If you run a business, it makes sense to want control over every part of your company, so it’s easy to understand why World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon has developed a reputation for occasionally running his WWE Universe like a tyrannical dictator. Despite the fact he’s hired dozens of writers over the years, Vince has always had the last word on whether or not a wrestler becomes a superstar, and he hasn’t always been right about who he thought fit the bill. That goes both ways, too, in that Vince has occasionally thought a complete dud would be a hit, and failed to recognize the potential of people who went one to prove themselves as stars either later in their careers.
There are plenty of reasons Vince can make a mistake with a wrestlers abilities, most common of which being the well known fact that first impressions can be highly deceiving. Vince also has to contend with his sometimes tenuous grasp on reality, something that has more than a few times caused him to completely miss a trendy wrestler the rest of the world instantly latched on to. Regardless of the reason, Vince getting things wrong is hardly a new thing, as your about to see with a list of his misfires dating back to almost immediately after he purchased the company from his father Vince, Sr. in 1982. It could be argued the mistakes have been getting more recent of late with his advanced age, though, worrying some fans that the problem will only get worse in the future. Keep reading to discover 15 wrestling superstars Vince McMahon was totally wrong about.
Claudio Castagnoli was dubbed a King of Wrestling upon his American debut, and yet more than four years into his career with WWE has left him wallowing in the midcard as a side character to less talented partners. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has named calling Cesaro the Most Underrated Wrestler in the business the past three years running, an opinionated shared by a great many fans, with the exception being the reason he’s so unutilized in the first place, Vince McMahon. This list is going to use some context clues to guess Vince’s opinions on some other wrestlers, but there’s no guessing necessary with Cesaro, because the CEO of WWE made his feelings about Cesaro very clear during a 2014 interview with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Even with Austin claiming Vince needed to give Cesaro a push, Vince argued the Swiss Sensation just didn’t have the It factor necessary to get ahead. Cesaro has managed a little success despite Vince not liking him, having won the United States Championship and a few Tag Team Championships. He could easily be wrestling on a World Championship level, though, and unfortunately Vince McMahon is the only person who feels he can’t.
14. Cody Rhodes
Given the state of nepotism in the wrestling industry, it would make sense to assume Vince McMahon instantly overestimated Cody Rhodes and expected too much from him thanks to Cody’s Hall of Famer father Dusty Rhodes, plus his half-brother Goldust. For whatever reason, though, the exact opposite happened, and the expectations placed on Cody were so high he simply could never live up. Vince constantly compared Cody to Dusty and Goldust, never letting him stand out on his own. As a member of The Legacy or as Stardust, Cody Rhodes was never acknowledged as a talent individual with potential of his own. Cody tried to talk to Vince and writers about how to better use him, only to have all his suggestions forgotten and ignored, causing him to walk out of the company with his wife Brandi in 2016. Cody’s departure from WWE is still fresh enough that Vince hasn’t been completely proven wrong, but it’s nonetheless undeniable that Vince was wrong to never separate Cody from his family.
13. “Diamond” Dallas Page
The original People’s Champion, “Diamond” Dallas Page was one of the few true main event stars to spend almost all of his career in World Championship Wrestling until he joined WWE when Vince McMahon purchased WCW in 2001. Unlike most top WCW stars who wanted more money, DDP signed on to lead WCW, or so he thought, because it turned out Vince barely understood who he was and treated him like a nobody from the day Page stepped into the company. While DDP did at least have a bombastic WWE debut, stalking The Undertaker’s wife and starting a high profile feud, he was so consistently defeated by The Dead Man his WWE career was dead on arrival. After losing to The Undertaker and Kane a dozen times, DDP wallowed in the midcard where Vince thought he belonged, only winning the Tag and European Championships in WWE in comparison to his three World Championships in WCW. The reality was Page easily could’ve continued as a top star to his last days in WWE, and it was only because Vince McMahon so strongly misunderstood his talents that Page fell to the bottom as quickly as he did.
12. Billy Gunn
For most of Billy Gunn’s time in WWE, Vince McMahon was able to put him exactly where he belonged. Gunn’s biggest accomplishment was earning a near record 11 reigns as WWE Tag Team Champion with three different partners, Bart Gunn, The Road Dogg, and Chuck Palumbo, in that order. Billy was a consummate tag team specialist, and his time with Road Dogg as one half of the New Age Outlaws made them one of the most popular duos of the Attitude Era, but he simply never had what it took to stand on his own as a solo star. That didn’t stop Vince from trying desperately to make Billy break through, giving him subsequently bigger pushes every time he was without a partner. Though Rockabilly flopped almost immediately upon The Smoking Gunns breaking up, Billy’s first few months after NAO split saw him shoot up the card as King of the Ring. He also feuded with The Rock and later won the Intercontinental Championship. All of this was way above Billy’s talent level, and the WWE Universe responded in kind by rejecting his every push, forcing him back into the tag division until Vince finally gave up on him.
