WWE is looking for the next John Cena. The man they are looking to to provide it is Roman Reigns. Irrelevant of opinions on whether Reigns is the man suited to the task, there is little arguing that WWE needs another big star. Outside of Cena and Orton those used as the upper elite of the company are part-timers, and the only other man in recent years to reach it was CM Punk, who is long gone.
There are the likes of Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler who all have the potential to break through to the very top but they could find themselves as so many have in the past – never reaching their full potential. Often, this isn’t even of their own doing, they may have all the tools and fan following but the company themselves may not be convinced.
They would be far from alone in the category of WWE giving up too soon, there are many who have left the company despite having plenty to offer. Sometimes of their own volition, sometimes at the hand of budget cuts, either way the two parties have gone their separate ways. Here we will take a look back at some of the men and women who WWE should bring back into the fold.
Anyone inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame are exempt from this list, any need for WWE to patch up differences with the likes of Jim Ross or Mick Foley would not be a second chance as they are well-established and acknowledged legends. CM Punk likewise will not be featured as his exit and the arguments on whether he can ever return has been discussed at length already these past 13 months.
25. Elijah Burke
Burke made his debut as the corner man MMA fighter/wrestler hybrid Sylvester Terkay back in 2006. It didn’t take long to see that Burke was the superior act and the two soon became a tag team, before Terkay was relegated to bodyguard and released. Burke would continue on to the be Vince McMahon’s hand-chosen leader of the New Breed faction who went to war with the ECW Originals. Sadly for Burke, that was about the height of his WWE career as creative gave him very little after the storyline played out and the group disbanded.
Burke would move to TNA and establish himself immediately there as ‘The Black Pope’ D’Angelo Dinero. He had a strong run in the opposition company, showing that he had an uncanny ability to manipulate crowds to love or hate him with ease.
At 36 years of age, Burke will never be able to fully capture his potential with the WWE but he could still provide a boost to the midcard division.
24. Curt Hawkins
WWE’s tag team division is waning. After its brief resurgence with the likes of The Shield, The Rhodes Brothers and The Usos the past few years it has once again found itself on the back shelf and with very few teams actually comprising the division.
Curt Hawkins is a tag specialist, most notably with his former partner Zack Ryder, whom is currently finding himself out in the cold. Reuniting the two would add a boost to the tag division as well as reigniting both men’s careers.
23. Bob Holly
Bob Holly had a lengthy career with the WWE. Debuting in 1994 with the nickname ‘Spark Plug’ and would meander around never fully finding an identity but he was never released. At the end of 1998 he was one of the founding members of the briefly lived J.O.B. Squad, before finally finding himself a gimmick at the beginning of 1999 as Hardcore Holly.
Holly would find himself great success in the hardcore division, winning the championship six times. He also had plenty of time in the tag team division with numerous partners including his cousin Crash and later on with Cody Rhodes. Holly also had a main event program with Brock Lesnar and was entered into the main event scene of the revived ECW.
With Bill DeMott recently stepping down as NXT’s Head Trainer, Holly could be a great replacement. He has years of experience with the company and is a true veteran of the WWE style, even serving as a trainer on the third season of Tough Enough. He was removed after controversially hitting a trainee, Matt Capotelli, with a legitimate shot. WWE may want to shy away from that potential controversy but if they choose to overlook it they would have a great coach.
Victoria made her debut in WWE when the women’s division was on the rise and was a big part of its boom in the early-mid 2000s. Starting out as a psychotic ex-fitness model with a grudge against Trish Stratus, Victoria showed that the women could do the same as the male wrestlers. She captured the championship in a Hardcore match at Survivor Series four months after arriving, and held onto it until WrestleMania. She would lose the title there, but the following year she would enter WrestleMania XX as champion.
Victoria also holds the honour of competing in the only female Steel Cage match in WWE history – defeating Lita on an episode of Raw Roulette. Victoria would find herself moving about stories randomly thereafter, including being part of a stable with Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle named Vince’s Devils. Eventually she would retire from the company after a successful run.
She eventually wound up in TNA, where she continued to show herself as one of the most talented female wrestlers in the world. Victoria could bolster the Divas division, or she could play a backstage role training the divas of tomorrow.
21. La Resistance
La Resistance were a controversial tag team during their time in WWE. Despite almost immediate success after being called up to the main roster, including Rene Dupree becoming the youngest ever WWE Tag Team Champion at the age of 19, the duo were considered green and inexperienced.
