If you’re a fan of wrestling and on the Internet regularly - which you must be or you wouldn’t be reading this - you’re familiar with scores of people whining that their indy darlings or the latest NXT call-ups aren’t getting their fair shake. Despite a debut program with John Cena and a respectable Intercontinental Championship reign, people love to complain Kevin Owens isn’t getting his fair shake from the WWE. Sasha Banks is also getting this kind of treatment now. Hopefully big things will be coming for both superstars, but realistically, it’s too early to start complaining about their treatment.
Once you get beyond the relatively new stars, you’ll find perhaps the most talented roster in the history of the WWE. Gone are the days of overweight guys pretending to be hillbillies and sanitation workers. The ability to put on a good match is one of the most important thing to fans these days, second only to letting wrestlers gain their respect organically. The WWE can’t shove a wrestler down people’s throats the way you could 20 or 30 years ago and there are times when Vince McMahon seems to resent fans for things like not falling in love with Roman Reigns when they were basically commanded that they should.
Along with not allowing some of this generation’s wrestlers to excel regardless of what the fans want, the WWE has always had a problem with maintaining a wrestler’s popularity, respecting a legend’s legacy or recognizing when a legend still has years left on their career.
It’s annoying when great talent gets misused, but if you’re a wrestling fan, you’ve got to get used to it. With that in mind, here are 15 wrestlers the WWE failed to use properly:
15 Randy Savage
If you’re thinking just about his time as Intercontinental Champion and later World Champion, it would be easy to say the WWE was good to Savage and they were good to him for the first of his run from 1985 to 1989, but when you see what he brought to the table with WCW, it’s clear the WWE really missed the boat with the end of his time there. First came the Macho King years, which is one of those gimmicks that is either given to a bland guy (not the case here) or as more of a lifetime achievement award (see Harley Race). That was followed with the wedding to Elizabeth, whom he was ironically close to divorcing at the time and then his time as a broadcaster. He left in 1994 and went on to have a high quality six year run in WCW, including holding their world championship on multiple occasions. It’s a shame one of the greats didn’t get to finish his career in WWE.
We have to remember that Sting knew what he was getting into and he probably has made more money with WWE than he did during his entire TNA run. He made his debut at Survivor Series 2014 and harassed Triple H right up the point of losing his first WWE match at WrestleMania. Why? Because WWE and WCW, that’s why. Instead of working toward a rematch or keeping Sting in the mix, he disappeared only to come back the day after SummerSlam and was immediately put into a title match on a non-major pay-per-view. Wrestling Triple H in what was not a very physically taxing match is one thing. Wrestling a guy half your age whose religion is crossfit is another. Sting never should have been in the ring with someone almost 30 years his junior and he paid the price with his neck injury. Hopefully he’ll be back, but there is no coming back from his lackluster first year in WWE.
13 Gail Kim
Why didn’t Kim work out? It’s a question a lot of people are still asking after her two runs in WWE amounted to very little. She was a contemporary of Lita and Trish Stratus and had just as much talent as those Divas, but was never able to really show it. She was as good on the mic as any other woman working for WWE and had the kind of body that made teenage boys tune in during the Attitude Era. She’s been very vocal about how much she didn’t enjoy her separate tenures in WWE, so it’s highly unlikely we’ll see her make another appearance before she calls it a career.
12 Damien Sandow
This is a perfect example of the WWE Universe recognizing a great talent, but for some reason, those in charge just can’t get behind him. It makes you wonder if other things are going on behind the scenes and Sandow rubs management the wrong way. Sandow first did an above-average job in the stereotypical “smarmy, smart heel” role before joining Cody Rhodes (who narrowly missed making this list) as part of the tag-team Rhodes Scholars. WWE would never let them be a team and seemed to treat them as two individuals paired up for no reason. Sandow’s greatest performance came as Mizdow, the stunt double for The Miz. WWE could have told that story several more months, but missed their chance. The last time we saw Sandow, he was pretending to be Randy Savage next to Curtis Axel’s Hulk Hogan impression. When the real-life Hogan had a few racist comments revealed, WWE quickly pulled the plug on the team. Hopefully he’ll be back soon and get the traction he’s never been able to maintain.
