The WWE is the most successful wrestling company of all time, but even they aren’t perfect. There have been a number of times in the past where even they have missed glaring, unbelievably simple and nobody can mess-up opportunities to make more money. But they somehow managed to do it.
Not even Vince McMahon, the best ever out of making money out of wrestling, made these simplest of money makers into what they could be at the WWE.
Here, we’ll look at ten of the biggest missed opportunities in WWE history, in no particular order…
Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair – WWF vs World Champion – WrestleMania 8
Early on in the Turner Broadcasting era of WCW, they took a while to get used to how wrestling worked. One of their earliest mistakes was hiring a non wrestling fan in Jim Herd to be Vice President. One of Herd’s first acts as VP was to decide that at 42, Ric Flair was “too old,” to be a top star. In fact, he wanted to repackage Ric as a roman gladiator called Spartacus, not realising that Flair was actually WCW’s biggest draw.
After turning down an insulting pay cut, Flair was fired by Herd. What Herd didn’t realise was that back then, the titles actually technically belonged to whoever owned them, and Flair’s title still represented both WCW and the NWA. Once he heard, Flair picked up the phone to Vince McMahon at the WWF, which ended up with WWF potentially having both of the countries top title belts on their show and a dream feud between both champions, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan.
The original plan was for WrestleMania 8 in 1992 to feature the dream match between Flair and Hogan but soon after was changed to a double main event featuring Flair vs. Randy Savage and Hogan vs. Sid. Depending on who you believe, the story goes that Hulk Hogan was planning to retire at the event, and clashed over losing at the event to Flair. Hogan’s idea was to go out on top, by pinning Flair cleanly and leaving as World Champion. Vince McMahon disagreed and changed the match.
Another school of thought is that, Vince was nervous that the match wouldn’t be so special after having already done a house show run or even that he was trying to save the match for WrestleMania 9. Whatever happened, McMahon made the decision to put on a double main event instead, and the dream match didn’t happen until both men ended up working for WCW in 1994.
For whatever reason, McMahon missed the biggest opportunity of the early 90s. No matter who won the match, Vince would have been able to promote that he had the one true undisputed champion on his roster and show fans that he had the dominant brand. On top of that it was set to happen on the biggest event of the year at Wrestlemania in the Hoosier Dome in Indiana. The WWF made some good use of Flair during his short first tenure, like his matches with Savage and Bret Hart, but he ultimately opted to move back to WCW.
Austin Goes Home – We Never See Austin vs Hogan or Austin vs Lesnar
At the beginning of 2002, Stone Cold Steve Austin was still one of the biggest stars in the WWE but when Vince McMahon brought back Hulk Hogan to the company for a huge WrestleMania payday, it reportedly upset the “Texas Rattlesnake.”
WrestleMania 18 was hoped to be the night that Austin and Hogan, the two biggest superstars of their respective eras and the biggest box office draws in the history of this business, finally faced each other, but reportedly neither wanted to lose to the other. In a move similar to WrestleMania 8, Hogan instead fought The Rock, getting the marquee match, while Austin faced Scott Hall in the third main event of the night behind Triple H vs Chris Jericho (and possibly even fourth main event as The Undertaker vs Ric Flair was promoted and booked better).
The night after, Austin didn’t show up for Raw and took a week off claiming to be burnt out from the road. When he did return, he came back to an underwhelming feud with the n.W.o and Ric Flair. In a strange outburst on Raw via phone, Austin claimed he didn’t like the direction in which the company was heading. He had a short feud with Eddie Guerrero before being asked to put over up-and-coming wrestler Brock Lesnar, which Austin said he wanted no point of. He felt that losing to an up-and-comer like Brock would harm his career and also didn’t give Brock the right stage that a win over a huge star like Austin should. Austin no showed another Raw, and left the company. In the coming weeks, Vince McMahon buried Austin on TV claiming that he “took his ball and went home.”
