Professional Wrestling is a sport, an entertainment art form, having at its core a set of physical, mental and intangible skills that create constant subjective analysis, but ultimately the greatness of a professional wrestler is quantifiable – in terms of Championship reigns, drawing power and an ability to change the very nature of the sport.
If we look at www.urbandictionary.com, we’ll find a suitable definition of “overrated” — Anything that is given too much credit and hype.
Based purely on over hyped and overly credited personalities in the sports entertainment industry known as professional wrestling, here’s a qualified analysis of the top ten overrated professional wrestlers, based on names that have seen some measure of success, have been credited with greatness and most especially have done so with little or no tangible reason.
With all due respect, due to the physical prowess of husband Brock Lesnar, the wrestler known as Sable was all about the hype, the look and a marked change in the concept of a female professional wrestler.
But in terms of actual wrestling, Sable paled in comparison to the greats of the sport. In terms of attitude, dedication and respect to the history and fans of the sport, she also was indifferent.
Sable was the trend-setter of the measure of a ‘great’ WWE women wrestler (Diva, if you use the term of endearment of that company) which became looking good, having passable matches and — up until a few years back and the WWE’s “PG Policy” – the ultimate goal of appearing in Playboy.
The WWE has featured talents like Sunny, Lita and Trish Stratus, and ladies like Mercedes Martinez (WSU Champion) all exhibit the fundamentals of the sport – athleticism, in-ring talent and respect – that by any fair comparison exposes Sable as one of the most overly hyped talents of all time.
9) Ultimate Warrior
Now known simply as “Warrior”, the wrestler formerly known as The Dingo Warrior, The Ultimate Warrior and the man who was to end Hulk Hogan’s career had a roller coaster career the likes of one of those amusement park rides of twenty years ago.
You know, the ones that were hyped to insanity, lasted 90 seconds (if that) and became famous more among those who only heard the name.
At Skydome in Toronto, one of the most hyped matches in the history of professional wrestling saw The Ultimate Warrior pull a few more matches out of his repertoire, saw Hulk Hogan actually put together a real wrestling match, but was best known years later for the way in which Hogan (more on him later) stole the spotlight as a sympathetic figure.
With all due respect, the Warrior did reappear in WCW with much aplomb but diminishing results, and his best promos were indecipherable at best (which really was the charm), and his occasional reappearance in the mainstream typically combine the aforementioned description, but without the charm.
The Ultimate Warrior merits mention because he was the mainstream replacement for Hulk Hogan at the time when the WWF (the WWE’s ‘real name’ of the era) was a viable mainstream force.
8) Kevin Nash
Professional wrestling loves to dabble into ‘insider’ talk, and retains a love/hate relationship with Internet fans, who are at the same time derided for being so passionate and cynical, and yet are constantly referred to as being the movers and shakers of the mainstream fans.
Yeah, I’m stalling to come up with reasons to include Nash in the first place, but bear with me, it’s going to be entertaining.
Nash is one thing, if nothing else, over his career in the ring and in the locker room: a political animal. If you study the sport with the insiders, you quickly see Kevin Nash among the biggest names. Not because of his merits or accomplishments – he was the WWF Champion, but did as little in terms of drawing as anyone in the history of the sport – but because he knows how to keep his name among the top dogs.
Nash was part of the vaunted Clique of the WWF, and of the much hyped NWO of WCW, and then all but disappeared when he went to TNA as one of the Kings of Wrestling (not to be confused with the vastly talented tag team of Claudio Castagnoli & Chris Hero).
But at all phases of his career, Nash was a power.
Behind the scenes: in terms of earning big contracts, in terms of manipulating and diminishing new stars (“Vanilla Midgets” was his term), and in terms of stirring up trouble.
Yeah, Nash is hard to define because talking insider talk just bores people, just like Nash’s Title run.
7) Bret Hart
“The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”
It is unfair to pick on Canada’s greatest athlete since Gene Kiniski or Angelo “King Kong” Mosca, because Bret Hart did put his passion into the sport, and did suffer from concussions and suffered a stroke almost a decade ago.
But, like far too many of his peers on this list, Bret Hart couldn’t stay away from the sport.
What’s worse, Hart went from decided critic of the WWE and Vince McMahon, for a variety of solid reasons, to become one more guy that accepted a “Hall of Fame” slot, a series of appearances, and a hypocritical reversal of what appeared to be a strong set of principles.
Ironically, in hindsight, the famed “Montreal Screwjob” which involved Shawn Michaels (more on him, later) was a watershed for a new era of professional wrestling, but in serious scrutiny, neither Hart nor Michaels were the driving force of that change, and neither looks too good in the further analysis.
Hart was stubborn in refusing to do business the right way, and while it is difficult to ever paint Vince McMahon as a defender of traditional professional wrestling, the arguments side with ownership on most points, especially considering, as James Cornette points out in a Kayfabe Commentaries video analyzing 1997, that Hart exposed the business far more than McMahon did .
