It is impossible for someone to know when they are in the prime of their careers (or lives) until after they’ve already left it. Only with retrospect can we truly know when we were at our best, and often times even then, we can think back on certain decisions we could have made that could have turned the alleged best times of our existence into even more memorable and important affairs.
These facts are true to virtually every profession, and they most certainly apply to athletics, and especially in professional wrestling, where quick thinking and good timing plays a huge role in practically every aspect of the industry. Maybe it isn’t fair to claim that these wrestlers truly wasted their careers, but the point is, there have been dozens of wrestling superstars over the years who many fans expected would have accomplished far more than they did.
Critics and fans of these superstars alike may disagree, as many of the superstars on this list at least achieved some success, or else we wouldn’t have known their names in the first place. Some of these wrestlers are still competing and even succeeding to this day, albeit perhaps not at the same level they were when their wrestling skills truly reached their peak. Other performers on this list have retired or passed on, and in those cases we are even more steadfast in our belief that they wasted what could have been at the pinnacle of their accomplishments in life, often for wild and unexpected reasons. Keep reading to learn about 15 professional wrestlers who totally wasted the best years of their careers.
15 Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow debuted for WWE in 1987, and instantly seemed poised to become a huge deal within the company. Bigelow was the standout star of the first Survivor Series, and was advertised as a potential surprise winner for the WWE World Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV. Bigelow would go on to be eliminated from that tournament in the first round and jump to the NWA, where he would also only compete for a few months, albeit again at the fairly high level of a United States Championship contender.
Bigelow mostly left America to enjoy a fairly successful run in Japan, and returned to WWE in 1992. Only four short years after his initial run, Bigelow’s stock had already plummeted, and he never again reached the top of the WWE card. Bigelow did manage to main event WrestleMania 11, but in doing so he actually damaged his reputation even further, due to the fact that he lost to football player Lawrence Taylor. Bigelow moved on to a pretty successful run in ECW before jumping to WCW, but by this point, the great potential he had shown a decade earlier as a rookie had significantly diminished.
14 Brock Lesnar
Quite a few of the entries on this list could be controversial in one way or another, as any sort of opinion-based list can be. We have to admit that this entry, in particular, is one that most people probably wouldn’t agree with, and that includes Brock Lesnar himself. Lesnar walked away from WWE in 2004 to try his hand at football, and though that failed, he would go on to spend the next five years of his career in the world of MMA, principally fighting for UFC. Lesnar was as dominant in UFC as he was in pro wrestling, winning the UFC Championship in 2008, so it would be completely reasonable to say that he made the right choice and he didn’t waste anything.
Nonetheless, wrestling fans like to look back and speculate on what could have happened to the legacy of Brock Lesnar had he chosen to spend his entire career with WWE. Lesnar already was at the top of the company when he left, and easily could have stayed there and racked up countless titles, all the while becoming the true face of the company while doing so. No one can fault Lesnar for choosing to prove himself in MMA, although it might be fair to say that his year in the NFL at least could have been much better spent.
In the world of professional wrestling, dozens of factors can go into a superstar becoming a success, and the same thing is true about the reasons they may not take off on the level that is expected of them. Therefore, no one can specifically explain why Matt Bloom, known during his varying tenures in WWE as Prince Albert, Albert, Jason Albert, Lord Tensai, A-Train, the Hip Hop Hippo, and Sweet T, wasn’t nearly as successful during his run in America as he was during his stint in Japan.
Wrestlers, in general, have a reputation for working harder in Japan, and perhaps Bloom could merely have been a victim of circumstance in this regard. Nonetheless, most everyone would agree that he was a complete joke during his initial run in WWE, so even when he returned to the company after suddenly becoming twice the talent he was before, his past failures precluded him from being the star he perhaps should have been. Bloom now works as head coach of NXT, training future superstars and presumably teaching them how to avoid making the same career mistakes he did.
