In the world of MMA and boxing, pundits and hardcore fans alike have long complained that certain competitors get preferential treatment not because of their skill inside the ring/Octagon, but rather because of their personality and their marketability. A fight promoter, such as UFC’s Dana White, might see a young fighter with talent and lots of personality and try to craft his/her career to maximize the potential profit for the UFC. But ultimately, it’s up to the fighter. The guiding hand of the promoter can help, but if the fighter can’t win big fights, he won’t become a big box office earner.
Professional wrestling, however, is different. The scripted/choreographed/pre-determined nature of pro wrestling means that a promoter and his creative team can carefully craft and mold a young performer into their top star … in theory. Even casual fans of wrestling know that this isn’t always the case. The history of wrestling is filled with names of performers who were forecasted to become big stars, either by their own promoter, wrestling pundits, the fans, or even a combination of all three, but who, for whatever reason never made it. Some of these wrestlers did make it to the main event but more or less flopped once there. Many of these wrestlers were not given a fair chance. A few were given too many chances. Here are 25 wrestlers who were supposed to be main eventers, but who just flopped instead.
25 WWE: Lex Luger
Lex Luger had a successful career but never reached the sustained heights predicted for him in the late 1980’s. And while he would be a main eventer in WCW in the mid-late 1990’s, he never became a real main eventer in the WWE. We all know Vince McMahon is a “body guy” so he should have loved Luger. Vince actually recruited him initially for his short-lived bodybuilding project the World Bodybuilding Federation.
In the WWE, Luger was meant to be the next Hulk Hogan after Hogan’s departure.
But for some reason, Vince didn’t put the title on Luger at the culmination of his “Lex Express” run at SummerSlam ‘93. By Royal Rumble ‘94, it was clear that fans saw Bret Hart as the top babyface and Luger was relegated down the card.
24 WCW: Glacier
In a case of nominative determinism, Glacier’s introduction to WCW came at a glacial pace. Vignettes hyping up the ninja-like character appeared for months. Glacier was the tip of a spear for an idea that Eric Bischoff had. Bischoff imagined a number of outlandish, fantastical characters (such as Mortis and Wrath) forming their own sub-roster on WCW. Corny, yes, but given the success of media franchises such as Mortal Kombat and Power Rangers in the mid-'90s, it actually wasn’t an awful idea.
It was just two years too late. Once Glacier finally started actually wrestling (which he wasn’t great at), fans were far less interested in cartoonish wrestling and more so in gritty, realistic characters like those in the nWo. And then Goldberg happened and nobody could care about Glacier. Until 2018, that is, when he accompanied Cody to the ring at All In.
23 TNA: Magnus
Cody’s opponent at All In was Nick Aldis. Aldis is experiencing a career resurgence right now after his NWA Championship match with Cody brought that title back to relevance. Where Aldis goes from here remains to be seen. Most U.S. audiences were first exposed to Aldis when he performed as Magnus in TNA.
The creative team at TNA were clearly enamoured of the muscular Brit and he won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship in December 2013.
But in doing so, he turned heel and kind of became a lackey for Dixie Carter. TNA gave him big wins over AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Sting, but the main feud still seemed to be Dixie Carter vs AJ Styles. In April, they hot-shotted the title on to Eric Young and then Magnus went on a losing streak. He never recovered.
22 WWE: Vladimir Kozlov
It's a little difficult to try and see what WWE saw in Kozlov. While he was certainly a bigger guy, he didn't have the most impressive physique, he couldn't cut a promo and he routinely wrestled the worst match on any given night. Nevertheless, Kozlov went on an undefeated streak in 2008 and even challenged for the WWE Championship on several occasions. For a while, he was even rumored to be considered as The Undertaker's WrestleMania 25 opponent before WWE thankfully went with Shawn Michaels.
Kozlov was pinned for the first time during the 2009 Elimination Chamber match by The Undertaker. His undefeated streak in singles competition was ended by HBK in a match that determined Undertaker's WM opponent. From there, Kozlov eventually faded back to the midcard and eventually became a comedy act.
21 WCW: Ron Simmons
The WWE likes to hail Ron Simmons as the first black World Heavyweight Champion. It is true that Simmons was the first black NWA/WCW World Champion, but the degree to which he can be called the first black man to hold a “World Championship” is disputed. Nonetheless, a great achievement for Simmons, even if the fact that occurred as recently as 1992 doesn’t reflect all that well on professional wrestling.
