In wrestling, you could have all the talent in the world and you could have the best or even the most unique gimmick. You could even have the look of a main eventer or a face that would be perfect to represent the company. However, you could also blow all of that with one wrong move, messing with the wrong superstars or just getting on the bad side of the authority.
Such has been the case for many wrestlers as despite WWE being sports entertainment, it is still a business in a dog eat dog world where everyone has to look out for themselves. Sure, you need a good work ethic and have to be over with the crowd to succeed, but in this business, it's not enough as luck and being in the right place at the right time is just about as important. Look at John Cena after all. He was below Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and Batista in the pecking order for the future "face" of the company but look at his position now.
In some cases for the superstars in this list, backstage politics didn't completely derail their careers or lead to their release, but it has also stopped some of them from reaching their potential or truly making an impact in the business. While in some cases, many superstars on this list are legitimate wrestling stars who could have achieved so much more.
Here are 15 wrestlers who could have done more without backstage politics. Let us know if you agree with the choices or if we missed any out.
15 Marty Jannetty
Marty Jannetty was one-half of The Rockers alongside Shawn Michaels as they were a very popular tag team in the early 90s. However, he had his demons both personally and backstage, as his relationship with Michaels started to deteriorate, especially after their tag team broke up.
Michaels, who had a lot of pull backstage, fought Jannetty at the Royal Rumble in 1993, where the two had a subpar match. HBK though, started rumors that Jannetty was under the influence during the match, which resulted in his release. Jannetty eventually returned a year later as Curt Hennig vouched for him but the damage had already been done, and following the Charles Austin case, his career was as good as dead -- with most of the credit (or blame) going to Michaels.
14 The Public Enemy
The Public Enemy are one of the few tag teams to appear for all three major promotions in the 90s in WWE, WCW and ECW. Despite not winning any gold in WWE, the tag team duo was still very successful, being four-time ECW Tag Team Cons as well as their one solitary reign as WCW Tag Team Champions.
When they joined WWE in 1999 however, things didn’t go well for the tag team as there was reported animosity between them and WWE wrestlers since they chose WCW over them back in 1995. Along with this, The Public Enemy didn’t want to go through tables in a match with The Acolytes (as that was their gimmick). They tried to change the finish but to no avail as they were “buried” on live TV. Bradshaw and Farooq claimed to have run them out of the company as they returned to WCW shortly afterward.
13 Daniel Puder
Daniel Puder won the second ever million dollar Tough Enough competition with an MMA background, seemed like he could at least follow in the footsteps of Ken Shamrock in the WWE. However, in a shoot fight with Kurt Angle on SmackDown, Puder put the gold medalist in a Kimura lock, which most MMA fighters would have tapped from but Angle couldn’t due to his character.
Angle was certainly not pleased and Puder’s career was already at a risk of ending, albeit through his own fault. At the 2005 Royal Rumble, Puder was pretty much buried as he was constantly chopped and “bullied” by Hardcore Holly, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero before WWE didn’t stick to their agreement with the guaranteed contract and released Puder. As you can see, all it takes is one wrong move.
12 John Morrison
John Morrison had just about everything. He had the look to be the face of the company, he had a memorable entrance and he was one of the most exciting wrestlers in WWE. When he was tag teaming with The Miz, everyone assumed it was Morrison who’d go further with his career. However, his behind the scenes relationship with Melina got in the way of his career progression. When rumors started circulating that Melina was sleeping with other wrestlers like Batista, Morrison didn’t bat an eye, causing many to believe he was spineless.
Along with this, he didn’t cooperate with Trish Stratus who was having a feud with Melina at the time, reportedly treating her badly which didn’t go down well with the higher ups. Morrison eventually departed in 2011 but as of now, he’s thriving in Lucha Underground as Johnny Mundo.
11 Muhammad Hassan
Muhammad Hassan had the potential to be arguably the greatest heel in the history of this entire industry. Donning an anti-American gimmick a couple of years after the 9/11 tragedy, Hassan had real heat and was booed in every arena he stepped foot in. He had so much heat that even heels despised him and they’d team up with faces to eliminate him in the 2005 Royal Rumble.