It’s hard to talk about Droz without mentioning his career ending due to a horrific botch in a match against D’Lo Brown. Droz probably wasn’t going to turn into a particularly big star if the injury didn’t happen, but his injury nonetheless remains one of wrestling’s greater tragedies, and we don’t mean any disrespect by including him on our list. The truth is, though, Droz was probably never going to turn into a particularly big star, especially not with the way Vince McMahon saw fit to promote him. As documented in the documentary Beyond The Mat, Vince believed the real selling point behind the moderately talented former Denver Bronco was his unpleasant and disgusting albeit ability to vomit on command. Droz makes our list not because of any particular over push, but simply the excitement and joy in McMahon’s face when he screamed Droz was about to puke. Although stranger things have gotten over in wrestling, and maybe Droz upchucking could have an audience somewhere, it still remains a sterling example of just how bizarrely wrong Vince can be.
10. Randy Orton
Almost the polar opposite of Cody Rhodes, third-generation superstar Randy Orton has been treated like the second coming of Hulk Hogan since his 2002 debut in the WWE Universe. Neither Orton’s father or grandfather, both named Bob Orton, were anywhere near the legend of Dusty Rhodes when Randy started making waves, and yet it was clear Vince saw Randy as something extremely special when stories broke the young Orton acted like a complete jerk backstage, and Vince basically looked the other way. He’s also somehow avoided criticisms his personality is boring and character work is lacking, two things that are supposed to be the cornerstones of Vince’s sports entertainment. Orton has also been pushed to a top position in the company for more than a decade now, with countless championships to his name including 12 World Championships. Orton continues in his role as one of the peak main event performers in the company as of late 2016 despite fans having shown little interest in his antics for the past several years, and the only explanation has always been that Vince likes Randy more than any of his fans.
9. Bad News Barrett
Inspired by childhood heroes Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart, Wade Barrett didn’t waste long on the British independent scene before heading to America to live his dream working for World Wrestling Entertainment. He was the standout athlete in the first season of NXT, using his victory of the competition version of that program to transition into a role as leader of The Nexus. Barrett used this high profile status to instantly become a top level player in WWE, albeit not one ever treated as such by Vince McMahon. Barrett often competed in or near the main event, but never felt quite like a main eventer, because the company and most importantly the CEO apparently just couldn’t picture him in the role. The British Bull Hammer did manage to win the Intercontinental Championship an impressive five times, in addition to becoming the most recent King of the Ring in 2010, though neither of these designations are the same as being World Champion or serious chance at becoming such. Barrett realized Vince wasn’t going to acknowledge his abilities after a disappointing run with The League of Nations, leaving WWE in May 2016.
8. Daniel Bryan
Nothing stings harder than a clear cut case of trying too little too late, and no wrestler has felt the truth of that statement quite like Daniel Bryan. After about ten years of being considered the preeminent athlete of independent wrestling, Bryan made his WWE debut in 2010. His first few years were rocky, and even included him getting temporarily fired for choking announcer Justin Roberts with his tie, but Bryan nonetheless was able to become the unquestionable top babyface in wrestling by the time he was forced to retire. Along the way, Vince McMahon intentionally or not cut Bryan off at the knees more times than fans could count, only serving to make Bryan more popular when he persevered with an infectious smile. Bryan losing the World Championship to Sheamus in a manner of seconds at WrestleMania XXVIII caused a fan backlash almost like never before, eclipsed only by Bryan’s ovation during the 2013 “Championship Ascension Ceremony” and then again with anger when he didn’t appear in the 2015 Royal Rumble. Vince briefly seemed to get the picture when Bryan was WWE Champion at the end of WrestleMania XXX, only for his reign to be cut short by injuries that ultimately caused him to retire without ever achieving the heights fans always knew he could.
7. Roman Reigns
The flipside to the Daniel Bryan coin, Roman Reigns has arguably been the most hated performer in WWE and all of pro wrestling since he started his meteoric rise in 2015. The only problem is that Vince McMahon thinks Reigns has all the makings to be the most beloved performer in the company, and he won’t let jam-packed audiences all throughout the WWE Universe tell him otherwise. Reigns is another performer bolstered by his familial status, with his WWE Hall of Famer father Wild Samoan Sika leading to Reigns earning a reputation as a potential legend himself immediately upon his arrival in WWE. Reigns was allegedly added to The Shield at the behest of McMahon himself, and Vince has kept pushing Roman as The Guy and most important member of the group long after they broke up and both Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins instantly earned much bigger crowd reactions. There’s no saying just how far Vince is going to go with the Roman Reigns experiment, although the fact it rages on even after a Wellness Policy violation doesn’t bode well for fans begging it to end.
6. The Fabulous Moolah
Because Vince McMahon and company only appear to have two considerations when hiring female wrestlers, and one of them only came into consideration quite recently, a complete second list could be made about the times Vince was wrong about his female employees. To keep it simple, we’re going to focus on the root of the problem, which was Vince bizarrely viewing The Fabulous Moolah as the pinnacle of women’s wrestling well into her 60s. Moolah is a controversial performer to begin with due to her questionable methods as a trainer and manager, but we’ll put that aside for now and acknowledge she does have a long legacy as a much hated heel for all the right reasons, and was at least decent enough in the ring at one point that her charisma justified a long run as Women’s Champion. That said, absolutely no performer male or female has the physical ability to maintain a 27-year run with any title. Vince’s father was as culpable as he was with Moolah at first, and yet Vince kept pushing Moolah to the top of the division up to her last reign as champion when she was 76, ensuring women’s wrestling in America remained dead until the women he employs today to started to revolutionize it.
