WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere Part VI: Factions Greater Than One

Factions (or stables, depending on how long you have been a wrestling fan) used to very commonplace in wrestling and were quite effective at generating heat from fans while building up babyface to be white hot. In the territory days, groups like The Fabulous Freebirds would ride into town, declare their distaste for the local crowd, and proceed to run roughshod over the promotion’s finest babyface, and seem nearly unbeatable along the way.

One of the most famous faction battles involved The Freebirds facing off against the Von Erich family in World Class Championship Wrestling, where the cocky rock and rollers from Georgia waged a years-long battle against the wholesome, All-American boys from Dallas. These type of factional matchups boil wrestling down to it’s most basic and best characteristics: good guys banding together to beat back the bad guys. while whipping the crowd into a frenzy.

In the WWE, factions have been kept to a minimum since the end of the Attitude Era, and most of the notable factions that managed to pop up were heel factions.  In 2016, The Authority, The Wyatt Family, and The League of Nations all disbanded and the WWE has yet to debut any new factions in 2017 on the main roster (sAniTy of NXT being the notable exception). It has been reported that Vince McMahon has soured on factions and is very resistant to the idea of introducing any new factions.

However, with the roster as deep as it has ever been, introducing factions would allow the WWE to bring along new talent and get them over with the fans without having to carve out weekly in-ring time for them. This would allow talent to “get the rub” and still be brought along slowly without overexposing them, similar to how the then-WWF built up Chyna by sticking her with Degeneration X and brought along Randy Orton and Batista by putting them in Evolution.

Key in the development of these factions is to make sure that the members personalities mesh and are complimentary. The faction should have enough members to hold every major title as well (World/Universal, IC/US, Tag Team) and should have at least one female superstar. Factions cannot also only involve heels. There must be babyface factions to combat the heels. Also, not every superstar on the roster should be in a faction. With all that in mind, here are 6 factions that I believe should be introduced by WWE and why they would be hugely successful, starting with the heel factions.

The Samoan Empire (Heel)

Roman Reigns

Samoa Joe

The Usos

Nia Jax

Bankroll: The Rock

The WWE has a long history of featuring tough Samoan performers, many of which come from the same bloodline. Unfortunately, many of these performers had gimmicks associated with the old school (not to mention offensive) idea that native islanders are unsophisticated savages. That wouldn’t be a problem for these performers, all of which are good on the mic and look good in a suit while beating their opponents to bits. The group itself can be “bankrolled” by The Rock (who is cousin to all of the wrestlers in the group, except Samoa Joe) and finally allow Roman Reigns to unleash the monster heel inside. Reigns would be freed to be as smug as he’d like while proclaiming his family’s superiority over all others. Nia Jax would also benefit from this in that she would be associated with others whose stature and strength are similar to hers, instead of her just being the giant in the current Women’s division.

The Chosen (Heel)

Seth Rollins

Kevin Owens

Charlotte Flair

Neville

Pete Dunne

Big Cass

The Revival

This group would fill the void left by The Authority, in that all of these performers were signed by Triple H and came through NXT. This fact alone would afford them the ability to be as cocky and insulting as they would want to be, both to other superstars and the WWE Universe. Add the backing of Stephanie McMahon and you have a group that not only is talented enough to win every title on the roster but bold enough to keep them by any means necessary. With all of the egos involved, there could be a constantly simmering undercurrent regarding who is really in charge of the group, making for a secondary subplot that could provide added intrigue.

Balor Club (Heel)

Finn Balor

AJ Styles

The Club

Becky Lynch

Hideo Itami

If you’ve been reading this, you probably are wondering why I hadn’t already listed Balor Club, as it seems like the biggest “DUH!” possible. In fact, it is. Putting together these former members of NJPW’s Bullet Club seems like it should have already happened in the actual WWE for as long as it has been teased, so we aren’t going to waste our time here. Balor, Styles, Gallows, and Anderson were some of Japan’s best heels, working a style that was equal parts exhilarating and traditional Japanese strong style. Adding Becky Lynch and Hideo Itami, two performers with loads of talent and experience, gives Balor Club the potential to rule all WWE’s divisions like Bullet Club never could.

