Since the first time Wade Barrett came across my television screen on NXT in 2010, I knew he had all the makings of a legitimate wrestling star. At 6’7” and 246 pounds, he’s an imposing figure that had immediate presence before even saying a word. Then, when prompted with a microphone and an audience, he always delivered. Between bell rings, he was as solid and as proven as they come. Over time, he showed incredible range and developed one of the WWE’s signature maneuvers: the Bull Hammer.
He has it all, and he has it all in abundance.
Now, news has broken that Barrett aims to leave the WWE this summer for reasons he has yet to officially address. Speculation is rampant that his departure is the result of unhappiness with his role in the company. While he’s sure to come out and say all the right things publicly, shake hands and part ways in a civil manner, he has reason to be disappointed, even angry, with the WWE.
They dropped the ball with Wade Barrett perhaps more than any other performer in WWE history – right up there with Ricky Steamboat, the failures to make Davey Boy Smith and Vader superstars in the 90s, and neglecting to give MVP a chance to run at the helm of Smackdown in the 2000s.
Where exactly did it go wrong?
Upon his debut, Barrett led a strong Nexus faction to the main event of Summerslam 2010. The match was awesome and the angle was hot. So, instead of winning the seven-on-seven main event at the second biggest show of the year, Barrett submitted to John Cena. At that moment, the Nexus lost steam, and the angle broke down into months of odd stipulation matches.
His first championship match was in a six-pack challenge, so the interest in Barrett having his first title shot was lost in the shuffle of five other superstars. Barrett defeated Cena with the stipulation being that should Cena lose, he would have to join the Nexus. He had a couple of championship disqualification wins before facing Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series 2010.
There he elected Cena as the special guest referee and the stipulation was that Cena would be disbanded from Nexus if Barrett won. Should Orton win, Cena would be fired. Months after his first championship shot, the match was still overshadowed by outside circumstance.
Are you confused yet?
Cena buried Barrett in chairs at TLC, the Nexus shuffled members around, somehow CM Punk became involved, and the whole thing turned into a hot mess.
Wrestling fans tend to agree that the WWE completely blew it with the Nexus angle of 2010, but things get worse for Barrett.
Then, The Corre happened. Why? Because who knows!? Barrett has said himself that this was something he’d like to forget. Out of respect, I’ll quit talking about it now – you found this article, you can Google ‘The Corre’ if you want.
Barrett finally earned some singles clout when he won the Intercontinental Championship in 2011, before ultimately losing it to one of the worst Intercontinental Champions of all time, Ezekial Jackson.
Months later, Barrett was repackaged under the “Barrett Barrage” gimmick, and finally stepped out of all of the Nexus/Corre ‘gang warfare’ type of nonsense. Finally, it seemed as if he was going to be pushed as the veritable singles superstar he is.
He strung together a lot of wins on Smackdown, but ultimately, the push concluded with Barrett being fed to Randy Orton, and then, being eliminated from the Elimination Chamber by Santino Marella.
A partially dislocated elbow kept him off of WWE programming for months. Upon his return, Barrett tallied up another winning streak that culminated with his second reign as Intercontinental Champion. Just when it looked like his course was corrected, Bo Dallas eliminated him from the Royal Rumble in 2013. Then, take a wild guess what happened…..Dallas defeated Barrett.
Barrett eventually lost his Intercontinental Championship to The Miz, regained it, then lost it to Curtis Axel. He endured a long losing streak, was ordered to shave Daniel Bryan’s beard, and then missed time due to work visa issues – another push fizzling out.
Ultimately, this all led to his return as “Bad News Barrett,” a character he developed on The JBL and Cole Show. This time, Barrett was more over with WWE crowds than ever before. For the first time in his career, Barrett wasn’t just a hard-nosed, bare-knuckle brawler – he was a flat out entertainer. The audience responded, often times loudly chanting along with Barrett’s famous “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news” line.
He won a tournament to determine a number one contender for the Intercontinental Championship and subsequently defeated Big E for the title. He became a focal point of the WWE’s upper-mid card, and (stop me if I’ve said this before) appeared to be back on track towards the main event scene.
The injury bug reared its’ ugly head again, and Barrett missed significant time before returning to action and winning the 2015 King of the Ring tournament. The problem with what should have been a career defining moment was that there wasn’t exactly a murderer’s row of wrestlers in the tournament, and his prize for winning the tournament was taking on the tired, worn-out “King” gimmick – outright leaving the Bad News Barrett character behind.
At some point, one has to recognize when history is repeating itself. There was a clear formula with Barrett. For all he’s accomplished in the wrestling industry, he didn’t appear able to overcome being fed to Cena and Orton, and having pushes result in losses to Ezekial Jackson, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel. He’s posted a record of 1-5 at Wrestlemania and Summerslam, the two biggest shows of the year. When he finally appeared to break through, the WWE took what made him so entertaining away from him.
Rumors swirled that WWE was not happy with crowd reactions to the Bad News Barrett character, as they were trying to get him over as a heel. Instead of running with the character, he quit using his catchphrase and completely changed his character after winning the King of the Ring tournament.
So, after years of unnatural gimmick shifts, bizarre losses, poorly timed injuries, and stalling multiple pushes, the WWE threw up the white flag and surrendered. He’s now a glorified manager in the League of Nations, rarely wrestles, and is rarely even used in run-ins by the faction.
All the while, Barrett never had the chance to get a clean, one-on-one championship program at the top of the card.
A small few on the active roster have put in the years of work to earn the reward of having that career moment of winning the WWE Championship – one of those men is undoubtedly Barrett. The injury concerns are understandable, but that shouldn’t mean he doesn’t deserve that one shining moment.
While five Intercontinental Championships and a King of the Ring win isn’t a shabby career, he could have been so much more. Barrett is a criminally underrated and underutilized performer.
The WWE should count his departure as one of the biggest failings since the Attitude Era.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, is a Featured Analyst for Pro Football Spot, and is the Editor for The SoBros Network. Follow on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley, @pfspot, and @SoBrosNetwork.