The Rock. Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Undertaker. Mankind. Triple H. These wrestlers, some of the most iconic of the last 20 years, let alone in wrestling history, all have one thing in common. No, it’s not their occupation. No, it’s not the Attitude Era.
They all have a great relationship with Vince McMahon.
The WWE is a huge company with a sizeable roster. That means the boss can’t possibly give all his Superstars the individual attention they surely crave. It shows. Take Titus O’Neil, for example, who was suspended for 60 days before this year’s WrestleMania because he grabbed Vince on-camera.
If O’Neil was one of Vince’s pals, the repercussions wouldn’t have been nearly as severe. Vince may have laughed it off and Titus would have never faced suspension. Simply put, the stars that are friendly with the boss tend to get more leeway, be that gimmick changes, heel/face transitions, misdemeanours, etc.
If you’re not Vince’s guy or girl though, he couldn’t care less about what happens to your career, or so it seems. There was a rumor floating around that Vince couldn’t stand most of the early NXT roster, and that was proven by years of failed NXT upstarts floundering on the main roster (we’re looking at you, Neville, Tyler Breeze, Paige, and The Ascension).
Although Vince has seemed to change his tune on NXT graduates these days (considering that both Finn Balor and Kevin Owens have received major championship gold), there are some wrestlers on his roster that we’re sure he’d consider sore spots. Here are 15 of them.
15. Curtis Axel
You would think that being the offspring of a pretty successful wrestler would guarantee you some modicum of success in WWE. It seems though that unless you’re related to The Rock (and even then, there’s no guarantees), that’s not often the case. In fact, we’d say there’s a better chance that these wrestling offspring will be cast aside than they will succeed.
Just look at Curtis Axel, the son of Mr. Perfect. What gimmick hasn’t he tried? He’s been in Nexus (remember them? No?), Michael McGillicutty, one half of RybAxel, the guy who claimed he was never eliminated from the Royal Rumble, a Social Outcast, and now he’s uh…what is he doing again? Oh yeah, not much.
14. Brian Kendrick
Some people live and breathe wrestling, and those are the ones who Vince always somehow seems the most disinterested in. Take Daniel Bryan, who only tasted the success he did because the fans were so passionate about him. Another wrestler in the vein of Bryan is Brian Kendrick, unsurprisingly one of Bryan’s best buds.
You may remember Kendrick’s first stint in WWE in 2002. It was okay, but he was under-utilized. Then he came back in 2005. This run was better, but again, Kendrick could have been a star. After appearing a few times in NXT in 2014, Mr. Kendrick returned to WWE in spectacular fashion at the Cruiserweight Classic this year. Did he win? No. Should he have? It would have been great. Now he’s on the main roster, where he’ll probably have another decent run at best.
The drug allegations and Alberto Del Rio drama aside, Paige seemed poised to be one of the greatest women’s Superstars of all time. In NXT, the young wrestler often pounded her opponents to dust. She was fierce, fearless, and dangerous. Granted, her run in NXT was relatively short, only about two years in total, and she left right before things really got good in NXT’s women’s division.
And that was kind of it for Paige. Her debut on the main roster happened right around the time those rumors surfaced that Vince didn’t like the NXT hires. Other reports suggested Vince wasn’t a huge fan of Paige, whose career sort of petered out. Admit it, you barely even noticed she’s been gone. With two wellness violations under her belt (as of this writing) and an ill-conceived wedding to plan, Vince may just be rid of his Paige problem for good.
Vince McMahon typically likes a big woman or two on his roster. Think Jazz, Chyna, or Beth Phoenix. However, in another example of how a wrestling bloodline doesn’t always pay off, he’s always seemed ambivalent about Tamina. The talented daughter of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka has been with the company since 2010, but her career accomplishments have been nil.
Sure, she seemed poised for greatness during her brief union with Sasha Banks and Naomi, but once the three amicably split, Sasha continued her ascent to the top, Naomi went back to Superstars (sad but true), and Tamina disappeared back into the shadows from whence she came. She’s been injured since May and should have likely been cleared for action by now, but there’s no sign of her. What gives?
Few wrestlers have the multi-promotion pedigree that Rhyno enjoys. Whether it’s TNA, ROH, ECW, or WWE, he’s appeared in nearly every big wrestling company except WCW. A star like that normally intimidates Vince, who prefers to grow his own talent within the confines of WWE.
Is it really any wonder then that Ryhno’s WWE runs were tepid at best? After The Alliance ended way back in 2001, he just sort of faded into the background. He had great matches, sure, but little gold to show for his efforts. Even now, he’s teaming with Heath Slater, a death knell for any career. He was much better off in NXT, where Triple H knew how to use him.
10. Nia Jax
As we mentioned above, being related to The Rock has paid off big for some Superstars over the past decade or two, such as Rikishi, the Usos, and Roman Reigns. Nia Jax, yet another cousin of The Great One, hasn’t really benefited in much the same way though. Although we mentioned above how Vince likes the odd big woman, having both Nia and Tamina on the roster at the same time might be too much.
Jax has had an okay time in NXT, where she was portrayed as sort of a powerhouse. As for her time on Raw in WWE, well, it hasn’t been anything to write home about, which isn’t promising. Jax is already in her 30s, which limits her career longevity, so feuding with Alicia Fox is definitely a waste of time.
9. The Ascension
Konnor and Viktor, better known as The Ascension, had much of the same career trajectory as Nia Jax, as funny as that seems. They too were written as an unstoppable team that would take on all comers and often come away victorious. They held the NXT Tag Team Championships longer than any other duo in that promotion, expanding their reign to nearly a year.
What did they get for all that hard work in NXT? They became the laughingstock of WWE. They could have been one of the biggest teams in the history of the company, but Vince seemed against them from the beginning, so after trying to be wannabe Road Warriors, and after Konnor got slapped with two wellness violations, Viktor has been left to fend for himself, and it hasn’t been pretty.
