What is “it?” That is the question that wrestling promoters have struggled for years to properly figure out. Wrestling is filled with guys who had the skills, the look and more to succeed and yet lacked that one ingredient truly needed to get over. It’s hard to describe, it’s the same factor that pushes a certain actor or musician to the top of their field as well. It isn’t just how good they can be in the ring or on the mic, it’s an additional bit, one that can truly push someone up and connect to the fans. Some are able to have it from the start while others take a bit longer to click but when you have it, you can use it big time to succeed.
It’s not something that can be taught and (as far too many promoters over the years have learned the hard way) not something that can be pushed if the guy doesn’t possess it. The WWE is still trying to figure out which of their young stars has the it factor, the guy who will succeed John Cena as the company's next top face. It comes from within, a heat and desire to succeed and grow do as well as you can. As the old saying goes, the best wrestling personas are just the real guy cranked up to 11 but even guys saddled with goofy gimmicks are able to rise well because of that factor. Some guys may think they have it but don’t (Jeff Jarrett comes to mind) while others are just able to use it amazingly well. Another recent guy who seemingly had all the tools but could never quite capture the audience's hearts was Alberto Del Rio. Good looks, great worker in the ring, but fans just never were fully invested in him.
It’s not surprising that a list of guys with the “it factor” include the biggest stars in wrestling as when you have “it,” you can do damn well in the business. There are some who have many shortcomings, but when they have "it" they can still make themselves big stars. Here are 20 workers who just possessed that certain something that elevates a regular star into something special and did great with it.
20 Jake Roberts
Maybe not the same mega-star as others on this list, that’s true. But when you talk about someone with that certain something to take off with fans, the Snake has to come to mind. He was fast in the ring, quite skilled and able to handle himself with big matches. But his promo work was where Roberts shined, as a Jake promo was unlike anything else. His whispering, his intelligent talk, he carried some inner darkness of himself in his words, making them sound profound if sinister and were just captivating. When Roberts talked, you had to listen, even if much of his stuff (like on The Snake Pit) went over the heads of younger audiences.
Adam Copeland loved wrestling since he was a kid and that love sparked him for his career. His early days showcased a good drive and great look, the fans responding to him right off with his slick hair and trenchcoat. When he and Christian took off as a team, Edge was clearly the bigger guy, connecting more with the fans and his spear highlighting a good repertoire.
18 The Road Warriors
Modern fans don’t understand how much the Road Warriors changed the game. When they burst on the scene, they were truly new and unique with the face paint, mohawks and leather outfits, unlike anything seen before. They proved it by destroying anyone in their path, no-selling offense and then cutting loose with loud promos threatening massive pain on anyone who got in their way.
17 Eddie Guerrero
With wresting being the family business, Eddie was destined for great things but really managed to take it to a level most wouldn’t have expected. At first, it was just his in-ring skills that wowed with technical work and high-flying but he soon added a slightly sleazy heel demeanor to get him more over in WCW. His personal demons held him back for a bit but when he emerged, he took off better with his “Lie, Cheat, Steal” persona that pushed him to stardom more.
Anyone else trying to do the “frame a guy who a chair shot” bit would have been scoffed at but when Eddie did it, it actually worked as fans bought it with his joking persona. At the same time, he became a hero to his Latino audiences and they went wild when he won the WWE title.
16 Kurt Angle
It wasn’t a surprise that Angle would take to wrestling well with his Olympic past. What was surprising was how quickly Kurt was able to capture the performance aspects, brilliantly selling himself as an egotist who could back it up in the ring and act like he was a beloved hero when the fans couldn’t stand him. His promos got better as he went along, rising high as a multiple champion in WWE and he truly improved, both as face and heel with a great mix of his arrogance and egotism pushing his performance along.
15 Brock Lesnar
Many have been surprised at how quickly Brock Lesnar was given the push in WWE to champion and headliners but there was good reason for that. From the beginning, this guy had the look of a true star in every way imaginable. It wasn’t just that he was built like a monster but he backed it up with real wrestling skills and even able to launch off the ropes if need be. He was set up well as an unstoppable monster but the fans believed it as he just carried himself with the personality of someone who knew he was the best and lived up to that trope over and over.
14 Roddy Piper
Piper played by his own rules no matter what and that was what made him a star. A good worker, it was his promos that got the fans going on his side as he talked trash to anyone, no matter how large and special, from a jobber to Hulk Hogan himself and unafraid of pushing boundaries like smashing Jimmy Snuka with a coconut. The man was on fire so much when he spoke that he sucked you in, adding to his wrestling and helping WWE take over big time with the “Rock n Wrestling Connection” years.
13 CM Punk
It was the edge that got you. A guy with greasy hair and tattoos but promoting a “straight” persona, who looked a brawler but truly a technical wizard. In ROH, Punk just seemed destined for bigger things and you were supportive of him big time during it. In WWE, he got his chance and even when seemingly held back, that personality got him a huge fandom that carried him to reigns as champion and constant chants, even as a heel.
