The Common Denominator – What’s in a Legacy? (Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, Joe Hennig, Santino Marella, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Tamina Snuka)

Hello again, and thanks to all who read and/or commented on my “dream matches” column last week. One potential match that was mentioned – and one I somehow never even noticed hadn’t happened – that potentially could happen was The Rock vs. Shawn Michaels. How they managed to miss each other is just an incredible amount of bad timing. Just to give you a hint of the kind of electricity these guys were able to generate (with a little help from their friends) I give you this…

This was back in 2002. The Rock was just about a month away from dropping what was then the WWE Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, while HHH and HBK were in the midst of a major feud following Shawn’s return after a years-long layoff.

Anyway, in thinking about all these great wrestling stars, I invariably start comparing them to the guys that are around today – after all, that is kind of the whole point of my column. Interestingly enough, the WWE seems to be doing a lot to help me out lately, what with trotting out Undertaker, HHH, Shawn, Hacksaw and this year’s Hall of Fame inductees.

But one thing just keeps coming to my mind and popping up in a lot of discussions – Joe Hennig, or as the powers that be in the WWE have insisted on calling him, Michael McGillicutty (sigh). It really just baffles me how whoever makes these decisions could do everything possible to highlight the “Legacy” of Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr., but completely ignore the potential value of guys like Joe Hennig, Windham Rotunda and even other second generation guys they have had under their banner like Ray Gordy, Jimmy Snuka, Jr. and Afa, Jr. I know the last two got a brief window of opportunity with Legacy, and I don’t really remember if they were any good in the ring, but I just wonder how Sim Snuka might have done if he had been given a bunch of hype and then packaged the same way Tamina has been lately – and for the love of God, don’t get me started on anything having to do with the Hart family, especially poor Nattie Neidhart.

Now, don’t get me wrong… just because a guy (or girl) is someone’s son (or daughter) I don’t think that means they should be guaranteed superstar status or anything. I mean, if that was the case, I’d have grown up with WWF Champion David Sammartino, NWA World Champion Erik Watts, and AWA World Champion Greg Gagne (that we avoided all three of those is nothing short of a miracle, and I’ll throw WWE Champion Shane McMahon and WCW Champ David Flair in there for good measure). But in a time when all of us long-time fans are, just like HHH said on Monday night, watching the last vestiges of bygone day, what better way to not only retain long-time fans but also make newer fans aware of the continuity and, yes, legacy of the industry than by hyping these and other up-and-coming stars? Hell, in other professional sports, especially baseball where it seems to be most common, if you’ve got, let’s say Ken Griffey, Jr., not only does his sensational play generate interest, you’ve got commentators and coaches and analysts and veteran players all talking about his place in the game’s history, comparing him to his father, and perpetuating the never-ending debate between different generations of fans over which era was better. Not convinced? Roger Clemens has four sons, all of whom play baseball. Odds are, one of them is going to be awesome, and if so, when whichever one that is makes it to the big leagues, wait and see what the media hype is like.

But back to wrestling. There’s another DiBiase and another Rotunda in the WWE’s developmental system. Are they going to be packaged like the third-generation stars they are, or are they going to be Jack O’Hoolihan and Freddy Yablonskanovich? I mean you’ve got “Money, Inc. 2.0″ right there! You could get the DiBiase’s and the Rotundas all together and launch some kind of “hostile takeover” of the WWE. With Ted, Sr. and old IRS as the mouthpieces and the brains behind the operation with Ted, Jr, Bret DiBiase, Windham and Bo Rotundo as the muscle. That sounds like a ready-made feud for the other second-generation guys, like Orton, Cody, Hennig, and anyone else they want to throw in. Promotions used to pretend that wrestlers were related (like the Andersons, the Koloffs, and Lance von Erich. I’ve heard there was even talk of trying to pass off Big Show as the son of Andre the Giant when he first debuted), so why try to hide it now that there might be some value in it? It’s too bad Reid Flair turned out to be a self-destructive douchebag, perhaps exceeding Teddy Hart levels of douchebaggery. There’s an idea for a tag-team: Reid and Teddy as the Self-Destructive Douchebags…! Funny thing is, TNA would snatch that idea up in half-a-second. Richie Steamboat is currently making his way through the ranks of FCW. I’ve never seen him in action, but I’m excited just on name value alone.

