WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon has been running WWE since the early 1980's and slowly began making WWE into the powerhouse it is today. He bought the WWWF from his father, Vince McMahon, Sr. and renamed it shortly after to the WWF. From here, he had a huge opportunity. At the time, the WWF had a huge territory in one of the biggest places in the United States, the Northeast. This included cities like Boston, New York, and many more.
The territorial system was a vast collection of companies from around the U.S. that were all under one governing body, the National Wrestling Alliance or NWA. They would decide on who the major champions would be, and it was much bigger to have an NWA Title than a territorial title. The NWA would have their champs travel around the country and allow their men and women to be seen all over too.
At the time, territories owned by certain companies would have TV deals that only allowed them to be the wrestling show seen. Jim Crockett Promotions were never going to be on in Texas as the WCCW owned by the Von Erich Family owned this area of the nation. Yet people like Ric Flair would be able to travel around and be on all the TV shows. Any promo they would do or match would also be seen by all, so long as it concerned a title owned by NWA. Vince slowly took this system down by buying up territories to eventually own wrestling nationwide, before expanding internationally.
This caused some issues in pro-wrestling as Vince had the only true game in town. Competition came up with ECW and WCW before they too suffered a loss and were bought by McMahon. Pro-Wrestlers have a bigger opportunity today due to the major rise in independent companies who are using the internet to truly expand out. Wrestlers still want to work with WWE a lot because they are still the only major place to be in the world, But working here does not mean you will succeed, and many feel buried by McMahon. Wrestling fans see this too. Yet not all people are held back by Vince. In this list, we're going to set the record straight on who you should blame Vince for and who you shouldn't.
15 Held Back: Zack Ryder
When people mention that "Vince buried Ryder," they are not too far off. Zack Ryder has worked for the WWE for over a decade now and was a former WWE Tag Team Champion before sort of disappearing from WWE programming. Feeling like he was on the firing block, he went to YouTube to start a web show called Z! True Long Island Story. It was beloved by fans, so much so that WWE realized the massive online audience was present and slowly integrated into social media and YouTube, both of which Ryder exploited massively. They were forced to give him TV time after this. Ryder even captured the WWE United States Title. However, he did not hold it for long, never had a rematch for it, and was attacked by Kane...causing him to be "injured." He would get a girl, then lose her too.
He barely showed up on programming after the following WrestleMania event and never got revenge on Kane seemingly. He would be thrown down to WWE NXT where he was thrust into another tag team, but by this time Ryder would be yet again showing his use. He would be brought back up and went on to win the WWE Intercontinental Title at WrestleMania 32, only to drop it the very next night to The Miz. He has been sparingly used and yet he's the perfect WWE guy. He's around 6'6 and 230lbs. He's ripped, can talk well, and can wrestle well. On top of all of this, fans love him. Why the heck is he not being used more? We have no answer other than Vince is not letting him be used in anything of importance.
14 Held Back: Dusty Rhodes
Dusty Rhodes was part of the territorial system we went over above. He was the NWA World Champion multiple times and was seen as one of the best in the world during his prime. He fit in with wrestling fans, as his mantra of "being the son of a plumber" resonated with the average 9-5 blue collar person. He had the perfect foe with Ric Flair and was involved in a legendary rivalry with him as a result. When Vince began taking out the territorial system in his buy, he was able to bring in Dusty for a short period of time. Rhodes was beloved by fans due to his success in the NWA and various territories. But when he came to WWE, it seemed pretty weird that he would be used so badly.
McMahon had one of the biggest stars in the history of the business. The man came in wearing polka dots and have a female manager, both of which who would dance around like crazy people. While McMahon would put Dusty in this position, Rhodes was known to be a genius. He made the most out of it, and now this look from Dusty is legendary too. Rhodes worked for the WWE from 1989-1991, quite short compared to most. He did have some good rivals in Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase, these programs were the only highlight. Vince did have him drop the dots toward the end of his time with the company, but he never would truly go very far for them. Despite his stardom and status. Dusty would leave WWE and go to work as a writer and booker once more, with the occasional match.
