Wrestling was “sports entertainment” long before Vince McMahon took over and thus shares a key aspect with both those business: The need to promote new talent. It took off majorly in the 1980s with WWE and, to a lesser degree, the NWA as both would do big video vignettes promoting a coming superstar. Those could be notable but also showcased the talent of the guys involved, getting them noticed and often over even before they debuted. The hype was an important part of things to see a major new worker and would help elevate several stars.
The way a performer is presented gives fans a first impression of a wrestler and if that first impression is underwhelming, it's hard to change that. Look no further than the Shockmaster for that. After his disaster of a debut, there was no way he was going to be a star after that.
There is the downside to hyping someone too big, as if they fail to live up to the hype, it just looks worse. Wrestling is filled with guys who rose from humble starts to become huge names but there are just as many people who could never live up to all the hype and preparation given to them. It’s easy to pick on WWE here, but WCW and TNA are just as guilty for shoving guys on us in massive hype who end up never living up to close to expectations. Sometimes, it’s injury, other times the way they’re booked or just simply lack of talent, as no amount of hype could make them the stars they were supposed to be. Here are only 20 cases of workers who were pushed hard as the next big thing for wrestling but never lived up to all the hype.
20 Erik Watts
With a little more time and training, Erik Watts might have become a pretty decent worker. Sadly, his father, Bill, running WCW in 1992, became convinced that Erik was ready for the big-time way too early and yanked him out after just a month at the Power Plant and immediately put into the upper mid-card. He was pushed as a true “new star in the making” despite his skinny build and so-so skills. Naturally, thanks to his dad, veterans like Arn Anderson had to job to this kid which hardly made him popular in the locker room and fans never bought him as a star on his own despite the announcers pushing that on and various matches.
When Watts was fired from WCW, Erik’s standing fell fast and he later came to WWE when Bill was booking there as part of “Tekno Team 2000,” promised as the hot new tag team but never working out that way. The guy has had personal issues and a terrible reputation and a clear case of what happens when a father tries too hard to make his son a star when the guy’s just not ready for it.
You can’t blame this on WWE really but it’s still a big letdown. After rocking TNA as Awesome Kong, the idea of her coming to WWE and running roughshod on the Divas was more than a bit exciting. WWE pushed it with videos showing her tearing the heads off of dolls and laughing and the idea of Kharma destroying all in her path was something worth getting excited about. But just as she was about to get going on her monster tear, Kia Michelle Stevens revealed she was pregnant and thus had to take time away.
By the time she returned, the heat was off her, she had a few forgettable appearances before going back to TNA. Again, not really the fault of either WWE or herself but astounding how one of the most anticipated debuts in WWE in recent years was ruined by some rather poor timing.
18 The Powers of Pain
From the start, The Warlord and The Barbarian were clearly modeled to be the next Legion of Doom with leather outfits and face paint, two beefy guys and seemed ready to get over nicely. They feuded with the Road Warriors in the NWA, doing a decent job but left abruptly for WWE in late 1988. Their entrance was pushed big as Demolition were shown actually freaking out about these mysterious new challengers and coming in as faces seemed ready to give them a run as champs.
But they never connected with the fans and thus WWE pulled off the double switch with the Powers becoming heels and Demolition faces. Despite that, the Powers could never really get over well enough, turning into fodder for other tag teams before being split up for bad singles runs. When you’re unable to live up to being the copycats of the Road Warriors, that’s a real letdown.
17 Teddy Hart
Given he comes from one of the most esteemed wrestling families of all time, the expectations for Teddy Hart were damn high. His early release from WWE training amid attitude problems was troubling but he still had support for his great ring work and thus most believed he would be the next big star for the Hart family. Then came the infamous ROH show where he did multiple flips off the cage, no-selling injury and vomited backstage that kicked up his issues and led to a fan backlash. He would have a brief return to WWE but after a few appearances in the farm system, was sent back to the indies once more. The man has talent but his own ego and personality have led to him never breaking out as he should have, a shame given the legacy he’s part of.
16 The Dynamic Dudes
Shane Douglas and Johnny Ace would have okay careers after this but it doesn’t take away from how utterly laughable they were. They were pushed big as the hot new tag team, the next Rock n Roll Express even, both guys young, hot, blonde and coming off as “cool” on skateboards. They weren’t bad in the ring but not quite the big hot team JCP had promised given all the advance hype and promise. More importantly, of course, was that both guys were just booed like crazy by fans who didn’t take to them at all. That was proven when manager Jim Cornette turned on them and the fans actually cheered the move hard, ending any potential the Dudes had. Today, they basically stand as a laughable bit for both men’s careers instead of the next great tag team JCP promised.
15 Outback Jack
Back in 1987, “Crocodile Dundee” had ignited “Aussie Fever” in the United States and WWE naturally decided to strike at that with this character. He was set up in various vignettes in the Outback, talking of being a hunter, a fighter, a friendly guy living up to every Aussie cliché imaginable. He finally debuted…and was utterly terrible. He was a rough worker, fans didn’t take to him at all well and his “finisher” of a “boomerang clothesline” was just funny to watch. He was soon put into jobber land before being let go, a character pushed big but never able to back any of it up in the ring.