Its understandable why Austin didn’t want to lose to Hulk Hogan. He was rightfully bitter that years earlier, Hogan had brought his friends over to WCW and as a result, the company had to let Austin go. The rest we know, as Austin became the biggest star of the 90s in the WWE. Hogan pinning Austin in 2002 would not have benefited Hulk’s career, but at the time Austin was still relatively healthy and had quite a few more matches in him. Again, ego got in the way of a wrestling company possibly making a huge amount of money. The Rock vs. Hogan became one of the most iconic moments in WrestleMania history, and Hogan vs. Austin never happened.
The Brock Lesnar situation was a bit different. Brock made a name for himself in the beginning by destroying the Hardy Boyz and other smaller wrestlers but the company knew that they had huge plans for Brock. While Austin is right that he vs. Brock should have taken place on a grander stage, his refusal to lose to him was questionable, especially when Brock eventually had effective big wins over RVD, Hulk Hogan and The Rock on his way to becoming the youngest champion ever.
Brock got over faster than anyone could have predicted, and moved straight onto The Undertaker after The Rock. When Austin eventually did come back to the WWE in 2003, his one and only feud before retiring from the active roster was against the Rock. Fans had to settle for a short feud without a match between Austin and Brock just before Lesnar left the company in 2004. Stone Cold vs. Brock Lesnar would have been a massive attraction, making that two huge potential feuds that the WWE missed out on with their biggest star in 2002.
In 2005, the WWE capitalised on tragic world events by creating a Middle-Eastern American character named Muhamed Hassan. Hassan and his manager Daivari portrayed characters who were sick of how they were being treated in a post 9/11 America. The angle was a massive heat magnet and Hassan was pushed to the moon, including a storyline in which the two Muslims went up against Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. In July of that year however, another tragic terrorist attack would stop Hassan’s rise to stardom, just as quickly as it got started.
On July 4th, 2005, an episode of SmackDown was taped in which Daivari was placed in a match against The Undertaker ahead of the Dead Man’s match against Hassan at the next PPV. After Daivari was easily beaten, the WWE booked an angle which stirred massive controversy. While Hassan prayed on the ramp, five men dressed all in black attacked the Undertaker, beat him with clubs and choked him with piano wire. Since SmackDown was pre taped, it was scheduled to air three days later. On that same day, before the show aired, the London Bombings of July 5th happened. With no time to edit, the episode aired as filmed in the US, but was cut entirely from the UK version of the show. The world reacted extremely negatively and UPN pressured the WWE to keep Hassan off TV. After losing to Undertaker at Great American Bash, Hassan quietly disappeared and was released later that year.
The angle was definitely of questionable taste even without the events in London and the WWE should have known better than to go ahead and air it. Because of this mistake, they were forced to get rid of one of their biggest up and coming heels in 2005. Hassan had still numerous stars that he hadn’t yet faced and was only getting better in the ring. A big face turn down the line could have worked wonders if booked right.
This mistake also effectively ended Hassan’s career not just in the WWE, but in the wrestling business as a whole. Daivari hung around and remained an effective heel working as Kurt Angle’s manager which just shows how the characters could have remained relevant. Hassan didn’t appear again in a wrestling ring for another FIVE YEARS which is a sad end to what looked to be a career that was really going places.
When the WWF bought out their biggest competitor in 2001, wrestling fans worldwide speculated as to what might happen. Initially, WCW was to be its own brand, but after a horrible first main event between on a re-branded WCW Raw, Buff Bagwell and Booker T, that idea was nixed. Instead the story became that WCW wrestlers were “invading” the WWF. Stars like Lance Storm and Booker T started attacking WWF stars, and were eventually joined by invaders from recently defunct ECW as well. The storyline should have been a no-brainer and easily had the potential to be the biggest storyline of all time. Unfortunately, everything that could possibly have went wrong, went wrong.
