You hear the word “bust” thrown around regularly in the four major American sports. Certain players have become synonymous with the word — Ryan Leaf, JaMarcus Russell, Sam Bowie, Kwame Brown. The word bust, while without a true definition, has come to mean any highly touted athlete that didn’t quite translate their skills or perception of skills to their professional sports league.
Since this is Voices of Wrestling, we don’t care about Tim Couch or Darko Milicic, we want to examine the busts in professional wrestling. This is no hard task as the landscape of professional wrestling is littered with wrestlers that should’ve made it but never quite did, the challenge is defining what a bust in professional wrestling is and exaiming what exactly went wrong and what could have gone differently, that’s what we’re aiming to do in this series – Wrestling’s Biggest Busts.
Before we start, it’s worth setting up parameters for what I consider a bust in wrestling. Without this, we’re without context and you may not truly understand why I consider Wrestler X a bust, when you may consider him to have had a solid to above average career.
Without the benefit of an amateur draft, we cannot point to draft position as a barometer for bust status, so we’ll have to use perception and I’ll have to insert some of my own bias into the evaluation of Wrestler X.
I’m going to use these set of standards to determine a bust:
- Did Wrestler X have at the very least two of the three the following attributes?
- Above average to good promo skills
- Above average to good in-ring ability
- Above average to good “look” (in shape, tall, muscular, etc.)
To be considered a bust, you must have had at least two of these attributes. The most profound busts will likely have all three but there are far too many who only had two of these and frankly, I don’t consider Brakkus a bust since he was really just a muscle-head and had no other discernible skills. I’m looking at guys that should’ve been a huge deal but that never got there.
- Did Wrestler X ever make it big in a major American wrestling promotion?
This is going to be one of the harder parameters because many of the wrestlers listed had success in other territories, other federations (ECW) or even overseas. However, to give some limits and set solid criteria, I’m making this a point. This means Wrestler X did not have what I’m considering success in World Wrestling Entertainment, World Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance or American Wrestling Association. Success is defined by a consistent main-event or semi main-event run or a prolonged and significant title reign.
And with that, I think we’re ready. Let’s begin with my go-to answer anytime mentions biggest busts in wrestling history — Sean O’Haire.
If you were watching World Championship Wrestling in the year 2000, you know where this coming from, O’Haire had the goods. He burst onto the scene in June 2000 seemingly on the path towards super-stardom. O’Haire had everything you looked for in a superstar, he was 6’6, nearly 300 lbs and most impressively, could pull off the smoothest top-rope Senton Bomb this side of Dick Togo (The SEANton Bomb, of course)
In January 2000, O’Haire left his job as the owner of a fitness center and began his professional wrestling training at the WCW Power Plant in Atlanta, Georgia. The Power Plant produced numerous WCW talents such as future tag-team partner Mark Jindrak, Goldberg, Lash LeRoux and most notably Kid Romeo).
O’Haire and Jindrak made their way to the WCW main roster as a tag team June of 2000. In their debut match, they defeated the Filthy Animals (the now-unmasked duo of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Juventud Guerrera). The next week on WCW Monday Nitro, Jindrak and O’Haire battled the duo of Corporal Cajun (LaRoux) and the very “cleverly” named General Hugh G. Rection (Hugh Morris, current WWE Developmental Trainer Bill DeMott), the Misfits in Action. Their match was for the number one contendership of the World Tag Team titles currently held by KroniK (Bryan Adams and Bryan Clarke). O’Haire and Jindrak lost but ended up challenging for the titles anyway because, “you know who” was booking and well, nothing made sense in WCW at this time. Although they didn’t win the titles, it was clear that O’Haire and Jindrak were going to make a big impression on WCW. It’s not often guys walk out of wrestling school and into a title picture. O’Haire in particular stood out as a future star, the combination of size, strength and high-flying ability had wrestling fans drooling (more than usual).
Later in the summer, O’Haire and Jindrak linked up with fellow Power Plant graduates Mike Sanders, Chuck Palumbo, Reno, Johnny the Bull and former WWE superstar Shawn “Meat” Stasiak to form the “Natural Born Thrillers”. The heel group was one part fresh-faced, cocky heel group and one part enforcer group for the New Blood faction headed up by Vince Russo and the recently-returned Eric Bischoff. The leader of the NBT, Mike Sanders, could very well have his own piece in this series as he showed a ton of charisma as the slimy mouthpiece of the group, he unfortunately never put it all together, toiled in WWE Developmental after the purchase of WCW and was eventually released in 2002. Sanders landed on his feet and went on to become a successful stand-up comedian and improv actor. Good for him.
In September Jindrak and O’Haire captured the WCW Tag Team titles but of course this being Russo-booked WCW, they ended up losing the title just two weeks later at the hands of Lt. Loco (Chavo Guerrero) and Cajun. Don’t worry though; they won the titles back the very same night as Sanders (now the WCW Commissioner) granted O’Haire and Jindrak an immediate rematch that they won. If you think this sounds awful in writing, imagine watching this tripe on a weekly basis.
