The wrestling business is unlike any other sport or form of entertainment out there. Pro wrestling fans are generally more of a diehard breed with the passion and interest in every aspect of the industry. While most fans do appreciate the positive things that happen and create great memories, there is often a lot of criticizing and second guessing involved with fandom. The booking aspect of promotions making decisions of which wrestlers get pushed and which don’t can lead to a fan base expressing frustration. Everyone wants to see the talents they enjoy showcased and used effectively but it sadly doesn’t always go that way.
No wrestling promotion or decision maker is perfect. There are some with more hits than misses such as Paul Heyman. The mad genius used his intelligence and found a way to properly utilize most wrestlers to the best of their abilities. Vince Russo would be on the negative side of this with his booking style diminishing the purpose of the talent he worked with. All bookers and promotions generally have the same strengths and weaknesses, so there is a fair share of stories of wrestling being used poorly all over the board in the history of the business.
WWE often gets the most flack for not utilizing their great talents effectively and that’s to be expected. The company is far bigger than any other and has a larger library of moments to look back at but it happens everywhere. The nature of the wrestling business leads to great talents being squandered for various reasons and we’re going to try to figure out why for some of the ones with potential. We always remember the greats fondly due to their historical impact but the ones that could have been also have a soft spot in our hearts. Those are today’s subject as we break down the top twenty-five most criminally underused wrestlers of all time.
25 Christopher Daniels
Christopher Daniels has been entertaining wrestling fans for over two decades but he has never been treated with the respect he deserves from big wrestling promotions. TNA refused to acknowledge the fans love for him as a face or hatred as a heel and never let the gifted veteran get a chance as a legitimate main eventer. Daniels was mostly used in the X-Division or tag team work with the rare main event opportunity used to put someone else over. WWE missed the boat by never signing Daniels at any point in his impressive career. There’s no doubt he would have contributed to the company in any role needed.
24 Cody Rhodes
WWE has employed Cody Rhodes for almost ten years now but he has yet to be used to his full potential. The second generation star has been on the verge of breaking through on multiple occasions whether it was in the Legacy faction, the “Dashing” heel character or stepping up as a face to stand against The Authority. Rhodes deserved a shot at some point to move into the main event picture or at least the upper midcard level with guys like Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. Instead, he has devolved into an irrelevant goof with a dead end gimmick as Stardust. While WWE can always try to push him again, Rhodes ceiling may not be as high as it once was.
The language barrier sometimes limits foreign talents coming into WWE. Tajiri is one of the rare cases of a talent being able to translate himself through his wrestling or expressions. “The Japanese Buzzsaw” was highly impressive when making the jump from ECW to WWE. Tajiri got over as both a lovable comedic heel and later as an intense evil heel. His versatility gave great matches regardless of who he was facing and the fans believed in what he was portraying. Given his skill set and international outreach, WWE dropped the ball by not doing more with him to create a bigger star for the company.
22 2 Cold Scorpio
ECW would find many diamonds in the rough and highlight them in the 90s. 2 Cold Scorpio was one of the best talents in the world and he would frequently tear it up with the best match of the night on most ECW shows. For whatever reason, the company didn’t believe in Scorpio as a main eventer and he was passed over when new champions were crowned. WWE acquired Scorpio and renamed him Flash Funk. Despite being one of the most athletic and exciting talents on the roster, Scorpio failed to get any traction in the company and was a glorified jobber. Aside from small spurts in ECW, Scorpio’s talent was generally wasted by the big companies throughout his career.
21 Paul London
The last five years have seen the WWE put more faith in smaller wrestlers to have great matches and get the fans excited with their work rate. That wasn’t always the case in WWE and it took the huge success stories of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan to truly change that. Paul London never got a fair shake in WWE due to the size issue and having the perception of just being a guy with flashy moves but no substance. London's work in Ring of Honor showed us he was one of the most must-see performers in the industry but WWE didn’t believe in his talents. London did get some decent chances in the Cruiserweight and tag team divisions but even when winning gold, he was never portrayed as a true champion and we all missed out.
20 Derrick Bateman
WWE has missed out on a boatload of talent over the last ten years due to not paying enough attention to their performers. The company frequently would give a very small opportunity to the wrestlers but bail on the push before they even got their feet wet. Derrick Bateman was the perfect example of this with limited television time. Bateman's personality was second to none with a knack to deliver humor in his promos and credible work in his matches. Today, Bateman is known as Ethan Carter III in TNA and is being pushed as a main eventer but the company is in such a sad state that most fans miss out on it. WWE dropped the ball by not using Bateman in any way, let alone like a future star.
19 Trent Barreta
Another story of a budding talent in WWE developmental that was called up to the main roster with no chance to succeed was Trent Barreta. The young man showed great in-ring skills but his debut was given no legs and the company provided him with very little chance to succeed. After wallowing away in complete obscurity, Trent was released and sent to the independent wrestling scene. Currently as one of the most exciting performers in the world, Barreta highlights another case of someone that should have been a star in WWE with a library of great matches and the ability to show his fun personality.