Firstly, the WWF made the decision that instead of buying out the contracts of top WCW talent, they would let those contracts run out and build a roster of under card wrestlers instead. This meant that instead of seeing dream matches featuring the likes of Goldberg, Mysterio, Hall or Nash against WWF stars, fans were forced to settle for stars that WCW didn’t push as far. While they brought over talented wrestlers like Kidman and Lance Storm, they didn’t have the same star power as the WWF stars they were facing. This forced the WWF to turn their OWN stars, so that the WCW/ECW Alliance eventually featured mostly WWF stars in charge, with a few backups hanging around of secondary importance. As well as this, two major injuries nixed what could have been some interesting feuds. Both Triple H and Chris Benoit got injured before the Invasion storyline picked up steam and were out of action for the entire time that the storyline ran for.
The one major reason that the Invasion angle didn’t work was that of egos. Most notably the ego of WWF chairman Vince McMahon. In most of the major matches that took place, the WWF team was entirely dominant over the Alliance. The only way the Alliance were going to be effective was if they were portrayed as a threat to the WWF. Unfortunately, that happened rarely during the storyline and a lot of WCW/ECW talent was portrayed as completely inferior, including most notably DDP and Kanyon being completely decimated by Kane and the Undertaker. And of course, the entire Invasion storyline was given an unnecessary McMahon family feud to go with it. Shane McMahon was in control of WCW, while Stephanie was in control of ECW, both out to destroy their fathers Team WWF. This resulted in the McMahon family getting almost as much, if not more screen time than the “deadly invaders” that were supposedly capable of destroying the WWF. In November 2001, less than 5 months after the initial “Invasion” Pay Per View, the Invasion ended when Team WWF won a “Winner Take All” Survivor Series match proving once and for all that nobody beats Vince McMahon. Ever.
As outlined above, one of the major flaws in the Invasion angle was that the WWE refused to invest in the contracts of the major stars. One of the one big stars that had never appeared in the WWE was ex-WCW Power Plant graduate, Bill Goldberg. Goldberg had become a major player after his incredible undefeated streak, that was booked to near perfection. The problem was, that when WWE finally decided to take a chance on him in 2003, at times they struggled to find the right way to promote him.
It started off well, with a hype package during WrestleMania 19 and an effective debut in which the Rock received a Spear for claiming he’d beaten everyone there was to beat in WWE. A few weeks later at Backlash, Goldberg picked up his first big win by pinning the Rock. His next stop was a feud with real life rival Chris Jericho, which was a match that fans wanted to see since it never properly happened in WCW. While it turned out a decent match, the storyline leading to it made Goldberg look a bit brainless being constantly outsmarted by Jericho.
Nevertheless, Goldberg kept rolling. Soon after, he became embroiled in his first Heavyweight Title feud with Triple H. While HHH was legitimately injured, WWE decided to keep the title on Triple H rather than switch it to Goldberg, despite fans being well behind him. A month later at Unforgiven, he finally won the title but dropped it only two months later at Armageddon in a triple threat match with HHH and Kane. His final feud in his short year, was against Brock Lesnar culminating in their hugely disappointing match at Wrestlemania 20 in which both were roundly booed.
It’s a popular opinion that Goldberg’s WWE run was a failure. Bill however, played his part. He smashed through a lot of people in his stay and on a lot of occasions looked like a genuine monster. Part of WCW’s genius in booking Goldberg was that he came out, wrecked someone and left. The WWE style was different in that he had to speak up more and also generally had to carry longer matches and no disrespect to Bill but he was never a ring technician. It’s hard to therefore say that WWE dropped the ball, but they definitely missed some glaring opportunities to make money from him. Arguably the title should have been put on him sooner, especially with HHH barely even able to walk. Heading into his match at Unforgiven, his career was also on the line which made his win too obvious and probably hurt the buy rate.
Although Austin sent him off at WrestleMania with a Stunner, the storyline was really Brock vs. Austin featuring Goldberg. Fans never got to see the dream match of the 90s between Austin and Goldberg. On top of this had the WWE tried to keep Goldberg around he could have worked more against Austin and also gone up against workers he hadn’t worked much with in WWE like Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero or even JBL who emerged as a top heel soon after.