And now the babyface factions…

The Fringe (Babyface)

Dean Ambrose

Sami Zayn

Asuka

Akira Tozawa

Rhyno and Heath Slater

Composed of some of the WWE Universe’s most unique characters, this group has the potential to be the biggest breakout stable. Not only that, but this group could have find itself feuding with members of multiple other factions at once. The unpredictable, unhinged superstars in this group may not employ the most conventional tactics inside and outside the ring, but are nonetheless endlessly entertaining performers capable of telling compelling stories. All of these performers are good at selling a good beating, which make for compelling comebacks.

Team Angle (babyface)

Kurt Angle (Manager)

Dolph Ziggler

Cesaro

American Alpha

Tony Nese

Natalya

This stable features some of the best in ring technicians in the WWE, many of which have extensive amateur wrestling experience, and is led by a WWE Hall of Famer known for the same. Each member possesses the skills necessary to easily outwrestle any opponent, this group could also rely on excellent conditioning to turn any match into a clinic. This aspect of the group also would benefit their opponents, as beating any member of this team would stand as a showcase of the heel’s skill as well, while protect Team Angle from taking what might seem like bad losses. Team Angle would offer a showcase of traditional wrestling for those hardcore fans who tune in looking for it while providing new fans with entertaining, action filled matches.

Cenation (babyface)

John Cena (Part-time)

The New Day

Bayley

Enzo Amore

Kalisto

Kassius Ohno

The final faction would be the most kid and family friendly: Cenation. Led by John Cena (who at this point is a part time worker), this group would be composed of performers who best embody Cena’s family friendly values. No tag team is more entertaining than The New Day, and this alliance would allow them to continue to entertain fans in the same ways as they currently do. The same can be said for Bayley, whose character traits most resemble John Cena. Being associated with Cena would cement this. Kassius Ohno has all the personality and acumen to be the lovable enforcer of the group and Kalisto can continue to fly high and sell masks to kids, a la Rey Mysterio. Finally, with Cena being part time, Enzo would assume the role of clever mouthpiece for the group, all while possessing the ability to take a good beating in order to whip fans into a frenzy.

These factions could grow interest in new and old performers alike, while taking the WWE in new (old) directions. If you have better ideas for factions, let me know in the comments. If you would like to read parts 1-5 of this series, or any of my previous ramblings about the WWE, you can do so by clicking this link.

Thanks for reading!

An Empty Vault: How the WWE Screwed Up at Money in the Bank

St. Louis is known historically as a mecca for wrestling. Fans there are knowledgable and passionate about professional wrestling in a way matched by fans in few other locations around the globe. From watching Lou Thesz for an hour in the sweltering Kiel Auditorium, to tuning in on Sunday mornings on Channel 11 to see “Handsome” Harley Race defend the Missouri State Heavyweight Title on “Wrestling at the Chase”, all the way up to the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw, some of wrestling’s greatest moments have taken place in the Gateway City. In fact, the very first PPV I attended was WWF No Mercy 2001 in St Louis, where we were treated to the first-ever Lingerie Pillow Fight, contested between Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson (the main event featured Kurt Angle vs Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Rob Van Dam) where there was little wrestling but was memorable nonetheless…

I was excited to hear that my cousin, a huge wrestling fan who caught the wrestling bug from our grandfather just the same as I did, was going to be attending his first PPV at Money in the Bank 2017. When the card was unveiled, I envied him for scoring tickets to what appeared to be a potentially awesome event. From the stacked Money in the Bank men’s match and the continuation of the interesting/perplexing Randy Orton/Jinder Mahal story, to the historic women’s Money in the Bank match, conditions were right for another legendary night in St Lou.

What the WWE Universe was treated to instead was an utter mess and almost borderline insulting, causing me to not only feel bad for those like my cousin who paid to see the event live, but also call into question my own support for the WWE. The source of my gripe comes from the finish of the very first match.

The show was kicked off by the ladies and their historic contest. For the WWE to have enough competent women’s talent to book a Money in the Bank ladder match is truly a high-water mark for a division that as recently as 5 years ago was stocked with silicone filled fashion models who were in the wrestling industry for “the exposure” more than any other reason. The WWE produced gritty promo packages for the match, highlighting each competitor’s desire to be the first winner. Both WWE and the performers did a great job selling the match as a significant moment for women’s wrestling and the women’s revolution.

The competitors did their part. The WWE couldn’t have picked a better group of ladies to stage this match for the Smackdown brand. While traditional MitB matches feature 6 wrestlers, there were only 5 ladies in the match. These ladies produced good action amongst the expected chaotic violence that comes along with the rigors of a ladder match and should be proud of their efforts.

