WWE Superstars inevitably have a legacy. There are too many eyes on the product for anyone to be forgotten completely. Moreover, the WWE Network has offered the largest, most accessible archive of wrestling footage ever, meaning even the most forgettable matches and moments will live on.
Not all legacies are creates equally, though. While some are justly based on a full body of work for all its highs and lows, others are defined by particularly great or especially bad outings. This article takes a look back at five times when a performance made a wrestler’s career and five times when it sabotaged an entire legacy.
10 Made A Career: Edge Vs. Mick Foley, WrestleMania 22
In 2006, Edge was at a crossroads. He was well established as an upper middle card guy, not yet bankable as a main eventer. He had cashed in the very first Money in the Bank, but it was unclear if that resulting cup of coffee with the WWE Championship would be the end of his time on top or just the beginning.
A feud with part time legend Mick Foley came across as a vote of confidence for the Rated R Superstar, but the resulting match would be telling. Edge-Foley wound up stealing the show highlighted by barbed wire spots and a flaming table that put Edge over as a more serious and violent star than he had been up to that point. His win—spearing Foley through the aforementioned flaming table—felt a lot like Edge leaping into his future. It’s further telling that he’d work world title matches at four out of the next five ‘Manias.
9 Ruined A Legacy: Scott Steiner Vs. Triple H, Royal Rumble 2003
Had Scott Steiner never returned to WWE after his early 1990s run, tag teaming with his brother Rick, his place in WWE history would be respectable, if a bit forgettable. He was one half of the top team of a short era—no better, no worse, and would inevitably be better remembered for his work in WCW, where he spent more time and rose to prominence as a singles performer.
Steiner returned to WWE, however, and spent the first two months of 2003 in a brutally bad feud with Triple H. The most memorable piece was a train wreck of a match at the Royal Rumble PPV. Steiner looked gassed by the late stretches of the long, dull bout, and Triple H wasn’t equipped to carry him to a passable finish. While hardcore fans will still remember Steiner better for his work in WCW before and his work with Impact Wrestling after, this match forever tarnished Big Poppa Pump’s WWE legacy.
8 Made A Career: CM Punk Vs. John Cena, Money In The Bank 2011
CM Punk rose to prominence on the indies, but looked to be “just another guy” in the sphere of WWE. Converting back to back Money in the Bank briefcases into world titles was a nice feather in his cap, but still not enough to make him the sort of talent who could ever headline a Hall of Fame class.
Punk was set to leave WWE in the summer of 2011, when the company dropped the ultimate kayfabe-reality muddling storyline in his lap. His electric “Pipe Bomb” promo on Raw marked a new high for his WWE tenure. His performance against John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 was the stuff of instant legend. Take away the crowd and surrounding circumstances, and the match itself may have only been a three star-ish affair. Add in one of the most raucous live audiences in wrestling history and heaps of intrigue, and Punk became a unique all time great that night.
7 Ruined A Legacy: Buff Bagwell Vs. Booker T, Raw 2001
In the latter days of WCW, Buff Bagwell came across as a guy who could do just fine for himself in WWE. He had a great look and a big personality to compensate for his uneven in ring skills. Put the right creative behind him, as WWE had a reputation for doing, and he might have been a big deal.
Bagwell got to main event his debut episode of Raw—an experiment in bringing WCW to the show, via Bagwell facing Booker T. The match was historically, catastrophically bad to the point that many accounts suggest Vince McMahon scrapped all of his original intentions around the WCW brand based on it. Based on this performance and backstage happenings, Bagwell would never wrestle on WWE television again.
6 Made A Career: Ricky Steamboat Vs. Randy Savage, WrestleMania 3
Ricky Steamboat’s work in the NWA Mid-Atlantic and WCW made him a wrestling legend who many pundits place as one of the best of all time. His work for WWE offers less to write home about. Steamboat was on and off the roster and peaked as an Intercontinental Champion—a respectable mark for a wrestler, but not exactly a high water mark.
