Sometimes, it seems like if there’s one thing we can count on with wrestling, it’s that they’ll inevitably do a big thing badly. It doesn’t matter how much work they might have put into a storyline, how big the angle might be, or how huge a star they could conceivably be trying to create, somehow when a climactic moment comes, they manage to bone things up more often than they actually succeed. Of course, that’s probably not as true as we believe it to be, because no industry could possibly survive if it failed all the time, but it is undoubtedly true that wrestling has some really glaring examples of huge opportunities that, for one reason or another, they managed to screw up in the worst way possible.
15. The Nexus
After the first season of the (correctly) much-maligned NXT “reality show competition”, Wade Barrett emerged as the winner, and was immediately promoted to the main roster, while the seven other participants, who were also developmental talents, faced an uncertain future after spending several months on TV. The question of what WWE would do with all that fresh talent, which included indie legend Daniel Bryan, was answered the next week on Raw, in one of the most shocking segments ever seen on WWE programming. During the main event between John Cena and CM Punk, Barrett and the rest of the NXT competitors emerged from the crowd and surrounded the ring, then proceeded to lay waste to Cena, Punk, the ring itself, and the entire ringside area, creating a path of destruction that instantly established them as a new dominant stable that had wrestling fans everywhere buzzing in anticipation of what they would do next. And almost immediately afterwards, everything fell apart. Bryan was fired for his actions during the segment, allegedly when one of WWE’s sponsors complained about him choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with a tie. The group, now officially called The Nexus, pushed forward, but became increasingly less competent as weeks went by. This was capped off by a massive 7-on-7 main event at SummerSlam which saw John Cena singlehandedly come back from a final 2-on-1 deficit, defeating the final two Nexus members in quick succession, only seconds after being driven into the concrete floor at ringside. Officially, time constraints were blamed on the quick ending of the match, but nothing would change the fact that the Nexus did not, and would never, get the upper hand in any important match. A last-ditch, half-hearted effort was made to save the group at the end of the year, by installing Punk as a new leader and ousting Barrett, but the stable went nowhere fast, and quietly disbanded when Punk abandoned them in the summer of 2011.
14. Triple H vs Booker T
Wrestling likes to pretend that it’s a twisted kind of morality play sometimes, which is why the good guy usually gets to win in the end, especially when the heel has done something truly heinous, like, say, made not-quite-veiled statements of racism towards a minority wrestler. You know, unless the heel’s name is Triple H and we’re in that dark period of 2003 where he had a death grip around the World Heavyweight Championship that it seemed like nobody could part him from for long. Specifically, in the build for WrestleMania XIX, Triple H was feuding with Booker T, after WWE had finally decided to try and capitalize on Booker’s growing fan support after he paired up with Goldust and they became one of the most beloved tag teams in the company. Also, their attempt to bring in Scott Steiner and make him a solid part of Raw’s main event had failed miserably, so Booker was the next best option. However, things immediately became very uncomfortable when Triple H went on Raw and stated to Booker T that “people like you” don’t get to be World Heavyweight Champion. The implications were obvious, especially since the history of wrestling isn’t exactly filled with many black World Champions (in fact, at the time there had only ever been one in WWE, that being The Rock), and while WWE tried to downplay it, claiming he’d been referring to “entertainers” (as opposed to “wrestlers”), Triple H continued to dance back and forth across the line of being blatantly racist in the weeks leading up to their match at WrestleMania. Then, in the big blow-off match, he not only beat Booker T cleanly, and by extension validate everything he’d been saying, he did so after hitting Booker with his finisher, then waiting for what seemed like five minutes to cover him and get the victory.
