WWE is the biggest game in town when it comes to Sports Entertainment, evident by the fact that they just got me to type that phrase instead of “pro wrestling.” Unlike the four major sports that they aspire to share some mind space with, WWE doesn’t exactly have a draft to pull talent from. Gone are the days where big names would switch companies between WCW, WWE and ECW. Most talent is brought up through their own farm system; the Performance Center down in Orlando, and WWE’s version of an indie federation in NXT. Other times, they pluck an “attraction” out of obscurity in hopes that the crowd will get behind them.
The thing about breaking out a new star or giving a seasoned name a push is that a vast amount of time and money goes into the endeavor, and, more often than not, the first attempt just doesn’t quite pan out.
Everything leading up to a performer’s reveal is carefully planned and calculated. There are video packages to produce, there is live airtime to consider, t-shirts and other merchandise to create. In all, just breaking one potential star could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, even more if that performer is kept around to flounder.
So who are the worst of the worst? Who are the “superstars” that Vince McMahon saw the most potential in and decided to force down our throats like so much Tussin? Well, whether they were groomed from the get go or plucked for another avenue of entertainment, here are 10 recent performers who had a huge buildup, but for some reason or another couldn’t quite deliver on their potential, and may have cost the company way more than they were worth in the end.
Starting off the proceedings is Gene Snitsky. It almost seems unfair to call him a bust since his lack of draw wasn’t exactly his fault. His downfall can actually be placed squarely on the shoulders of the creative team. He made his debut in a no-DQ match with Kane on RAW. The goal of the match was to make Snitsky a heel, and in turn make Kane a face. How did they pull that off? By having Snitsky inadvertently cause a miscarriage by knocking Kane into his on-screen girlfriend, Lita.
This got Snitsky immediate heat from the crowd, and never one to pass up the quick money, WWE kept Snitsky around to feud with Kane. The original plan was for him to go back and work on his in-ring ability and appear on TV sometime down the line. Problem was, Snitsky couldn’t wrestle all that well. He wasn’t great on the mic either. They were building him as an unstoppable force when he came off like a clumsy kid with a deviated septum.
He was placed in awkward moment after another for four years before finally being released. Had WWE stuck to the plan, who knows what could have happened with Snitsky. Let’s just all be glad he’s not going into any more detail about his foot fetish.
Poor Kharma just couldn’t get her thing going in WWE. After reigning supreme in the TNA Knockouts division, it was revealed that Awesome Kong, as she was then known, had signed to WWE. After weeks of vignettes, and an eventual name change to Kharma, she made her debut at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view in May of 2011.
Kharma would appear at events, attack any Divas in her vicinity, and leave. All of this building up to an eventual confrontation with then champion, Kelly Kelly. Less than a month after her arrival, she announced her pregnancy, and that she would be leaving the company.
Even then, she was featured as a playable character in the video game WWE ’12, so it seemed like she would be accepted back into the fold. She even made a huge return during the 2012 Royal Rumble match, making her only the third woman to compete in the event. On the flipside, that was technically her only official match in WWE. She was released from her contract just a short time later amid rumors of being in bad ring shape, and difficult to work with backstage. Months of build, two years under contract, and only one match.
8: Mr. Kennedy
Ken Kennedy is one of those rare cases where everything was going well for him right until it wasn’t. He had good mic work, good ring work, and was even given a starring role in the movie Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia, which was produced by WWE Films.
Kennedy just had the unfortunate luck of having his rise in popularity run parallel to performers that WWE had more stock in. You could say he had a back and forth with Jeff Hardy, but he barely won any of their matches. He had his Money in the Bank briefcase taken from him and given to Edge. Then, when he finally made his return after time off to film Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia, he was released just four days later.
7: Scott Steiner
In a true “what the hell were they thinking” move, WWE signed former tag team champion and constant headache Scott Steiner to a contract in 2002. Scott Steiner had an impressive career up to that point, and his name could still put plenty of butts in seats, but not for the right reasons. It was as if WWE had not seen his last few years in WCW.
Steiner was a man unhinged. On the mic he was a FCC risk, and his in-ring skills had diminished so much that his matches looked like a series of belly-to-belly suplex gifs. It didn’t help that his physique was a constant reminder of potential steroid use in WWE. The company cut ties with Steiner a year before his contract was up.
6: Chris Masters
Chris Masters was a quintessential “Vince Guy” in terms of look. His in-ring ability was ok for his size, but alas, The Masterpiece was doomed to gimmick-land for his entire run with the company. It was all thanks to his “Master Lock”.
The move wasn’t even a glorified full-nelson – it was just a regular full-nelson, but it was sold with such arrogance and smarm that it made for fun stories. Holding a “Master Lock Challenge” every week to see who could make it out of his signature move, he was able to work his way into some high profile feuds with the likes of The Big Show and John Cena.
