The news is out and Roman Reigns getting suspended has the wrestling world talking. WWE expected him to become “the guy” and the experiment has to end after just a few months of being champ despite years of planning. This isn’t the first time a superstar has been planned to become the top star in the company and see it fall apart. The position of “the guy” is usually the face of the company and a babyface that holds the world title. This person should represent WWE in just about every way imaginable and make everyone associated look good by proxy.
Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena are the golden four names that always come to mind when thinking about the successful stories of wrestlers thriving in the role. The pressure is higher than ever but those special performers rose to the occasion and even upped their game due to it. Not everyone can find success in that position and that’s why the position is so important. There have been quite a few wrestlers to flop horribly trying to lead the company and we’ll look at them here. These are the top fifteen WWE stars to fail as “the guy.”
15. Roman Reigns
Let’s get to the most recent story first. Roman Reigns was supposed to follow in the footsteps of John Cena as the next face of the WWE but it all came crashing down. A failed drug test violating the wellness policy forced WWE to suspend their handpicked champion. Reigns lost the title cleanly to Seth Rollins before Dean Ambrose cashed in Money in the Bank to win the title. WWE suspended Reigns and his time as “the guy” has ended.
Reigns will return and still have great opportunities, but there’s no way his position as the most heavily pushed star will continue. This puts Roman on the same playing field as Rollins, Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, A.J. Styles and others in the upper card. It will take a lot to convince the company that he is trustworthy again before being put into a spot at the top of the mountain. The experiment is definitely finished for the time being and Reigns will likely be pushed down the card.
14. The Undertaker
Everyone loves The Undertaker and he will always be celebrated as one of the all-time great WWE stars. That being said, there’s a reason he rarely held the WWE Championship until the brand split. The Undertaker was never the top guy in the company but rather served as a popular secondary main event face doing his own thing away from the title. The different eras saw Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock and John Cena all take precedent over ‘Taker.
Undertaker had first his true stint as “the guy” following a WWE Title win over Sycho Sid at WrestleMania 13. The program suffered with him as champion and WWE made the change back to Bret Hart after a couple of months. Fans loved The Undertaker but the presentation of him never felt right as the top guy in the company until he entered the legend stage of his career. You can argue The Undertaker is the most celebrated WWE star in history but he was never successfully the top guy at any specific point.
The evolution of Batista in Evolution (see what we did there) created a new star for WWE and he reached the top of the mountain by defeating Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania 21. Batista’s time as the top star on Raw was short lived as he was sent to SmackDown a few months later on the draft. WWE believed more in John Cena to be featured on Raw and Batista’s transition to SmackDown did not go well.
Despite the brand split intending to create two equal programs, SmackDown was clearly the lesser show and Batista still failed to succeed as the top face of the show. Batista’s stock dropped gradually through the year and SmackDown became as irrelevant as ever. The remainder of Batista’s career was extremely successful and he’s a future Hall of Famer but he couldn’t thrive in the spot of being “the guy.” Batista showed he was best served as a secondary main eventer that can’t carry a promotion on his back.
12. Rob Van Dam
Diehard wrestling fans have wanted to see Rob Van Dam become the WWE Champion for years before it finally happened in 2006. The ECW brand returning to become a part of the WWE Universe opened up the opportunity for RVD to become the face of a show. Van Dam defeated John Cena in a legendary moment to win the WWE Championship and become the ECW Champion as well. The brand showed great promise of something different from the typical WWE shows and gave us excitement heading into it.
The story ends very similar to the Roman Reigns incident with the wellness policy preventing Van Dam from succeeding in the role. RVD and Sabu were pulled over and arrested for carrying marijuana in their car. WWE suspended Van Dam and took both titles off of him. We would never see him in a main event position ever again. RVD gave reason for WWE to believe they were right all along and never viewed him as a top guy following the incident.