13 Held Back: Cesaro
It might seem odd to have Cesaro on this list, but he belongs on it. People have a real issue with his use in WWE, and they're not wrong for feeling the way they do. When he first arrived, he would win the WWE United States Title quickly into his run. He held it a while, but once losing it he was sent on an absolutely idiotic gimmick that sort of hurt him. Eventually, he made a comeback as a tag wrestler and partially due to impressive singles matches in WWE NXT. He joined Tyson Kidd and the two won the WWE Tag Team Titles together. Once Kidd went down with a very serious injury, Cesaro went on a tear and was having amazing match after amazing match. Vince even took notice when he had a great match with Roman Reigns, whom the company was trying to get over at the time.
Yet Cesaro would hurt his shoulder. Vince often makes people prove they can stay healthy before being pushed again, so when Cesaro came back from his injury we assumed that would be the case. Eventually, Cesaro proved himself but would be put into a tag team with Sheamus. While the two have gone on to win 4 WWE RAW Tag Titles, the reason he is being put with Sheamus is due to the Irishman having a serious neck issue and the fact is...he cannot work as a full-time singles worker. Tag matches make his career last longer. While Sheamus remaining in the business is fine, Cesaro's career as a singles worker is being reduced to remain with him. Sure, the two are winning tag titles but Cesaro is being held from reaching singles titles and realizing his potential. He is being used, but clearly not the way he should be.
12 Not Really Held Back: Gail Kim
Gail Kim is an interesting case that is often looked to when people think about women that Vince McMahon did not use properly. However, there is a bit of an issue with this idea. When Gail first came to WWE, she became the WWE Women's Champion right away. They needed to make new stars for the ladies, who they cycling out like crazy at the time. Kim was a great female wrestler who was gorgeous and Asian, a market WWE wanted to connect to more. She was thrust into the top of the women's card but was not ready for it. She would remain with WWE for a short time before leaving and going to TNA Wrestling. She became a huge star there and helped them build their women's division, which they called the Knockouts Division.
She won multiple titles and had great rivalries with people like Awesome Kong. Seeing that WWE now could look at her with credibility, she would go back after proving herself in TNA. They would not use her much upon that comeback. People have to understand why, however. WWE was not using ANY female wrestler very well. AJ Lee stood out as one among few who were making headway. But she and a fraction of others were getting used well. The women's division in total was nothing much to look at. Kim was among many women who were never going to be used well. While Kim would go back to TNA and have great matches and titles thrown her way, people like to say Gail was buried or held back in WWE on her return. Yet she wasn't any more than the entire division was at the time. Had she remained another year when the women were given better treatment...this likely would have seen her rise in the ranks. But we'll never know.
11 Held Back: Muhammad Hassan
When people think about Muhammad Hassan, there's a lot of interesting material that comes up. Hassan upon arrival was used in some big stories. He even had a segment with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 21. They put him in some big programs early on and he was getting over as a heel that the company could use in a big way. He was used as a Middle Eastern man who was against America. This is nothing new for WWE, but Hassan was a good talker with a great look. He was much bigger than the average Middle Easterner, because, well, he was Italian-American. However, the Middle Eastern character worked for him. Sadly, something out of his or WWE's control would end up ruining his career with them.
Hassan was being used as a foreigner who hated America, so he had to do things in WWE's then TV-14 environment that would land. They did a sort of attack as part of his storyline. At the time, WWE SmackDown was taped on Tuesday but the show aired on Thursday in America. Sadly, one random Thursday the London tragedy occurred. WWE aired their story with Hassan, but it came with words from WWE at the bottom of the screen explaining this had been taped prior to Thursday. This did not go well for WWE, clearly.
