They say the cream rises to the top, and yet there always seems to be more froth when you look at things from an empirical standpoint. Professional wrestling fits this mold like any other medium, halted somewhat by the fact a base level of athleticism is required to even attempt a career in the industry. Even so, there have been plenty of supremely talented sports entertainers who never quite amounted to much, surpassed by far less apt performers. In fact, some of the people to achieve greatness in the WWE Universe and elsewhere in the wrestling world have pretty much completely sucked, stealing spots from much better individuals, usually through political means.
While critics can generally agree that wrestlers who achieved less than was expected of them generally have pretty sad stories attached to them, the superstars who succeeded far beyond their means are a slightly different story. On one hand, it can be annoying and upsetting to see a less talented athlete become a multiple time World Champion, especially when looking at who suffered for them to do so. On the other, it nonetheless remains impressive whenever anyone is able to perform better than is expected of them, adding a slight nobility to the desire to build a legacy of greatness at all costs. Keep reading to discover the 8 biggest overachievers and 7 worst underachievers in wrestling history.
15 OVERACHIEVER: Jeff Jarrett
Controversial or not, nepotism is one of the most important concepts in pro wrestling, so in all fairness, many insiders saw Jeff Jarrett as a pretty big deal immediately upon his debut. His father Jerry to this day is a legendary promoter and former wrestler, as were his grandmother Christine and grandfather Eddie Marlin. It could be argued Jeff had the most charisma of the bunch, and he definitely wasn’t a bad wrestler, per se. The thing is, Jeff has always possessed the look, attitude, and skillset of a career midcarder. At one point, he held the record for most WWE Intercontinental Championship reigns, and were that his ultimate legacy, his place in history would be completely appropriate. Thanks to his family and friendly ties, however, not to mention his own business sense, he’s also an 11 time World Champion (5 WCW, 6 NWA). The relative success of those companies while he was on top says a lot about whether or not he deserved to hold the belts.
14 UNDERACHIEVER: Bam Bam Bigelow
Nine times out of ten, wrestling traditionalists reject the hulking brutish “hoss” style wrestlers that Vince McMahon and Jim Ross love, as the overachiever half of this list would imply. It is for this reason Bam Bam Bigelow was such a special talent. Weighing in the neighborhood of 400 pounds, Bigelow was a superheavyweight who could fly around the ring like a man half his size, cartwheeling and moonsaulting through the ring like he was walking. As this list has been showing, however, politics got in the way of what looked like a sure thing, both in WWE and WCW. Bigelow actually had two chances in WWE, once in the late ‘80s and again in the mid ‘90s, the first time due to injuries and then troubles with Shawn Michaels. He managed to win the ECW Championship and return to WCW with great aplomb, only to drop back into obscurity within a few months. Had he made the right friends and been healthier at the right time, Bigelow easily could have been as hot an act as his fiery skull implied.
13 OVERACHIEVER: Kane
No matter how you slice it, Glenn Jacobs, the man behind the Kane gimmick, managed to greatly surpass all expectations of him at the start of his career. The really impressive thing about Kane, though, is that the gimmick itself has significantly outlasted what even the wisest wrestling insider could have predicted its shelf life would be upon his debut. The idea of one wrestler being related to another only works if they’re both still wrestling, so part of Kane’s success is simply linked to the fact The Undertaker has also managed to stick around for quite a while. That said, The Undertaker is also a much better wrestler than Kane, and a grim cowboy type gimmick lends to far more capabilities than a monster who likes to burn things. The solution has been Kane’s character adapting in bizarre ways and to varying results, which makes one think it might have been easier for WWE to simply cut their losses and stop pushing Kane in top storylines.
12 UNDERACHIEVER: Bobby Eaton
Certain wrestlers are simply bound to be stuck in the tag team division their entire careers, and as far as that category is concerned, few come close to the legacy of Bobby Eaton. He won dozens of regional and territorial titles with a number of partners before joining The Midnight Express, transitioning the group from a stable to a tag team with himself and Dennis Condrey and Jim Cornette as their manager. Stan Lane soon replaced Condrey to form the most famous version of the group. Eaton’s success in tag teams later continued with partners like Arn Anderson and Lord Steve Regal, his reputation never faltering as one of the best in-ring talents around. For all his success in the tag division, Eaton never got much of a chance to shine as a solo act in the big leagues, the WCW Television Championship his only major singles title. While he wasn’t the best talker, with the right manager, he easily had the chops to become a mainstay in the upper midcard.
