Sometimes, the difference between becoming a top superstar and being a jobber for life is a bit of luck. A lot of the most successful wrestlers in history achieved such great heights because they had luck on their side. John Cena became a top star after emerging from Brock Lesnar’s shadow. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels became champions following Vince McMahon’s steroid trial. Mark Calaway became The Undertaker instead of The Gobbledygooker.
The point is, no matter how good a wrestler is, or how much support they have from the company higher-ups, one must have good luck to succeed in professional wrestling.
But for these 10 individuals, their luck ran out at the worst possible time.
Every single one of the wrestlers on this list was in the midst of a major push or was enjoying regular success when their luck ran out. When that happened, their careers, and in a few cases their personal lives as well, were changed forever. So devastating were their misfortunes that some of them have become either warnings for current wrestlers, or the defining (and most embarrassing) moments of otherwise great wrestlers.
If there’s one lesson you need to take from these 10 tales, it’s this: you must be extremely careful in everything you do during your career as a professional wrestler. If you don’t, you’ll end up like these guys: regretting their past misfortune while constantly wondering what could’ve been.
9 Kofi Kingston
In 2009, Kofi Kingston was getting the biggest singles push of his career, and was doing well in his rivalry with Randy Orton. Sadly, all of that came to a screeching halt when Kofi’s luck ran out. He messed up the finish of a match he had with Orton.
Being out of place for Orton’s Punt Kick, Orton audible yelled ‘Stupid, stupid’ at Kofi because of this mistake. At the time, Orton was believed to have an attitude backstage, and his problem with Kofi led to the Ghanaian wrestler’s main event push being terminated.
Since then, Kofi has drifted aimlessly in the mid-card, until being put into the New Day stable. While he’s doing very well for himself, one cannot help but wonder where he’d be now if he had better luck and completed his rivalry with Orton in the way he was supposed to.
8 Seth Rollins
Ever since WrestleMania 31, Seth Rollins was on top of the world. He was the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, was putting on some of the best matches in WWE, and was well on his way to solidifying himself as the most important person in the promotion.
Then his knee injury occurred.
Rollins was forced to vacate his title after a lengthy run, undergo surgery, and be on the shelf for 6-9 months. His absence from WWE came at the worst possible time, with the roster already low on top-tier talent and even more superstars absent from the program. Rollins isn’t likely to be ready to return before WrestleMania, rendering the much-anticipated ‘Shield Triple Threat’ match for the WWEWHC impossible.
8. Muhammad Hassan
During his short career, Hassan was a lightning rod for crowd reaction. He was such a despicable character that, no matter how much he tried to gain sympathy, fans still hated him. Of course, leave it to the WWE to take such an initially reasonable character and blow it out of proportions.
To amplify the hate, the WWE booked the ‘terrorist’ segment. It was a shocking segment, which was made even worse when it aired in the UK…shortly after the 7/7 London Bombings.
The backlash from the public and WWE’s partner companies was so severe that the Hassan gimmick was ‘killed off’ at the earliest possible opportunity, and was never seen in the WWE again. He could’ve been a huge star, and was rumored to be scheduled to win the world title in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, bad luck put a stop to those plans.
7 'Dr. Death' Steve Williams
‘Dr. Death’ could’ve (and would’ve) been a megastar in WWE if it weren’t for the dreadful mess that was the Brawl For All tournament. The WWE thought it would be a good idea to put Williams, a genuine tough guy and outstanding AJPW alumnus, in a shoot-fight competition. That went about as well as the boxing match between Roddy Piper and Mr. T. at WrestleMania II.
Williams was injured in his first-round fight against Quebecer Pierre, and then was knocked out by Bart Gunn, a perpetual mid-carder and glorified tag team wrestler. How could Dr. Death’s career possibly be salvaged after that?
If ‘Dr. Death’ was a bit luckier, he would’ve either found a way to win the tournament or wouldn’t have participated in it in the first place. If WWE built him up like a traditional wrestler, he would’ve had a much more successful career with them.
6 Owen Hart
Owen Hart was arguably the best worker during his WWE career, and many thought that his hard work would eventually pay off in a big way. Sadly, luck wasn’t on his side on August 3, 1997 when he faced ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin for the Intercontinental Championship.
