Historically Speaking: What the World is Watching

“History has to be rewritten because history is the selection of those threads of causes or antecedents that we are interested in.” – O. W. Holmes, Jr.

The Opening Chapter
World Wrestling Entertainment is known for many flagship innovations and tactics. Not surprisingly to anyone has read my work before realizes that the Royal Rumble is my favorite WWE innovation. Thirty men in the ultimate battle royal striving for the ultimate wrestling prize – a main event Championship match at WrestleMania.

Well this column will not be about the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania, but rather the continuation of my three-part series about companies’ dream rosters. This week in the finale I present to you WWE’s ultimate roster, but to limit my mark-dom I narrowed the field down to thirty men. Thirty men who could conceivable put on the ultimate all-star Royal Rumble match and then build up the dream WrestleMania event. Thirty men who have best represented and personified the “New York territory” over the past forty-some years. A lot of the choices will be obvious and logical, but maybe I’ll try to throw in a couple curveballs.

The Early Years
Bruno Sammartino – The longest running Champion in WWWF/WWF/WWE history, he’s a no brainer for inclusion in something like this, regardless of his current relationship with the company. He was THE guy in the Northeast territory for many, many years due to his ethnicity, as New York was filled with European immigrants from all over who had family come through Ellis Island.

Pedro Morales – Likewise, Morales was a guy cut from Sammartino’s mold. He was an ethnic hero who the fans could rally behind. He could be counted on trusted to carry the company’s mantle for many months at a time. He was the number one guy in Sammartino’s absence and the number two guy in his presence. Morales was also the first man to ever capture the now not-so-elusive Triple Crown of the Heavyweight, Intercontinental and World Tag Championships.

Bob Backlund – Backlund was the last babyface superheroes of the old WWWF territory. Vince, Sr., loved him for his impeccable pure wrestling skills and good, wholesome image. He, like Sammartino, was a multi-year Titleholder, something just absolutely unthinkable in today’s wrestling climate. His defeat to Iron Sheik in 1984 signaled the end of an era in the company’s history and is really kind of the last guy associated with the old World Wide Wrestling Federation. The fact that he made a successful return to the company eight years later, completely reinvented himself as a crazy old man and won the WWF Championship again only adds to his pedigree as a WWE mainstay. Thanks to that crazy old man shtick he can still get bookings to this day.

Superstar Billy Graham – The man of the hour, too sweet to be sour. Lift barbell plates; eats T-bone steaks and is sweeter than a German chocolate cake. The Superstar was the first in a long line of the now clichéd “cool heel.” His look, mannerisms, promos and all around aura made him hard to hate. His look, style and image has become one of the most copied in wrestling history, and is still seen even to this day thanks to Scott Steiner, and by proxy Petey Williams. He was the longest reigning heel World Champion in an era that only used heels to transition the championship from one hero to another. Graham was also one of the pioneers of the super-muscular body type that became common place in the ‘90s and into today, but is a living, breathing indicator of what steroid abuse can do to a man. He changed many things about how a heel and a wrestler in general should look, talk and act.

Iron Sheik – From a legitimate Iranian Olympic-caliber wrestler to one of the most hated men in all of entertainment during the 1980s has become a big part of Iron Sheik’s legacy. He was a talented in-ring wrestler when needed, which was indicative when Bob Backlund agreed to drop the Championship to him. Even as his mainstream in-ring career wound down in the early 1990s, Sheik has managed to keep himself relevant in the wrestling world thanks to his incoherent, rambling promos and interviews. He has now become a legend for what he does outside the ring, but even today he’s a fabric of the WWE culture.