12 Bret Hart
It was in his blood, really. The Harts were always skilled at wrestling and Stu passed that on to his kids. While Bret took a bit longer to really come into his own, his brilliant ring skills were on display in the Hart Foundation and that helped him in his singles run as IC champion. He wasn’t well-muscled or a big guy but Bret’s skills and ability to tell a story in the ring were much better than any of the wild characters running around WWE at the time and no wonder he got the big title to run with. The fans essentially choosing him over Lex Luger was a great example as one guy having the it factor and one who didn't, despite Bret not having the better look of the two.
11 Randy Savage
Unlike many others, Savage had the goods early on. In Portland and Memphis, he showed off an intense fighting style alongside promos so different than others, captivating audiences with his talk and able to plan matches out in advance to utilize the push of fans. In WWE he just became bigger with his stunning flying elbow, robes and Miss Elizabeth making him stand out from the pack, his runs as IC and WWE champion always great to watch as fans just loved seeing him take it to anyone, face or heel.
10 Dusty Rhodes
He’s been criticized for his own self-styled booking but the “American Dream” more than had that special quality to get the fans going. His ring work was much better than he got credit for, able to handle Flair and others in long matches and carry himself well to make a comeback as the fans cheered. His promos were always fantastic, talking wild with a lisp and coming off truly as a “common man made good,” a motif that became box office gold.
9 Triple H
8 Shawn Michaels
It took a bit longer for Shawn to get his persona out there after his work with the Rockers. But when he turned heel as a singles performer, he suddenly took off nicely, his arrogant showboating masking his terrific skills which just got better as he went on. As a face, fans responded well and his time as WWE champion showed he could handle the pressures of things and always out to entertain people no matter what. That was shown by his work with DX, reveling in the fan heat he got for it and pushing the new edge for WWE in a new era.
7 The Undertaker
Saddled with one of the craziest gimmicks of all time (an undead zombie guy in funeral clothes), The Undertaker managed to make it work. When he debuted at the 1990 Survivor Series, fans were truly taken aback by his presence and aura, something about him that just seemed so different than other WWE stars of the time. He kept it up with his streak of dominant victories, and fans responded, turning him from heel to face. The Undertaker was just amazing carrying it all, taking on every monster, selling the “supernatural” antics well and no matter what, fans responded with that terrific pops whenever that gong sounded.
6 John Cena
Love him or hate him, Cena has proven his many detractors wrong in how well he can hold a crowd and handle the pressures of being the face of the company. He showed his great stuff in OVW with a fun promo style, rough in the ring but improving. It took longer to take off in WWE, but the instant he hit upon the “hip hop” gimmick, the fans responded to him. It sparked his rise to multiple champion, headlining PPVs, killing promos and keeping it all up with great skill.
When he burst onto the scene, Sting was just exploding with so much charisma and skill that promoters didn’t know what to do with him. He had an amazing look, quite handsome with blond hair and face paint but backed it up with great ring ability and the fans just responded in droves. Kids loved to paint their faces like their hero, men cheered him, ladies swooned over him and he sold tickets big time.
4 Ric Flair
Even from his rookie days, Flair had not just amazing in-ring skill but also a terrific presence with the fans, cocky and arrogant and that made him well liked. As his fame grew as NWA champion, Flair played up to being the flashy playboy, always coming out in fine suits and talking about the terrific lifestyle he led and you believed it. You totally bought this guy hanging with gorgeous women and partying constantly and still be able to do a 60-minute house show match and he was just smooth enough to make folks think he could lose at any time and thus they wanted to pay to watch.
3 Steve Austin
From the start, Austin had it. Even in his rookie year of 1990, he showed a great flash and understanding of the business with his ring work and instantly good on the mic. It got better in WCW as “Stunning” Steve, a great heel worker especially when he and Brian Pillman became tag team champions. ECW just led to more as he was able to truly cut loose on the mic and click with promos.
2 The Rock
They tried to push him as a “blue chipper,” a clean-cut rookie babyface and the fans hated him. Despite his talent, Rocky Maivia was doomed to be booed out of the ring and ignored in promos. That drove him when he transformed into The Rock, pushing himself hard as an arrogant jerk…and this made the fans get behind him. On the mic, he soon had no equal, the fans chanting along to every catchphrase, cheering his insults of other wrestlers, laughing at his antics and he had crowds in the palm of his hand.
1 Hulk Hogan
Say what you will about his personality or self-centered nature but even his harshest critics cannot deny Hulk Hogan possesses “it” in spades. He always had a great look with his California tan and muscles but it was more than just another muscleman. In his prime, no one could connect with crowds like Hogan did, that was clear when he turned face and more and more began responding to him. It carried to the WWE when he won the title and exploded into a level of stardom no one could have dreamed of. He had entire arenas behind him, backing his every single move, cheering him, groaning and frightened when he was losing and then howling at his comeback. It was amazing to watch as he celebrated with the crowds in victory and led wrestling to new heights.
It was neutered at first in WCW but when he turned heel to form the New World Order, it sparked him back to prominence, that same command of crowds now pulling them as a bad guy and led the company to its greatest heights. Even in TNA, Hogan still had that aura that made you want to watch no matter what and kept things going. No matter what, no one has been able to showcase the “it” like Hogan has and that is why he remains one of the greatest in the business no matter what.
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