WWE Pushed to Punished: Recapping Editions 16-30
In March 2011, the inaugural edition of my WWE Pushed to Punished series was published here on Bleacher Report. This series of articles analyzes the controversial careers of past and present WWE stars that were once in the good graces of management before ultimately meeting their downfall.
Over the last two years, I've written a total of 30 editions in the Pushed to Punished series. From Mr. Kennedy to John Morrison to Kofi Kingston, plenty of notable names have been featured in the series since that point in time.
This time around, this class of 15 Superstars were all tremendous athletes in my mind but were never able to go full circle in either getting to or maintaining a top-level spot in WWE. Their demotions have come as a surprise to the IWC, in yet another case where management has dropped the ball on a wrestler with high potential.
I've discussed these picks before on occasion, but I've just briefly included them here in an overall standing of the last 15 Superstars I've analyzed. Be sure not to miss the return of the series this upcoming weekend here on Bleacher Report.
Debuting on the second season of WWE NXT, Alex Riley showed a tremendous amount of potential. With The Miz as his pro, Riley was given a distinct advantage over the competitors, but he was ultimately ranked third during the season finale.
Despite that, Riley continued to make appearances alongside The Miz on subsequent editions of Monday Night Raw, aiding The Awesome One in his feuds against Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, John Cena and others. Being associated with Miz was greatly beneficial to Riley's career and helped him garner great heat in the process.
After taking an excessive amount of verbal abuse from Miz, Riley cut all ties with the former WWE champion in May 2011. The two briefly feuded shortly thereafter, where Riley experienced the biggest push of his career up to that point upon defeating Miz at June's Capitol Punishment pay-per-view.
However, Riley was sparingly used on television following his feud with his former mentor. His injuries as well as rumored heat with John Cena might have played a factor in that, but it's still a shame to see the talents of a bright, young star go to waste.
Read WWE's Pushed to Punished, Edition 16: The Dismal Dismissal of Alex Riley here.
Jack Swagger's career started off quite well on ECW in late 2008, where he embarked on an undefeated streak and quickly captured the ECW Championship. Everything that followed, however, was a complete disappointment.
He was sent packing to the Raw brand the following June, where he accomplished little to nothing before shockingly winning the Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 26. He cashed in the opportunistic briefcase a mere five days later on an episode of SmackDown, defeating Chris Jericho to win his first World Heavyweight Championship.
Due to his rapid rise to the top of the company, Swagger's reign as World champion was ultimately a flop. He lost almost every non-title match as champ before dropping the belt to Rey Mysterio at Fatal 4 Way two months later.
He floundered in the lower midcard from that point forward before taking a leave of absence from the WWE in September 2012. He returned this past January with a new gimmick, entrance theme, finisher, look and manager.
His partnership with Zeb Colter was promising in the beginning, but it has gotten him nowhere since WrestleMania 29. Although he was in one of the headlining matches on The Grandest Stage of Them All, Swagger failed to win back the World title at the event and hasn't seen much success since.
There's still time for Swagger to rebound, but it's safe to say that his career up to this point has mostly consisted of failure.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 17: The Stumble and Stagger of Jack Swagger here.
During the first portion of his career, Ryder was involved in a tag team with Curt Hawkins on the ECW and SmackDown brands. The duo was later added to Edge's La Familia stable, which ruled the blue brand with an iron fist throughout 2008.
After being drafted back to ECW in 2009, Ryder reinvented himself as The Long Island Iced Z, cutting his hair and sporting new ring attire. His all-new attitude did him wonders, as he contended for the ECW Championship on multiple occasions and even ended the career of Tommy Dreamer.
He became a member of the Raw roster following the demise of the Land of Extreme, but he was sparingly used on television. In an attempt to get himself over, Ryder started up his own YouTube series entitled Z! True Long Island Story in early 2011.
Ryder's popular web show picked up steam by the summer, which led to the self-proclaimed Internet Champion picking up his first singles win on the flagship show that July. From that point forward, Ryder became a Raw regular and chased Dolph Ziggler for the United States Championship.