5. Bob Backlund
On February 20, 1978, Bob Backlund defeated “Superstar” Billy Graham for the WWWF World Championship and went on to reign with that belt for nearly the next five years. Backlund lost to The Iron Sheik in 1983, and he was completely gone from the company less than halfway into 1984. Backlund’s biggest supporter throughout his career was always Vince McMahon, Sr., and therefore it’s perhaps ironic that his immediate icing out upon losing the World Championship was due to Vince McMahon, Jr. never seeing eye to eye with his father on Backlund’s talents. McMahon, Jr. simply didn’t see Backlund as a viable star, even after he spent the past five years as the top in-ring performer working for his father’s company. Part of the problem was admittedly with Backlund, who initially rejected the idea of becoming a heel until his early ‘90s return. That Backlund shares culpability in his departure doesn’t change the fact Vince was wrong about letting him go so easily, as Backlund later proved he still had plenty of gas in the tank, wrestling high quality matches for decades after Vince stopped using him, albeit in exponentially few and far between occasions as time went on.
The bizarre career of Nelson Frazier was truly unlike any other performer, and chances are no other wrestler could play a rapper, a King, a goth, and a plus-sized love machine all to varying yet passable degrees of conviction. He spent the first portion of his WWE career using the name Mabel, already a strange decision, as the name Mabel doesn’t exactly call to mind a destructive main event monster. Somehow, however, Frazier made it work well enough he became the 1995 King of the Ring, although you’d be hard pressed to find a single fan in the WWE Universe who thought that was a good decision. Mabel went on to challenge Diesel for the WWE Championship in one of the worst main event matches the company ever produced, headlining the appropriately maligned SummerSlam 1995. It took a few years, but Mabel then transitioned into a more fitting role as a bodyguard type in The Undertaker’s Corporate Ministry. Fixing the problem didn’t exactly make it go away, though, as Vince would try again with Mabel in ECW, never accepting this star was simple never going to shine.
3. Hillbilly Jim
The issue with Vince McMahon and Hillbilly Jim goes far deeper than either promoter or employee, and deals with McMahon’s perception of his entire audience as a whole. That said, Jim also wasn’t that great a performer if you weren’t into the suspenders and jug band shtick, so there could something to be said in that regard, too. The real reason Jim makes this list, though, is that McMahon has for decades believed that the WWE Universe finds nothing funnier than low class rednecks being goofballs, possibly because he thinks his audience is made up of low class rednecks being goofballs themselves. It isn’t just Vince, as wrestling has always had this perception with the general media. Still, as the preeminent face of the industry from a corporate perspective, Vince laughing along and hiring people to propagate the joke has been more damaging to wrestling’s status in pop culture than almost anything else. Hillbilly Jim was the beginning, and superstars like The Godwinns and the recent antics of Heath Slater and Rhyno prove this part of Vince’s sense of humor permeates through his booking to this day.
Vince McMahon being wrong about a wrestler and overrating their abilities doesn’t necessarily mean that wrestler has no talent, or didn’t deserve the position McMahon put them in. Kevin Nash was ultimately able to prove through his tenure as one of the top superstars in World Championship Wrestling that he could succeed as a main event talent, and he was already on his way to doing so when he won the WWE Championship as Diesel in late 1994. The problem was Vince had a very specific idea of how Diesel should act to make himself popular, and just about every impulse he had in that respect was completely off base. Diesel became popular by being a badass who could also joke around and act cool, although not in a manner that felt pandering due to constant fake smiles or cheesy catchphrases. Although there luckily no cheesy catchphrases, fake smiling become one of Diesel’s main character traits as champion, and all of his badass edge was lost in a manner of months. Diesel totally flopped as champion for an entire year, all because Vince could never admit he made a mistake and was using Nash in the wrong way.
1. Tom Magee
The world may never fully understand the story of “MegaMan” Tom Magee, once considered a potential superstar on the level of Hulk Hogan, only to be almost entirely forgotten after a completely unremarkable few short years in the business. Magee trained in karate, powerlifting, and bodybuilding en route to competing in World’s Strongest Man competitions throughout the ‘80s, catching the eye of Vince McMahon in 1986. McMahon originally wanted to make Magee a worldwide star, letting him defeat a young Bret Hart in his first match and go on an undefeated streak from there. In fairness to Vince, he was hardly the only one who misread Magee’s potential, as the wrestling press was all over him as well, heralding him as a guaranteed legend in the making. Gradually, though, it became clear Magee was almost entirely a creation of hype, as his star began to fade almost instantly after his hire. Magee stuck around as a low level performer until 1990, when he gave up on wrestling like everyone else had already given up on him.