13. Hulk Hogan in AWA
Did you know that there was actually Hulkamania before it existed in WWE? In fact, Hulk Hogan, then a mid-card heel character, left the then-WWWF after he filmed his famous role as “Thunderlips” in Rocky III against the wishes of Vince McMahon Sr. Hogan went to the AWA, based out of Minnesota, where his recent movie appearance and inhuman charisma made him into a huge babyface star. There was just one problem: the owner of the AWA, Verne Gagne, had become famous for delaying big title wins for popular wrestlers, in an attempt to milk extra ticket sales in the future, with the theory that fans would continue buying tickets hoping that they might actually get to see the big win that night. It’s not a horrible idea, and it has worked in the past, but Gagne took it to extremes, to the point that he began using hackneyed “Dusty Finishes” (named for creator Dusty Rhodes), where the face would get their big win, only to have the decision reversed due to a technicality. When he played this game with Hogan, two things happened: fans grew tired of the game and stopped going to shows, and Hogan, realizing he would never actually get the big title win, jumped back to the recently re-named WWF and became the centerpiece of new owner Vince McMahon Jr’s new direction for pro wrestling. The AWA never really recovered from losing the man who everyone could see was the next big thing in sports entertainment, while Hogan and WWF would turn the wrestling world on its ear and create an international powerhouse.
12. Samoa Joe in TNA
While Joe had made his name in the indies before signing with TNA, it was actually TNA which made him into the “Undefeated Samoan Submission Machine”, giving him an undefeated streak that lasted over a year, and having him absolutely dominate the X-Division. And because he was an incredible wrestler on a massive winning streak, the fans started getting behind him and looked to the stoic Samoan as the one man who could possibly stop the seemingly never-ending reign of Jeff Jarrett on top of the promotion. So TNA, in their infinite wisdom, put him in a non-title PPV match with Jarrett, which Joe won, then transitioned him into a feud with a debuting Kurt Angle, who not only ended Joe’s streak, but also beat him in two out of three matches to decisively win the feud. It would actually be over a year later before Joe would finally win the TNA World Title, but he was jerked around so badly in that interim period (including a ridiculously confusing storyline that involved Joe getting a face tattoo and possibly murdering Scott Steiner with a knife) that his victory was almost an afterthought, and his reign unmemorable, even though it lasted 182 days. That was the only time Joe would ever hold the title, and he mostly floating aimlessly around TNA for years, never reaching the same heights as he had in his initial run with the company, eventually leaving the company and signing with WWE in 2015.
11. Goldberg in WWE
Goldberg got over in WCW by being a mostly silent guy who brutally destroyed his opponents in a crowd-pleasing fashion. But in WWE, he was going to be an entertainer, gosh darn it! So, after making his massive debut by attacking The Rock on the first Raw after Wrestlemania XIX, WWE spent the next week showing off his “human side”, capped off by an awkward backstage segment where Goldust compared the similarities in their names and placed his blonde wig on Goldberg’s head…who laughed it off! Goldberg doesn’t laugh, he ends lives, but WWE was determined to make “their” version of Goldberg, because to do otherwise would be admitting that WCW did something right in their entire existence. Over his single year in WWE, Goldberg had his legs cut out from under him at every point. Originally, he was supposed to face Triple H for the World Title after beating The Rock at Backlash, but Triple H had that delayed in favor of a feud with his best friend, Kevin Nash, leaving Goldberg essentially in mid-card limbo, which seemed like a dumb thing to do when you’re paying someone a large amount of money and only have them under contract for a year. Nevertheless, at SummerSlam, Goldberg was still in good shape, and over the course of an Elimination Chamber match for the title, he had the crowd on their feet chanting his name as he destroyed his opponents in an attempt to get to the final man: Triple H. So, of course, rather than put the title on someone the fans were salivating to have as champion, Triple H hit Goldberg with a sledgehammer and delayed his big title win another month. Even when he finally won the title, Goldberg played second fiddle to Triple H assembling Evolution, then quietly dropped the title back to Triple H at the December PPV, which almost nobody watched. Is it any wonder that after he left WWE the day his contract expired, Goldberg had nothing but bad things to say about his time there for years afterwards?
10. Triple H-Stephanie-Kurt Angle Love Triangle
Kurt Angle entered WWE and almost immediately became one of the hottest rookies on the scene, beginning with a long undefeated streak, then capturing the Intercontinental, European, and WWF Championships in his first year, as well as winning the King of the Ring tournament. Along the way, his prowess attracted the attention of Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, and Angle subtly began showing that the feelings could potentially be mutual. Meanwhile, Stephanie’s actual husband, Triple H (although they were not yet married in real life), grew increasingly worried about his wife’s wandering eye, but in his attempts to pretend that everything was okay, he kept accidentally making things worse, such as getting caught in compromising positions with Trish Stratus that really weren’t what they looked like. This legimiately popular storyline was actually helping to drive ratings over the summer of 2000, and was supposed to culminate in a match between Triple H and Angle at Unforgiven that was allegedly originally supposed to result in Stephanie turning on her husband, making Angle a mega-heel and setting Triple H up as a massively sympathetic babyface. Except somewhere along the line, that all got thrown out of the window, Triple H defeated Angle fairly easily, and forced Stephanie to choose between them, which she did by kicking Angle in the crotch. It was an incredibly disappointing climax to what had been an incredibly well-written storyline up to that point, and instead of setting three top acts out on new, interesting directions, things reverted to the status quo.
