First impressions are everything in life and a whole lot more in wrestling. You train and practice all over the world (in some cases) and when you finally make it to the big time, all you have to do is just win over an entire arena. No small feat, but if you can't overcome any fears or jitters you might have, wrestling probably isn't the business for you.
Despite what Vince McMahon might think of you eventually, when you're a debuting superstar, you're generally given all kinds of tools to help get you over. Surprise entrances, preview vignettes, cryptic messages, and earth shattering debuts are all at an incoming stars disposal to assist them in getting to the top of the card. Once the fans accept you, your job is keeping that momentum going and to keep putting an ass every eighteen inches.
Keeping up steam and momentum is a hard task too. Injuries can put a damper on any push in a millisecond. Fickle fans could lose interest or creative just begins to claim that they don't have anything for you. The reasons for getting de-pushed are just as exhaustive as the reasons a guy gets over, and so many of those reasons are just intangible. It's enough to make a wrestler gray. But the cool, calm, and collected ones just keep plugging on hoping to recapture their spot and catapult back to the top of the card.
The below stars entered the ring like a house of fire but for some reason, no matter how white-hot they might have or could have gotten fell out of favor, got injured, or simply the fans turned sour on what they were selling. These stars started off amazing before falling off.
One of the greatest wrestlers to have ever worked in ECW was Taz. The promotion's top shoot-fight character was poised for a big run at the big time when the WWE came calling. At the 2000 Royal Rumble, an unbeaten Kurt Angle was set to face a mystery opponent, and the smart NYC crowd already started chanting for the sawed-off monster before he even stepped foot into MSG. However, besides a stellar debut, and being the only WWE guy to win a non-WWE title while still working for the company, not much else was done with The Brooklyn Bully. Then an injury sidelined Tazz forever, ending any hope of Vince McMahon coming to his senses and pushing Tazz to the top.
14 Sin Cara
Mexico has always been a hot bed of action, as evidenced by the small army of wrestlers that have competed there. Several years ago, none were bigger in stature than Mystico. Before NXT took off, Triple H was looking to all areas of the wrestling world to hire new blood, Mistico was one of his first hires and the WWE slapped a different mask on him, dubbed him Sin Cara and said "go become a superstar." However, barely speaking English and having the vaguest concept of how to wrestle a WWE style left the high flyer looking lost. Mystico would leave the company having realized none of his promise and in his place as Sin Cara has been his one-time rival, Hunico.
13 Mr. Kennedy
With clear mic skills and a smooth set of moves, not to mention being blessed with Vince's middle name to use as his last name, Mr. Kennedy was being positioned not just for a run at the top, but permanent residence there as well. As JBL would consistently tell fans, "he's beaten five former world champions!" Mr. Kennedy was cementing his place as he won the third Money in the Bank Ladder Match at WrestleMania 23, but injuries began to plague his WWE run and he was unable to cash in for the big prize. The brass had a hard time getting back behind the injury-prone performer and he would eventually be released and head to TNA.
Tatanka was one of the first Native American stars to come out of the pipeline since Chief Jay Strongbow. He was given the megastar treatment, being awarded a ceremonial headdress from Strongbow himself, being accompanied by members of his tribe to the ring and having an undefeated streak for nearly a year. However, back then, that was easy to do when you wrestled the likes of Barry Horowitz, The Brooklyn Brawler, and other jobbers. His streak was ended by another newcomer, Ludvig Borga, and there went any steam Tatanka had. A brief heel run showcased not a whole lot more to Tatanka as he faded away.
11 Lex Luger
Luger's WWE career was a consistent game of hot and cold. First, he debuted as The Narcissist, which lasted a few months and barely meant anything. Then, on July 4th 1993 aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, Luger dropped the prima donna act and turned patriot, slamming the mighty Yokozuna and igniting the Lex Express Bus Tour to gain a title shot at SummerSlam. For whatever reason, WWE brass turned cold on Luger and booked him to win by count-out (dumb) and celebrate as if he just conquered Japan (dumber). His career in WCW was slightly better but not by much. Luger had all of the tools to be one the biggest stars in the industry, but lacked the backstage pull to get anyone truly behind him.
10 Sean O'Haire
One of the only few bright spots in the abysmal final years of WCW, Mark Jindrak and Sean O' Haire were an impressive duo until getting their butts handed to them by the WWE superstars. O'Haire then got repackaged as a Devil's Advocate sort of character - telling fans not to pay their taxes, for example, along with a lengthy diatribe as to why. From a character standpoint, it was the kind of edgy heel persona that would have gotten over like gangbusters, instead any steam he had was killed when he got relegated to being Roddy Piper's minion before being released.
