On this week’s episode of SmackDown Live, Rusev defeated The Miz at the end of a five-man gauntlet match to become the #1 contender for AJ Styles’ WWE Championship.
“The Bulgarian Brute” has been one of WWE’s most popular Superstars in 2018, largely thanks to his unlikely alliance with singing sidekick Aiden English, but reports continue to suggest that he could soon turn fully heel again and bring an end to the ‘Rusev Day’ phenomenon.
While the former United States champion was previously a very believable and effective heel, it feels like WWE hasn’t fully capitalized on his babyface potential over the last few months and it would be a shame if his current gimmick were to end in the build-up to his match with Styles.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five other gimmicks from recent years that proved popular with the WWE audience but were cut short far too soon.
#5 Bad News Barrett
Stu Bennett (aka Wade Barrett) recently revealed on Chris Jericho’s 'Talk Is Jericho' podcast that, should he ever return to wrestling, he will definitely play a heel character.
However, it was his one and only run as a borderline babyface in WWE that was most loved by WWE fans, with his Bad News Barrett persona – and “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!” catchphrase – proving popular throughout much of 2014.
Sadly for the Englishman, he was told to stop using the phrase when he won King of the Ring in 2015 and the likeable ‘Bad News’ gimmick was replaced by a ‘King’ gimmick which felt like a clear demotion from what he had previously been doing.
One year later, Barrett decided against renewing his WWE contract and left the company. He has since appeared in two films, Eliminators and Vengeance, and has worked as the General Manager of UK promotion Defiant Wrestling.
#4 Babyface Ryback
In this writer’s honest but unpopular opinion, Ryback was a very good babyface during his rise to the main-event scene in 2012.
Then nicknamed “The Human Wrecking Ball”, he challenged for CM Punk’s WWE Championship at back-to-back PPVs, Hell In A Cell and Survivor Series, towards the end of the year and then joined forces with Team Hell No to face The Shield in their first WWE match at TLC.
Three months later, “The Big Guy” turned heel the night after WrestleMania 29, where he lost to Mark Henry, and WWE decided to take away his popular “Feed me more” catchphrase – the main part of his character that encouraged fans to cheer him on.
When you consider that the former Intercontinental champion didn’t win a single PPV match from August 2012 until he turned heel in April 2013, it’s pretty clear that his babyface run was cut short (and poorly booked) before it reached its full potential.
#3 “Real American” Jack Swagger
In 2013, Jack Swagger became one of WWE’s most prominent bad guys after aligning with heel manager Zeb Colter. The duo spoke about controversial issues including anti-immigration laws and their promos were often discussed by media outside of the wrestling industry.
Then, just like with the “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!” and “Feed me more” catchphrases, Swagger transitioned into a babyface thanks to his popular “We the People” catchphrase, as well as his impressive tag matches alongside Cesaro.
Speaking in a recent interview with Wrestling Inc., Swagger said his phrase “is an example of why pro wrestling is so cool” because it turned his controversial gimmick into something that fans could get involved with.
The former World Heavyweight champion added that the “Real American” persona was “definitely cut short”, which is a shame because his loudest crowd reactions in WWE came during that time.
#2 Damien Sandow/Damien Mizdow
It could be argued that Damien Sandow’s ‘Damien Mizdow’ persona, where he worked as The Miz’s stunt double and mirrored everything his tag partner did, came to an end at the right time when he eliminated Miz from the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 31.
Still, considering how popular Sandow had become during his comedic alliance with Miz, it was hugely disappointing that he barely featured on WWE television in the year that followed.
After a brief run impersonating “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Sandow appeared primarily on Main Event and Superstars tapings for the rest of 2015 and the first half of 2016 before he was released by the company.
Whether he was a good guy or bad guy, the 2013 Money In The Bank winner consistently entertained fans throughout his time in WWE, so he is definitely a case of someone whose career was cut too short.
#1 Babyface Luke Harper
Don’t get us wrong, Luke Harper (or simply ‘Harper’, as he is now known) is doing a great job alongside Rowan as one half of The Bludgeon Brothers, the current SmackDown Tag Team champions.
However, things could have worked out a lot better for the former Wyatt Family if he was added to the WWE Championship match between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton at WrestleMania 33, which seemed a very real possibility at the time.
He had gained a ton of momentum in the build-up to ‘Mania in 2017 and it was clear from the crowd reactions on SmackDown Live – repeated chants of “Luke! Luke! Luke!” – that the audience was enjoying his work as a good guy.
Unlike the other names on this list, Harper remains with WWE and his future in the company looks bright, but it’s still a little disappointing that he didn’t receive a lengthy run as a babyface singles competitor.
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