In WWE and the wrestling business overall, wrestlers come out of their careers as either successes or flops. WWE has produced more flops than most fans remember. Many of those flops can also be called missed opportunities.
In the long history of the WWE, many wrestlers have come and gone from the company – either in a meteoric bang or a disappointing whisper. Not every wrestler can reach superstardom to the likes of Hulk Hogan or John Cena. Some wrestlers end their WWE careers more irrelevant than a block-knocking Branden Walker. Some flops aren’t due to the wrestler being subpar or bad. A lot of times, the WWE careers of wrestlers flop due to WWE creative personnel holding those wrestlers back. In the cases where the wrestler is unable to get over no matter how well they are booked, it is because that wrestler is missing one special characteristic to truly break through the glass ceiling.
Other times it’s just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The idea of what the modern day WWE Superstar is supposed to be is held to a much different standard now than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. In a lot of ways, WWE has changed for the better and wrestlers aren’t as easily held back today as they would be in a bygone era. Had today’s standard been held years ago or if certain wrestlers had debuted today instead, maybe their careers would’ve flourished a little bit better.
15. Yoshi Tatsu
The first Japanese wrestler on this list, but definitely not the last. Yoshi Tatsu’s WWE career lasted from 2009 until his 2014 release without him taking part in anything memorable. Mostly because WWE did not know how to book a Japanese talent. For whatever reason, WWE has a long history with categorizing their Japanese signees as different from the average wrestler and struggle to book them as anything other than a comedy jobber. Yoshi Tatsu had potential to evolve into a decent midcard talent with the right booking, but for years, like the many Japanese stars before him, he was a comedy jobber. With the current influx of Japanese stars joining WWE at the moment–with Shinsuke Nakamura being among one of their better booked Japanese stars in years–the “comedy jobber” stigma towards Japanese wrestlers appears to be fading away. Yoshi Tatsu would be a better fit for a 2016 WWE.
Trying out for the WWE Divas Search in 2006, Brooke didn’t make the cut, but that didn’t stop WWE from offering her a developmental contract. She worked in WWE’s developmental territory, then Deep South Wrestling, for a year as both a valet and a wrestler before getting called up to ECW in 2007. Not as a wrestler, but as part of ECW’s striptease group, Extreme Expose, with Kelly Kelly and Layla. Aside from participating in a battle royal right before her November 2007 release, the WWE Universe never got a chance to see her in ring ability. It wasn’t until her time in TNA from 2010-2015 that she had a chance to showcase her athletic ability. She admitted in 2012 that she has no desire to return to WWE because of how they waste the potential of female wrestlers by putting them in “3 minute matches that typically have no meaning”. At the time, that couldn’t be more true, but nowadays, WWE women are showcased in 20+ minute matches that often steal the show. Today’s WWE would be a much better avenue for Brooke’s talents.
13. Kenzo Suzuki
Japanese wrestlers have never been given the best positions in WWE. In 2016, things have changed with stars like Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi on the rise, but once upon a time ago, WWE couldn’t separate the Japanese culture from the Japanese character. That kind of clash amounted to WWE deciding to book a plethora of Japanese stars as stereotypical comedy acts. One of the bigger examples is that of Kenzo Suzuki. Suzuki was originally meant to debut as a pro-Japanese anti-America invader in 2004 on RAW. When WWE realized that was a bad idea, they moved him to SmackDown to become a pro-American comedy act; which wasn’t much better. It wasn’t long before he made an unceremonious exit from WWE a year later. The man was talented in the ring, but was a victim of bad stereotypes and bad booking on behalf of WWE Creative. He wasn’t the first to be such a victim, and he wasn’t even the last; we got Yoshi Tatsu a couple of years later. If only WWE Creative in 2004 was more like how it is in 2016.
One of the biggest Diva disappointments in the last few years, Kaitlyn burst onto the WWE scene in 2012 as part of WWE’s NXT brand. She stayed there for awhile before arriving to the main roster where the bodybuilder managed to snag herself a 5-month Divas Championship run that began at the tail-end of 2012. That alone should make someone more than a flop, right? You’d be surprised. Along with giving women short matches, WWE used to have a reputation of not being able to book more than one storyline involving women at a time. As soon as Kaitlyn left the Divas title picture, she disappeared from television before playing an irrelevant part in the Total Divas vs “Real Divas” feud going into Survivor Series 2013. She quickly disappeared again afterwards. Not happy with being given nothing to do for so long and deciding to focus more on her clothing line, marriage, and the fitness industry, Kaitlyn asked for her release papers in January 2014 and retired from pro wrestling. Thankfully, now WWE has been able to juggle multiple storylines involving female wrestlers. If Kaitlyn was in WWE today, she would certainly have a better spot in the company.