18 Bryan Clark
The 90s were all about finding jacked wrestlers who looked the part and that usually led to them being quite slow or immobile in the ring. That wasn’t the case for Bryan Clark, who had a rare speed to his game that made his skill set more well-rounded and his strength a bit more impressive. The explosive style of Clark was most used for a short time period as Wrath in WCW. Clark developed momentum until booker Kevin Nash decided to defeat him in short fashion on a random episode of Nitro to kill any chances of a push. WWE never used him any better during the early 90s as Adam Bomb, a ridiculous gimmick that no one possibly cared about or took seriously.
17 Paul Burchill
If you were a wrestling fan scouring the internet for news and opinions in the mid-2000s, you likely had high hopes for Paul Burchill based off the potential many proclaimed he had. Burchill was deemed one of the better workers in WWE developmental with a good look and decent promo skills. With everything a wrestler should have, Burchill was unable to put the pieces together due to horrible gimmicks. His time in WWE featured the roles of a pirate followed by an incest-implying brother with Katie Lea Burchill. Needless to say, the positions he was put in caused Burchill to tank and have no noteworthy moments in WWE as an undercard comedy goon.
16 Ultimo Dragon
After WCW went out of business in 2001, WWE ended up signing many of the former stars of the company in the years to follow. The company was the only game in town as the sole mainstream wrestling entity and looked to add the best talent in the world. Ultimo Dragon was among the names brought over to try their luck in WWE. Unlike Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and many others, Dragon didn’t instantly adapt to the WWE style and they diminished his value instantly by having him appear on Velocity frequently rather than Smackdown television. The incredible skill of Dragon was wasted and rarely seen in one of WWE’s worst uses of a great wrestling performer.
15 Low Ki
The first five years of Ring of Honor were a special time with a special locker room of special talent. Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and many others would emerge as stars on national television. Low Ki was just as beloved and talented as the aforementioned names to the diehard fan base and many would have assumed he’d do better in a bigger company. Between his blunt attitude and lack of size, Low Ki was sadly underused in both TNA and WWE. TNA never allowed him to be anything more than an X-Division performer and WWE stopped his momentum after winning the NXT competition by doing nothing to highlight his ability. The greatness of Low Ki is sadly forgotten due to the bigger companies not using him well.
The appeal of a wrestler that genuinely seems unbeatable is very rare. Despite losing more matches than he won, Meng always had the aura of someone that you felt was winning every match he took place in due to how tough he was. Meng has the legend of being the toughest wrestler in real life and it carried over to the ring. The intimidating force also was good enough to deliver decent matches. Quite frankly, Meng should have been an upper midcarder and rotation main event player at some point rather than just another guy in both WWE and WCW.
13 Stevie Richards
Stevie Richards is the perfect example of a wrestler using minimal opportunities to the best of his ability and it resulting in a great career. Richards' impressive body of work in ECW as a very good worker and entertaining promo man led to him getting signed by WCW and then later WWE. WCW used him as Raven’s lackey, similar to ECW, but did nothing to help his career since the gimmick was all about Raven. Richards had better luck in WWE with The Right to Censor heel faction getting legitimate heat from the fans due to Richards being the man they wanted to see get beat up. Despite doing well in the gimmick, Richards was given nothing more than a lower card spot used to get others over by making them look good in the ring.
12 Gail Kim
The current ascension of the women’s wrestling division thanks to the success in NXT has led to the WWE putting more emphasis on the ladies rather than just making them a novelty act. While this is great for the business today, it makes you wonder about the great talents from the past that were never given this chance. The best example would be Gail Kim due to WWE’s refusal to let her showcase her skills. Most of the other talents were at least on television frequently in a prominent role at some point, but after a title win in her debut, Kim was relegated to the lower tier of the division for both of her stints. Kim claims Vince McMahon found her unattractive and didn’t view her as marketable. Proof even billionaires are idiots at times.
11 Brian Kendrick
WWE and TNA both managed to squander Brian Kendrick’s potential as a highly exciting young talent. Kendrick entered the WWE system after being a standout student at Shawn Michaels’ wrestling school along with Daniel Bryan and Lance Cade. The in-ring work of Kendrick was spectacular but he was always viewed as someone with little personality. If you’ve listened to any interview or promo of his since leaving WWE, you’ll know Kendrick is one of the most humorous and interesting people in the business. Neither WWE nor TNA wanted to believe this and Kendrick was always stuck doing forgotten Cruiserweight work rather than a bigger push that allowed him to express himself.
10 Shelton Benjamin
The internet presence in wrestling was starting to become popular around the time Shelton Benjamin was pushed in WWE. Benjamin scored an upset victory over Triple H and was elevated into the midcard singles position with a couple of Intercontinental Championship reigns. The diehard fans wanted Benjamin to get elevated into the main event picture due to his insane athleticism and tremendous matches. WWE quickly scrapped his upward mobility with the belief his poor promo skills would never improve. If Benjamin debuted during the current era of WWE, he likely would have been a far bigger star and it’s a shame he never got to reach his potential.