The WWF Years
Hulk Hogan – Duh. I was tempted to just say that and move one, but after my recent discussion with my esteemed colleague Vinny T. I feel as if I should elaborate. Vince, Jr.’s vision of a worldwide wrestling conglomerate needed a face behind the machine, Hogan was that man. Hogan was the man chosen to carry the company on his back during the early years of expansion, and he did it amazingly. I don’t like Hogan at all as a performer, but he worked the loop for years without serious injury, breakdowns, flake outs or anything else. A lot of people could have and have since played the wholesome superhero archetype, but no one did in quite the way Hogan pulled off.

Randy Savage – Every superhero needs a sidekick, and every superhero needs a villain. Hogan got both with “The Macho Man” Randy Savage. Savage had a drive and intensity that is really unmatched. He was always like a rubber band that was bound to snap at any moment. He had a superstar look, and much more athletic style than the rest of the oversized main event scene of his day. His volatile relationship (both on and off-screen) with Miss Elizabeth is stuff of WWF legend today. Absence has also apparently made the heart grow fonder as he is one of the most asked about superstars today in regards to when he is going to get his due as a “Legend.” For a man who hasn’t been in a WWF ring for almost fifteen years he has sure left quite an impact.

Ultimate Warrior – The third man in this little trio, Warrior was pegged to be man who would succeed Hogan and was Savage’s main nemesis. Everything about him set him apart from anyone else around him. During his time, the WWF was trying to make their talent real-life superheroes, and Warrior was the closest they ever got to achieving that goal. His insane promos rallying his “little Warriors” into vanquishing evil were way over the head of any normal eight year old, but were still captivating nonetheless. The fact that after a decade of not being a part of WWE, the company knew there was enough value left in his name to put out a “hatchet job” DVD chronicling the mis-adventures of the Warrior. To this day he’s the only man to receive this type or DVD treatment from the company, which shows that even in spite they can’t deny his legacy.

Andre the Giant – Andre’s inclusion here is a foregone conclusion as well. He is most iconic big man in wrestling history. Every super heavyweight who has come down the line is at some point invariably compared to Andre. He already had a long and storied career before he and Hulk Hogan put 90,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987, showing the drawing power the man had for twenty years throughout the country and the world.

Rowdy Roddy Piper – Hands down Piper is one of the top ten promo men in the business ever. Piper wasn’t a huge star because of his wrestling ability, but rather because of his ability behind the microphone. He didn’t draw wrestling fans into the arena because of his athletic skills, he literally talked the paying consumer into coming to see him. He was one of those guys that probably should have won a World Championship throughout his career, but he was never that ball to run with. Despite never being a World Champion, he remained more over than most anyone else on the roster he was with at the time. Even today Piper still makes continued appearances with WWE despite his numerous firings and flare-ups with the company over the years.

Ax and Smash of Demolition – Anyone who has read my work for any period of time knows my love for Demolition. But hopefully this just isn’t my fanboy coming through here when I say these two are part of WWE through and through. When Vince couldn’t get The Road Warriors he went out created his own, and did his best to make them better than the originals. And to a large circle of people who grew up watching the WWF rather than the AWA or NWA the believe these doppelgangers are superior. They were the first three-time Tag Championships, won their initial Championship as heels but ended up turning face during their reign due to their over-ness. They ruled the WWF tag scene for three years until Vince finally got a hold of the “real thing” and cast them aside. It’s a shame that Bill “Ax” Eadie and Vince had a falling out over the Demolition gimmick.

Ted DiBiase – It’s often said that wrestling promoters always create a character in their image. Some, like Verne Gagne, played the role themselves. Paul Heyman created Raven while Eric Bischoff used the new World order. For Vince McMahon, he built “The Million $ Man.” Ted DiBiase was a solid, hard-hitting wrestler who was refashioned as the uber-wealthy Million Dollar Man that could buy and sell whatever and whoever he pleased whenever he wanted. He was a perfect symbol of the corporate ‘80s. What could have been a bad one-note character in the wrong performer’s hands took a life of its own that has endured for years as both an in-ring performer and a manager. His popularity and legacy is still alive today, as evidenced by his appearance on the most recent episode of Monday Night RAW. His legend will only continue to grow over the years as his son Ted, Jr. works his way through WWE.