Many years have passed since then and the duo have improved during their time since the company. If WWE still had concerns about the ability or age of the older Grenier, they could have Rob Conway return alongside Dupree, as he was considered one of the most technically gifted stars in OVW when he was called up to make the team a trio in 2003.
When Low Ki made his debut in the WWE under his new moniker Kaval in the second season of NXT, he seemed destined to win the competition. And win he did, pipping his former tag team champion partner Michael McGillicutty (now Curtis Axel) to the title. Unfortunately for Kaval, WWE seemed to lack any faith in him following NXT. He was sparsely used after moving to SmackDown, and when he did it wasn’t in a favorable fashion. After a few months Kaval asked for his release and was granted it.
He is currently working back in TNA where he is showing he still has the ability to work with the best of them.
19. Evan Bourne
Even Bourne began on the ECW brand and commanded attention with his Shooting Star Press, which would win a Slammy Award for Best Finisher.
Bourne would find his most success after being traded to Raw.
Throughout his WWE career Bourne would get wins over the likes of Sheamus and Jack Swagger before moving onto Tag Team Championship success with Kofi Kingston as Air Boom. Unfortunately for Bourne, he would fail the Wellness Policy twice in two months and during his second suspension suffered an ankle injury during a crash and never returned to the WWE ring.
Bourne could offer so much to the WWE roster as either a singles competitor or back in the tag team division. Thanks to former NXT Champions Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn, his Shooting Star Press may no longer stand out as unique as it once did but his energetic style would still be exciting to watch.
18. Mr. Kennedy
The man formerly known as Ken Kennedy made a name for himself by, well, announcing his own name. The arrogance to do his own ring introduction, including saying his name not once but twice, soon saw Kennedy climb the ranks in the WWE. Kennedy would capture the United States Championship and enter a feud with The Undertaker. Later he would win Money in the Bank and was even planned to be revealed as Mr. McMahon’s illegitimate son but would lose both opportunities due to injury and a steroid scandal respectively.
Since leaving WWE, Kennedy continued his momentum in TNA. Now going by his real name of Ken Anderson, he has continued his self-conceited act. There he has become a two-time World Champion as well as being a part of the company’s big Aces & Eights storyline – both as a member and feuding against them, ultimately ending the group.
The potential Kennedy had with the company was obvious. He has two major drawbacks that WWE would need to consider if rehiring him. He was known to be very injury-prone, although he seems to have improved in that regard during his TNA run. Secondly, he was reported to be a stiff and dangerous worker – which would increase the injury risk of others if true.
The ECW legend has an impressive ring resume with several championship successes under his belt. Unfortunately for the Human Suplex Machine, injuries would draw his in-ring career to a premature end. However his move to the commentary table would arguably create his biggest impact with the WWE. For five years, Tazz and Michael Cole would be the voices of SmackDown until he moved across to the returning ECW brand.
Since Tazz left WWE in 2009 he has worked for TNA, spending most of his time as a color commentator. WWE’s commentary is currently appalling and Tazz is not only a proven commodity in the booth, but he has an established chemistry with ‘The Voice of the WWE’ Michael Cole. In fact, few would argue against the claim that he is the best partner Cole has ever had.
16. Luke Gallows
During his time with WWE Luke Gallows wrestled under several names. First he briefly appeared as an imposter Kane, before he took on a more permanent role of simpleton powerhouse Festus. He and his partner Jesse would challenge for tag gold several times. Eventually it was ‘revealed’ that Festus’s demeanour was the result of alcohol abuse as he repackaged himself as Luke Gallows, a follower of CM Punk in his Straight Edge Society. Just as Gallows began breaking free of his association with the Straight Edge Saviour, he found himself one of WWE’s annual cuts.
Gallows would head almost instantly to TNA. Since then he has found his biggest success as a member of arguably the biggest stable in the indies – The Bullet Club. As a part of the group he has become a two-time IWGP Tag Team Champion.
Gallows is a talented big man, something WWE loves and they surprisingly never made the most of during his tenure.
15. The Hardy Boyz
It is difficult to speak of the tag team division without thinking of one of the most popular teams in the history of the WWE, The Hardy Boyz. Jeff and Matt made a name for themselves during the boom of the Attitude Era and their popularity is unwavered with fans even today. The rivalry they had with the teams of the Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian through their epic Ladder and TLC wars are still some of the greatest tag team matches in WWE history.
Together the duo have held the WWE Tag Team Championships six times, and the WCW and TNA Tag Team Championships once each. But their success is not exclusive to teamwork, as both men are decorated in singles competition. Jeff has three World Championship reigns with WWE and three with TNA, as well as being a Grand Slam Champion in the WWE. Matt has captured the ECW, United States, Cruiserweight and European Championships amongst others.
