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What wrestler & period springs to mind when you think of people who established themselves as main eventers, were involved in programs at the top but then had to spend an extended period of time out of the main event picture? I don't mean people like Shawn or Mysterio because it was clear they were never going to hold the title again.

I'm not saying it's bad thing. There can only be 4-5 people involved in the picture at any one time, and it gets boring seeing Orton, Cena, HHH always at the top anyway.

Here are some that spring to mind:

Batista in 2008 (remember how angry he was being at WM24 just against Umaga?)
Bret Hart for most of 1995
Randy Orton after losing that final match to Cena in October 2009
Cena - NeXus angle
CM Punk straight edge society (though is Punk an established main eventer?)
Randy Savage - in 1990 & 1991
Hogan - for most of 1990 after dropping the title to Warrior
 

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I wouldn't include Cena in that list. The title is actually taking a backseat to this angle, so Cena has really been in the main event the entire time if you break it down.
 

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The Undertaker from 2002-2007: He gets title shots from time to time but most of his programs during those days were usually non-title like his feuds with Heidenreich, A-Train, Big Show, Orton, Vince, Khali, Mark Henry etc.
 

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Stone Cold Steve Austin: March-June 2002
Even though it's only 3 months, I think it's quite a big deal given it's Austin.
March 2002: Feuded with Scott Hall for Wrestlemania where their match was the 3rd most important match going into that Wrestlemania.
April 2002: Feuded with Undertaker for the #1 Contendership culminating in a loss at Backlash.
May 2002: Feuded with Flair. Got put in a Handicap Match against Big Show and Flair. I remember this feud clearly because at Judgment Day, this match came on 4th in a card of 8 or 9 and I remember feeling shocked because Austin wason that early.
May-Walkout in June 2002: Continued feud with Flair with Eddie and Benoit thrown in.

I daresay if he didn't walkout, it would have been quite a long period in the wilderness for Austin.
 

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Yep.The Undertaker was just a gimmick special attraction wrestler,albeit a very successful one,between the years 1992 - 1996.He was there to work with every crappy heel they could find; that was until Mick Foley gave him something to do in '96!

How about Dusty Rhodes's entire stint with the WWF (88 - 91)?
 

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The Rock: July 1999-January 2000
He was in the 6 Pack Challenge at Unforgiven 1999, the Main Event of Survivor Series 1999, and got Rock N'Sock happening. But aside from that, I don't know WTF happened. He had feuds with Billy Gunn and the British Bulldog that culiminated in PPV matches. And then on TV, he kept on getting put in matches against the likes of Al Snow, Big Bossman, Gangrel and Hardcore and Crash Holly and lost quite a few of those matches. The period of wilderness ended with him threatening the walkout of the WWF Roster against the McMahon-Helmsley when they fired Foley and with him declaring himself as going into the Rumble.
 
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