Ranking WWE's 10 Biggest Botched Booking Decisions of the Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2019

Ranking WWE's 10 Biggest Botched Booking Decisions of the Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    When one revisits the decade that was in WWE, it will be nearly impossible to ignore the number of missed opportunities that plagued the creative team and dominated its biggest botched booking decisions.

    From bungled championship reigns that adversely affected the careers of the Superstars involved to deeply flawed creative choices, the last 10 years has seen a lack of successfully developed stars.

    With the calendar flipping to 2020 and the company eying a new decade full of promise and one of its most talented rosters to date, relive the massively botched booking decisions that today's creative teams can learn and grow from, ranked according to their blatant ineptitude and failures.

10. Rusev's Love Life

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    What better way is there to build a star than to take a supremely talented big man with a proven track record of playing the intense villain or comedic babyface and ruining whatever credibility he has with an overly soapy storyline that does nothing to enhance his standing with the company?

    It is a question WWE Creative asked fans more than once this decade.

    First came a split between The Bulgarian Brute and his Ravishing Russian, Lana, that saw the manager become the sympathetic babyface. She found comfort in the arms of Dolph Ziggler while Rusev turned to Summer Rae, instigated a mixed tag team rivalry that ate up television time but only served to hurt those involved to such a degree that the whole ordeal was scrapped in short order.

    Then, as the decade came to a close, creative revisited a Rusev-Lana split by inserting Bobby Lashley into their story as the latter's new love interest. A divorce, fake pregnancy, overbooked gimmick match and wedding proposal followed as the crack writing staff behind WWE's flagship show, Monday Night Raw, looked for any storyline spark to draw audiences in.

    The result?

    Another comically bad program with questionable execution that gave Rusev and Co. more television exposure but also left some wondering how anyone was actually supposed to benefit given the material they were asked to get over. 

9. Jinder Mahal's WWE Championship Reign

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    Jinder Mahal's rise to the WWE Championship was sudden and unexpected, an attempt by the company to create a new star and take advantage of a growing market in India. It was a noble attempt, but major booking issues plagued The Maharaja's run throughout and ultimately rendered it a failure.

    First, the push came too quickly. Just weeks earlier, he was bumping around the ring at WrestleMania for the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski. He was the glorified jobber who would lose nothing from making Gronkowski look good for the mainstream media while putting over Mojo Rawley in the process. To transition from that role to genuine championship contender in mere weeks was asking a lot, not just of the performer, but the fans as well.

    Secondly, there was no real plan for Mahal once he became champion. He defeated Randy Orton at the May 2017 Backlash pay-per-view and rematched The Viper a few times thereafter. He then feuded with Shinsuke Nakamura in a program that produced underwhelming matches and failed to capture the attention of audiences. That Mahal never had much of a character beyond being the first Indian champion in WWE history and cheating to win every match he competed in only hurt matters.

    Finally, Mahal simply was not ready to be in that spot at that time, something the creative team never took into consideration when it strapped the proverbial rocket ship on him. Mahal had not been developed, was not a strong enough wrestler to make up for the booking shortcomings and was never allowed to build credibility for himself through convincing wins. WWE did everything in its power to counter its own attempts to build him into a star, repeatedly using The Singh Brothers or The Great Khali to help him beat guys already perceived to be high up on the proverbial food chain than him.

    Mahal's title reign was the perfect storm of booking mistakes, and the result was a lackluster, underwhelming run the company was all-too-ready to end come November when AJ Styles defeated him to capture the title in the United Kingdom.

8. Michael Cole's Heel Turn Overstays Its Welcome

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    In 2011, WWE Creative took a calculated risk, turning lead play-by-play commentator Michael Cole heel in an attempt to capitalize on the general dislike of the announce by the company's fanbase. To do so, it had the veteran voice of WWE betray broadcast partner Jerry "The King" Lawler, costing him the WWE Championship in a ladder match against The Miz. 

    Cole, already-annoying and grating on the nerves, was let loose on an unsuspecting audience. His profile rose and his television time increased. No longer just the voice of the company, he began eating up television time with long promos and angles aimed at setting up a WrestleMania match with Lawler. Guys like Kane, Big Show and Kofi Kingston were left to wallow in midcard mediocrity, given nothing of real note to do while Cole received more opportunities to showcase his heel act.

    The WrestleMania bout arrived and Cole inexplicably went over via reverse decision. Yes, the easiest match on the entire card to book was somehow bungled, leading to rematches between the two that absolutely no one asked for.

    Worse yet, the viewing experience worsened. The commentary team became one long bickering fest as Lawler and Cole fought each other on the headset, as well as in the ring. Even when Lawler defeated Cole in a Kiss My Foot match in May, Cole's heel persona stuck around. It was not until the very real heart attack suffered by The King that that chapter of Cole's career came to an end.