Unfortunately, the gimmick was too controversial as real life circumstances such as the London bombings along with Hassan’s personal issues with other wrestlers backstage meant that the character had to die a quick death. While it was Hassan’s own doing, politics played a part in the end of his character as he was involved in a verbal altercation with Eddie Guerrero. Hassan reportedly told Eddie to stop using his camel clutch finisher, only to not realize that the move was created by Eddie’s father. It goes without saying, that talking like that to a legend in the business, didn’t go down well for Hassan with people backstage.
Vader was a dominant and scary big man who could also fly, and when he joined WWE from WCW in 1995, many big things were expected. However, he encountered Shawn Michaels, the WWE Champion who had lots of pull backstage as most of The Kliq did at the time. Michaels didn’t want to work with Vader, let alone drop the title to him.
From being over as a monster and a former WCW Champion, Vader’s stock started to drop as he quickly became a jobber, constantly losing and not seeming a threat anymore. Vader lost to the likes of Edge, Bradshaw and Mark Henry and was just not booked well, as he subsequently asked for his release in 1998 to wrestle in Japan.
Another victim of the 1990s version of Shawn Michaels.
9 Dean Malenko
Dean Malenko was the Iceman, the Man of a Thousand Holds and one of the best technical wrestlers in this entire industry’s history, even being named the number one wrestler in 1997 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Finding most of his success in WCW, Malenko was a four-time Cruiserweight, one-time Tag Team and one time US Champion with the company, however, he couldn’t emulate the same success when he joined WWE in 2000, eventually retiring in mid-2001.
Despite his success in WCW, being one of the most over superstars in the company, Malenko, along with many other WCW superstars on this list, were left frustrated as they were resigned to being just cruiserweights. There was a glass ceiling that couldn’t be reached, let alone broken due to creative control and Eric Bischoff, as Malenko would soon flee a sinking ship when he left the company in 2000.
8 Kofi Kingston
When Kofi Kingston debuted for WWE, he was an up and coming mid-carder with lots of potential and an exciting move set. As he gradually moved up the ranks, he was soon thrust into a program with WWE Champion, Randy Orton in 2009. However, during one of their matches, a botch from Kingston towards the end of the match angered Orton, who infamously shouted “stupid, stupid!” at him for the whole world to see.
It is said that it was at that moment that Kingston would never get a singles push again, due to Orton being extremely vocal about his error. It’s not all bad though as Kingston formed The New Day with Xavier Woods and Big E just over two years ago, being one of the hottest acts in WWE for the past year and a half.
7 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes recently left the WWE after being frustrated with his position in the company as well as being forced to don his stale Stardust gimmick. Rhodes has proven that he is quite the performer over the years, getting over with various gimmicks and showing many glimpses that he could be a future main eventer.
However, at 31 years of age, Rhodes finally had enough and decided to quit the company. Many instances of politics held him back but surprisingly, it was the creative team rather than fellow wrestlers. For example, Rhodes was on an impressive Intercontinental Title run, only for him to lose to The Big Show at WrestleMania XXVIII. His dad, Dusty Rhodes even suggested for him to leave WWE after that.
And following his departure this year, in a statement on Twitter, Rhodes complained about how he wanted to change his Stardust gimmick but the head writers ignored him, instead, choosing to hit on developmental divas.
6 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho is a veteran who is still going strong today. Y2J is the first Undisputed Champion (in case you somehow forgot about that), a six-time WWE champion and the fourth grand slam champion in WWE history. Despite being 45, he has constantly reinvented himself and is the hottest act on RAW today, possibly doing his best work to date. Now a veteran of the business, it could be fair to say that he has a considerable amount of pull backstage.
However, that wasn’t the case when he was at WCW as while he was growing in popularity, he was never really able to become a main eventer there -- but not without trying. Notably involved in an entertaining program with Goldberg, Jericho pitched many ideas where he’d face Goldberg, however, the undefeated one didn’t take Jericho seriously and couldn’t see his character bothering with him. It all worked out in the end as Jericho defected to WWE in 1999 where the rest is history.