And then the finish happened.

The very match that was supposed provide a historic moment which would help to further legitimize the women’s division as more than a sideshow culminated not in a moment that resembled one described by wrestlers in the promos used to hype the event, but with one all too familiar: James Ellsworth, a man, unhooked the briefcase from the clasp.

Though the bell didn’t ring until Ellsworth tossed the briefcase down to Carmella, the fact that the WWE ended the first ever women’s MitB match with a man climbing the ladder and claiming the case created a moment that not only ceremonially ended the match but metaphorically pissed on the history made during it.

I’m not a wrestling insider. I’m just a fan and just that I’ve thought through to this point probably gets me firmly tossed in the “mark” category. I don’t think I’m far off the overall tenor of the WWE Universe’s feelings, and maybe not too far removed from how the very competitors in the match felt in regards to the finish. But this is another example of a situation where the WWE creative team, a team headed by Stephanie McMahon herself, clumsily and stupidly booked a finish to a women’s match by having a man be the decisive factor in the outcome. This finish felt very much like the finish to the Becky Lynch/Charlotte Royal Rumble match from 2016, where Charlotte retained the Women’s Championship after Charlotte’s nearly septuagenarian father, Ric Flair, laid an unwanted kiss on Becky.

Truthfully, I don’t care that Ellsworth interfered in the match and dumped Becky Lynch off the ladder. From a storyline perspective, it absolutely makes sense, as Becky and Ellsworth have a history of verbal jousting and physical altercations. To not have Ellsworth attempt to deter Becky from winning the match would be a missed opportunity to further that animosity. With Lynch taken out, Ellsworth could have then picked up Carmella, helped her climb the ladder, and Carmella could have been the one to claim victory. Ellsworth’s impact on the finish should have started and ended there, not with him climbing the ladder and retrieving the briefcase himself. By ending the match the way it actually unfolded, WWE instead created a sense of “well, a man had to come in and climb that big, old ladder because the little girls couldn’t do it themselves.” undermining the historic nature of the match and doing a disservice to the efforts of the women involved.

If the WWE wants to truly place the women’s division on equal footing with the men’s, the creative team must avoid these self-inflicted wounds when booking matches. What may have seemed to be an ok finish in the past might ultimately undo what progress has been made to establish female matches as just as important to fans as the men’s matches. These unforced errors that result from ham-handed writing may stall growth and keep future talent from joining the WWE Women’s division, and that is very far from what is best for business.

If you’d like to read about ways I believe that the WWE could grow the women’s division, click this link!

Thanks for reading!

WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere Part V: The Women’s Division Explodes!

In 2014, the WWE found itself in an historically unprecedented situation: the company was flush with talented female performers. While the WWE long featured female wrestlers, physical looks were often times the focus of the attention given to the division, with competitors competing in gimmick-heavy matches (pudding wrestling, bra and panties matches, swimsuit competitions, etc.) meant to mask the fact that many of these women weren’t very technically proficient. Very little training was given to these women before they were thrown onto the roster, many meant to be eye-candy first and viable performers second. WWE chose to rebrand them as “Divas” instead of women’s wrestlers. Somewhat sadly for the women who had taken the time to develop their skills and become world-class in ring performers, they were rarely able to shine as brightly as capable because of the division’s skill imbalance.

As the WWE developmental system evolved, the WWE made a pointed effort to recruit and attract female talent whose background was in athletics. WWE also hired coaches who understood not just wrestling, but coaches who understood how to maximize matches in order to exploit the unique style of high-level women’s wrestling.

This approach paid dividends. WWE brought in several good, young ladies who either already had wrestling experience or had been already been exposed to the business, and the division became one of the most compelling parts of the NXT product, and the so-called “women’s revolution” subsequently became a social media phenomenon. Once this new generation of performers proved to the fans that there was more substance than hype, WWE dumped the “Divas” and began referring to them as “Superstars”, same as the men.

Somewhat unfortunately, even as the roster continues to be bursting with skill, interest seems to be waning. The women were split across the Raw and Smackdown brands, which has led to some curious matchups and repetitive booking. Further, the way the rosters were split intentionally or unintentionally created a noticeable talent gap between the shows.

Bringing the women back together as part of the Smackdown brand is the first step to fixing the these issues. Allowing the best performers the opportunity to compete against each other is key to stoking fan interest in this division. Just as important is affording them adequate time to tell their stories. Often times, women’s matches seem cut short and sometimes end abruptly, leaving fans confused and storylines truncated.