In the summer of 2000, WWF stumbled onto a massive winner of a storyline. It was such a good story that the seeds were actually planted many months earlier, not long after Kurt Angle made his WWE debut. From his debut in November 1999, Kurt remained undefeated for a long time. Elsewhere on the roster, the McMahon/Helmsley regime had taken charge and Stephanie McMahon had taken a strange liking to Angle. Triple H got a little jealous, and despite both he and Angle being heel wrestlers, HHH attempted to use his power to put an end to Kurt’s winning streak. Every week, Stephanie would help Kurt maintain his streak, frustrating her new husband.
Eventually, Kurt and Stephanie became friends with Kurt helping Stephanie win her matches and defending her “Honor” against Chris Jericho. Leading toward the summer, husband Triple H was growing more and more suspicious, which led to some of the most memorable segments of that year, most notably, Stephanie walking in on Triple H teaching Trish Stratus how to reverse a hammerlock. Their marriage got even shakier when the main event for Summerslam was to be HHH vs. the Rock vs. Kurt Angle, pitting her friend and her husband against each other. HHH and Stephanie were going through a rough patch, yet Kurt and Stephanie’s friendship was blossoming, including a long embrace after he saved her from a Bubba Ray table smash.
Things continued to disintegrate when Kurt accidentally knocked Stephanie off the apron. That night ended with Kurt Angle professing how much he cared, and sneaking a kiss from the woozy McMahon.
SummerSlam came, and before the Rock even got to the ring, Triple H stormed the ring and destroyed Angle. The match ended with HHH inadvertently striking his wife and the Rock picking up the win to retain.
The feud continued over the next month leading to a highly anticipated Kurt Angle vs. HHH match at Unforgiven. The match came, and Stephanie sided with HHH and cost Kurt the match. Immediately after this, both men moved onto separate storylines and the angle was dropped abruptly. After building months of subtle layers, the two only actually had ONE major singles match against each other.
Although the feud worked to build Kurt for his title run the following month, so much more could have been done with arguably the hottest storyline of the year. If Stephanie had sided with Kurt at Unforgiven, it could have led to him becoming a major heel instantly. The McMahon/Angle Regime would have been hugely entertaining. Triple H became a face again for about a month anyway, so they may as well have done something a bit more ambitious. Instead, the hot angle fizzled out and both men moved onto completely unrelated stories. Kurt became Champion, while HHH ended up involved in the Austin car crash angle. The fans never got their satisfying ending to the McMahon/Angle/Triple H love triangle.
NXT was not a good show. In description, it sounded a bit like the successful Tough Enough model that had made stars of the Miz and John Morrison. In execution it was a terrible attempt to combine “reality” TV with a live wrestling show. The WWE took wrestlers who were on the brink of being called up to their main roster and put them all together on a new show to compete for a WWE Contract. That’s not a bad idea, and gives the up and comers a chance to hone their skills on a less important show before finding a spot on Raw or Smackdown.
Unfortunately, instead of just letting them wrestle and do normal promos, WWE made them do ridiculous tasks and games that had almost no relevance to being a WWE Superstar. In a stroke of genius from WWE, after the first season ended, winner Wade Barrett led the entire cast to invade Raw and completely destroy the show. The story was they were sick of being embarrassed by the NXT show and were there to cause havoc in WWE. The initial angle where they destroyed Raw was believable and extremely well executed. Over the next few weeks they continued their path of destruction by taking out Bret Hart, Ricky Steamboat and Vince McMahon itself. The entire WWE were running scared.
After weeks of beating up the WWE, the roster had enough and banded together to face the Nexus at Summerslam. Daniel Bryan joined the WWE team after being supposedly kicked out of Nexus for feeling remorse. Instead of continuing to stay dominant, Nexus lost at Summerslam and they started to lose momentum fast. The following night, Darren Young left the group and returned to WWE Developmental. Shortly after they lost the powerhouse of the group Skip Sheffield to an ankle injury suffered at a house show. Skip was out indefinitely and only recently resurfaced as Ryback. The group were down to five members and looking less and less like a viable threat. Wade Barrett wasted his guaranteed title shot by taking part in a 6 man challenge instead of a one on one match, when having the world title would have made Nexus look important again. The idea instead was that John Cena would be forced to join the group. While Tarver was forced to leave the group due to another injury, they looked to be gaining momentum again when NXT Season 2 rookies Michael McGillicuty and Husky Harris joined. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case.
