The old cliché goes: it isn’t what you know, it is who you know. That couldn’t be more true than in the wrestling business, especially in years past. Before the WWE took over the wrestling world and put WCW out of business in 2001, wrestlers often got work through their friends. Many of these wrestlers had built relationships traveling on the road and wanted to help out their colleagues whenever they could.
It wasn’t uncommon to see workers go back and forth from the two companies. Often grapplers received a foot in the door with the WWE thanks to a friend who had gone to work for the promotion previously. The promotion was seen as the place to make a good living in the business, and many wrestlers tried everything to get into the WWE. Having someone to vouch for you was one of the most common ways wrestlers went from one company to the other. Some of the biggest names in the business have used their contacts to land lucrative jobs, and some became big stars thanks to a good word from a friend.
Although the industry has changed greatly, WWE superstars are still getting wrestlers and potential talent jobs with the company. It may be a far cry from the days of yesteryear, and with the WWE’s ability to handpick employees, a wrestler’s relationship may not mean as much today.
15. Steven Austin: Kevin Nash
Before arriving in the WWE in 1993, Kevin Nash had traveled the roads of WCW with Steve Austin. The two grapplers formed a tight bond during their time pinching pennies as employees of the No. 2 wrestling company in the United States. In 1996, Nash was on top of the WWE and thanks to his pull, helped get Austin a job in the company. Austin also had Jim Ross go to bat for him, and along with Nash, convinced Vince McMahon to give the former Hollywood Blonde a chance. Austin wasn’t thought of too highly by McMahon when he joined the WWE, and the owner hated the Texas Rattlesnake’s accent. However, Austin received some fortune along the way, and became the biggest name in wrestling during the late 1990s boom.
14. Liv Morgan: Enzo Amore
Enzo Amore looks like he just came off of the Jersey shore. His catchphrases are the only thing memorable about his matches. Regardless, Amore was able to get his former girlfriend, Liv Morgan, a tryout at the WWE Performance Center in 2014. She landed a contract and has been working in NXT ever since. Before getting into wrestling, the two worked at Hooters together, where Amore was Morgan’s manager. After the NXT women’s wrestler got her gig with the company, the two started dating. However, due to Amore’s infidelity, according to Morgan the two split for good. The break-up between Amore and Morgan has been assumed by some wrestling websites as another reason Amore is hated by his fellow WWE wrestlers.
13. The Undertaker: Hulk Hogan
A lot of people take credit for The Undertaker and the phenomenon the gimmick created. However, it never would have been possible without Hulk Hogan. In 1990, Hogan filmed the movie Suburban Commando. The film may have bombed at the box office, but it did introduced Hogan to Mark Calaway. The future Undertaker had spent six years bouncing around the territories, but never made much of a name for himself. According to Bruce Prichard’s Something to Wrestle With podcast, Hogan championed Calaway; but Vince McMahon didn’t see much in him at the time. The two sides met during the autumn, and The Undertaker was born in time for the 1990 Survivors Series. A year later, The Undertaker would win the WWE title from Hogan. According to Prichard, Hogan claimed The Undertaker hurt his neck on a tombstone pile-driver. Due to his alleged injury, it caused a rift between the two and they rarely worked together again.
12. Kane: Jim Cornette
Jim Cornette was instrumental in getting numerous future WWE stars their jobs. The former manager worked on the WWE booking team and in the front office following the closure of his own wrestling company, the amazing and underrated Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Kane (real name Glenn Jacobs) worked for SMW as Unabomb alongside tag partner Al Snow in 1994. Due to his size and raw ability, Cornette helped Jacobs land a tryout with the WWE in 1995. Vince McMahon was high on Jacobs, but gave him the ridiculous gimmick of an evil dentist known as Isaac Yankem. For the most part, Yankem was a jobber, like many of the former SMW wrestlers Cornette helped get jobs in the WWE. However, Jacobs’ got the chance of a lifetime when the Kane character was created. What seemed like a short-term gimmick to feud with the Undertaker has turned into a 20-plus year run with the company.