Tito Santana – Santana was one of those guys who got over as a young wrestler thanks to his youthful good looks and in-ring talents. He was a model employee who did everything he was asked and was rewarded with a solid mid-card spot. He was always able find himself a nice spot on the card putting over the next hot heel in convincing fashion. His loyalty earned him eight straight WrestleMania paydays and the respect of fans and fellow workers worldwide. He was one of the few talents to remain a successful babyface throughout his entire career, something that very few have done over the years. Santana represents all those solid mid-card faces throughout the years that could fill any role that was needed, act on any gimmick no matter how ridiculous and put over any heel no matter how untalented; men like Val Venis, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Terry Taylor and Jimmy Snuka.

Honky Tonk Man – Only a company like the WWF could take a joke character like the Honky Tonk Man and turn him into a legit top card heel that could draw more heat than anyone else on the roster. Honky’s joke façade allowed for his record-breaking fifteen-month Intercontinental Championship reign such to be such a success. Back in simpler times, fans would pack arenas just to watch Honky get his ass kicked. He turned the cowardly heel archetype into an art form, and men like Carlito and Santino Marella should be watching Honky’s tapes today to see how to draw true heat while still maintaining a comical edge about him.

Jake “The Snake” Roberts – People who were fans of the WWF in the late ‘80s will always seemingly remember a few names if wrestling comes up in conversation; usually names like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, The Macho Man, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Jake had an eerie coolness about him that was far ahead of his time. His version of the DDT is still viewed as a deadly finish even to this day. As a heel he didn’t yell and scream or need a manager to get his point across, and as a face he didn’t pander to the fans or use sign-worthy catchphrases to get over. He stood out as something different in the cartoon-ish era of the 1980s. His style of psychology was unheard of during his era, and he has now become one of the most patterned after superstars in regards to psychology, move set and demeanor. Despite his fall to hard times in the ‘90s he will still be remembered as one of the WWF’s flagship stars of all time. Besides without him, who knows if we’d ever have gotten Austin 3:16?

”The Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi – C’mon, what did you expect? He’s been with the company for seemingly forever. He’s put over every WWE superstar that’s walked through the door for the past twenty years and has become a pretty solid judge of talent. His Brawler character has reached cult status among long-time WWE fans, but he has also been a key player under many other identities including Kamala’s handler Kim Chee, one of the many Doink the Clowns and the evil striking baseball player MVP/Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz. While his contributions don’t look like much from his television record, Lombardi has always been a valuable asset to the company.

The Attitude Era
Steve Austin – This is another one of those “duh” entries, so I won’t bore with you a long diatribe. From a humble beginning as Ted DiBiase’s “Ringmaster” to the fluke of Austin 3:16 to the beer throwing and middle finger-raising to the entire reinvention of what a face in the wrestling industry was, Stone Cold Steve Austin is to the WWF and pro wrestling what is to and

The Rock – From his debut within the company he was pushed as WWF royalty thanks to the pedigree of his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Maivia. Little did we all know that his ascension to the WWF upper echelon wouldn’t come until after a complete character overhaul. His third-person-speaking, catchphrase-spewing, eyebrow-raising, cooler-than-all-of-you persona become legendary almost overnight. The Rock became so good at what he did that pro wrestling just couldn’t contain his overflow of charisma and talent. He has now completely transcended the wrestling world for the lights of Hollywood, but in his few short years in wrestling his contributions have far eclipsed men’s careers who were three times as long. It’s apparent that wrestling needs The Rock more than Rock needs wrestling right now, but it’s also certain that WWE will always be his home.