While Cena had joined the Nexus against his own wishes, he got another chance to leave. As per a stipulation set by Wade Barrett, Cena was “fired” by WWE after he failed to help Wade win the title from Randy Orton. Instead of remaining fired though, Cena showed up on Raw every week, making the stipulation completely meaningless. On top of that, he was managing to attack the Nexus one by one and make them look ridiculous in the process. They campaigned to get him back then shortly after ditched Wade and announced that they were under new management in the form of CM Punk.
CM Punk was a very different leader, and shone in the role of New Nexus commander. He was a much darker, sinister leader who forced them to prove their loyalty to him. This was the beginning of the end for the Nexus as they split in half when Gabriel and Slater decided they were happier with Barrett and moved to Smackdown to form the Corre with him. The New Nexus feuded for a brief time with the Corre but once the infamous CM Punk shoot promo took place he cut all ties with the Nexus and moved on.
What started off as one of the most innovative storylines in recent years, quickly fizzled out due to injuries and the addition of Super Cena. Some of the Nexus themselves were a bit green for the spotlight but it didn’t really matter when they were travelling in a pack of seven. The addition of CM Punk as the New Nexus leader could have been the shot in the arm that the Nexus needed. Instead, the bad timing with Punks intention to leave the company killed off any chance of revival and any chance we had of seeing a Nexus that was as dominant or effective as it was in its beginning stages.
After WWE acquired ECW video library in 2003 it took them a few more years to properly take advantage of owning the brand. In 2005, they finally gave in to the “E-C-W” chants and put on a supposedly one night only event in June, called “One Night Stand.” The event brought together former ECW talent who put on one of the best Pay Per View events of the entire year. This event brought back a certain level of nostalgia for the ECW product, resulting in some wrestlers being kept on, popular DVD releases on the company and eventually a second Pay Per View the following year. In May of 2006, the WWE announced their intention to revive the popular company as its own brand to run alongside Raw and Smackdown.
Unfortunately, the 2006 version of ECW was nothing like the original. What WWE failed to realise was that the success of One Night Stand was down to it being as close to an authentic ECW show as possible. The WWE version that appeared on the Sci Fi channel, was entirely different. For a start, the network insisted that WWECW include characters that would fit with their channels theme. Because of that, we were forced to endure characters such as the Zombie. But to be fair, the ECW experiment started out quite well. Kurt Angle was drafted to the show to give it some star power and the show was built around he, RVD and a number of other guys while Paul Heyman wrote the show with Vince McMahon overseeing the final edit to the scripts. Despite this, over time the cracks started to show.
WWE were forced to suspend RVD and strip him of the world title when he was caught in possession of marijuana. As the show rolled on, they started to feature stars that would never have been at home in ECW, none more evident than a match between Batista and Big Show where the live fans chanted things like, “change the channel,” and “You cant wrestle,” to show their disapproval. Heyman continued losing control until he was let go after the dismal all ECW Pay Per View “December to Dismember.” Heyman took the blame for its failure, despite the fact that his ideas were mostly shot down.
It wasn’t all bad though, as ECW having its own TV show gave stars like CM Punk, The Miz and John Morrison a chance to “break out” of the pack that they may have struggled to find on the main roster. ECW became more like a last stage of training for wrestlers who were seen to be going places, while also featuring one or two veterans to help the show attract the casual fan. In its day, it featured some great matches, with hard working stars eager to impress. Overall though, the WWE version of ECW was not much more than a watered down version that wore the same initials. Given his track record, had Paul Heyman been given the same freedom as he was with the original One Night Stand event, the ECW revival could actually have been something very special. Unfortunately we’ll never know what could have been, we just have to be thankful that a few “Paul Heyman Guys” like CM Punk made it through the show.