You know, the only time I can really think of a wrestling promotion going out of its way to downplay a father-son relationship was when the USWA made zero mention of Brian “Grandmaster Sexay” Christopher being Jerry Lawler’s son. That was such a well-kept secret – at least until this happened…

It might not seem like such a big thing now, but back then, it was major news. I guess for completion’s sake, few fans at the time knew Randy Savage and Lanny Poffo were brothers and there’s the whole HHH-Stephanie marriage that really the WWE still doesn’t seem to be openly promoting, just giving a little nod and wink to those fans in the know.

Now, if I’m being completely honest here, part of me just wants to see Joe Hennig billed as “the Perfect Progeny” and “Billion Dollar Man” Bret DiBiase because of nostalgia and the fond remembrance of their fathers, whether they can bring it in the ring or not (surely they can, right?). And the truth is, the next generation of wrestlers has to come from somewhere. Three years from now, HHH really will be the guy in the suit. HBK, Undertaker, the Rock, Stone Cold, Mick Foley and all the other 90s guys will be long gone or relegated to very limited special appearances. Even guys like Jericho, Big Show, Kane, Rey Mysterio and Christian are right on the edge of being able to handle full-time competition and could be one injury away from retirement (see: Edge). Who is going to step up and carry the torch? Cena can’t do it alone. Even Punk is entering his mid-30s.

And the WWE is burning through stars a lot quicker it seems these days, for various reasons. Look at the Hardys, Kurt Angle, Batista, Brock Lesnar and so on… it leaves a lot of questions: Is Randy Orton going to lose years of his career due to so many injuries? Does Alberto Del Rio have any staying power? Will anyone who was a part of the Nexus be under WWE contract this time next year? Is Brodus Clay coming back to TV again?

Again, not every one of the “fortunate sons” should just be handed a main event spot, but the WWE has proven with Orton and is proving with Cody that if the guy can wrestle and the build is done right, then new stars can be created. Michael McGillicutty is the worst case of ignoring, and in my opinion disrespecting, the legacy of a great former star since Goldust (and honestly, Dustin might have benefited more from that character than being Dusty’s boy, given the anti-Rhodes attitude of Vince and Company). Tell me you wouldn’t like to see Joe swatting his gum out of the air and nailing the Perfect-plex. They could even throw in some continuity and give him his dad’s weakness against being monkey-flipped into the turnbuckle (and that was definitely a thing… it’s how he lost the AWA title to Jerry Lawler).

For a look at another second-generation performer, check this out…

In case you’re wondering who I’m talking about here, the guy in black trunks is Colt Tooms. Tooms is the son of Roderick Tooms aka Roddy Piper. Tooms is a bit smallish (5’8”, 150 lbs.), but if he makes a name for himself in the MMA world, it wouldn’t bee too much of a stretch for him to make the jump to wrestling. He could probably bulk up to 160 or 175 and wouldn’t be too much smaller to Daniel Bryan or Rey and those guys.

Just a quick change of subject about the current product. We’re on the road to WrestleMania, and things seem to be shaping up as we’ve got the top four matches lined up. As I was watching the Punk-Bryan match (inexplicably given away for free for the second time in a month, but at least as the main event on a special live show) on SmackDown tonight, I had some thoughts…

1) Punk and Bryan, two Internet favorites and veterans of the Indy scene, are WWE and World Heavyweight Champion respectively not only at the same time but defending their titles at WrestleMania. Granted they are likely going to be, at best the third and fourth matches from the top of the card, but it’s still a testament to how good these guys are as neither really fits the mold of WWE Superstar.

2) Watching these two go at it reminds me of the first time the WWE really shifted away from the prototypical champion, when WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero and World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit stood together at the end of WrestleMania XX. To me, it was the biggest change in what the WWE main event scene was all about since Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels made their runs at the top after the Hogan era ended.

3) As glad as I am to see a guy like Bryan make it and fulfil what has likely been a lifelong dream of being in a world title match at WrestleMania, I can’t help but think of the magical moment it would have been for Santino Marella to have pulled off the impossible and won the Elimination Chamber match. I am a long-time reader of Scott Keith’s reviews and I, like him, remember the match where plucky underdog Rick Steiner won the NWA World Television Title from Mike Rotundo, and the pure, spontaneous and genuine joy from the crowd when Rick won the belt was just crazy and electric. I have a feeling that the WWE missed out on what might have been the only shot they might have had of creating such a moment last Sunday night. How awesome would it have been if Vince, or whoever is making such decisions these days, had called an audible based on the crowd reaction and but the belt on Santino? My entire family, three-fifths of whom have only a very peripheral interest in wrestling, was going nuts when Marella pulled out the cobra during the Elimination Chamber. We could have had this…

I also have to point out referee Teddy Long…with hair! Anyway, thanks for reading.


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