8. Tyler Breeze
Speaking of pretty, there’s Prince Pretty, Tyler Breeze. Who? You know, one half of Breezango? Who? Exactly. It wasn’t like Breeze ever had the most stellar career in NXT. Despite the massive fan support he had at one point, he always fell just short of capturing the NXT Championship. Even so, before 2015 was over, he was brought up to the main roster. Even at that point, it seemed like there was little left for Breeze to do in NXT.
He now has the opposite problem in WWE. His male model, self-obsessed gimmick may prevent him from being taken seriously, but saddling him with Fandango isn’t going to elevate his career. In late October, Breeze celebrated his one-year anniversary with WWE, in which he has nothing to show. Seriously, when a Superstar’s career accomplishments for 2016 including losing 20 consecutive matches, something’s wrong.
7. Titus O’Neil
We already talked a bit about how Titus O’Neil, formerly one half of The Prime Time Players, had rubbed Vince McMahon the wrong way, literally. Stories vary, and some say that O’Neil was just trying to prevent Vince from bumping into his daughter Stephanie, who was also on the ramp. Regardless, Vince proved just how little regard he has for O’Neil when he got booted in time for WrestleMania season.
After separating from Darren Young, O’Neil was once again made a tag team partner, joining up with Heath Slater to form SlaterGator (hmm, noticing a trend yet?). That group lasted about as long as it probably should have, then it was back to PTP. That ended once O’Neil grabbed Vince, and he’s been alone ever since.
6. Bray Wyatt
When you think of Bray Wyatt, you probably think of a main event star, right? And sure, he’s been involved in many a main event, feuded with plenty of top talent, and gotten tons of screen time. What this early NXT graduate hasn’t done though is hold any gold. Seriously. He was FCW Florida Tag Team Champions with his brother Bo Dallas, but did he win any gold in NXT? Nope. Okay, how about WWE? He’s been there for ages, right? Yeah, still no.
Wyatt has charisma, that’s without a doubt. He also has a character that hasn’t gone stale in nearly four years. However, he’s a little too charismatic for WWE, it seems. They use him to spook their big stars and then have Wyatt lose again and again and again. Even if he does win, it doesn’t mean anything because he never collects enough consecutive wins to edge in close to any championship gold.
Although it doesn’t happen every day, WWE occasionally likes to create on-screen romances between two of its Superstars. Sometimes, if both those wrestlers are single (and even if they aren’t), they feel the chemistry off-screen and get together. Hence the mismatched but very real pairing that is Rusev and Lana.
Rusev’s career, while never super impressive, had lots of momentum. He was fast-tracked from NXT to the main roster, where he had a winning streak and tasted other successes. Then he and Lana got married IRL, while he was supposed to be in love-ish with Summer Rae on-screen. As you can imagine, Vince was pissed, especially when the news broke on TMZ. Given that Rusev is currently feuding with Roman Reigns, his career has never quite recovered.
4. Sami Zayn
If you’re solely a WWE viewer, you may not know this, but Sami Zayn was a big deal. Really, he was. He was the Daniel Bryan of NXT, the underdog who always put on the most captivating matches of the night. He was an indie darling as the masked El Generico, friends with Kevin Owens (then known as Kevin Steen), and excelled in NXT. However, injuries sidelined him, including the one where he made his semi-WWE debut against John Cena only to ruin his shoulder during an enthusiastic entrance.
3. Dean Ambrose
Okay, so far, the others on this list have made sense. These are all great wrestlers who seem like they’re being held back by a really restrictive glass ceiling. But Dean Ambrose? No way. The dude was the WWE World Champion. So? Daniel Bryan was champ once too, and it never did him any favors.
Much like Bryan, WWE seemed to give Ambrose the gold begrudgingly. Moved to SmackDown, where the dearth of main event talent is limited in WWE’s eyes, the other options were either John Cena or AJ Styles. WWE writers seem reticent to have Cena break Ric Flair’s championship record, and they seem to realize that if they put the gold on Styles too much too soon, he’ll have nowhere to go but down. So who’s the last option? Ambrose. Remember, WWE hid it when Ambrose outsold Cena in merch. Is this really the guy they want leading the SmackDown brand long-term? Cue up the classic Ambrose gif: Nope.
2. Dolph Ziggler
There have been fewer wastes of great potential than Dolph Ziggler. Actually, arguably, with today’s current roster, there is no greater waste of potential and talent than Dolph Ziggler. With fantastic athleticism, in-ring talent, passion for the business, and skills on the mic, Ziggler should have had it all: a permanent spot in the main event scene for Raw or SmackDown, significant WWE World Championship or Universal Championship reigns, and headlining matches at WrestleMania and other major shows.
Instead, he was WWE World Heavyweight Champion once for a heartbeat. And while yes, his feud with the Miz over the Intercontinental Championship was the best thing on SmackDown for a while, did anyone else sort of want Ziggler to lose so he could finally leave the company that’s done him wrong for so long?
At least Ziggler is in good company. Unfortunately, it seems like Cesaro could be following in Ziggler’s sad footsteps. Vince has never been much of a fan of self-made indie stars, which is exactly what Cesaro is. His matches, whether on the indies, in NXT, or in WWE, have all been stunning. He has an ability to tell a story in a match that few possess, and, even better, he’s got a huge following.
So why isn’t Cesaro main eventing Raw? Because he’s not Roman Reigns, Kane, or Seth Rollins. He’s good, maybe too good, and so he’s kept at a distance, left to feud with Sheamus or Big Show or other mid-carders. If Vince and WWE cared more about who fans wanted to see rather than who they think they should want to see, things could have been so much different.