Wrestling fans like nothing more than complaining about wrestling. It’s as much of a tradition as chanting “You Suck” at Kurt Angle’s entrance and joining in with every word of Road Dogg’s promo spiel. And one of the things we love to complain about most as fans is missed opportunities. WWE has a tendency towards failing to fully make the most of its talent, perhaps as a result of the sheer quantity of performers that the company currently has on its books or perhaps because the company’s set of priorities is very different from the more vocal corners of the WWE Universe.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the biggest opportunities WWE has allowed to pass them by in the last five years, from the mildly irritating to the utterly baffling.
10. The Rise of Heel Neville
When Neville joined the cruiserweight division in late 2016, he became a full-blooded heel for the first time in his WWE career. His bulky physique made him a powerful force in the division, fighting from the position of being the bigger man, rather than the under-sized underdog. He wasted no time in winning the Cruiserweight Championship and embarking on a reign of terror that saw him dominate the 205 Live roster in impressive fashion until WWE decided to hitch its wagon to Enzo Amore in a decision that has not aged well, to say the least.
By the time he dropped the belt, Neville had definitely outgrown the Cruiserweight division but was in a great position to embark on a high-level heel run on the main roster. However, Neville walked out of the company in September 2017, apparently frustrated at the treatment of his character. A year later, he returned to the independent circuit and is now one of the most high-profile members of the AEW roster. WWE seemed to know what they had with Neville’s heel persona, but they definitely did not know what to do with the character and, ultimately, this is what forced him out of the company at the peak of his powers.
9. Bullet Club
When WWE hired Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows and AJ Styles in January 2016, it’s fair to say the smarks were excited. With Finn Balor already a key figure on the NXT brand, the stage seemed set for a reunion or at least a storyline based around the members of Bullet Club – the world’s most famous wrestling stable. WWE has flirted with various incarnations of the stable in the intervening years – Styles headed up The Club, while Balor Club was also briefly a feature on RAW – but these have been fleeting and never part of a significant story.
It’s true that the heat has somewhat come out of Bullet Club since the mass exodus of the aforementioned talent, as well as the rise of The Elite as an offshoot of that group with far more star power. However, when these guys first joined WWE, crowds were hot for the prospect of them joining forces as an invading army. The boat has sailed on this one, but it could have done wonders for all of these performers. Gallows and Anderson, in particular, have floundered without anything of note to do.
8. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
We’re just days away from the first female WrestleMania main event, but WWE’s booking of its women across the board has left a lot to be desired. For most of the final months of 2017 and more explicitly at the beginning of 2018, WWE began to lay the groundwork for a feud between best friends Bayley and Sasha Banks, which seemed prime to culminate at that year’s WrestleMania. The story continued to plod, though, until tensions boiled over after WrestleMania into some intense backstage brawls. After counselling sessions, however, they decided they loved each other after all and they are now the inaugural WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions.
To say this story was botched and muddled is a massive understatement. More than a year after the first seeds of betrayal were planted, the story has been stopped, started and twisted so many times that any prospect of it eventually leading to a hot rivalry is gone. At the moment, the duo is a lot of fun as champions, but their grudge matches could have been far more significant.
7. The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
Frankly, this whole article could have been about Bray Wyatt. Since his genuinely terrific feud with John Cena around WrestleMania XXX, the New Face of Fear has repeatedly stalled for momentum and been thrown into directionless rivalries. A year after the Cena match, he was given the prime position of a WrestleMania clash with The Undertaker. With Taker’s streak already snapped by Brock Lesnar, this seemed like a great opportunity to put Wyatt over. Needless to say, Wyatt lost and his Family were later defeated by the Brothers of Destruction when the feud reignited in time for Survivor Series.
WWE has repeatedly shown they are unwilling to give Wyatt the spotlight his excellent character work and in-ring intensity deserves. The Undertaker feud was the perfect moment to push Wyatt over the top and cement him as a main event talent of the future. He’s currently on a hiatus from the company, but hopefully, WWE will bring him back with a clear plan to maximise his potential.
6. Shinsuke Nakamura
After years on top of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Shinsuke Nakamura signed with WWE at the same time as AJ Styles and the other Bullet Club members. He spent some time as a key figure on the NXT brand, before making his main roster debut in 2017. He constantly hovered around the main event scene, but never got a moment to match his blockbuster debut bout with Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. Last year, Nakamura turned heel and took part in a main-event feud with former NJPW rival Styles. The character was entertaining, but the story has never lived up to Nakamura’s talent.