Since leaving WWE both men have enjoyed success across various independent promotions, most notably in TNA. Jeff was the face of the company for a long time, and the two are united once again in TNA where they currently hold the tag gold. WWE loves to have Attitude Era stars return, and they don’t get much bigger or more exciting than the brothers from North Carolina.
14. Bubba Ray Dudley
When Bubba Ray Dudley returned in January’s Royal Rumble the Wells Fargo Center went crazy. Not just because it was in ECW’s old stomping ground Philadelphia either, the entire world went crazy on Twitter. One half of arguably the most successful tag team in the history of wrestling, as 23-time World Tag Team Champions across almost all top promotions, the Dudleys are true wrestling legends.
WWE would probably want to bring back both Bubba and D-Von to have the team in their ranks, but Bubba Ray has proven in TNA that he has what it takes to be a top singles star. Having gotten himself in shape and refining his gimmick, he became a two-time World Champion and the leader of TNA’s top Aces & Eights stable as Bully Ray.
WWE is currently lacking in top heel talent, especially with Brock Lesnar off TV for a while, and Bubba could offer them an experienced and entertaining act at the top of the card to help usher in a new era of top stars. Then WWE could bring back D-Von to have a final Dudley Boyz run before a well earned Hall Of Fame induction.
13. Derrick Bateman
When Derrick Bateman appeared in the fourth season of NXT under the guidance of ‘WWE Pro’ Daniel Bryan, he seemed the early favorite to win the competition. As something of a goofy comedian who could go in the ring combined with his instant chemistry with Bryan, Bateman was entertaining television. Unfortunately for him, he would only finish third in the competition. His WWE career never recovered, as he would only ever return to TV as a part of the NXT: Redemption series in a love triangle involving Johnny Curtis (now Fandango) and Maxine.
Bateman would eventually make his way to TNA, where he would arrive as the entitled nephew to TNA President Dixie Carter. As Ethan Carter III, or EC3, he has become a main feature of the promotion. With TNA he has shown he can be much more than a comedy act and can in fact be a true main event player.
12. Mickie James
One of the best wrestlers in the history of the WWE’s women’s division, Mickie James is a six-time Women’s Champion and one of the few competitors to have held both the more prestigious Women’s Championship and the current Divas Championship.
Despite being one of the biggest successes in WWE’s women’s division, she found herself given a cold shoulder during the final stretch of her time with the company. There are several reports as to the reasoning, including a messy off-screen relationship with John Cena and WWE’s issues with her weight. Whatever the cause, it was clear to most viewers that she was far from in favor with management by the time she left.
Nevertheless, James would add a credibility lacking in the current Divas Division. She still has years of in-ring competition left and can get a good match out of even a halfway decent competitor.
When Montel Vontavious Porter arrived on the scene on SmackDown, he lived up to his moniker of MVP. Signing a historically lucrative contract to be on the brand, MVP immediately entered a rivalry with Kane. Within months MVP had made his WrestleMania debut and captured the United States Championship. His biggest rivalry as champion would pit him against Matt Hardy, whom he won the Tag Team Championships with. Sadly for MVP his ascension to the top was suddenly stopped after he lost the U.S. Title, entering a five month losing streak and turning face. Despite many believing MVP was destined for the main event, he would never regain the momentum and was eventually released.
MVP has found success as a mainstay in both New Japan and TNA since leaving. He won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship Tournament in 2011 and became the storyline owner in TNA during his first few months with the company. An injury stopped him from becoming TNA World Champion but he has remained the leader of the company’s top stable, The Beat Down Clan.
MVP has been complimentary of the WWE since his exit, so a future return is probably likely in some capacity.
10. Gail Kim
Eleven years before Paige surprised AJ Lee, Gail Kim surprised six other women – including champion Jazz – by capturing the Women’s Championship in her first appearance. Despite seemingly big plans for Kim in the division it would be her only reign and would only last four weeks thanks to a injury sidelining her for a lengthy stretch of time. She returned immediately back to the championship picture but would get released during budget cuts.
Pretty soon Kim would find herself in TNA, serving as the valet for America’s Most Wanted. When TNA created their own women’s division – the Knockouts – Kim was used as the face of the division, including a major feud with Awesome Kong. Kim would return to the WWE for a couple of years, where she found herself underutilized and eventually quit. She returned to TNA where she instantly picked up where she left off, enjoying great championship success.
Like Mickie James, Kim would offer some immense talent and legitimacy to the Divas division and increase the attention and match quality it receives. However, a return is unlikely due to the way she left the company. She quit the WWE in controversial circumstances after eliminating herself from a Battle Royal and vowed to never return to WWE.
