A lot of people can relate to the stories of office politics holding certain people back. While some are viewed as the hardest working by their peers, networking and “butt-kissing” by some can lead to having a better position. This can lead to conflicts that continue to hold down some who are viewed as deserving better; even being terminated if the highly-valued are liked better.
The world of professional wrestling is no different. Certain wrestlers have found themselves in positions that provided better opportunities, better pay and other benefits. Sometimes, it is earned through having a run of popularity among the fans. Of course superstars like The Undertaker, John Cena and Triple H can call some shots. They paid their dues for being in the WWE longer.
However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t casualties along the way. Backstage politics, like the earlier mentioned office politics, have often been viewed as the reason for up-and-coming superstars never reaching their full potential. It’s not just recently with some superstars having to fight politics to get their main event push (i.e. Daniel Bryan and the Yes Movement).
The history of professional wrestling features a number of great talents who never quite got the big push many fans felt they deserved. Names like Bam Bam Bigelow, Big Van Vader and Ted DiBiase might quickly come to mind. Younger fans could point out superstars like Wade Barrett and Kofi Kingston never winning World Championships in their otherwise successful WWE careers.
The following are the top 15 professional wrestlers who have suffered the most from backstage politics that affected their main event pushes.
15 Kenny Dykstra
Ken Doane may have been part of one of the silliest gimmicks with the Spirit Squad in 2006. But he showed a lot of potential for possibly being a singles superstar in the WWE. Unfortunately, he was unable to last long in the WWE before he would fall down the card before being released later in 2008. He was barely used on television during those few years in the WWE.
The former Kenny Dykstra explained it was due to backstage politics. Doane claimed that he was dating Mickie James before she had an affair with John Cena; who also happened to be married at the time. Doane said that when he was released by the WWE, he was told that how he talked about the Cena and James’ affair would affect his chances of future employment. Doane wouldn’t appear in the WWE for nearly 10 years.
14 Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn might not have been viewed as the most charismatic superstar, but he still reached a height in popularity during the Attitude Era. Along with Road Dogg Jesse James, The New Age Outlaws were a dominant tag team in WWE. But his run as a singles superstar with the Mr. Ass gimmick never worked out. When he was released in 2004, Gunn put the blame on Triple H and backstage politics that held him down.
A few years after his harsh comments towards Triple H were made public, Gunn would apologize. Gunn admitted that he didn’t take responsibility for what led to his 2004 departure from the company. Gunn would return to the company for a brief tag team run with Road Dogg Jesse James and then as a coach at the WWE Performance Center. A failed drug test ended that earlier this year.
13 Marty Jannetty
Before going to the WWE, Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels were a hot tag team as The Midnight Rockers – winning tag team gold through the National Wrestling Alliance and the American Wrestling Alliance. For a few years, they worked for WWE with a lower pay than other teams until 1991. Jannetty and Michaels were apparently told that they could leave once their contracts expired after the 1991 Survivor Series.
However, the WWE wasn’t planning on letting Michaels go and instead, turned on Jannetty in the infamous Barbershop segment. Jannetty felt that he was being held down while Michaels got the big run as the Heartbreak Kid. Jannetty’s legal issues that included six months of house arrest didn’t help his case as he was fired in March 1992.
12 Mr. Kennedy
When Ken Anderson broke out into the WWE main roster in 2005, he certainly showed the type of microphone and in-ring skills of a major star. The potential was there as Mr. Kennedy even wound up winning the United States Championship. But injuries certainly hurt his standing in 2005 and also when he won Money in the Bank in 2007. But Kennedy also said in a 2012 interview that there were other problems behind the scenes.
He claimed that John Cena might have been involved in burying him during Anderson’s time in the WWE. There was also an issue during a 10-man tag team match in 2009 where Anderson botched a suplex that hurt Randy Orton. The suplex dropped Orton on a shoulder that was injured the year prior. Kennedy said it was the final straw in his career, but noted that there were a few wrestlers lobbying for him to be fired by the WWE.
11 Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas was considered by some to be a well-rounded performer who could have been destined for better things. Back in 1995, Douglas was reportedly being pushed to face Shawn Michaels for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. According to an interview Douglas earlier this year, the match was canceled due to Michaels not thinking the two would have a good match.
While the title was given to Dean Douglas via forfeit, Douglas would lose the title a little more than 10 minutes later to Razor Ramon in an impromptu match. Michaels would also note during a shoot interview in 1999 that Douglas received a lot of heat for not working an event at Madison Square Garden later that year due to his back being hurt. Michaels claimed that was the final nail in his coffin at WWE.
10 Matt Hardy
When Matt and Jeff Hardy ruled the WWE tag team division through the Attitude Era, Lita was right by their side. It wasn’t a secret that Matt Hardy was in a romantic relationship with Lita. It also isn’t a secret that the relationship ended poorly after news leaked that Lita was having an affair with fellow WWE superstar Edge. The news came out when Hardy was out with an injury.
Despite officials being mad at Edge, they ultimately released Hardy because they had big plans for Edge to become a main event star. Hardy would be open about his frustrations, but the popularity gained from it led to a return later in 2005. The WWE also had a storyline involving the three. Unfortunately, Hardy’s career in WWE pretty much stalled after that and he returned to the mid-card level.
9 Kofi Kingston
Sometimes, an untimely mistake can cost someone a big main event push. Kofi Kingston was part of a feud with Randy Orton that included a memorable brawl at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, there was a moment in a match where Orton was looking to do the punt kick to Kingston to dodge. However, Kingston stood up and Orton decided to switch to going straight to the RKO for the finish – yelling “stupid” repeatedly to Kingston.