The trouble for Simmons is that he didn’t really go anywhere after that.
His title run was relatively brief and indeed he only won it at a house show by replacing an injured (kayfabe) Sting to challenge Big Van Vader. He lost the title less than five months later back to Vader and never returned to the main event, although his run in the WWE as Faarooq was certainly memorable.
20 WWE: Dolph Ziggler
In 2016 Dolph Ziggler challenged then-WWE champion Dean Ambrose for the title. The storyline going in was that Ziggler could never win “the big one.” Generally, when a promotion does this storyline, the wrestler in question then “wins the big one.” Ziggler didn’t. This killed any interest the fans had in him and an uninspired heel turn and a truly bizarre angle where he gave up the U.S. Title for literally no reason did not help. Now, teaming with Drew McIntyre and allied with Braun Strowman, Ziggler is doing much better.
Having said that, he’s nowhere near where fans thought he would be the night after WrestleMania XXIX when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the World Heavyweight Championship from John Cena. Sadly, Ziggler sustained a concussion shortly thereafter and lost the title.
19 WCW: Buddy Landel
Buddy Landel is the quintessential story of lost (or squandered) potential. Although he was more or less a carbon copy of Ric Flair, WCW/NWA saw a lot in Landel in the mid-1980s, so much so that, according to legend, Landel was one missed phone call away from winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
The story goes that then-booker Dusty Rhodes called Landel one morning to tell him of his impending turn as champion. But Landel was in no condition to answer the call. He then no-showed that night’s event (which he would do repeatedly) and the WCW/NWA brass lost faith in Landel. His career would continue for decades, but by the mid-90s he was largely treated as a comedy act.
18 TNA: Lacey Von Erich
TNA really thought they had the new face of their Knockouts division with Lacey Von Erich. When she debuted in 2009 two things were obvious: she was very beautiful and she was very bad at wrestling. She also didn’t have the most charisma in the world, but pairing her with the Beautiful People seemed to help a bit. But her wrestling never improved and being a member of the famed Von Erich family really set the bar too high for her.
Uncoordinated, unathletic, and very timid in the ring, Lacey Von Erich was painful to watch.
She left TNA in 2010 and is now out of the industry. Pro wrestling is hard; it’s not for everybody.
17 WWE: Brakkus
Speaking of pro wrestling not being for everybody, we have Achim Albrecht, aka Brakkus. One look at the physique of this bodybuilder and one can only imagine Vince McMahon’s reaction the first time he saw him. But Vince made the same mistake he’s made with numerous muscular guys and he was too impatient. He exposed Brakkus to live television far too early. Brakkus was not ready to wrestle on live TV. Or, anywhere, really.
Brakkus was a bodybuilder. His muscles looked great, but they were built up for the show, not for athleticism. The dude was slow, uncoordinated, and exhausted after about two minutes. So obviously Brakkus was an ideal candidate for the WWE’s real, legitimate, fighting tournament, the Brawl for All. Braukus lost in the first round to Savio Vega and would leave the WWE shortly thereafter.
16 WCW: The Wall
The Wall, whose name was the result of a lame pun based off the wrestler with whom he was originally paired, Berlyn (Alex Wright), had the size and stature to impress WCW creative, as well as Hulk Hogan.
The Wall was one of a few wrestlers out there that Hogan was willing to put over. But WCW was an utter mess in 1999-2000.
Certain wrestlers had too much power, the creative team was changed every few months, the company was hemorrhaging money, and the product was either boring or crazy, nonsensical, Vince Russo-style bad. The Wall was never a great wrestler but had he come along at a time when WCW was more stable, he may have achieved that main event status.
15 WWE: Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal is perfectly fine to have on the lower midcard, but neither his wrestling skills, nor his charisma have ever jumped out at fans. Thus when WWE hot shotted Jinder Mahal to the WWE title picture, it threw fans off. Even more stunning, was Mahal scoring a victory over Randy Orton for the WWE Championship. Mahal held the title for six months, as this was WWE's attempt at appealing to an untapped audience in India. However, WWE's business interests in India didn't pick up and fans were left wondering how Mahal was in the main event picture. Unsurprisingly, Mahal has since fallen back down to Earth.