9. Scotty Goldman
Better known as Colt Cabana, many fans may actually forget that he had a run in the WWE under the name Scotty Goldman. And it isn’t hard to see why. Despite being with WWE for two years, he spent only six months on the main roster – within which he had a run of over four months without making a televised appearance. His biggest presence was having his own WWE webseries, but even that was given little fanfare.
Nonetheless, Cabana has enjoyed great success in the independents both before and after his WWE stint.
It is highly unlikely that WWE ever intend to use Cabana’s best friend CM Punk in their company ever again, and considering that they didn’t use Cabana during his days as Goldman on good terms with the company it is very unlikely that they will bring him in under the circumstances.
If WWE can bring themselves to put personal issues aside, Cabana is a great performer both in and out of the ring. He would be at home on either the main roster or NXT and could additionally provide content for the WWE Network that would attract the internet fans in.
8. Drew McIntyre
Drew McIntyre’s WWE story is similar to the one of MVP. When he arrived on SmackDown he did so as Vince McMahon’s ‘Chosen One’. He would win the Intercontinental Championship and go on a lengthy undefeated streak, albeit thanks to getting losses expunged. Knowing he was untouchable, McIntyre took to making GM Theodore Long’s life miserable. When The Nexus attacked McMahon, McIntyre became a regular roster member and after winning tag gold with Cody Rhodes he would find himself losing regularly and eventually relegated to comedy group 3MB.
McIntyre was recently released and has instantly captured the Evolve Championship and joined TNA as a top face and thorn in the side of the Beat Down Clan. WWE should seriously consider a redo on McIntyre, who was championed by several Hall of Famers during his time with the company. Most notably Bret Hart and Roddy Piper, the latter of whom campaigned on Twitter to manage McIntyre to help WWE give him another shot at the main event.
7. Paul London
After making a fast impact and ascension in Ring of Honor, WWE signed London and gave him his main roster debut within six months. London would soon win tag team gold with Billy Kidman before an injury caused the team to split. When he returned, London won the Cruiserweight Championship but another injury would cut his reign short. Upon returning he and Brian Kendrick teamed up and embarked upon the longest WWE Tag Team Championship reign in history at 331 days. After getting traded to Raw the team would capture the World Tag Team Championships but that reign would only last three days and London became unused when Kendrick was traded to SmackDown.
Since being released by WWE, London has competed all over the independent circuit, most frequently in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. With The Brian Kendrick having returned to the WWE, via NXT and potential as a trainer, now would be the time to reach back out to London. London is still only 34 and he and Kendrick could easily rejoin the tag team ranks and be a staple there for years. This may be unlikely to happen though due to London openly admitting he no longer trusts the WWE, so the biggest issue blocking this may actually be from his side rather than the company.
6. John Morrison
Former Tough Enough winner John Hennigan has competed under many gimmicks for the WWE. He earned his Johnny Nitro moniker when he became assistant to Eric Bischoff, before returning as a part of the MNM team that made his first true impact. The team would disband when he and Melina were traded to Raw. Nitro ended up in ECW, where became ECW Champion and rechristened himself John Morrison, a self-conceited rock star. He would then team with The Miz, with the duo hosting WWE’s most successful webseries The Dirt Sheet, before the two split and Morrison had success in the singles division on SmackDown and then Raw.
Morrison is a five-time tag team champion with both Joey Mercury and The Miz, as well as a three-time Intercontinental Champion, two-time Slammy Award winner and the previously mentioned ECW Champion. He showed his ability to compete in main event rivalries during both his tag teams – feuding with the likes of Batista, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and DX – as well as in singles competition against John Cena, Sheamus and The Miz.
Morrison and WWE surprisingly parted ways in 2011, while Morrison was still competing around the top of the card, with many believing it stemmed from his snubbing of Trish Stratus back at WrestleMania XXVII. Whilst a little weak on the microphone, Morrison always exhibited star quality and was entertaining in the ring and always seemed a future World Champion. Morrison was fairly quiet since leaving WWE but has recently resurfaced as a part of the Lucha Underground promotion and has shown he is still competing at the same level.
5. Frankie Kazarian
During his first two years in TNA, Frankie Kazarian had made a name for himself in the X-Division and teaming with Michael Shane. Same as Paul London, Kazarian made his way to the main roster within months. However, his run only lasted a month before Kazarian would quit the company due to the company’s lack of plans for the Cruiserweight division.
