The goal of almost every wrestler entering the wrestling industry is to get signed by WWE. No wrestling promotion has found more success or contributed more to the business than WWE has over the past few decades. Most of today’s current wrestlers grew up watching the product and that makes it even more of a dream to get signed. There have been quite a few major free agent signings throughout the years. They were comparable to sports free agent signings where they join a new place expected to make a strong difference. Wrestlers to join WWE with such free agent buzz have seen differing results.
Many wrestlers thrive in WWE and make the most of their opportunity to show out on the biggest stage. Others are just poor fits and don’t have the scenario to deliver on the expectations set out for them. We will look at both sides of the story when it comes to how the signings worked out. Some of the success stories feature wrestlers still contributing to WWE today or inching closer towards getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, the flops range from wrestlers that found success outside of WWE to those that people barely even remember today. Find out which wrestlers belong on which side of history. These are ten successful free agent signings by Vince McMahon along with ten that flopped.
20 Succeeded: Rey Mysterio
There were a lot of questions regarding Rey Mysterio's future when Vince McMahon signed him in 2002. Most fans loved Mysterio in WCW, but the expectations were that he would flop due to his smaller size. WWE typically did not like pushing smaller wrestlers, let alone one of the smallest wrestlers of all time.
Mysterio, however, proved he was a draw that fans fell in love with. WWE ended up making huge money off Rey's merchandise, and also got some great matches from him. Rey became one of the all-time great wrestlers and has created a legendary legacy for WWE. Mysterio turned out to be a signing success at a level no one expected.
19 Flopped: Tazz
ECW's rise led to many new stars being created in the '90s. WWE found a few massive superstar names from ECW like Rob Van Dam and The Dudley Boyz. However, not every ECW main event name could become a star for WWE.
Tazz joined WWE with one of the greatest debuts in company history. Madison Square Garden treated him like a hero when appearing as a surprise opponent for Kurt Angle. Everyone expected Tazz to become a big WWE star after the debut, but things changed right away. WWE soured on Tazz and he turned into a secondary player in the Hardcore Division.
18 Succeeded: Big Show
Big Show was one of the first major signings of the Monday Night War that featured a top WCW star jumping ship to WWE. WCW made Big Show a World Champion as The Giant before the New World Order started. His status in the company started to drop with the older legends holding down all the main event spots.
It led to Big Show joining WWE for the next chapter of his career. Vince McMahon has always been infatuated with giants, and it resulted in Show receiving a sweet contract. Big Show may not have lived up to the expectations becoming “the guy,” but anyone to become a multiple world champion and remain in the company almost 20 years is a massive success.
17 Flopped: Marc Mero
Most fans have forgotten about the '90s run of Marc Mero in WWE due to how disappointing and lackluster it was. However, Vince McMahon viewed Mero as a huge signing when he first joined the promotion coming over from WCW.
Mero found success with the flamboyant Johnny B. Badd character in WCW, but there were expectations for him in WWE to get to a higher level. Mero's run was disappointing, as the only momentum he had would come from his then-wife and valet Sable getting huge crowd ovations. Mero fell lower down the card and turned into a bust.
16 Succeeded: Braun Strowman
Mark Henry was the one to recommend Braun Strowman personally to Vince McMahon after seeing him compete in powerlifting competitions. Strowman received a developmental contract thanks to this connection with strong expectations from McMahon for his future.
This allowed Braun to skip NXT and get his debut on the main roster as part of The Wyatt Family. WWE pushed Strowman to the top of Raw following the end of the faction. Strowman has found success as a main eventer and one of the faces of Raw. With Roman Reigns sidelined, McMahon reportedly plans to make Braun the most pushed and protected star in WWE.
15 Flopped: The Ultimo Dragon
The success of Rey Mysterio as a masked sensation in WWE opened opportunities for other wrestlers to join the company as well. The Ultimo Dragon was the next former WCW cruiserweight to sign a contract with WWE and received a planned push.
