There’s no off-season in the WWE Universe, with the company operating year round and thus forced to produce regular quality content on a weekly basis. Wrestlers who can’t keep up with the pace are iced out in short order, replaced by someone else more apt at keeping up with the program. There have also been wrestlers who lost their spot on the WWE roster due to factors outside of their control, like injuries or life intervening at unfortunate times. Others still have been released or passed over for completely legitimate reasons.
Then, there are those unlucky few who failed to become stars simply because Vince McMahon is a confusing and fickle man. Truth be told, it doesn’t happen that often, but there have indeed been a good number of wrestlers who seemed destined for greatness, only for WWE to suddenly drop the ball on them without any explanation whatsoever. The best reasoning anyone can come up with is that Vince McMahon lost interest in them, and this stance couldn’t be changed despite everyone else in the wrestling world vehemently disagreeing with the boss’s assessment.
The plus side is that plenty of wrestlers have been released from WWE and then gone on to great things, every other promoter in the world plainly able to see whatever it was McMahon happened to be missing. Not everyone is so lucky, though, and the sad fact remains that success in wrestling isn’t really complete until it’s achieved within the WWE Universe. To learn about some wrestlers who came so close yet fell so far from that stardom completely out of the blue, keep reading for 15 dumb AF instances of Vince McMahon giving up on a wrestler for no reason.
15 Cody Rhodes
Despite being the grandson of a simple plumber, Cody Rhodes had a whole lot to live up to from the day he was born. Forget about what came two generations earlier; Cody is also the son of WWE Hall of Famer and former NWA Champion “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Cody is also the brother of Goldust, also a pretty big star in his own right, especially within the WWE Universe. These connections meant Cody had an easy time getting his foot in the door yet a difficult one getting taken seriously as an individual, with everyone always comparing him to his father or brother. In due time, it looked like Cody might actually be the most talented wrestler of the bunch, which should have silenced those fears, but it apparently wasn’t enough for Vince McMahon. More than once, Cody looked ready to break through the WWE glass ceiling only for McMahon to drop him back down the card at a moment’s whim. Ultimately, the repeat practice led to Cody requesting his release in 2016, and he hasn’t looked back.
14 Luke Gallows
Alright, so given the first two gimmicks Luke Gallows suffered through during his time in WWE, one can hardly blame Vince McMahon for failing to realize there was potential there. Well, aside from the fact it was McMahon who came up with the horrible, restrictive characters Gallows was stuck in -- but in his own twisted mind, he probably thought they were somehow star makers. In any event, after Fake Kane and Festus had come and gone, Gallows was finally allowed to basically be himself as a member of the Straight Edge Society, showing signs of the in-ring skill and strong character work that have since made him a true contender. In typical confusing McMahon fashion, rather than reward Gallows slowly finding himself with a push or at least continued employment, he fired the guy just as he was starting to get good. Gallows is back in WWE today after having redeemed himself in NJPW as a founding member of Bullet Club, and here’s hoping McMahon doesn’t somehow mess up the Suntan Biker Man’s career again.
13 Damien Sandow
Quite frankly, Damien Sandow’s first mistake was expecting the WWE Universe would welcome an “Intellectual Savior to the Masses.” Sure, heels have derided the wrestling audience for plenty of things in the past, but boasting about one’s intelligence level in front of Vince McMahon is a surefire path to destruction. A stereotypical jock, McMahon has always hated eggheads, nerds, and the like and could never see one as a well-conditioned fighter. Granted, this is merely our speculation as to why Sandow failed to succeed, as there’s currently no explanation whatsoever for why WWE released him in 2016. For all fans could tell, Sandow was on the cusp of stardom until he lost the Money in the Bank contract to John Cena right before making it big. Even then, Sandow more than revived his prospects by serving as The Miz’s stunt double, only for McMahon to again ignore his notoriety. Not long after that, he was fired, and we still have to wonder why.
It says a lot about how poorly WWE regarded women’s wrestling until very recently that one of the few ladies doing her best to earn respect for her gender during the Attitude Era has pretty much been forgotten at this point. Granted, Ivory started getting iced out pretty much the minute she turned 40, an occasion that took place in 2001. In the two years prior to that, she had become a three-time WWE Women’s Champion and arguably the only wrestler of her era to actually earn the gold on merit as opposed to mere looks (or bad jokes) alone. Despite this, the second Lita and Trish Stratus came along, Ivory’s hard work at making wrestling fans respect women was cast aside. She kept working for WWE another three years after that, yet never again came close to any gold worth speaking of, let alone a top feud or angle like she deserved.