11 The Nexus
Imagine a stable/group of wrestlers including: Daniel Bryan, King Barrett, Darren Young, Ryback, Bray Wyatt, Heath Slater and a few B-level talents like Curtis Axel, Justin Gabriel and David Otunga. It happened, even if WWE never talks about 2010 and 2011. The entire group of guys were on what was called NXT at the time, which was more of a televised main roster tryout than anything else. When the rookies banded together and tore Raw apart in June 2010, it looked like we could have a faction that, much like the nWo, ran roughshod over WWE for years to come. It wouldn’t be the case though as John Cena was able to vanquish most of the group singlehandedly and it split into two groups: The Corre and The New Nexus, which was led by CM Punk. Aside from a strong show of force during the 2011 Royal Rumble, The New Nexus never lived up to its potential and all members of the original Nexus went their separate ways.
10 Terry Funk
Nothing is more frustrating than when a legend comes to the WWE and they either try to ignore the past or just have no idea how to tell a story with that person. Terry Funk’s first WWE run came around WrestleMania II, where he teamed up with his brother, Dory Funk, Jr. He had the gimmick of “branding” a wrestler after a match and most notably beat the crap out of a ring attendant who dared to put Funk’s cowboy hat on, but aside from a short feud with Junkyard Dog, Funk came and went with very little notice. His return was years later as a tag-team partner for Cactus Jack. For whatever reason, he wanted to be known as Chainsaw Charlie, but when announcers would reference him, they’d almost always say, “the alter ego of Terry Funk” immediately after. His hardcore matches looked tame compared to what he’d been doing in ECW just a couple of years earlier, where he was considered a God. In WWE, he was just a mid-carder wearing pantyhose over his head.
9 Dusty Rhodes
It was clear when Dusty Rhodes made his way to the WWE that his greatest years were behind him, but his treatment by the company, both as a person and his storylines, was not befitting a legend of his status. First was the series of vignettes introducing him as The Common Man. Perhaps the most foreshadowing statement he had, when holding a plunger and talking about being the son of a plumber, was “Doo doo is good for me, and doo doo is good for you.” Rhodes was quickly given polka dot tights, a female manager who seemed to be out of place and a completely lack of decent booking. It’s no surprise that he didn’t stay in WWE very long, returning back to the South where he was box office gold.
When you saddle a bad wrestler with a stupid gimmick from the beginning, be it an Outback Jack or Henry Godwinn, you’re immediately limiting how far a wrestler can go. When you saddle a great wrestler like Rick Martel, Jacques Rougeau or in this case, Emma, with a horrible gimmick, it can almost be career killing. Yes, she made more money than most of us will ever see with a goofy Egyptian dance and serving as Santino Marella’s girlfriend, but if you look at her early NXT work, you’ll see the seeds of the Divas revolution, even if it left her behind. Hopefully her current NXT makeover as a heel is going to revitalize her career, but she’s probably already shot herself in the foot when it comes to ever being taken seriously on the main roster.
7 The Great Sasuke
Most people probably don’t even remember that one of the greatest Japanese wrestlers to ever set foot in a ring had a quick run with the WWE back in 1997. The WWE and Japan-based Michinoku Pro (which Sasuke was part-owner) began working together in advance of the WWE debuting their Light Heavyweight championship. Sasuke was expected to win the tournament, but he made a few comments to the Japanese media that ticked off the WWE. It’s understandable to be upset when an employee disparages a company, but when you have a talent like Sasuke, you explain the way things are and give him a second chance. The one upside of the way he was handled was that it allowed Taka Michinoku to become the champion and he went on to a nice run of several years with WWE.
