It was back at World Championship Wrestling pay-per-view Bash at the Beach when Vince Russo, while cutting an in-the-ring promo that aired live, brought up the real-life politics that affect professional wrestling. While that moment was not a proud one for the writer or for WCW, his words, while not the actual worked-shoot itself, offered yet another reminder that the cream is not, in fact, always allowed to rise to the top. That remains true in World Wrestling Entertainment in the year 2015, and it has resulted in fans who attend live events to go against the storylines that they theoretically should back.
One could put together a long list of times when the WWE held certain talent down for one reason or another despite the fact that those individuals could have reasonably been big-time players in what has become the top pro wrestling organization in North America. Rather than do that or simply focus on the present state of the company, this piece will instead go back and forth through time and examine five current wrestlers who should be better off on the card and also five cases when the WWE dropped the ball on what could have been feuds that made the company good money.
Each of the five current WWE performers spotlighted in this piece could still reach the mountaintop. The first man on the list has already been there, one spent about a blink of an eye in that position, while another seemed destined to complete that journey before the opportunity was shockingly pulled away from him. The No. 1 spot on this list is a group of talent that was thoroughly wasted by WWE largely because of pride and old real-life feuds, and the decisions that were made at that time changed the face of pro wrestling on this continent for the worse.
10 Daniel Bryan
One can only put Bryan so high on such a list considering that he was the victor of a main event feud at a WrestleMania. That only happened after multiple fan revolts caused by how World Wrestling Entertainment had booked the former “American Dragon,” and early signs are that WWE learned nothing from previous mistakes. Bryan's biggest WWE push ended early after he suffered an injury that put his career in jeopardy, and it now, as of the middle of February 2015, looks as if the company will go with Roman Reigns over Bryan as the top babyface in the organization.
9 The Nexus
It was pro wrestling at its finest. The Nexus, formed by the first ever NXT class, stormed the ring in June of 2010 and destroyed hero John Cena en route to introducing itself to the world. World Wrestling Entertainment could have had a new monster heel group had the Nexus been kept strong until at least Survivor Series. That, of course, did not happen, as the Nexus was defeated at SummerSlam when Cena beat 2-on-1 odds to be the last man standing. Nexus was understandably never again as strong as it was going into the night, and the group's run is now a strong example of how not to book an invasion angle.
8 Bray Wyatt
In the span of just a few years, Wyatt has been turned from a dark cult leader who was a unique character to a mid-card guy who wears goofy flowery shirts every now and again. There is hope for Wyatt yet, though, as it has been widely reported that he is on the verge of taking on The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Wyatt does not necessarily have to beat the Deadman in order to regain the momentum that he had when he first debuted on Raw, but anything other than several strong showings during the feud and the actual match would be an awful waste.
7 Chris Candido
Before he was Mr. “No Gimmicks Needed” and part of the Triple Threat stable in Extreme Championship Wrestling, Candido and Tammy Lynn Sytch (“Sunny” in WWF) were given gimmicks of obnoxious fitness gurus. His run in the Federation would go on to be one of the more forgettable of his career. His loss was the gain of wrestling fans who had access to ECW television, tapes and pay-per-view events. Candido's tag team run and then-feud with Lance Storm made for some great storylines and great matches, and it's too bad that he never had a true chance to show what he could do while featured on national television.
6 Dolph Ziggler
Yes, those who would say that Ziggler needs to slow down during matches have a valid argument, but that truth does not take away the fact that Ziggler is athletically and technically one of the more gifted performers in World Wrestling Entertainment today. He also continues to get positive reactions from crowds even though he has been booked to be a loser and not much more over the years. Ziggler turns 35 years old this coming summer. He isn't getting any younger. The WWE could have a money feud if the company were to put a babyface Ziggler against a heel Roman Reigns or even a heel Brock Lesnar.
5 Ricky Steamboat
Steamboat was one of the best workers of his time when he linked up with the World Wrestling Federation in 1985, where he was given “The Dragon” gimmick. That nickname has stuck with him to this day. While Steamboat never got beyond mid-card status with the WWF, the fans were the big winners. We were presented with the 1987 Match of the Year involving Steamboat and Randy Savage at WrestleMania III. Steamboat returned to the National Wrestling Alliance – specifically affiliate World Championship Wrestling – in 1989, where he had three matches with Ric Flair that were rated 5-stars by Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer.
4 Cody Rhodes
Rhodes has shown a true ability to adapt to new roles over the years. He was once “Dashing,” an obnoxious narcissist. That character became darker when an in-story injury to his face made him no longer dashing. Rhodes was quickly turned into a joke before that gimmick could get any momentum, but he again got himself over again, all by simply growing a mustache. Last but not least has been the Stardust character, one that could be wrapping up this spring, assuming that he will face off with brother Goldust at WrestleMania. Does Rhodes have the goods to be a lead in a main event feud? I wouldn't bet against him.
3 Owen Hart
Hart's undeniable talent aside, and was unquestionably talented, it is important to remember how over the younger brother of Bret was following the “Montreal Screwjob” that saw Shawn Michaels win the World Wrestling Federation title at the 1997 Survivor Series. Owen faced Michaels in a revenge match with the title on the line on a late December edition of Raw, and that was as close as Hart would get to winning the championship before he returned to the midcard. We will never know what Hart could have been had he been allowed to flourish in the “Black Hart” role, and his personal story ended tragically at the 1999 Over the Edge pay-per-view event.
Cesaro seemed destined for stardom in April of 2014. He won the first annual “Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal” at WrestleMania XXX, and he then announced the next night that his new manager was none other than Paul Heyman. What seemed to be a massive push for Cesaro essentially came to an immediate stop after that night, however, and he and Heyman parted ways in the summer months almost as if the partnership had never happened. Cesaro has the look and, regardless of what some would say, he is also solid on the mic. WWE is wasting a potential star in Cesaro.
1 The Invasion
It is hard to imagine that World Wrestling Entertainment will ever be in a position to waste such talent as the company did during the 2001 Invasion angle involving former World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling performers. The Alliance was, outside of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Rob Van Dam, rarely booked to be equal to the WWE talent, and the storyline had stalled to a halt even before that fall's Survivor Series event. Rather than kick off the next great era of North American professional wrestling, WWE managed to kill off what should have been a no-miss storyline in under a year. Well done.