Rarely do we see the WWE make a mistake regarding a talent. Most of the time when a wrestler is released, we understand why. In recent history however, with so much young talent emerging in the ranks, some controversial decisions have been made with the booking of certain stars. This has caused them to either walk out on the company or be released by Vince and the WWE.
Today, we will highlight some of the most memorable cases of talented wrestlers that could have actually made quite the impact had they been held onto for a little longer. Some of the wrestlers included on this list can actually still serve a purpose and possibility climb up the World Championship ranks. The list of wrestlers ranges from the 80s, 90s, 2000s and today. All these wrestlers had tremendous potential, only to see it squandered because of terrible bookings (in most cases). Here are 15 released WWE stars that could have been World Champions. Enjoy!
15) Ethan Carter
Rarely do you see the WWE give up on a young and promising talent, especially in this era which pushes its new emerging stars. In the odd case of EC3, the WWE made a big mistake on a wrestler that could have potentially rivaled the likes of John Cena in the upper card. EC3 seems to be one of the only bright spots in TNA nowadays, capturing the TNA World Championship on two separate occasions. EC3’s last WWE match took place down in NXT when he lost against the then NXT Champion, Big E. Carter was officially terminated by the WWE on May 17th, 2013. Still only 33 years of age, Ethan still has a lot left in the tank. With such a promising future, you bet that TNA will try to lock this guy down for the long run. It remains to be seen if the Ohio native will ever make the jump; it would certainly be interesting to see him back with a vengeance.
14) King Barrett
Hard to believe that Wade Barrett never got a chance to hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. His previous run indicated otherwise, winning the King of the Ring and claiming the prestigious Intercontinental Championship five times. Despite these accomplishments, the company wasn’t willing to push Wade any further. The highest they saw Barrett was as an upper mid-carder. Admirably, ‘Bad News’ decided to part ways from the company, and according to those close to him, Barrett is taking some time off to freshen up his gimmick and himself, most importantly. When the timing is right, you can expect Barrett back in the ring making headlines for another promotion. As for a WWE return? Well, never say never.
Raven will go down in history as one of the most underrated talents of the 90s and into the 2000s. Fans of Raven make an interesting claim that his character didn’t work because it was so ahead of its time. If you take a look at recent history, so many current talents have tried to emulate the ways of Raven (look at CM Punk when he started the Straight Edge Society). On the current roster, Bray Wyatt and his Wyatt Family have eerily similar features to Raven’s Flock; a lower-card group back in the WCW days. The group enjoyed some great success in WCW. As for the WWE, Raven’s gimmick had so much potential but absolutely flopped; as a matter of fact, Vince McMahon didn’t even know that Raven was hired. The infamous quote of: “who hired Polo?” (one of Raven’s former names) was born. All Raven had to show for his WWE run was a Hardcore Championship, which he won 27 times….
The signing of ECW star Tazz, was met with so much excitement way back in 2000. WCW and WWE both showed huge interest in the ECW legend. Eventually Tazz chose to sign with the WWE and made his debut at the Royal Rumble with an impressive victory against the undefeated Kurt Angle. It seemed like Tazz was destined for greatness, but like so many others in the past, a poor booking decision destroyed his momentum after he lost to the WWE Champion on SmackDown, Triple H. The decision to have the Suplex machine loose was met with a lot of regret, particularly from Vince McMahon himself, who admitted to regretting the booking of that match. The Brooklyn native would go on to have a mediocre WWE career, winning the Hardcore and Tag Team Championships. His legacy was mostly remembered as a commentator for the company.
11) Carlito Cool
Similar to Tazz, Carlito’s career started off red hot defeating the WWE’s most promising star in his debut match, John Cena. In doing so, Carlito also claimed the United States Championship. Carlito would proceed to go on a remarkable undefeated run of 14 matches, defeating the likes of Rey Mysterio, Rob Van Dam and the late Eddie Guerrero. His run eventually came to a halt, losing the title back to Cena. He would later have a run with the Intercontinental Championship but was relegated to a Tag Team wrestler in the under-card. So much potential, met with such bad booking. Fans are hopeful that Carlito will return to the company one day, rejoining the Colons. At the age of 37, we hope this happens sooner rather than later.
He was built and shaped like a World Champion, unfortunately according to the WWE creative team, Ryback just lacked that “it” factor. At the moment, the WWE seems to be loaded with young stars, so booking Ryback in the World Title picture really wouldn’t make much sense. However, the Las Vegas native was catching some serious heat at a time where the WWE really didn’t have any promising young stars. His championship push was halted several times by the likes of John Cena. He was generally used as a transitional wrestler for a Superstar to be put up against. Ultimately, following many failed pursuits, Ryback was demoted to an awkward Tag Team with Curtis Axel. After so many ups and downs, the former Intercontinental Champion decided to leave the company for several personal issues. We wish him nothing but the best during his time away from the WWE. His contributions and work ethic will be remembered.
9) Ted DiBiase Jr.
