If you were to survey every professional wrestler, the majority would agree that World Wrestling Entertainment is the holy grail of the business. Although it wouldn’t be as lopsided like in years past, the lineage, tradition and aura of the WWE is something that every talent would want one day.
However, just because one would think that joining the company would be the best for their personal and professional lives, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. There have been many instances over the years where a wrestler would jump ship to the WWE, only to flounder in the company.
Whether it was signing over from regional promotions in the 1980s, jumping ship from World Championship Wrestling or Extreme Championship Wrestling in the 1990s or taking a step up to the big leagues from the independent scene today, men and women of the sport have always played their hand in the WWE if the opportunity presented itself.
Sure, people like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho, among others, achieved their greatest level of success once they joined the WWE. Unfortunately, things didn’t always work out for some of the wrestlers that did.
Whether it was due to a lack of the look that company chairman Vince McMahon adores, not having enough of the mic skills or charisma that makes you a superstar or a lack of character development, a lot of top wrestlers around the world have had trouble once they performed under the bright lights and stepped into a WWE ring.
Yet, while some have struggled, there were also some who had a harder time than others in the company. You can’t blame them for trying, but here are 15 wrestlers who should have never gone to the WWE throughout their careers.
15. The Public Enemy
During ECW’s early years as NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling all the way to the first stages of an Extreme shift, the Public Enemy were the promotion’s number one tag team.
Known for their hardcore style and surprising agility for big men, both Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge were beloved by the ECW faithful, while also making their presence known across the wrestling world. Due to their efforts, they signed a contract with WCW.
After floundering with the company, The Public Enemy made another trip to ECW before joining the WWE. Unfortunately, their brief stay will be remembered as a legitimate beating instead of one of their matches.
In just two months in WWE, the Public Enemy did enough to bother many wrestlers backstage, which led to a very physical and frankly, a “you don’t belong here” beat down from the APA. They were subsequently released.
14. Mike Awesome
Mike Awesome built a big name for himself in ECW as he was incredibly athletic for a big guy. Unfortunately, WCW saddled him with some bad gimmicks, including “That ’70s Guy” and “The Fat Chick Thriller. It seemed Awesome was saved when the WWE purchased WCW and he joined the promotion up north. WWE didn’t do much more with him though and he was quickly trivialized. After a brief run in the Hardcore Championship picture, he was mostly booked on B-shows. An injury in November 2001 sidelined him for much of 2002, before he was released.
Awesome himself seemed to regret ever going to WWE: “Being in the WWE. I hated it. You had to kiss everybody’s ass… You had to be on your political toes all the time. You would not believe the backstage politics. You were getting stabbed in the back constantly. I was so happy when I was told I was gone.”
13. Jerry Lynn
Speaking ECW alumni, Jerry Lynn was arguably their best pure wrestler. Lynn was put on the map with a tremendous feud with Rob Van Dam.
After ECW folded, the WWE made the decision to bring him into the company. Although he was technically a part of the Invasion team, he was never featured during the feud with the then WWE.
To add insult to injury, not only wasn’t he featured in the WWE’s biggest promo at the time, but also Lynn never did anything of note in his brief one-year run.
Although Lynn did win the WWE Light-Heavyweight Championship during his first match, the belt meant nothing in the company, thus not doing much for the former star. Being relegated to Sunday Night Heat throughout his tenure, Lynn was released from his contract in 2002.
12. Chris Harris
It’s funny to think that TNA was a credible wrestling promotion at one point. At that time, one of their most exciting and over talents was “Wildcat” Chris Harris.
A seven-time Tag Team Champion with the company, Harris went from one-half of America’s Most Wanted – one of TNA’s best teams at the time – to a breakout singles star. Harris had the opportunity to join the WWE under their new ECW brand.
Unfortunately, things didn’t work out the way that either party involved originally anticipated. Looking out of shape and donning the name Braden Walker, the former Harris wrestled in just two unimpressive television matches on ECW before being released.
Unfortunately, it appeared as though Harris burned bridges in TNA, as he only appeared briefly three years after being let go by the WWE. His once promising career failed to regain steam, as he stopped performing in 2011.
Low-Ki, a hot-commodity across the world, signed a developmental deal with the WWE in 2008. After learning the WWE style down in FCW, the newly named Kaval got his chance on television, as he was one of the wrestlers chosen for the second season of NXT.
Due to his credibility and popularity, Low-Ki went on to win the season. Unfortunately, after joining the Smackdown brand, the WWE couldn’t capitalize on his newfound popularity.