Since then, Kingston remained on the mid-card level with multiple Intercontinental and United States Championship reigns. It might seem unfair in retrospect considering that Kington was certainly one of the best at the time. At least Kingston is one of the most decorated wrestlers in recent history, including a run as the longest reigning tag team champions in WWE history with The New Day.
8 John Morrison
John Morrison certainly developed quite a following after being the second season winner of WWE’s Tough Enough in 2002. He was arguably one of the best athletes on the WWE roster at the time. Unfortunately, backstage politics involving his former girlfriend Melina led to WWE officials taking away his push on television. After being released from the company in early 2011, Melina’s reaction was considered over the top.
After her release, she remained on the road with Morrison. Officials considered it a breach of etiquette since there were concerns how she might act behind the scenes. This happened at a bad time with Morrison’s contract expiring months later. Morrison said in an interview after his departure that he turned down a five-year contract because he wanted to focus on an acting career.
7 Wade Barrett
During the first season of the NXT “reality competition,” Wade Barrett showed that he had all of the intangibles of a WWE superstar. Fans knew he was special when he broke out the “Winds of Change” promo during an improv promo competition. The WWE seemed to have early thoughts he could be a big star by having him lead a dominant faction in The Nexus. But the faction’s power died and Barrett would spend several years in mid-card limbo.
It all happened after he lost in a feud with John Cena; the man who was running the place during the Ruthless Aggression and PG Era. A couple of years ago, Barrett said that the two don’t like each other. A true sign that confirmed what a lot of people rumored online – Cena held Barrett down due to some backstage issues. Barrett has since left the WWE earlier this year, but he was still a decorated superstar with five reigns as the Intercontinental Champion.
6 Ted DiBiase
There are a number of WWE superstars who should have been a World Champion. Ted DiBiase is one of those names after having a successful run in the WWE as the Million Dollar Man. It was honestly one of the best gimmicks through the 1980s. He even bought the WWE Championship after Andre the Giant won it. Despite wearing it for events at Madison Square Garden, he was never recognized as an official champion.
DiBiase was planned to win the belt in a tournament at WrestleMania IV, but the plans were changed. The Honky Tonk Man refused to drop the Intercontinental Championship to Randy Savage. Shortly after, Pat Patterson approached DiBiase about losing to Savage and then creating his own championship – the Million Dollar Championship. DiBiase seemed to agree to the idea, but it cost him the one chance to be a World Champion.
Speaking of mid-card superstars who should have been main event staples, Christian is often viewed as one of the most underutilized WWE superstars. After breaking up with Edge, he had some moderate success during the Ruthless Aggression Era as the WWE Intercontinental Champion. The fans put him over, but Vince McMahon apparently held him down for some of the silliest reasons.
Former WWE writer Alex Greenfield noted a conversation where McMahon wanted to legitimately censor Christian’s face. Christian would leave WWE for TNA and win World Titles there. He had a very brief run as World Heavyweight Champion in WWE after Edge’s retirement in 2011. Still, McMahon never liked how Christian looked and this led to him spending 90 percent of his WWE career at the mid-card rank or lower.
4 Bam Bam Bigelow
Considering the size and the look of Bam Bam Bigelow, he should have been a force to be reckoned with during his time in WWE and WCW. However, both runs involved being around rosters that had other wrestlers with a lot of pull behind the scenes. Bigelow had a dominant run at first in 1992, but was the receiving end of some poor booking over the next few years. This included a loss to football star Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI.
Bigelow would then be pushed as a top babyface. He claims that the members of The Kliq, specifically Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash, were responsible for him going back down to the mid-card. Losses to Goldust and the British Bulldog didn’t help him before he left in 1995. That’s not to say his time in WCW was any better; he did lose to Shawn Stasiak.
Big Van Vader certainly came to the WWE in 1996 with a very deserving resume. He was a three-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion and won several more championships for New Japan Pro Wrestling and other international promotions. After being hyped heavily for the 1996 Royal Rumble, he continuously lost to major stars in WWE like Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
Enough was enough for Vader, who ultimately requested his release from the WWE in 1998. After that, he was able to go work for All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah for a few years. The reason for leaving the WWE for Japan was that he was tired of certain superstars being able to “run the show.” Backstage politics certainly had a negative effect on a great wrestling career.
2 CM Punk
There is a very long story behind the infamous “Pipebomb” promo from the summer of 2011. There were a lot of the issues involving CM Punk during his early years in the WWE. In 2007, CM Punk’s undefeated streak was ended by Hardcore Holly after being put in the figurative “doghouse” backstage. There was also another incident in 2009 where he was questioned about how he was dressed in Europe as the World Heavyweight Champion.
Punk’s response by asking about John Cena’s attire outside the ring led to him losing the championship and falling out of the main event spotlight. Fast forward a few years later and it took an unscripted shoot promo on live television to finally put Punk in the top spot on the WWE roster. However, we all know that he still had issues with backstage politics that led to him leaving in 2014.
1 Bret Hart
In 1997, Bret Hart’s contract with WWE was expiring. The problem was that he was holding the WWE Championship at the time. As the clock was winding down, the WWE wanted The Hitman to drop the championship to Shawn Michaels. Hart knew it was going to happen, but he didn’t want to drop the belt in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for the 1997 Survivor Series. That was his one request.
However, the folks in charge at WWE were worried about Hart appearing on WCW television with the WWE Championship in hand. This led to a change for the finish to the match that only a few people knew behind the scenes. This led to one of the most infamous moments in professional wrestling history – the Montreal Screwjob. The backstage politics hurt Hart and burned a bridge that took more than 12 years to rebuild.
Problems with backstage politics continued for Hart in WCW. From the moment he arrived, Hart was underused and as a result, his WCW career was very lackluster. That Montreal Screwjob essentially killed a part of The Hitman that he could never get back.
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