2014's most unexpected breakout stars
December 12, 2014
It’s never easy to predict which personas the WWE Universe will latch onto — if it was, everyone in the WWE locker room would be strutting around with enough brass rings to make them all look like Mr. T. So it’s always fascinating when a Superstar comes out of left field to become an unexpected hero of the people. Like a Hollywood stunt double, or a backwoods brain, or even a maniac from outer space. From Slater-Gator to Adam Rose’s Bunny, these are the eight breakouts of 2014 we didn't see coming, presented by Foot Locker.
When Goldust arrived in WWE back in 1995, his androgynous persona and provocative antics made the human Oscar statuette about as bizarre as a three-dollar bill. But when the veteran reached a crossroads halfway through 2014, he searched for a new tag team partner to pair with his particular brand of peculiar. Goldust looked to the skies and found Stardust, an interstellar revelation to rival any Christopher Nolan flick.
Not even Neil deGrasse Tyson could have predicted the level of manic hysteria unleashed by this new cosmic creature. Who else could toss an entire wrestling moveset into a black hole, and systemically create a new one like The Empire building a second Death Star? Watching Stardust is akin to watching invention as it happens. And with weekly variations on everything from his face paint to his offense, the former WWE Tag Team Champion is proving himself to be not only one of the most unusual Superstars to ever enter WWE, but also one of its most innovative. — ZACH LINDER
The pairing of Heath Slater & Titus O’Neil shouldn’t have lasted this long. O’Neil wanted nothing to do with the ginger rocker. Slater stubbornly insisted on keeping the team together. Finally, after The One Man Band picked up a big win over Seth Rollins in August, O’Neil came around, and Slater-Gator began to pick up steam.
Granted, they haven’t exactly been successful in the ring, but there’s no denying Slater-Gator’s entertainment value. Whether they’re having a mishap with Hulk Hogan’s birthday cake or chasing around their personal mascot — Hornswoggle in an alligator costume — Slater-Gator were the unlikeliest duo to break out, but they succeeded in doing just that. — BOBBY MELOK
To call Jack Swagger a “breakout star” may be a bit of a stretch. After all, he has a World Heavyweight Championship, an ECW Championship and a Money in the Bank Ladder Match victory under his belt. There is no denying that Swagger’s public perception underwent a major resurgence in 2014, however, as The Real American reemerged as one of WWE’s most popular Superstars.
The Oklahoma native found his career at a turning point after his tag partner Cesaro left to join Paul Heyman following WrestleMania 30. And just when it seemed like Swagger was about to become an afterthought, he embarked on a fight against Russian supporter Rusev that gave his career new life. Now, after years of being booed by the WWE Universe, Swagger’s patriotic crusade has legions of supporters proclaiming, “We the people!” — SCOTT TAYLOR
Adam Rose came out of nowhere down in NXT, and his rise to the main roster was even more unexpected. Poor Jack Swagger had no clue what to do with himself when this gallivanting party animal started yelling that he was a lemon, and the WWE Universe certainly wasn’t ready for him either. One thing that immediately became apparent, though? The Bunny was friggin’ awesome.
As Rose’s sidekick and occasional foil, The Bunny has become such a staple of Raw’s more frivolous moments that he occasionally threatens to upstage his ringmaster. Admittedly, his in-ring record leaves something to be desired, but he throws a better superkick than half the roster and speculation as to the true identity of the wascally wabbit has run rampant for months. In some ways, it may be better if we never find out: In a posse where it’s party time all the time, The Bunny dances to his own drum, which is a rare thing indeed. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
When The Wyatt Family went their separate ways this fall, few expected Erick Rowan to reemerge as a fan favorite — or a genius for that matter. Yes, “Big Red” can solve a Rubik’s Cube in a few twists, and makes wine like his name was Francis Ford Coppola, but since joining Team Cena at Survivor Series, Rowan has shown that he’s capable of causing plenty of destruction on his own. The 315-pounder has traded blows with WWE’s biggest and baddest and sent them reeling, whether it was with a set of steel stairs or his giant fists.
If the end of 2014 is any indication of what Erick Rowan’s future holds, it won’t be long before the rest of the WWE roster is seeing red. — BOBBY MELOK
On the one hand, it’s weird to label a guy a 2014 breakout when he held the Money in the Bank briefcase as late as October 2013. But Damien Sandow’s 2014 was, initially, an aimless affair as his cash-in loss to John Cena left him adrift and identity-less. The Enlightened One spent week to week in search of a new persona, transforming himself into Paul Revere, Bruce Springsteen, an astronaut, and Fandango’s backup dancer, depending on the location.
It was as The Miz’s stunt double, however, that Sandow finally found his true calling, and The Intellectual Savior of the Masses plied his brain to the craft of acting, mimicking the former WWE Champion’s every move both in (and out of) the ring to such a degree that the WWE Universe quickly labeled him superior to Miz proper. Hell, he even changed his name to “Damien Mizdow” in tribute and that didn’t slow him down. Watching this star rediscover his flame has been, well, awesome. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Nikki Bella always had the talent to be WWE’s top Diva, but no one could have predicted the way in which she would become the Divas division’s newest leading lady. After spending the majority of her career competing alongside her twin sister Brie, Nikki turned on her sibling at SummerSlam, embarking on an unexpectedly wicked singles venture.
The shocking betrayal of her own flesh and blood may not have been a popular move, but it sparked a change in attitude that eventually led the fearless Diva to the pinnacle of a division previously dominated by AJ Lee. Although Nikki already was one of WWE’s most popular personalities outside the ring thanks to her inclusion in the hit series “Total Divas,” her improvement inside the squared circle in 2014 elevated her to new heights. Now, she not only has the butterfly-emblazoned title around her waist, but also her sister Brie by her side once again. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Dolph Ziggler didn’t have a chip on his shoulder at the start of 2014 — he had a whole lumberyard. The Showoff couldn’t contain his frustration with the people in charge anymore. “I will not be outshined!” he screamed in a Jan. 31 interview.
Despite a pair of Intercontinental Title reigns, he couldn’t convince the powers that be. So late in 2014 at Survivor Series, Ziggler took out the people who were holding him down. As the only member of his team left standing at Survivor Series against Luke Harper, Kane and Seth Rollins, Ziggler finally shut his critics up. A Zig Zag took Kane out. A roll-up finished Harper. Superkicks stopped J&J Security from interfering before a Zig Zag — and help from Sting — allowed The Showoff to oust The Authority from power.
For a follow-up performance, Ziggler turned that lumberyard on his shoulder into gold by capturing his record-tying third Intercontinental Championship in the same year. Follow that. — JEFF LABOON