Pro wrestling is a fickle lover, as for every John Cena and Hulk Hogan there are dozens of jobbers and mid-carders who will never even get close to sniffing the main event scene on a full time basis. The reasons behind a wrestler not moving up the card vary from person to person as well as who is telling the story. Sometimes it is because a guy rubbed the promoter or writers the wrong way, maybe they made a top star mad by not abiding by an unwritten rule of wrestling or maybe they were dangerous in the ring. Whatever the reason is, it is enough to make sure that person in particular never gets anywhere near the main event. That is not to say that an underused wrestler is bad, as many times these wrestlers can be downright phenomenal in the ring or on the mic. In these cases it's pretty disheartening to see because we always love to see a good rivalry occur between two competent and entertaining wrestlers.
Though there are some cases where a wrestler can turn their fortune around and begin a climb to the top of the card. Sometimes it works out for the wrestler and they become some of the biggest names in wrestling history (Steve Austin and The Rock), while other times they falter again and go tumbling down the ladder once more (some of the names on this list). Either way, this list is designed to showcase those who have struggled the most on the road to superstardom, along with a few still fighting their way to the top. So enjoy the list and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.
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20 Dolph Ziggler
Now Ziggler is being added to the list only for what history has shown us, though he is trying to pull himself out of the hole that he is in. A two-time World Heavyweight Championship, whose first reign was handed to him by Vicki Guerrero, Ziggler has floundered as of late in the mid-card. Him being prone to injury has been a huge factor in their being little faith in his lasting power, but if he can pick up a win and defend his Intercontinental Title against Cesaro, there still may be hope for the former Spirit Squad member.
19 William Regal
A truly great technician, William Regal should have been more in the WWE. Outside of a few mid-card title runs including the European and Intercontinental Championships, Regal has never been close to the main event. He would be more known for his various managerial roles, including being the Raw GM and Commissioner for the Alliance, rather than his in-ring work. It almost seemed like the tide was turning for Regal when he won the 2008 King of the Ring tournament by submitting Hornswoggle, Finlay, and CM Punk, in the same night. Unfortunately, it would be short lived, as his next feud would be a lackluster affair with Jamie Noble.
After floundering in the lower mid-card for awhile, Heath Slater, Drew McIntyre, and Jinder Mahal joined up to form Three Man Band, complete with a pretty funny rocker gimmick for all three, especially with McIntyre and Mahal. They were getting over pretty well as villains, beating other tag teams like The Usos and Co-Bro. Yet their hype train got derailed by the debut of The Shield, who took the WWE by storm and relegated 3MB to the back burner. They were never the same, as they began to lose day in and day out and eventually had Hornswoggle join the group before eventually disbanding.
17 Ultimo Dragon
Joining the WWE in 2003 in hopes of performing in Madison Square Garden and at WrestleMania, Ultimo Dragon came into the promotion with a lot of hype behind him, with the WWE hoping to have the same type of success that they had with Rey Mysterio. After losing to Eddie Guerrero in a tournament to crown a new United States Champion, Dragon was relegated to fighting on C-Shows like Velocity and Heat. He would fight in a Cruiserweight Open at Wrestlemania XX and then finish out his contract by facing Chavo Guerrero and Nunzio in his last matches.
16 Ted DiBiase Jr.
He may not have had the charisma that his father had, but Ted DiBiase Jr. certainly had the in-ring skills to hang with the best of them. After teaming with Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes as part of Legacy, DiBiase would try his hand at mimicking his father’s millionaire gimmick, complete with Virgil and the Million Dollar Belt. Unfortunately, it was not a good fit and DiBiase switched it up to where he was hanging with the common people calling them the “DiBiase Posse.” He would feud with mid-carders like Hunico but it never caught on with fans and DiBiase would end up not renewing his contract with the WWE, instead looking to spend more time with his family.
15 Brodus Clay
After going around as NXT mentor Alberto Del Rio’s bodyguard, many thought Brodus Clay would be returning as a monster heel. Instead, Clay debuted as the Funkasaurus, complete with two Funkadactyls. He would win numerous squash matches and racked up an impressive twenty-four match win streak. Yet, he would eventually losing to the Big Show. The character was a decent attempt at creating a fun babyface for the fans, but it never moved forward to allow Clay to try for a higher spot on the card. It may have been different if he had returned as a monster heel or been relegated to being just the cartoon character in the middle of the card.