Kazarian went straight back to TNA as part of Raven’s short-lived group Serotonin, before becoming a plucky underdog in the main event scene. Kazarian’s biggest singles run came when he unsuccessfully challenged both Samoa Joe and Kurt Angle for the World Heavyweight Championship during their big feud.
For the last few years Kazarian has made a name for himself as one half of the tag team Bad Influence (or The Addiction) both within TNA and recently the independent circuit, along with Christopher Daniels. Kazarian and Daniels are one of the hottest teams in the industry and with WWE rumored to be interested in The Briscoe Brothers these would be two incredible boosts to the flailing tag ranks.
When WWE signed Awesome Kong they had big plans for her. Repackaged as a crazed Kharma, vignettes aired for weeks ahead of her big debut. When she finally appeared, she began attacking various divas at random. Until one week she instead sat in the center of the ring and began crying. The following week she explained that this was because she was pregnant, and that was the last time she was seen in the WWE.
Kong returned to TNA this year and has continued being the monster in the Knockouts division that she was before her time in WWE. Despite her first run falling victim to unfortunate timing, there is no other reason for Kong not being a huge attraction to the Divas division as Kharma. WWE have spent the last year establishing Brock Lesnar as an unstoppable force and Kharma can provide the same to the women’s division on a regular basis. Triple H was the man who signed her, and with him having an increasingly large presence in the running of operations, it would wise to once again believe and give her another chance.
3. Kurt Angle
As an Olympic Gold Medal winning American hero, it comes as no surprise that Kurt Angle was a hot prospect for professional wrestling companies. WWE won the battle and within one year he had captured every major singles title in the company. Pretty much since his debut, Angle has been considered one of (if not the) best worker in the business.
Since leaving WWE in 2006, Angle has been a top player in TNA and has become a Grand Slam Champion and their second ever Hall Of Famer. He is one of the most decorated wrestlers in the modern era, and has received the honor of PWI Feud of the Year three times and Match of the Year twice. He is frequently the answer to the question of which WWE legend people want to see get another WrestleMania match, and pretty much anyone could be paired with him for a dream match scenario.
Angle initially left WWE due to needing time to heal his body, something he claims WWE wouldn’t allow him. There are also reports of a painkiller addiction that led to his departure. Despite his split initially being a bitter one, things have cooled considerably over the years since and Angle himself openly admits he may one day return. WWE now offer plenty of talents a part-time schedule and few deserve to be treated as that kind of top level attraction more than Kurt Angle. It’s true.
2. Chris Hero
One of the best known independent wrestlers in the last 10 years, Chris Hero made himself a big name all over the globe in the likes of Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, Chikara, New Japan and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He is well decorated both as a singles competitor and in his team with Claudio Castagnoli (known to WWE fans as Cesaro) as the Kings of Wrestling. Additionally Hero has trained well over 50 wrestlers including Castagnoli and the late Larry Sweeney.
Hero was signed to WWE with Castagnoli (although his signing was delayed by a incorrectly failed drug test) and competed in their FCW development territory as Kassius Ohno. Ohno would continue to feature in the show when it was rebranded as NXT, including a rivalry with then NXT commentator William Regal. Ohno would eventually be released due to WWE feeling he wasn’t committed to physical conditioning.
Since leaving the company Hero has been very positive about his time with WWE and said that he left with the door open to possibly revisit in a few years time. That was two years ago and it is now the time to revisit. He even has two storylines ready for him. Current NXT Champion Kevin Owens stole his “KO” idea and even his storyline of goading a commentator out of retirement.
1. Shelton Benjamin
When WWE signed Brock Lesnar in 2000, the demand he had was that his roommate and amateur wrestling teammate Shelton Benjamin was signed alongside him. Jim Ross has frequently gone on record naming Shelton Benjamin the most athletic wrestler he ever signed and Shelton wasn’t shy in showing it from the off. Debuting alongside long-time tag partner Charlie Haas as a part of Team Angle, the duo that would become known as The World’s Greatest Tag Team. The team would disband after Shelton was traded to Raw, where he would score a series of upset wins over Triple H. This would engage him in a lengthy feud with Evolution and make him a top babyface in the process.
Benjamin would hold both the Intercontinental and United States Championships but WWE would never truly get behind him, and he at one point was saddled with a destructive Mama’s Boy gimmick.
Shelton has proven his worth over the years since WWE, both with Haas and on his own, in the likes of Ring of Honor and New Japan. With a manager by his side (possibly a reunion with Paul Heyman) the sky is the limit for Benjamin, his only weakness was his talking but that is easy to overcome – look at Brock Lesnar.
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