The use of Bill Goldberg in WWE is rightfully criticized for the way his character was presented but he was afforded an opportunity very few have been given. Goldberg was the top face on Raw for the better part of his sole year in WWE feuding against Triple H and other. A debut match against The Rock showed how poorly things would go for Goldberg as the top guy on Raw. Fans cheered for the heel Rock and booed Goldberg due to holding a grudge against WCW stars.
Goldberg never was able to endear himself to the WWE fans, or locker room, and his run turned into a complete disaster. The World Championship win over Triple H should have started a huge upswing of momentum but it just exposed him as not being worthy of the role in the bigger WWE Universe. Fans didn’t take to him strongly and the shark infested waters of WWE destroyed Goldberg’s chances of making it as a megastar in the company.
10. CM Punk
CM Punk’s rise to the top of WWE was very inspiring and well deserved after being snubbed for years. His tremendous promos showing an edgy nature of content that was missing in the product made Punk the new voice of the fan. Punk’s momentum slowed down following horrible booking involving losing matches to Triple H and getting beat up by Kevin Nash. That would ultimately doom his chances of success when Punk eventually became the top guy towards the end of 2012.
A year long title reign wasn’t enough to help Punk get on the level of John Cena and the numbers went down with him as champion. Punk still delivered good results but it wasn’t good enough for the top position in the company. The bitterness in how he was booked still shows when Punk passive aggressively mentions WWE these days. Punk couldn’t achieve his goal of being the biggest star in the industry and that likely plays into why he resents the business now.
9. Randy Orton
The story of Randy Orton’s inability to be “the guy” is very similar to CM Punk’s, but Orton was actually given every opportunity. As a third generation superstar with the ideal look for a WWE main eventer, Orton is someone the company always wanted to succeed. Unfortunately, he was not able to reach the absolute top of the business. John Cena always towered over Orton as the top guy in the company and Orton floundered in small spurts trying to fill the role.
His best chance came during a WWE Championship reign on Raw in 2010 but Orton didn’t have the ability to connect with the fans at such a level. Nothing suffered dramatically with Orton at the top, but the ceiling of success was limited. Orton always performed better as a heel character and that’s a big reason why he could never be “the guy.” Hus veteran status and older age of Orton have ended his days of having a chance at that level, so the book is officially closed now.
8. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels’ in-ring work is second to absolutely no one, but he completely failed as “the guy” in 1996. Michaels defeated Bret Hart to win the WWE Championship in an Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII as the crowning moment to become the next big draw for the company. It didn’t work out and WCW started to pass WWE in the Monday Night Wars during Michaels’ title reign.
Michaels having a poor attitude and quitting when things didn’t go his way further damaged his chances at thriving in the role. Professionalism and respect are important in being the face of the franchise for a company as big as WWE. You can argue Michaels had a better chance during his 2002 return as a more mature man and performer. His second stint in WWE provided better moments for Michaels but he never took back his place as the top star in the company after flopping in the 90s.
WWE believed in Sheamus being a top caliber superstar and tried pushing him as such on multiple occasions. It’s never worked out for him. The Irish import has a great deal of talent and works hard, but just can’t connect on a larger level required of the top guy. Various former WWE writers have revealed that Vince McMahon thought Sheamus could potentially replace John Cena in the top spot and the booking of WrestleMania XXVII showcased that.
Sheamus defeated Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds to win the World Championship. Instead of Sheamus starting a hot run as the beloved champ, fans revolted against him and supported Bryan. The reign of Sheamus flopped and ruined his chances at ever materializing into anything more than just an occasional main eventer. WWE designated Sheamus into the midcard picture for the majority of the past few years and he’ll likely remain there for the rest of his career.
6. Chris Benoit
WrestleMania XX’s ending of Chris Benoit defeating Shawn Michaels and Triple H to officially win his first World Championship was a touching moment at the time but it didn’t result in success. The company saw numbers decline across the board with Benoit as the champion and made a big change by having Randy Orton win the title off of him at SummerSlam. Benoit delivered in the ring but he didn’t have much charisma or personality that could draw in the average viewer.
