The 1980s were a different time for the wrestling business. Kayfabe was still in charge so wrestlers rarely broke character and fans bought the illusion a lot more. More importantly, the internet didn’t exist in the capacity it does today, so fans didn’t have the access to the backstage reports and interviews to show what workers were really like. The guys we saw on screen we assumed were for real and most fans totally bought the illusion. That allowed plenty of guys to be heroes when in reality, they were absolute jerks or worse. That's not what this article is about though. This is all about fans being more aware of the business and more knowledgeable in evaluating how good a wrestler really is.
Fan tastes today have changed and what got over in the ‘80s might not today. Even those who remained major stars would face a backlash not unlike that to John Cena or Roman Reigns. The mega-pushes of the past would go over worse with fans today who also prefer better ring work over the cartoonish sloppiness of the past. The truth is, today’s fandom would react a lot differently to the guys of yesteryear and not in a good way. Here are 15 guys loved in the 1980s who the fans today would be ranting about.
15 15. Rick Martel
Martel seemed great as a babyface, possessing good looks and good work in the ring but not quite what one would call massive main event star. His run as AWA Champion showed he wasn’t on the level of Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan and he came off rather bland in interviews. He was better with the Can-Am Connection and Strike Force in the AWA, popular with crowds but just not a guy who could set today’s fandom on fire. He had his own problems backstage and you can see fans ripping him on the break-up with Tom Zenk and that adding to his bad heat.
14 14. Ric Flair
On the one hand, Flair would still be widely enjoyed for his fantastic promos and his great ring work, a terrific heel and amazing champion. However, the tendency of Flair to work pretty much the exact same match all the time would aggravate some fans. Moreover is the fact that Flair could be just as selfish in keeping his spot and playing politics as Hogan or Dusty, refusing to put over guys like Luger when the fans were hot for him and maintaining his spot at the main event and the title above all else.
13 13. Chris Adams
In World Class, Adams was a huge deal, the British worker taking off nicely with good ring work and the fans were wild for him in feuds with Jimmy Garvin and others. Fans today might appreciate that work but it would be overwhelmed by the fact that “The Gentleman” was anything but the name of his character outside of the ring. Stories abound of his drug issues and moments like striking a flight attendant and thus earning a prison stay were just some of the things that came out. Plus, his tendency to get into backstage fights and openly rip off guys at his training school and fellow workers alike earned him a bad reputation that caught up to him in the end with a brutal death.
12 12. Jerry Lawler
11 11. Tommy Rich
10 10. Andre the Giant
9 9. The Road Warriors
The Road Warriors changed the game dramatically with their fantastic look, their promos, their attacks on so many guys and amping up tag team wrestling as a whole. It had never been seen before and thus made an impact as something truly great. For today’s fans, that wouldn’t be as effective. The no-selling would be a major issue and the Road Warriors frankly were just muscle guys, not particularly great workers and thus would clash with the workrate freaks who’d prefer much better technical teams going over.
8 8. George Steele
7 7. Jimmy Snuka
He may still have gotten respect for his power in the ring, especially those epic high-flying moves that he was doing that was before his time. But his infamous temper would have gotten him bad blood with plenty of talk behind the scenes on how he shoved guys down and wanted to go over a lot more than he deserved. That, of course, is without that murder charge and the rumors of abuse of women that have followed him around that would stain his reputation far too much, as it should.
6 6. Dusty Rhodes
This selection is a pretty easy choice. Yes, Dusty had incredible charisma, his ability to hold a crowd was terrific and top notch with many of his matches. But his self-centered booking was going to cause a huge backlash as he could make HHH at his worst look humble. Not only did Dusty constantly go over younger, better guys but he often made sure practically every major program revolved around him and even guys not in feuds with him talked of how great a guy Dusty was.
5 5. Kerry Von Erich
4 4. The Ultimate Warrior
The Warrior's reputation today is hardly stellar, despite the WWE trying to portray him in a different light nowadays. He was monster over when he broke out as this wild man but so many of his antics wouldn’t go over well today. The ultra-short matches due to how incredibly blown up he was early on, not to mention the truly insane promos, would go over poorly. His behavior behind the scenes wasn’t popular either, making himself a jerk so much of the time and egotistical to the extreme.
3 3. Dynamite Kid
Bret Hart ably described Dynamite as “the Ty Cobb of wrestling.” A fantastic athlete in the ring, Dynamite was also one of the most ruthless S.O.B's outside of it, as he was known to get into a real life fight from time to time. His selfish nature and not caring about hurting guys in the ring for real would obviously be against him but even bigger would be his drug use and the stories of his “pranks” that bordered on criminal behavior. True, work rate freaks would go wild over his stuff in the ring but Dynamite’s attitude would lead to very harsh criticism and that would form a massive online backlash against him, something that could hurt someone's stance in the company in this day and age.
2 2. Junkyard Dog
1 1. Hulk Hogan
Yes, like many, Hogan’s charisma would carry him over and still get cheers. But Hogan today would be like Joh Cena, the on-screen hero fans on the internet constantly complain about. But unlike Cena, who tends to put on great matches inside of the ring despite his so-so ability, Hogan wouldn't have been able to keep up with the young stars of today's WWE. The mega-pushes, the need to go over everyone he could, always looking the better, holding the title for years, those are things fans today would hate. That’s without getting into Hogan’s massive ego and abuse outside the ring as you can imagine blogs writing about his refusals to job and holding out for more money.
Put it all together and it’s pretty obvious that Hogan’s attitude would be leading him to be among the most disliked of today’s workers rather than the fantastic mega-star who helped put wrestling on the mainstream map.
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