5 Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero is a wrestling legend and while it took him a long time to reach the pinnacle of the industry, he achieved a lifelong dream by winning the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar in 2004. However, like many other WCW alumni, he was held back by backstage politics during his tenure at the company.
Having excellent matches every week and getting little reward for it, only being a cruiserweight level wrestler unable to fight with the top guys, Guerrero did his own pipe bomb ala CM Punk. During the hype of the nWo, Guerrero formed the LWO (Latino World Order), taking jabs at Bischoff, saying he never allowed them to climb the ladder of success, and even telling him to kiss his backside.
It gave the cruiserweights personality and a storyline but it didn’t help elevate them as they would like as Guerrero eventually left the company in 2000.
4 Owen Hart
Owen Hart has always fondly been remembered as one of the best wrestlers to grace the squared circle. While he was in the shadow of his more successful brother in Bret Hart, the two took part in some of the best WWE matches, including against themselves. Owen didn’t have a shabby resume either, being an Intercontinental Champion, Tag Team Champion, King of the Ring, European Champion and a three-time Slammy Award winner.
Following the infamous Montreal Screwjob, Owen Hart was the only Hart remaining in WWE, but the storyline was set. Shawn Michaels and DX ran the Hart Foundation out of the company but Owen, the “little nugget”, was the Black Hart -- who wanted revenge and attacked HBK following In Your House 1997.
A push was set and Owen Hart, now a rebel babyface, was supposed to challenge HBK for the title at the Royal Rumble. However, politics by Michaels set Owen back as his title shot was relegated to an episode of RAW where he won via DQ and never got a rematch. He would later win and lose the European Title to Triple H before joining The Nation of Domination.
3 Ken Anderson
Back in 2009, Ken Anderson (known as Mr. Kennedy in WWE) was on the verge of becoming the company’s biggest rising stars. He had the looks, the personality and a very unique gimmick, and having returned from injury, WWE was promoting his return in the form of vignettes.
However, Kennedy was released a few days after his return as it’s believed Randy Orton was vocal about Kennedy hurting him in a match and being a dangerous worker. This is the widely believed reason as to why Kennedy’s tenure at WWE came to an end but Kennedy himself, doesn’t think Orton was the reason his career came to an end, though he did say it was the final straw.
Kennedy has also claimed not to be a fan of John Cena, stating that there have been some personal burials that have taken place with him, so who knows?
2 Bret Hart
The best example of Bret Hart being held back by backstage politics was the Montreal Screwjob, as he wasn’t allowed to retain his title in Canada against his arch rival, Shawn Michaels. However, that’s not the only time The Hitman has been held back by backstage politics.
When he dropped the title to Michaels at WrestleMania XII, it was expected that Hart would get his title back against Michaels one year later at WrestleMania 13. To his misfortune though, Michaels “lost his smile”, forfeiting the title as many believe he refused to drop the title to Hart -- which further intensified their rivalry.
Hart’s luck would continue to be bad even in WCW as despite having a clean slate, he was constantly misused in the company, never fit in with the nWo and was held back by many WCW stars who had creative control.
1 CM Punk
After being just about everywhere in WWE except for the main event scene, CM Punk got his break in the summer of 2011 when he was involved with WWE’s hottest storyline alongside John Cena. With his contract expiring, Punk challenged Cena for his WWE title at Money in the Bank in Chicago and won the title, kicking off the “Summer of Punk”.
Punk went on to become a huge star for the remainder of his WWE career, however, one can’t help but think the “Summer of Punk” could have been even better. That’s because while Punk was really over and truly becoming a star, Triple H came out of retirement and beat him in a match. Along with this, for some reason, Triple H’s Kliq buddy, Kevin Nash powerbombed Punk after SummerSlam, allowing Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and win the title.
The politics don’t end there either as we all know how Punk refused to face Triple H at WrestleMania XXX, eventually walking away from the company, having never main evented Wrestlemania despite being the WWE Champion for 434 days.