Some people say wrestling is in their blood. That's a great metaphor for someone who sacrifices their life for a sport that has zero guarantee of paying the bills or providing a future. For all of the wrestlers on this list, wrestling is literally in their blood! And that still doesn't guarantee a successful career.
It might seem quite helpful to have a famous father in the biz to give you a shot and a famous name to attract crowds, but nothing replaces talent. And just like calling fried soy 'vegetarian bacon', you end up disappointing people by billing yourself as 'David Flair'. It sounds great, but it's a VERY different product.
Some of the wrestlers on this list never stood a chance at matching what their fathers did. Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair for example are two of the all-time greats, and thousands of non-related wrestlers never matched up to them, so why would we expect their children to do any better? Dustin Rhodes had a hell of a career technically, though he was never as flashy or charismatic as his iconic father. Dustin was pushed by WCW very early and survived despite the odds. He did more than survive, putting in two decades of solid, if unspectacular work. To come to the end of a wrestling career as relatively unscathed as Dustin might actually be more impressive than being a 15-time World Champion.
After writing this list it seems like the amount of second generation wrestlers who excelled might actually be smaller. Curt Hennig comes to mind, and Bray Wyatt seems to have captured more imaginations than his dad's abdominal stretches ever did.
Maybe having a famous wrestling dad is actually a disadvantage? Maybe it's more fun to defy the family and become a wrestler rather than follow in your wrestling family's footsteps?
Whatever the case, let's take a look at the top 15 Wrestlers who failed to live up to their famous name.
15 Erik Watts
One of the many chapters in the wacky WCW history featured Cowboy Bill Watts at the helm. He was a controversial character to say the least, with none other than Paul Heyman recanting the anti-Semitic and bigoted language Watts would use.
His bigotry aside, Bill Watts enjoyed much success in the business and was even inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
But while in charge of WCW in 1992, he instituted many bizarre changes like removing the mats outside the ring and banning top-rope maneuvers. But many say that his worst offense was the undeserved push he gave to his son, Erik Watts.
Erik had just begun training and was pushed onto television and PPV far before he was ready. Just check out his dropkick-fail GIF for a taste of how bad it was.
14 Ted DiBiase Jr
The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase has long been considered one of the best to never win the WWE World Title. Sure he bought it off Andre for a spell, but that doesn't count. When he peaked he was firmly behind Hogan, Savage, Andre, and even Piper. But even without a title he left a memorable legacy of great matches and iconic gimmick.
His son drew a lot of praise from the internet crowd but couldn't reach the heights of his father.
Ironically, Ted Jr. was much more successful at becoming a 'million dollar man' AFTER leaving wrestling and becoming a successful entrepreneur.
13 Joe Hennig
His current moniker 'Curtis Axel' is a combined homage to his dad Curt Hennig, and Grandfather Larry 'The Axe' Hennig.
Larry partnered with Harley Race to win the AWA World Tag Team Championships, becoming the youngest ever Tag Champs at the time. They had a terrific run together as two tough heels with the nicknames 'handsome' and 'pretty boy'. A brutal in-ring knee injury knocked Larry out for a short time but he soon returned to wrestle as The Axe in the NWA and WWWF. He even won the tag belts again with his own son Curt!
Curt had a fantastic WWE career as Mr Perfect and wrestled under his own name in the WCW and TNA. He was extremely athletic, a wonderful showman, and dynamite technical wrestler. His bouts with Bret Hart are some of the best worked matches you'll ever see.
Joe has some incredibly huge shoes to fill and really hasn't come close. He's a consistent roster member but Hennig-or-not, there aren't many other wrestlers that have matched what Curt and Larry accomplished in their storied careers.
12 Brooke Hogan
Brooke played a small role in the Hogan/Orton WWE feud but got a lot more involved in TNA as GM of the Knockouts.
The Knockouts division was fairly small and hardly required a GM but 'Hogan knows best'. Her pappy had been pushing her reality and music 'career' pretty hard at that point so he was happy to get her another job on camera.
Brooke lacks her dad's charisma and wrestling success but she definitely lived up to the Hogan name when it came to wasting TNA's money!
11 Lanny Poffo
Randy Savage stubbornly told the WWE that he didn't want to be inducted into the Hall of Fame unless his father Angelo and Lanny were included.
Angelo absolutely deserved a spot. He was an incredible athlete, setting a world record for situps and contributed a great deal to the wrestling industry both in the ring and as a promoter.
Although his son Lanny would never reach the career heights of his father, he definitely exceeded his father's vertical heights as 'Leaping Lanny'. Lanny performed moonsaults and senton bombs in an era where it was still quite rare. His high-flying moveset and ability to generate heat with the audience kept him working, albeit in an enhancement or mid-card role.
Randy hooked Lanny up with a sweet WCW job from 1995-1999 as well. If you don't remember seeing him that's because even though they paid him for four years they didn't book him once!
10 Garett Bischoff
Eric shocked the industry when he went from lower-tier WCW broadcaster to everybody's boss in the 90s. He shocked even further when some of his ideas actually worked and WCW started kicking their chief rival WWE's butt for a year! Love him or hate him, Eric had a hell of a career.
Garett has greatly benefitted from his father's success and was given a job in TNA. For his lack of talent, he's been in the ring with some of the biggest names in wrestling: Ric Flair, Hogan, Kurt Angle, and even Samoa Joe!
He sure doesn't deserve it, but I'm sure he makes ol' Sleazy E proud.
9 Scott Putski
Ivan Putski had an incredible physique, even competing in the 1978 World's Strongest Man competition. But he wasn't just muscle.
