Mistakes are common in every business and wrestling is certainly no exception. WCW is infamous for so many missteps and blown moments that put it out of business. TNA seems to be following in much the same footsteps and everything from ECW to various smaller territories have also blown such chance to really improve things. But WWE seems to have gone out of their way a lot to take opportunities so obvious and somehow fail to use them completely.
It’s a constant throughout the history of the company. They range from storylines and the wrong guy going over to a total failure to understand what the audience wanted to see and not changing with the times. It’s frustrating so often, to grouse over what could have been and the ideas left alone. True, it’s not as easy as fans think; more than one radio show host has noted how their feelings on the business are shifted by the inside look at how tough things are. It’s easy for fans online to come up with fantasy stuff but things work differently in real life. Still, it’s obvious how some things should be and for WWE to not use them has often led to a lot of bad stuff. It’s not just failing to push good guys like Zack Ryder, it’s opportunities that seem so obvious but the company just lets them go by. Here are just 20 of the many, many opportunities for WWE to take off with a fantastic angle or character yet dropped the ball big time and leaving us marveling at what could have been.
20 Roddy Piper as Champion
It’s been said the key reason Roddy Piper didn’t wear any championship gold in WWE was because he was already so massively over that he didn’t need the rub of a championship. Yet it still seems off that a man who was such an icon of 1980s WWE never got a run with the big title. His feud with Hogan helped shape the company majorly and “Piper’s Pit” set the tone for so many other interview segments.
Even as a heel, he had legions of fans with his great ring work and should have gotten a run with the title, even a brief one as the matches with him and Hogan would have been massive sellouts. It would have pushed Hogan up a bit more with regaining the title and could have sparked WrestleMania II up majorly. It also would have filled a hole for Piper’s criteria and made him even more of an icon and helping an already great time in WWE be even better.
19 Christian’s Title Reign
When Edge was forced to retire for injuries in 2011, he had to vacate the World title and it was quickly set up to be filled in a ladder match between Christian and Alberto Del Rio. Christian won and it was one of the most emotional victories of recent times, a guy who had proven himself in TNA taking the next step in WWE, ready to follow in his best friend’s footsteps as a fantastic main event worker. But just five days later, he lost the belt to Randy Orton and all that emotion was let out like a popped balloon.
It made no sense for WWE to cut the legs off a promising title reign without even giving him a shot and it wasn’t helped by Christian coming up short in various rematches, finally winning after turning heel again but that second reign ending fast as well. The man had proven himself as a great worker with a fine career and deserved a long run as World champion and for WWE to tear that away so quickly is a bitter pill to swallow.
18 The Light Heavyweight Division
The common mantra is that while fans tuned into WCW “Nitro” for the nWo and other stars, they stayed for the fantastic Cruiserweight Division that stole the show with amazing matches. WWE tried that with their own light heavyweight division in 1997 but it didn’t quite work out as they didn’t get the same quality of great workers WCW did and some guys really pushing the weight limit.
On the “War” series, it’s openly stated that WWE just wasn’t comfortable pushing this whole thing as the company was always about bigger guys. It’s too bad as it could have helped the company out when WCW was dominating in the ratings and could have given younger guys a push.
17 Sting vs. The Undertaker
There was an opportunity to do this when Sting was uneasy about signing back with TNA in 2011 but it didn’t happen. But this past WrestleMania was an obvious choice and it’s amazing WWE didn’t see that. Undertaker and Sting were always unique in that each was arguably the biggest star of their respective companies to never jump ship but staying loyal to WWE and WCW.
Their clash of personalities practically wrote itself; The Undertaker’s “supernatural” motif versus Sting’s Crow look and a battle between them would have been great, even with their advanced age. It would have served Sting a lot better than a loss against Triple H. It's so irritating that WWE passed on a true clash of the past eras and giving the fans what they always dreamed of.
When Goldberg finally debuted in WWE in 2003, the heat was massive. This was the last bright star of WCW, the man built as an unstoppable monster and while WCW had screwed it up in the end, most expected WWE to handle him well as the guy was just the sort of monster worker meant for the company. However, it didn’t work out that way at all as The Rock seemed stronger in their feud and the long-awaited blow-off with Jericho not living up to expectations.