At WWE TLC, Ryder defeated Ziggler to win his first U.S. title in what was one of the biggest highlights of his career to date. Unfortunately, everything went downhill as 2012 came along a few weeks later.
His alliance with John Cena hurt him more than helped him, as Ryder soon became the target of Kane's malicious attacks. The injured "broski" dropped his star-spangled prize to Swagger in mid-January before being put in a wheelchair at the hands of The Big Red Monster shortly thereafter.
To make matters worse, he was betrayed by his dream girl Eve at WrestleMania 28, which was the final nail in the coffin that was Ryder's career. The Long Island Iced Z has tried many times to resurrect his career since that point in time but has been met with little to no success.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 18: The Rough Ryde of Zack Ryder here.
With his real-life girlfriend Natalya by his side, Tyson Kidd made his WWE debut on the ECW brand in February 2009. The Canadian couple were joined by David Hart Smith a few months later, thus forming The Hart Dynasty.
The trio were sent packing to the SmackDown brand in mid-June and contended for the Unified Tag Team Championships on a number of occasions. After turning face at WrestleMania 26, they were finally successful in winning the gold at the 2010 WWE draft and reigned as champs for nearly five months.
Once tension arose between the members of the group, Kidd shocked the WWE Universe by turning his back on Smith on Old School Raw that November. As a heel, Kidd had plenty of potential, but he was unfortunately relegated to competing on WWE Superstars and NXT instead.
He reverted back to a fan favorite in early 2012 and formed a tag team with Justin Gabriel, who was also floundering in the lower midcard. The two unsuccessfully challenged for the Tag titles multiple times but were still a fun tandem, nonetheless.
During CM Punk's "pipebomb" earlier this year on Raw, Punk referred to Kidd as the "workhorse" of WWE. Many people expected Kidd to be featured more prominently going forward, but before anything could come of it, the Canadian-born Superstar was sidelined with an injury.
Here's wishing Kidd a speedy recovery and a strong push as a singles star upon his return to the ring this upcoming summer.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 19: The Heinous Heartbreak of Tyson Kidd here.
Prior to her WWE departure this past October, Beth Phoenix was seen as one of the cornerstones of the Divas division. Although she accumulated a handful of championships over the course of her career, her push was heavily curtailed during her final few years with the company.
Upon her return to the ring in the summer of 2007, Phoenix was a force to be reckoned with on the Raw roster. She quickly won her Women's Championship by defeating Candice Michelle at No Mercy and maintained possession of the title for nearly six months.
Although she dropped the strap to Mickie James in April 2008, she regained the gold at SummerSlam mere months later. Her second reign was almost as impressive as her first before, scoring victories over the likes of James, Kelly Kelly and Candice Michelle.
She continued her partnership with Santino Marella following her loss of the Women's title in January 2009. However, the two parted ways once Santino's twin sister Santina came into the picture at WrestleMania 25.
While on the SmackDown brand, Phoenix turned face for the first time in her career and won her third Women's Championship from Michelle McCool at Extreme Rules. Due to an unfortunate injury, however, Phoenix was forced to relinquish the strap a few weeks later.
It wasn't until August 2011 that Phoenix saw success again, when she shockingly turned heel and targeted then-Divas champion Kelly Kelly. The two had a series of matches in the final few months of 2011, leading to Phoenix winning her first Divas title at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view.
She was on the verge of breaking the record of being the longest-reigning Divas champion in history but came up short after losing the belt to Nikki Bella. She was unsuccessful in regaining the belt in the months that followed, which was a shame given her massive talent.
She was fired at the hands of Vickie Guerrero on Raw in October 2012 after losing to AJ Lee. In reality, Phoenix opted to leave the company, stating, "it was time to chase other dreams."
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 20: The Extinguishing Extinction of Beth Phoenix here.
If there was anyone who had a breakout year in 2011, it was undoubtedly R-Truth. He went from being a regular on WWE Superstars each week to headlining pay-per-views at the end of the year.