11. Taka Michinoku
Much like the aforementioned Kenzo Suzuki, Taka Michinoku was the victim of stereotyping; only under much more absurd means. Taka Michinoku’s signing to the WWF was hyped as a major acquisition for the company, but it never amounted to anything major. The most Michinoku ever got out of his WWF run was a stint in the stable Kai En Tai alongside fellow Japanese wrestlers Shiryu, Dick Togo, Mens Teioh, and Funaki. Instead of booking these wrestlers like, you know, wrestlers, they were booked like anime characters. WWF even went as far as to dub their promo lines with badly dubbed English translations. To be fair, the whole thing actually was amusing and at one point led to Michinoku facing Triple H for the WWF Championship on an episode of RAW. Maybe “flop” is a strong word to describe Michinoku’s WWF career. He had minor success at best, but one can’t help but think that he could’ve been so much more in a current WWE environment that wouldn’t be so quick to label him by his culture. One’s culture should add to a character; not become that character.
10. Mad Maxine Ryder
Don’t remember Mad Maxine Ryder? Don’t worry. Not a lot of people do. Ryder debuted in 1985 with the legendary Fabulous Moolah as her manager; the woman who trained her. She only wrestled two matches, but won both of them. Still a better winning streak than her distant relative, Zack Ryder, at the moment. Anyway, the reason why she left WWF so soon when she was brought in to feud with Wendi Richter for the Women’s Championship has been widely speculated. All that Ryder has said on the matter was that she tried out wrestling only to realize she preferred her journalism career. Be that as it may, someone like Mad Maxine would be a star in WWE for her look alone. Modeled after characters from the Mad Max series and Storm of the X-Men, this look would give anyone enough of a presence to demand a crowd’s attention. It’s likely that she would’ve gone far had she continued her WWF career and definitely would’ve flourished in 2016 with a division bigger than it was in 1985. Her wrestling ability may be questionable, but her size and stature would’ve guaranteed her a big spot on the roster.
9. Justin Gabriel
For his picture perfect 450 Splash finisher alone, Justin Gabriel was expected to become the breakout star of the Nexus stable upon their arrival to WWE. Unfortunately, that breakout never happened and given the status of WWE had at the time, his size was likely a major reason. Compared to the muscle bound heavyweights that normally get pushed in WWE’s long history, Gabriel would be considered a “small guy”. Good worker, but too small to take seriously and too small to believably beat a big guy in a match. The whole notion is a tad ridiculous when you think about it. Thankfully, seeing as Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins–two men under 220lbs–closed out two recent WrestleManias as WWE World Heavyweight Champion and seeing as “small guys” like Finn Balor are on their way to reaching the top of the company, it’s clear that times are a changin’. Gabriel would have fared much better in today’s WWE. In fact, this would be a perfect time for him to return to the company.
Lucha Underground fans will recognize her as Black Lotus and will instantly remember her surprisingly great showing against Dragon Azteca Jr. from Ultima Lucha Dos, but many fans forget that she actually entered WWE in 2007 as a Divas Search contestant. She didn’t win, but she did sign a developmental contract with FCW shortly after and showcased some solid in-ring work. In fact, for a rookie, she was more than solid. Impressive. One would imagine this would put her on the track to being pushed as a great wrestler once she was called up to the main roster, but since she entered WWE at a time where women were treated as nothing but pretty faces opposed to skilled competitors, she didn’t even get a chance to wrestle. She became a ring announcer for the first season of NXT before being quietly released. She wouldn’t have had that misfortune had she joined WWE today.
7. Derrick Bateman/EC3
This might be cheating because the EC3 of today is a much more refined star than the Derrick Bateman he was in WWE NXT a few years ago and maybe flopping in WWE helped inspire him to perfect his craft both in and out of the ring. However, the fact remains that if WWE let Derrick Bateman be the EC3 we know today, he would be a megastar on WWE’s roster. Perhaps the problem was that he just wasn’t allowed to be himself as he recently criticized WWE in a scathing promo for putting guys like him in “six minute tv matches where [he] can’t do any of [his] cool moves” or even be their own characters. It seems that (what I like to call) the strain chain on wrestlers has been loosened when it comes to certain things. Yes, the character thing is still a problem, but WWE has been a little more lenient on letting superstars do”cool moves”. They even let AJ Styles do his notoriously dangerous Styles Clash from time to time. If WWE can continue lowering their glass ceiling, maybe there’s still a place in WWE for EC3.
Anyone who has seen her work in either of WWE’s developmental brands (FCW and NXT) or currently in Lucha Underground as Catrina knows just how much WWE missed out on letting her go. During her WWE run, she never impressed in the ring alongside rising talents like AJ Lee and Naomi, but her mic skills were undeniable. She had a certain presence to her that screamed “superstar” and would certainly excel in an on-screen authority or managerial role. She seemed to be on the rise to superstardom during NXT, but apparently, WWE had different plans for her. Those plans–as well as Maxine’s black hair and leather costume–went to Aksana upon her Smackdown call up. Aksana had neither the mic or in-ring skill to warrant such a push, but WWE went as far as to tell Maxine to dye her hair and drop the leather act just as she was getting over with crowds. All this led to Maxine leaving the company in 2012. One would hope she’d return to pick up where she left off (especially now that Aksana isn’t there to literally steal her thunder), but for now, WWE’s loss is Lucha Underground’s gain.