14 WCW: Road Warrior Animal
Not many people will remember WCW's attempt at giving Road Warrior Animal a legitimate run as a main eventer. Animal is primarily known as one half of the greatest tag team of all time, The Road Warriors, but no one would ever confuse Animal with being a master ring technician, nor a believable singles star.
By 2001, WCW was in its last days and seemingly threw a bunch of stuff out there, hoping something would click. One was placing Animal in the main event of Sin, revealing him to be a mystery no.1 contender. Fans were swerved but not in a good way. It was more like, "really, Road Warrior Animal?". Needless to say, the attempt at making Animal a main eventer didn't last long.
13 TNA: Monty Brown
A former NFL linebacker, Monty Brown first achieved wrestling prominence in TNA in the mid-aughts. Brown steadily rose from the undercard until he was featuring in the odd main event here and there.
Brown is best remembered for his “Pounce” maneuver (which really should be used by more wrestlers) and his spirited promos.
Brown signed with WWE in late 2006 and performed on their ECW brand throughout 2007 as Marcus Cor Von. He looked pretty good, but nobody really stood out on that ECW show. Then, Brown just left. He asked for time off for “family issues” and never came back.
12 WWE: Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger won the ECW Championship only five months after his debut. At WrestleMania XXVI, Swagger won the Money in the Bank (MITB) match and cashed in the contract on Chris Jericho only two days later and won the World Heavyweight Championship. But the main event program on SmackDown remained Jericho and Edge. Swagger quickly became seen as a B-level champ and lost it after only a few months. He was then a bit player for years until WrestleMania XXIX when he returned from injury and won the SmackDown elimination chamber match. He unsuccessfully challenged Alberto Del Rio at ‘Mania but in the interim, he ran into some issues outside of the ring and his push quickly ended.
11 WCW: Billy Kidman
Billy Kidman was one of many extremely talented WCW cruiserweights that never got a fair shot at the main event. He first rose to prominence as part of Raven’s Flock, a faction with its share of unusual characters. What stood out, though, was Kidman’s impressive aerial abilities. Nowadays 240-pounders can do shooting star presses, but most fans had never seen one before Billy Kidman.
Kidman finally got his chance at the main event in the spring of 2000. Kind of. He was scheduled into a program with Hulk Hogan after Hogan legitimately disparaged Kidman on a radio show. The feud was totally backward with the young upstart Kidman as the heel and the much larger Hogan as the face. Hogan never let Kidman ever get any heat and Kidman never returned to the main event afterward.
10 WWE: Alberto Del Rio
The WWE thought they had their coveted top Hispanic star in Alberto Del Rio. ADR debuted with a series of entertaining vignettes in 2010. His charisma was outstanding and he was very good in-ring.
The WWE looked set to give ADR a big title run and had him win the 40-man Royal Rumble in 2011.
But he then lost his World Heavyweight Championship match to Edge, who retired as champion due to a neck problem shortly thereafter.
The title program then quickly shifted to Christian vs Randy Orton (somehow). Del Rio went on to win the MITB match but his cash-in and short WWE Title run were completely overshadowed by CM Punk and his “Pipe Bomb” persona.
ADR never looked like a main eventer again. His relationship with the WWE soured later on and now he works in Mexico and on the independent scene.
9 WCW: Van Hammer
Raven’s Flock was a collection of (ostensibly) up-and-coming stars and some guys whose star had fallen. Van Hammer was the latter. Brought into WCW during the cartoonish Jim Herd era, “Heavy Metal” Van Hammer was an extremely jacked dude who pretended to play guitar. And pretended to wrestle.
Honestly, Van Hammer’s lengthy tenure in WCW (1991-2000 with a brief WWF interlude in 1993) is a testament to how much his physique impressed a series of different executives and bookers. His wrestling wasn’t great, he wasn’t a good promo, and he didn’t exactly exude physical charisma. But my, his physique was impressive.
8 TNA: Crimson
TNA thought they had the next Goldberg on their hands with Crimson. The fans felt strongly to the contrary, unfortunately. Crimson debuted on TNA Impact in 2010. He was given a winning streak gimmick, with many of those wins being squashes. He went undefeated for 470 days.
TNA even constructed their entire Bound For Glory Tournament around Crimson without having him lose a match or win the tournament (he got kayfabe injured). But all of this was way too much too fast. Crimson wasn’t terrible, but he didn’t have the in-ring skills nor (more importantly) the charisma. He left TNA in 2012 and made a brief return in 2017.