Fast forward to January 2001, NBT stable mates Palumbo and Stasiak won a tag team battle royal with O’Haire and Jindrak for a future tag title shot. When the match was completed, Sanders declared both teams victorious and stated that any combination of the four would have the opportunity to face the current tag champions Diamond Dallas Page and Kevin Nash, “The Insiders”.
O’Haire and Palumbo inexplicably became that new combo and the duo defeated Page and Nash to capture the tag titles at WCW’s Sin pay-per-view. This would mark O’Hare’s third tag title reign in only seven months on the main roster. As a result of this title victory, The Natural Born Thrillers officially broke up, Jindrak and Stadia had became jealous of the champion team of Palumbo and O’Haire and vowed to prove they were the All-Stars of the NBT. The showdown was set for SuperBrawl Revenge in February, which Palumbo and O’Haire won handedly.
Palumbo and O’Haire would defend their tag titles against Totally Buffed (Buff Bagwell and Lex Luger) at WCW’s Greed PPV and on the final episode of WCW Monday Night the duo defeated Mike Awesome and Lance Storm meaning WCW closed its doors with Palumbo and O’Haire as the champions. Despite the skeleton crew of a roster at the time, leaving with the belts was still a big deal.
For one, it guaranteed at least a cup of coffee in WWE for a title defense. For O’Haire, that caveat was worthless, he was going to WWE, that is all there was to it. He had made an impressive splash on the wrestling world in the past year andas one of the emerging stars in the dying days of WCW, he was ready for the biggest stage of them all — or was he?
There’s no doubt about it, the Invasion angle was an unmitigated disaster. I’m not going to go into that with this piece, as that’s its own 90,000-word article or 5-hour podcast sometime. It was a complete and utter disaster because WWE would not allow the two invading factions to gain an upper hand at any point. WCW and ECW continued to be beat down and never got revenge until it was all over and they were no more. Very few wrestlers benefited during what should have been the biggest angle in professional wrestling history.
One of those guys lost in the mix was Sean O’Haire.
He and Palumbo debuted in June of 2001 attacking the Hardy Boyz and immediately showing their allegiance to The Alliance (WCW/ECW). They immediately started feuding with the APA (Bradshaw and Faarooq) but were defeated at the Invasion PPV. In their first title defense, Palumbo and O’Haire lost the WCW Tag Titles to The Undertaker and Kane and lost the rematch in a Steel Cage the next week on Raw. The duo would take once more in August, defeating the Holly Cousins (Hardcore Holly and Crash Holly) before Palumbo was thrown out of The Alliance and the team was disbanded.
O’Haire was sent to WWE’s developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, for some additional seasoning. WWE was not in love with O’Haire work up to that point and O’Haire himself claimed he was having trouble adjusting to the famed “WWE style”. Clearly, WWE still had plans for the upstart, as most of his WCW brethren were reshuffled into new characters of flat out released. O’Haire was one of the few, younger WCW talents to remain on the roster post-Invasion.
His time in OVW was building up to his eventual return a return that began in January 2003, when vignettes appeared on WWE programming showing O’Haire in a new gimmick, that of a Devil’s advocate character. The vignettes are steeped in the mind of most avid WWE fans as they were shot and produced unlike any previous promos. The distinct pure white background would show a number of angles as O’Haire cut promos urging people to break the law, not go to church and asking them why they wasted their time believing in god.
O’Haire, now with much longer hair and a new set of tattoos, had an unbelievable presence about him during these promos. His trademark phrase “I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know” capped off each of these stellar promos, building up his eventual in-ring return.
Then, WWE surprised him with the cherry on top; he was going to get a new manager and not just any old manager, no, he was going to be paired with the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. This should’ve been the big break for O’Haire. We always knew he could work, he had a great look and now in addition to finally finding a solid character, he had the greatest mouthpiece of all time by his side.
Instead, Piper’s influence neutered any progress O’Haire had made. Instantly, it felt like O’Haire was secondary to Piper, following him around and trying to learn from him. Just a few months prior, O’Haire had established himself as this pseudo-Preacher/Devil’s Advocate persona and was now coming out to the ring with Taz and Michael Cole proclaiming he was a young guy trying to learn from Piper.
Backlash 2003 marked his in-ring return in a contest against Rikishi but, again, Piper was introduced first to his renowned bagpipe theme which to crowd, although Piper was suppose to be a heel, couldn’t help but cheer. Piper then grabbed the mic, discussed the coconut he was holding homage to one of his most famous angles) and cut this incredible, star-building promo:
Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present to you now the new millennium wrestler. The one with intelligence, the one with brawn, the one and only — Sean O’Haire
Yeah, not so much. The crowd didn’t care, O’Haire got very little reaction and his match against Rikishi was a total sleeper. O’Haire eventually won thanks to interference from Piper but the damage had been done.
The man who just three months earlier was setting the world on fire with historically great heel promos was neutered into what by all accounts seemed like a bright-eyed babyface character. He was being endorsed by a legend as being this great new wrestler for the next millennium (this is 2003, by the way). Yet, the fans were supposed to boo him still? It didn’t make sense.
