The constant changes in the pro wrestling world usually lead to a different kind of wrestler excelling in each era. During the 80s, bodybuilding physiques and cheesy, over-the-top personalities were most successful with guys like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior at the top. The 90s saw the Attitude Era bring edgy characters for a more adult oriented audience, such as Stone Cold and The Rock. Currently, things have changed drastically. The WWE wrestlers to become main eventers, world champions and WrestleMania main eventers happen to be very good in-ring workers with enough ability to come off as a believable character in a world that's embracing more reality based stories.
Much of what makes today’s stars successful are things that held back wrestlers of the past. A lot of wrestlers today are not large in height or muscle definition, they wrestle tremendous matches and work a style more difficult on the body. These used to be the makings for talent that would have the ceiling of being a midcarder at best. There’s also the Divas Revolution of female wrestlers being taken more seriously with WWE wanting great matches from the divas in hopes of fans seeing them as equals to the male Superstars. While these things are great for the stars of today, it also makes us wonder about others who had similar strengths in the past but were held down.
Not all of these wrestlers are underrated. Many of them are, or will, be in the WWE Hall of Fame. Some had decent careers but never reached their potential. Others are completely irrelevant in the history of the WWE. The one thing they all share in common is that they would have been more successful in today’s WWE than their original tenures. In wrestling, the phrase “before his/her time” is used frequently to describe a wrestler who would have fit in better or made more money in a different era. We’re looking at stories of the 20 past wrestlers that would have excelled more in the current landscape of WWE.
20 Molly Holly
Molly Holly is one of the most underrated female wrestlers in WWE history. Unfortunately for Holly, she was with the company during a time where the female performers were eye candy first rather than being treated like athletes. Divas had to fit the look of a model to be appreciated by WWE and many of the fans. Trish Stratus, Torrie Wilson, Stacy Keibler and others were the ones pushed while Holly was often put in storylines insulting her looks or making her a fool. In today’s WWE, with the Divas Revolution going on, Holly would likely be treated with more respect and given more opportunities to succeed.
19 Paul London
Before Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Seth Rollins and others changed the mold of how a WWE main eventer was viewed, standout stars from the independent wrestling scene had little chance to move up the card in the company. Paul London is the prime example, as he was signed to a WWE deal following a stint as one of the early stars of ROH. London was undersized but extremely talented with his speed and size leading to great matches. Basically, London was what all the new stars getting signed to WWE looked and wrestled like. After his WWE departure, London exhibited his charismatic side and humorous personality which many didn’t realize he had in WWE. Paul London could have been a star if he came up in a time when WWE were more open-minded.
18 Drew Galloway
The most recent story of a failed WWE act that should have more successful is Drew Galloway. Pushed early into his WWE career, where he was known as Drew McIntyre, he flopped and was never given another chance in the company. Following his firing from WWE, Galloway began tearing it up on the indies and is now a main eventer in TNA. If Galloway had this experience and seasoning before signing with WWE, there’s no doubt he would have been a bigger deal. Between his impressive look and excellent wrestling talent, Galloway could be a WWE World Champion if the company signed him at this point and pushed him.
17 Mike Awesome
Similar to Drew Galloway, Mike Awesome was one of the rare wrestlers that could keep up with anyone in the ring despite his physically imposing size. Awesome was an ECW star that went on to have a less memorable run in WCW before WWE purchased the company. During the WWE vs. WCW invasion storyline, Awesome was rarely used and quickly out of the company. Awesome would have held a job for years in WWE if he debuted today. There’s a bigger importance on having good matches every week, regardless of one’s size, and someone of Awesome’s caliber would have been perfect in 2015.
16 Jerry Lynn
Of all the stars of the 90s to never get a break in WWE or WCW, Jerry Lynn was among the most talented. Lynn became a main eventer in ECW and his matches stand the test of time today, holding up better than any other star's in that company. Many of the stars in WWE today, such as WWE World Champion Seth Rollins, have admitted that Lynn’s body of work inspired their own careers. Lynn likely could never be a WWE main eventer but he could have been a very successful midcarder on Raw or a top star on NXT in today’s WWE.