7 WWE: Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett was the winner of the original season of NXT in 2010 (back when it was a joke). He was also the leader of The Nexus. But just like The Nexus, Barrett was white hot when he debuted and then cooled down fast. And he never got that hot again.
As head of The Nexus, Barrett main evented SummerSlam and Survivor Series in 2010. By early 2011 he was the leader of The Corre (if you can remember them).
And then for a long time, nothing happened. In 2013, Barrett had managed to get over despite the awful “Bad News” Barrett gimmick. His personality and charm notwithstanding, the WWE had no more faith in Barrett as a top guy. Barrett left the WWE in 2016 and is now pursuing acting.
6 WCW: The Yeti/Reis
Like Van Hammer, Ron Reis' lengthy tenure in WCW is truly baffling. Reis was tall and muscular. That’s it. And apparently that was enough to be employed by WCW; just not enough to be a main eventer. Reis began life in WCW in 1995 as The Yeti. After that (predictably) went nowhere and The Dungeon of Doom broke up, Reis was no more than a bit player until 1997 when he joined Raven’s Flock as Reis...and was a bit player in that. Reis stands as a living testament that big men get every chance to succeed but that size alone does not make a star.
5 WWE: The Great Khali
Every once in a while, Vince would get the idea that The Undertaker needed yet another lumbering giant to overthrow and establish himself as The Phenom of the WWE. However, throughout 'Taker's career, his best feuds and matches have largely been with smaller wrestlers who work a quick pace, which complements The Undertaker's style a lot better.
Back in 2006, WWE introduced The Great Khali, an imposing figure who made 'Taker look small, but was perhaps the most immobile wrestler ever. Khali would go on to win a world title but after that flopped, he was largely kept around as a comedy act.
4 WCW: Buff Bagwell
Buff Bagwell definitely had something. “Buff the Stuff” is best remembered for his heel persona after he became a singles star and changed from his real name of Marcus Alexander Bagwell” to “Buff Bagwell”. He joined the nWo, got even more 'buff' (somehow) and really mastered the annoying, jock heel persona.
Then in 1999, he sustained a serious neck injury in a match with Rick Steiner. When he came back he was a genuine babyface.
The fans had real sympathy for him. But then WCW, being WCW, turned him heel instead.
Then in 2000, there was an angle that involved his mother Judy and then the infamous “Judy Bagwell on a Pole Match” in August of that year. After a very brief and unsuccessful turn in WWE, Bagwell continued to work the indies.
3 TNA: James Storm
James Storm is a TNA lifer; one of the wrestlers who TNA really got over and who stayed with TNA. But Storm was never really the guy for TNA. Storm was in the successful team America’s Most Wanted with Chris Harris and later on the even more successful Beer Money with Bobby Roode. But it was the breakup of this team that really had Storm on the precipice of the main event...and then lost that opportunity.
Storm won the TNA World Championship on an episode of Impact, but lost the title just eight days later to Roode when his partner cheated and turned heel. Everybody assumed Storm would win the title back at Lockdown the following April. But Roode scored a fluke victory and the fans lost faith in Storm.
2 WWE: Marc Mero
Marc Mero is remembered today as the prime example of how the rivalry between WCW and WWE heightened wrestlers’ value. The erstwhile Johnny B. Badd left WCW for WWE in 1996 and signed an enormous contract. For the money he was making, the WWE must have thought they had a future main eventer on their hands. But they didn’t really treat him that way on camera.
Mero is made out to be a joke today, but that’s not fair. He had a really good fire and energy in the ring and his “Merosault” was always impressive.
He just couldn’t live up to his price tag and the rest of the roster resented him for it. In the end, the only star to come out of Mero’s time with the WWE was his then-wife, Sable.
1 WCW: The Demon
The Demon is the only wrestler on this list to have been contractually obligated to be a main-eventer. When WCW was throwing around money like they didn’t think they could get canceled, they paid Kiss to play live at on Nitro. Gene Simmons, always a shrewd businessman, must have seen WCW coming. He negotiated to have a character based on his likeness. The Kiss Demon, played by Dale Torborg, was to be a recurring character on WCW programming. But he always had to be in the main event.
When it became clear that neither the character of The Demon nor Torborg were suitable for the main event (really?) they then had him compete in mid-card matches announced as “special main events”. The Demon had a silly, fantastic feud with Vampiro and Sting before leaving WCW.