Bret Hart – Bret Hart is and was one of the most consummate in-ring professionals, except for that one night he had in Montreal back in 1997. He was regarded as one of the best ring technicians ever, yet he will probably be most remembered for that Survivor Series. That one moment will forever etch him in the storybooks of World Wrestling Entertainment for years to come, and that’s without bringing up his multitude of championship reigns, five star matches, family history and great rivalries. Hart’s story is one of the tragic fallen hero that will sure to be talked about in WWE legend from here on out.

Shawn Michaels – The ying to Bret Hart’s yang. He, like Bret, started out through the tag ranks before working his way up to the very tippy-top of the card and the wrestling world in general. During his highest reign on top, Michaels’ legacy as being a pain in the ass backstage combined with his substance abuse problems began to overshadow his in-ring talents. When he passed the torch to Steve Austin in 1998 and seemingly retired forever, he had already had what most would call “a pretty good career.” Then the greatest comeback in wrestling history allowed Michaels to bulldoze a new path into his wrestling life. Even as he grows older he continues to put on entertaining matches that men half his age dream about having. He is considered one of the premier athletes in the wrestling world today, and can still be called upon to steal the show. At this point he is slowly becoming unparalleled in the industry, which isn’t bad for a guy who onced jobbed to Akeem at WrestleMania V.

The Undertaker – For almost twenty years now The Undertaker has become the standard bearer for World Wrestling Entertainment. He probably commands more respect in the industry today than anyone else (and that includes Ric Flair.) He is one of those performers that have become part of the actual lifeblood of the company. He will be on everyone of the WWE’s “best of” lists for decades to come, if for nothing else than his impeccable WrestleMania undefeated streak. It’s only fitting that one of the most respected men in all of the industry holds an undefeated record at one of the industry’s most respected events.

Triple H – Sure he married the boss’ daughter and cozied himself into a nice cushy spot within the company for years to come. But the fact is Triple H got to a high level of play on his own because of his talent and drive to succeed. He has everything Vince, Jr. looks for in a star: a full head of hair, over 6 feet tall and a lot of muscles. He’s been with the company since 1995 and worked his way through the rank and file of the roster, enduring humiliation and defeats along the way. He was the guy to step into a main event level spot when Rock and Austin were gone and was able to sustain that level of performance for years to come. WWE annals won’t be written without a chapter talking about “The Game” and his rise from a blueblood to a degenerate to the “evolved” assassin that he has become today.

Kane – Who ever thought that the gimmick of “Undertaker’s little brother” would spawn a decade-plus run as a viable contender in today’s World Wrestling Entertainment? After surviving career-threatening stints as a dentist and guy-who-is-impersonating-guy-who-is-impersonating-a-trucker, the man Glen Jacobs has left an undeniable mark on WWE. He has survived fires, dead girlfriends, fake scars, voice boxes and has some how came out of it in one piece. His character has taken more left turns and illogical steps that it’s a wonder he has any support left at all. I dare say that even through all Kane has done and been through he still one of the company’s most underrated and under utilized talents ever.

Bob Holly – I’ve got to respect the journeyman who has been working for the same company for fourteen straight years. With his racecar gimmick it didn’t look like Holly would last through the cartoonish “New Generation era.” Somehow he survived that and a couple more repackagings before becoming “Hardcore.” He has broken his neck, broken his arm and almost had a limb amputated, but somehow the tough guy form Alabama has survived it all. He’s never been much more than a mid-card to low-level guy but has been able slide into whatever niche the company needs of him. He’s also a vestige of the old-school veteran who toughs up the new guys as they come in. It is really just a testament to the man that can work in the same volatile company for fourteen years while still maintaining the spot he has held for virtually the entire time.

The Present Day
John Cena – The new golden boy. Since his crowning as THE MAN after WrestleMania 21, Cena has become everything the company hoped for in a spokesman. He’s naturally well-built, handsome, articulate and can draw a reaction. He is a huge favorite in the extremely desirable young child age bracket. Women love him and the men love to see him get his ass kicked. No one on the roster today can even come close to drawing a reaction like Cena can in a main event level situation. Whether people love him or hate him they are almost guaranteed to react to him. Even though he is still fairly new by most standards in the WWE annals he has already cemented himself as one of the company’s main supporters and most trusted pieces of talent.

