Over the years, WWE has proven that they have a formula for their stars, that while open to alteration, has dictated the look and style of many of the on-air talents for the company. As has been exhibited time and time again, Vince McMahon tends to value muscle and bulk to an almost cartoon-like extreme, while sometimes giving up in-ring ability and promo skills. Because of this, there have been a plethora of WWE wrestlers that should have been given more opportunity and title runs than they were granted.
Ultimately, very few of these qualify as guys that were ignored within the promotion (though several came very close), as most of them occupied some kind of mid-card role, or a memorable gimmick, even achieving marginal success. But in many of the individual cases, there was room for the wrestler to be put on a larger pedestal, due to superior in-ring ability, or the potential to be placed in a better gimmick or storyline. With the many questionable title reigns and pushes the WWE has put in place (Honky Tonk Man, the later Hogan title reigns), there was plenty of reason and room to do so.
Frankly, there are many more that could have been included on this list, because for much of WWE’s history, actual wrestling skill has not always been emphasized, and the importance of cutting good promos has run hot and cold. For McMahon, wrestling has always been about the overall spectacle, and one-dimensional, muscle-ridden talents have fit the bill for that much of the time in the promotion’s history. The truth is however, that he would have been better served to give some of the talent on this list a greater shot in the upper-tier of the company; at the very least, it would have been a welcome change of pace.
Ranked below are the top 15 wrestlers that deserved a bigger push in WWE.
15. Billy Gunn
Of course, everyone is aware that Gunn is one of the most successful tag team wrestlers of all time, but I’ve always thought that he deserved more singles opportunity than his lone Intercontinental title reign. While the Smoking Gunns and New Age Outlaws were worthwhile tag team ventures in the 1990s, he probably deserved a singles run with several more IC title reigns than being slotted into the Billy & Chuck tag team during the early 2000s, which he still takes grief for to this day. Overall, Gunn had the physical presence, mic skills and in-ring ability to get more of a singles push, but he is still one of the most notable WWE stars over the past 20 years.
14. Butch Reed
All but forgotten by the modern day wrestling audience, Reed was a popular figure in independent promotions across the country in the early 1980s, and went to WWE in 1986. He seemed to have the look that would appeal to management, and was a solid in-ring presence. However, he never had the benefit of an angle or storyline that helped him get over, and as a result, was gone by 1988. He later went on to WCW where he won the tag titles with Ron Simmons as Doom. Reed definitely deserved an Intercontinental title run in his heyday with WWE, as he had proven that he could draw with every other promotion he was in.
13. Davey Boy Smith
For as widely regarded as Smith was in WWE’s history, he only really got one singles push, when he won the IC title in the early 1990s. Of course, he won the tag titles once with Dynamite Kid as The British Bulldogs, but even their title success was short lived just a few years earlier. All things considered, he deserved a WWE title shot at least once, as he was a consistent draw for the company, with a powerful in-ring style that definitely would have gone over as champion. He was a two-time European title holder, but WWE essentially created that belt so that Smith could hold it, when he was a member for the reformed Hart Foundation in the mid-90s. Overall, another wasted opportunity for WWE.
12. Stan Hansen
Hansen was one of the only American mainstays on the AJPW roster, for the better part of 20 years. In the early 1980s, he found himself on the WWE roster, with the company expanding quickly at the time. He feuded with top talents Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund over the WWE title, but given that he never won it, it seems like a wasted opportunity. Hansen’s outlaw, wild-west persona had definite potential in the gimmick-heavy WWE, especially considering that they later inserted lesser talents into the exact same gimmick (“The Outlaw” Ron Bass). Hansen was good enough in the ring to warrant a title run, as exhibited from his time in Japan, but in WWE management’s mind, it just wasn’t meant to be.
11. Bobby Lashley
I always have thought that Lashley was misused in his initial run in WWE. Despite winning the U.S. title, I think the booking that surrounded him always made him seem faceless, despite a unique brand of athleticism and adequate, champion required size. When Lashley was in WWE, booking in general was all over the place, and the company was becoming pretty stale, in the wake of the destruction of top competition in ECW and WCW. I think he could have been a formidable WWE champion on several occasions. Given his recent endeavors in TNA and MMA, that seems unlikely to happen at this point.
10. Stevie Richards
For as much time as Richards put into WWE, the fact that he never exceeded the low-card entertainer role is mildly surprising. I always thought he deserved a bit more of a shot (other than winning the Hardcore title a million times, but at the time, that barely qualified as a title run), but he just never found a consistent role within the company. Given his lack of size, it’s understandable, but there was likely untapped potential somewhere. Since he stayed nearly a decade with the company in some form, there was plenty of opportunity, but management clearly thought otherwise.
9. Tony Atlas
While he did have a run with the tag titles, pairing with Rocky Johnson (father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), Atlas never received any kind of substantial singles push in WWE. He was well-built, and was certainly the physical presence that management wanted with a title-holder, but instead he was relegated as a jobber, and lower mid-card status following his tag run. He certainly would have been better served with an Intercontinental run, rather than being mere enhancement talent. He left, and later appeared again in the early 1990s using the Saba Simba gimmick, but was out of his prime at that point, and the character was short-lived. As it stands, Atlas is an afterthought in the promotion, who was destined for much more success.