14 Brodus Clay
The buzz on this guy was pretty big as he came in briefly as Albert Del Rio’s bodyguard before being sent back to development. In FCW, he showed himself to be a pretty good worker, a big guy who could handle himself well and got the push back to WWE. The videos promised a monster, a guy ready to crush opponents, a huge worker that seemed set for a big run. Instead, we got a guy in a goofy outfit doing goofier dancing with the Funkadactyls, a total joke character. He’s now in TNA but failing to make any impact there, merely the muscle for Ethan Carter. A guy who seemed to be set to be the next monster heel character but never got even close to that level, an astounding lack of payoff.
13 The No Limit Soldiers
In their desire to regain momentum in the Monday Night War, WCW decided to sign on rapper Master P at a reported cost of $200,000 an appearance. They gave him a lavish press conference to welcome him aboard and had his cousin, Sowell, creating a stable called the No Limit Soldiers. Soon, they were in a feud with the West Texas Rednecks, who responded with a song called “Rap is Crap” that actually became popular.
Of course, WCW completely and utterly misread the audience as the Southern base of the fans cheered on the cowboys instead of the hip hop musicians who outnumbered the Rednecks about two to one. The fact the Soldiers really were crap in the ring hardly helped and the entire gimmick died because WCW hated how the “heels” were being cheered. Thus, the company blew close to a million dollars (including lots of promotion) for a super-team that died incredibly fast.
12 Matt Morgan
WWE and TNA both tried but somehow, Matt Morgan never lived up to the expectations of either company. He was pushed in OVW for a bit and seemed getting over with his rough and tough style. He was shown on SmackDown teaming with Brock Lesnar but was soon sent back to OVW and then a dumb “stuttering” gimmick before being let go.
He arrived in TNA as the “back-up” for new boss Jim Cornette and an enforcer but despite work with Abyss and holding the tag titles with Chavo Guerrero, he just never really clicked as the big star he seemed promised to be. He’s pretty much retired now and despite all the promise he seemed to have and pushes, he just never connected as much as the promoters wanted, a sadly common thing for this list.
11 Paul Roma
Another case of a guy pushed by companies but could never live up to it. In WWE, Roma was paired as part of the Young Stallions, a hot tag team that was soon lost amid the shuffling tag ranks. He later teamed with Hercules as Power & Glory and supposedly, the duo were set to become the next tag team champions. However, backstage politics ended that before it even began and the two would be jobbed out fast. In 1993, Roma was introduced as a member of the reunited Four Horsemen and fans didn’t buy him as part of this elite team for a second. He and Paul Orndorff would hold the tag team titles but for all the hype given to this guy at being a huge star in the making and the pushes he got for it, he never paid off any of it in any way that mattered.
10 Ahmed Johnson
Johnson’s debut in WWE in 1995 was big as, after being talked of in videos, he body-slammed the massive Yokozuna to get over. He was pushed for the next few months as a true tough guy worker, okay on the mic and WWE really seemed ready to push him as the next big star. In June of 1996, he won the Intercontinental title and seemed set for a long run but an injury feuding with Farooq led to kidney problems so he had to take time off and give up the belt.
He had a long feud with the Nation of Domination but more health problems cut his runs short. He had a brief run in WCW and later ECW but personal problems led to him leaving the business altogether. A shame as Johnson really was a good power worker who just never got the breaks to live up to his potential.
9 The Renegade
Oh, this guy…In 1995, as Uncensored came close, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage made big news of coming out with “the ULTIMATE surprise” as a guy with wild hair and tassels was shown in sillohuite. Naturally, anyone with a working brain came to the conclusion that the Ultimate Warrior was going to debut in WCW. It thus led to some attention for the terrible Uncensored as a guy came storming out in makeup and tassels…and clearly not the Warrior. Fans naturally felt massively ripped-off and even more so as WCW continued to push the guy as a new Warrior, even having him beat Arn Anderson for the TV title. But he just had none of the charisma of the Warrior and even worse in the ring. He would soon be pushed down and sadly commit suicide, just showing that so many imitations can fail majorly.
In early 2005, TNA was going wild over what they seemed to think would be the next monster star. He was pushed with videos showing this mammoth guy in a leather coat and a symbol of face paint that no-so subtly resembled the Ultimate Warrior and the arena would occasionally go dark before showing his videos as he marched around as if searching for something. He finally made his debut against Monty Brown at Destination X 2005…and it was a complete and total mess. He nearly killed Brown with a botched power press, a ridiculously mistimed big boot and then the lights went out, Trytan vanishing to be replaced by a guy in a hood that somehow got pinned by Brown. Trytan then vanished, making the weeks of push for him a total waste of time for a terrible bout…something TNA has sadly replicated more than a few times since.