    For a six-month span in 2011, WWE Creative committed entirely too much time and effort to Cole at the expense of actual wrestlers, missing opportunities to elevate some and solidify the reputations of others.

    And for what? A fleeting storyline that is remembered for all the wrong reasons some eight years later? 

7. John Cena Vanquishes the Eater of Worlds

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    One of the most complex and interesting rivalries leading into WrestleMania 30 in 2014 saw John Cena squaring off with the enigmatic, dangerous Bray Wyatt. Wyatt rode a wave of momentum into the extravaganza, the result of a high-profile win over Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble and some stellar promo work. 

    Surely, the next step on his road to sports-entertainment greatness and main event credibility would be a victory over the moral compass of WWE, the company's answer to a Marvel superhero, Cena.



    Despite an audience of fans eagerly throwing their support behind Wyatt, singing 'He's Got the Whole World In His Hands' in unison, and despite the fact he controlled the match, WWE Creative opted to put Cena over. Again. Yes, the same morality play that fans had watched play out for nearly a decade to that point reared its ugly head once again, the hero emerging from war triumphantly, vanquishing the villain and ensuring all was right in McMahonland.

    Wyatt would never again experience the level of popularity or creative excellence he had prior to that defeat. His momentum extinguished, he would defeat Cena the following month at Extreme Rules, but it was far too little, far too late by that time. The damage was done, and WWE missed out on another opportunity to create another marquee star to build its future around.

    Luckily for Wyatt, his own creative mind would not allow the inability of the writing team to hold him back from achieving his goals.

    Enter, The Fiend and the Firefly Funhouse.

    But that is another story for another time.

6. WWE Flubs the Miz's Title Reign, Ends Main Event Cred

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    Much like Jinder Mahal after him, The Miz was not ready for the WWE title reign that was thrust upon him in late-2010. With that said, he was at least charismatic enough to make the most of it, had he been given material even remotely competent enough to work with.

    He was not.

    Fresh off a memorable Money in the Bank cash-in against Randy Orton that served as the culmination of a monumental rise up the ranks, Miz had the potential to become a breakout main event star. Instead of building on the momentum he had coming out of the career-altering win, he struggled to beat The Viper in subsequent rematches and needed Alex Riley to help him retain his title. From there, he barely squeaked by the 61-year-old Jerry "The King" Lawler, thanks in large part to a shocking betrayal by Michael Cole.

    By the time his WrestleMania main event arrived, he had been overshadowed by everyone from Cole to the returning Rock. With attention on The Great One's pending dream match with John Cena, Miz was a third wheel, despite his status as the top champion in the company. It was of no real surprise when he lost the title a month later at Extreme Rules.

    Though Miz has been part of several significant feuds since then, against the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, he has never returned to the consistent main event status he enjoyed earlier in the decade.

    Most of that can be attributed to the bad taste his failed push left in the mouths of fans and company officials alike, though it was through little fault of his own.

5. Alberto Del Rio Cashes In, Ruins Summer of Punk

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    There was no Superstar hotter, more over or more significant to the immediate future of WWE in the summer of 2011 than CM Punk. Riding high after his iconic Pipebomb promo, he experienced mainstream media attention and was finally the WWE champion.

    At SummerSlam that August, he would square off with John Cena to determine the undisputed top dog in WWE. The match—a second, consecutive classic between the industry giants—saw Punk defeat his rival in controversial fashion. The outcome would matter not, though, as Kevin Nash emerged from the crowd and shockingly dropped The Straight Edge Superstar with a jackknife powerbomb. Moments later, Alberto Del Rio hit the ring, cashed in Money in the Bank and stole the WWE title from him.

    The Summer of Punk and all of the excitement that surrounded it suddenly and inexplicably came to a screeching halt. And why? To crown Del Rio, a guy the company had been hellbent on pushing until Punk unexpectedly heated up. Oh, and to transition the focus of the writing team to Nash and his personally intense feud with Triple H.

    Punk would regain the title in November at Survivor Series, but not before Del Rio and Cena traded it throughout the fall and WWE Creative somehow undid all of the goodwill it built for itself through Punk's elevation just months earlier.

4. Sting Loses His First WWE Match

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    From the moment he took Ric Flair to the limit at the inaugural Clash of Champions event in 1988, Sting bled the colors of World Championship Wrestling. He was the silent guardian of the company during the height of the New World Order and its loyal hero throughout the Monday Night Wars and its dying days at the turn of the Millennium. 

