When it comes to WWE talent, it’s generally only the top five that are immune to character and positional alterations. From there down, Superstars and Divas work in an environment where it’s not uncommon for their character to ping-pong multiple times within a year. It’s impossible to count the number of wrestlers who have come into WWE with plenty of promise, only to be shown the door in the time it takes to design a new ugly John Cena shirt.
Members of the WWE Universe can easily argue why those who are cast aside have plenty of upside, but the negatives generally heavily outweigh the positives. When backstage and real world politics get thrown in, the whole deal becomes a lot messier.
Now that NXT has become an established brand in its own right, the number of opportunities for success has grown, with a distinct increase in roster size required to fill the WWE’s increased programming on the back of the WWE Network. However, that means there is also increased chance of failure given the limited spots at the top of the mountain.
For the sake of this list, the wrestlers mentioned are those who are contracted to the WWE and doesn't include those rumored to be joining the company. The list is also centered around the talent being groomed for bigger things rather than filling out the roster, as is the case for the likes of The Brian Kendrick for example.
The list will also not include those who have been established in the company for over five years and/or have had major success, for example Jack Swagger.
As the list goes on, the number of people disagreeing will increase; opinions are a crazy old thing.
Without any further ado, here are the top 20 WWE Superstars, Divas and tag teams destined to fail with the company.
20 Bull Dempsey
Usually big wrestlers wait until they have had moderate success as a powerhouse in the WWE before becoming comic relief, but Bull Dempsey got that honour in NXT. After an ordinary tag team run with Mojo Rawley in 2013, Dempsey spent 2014 tearing through jobbers and amassing an undefeated streak before crossing paths with Baron Corbin, who also frequently participated in squash matches. After losing for the first time in a match against Corbin, consecutive losses to Tyler Breeze led to a gimmick change, as Dempsey was simply portrayed as an overweight fat guy who is too unfit to wrestle. Dempsey's career is only going backwards and there is no upside.
19 Summer Rae
The fact that Summer Rae is an ordinary in-ring competitor at best is enough to see her being washed out by the huge influx of talent that will come through from NXT. When you add that her microphone skills are below par, she is destined to move on to something else. Using the opportunity to valet for Fandango as his dance partner in 2013 to get herself on the main roster, Rae has failed to make any impact in the Divas division and likely never will. Having recently co-starred in The Marine 4 with The Miz, Summer Rae became the first Diva to appear in a WWE Studios film; perhaps really bad sequels are her future.
18 Eva Marie
Having received a promo on NXT to hype her, Eva Marie is hoping time spent in developmental is what will help her take the next step up. Having received little training before making her main roster debut, Marie had been fed to the wolves, so to speak, with the crowd regularly breaking out the "you can't wrestle" chant. Although it's positive she has spent time off camera to develop her skills before beginning with NXT, it's a bit too late now. The company has established her as 'that girl with red hair who can't wrestle' and she won't be able to break from that mold, especially against the technically sound female talent on NXT.
17 Heath Slater
Since 2010, Heath Slater has had a host of opportunities thrown his way and none of them have worked. The Nexus, The Corre, feuding with WWE legends, Three Man Band, Slater-Gator - nothing has managed to get Slater over with the fans as a face or heel. In recent times, Slater almost participated in John Cena's US Championship Open Challenge but was used as a pawn to further other feuds. Having recently cut his hair and confirmed he is focused on a singles career, Slater is stuck in limbo before he is either given a different opportunity or sent packing.
After a heel turn, an alignment with Rosa Mendes as his dance partner and a subsequent return to his more enjoyable face persona, Fandango is a perennial midcarder who isn't in any title picture. Additionally, his only major TV feud in recent times has been with Adam Rose, with Rosa Mendes playing the role of the angry ex-girlfriend siding with Rose to get revenge. How original. Having spent three years on the main roster as a ballroom dancer, Fandango's only chance at WWE success will have to come from a tag team/stable or gimmick change, otherwise he's heading out the door.
There is no issue with Emma's wrestling ability, having trained since 2003 in her home country of Australia, but she lacks any sort of engagement with the fans. Debuting as a clumsy dancer in 2013 on NXT, her 2014 main roster debut came by way of a dance-related feud with Summer Rae, instigated by future ally Santino Marella. Marella's retirement meant Emma was left to go about things on her own and she experienced a decline. She returned to NXT in 2015 as a spiteful heel, losing the awkward dancing and attacking friend Bayley as a result of her time on the main roster not working out. Much like Summer Rae, it's difficult to see Emma having success with the amount of NXT talent coming through, though she is in the right place if she is to change her career path.