7 Tank Abbott
Another big WCW push that went nowhere, Abbott was hired on off his resume as a supposed star of UFC. Never mind the tiny detail he had one of the absolute worst records in the history of that organization, he still came off as a legitimate “tough guy” and WCW figured that’d be perfect to use to rebuild Goldberg into a monster. He basically did nothing of note as it sunk in to most in WCW that the guy just didn’t have the good with connecting to the fans or skilled in the ring. Yet, Vince Russo seriously wanted to put the WCW World title on him in 2000, a move that contributed to Russo being shown the door from the company. Abbott would end up losing to David Arquette, becoming the bodyguard for 3 Count and let go from the company later in 2000, yet another example of WCW signing “talent” that never lived up to any potential.
6 Sin Cara
The buzz over this guy was truly huge before he made his debut in WWE in 2011. Between his in-ring skills and appearance, fans expected the next Rey Mysterio. But a succession of injuries cut his push short almost as soon as it all began as well as a suspension for violating the Wellness Policy and so WWE decided to put Jorge Arias under the mask instead of Urive.
This soon led to the “double Sin Cara” storyline but instead of elevating the guy, it just watered him down and made him weaker for the fans. He would eventually be shoved down to NXT and forming the Lucha Dragons, a good team but never really the big splash WWE had promised the fans and another guy just never living up to all the hype.
5 Zach Gowen
It was a terrific feel-good story. Losing his leg to cancer at the age of eight, Zach Gowen rose up to train himself and soon becoming a real professional wrestler. He boasted of having been dying and on the Make-A-Wish list to meet Hulk Hogan, although those were proven to be false claims. Nonetheless, he was given a decent push facing Vince McMahon and seemed ready for a bigger spotlight. But the fact is, he was just a decent worker, more a novelty act than a real wrestler and his push faded fast. He was soon let go from WWE, a brief bit in TNA and then the indie circuit but for a guy with such a ready-made inspirational backstory, never came close to the heights he could have in any league.
4 Greg Gagne
When Verne Gagne, in a bout of ego-stroking that would make Vince McMahon look humble, retired as AWA World champion in 1980 at the age of 54, he made no secret that he was grooming son Greg as his successor. He pushed Greg hard, doing various stuff of Greg being the next legacy guy and ready to take the title, even a wild bit of Greg “trained” by Sgt. Slaughter and dressing in camo fatigues.
The problem was that while Greg was a fair worker, in no way did he possess his father’s charisma and was never taken seriously by the fans as a star. Supposedly, the only reason Greg wasn’t champion was that whenever Verne announced plans to do it, every promoter under him (knowing the disaster Greg as champ would be) threatened to quit. While Greg did some decent stuff, the fact was that he never deserved the push or hype of “the future of the AWA” and Verne’s refusal to see that was a key contribution to the AWA’s eventual downfall.
3 Mike Von Erich
The consensus of many is that Mike should never have been in the wrestling business at all. The Von Erichs were riding high in the early 1980s to push World Class to massive success and Fritz naturally wanted to keep it “in the family” by getting all involved. However, unlike David, Kerry and Kevin, Mike lacked the physical abilities or charisma to really get over and despite huge talk of him being “the future of the family,” he never connected in the ring like the others did.
His attempts to get bigger just led to his near-fatal toxic shock syndrome with Fritz then showing a callous disregard for his own kin by pushing Mike immediately as “A Living Miracle.” It was all too much for Mike, sending him into the tailspin ending in his suicide in 1987. A clear case of how putting too much on a kid never ready for it can be not only damaging but truly tragic.
2 The Gobbledy Gooker
Okay, maybe not a pure “wrestler” but when you talk about an act that never lived up to the hype, you need to include this on the list. For months on end, WWE had been pushing a giant egg with the promise of it “hatching” at the Survivor Series. Fans were truly excited, watching the Egg be pulled around to various TV shows, talk of what it was to be, the poster for the show even promising the big secret revealed. Speculation was everything from a big debut star to a returning one and more, fans were genuinely excited to see what it was.
Finally, the time came, the egg shaking, cracking…and out came Hector Guerrero in a stupid looking turkey outfit to do some dancing. To say the fan reaction was poor is an understatement as fans booed loudly, feeling totally gypped at all that hype for some dorky idea. The very epitome of “wrestlecrap” and proof that you don’t shove something big unless you can back it up.
Anyone watching WCW in 1995 will remember the videos. “Blood Runs Cold” as a guy in a blue ninja costume was shown doing fancy martial arts moves and cool music played. It was obviously meant as a rip-off of Sub-Zero from the “Mortal Kombat” video games and things were really pushing for him as a big new player in WCW. But when he finally debuted, he was all flash but no substance, some fancy moves but really not doing much in the ring. Given all the massive promotion WCW had put into him, you’d expect the guy to at least make something of an impact but instead he just fizzled out faster than any video game character. Amazing to see a huge push ending in so little actual pay-off.