5. Sean O’Haire
As one of the talents brought into WWE after WCW closed its doors, Sean O’Haire returned in 2003 vignettes under the guise of a Devil’s Advocate. This gimmick was unlike anything fans had seen as O’Haire encouraged audiences to give into sinful desires and would convince wrestlers backstage to do the same. Without even getting in the ring, O’Haire had the fan’s attention and was quickly beloved by some; mostly because they were grateful that O’Haire convinced Dawn Marie to flash her breasts to a live crowd. O’Haire was something new and in a classic case of WWE not knowing how to book something new, he dropped the gimmick and was paired with Roddy Piper. Fan excitement turned into disappointment when he became nothing more than Piper’s lackey before both were given their release papers later that year. There’s no guarantee that WWE would have a better idea of what to do with O’Haire today, but at least in 2016, there’s a better chance WWE would capitalize on a unique gimmick rather than throw it away because it’s so different. In a WWE where there’s a place for cult leader, Bray Wyatt, O’Haire would’ve succeeded. Sadly, O’Haire committed suicide in 2014 and so we’ll never know.
Cherry debuted alongside Deuce n’ Domino essentially as a group of Happy Days rejects that would give The Fonz second hand embarrassment to see. Being given a gimmick where a team actually thinks they’re greasers from the 1950s should be a kiss of death for anyone, but for a short time, the trio for actually made it work. This was mostly due to Cherry herself as she added the type of innocent charm that made Miss Elizabeth a fan favorite in the Hogan Era. In under a year, the pair would drop Cherry in favor of the managerial services of Maryse and for the remainder of her career, Cherry was left in limbo with nothing substantial to do before her release. It didn’t help that as a wrestler, she wasn’t exactly a ring technician; and that’s being polite. But she had enough fan support and decent mic skills to continue a career as a manager in the vein of Miss Elisabeth if WWE allowed it. If Cherry were to debut today, there’s also the alternative to take her down to WWE’s newly established training Performance Center to work on her in-ring chunkiness.
3. Muhammad Hassan
In one of the most politically incorrect angles that WWE has ever booked, WWE hired Italian American Marc Copani to play the Arab American Muhammad Hassan in 2004. If stereotypical miscasting isn’t bad enough, Hassan preached anti-American slurs complaining about being held back in WWE in a post-9/11 world and being unfairly labeled as a terrorist. Only to later on attack The Undertaker with a group of ski masked assailants as Hassan prayed. It looked, for lack of a better word, terrorist-esque. It gets worse. Oh boy, does it get worse. This assault happened mere days before the July 7th, 2005 London bombings. The stunt came under media hellfire and the UPN network broadcasting the show refused to have Hassan on their network afterwards. Within some months, Hassan was released. Which is a shame because the guy, for a rookie, was an incredibly solid worker both on the mic and in the ring. In the new PC world that WWE lives in, this angle/character would never fly. If Copani entered WWE at a time when he was allowed to be something more tame than an ill-fated character like Hassan, maybe he would have had a brighter career.
2. Tiffany/Taryn Terrell
Whether you know her best as WWE’s Tiffany or TNA’s Taryn Terrell, you surely remember her. Starting her WWE career as assistant to then-GM Teddy Long before taking over the reigns once he moved to SmackDown, Tiffany kept this job for a couple years until ECW closed its doors. Once called up to Smackdown, she didn’t last long before being released over a domestic dispute with then husband, Drew McIntyre (now wrestling as Galloway). Even if she wasn’t released, it’s not like she was making any impact in WWE. At a time when women were lucky enough to get five minutes of match time, how could she? So she moved onto to TNA Impact Wrestling for a career revival that saw her have plenty of great matches; most notably with fellow entrant, Gail Kim. Solid promo with a fantastic ring ability, Taryn became TNA’s longest reigning Knockouts Champion before leaving wrestling altogether as a born again Christian. Were she still wrestling now, this would be a perfect time for her to be in WWE as it has begun its Women’s Revolution.
1. Dan Severn
By time he entered WWE in 1998, Dan Severn already had an impressive resume in both the MMA and professional wrestling world. As the only man to simultaneously hold a pro wrestling title (NWA Championship) and an MMA title (UFC Superfight Heavyweight Championship), it would be a no-brainer to book Severn as an absolute badass mowing his way through the roster until he’s skyrocketed to the main event. Problem was that MMA wasn’t as held in such a high esteem in 1998; especially by those in the wrestling world. WWE Creative didn’t know how to capitalize on his MMA accomplishments nor how to book him. After forgettable feuds with Owen Hart and Ken Shamrock (the latter being a major disappointment for anyone familiar with their MMA feud history), Severn parted ways with WWE within a year due to “creative differences”. According to Severn himself, the last straw was when he was pitched to tattoo “666” on his head and become one of Undertaker’s disciples. Today, WWE clamor for MMA talent to enter their quarters. With Brock Lesnar becoming the company’s top box office draw upon returning as a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, there’s no doubt that Severn is would’ve been booked as the beast he truly is in a better time.