Getting the Machine Behind You
WWE has long been a factory that produces a fine line of wrestling talent. Going back to the original WWWF and Vincent McMahon Sr, the notion that there had to be big attractions has been the mantra of the sports entertainment superpower. When Vincent Kennedy McMahon took over, this was kicked into high gear. The accumulation of talent from virtually every regional territory provided the then WWF with the roster that built credibility in the product.
The Stars Align
Along the way, there has been a pantheon of incredible talent that hardcore wrestling fans take pride in defending. They laude the contributions of past heroes and debate who was the best or greatest of all time. They shift their appreciation from wins and losses to in ring ability or story telling. They compare championship reigns and make cases for and against those who should be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
The most talked about superstars of all time reads like a check list of mega stars. Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bruno Sammartino, Andre the Giant, Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Triple H, The Rock, BRock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, and the list goes on and on.
The Forgotten Warriors
Along the way, many talents never quite seemed to get the push that fans thought they deserved. Many stars would go on to reach mid card status but never break through to the Main Events. Some would make sporadic appearances in the limelight as placeholders until meaningful feuds were put into motion. Others would just get lost in obscurity and never receive the love and adoration of those deemed the all time greats.
To that end, we seek to identify many of those stars who despite their blood, sweat, tears, and in many cases, their sacrificing of their long term health, never had the chance to be “the guy” for the WWE.
Paul Orndorff - I chose to start with Paul Orndorff because he was the one talent that was built to be a credible threat to Hulk Hogan’s WWF Championship reign who ended up being stuck in mediocrity afterwards and tag teams that meant nothing to the grand scheme of the business. He was in the first WrestleMania Main Event and had that classic against Hogan at “The Big Event” where he lost via disqualification but strapped on the WWF Belt anyway, which looked amazing on him by the way. Orndorff could have been that Ric Flair type of heel in WWE but Vince refused to take the belt off his “Golden Boy” and Orndorff was passed over for Hogan’s next challenger.
Rowdy Roddy Piper - Like Orndorff, Piper is an iconic name and Main Evented both WrestleMania and a Starcade but when we are being honest with ourselves, we all know that the “Hot Rod” should have strapped the WWF Championship around his waist at least once during his prime. Yo would be hard pressed to find a better talker in the business but despite his limited wrestling ability, Piper would have been a better challenger than King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania 2, especially if he were booked to walk out champion. THey could have still done the Bundy thing later on but Piper should really have been given the ball at that point.
Greg Valentine - “The Hammer” was technical wrestling at its finest. He is a former NWA United States Champion having competed in one of the most iconic and memorable matches in Starcade history, the dog collar match against Roddy Piper. He moved to the WWF and became Intercontinental Champion is short order as well. He held the WWF Tag Team Championship and many other titles throughout his career but was never given that main event match where he was established as a legitimate contender which is a travesty when you reflect on his amazing in ring ability.
Ricky Steamboat - Yes he held the NWA World Championship once and headlined three straight pay per views but when you exclude that four month period from his Hall of Fame career what you find is a wrestler who was a secondary title contender and one who should have meant so much more to the business. Pro Wrestling Illustrated once published an article discussing the hypothetical match between Steamboat and Hulk Hogan. It got the fans thinking about what would happen if two popular baby faces collided for wrestling’s most prestigious prize. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon refused to have that face vs face match until WrestleMania 6 with the Ultimate Warrior being chosen to dethrone Hogan. Steamboat was one of the industry's best workers of all time. Imagine what he could have done had been given an opportunity to truly guide a brand for an extended period of time.
Rick Rude - The man who, in my mind, goes down in history as the biggest indictment against poor booking, “Ravishing” Rick Rude should have been in the conversation with Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart in the debate over the best worker in history. He could do virtually anything in the ring from high flying acrobatics to power wrestling. He was style and finesse and was one of the best talkers who showed a level of intensity that should have catapulted him into the stratosphere. Instead, Rick Rude was locked in as an upper mid card guy who prepared other stars for main event pushes. That has never made sense to me. He can get people like the Ultimate Warrior and Sting ready for the world championship but he isn’t good enough? What an incredibly short sighted method of booking. Rude is an all time great. He easily could have been booked in a way that people would associate him with the best of all time moniker had he been given the chance.
Lex Luger - Luger is a perplexing talent. Headlining events around the country facing Ric Flair but always coming up short was the blueprint of his early main event career. Then when he did get a world championship run, it was as confusing as fulfilling. He had a lengthy run in his first world championship reign but was only featured sporadically and was used to set up a huge match against Sting to close out his tenure as champion. Then when he moved to WWE, he found himself saddled with weak storylines and a Narcissist character that never resonated with the fans. He had a shot to be something special when he body slammed Yokozuna and became Mr. America part 1. Then, for whatever reason, WWE flushed his push down the drain after the countout win over the WWF Champion at Summer Slam 1993 and Lex’s subsequent decline to mediocrity. He even spent some time in a Tag Team, “the Allied Powers” with Davey Boy Smith before returning to WCW where he would win the world championship again but never see a title reign of any measurable importance. Lex had the look. His skills grew over the years and he was definitely serviceable. Unfortunately, he too was never seen as the face of the company and will always be remembered as a upper midcard talent at best.
Davey Boy Smith - So the case has been made that Davey Boy Smith held few championships throughout his career and saw much of his success come as a tag team wrestler who was carried by potentially the greatest pound for pound wrestler of all time, the Dynamite Kid, and Owen Hart. He has been described as a marginal mid card attraction that could never make it as the main attraction on the markee. I would argue that those perspectives are flawed at best. The contributions of Davey Boy Smith cannot be overstated. He was a power wrestler who had amazing in ring skills while appealing to a worldwide audience and always delivering quality matches with everyone he was in the ring with. He could give Bret Hart a run for his money and could drag an enhancement talent through a match. I truly believe that had Vince McMahon given him more of an opportunity when he was WWF Intercontinental Champion that there may have been a “face of the company” hero waiting to blossom. Unfortunately, he never pulled the trigger and the wrestling world lost an incredible talent far too early. Had things been different, he may still be out there today guiding his son’s amazing career.
