There is perhaps no other job that requires a wider variety of skills than professional wrestling. They are incredible athletes, not only strong, but must possess supreme cardio conditioning as well. They must be able to act and improvise physically, as well as deliver dynamic monologues and debates. And that's just in the ring! Behind the scenes is the (not so) secret half of what it takes to make it.
Since wrestling is pre-determined, obviously whomever is doing the determining has a large impact on a performer's career. The booker must carefully manage the balance of winning and losing in order to keep as many wrestlers as possible looking strong. It's impossible to have everyone at the top, and through no fault of his own, a wrestler may quickly find themselves closer to the bottom.
Many bookers are ex-wrestlers or even current. Ties with the locker room will exist, and this can greatly influence the storyline. WCW was notorious for this. Dusty Rhodes, Kevin Sullivan, Ric Flair, and Kevin Nash were all given the book while actively wrestling. No matter what they did, it would be impossible to remove the perception that they were only looking out for themselves. And in a business that pays you depending on how you are booked, you can hardly blame them.
But there are many wrestlers who were never official bookers, yet managed to wield significant power backstage. Having the ear of the owner or a contract with creative control can often times overrule the all-mighty booker. The top talent will always have some say, and if the business is down, their value shoots even higher. During the WWE's rough transition from the New Generation to the Attitude Era, Shawn Michaels and his Kliq took advantage of the situation to get everything they could.
Hardcore fans are wiser than ever, but even before the internet they could smell fishy behavior. If they saw a wrestler gifted in the ring and over with the fans yet passed up for the biggest opportunities, they knew the wrong strings were being pulled. The fans today have taken more control than ever and the WWE has bowed to their demands with Daniel Bryan's WrestleMania XXX moment and Roman Reigns' push being reeled back in recent months.
Wrestling has evolved but its roots are the same. Draw a crowd, put on a show, make friends with the booker.
10 Kevin Nash
A founding member of the Kliq, Nash worked his way up to a booking position during his WCW run. For someone relatively young and new to the wrestling business this was an impressive feat. Unfortunately, by the time Nash was given control, the ship had taken on too much water and was doomed to fail. Bam Bam Bigelow said that Nash gave a respectable effort but couldn't get the wrestlers united behind him.
And how about the Fingerpoke of Doom? Nash has defended this move by saying Goldberg was being booed by the fans and the "GOLDBERG" chants were piped in. I agree that resetting Goldberg to a fresher place was a smart move, but to turn around and dump it right back to Hogan made little sense. Nash and the 'Berg were the company's biggest stars at the time. To reunite the nWo felt like a major step backwards (benefitting only Hogan).
Nash had a large amount of power and influence backstage, but he takes far too much crap than he deserves. Besides; who are they to mock the Great and Powerful OZ?!
9 John Cena
WWE's top guy for the past decade obviously has significant power behind the scenes.
Former WWE wrestler Tyler Reks found this out the hard way.
Reks had been using a safer version of the Burning Hammer as a finisher. It looks slightly similar to the Cena's Fireman's Carry of DOOM but the opponent is facing the sky instead. Reks stated that Cena yelled at him to get another finisher or he would be fired. Confusing to Reks, as the move was already approved by McMahon and the training staff for several months. This shows the power of the C-man.
Although to be fair, Cena's AA already looks weak enough without having a superior version to completely bury it.
8 Randy Orton
Randy Orton has obviously been a favorite of WWE management for quite some time. His long stay near the top means he wields influence backstage. However, stories about defecating in gym bags and extreme temper tantrums would not be considered a good influence.
Sometimes those temper tantrums cost people their job.
After a botched-suplex delivered by Ken Anderson, Orton went to management and told them he refused to work with him any further. This was the last straw for the former Mr. Kennedy, and he was fired. Orton wasn't the only one to complain, but he seemed to seal Anderson's fate.
A very public temper tantrum is shown by Orton after a botched ending to a match with Kofi Kingston. Kingston was interviewed about this incident, but as he's still with the company, he could only say it was "Randy being Randy".
7 Ric Flair
Ric Flair's performance in the 1992 Royal Rumble is legendary. The aging superstar hung around with wrestlers half his age longer than anyone expected. He survived by any means necessary to somehow emerge on top.
Sounds like his career.
Way back in 1989, when Flair and Steamboat had their classic NWA match, Flair was already 40 years old. For the man to flourish and survive for nearly two decades is incredible. Having his friend Kevin Sullivan as WCW's booker was a huge part of that. And when new management took over and tried to shave his signature locks, he managed to leave for the WWE in possession of their big gold belt.
In the WWE, Bret Hart spoke of Flair intentionally sabotaging their matches, and this has been echoed by other wrestlers as well. Once Flair had lost the WWE title and McMahon went with the New Generation, Flair was once again WCW bound.
With Hogan the new jewel in WCW's crown, Flair was again at a disadvantage. He lost to the Hulkster and was due to wrestle a retirement match. At the time Bischoff and the new top talent of WCW were not fans of Flair and this could have been the end of the Nature Boy. But Flair held the match hostage, refusing to perform until he had a secure, long contract. He was awarded with it only an hour before showtime.
Flair only wrestled one type of match in the ring, but he behind the scenes he truly was the dirtiest player in the game!
6 Shawn Michaels
Michaels could hypnotize audiences with his masterful performances, but his most important fan was Vince McMahon. Having the boss on his side meant his Kliq could bully the other wrestlers and Michaels could get away with murder.
The stories of burying other wrestlers are rampant. Bam Bam Bigelow is one of many that admitted to leaving the company because of it. Michaels' infamous 'lost smile' was the most public of his backstage moves. Although the wrestling world thanks him for the more-than consolation prize we received in the Austin-Hart classic at WM 13.