14 Adam Rose
When you spend the best part of a year on the WWE's main programming and your most notable feud to date is with a guy in a bunny suit, you're probably not going to go far. Adam Rose is quite unique in appearance, and his happy-go-lucky party attitude with a sinister twist offers a number of potential paths in the company. Unfortunately for Rose, his move set is somewhat generic and he has failed to strike a chord with the fans, despite having an engaging theme song and entrance. Having partially been sent back down to NXT, Rose will need a lot to go right for him to avoid failure.
13 Alex Riley
For those who need their memories refreshed, Alex Riley was essentially meant to be what Damien Mizdow was, except with a push afterwards. When that push failed, Riley was reassigned as a colour commentator. In late 2014 through to early 2015, the #FreeRiley hashtag became prominent on Twitter as Riley looked to rally support for his return to in-ring action, and it came in the result of being squashed twice by NXT Champion Kevin Owens. Currently on the sidelines after knee surgery, Riley's only future with the WWE looks to be on commentary, which he excels at. When he is in the ring, there is nothing to make him stand out and his days of receiving the young upstart push are gone.
12 Curtis Axel/Damien Sandow
You could easily write a separate entry for each of the two but the cases are very similar. Having teamed up to create a parody of the Mega Powers known as the Meta Powers, Axel and the aptly-named Macho Mandow are headed for the trash heap. Axel has played on the Axelmania gimmick since the Royal Rumble and was given some promising air time on Raw, while Sandow's extended feud with The Miz looked to be the catalyst for him finally breaking away from doing comedic impressions. However, both Axel and Sandow have met at similar stages in their career where they appear to have nowhere to go other than out the door.
11 Blake and Murphy
Although Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy carry the NXT Tag Team Championships, there is a startling lack of appeal when it comes to this team. Blake initially debuted in NXT with a cowboy gimmick which was quickly scrapped, while Murphy floated around with a number of potential partners before fitting with Blake. From August 2015 until January 2015, the team didn't manage a single televised win, yet they won the titles from the Lucha Dragons later that month. Even with the Lucha Dragons moving up to WWE, NXT has a number of unique teams, with Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady and the Vaudevillians hitting it off with the crowd. Even with Alexa Bliss being added as the side's valet, the team is clearly just acting as transitional champions, offering nothing more than an annoying and potentially seizure-inducing entrance.
10 The Prime Time Players
For most wrestlers, a lack of success and fan engagement gets you thrown onto the scrap heap. For Titus O'Neil and Darren Young, it got them the Tag Team Championships. With the two combining to become The Prime Time Players in 2012, the team managed some success before Young's knee injury sidelined him for several months. After the failure that was Slater-Gator, O'Neil made little inroads as a singles competitor and reunited with Young upon his return. Having featured in a series of awkwardly unfunny promos in the lead-up, the duo captured the Tag Team Championships at Money in the Bank despite only engaging with young members of the audience. Their title reign isn't expected to last long.
9 The Ascension
When it comes to The Ascension, the WWE completely dropped the ball. Konnor and Viktor dominated NXT before making the step up to the main roster as a brutish and easily hateable duo with a kickass entrance. They looked destined for success after being booked in squash matches against no-name wrestlers, but suffered a rapid decline when the two took turns being beat up by historic WWE tag teams for comparing themselves to The Powers of Pain, The Road Warriors and Demolition. Competing in the first ever tag team Elimination Chamber match, the duo eliminated two teams and looked dominant before being shunted aside for eventual winners The New Day. With so many tag teams fighting for spots, The Ascension may be forced back down to NXT to try their hand at another time.
The former Funkadactyl broke out from the valet role that saw her become an established WWE face upon her introduction in 2012, and is currently in the Divas Championship picture as a result of a heel turn. Although she is currently situated in a good spot and is a talented wrestler, Naomi has no future as a heel, even while partnered with Tamina. There is only room for one Diva to try and 'reclaim the Divas division' from the Bella Twins and that is comfortably occupied by the much more popular Paige. Her character might work if there was more air time given to the Divas but even then, there are a handful of women on the roster who do the cocky gimmick much better. As a face, Naomi will be able to reengage with The Usos when her husband's brother Jey Uso returns from a shoulder injury.