Similarly to Wyatt, it seems WWE has just never found the right moment to push Nakamura to the top. Recent reports suggest that Nakamura has “checked out” of WWE and is basically just enjoying the fact he can enjoy the surfing in Florida. That’s a real waste of one of the world’s best wrestling talents.
5. The Woken Gimmick
When the Hardy Boyz made their surprise return to WWE at WrestleMania 33, Michael Cole declared that “things are about to be broken”. He was referring to Matt and Jeff’s decidedly out-there work on TNA, where they debuted unhinged characters for themselves as Broken Matt and Brother Nero respectively. After lengthy legal wrangling with TNA, Matt Hardy was given control of the gimmick and brought it to WWE as ‘Woken Matt’. He feuded with Bray Wyatt – yes, him again – up until a bonkers ‘Ultimate Deletion’ match transformed them into tag team partners.
WWE managed to take the heat off this gimmick very quickly indeed. While Broken Matt was a cornerstone of the TNA programme, Woken Matt was only ever going to be a lower card sideshow in WWE. The legal dispute over the gimmick meant that its popularity had died down by the time WWE pulled the trigger, subsequently delivering a very sanitised take on what had worked so well in TNA. Circumstances may have scuppered the Woken gimmick, but it has to go down as a missed opportunity.
4. Asuka’s Undefeated Streak
At WrestleMania last year, Asuka lost to Charlotte Flair. It was her first defeat since she joined WWE in 2015, bringing a historic 914-day unbeaten streak to an end. This was a woman whose dominance eclipsed even that of Goldberg’s 1990s WCW run. Many reacted with horror to the decision to have her lose, but it wasn’t that call that was the problem. It was what happened next. Suddenly, the floodgates for Asuka defeats opened and the Empress of Tomorrow found herself losing repeatedly to Carmella and The Iiconics.
There would not have been a problem with Asuka’s streak coming to an end if she had been booked strongly afterwards. But like so many undefeated competitors before her – Rusev springs to mind – she has been treated as if the streak was the only significant thing about her. Even through to this week, in which she lost her Women’s Championship to Flair just 12 days before WrestleMania, Asuka has become an afterthought. There was no plan for her beyond the streak, and WWE doesn’t seem to know how to deal with her now.
3. HBK Returns
Shawn Michaels might well be the greatest wrestler of all time. The Hall of Famer was also a rare example of someone who had retired and stuck to it, not competing since his loss to the Undertaker in the main event of WrestleMania XXVI. That was true until last year, when he was lured out of retirement to take part in the most controversial wrestling event of recent memory – WWE’s Crown Jewel show from Saudi Arabia. He reformed D-Generation X with Triple H to take on the Brothers of Destruction.
Fans had been speculating about an HBK return for years, with AJ Styles frequently cited as a potentially exciting opponent. He is also heavily involved with NXT, so the likes of Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black have also been suggested. Any of these returns would have been more interesting than the Crown Jewel match, which was a sad spectacle in which four ageing competitors tried really hard not to hurt each other, and largely failed to achieve that.
2. NXT Tag Team Call-ups
NXT understands tag team wrestling. The current roster boasts the likes of Moustache Mountain and the War Raiders, as well as Undisputed Era and the surprisingly excellent tandem of Oney Lorcan and Danny Burch. When these teams make it to the main roster, however, they become an afterthought. WWE has repeatedly failed to book tag teams properly once they make the jump from developmental, whether it’s the previously white-hot American Alpha, the intimidating Authors of Pain or The Revival – one of the best pure tag teams to arrive in the company for years.
Tag teams simply aren’t a priority for Vince McMahon, and so they are given short shrift on both RAW and SmackDown Live. As a result, the company is making a mockery of some of its most talented performers. There’s no way that any wrestling promotion should struggle to make a home for Chad Gable, but somehow WWE has pulled it off.
1. Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz
When Daniel Bryan was struck down with his career-ending injury and transitioned into a GM role on SmackDown Live, he really came into his own as a character. The most exciting element of this new part came as a result of the post-show programme Talking Smack, in which Bryan repeatedly traded verbal barbs with The Miz. Bryan criticised Miz for being a “safe” worker, while Miz criticised Bryan for throwing his career away in order to get cheers from the fans. When Bryan made an unexpected return to the ring last year, a contest with Miz was an absolute necessity.
The feud itself was fine, including a solid match at SummerSlam last year, but it was badly mishandled by WWE and, as such, it quickly lost all of the heat that the outside of the ring build-up had created. This could have been one of the most exciting rivalries in years, but it ultimately fizzled out into something entirely unremarkable – a disservice to the two future Hall of Famers involved.
All images courtesy of WWE.com