Eric Bischoff Joins WWE
Eric Bischoff almost single-handedly tried to destroy the WWE. He also came very close to succeeding. When Bischoff appeared on WWE TV in 2002, it should have been a massive event. While head of WCW, Bischoff constantly took shots at Vince and his company, including going as far as to challenge McMahon to a fist fight on WCW Programming. He made it his mission to put the WWE out of business, poaching their stars and giving away the results of their pre taped shows. So many people at the WWE had major problems with how he did business. As well as this, there were many people on the WWE roster who had worked with Bischoff before and had not enjoyed the experience. Whether they jumped to WWE (Jericho, Guerrero) or moved over in the Invasion (Booker T), a lot of the guys in the locker room did not like how Eric treated them in the past.
Eric’s arrival in the WWE could have been one of the biggest events in the history of the company. Arguably their biggest enemy, coming to work for the company. There were numerous ways that they could have carried it out. Maybe a hostile takeover? Perhaps he could have managed a new or existing superstar who could dominate the opposition. Instead, the WWE decided to go really low key.
The night Bischoff appeared on Raw, Vince McMahon came to the ring and abruptly disbanded his version of the n.W.o. Following that he made the announcement that his company must change with the times. He ushered in the idea of a General Manager for Raw and Smackdown. Later that night, while Booker T was doing a backstage promo, Bischoff walked up and shook his hand. This worked as a good tease, as it got people wondering what would then happen. In the end up, all that happened was that Vince brought him out on stage and HUGGED him. Hugged him. Years of built up aggression during the Monday Night Wars, and potential useful animosity was thrown out the window. While Eric’s reign as GM of Raw was probably the most successful in history, there were so many other roads that they could have gone down with him joining the WWE. Ultimately, the “hug heard round the world” left many fans feeling surprised yet incredibly under whelmed.
Pipe Bomb Punk
While Punks contract negotiations were bad for his association with the New Nexus, they became the biggest story in the WWE in 2009. In June 2009, CM Punk interfered in a main event match out of the blue, took a microphone and completely blew everyone’s minds. Set to leave in three weeks after Money in the Bank, Punk cut a shoot promo the likes of which hadn’t been seen in years in the WWE. Punk “broke the fourth wall,” and spoke out against ass kissers and backstage politics. It was a breath of fresh air, and one of the best promos in history, never mind for the year. The subsequent match with John Cena, and leaving with the WWE Title was amazing TV, and soon after Punk kept the ball rolling with some cutting promos in his feud against Triple H.
The storyline with Triple H was an inevitable move after Punks strong words against he and the McMahon family. The Summer of Punk was going strong, but somehow managed to fizzle out. All they had to do was keep giving Punk relevant, important matches while also letting him loose on the microphone. Keeping him off air, and having him confront the WWE at Comic Con felt fresh and exciting. Unfortunately when he went up against Triple H, the storyline lost its way somewhat. Although Punk continued to get the better of HHH and Kevin Nash on the microphone, he started to become a bit diluted. Although he had been strongly opposed to John Cena and HHH in favour of change, going up against Kevin Nash added nothing to this crusade for revolution. In the following months, things continued to lose excitement. While Punk could never be accused of being stale, the edginess that the story had a few months earlier was lost somewhere along the way.
At one stage the storyline made CM Punk the poster boy for all those wrestlers in the past who had been overlooked for not being the right size, or for being underappreciated for their in ring skill. After a while, Punk became just another one of the roster and his pipe bombs became less and less frequent. Over the next few months, WWE failed to capitalise and led Punk into somewhat mediocre feuds with Del Rio and the Miz. It arguably wasn’t until his recent storyline with Chris Jericho that CM Punk started gaining momentum again as champion, even if he didn’t have his strongest few months on the mic. With that, WWE also missed a trick. Jericho berated Punk for months about alcohol, yet Punk never once brought up Jericho’s past arrest for being intoxicated. If ever there’s a time for a pipe bomb, surely its when someone is verbally attacking your family? Thankfully, the story and matches were good enough that both men came out of it looking strong and his upcoming match with Daniel Bryan should be a classic.
Lets just hope we haven’t seen the last of Pipe Bomb Punk on the microphone.
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This article was first posted on May 3, 2012