Goldust - Where do we start here? “The Natural” as he was originally called was talented from the minute he entered the ring. Despite WWE never giving him a main event push, fans of his early work were privileged enough to see what he could do when given more screen time. His feud with Rick Rude for the WCW United States Championship and future creation of the original Goldust character were clear indications of his much higher potential. Whether it is the racy nature of his Goldust character or some other point of contention, Dustin Rhodes was just never viewed as a main attraction and was completely underappreciated by management in every promotion he participated with. Nothing was more pleasurable than to see him return several years ago to WWE and reclaim the old glory with his brother. Unfortunately, time is catching up with Shattered Dreams Productions and an opportunity for a truly meaningful feud dwindles more and more every day.
Vader - It’s Time….It’s Time….It’s Vader Time. Vader was the definition of high impact. Before we cover how he was underappreciated, remember that he was a WCW champion who defeated Sting during his prime for the championship and who has had matches with a pantheon of wrestling royalty in Hulk Hogan, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, and many others. He held world championships on 5 continents simultaneously. He main evented many WCW pay per views. Unfortunately, he made the move to the WWE. Vince McMahon never knew what to do with him. He had a monster in the palms of his hands and could have easily paired him with Kane to have an unstoppable tag team. He could have given him a WWF Championship run with a win over Shawn Michaels right after he arrived. Instead, Vince McMahon has notoriously refused to push those who he did not create as his world champions. Thankfully that is beginning to change but in the early to late 90s, that would never happen. Vader made a reputation for himself in Japan and WCW which was a kiss of death for his career and left him with less than stellar feuds after arriving in the WWE.
Bam Bam Bigelow - The best big man in the history of wrestling was never world champion anywhere. Does that make any sense? The things Bam Bam Bigelow could do defy logic. He was huge but nimble. He could do power moves or be a flyer. He was hardcore and a technician. He could all out brawl or be a storyteller in the ring. Despite all of these amazing attributes, he was never seen as anything more than a mid card guy. Bam Bam Bigelow should have been one of the biggest attractions of all time. He had great momentum at one point after getting a rub from Hulk Hogan and putting on a great showing against Andre the Giant at the first Survivor Series. Unfortunately, he wrestled during the Hulkamania period of the business and was potentially quashed by the reputation and following of Hulk Hogan. The real travesty is that he was in the business for such an extended period of time and none of the promoters saw his vast potential and in turn, none chose to push him as their main attraction. What a missed opportunity.
Rob Van Dam - This is a frustrating one. Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Brock Lesnar, and many more talents have failed WWE Wellness Examinations for using performance enhancing drugs and found themselves getting pushed repeatedly. Rob Van Dam generated organic ECW passion from the fan base and due to a traffic stop where he was found to be in possession of controlled substances, WWE took his one and only WWE championship reign from him and never gave him a substantial push again. It is incredibly tough to accept from one of the most innovative talents in the history of the business. Instead, he has made sporadic returns to the WWE only to be booked as an upper mid carder who puts over emerging talents. It is such a waste of one of the most amazing high flyers and creative minds in the business.
Zack Ryder - Despite using social media to garner a huge following, WWE has completely wasted Zack Ryder. He is one of the attractive, athletic, and talented performers who seems to have everything a promoter could ask for but for whatever reason, he is never seen as a legitimate player. No matter how many fans go crazy when he comes to the ring or how successful his internet outreach has been, Zack Ryder seems destined to toil in mediocrity for his entire career. A shift to New Japan or Ring of Honor would probably be a great career move at this point where someone may view him as a legitimate talent that he is.
The Miz - Putting the entire brand on your back and attempting to bring excitement and legitimacy to the biggest sports entertainment company in the world is a tall order and it is complicated even more when you do so despite the “machine” being behind guys like AJ Styles, John Cena, and Roman Reigns. Against all of that adversity, the Miz has done just that and has brought with him a growing legion of followers who know that he is one of, if not he best, true heels in the business today and he is constantly overlooked as a world or universal championship contender. Sure, he gets matches and he has had a championship reign of his own, even headlining a WrestleMania at one point. Let’s be serious though. His WrestleMania moment as champion was overshadowed by the push for a match between John Cena and The Rock and his successes have come primarily in the secondary championship tier rather than being a multiple time World champion. The Miz has proven to be a hot commodity and a deserving champion. Why hasn’t WWE seen enough to make the move and why isn’t the Miz considered when you talk about the best “bad guys” of all time?
Dolph Ziggler - So he has won the world heavyweight championship on more than one occasion and he has main evented a couple pay per views but can anyone really say that Dolph Ziggler has been used to his fullest potential? Dolph is the epitome of what any wrestling promoter is looking for. He is technically sound, can work the crowd, handles himself well on the mic, and can be a heel or face depending on his booking. He is a gift from the wrestling Gods. Unfortunately, between previous concussion concerns and bad booking, Dolph has been a mid card talent for the majority of his career and should have had so much more in the way of a main event push.
Al Snow - Despite being a solid worker in the ring and bringing in a wave of support from his time in ECW as the insane guy talking to a mannequin head, Al Snow never received a push that was on par with his talent. Even now, in the later stages of his career, Al Snow can still go with anyone in the ring. WWE failed to capitalize on that ECW fame which many attribute to Vince’s refusal to support something he didn’t create. Chalk this one up as yet another missed opportunity.
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