15 Billy Kidman
Billy Kidman was one of the bright young stars in WCW that should have accomplished more in WWE. Kidman did some memorable work in cruiserweight matches with Tajiri and in the tag division as Rey Mysterio’s partner, but he quickly became irrelevant and forgotten. While he was never on the level of his WCW peers like Mysterio or Eddie Guerrero, Kidman was a top tier in-ring performer and worked the style that has become more appreciated today. Kidman would be tearing it up with Neville or Sami Zayn if he was entering WWE in his prime today. Heck, he may still be able to have good matches with them today.
Looking at WWE’s current fascination with signing standout international talent such as Finn Balor, Hideo Itami and Asuka, they have started to highlight strengths and hide flaws. For years, Japanese talent coming to WWE would have a hard time fitting in or getting a long run due to the language barrier. Tajiri was one of the most successful ones due to his charismatic personality and consistent work in the ring. As great as Itami can be, a wrestler like Tajiri would have been perfect for this opportunity. Tajiri had a tremendous personality and would have run with a similar opportunity.
13 Lance Storm
Lance Storm is known primarily for two things regarding his wrestling career. He was one of the best technical wrestlers in the industry and also one of the most boring personalities. Despite charisma and personality still being most important, many wrestlers have become successful in WWE today without having to be the funniest or most intense person in the room. Storm was always adored by his peers for being someone the locker room all wanted to work with and this would have been enough to make him a successful midcarder in the stratosphere of where guys like Neville, King Barrett and Stardust are.
12 Matt Sydal
With a very good career in WWE before a bitter ending with suspensions and injuries, Matt Sydal did well for himself as Evan Bourne. The high-flying superstar still never achieved his ceiling in the company. Sydal is an elite in-ring worker that could have been equal to Finn Balor or Sami Zayn in NXT. You can argue being a NXT main eventer is not as successful as what Sydal did as a consistent WWE midcarder. However, the NXT brand has become big enough to make their stars big deals in the wrestling world. It also gives the wrestler a better chance at succeeding when on the main roster and Sydal could have used that to build his stock before appearing on RAW.
Raven has been known for being one of the most intelligent wrestlers in the business but he never was able to turn that into superstardom in WWE. After an excellent run in ECW as the World Champion, Raven had a mediocre tenure in WCW and a failed run in WWE, with The Flock group not being utilized as well as it could have been as a heel faction. Looking at today’s WWE, The Wyatt Family are a very similar act and Bray Wyatt draws a lot of similarities to Raven. Bray Wyatt is not as good as Raven was as a promo or a worker, so Raven would have made this work much better than Wyatt has and could have created memorable moments with many of today’s stars.
10 2 Cold Scorpio
Whether you know him as 2 Cold Scorpio or Flash Funk, the man was one of the most athletically gifted talents in wrestling. Scorpio would pull off moves you didn’t know were possible at the time and had an endearing confidence that would round out his performances. Unfortunately for Scorpio, he was before his time as today’s crop of stars wrestle a very similar style and he would have been appreciated more if he broke in the business right now. Scorpio was actually just viewed as a guy who could do flips and cool moves rather than a great wrestler since wrestling was more closed-minded in the 90s. Hopefully the WWE Network library gives him the respect his legacy deserves.
Teaming with his best friend Edge, Christian will likely enter the Hall of Fame in the future but there was more on the table that he could have accomplished. For years, fans wondered why WWE didn’t push Christian harder as a singles act and the rumor was Vince McMahon didn’t like his look and had zero confidence in him as a main eventer. With unconventional wrestlers like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan becoming stars and changing the mold, there’s no doubt Christian could have been given more opportunities with the mindset changing. In his latter run with WWE, Christian was granted a couple of very short title reigns on SmackDown but he would have been used with more faith today as the game has changed.