8. Mr. Perfect
While Perfect was a two-time Intercontinental champion, most fans would agree that he should have had at least one run with the WWE title, especially during the dire upper-card scene circa 1990. He could wrestle effectively, was great on the mic, got good heat as a heel, and had established himself in other promotions such as the AWA. He really checked off all the requisites for a huge push, but more often than not, remained stagnant in the mid-card, with the occasional Intercontinental title stint. He later went to WCW, where his trajectory continued, but by then he was definitely past him prime. He certainly deserved a greater push during his prime in the late 1980s.
The A.P.A. was a great tag team, but Faarooq had proven singles success in the NWA and WCW under his real name Ron Simmons, and could have continued that in the early days of his WWE career. He joined the company in 1996, and was immediately slotted into a sub-par gladiator gimmick, before becoming the leader of the Nation of Domination faction. In my opinion, a heavy singles run (minus the mid-card gladiator gimmick) would have been more beneficial for him at that time. At the very least, he could have put over burgeoning talents “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the like, but management felt it better to put him in a tag and stable circumstances.
6. Owen Hart
To be fair, Hart did have two IC title runs with WWE, and four additional Tag Team title victories, so to say he received no push with the company is incorrect. However, given his long-standing feud with Bret, and his appearance in the Hart Foundation stable, the company did very little to differentiate Owen as just “Bret Hart’s brother”. It may not have been the case, but it always seemed like WWE made Owen play second fiddle to Bret, while many believe his talent level surpassed his brother’s in both the ring and the microphone. The only times Owen didn’t have the “Hart” association in WWE, was with his “Rocket” and “Blue Blazer” gimmicks in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which were just mid-card fodder at best.
5. 2 Cold Scorpio
Scorpio proved to be a great in-ring talent for ECW and NJPW, but when he went to WWE in 1996, he was buried in the mid-card from the beginning. Using the Bootsy Collins-esque Flash Funk gimmick (which as far as mid-card gimmicks go, was pretty awesome), and then just shortening his name to Scorpio, he never won a single title in WWE, and was essentially used as enhancement talent. Compare that with the four ECW Television titles that he won, or his GHC tag titles, and it’s clear that WWE had no interest in using him the way other promotions saw fit. All things considered, it would have been cool to see him with a Light Heavyweight or IC title run in WWE.
4. Terry Funk
Since his debut in 1965, Funk has found success in just about every promotion the world-over, so the fact that he was under-utilized in his initial WWE run in the mid-1980s, is really of no consequence. He teamed with his brother Dory at WrestleMania II, but never escaped mid-card status before leaving. It’s not entirely surprising that WWE wouldn’t really know what to do with a talent like Funk, but with some better booking, he probably could have at least had an IC title run. He would return to WWE in 1997, using the Chainsaw Charlie gimmick, teaming with Cactus Jack, but again, it never led to anything other than supporting the burgeoning hardcore scene in the company at the time. Funk is still a legend, so again, his lack of a push in WWE never really affected him.
Despite his lack of size, Tazz established himself as an in-ring force in ECW, and deserved more of a push than he received when he subsequently went to WWE. What he lacked in other areas, he made up for in sheer intensity, and the WWE missed the boat when it didn’t give him an IC title or U.S. title run in the early 2000s. It may have taken some creative booking to get him completely over with the mainstream fans, but it definitely was a feasible endeavor, and would have been a good, new look at the time for the company. It never happened, and one tag title victory with Spike Dudley was all the gold he received in WWE. Another missed opportunity.
2. Tito Santana
Santana had a couple IC title and tag title runs, but one could make the argument that he deserved much more. Over a ten year period throughout the 1980s, there probably wasn’t a more consistent draw (Hogan achieved his peak popularity in the mid-1980s) in the entire company. There was never a time that he wasn’t over with the fans, and his in-ring ability never wavered over that time. More titles were definitely warranted, but management never let him eclipse the upper mid-card role that he had solidified himself in. Ultimately, there was more room for growth, but he remained stagnant in the 13 years spent with the company. Santana’s legacy is still strong, but more hardware would have been nice to go along with it.
1. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Without question, Roberts is the best WWE talent to never hold a title, and it isn’t even close. He excelled on the mic, with his unique, psychological promos that showcased a different style than the incessant yelling that many stars chose to employ. His whole persona was unique for the time period, and it paired perfectly with his character. Additionally he could work a great match, topped off with his innovative DDT finishing move, that has been copied and altered since its inception. He was a great draw, and was always more favorable with the fans than he was with management, which explains a lot. Instead of getting the IC title victories he deserved, he was slotted firmly in the mid-card, and it wasn’t long before he was enhancing other talent. In my view, not having “The Snake” as a champion of any kind was one of the WWE’s largest historical failures.
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