Every fan of World Wrestling Entertainment has had that moment where they feel like they are in a love-hate relationship with the sports-entertainment giant. It feels especially true now with fans having so many expectations for how future stars are being brought up to the WWE main roster, only to be fed to aging veterans and part-time superstars who are only seen once every few weeks.
Depending on how big of a fan you are of someone like Kevin Owens or AJ Styles, the recent booking decisions for WrestleMania 33 can make you feel like that love-hate relationship with WWE might be an abusive one. They set you up to be hurt later, but you keep coming back every Monday and Tuesday night for Raw and SmackDown respectively.
These are just recent examples of the WWE dropping the ball with certain wrestlers on their roster. But this is a problem that repeats itself in a number of different forms in the history of the WWE. There will always be examples of wrestlers not being given the proper push at the right time or the WWE had them lose when they should have won in a high-profile match.
These moments go back to even the earliest years in WrestleMania history when Hulk Hogan was the top draw despite talented wrestlers never quite getting their fair shot at running with the ball, so to speak. Even in the height of wrestling popularity in the 1990s with the Attitude Era, there have been head-scratching moments in WWE. The following are the top 20 things WWE screwed something up that could have been the next big thing.
20 Papa Shango Could Have Been a Great Heel
Charles Wright has been known by a few different names in the WWE. While he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as The Godfather, he could have actually been a better villain as Papa Shango. It was a silly gimmick at first to see someone dressed up as a voodoo witch doctor. But the WWE was able to do something unique with him placing curses on other WWE superstars, including the Ultimate Warrior inexplicably bleeding in the ring.
It was a character who actually scared some children in the audience. They could have done something special with the character, but it only lasted from 1991 until about 1994 between WWE and the United States Wrestling Association. He would then move on to being Kama who would join the Nation of Domination before breaking off as The Godfather with the Ho Train.
19 Zack Ryder Buried After Brief 2011 Push
In 2011, Zack Ryder was able to find his own way in getting over with the WWE Universe. Despite not being able to get any time on television, Ryder was one of the first WWE superstars to become integrated with social media. Eventually, his YouTube show Z! True Long Island Story helped him become a star in the WWE. After finally getting attention from the fans and also the top stars, Ryder would finally get his chance to shine.
While he never got to make the tongue-in-cheek jokes on WWE television like trying to 'get over' a fence or 'draw' money, Ryder finally got his chance to shine at TLC 2011. Ryder would defeat Dolph Ziggler for the United States Championship. But it was a short reign that would end with Ryder becoming a jobber again. It’s unfortunate because we never saw Ryder defend the Internet Championship against Ziggler at WrestleMania.
18 Cody Rhodes Not Taken More Seriously
He might have been the grandson of a plumber and the youngest son of The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, but it feels like the WWE hampered his early pro wrestling career with questionable gimmicks. The last straw seemed to be the Stardust character that was interesting for a moment to fuel a feud with his brother Dustin, known best as Goldust. However, the Stardust character lasted about two years too long.
Rhodes wanted to go back to just being Cody, which the WWE didn’t seem to want to do. The best thing he did was ask to be let go from his WWE contract. Since then, he’s shown that he can be a big draw through various promotions on the independent circuit. There’s a good chance that in a few years, there will be talks about how the WWE let one of the best overall talents walk out the door.
17 Triple H Defeating CM Punk in 2011
During what is viewed as WWE’s Summer of Punk in 2011, there was a lot of buzz as the lines between kayfabe and reality blurred in a unique way. CM Punk’s contract was winding down and he was set to challenge John Cena for the WWE Championship at a pay-per-view in Chicago. Punk would win despite weeks of putting his frustrations about his time in WWE out into the public. The fans were rooting for him everywhere he went and his “pipe bomb” got him a main event spot and a reign as WWE Champion.
However, there was a small bump in the road to the top. After Punk was cheated out of the WWE Championship at SummerSlam after Kevin Nash got involved, he went into a feud with Triple H. The Game would get the win at Night of Champions 2011, which Punk would later say killed his momentum at the time. It felt like a bad decision considering Triple H quickly returned to in-ring retirement after defeating Punk.
