It’s no secret that many factors go in to making a successful wrestler other than in-ring ability. The best in the business have always had the right combination of storyline involvement, promo skills and look, to go along with sheer wrestling talent. It’s a delicate balance of different traits, and they all need to be represented equally to make an all-time star.
However, when we’re talking about WWE, GFW, and other mainstream promotions in the United States, it’s not uncommon for wrestlers to be elevated to the main event scene strictly based on their look. It’s their way of trying to fast-track a wrestler into prominence, even if their in-ring ability dictates that they should still be at a lower level. Sometimes, these undeserved pushes have worked out for the better from a popularity perspective, and other times it’s proven to be a disastrous decision. Either way, it’s a common practice, and it’s made the difference in the success of many careers.
Let’s see some notable examples of sub-par wrestlers that this has applied to, and whether it ended up working out or not.
Ranked below are 15 terrible wrestlers who won major titles just because of their look.
Just the latest in WWE’s never-ending fascination with sheer muscle and little else, Ryback is really one of the worst wrestlers in the world right now. At least out of those who are somewhat in the public eye. The former Tough Enough competitor had a run with the Intercontinental Title a couple years ago based off almost nothing at all, and was really one of the most maligned WWE stars of the era.
Now out of WWE, Ryback is hitting the indy scene, but it really isn’t working out for him. He doesn’t have the skill to wrestle with the best of that landscape, and is really just doing one-offs at various low-level promotions throughout the country. With no in-ring ability to speak of, his title run in WWE was always going to be short-lived, and undoubtedly be the peak of his career.
14. The Big Show
He may be an iconic figure now, but there was a time when Big Show was an unknown, and really not very good in the ring. He made his wrestling debut at Halloween Havoc 1995 under The Giant moniker, and was really just a tool to use in a storyline for Hulk Hogan at the time. A clear candidate for a push because of his gargantuan stature when he was in WCW, Big Show really didn’t have much going for him except for the intimidation factor.
Of course, when he switched to the WWE ranks a short time after, he did improve in the ring, and ended up carving out a very respectable career for himself. Given that his time in WCW was the first run of his career, this isn’t really surprising, but he probably didn’t really deserve to have any title success there either.
13. Lex Luger
Luger was always just barely good enough in the ring to avoid heavy criticism, but there’s no doubt that he had to be carried to a great match. His look was always the catalyst in his success, and there were few wrestlers of the era with more clout in the bodybuilding department than he had. Almost immediately in the late-’80s, Luger was given a push by WCW, and ended up winning numerous titles.
His success continued into his run with WWE, and then he went back to WCW a short time later on shady terms. Truly, he was one of the marquee players in each company, and definitely one of the most popular wrestlers of the era. While there have been worse in the ring, Luger still wasn’t good, and relied on other factors for his popularity. However, since he was often paired with really solid in-ring talents, this wasn’t too noticeable most of the time.
Actually a member of the legendary Anoa’i family portraying a Japanese sumo wrestler, Yokozuna was a revelation for a short time in early-’90s WWE. He fit well with the storylines of the time, and had several high-profile WrestleMania matches against Bret Hart and Lex Luger. However, the limitations on his character were obvious, and his in-ring ability wasn’t enough to make up for it.
His size was certainly a draw for a short amount of time, but he was never able to build off of it. He would stay in WWE until 1996, having runs with the WWE Title and Tag Team Title, but the fascination with him wore off quickly, when his already-massive weight ballooned and he wasn’t able to improve the quality of his matches. Yokozuna was definitely a product of his time, and ultimately a disappointment.
11. Sid Vicious
Sid fit the era that he wrestled in perfectly, and was one of the premier young talents of the early-’90s. He had the look of a main-eventer, but really none of the talent when it came down to it. However, he was pushed by both WCW and WWE because he looked great on TV, and didn’t need complicated storylines in order to sell his character. He could basically show up, beat up his opponent, and get over without saying much at all. Kind of like a tame precursor to what Goldberg would become.
It did work for a while, but by the late-’90s, Sid was falling out of favor. More emphasis was being placed on cutting good promos, something he never excelled at (see: his “half the brain” promo), and new stars were beginning to develop. His matches weren’t good enough to keep him around as a major player, and when an injury derailed his career in 2000, his career with WWE and WCW was finished, relegating him to the indies.
10. Superstar Billy Graham
Though certainly iconic, you’d be hard-pressed to name many classic matches that Graham was involved in. He definitely got by primarily from his look, which was extremely charismatic for the time, and served as a precursor to the likes of Hulk Hogan. Still, you have to give him props for being a draw in not only WWE, but NWA and the AWA as well, which pretty much covered all bases during the ’70s and ’80s.
Even by the standard of the time though, there were always much better in-ring wrestlers around, including Bob Backlund, Jimmy Snuka and Ric Flair to name just a few. Graham served his purpose as an iconic figure for sure, but if asked to get on wrestling ability and promo skills alone, it likely wouldn’t have happened.
There’s no doubt that Rhyno has been a great mid-carder for many years, with various promotions. His high-intensity style and distinctive look have put a stamp on the muscle-head character, and taken it to new heights. However, he was always miscast as a title-holder in most situations, mainly bing used as a transitional champion when the promotions in question had run out of ideas.
Even in ECW, he probably didn’t deserve a run with the title, but they were willing to try anything to stay on the air at the time. As a mid-carder, he could excel in a well-booked feud, and bring his own personality to the forefront. As a champion, however, he was one-dimensional, and really not very interesting. His wrestling style demanded short matches, and that doesn’t bode well for longevity in any main event scene.