Randy Orton – When you talk about wrestling pedigree another name that must be brought up is Randy Orton. A third generation star with a grandfather, father and uncle all already entrenched in the business almost literally grew up wrestling. He got a foot in the door with WWE thanks to his famous last name and has backed it up thanks to his good looks, gifted athletic ability and wrestling genetics. His backstage troubles have grown almost legendary, but it only adds to his aura and appeal. He is still considered the youngest man to capture a World Championship-level Title in the company and he continues to grow his legacy by the day. Whether Orton continues to grow and mature as a man and performer or he flakes out tomorrow, there’s no denying the impression he’s already left on the company and the business.

Matt and Jeff Hardy – It was difficult trying to think of another team to include, and my options on credible choices became sparse right away. The Rockers and The Hart Foundation had one member completely overshadow the other. The Road Warriors, The Brain Busters and The Dudley Boyz weren’t WWE creations but managed to get over anyways. Edge and Christian are still carving their own legacies as singes stars. The British Bulldogs were a thought, but their legacies are almost greater apart than they are together. Ultimately The Hardy Boys filled the mold that I was looking for. They are homegrown WWE talent that works in the “pretty boy” tradition of The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, The Rockers and other teams before them. Both brothers have had personal problems that have derailed their professional lives, but they have remained over through all their trials and missteps. They were a key part or the tag team rejuvenation from earlier this decade, and both continue today to carve their niches within the company. They still get amazing love and support from fans worldwide, both male and female, young and old. Is it only a matter of time before we see the tarnished WrestleMania XX closing image replaced by these two men celebrating their success together?

John Bradshaw Layfield – Sometimes the good company man who does what he’s told and does it well gets rewarded. Layfield endured his stints as a Stan Hansen clone, a modern day Blackjack and a henchman of the devil before finally finding his niche as an ass-kicking, beer-drinking redneck. He seemed to have settled into a comfortable spot. Then when the company needed to main event-level talent Bradshaw reinvented himself once again, as a rich Wall Street by-way-of-Texas business tycoon and became a legit main event heel. Bradshaw is one of those rare heels in the wrestling world today that can still draw real heel heat. He has been loyal to the company since 1996, and is thought to be the company’s legitimate enforcer outside of the ring. His value to the company has grown through the years and should be a company man for years to come barring unforeseen circumstances.

Honorable Mention
I do want to give a brief nod of consideration to some of those that I considered for the list, but didn’t quite make it.

Men like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Superfly Jimmy Snuka, The Big Boss Man, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Rick Martel and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig were all very integral parts of the WWF during the late ‘80s, especially in the 1988 – early 1992 time frame that I consider to be one of the company’s most stacked in terms of sheer roster experience, in ring and knowledge and overall talent. They were all consummate pros that all knew their roles and played them to their optimum ability. The fact that Duggan still has a regular job to this day with the company shows how much they value him, and Snuka’s appearance at the most recent Royal Rumble is also indicator of his standing within WWE.

The Junkyard Dog was one of the big stars from the territorial days that got a huge push at the onset of his initial WWF run. In his time he was probably considered the number 2 or 3 babyface behind Hogan and maybe Andre or Snuka. But ultimately his true legacy really lies in the south with Bill Watts where he was instrumental in helping with race relations among some of those southern rasslin’ fans.

The Wild Samoans were a very instrumental tag team through the WWWF early years, but their legacy is more felt through the amazing Anoi’a wrestling family that they helped create.

Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were big stars during a very down time for the WWF. They were always at the top of cards during their time, but really never reached their biggest heights until they went “outside” and joined the competition. Their built in popularity with WWF fans allowed them grow even more in WCW, and ultimately in the long run I believe they both meant more to the fabric of WCW than they did the World Wrestling Federation. But I still contend to this day that Scott Hall is the best wrestler out there not have won a legit World Championship.