16 Triple H vs. Booker T - WrestleMania XIX
It was just one of many examples of the WWE burying the legacies that were built in WCW during the 1990s. Booker T might not be the biggest name in the promotion’s history with the likes of Goldberg and Sting, but he was a five-time (repeat four more times) WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He was a big part of the WCW/ECW Invasion storyline after the WWE bought their competition. But he spent most of the time on the mid-card before WrestleMania XIX.
Booker T was face to face with The Game, Triple H. However, Booker T’s legitimacy as a challenger was quickly brought into question and it was hard for the fans to take him seriously at their match at Safeco Field in Seattle. Triple H’s promo about Booker T and how “somebody like you doesn’t get to be a world champion” didn’t help things much either.
15 CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society
Long before he gave WWE fans the infamous pipebomb promo in 2011, CM Punk was easily one of the best overall wrestlers who continued to not get the proper attention. For about 10 months from November 2009 until September 2010, CM Punk was given his own faction called the Straight Edge Society. His no-alcohol, no-drug mantra became something that could have been a role model character and turned into a self-righteous heel gimmick.
It was a smart move; especially when having Luke Gallows transition from the Festus character and getting “saved” by CM Punk. He also added a female member with Serena, although her bad decisions behind the scenes may have hurt the faction overall. The faction could have become something special and instead became a passing memory of the early stages of WWE’s PG Era.
14 Dolph Ziggler’s Credibility
Where do we start when it comes to Dolph Ziggler? In all honesty, Ziggler is one of those mid-card superstars who really should be elevated to a regular spot in the main event. However, it feels like the WWE always gives him a little bit of a push before realizing they didn’t want to in the first place. His first World Heavyweight Championship was won and lost on the same night in 2011.
Ziggler’s second world championship run was also very short in 2013, which lasted only a couple of months. And then there was the fact he was the lone survivor for the Survivor Series 2014 main event; which led to him being buried by The Authority when they got revenge. Since then, he’s mostly been losing matches and been stuck on the lower-to-mid-tier of the roster.
13 Turning Doink the Clown Face
One of the creepiest people to enter a WWE ring was easily Doink the Clown in 1993. Wrestling fans would see the WWE’s version of a man in clown mask who would quickly switch from laughing and bringing balloon animals to kids and then have a mean scowl that could cause goosebumps. Kids in the audience were certainly freaked out by the character as he would walk to the ring.
Doink was a perfect heel because a lot of people don’t like clowns in general. They wanted to see him actually get beat up in the ring. However, the WWE would try to make him a babyface; which felt like a bad fit for the clown.That would be like making the Joker a sidekick to the Batman in the DC comic universe. It also didn't help that the original portrayer of the gimmick, Matt Osborne was suffering from addiction and was released by the company soon after the face turn.
12 Shelton Benjamin’s Solo Career
In 2004, the WWE broke up the World’s Greatest Tag Team when Shelton Benjamin was drafted to Raw. After a backstage incident with Triple H, Benjamin would then go into the main event of RAW against The Game and win in a shocking upset. The former University of Minnesota wrestler had shown a lot of athletic abilities during his solo career in the WWE. However, it feels like he never quite got what was needed to put him over the top as a main roster star.
As a singles wrestler, he held the Intercontinentla Championship three times. But it felt that he needed an established manager to help him with promos to make him a certified main event star. Instead of someone like Paul Heyman or even Ric Flair, Benjamin had “Momma Benjamin” at ringside for a three-month period in 2006. Benjamin has since left the WWE and there is hopes he’ll return after recovering from a torn rotator cuff.
11 Damien Sandow: From Top Heel to Comical Act
It isn’t every day when someone walks into the WWE main roster and quickly gets over as one of the biggest heels within moments. Damien Sandow greeted fans as a hero of the “ignorant masses” who needed a role model in 2012. Everything about the WWE’s “Enlightened One” was entertaining in that he knew how to press buttons with the fans with big words that might require the use of a thesaurus.