That’s when it all went downhill. For as much build as he was getting as an unbeatable heel, he wrestled less and less as time went on. After some injury issues, he was relegated to popping his pecs to music at whatever special guest host was on RAW that week. After being suspended for violating the WWE wellness policy for a second time, he was let go in 2007
5: Vladimir Kozlov
Yet another casualty of the creative team deciding to “declaw” a monster, Vladimir Kozlov was portrayed at a Russian wreaking machine and for a while it worked. He was moved between the different WWE brands for three years or so, usually to strong reception as a heel. His feuds were never at the top of the card, but he made for a strong villain.
That was until someone had the bright idea to make him a good guy. Even worse, someone thought that he should be teamed with resident goofball, Santino Marella. While the pairing made for some fun comedic moments, it pretty much killed any validity the Kozlov character had left. He and Santino did their “Big Man & Spunky” bit for another year until Kozlov had his foot broken in a match with Mark Henry in 2011. He was released from his contract later that day.
4: Bobby Lashley
On paper Lashley was perfect. He had a collegiate wrestling pedigree, he had a great athletic look, and he was good in the ring. His problem was he was about as interesting to watch as real time weather updates in Seattle.
Lashley was given all kinds of pushes. He won the U.S. Championship and the ECW Championship. He made it to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament in 2006. In the middle of all this, Lashley was given the “honor” of being the first person to win the Master Lock Challenge by Chris Masters.
He was also given a storyline with WWE CEO, Vince McMahon where they had a street fight and Lashley defeated his boss for the ECW title. If that’s not a personal investment, then I don’t know what is. Still, no one cared all that much, and after a series of injuries in 2008, he was released from his contract and went on to pursue a MMA career.
3: Nathan Jones
Nathan Jones is further proof that just because a guy is an actual badass, that does not mean that they should play the part of one in a wrestling ring. The Australian actor and power lifter was given some of the best pre-match video packages in the company’s history. A series of interviews were dedicated to his near-decade-long prison term in Austrailia’s Boggo Road Gaol, a maximum security prison. He was even made to be a protégé of WWE elder statesman, The Undertaker. Problem was, the big man couldn’t wrestle.
His in-ring ability could be compared to watching someone on roller skates navigating an obstacle course during an earthquake. He was awkward, and given his size, somehow gangly-looking while performing. His scheduled match at Wrestlemania XIX was audibled once higher-ups realized his skills weren’t up to par, and his tag team role with The Undertaker was relegated to assistive interference.
He was eventually given the “fake injury” treatment to train more, but upon his return several months later he wasn’t much better. Jones abruptly quit the company while they were touring his native Australia in 2003, claiming that he didn’t like the rigorous travel required of the company. Wrestling fans the world over thanked him for it.
A classic case of wasted potential. Carlito is one of the few stars on this list who not only stuck around for a good while, but had moderate success. So what makes him a bust? He was plum lazy. Carlito was gifted in the ring and on the mic, he had charisma, and for a time, his own segment/TV show with Carlito’s Cabana. For all that was given to him, he felt he could coast on his famous lineage and natural talent. Both of which rubbed people backstage the wrong way.
He reportedly had issues backstage and on more than one occasion wanted to quit altogether, only to be talked into sticking around by Vince McMahon himself. He had good storylines and even had a “who’s a better bad guy” feud with Ric Flair, but he refused to shape up. Eventually he teamed with his brother Primo and won both the company’s tag team titles. Then, on the night after the unification, he and his brother came out to crickets. The crowd had given up on the Cool Carlito. He was released after violating the WWE Wellness Program multiple times and refusing rehab.
1: Sin Cara
Oh, Sin Cara. WWE rolled out the red carpet for you. Before your first vignette they had a press conference announcing your arrival, a rarity in the wrestling business. In Mexico, Sin Cara went by Mistico, a lucha libre superstar known for his daring, freeform style; he was adored throughout the country. His crossover to the biggest wrestling entity in the world was a tremendous personal success, and was seen as the second coming of Rey Mysterio. What we got was an accident prone daredevil who was more useful on a t-shirt than in the ring.
The WWE didn’t help matters by giving him weird, yellow mood lighting for all of his matches. He didn’t help himself by constantly getting hurt. To make matters worse, he refused to learn English which got in the way of planning performances with the other wrestlers and would often lead to awkward, mistake-laden matches. That paired with his unwillingness to alter his style made many people backstage to be not so pleased with him.
It had gotten to the point where the Sin Cara character was played by two different performers due to Mistico’s constant injuries. Sin Cara finally left the company in October of 2013, and is currently in a legal battle with WWE over who actually owns the character, but he may not want to call too much attention to the fact that the name is probably valuable in spite of him, and not because of him.