Adding a 30 minute, WWE Network exclusive women’s show solves this problem. While 205 Live hasn’t been a total success, it has given the cruiserweight division room to breathe and allowed the competitors to have some really good matches without being overexposed. The women’s show would do the same.

The final change coming to the women’s division would be the creation of a Women’s Tag Team Championship. The roster is deep enough at this point that multi participant matches are commonplace and the additional title would allow for another title to be pursued. Tag team wrestling has also proven to be a launching point for many great singles runs and the opportunity to showcase more performers only stands to benefit the talent involved.

By mimicking the operation of another division, the WWE could further legitimize the women’s division as more than just a sideshow. These changes would strengthen the performers, the Smackdown brand, and overall WWE Network content, all while helping to grow the next generation of women’s wrestlers.

Thanks for reading!

Tomorrow: Factions, baby!

WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere Part IV: What In the World Are We Watching?

(Note: All of what follows comes after the changes proposed in Parts 1-3 of this series are instituted)

With only 35 performers per show, there will be room for the WWE to spotlight other wrestlers by making changes to how existing divisions are presented and introducing a new division altogether.

The first change would be to create a new WWE Network show for the now-robust tag team division. Right now, with the roster as deep as ever, so many tag teams with huge amounts of potential have gone under used, have had their storylines cut short only to seemingly disappear (see: American Alpha and Slater/Rhyno) or have been broken up prematurely. As some of the best matches over the last couple of years have come out of the tag team division (specifically NXT tag teams), this division deserves it’s own time on the schedule in order to maximize the talent.

This show would air on Wednesday night after NXT with the matches taped before Raw and Smackdown (the same process by which Main Event matches are taped). Tag teams from both Raw and Smackdown would appear on this show, with strict adherence to brand specific competition. This change would allow the tag team division to give extra time to shine and keep them from having to compete in 8 man tag matches on their respective shows in order to gain exposure.

Finally, the annual Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament (which really should be the Teddy Long Tag Team Tournament given the Playa-in-Chief’s love of tag team matches, but that’s neither here nor there), would be featured on this show. 10 teams would qualify for the tournament, with the top 3 non-champion teams from each brand being automatic qualifiers. The remaining 4 teams would be composed of the 4th ranked team from each brand and 2 teams from NXT and these teams would face off in the wild card round. The NXT teams would be the NXT tag team champions and 1 other team which wins a qualifying tournament from among NXT tag teams. The #4 Raw team would face the NXT Tag Team champions while the #4 Smackdown team would face the NXT tag tournament winners.

The brands would be mixed when the teams are seeded after the wild card round. The #1 Raw team would face off with the winner of the matchup between the #4 Smackdown team and the NXT tag tournament winners, while the #1 Smackdown team gets the winner of the other wild card contest. The #2 team from each brand will be on the opposite side of the bracket from their brand’s #1 team and will face the #3 team from the opposite brand (i.e. #2 Smackdown will face #3 Raw on the Raw #1’s side of the bracket). This will allow the best teams to face off regardless of brand affiliation and a legitimate winner to emerge with bragging rights. The winner of the tournament will receive the existing trophy and a championship match versus their brand’s champion. If an NXT team wins (which would be awesome booking, btw), they would choose which brand’s champion they would face, with a main roster contract available as well should they win.

The addition of this show and the showcase tournament would allow extra time for the competitors in this division to show their amazing talent to a broader audience by offering additional match time. With the current tag team division being currently being so stocked with talent, this only stands to help prove the old adage that is long-held by wrestlers and wrestling fans alike: great tag team wrestling is often some of the best wrestling around.

Tomorrow: Hey Ladies!!!

WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere Part III: Bigger, Better, Badder

Let’s get right into this: How exactly would an off-season work in the WWE? Interestingly, it might be easier to institute an off-season than previously thought, as many of the pieces are already in place that would help cover the hiatus.

Firstly, the hiatus would be 8-12 weeks in length and it would begin immediately after the Wrestlemania wrap-up shows. The WWE has long looked at Wrestlemania as their unofficial year end. Choosing to end the season at this point would keep Wrestlemania positioned as the biggest show of the year and allow the WWE to continue to sell full-week travel packages that include the Raw and Smackdown shows that follow Wrestlemania at a premium price. Potentially, these packages may be even more in-demand if these shows are the de facto “season finales” (to borrow a TV term) for their brand, as they could also be used as the launching pad for the next season’s stories.