It looked like he was on the path to becoming a main event heel after winning the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2013. Unfortunately, he failed when he cashed in his opportunity against John Cena for the World Heavyweight Championship; despite going the heel route by attacking his foe before the match. After that, he would spend weeks put in costumes and became a comical stunt double for The Miz. His release last year was necessary if the WWE wasn’t going to utilize him to his full potential.
10 Momentum From Mizdow Momentum Abruptly
As mentioned earlier, Damien Sandow was able to turn some of the worst ideas the WWE creative team gave him and turned it into some of the most entertaining content on WWE television. When they put Sandow into the stunt double role with The Miz, it was probably not expected to get over as much as it did with the crowd. Aaron Stevens (Sandow) would comment on the crowd appreciating the effort of his performance during an episode of Talk is Jericho.
With Mizdow finally turning on The Miz during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31, Jericho commented that the WWE should have let Mizdow go over in the match, rather than Mizdow quickly being eliminated by Big Show. Despite the fans giving Mizdow eliminating Miz a big pop, the WWE would then put Sandow in a Macho Man parody before his eventual release from the WWE.
9 Austin’s Heel Turn at WrestleMania X-Seven
The ending of WrestleMania X-Seven felt a little weird for many wrestling fans. The fact that Vince McMahon was helping “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defeat The Rock to win the WWE Championship felt well out of the norm. The WWE fans weren’t ready for this sort of surprise and it was hard for them to look at Austin as a heel. It was a shocking move that really didn’t help his character.
Austin has admited that he was the one who chose to turn heel at WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001. However, looking back he does admit that he would have called an audible and remained a face at that pay-per-view. But then again, Austin still maintained his position as one of the more popular superstars on the WWE roster at the time. But the WWE audience wasn’t necessarily prepared to boo the Texas Rattlesnake.
8 WWE Debut of Diamond Dallas Page
One of the things that seemed to be common about WCW superstars making the jump to WWE was that most of them were sort of buried. Diamond Dallas Page was another big star in WCW who should have been a big hit in the WWE. However, his debut was sort of a dud in that the WWE made him someone who stalked The Undertaker’s wife.
Page’s character claimed it was mostly to make an impact. But it still felt like a weird way to start off in the WWE. After that, Page spent most of his time falling down the card and became a lower-tier star that utilized a motivational speaker gimmick. Page was a major star in the WCW as a three-time World Heavyweight Champion. The fact that his highest achievement in WWE was the European Championship felt like a bust.
7 WWE’s Version of ECW
The WWE found themselves a hit when they hosted the first ever ECW: One Night Stand pay-per-view in 2005. The newer generation of WWE fans who hadn’t known what an ECW crowd was like had a chance to see some of the originals of the ECW brand compete in a list of highlight matches that made the event one of the best of the year. It was also followed up with the 2006 edition that saw Rob Van Dam win the WWE Championship and launch the new ECW brand.
And then RVD was arrested for marijuana possession. The ECW Championship went to The Big Show. Kurt Angle, originally intended to be a major face for the brand, was released. Paul Heyman left the company by the end of 2006. The brand then faded from fame to obscurity. If you need any more proof, remember that the last ECW Champion was Ezekiel Jackson. It felt as if the WWE purposefully destroyed the ECW name by having it become just a transition point for wrestlers moving from Florida Championship Wrestling to the main roster.
6 The Invasion Storyline Not Having WCW’s Biggest Names
It all started during the final episode of WCW Nitro back in March 2001. Shane McMahon announced that he was the one who actually bought WCW with the storyline that he had swooped in to snag it from under Vince’s nose. But as the WCW and ECW wrestlers would form The Alliance to take down the WWE, there were some noticeable people missing from the Invasion – the bigger names from WCW.
No Hulk Hogan. No Outsiders. No Ric Flair. No Goldberg. And there was definitely no sight of Sting anywhere during The Invasion. While the WWE secured a number of WCW wrestlers for the Invasion storyline, it just felt like they were missing the top WCW names to really make the storyline relevant. No offense, but the likes of Shawn Stasiak and Chris Kanyon didn't seem all that threatening to The Rock, Undertaker or Kurt Angle.
