We all make mistakes. When it comes to booking decisions, many times fans will watch WWE programming and think they have to be out of their minds… what are they thinking? This guy is great or that guy is terrible. However, greatness isn’t always a given. Hard work and effort goes into making someone a star. What is remarkable is that many have achieved success after initially being passed over, and clearly WWE missed the boat on them. That could be for any number of reasons, whether it wasn’t the right fit, the right look, the right size, or a lack of proper dialog between talent and the company. These startling names weren’t immediately scooped up by the WWE. Sometimes, pieces of coal need time and pressure to show just how much of a diamond they really are. With enough time, work and the proper booking the people on this list achieved success. However, it was almost for naught.
Thankfully these wrestlers’ first impression wasn’t their last one, because if that was the case we may have never seen or heard from them ever again when it comes to the WWE. All these selections needed to do was go out and achieve success somewhere else in order to be welcomed by WWE. It goes to show that as much as we enjoy some talent, the process for them to be featured on our television sets takes a number of years. Here are the 10 Greatest Wrestlers WWE Didn’t Initially Capitalize On.
T10. The Hardy Boyz
Jeff and Matt Hardy are known all over the world. They are former champions, both individually and as a tag team. Their success came from a lot of hard work, dedication and their ability to innovate in the ring. Jeff captured the Intercontinental, Tag Team and WWE Heavyweight Championship. Matt captured the Tag Team and European titles, just to name a few. He was also embroiled in one of the most memorable feuds of the millennium when he feuded with Edge. The Hardys’ success wasn’t easily achieve, though. In fact, the brothers were enhancement talent for the WWE – taking thorough beatings on a weekly basis, facing guys more than 200 lbs. heavier than them, or facing guys that were a focus of the company (like Razor Ramon). Little knew little of what was eventually on the horizon for these two.
8. Bobby Roode
One of the hottest free agents today is former TNA World and Tag Team Champion Bobby Roode. When he debuted in TNA in 2002 as part of the Team Canada faction, wrestling fans could tell right away that he was going to be a standout. As the years passed, Roode became known as the “IT Factor,” because quite simply, he had it all – a special quality that stood out and made him a superior talent. However, before he cut his teeth in TNA, he first appeared in WWE. Believe it or not, Bobby “Rude” competed for the promotion and appeared on the Velocity program. It had been many years since Roode appeared on WWE television before he appeared in the crowd at NXT Takeover: Dallas. He may be headed back to WWE, but there was an earlier time when they could have had him.
7. Eric Young
Much like his colleague Bobby Roode, Eric Young has achieved success with TNA Wrestling. He is a former World, King of the Mountain and even Knockout Champion. While that Knockout Championship may not be something he boasts about, his ability to work a match and what he’s capable of doing says a lot about him. During his time in TNA, Young improved both in the ring and on the mic. However, while he may have recently appeared on WWE’s NXT program and challenged Samoa Joe, he previously competed for the WWE before he started of his career with TNA. In 2003, Young appeared on WWE Velocity twice and on Sunday Night Heat once. It’s incredible that 13 years later, Young once again appeared on WWE television. One hopes that this will lead to something more.
He’s a former ECW World Champion, and Rhyno’s size and strength was undeniable during his time in both ECW and WWE. “The Man Beast” was known for creating havoc wherever he went, and his rise through the ranks to achieve ECW Championship glory was meteoric. What is remarkable to note is that back in 1997, Terry Richards wasn’t known as the character we know today. He was simply enhancement talent that the company use so they could have other stars look bigger and more imposing. It is interesting to note what facial hair and a tan can do to someone’s overall appearance. The WWE initially missed the boat, but after his time in ECW ended, Rhyno returned to the company that didn’t initially give him a shot.
5. Samoa Joe
The biggest name to join WWE’s NXT brand in 2015 was Samoa Joe. His name, his presence and who he’s faced has earned him great respect. The former TNA and ROH Champion has achieved so much throughout the years, but it was believed that his achievements may be overlooked because he didn’t compete for WWE. However, on the contrary, a number of years ago he did; a much lighter and more slender Joe, sporting blond highlights and a sleeveless shirt competed on WWE programming before his rise to fame. Big WWE names such as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Jim Ross had always lobbied to have Joe join the promotion, but it didn’t seem likely. It’s incredible what Joe has achieved upon entering NXT now; he is without a doubt one of the biggest acquisitions the company has made in recent memory.
4. Dean Ambrose
“The Lunatic Fringe” is certainly on the loose! One of the biggest faces in WWE today, Dean Ambrose‘s evolution from quasi-leader of the Shield to an unhinged singles competitor is complete. For those unaware, Ambrose competed as Jon Moxley while on the independent circuit, known for being dangerous in and out of the ring. However, this isn’t the first go around he has had with the WWE. Think of Ambrose today, add really long hair with highlights and bright colours similar to Tyler Breeze, and you have enhancement talent Jon Moxley. Believe it or not, Ambrose looked more like Shawn Michaels than the unhinged superstar we see today. WWE didn’t give him much of a look then, but it is interesting to see how far he’s evolved. The WWE was able to get it right the second time around, no doubt.
3. AJ Styles
Without question, AJ Styles is phenomenal. He is a multi-time World Champion and competed for over 12 years with TNA. He also earned recognition and respect in New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor. At 38 years of age, it seemed as though Styles had achieved all he ever needed to achieve, but the one thing that was missing was competing for WWE. When Styles appeared at this year’s Royal Rumble, a number of fans were under the impression that it was his first appearance in a WWE ring. However, it wasn’t; in 2002, on the WWE program Metal, Styles competed against The Hurricane, and on a separate occasion competed on SmackDown against Rico. While he was initially offered a contract, Styles didn’t accept the offer.
2. Daniel Bryan
The recently retired Daniel Bryan became a huge star over the last few years in WWE; the leader of the “Yes Movement” captured the hearts of fans around the world with his tireless effort and dedication. And when he competed under his real name, Bryan Danielson, he achieved a great deal of success in North America and Japan. He also competed under the moniker the American Dragon, which had a martial arts feel for it. Interestingly, he first competed under a mask while training with HBK‘s school, and had a televised tryout match as the American Dragon. And this wasn’t Bryan’s first attempt at competing for a spot for the company; a number of years ago while competing on one of the WWE’s programs, he faced John Cena, who ultimately won the match. It is incredible how years later the two would headline SummerSlam against one another.
1. Mick Foley
Mrs. Foley’s baby boy, Dude Love, Mankind, Cactus Jack. All these names represented one person, Mick Foley. He first earned acclaim during his time in WCW as Cactus Jack, and he was as dangerous then as he was years later. His accomplishments are memorable because of what he was able to achieve, and the amount of punishment he withstood – whether it was receiving 15 chair shots to the head from The Rock, falling off the top of a Hell in the Cell or being pushed off the stage while in a garbage bin by the New Age Outlaws. However, early in his career he competed as Jack Foley, an enhancement talent with the WWF. A much younger and thinner Foley was just a guy who made others look better. It wouldn’t be until years later when Mankind was born that he won accolades. Foley was indeed good!