However, when Steamboat won the Intercontinental Championship, he just so happened to do so in one of the greatest WWE matches of all time, and, of no lesser importance, in quite arguably the first great WrestleMania match, period. Steamboat vs. Randy Savage blew off a hot rivalry in a match which blended brawling, aerial tactics, and technical wrestling to absolutely brilliant effect. In so doing, the match largely defined Steamboat’s WWE legacy.
5 Ruined A Legacy: Jerry Lawler Vs. Michael Cole, WrestleMania 27
While Michael Cole’s WWE legacy will always be more about his commentary work than his wrestling, Jerry Lawler walks a line. In the context of WWE, he has spent more time at the broadcast table than in the ring, but he nonetheless did start a full time worker and continue to participate in matches across decades.
Yes, Lawler’s legacy as a wrestler will always be more about his time in Memphis than in WWE. Nonetheless, for all of the casual fans who only knew him in WWE, his WrestleMania program and match with Cole may wind up his highest profile, most watched work of all. That the match was so long, so bad, with such an unsatisfying conclusion will always place a black mark on the King’s record.
4 Made A Career: Ronda Rousey And Kurt Angle Vs. Triple H And Stephanie McMahon
Ronda Rousey was a proven commodity as an MMA fighter long before she signed with WWE. There were real questions about how she’d perform in a sports entertainment context, however.
Her debut match at WrestleMania 34 saw her teaming with a well-past-his prime Kurt Angle, against Triple H whose best days in the ring are well behind him, and Stephanie McMahon who’s hardly a proven wrestler herself.
The story of this match was Rousey’s shockingly smooth work, capitalizing on her real life credentials, but successfully translating them to the worked format. Her success in this match set up Rousey to become more than a special attraction, but the center of women’s wrestling in WWE for the full year to follow.
3 Ruined A Legacy: Diesel Vs. Mabel, SummerSlam 1995
For the year of 1995, Kevin Nash—billed as Diesel—faced the ugennenviable proposition of carrying the weight of WWE as the face of the company while, by his own account, fewer than a hundred matches into his professional wrestling career. Though Nash had size and charisma, and would develop into a reasonable worker in his style, he was not equipped for that role at that stage of his career.
Though Diesel would have reasonable matches against the likes of Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart during that run, he floundered against less game opponents. Mabel represented a low point. The big heel, in a King persona, genuinely outsized Big Daddy Cool, but neither was skilled enough in the ring to carry out a passable bout in the main event of the second biggest show of the year. Nash would go on to better things—especially in WCW—but his match came to embody his WWE Championship reign as a talent too green for the push he received.
2 Made A Career: Owen Hart Vs. Bret Hart, WrestleMania 10
WWE mostly squandered Owen Hart for years as a lower card or tag team wrestler. In 1994, he got his break though, in a feud with his brother Bret, including working the opening match at WrestleMania 10.
The brother vs. brother match was an instant classic. While the ladder match between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels from later in the show tends to be the more talked about encounter, the Harts put on the more technical, timeless match. Perhaps most importantly, in more than holding up his end of the bargain, Owen confirmed that he could work at the highest levels and earned himself main event booking for much of the year to follow. He’d never sink beneath upper mid-card status again.
1 Ruined A Legacy: Bray Wyatt Vs. Randy Orton, WrestleMania 33
Bray Wyatt is a skilled talker who can move well for a heavier wrestler. Perhaps most importantly, his cult leader persona set him up as an early NXT success story, as he completely reinvented himself in a compelling gimmick.
The bloom came off the rose as Wyatt meandered through the upper mid-card with little direction for much of his first four years on the main roster. However, in 2017, he got his shot on top, winning the WWE Championshp and carrying the belt into WrestleMania 33.
Wyatt would go on to an absolute embarrassment of a match opposite Randy Orton. The bout was slow and forgettable, but taken to the next level of terrible for WWE projecting disturbing images on the mat periodically, with the suggestion Wyatt had conjured these images to play mind games. It was the worst of a gimmick that WWE creative had handled unevenly, and the fact that it happened in a world title match at WreslteMania permanently tarnished Wyatt’s legacy.