Hassan would not last with WWE for much longer and would be released shortly after this. It was WWE pretty much pushing Muhammad out over something they did with his character. While Hassan was said to not have a good attitude, many in WWE have had trouble with that and have not been released over it. It's pretty obvious what happened here.
10 Not Really Held Back: Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Damn, affectionally known as RVD by WWE fans, had quite a career in the company. He was a 4-time WWE Hardcore Champion, 6-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, 3-time WWE Tag Team Champion, WWE European Champion, WWE ECW Champion, and WWE World Champion. This is on top of his Money in the Bank win. A record like this does not seem to be one that screams "held back" or "buried" to many. However, others may disagree with this. The reason makes some sense, but these people leave out a lot of context.
RVD was held down a bit when he first came to WWE because he was a former WCW/ECW guy who they loved but had trouble booking outside hardcore matches. Eventually, they booked him better but he worked best as a mid-carder. Fans got behind him and the revival of ECW as a show helped generate the ability to make him ECW and WWE Champion at the same time. Sadly, RVD would get in trouble in 2006 when he and Sabu were stopped and arrested for possession of marijuana. No big deal to possess today, but in 2006? Big issue. WWE took the hit from this publicly and had RVD drop both titles to never win again. He remained with WWE for a while after this as well. He would spend time in TNA upon his departure before making his way back as a part-time guy. He still never won another World Title in WWE. Yet at the same time, we kinda get why.
9 Held Back: Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig was a very well-known performer in the 80's and 90's for both WCW and WWE. In WWE, he went by the name of Mr. Perfect and lived up to the name all the time. His matches were terrific, but he was not a huge man. While Hennig was not small, by any means, the size he was at would be considered smaller than the men who often main-evented for WWE. This was during WWE's issue of men being on steroids to get larger. Hennig would become a multi-time champion in WWE, having the opportunity to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship on 2 occasions. But that was it for his accomplishments. We're serious.
Hennig was considered one of the best of his era inside the ring, and he had the ability to cut a great promo. His character was terrific and he lived up to it all the time. Yet he never really held a ton of titles. He never even sniffed a World Title with WWE. Even when he went to WCW, he would hold their Tag Title and the WCW United States Championship. But he yet again did not hold a World Title, though he did get to compete for it. Hennig deserved better in his time with WWE. Sadly, he was trying to make a return to WWE in 2002 but got into a bad altercation with Brock Lesnar. He would be released for it, yet he remained wrestling until he shockingly passed away a year later. The coroner ruled that Hennig passed from acute cocaine intoxication, but steroids and painkillers played a part in the passing too. Perhaps WWE knew something beforehand, but we'll never know. But we do know his original run with WWE could have gone better for him.
8 Held Back: Davey Boy Smith (British Bulldog)
In the 80's and 90's, there were a lot of talented and legendary performers. British Bulldog, along with his tag team partner Dynamite Kid, took over the world as an amazing team. Bulldog would marry into the Hart Family, and as a result, become a member of the legendary wrestling family. He would even train up with the amazing Stu Hart, the father of Bret Hart. While Kid was a great performer, Bulldog was always the star in their team. He would eventually go into the singles world and do well, but not nearly as much as people wanted to see.
He would in total become a 2-time WWE Tag Team Champion, 2-time WWE Hardcore Champion, 2-time WWE European Champion, as well as a WWE Intercontinental Champion. The latter saw him win it off Bret Hart in England, and it is considered one of the greatest matches in pro-wrestling history. Smith would pass away in 2002 due to a heart attack, which was said to have been caused by anabolic steroids when he worked as a performer.
He had plenty of time and enough popularity to be a World Champion, but he was cursed to always be in the mid-card division. It was honestly terrible to see when things could have been much better for Bulldog. He's likely the most popular and greatest wrestler to come from The UK, yet he never held a World Title in WWE? Come on now!