9. Who Ran Over Stone Cold?
In the fall of 1999, it had become clear that Steve Austin had been living on borrowed time for too long, and was going to require surgery to correct his severely damaged neck. So, faced with losing their absolute biggest draw for at least a year, WWE decided to make an angle out of it. At the Survivor Series PPV, Austin was mysteriously run down in the parking lot by a driver who was never seen, and sent off to have surgery. Just under a year later, Austin made his triumphant return, and immediately declared his intent to hunt down whomever it was that dared to attempt vehicular homicide against his person, by any means necessary. Commissioner Mick Foley pleaded with Austin to let him run his own investigation, which presumably would involve less violence, and after plenty of speculation and red herrings, with all signs pointing towards the culprit being The Rock, Foley revealed that the culprit was none other than…Rikishi! Well, it turns out there’s a reason why crimes are usually committed by the most likely suspect, and that’s because it actually makes sense that way. Instead, WWE had Rikishi say that he ran over Austin in revenge for how badly the Samoan people had been traditionally portrayed in wrestling, and fans reacted so poorly to the entire thing (especially since as much as they might have liked Rikishi, he was in no way seen as being real competition for the likes of Austin) that WWE eventually threw the whole thing out a convenient window and had Triple H reveal himself as the ultimate mastermind behind the plot, because even if it made no sense, at least Austin and Triple H could have awesome matches together.
8. The Summer of Punk
Oh right, the summer of 2011, when CM Punk dropped his infamous “Pipe Bomb” and became the hottest wrestler on the face of the planet, which led to him defeating John Cena in an incredible match at the Money in the Bank PPV in his hometown of Chicago and seemingly disappearing into the night, a free agent holding the WWE Championship. The seeds of what could have been a fantastic new storyline were planted, and WWE responded by uprooting them almost instantly, throwing the seeds away, and salting the earth in which they were planted so nothing could ever grow again. First, they ran a two-week tournament or Raw to crown a “new” WWE Champion, which was won by Rey Mysterio, who then immediately lost it to John Cena on the same episode of Raw, just over an hour later! Normally, you could have stretched that tournament out for a few weeks, then done the finals, or at least had Cena-Mysterio, a completely fresh match which had never happened before, on PPV (especially with SummerSlam coming up). But WWE rushed ahead, because they wanted Punk, who had suddenly become incredibly hot, back on TV. So, moments after Cena pinned Mysterio, Punk appeared on Raw, a whole eight days after he left “forever”. Things were still theoretically okay, because WWE still had a huge main event for SummerSlam between Punk and Cena, but then they went ahead and screwed that up as well. After Punk beat Cena, he was attacked by the geriatric Kevin Nash, and pinned by Alberto Del Rio to lose the WWE Title via Money in the Bank cash-in. This was all within a month of Punk’s big moment, remember. To make matters worse, Punk’s feud with Nash was cut short due to Nash not being medically cleared to wrestle, but not before Punk ate another pin, to the semi-retired on-screen acting COO of WWE, Triple H.