11 OVERACHIEVER: The Big Show
One look at Paul Wight is all it takes to understand how he’s managed to remain an integral figure in the WWE Universe for nearly 20 years now (more than 20 if you include his time in WCW). Closer inspection reveals even with his incredible size, he’s been overachieving from day one, winning the WCW Championship in his debut match. There’s absolutely no way to frame that in a manner that makes it seem like he deserved it; the best defense one can offer is that WCW lucked out when Show developed into a formidable worker as his career progressed. Formidable doesn’t quite cut it for 20+ years of main events and World Championship matches, especially with the diminishing returns and incredibly simplistic matches Big Show has been offering for some time now. Sure, you gotta see him in person to believe how big he is, but the downside is you also gotta see him wrestle to realize he’s not as great at it as he looks like he would be.
10 UNDERACHIEVER: Cesaro
When the biggest WWE superstar in history sits face to face with the owner of the company and tells him to stop jerking fans around with one of his talents, you’d think Vince McMahon would in the very least give “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s comments a moment of consideration. Instead, he spouted the same non-answer he does every time someone mentions Cesaro; that the Swedish superstar hasn’t connected with WWE fans for mysterious and unclear reasons. In fact, the reasons are pretty obvious, being that Vince won’t give Cesaro a push to match his natural and overwhelming skills. McMahon acted like Cesaro didn’t have microphone skills or charisma, both patently false statements, not to mention how irrelevant the first was in the modern era where everything is over-scripted to death anyway. Cesaro has nonetheless become a decent star in his own right, gradually rising the ranks despite McMahon turning a blind eye, and hoping against hope, he may just be the one underachiever on this list who still has a chance at becoming a major player.
9 OVERACHIEVER: The Fabulous Moolah
For all WWE’s talk about the company undergoing a women’s revolution, they tend to ignore how complicit Vince McMahon specifically was in causing the genre to nearly die for as long as he did. It wasn’t entirely Vince’s fault, of course, with the reigning WWE Women’s Champion for some 27 years, The Fabulous Moolah, far more responsible for ensuring no female other than herself would become a star for decades. Once Moolah was out of the business, she kept her devious streak going by double-crossing her students The Glamour Girls, intentionally them fired. Despite all this, WWE has continued to treat her as the preeminent female legend in all of sports entertainment. Even ignoring her questionable practices out of the ring, Moolah wasn’t a particularly good wrestler, either, making it a complete mystery how she was able to control the industry for so long.
8 UNDERACHIEVER: Chris Candido
Arriving on the scene when he was only 14 years old, Chris Candido was already a seasoned veteran when he won the NWA World Championship at 22. Unfortunately, it was pretty much all downhill from there, starting when he signed with WWE and became Bodydonna Skip. In addition to having a silly gimmick, he ran afoul of Shawn Michaels backstage due to a love triangle of sorts with Sunny. Candido was able to find some success in ECW, WCW, and TNA, but he never reached the heights his early career set him on the path towards. Not only was Candido highly talented in the ring, he also had uniquely motor mouth microphone skills, with his one downside being his relatively small size. Had he come around a little later, and if Sunny wasn’t in the picture, there’s a good chance Candido would have spent far more time in WWE, his talents eventually shining in one way or another.
7 OVERACHIEVER: Lex Luger
During the first few years of his career, Lex Luger looked and acted like a complete star. Had drive and energy he exhibited as an NWA United States and Tag Team Champion lasted his whole career, there would have been no complaints when he was competing for World titles. Unfortunately, though, something happened to Luger in the early ‘90s that made him completely stop putting in any sort of effort whatsoever. Still holding a certain level of charisma, and always maintained his expert physique, but Luger’s in-ring work fell off a cliff around his first WCW World Championship. He was even worse in WWE than WCW, yet Vince McMahon was blinded by his muscles and Americana, pushing Luger to the more main events he didn’t deserve in an all new setting. While Vince eventually figured out Luger had stopped trying, WCW never got the message, keeping him around as a top star to their dying days.
6 UNDERACHIEVER: Terry Taylor
Most of the underachiever half of this list can point to some reason why they didn’t become a big star. The saddest part of Terry Taylor’s career is he has video footage that explains it, getting worse each week he was forced to film it. After having been a rising star in the NWA and Mid-South, Taylor debuted in the WWE Universe as The Red Rooster. Incompetently clucking around the ring and needing constant advice from Bobby Heenan, the Rooster was a huge joke upon arrival, destroying all potential that Taylor once portrayed. He retreated to WCW several years later and tried to revive himself as a member of The York Foundation, only to find out the damage had been done. Despite still wrestling decent matches, no one could ever take Taylor seriously again, and before long his career shifted backstage out of sheer necessity.