Young with a wrestling background, it seemed like DiBiase was destined for superstardom with the WWE. After a strong run with his stable Legacy alongside Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton, many thought Ted Jr. would make a run for the top of the WWE ranks. Instead, DiBiase would fade and eventually shock the WWE universe by announcing that he would not be renewing his contract with the company to spend more time with his family. A curious decision to make, especially at the prime of one’s career. After some time spent away from the wrestling business doing charity work, Ted Jr. stepped back into the ring working several independent shows. He was also very active in several wrestling conventions across the United States. At the age of 33, we can’t help but wonder where DiBiase would have been today had he stayed with the company.
8) Shelton Benjamin
One of my personal favorites; Shelton Benjamin became known to the WWE universe as a wrestler that sought out to steal the show every night. With so many tremendous performances, it seemed like Benjamin was destined for at least one run with the World Championship. Sadly, Benjamin’s highest accomplishment would be winning the Intercontinental Championship three times. Many believe that had it not been for his poor microphone skills, Benjamin could have been a World Champion. Wrestling fans hope current WWE star Apollo Crews, doesn’t suffer the same destiny (without a tremendous skill set, met with some less than mediocre microphone skills).
7) Drew Galloway
Known to the WWE universe as Drew McIntyre, Galloway has managed to recreate himself outside of the WWE as a top star with TNA Wrestling. As a matter of fact, Galloway is the current Champion for the company. Upon his arrival with the WWE, officials truly believed he was destined for greatness, capturing the FCW Heavyweight Championship. After an initial strong run with the Intercontinental Championship, Galloway quickly lost steam due to some terrible writing. He was later terminated of his contract putting an end to such a disastrous run. Still only 30, Drew is one of the only wrestlers on this list that can potentially still win a WWE World Heavyweight Championship. With an established run outside of the WWE, I certainly hope the big company will give this guy one more run.
In terms of stars that were already established outside of the WWE, there may not have been a worse booking than DDP’s during his time with the WWE. Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Page wasn’t the most memorable in-ring competitor, but he had tremendous over-the-top charisma that carried him throughout his career and put him over with wrestling fans. Such an established star, Page had great potential to shine on a WWE stage. After a promising start with a feud involving The Undertaker, Page was halted after sustaining an injury. His comeback was a disaster (to say the least), debuting a gimmick as a motivational speaker. Who can forget that awful, “Yo! It’s me, it’s me, it’s DDP!”? It was all downhill from there for Page, although he did manage to capture a European Championship. So much potential, wasted.
5) Bobby Lashley
How many times have we seen this in the past? A Championship slowing down a wrestler as opposed to helping them. This was the case with Bobby Lashley when the company decided to put the ECW Championship on him. Instead of using the title as an upstart Championship, Bobby was relegated to a B-type of show and was rarely seen by the WWE Universe. That title pretty much caused his demise on his way up the WWE ladder. To make matters worse, Lashley was given two attempts at the World Title, which were both loses to John Cena. The Kansas native had Brock Lesnar-type of potential, only to see it crash and burn rather quickly.
4) Cody Rhodes
At the end of the day, not seeing Cody as an upper-card talent caused his departure from the company. His heart and courage is certainly admirable though, as it’s not every day that you see a wrestler walk away from the WWE, especially after a decade-long run with the company. Suffering from a stale, lower-card gimmick, Cody tried reviving his character several times, which he hoped would once again push him to the top of the ladder as a promising star. Despite his suggestions and his pleading, the WWE’s creative team was not convinced. Like Galloway, expect Cody to make a massive impact on the independent scene as an upper-card talent. His repackaging starts with an independent match against none other than Kurt Angle. We wish Cody nothing but the best, and hope to see him back in a WWE ring one day.
3) Scott Hall
In an era that promoted young talent like today’s product, Razor Ramon became one of the hottest acts during the mid-90s. His gimmick was infectious and some classic matches against Shawn Michaels put him on the radar as one of the most promising stars in all of pro wrestling. Unfortunately for Hall, money was put ahead of everything else. Had Hall stuck around for a little longer, you can bet he would have captured a WWE World title. Instead, Scott left for greener pastures to WCW, and endured a career behind the shadows of Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash.
2) Mr. Perfect
One of my all-time favorites; Mr. Perfect paved the way for mid-card wrestlers. His matches and microphone skills made him a must-see Superstar early on in his career. Unfortunately, Hennig would get lost in the shuffle, bouncing around like a bingo ball from wrestler to commentator to manager. Eventually, the WWE ran out of time and Perfect was signed by WCW. Curt would actually make an unlikely return years later putting on a remarkable performance during the Royal Rumble. His momentum was stopped after the controversial “Plane Ride From Hell”. Perfect would suffer the consequences of that flight because of a brawl with Brock Lesnar. He was released by the company once again, wasting an opportunity at a possible World Championship reign.
1) Ricky Steamboat
His style was innovative and his matches were so ahead of their time. Steamboat goes down in history as the greatest wrestler to never win a World Championship. How that ever happened remains a mystery. After leaving the WWE, Steamboat quickly captured the NWA World Heavyweight Championship with a company that would later transition into WCW. Despite not winning the title, his legacy as a top in-ring performer of his time will live on forever.