Quickly, O’Haire’s devil’s advocate character was scrapped as he devolved further into a lackey of Piper. In-ring, O’Haire was doing well picking up victories against the likes of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero; he even got a victory over Mr. America (Hulk Hogan) via count out. Despite this in-ring success, the problem remained the same; O’Haire was not the featured act. Even in his victory over Mr. America, the focus was on Piper/Hogan’s feud, not O’Haire.
In June of 2003, things took a turn for the worse as Piper was “released” (he was not working with a contract, so WWE simply said they would stop using him) off the heels of a controversial interview about deaths and drug use in professional wrestling with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumble. What would’ve seemed on its face to be a good thing for O’Haire all but destroyed his career. The WWE had invested a lot in the Piper/O’Haire relationship that when Piper was let go, O’Haire was in no-man’s land.
Immediately following Piper’s release, O’Haire defeated Funaki on WWE Velocity (WWE’s C-Show at the time) and unfortunately, for Sean, this would become his new home. Outside of wrestling on a July edition of Smackdown against Rhyno, the rest of O’Haire’s WWE matches would take place on Velocity, battling the likes of Orlando Jordan, Devon Storm (WCW’s Crowbar), young future TNA stars Bobby Rhude and Eric Young and someone named Eric Schippreit.
Things went from bad to awful in November when O’Haire was involved in a serious motorcycle accident, which kept him out of action for a few months, upon returning to health in February he was sent back to Ohio Valley Wrestling and eventually released in April 2004. The release was said to be agreed upon, as O’Haire didn’t feel he was being utilized properly and claimed WWE still didn’t like the way he wrestled. Regardless, Sean O’Haire’s WWE career was finished and without a strong second promotion (TNA was still in its relative infancy), O’Haire’s professional wrestling career was essentially finished after only four years.
O’Haire had a few more blips in wrestling include a loss to eventual Wrestling Observer Hall of Famer Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2004 at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Nexess and a WWE Velocity dark match defeat (yes, Velocity had dark matches apparently) in 2006 at the hands of Skotty 2 Hotty. O’Haire dabbled in kickboxing and MMA and despite some success, he had all but abandoned the sports by 2007.
Instead, O’Haire made a name for himself with local police authorities. In 2006, he was found guilty of assaulting a woman at a club in 2004. In 2007, he was involved in a fight in his homestate of South Carolina, which resulted in fractures to his orbital bone and in 2009; he was arrested in Georgia for choking out his then girlfriend. The peach state fun continued in 2011 as O’Haire was again arrested in Georgia and charged with battery.
What O’Haire has done since 2011, is anyone’s guess as there’s not much record of him and presumably he’s out of trouble although a return to wrestling or some type of Sean O’Haire redemption tour is an impossibility. There are rumors (via YouTube video comments and Twitter) that he’s a hair stylist now, I’m guessing that’s not true but who knows. He apparently has a Twitter, which claims: “I’m Sean O’Haire, a member of the XWL roster currently on injured reserve due to being run over by some dude in a car. I don’t know who it was, so don’t ask.” While there was activity on the page, that largely stopped last year adding more to the mystery of Sean O’Haire. Although he was particularlyinterested in retweeting a random Bieber tweet back in April, yeah, I don’t know:
What went wrong? How did someone so promising, someone with size, speed, balance, high-flying ability turn into nothing. How did a 6’6 wrestler with an incredible physique fail to get over to the major stage? How did someone with such a handle on their charisma never go anywhere?
O’Haire himself has commented that nobody help him back, “just myself”. He was certainly the victim of horrible timing, had he come into WCW years earlier he would have had more time to learn and grow on the main roster. On the flipside, he would’ve been in WCW during the height of the Hogan/Nash stranglehold on the top of the card; there wasn’t a lot of upside for anyone not named Bill Goldberg.
O’Haire developing during the dying days of WCW gave him the platform necessary to become the rising star WWE saw. Would he have been a three-time WCW Tag Team Champion in 1998? Likely not.
O’Haire, like many wrestlers of the time, did fall victim to the botching of the Invasion angle. Had the angle been done well, there’s a good chance O’Haire would have benefited as one of the top WCW stars. Again though, if the Invasion were done right, it would have included Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. When there’s a glut of established, main event draws, is there room for a growing superstar like Sean O’Haire? We’ll never know.
In my opinion, if O’Haire hung on after his motorcycle accident, cut his chops in a Jim Cornette booked Ohio Valley Wrestling and stayed committed to learning more about the business, he could have recovered his career to some level.
By 2004-2005, the WWE roster was a very different place than 2001-2002. Gone were many of the higher price, veteran WCW (Hogan) and much of the veteran WWE wrestlers of the time (The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin), emerging superstars like John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Eddie Guerrero and John Bradshaw Layfield were pushed to main event positions. Could O’Haire been a game-changing main eventer like John Cena or Batista but there’s no reason he could’ve have filled some role in a that era of WWE.
Instead, we’re left with the “what if”s in the career of one of the professional wrestling’s biggest busts — Sean O’Haire.