There’s an old saying in wrestling that cream rises to the top. However, for cream to rise to the top, wrestlers have to be put in a position to succeed.
If Steve Austin had been named Chilly McFreeze, he would’ve never become the star he was. If The Rock never shed the white meat Rocky Maivia character, he never would’ve become the pop culture icon he is today. If Shawn Michaels never broke off with Marty Janetty, he wouldn’t have gone down as perhaps the greatest of all time. If Trish Stratus or Lita had merely remained valets, we’d have no recollection of them to this day. Talent has to be given a chance to shine and when they succeed or fail, that’s when you know what you truly have in a superstar.
The sink or swim approach may be scary, but it’s usually the best way to measure stardom. Let the superstar take the ball and run with it. However, sometimes, for whatever reason, be it backstage politics, a crowded main event scene or even untimely injuries, wrestlers in WWE get lost in the shuffle and their talent gets overlooked and under-utilized. Here are the stars whom the WWE underused. The company missed a huge opportunity to turn these performers into huge stars, or simply overlooked them when it came time for a push.
10) Low Ki
He was known as Kaval in WWE, but Low Ki made a name for himself on the indy scene and in Japan. He was then eventually signed to WWE’s developmental territory, FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling).
Kaval was then a contestant on the second season of NXT (back when the show was comically bad). Kaval was then moved to the SmackDown brand where he began a program with Dolph Ziggler working up to Survivor Series, where he was unsuccessful in his quest for the Intercontinental Championship. He was released a month later.
Kaval’s problem was a lack of mic skills and not always meshing with the WWE style, his strength being long matches. Still, WWE should’ve showed a little more patience with him.
Goldust was groundbreaking for his time, coming along when WWE was in a rut, stuck with many stale, outdated and hokey gimmicks. The bizarre one came along and brought something completely new, and generated tons of heat, capitalizing on many fans’ homophobic tendencies and making them uncomfortable.
Underneath the robe, gold makeup and wig, Dustin Runnels is/was an outstanding wrestler and became a tremendous performer under the Goldust character. He’s still good to this day, but the opportunity was missed over 15 years ago.
Whether it was because the WWE felt the character was too weird to hold the title or they wouldn’t let Runnels evolve as a character, it was a missed opportunity over someone who had tons of potential to be more than what he was.
8) Owen Hart
The late great Owen Hart was featured prominently and got several headlining feuds, but he still remains underrated to this day. Owen had it all; amazing wrestling ability, great mic skills, an entertaining persona and he had a side to him that should’ve been used a lot more on television. There was a prankster/jokester side to Owen. His ability to make people laugh. Fans got glimpses of it, such as his Slammy “acceptance” speech or his well documented ridiculous ‘selling’ in matches.
Owen got his big career break when he feuded with his brother Bret. He proved that he was on Bret’s level in that feud, even outdoing his big brother on the mic. However after the feud, he was mostly relegated to the upper-mid card and tag team division. When the Attitude Era rolled around, he would never again reach the spot he was at in his feud with Bret.
You could make a strong argument that Owen was just as good, if not better, than his brother Bret. He would’ve made a great world champion if given the chance.
7) Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow was one of the WWE’s best big men of all time. For his size, he had amazing athleticism, as shown in his top rope moves, particularly his moonsault.
He was able to hang with the lighter, faster paced wrestlers such as Bret Hart.
Bigelow got his best feud in ECW with Shane Douglas, while he had a long WWE feud with Tatanka.
Bigelow was severely overlooked, particularly when it came time to find a monster heel to go into WrestleMania IX to face Bret Hart. Looking back, Bigelow would’ve been a better option than Yokozuna. The match with Hart would’ve been much more and the feud could’ve been a lot more interesting. They would face each other in the 1993 King of the Ring final.
Bigelow would face the likes of Doink the Clown and Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania. The Beast from the East deserved a lot better.
6) William Regal
William Regal was a decorated wrestler when he came to the United States. He had a long history of success back in the U.K. but his potential was never truly realized by the WWE.
After toiling away in the WCW midcard for six years, Regal was signed to the WWE in 1998. An injury derailed him and he was soon given a gimmick of Steven Regal, a man’s man! Regal had to check himself into rehab in 1999 and was released soon afterwards.
He returned to WWE in 2000 as Commissioner, his character being an English snob. Regal would soon have midcard success, winning the European and Intercontinental titles.
Regal wouldn’t really get a strong push until 2008, where he won a King of the Ring tournament, but was soon suspended for violating the company’s wellness policy. Since then, he has mainly worked in the WWE’s developmental aspect and is currently the NXT general manager.
5) Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin was arguably the WWE’s best pure athlete in his time there, but was never quite given the opportunity to truly run with the ball.
After Benjamin broke off from Charlie Haas, he came to Raw and scored an upset win over Triple H. In fact he beat the Game three straight times! This should’ve been the springboard to something big, but WWE didn’t capitalize on his momentum.
After a run with the IC title, Benjamin was then scripted to be in a ‘losing streak’. He then brought in his ‘Momma’ to help him. Say what you want about Benjamin’s underwhelming mic work, but how can a guy get over when he’s depicted as a momma’s boy?
Later Benjamin became almost exclusively known for his high spots in Money in the Bank Ladder matches. He would later be repackaged as the “Gold Standard”. He still never really got the push he should’ve. He was at the very least, worth the risk. If Miz could get a push to main event a freakin’ WrestleMania, why couldn’t Benjamin have been thrown a bone?
4) Rick Rude
Tremendous ability, amazing charisma and a fantastic look. Rick Rude had all of these, yet he only got a sniff at WWE’s main event scene. Rude really got just one high profile feud; which was with the Ultimate Warrior. Rude defeated Warrior for the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania V, but he would drop it back to Warrior at SummerSlam.
The next year at SummerSlam, Rude lost to Warrior in a cage match for the WWE title and left the WWE a couple of months later.
Rude suffered a career-ending back injury when in WCW and thus, his potential went underused, all things considered.
Raven was one of the most interesting characters in the history of professional wrestling. His feud with Tommy Dreamer in ECW was one of the all-time greats.
Raven was a dark, twisted character. He could cut great promos and follow it up with incredible matches. He’s only known as an ECW guy, which is a testament to the failure of both WCW and WWE to capitalize on Raven’s unique persona.
All the WWE did with Raven was stick him in the chaotic Hardcore division. Raven never got the chance to cut his famous promos, get involved in any engaging feuds or perform with the company’s best stars.
He was released in 2003, just over two years after debuting. WWE really missed the boat on making Raven one of their top stars.
Vader was an enormous missed opportunity by the WWE. In a time where the company was starved for characters that were over with the audience, Vader came along when the WWE was in its cheesiest era of all.
Vader was a huge star in Japan as well as WCW and the WWE should’ve done a lot more with him. He was one of the great monster heels of his time and that should’ve continued coming into the WWE. Instead, he came in, feuded with Yokozuna and was thrown into a six-man tag match at WrestleMania XII.
Vader eventually got a decent push into the 1996 SummerSlam pay-per-view, feuding with champion Shawn Michaels. In a weirdly booked match, Vader won by countout before Jim Cornette demanded the match to restart. Vader then won by DQ, before the match was again restarted. Michaels then retained the title with Sweet Chin Music.
Remember how Sycho Sid was booked in late 1996 and early 1997? That should’ve been Vader’s spot. Vader would’ve been a far better option to beat Michaels at Survivor Series and go on to face Undertaker in WrestleMania 13’s main event.
In mid 1997, Vader began toiling away in the midcard. He was never again pushed to the main event scene. In 1998, Vader basically became a glorified jobber for stars like Kane, Mark Henry and Ken Shamrock. He was released from WWE late in 1998.
The WWE missed a huge opportunity to make Vader one of its top stars.
1) Mr. Perfect
Mr. Perfect is perhaps the greatest wrestler to never hold the WWE championship. He had charisma, incredible wrestling ability and was one of the greatest technicians in the history of the business.
Mr. Perfect only became an Intercontinental champion, which is a travesty. Perhaps it was his back injury in the early 1990s that forced him into semi-retirement which derailed plans. He put Bret Hart over in a huge way, but his feud with Bret should’ve been elevated to the main event scene at some point. It very easily could’ve been a feud for the WWE title.
Bret Hart has said on countless occasions that Curt Hennig was his favourite wrestler to work with. Hennig would return to the ring in the mid-90s but was mainly used as a colour commentator. When he made the jump to WCW, it didn’t get much better. He could no longer use his Mr. Perfect moniker and he was left in purgatory in WCW, as so many greats were.
By the time he returned to WWE in 2002, his best days were far behind him and his run in the company didn’t last long. He never got a strong feud to get going and after the infamous “Plane Ride from Hell” in which he got into an altercation with rookie Brock Lesnar. Hennig’s demons caught up with him and he tragically passed away the following year. The WWE’s opportunity though, was truly missed back in the early 90s when they were transitioning to their New Generation. Perfect should’ve been one of its figureheads.