5 OVERACHIEVER: The Ultimate Warrior
Speaking of big hulking hosses being hated by old school traditionalists, few athletes personified the reason why as well as The Ultimate Warrior. Grunting and snorting through absolutely insane interviews, one thing that can’t be denied is that Warrior was an incredibly popular star during his rise to the top of WWE. The thing is, he became popular largely because his matches were rarely longer than 60 seconds, and the longer he was expected to go, the faster it became apparent his talents were very much so of the flash-in-the-pan variety. Warrior was great at being a bundle of energy who steamrolled through his enemies, but as a real competitor existing in the world of a champions, he couldn’t survive more than a few months before ticket sales rapidly declined. The weirdest thing is Vince McMahon knew this and was willing to lose Warrior because of it, yet he has changed his mind in retrospect and rebuilt the Warrior’s legacy with a Hall of Fame induction.
4 UNDERACHIEVER: Eddie Gilbert
It should probably be stated at this point that more than a couple of the underachieving half of this list are at least a little bit complicit in their failure to become mega stars. “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert especially had no one to blame but himself for why so few fans remember him, with critics and most wrestling promoters agreeing he was an incredibly talented worker and talker. However, it doesn’t matter how talented a person is if they don’t show up, which was a regular problem throughout Gilbert’s career. He’d show up in a territory, fast become one of their most popular and/or hated wrestlers, then disappear and start taking bookings halfway across the country. He nonetheless became well known throughout the south for his natural aptitude as a performer. On top of this, behind the scenes, Gilbert was heavily influential as a booker, teaching Paul Heyman the ropes early in his career. Had Gilbert stuck around one company a little longer, he easily could’ve become a World Champion, or at least the mouthpiece to a bigger wrestler who held the belt.
3 OVERACHIEVER: Kevin Nash
Lucky for Vince McMahon, the WWE Universe most certainly does not run on Diesel Power, although he was blinded enough by Kevin Nash’s size and charisma to think it might be able to do so throughout 1995. The result was one of the lowest drawing years in modern WWE history, yet that didn’t stop WCW from trying to push Nash back to the top after he jumped ship in 1996. McMahon wasn’t wrong about Nash being charisma, and it wouldn’t even be a stretch to say Nash’s gift of gab could have made him an expert manager or commentator (see the episode of Thunder where he sat in the booth for evidence). In the ring, however, Nash was best defined by his pejorative nickname Big Lazy, in most matches playing with his hair more often than he actually performed wrestling moves. Giving a funny interview here or there hardly makes up for the low quality contests Nash was destined to give, making his success as misguided as it was undeserved.
2 UNDERACHIEVER: Brad Armstrong
Though not every family in wrestling is as powerful as, say, the McMahons, or the Jarretts, the Armstrong wrestling family have earned a legacy of their own for an entirely different reason. Showing more in common with the Von Erichs than any other sports entertainment dynasty, the Brad Armstrong and his brothers are known for the Armstrong Curse. While their father “Bullet” Bob experienced a great career in southern territories, the Armstrong boys were known for being career jobbers, especially Brad, Scott, and Steve. The only one to became a star was the fourth brother, Brian, better known to WWE fans as Road Dogg. Although the D-O-Double G was definitely the family’s best talker, Brad was just as clearly the best wrestler of the bunch, with some insiders including Jim Ross calling him one of the best wrestlers of all time, period.
1 OVERACHIEVER: Triple H
Come all ye overachievers of the world and unite to hail your King of Kings, the heir apparent to the WWE Universe, Hunter Hearst Helmsley. When Triple H made his WCW debut as Terra Ryzin, no one could have possibly predicted he’d become the second most powerful man in WWE within the next decade. By the time he switched names to Jean-Paul Levesque and was having atrocious matches with Alex Wright, it looked like his career was over before it began. Like so many others, he tried to salvage himself with a jump to WWE, only to get saddled with another ridiculous gimmick and spent some two years wallowing in the midcard, at least in part due to punishment for being hugely unprofessional. The catch is, that same lack of professionalism related to his friendship with Shawn Michaels, a friendship that finally made Triple H a big star with DX. Not long after Michaels was injured, Triple H was the only top heel WWE had left, lucking into a role where his character kidnapped and wed Stephanie McMahon. Somehow, said sexual assault led to a very real marriage, and the highest ranking position held by a non-McMahon in WWE. Well, he did say Terra was Ryzin.