6 Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is like the guy who competes at three Olympics and finishes fourth or fifth every time. Come the end of time, if his career were to end today, he probably wouldn’t be remembered and that’s 0 percent his fault and 100 percent the WWE’s fault. Yes, the guy who is fourth or fifth in the Olympics doesn’t win a medal, but he’s still one of the best in the world and should be respected as such. Despite a brief run with the world title before being injured and numerous Intercontinental title reigns, not to mention being a key part of Sting’s arrival, Ziggler has just never broken through the glass ceiling WWE has set up for him. Maybe Vince McMahon still sees him as Nicky from The Spirit Squad, but it’s clear he just doesn’t have whatever it is the boss needs.
For obvious reasons, WWE could never allow Sabu to do some of the crazy stuff he made a name doing in ECW, Japan and various indies. They also want to protect their employees and some of the choices Sabu makes in a ring just weren’t conducive to his health. He also has a reputation of doing whatever he wants, which is never going to make a corporation like WWE very happy. Maybe Sabu could have been a better soldier, but WWE lost an opportunity to do something special with the one person who defined hardcore wrestling more than any other.
4 The Shield
As individuals, they have each had magnificent runs, headlining more pay-per-views than anybody else other than John Cena. Maybe this is the argument for them not being on this list. Maybe as individuals they sell so much more merchandise than they did as The Shield that financially it would have been stupid for the WWE to keep them together. The New Day is a great unit, but The Shield could have been the equivalent of the modern-day Four Horsemen. There’s no reason that Seth Rollins couldn’t have remained a member and gone on to win the WWE championship. There’s no reason Dean Ambrose couldn’t have actually done something with his US Title instead of just wear it for a year. The Intercontinental and tag titles were also theirs for the taking. People still yearn for a Shield reunion and WWE will probably do it someday, but we can’t help but think the plug was pulled too soon, something Vince McMahon seems to like to do again and again.
Natalya doesn’t have Vince McMahon’s ideal for a diva body type, like a Trish Stratus. Strike one. She’s a great wrestler, but technically probably a step behind the best, like Sasha Banks, so strike two and while decent on the microphone, she doesn’t have the presence of a Paige or The Bella Twins. Sorry, Nattie, strike three. Toss in the fact she comes with the sometimes-good, sometimes-bad baggage of being married to Tyson Kidd and the sometimes-good, sometimes-bad baggage of being a member of the Hart family and you’ve got somebody who the company just doesn’t want to get behind and it’s a shame.
One of the greatest moments in the short history of the WWE Network was during the first Stone Cold Podcast when Steve Austin point-blank asked Vince McMahon why Cesaro wasn’t getting the push that he deserved. McMahon babbled about a brass ring and having “it” but after watching Cesaro’s career arc in the WWE, it’s clear he’s never going to get anywhere until Vince McMahon decides it. This is despite having one of the coolest moves of the last five years with the swing, this is despite fans bringing hundreds of “Cesaro Section” signs and this is despite showing brilliance as a tag team champion with Tyson Kidd. McMahon has shown the fans that until he decides otherwise, they’re just not going to win the argument about Cesaro.
1 The Road Warriors
The Road Warriors blasted onto the scene of the American Wrestling Association in the mid-1980s and turned the wrestling world on its ear. After they were done terrorizing the Gagne and Hennig families, they headed toward the National Wrestling Alliance where after starting as heels, they became fan favorites because...well, how can you not cheer the Road Warriors? When WWE saw their version of The Road Warriors, Demolition, fading and The Powers of Pain never taking off, they finally hired Hawk and Animal, but never used The Road Warriors name, opting for Legion of Doom. It was not a good run and arguably ruined a lot of the team’s legacy. Between Paul Ellering with a dummy, Hawk’s alcoholic angle, new team member “Puke” and Sunny as their manager, we prefer to remember their AWA and NWA days.