Months of video teasers ended with Dragon debuting at a show in Madison Square Garden. His debut disappointed WWE officials and his push ended right away. Dragon wrestled mostly on Velocity and did not live up to the hype he had entering the company. WWE released him relatively quickly and he never returned for another run. The signing was viewed as a huge flop.
14 Succeeded: Mick Foley
Vince McMahon took a chance on Mick Foley in the '90s due to Jim Ross vouching for him. The end of his time in WCW and the popularity created in ECW led to Foley wanting to make the biggest step by joining WWE. McMahon felt Foley didn’t look the part nor did he have the talent to succeed in WWE and told Ross that it was going to break his heart when Foley failed.
Mick ended up surprising the world, including Vince, by connecting with the audience in a major way. Aside from Steve Austin and The Rock, Foley was arguably the most important star during the Monday Night Wars. It was a surprisingly superb signing for McMahon.
13 Flopped: Vader
Vader's career is remembered with fondness mostly because of his runs in WCW and Japan. Both stages of his career proved that Vader was one of the all-time great big men in the sport. Classic matches against Ric Flair and Sting will allow his great work to live on forever.
However, the WWE chapter of his career did not lead to similar success. Most pundits expected Vader to become a top heel and world champion for WWE, given Vince McMahon’s love of the monster character. McMahon instead viewed Vader as lazy and primarily used him as a mid-carder until the end of his WWE run.
12 Succeeded: Ronda Rousey
The most recent successful signing featured Ronda Rousey making the jump from MMA to WWE. Many fans were concerned that Rousey would have a similar run to Brock Lesnar showing little effort and hardly caring enough to appear more than a handful of times per year.
Rousey has already given more effort to WWE in under a year than Brock has done in six years since returning. Ronda's love for professional wrestling has helped her learn the trade, have impressive matches, and connect with the crowd faster than anyone expected. Rousey is already an all-time great WWE signing with the potential to move even further up the ladder.
11 Flopped: Steve Williams
A forgotten story during the Attitude Era is that Vince McMahon once wanted Steve Williams to become a top star for the company. The inception of the Brawl for All was created for Williams to decimate other WWE stars in shoot fights to prove his legitimate toughness to the fans.
McMahon expected Williams to win the Brawl for All and become the next challenger to Steve Austin. Williams ended up getting decimated by Bart Gunn to lose his mystique. McMahon gave up on him shortly after as the injuries piled up. Williams was meant to be a challenger to Steve Austin but instead was out of the company within months.
10 Succeeded: Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero is remembered fondly today as one of the all-time great legends. Most wrestlers of that level have polarizing reputations with debates of overrated vs. underrated, but everyone shows love to Guerrero as an objectively stellar professional wrestler.
That wasn’t always the case as WWE signed Eddie at a time when most believed his potential was mid-card at best. Guerrero, however, started to prove his work connected on a superstar level. The outstanding WWE Championship win for Eddie and the main event run made him a top-tier free agent signing when Vince McMahon added him to the roster.
9 Flopped: Goldberg
It took Goldberg over a decade to briefly unretire and erase his prior failure in WWE. Fans today recall the short Universal Championship reign and fun end to his career in 2017. However, Goldberg did have a chance in WWE during his prime when joining the company back in 2003.
This was one of the biggest signings in WWE history. Vince McMahon finally added arguably the most popular star from WCW a few years after it ended and a chance to showcase Goldberg to the world. WWE did not like Goldberg’s attitude, persona, or work. It resulted in him having an awful year before choosing to leave and retire from pro wrestling at a relatively young age.
8 Succeeded: Kurt Angle
Vince McMahon loved to take chances on talented stars from other sports with the potential to succeed in WWE. The best example of this came when Kurt Angle joined WWE. McMahon loved the idea of having a gold medal-winning wrestler on the roster and saw a lot of potential in Angle.
It took a lot of convincing, but Angle signed to try his luck in a new world. Fans were stunned to see Angle jump to the top of the company while on the most loaded roster in WWE history. Angle won the WWE Championship within one year and is a legend today. McMahon’s vision for the signing was brilliant.