Edge has become a bonafide star in World Wrestling Entertainment today and his star continues to grow. He also has everything Vince loves in a main eventer and he has been loyal to the company for over a decade now. He would probably be #31 or #32 if this list continued.

Mick Foley was a star in his own right before joining the WWF but thanks to the company’s powerful marketing and promotional machine he was able to achieve a level of superstardom that he himself probably thought he would never achieve. I went back and forth on whether to include him as he is worthy of it, but from a personal standpoint his constant returns and special matches have really soured me as a fan of his. If he can keep a hold of his new gig as the SmackDown! color analyst I suspect his company stock will rebuild itself and continue to rise from there.

The Perspective
This roster list ended up being a harder and more daunting task than I imagined. I was and am a much bigger and more devout fan of WWE than I ever was of ECW and WCW, and so it became harder for me to separate contributions from my own fan memories. This isn’t a list of the best ever in WWE or the most successful or popular or whatever, this is simply a compilation of who I believe best epitomizes WWE and all that the company has encompassed over its forty-plus years. So while men like Malenko and Steamboat were far superior in the ring they never quite reached the upper echelons of WWE like so many of their fans would have liked.

And the sad fact is that none of them have even come close to the length of time that Funaki of all people have spent working for the company. And that is something to think about…INDEED.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
David B. reminds of a time before Matt, Jeff, Edge and Christian were all considered relevant.

Ivan talks about Orton, Triple H and the dynamic of good physiques in the wrestling business.

SK gives his ranting thoughts on Mick Foley’s career compilation from a few years back.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1972 – Chief Jay Strongbow & Sonny King defeated Baron Mikel Scicluna for the WWWF Tag Team title
1985 – The Nightmare defeated Terry Taylor for the Mid-South North American Heavyweight title
1989 – Lex Luger defeated Michael Hayes for the NWA U.S. Heavyweight title
1992 – Brian Lee defeated Paul Orndorff in a tournament final for the Smokey Mountain Heavyweight title
1994 – WCW Slamboree was held at the Civic Center, Philadelphia, PA
1994 – Cactus Jack & Kevin Sullivan defeated the Nasty Boys for the WCW World Tag Team title
1999 – John Zandig Nick Gage, Kronus, and Justice Pain in a Four Way Match for the Combat Zone World Heavyweight Title
1999 – Mr. Motion & Heartbreaker defeated The Brothers of East LA for the Combat Zone Wrestling Tag Team Titles
2000 – Vince Russo stripped Ric Flair of the WCW Heavyweight title
2000 – Jeff Jarrett is awarded the WCW Heavyweight title
2000 – Daffney defeated Crowbar for the WCW Cruiserweight title
2000 – Shane Douglas defeated Terry Funk for the WCW Hardcore title

1962 – Brian Pillman was born
1981 – “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson was born
1984 – George Zaharias died at age 76

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

Of all of WWE Films that the company has released so far “The Condemned” is the only one I have bothered to watch. And considering it sat on my desk for over a month after receiving it from Blockbuster shows how much thought I put into it. So going into it I had low expectations, but came out pleasantly surprised. I thought the premise was one that hadn’t been done to death, and thought that Steve Austin did quite well in his leading role. He couple nice one liners, and the action was entertaining. Vinnie Jones also does a solid job as the bad guy. But aren’t they all bad guys being they are prisoners? Some of the other plot points about voyeurism and reality TV felt a little heavy-handed, and the character twist regarding Austin’s role was unneeded, but overall the movie is an entertaining way to waste an hour and a half. Don’t come into it expecting too much or be looking for a cinematic masterpiece. Just leave your brain at the door and watch a decent action flick reminiscent of those from back in the ‘80s. I mean it’s a film from WWE, you can’t expect much more than that can you?