The feud with Triple H suffered with Hunter going over in the first match, a truly bad move as Goldberg’s win for the title was instantly weakened by that previous loss. The reign would be short as WWE just seemed hesitant about using Goldberg the right way, leading up to the now infamous Mania match with Brock Lesnar that closed his career out. Maybe it was just Vince’s bias against former WCW guys or a lack of understanding of what made Goldberg tick but WWE truly failed to utilize a guy WCW actually used well.
15 Keeping Stone Cold Face
At the climax of WrestleMania X-7, Steve Austin shocked the world by allying with Vince McMahon to win the WWE title from The Rock. It was a big bit but watching it today, you can see the crowd didn’t quite get it and were still cheering Austin on. While he would do his best as a heel, it didn’t take too well as he soon turned more comical than dastardly, weakening his standing.
Austin himself has said that if he had to do it over again, he’d have called an audible, hit a Stunner on Vince and left as the beloved champion. It would have been a better move overall. He could have feuded with Triple H over the belt and might have served the Invasion angle better. Austin himself was annoyed how it all worked out and the fans would have loved seeing him continue as the face champion with an edge to close his last in-ring years out on a brighter note.
14 Muhammad Hassan
This was a failure on multiple levels. The idea of Hassan at first was him reacting to the instant bigotry against Arab Americans which could have been a nice dynamic to play with. Of course, it didn’t take long for it to devolve into him as the cliché “evil Arab” with his promos booed for the wrong reasons and the push not as great as it could have been.
He was moved to SmackDown to face The Undertaker with the now infamous bit of Taker attacked by masked men that aired on the same day as the London terrorist bombings. Hassan was scapegoated and fired which wasn’t fair in the least. This guy had some heat and was a good worker so with a few tweaks, he could have been a great heel character but the race for stereotypes just hurt him and cost him so much.
13 Randy Orton in 2004
It’s tricky to misjudge a fanbase reaction and that’s what WWE did in 2004. Randy Orton had been rising as a great heel, IC champion and would be put over cleanly by beating Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Championship. As the youngest World Champion, Orton was set for a rise as a cocky worker, perhaps pushing Triple H out to take over Evolution himself and becoming the next monster heel for the company. Instead, WWE mistakenly believed the reactions to Orton meant fans wanted him to be a face which he wasn’t suited for.
Rather than have it be a compelling turn, they just had Evolution beat on Orton for no reason, no real need to cheer him other than "Triple H hates him" and Orton just not coming off that great as the new face. He would lose the belt to Triple H fast, sinking for quite a while afterward. Keeping Orton as the heel champion at this time would have been a far better move but WWE misjudged what the fans wanted.
12 RVD as Champion
Some will cite WWE right in not giving Rob Van Dam a run for the title with the fact that when they did in 2006, it took him only a month to screw it up with his arrest. But make no mistake, RVD was clearly one guy who benefited from the Invasion storyline, pushed nicely and wowing fans with his incredible high-flying style and being his own man. His feud with Triple H in 2002 was notable as fans were truly hot for RVD then and wanted him to have the title. Maybe getting it there would have been better for his timing and could have helped the company win over fans far more than Triple H’s dominance. RVD would be seen in a better light by many fans and his tenure less of a disappointment to push the company a bit better.
11 Bret vs Shawn Mania Rematch
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels have mostly made up today but (as seen on their 2011 DVD interview), it’s still a sore subject about their planned WrestleMania 13 rematch never happening. Just a month before it was scheduled, Shawn did his famous “lost my smile” speech and claimed a knee injury to give up the title, leading to Sid winning it over Bret. Bret has always accused Shawn of faking it to duck him, Shawn saying he was doing what his doctor said but Bret doubtful.
It’s a shame as the heat over that match would have been great, freed of the Iron Man stipulation so it could have been an even faster and better battle. Both men were capable of giving a wonderful match and this was before their real-lie heat got in the way and marred things. It might have cost us the “I Quit” match that made Austin a star face but it could also have avoided the mess of Montreal and a way to liven up Mania 13 with two masters going at it.
10 Luger Winning the Title
When Hulk Hogan left WWE in 1993, McMahon stubbornly figured he could make anyone into that sort of star. He picked Lex Luger which did make some sense as Luger had been cited as a “new Hogan” not long after his debut. He was given a massive push touring the country with a patriotic fervor and set to face Yokozuna for the title at SummerSlam. It was a big battle, Yoko in control before Luger made the big babyface comeback, slamming him down, hitting a forearm, ready for the victory…and then winning by countout, meaning that Yokozuna kept the title.