Coming into the WWE with an arrogant athlete role, MVP was given an incredibe amount of hype as he debuted on SmackDown. He would go on to have a decent run as the United States Champion, as well as Tag Team Champion at the same time. There would be instances where MVP would fight for a world title or be in the main event, but it was never a steady spot and he was there to help put over the bigger stars. MVP would eventually leave the WWE and is now working for TNA as a heel company investor.
13 Shelton Benjamin
A longtime staple of the WWE tag team scene with Charlie Haas, Shelton Benjamin was an incredible worker who could put on a great match. He even found some success after the duo broke up, winning the Intercontinental and United States Titles on a few occasions. Benjamin even solidified himself as one to watch with his numerous appearances in the Money in the Bank ladder matches at WrestleMania, pulling off incredible feats of athleticism now usually seen by Kofi Kingston. Unfortunately, Benjamin was never able to get over the hump and move towards the World Title picture, though it is hard to say why, as his skills in the ring were solid and he was improving on the mic.
After having a huge career as a monster heel in Japan and in WCW, Vader seemed to have it made in the wrestling world. Unfortunately, that all came to a halt after a feud with Hulk Hogan which saw the Hulkster beat Vader every time. By the time Vader made it to the WWE, he was a shell of his former self and was used primarily in mid-card feuds with the likes of Ahmed Johnson and Savio Vega. This was unfortunate as Vader was a unique wrestler in that he was a big man who could pull off power moves as well as aerial moves like the moonsault.
After winning the second season of NXT, Kaval was guaranteed a title shot of his choosing. He would eventually face Dolph Ziggler in a losing effort at Survivor Series and from there he would flounder around the lower mid-card. Kaval was out of place in the WWE as they favored larger wrestlers, and because of that, he would eventually be released by the WWE after they told him they had nothing for him. Since then he has gone on to return for random matches in TNA under his original name, Low Ki.
10 Zack Ryder
In what could have been one of wrestling’s biggest Cinderella stories, but ultimately became one of its most depressing, the story of Zack Ryder’s resurgence and fall is something that should be studied by wrestlers for years to come. After splitting up from tag partner Curt Hawkins, Ryder was struggling to set himself apart from the rest of the pack in the WWE midcard. Yet his fortunes seemed to change after he started a YouTube show called Z! True Long Island Story, detailing his life on the road and featuring other wrestlers. The show was an instant hit and soon Ryder’s merchandise was selling out and fans were cheering his name at shows, despite him not even being featured. The WWE would acknowledge this newfound popularity by giving him a run with the United States Championship. Unfortunately it would be short lived after he was put in a romantic angle with John Cena, Eve, and Kane, which saw him end up back down the ladder. His show was cancelled after he allowed it to be aired on the WWE’s YouTube channel, showing that if you try and make yourself a star in wrestling, sometimes creative will punish you for doing their job for them.
9 Bam Bam Bigelow
Similar to Vader’s case, Bam Bam Bigelow was a big monster who could have been so much more in the WWE. Featuring a superb combination of agility and brute strength, “The Beast From the East” was a true force to be reckoned with. Known for his top rope finishers, such as his diving headbutt and body splash, Bigelow was different from other large heels at the time like King Kong Bundy and El Gigante. Unfortunately, even a strong feud with Bret Hart, which could have sent Bigelow shooting up the card, did nothing but leave him in the dust to fight midcarders like Doink the Clown and Tatanka. Then Bigelow left the WWE after rumored issues with higher up wrestlers in the Kliq.
8 Scott Steiner
This entry is mainly for Steiners last run in the WWE, after WCW had folded. Despite his final run in WCW featuring him as a monster heel who tried to break his opponent’s bones, Steiner was brought into the WWE as a babyface, a role he had not played in years. He would soon find himself in an angle fighting Triple H for the World Heavyweight Title, but Steiner would be unable to capture the gold. He was then placed in an odd angle which saw him face Chris Nowinski in a debate concerning the Iraq war before joining up and feuding with Test over who would have Stacy Keibler as a manager. He would soon be released from the WWE after getting injured. It was unfortunate that Steiner came in when he did, as he could have done well as part of the Invasion storyline or just come into the WWE as the heel that he was known for in WCW.
7 Straight Edge Society
CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society seemed to be going strong when he started proclaiming how he was better than anyone who was not Straight Edge. After having Serena and Luke Gallows join his crusade, it seemed like the WWE was making the right choice with its villainous trio. Unfortunately, after a strong feud with Rey Mysterio, which featured Punk menacing Mysterio’s daughter on her birthday and Punk being shaved bald, the group was pitted against apparent push killer The Big Show. This saw Big Show beat Punk, Gallows, and newest member Joey Mercury in a handicap match at SummerSlam. The group was not the same after and quickly dissolved, with everyone but Punk being released shortly after.