During this off-season, RAW’s network TV time would be filled by NXT broadcasts, which would be 2 hours in length. This would allow non-network subscribers to be exposed to new wrestlers, so that when those performers are promoted to the main roster, viewers would already be familiar with them. This would also benefit the performers, allowing them to perform on live TV and do some touring.  NXT is currently taped weeks in advance and aired on the network and does limited touring. Dropping the show to 2 hours keeps the unseasoned talent from being overexposed and the limited run of the series could bring more eyes to the network when the show transitions back to it’s normal schedule.

The additional hour on Monday night would be filled with what is referred to by baseball fans as “Hot Stove League” type content. The hour long program would recap the previous show’s action (similar to Talking Smack) but also include draft coverage and speculation and interviews with talent that help set up the forthcoming season’s content. Smackdown’s time slot would be filled by limited-run content like the Cruiserweight Classic or other tournament style content which would grab fan interest and conclude in time for the new season to commence.

The final week of the off-season will be devoted to 2 things: the draft on Monday night followed by trades and free agent signings on Tuesday night. WWE’s draft specials and roster shakeups typically are much anticipated events, but are often anti-climactic in the way they are handled. 

Before the draft, at the start of the show Monday night, each GM will submit a list of 5 wrestlers on their current roster that are “protected” and unable to be drafted by the other brand. Tag Teams will count as 1 total unit. Those designated as “protected” will not be able to be designated as such for the next year’s draft. Champions for each brand are exempt from being drafted and do not need to be protected but can be traded only on the first night for other champions, those with the “protected” designation, and draft picks. These are the only trades allowed on the first night.

Also, each GM will release 5 performers, making them free agents. All remaining unprotected talent will be draft eligible. The draft will proceed using alternating picks between the two GMs, unless there are acquired picks that change the order, until 20 total selections have been made. Each GM’s draft picks must include one member from the pool of NXT talent. Any undrafted wrestler remains property of the brand that they were on before the draft occurred and are trade-eligible Tuesday night. 

Tuesday, the final night of the off season, will consist of free agent signings and trades. No champions or draft picks places can be traded on Tuesday night, but “protected” members can still be traded. If there are any players that remain unsigned from among the released players, they will remain free agents and are eligible to compete on the NXT roster until signed. All NXT performers will be treated as free agents after this night. At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s show, all rosters will be frozen at 35 total performers eligible to compete on RAW or Smackdown and free agents can be signed only if there is an injury or corresponding release. There will be one additional time in the year when trades can be made and that is the night after Summerslam, after which time rosters will be again frozen. 

Once the first year of this new process has completed, any talent that has performed for a brand for a year but has not been protected, drafted, traded, or released will become a free agent eligible to resign with their current brand or negotiate with the other brand.

Now that the new off-season has been laid out, there are a few other things that can be done to help and will add to the off season routine. Those will be discussed in future entries.

WWE: What’s Wrong Everwhere, Part II: The Never-ending Event of the Year!

Pro wrestling’s roots grew out of the carnival and circus industry. In the early days, wrestlers were part of the show, traveling and living with other other carnival workers. In fact, modern day sports entertainment still adheres to guidance developed during the early days. Early wrestlers adopted “carny speak” as a way to communicate inside and outside the ring. Also, wrestling fans are sometimes referred to as “marks”, the same as midway-goers identified by carnies as easy targets.

The most prominent of the traditions still followed by today’s performers is the itinerate nature of carnival culture. Day after day, week after week, the show travels around from town to town, sometimes with multiple shows in different towns in a single day, with few off days for performers in between. Missed dates mean missed dollars and that stands firmly against the carny code.

The WWE prides itself on keeping it’s performers on the road in order to keep the WWE Universe entertained. Wrestlers are responsible for their own transportation to these events which are typically scheduled within a drivable distance from each other. As wrestlers are also responsible for their own expenses, many will travel together, splitting the cost of rental cars, hotels, and meals. The communal aspect of this experience often allows talent to bond and idea-share and the long-held tradition of good guys riding with good guys and bad guys riding with bad guys is still encouraged. This touring schedule is a point of pride for the WWE, as they routinely tout that performers are generally on the road in excess of 250 days per year.