His giant leap to the top of the card can be credited to his heel turn that April. After losing to John Morrison in a No. 1 contender's match on Raw, Truth snapped and brutally battered his best friend, all while talking to himself.
After years of being looked at as a joke by the WWE Universe and management alike, Truth was finally relevant and producing some of the best in-ring and mic work of his career. He received his first shot at the WWE Championship at that June's Capitol Punishment pay-per-view, but he was unsuccessful in defeating John Cena.
Nonetheless, he continued his strong momentum in the months that followed, forming a tandem with The Miz. Collectively known as Awesome Truth, the two ran rampant on the WWE and ambushed everyone in sight.
Following their loss to Cena and The Rock in the main event of Survivor Series, Miz turned on Truth, who had been legitimately suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy. Upon his return to the ring a month later, Truth turned face and wasn't nearly as entertaining as he once was.
His lackluster pairing with Kofi Kingston last year did him no favors, and he continues to flounder to this very day. It's a true shame that Truth is now as bland as he was when he returned to WWE in late 2008.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 21: An Inconvenient R-Truth here.
Of all the rookies that participated in WWE NXT Season 4, I saw the most potential in Brodus Clay. It was quite clear that his intimidating presence and threatening mic skills made him a force to be reckoned with.
Despite coming up short to Johnny Curtis (now known as Fandango) on the season finale, Clay continued to appear on WWE television alongside his pro, Alberto Del Rio. He was in Del Rio's corner for his match against then-World Heavyweight champion Edge at WrestleMania 27, which had to be considered a huge honor for Clay.
Following 2011's Extreme Rules event, Clay took time off to film WWE Studios' No One Lives. His return to Raw was promoted heavily in the final few weeks of the year, which hyped him up as an absolute beast that was ready to embark on a path of destruction.
Upon his Raw re-debut in January 2012, Clay debuted an all-new Funkasaurus gimmick that quickly won over the fans in attendance. Although it was fun at first, it quickly died down later in the year after no signs of evolution of the character were displayed.
Nowadays, Clay is teaming with Tensai, another behemoth who shouldn't be utilized as comedic relief. I get a kick out of their act once in a while, but I yearn for the day that Clay finally snaps and reverts back to the monster he once was.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 22: The Disappointing Demise of Brodus Clay here.
Although he started out as a bodyguard for The Brian Kendrick, Ezekiel Jackson broke out on his own upon his move to the ECW brand in mid-2009. Jackson dominated anyone that dared to step in his path, using his sheer strength and unadulterated power to put his opponents away.
His association with William Regal and Vladimir Kozlov helped him gain exposure in the Land of Extreme, leading to his shocking ECW Championship victory over Christian on the final episode of ECW in February 2010. He swapped brands a few times before settling on SmackDown, where he joined forces with Wade Barrett, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater to form The Corre.
He was featured in a number of top-tier storylines while with the group but was ultimately exiled by his stablemates in May 2011. He chased Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship in the months that followed, eventually winning the title at the Capitol Punishment pay-per-view.
He reigned as Intercontinental champion for a solid two months before dropping the strap to Cody Rhodes in August. From that point forward, Jackson lost most of his matches before being taken off television all together in mid-2012.
Jackson's whereabouts are currently unknown, but I hope to see him resurface at some point in the foreseeable future.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 23: The Dominating Downfall of Ezekiel Jackson here.
Only an elite group of people can say they've won championship gold in their debut match, with Calito being one of them. In his very first match on SmackDown, Carlito defeated John Cena to win the United States Championship.
Although his time with the title didn't last long, the fact still stands that Carlito owns a victory over the future poster child of the company. He repeated that same success the following year, winning the Intercontinental Championship in his first match as a member of the Raw roster.
Carlito was featured in a number of top-tier storylines on the flagship show against the likes of Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton, but his stock quickly dropped going into 2007. He did nothing noteworthy and was paired with Santino Marella by 2008, which is the ultimate sign of failure for some.
