Two of the most dangerous words an athlete can hear at the onset of their career are “rookie sensation.” Sure, being designated as such means experts believe they have incredible in their given sport, but that also means expectations are extremely high from the start, and not everyone is suited to captain the hype train. Professional wrestling is a little bit different than other athletic events in that the results are predetermined, yet there have nonetheless been plenty of sports entertainers once considered “destined for greatness” only to fade into obscurity almost immediately after their first appearance.
Where exactly things go wrong is different for every performer. Sometimes, they never deserved the acclaim in the first place, falling victim to their own preemptive legend. Others genuinely were pretty great, rapidly diminishing in skill due to early injuries or because their hearts weren’t in the business. Then there are those unlucky few who simply fell out of favor with Vince McMahon, their coworkers, or even the fans simply because they never got an opportunity to truly stand out.
Whatever the case, the fact remains these sports entertainers were all at one point considered sure things in the industry, but none of them came near the WWE or WCW World Championships that would have cemented their legacy. For the full story, keep reading to learn about 15 pro wrestling rookie sensations who totally failed at living up to the hype.
15 Richie Steamboat
In addition to “rookie sensation,” another batch of potentially damaging words that can be applied to a young wrestler’s career are “second-generation superstar.” The more popular and/or successful their parent was, the greater chance they’ll fail to live up to expectations in more ways than one. Considering Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat is generally viewed as one of the best wrestlers in history, his son Richie had it pretty tough. Surprisingly, he actually seemed to be doing a solid job at making a name for himself in Florida Championship Wrestling, the precursor to NXT. While there, Steamboat won the FCW Florida Championship and reigned as Tag Team Champion with Seth Rollins. When FCW warped into NXT, he participated in the inaugural NXT Championship tournament and put on a good showing, only for a back injury to permanently end his career shortly thereafter.
If nothing else, the brief career of masked WCW cruiserweight superstar Blitzkrieg at least featured one classic Pay-Per-View match, which is much more than most wrestlers on this list can say. Technically speaking, Blitzkrieg wasn’t a rookie when he signed with Ted Turner, having spent four years in Japan honing his craft before reappearing in America. That training proved integral in making him an instant hit with fans of the fast paced cruiserweight style, earning him a huge number one contender match against Juventud Guerrera at Spring Stampede 1999. Blitzkrieg also wrestled a fantastic match against champion Rey Mysterio, Jr. a few weeks later on Thunder, suggesting he could easily win the gold in the near future. Unless, of course, he just up at quit to find work in another profession, which is exactly what he did. Hopefully, he’s at least as good at computer engineering as he was at wrestling, because he could’ve been really great.
13 Curtis Axel
The only harder expectation for a wrestler to live up with than being a second-generation rookie sensation would be if they happened to be a third-generation rookie sensation. That was the fate inherited by Curtis Axel, son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and grandson of AWA legend Larry “The Axe” Hennig. Given how much Axel’s career has waxed and waned over the year (mostly waned), it might be hard for some fans to believe the guy once had critics thinking he might actually live up to his forefather’s legends. Despite using the absurd name Michael McGillicutty, Axel did quite well for himself in FCW and NXT, only to rapidly fall down the card when left to his own devices. Aside from quick reigns as Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion, the latter with David Otunga, Axel has rarely managed to rise above the opening match, which he also happens to lose. Mr. Perfect, Jr., he’s not.
12 Monty Brown
Throughout the long history of Total Nonstop Action, or Impact Wrestling, Global Force Wrestling, et cetera, the company has always struggled with a reputation as being WWE-lite. It can’t be ignored that a large percentage of TNA’s top talent over the years were formerly WWE superstars, which is why Monty Brown was so damn special as a homegrown TNA star from day one. With only a few years experience in the sport, Brown was already challenging Jeff Jarrett for the NWA World Championship based on his charisma alone. Well, that and his explosive maneuver the Pounce. After becoming extremely popular in TNA, Brown did what most athletes do and headed for the WWE Universe, changing his name to Marcus Cor Von. Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have a chance to continuing shining, taking a leave of absence due to “family issues” barely six months into his tenure working for the McMahon’s. Brown never returned, making himself one of the more mysterious “what if’s” in the industry.
