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 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.
Ironically, Martel got over better as a heel and suited him better. His "model" character probably would have gotten over decently, but as a face, he’d be seen as “ugh, this guy again” too much by today’s fans to be popular, which is unfortunate, as Martel was very talented inside the squared circle.
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.
Throw in the stories of his hard partying and womanizing and his own ego and the Nature Boy’s standing with today’s fans would be a bit lower than it was in his prime. He’d still get over but not as sterling a reputation thanks to fans knowing his behind the scenes moves, which would tarnish the famous legend a lot.
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.
That reputation carries today and thus Adams would be seen as “good worker, horrible human being” by today’s fandom to hurt any cheers he might get.
12 Jerry Lawler
His recent personal issues and arrest showcases how hard it might be for “the King” to get over well in today's world of professional wrestling. Lawler can be a great heel and tops on the mic but that might not be enough to get him over as well with today’s fans. His ring work relied too much on stalling and old-school moves like the piledriver and such. The key is that Lawler may have been a huge deal in Memphis but not as big elsewhere in the country, shown by his AWA championship run in the North. There’s also how Lawler made himself the only big deal in his territory, holding the CWA/USWA title constantly, always in the main event and that incredibly self-centered booking would just turn fans off. Even without his various off-screen problems, “the King” wouldn’t have as many subjects among today’s fandom.
11 Tommy Rich
In the list of most undeserving NWA champions of all time, Rich ranks as someone who is near the top, if not at the top of the list. His one-week reign as champion was pretty much politics to reward his promoter of the time as Rich just wasn’t a main event caliber guy. He was popular in the territories and his brutal feud with Buzz Sawyer is still raved about but he came off rather bland on the mic and his ring work was average at best. He would basically be like a Jack Swagger type, a decent mid-card guy pushed harder than he deserved and the fans turned off by this. Ironically, he was great as a heel (see his epic feud with Jerry Lawler) but as a face, Rich was a laid-back guy even by ‘80s standards and thus not ready to click with fans today.
10 Andre the Giant
This is tricky but still pretty notable. Even at the height of his fame, Andre was known better for his size than any actual in-ring ability. He was a novelty act for his massive size, doing battle royals and squash matches, little in actually carrying a good match and mostly against other “monster” guys. He could be slow and plodding, just chops and shots and hard to sell anything. That was at his best, which he most certainly was not by the latter half of the decade. Fans today rip on huge and slow guys, so you can easily imagine Andre getting the heat for that from them and complaints over ghastly matches and Andre looking sloppy in the ring. He was among the best acts of his time but sadly Andre wouldn’t have gotten over as well in the internet age as a slow monster when fans enjoy fast paced action.
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.
Their interviews might still get some praise but the dominance over better teams would be an issue. That’s without their reputation as bullies behind the scenes and drug problems (especially Hawk) that marred stuff. They were amazing in their time but the Road Warriors' act wouldn’t be the same today and even come off as bad to some fans preferring a better in-ring product.
8 George Steele
Once a monster heel back in the 1970s, Steele transformed in the ‘80s into a goofball who ran around with a green tongue and tore apart turnbuckles in the process. His feud with Randy Savage had him lusting over Elizabeth and the fans actually enjoyed his antics with dummy Mime among other outrageous stuff that made him the outlandish character that he is known by today. Nowadays, however, that wouldn’t go over nearly as well. You can almost hear the IWC blasting his matches as time wasters and the turnbuckle move being slammed as “ruining the match for everyone,” simply because he is doing something different from everyone else. Steele was a fun character for the cartoonish WWE of the 1980s but never a great worker and that would have been ripped by today’s fans as a waste of air time and going over better guys instead of being at the bottom of the card.
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.
There’s also issues of money demands and other stuff that’s gained him some harsh talk over the years, which again, is deserving. The Superfly was a terrific athlete with good fan heat but it’s unlikely he would have gained such heights of fan love today as he did in the ‘80s, simply because the wrestling world is in a different place.
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.
Not to mention his rather unattractive appearance which would get a lot of grousing as well, despite wrestlers like Kevin Owens thriving. Dusty was a great talent, better in the ring that given credit for but his bad and self-centered booking would have fans today screaming out and a huge backlash against him too high to overcome with the current crop of the WWE Universe.
5 Kerry Von Erich
This one is a bit tricky as Kerry had good skills and a great look. However, his drug issues are infamously well known and affected his work majorly, as his performances ended up taking a turn for the worse. His promos were often stilted and while he had gals cheering him on a lot, that wasn’t enough to really overcome his unfortunate struggles and issues. Kerry was a huge deal in Dallas but nationally, he suffered, as proven by his bad WWE run in the 1990s, when he rose the ranks to become the Interconteninetal champion. The big problem is how Kerry’s personal issues led to bad ring work (the famous story of Flair having to carry a drug-addled Kerry through a 60-minute match) and without father Fritz covering for him like in the 80s, Kerry’s popularity would not be as huge as it was in the 80s.
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.
His death has healed some wounds and let fans see him in a better light but the fact is so much of the Warrior’s act wouldn’t go over as well today, too much of a wild man to be as big a deal and the bad bouts would just add to that to make him nowhere near as popular as he was then.
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.
The man was a genius in the ring but hated backstage and that would have hurt him in the eyes of many fans who prefer guys be a bit professional.
2 Junkyard Dog
Even at the height of his amazing popularity, the Junkyard Dog was, frankly, just a terrible worker. Bill Watts knew this and covered for him with short matches and JYD’s great charisma managed to cover for the Mid-South area, despite his obvious shortcomings inside of the squared circle. Today, that same style would be blasted by fans as horrible and stiff, clearly not a guy capable of pulling off a good match without massively carried and blowing up early, despite his innate ability to attract an audience with his aforementioned charisma. Not helping would be his appetites for drugs and junk food that led to him getting more out of shape and rather unprofessional outside the ring. As great as JYD was, he really fit into a small market and not the national scene and, while he was popular in the mid-80s WWE, would have been even worse in today's business.
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.