In one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, the Nexus gave wrestling fans a heel group the likes of which they had not seen since the nWo. After an assault on John Cena, CM Punk, and the entire ringside crew on Raw, fans did not know what to make of the former NXT rookies who attacked without provocation and attacked anyone in their path. Yet, with no real reason of what they were wanting and numerous issues with members being released or injured, Nexus suffered from a lack of solid structure. Add to it that the group was immediately thrust into an angle with John Cena, and soon enough they could not keep it together in order to win the big matches. An addition of CM Punk as the new group leader and the group splitting off into two smaller groups made for one of the biggest potential heel groups in the last decade disbanding after just a year in the WWE.
5 Damien Sandow
With the gift of gab on the mic and solid in-ring work, Damien Sandow seemed poised for a run at the top. Unfortunately, the most he could muster was a failed attempt to win the Intercontinental Title and a failed attempt at tag team gold with Cody Rhodes. Sandow was getting over as a heel and his intellectual know-it-all gimmick, which would eventually lead to him winning the Money in the Bank match. Unfortunately, Sandow would run into “Super-Cena” and lose his cash in match for the title, despite Cena having an injured arm from his previous match. Since then, Sandow went on a losing streak and has now found himself in a goofy gimmick where he impersonates various characters from pop culture and history, before becoming the stunt double for the Miz.
4 Mr. Perfect
Another great combination of skill on the mic and in the ring, Mr. Perfect seemed ready for a run with the big belt. Coming into the WWE after a series of promos showcasing his athletic skills, Perfect ran an entire year undefeated, including a few draws to Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately, his televised streak would be ended by lifetime Hogan hanger-on, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake. After the loss, he would temporarily bounce back with a run as the Intercontinental Champion but injuries would leave him sidelined and working as a color commentator. He would return as a wrestler a year later but his injuries would resurface and he would bounce around the midcard with no real direction for his character. After five years away from the WWE, Perfect would return in 2002 as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and then battle with various midcarders for the rest of the year before being fired by the WWE after a fight with Brock Lesnar on the infamous “Plane Ride from Hell."
3 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Maybe one of the greatest travesties in WWE history is that Jake “The Snake” Roberts never held a single title in his entire run with the company. While having strong feuds with the likes of Randy Savage, The Undertaker, and The Ultimate Warrior, Roberts was never able to grab that brass ring that would allow him a title run or a run in the main event. What is worse is that Roberts’ personal issues hindered him from moving forward in any promotion he worked for and made him one of the subjects of the great documentary, Beyond the Mat. Roberts would at least get the honor of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year.
After becoming one of the biggest names during the Monday Night Wars, Goldberg was oddly absent from the Invasion storyline which saw the Alliance between WCW and ECW lacking serious star power. Goldberg would make his debut the night after WrestleMania XIX, challenging The Rock to a fight at Backlash. After winning there, he would go undefeated for most of the year by beating wrestlers like Lance Storm and Christian. He would suffer his first WWE loss to Triple H in an Elimination Chamber match but would win the WWE Title the next month at Unforgiven. Unfortunately, Goldberg would not have any real viable challengers as he was pitted against lower midcarders like Stevie Richards and Tommy Dreamer. He would battle Triple H for a couple months before losing the belt back to Triple H. Goldberg could have been a huge success in the WWE if it was not for various egos and the politics still lingering between WWE and WCW guys. Unfortunately, the experience in the WWE was so bad for Goldberg that he has not wrestled in a major promotion since his final WWE match against Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania XX (which was a total stinker).
1 Owen Hart
Being in the shadow of one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time (his brother Bret) would be a huge challenge for anyone, yet somehow Owen Hart did a great job of standing out above the rest of the pack. Winning the Intercontinental, European, and Tag Team Titles, Owen seemed destined for a World Title run. Unfortunately politics came into play after Owen’s brother Bret was betrayed by Vince McMahon during the Montreal Screwjob and virtually anyone in the Hart family became a target of McMahon’s wrath, with British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart being granted releases while Owen was not allowed that opportunity. Relegated to being a member of the Nation of Domination and teaming with Jeff Jarrett, Hart remained in the midcard for the remainder of his career, before he tragically died at Over the Edge under his gimmick as the Blue Blazer.
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