6) Eric Bischoff
Including “ATM Eric” is a technicality, perhaps, but Eric Bischoff is an on-screen performer, and has wrestled in his career.
Bischoff takes lots of credit for supercharging WCW and overtaking the WWF in the Cable TV wars of the late 1990’s. And it is true that he seized on concepts he saw in Japan, got Turner Broadcasting to open up its checkbooks, and oversaw an accumulation of talent never before seen in the sport, even trumping McMahon at his own game.
And then he oversaw WCW going from record setting profits to record breaking deficits in two years. Bischoff ultimately set up WCW for failure, even though the AOL/Time Warner merger and decisions by a pro wrestling hater sealed the doom of that company.
Afterwards, he wrote a book called “Controversy is Cash”, and was recently given power in Total Nonstop Action, that second tier wrestling promotion that has gone nowhere fast after signing the brilliance of Bischoff, as well as the talents of Flair & Hogan.
One spectacular ascent, followed by one spectacular failure, followed by brief appearances in the mainstream and abject failure to followup … that adds up to overrated in my book.
5) Ric Flair
Ric Flair remains the darling of the Internet types, the insider types and pro wrestling historians quick to attribute the number of times Championships were won to greatness.
I know I take a chance of being castigated for this inclusion, but a scrutiny of the facts support Flair’s inclusion. And I simply must be Fair to Flair.
Since 1988, almost every professional wrestling organization that employed Flair was trying to put him out to pasture. WCW wanted him out. The WWF grabbed him up, touted him as the “Real World Champion” in a much ballyhooed series of matches against Hulk Hogan, but then dropped those matches when they failed to deliver.
Flair moved from the WWF back to WCW, had spurts of success that continued to establish his greatness, but that success paled to his heel fan base. Flair was the anti-Hogan for the better part of two decades, but then became intrinsically linked to Hogan (more on him later) and by 1997 had become a parody of himself. Within two years, he would be faking heart-attacks, would be red-faced and screaming at every promo opportunity, and would still be considered so good that he could wrestle a broom and draw fans and dollars.
Of course Flair could wrestle a broom, as his ‘paint by numbers’ style of wrestling almost invariably contained the same sequences, whether or not he was a face or heel, whether or not he wrestled a jobber or a headliner, whether or not it was a Texas Death Match or a ten minute TV squash.
Flair has had numbers on his side, but as NWA Champion his job was to headline the biggest arenas in the various but diminishing regions in the 1980’s. His biggest numbers came with loaded cards (including that 100,000 in attendance in North Korea, where he was hardly the top dog in the match) and his most impressive series of matches invariably included Harley Race, Terry Funk and Rick Steamboat – talents that hardly get noted with being overrated.
And, by the way, his biggest onscreen critics hit the mark when questioning his Championship reigns. Sure, he won the belt 19 times, but he also lost it 19 times and only held the Championship for a few scant years over his now five decades of his career.
4) Vince Russo
Another technicality, but with Vince Russo making the decision that gave David Arquette the gold in WCW, as well as having defended that same belt, albeit with a football helmet, he’s well deserving of the accolades.
But the only real technicality is giving him credit for anything.
Russo jumped from the WWF to WCW in 1997. He apparently claims credit for the rise of the WWF’s “Attitude” era, but the success of the WWF came because of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin and the WrestleMania appearance of Mike Tyson.
Russo touts the use of real or realistic names over the WWF’s cartoonish characters of the 1980’s and 1990’s, but according to his book, he never really cared for the old school style of professional wrestling, and has taken every opportunity to rub his disdain in the faces of the long term fans.
When he went to WCW, he spurned Southern Style wrestling, and yet Jeff Jarrett hired him to guide TNA some seven years ago.
What is TNA? That’s the wannabe WWE promotion that features Flair, Hogan, Kurt Angle, Sting, Kevin Nash and another half dozen or more Main Event talents over the history of its existence, and yet it has never made inroads, has never seriously threatened to become the top promotion in the country, and continues to run away from any sense of successful professional wrestling.
3) John Cena
While Cena’s rise to the top of the WWE is a story of commitment, talent and having a certain kind of look, his accomplishments since then have almost exclusively been due to his positioning and the absolute lack of competition at the top.
Once Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and The Rock left, once the new crop of WWE replacements were deemed inadequate, the guys left were HHH, The Undertaker as legends, with Edge as the guy in his prime, and with Randy Orton as his only peer.
I’ll sidestep the names of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.
Cena has been “pushed” due to a phenomenal look, a very good talent base and a movie star look, but has never fully grown into the position. He exudes a charisma that garners attention, but gets the worst kind of attention from the dominantly male fanbase, and only truly appeals to kids and women.