9 Damien Sandow
WWE should have had another main eventer when Damien Sandow won Money in the Bank a few years ago. Sandow was a popular heel with his character work leaving an impact on the audience and his in-ring work leading to very good matches when given the chance. Instead of cashing in to win the title and ascending into the main event picture like Edge, Seth Rollins and CM Punk, Sandow was one of the rare briefcase holders to lose. After Sandow failed to capture the title, he slowly fell down the card and is currently off television. Sandow has been basically non-existent on WWE television for the majority of the past twelve months and it’s depressing watching his talent waste away.
8 Jerry Lynn
Jerry Lynn was one of the top stars in the final years of ECW but was unable to ever showcase his superb in-ring skills in the bigger companies. WWE signed Lynn and made him Light Heavyweight Champion but he was mostly featured on Sunday Night Heat before disappearing shortly after. WCW had Lynn before either WWE or ECW but they put him under the Mr. JL mask and didn’t see anything special in his work. Many of today’s top stars credit Lynn as playing a positive role in impacting them and you can see a lot of Lynn’s influence on the current WWE television program. Unfortunately, Lynn was never able to show it himself on WWE or WCW television.
7 Evan Bourne
WWE started to give the rare independent wrestler a chance in the 2000s with Matt Sydal being one of the few to get a decent chance on television as Evan Bourne. The high-flying style and charming personality of Bourne made him an instant fan favorite with the potential to move up the card but it never happened for him. Perhaps it was timing, as he was there before the athletic performers having great matches started taking over the show, but Bourne was pegged a midcarder at best with very few singles PPV matches. The company would eventually release Bourne due to suspensions and injuries but his career has rebounded in a big way as one of the best performers in the world that WWE likely wishes they used better now.
The Monday Night Wars were a great time for the wrestling business with everyone making money and fans having a wonderful experience watching it play out. The one downside was a lot of the best talents were held down due to the same core of performers holding the few main event spots and young stars not getting used in an effective manner to move up the card. Raven was an example of this, with his unique character being perfect for the time but being stuck in the midcard or lower in both WCW and WWE. WCW saw Raven blossom into a great heel but the ceiling prevented him from becoming a deserving main eventer. WWE flat out just used him like a scrub and the career of Raven is not remembered as fondly as it should be.
5 Brian Pillman
There are a lot of variables that held Brian Pillman back from getting to the plateau he deserved in the wrestling business but none excuse the promotions that employed him from using the talent better. Pillman showed he was one of the best in-ring performers in the business during his classic matches with Jushin Thunder Liger and later provided the promo skills to back it up when becoming a member of the Four Horsemen. WCW never really did much to progress his career and it made sense when he chose to leave the company. Pillman had a solid presence in WWE feuding with Steve Austin and joining The Hart Foundation, but his potential was also limited there in a smaller role than he should have been presented with.
4 Bam Bam Bigelow
The big men in the wrestling business have typically been slow, immobile and unable to have entertaining wrestling matches. Bam Bam Bigelow was an exception to every stereotype and used his size to add to his other strengths. Bigelow would deliver a couple of impressive high-flying moves and showed he could hang with great workers like Bret Hart, Rob Van Dam and many others. It will always be a shame WWE and WCW refused to give him a chance as a main evener. Yes, Bam Bam technically main evented a WrestleMania against former NFL player Lawrence Taylor but that was more of a novelty role and he was moved back down the card right after taking the loss. Bigelow is one of the best wrestlers to never hold a WWE or WCW world title.
3 Mike Awesome
Paul Heyman is often regarded as being a genius because he knows how to utilize the talent of superb wrestlers in a way others can’t. That theory was proven true when looking back at the career of Mike Awesome. The big man could fly all over the ring and kick ass like other in the same match as shown in his outstanding ECW run. WCW snagged him away and decided to relegate him to a throwaway comedy gimmick as a guy stuck in the 70s or trying to hook up with overweight women. Awesome was brought over when WWE purchased WCW but was once again overlooked and forgotten. Both big companies underused his great skills and missed out on a valuable asset.
2 Drew McIntyre
WWE has developed a horrible habit of giving a big push to a wrestler early in their career before they are ready for it and then giving up on them forever when it doesn’t work. This was best exhibited when Drew McIntyre debuted as Vince McMahon’s on-air handpicked star to take WWE into the future but fans didn’t buy into it forcing the push to flop. McIntyre would improve over the years but was never treated like a serious threat again in WWE. In fact, he was placed in the comedic jobber stable of 3 Man Band with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal. WWE eventually released McIntyre and he has become a top international star, making the company look bad for underusing his immense potential.
1 William Regal
William Regal has a storied career with fans showing appreciation for all he has done and WWE hiring him to play a big role in NXT, guiding the talent to become the future of the WWE. While Regal does have a chance to enter the WWE Hall of Fame, it doesn’t change the fact that he was horribly underused throughout his career in WWE and WCW. Both companies utilized him as a midcarder that could give you a great match but he was mostly treated as the guy to make lesser talents look better than him. Regal was a missed star that could have been world champion with his elite in-ring skills and ability to adapt to the role of whatever character was needed. There’s a reason today’s talent looks up to Regal and that’s because he was always one of the best, despite the big promotions criminally underusing him.