11. Colt Cabana: CM Punk
Despite their tattered relationship today, at one time Colt Cabana and CM Punk were best friends. The two indie darlings traveled together as a tag team and as opponents. Punk joined the WWE’s developmental territory, OVW, in 2005. Less than two years later, Cabana was signed as well. Despite Cabana’s WWE career never panning out, the two wrestlers’ careers seemingly intertwined during Punk’s time with the company. Although Cabana had a cup of coffee with the main roster, he was always on the cusp of being a WWE wrestler thanks to his links with Punk. According to backstage stories, the former WWE champion attempted to get Cabana signed to the main roster numerous times. However, it wasn’t something meant to be after Cabana was initially let go by the WWE in 2009.
10. Terry Funk: Mick Foley
Terry Funk is a wrestling legend. No wrestler has reinvented themselves more times than the Texan, and no wrestler was any better at being a dastardly heel than Funk. A former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Funk worked for the WWE in 1985 and 1986 after returning from one of his many retirements. During his brief run, Funk worked as a main event heel and feuded with Hulk Hogan over the WWE belt. However, Funk left the company on a sour note, and it looked unlikely he would ever work for Vince McMahon again. Fast forward to 1997 and Funk returned to the WWE after yet another short retirement. This time, he was brought in by his friend Mick Foley to feud against the New Age Outlaws. Funk would retire from wrestling once more the next year, before returning for the third time in his career.
9. Owen Hart: Bret Hart
Bret Hart joined the WWE in 1984 as a member of the Hart Foundation alongside brother-in-law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Nearly four years later, Bret’s little brother Owen joined the company. Rumour has it that Bret championed Owen’s in-ring capabilities and bragged about him being the best wrestler in the family. The youngest Hart had been working for the family’s Stampede Wrestling company in Canada along with completing tours of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Rather than identify Owen as a Hart family member, he was given the Blue Blazer gimmick. After leaving the company in 1989, Owen returned two years later. This time he used his true identity. By the end of 1993, Owen had worked his way up the WWE’s ladder, and in 1994 feuded with Bret as a jealous brother. It was an idea Bret pitched to Vince McMahon, and it set the stage for the pair’s run over the next few years.
8. Barry Darsow (Smash): Bill Eadie (Ax)
Barry Darsow and Bill Eadie created one of the greatest WWE tag teams of all-time, Demolition. Eadie had already made a name for himself in wrestling. Debuting in 1973, he had worked in a variety of territories as The Masked Superstar. In 1987, Eadie formed Demolition with Randy Colley. However, Colley had been recycled by the WWE from a previous gimmick. When this version of Demolition wrestled, fans recognized Colley, and a change in personnel was needed. In December 1986, Darsow had left NWA-Jim Crockett Promotions over a money dispute. There, he had wrestled as Krusher Kruschev, a Russian sympathizing heel. By February 1987, Darsow was officially packaged as Smash, and the reign of Demolition began. The team is not in the WWE Hall of Fame currently, but Demolition has the longest combined WWE tag title reign at 698 days.
7. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan: Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Bill Watts’ Mid-South territory (later renamed UWF) was a hotbed for wrestling. Some of the biggest names of the late 1980s and early 1990s WWE got their first breaks in Watts’ company. According to WWE Hall of Famer “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Vince McMahon signed the top star from the Mid-South promotion for each of the first four WrestleMania events. Junkyard Dog worked WrestleMania I, Jake “The Snake” Roberts was at WrestleMania II, and Duggan joined the WWE in time for the third edition of the event. Ted DiBiase would join the promotion in time for WrestleMania IV. According to Duggan, Roberts had a hand in getting him into New York thanks to their long friendship. Even when Duggan was fired in May of 1987, Roberts stayed in constant contact with Duggan until McMahon brought him back in time for the Survivor Series. Although Duggan never won a major title, he is still one of the most identifiable wrestlers from his era.
6. Dustin Rhodes: Dusty Rhodes
Dustin Rhodes is known by many wrestling fans as the man behind Goldust. Few modern WWE viewers may realize Dustin was an accomplished wrestler before ever donning the gold tights and face paint. His wrestling debut occurred in Florida in 1988. The tall, skinny, awkward looking teenager broke into the business for his father’s, small wrestling company, Championship Wrestling from Florida. He soon moved to WCW and worked in Japan during 1989. However, Dustin’s first major national television exposure came in 1990 when he joined the WWE. Dusty (his father, not a friend) brought him into the company to feud with Ted DiBiase and Virgil. The father-son duo didn’t last long and both were gone from the WWE following the 1991 Royal Rumble. The Rhodes family reappeared in WCW shortly thereafter, and Dustin began to receive a push from the company’s booker, which just happened to be his dad.
5. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams: Jim Ross
In 1998, the WWE ran the ill-conceived Brawl for All competition. The man behind the idea was Vince Russo, who wanted to shut up many of the wrestlers who bragged about being tough. While the shoot-style tournament wasn’t well thought out, it was a chance for the WWE to debut “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. Williams had formed a close friendship with Jim Ross during their time in Mid-South, and the WWE announcer helped get the wrestler into the WWE. Rumour has it that Williams would have faced Stone Cold Steve Austin in a major money feud after winning the Brawl for All. However, Williams tore his hamstring during a second round Brawl match against Bart Gunn. He would go on to miss several months of action and the company released him before he returned. Bitter over his time in the WWE, Williams joined WCW in 1999 and was managed by Oklahoma, a character portrayed by Ed Ferrara as an insult to Jim Ross.
4. Charlotte Flair: Ric Flair
Charlotte Flair didn’t use a friend to get into the WWE, she used her father, 16-time World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair. Charlotte has become a superstar in her own right since joining the WWE in 2015. Although Charlotte had made an appearance in WCW when she was 13, she didn’t get into the business until her mid-20s. In fact, Charlotte was working as a personal trainer before taking her first wrestling bump. Since then, Charlotte has become a major celebrity, although she has some way to go to match her dad. It is arguable that Charlotte wouldn’t be where she is without the last name Flair. Neither of her brothers reached the heights she has, and with her living a healthier lifestyle than her dad, Charlotte could be around for some time. There is one thing she does have in common with Ric. She has already been divorced two times.
3. Samoa Joe: John Cena
Samoa Joe and John Cena have had two completely different career trajectories. Joe established himself on the indie scene before signing with TNA. Cena on the other hand joined the WWE in 2002 and shot to super stardom. In a 2017, interview with Drew Garabo, Joe talked about helping Cena get signed to the WWE in 2000. The two had been wrestling for Ultimate Pro Wrestling, a WWE developmental territory. Fifteen years later, despite Vince McMahon previously being against the signing of Joe, according to Bruce Prichard, the WWE inked the former Ring of Honor champion. While the WWE’s owner may not have wanted him to represent the company, there is a good chance Cena had a lot of pull in getting the big man a job.
2. Diesel (Kevin Nash): Shawn Michaels
In 1993, Shawn Michaels had a dilemma. He was a small wrestler in the big man territory of the WWE. He couldn’t get the larger wrestlers to sell for him in the ring, so he requested the WWE sign Kevin Nash. The 6’10” Nash joined the WWE in the summer and become Michaels’ heat magnet of a bodyguard. The two worked well together, and their chemistry inside and outside the ring left reverberations throughout the wrestling world in the 1990s. Of course, Nash would go on to be a big star under the Diesel gimmick in the WWE. Diesel has been called one of the worst drawing WWE Champions of all-time by Dave Meltzer, and but his reign did coincide with a downtime for the business. Perhaps Nash’s biggest impact on wrestling, both positive and negative, was in 1996 when he returned to WCW. There, he formed the N.W.O., and later became the company’s booker.
1. Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake: Hulk Hogan
Brutus Beefcake and Hulk Hogan have one of the most famous friendships in wrestling; although it may be forgotten today due to the animosity between them. The two wrestlers debuted in 1977 as a kayfabe brother tag team. Beefcake (real name Ed Leslie) was even trained by Hogan and picked up much of his wrestling ability from just being in the ring. Over the course of their careers, fans often believed the two were real brothers thanks to their early days as a tag team. Promoters saw promise in Hogan, but it wasn’t until his part in Rocky III, which got him fired from the WWE in 1980, that he began to make real waves. Three years later, Hogan was back in New York and was the WWE’s World Heavyweight Champion by the end of January 1984. A few months later, Beefcake would join the company. Paired with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine as the Dream Team, the duo was pushed to the top of the tag ranks. Beefcake even wrestled Hogan in the main event of house shows around the United States.
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