How about WM 14 and the rumors that he didn't want to put Austin over, prompting The Undertaker to threaten him physically if he didn't?
In a Sports Illustrated interview, Michaels himself admitted to the foul backstage work he was pulling at that time.
"My whole intention at WrestleMania XIV was to drop the belt to Steve, but I was going to make everybody sweat it out and make them think I wasn't... That's extremely unprofessional, but that's exactly who I was and what I was doing."
Couldn't have said it better myself.
5 Eric Bischoff
If you watch early WCW and especially the first few years of Nitro, it's clear that Bischoff was a mediocre broadcaster with poor wrestling knowledge. So it shocked the wrestling world that he leapfrogged the legendary Jim Ross for top spot in the company.
Anyone who can pull that off must be skilled in the fine art of corporate politics. J.J Dillon had plenty to say about what he called Sleazy E's 'creative resume'. Apparently Bischoff had used WCW's own employees as references for the position (seems normal) but then he immediately fired them upon his promotion (evil!). Dillon alleged this was done to prevent anyone from 'exposing' Bischoff.
Bischoff was so talented in this regard that he managed to get re-hired by WCW and eventually found work with a rival company (WWE) he did everything he could to disrespect and destroy.
Well done Sleazy E.
4 Vince Russo
Bro you got it all wrong!
Like a true politician, Russo is the spin master, able to explain away any mistakes and shift blame far, far away.
Without the absolute power of McMahon, he had to flex his political skills to get anything done in the chaos of WCW. Top guys like Hogan, Nash, and Goldberg had to be talked into losing rather than ordered. Like Bischoff and Dusty Rhodes before him, Russo had to constantly use 'Dusty finishes' and interference to prevent clean losses. Great for Hogan, but boring for fans who yearn for a decisive conclusion.
And if Russo could get himself rehired after putting the belt on himself and David Arquette, then he's fully earned a spot on our list.
3 Triple H
Most wrestlers have a goal of getting to the top of the wrestling world. But Triple H literally reached the top. Alongside his wife, he's going to replace Vince as the king of the mountain when McMahon passes, because let's face it, he's never retiring.
Levesque always had a great mind for the business and a willingness to take chances to get further. WCW offered him his first pro contract at two years at $50k per year. He showed an impressive amount of confidence when he rejected it, countering with a one-year offer in order to earn a significant raise instead. His reasoning to Bischoff was, "in a year, you'll either know I'm worth way more than $50,000 or you'll know I'm not worth s***." Awfully ballsy for a young buck in the cutthroat wrestling business.
His rise to the top of the WWE was made possible by two important decisions. Firstly, befriending Shawn Michaels and the Kliq led to D-X and the opportunity to replace Michaels after his injury. Secondly of course was that he married the Boss's daughter. With Shane out of the picture, Stephanie would be the heir apparent.
As a wrestling fan, I'm quite happy Levesque will be the successor. His NXT is the greatest thing the WWE has produced since the Attitude Era. If that's how Levesque wants to run a wrestling promotion than hallelujah!
2 Vince McMahon
It's been said that Vince McMahon loves confrontation; makes perfect sense considering the business he's in.
It's also been said that he liked to stir the pot backstage. By generating real-life animosity between wrestlers he sought to create a competitive environment that would drive performance and produce believable results in the ring. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart definitely had tension between them and it obviously fueled their promos and matches.
And you can't speak about those two without mentioning the Montreal Screwjob. Was there ever a more public showing of backstage politics?
Bret's book mentioned the multiple times he was manipulated and lied to by the Vince, and how he witnessed him do the same to others (they've since made up; though we could have done without the WM match).
You could argue that some of McMahon's methods are necessary. Wrestling is a cutthroat business after all.
But Vince will always have the biggest knife.
1 Hulk Hogan
We could do an entire list on the Hulkster who saved his best moves for outside of the ring.
Hogan was the literal face of the WWE during its first boom and rightfully deserved some backstage power. But the rumors of ducking talented wrestlers like Savage and Hart leave a bad taste in your mouth. Not to mention the increasingly absurd ways he would 'lose' a title (twin referees, exploding cameras). He also allegedly convinced McMahon to let him storm the ring at the end of WrestleMania 9 and force the ludicrous match with Yoko that further marginalized Hart.
Once Hogan scored his ridiculous 'creative control' contract with WCW though, it went to a whole new level. Sure Hogan turning heel was a big moment in history, but he needed the Outsiders far more than they needed him. Hogan's first nWo 'ads' proved it was an awkward fit. Nash and Hall were effortlessly cool, playing caricatures of themselves. Hogan on the other hand treated us to his horrific acting/improvising and yelling like it was 1984. But as Nash said, Hogan wasn't letting that "money train" take off without a first-class ticket.
WCW's only other good idea was the transformation of Sting and the incredible build up to Starrcade '97. The initial idea of a fast count and Bret Hart debuting to fight injustice might have worked. But with the referee giving a normal count, it only made Sting and Hart look incredibly weak and whiny. The rumor again is that Hogan worked his magic on the ref.
Russo (grain of salt please) said the Jarret/Hogan fiasco was a result of trying to get the belt off Hogan any way he could, With the worked shoot being the only idea Hogan would agree to. In his second WWE run Hogan still pulled off some beauties. He got a win against HBK before canceling the second match he was scheduled to lose. And he even beat Vince's son-in-law a couple of months after his return to capture the Undisputed title, just one month after Triple H had won it at WrestleMania.
In the ring, Hogan may have only had five moves and one match. But backstage, he was an absolute beast incarnate.
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