The company never featured Benoit as a main eventer after he failed to prove he could be the top face on a brand. It likely was the right decision with Benoit serving best as a midcarder that could enter the main event picture every once in a while. An extreme small percentage of performers can excel in a role as “the guy” and Benoit was not one of them.
5. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is arguably the biggest star in WWE right now, even with his part-time schedule but that wasn’t always the case. WWE did know he would be something special from day one and introduced him as an important of the show right away. Lesnar became the youngest WWE Champion at the time and won it within his first five months on television. The best matches of Brock stand out very well, but he just wasn’t ready for the position yet.
Lesnar struggled to succeed as a likeable face and ended up turning heel after his face title reign flopped. It is well documented that Brock was immature at the time and didn’t like the traveling aspect of the wrestling business. Lesnar left WWE after two years despite getting paid very well and having all of the opportunity to be a massive star. The current act of Brock being a part-time attraction that shows up to kick ass every few months is much more fitting than having to carry the company on a weekly basis.
4. The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was the first person to get a legitimate chance at passing Hulk Hogan for the position of “the guy” during the Hulkamania era in WWE. Warrior’s intensity, face paint and unpredictability made him a hit among fans. The rise culminated with him defeating Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania VI. Warrior’s title reign went down as a complete failure in many respects.
The responsibility that comes along with being champion extends outside of the wrestling ring and Warrior floundered. Wrestlers felt Warrior was among the most disrespectful performers and he didn’t want to endear himself to the locker room. That resulted in various forms of drama that can’t exist with a world champion. Warrior also couldn’t hack it in following Hogan’s record breaking numbers and WWE ended up having to make the move back to Hogan a year later. Let’s not forget Warrior was an atrocious in-ring performer that made the mediocre Hogan look better by proxy.
Kevin Nash fit the bill of everything a successful superstar was supposed to be in the 90s. The 7 foot tall athlete had a great look, a cool personality and a world of charisma. It made perfect sense why Vince McMahon wanted Nash to have a long title reign over the likes of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Instead, his title reign was a complete bust and ended up hurting business for the company.
PPV buyrates suffered and proved Nash wasn’t a draw at the time. WWE was better off with Bret Hart at the top and they made the change at the 1995 Survivor Series. Nash saw the writing on the wall realizing he’d never be “the guy” again and made the jump to WCW for a bigger contract. The top spot comes along with a great deal of money and Nash was not going to get that in WWE. WCW would push Nash into the main event picture and he did a much better job there after the WWE failure.
2. Triple H
Triple H’s career was overshadowed by Steve Austin and The Rock during the Attitude Era. Triple H was superb but two “once in a lifetime” talents being on top during the time frame made it impossible for him to get a fair chance until 2002. Following a severe quad injury, Triple H returned as a hero to the fans and had a chance to become “the guy.” WWE strategically planned it for him to win the Royal Rumble in his return and capture the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X8.
The major problem was that Triple H is a natural heel and didn’t have the legend status yet to just get easy cheers. Fans still cared more about Austin and Rock, which once again haunted Triple H. WWE realized the experiment was a failure right away and made a big title change having Hulk Hogan defeat Triple H just one month later at Backlash 2002. Triple H turned heel a few months later and spent the majority of his time as the top villain in WWE.
1. Lex Luger
No one failed more miserably in the top spot than Lex Luger. Vince McMahon’s dream of a main eventer was personified with Luger’s physique and All-American persona. WWE tried desperately pushing The Lex Express of Luger being the man to dethrone Yokozuna in becoming the first big star after Hulk Hogan left. No one cared about Luger and the fan interest somehow decreased with each passing week.
Luger was scheduled to win the WWE Championship on multiple occasions but plans changed each time. Bret Hart ended up getting the big win over Yokozuna at WrestleMania X and Luger moved into the midcard before bolting for WCW. Luger succeeded as a bigger star in WCW but the higher pressure spot of WWE saw him dramatically fail. This was one of the first instances of McMahon’s judgment being wrong and needing to stop judging a book by its cover. The most memorable moment of Luger’s career will always be failing as “the guy” in WWE.
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