7. Steve Austin Turns Heel
Stop us if you just heard this one several times already, but here’s an example of a storyline involving Triple H getting tossed in favor of letting him remain the same dominant heel character. At the end of WrestleMania X-7, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin turned heel in an attempt to freshen up what Austin thought was a stale character (whether he was correct to do so or not has been an eternal subject of debate ever since). The problem is, a heel is really only effective if there are a bunch of strong babyfaces to fight against, and with The Rock leaving to film The Scorpion King, that list was actually prtty short. More importantly, without Rock, WWE couldn’t stretch out his feud with Austin through a couple of rematches, giving them time to build someone else up for a summer run. That left Triple H, with plans for him to turn babyface due to feeling disrespected by Vince McMahon for throwing his support behind Austin instead of his son-in-law. Instead, Triple H decided he didn’t want to turn babyface and paired up with Austin, creating a heel super-team…with nobody credible to fight. The pair feuded with The Hardy Boyz (who they dominated) and the re-united team of Undertaker and Kane while WWE scrambled to build Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit into contenders, while also subtly suggesting dissension between Austin and Triple H for a future break-up angle. And then everything blew up on them when Triple H tore his quad and was put on the shelf for a year (in addition, Benoit was forced to have neck surgery shortly after that, further thinning out the main event scene), resulting in them having absolutely no firm plans for the summer and choosing to rush ahead with a barely-scripted Invasion angle. Speaking of which…
6. The WCW Invasion
We’re pretty sure that this one has been done to death, but let’s hit the important points one more time. WWE bought WCW, mostly for the purposes of getting the tape library and becoming the curators of North American wrestling history (but also to sell DVDs), and also picked up a handful of cheaper talent contracts in the bargain. The only value the WCW name really had at that point, from the perspective of the on-screen product, was as an Invasion angle, so that’s what WWE did. Of course, because they just couldn’t help themselves, WWE made sure to make their wrestlers look far superior to the invaders, and even put Steve Austin, Shane McMahon, and Stephanie McMahon, three people intensely associated with WWE, in charge of the WCW squad. They also resurrected the ghost of ECW (despite not technically owning the trademarks, which resulted in the group being called “The Alliance”), in order to have more WWE-contracted wrestlers to prop up the WCW side. The entire angle bogged down immediately, with Alliance wrestlers made to look borderline incompetent outside of some brief moments of success, and with ratings plummeting as fans grew disillusioned with the entire thing, WWE threw in the towel and blew off the entire angle only months after it began. Oh, and then, in an effort to win fans back after that disaster, they spent the next couple years paying top dollar to bring in all sorts of high-priced former WCW stars who actually probably could have helped the Invasion angle succeed, or at least not fail utterly. The best part is, this wasn’t the first time that a wrestling company missed out on a chance to make truckloads of money after buying their competition, and in fact several people in charge of WWE had lived through the first one and claimed to have learned from the mistakes. If you’re curious, we’re referring to…
5. The UWF Invasion
Way back in the 1980’s, legendary promoter Bill Watts owned and operated a territory in Oklahoma, which was originally called Mid-South Wrestling, but changed its name to the Universal Wrestling Federation in order to attempt to remain relevant when companies like WWE and Jim Crockett (which would become WCW) attempted to expand on a national level. And in fact, the UWF was fairly successful as a territory for many years, but when the oil-based Oklahoma economy crashed in late 1986, nobody could afford to go to the shows, and Watts was forced to sell the company to Crockett, who also snatched up the contracts of many UWF wrestlers. Crockett did not immediately fold the promotion, however, continuing to run it as if it was a separate group, with UWF wrestlers appearing on JCP programming. Of course, Crockett made sure to put his company first, slowly but surely burying as many UWF wrestlers as he could, and phasing out their titles until nothing remained roughly a year later. While a few UWF talent were allowed to break out, most notably some guy named Sting, the vast majority were treated as jobbers or worse. Crockett ended up losing a lot of money on his investment as a result, which was one of several reasons why he was forced to sell his promotion to Ted Turner shortly afterwards.
In 2005, WWE decided that the stench of the failed Invasion had dissipated enough that they might actually be able to do stuff with the licences they paid for again. Thus, they released a retrospective DVD set called “The Rise and Fall of ECW”, a no-holds-barred look at the history of the renegade indie promotion that had created many of the concepts that WWE would re-purpose for the Attitude Era. The DVD was incredibly well-done, and WWE followed that up with what was intended as a one-shot ECW nostalgia PPV. Titled “One Night Stand”, the show emanated from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York and basically celebrated the history of ECW, with all sorts of alumni, both under contract with WWE and independent wrestlers, making appearances. The show was critically acclaimed, and a year later, WWE ran a second one, this time with the intention of kick-starting a revival of ECW as a third brand of WWE. A new ECW TV show was commissioned, and began airing on the SyFy channel. Unfortunately, the new ECW lacked the rough edges and unpredictability of the original, and after the first WWECW (as people took to calling it) PPV, December 2 Dismember, was a massive critical and financial failure (with 90,000 buys, it was the lowest-bought PPV in WWE history), the brand was almost entirely re-tooled, sending all the old ECW alumni (including former ECW owner and creative mind behind the revival, Paul Heyman) out the door, and turning the TV show into essentially another, shorter version of Raw or Smackdown. After floundering along for several more years, the ECW brand was mercifully killed off in early 2010.