7 Flopped: Awesome Kong
The Women’s division in WWE has needed help for many years until the recent inception of the Women’s Evolution. One of the few signings made in prior years to improve things saw Awesome Kong make the jump to WWE as Kharma, following an incredible run in Impact Wrestling.
There were some good moments like Kong having a strong performance in the men’s Royal Rumble match. However, the momentum was just never there to become a success in the women’s division. Personal issues led to her taking time off and the two parties never agreed to a return. The potential for Kong to be a top female star in WWE sadly never came to fruition.
6 Succeeded: Steve Austin
One of the best decisions in WWE history came when Vince McMahon signed Steve Austin. McMahon did not see the potential of the biggest star in wrestling history, but he did believe Austin had the skills necessary to find success in WWE.
The fact that McMahon paired Austin with legend Ted DiBiase as his manager proved that he wanted Austin to get over. Naturally, Austin needed to break away and be on his own to find success. It culminated in Austin becoming the face of WWE and having an incredible on-screen feud with Vince. There’s no way McMahon could have expected that when signing Austin.
5 Flopped: The Great Khali
The Great Khali is remembered as a punchline today for the silly comedic gimmick towards the end of his WWE run along with the embarrassing matches. It is easy to forget that WWE once viewed him as their potential top heel when signing him to a contract.
Vince McMahon loved the size and mystique of Khali. The hope was to make him a superstar with a debut of destroying The Undertaker. Khali scored multiple major wins over Undertaker to start his career in the best of ways. Unfortunately, he could not improve to become passable in the ring and WWE gave up on him. Hi comedic gimmick showed just how far Khali fell from the days of a top-pushed heel.
4 Succeeded: AJ Styles
The belief for many years was that AJ Styles would never sign or succeed with WWE due to Vince McMahon not believing in him. Being a smaller wrestler and having a Southern accent are two things that usually work against wrestlers employed by McMahon, and both apply to Styles.
It ended up working out perfectly for Styles when he did join WWE back in 2016. Styles won over McMahon by delivering incredible performances against Vince’s trusted top stars like Roman Reigns, John Cena and Chris Jericho. McMahon pushed Styles as the face of SmackDown following the brand split and the role is still his today.
3 Flopped: Sin Cara
Mexican wrestling star Mistico had a world of hype when signing a contract with WWE back in 2011. Both Triple H and Vince McMahon had high hopes for him under the new character of Sin Cara. Triple H expected this to become the top international signing in many years while Vince wanted a replacement for Rey Mysterio.
The run in WWE did not work out at all for Sin Cara. Embarrassing botches and a lack of comfort with the WWE style prevented him from making an impact. WWE ended up releasing Mistico and having the former Hunico play Sin Cara. The career of Mistico is still going in Mexico, but he’ll always be remembered for the WWE flop.
2 Succeeded: Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho’s WWE debut will always live as arguably the greatest WWE introduction of all-time. Months of teaser vignettes led to a huge reveal and incredible crowd ovation where Jericho was revealed as Y2J.
Jericho's signing led to him becoming a fixture in the company for many years. Jericho proved to be perfect for the WWE landscape and accomplished everything possible in his career. We will likely see Jericho back at some point in WWE to add even more memorable moments to his legacy. Jericho will always be mentioned when thinking back on the greatest signings in WWE history.
1 Flopped: Scott Steiner
Many wasted potentials in WWE came around the early 2000s following the death of WCW. Vince McMahon picked certain wrestlers from WCW with huge star power behind them to join WWE and try to get acclimated to the new company.
Scott Steiner had worked in WWE before, but this was his first time in the company after becoming a top main event star in WCW. Steiner's return to WWE featured crowds treating him like the biggest star in the world. It ended quickly due to lazy7 matches with Triple H right off the bat. Steiner lost his main event spot within months and wasted away in obscurity until the end of his contract.