There was a celebration but it was muted as Luger was seen as coming up short and his WWE career never recovered. Having Luger win the belt there was the logical move and his reign as champion could have sparked the company, especially an inevitable feud with Bret Hart. It still amazes that WWE couldn’t do that obvious idea but kept Yoko as champion more when Luger could have pushed the company to a better spot in that time.
9 Austin vs. Hogan
In interviews and his own Blu-Ray documentary, Austin has always been up front on one major thing: It should have been him, not The Rock, going against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 18. A case can certainly be made for that as even before the rise of The Rock, Austin was taking off as the biggest star around, kicking ass, drinking beer, battling Mr. McMahon and more. His pops were massive and truly amazing to see how he would supplant Hogan as the star of the business for the mainstream.
Thus, the idea of him and Hogan going at it would have been epic, the heat of their personalities clashing and would have been a fantastic battle. Even if not at Mania, WWE could have done it afterward as Austin and Hogan, the two biggest stars of their respective times just made total sense as a match and WWE never giving us that remains one of the greatest missed chances the company has ever made.
8 Jericho as Champion in 2000
There have been a lot of cases of “too much, too soon” but Chris Jericho isn’t one of them. His rise in WCW to true star was great but held back by the politics of that company. His arrival into WWE was a huge deal with a classic entrance and going against The Rock and while he struggled a bit afterward, it was clear Jericho was taking off with fans with his great promos and ring work.
In April of 2000, he challenged Triple H to a title match on RAW, the battle going back and forth before referee Earl Hebner was shoved by Triple H and fought back. Jericho took advantage to pin Hunter and the pop from the crowd was huge, clearly loving this with Y2J holding the title. But Triple H forced Hebner to reverse the decision and then fired him. It was a bitter bit as the fans were truly hot for Jericho as the champion and WWE should have recognized that to let him run with the belt. It would have been great seeing him and The Rock or Angle go at it and helped push Jericho more and make 2000 (already a great year for WWE) even better.
7 Bryan vs. Lesnar
In a recent interview, Bret Hart tried to defend this on the idea that WWE had done the “Bryan chases the gold” storyline just a year before and thus didn’t want to seem to be repeating it again. That completely ignores that this is not only what the fans wanted but made total sense. Having Bryan win the Rumble and go on to face Brock Lesnar was a dream encounter of two fantastic wrestlers. It also made sense as Bryan’s first reign was cut short by injury and so now wanted to win the belt back. The fans were hot for it when Bryan entered the Rumble and his exit (before Roman Reigns even entered) was a jarring sight and meant the reaction to Roman winning was always going to be harsh.
It led to massive bad buzz among fans, the outrage of WWE refusing to accept that Bryan should have been in the main event seemingly proof they weren’t interested in “doing the right thing” and while it ended with Rollins winning the belt, fans still would have loved Bryan getting another Mania moment in a classic match with Brock and would have saved WWE a lot of Internet heat.
6 The Nexus
The arrival of the Nexus remains one of the most stunning moments in WWE’s recent history. These eight rookies coming out to not only beat down John Cena but the announcers, the ring crew and tearing the entire ring up, it was a wild sight and established them as true threats. They would keep it up, promising to be a fantastic fighting force, ready to dominate WWE and turn all of them into upper card level stars…and then in just a few months, they were losing constantly to Cena and some others and forced to disband.
It was a total waste of a great concept and grouping, a way to give these guys a rub and rather than recognize their potential, WWE flushed it all away in a far too short term run when it should have gone so much longer. The Nexus is a clear example of blowing through an angle way too fast which is a common problem for WWE today.
5 Hogan vs. Warrior II
Despite massive promotion for the big Hulk Hogan/Sgt. Slaughter match, WrestleMania VII was clearly not going to live up to Vince’s dream of selling out the L.A. Coliseum. The thing is, it could have had WWE gone for what was the totally logical idea: Hogan/Warrior II. Many feel a key reason Warrior’s title reign didn’t work as well was that there was no rematch so some could brush it off as a fluke win by Warrior. Fans were pushing a lot for them to go at it again but WWE just refused to do it, wanting Warrior to stand on his own which didn’t work out well.