11 John Morrison
Looking like a rock/movie star and with a flashy move set to keep the cameras flashing, John Morrison was as ready made a star that has ever walked into the WWE Universe. Initially, WWE recognized this and gave Morrison some spotlight as a member of MNM, a multiple-time World Tag Team Championship winning duo. Once they broke up, it looked like Morrison could break out as a solo star, his matches earning high praise for the constant athletic maneuvers the man was innovating during them. The ECW Championship looked like step one toward a later WWE Championship or two, but instead, the moment Morrison lost the belt, Vince McMahon decided he needed to get back to the tag division and team with The Miz, which again was innovative and popular in their own right. Another breakup and potential solo run looked inevitable, but Morrison realized he was just spinning the wheels shortly after their breakup and decided to leave WWE and spread his wings elsewhere.
10 Scotty Goldman
In all fairness to Vince McMahon, he didn’t exactly stop caring about Scotty Goldman, better known to most wrestling fans as "Colt Cabana." No, to say McMahon gave up on Goldman implies the guy got something resembling a chance to succeed in the first place, which most certainly didn’t happen for the future two-time NWA Champion. It would've been hard for Goldman to standout during his time in the WWE Universe, as he only wrestled for the McMahon family all of seven months, five of which were relegated to WWE.com and C-Shows that few people ever watch. Throughout it all, longtime fans of Goldman were absolutely baffled by this treatment, wondering why McMahon was neglecting someone praised as an early standout for Ring of Honor, not to mention the various other small-time promotions that treated him with the respect he deserved. Not finding it in WWE, he accepted his release in short order and went back to places that recognized his talents.
9 Eric Escobar
Unless you happened to be watching WWE for a very short stretch of time from late 2009 to early 2010, you may just find yourself asking, “Who the hell is Eric Escobar?” It would be a fair question, too, as the superstar came and left the WWE Universe in almost record time, especially considering the spotlight he received upon arrival. For whatever reason, Vince McMahon initially thought Escobar was the perfect match for Vickie Guerrero, widow of WWE Hall of Famer Eddie, and herself an increasingly respected figure in the company. The decision didn’t last long, however, with Escobar and Guerrero splitting after a mere two months together, in theory turning him into a popular character with loads of potential. WWE went a different route with things, though, having Escobar lose practically every match he wrestled prior to getting fired without having done anything noteworthy without Vickie at his side.
8 Bob Backlund
Of all the falls from grace profiled on this list, Bob Backlund’s was definitely the harshest, and that’s not even the worst part about it—the former WWE Champion and Hall of Famer suffered almost the exact same treatment twice in his career. Both times around, Backlund suddenly found himself dramatically dropped down the card after losing the biggest prize in the business, first in late 1983 and then again a full decade later in late 1994. In fairness, Vince McMahon almost had a reason for getting rid of Backlund immediately after he lost to The Iron Sheik, as Bob refused to turn heel, and thus would've been mild competition to Hulk Hogan’s rising star. The next time around, however, there was absolutely no excuse for why Backlund dropped down to the bottom right after losing the big one, especially considering how quickly he had won and lost the thing. Mere days after beating Bret Hart for the title, Backlund was squashed by Diesel and never respected again. Making it even more confusing, he was easily the most hated heel in the business at the time, meaning WWE threw away loads of potential along with his reign.
7 Savio Vega
At the beginning of his WWE career, Savio Vega was yet another wrestler whom we can’t entirely blame Vince McMahon for ignoring. Performing under a mask and pretending to be Asian, the Puerto Rican athlete wasn’t going to become a superstar as Kwang, yet once again, it was Vince McMahon who put him in the role, so who’s really to blame here? Regardless, Vega somehow recovered from Kwang by reinventing himself as Savio Vega, an enthusiastic wrestling fan who happened to be friends with Razor Ramon. Due to his energy, charisma, and connection with The Bad Guy, Vega fast became one of the most popular rising stars of the New Generation era, with many fans actually expecting him to win the 1995 King of the Ring. Although that fell apart, a feud with rising star Steve Austin the next year made it clear Vega still had plenty to offer. Everyone knows how Austin’s prospects took off after that feud ended, making it all the more curious why Vega was more or less entirely left in the dust from then on.
6 Randy Savage
There’s more than one way for Vince McMahon to tell a wrestler his services are no longer needed. For most superstars on this list, he either fired them or simply pushed them down the card until they were forced to quit. When dealing with an iconic legend like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, however, McMahon couldn’t simply rely on questionable business practices to send a message he no longer thought they had what it takes. For Savage, McMahon decided the solution was forcing the second-to-none grappler into the announce booth while still in near-peak condition. The move began taking place in 1991 when Savage lost a “retirement match” to The Ultimate Warrior, after which he was stuck doing commentary with McMahon and Bobby Heenan until the end of his WWE contract. Sure, he eventually earned the right to get back in the ring and even won the WWE Championship for a second time when doing so, but then, it was right back to the announce booth, all because Vince randomly decided he shouldn’t wrestle anymore.
