WWE is full of young talent but also features Superstars who made it late in their careers. It took years for some household names to join Vince McMahon's company.
AJ Styles is the latest example. Although WWE tried to sign him earlier in his career, he would not join the company until 14 years later. It was a decision the chairman regretted, as later reports revealed.
Here is a look at five Superstars Vince McMahon wished he had hired earlier.
1. AJ Styles make it to WWE late in his career
AJ Styles is one of WWE's best signings of the last decade. However, his WWE run came very late in his career. He joined WWE in 2016 after nearly two decades in Ring of Honor (ROH), Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA/IMPACT), New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), and the independent circuit.
WWE tried its luck with Styles earlier in 2002 but was turned down by "The Phenomenal One." He recently told the story recently on "WWE Untold."
Styles was offered a developmental contract, but he had to refuse it to not disrupt his family. That development would have forced him to move to Cincinnati. Styles explained: “I ended up talking to Jonny Ace. I said, 'I really appreciate this, but I can’t move to Cincinnati and disrupt my family.'"
Styles felt his wife's dream came first, as she wanted to be a teacher and he did not want to mess that up, Styles added:
"That was very important to me. Mine could come second, so I didn’t take the developmental with WWE in Cincinnati. Years later, it ended up leading me back to WWE at the perfect time."
WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle recently revealed Vince McMahon's reaction to Styles' debut with WWE, saying on The Kurt Angle Show:
"The gauge was when he came out at the Royal Rumble, and the fans were so excited it was AJ Styles. You know, a lot of WWE fans feel like, or a lot of WWE personalities don't think that WWE fans watch TNA Wrestling. I think they do because they knew exactly who AJ was, and I think Vince saw the reactions and went, 'Wow, this guy is a star already.' He hasn't even been here, you know, this is his first day, and he's a star. I think that he had to build a name for himself, and he did it right. It's a shame that AJ ended up in the WWE when he is in his 40s."
When Styles won the world title, Vince went up to him and said, "I wish I would have hired you 10 years ago", according to Angle.
Styles is now a two-time WWE Champion, a three-time United States Champion, and a former Intercontinental Champion.
2. Goldberg's long-awaited return to WWE
After the fall of WCW in 2001, many of its stars made the jump to WWE, but not Goldberg. The master of the jackhammer refused to join Vince McMahon's company because the chairman was not willing to pay his worth, according to The Sportster. Instead, the former WCW Champion joined All Japan Pro Wrestling. He kept earning his contract money from his former employer as well.
Goldberg's debut in WWE had to wait two years. He finally fulfilled McMahon's wish in 2003. His run with the company lasted only a year but seemed very successful, winning the World Heavyweight Championship.
Goldberg left on bad terms with McMahon. He later told TMZ that he "wouldn't work for Vince McMahon if he was the last motherf****r on Earth.", as Cageside Seats reported.
Despite this, McMahon wanted to bring the former champion back to WWE in 2010. Goldberg confirmed it on Twitter, saying: "YES... I am in negotiations with the WWE", but it never worked out.
Goldberg's return to WWE came six years later. He went directly after Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. In his second run with WWE, Goldberg successfully captured the Universal Championship twice and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018.
The relationship between Goldberg and Vince McMahon had its ups and downs but they seem to have reached peace in the end. In a recent interview with Bleacher Report, the former Champion said, "I hated him in the beginning, and now I’d die for him."
3. Carlito is finally back in WWE
In 2012, Power Slam magazine claimed Vince McMahon was interested in bringing Carlito back; however, it never came to be.
Two years later, Carlito's appearance at the Hall of Fame ceremony sparked negotiations between himself and WWE, according to The Sportster. The company pitched the idea of bringing him back to join The Colons. However, the former Intercontinental Champion turned down the offer. He deemed Vince McMahon's offer too low and was not convinced by his role on the show.
Vince McMahon made another attempt to sign the Caribbean Cool in 2018, but again that did not come to fruition. McMahon's wish to re-sign Carlito finally materialized this year as the 41-year-old Superstar returned at the Royal Rumble.
4. Samoa Joe's long journey to WWE
Samoa Joe became an important figure the instant he joined WWE. He went on to win the NXT Championship and the United States Championship, twice each. He has since been weighed down by injuries that took him out of the ring and to the commentators' table.
Samoa Joe made a name for himself in TNA from 2005 to 2015 but Vince McMahon was never a big fan. The chairman of WWE saw "The Destroyer" as a "big fat Samoan," according to Bruce Prichard.
Bruce Prichard revealed on his Something To Wrestle podcast that Vince McMahon thought Samoa Joe looked out of shape. The former US Champion also spoke about Vince McMahon opposing signing him for years, but realized his value after he did. "Now we have a great relationship, everything’s working fine. I think he just realized he already bought it, so he might as well use it," Joe said in an interview with Fightful two years ago. Injuries have, however, taken their toll on the 41-year old who could have been a star-signing for WWE years earlier.
5. WWE waited 13 years for Sting
Sting was one of the names WWE chairman Vince McMahon had set his eyes on when he bought his crumbling rival in 2001. McMahon tried to lure the former WCW Champion into joining his company but was turned down.
Two years later, the WCW icon joined TNA. His decision was met with disbelief from the WWE chairman, who muttered, "Blugh," as Sting recalled on the Unrestricted podcast.
In 2014, Vince McMahon succeeded in convincing Sting to join WWE. It came nearly 13 years since he wished the four-time TNA Champion had.
The Stinger made his debut at Survivor Series to take down Triple H and help Team Cena defeat Team Authority. He went on to face the Cerebral Assassin at WrestleMania.
WWE inducted Sting into the Hall of Fame in 2016, where he announced his retirement from professional wrestling. The Icon made a few later appearances before leaving WWE in October 2020.
The retired Superstar returned to wrestling in December to join AEW, two months after walking out of McMahon's company. He is set to team up with Darby Allin to take on Team Taz in a Street Fight at Revolution for his first match since coming out of retirement.