the-top motivational speaker, which produced some entertaining segments with Christian but didn’t exactly do wonders for the climb up the ladder for the one-time main eventer.
4 Damien Sandow
After a lengthy tenure in WWE’s development system and even a short, forgettable SmackDown stint as Aaron “The Idol” Stevens, Aaron Steven Haddad looked poised to become a budding star upon debuting his academic elitist Damien Sandow character. Sandow would deride the audience as “unwashed masses” and refuse them the privilege of watching him wrestle, generating heat before even wrestling a match. Sandow entered a tag team and, later, a feud with Cody Rhodes and even won the Money in the Bank briefcase, becoming one of two wrestlers to fail to successfully cash it in during a red hot main event match against John Cena that, at one point, appeared to mark his arrival on the main event scene. Despite being held down by silly comedy roles standing in the way of a legitimate singles push, Sandow is best remembered for his work as “stunt double” to The Miz, a gimmick that even included a name change to Damien Mizdow.
There was both excitement and tentative concern over the announcement that Kaval, formerly known as Low Ki, had signed with WWE in 2008 after stints as an ass-kicking force in TNA, ROH and other promotions. The excitement came from what the no-nonsense force could bring to the table, while the concern stemmed from WWE’s dodgy history in handling other undersized talents similar to the 5’8” superstar. Those who voiced concern were validated when Kaval was included in NXT’s second season, albeit with Michelle McCool and Layla El as his ‘pros’. Though WWE did allow the Brooklyn native to showcase some of his aggressive, athletic in-ring style, he would always be brought back down a peg or two with one of his Diva pros calling him cute or being booked to dance and goof around. Kaval failed to gain much traction after debuting on the main roster and was released from his contract less than three months later.
2 Matt Morgan
If size and non-WWE roots were two of the most common obstacles standing in the way of an aspiring WWE talent, then the lack of success experienced by Matt Morgan is an absolute head-scratcher. As a 7’0” physical force with a surprisingly diverse move set, Morgan looked to have stardom written all over him, particularly when he debuted as part of Brock Lesnar’s monstrous Survivor Series team that also featured Big Show, Nathan Jones and A-Train. But WWE Creative chose, instead, to use him as a tool to put over other babyface wrestlers. When he was given a real gimmick and direction, it was the character of a stuttering big man, hardly main event material. To this day, Morgan remains one of the more confounding cases of a skill-laden wrestler who could never quite put all the pieces together. Surely being forced to do promos while sporting a fake stutter didn't help.
1 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
When Dean Ambrose cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to win the World Heavyweight Championship over Seth Rollins last month, it was hard not to think about all the fascinating fringe lunatic-type characters that came before him who never got a sniff of the WWE’s main title. While “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at least spent some time in the main event scene and even headlined the first WrestleMania, Jake “The Snake” Roberts never reached such lofty heights in spite of a lengthy career. The 2014 Hall of Famer famously never won a top title in WWF, although he remains one of the most vividly remembered stars of the 80s on account of his remarkable mic ability, DDT finisher and, of course, his ever-present snake, Damien. While you can't exactly blame the family-oriented WWE to opt for a wholesome hero in the form of Hogan to be the face of the company ahead of a darkly charismatic, sinister, snake-holding Roberts, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more talented and popular wrestler to never be granted a true title run.