WWE has a history of having one extremely popular wrestler become the face of the company. The major three wrestlers to have this incredible role have been Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and John Cena. Austin would end up sharing the spotlight with The Rock and having a shorter run than the other two. Hogan and Cena essentially dominated the WWE roster each during their reigns as the person representing the company strongest.
Unfortunately, the instance of one wrestler being booked strongly above everyone else can lead to the rest of the roster suffering. Very few wrestlers would elevate to a legitimately top position in the company during these two periods. We will look at some of the wrestlers that most felt the negative impact of a single star carrying the product on his back. These are five wrestlers that were held down during the Hulk Hogan era and five during the John Cena era.
10 Hogan era: Mr. Perfect
The in-ring work and promo skills of Mr. Perfect makes him a beloved wrestler from the '80s and '90s when looking back today. Perfect had a few great moments and great matches in WWE with his peak coming with the Intercontinental Championship feud against Bret Hart.
The main event picture was just out of reach for Perfect as muscle heads with bigger physiques were the ones pushed in the Hulk Hogan era. That made it impossible for him to get a PPV main event against Hogan during the latter’s reign as the WWE Champion.
9 Cena era: John Morrison
The booking of John Morrison in WWE would have him always on the tier below the main event picture. Morrison’s most successful run came following a great feud with Sheamus and a short-lived WWE Championship program with his former tag team partner The Miz.
There were not many faces to get a legitimate main event run during the John Cena given how often he was a world champion for the company. Morrison left before Cena started to take a smaller role that opened new opportunities for wrestlers like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns. He would have been a bigger top star for the company if he stuck around a few more years.
8 Hogan era: Davey Boy Smith
Vince McMahon loved the look of Davey Boy Smith as a jacked wrestler that thrived in both technical wrestling and using his strength for powerful displays. Smith had the biggest win of his career when he defeated Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Championship in the main event of Summerslam 1992.
The early '90s was Smith’s best chance at success given he was young and in great condition. Smith would take a backseat to Hulk Hogan and others like the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. WWE tried to push him harder many years later, but it was too late for Davey Boy.
7 Cena era: Dolph Ziggler
The return of Dolph Ziggler in a WWE Championship program with Kofi Kingston has led to a lackluster response from the fan base. Ziggler was once a beloved rising star, but many years of failing to break out made him an irrelevant person on the loaded roster.
WWE never took a chance on Ziggler during his runs where the fan base was invested in him. John Cena consistently holding the title for ten years left fewer spots open for other wrestlers to get a chance. Ziggler missed his window during the Cena era and it’s too late for him now.
6 Hogan era: Rick Rude
Rick Rude was ahead of his time by creating a legacy as a compelling heel. The feuds of Rude with wrestlers like Ultimate Warrior and Sting proved he could do well in the main event picture during his few opportunities.
Rude’s prime did not have such success as he primarily worked in the mid-card during the Hulk Hogan era. Hogan never viewed Rude as a top star to have a long program with and that would have been his only chance to become a consistent main eventer.
5 Cena era: Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin was never directly impacted by John Cena, but it made things tougher for young stars like him to reach the main event level. Vince McMahon used Cena as the example of great wrestlers being able to shine with whatever role was given to them.
Benjamin did not have the charisma like Cena, and it led to some struggles during his push as a rising face. WWE wanted Benjamin to eventually become a main eventer, but they did not want to elevate him until he proved it. The lack of opportunities at the top kept Benjamin the mid-card and he would never break out of it.
4 Hogan era: Ricky Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat is the best face from the WWE 80s roster to never get a credible run as a top star. The great in-ring work of Steamboat would peak in the legendary Intercontinental Championship win over Randy Savage at WrestleMania 3.
WWE would utilize Steamboat as a good hand and a fixture in the mid-card picture. Fans loved him, but Hulk Hogan dominated the top spot as the most popular face. Steamboat never had a chance to sniff the main event or world title picture during the Hogan era.
3 Cena era: Christian
The WWE career of Christian was very impressive from the start as part of the iconic TLC tag matches to the later years when he feuded with Randy Orton for the World Championship. Christian had his strongest support from the fans in 2006.
The promos of Christian ahead of the brand split featured him talking trash about the top wrestlers and even cutting freestyle rap promos on John Cena. Fans ate it up, but Christian’s momentum was for nothing. Cena came over to Raw and was now starting his run as the WWE Champion. Christian would take the loss and move back into the mid-card which is why he left WWE for his TNA run.
2 Hogan era: Jake Roberts
Jake Roberts is the wrestler that suffered most from working in the Hulk Hogan era of WWE. The great heel work of Roberts made him an ideal opponent for Hogan. Both men would have a few matches on the live events to test the chemistry before a potential big PPV feud.
The problem was that fans started to cheer Roberts on after he hit the DDT on Hogan. Roberts revealed that Vince McMahon canceled the plans due to not wanting fans turning on Hogan during the televised matches. WWE never gave Roberts another chance at the main event.
1 Cena era: Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett had all the potential in the world when winning the first season of NXT and forming the Nexus faction. Their debut with a brutal attack on John Cena, CM Punk, the commentary team, ring announcer, and everyone at ringside made them a red-hot act.
Barrett thrived as the leader early on with expectations of a world title run coming quickly. However, Cena would get the big wins over Barrett and Nexus started to fall apart. Barrett would drop into the mid-card picture and never break out after his momentum disappeared from losing to Cena.