Having them go at it would have helped Mania out, maybe not a total sellout but a lot better than the barely 20,000 people who did show up. It could have been a great encounter as a Hogan win would have been good but Warrior repeating his victory might have given him an extra push. It would take years for them to go at it again in WCW which was a disaster and a reminder of how time robbed what should have been one of the more epic sequels in wrestling.
4 The New ECW
Paul Heyman was pretty open on his recent documentary on the big failing of the “New” ECW created by WWE in 2006. The basic problem was the name, as Heyman felt that if they had started something new but not used the ECW name, it might have gone better. But taking on the mantle of that famed company was a huge mistake as the ECW faithful came in with expectations WWE was never going to meet.
It wasn’t helped by how badly Vince misread the audience, pushing WWE guys and their stuff all the more with bad characters and pushes for Bobby Lashley and others who were not ECW material. The results were terrible, culminating in the horrid “December to Dismember” PPV that was a total disaster and Vince himself eventually getting the ECW title. Looking at the success of NXT, that was what ECW could have been, a way to give a rise to newer guys but in trying to revive the brand, WWE basically just buried it once and for all.
3 McMahon vs Bischoff
Throughout the Monday Night War, it was quite obvious to everyone that Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff hated each other’s guts. They made it clear in interviews and promos and it was no secret that if they had ever run into each other on the street, it would be a fistfight. So when Bischoff was introduced as the new general manager of RAW embracing Vince, it was quite a shock. It was also an amazing waste. This could have been what the Invasion was supposed to be, Bischoff angry about losing the war and hitting back at Vince, organizing his own force as a modern nWo and sparking the company up.
Instead, Bischoff was made the puppet for Vince and not much “evil boss” on his own. Stephanie has openly said on a DVD that this was just Vince getting the ultimate revenge of “having this a-hole work for me” and that ego burst was more important than the money potential of Bischoff as a rival to waste an opportunity majorly.
2 Hogan vs. Ric Flair at WrestleMania
From 1985 to 1991, Hulk Hogan versus Ric Flair was considered the greatest dream match in wrestling. The two biggest stars of the era, the two champions of their companies, it was a massive encounter that would be the match of a lifetime. In 1991, Flair was fired from WCW, jumping to WWE and suddenly, this “dream match” became a possibility. Fans salivated at the idea of them going at it…but it never quite worked out that way. This was in the days before a PPV every month and hours of prime-time programming so WWE didn’t build it up as they could have.
They fought at house shows and while that certainly helped those coffers, it meant the “dream battle” was off-camera. Flair would cost Hogan the title against The Undertaker, Hogan regaining it in controversial means so it was held up and Flair winning the belt at the Royal Rumble. This set up WrestleMania, which should have been the big battle at last.
However, rumors abound that both men balked at the idea of losing, throwing things off so instead, Hogan faced Sid while Savage beat Flair for the title. Hogan was gone, Flair not lasting much longer himself and it's still baffling that the biggest wrestling show never got what should have been the biggest match.
1 The Invasion
On the “Monday Night War” documentary, the point is made that when WCW folded in 2001, the big names of the company (Hall, Nash, Hogan, Goldberg, Sting) weren’t coming along, happy to stay home and continue to get paid their Turner contracts. Thus, as one guy puts it, “you had WWE invaded by Thunder.” Still, to see this fantastic chance to pit WWE against WCW basically thrown away was astounding. The problem from the start was that Vince just didn’t want to acknowledge that WCW could be on an even par with WWE and thus felt the need to put in the likes of Austin, Shane and Stephanie to the mix to “freshen it up.”
The idea of joining ECW and WCW in the Alliance was good but too rushed and the constant “defections” of WWE guys just made WCW look weaker on its own. The Rock/Booker T feud was good but too much of The Rock dominating and the constant twists and turns just made the whole thing drag out longer than it should have. They could have done their best to build the WCW guys up more, to make them strong and get new stars but just put it by the wayside so WWE could utterly dominate and WCW just looking like a joke. Hell, the final bit of Flair returning to “buy” half-interest in WWE was far better than the Invasion had been and would have been a better way to go. It was just sad to see what could have been the grand culmination of the conflict of these two companies just fall apart and why it tops this list. The Monday Night War truly died with a whimper, not a bang and in a way that still leaves slews of potential wasted.