Professional wrestling has a past that is packed with icons who helped build the empire we’ve all come to know and love today. “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair made famous the technical, pure style of wrestling which laid the foundation, while Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage built the walls and pillars to support the structure. Men like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson helped fill the seats, while those like John Cena help keep them full today.
It’s a team effort, which is why it’s beneficial to everyone that each individual succeeds. That is why it is always disappointing to see a WWE Superstar not rise to the level of greatness that he or she should have. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why talent might be squandered and a wrestler might be kept from achieving his or her peak of success in WWE. Maybe they left the WWE to go to another company for more money. Maybe they had all the talent in the world, but could just never stay healthy.
But then we have those Superstars who, no matter how successful they were, could have been so much more if not for the most pathetic of reasons. Perhaps petty personal drama got in the way, or maybe a wrestler decides at the worst possible time to get suspended for substance abuse. Other times it may be a case of general misuse of that talent by WWE itself, because let's get one thing clear, wrestlers aren't the only ones who can screw themselves. Here are 15 cases where the careers of WWE Superstars were stifled due to the dumbest of circumstances.
15 Roman Reigns
When The Shield debuted in 2013 it was evident right off the bat that all three men comprising the stable were destined to be stars. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns have dominated the Championship picture for the last couple of years, each of them having won the WWE Championship at least once. While all of them had something special, it was obvious from the start that Roman Reigns was easily the Shield member the fans were least into.
That didn’t stop WWE from pushing Reigns straight to the moon before Rollins or Ambrose, or at least attempting to. The company’s hand has been forced several times to refrain from going all in with Roman Reigns, as the audience has relentlessly booed him at every turn. Fans cried for him to at least become a heel, so that he could benefit from his natural heat. Sadly, WWE stood their ground for so long as they tried to make him into the hero that nobody wanted. WWE’s stubbornness in not allowing Roman Reigns to evolve organically has cost him years of performing at his peak potential. It also doesn't help his momentum that earlier this year Reigns got suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy.
14 Damien Sandow
For several years Damien Sandow was more famous for his brilliance on the microphone than his in-ring abilities. He referred to himself as the “intellectual savior of the masses,” becoming a modern-day version of the ‘80s wrestler known as The Genius. Sandow was never seen by WWE as a star, though he continuously outperformed all expectations and made gold out of nearly everything the company could throw at him.
In 2013 he was given a break when he won the Money in the Bank contract, which is almost always a guarantee that a Superstar will soon become World Champion. Unfortunately, Damien cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on John Cena and lost, because Super Cena dominates everyone. This killed all of his momentum, but he gained a measure of it back years later as The Miz’s stunt double. WWE also killed that momentum at its peak and sent Sandow back to the bottom of the barrel, never to be heard from again. WWE’s lack of ability to recognize his potential made sure that Sandow would never rise to the top.
13 Matt Hardy
The period of time when Matt and Jeff Hardy were going to war with Edge & Christian and the Dudley Boyz is considered one of the heights of tag team wrestling. When Matt and Jeff were eventually drafted to separate brands years later, Matt built a very respectable singles career that included an entertaining run with the Cruiserweight Championship. As well as a lengthy rivalry with MVP over the United States Championship.
In 2010, however, Matt Hardy’s WWE career had begun to fizzle and he grew frustrated with the product. He was sent home from a European tour after an altercation. Already a stupid move on Hardy's part, he then began posting YouTube videos of himself claiming he was disenchanted with WWE and wanted to be released. He was, and thus ended the WWE run of one of the company’s more popular Superstars.
12 Gail Kim
Gail Kim is one of the greatest female wrestlers of our time, except you wouldn’t know that unless you’ve watched TNA over the past decade. Kim has certainly turned heads within that company as a multiple time Knockouts Champion and will be inducted into the TNA Hall of Fame in 2016. Unfortunately, that talent has gone largely unnoticed by the casual wrestling fan base, and certainly by the WWE.
In the early 2000s, Gail Kim wrestled for WWE for a couple of years but was released because WWE had decided it was going to start hiring women marketable for their looks, instead of their wrestling ability. That alone is one of the stupidest reasons to pass up a talent as exceptional as Gail Kim, but then when Kim returned years later to give the company a second shot, women were even more mistreated and Gail left the ring in the middle of a match, effectively quitting the company.
11 Bray Wyatt
Before the Wyatt Family even made their main roster debut, there was a ton of hype. They had made names for themselves in NXT and instantly made an impact on Raw and SmackDown after first appearing. Erick Rowan and Luke Harper were awesome, but Bray Wyatt as the cult leader was something extra special. Week by week the team grew in popularity and their entrance grew more elaborate. Fans even began participating, using the lights on their cell phones as “fireflies.”