    Never once did he waver, resisting the big-money offers thrown at him by Vince McMahon and WWE whenever his contract neared its end. Even after WCW died its sudden death in 2001, he opted to join TNA rather than make the jump to WWE.

    When he finally opted to join Vince McMahon's organization in 2014, surely the company went out of its way to make him a big deal by booking him to win his first match in a WWE ring ever.

    They couldn't be that stupid to bungle such an obviously easy booking decision.

    Au contraire.

    Sting arrived at WrestleMania 31 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and lost to Triple H in a match that was less about celebrating the face-painted Superstar's arrival in foreign territory and more of an excuse for WWE to remind everyone that it kicked WCW's ass over a decade earlier.

    It was a glorified commercial for the WWE Network and the revisionist history that was the Monday Night Wars series. Most importantly, it was a horrifically stupid booking decision that ruined Sting's brief run with the company right from the get-go and cost him that defining WrestleMania moment a performer of his stature certainly deserved.

3. Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak

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    There is no denying that the level of hatred that accompanied Brock Lesnar after he ended The Undertaker’s 21-year undefeated streak at WrestleMania. It made The Beast Incarnate the most hated man on the roster for the next year, but the impact of the moment was essentially nonexistent by the time he suplexed the hell out of John Cena and beat him in the most glorified squash of all time a few months later at SummerSlam.

    Imagine what it would have meant for a younger star seeking main event validation to defeat The Deadman on wrestling’s most prestigious stage.

    In 2017, Roman Reigns pinned The Phenom in the show-closing bout of WrestleMania 33, becoming just the second Superstar to defeat Undertaker at the Showcase of the Immortals. How much more would it have meant to The Big Dog’s legacy, not to mention his legendary opponent, had he been the one to earn the victory?

    Instead, the moment was wasted on Lesnar, a Superstar whose credibility was never in question and whose box office appeal had been established years earlier.

    Another missed opportunity for WWE Creative.

2. WWE Kills Zack Ryder's Momentum

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    There is no Superstar whose career was so adversely affected by WWE management's inability to understand their appeal, or unwillingness to build on it, than Zack Ryder. His decade was, arguably, the most tragic from a creative standpoint.

    Ryder got himself over via his YouTube show, Z: True Long Island Story. Allowed to let his personality shine for the first time in what felt like an eternity, the young star earned a groundswell of support from fans that appreciated the wackiness, insider terms and sheer creativity that went into the weekly presentation. Ryder and friends Dolph Ziggler and John Morrison were allowed to be themselves, to have fun and to be different than the cookie-cutter personas they had become on television.

    Eventually, the crowd's response to Ryder became undeniable. At the 2011 Survivor Series, on the same night, The Rock returned to the squared circle for the first time in seven years, it was Ryder whose name was on the lips of the WWE Universe. How was his homegrown popularity repaid? With a United States Championship victory over Ziggler in a match built up almost exclusively on the webshow.

    Unfortunately, the monumental moment in Ryder's career was just that: a moment. A fleeting one, at that.

    Within weeks, Ryder was booked as a damsel in distress, unable to defend himself against Kane and in need of rescuing by John Cena. He saw his on-screen relationship with Eve Torres end when she attempted to make out with Cena, revealing her feelings for The Broski to be illegitimate. Any chance he had of being taken seriously by management ended when The Big Red Monster sent him crashing off the Raw stage in a dangerous spot.

    By the time WWE officials had buried Ryder, killing his credibility and any chance he ever had of succeeding as a singles star beyond the midcard.

    At best.

    A kid whose love and passion for the industry led him to the internet to try to get eyes on him saw his dream become a nightmare, almost out of spite for his homegrown popularity.

1. John Cena Beats Nexus at SummerSlam

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    Nexus theoretically should have created a near-dozen Superstars who could carry WWE on their back for the next 10 years. Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel were just a few of the young stars from developmental who made up the revolutionary faction, wreaking havoc on everyone who stood in their way. They should have been huge stars by way of their rivalry with the likes of John Cena, Edge, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton.

    Instead, any and all credibility and momentum they had early in the summer of 2010 evaporated with the group's loss to Team Cena in the main event of the SummerSlam pay-per-view. What was a dominant force that unleashed hell on the entire company was rendered just another heel act built up to be conquered by the company's resident Superman.

    Facing a two-on-one numbers disadvantage, Cena overcame a DDT on the arena floor to pin Justin Gabriel following a missed 450 splash and proceeded to submit faction leader Barrett moments later with the STF. Perceived as another attempt by WWE Creative to shove Cena down the collective throat of its fans, the outcome earned significant backlash, and to this day, it represents the absolute worst of the company's inability to create new stars.

    It was an issue that plagued Vince McMahon's traveling circus throughout the decade.