Speaking of heels of a different type, there's Gangrel. In a podcast with Colt Cabana, Gangrel had said that Vince McMahon didn't think a vampire gimmick would ever get over. Not having Vince behind you is usually step one in getting released. Vince was proven wrong when the gimmick had gotten over, as The Brood took off and, to this day, still has one of the most memorable entrances ever. Despite how hot Gangrel was, his disciples, Edge and Christian were that much better and could actually talk, as opposed to the vampire. Pairing him up with The Hardy Boyz didn't do him any favors either, as Gangrel became the only guy in wrestling history that a stable was created for, but where the other guys got over instead.
8 Ahmed Johnson
On this list, you'll notice a lot of guys that fell hard, but for most they were able to recover and stared to once again gain favor with the fans. Then there's Ahmed Johnson. While guys like Bret, HBK, and Taker were carrying the New Generation, Vince McMahon tossed the Ahmed monkey wrench into the mix. He had two of Vince's classic attributes - big and scary strong. He was booked to win the I.C. Belt. and a tournament called the Kuwaiti Cup. He was also placed into main event programs, teaming with HBK and facing guys like Goldust and Farooq. There was one caveat though. Ahmed was a mediocre worker at best, with one exception - his explosive Pearl River Plunge powerbomb.
7 Kerry Von Erich
If you grew up with access to World Class Championship Wrestling, then you know how important the Von Erich family is to the sport's history. Tragedy might have continuously plagued the family, but triumph came in the form of Kerry getting signed to the WWE. As the Texas Tornado, the whole world would get to see what the Von Erichs were made of. Despite defeating Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Championship, not a whole lot was done with Von Erich and after being relegated to jobber status, he left the WWE.
6 Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett’s career is indicative of many of today's superstars. He came in white–hot, winning the first season of NXT and leading The Nexus into battle against Team WWE at SummerSlam. Then the Nexus lost to Super Cena and the group petered out afterwards. Barrett has never been able to gain any sort of traction, despite being one of the most gifted performers in the company. Injuries and being saddled with poor gimmicks can do that to a guy. At WrestleMania XXX, rumor has it Bad News Barrett was booked to win the Money in the Bank, but an injury ruined that idea. Now stymied with an increasingly bad King gimmick (sorry, Jerry), Barrett doesn't look to be climbing out of the muck anytime soon.
5 Roman Reigns
How do you go from being part of the best faction in recent memory to having fans chanting "this is awesome" during your matches to now being booed out of the building? You have Vinnie Mac dub you the chosen one and force you down fans' gullets, no matter how much they boo him. Since the dismantling of The Shield, the WWE has tried to convince us that Reigns is heir apparent to the face that runs this place, but the poor guy's weaknesses shone through like the plague when not paired with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
4 Alex Riley
A-Ry spent his brief run on the main roster as The Miz's errand boy. It was the perfect pairing of two heels being extra annoying, before Riley turned on Miz, much to the delight of the fans. Whether it was something Riley had within him or the fact that he was a new face, the fans were getting behind A-Ry, and a good solid run seemed to be in his future. However, backstage, Riley couldn't curry favor with a certain place-running-face and found himself pushed back down the roster. Though Riley was showing promise as a commentator on NXT, he wanted back in the ring, but an injury and fans thanking Kevin Owens for taking him out have put Riley into obscurity.
3 Rob Van Dam
With the WCW Invasion falling faster than a Yokozuna Banzai Drop, ECW joined the fray on a shocking Monday Night Raw that saw Extreme stalwarts Rob Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer bum rush some of WWE's finest in one of the best OMG moments in (somewhat) recent memory. Then, like every other member of the Alliance, the two biggest names in ECW history were tossed to the background. RVD in particular, kept getting himself in trouble for potatoing guys and then when he finally got to the top of the mountain, he and Sabu would get arrested for smoking pot about a month later, ending any big time run The Whole F'n Show could have had.
2 Alberto Del Rio
What came first, the burial of Alberto Del Rio or the laziness of the second–generation Luchador? That's the story of one of WWE's last true heels. He came in as a Mexican aristocrat and was poised to be one of the biggest heels ever, garnering boos for every cruel act he committed. He won the only 40 man Royal Rumble in history. But for some reason he jobbed out to Edge at WrestleMania XXVI and that was before everyone knew he needed to retire. Despite winning Money in the Bank later that year, the luster was off him and no matter what he did in the ring, fans just weren't getting behind him the way they were in the first few months of his run.
1 Bret Hart in WCW
In 1997, there was no hotter superstar than Bret Hart. Then came Montreal. The Hitman's final night in the WWE continues to live in infamy. Does WCW think to capitalize on this? Do they call Bret the undefeated champion, similar to when Flair was the "real" Heavyweight Champion? Nope, they just sit Bret out and it would be almost three months between Survivor Series and Bret's first WCW match. Twelve weeks is an eternity in wrestling years and that's all it took to ruin the gold that WCW had. Bret was never used properly again in his career. He and Vince were right, WCW had no clue what to do with Bret.