By winning the first ever WWE Tough Enough competition, Maven Huffman became a truly unique individual in sports entertainment. He received a contract with the biggest company in the business despite having only a few weeks training, and in order to capitalize on the notoriety, he didn’t have much time to receive much more before hitting the ring. This made it all the more surprising when Maven was actually fairly competent, although not necessary a main event caliber talent. Still, he was just good enough that people thought he might have a future, and combined with the spotlight of his big win and Vince McMahon wanting to prove Tough Enough was a successful experiment only helped that perception. Furthering that idea, Maven had a huge moment eliminating The Undertaker in his debut Royal Rumble, and earned a World Championship match against Triple H two years into his career. And then…he kinda faded away, just like that, no longer interested in the business. Maybe he wasn’t tough enough after all.
10 Sean O’Haire
Truth be told, nothing this entry is going to tell Sean O’Haire fans anything they don’t already know. When he arrived on the scene in WCW as one of the Natural Born Thrillers, O’Haire was definitely the standout, flying off the top rope like a cruiserweight despite his larger frame. As he moved to WWE, O’Haire seemed to be developing a brilliant devil’s advocate character, convincing other wrestlers to give in to their darkest desires. The move set were there, fans were thrilled with this unique gimmick, and O’Haire…apparently just wasn’t ready for the spotlight. Rumor has it O’Haire had trouble staying in character during live promos, breaking into laughter and generally failing to hold himself together. This caused Vince McMahon to give up on the guy entirely, with O’Haire soon leaving WWE and the sports entertainment industry as a whole.
It says a lot about how far Tatanka fell from grace that rather than list his past accolades in the sport during his bizarre and random comebacks, most WWE fans let out confused laughter at his every appearance. That never would have happened during his first year in the company, when Tatanka enjoyed one of the longest undefeated streaks in modern history. Though he didn’t win as many matches as Goldberg or Asuka, Tatanka went just as long without getting pinned, making him look like a huge rising star of WWE’s New Generation. Similarly to Goldberg, though, it all started falling apart for the Native American when WWE decided to switch him from a fighting hero to a greedy bad guy with Ted DiBiase as his manager. Tatanka simply couldn’t play that role, instantly shattering his prospects and cementing his reputation as a low tier star who never won any championships.
One of the most remarkable things about the meteoric rise and shocking crash of Test is that it all happened before the man was 25 years old. In 1998, he debuted as yet another big, bad monster in Vince McMahon’s Corporation, suddenly standing out in a major way the next year by sparking a relationship with the boss’s daughter, Stephanie. After Triple H broke up that relationship, Test became outrageously popular, such to the extent he was heavily favored to win the WWE Championship in late 1999. Naturally, Test feuded Triple H and D-Generation X at this time, but losing that battle caused him to rapidly fall down the card. Within months, he had randomly turned heel and started teaming with Albert, forever destroying the momentum he was slowly building. Because he was still a big badass, Test still won a few championships in his day, but the main event hopes were completely over, as was his career in general by the time he was 30.
7 Buff Bagwell
He may have been fairly Buff, and that arguably meant he also had the stuff, but as it turns out, WCW fans male and female alike could absolutely get enough of Marcus Alexander Bagwell. Whether using his real name or the more ‘90s appropriate Buff sobriquet, Bagwell was always heralded as a superstar achieving great success for his age. Still under 30 when WCW went out of business, Bagwell became one of the company’s most popular homegrown stars while still a very young and relatively inexperienced man. That said, Bagwell’s first few months were arguably his best, featuring multiple Tag Team Championship wins with a variety of partners including The Patriot and Too Cold Scorpio. Bagwell remained noteworthy as the Monday Night Wars ignited, only for a serious neck injury to suddenly take away most of his skills in the ring and left him a shell of his former self. WCW kept pushing him anyway, but once they went out of business, WWE had no interest in putting Bagwell’s pieces back together, nor did any other company.