While this can be looked at as similar to what the average, full-time, 5 day per week, worker across America works per year, consider the wear and tear accumulated by wrestlers due the way the business operates. According to Cagematch.net, Dean Ambrose had more matches than any other performer on the WWE roster in 2016 with 204. On the road, they are stuffed into rental cars, sitting for hours at a time, headed to the next town on the tour. Wrestlers also make appearances throughout the tour at events held by company sponsors, in addition to taking time to meet with fans associated with various charity and philanthropic groups. Once these obligations and bookings are met, performers typically get on planes and head back to their homes for a couple of days and restart the cycle again.

One can gleam from opinions offered by many current and former pro wrestlers that this grind can lead to injury and burnout. As with any workplace, health and well-being are key, but these are paramount in sports entertainment, as mental fatigue can cause lackluster performances. This can lead to, in the best case, uninspired work on the microphone up to an unintended injury for the performer or opponent in the worst case. Either way, both the performer and overall product suffer as a result.

While WWE employs some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world, even the best of the best fall victim to the rigors required by the job. Injuries to superstars Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor in recent years have caused the World Championship and Universal Championship to be vacated and long-built storylines to change quickly. One can only wonder if these injuries were freak instances that occurred, or as a result of the accumulated toll paid by each of these athletes over the course of the schedule required of them.

In the United States, the professional sport with the most games and the longest season is Major League Baseball. Teams play over 30 spring training games and 162 regular season games between mid-February and late September, with 10 teams eventually qualifying for postseason play in October, adding an additional 11 games (at minimum) for the final 2 teams. This means that the average player will come to the ballpark 192 times per season and players on the best teams will have 203 games (at minimum). Considering players don’t play every day and have travel demands similar in scope (but very dissimilar accommodations), the demands of the baseball season seem most similar to a WWE Superstar, minus the physicality.

There is one other major difference: baseball players are given 3-4 months off to recover and prepare for the next season. The WWE is never on hiatus.

Adopting an off-season is my first suggestion to shake things up and I have some ideas as to how it could be managed in such a way as to not only not break the business, but make it best for business. I’ll go in depth on how starting tomorrow.

Thanks for reading!

WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere

WWE: What’s Wrong Everywhere

There is something wrong with the WWE.

Ratings are down or flat for Monday Night Raw, WWE Network subscriber growth has slowed, the 205 Live program draws fewer viewers than Attitude Era programming on the WWE Network (and very sparse crowds watching the product live), and fan interest in the product as a whole is waning. Almost more troubling, recent attempts to create new stars from talent developed via the WWE’s NXT initiative have been more miss than hit. This has lead to repackaged feuds between older or already established superstars, and these recycled storylines have been met with large amounts of indifference and even displeasure from the WWE Universe. Reports from fans in attendance at live events also seem to indicate that negative crowd reactions to performers or story beats are being turned down by the production truck so that viewers perceive a reaction closer to what WWE creative desires for the product (Note: WWE has long turned down boos and turned up cheers for their anointed stars, but lately it seems they are piping in reactions for reaction’s sake).

Recent polling indicates that the median WWE viewer’s age has risen from 28 years old in 2000 to age 54 in 2017 which seems to show that young fans are aging out of the product and not coming back. If this holds, WWE will find itself unable to sell ad space targeting the extremely lucrative 18-54 ratings demographic to major companies during their primetime broadcasts as easily as they do now, which would really hurt the company’s profitability and growth, as their TV contracts are a huge revenue stream for the company.

For a company which prides itself on finding out what’s best for business by taking the pulse of the crowd and proceeding based off what they appear to want, something is quite off. Whether it is product over saturation due to having 5 hours of network TV to fill each week and not enough good ideas to fill it, inner turmoil between the old guard and the new in regards to how talent and storylines are booked, or talent injury and/or lazy storytelling curbing audience enthusiasm, it’s becoming clear that something radical may need to be done, and quickly, to right the ship.

While the WWE has long found itself subject to peaks and valleys. The astronomical successes of the 1980’s brought along by the meteoric rise of superstars like Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage faded into the cacophonic mess that was the early to mid 1990’s. This period was marred by terrible characters (see: The Goon, Mantaur, Bastion Booger, etc) and abysmal writing and the WWE was extremely close to going out of business completely as a result. Were it not for the WWE taking a chance by allowing their talent the freedom to take more risks in the ring and on the microphone and following the fan’s reaction to non-traditional superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Rock, the WWE might currently be in the mess of failed Scrabble-tile-like wrestling federation monikers along with the NWA, AWA, and UWF.