5 Kevin Owens Losing the WWE Universal Championship
It was expected by many wrestling fans that Kevin Owens was going to drop the WWE Universal Championship at Fastlane to Goldberg. The former WCW powerhouse had been booked in matches that lasted shorter than a trip through a fast food drive thru. And while Owens has been elevated to being the top villain in the RAW roster, there was hope that he could have at least been competitive in his loss to Goldberg.
Unfortunately, it feels like the WWE is going back to the old habit of pushing older veterans in hopes of more buzz than putting their full-time, dedicated wrestlers into the WrestleMania spots they deserve. It seems that while they promote a new era of the WWE, they still feel the need to make part-time wrestlers the real stars of the show.
4 Goldberg’s First WWE Run
To be fair, Goldberg didn’t have the greatest first run in the WWE nearly 14 years ago. After spending the late 1990s as one of the most dominant forces in WCW, Goldberg came into WWE with a lot of excitement. Back when he first debuted in WWE in 2003, the initial cheers and chants would slow down with some poor booking by the WWE creative team. To say that Goldberg was buried after a short reign as World Heavyweight Champion would be an understatement.
He didn’t really help things by going into his match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX in 2004, which saw fans boo both men out of Madison Square Garden. Overall, most of the WCW stars the WWE inherited after buying out their competition have been buried for reasons unknown. Perhaps it's WWE's petty way of rubbing in the fact that they won the war. The booking Goldberg has had in 2016 and 2017 is the type of booking he should have had in 2003.
3 Sting’s First WWE Match at WrestleMania 31
Sting is essentially the last superstar from WCW to enter the WWE Universe. So when he appeared at Survivor Series 2014, the wrestling world was buzzing about the WWE debut fans were hoping for. After years of being a top draw for TNA Wrestling, Sting finally made the move to WWE. Fans started hoping we would see Sting face The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
Instead, Sting lost to Triple H at WrestleMania 31 in what seemed like WWE burying the last WCW icon possible. Let’s not even acknowledge the craziness with members of D Generation X and the New World Order interfering. Maybe they had another big match planned, but a neck injury against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions 2015 forced Sting to retire from professional wrestling.
2 Rikishi Revealed to Run Over Steve Austin
In 1999 and 2000, one of the most talked about moments in professional wrestling was the mystery of who hit “Stone Cold” Steve Austin with a car in the parking lot. There were a fair number of suspects in the WWE locker room and there was a long investigation that took nearly a year; which seems crazy to think the WWE writers were able to keep a storyline going for that long. In October 2000, Mick Foley would enter the ring to confront the culprit. Many feared Foley was about to name The Rock as the perpetrator, but detective Foley pointed the finger at Rikishi.
Rikishi would then admit that he was the person who hit Austin. What was his reason? He did it for The Rock. He did it so that The Rock could take Austin's place as the company's top dog and went on a spiel about how Samoans had been held down in WWE for years and this was his way of ensuring a representative of his people, The Rock, would carry the company. This was a surprise because it turned a fun-loving character in the WWE into a heel that never quite got the push to a world championship. After a brief, failed run, it was then revealed that Triple H was the mastermind behind Rikishi's attack, essentially ending Rikishi's push as a top heel.
1 Who Should Have Ended The Undertaker’s Streak?
This topic may depress many wrestling fans. The fact that Brock Lesnar was the one who ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania in 2014 left many shocked and visibly upset. It was one of those rare moments where caused a legitimate shock across the fan base. Who would have thought that Lesnar would become the one in the 21-1 record after WrestleMania XXX? The fact remains that The Undertaker’s streak should have been broken by an up-and-comer, if it was going to end at all.
It all goes back to the WWE claiming that they are entering a new era. But the fans continue to see the same stars receive top-card slots at bigger pay-per-views – i.e. Goldberg and Lesnar. It could have been a beneficial win for someone like Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns or even Kevin Owens. But once again, the WWE gives a push to someone who doesn’t necessarily need the additional momentum.