At the end of the year, Carlito turned face and formed a tag team with his real-life brother Primo. The two quickly won the WWE Tag Team Championships and later the World Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 25, becoming the first Unified Tag Team champions in WWE history.
Once they dropped the titles in mid-2009, Carlito turned on Primo and reverted back to his villainous persona in the process. However, their feud was short-lived and the Caribbean native became an enhancement talent in his final few months with the company.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 24: The Souring Stagnation of Carlito here.
For years on end, Christian was the guy who would always come close to reaching the proverbial brass ring in WWE but would come up short. That was one of the reasons he left WWE in 2005 and joined TNA, where he was an NWA World Heavyweight champion on two separate occasions.
He returned to WWE in early 2009, where he immediately set his sights on the ECW Championship. Although he was the longest-reigning ECW champion in the company's history, it simply wasn't the same as holding one of WWE's two top-tier titles.
Upon his move to the SmackDown brand in mid-2010, Christian briefly feuded with the likes of Drew McIntyre and Alberto Del Rio before suffering an injury in the latter half of the year. He underwent successful shoulder surgery and returned at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in February 2011, attacking Del Rio.
After reuniting with long-time friend Edge, Christian was finally being featured at the top of the card where he deserved to be. Unfortunately, Edge shockingly retired shortly following WrestleMania 27, which left a vacant spot atop of the blue brand.
At Extreme Rules, Christian defeated Del Rio In a Ladder match to win his first World Heavyweight Championship with Edge by his side. It was an amazing moment that solidified Christian's status as a main event player in WWE.
A mere five days later, Christian dropped the World title to Randy Orton on SmackDown, which sent members of the IWC into a violent rage. It wasn't long until Christian turned heel for the first time since 2005, feuding with Orton over the golden prize for the remainder of the summer season.
The two had an amazing series of matches over the course of those few months, where Christian was even able to reclaim the strap at one point. However, his time with the title was brief and he was removed from the title hunt altogether once the rivalry concluded.
Since then, Christian has been injured a number of times and has missed quite a bit of ring time. He reigned as Intercontinental champion for two months in mid-2012 but has yet to resurface on television.
There's a very unlikely chance that Christian will be aggressively pushed upon his return to the ring, but the least WWE can do is to give him a meaningful feud to engage in for the time being.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 25: The Charismatic Crumble of Christian here.
Since making his WWE debut in January 2008, Kofi Kingston has enjoyed success as a singles competitor and tag team competitor. Despite the many championships he's captured over the last five years, he has yet to ascend the ladder in WWE and compete for a World Championship.
In the last five years, Kingston has won four Intercontinental Championships, three United States Championships and three World/WWE Tag Team Championships. Unfortunately, most of those reigns didn't surpass two months and hardly meant anything at all.
Before capturing the U.S. title this past April, Kingston hadn't won a single match on television over the course of 2013. His time with the title was short-lived, as he dropped the star-spangled prize to Dean Ambrose at May's Extreme Rules pay-per-view.
Kingston now finds himself on the disabled list after sustaining an elbow injury. Upon his return to the ring, I hope to see him repackaged with a new gimmick, but that's merely wishful thinking.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 26: Kofi Kingston's Trouble in Paradise here.
As a multi-generation star, Cody Rhodes has a significant advantage over many of the other Superstars. With his father, Dusty Rhodes, by his side, Cody has enjoyed quite a bit of success since arriving on the WWE scene in mid-2007.
However, that's not to say that he hasn't earned everything he's received thus far. It's evident that he has worked tremendously hard over the last six years and will continue to do so going forward as an up-and-coming star in the company.
His bright future as a singles competitor was first seen once he was moved to SmackDown in the 2010 WWE supplemental draft. On the blue brand, Rhodes has captured the WWE Tag Team Championship with Drew McIntyre as well as the Intercontinental Championship on two separate occasions.
Following his title loss to Big Show at WrestleMania 28, Rhodes lost all momentum he had scored up to that point. Sadly, he hasn't been utilized correctly since, as he's been relegated to working as an enhancement talent to the likes of Sheamus, Randy Orton and other main event players on a weekly basis.