While the McMahon’s get the bulk of the credit for the company’s successful periods, like any other sports or entertainment endeavors, largely these successes are built on the back of the collaboration between the performers and creative staff to produce engaging stories. Simply put, it is easier for a writer to write and take chances when they know that their ideas are in good hands. Likewise, skilled performers take ideas and add their character’s perspective and feeling, giving depth,  breadth, and action to the words. When these pieces come together and are presented in a way that the audience can feel and become invested into, magic happens (see: Hogan/Savage Wrestlemania V; Rock/Austin Wrestlemania X7; Cena/Punk; Bryan/Authority).

From all indications, while the McMahon’s are amazing proprietors and marketers of professional wrestling, they appear to struggle with creating an engaging product that captures fan’s attention. Vince McMahon has long preferred the spectacle of a performer, which has led to numerous plodding matches featuring large, slow, technically lacking stars while other performers are pushed because of their look. There are so many stories from past WWE staff members regarding Vince’s initial negative reaction to performers based on how they looked (Mick Foley) or their overall size (Eddie Guerrero), only to be proven wrong by the fan’s reaction to them, that this assumption has to be a valid one.

Stephanie McMahon leads the creative team, but her TV persona lacks the depth with which her real-life self seems to burst.  Nearly every interaction between Stephanie and a babyface male superstar ends up feeling somewhat generic in that the interaction culminates in “Stephanie’s Two S’s”: the Sneer and the Slap. As the modern day WWE operates with a kid and family friendly intent, the slap only neuters the male victim, as they can have no comeuppance. The ability to strike back against an evil oppressor in a manner greater than or equal to what was doled out is an elementary key to resolving any physically escalated conflict within a story, and the reliance on this lazy, overused trope makes me wonder if Stephanie is  best placed as head of creative or if she would be better suited in another company impacting role which would still highlight her incredible charisma, knowledge, and passion.

These hinderances which are rooted in the McMahon’s are not likely to be resolved as long as the family is in control of the company and it’s inner workings unless they are willing to hire some people willing to speak up with new ideas and work to convince the McMahon’s to take chances on large scale changes which could reinvigorate the fan base. There are several things that the McMahon’s and the WWE could do to facilitate this change and starting tomorrow we will take a look at some of them in depth.

Thanks for reading!

WWE and the Hall of Fame: Part 4: The Next Tier

You can find Parts 1 through 3 here, here, and here

Now that the questionable inductees, the future slam dunks, and the noticeably absent have been covered, there is one more group that needs to be addressed. The names on this particular list are well-regarded, influential, and deserving of recognition. Why some of these stars aren’t in already is astounding, while others aren’t simply because they are still technically active, but in the twilight of their careers. Truthfully, this list of 10 workers is responsible for this entire series. One last time, placement on the list is not indicative of ordered importance.

“The Jannetty Ten” or “We Play Second Fiddle to No One!”

Christian

Goldust

Mark Henry

JBL

Rob Van Dam

Rey Mysterio, Jr

Victoria

Kane

Molly Holly

Batista

To many fans, the names on this list are likely to elicit the same response as those on the “Duh List” from Part 2. Everyone on this list has been a world champion or women’s champion (except one). All of them have headlined PPVs or had key storylines in their respective divisions and helped build Hall of Fame resumes for many current and future members. All of them may have had their candidacy hurt because of the depth of roster during their tenure or that they began their careers as partners of wrestlers who went on to have even more high-profile careers than theirs. In any regard, they too are worthy of enshrinement as a byproduct of their own excellence.

Christian is a unique case in that he was hugely successful as half of a legendary tag team with WWE Hall of Famer Edge, got a nice push as Intercontinental champ after the two were split up, but ultimately left the company to work for a competitor after falling down the mid-card thereafter. While working for the competition as Christian Cage, Christian re-invented his persona and became TNA’s World Champion, showing the world that he was more than just the other guy in the “Edge and Christian” tag team. When the WWE brought Christian back, he was a bigger deal than ever before, having great matches and engaging in a very memorable feud with Randy Orton which saw him become the World Heavyweight Champion. Unfortunately, Christian’s career was cut short by injury and concussion, but few wrestlers have ever broken out of the shadow of their higher profile with quite so much success as Christian.