Vader was really more of a product of his time than anything else, and that’s becoming increasingly evident as the years go on. He was certainly one of the top stars in the ’90s wrestling world, excelling in WWE, WCW, as well as in Japan, but it really hasn’t aged particularly well. His sheer size, as well as his trademark red and black color scheme, probably made him a star more than his ability to work a match consistently.
Sure, he’s had his share of in-ring classics. But when mentioning the best wrestlers of the era, Vader seems miscast in that conversation. He was an intimidating figure no doubt, but a lot of his success and opportunity came from his character, and it’s one that really seems like it only could succeed in the era that he wrestled in.
7. Kevin Nash
Whether he was portraying Diesel in WWE, or running WCW as a member of The Outsiders/nWo, Nash is one of the most imposing figures in the history of the squared circle. The main problem was that he always needed assistance from another to get a leg up in the main event scene. In WWE it was Shawn Michaels, when he started out as his “bodyguard,” and in WCW, he was rarely seen without Scott Hall.
This was no doubt done to cover up the fact that Nash was a pretty mediocre wrestler, and relied on many outside factors to make his title runs successful. He had the benefit of being involved in some classic storylines, which really boosted his stock. Overall, he benefitted heavily from those around him, and not on his own ability.
6. Brock Lesnar
Sure, Lesnar has been involved in some good matches, but mainly because of spectacle and the other wrestler he was working with. On his own, he’s dependent on his look and reputation, which admittedly has given him a ton of crossover appeal, and a kind of celebrity that is conducive to longevity. He has been successful in multiple avenues of the fighting world, and that is definitely impressive.
But it doesn’t mean that he was a good wrestler, or good at cutting promos. Lesnar really started out as a curiosity, using the Goldberg-blueprint, and then was able to carve out a niche for himself. Ultimately, his success came down to advertising, and being able to wrestle under the WWE banner.
5. Hulk Hogan
While Hogan definitely isn’t as bad of a pure wrestler than some make him out to be, he still isn’t very good, and there’s no doubt that the “Hulkamania” gimmick pretty much gave him his entire career. He was the antithesis to Ric Flair, who had no problem wrestling a 60-minute match with just about anyone. Hogan had his matches down to a steadfast routine; as long as he “Hulked-up,” pointed the finger, cupped the ear, gave the big boot and leg drop, and pinned his opponent for the 3-count, the crowd ate it up.
Granted, it was a very important gimmick, and was essentially the catalyst for tuning the wrestling business into a national powerhouse. Still, aspects of Hogan are worthy of criticism, and his in-ring ability and one-lane promos were two of the major offenders.
4. The Iron Sheik
There’s little doubt that Sheik wouldn’t have captured the WWE Title in 1983 had it not been for his character, which exploited many American fans’ dislike of the Middle East, which in turn automatically made him a top-flight heel in the company. He wasn’t a surefire liability in the ring, but he was far from particularly noteworthy or exciting.
Of course, his character was used mainly to get Hulk Hogan over for the first time, thus bringing WWE into the company that we know it as today, so the title reign for Sheik wasn’t really pointless at all. If we’re strictly going off of his talent level though, he probably should have remained a mid-carder, as he was after his title reign was over. As it was, WWE was able to use his Iranian heritage to their advantage, in a classic storyline that ended up giving them the biggest star in the history of the company.
3. The Sandman
Most of the ECW faithful still worship The Sandman, and he was undoubtedly one of the most recognizable wrestlers of the ’90s. The slacker get-up with the high-top sneakers, Singapore cane in hand chugging a beer on his way to the ring with “Enter Sandman” blaring from the speakers isn’t going to get old anytime soon. It’s an iconic wrestling image to be sure.
However, once it ends, you’re stuck with the realization that Sandman wasn’t even one of the hardcore universe’s better in-ring talents. While he was involved in some classic storylines, and has the ECW-cred to his name, he just wasn’t particularly innovative or entertaining, compared to some of his peers like Sabu, Terry Funk and Rob Van Dam. So while he made his mark on the industry, it was his ring attire, entrance, and personality that got him over.
2. Rick Rude
History has been kinder to Rude than he probably deserves. He had one of the greatest physiques of any wrestler to lace up a pair of boots, but he was clunky in the ring, and the number of great matches to his credit are surprisingly few considering his main event status.
Was he always a sub-par wrestler? No, but it’s unquestionable that his premier look got him into the main event scene quicker than anything else. To be fair, Rude capitalized on it, and became a go-to heel for WWE and WCW in his prime, so he didn’t waste the opportunity. Any wrestling fan should be familiar with Rude’s work, but also be aware that his ascendance was based primarily on his appearance. After that, everything else just fell into place for him.
1. Ultimate Warrior
There’s really nobody else that could have possibly topped this list. The Ultimate Warrior was everything except a good in-ring talent. He came into the ring like a whirlwind, did a few signature moves, and then ran out. The crowd couldn’t resist it at the time, and there was really no incentive for him to put on a great match. His presence was sufficient enough.
It was definitely a hallmark of the era, but it also explains his relatively brief career. The fact was, Warrior was always going to have a short shelf life, due to the gimmicky nature of his character to begin with. He was a physical specimen, and energizing to a live crowd, but he didn’t have the nuances to his character and in-ring style that most of the great ones do. As a result, he was destined to relinquish his standing as a titleholder relatively quickly. Still, for a few years, his look and natural charisma did land him a few title runs in WWE, so in a way he did reach his peak potential.
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