12 Perry Saturn
Many of the wrestlers on this list may show a hint of resentment when discussing the pitfalls of their careers, especially if they feel like other people were more at fault for their failures than they were. Perry Saturn, on the other hand, isn’t exactly capable of any such resentment, since he has taken responsibility for the mistakes made in his career. However, at the same time, Saturn would have to confess that he doesn’t remember many of the mistakes. The problem with Perry was that he was a severe drug addict during his entire run in WCW and WWE, which included an addiction to crystal meth.
Saturn’s addictions got so out of control once he left WWE that he briefly became homeless, and was legally declared missing. While that may have been true rock bottom for Saturn, his life was already getting pretty low during his career, and in retrospect, Saturn has admitted to forgetting entire stretches of his life due to his drug habits, including for example his run as WWE European Champion. Considering the fact that Saturn was actually still pretty good in the ring during this time, one can only speculate as to how great he may have been if he were completely clean, and whether or not he could have been a bigger star than he was.
11 Ed Gantner
Every story about the brief and tragic career of Ed “The Bull" Gantner starts the same way. Paul Heyman generally describes things better than anyone else, so it’s only fair to defer to his judgment, when he was quoted as saying, “I don’t think there’s anyone that’s had more promise walking in the door than Big Ed Gantner.” Gantner was a former football player who Heyman immediately felt “had every asset and gift to become a WrestleMania main eventer.” However, Gantner is probably the least successful wrestler on this list despite all the praise, and in fact barely even gave the whole wrestling thing a fair shake.
Heyman and other wrestling insiders claim Gantner not only showed outrageous promise from day one, but also continued to improve rapidly from the minute he stepped into the ring. Nonetheless, The Bull suffered a particularly unlikely life, in that a series of terrible health problems forced him into retirement when he was only 28-years-old. Gantner’s long history of steroid abuse contributed to his problems, and he began experiencing frightening mental problems on top of his various physical ailments. Ganter’s potential was completely put to rest in December of 1990, when he sadly passed away by committing suicide.
10 Jake Roberts
The true tragic story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is just as well known as any major professional wrestling angle, due largely to the fact that fans still are amazed to witness just how far Jake fell when he was at his worst. Roberts went from one of the top stars in WWE to a crack addict wrestling for less than a dozen people in about six years, and he could have stayed with WWE the entire time instead of meeting this fate had he just been able to clean up his act. Jake started wasting his life away with drugs in the late ‘80s after a botched guitar shot by the Honky Tonk Man caused chronic pain only alcohol could fix.
Roberts held himself together until 1992 when he left WWE for WCW, at which point his career started to completely tank. Whether or not the drugs were entirely to blame is unclear, but Jake’s WCW run was a total dud, and his return to WWE only sank him further down the ranks of the wrestling world. Nonetheless, WWE was willing to offer him a backstage position due to his reputation as one of the greatest minds in wrestling, but Jake threw that away in favor of getting hammered on the indy circuit for hundreds of dollars a night.
9 Mr. Kennedy
Burned bridges are often a cause for a master craftsperson in any profession to suddenly lose their standing in the industry, and Mr. Kennedy is one of the biggest examples of this pitfall in WWE history. Kennedy debuted for WWE in 2005 and quickly stood out thanks to his gimmick as a pretentious ring announcer. He rode his breakout success to a reign with the WWE United States Championship, and then won the 2007 Money in the Bank, but lost his ensuing World Championship match, and thus never was able to become a true main event player in the company. He was fired from WWE in 2009 after complaints from John Cena and Randy Orton that he worked too dangerously in the ring.
At first, it seemed like Kennedy would be one of the many superstars on this list who at least managed to have a somewhat successful career in TNA, as he won the TNA World Championship on two separate occasions. However, Kennedy would ruin things for himself once more when he failed a drug test, and then went on a vitriolic rant against TNA days later at an independent show. Fans of both WWE and TNA can thus stand in agreement that Kennedy is one of the bigger wastes on this list, as even his consolation career turned into a bust when he made brand new terrible mistakes.