3. The Black Scorpion
In 1990, WCW had a problem. Okay, they had a lot of problems, but one of them was that they needed a new opponent for WCW Champion Sting, who was floundering on top without anyone fresh to challenge him. So booker Ole Anderson had a “brilliant” idea: put a wrestler under a mask, call him the Black Scorpion, have him make vague references to being a figure from Sting’s past, and let them feud for a while, eventually revealing the Scorpion’s true identity in order to extend the feud even longer. That last part, however, got tricky, as there really weren’t any firm plans for who the Black Scorpion was going to be (for most of the feud, it was Al Perez under the mask, but it was never actually going to be him for the ultimate reveal). Meanwhile, WCW was presenting the character as some sort of evil magician, who performed cheesy optical illusions on their programming that was not exactly making people ravenous to see him wrestle Sting. Anyway, after a few ideas ended up falling through, WCW was forced to go to the one man who, at the very least, would be able to have some more good matches with Sting. You might have already guessed, but despite it making absolutely no sense, Ric Flair was revealed as the Scorpion, and the entire angle became a punchline in wrestling history that still gets brought up to this day.
2. Bret Hart in WCW
WCW dropped so many balls by the end of its tortured existence that it would be impossible to recount them all, but perhaps one of the biggest was when they were literally handed the former WWF Champion Bret Hart, who had been the center of the promotion for the last several years and had just been publicly and visibly screwed over by Vince McMahon, and who, by the way, was one of the five or ten best wrestlers on the planet at that point, and proceeded to do absolutely nothing with him. Bret’s arrival in WCW came with much fanfare, right up to the point when it was announced that his first role in WCW, at the biggest Starrcade in company history, would be…as a guest referee for a comedy sideshow match between Eric Bischoff and announcer Larry Zbyszko. Hart would play a role later that evening in the Hogan-Sting match, seemingly preventing Sting from getting screwed over like he had been in a confusing mess of a main event (which we’ll get to), and from there, the six-time WWF Champion and hottest free agent in wrestling was just another pawn in the interminable war between WCW and the nWo. The fact that WWF managed to take the same Montreal Screwjob, which should have led to an insane amount of bad PR for the company, and used it to create the Mr. McMahon character that helped turn them into a billion-dollar wrestling behemoth when he was set against ass-kicking everyman Steve Austin, just magnifies WCW’s ineptitude.
1. Starrcade ’97
Of course, Bret Hart wasn’t the only thing WWE massively screwed up at that fateful Starrcade in 1997. After delaying the ultimate payoff to the New World Order storyline, sending Sting to the rafters for over a year while Hogan and his thugs ran over every other possible savior for weeks on end, making him the only final chance for WCW to ever put down the nWo for good, a match between Sting and Hogan was signed for Starrcade, which was WCW’s equivalent of WrestleMania. It seemed obvious that this was set to be the beginning of the end for the nWo, with the conquering hero Sting finally striking a decisive blow by defeating Hogan for the WCW World Title and precipitating the group’s downfall. But that’s not what happened, as after a match that was actually dominated by Hogan, he hit the Atomic Legdrop and…pinned Sting cleanly to win the match. The announce team and Bret Hart, who ran down to protest, claimed that there had been a fast count and ordered the match re-started, except that, whether due to some error or (as some claimed) a secret plan by Hogan and the referee to make Sting look bad, there wasn’t. In the confusion that followed, Sting did eventually win the match with the Scorpion Deathlock (though Hogan never visibly submitted), but the next day, the decision was reviewed and the WCW Title was held up pending a re-match at the next PPV. Even though Sting would eventually win the title, the New World Order continued to be just as strong as ever, and fans, seeing that they would never truly get the resolution they had been promised, began departing the company in droves.