7 Never Held Back: Shelton Benjamin
Many look at Shelton Benjamin and wonder how he has never been given more opportunity. He is a great pro-wrestler and has put on some amazing matches. During his prime, he was considered the best overall athlete in WWE. Today, he's still beloved for his ability in the ring with WWE. Overall, he has had a good career with WWE, however. He's a 2-time WWE Tag Team Champion, 3-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, and a WWE United States Champion. He has a lot of support from the African-American community in the U.S. but it never truly helped him get much further. So why was he not allowed to go forth?
The real thing that hurt Benjamin was who he was up against. When he came in there were a lot of names that come up with him. John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, and Brock Lesnar all came up at the same time. This is not including people already there like Triple H, Kurt Angle, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, as well as part-timing guys like The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. All of these people could talk well enough to be in the main event, and all had the charisma or the "it" factor needed to be on top. Benjamin could never cut a good promo and had zero charisma. They tried pushing him a number of times but he never fit the main event scene as a World Champion type. As a result, Vince McMahon did not push him to the top like people wanted. We understood why.
6 Held Back: Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
It seemed that when Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat entered WWE that he would get some major opportunities. Up to a point, he did. Though in the 80's he had some amazing rivalries in NWA Mid-Atlantic under Jim Crockett Promotions with people like Ric Flair and Sting, he also had some good ones in WWE. Likely the most popular was his major rivalry with "The Macho Man" Randy Savage. Savage had been one of the best IC Champs in history, but Steamboat would beat him for it. Their match at WrestleMania III is considered by many to be the greatest match in history. Though this one run with the title is all he ever did with WWE.
Steamboat wanted more and earned that right, but Vince did not seem willing to push him. WCW was on the rise once again, this time under management that could allow them to stand out. He jumped and would finally be treated like the star he should have been treated all along. He held a lot of gold in NWA from multiple U.S. Titles to the NWA World Title. He was a star with them, and WCW alike. But yet McMahon could not find a way to use Steamboat? He provided brilliant matches and was over with the fans. What more did Vince need to push him? This was during the major run of Hulk Hogan, and ultimately McMahon wanted to keep the Hulkster on top. That left everyone under him, especially Steamboat. Considering he came from the competition anyway.
5 Held Back: Cody Rhodes
We must preface our words about Cody Rhodes by saying he has been extremely open about his time in WWE, and he has come forth saying Vince never held him back. He feels that it was his problem with not being good enough to get the right push or his issue he was not getting over. He says WWE never did hold him back, but this is being said by Cody likely to simply be good to his former employer. They have honored his late father Dusty and his brother Dustin (Goldust) still works there, plus he has a lot of friends who are there. On top of this, he met his wife in WWE. Why would he not say good things? However, he would be wrong to say he was not held back.
Cody was a very good worker for WWE who spent 10 years with the company. He started in his early 20's and eventually went on to become a 6-time WWE Tag Team Champion and a 2-time WWE Intercontinental Champion. He seemed to be used oddly in his latter days with WWE, and they even went with a Stardust character that just never worked. He asked to be changed back to "Cody Rhodes" but was denied this request. Since leaving WWE, he has become "The American Nightmare" and has gotten over as a top member of New Japan's Bullet Club. He even won the ROH World Title and been one of the biggest indie stars in the world. The "All In" show he is helping to run would even sell out in a few hours....with 10,000 seats filled. WWE could have used him better, no question. Fans love Cody and wanted more, he went out and got what he deserved.
4 Never Held Back: Daniel Bryan
People often look at Daniel Bryan as the poster boy for people being held back in WWE, when this could not be further from the truth. During his first run with WWE, pre-concussion time-out, he was given a lot. WWE made him a WWE United States Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion, Money in the Bank Winner, World Heavyweight Champion, WWE Champion, and had him main event WrestleMania 30. Most will say he was held back and that it took fans for him to even get to that very main event, but in reality, the story was built up to present him as a possible add-in. Though it did take a lot of fan support, they did not know what kind of thing fans were wanting at this time.