In the WWWF he feuded with top stars SuperStar Billy Graham, Ivan Koloff, Bruiser Brody, and Jesse Ventura. He also tagged with Tito Santana to win the Tag Team Titles and PWI's Tag Team of the Year. Ivan was rewarded for those achievements with a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 1995.
Scott managed to win the GWF (Dallas) Tag Titles and even their North American Heavyweight Championship, which he held until he was fired (badass!).
He made a few middling appearances in the major promotions but had more success overseas. Perhaps his biggest moment in the WWE was teaming with his father against another father-son team Brian Christopher and Jerry Lawler.
8 Barry Orton
Like Lanny Poffo, Barry was not only overshadowed by his father Bob Orton Sr, but his own brother Bob Orton Jr, and now his nephew Randy Orton!
Part of the Barry "O" gimmick was to hold his arms above his head to attempt an 'O' sign. When you're a jobber, it's quite easy to consider an O a big fat zero, and the way he did it looked a lot more like a cobra (inspired the viper?).
Barry's biggest claim to fame was speaking out about allegations of sexual controversy in Vince McMahon's promotion. He spoke of being a 19-year-old in fear of losing his job, being pressured into homosexual acts.
He unfortunately worded the infamous car ride as "every 40 miles I got uncomfortable, and it got harder and harder to say no".
It's good to write these things down before we say them in front of cameras.
7 Jimmy Snuka Jr.
The original Jimmy Snuka was appropriately named both 'Superfly' and 'Phenom'. His flying splash from the top of a steel cage is a memorable moment today. He captured the hearts of the public as a strong babyface who could mesmerize in the ring. Roddy Piper bashing a coconut on his head was simultaneously racially insensitive and incredibly provocative television. It lit a huge fire under Snuka and the crowd, who wanted to see him bash Piper's face in.
The WWE traded on his name as part of The Legacy, but other than a WWE Tag Title win he couldn't really get his career going in the big time.
His biggest brush with greatness was at WrestleMania XXV where he was cast as a cameraman tasked with catching The Undertaker's suicide dive.
He failed at that as well.
6 Shawn Stasiak
Stan Stasiak was a former WWWF Heavyweight champion, winning the title in 1973. He only held it for nine days however, but had the honor of losing it to wrestling icon, Bruno Sammartino. A transitional champion for sure, but he still held more important gold than his son ever did.
Shawn was a staple of WCW 2000, wrestling alongside other doomed talent Sean O'Haire and Chuck Palumbo.
The three of them 'invading' the WWE was symbolic of why that storyline was an utter failure. Fans wanted Sting, Hogan, and Goldberg, not Shawn, Sean, and Chuck.
5 Jesse Hennig
The forgotten brother of Curt and son of Larry! Jesse had a very brief stint in wrestling but some footage exists of his feud with Lenny Lane in Northern Premier Wrestling in 1995.
He wore the same styled blue/black trunks that his brother wore and even copped some of the same moves, in particular launching his body into the air and projecting his feet out high before coming in for a knee drop on the arm.
A forgotten blip of the Hennig family tree.
4 Dustin/Cody Runnels
Dustin had a solid career, most notable for his ironman durability. The wrestling lifestyle can easily wear you down and spit you out, but Dustin seems to have gotten through two decades relatively unscathed. His younger brother Cody has also succeeded in the business and should have a decent mid-card career for years to come.
But how could they compare to the Natural?
Dusty could easily be considered in the all-time top ten, and his promo work in the top five. He's a legend that few others could compare to, whether they have his blood or not.
His sons are in better shape than he ever was but Dusty's charisma and fire were untouchable.
3 David Sammartino
Flair and two others (I won't mention) may have won a million World Titles between them, but that also meant they lost it just as many times. Bruno however, had staying power. Once he had that belt, it was almost impossible to get it off him. His first run with the WWWF Heavyweight Championship lasted from 1963-1971! When Ivan Koloff finally ended his reign, the announcer didn't dare hand him the belt for fear of inciting a riot. His second was a little shorter at four years and only ended because he fractured his neck (a year prior).
Bruno didn't want his son David to enter the tough world of wrestling, but still couldn't keep him away.
Wrestling promoters like McMahon used David for his last name and the chance to have his father appear on the card. When Bruno got involved he would be given main event status, but if David flew solo, he was strictly a jobber. This frustrated David and he would bounce around different promotions, finding the same story wherever he went. Bruno felt his name and legacy were suffering from this treatment.
2 George Gulas
Some wrestlers are so good they put a promotion on the map, but George was so bad that he destroyed a wrestling promotion and inadvertently caused the creation of Memphis Wrestling.
George's father Nick was a legendary manager and promoter in Tennessee, instrumental in starting Jerry Lawler's career. When Nick pushed his inexperienced son it was such a disaster that Jerry Jarrett left NWA Mid America Wrestling to form Memphis Wrestling.
But still Nick pushed on. He even paid Harley Race a huge sum of money to wrestle George to a 45-minute draw; he couldn't even buy a win!
Who would have thought we should be thanking George Gulas for all the great years of Memphis Wrestling?
1 David Flair
Many wrestling fans consider David's father Ric the greatest of all time, so how could anyone compare? David could have won 10 World Championships and he still wouldn't have measured up.
Watching David it's easy to assume that if it wasn't for his father, he would have never set foot in the ring. He initially wanted to be a state trooper, but ended up in WCW where they immediately rushed him into action. He wasn't even close to being ready and most of his appearances were cringeworthy. He stuck around through WCW's dying years and even had a stint in the WWE, but his very modest wrestling career still wouldn't have happened without his famous last name.
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