8 Kerry Von Erich
In all fairness to Kerry, his placement on this list stands as a representation of his entire family, or perhaps as a result of the pressures placed on his family by his father, Fritz Von Erich. Kerry was the most popular of the Von Erich boys, and thereby the most successful, winning the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and WWE Intercontinental Championship. Kerry’s big wins came nearly 9 years apart, too, showing he had longevity in the industry and wasn’t exactly a minor star. However, it still goes without saying that he squandered his talent, and could have done much more with his fame. Kerry’s problem was the same as all of the Von Erich sons, in that his father expected more out of him than he was able to give, and he turned to drugs as a result.
Kerry’s NWA World Championship victory caused tens of thousands of Texans to jump to their feet, but he lost it back to Ric Flair only a few weeks later, as the NWA championship committee knew a drug addict like Kerry would screw things up if they trusted him for too long. The same thing happened when Kerry won the Intercontinental title in WWE, as well. Were he and his family able to piece their lives together, the Von Erich name could have become even more legendary than it was. Unfortunately, the legend is based on their tragic demise instead, and Kerry’s brief successes are looked at as aberrations rather than high points.
7 The Road Dogg
The thing about a wrestler truly wasting the best years of their career is that one can have absolutely no idea how big of a star they could have been. In reality, although The Road Dogg was very popular for a brief period of time, he never exactly became a main event star, nor was he ever anywhere near a World Championship contender. However, his popularity was nothing to scoff at, as he could often get giant crowds in the palm of his hands, and took that success to multiple Intercontinental and Tag Team Championship wins.
Regrettably, like so many others on this list, the Road Dogg has since explained that he was addicted to a variety of drugs for virtually his entire run in WWE. In his own estimation, Road Dogg thinks drugs were having an effect on his career as early as his debut as Jeff Jarrett’s manager, The Roadie. During an interview on the WWE Network, Road Dogg told JBL that he occasionally wonders how different his career could have been if drugs never entered his life, and there’s, unfortunately, no way he or anyone else could ever find an answer to that question.
6 Dustin Rhodes
Dustin Rhodes was been born with wrestling’s silver spoon in his mouth, considering his father Dusty Rhodes was one of the preeminent legends of the industry. Both because of his father and in spite of him, Dustin was given opportunities other wrestlers could only dream of, and from a much younger age than most superstars who have made their worldwide debuts. People have long since cried nepotism over Dustin’s career. However, he has proven his worth in and out of the ring, to show the public that he earned his spot through hard work and dedication to his craft.
Rhodes was able to accomplish the impressive task of making a name for himself out of his father’s shadow, but his reputation still never came close to his father's. The world will never know whether or not Dustin actually had the skills to become such a star, either, as he was addicted to a variety of drugs throughout his career. His problem became worse when he took on the Goldust persona, and spiraled out of control by the time he was in TNA. Goldust cleaned himself up and made an amazing comeback in 2013 at the age of 44, though had he been clean the whole time, he may never have had suffered as many career downswings damaging his reputation and necessitating a comeback in the first place.
5 Jeff Hardy
It may not come as a surprise that Jeff Hardy is yet another superstar who makes this list for drug-related reasons. However, even the harshest Jeff Hardy deniers continue to shake their heads in amazement at just how quickly Jeff Hardy ruined his career mere days after he had seemingly reached his peak. Though there may be some debate over whether or not it made Hardy the company’s top star, it would be hard to deny that Jeff was the most popular superstar in WWE when he won the World Championship from CM Punk in 2009.
Hardy lost the title back to Punk at SummerSlam that year, and again lost a cage match to Punk a few days later on SmackDown, and despite his status as the biggest face in WWE, the Charismatic Enigma hasn’t been seen in the company since. The reason is that Hardy was arrested for drug trafficking, a crime he later served prison time for, only two weeks after his final SmackDown aired. Hardy has since turned into one of the top stars of TNA, and he thus may feel like he isn’t wasting anything, but like many on this list, Hardy has countless fans within the WWE Universe who wish he hadn’t committed the crimes he did and embarrassed WWE, and was welcomed back when he was less broken down by his years of show stealing in the ring.