Owen Hart executed a sitout Tombstone Piledriver onto Austin, unaware that Austin’s neck was six inches below the safety threshold. So when Hart sat down, he legitimately broke Austin’s neck, necessitating a new match finish.
Hart’s actions caused WWE severe problems, as Austin’s career would be shortened as a result of this injury. Hart, meanwhile, never got the major push he deserved, and was punished by WWE for injuring the man they were grooming into their top star. If that mistake never happened, there’s a chance that all the misfortune that happened afterwards would’ve been avoided.
5 Evan Bourne
During the mid-to-late 2000s, Evan Bourne was one of the most exciting wrestlers in WWE. He was enjoying great success for a small man in a giant’s world, until his luck ran out big time.
While teaming with Kofi Kingston and sharing the WWE Tag Team Championship with him, Bourne was suspended for 30 days for violating the company's wellness policy. This required a sudden title change, ending the team’s forward momentum. Shortly after losing the title, he was suspended again for his second violation, this time for 60 days. Then, two months later, Bourne was involved in a serious car crash that broke his foot in several places.
By the time he returned to a WWE ring, the roster had moved on and there was no longer a place for him. He only wrestled at live events, and was released the following year.
4 Jack Swagger
After a disappointing run as a top heel on SmackDown, Jack Swagger finally seemed to have found a winning combination when he was paired with Zeb Coulter and was given an anti-immigrant character. He was eliciting major responses, and was being pushed into a major spot for WrestleMania.
He would’ve won, if his luck didn’t run out.
Less than a month after debuting his new character, Swagger was arrested for DUI and marijuana possession. His mugshot spread virally, and his main-event push was all but destroyed. All of a sudden, he was booked to be weaker than he was before, and eventually got lost in the shuffle in WWE’s bloated mid-card.
If he had better luck, Swagger would’ve won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXIX, and gone on to become a top guy on SmackDown, instead of being a forgettable mid-carder.
3 Rob Van Dam
In 2006, RVD looked like he was finally being rewarded for his hard work and dedication…until his luck ran out.
On June 3, 2006, RVD and Sabu were arrested for drug possession in Ohio. RVD was subsequently suspended by the WWE for 30 days. At the time, he was both the WWE Champion and ECW World Heavyweight Champion, and was forced to drop both belts at live events to justify his impending absence.
Van Dam’s misfortune led to the premature end of his greatest accomplishment in the WWE. He could’ve been an even bigger draw for WWE, but that possibly disappeared when his luck did. If that Ohio state trooper ignored or missed RVD’s car, he would’ve been a champion in the WWE for much longer than a forgettable 21 days.
2 Akitoshi Saito
Akitoshi Saito might be one of the worst victims of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ in wrestling history. He wrestled in a tag team match on June 13, 2009, and one of his opponents was the legendary Mitsuharu Misawa. Saito lifted Misawa for a ‘regular’ Belly-to-back Suplex, and upon landing, Misawa lost consciousness. EMTs arrived to try and resuscitate Misawa, but to no avail. He passed away in the hospital shortly thereafter.
Most people agree that Misawa’s death wasn’t Saito’s fault. Misawa had never taken time off, despite over two decades’ worth of damage done to his body, including an undiagnosed neck injury. It was only a matter of time before his spine would finally give up on him, and it did when Saito suplexed him.
Saito’s career and life haven’t been the same ever since, especially after some fans vandalized his house, blaming him for Misawa’s death.
1 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan & The Iron Sheik
When ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and the Iron Sheik decided to ride together, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was normal for rivals to ride together, as long as fans didn’t see them together. Unfortunately, Duggan and Sheik tried their luck one too many times when they decided to ride into New Jersey together with a car full of drugs.
It was bad enough that they were pulled over for drug possession. But what made it worse was the mainstream media coverage of their arrest. The sight of two bitter rivals riding together damaged the illusory nature of pro wrestling big time, since this was before Vince McMahon had revealed the truth to the world.
Both Duggan and Sheik were fired on the spot, never achieving the same glory again. Their bad luck led to one of the biggest scandals in wrestling history, and nearly killed the WWE.