8 Dean Malenko
Much like Lance Storm, Dean Malenko was an elite in-ring talent with very little personality making his WWE career short and uneventful. Malenko has been working as an agent with WWE for many years showcasing just how respected he is in the company. With the quality of promos declining in WWE following the retirements of guys like Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley, the ability to talk has become less important. When was the last time Sheamus or Neville cut a great promo? Malenko would have been looked as a bigger asset to the company by both fans and management today.
7 Owen Hart
Owen Hart was always one of the great workers in the WWE but was seen as a notch below Bret Hart. If the Hart brothers started their careers in WWE today, Owen would have passed Bret and become a bigger star. Whether it was due to his ability to engage in aerial moves or work his humorous real life personality into his character, Owen was definitely before his time. Bret has said recently that he sees a lot of Owen’s work in the spirit of Daniel Bryan and it’s an apt comparison. Kevin Owens uses the last name Owens as a wrestling name in tribute to Owen Hart and you can see some of Owen’s heel character in Kevin’s work.
6 William Regal
One of the most powerful people in WWE is William Regal as he plays a huge role in NXT and finding the future talent of the company. Triple H values him as one of the most intelligent minds in the company and that’s just one example of the respect others hold for Regal. As one of the most intense technical wrestlers the industry has seen, Regal was rarely used in a position to have great matches but that would be different today if he was in his prime. Daniel Bryan has modeled a lot of his career after his mentor Regal. WWE likes to act as if Shawn Michaels was the person that inspired Bryan but when you see Bryan’s success, it was also due to the influence of Regal.
5 Brian Kendrick
Another case of an independent wrestling star that signed with WWE just a couple of years too soon has to be Brian Kendrick. Between his superb wrestling skills and captivating personality, Kendrick would be a huge star in WWE if he debuted recently. His lack of size and wrestling style held Kendrick back from ever growing in the WWE or moving up the card. All of the things that harmed Kendrick’s standing in WWE are things that are encouraged and looked for in today's wrestlers. The company even believes in him enough to request he train their top prospect Eva Marie. Hopefully it’s not too late for Kendrick to get another run in WWE but he was definitely struck with bad luck and poor timing.
4 Mr. Perfect
Work rate and great matches have become more important in WWE today than it ever has before. All of the stars are known for having consistently great matches and very few performers in wrestling history did that as well as Mr. Perfect. It’s hard to say Perfect didn’t have a legendary run in WWE due to his legacy, but he was never a main eventer and played a role in very few memorable angles. Today, Perfect would have been a multiple time world champion and could have been in a WrestleMania main event or two.
3 Gail Kim
Gail Kim has gone on record as saying she strongly disliked both of her runs in WWE because she always felt disrespected. Kim carved out a reputation for herself as one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time in TNA. With WWE finally wanting to treat female wrestling as a respected art form, no one would have been more perfect to join the “Divas Revolution” than Gail Kim. Kim in her prime would be having "match of the year" candidates with Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch. Even at her current age, Kim could still be a huge asset to the company but that ship has likely sailed due to the bad blood.
2 Ricky Steamboat
In a time when work rate was not important and often laughed at, Ricky Steamboat still found a way to excel and become a wrestling star. Steamboat had a great midcard run with WWE and is most remembered for the WrestleMania 3 classic with Randy Savage. If he broke in the business during a time where his style was more valued, Steamboat would be second to none. Nothing and no one in today’s wrestling business would have been able to outshine Steamboat as a consistent elite in-ring performer with an inherent charisma. Imagine Ricky Steamboat in his prime having matches with John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins or many other active stars. It would have been a thing of beauty.
1 Brian Pillman
There’s no stronger case of a wrestler existing before his time than Brian Pillman. With a personality that blurred the lines between reality and script, Pillman was the original master of the worked shoot promo and came off more believable than guys who have used this concept recently, like CM Punk. Pillman was also a tremendous in-ring performer with the rare ability to mesh well with any other wrestler’s style and get the best results. With the extra emphasis on great wrestling matches as well as more reality driven storytelling world, Brian Pillman would have been a top tier main event superstar in the current WWE.