On the other hand, there is a long line of losers whom Vince tried to force down the throats of the fans. These are just a few of the poor souls who had potential but were never allowed to naturally grow into it. They were pushed too much too fast and fans rejected them for the more natural heroes they had come to love.
Lex Luger was a natural heel. His great, chiseled body was the kind of frame Vince went crazy for, but it carried a face that was naturally smug and condescending. As the narcissist, Luger was slowly starting to find his mark. Then Hogan split and Vince was left without a babyface to carry his pro-USA hero banner. Sure he had Bret, but Bret was singing O Canada. Vince needed someone to bleed stars and stripes, to tap in to that primal instinct all Americans have to love their country.
So Lex was given a makeover, clad in red white and blue and was redubbed “the all-American.” Immediately he started a feud with the WWF Champion Yokozuna. It began with a bodyslam and, for all intents and purposes, ended with a count-out victory at Summerslam. While fans were not outright revolting at the push Lex was getting, they were not responding as strongly for him as a babyface as they were for him as a heel. When he and Bret Hart co-won the 94 Royal Rumble it was clear that the Canadian was the favorite of the fans, while Lex was a distant second. His strong push ended with a whimper soon after WrestleMania X, where—though both he and Bret had chances to wrestle for the title—Lex came up empty while Bret won the gold.
Diesel is classic example of a Vince McMahon fabricated superstar. Everything from the nickname “big daddy cool” to the look (the shades, the long mane, the leather pants) felt like a checklist for what an out of touch person would think of as “cool.” I know this was the mid-90’s, and nothing was cool in the mid-90’s, but Kevin Nash was not nearly as cool as Vince and co. screamed that he was from the commentary booth. It didn’t help that he was a limited worker and a poor talker. In time he improved enough to where he could be carried to solid matches with great workers, and his mic skills improved by leaps and bounds when he invaded WCW as an outsider, but as Diesel he was pushed too hard without the tools to match the accolades heaped upon him.
As Champion, Diesel goes down in history as the worst-drawing WWF title holder of the modern era. Fans did not care enough to pay to watch him wrestle. House shows he headlined were poorly attended, TV ratings sagged and his reign as champion did nothing to help the floundering company to recover. There were popular acts in the WWF at the time (two of them would headline WrestleMania 12 against one another), but with Diesel at the top, the WWF struggled. On the other hand, Razor Ramon was over, was much more talented and had developed a real rapport with the fans. Had he been given the main event rub in late 1994 instead of Kevin Nash, the fortunes of the company might have improved. Instead he was another example of a performer that had potential (which he realized in WCW) but was not given the patience needed to cultivate it.
Mabel is perhaps the worst example of Vince’s detachment from reality. The giant who later would be known as Viscera won the King of the Ring tournament in 1995. The night of his victory is memorable as the fans watching live in Philadelphia, being bored out of their minds seeing Mabel and Savio Vega sleepwalk through the KOTR finals match, went into business for themselves (one of the first examples of this happening, whereas now it’s expected to occur at least every Raw after WrestleMania) and began chanting the initials of a small, upstart rival promotion that based many of their shows in Philly.
Up until that match, Vince had never heard of ECW, but the sound of the crowd taking a collective dump on his match, caught his attention and led him to seek out an on-again, off-again working relationship with Paul Heyman that continues to this day. Nevertheless, the plan was carried out as conceived, with Mabel the King of the Ring winner set to face Diesel in the main event of SummerSlam. As the event approached, however, Vince realized how little the fans were interested in the match. He called a very late audible and booked Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon in a ladder match for the IC title as a last ditch effort to save the PPV’s buyrate. It didn’t work; the show brought in a full 100,000 fewer buys than the 94 edition. The lesson should have been learned: You can’t appease the people by tweaking the undercard. It’s the top of the card that people pay to see, and it’s home grown, beloved wrestlers people want to see working it.
Looking at the 2015 booking of Roman Reigns over Daniel Bryan, it looks like it’s a lesson Vince has still not learned.