4 Scott Hall
Wrestling fans have always argued over the importance of winning a World Championship, and whether or not a truly legendary wrestler needs to have done so to earn an iconic status. The center of this debate are usually superstars like Scott Hall, who singlehandedly and overwhelmingly changed the wrestling business, despite the fact that they never were given the top prize in a major wrestling company. Hall’s earth-shattering moment was introducing the nWo to WCW, and yet somehow, Hall almost instantly became at best the third string in the nWo operation. Regardless of how they did it, it remains true that Hollywood Hogan and Kevin Nash always outranked Hall in the nWo.
Although he was third in command, Hall was nonetheless able to earn multiple shots at the WCW World Championship, and based on fan interest, it could be fair to say that he could or even should have won the Big Gold Belt once or twice. Unfortunately, Hall’s infamous problems with alcoholism were in full swing during his time in WCW, and company executives never could trust a personality as volatile as his with carrying the promotion. Making matters worse, as Hall reached the peak of his popularity as a solo wrestler in early 2000, he ended a long relationship with the niece of a high-ranking Ted Turner official, thereby ruining any chance of him working for WCW again in the process.
3 Austin Aries
Austin Aries started calling himself The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived the second he walked into NXT, which might seem like a hefty boast for a newcomer. Aries at least had the reputation to back it up, thanks to his years of success in TNA and ROH. However, it is this same period of success that brings up the question of whether or not he was squandering the best years of his life, as Aries could have joined WWE or one of its developmental territories and become an even bigger star well before he turned 37.
The extent of Aries’ accomplishments in TNA and ROH, which include World Championship reigns in both companies, make him a truly tenuous superstar to include on this list. Aries himself has claimed he is happy with how his career went, although he does admit things were getting bad in TNA when he decided to leave and finally join WWE. Had he been in WWE all along, Aries may never have been forced to abandon ship, and could have been climbing the ladder of success while still blessed with the gift of youth.
2 Bobby Roode
We may be jumping the gun on this one, considering Bobby Roode only made his official NXT debut in August of 2016, and is already one of the top stars in the development territory. Roode’s debut in and of itself is the problem, however, as the Glorious superstar was already 39-years-old when he first stepped into Full Sail University, and there’s no telling how old he’s going to be by the time he graduates to the main WWE roster. WWE, in general, is experiencing a growing trend where they’re hiring older, established stars, only to hold them off in NXT, and it could well be wasting the little potential these wrestlers have remaining.
Granted, more than anyone else on this, Bobby Roode could be argued to have experienced the perfect career despite what we’ve said thus far. Success should be measured by happiness, and unlike many others, Roode has expressed no regrets about his years in TNA, not to mention his dominance as the longest reigning TNA World Champion in company history. Be that as it may, the WWE Universe could have experienced a touch of glory years earlier had Roode found his way there, and we’re running out of time to find out how much of that glory is even left.
1 A.J. Styles
It only took A.J. Styles an impressive eight and a half months between his WWE debut and his first WWE World Championship victory, so it would be fair to question how exactly he’s wasted any part of his career. However, the fact that WWE has decided to cash in on A.J. as quickly as they have, could be a sign that the company realizes there may not be much time left with him. He may be the Phenomenal One, but all pro wrestling careers have a shelf life, and A.J.’s time in WWE didn’t even begin until he was already 38-years-old.
Dozens of wrestlers have had sterling careers well into his or her 40’s, and it's absolutely possible AJ could become one of those superstars. Nevertheless, A.J. himself has openly expressed regret over his time in TNA, not necessarily in the way his career went, but simply because he thought TNA was a miserable company to work for in the first place. Styles and his fans alike were generally happier with his stay in NJPW, although those who remain faithful to WWE may nevertheless wish Styles had accepted the offer the company made him all the way back in 2002, as one can only imagine how many WWE Championships he may have won over the past 14 years if it weren't for his time in TNA.
Sources: WWE, WrestleZone, Wrestling Inc.
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