Sure, his tag team with Damien Sandow has been extremely entertaining, but it's high time the two part ways so Rhodes can embark on the face turn he desperately needs in order to regain relevancy again.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 27: The Dashing Decadence of Cody Rhodes here.
He may seem a bit out of place on this list given the fact he didn't compete during the same time period as the aforementioned Superstars. However, that doesn't take away from the fact that he was also a prime example of of a talented individual who had his aggressive push halted too quickly.
Prior to his WWE re-debut in early 2003, a series of vignettes aired for Sean O'Haire promoting him as a "devil's advocate" so to speak. He attempted to convince viewers and fellow Superstars to go against the grain, challenge society and do things they wouldn't normally do.
Not only was his character absolutely brilliant, but he had the strong in-ring skills to back it up. His impressive outings against Rikishi, Eddie Guerrero and even Hulk Hogan were proof of that sentiment.
O'Haire lost direction a few months following his arrival, being overshadowed by his manager "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. By the end of the year, O'Haire was sidelined with an injury and hasn't been seen since.
Of course, it's far too late for O'Haire to return to the company at this point, but it's a shame to think what could have been had his push not been curtailed so abruptly.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 28: The Daunting Despair of Sean O'Haire here.
Chris Masters was no ordinary muscle man. He was an incredibly gifted athlete that was never given his fair share of credit as a skilled competitor.
Given his impressive physique, one would think that Vince McMahon, as well as other highly ranked WWE officials, would be high on someone like Masters. He was prominently featured in his first few years with the company, but gradually, he fell off the map in late 2006 and 2007.
During that time, Masters feuded with the likes of John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle and others. He even came close to winning the WWE Championship at one point, but sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
Things seemed to be looking up when he was re-signed by WWE in mid-2009, but he was once again wasted on the Raw roster. He turned face for the first time his career later that year, but he was still being utilized as an enhancement talent that mainly competed on WWE Superstars and NXT.
Masters was inevitably released from his WWE contract in August 2011 and has yet to sign with a major wrestling organization. Just recently, he saved his mother's life by rescuing her from a burning house, which caught mainstream press from WWE and other news outlets.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 29: The Devastating Disaster of Chris Masters here.
Before his career became the butt of a joke. Vladimir Kozlov was one of the most threatening forces in all of WWE. After debuting on the SmackDown brand in April 2008, he embarked on a near year-long undefeated streak that saw him score victories over established stars such as Triple H, Jeff Hardy and Undertaker.
Despite being built up as an unstoppable force over the course of the year, Kozlov garnered little to no heat from live crowds. He was an underrated performer given his background in Russian wrestling, but his character was painfully boring and was one of the reasons why he was de-pushed in early 2009.
It's a true shame that Kozlov went from headlining 2008's Survivor Series event to not even being featured on the WrestleMania 25 card. Once his undefeated streak came to an end at the hands of Shawn Michaels, Kozlov had nothing to fall back on and was never prominently pushed again.
His face run in 2010 and 2011 was enjoyable, but it didn't get him much success outside of a reign as WWE Tag Team champion with Santino Marella. Similar to Chris Masters, Kozlov was released from WWE in August 2011 and hasn't been seen or heard from since.
Read WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 30: The Iron Curtain Call of Vladimir Kozlov here.
These aforementioned stars are only a select few of the many who have been pushed at some point in their careers, only to fall flat on their faces due a variety of reasons despite having potential to aspire for something greater. Whether they were deserving of the downfall is out of the question, but it's a shame looking back at the controversial careers of these Superstars and seeing how they were once seen as the future of the business.
This weekend, my WWE Pushed to Punished series will officially make its return to Bleacher Report, being renewed for an additional five editions. If you have any suggestions for Superstars you'd like me to analyze in coming weeks, please be sure to drop a comment below with your respective pick.
You can read every archived edition of my Pushed to Punished series here.