7 Bo Dallas
With his real life brother Bray Wyatt achieving great success, Bo Dallas is stuck in neutral. As one of the few former NXT Champions, Dallas was clearly marked down as a future WWE star; however, he has made little progress since his main roster debut in 2014. After returning from a foot injury in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania, Dallas engaged in a rivalry with Neville that was designed to boost Neville's status on the main roster. Having committed to the motivational speaker gimmick, it would be difficult for Dallas to be repackaged to improve his chances at success. It wouldn't be surprising to see Dallas moved back own to NXT. Bo-lieve it.
6 Baron Corbin
As a former offensive linesman in the NFL, it's great that Baron Corbin wasn't confined to a horrible football-related gimmick. Returning to NXT as a repackaged product in late 2014, Corbin is portrayed as a genuine powerhouse with a biker twist thrown in. Although Corbin is rarely defeated and his rivalry with Rhyno has drawn some interest, Corbin is nothing to write home about in the ring. Physically, he has a presence that could just about drag him to the WWE midcard but his lack of ability in the ring draws comparisons to Goldberg. There may be a chance that Corbin joins the NXT title picture with so much talent going up to WWE but it's hard to imagine he will have much success.
Neville offers up a curious case. As Adrian Neville, the man who held the NXT title for 287 days, the Newcastle-born high flier was truly a sensation. As "The Man That Gravity Forgot" and "The New Sensation," Neville has lost his charm despite arguably upping the spectacle he puts on in the ring. As the most exciting high flier WWE has seen in a decade, Neville has come off as quite wanky since his debut the night after Wrestlemania. With a cape to accompany his overly dramatic entrance, Neville is yet to make an impact story-wise in his three months on the main roster. His matches are always a highlight, but you have to wonder where his character is going.
4 Tyler Breeze
As far as uniqueness, Tyler Breeze appears to just about have it all. Whether it's the great looks, bright colors, flamboyant ring gear or the fur selfie stick entrance, Breeze is somewhat of a breath of fresh air (no pun intended). However, Breeze is just another cocky attractive guy at the core and that gimmick doesn't have enough clout to be more than a flash in the pan. The best comparison you could make would be with John Morrison, who eventually turned face after the fans grew bored of his cockiness and continued to decline despite holding championships. There are too many comparisons between the two to imagine that Breeze could ever maintain a career on the main roster.
It almost seems harsh to say a guy will fail after an impressive undefeated streak and reign as US Champion, but there's no upside for Rusev as things stand. Currently limited to promos due to a two-month ankle injury, Rusev is on a downward spiral since his WrestleMania and US Title loss to John Cena. With the decision for Lana to be made a face and pursue a romantic relationship with Dolph Ziggler, the table is set for a feud between Rusev and Ziggler with Lana adding some extra interest. The problem is what happens after that. With no title, no undefeated streak and no Lana, there is nothing that makes Rusev stand out from the pack aside from his distaste for America. Two words: Vladimir Kozlov.
2 Samoa Joe
As one of the guys that was never expected join WWE as a devout TNA member, Samoa Joe made his debut with the company during an NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, coming to the aid of Sami Zayn to chase off Kevin Owens. Best known for his combined 13 years with Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action, Joe is the perfect example of a guy who will succeed with WWE in theory only. A feud with the NXT Champion right off the bat is a promising start, but Joe's initial success will be the result of novelty; once that wears off, he's just another guy. Unless WWE recreates his undefeated streak with TNA - highly unlikely, as WWE's main reason for signing him is due to needing to expand the NXT roster - his time with the company won't be memorable.
1 Hideo Itami
Most will likely disagree, but the list of failed Japanese wrestlers in WWE speaks for itself. WWE has invested a lot in Hideo Itami, who sprung to fame as Kenta in Japan and Ring of Honor. Introduced in NXT as Hideo Itami in 2014, Itami boasts strong engagement with the fans and featured in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. Currently sidelined with a shoulder injury for six to eight months, Itami may have great success in WWE but if the list of Japanese wrestlers in the past teaches us anything, it's that it will be incredibly difficult at least. Itami is a talented wrestler, but it's no secret that he will receive a push as a result of WWE trying to engage with its Japanese fans. Artificially trying to force somthing often results in backlash from the WWE Universe and although he is a favourite of NXT fans now, a run in the title picture upon return will be make or break.
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