Low-Ki was never able to gain steam once a part of the main roster due to some weak booking. He was let go just four months after his Smackdown debut.
10. Ultimo Dragon
There is no doubt Ultimo Dragon is one of the most known and recognizable wrestlers in the world. Performing in the United States, Mexico and Japan, among others, he redefined what it was to be a cruiserweight wrestler, impressing in every stop.
The next logical step for Ultimo Dragon was to take his talents to the WWE, who were looking for viable names for the cruiserweight division.
Although Ultimo Dragon gained fandom from vignettes and squash matches, he never made the Rey Mysterio-like impact that Vince McMahon had hoped for. While hovering around the mid-card on Smackdown, Ultimo Dragon never really separated himself from the pack.
Sure, Ultimo Dragon fulfilled a lifelong goal by performing at WrestleMania XX, but in hindsight, he would’ve been better off never joining the company.
During the days of models stepping into the squared circle for the WWE, Vince McMahon inked the unique Kharma to shake up the company’s women’s division.
Making her name over in Japan and in the all-women’s SHIMMER promotion, Kharma, who was named Awesome Kong at the time, showcased her talents in TNA. As a part of the Knockouts division, Kharma was one of the best talents on the TNA roster.
Similar to Ultimo Dragon, the WWE created captivating vignettes to get the audience excited for Kharma’s eventual debut. Unfortunately, a series off odd and real life events made her fail in the company. After destroying Divas during matches, one night she came out and broke down crying. If that wasn’t strange enough, she announced that she was pregnant, thus putting her on the shelf until that was done.
Although she returned to the WWE at the 2012 Royal Rumble, she asked for her release shortly thereafter.
8. Dean Malenko
After honing his craft on the independent scene for nearly 15 years, Dean Malenko emerged as a big deal once he joined ECW in 1994.
With ECW in the early stages of adapting their hardcore wrestling style, Malenko helped bring a shoot style to the undercard. Initial responses from the bloodthirsty crowd were negative, however, it was only a matter of time before Malenko won them over.
Signing a bigger contract with WCW, Malenko continued to perform at a high level in both the Cruiserweight and United States Championship divisions, donning the nickname “The Man of 1,000 Holds.” Unfortunately, he realized he could never make it to the main event scene, so he jumped ship to the WWE in 2000.
Unfortunately, the WWE’s lack of skilled light heavyweights hurt Malenko’s career, as he was put into odd and underwhelming storylines while never having the true chance to showcase his potential on the big stage.
In reality, the decision to join any promotion but ECW and the hardcore companies in Japan wasn’t wise by Sabu; after all, he is widely recognized as one of the craziest and death defying hardcore wrestlers of all time.
After ECW shut its doors, Sabu wrestled for TNA and Juggalo Championship Wrestling, before signing on with the WWE to be a part of the revived ECW brand.
The watered down product wasn’t fit for Sabu. Although he was a mainstay in the main event scene while also having pay-per-view matches against John Cena and Big Show, Sabu just didn’t look the same.
6. Lex Luger
Many know Lex Luger for his stunning switch from WWE to WCW in 1995. However, “The Total Package” had a pretty successful run in WCW before joining the WWE in the first place.
Luger’s first tenure with the company came with many accomplishments. Not only did he join an incarnation of the Four Horsemen, but he also won both the United States Championship and World Heavyweight Championship.
Originally pegged to join Vince McMahon’s failed World Bodybuilding Federation, an injury held him out of the competitions. Once he was recovered, the WBF had already closed its doors. However, McMahon had much bigger plans for Luger.
With former star Hulk Hogan now a part of WCW, Luger was pegged as the second coming. Luger was not only known as “The Narcissist” when he first debuted, but he eventually became “The All-American,” which saw him don the colors of the flag while also have his own bus, “The Lex Express.”
Unfortunately, the obvious single’s push to the moon led to a complete rebuttal from the fans. Once those plans were scrapped, Luger formed a tag team with Davey Boy Smith before returning to WCW in 1995.
After underwhelming as Johnny Polo and Scotty Flamingo, Scott Levy found his niche in ECW as Raven. With the backing of Paul Heyman, Raven became one of the most complex and interesting characters in wrestling history, as he was not only talented inside of the squared circle, but was also great on the mic. Besides a brief stint in WCW, the Raven character kept his unique charisma and played it to his advantage.