But then something started to happen. When he was still fresh on the main roster, Bray Wyatt started to lose all the matches that mattered. John Cena beat him at WrestleMania, which is almost always a nail in the coffin of any wrestler’s career, but that was only the beginning of the end. Wyatt continued to lose to just about every rival he faced and couldn’t even get a clear victory over Chris Jericho, who is famous for putting other wrestlers over. WWE’s mishandling of the Eater of Worlds quickly swept the rug out from under one of the most charismatic Superstars in the company.
When Kharma, otherwise known as Awesome Kong or Amazing Kong, showed up in WWE in 2011, the event was groundbreaking. A woman of Kharma’s size hadn’t been competing in WWE’s women’s division in many, many years, as the company had been marketing their women as eye candy more than wrestlers. Kharma stood to change the entire landscape of women’s wrestling in WWE, and was easily the most unique competitor to ever be called a “Diva.”
However, Kharma never got to bring her stellar in-ring skills to an official Divas division match, because she found out she was pregnant mere weeks after she began attacking other Divas on television and was forced to take a leave of absence. She sadly suffered a miscarriage and would only make one more appearance for the company as the third woman to compete in the annual Royal Rumble match. WWE released her after she was apparently not ready to return to the ring as quickly as WWE wanted her to. You can blame WWE’s impatience for never getting to see how Kharma would have impacted the Diva division.
9 Rob Van Dam
When WWE bought WCW and ECW in the early 2000s the company acquired a ton of wrestlers that fans had been eagerly awaiting to see compete in WWE. Rob Van Dam was among the biggest new stars, having been a major player in ECW and was destined to become one of that company’s most popular World Champions before the company shut down. Unfortunately, fans were starting to fear RVD would never gain that type of recognition in WWE, at least until WWE decided to rebuild ECW in its own vision.
The rest is history as far as WWE’s failed ECW goes, but Rob Van Dam benefitted from all the hype and finally, after many long years, became a World Champion. In fact, he captured both the WWE and ECW Championships simultaneously and was poised to rest on top of the wrestling world. A few weeks later, however, RVD made the bad decision of letting himself get caught in possession of drugs and WWE was forced to take both Championships off of him. Van Dam was also suspended, effectively stifling all the momentum he’d finally managed to build.
During her tenure with WWE, Melina Perez managed to fit the mold of a “Diva” perfectly, while also being unique enough to break through the noise. At the time she was a rare example of a female WWE employee who not only looked like a model but wrestled with the best of them. She debuted as the manager for Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury in the team “MNM,” but quickly broke out on her own and tore through the Divas division over a period of years, capturing several Divas and Women’s Championships.
Melina was building a career worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame, but almost as quickly as she started to make her mark in front of the camera, she was making one behind the scenes. Scattered, vague stories constantly rippled throughout the WWE Universe which placed Melina right in the center of petty dramas. Melina was rumored to have more backstage “heat” than any other person on the WWE roster until her behavior finally got her booted from the company.
7 Dolph Ziggler
Sometimes it’s so easy to spot the next popular star, yet so difficult to understand why WWE isn’t seeing the same thing. Dolph Ziggler has always had a massive fan following, frequently getting some of the best crowd reactions of the night even when he was playing the heel. When he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and won the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio in 2013 the night after WrestleMania, the audience erupted in one of the wildest fan pops in the history of Monday Night Raw and it seemed Ziggler would finally get his due.
Unfortunately, a concussion would soon sideline him for a brief time and it forever cut off his momentum. When he returned WWE had apparently given up on him as they booked him to lose the Championship back to Del Rio to the delight of absolutely no one. Rumors suggested WWE felt they couldn’t trust Ziggler to remain healthy as the Champion, but that doesn’t change the fact that the company bailed on an injured competitor, essentially punishing him for an accident and stopping his success dead in its tracks.
In the late 1990s, Kane was the scariest beast to ever step into a wrestling ring. He even managed to be scarier than his on-screen brother, The Undertaker, and that's saying something! Kane was inspired by Michael Myers and was supposedly charred to a crisp under that mask. Kane was indestructible, and even after he’d been softened up a bit, he was still one of the more unique characters on WWE television.
And then, in 2003, WWE decided it was time to unmask the monster. It was a horrible, horrible decision that instantly humanized the Big Red Machine. Now stripped of all his mystique, the Kane character would descend into an abyss where he could never truly intimidate the viewers ever again.
