Just as would any industry over a period of several decades, the professional wrestling landscape has dramatically changed since the 1970s and 1980s. The days of wrestlers working all over the United States via the territory system have since been replaced by only a handful of companies having openings where performers can realistically make livings. Up-and-coming wrestlers can attempt to break into World Wrestling Entertainment via the NXT developmental brand, and others can try to make their names in organizations such as Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, so long as TNA Wrestling exists.
While the WWE has recently been more open about the types of athletes and personalities that the company will accept into its own minor league system, that does not erase the reality that there is a large group of legendary wrestlers who would not make it through the company today for one reason or another. This includes a list of all-time great performers who have been accepted into wrestling Halls of Fame, men and women who helped shape the industry as it exists today and who also served as influences for a variety of the athletes who feature on shows such as Raw and SmackDown in 2015.
What those who watched Sting because a wrestling superstar as part of the National Wrestling Alliance and then World Championship Wrestling have to remember is that the former bodybuilder was a clunky worker who was not phenomenal on the microphone in the early stages of his career. It was not until his feud with Ric Flair that people within the industry and also fans began to realize that Sting could eventually be something special in the business. The hope would be that the WWE would have a similar amount of patience with such a green worker rather than give up on him too quickly.
19. Arn Anderson
The biggest reason that the “Enforcer” probably would not be given a realistic chance to make a name and fortune for himself in the pro wrestling world today? It is because Arn Anderson perpetually looked like he could be your older father or uncle even in the young days of his career. Anderson had the skills inside of the ring and on the microphone to make it in any organization back in the day, when looks were not the driving force for the majority of performers. In today’s WWE, however, Anderson would struggle to be more than enhancement talent because life is not always fair.
Massive wrestlers such as Yokozuna were not asked to do a whole lot inside of the ring during matches and in training sessions back in the 1990s. That would not, however, be the case today. The very first thing that a performer such as Yokozuna would have to do before even being considered as a project in the WWE would be to drop a large amount of weight, something that he was unable to do during his career and during the later stages of his life. Not only would he not make it today in the wrestling world. Yokozuna probably would not even get a look.
17. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
I am not willing to say with all certainty that there is no way that Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat would not have a chance to make it in the wrestling world today. Steamboat, who had his highest level of success while working a feud with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, would have been up against it in the modern business due to the fact that he was not always the best promo guy out there when not working with a performer who was one of the greatest in history. While Steamboat in his prime could certainly work midcard feuds in today’s business, it is not a guarantee that he would be given a real run in a main event feud.
16. Lex Luger
So maybe it is a stretch to say that Lex Luger was ever a “legendary” wrestler. Luger did have significant runs while working in multiple organizations, and he was front and center throughout much of the Monday Night Wars when the invasion angle involving the new World order was the hottest thing going in the business. Luger was never known for having five-star matches at any point of his career, and his promos were, at times, unintentionally funny. Considering his lack of development when working for national promotions, the WWE giving up on him early into his career is not unthinkable.
15. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
“The Million Dollar Man” character is one that was perfect for the cartoon-esque WWE back in the 1980s. Looking at the current rosters that are featured on Raw, SmackDown and the NXT brand, Ted DiBiase would probably have to utilize a completely different gimmick in order to have even a shot to make it today. I, for one, am glad that DiBiase is a veteran of the business, as the vignettes and the promos that the “Million Dollar Man” cut when I was growing up as a youngster helped make me the wrestling fan that I am now.
14. Abdullah the Butcher
Abdullah the Butcher is but one of several wrestlers who would probably find himself doomed in today’s industry because of one phrase: Hardcore legend. Not all fans may like to see the changes that have come to the business over the past decade, but they are in denial if they believe that the WWE is the only company out there limiting unprotected chair shots and also blading/use of blood during matches. His runs in the business would not have had a chance in today’s wrestling climate without making noteworthy changes to his gimmick.
13. Bob Backlund
Think back to the early pro wrestling days of Bob Backlund. Does anything about that individual stand out in comparison to the young athletes working through NXT, the WWE and other organizations that exist today? It is likely, when you review his first run in the old World Wide Wrestling Federation, that Backlund would have needed at least some work in his promos unless he were to find that heel persona that he utilized when feuding with Bret Hart in the 1990s. Then again, maybe the modern version of Arnold Skaaland would be there to work together with Backlund in 2015.
12. Jerry “The King” Lawler
It is difficult to imagine Jerry “The King” Lawler making it up the ladder in the pro wrestling industry any other way than through the Memphis region. Lawler has, over the past few decades, proven himself capable of drawing attention at a national level, either while feuding with Bret “Hitman” Hart or as a wrestling commentator. He got those gigs largely because of what he had achieved in the 1970s and 1980s. Without that history and that resume, Lawler could have gotten lost in the shuffle as just an average performer in today’s NXT development territory.
11. Big Show
Say whatever you will about Big Show. He has been working for big-time promotions for two decades, and he has assured himself a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame when he is finished working as an active in-ring performer. Go back to his early days with the company after he jumped ship from World Championship Wrestling, when he was deemed to be so out of shape that he was sent down to Ohio Valley Wrestling. Today’s WWE may instead have decided that a project such as Big Show would not be worth the trouble considering his limited in-ring abilities.