With a very weak looking punch, and an overly scripted promo delivery, and seemingly no filter or self-criticism of his own, let alone guidance from management to improve his craft, Cena just seems to be there at the Main Event of WWE PPVs, and just being there for the past six years has gotten old fast.
In terms of Championship duration, Cena has never held the belt long enough, nor will he likely hold the belt long enough, to be declared among the greatest. But in terms of a modern day sensibility, he may wind up with the belt 50 times before he retires.
Which means he will lose the belt that many times, and unlike other great talents, his losses are less than meaningless to anyone who beats him.
2) Shawn Michaels
The DVD release titled “WWE’s 50 Greatest Superstars” was full of shocking ranks, lost of modern day politics, and – worst of all – the man who earns the #2 most Overrated slot based a lot on that distinction.
Without that ranking, few would talk about Shawn Michaels as an all-time great.
Sure, his in-ring skills are superb, his selling spectacular and his ability to work a match among the best of his era. But that can be said about a half-dozen indy wrestlers, including Bryan Danielson, CM Punk and Davey Richards, even before Punk and Daniel Bryan became WWE trakemarks.
Michaels and professional wrestling history are liked, but not in good ways.
The Montreal Screwjob, where Michaels may or may not have been deep in the conspiracy, his several times where he abandoned a belt instead of defending it until he lost, and his various extracurricular activities (both of a personal and professional nature) have all established him as an unprofessional talent.
But Greatest Wrestler of all time?
Based upon what criteria?
The numbers of Championships are not impressive, even with that as a measuring stick, and his number of days as champion is laughable when compared to the best of the best, and both Lou Thesz and Bruno Sammartino are doubling and tripling the time of their closest, modern era rivals.
His PPV numbers are not impressive, his drawing power as Champion was weak, and his TV numbers may have spiked a few big ratings, but rarely because he was the headliner.
Shawn Michaels is highly overrated as the Greatest of all time, as his only real claim to fame is being “Mr. WrestleMania” but he lost his last two matches to The Undertaker. (Whom I avoided including on this list, but he came close).
1) Hulk Hogan
Too much credit, and too much hype: that’s an apt description of Hulk Hogan’s career.
Sure, people will say that he was the face of the WWF in the 1980s, and he was the man who brought wrestling out of the smoke-filled backrooms. People will say that Hogan inspired more fans than anyone else in history, that he laid the foundation of Pay Per Views and he was the man who helped change the face of wrestling.
All that is hype.
In the history of the sport, no man has done more with less, no man has done less with the amount of publicity, no wrestling talent has raised the bar of mainstream awareness all the while destroying the very industry he works within.
In the early 1980’s, professional wrestling had dozens of active, viable and profitable regions in the United States. By the end of the decade, there were really only four (if you include Memphis, which is its own peculiar region and story.)
Facts alone suggest that the destruction of the regions diminished wrestling fans from 20 million attendees per year to 10 million.
Of those forty or so promotions that were destroyed in a decade, they employed scores of employees each, and the WWF never grew to a point where it had more than a hundred or so wrestlers, let alone office workers, support staff. Wrestling went from having shows on every weekend in 40 or more cities, to just having 2 or three.
Today, it’s even worse.
And this is the legacy of Hulk Hogan?
Hogan wasn’t an innovator, wasn’t an overly talented performer, and never truly raised the level of the sport.
Professional wrestling did huge business in huge markets before Hogan, it featured arena shows in various locations, it had huge names (Gorgeous George, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino) and it provided a respectful, athletic, family oriented entertainment form long before Hogan ill spoke of prayers, vitamins and the like.
Meanwhile, Hogan’s position on the controversial subject of Steroids was best presented on that ill-fated Arsenio Hall show, where by most accounts, he wasn’t exactly honest about how he made use of performance enhancing drugs.
So what kind of vitamins was Hogan preaching?
If Hogan’s career ending in the late 1990’s, after his heel turn, and after he launched WCW to success, but before his part involvement in WCW’s demise could ever appear, he could have been less hyped, less credited with the phantom success of the industry.
But two books later, and dozens of TV interviews and various news items later, Hogan’s still at it, and Hogan’s tenure in TNA has done nothing for ratings.
He battled Ric Flair in a disastrous tour of Australia a few years back, he’s had surgeries that all but preclude him from wrestling – and taking bumps, and he’s just done a fake retirement storyline that has done nothing for TNA’s mainstream presence.
Hogan’s drawing power today fueled a string of forgettable TV shows, and TNA is getting more mainstream publicity from his failures in this article than his mainstream appearance on American Idol earlier this year, where the guy most people call the greatest professional wrestler of all time failed to even wear a shirt telling fans who he works for.
Most probably thought he still worked for Vince McMahon’s WWE, and he did nothing to change that supposition. Which is kinda strange, if you think about it.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at [email protected] He writes often for the www.f4wonline.com site, as well as The Allied News (Grove City, PA).