It can be argued that Kane did find plenty of Championship reigns in the years that followed, but he was always just lost in the shuffle. When the company tried to put the mask back on him in 2011, it became clear that you can’t put the cat back into the bag.
5 Cody Rhodes
There is no doubt that Cody Rhodes had some great moments in the ring. He had a memorable run with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, Jr., in The Legacy and an exciting reign as the Intercontinental Champion. He even teamed with his brother, Goldust, to capture the WWE Tag Team Championship, but then everything started to really go south.
Goldust and Cody Rhodes, the sons of the late WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, began losing their matches and Cody was blaming himself so he reinvented himself as Stardust, painting himself up like his brother. It was interesting for a few weeks, but the appeal soon wore off even though WWE insisted on pushing it. For years Cody Rhodes was stuck under the face paint until he cracked and left the company due to WWE’s unwillingness to utilize him to the best of his abilities.
4 Mr. Kennedy
The tale of Mr. Ken Kennedy is as unfortunate a “wasted potential” tale as there is. Upon entering WWE, Kennedy became an overnight hit, with great in-ring skills but an even more memorable entrance which included him standing in the ring as a microphone was lowered for him to announce himself. He quickly started picking up wins over some of WWE’s biggest stars of all time and Vince McMahon hatched a plan to have Kennedy revealed as his illegitimate son and give him a major push. This would happen through Vince faking his own death and leaving a video behind, handing the reigns of the company to Kennedy.
As fate would have it, after McMahon faked his death, Chris Benoit actually did kill himself after murdering his wife and son. This led WWE to dropping the storyline, but Vince still intended to reveal Mr. Kennedy as his son. That was until Mr. Kennedy’s real-life bad choices came back to haunt him and he was suspended for violating the company’s wellness policy. Kennedy shot himself in the foot at the most crucial point in his career and he never recovered.
3 CM Punk
If you were to compile a list of the biggest WWE Superstars of the past five years CM Punk would be at the very top of that list. Punk is a first ballot WWE Hall of Famer, having held the WWE Championship longer than anyone in decades. Punk became known not only for his excellent matches, but also his outspoken nature. Punk’s infamous “pipe bomb” promo set the wrestling world ablaze when he, supposedly out of character, called out everyone who could possibly. He did this because he’s CM Punk and he had absolutely nothing to lose.
In 2014, he left WWE, citing burn out and frustration with where his character and the company as a whole were going. Punk also called the company out for allegedly having improper health care practices. Punk claimed a staph infection on his lower back was being mistreated for weeks by WWE’s resident physician, and after the Royal Rumble, his final appearance, he went home. Not only that, Punk apparently got his severance letter in the mail on his wedding day. One can say CM Punk was difficult, but if WWE can pander to a guy like Brock Lesnar, you wonder if they wish they could have kept Punk around too.
Nothing can be said about Sting’s career that hasn’t already been said. He was one of the faces of WCW, winning nearly every title in the company on numerous occasions including his six reigns as WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He’s known for his legendary series of battles with WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair and spent most of his final active years working for TNA Wrestling, holding their World Championship several times as well. Sting is one of the greatest icons of professional wrestling in every way imaginable, except for the fact that he never got to make any sort of splash in the biggest wrestling organization in the world.
Steve Borden, the man behind Sting, put off his arrival in WWE for years. WWE reportedly contacted him many times to cut a deal and every time fans thought it looked like we’d finally get to see the Stinger on WWE television, news would break that he had signed a new deal with TNA. When Sting finally did arrive in WWE, he competed in only two matches, losing them both, before suffering an injury and being forced to retire from wrestling. Sting’s procrastination serves as the likely reason why one of wrestling's most epic legends went out not with a bang, but with a whimper.
She wasn’t the world’s greatest wrestling technician, nor was she the most sophisticated person to walk through Vince McMahon’s office door, but her undeniable charm and charisma saw that she broke down barrier after barrier. No one has ever been able to lay claim to being quite as revolutionary as the late, great Joanie “Chyna” Laurer. She was the first (and only) woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship and to compete for the WWE Championship, as well as the first woman to compete in the King of the Ring tournament and the Royal Rumble match. The list of her accomplishments goes on and on.
In an unfortunate turn, drama began brewing when her real life boyfriend, Triple H, left her for Stephanie McMahon. According to Chyna, the entire McMahon family saw to it that she was ousted from the company. WWE, Triple H and the McMahons deny hard feelings, but actions speak louder than words. There was never a response from the company anytime Chyna attempted to mend fences and the company has refused to induct her into the Hall of Fame.
While we will never know the full story, relationship drama has to be the stupidest reason to have ruined the career of one of the most revolutionary competitors in the history of wrestling.