10. Andre The Giant
Where you would put Andre The Giant on this list, if at all, could be determined by what you mean by the term “make it.” Would Andre be welcomed to try out for the WWE considering his unique look and his size? Probably. Is it possible that he would have been treated more like the Great Khali than the legendary performer that he was back in his days atop main even cards? Very much so. Add in the fact that there is no Bobby “The Brain” Heenan working to serve as Andre’s mouthpiece in 2015, and his chances of making it in the WWE today decrease even more.
9. Mick Foley
Assume, for the purposes of this piece, that the resume had by Mick Foley all the way back in 1993 would be similar to that of a performer of the same age trying to make it in the WWE today. With the company’s necessary changes to its “Wellness Policy” and the tests that would-be workers have to endure in order to even get into the door, Foley being rejected by WWE in 2015 is not only logical. It is almost a certainty. The Hardcore Icon was instead the ideal wrestler to be there to carry the ball during a portion of the Attitude Era, and Foley was one of the more beloved figures of that generation.
8. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
What one has to remember with Jake “The Snake” Roberts is that the legendary performer struggled to defeat personal demons even during his first ever WWE run. The current-day promotion would likely pass entirely on an individual with such problems, but Roberts may not have managed to even crack onto the WWE main roster today had he had such affairs in order. While he was a great talker, Roberts was not known for recreating the wheel with his work inside of the ring. Would he have been given a fair shake in today’s wrestling environment? Be glad we don’t have to find out.
7. The Ultimate Warrior
The WWE still loves to hire muscle-head performers – Ryback is just one example – but imagine a situation where those running the NXT promo classes would have to try to tame The Ultimate Warrior on a daily basis. Remember, also, that Warrior would also get blown up during matches, sometimes because of his memorable sprint to the ring that would precede his matches. The level that Warrior would have gotten on the nerves of those trying to make him into a performer right for 2015 WWE television would likely be the determining factor in whether or not he would make it in the company today.
6. Sensational Sherri
Sherri was a performer who was able to wear multiple hats out in front of audiences and also behind the scenes. In an era in which managers have been taken for granted by the WWE, Sherri would instead have to attempt to crack onto the main WWE roster against the likes of former/current fitness models, personal trainers and beauty pageant participants. Pro wrestling fans never having the opportunity to watch Sherri operate as a heel performer would have been a shame, so it is probably for the best that she made her way into the industry when she did rather than in 2015.
5. Rey Mysterio
Is it really that difficult to imagine that Rey Mysterio wouldn’t make it in the WWE today? Fans who followed Mysterio during his days in World Championship Wrestling may remember that Rey Jr. put on quite a bit of muscle from the dying days of that organization up through his debut on WWE television. Had Mysterio been asked to do the same in the early days of his wrestling career, it is likely that his body, most notably his knees and his joints, would have broken down faster than they did over the past decade. That would have been a waste of a tremendous talent.
4. Larry Zbyszko
It is possible that the “Living Legend” could have caught on in a promotion such as the WWE today? Perhaps as a manager. The undersized Zbyszko, who was one of the better talkers of his day,s did not possess the athleticism and workrate had by current-day workers such as Daniel Bryan and Finn Balor, however, and thus it is not a stretch to suggest that he would have struggled to make it off of the NXT brand as anything other than a third-rate performer on shows such as SmackDown. It is a good thing Zbyszko broke into the industry when he did, as fans were treated to the feud involving the Hall of Famer and Bruno Sammartino.
3. The Undertaker
What you have to remember about the man who eventually became the legendary Undertaker character while working under the WWE umbrella is that Mark Calaway was, for lack of a better description, merely another big guy attempting to make it in the industry before the “Deadman” gimmick was created. He was not all that special on the microphone, and his in-ring work was not all that different from what NXT fans are used to seeing from the likes of Baron Corbin. For all we know, Calaway would have pursued a career as a mixed martial artist had he come up through the ranks in this day and age.
2. Dusty Rhodes
Imagine, if you will, a man with the body and the charisma had by “The American Dream” attempting to break through the NXT system of physical training and promo classes that such workers currently have to endure. Odds are that Dusty Rhodes would not even crack onto an edition of the WWE Network program let alone make it all the way to the main roster. Rhodes was a once-in-a-generation performer who broke many trends, but he should also serve as a reminder to every promoter that not all world champions and future legendary wrestlers are cut out of the same mold.
1. Ric Flair
Fate and fortune sometimes smile on an individual and on an entire industry. Ric Flair was not, in his early days in the business, an elite athlete when compared with those in the NXT brand today. He did not fly off of the top rope, he did not possess top-tier strength, and he did not have what some scouts would call a unique look. Add in that Flair needed some time before he evolved into his “Nature Boy” persona, and it is not at all unrealistic to assume that the man perceived by many to be the greatest wrestler in history would have struggled to make it in the industry today.
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