Now they do, but only Triple H seems to push it. Vince McMahon did not want Bryan as the face of WWE for obvious reasons, but he would never stop a money maker from helping attain more wealth. Bryan would get hurt and be held out of WWE for around 3 years as a result. People thought Vince was not letting Bryan come back because he wanted Roman Reigns to get over. And with Bryan back, he'd take away from Reigns. This was clearly insane. McMahon never held Bryan back and gave him a ton of titles. In a mere 5 years, he won a ton of gold and was in major matches. They were slowly pushing him and then realized what they had needed to be exploited in a bigger way. It was mere business.
3 Held Back: Dean Ambrose
Currently, people are looking at Dean Ambrose's resume and kind of wondering how in the world a guy like this is being held back. It is true that he is a former WWE United States Champion, 2-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, WWE RAW Tag Team Champion, Money in the Bank Winner, and WWE World Heavyweight Champion. He has been around a little while, but Ambrose was always the guy held back in The Shield. Immediately upon their split, Seth Rollins was used as WWE's new top heel while Roman Reigns was thrust into one of the top faces for the company. Ambrose, considered better than both by most...was left back.
WWE rarely used him right, and only had him hold titles for a purpose. Like if they needed to move him to a show and the title with him. Perhaps they needed him to be the man to drop a title to someone. He was always like a utility player. Today, he is used in odd ways. While he is out injured, he was randomly doing tag teamwork...even being part of The Shield revival. He was WWE World Champ almost 2 years to the date and we are putting him in tag matches? While it is clear McMahon could always keep using Dean better. One thing is factual. From 2014-2016...no one had more matches in a year than Dean Ambrose. He would have had this last year if not for the injury. He has been an ironman for WWE, and he has rarely been rewarded for it.
2 Not Holding Back: Mike Kanellis
Mike Kanellis was formerly known as Mike Bennett on the independent scene. He was known to be impressive there, and many felt a jump to WWE with the NXT brand would give him the ability to do a lot. However, he was thrown straight to WWE SmackDown Live. What made it worse was that wrestling is known to be a "manly" and "masculine" thing. Mike was forced to take the last name of his wife, Maria Kanellis. She was a former WWE Diva for a number of years before departing the company and eventually meeting Mike. She was his manager all over the world, and they would arrive together under some sort of "love" gimmick. Meanwhile, the dude took her name.
The main thing that hurt Mike was this gimmick, but also the fact that Maria would get pregnant. So WWE could not use them in a bigger way due to one being down in the group. The act only works as a dual thing. On top of this, Mike had issues for many years. He decided since WWE had fully paid rehabilitation for all current or former wrestlers, he would take advantage of it. So he would go and get clean, which is freaking awesome, right? While Vince is happy about that, he is not going to push a person coming out of rehab right away. Especially when the gimmick he has needs his wife to work. So is Vince holding Mike back? It does not seem so. Though a run in NXT couldn't hurt, right?
1 Held Back: Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper was a legend. There is no other word to describe this man, as no other world holds enough weight to make sense. Most fans and many wrestlers consider Piper to be the single best heel in WWE history, and possibly in wrestling period. Piper was known for his mouth, and he could cut a promo like few others. To top it off, he was great in the ring. He was one of the top guys of his day and was the only man in WWE history through the 80's and early 90's who never lost to Hulk Hogan via pin or submission. He made sure this was well-known by the way. Especially when he traveled to WCW at the time Hogan was present.
His WWE run was not terrible, as he did main event WrestleMania and held both the WWE Intercontinental and Tag Team Titles. However, Vince was so big on pushing Hogan as the top guy that he did not allow him to drop the World Title. Piper, likely more than most, deserved to hold it before leaving WWE. Obviously, he was one of the biggest NWA stars ever and held many territorial World Titles. Yet never for WWE did we see this, despite being likely the best thing Vince had to go up against Hogan or any other good guy he had. He made something out of nothing better than most, yet was never rewarded for it or used in the biggest positions. Piper may have no regrets for his career, but fans feel he deserved a chance at the very top.