However, once ECW went out of business, his contract was picked up by the WWE. Unfortunately, a lack of promo and match time hurt his ability to perform and Raven was just seen as a hardcore wrestler and not much else during his three year run.
4. Diamond Dallas Page
Although he started wrestling at a late age, that never held DDP back from achieving success in WCW. Starting out as a manager, Page eventually worked his way up to having his own stable of wrestlers. However, it wasn’t until a feud with Randy Savage that put him on the map.
Now working as an amplified version of himself, Page won both the WCW Television and United States Championship while also working with celebrities such as Karl Malone and Jay Leno during the mid 1990s.
During the final two years of WCW, Page became a focal point of the company. Not only did he become the World Heavyweight Champion, but he also had the rare distinction of never joining the nWo, something that made him stand out.
Once WCW closed its doors, Page joined the WWE in huge way, as he was revealed as the man who was stalking The Undetaker’s wife. Unfortunately, the brief feud never amounted to anything, as Page’s character became a motivational speaker as he shifted to the lower mid card.
Goldberg was WCW’s true homegrown star. His undefeated streak to start his career was only second to The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. However, once WCW’s doors closed, Goldberg joined All Japan Pro Wrestling instead of WWE.
In 2003, after long discussions, Goldberg made his long anticipated WWE debut the night after WrestleMania XIX. He speared The Rock to close the show, setting up a program between the two. Unfortunately, that was probably his only WWE highlight.
Wrestling for only one year with the WWE, Goldberg was put into a long feud over the summer with Triple H. While he did win the World Heavyweight Championship, it was clear that Triple H was always positioned as the bigger star.
His WWE tenure fittingly ended at WrestleMania XX, where both he and Brock Lesnar were booed out of Madison Square Garden from their lackluster matchup. It could be argued that year in WWE damaged Goldberg’s legacy.
Sting was The Undertaker’s equal in WCW. The flag bearer for the company, Sting never once jumped ship although there were multiple offers over the course of his career.
Starting out with the company during their partnership with the NWA, Sting always wore flashy colors. Because of his looks plus his in-ring skills, Sting became a crowd favorite.
Once WCW broke a part from the NWA, Sting had a tough time gaining the spotlight once wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Randy Savage came on board. In 1996, Sting decided to adapt and change his look, as he donned the black and white colors which he is famous for today.
Feuding with nearly every top name in the company while winning every belt, it was only logical that Sting went to the WWE after WCW shut down. Despite another grouping of offers, Sting instead chose to go to TNA.
Although he was a big part in putting TNA on the map for nine years, even he has stated that he could have made a bigger impact in the WWE while he was younger. That was clear once finally signed at the end of 2014.
After helping banish the Authority (for a month) at the Survivor Series, it was clear that a showdown between Sting and Triple H would be a featured contest at WrestleMania. And while it was, a combination of Sting losing a step along with the WWE making this too much about WWE vs. WCW made the match underwhelming.
That trend, unfortunately, continued. After returning this past August, Sting headlined WWE’s Night of Champions in a match with Seth Rollins for the title. While the match was good, an injury to Sting’s neck hampered the ending, and it is unclear if he will ever wrestle for the company again.
1. CM Punk
This may come to as a surprise to many; but then again, it may not. If there is one man who should have never taken his talents to the WWE, it is CM Punk.
Beginning his wrestling career in the backyards of friends, Punk rose to stardom on the independent circuit during a time when indy wrestling was at its peak.
It was only logical that Punk made the jump to the WWE. Although he didn’t believe he needed to be a part of their developmental system, the fact that he was able to keep his name and character was a huge positive.
Punk was always one of the most over superstars in the company; unfortunately, the WWE didn’t see it that way, constantly booked as an afterthought.
However, during the latter years on his WWE tenure, Punk became arguably the best wrestler in the company. Whether it was as a face or heel, Punk always got one of the biggest reactions. This was capped off when he won the WWE Championship at Survivor Series in 2011 after the amazing Summer of Punk angle, which led to a reign that lasted 434 days.
Unfortunately, unhappiness due to a lack of positioning at the top of the card ended Punk’s WWE run prematurely. Sure, he accomplished pretty much everything he could in the WWE, yet he still wasn’t happy. If he never joined the company, it could be argued that he would have been better off. With ROH as popular as ever along with New Japan Pro Wrestling being the clear cut number two promotion in the world, Punk would’ve done just as well as if he stayed on the independent scene. I’m sure he would have been much happier and would likely still be wrestling today.
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