6 Alex Wright
Every wrestler on this list was obviously heralded as a big deal from the start of their careers, but only Alex Wright had this turned into an actual nickname through “Das Wunderkind.” The name also referenced his personal background as one of the most successful German-born wrestlers in America even despite the fact his career faded out before he even turned 30. After wowing WCW officials on a European tour, he signed with the company and became a solid midcard hand, on various occasions winning the Cruiserweight, Television, and Tag Team Championships. Wright also wrestled a handful of really good matches against future legends like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho, but he never quite made it to their level. Quite frankly, Wright never had what it took on the microphone to match his in-ring skills, and Vince McMahon wasn’t even interested when WCW went out of business. With nowhere else to remain a star, Wright’s career essentially ended for that reason.
5 Prince Iaukea
An integral issue when discussing “rookie sensations” is who exactly has been using that phrase to describe a given athlete. In the case of Prince Iaukea, the whole problem might have been that while his corporate overlords at WCW tried very desperately to give him this aura, few fans of the company seemed to agree it was appropriate. Nonetheless, Turner executives were determined, as were WCW bookers, who rewarded Iaukea with the Television Championship very early into his career. Some cynics felt this was a reaction to WWE promoting a similar looking Samoan superstar named Rocky Maivia, and everyone knows which of the two was the actual rookie sensation. After changing his name to The Artist a few years later, Iaukea also won two Cruiserweight Championships. However, his career almost immediately faded into nothingness from there, despite sticking with the company that promised he would be a huge star.
4 Brad Armstrong
While not quite on the level of the Guerrero’s, Von Erich’s, or Funk’s, the Armstrong family is one of the most respected in wrestling history. The most successful of the bunch was arguably patriarch “Bullet” Bob, though his youngest song Brian, aka Road Dogg, arguably achieved greater fame during the Attitude Era as a member of D-Generation X and the New Age Outlaws. However, more talented than either one of them was Brad Armstrong, who sadly spent the majority of his career as a forgettable jobber in WCW. Granted, so did brothers Scott and Steve, but many fans felt Brad deserved more from the start, including Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross. Armstrong’s talent did pay off early on, with short reigns as Mid-South North American Champion and WCW Light Heavyweight Champ, but neither lasted long, and he was right back to jobbing when they were over.
3 Terry Taylor
Unlike most names on this list, who gradually faded away without great explanation, it’s actually very easy to pinpoint the exact moment Terry Taylor went from a promising rising star to an absolute laughingstock. Ironically, his downfall was something that should have made him a star, that being signing a contract with WWE. Prior to this, Taylor had been winning championships all over the NWA, earning great acclaim for his in-ring skills while doing so. Of course, Vince McMahon needed him to have a strong character as well, and thus the ridiculous Red Rooster was born. Rather than celebrate Taylor’s talent, he was regularly derided for being an untrained rookie, barely able to tell a wristlock from a wristwatch without manager Bobby Heenan’s help. This completely shattered any momentum Taylor could possibly have, and his career never came close to recovering.
All right, so this one is going to be a little weird, especially to any wrestling fans who didn’t watch all that much prime ECW. The former security guard and stagehand suddenly became a wrestler in the early 1990s, at which point he was already in his mid-30s. Despite being relatively immobile in the ring, Paul Heyman knew exactly how to make the guy a star, having him run in to any ECW war that got too out of hand and clear the ring with a series of massive chokeslams. 911 entertained a huge winning streak in ECW, typically destroying his opponents in mere seconds and earning rapturous applause every time he did. He never won any gold, but the destructive giant was easily the most popular star during ECW’s formative era. However, he never managed to achieve that same level of success anywhere else, merely serving as a jobber in WCW. Even his ECW return treated him that same way, effectively ending his chances of catching lightning in a bottle ever again.
1 Tom Magee
This whole list is about wasted potential and what could have been, yet few stories come anywhere near the legend of “MegaMan” Tom Magee in regards to intriguing the sports most diehard fans. The mystery began not during the 1980s, when Magee was actually signed to WWE for several years, but decades later when Bret “The Hitman” Hart released his autobiography. In the book, Hart wrote at length about a certain fated match where he carried Magee to a star making performance. Allegedly, Vince saw Magee as a future Hulk Hogan based on that night alone, and a handful of other early matches seemed to confirm this theory. Curiously, though, none of these bouts were deemed TV ready, and Magee sat on the sidelines for months. Months became years, and the few house show matches he wrestled to stay sharp were said to rapidly decline in quality. Before long, “the next Hulk Hogan” was gone and forgotten, without ever appearing in a significant angle.
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