Since Vince McMahon has begun the practice of devouring his competition, it’s been well known that most wrestlers to make a significant name for themselves without his influence are going to get punished for it the second he hires them. This was more true for WCW than with any other small companies, yet it may have played a case with Rhyno, the final ECW World and Television Champion, who also played a major role in the much-maligned Invasion storyline. Next to Rob Van Dam, Rhyno was definitely the highest-profile former ECW wrestler involved in the angle, and he earned plenty of high-profile matches against Chris Jericho, and before any of that, he had an ongoing partnership with Edge, Christian, and Kurt Angle, all former or future World Champions. Rhyno, however, was forgotten about before the Invasion even ended, getting sidelined due to injury. When he came back two years later, all the momentum he had previously gained was entirely ignored, followed by his outright disappearance following the first One Night Stand.
4 Bam Bam Bigelow
Though he never achieved the WWE Championship success of Bob Backlund, Bam Bam Bigelow is similar to the Hall of Famer in that he, too, experienced a rollercoaster ride in WWE seemingly entirely disconnected from his popularity and talent. Considering his look, size, and general demeanor, it’s no surprise Vince McMahon saw big things in Bigelow the moment he first laid eyes on the Beast From the East in 1987. Bigelow’s performance at the 1987 Survivor Series instantly made fans perceive him as a future WWE Champion, only for McMahon to fire him without any explanation whatsoever about eight months later. He finally returned to WWE in the early ‘90s, and again was always on the cusp of the main event, with fans praising Bigelow’s agility, strength, and character work no matter how poorly he was booked. Still waffling on his feelings for Bam Bam, McMahon put him into a WWE Championship feud against Diesel that earned massive promotion, only to then fire the guy for a second time later in the same year.
3 Zack Ryder
Compared to the other wrestlers on this list, one of the sad realities about Zack Ryder’s lack of success in WWE is that fans know exactly why Vince McMahon has kept up with his practice of giving Long Island Iced Z so many start-and-stop pushes. The fact of the matter is that Ryder has become extremely popular, too much so for McMahon to ignore, yet he did so outside of McMahon’s wheelhouse, forever incurring the CEO’s wrath. Vince only likes ideas when he creates them from the bottom up, and Ryder’s character was largely developed during videos posted to YouTube, which were only related to wrestling in that a WWE superstar was starring in them.
Ryder earned massive cheers for his show, and McMahon momentarily even looked like he was going to reward him for it with a United States Championship run. Unfortunately, it was right back down to the bottom after Ryder lost that belt, a pattern that would repeat itself six years later -- and even faster -- when he won and lost the Intercontinental Championship in less than 24 hours. The lesson is, even if Ryder wins another title during his stint in WWE, don’t expect him to hold it for long.
For several years, a budding young superstar was asking WCW fans, “Who betta than Kanyon?” While his intended response of “nobody” was never achieved from the crowd, which preferred to answer “everybody,” Kanyon actually backed up his boast in the ring with one of the most innovative performance styles of his day. After WWE purchased WCW and Kanyon started working for the McMahons, his originality was still firmly intact, yet it was mere months before his prospects in wrestling dramatically plummeted. Rather than treat Kanyon like the upper-midcard star he was in WCW, McMahon saw him as a complete unknown who hadn’t earned his spot in the slightest. Soon, Kanyon found himself on the injured list, and by the time he was back, the Invasion was over. McMahon didn’t see Kanyon as a big enough star to deserve his own angle, so he was released instead, never getting another chance.
1 Daniel Bryan
Only in the rarest of cases can Vince McMahon openly give up on a wrestler and have his audience overrule that decision. Such a scenario is possible exclusively when a superstar on the level of Daniel Bryan comes around and the WWE CEO is the only person in the entire world who can’t recognize his potential. McMahon clearly saw something in Bryan from the beginning, instantly pushing him as a rising star and rewarding his skills with a United States Championship reign, followed by a Money in the Bank briefcase and run with the World Heavyweight title.
For a long time, though, it was all downhill from there, with Bryan losing the belt in 18 seconds and then getting dropped down to the midcard, despite fans chanting his name louder than ever. Gradually, the chants got so loud Vince couldn’t ignore Bryan any longer and placed him back in main events until a neck injury took him out of action for almost a full year. Upon his return, McMahon again tried stuffing Bryan back down the card and ignoring his star power for no reason, but this time around, it was a moot point, as repeat complications now look to keep Bryan out of the ring for good. Quite frankly, we wouldn’t be surprised if McMahon saw this as a minor plus.