Likewise, Kane, though a multi-time world champion of his own, seems to live in the larger than life shadow of his kayfabe brother The Undertaker. “The Big Red Machine” was the third “Grand Slam” champion in WWE history and has had many memorable matches over the last 20 years. Kane’s imposing blend of size and athletic ability is almost unmatched and his ability to easily move his character between babyface and heel has helped keep him near the top of the card. Through partnerships and feuds, Kane has helped to make stars of Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, and Seth Rollins along the way. When Kane gets the call to the hall, it will be well deserved.

Living in the shadow of an all-time great and trying to break out on your own is something that was a real-life concern for Dustin Rhodes. A well regarded performer, Dustin found himself compared to his legendary father Dusty Rhodes early on in his career, for better or worse. Once he transformed into the eccentric Goldust character, he blossomed into a compelling character who commanded the audience’s attention. The sexually androgynous character was a huge hit in the mid 90’s and Goldust was involved in some very memorable storylines and matches, including the Hollywood Backlot Brawl at Wrestlemania 12 versus Rowdy Roddy Piper. While Goldust never held the world championship, he is a multi-time Intercontinental, Hardcore, and Tag Team champion and should eventually be honored with a HOF plaque of his own.

JBL, then known as Bradshaw, also was primarily a tag team specialist early in his career, most famously teaming with WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons (a.k.a. Farooq) as the APA. When Farooq retired early in the 2000’s, it was assumed that Bradshaw would either find a new partner or fall down the card. Injuries however offered Bradshaw the opportunity to breakout as a singles performer, and he transformed from the beer drinking Bradshaw into the limousine-riding JBL. Only the out of ring appearance had changed it seemed, as JBL retained the same tough, relentless attitude of Bradshaw, but with the arrogance afforded to a millionaire.

The JBL character caught major heat with fans and he found himself in memorable feuds with Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, and Batista for the United States and World Championship titles. Somewhat surprisingly, JBL eventually had what was billed as the longest World title reign in a decade at 281 days before losing the title to John Cena at Wrestlemania 21. Despite allegations of backstage bullying throughout his career, JBL is without question worthy of inclusion in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Another well-decorated, long-tenured wrestler who should one day find themselves on a stage giving a speech the Friday night before Wrestlemania is Mark Henry. Despite coming to the WWE with little skill beyond brute strength and a great look, Henry worked on his craft, developed a great character and evolved from a support character into a main event player. While “The World’s Strongest Man” may never be known for his technical expertise, Henry has expertly deployed an arsenal of devastating power moves in pursuit of world championships, becoming champion multiple times. Henry also evolved his character from the goofy “Sexual Chocolate” who fathered a rubber hand with septuagenarian Mae Young to the latter-day curator of the Hall of Pain. Henry’s time in the ring may be drawing to a close, but he has done more than enough to find his name among the immortals soon enough.

Batista came to wrestling a little later in life than is typical and had a comparatively short career to some of the others on this list, but he maximized his time in the squared circle. After debuting as Deacon Batista, he soon left Brother Devon and found himself in Triple H’s Evolution faction along with Ric Flair and Randy Orton. As the mauler of the group, Batista would later break away and in the world championship picture. Over the course of his career, Batista was world champion six times, eventually holding the World Heavyweight Championship for a record 282 days. After a relatively short 8 years with the WWE, Batista retired to pursue a short-lived MMA career and acting roles, though he did return for a few months in 2015, during which time he won the Royal Rumble match and main evented Wrestlemania 30. Batista is now perhaps better known for his role as “Drax” in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series than for his wrestling career, but as with The Rock and John Cena, his mainstream success only stands to enhance his candidacy for the WWE Hall of Fame.

Rob Van Dam also has a fairly short history with the WWE at a combined 8 years when considering his career as a whole but RVD nonetheless had great runs featuring multiple championships, including a time where he held both the WWE and ECW championships. Van Dam arrived in the WWE in 2001 and found himself immediately inserted into the title picture, and he remained near the top of the card. Most importantly, although his on mic work may have been a bit cheesy and fans could call RVD’s spots as they were about to be performed, his matches were always entertaining and commanded attention. Van Dam’s invite may be the most tenuous on this list, but since the WWE clearly considers careers as a whole, his WWE and ECW time should be more than enough to get him a spot in the HOF.

Victoria and Molly Holly are two women whose influence and contribution to the past and current incarnations of the WWE’s women’s division should not be understated. Victoria brought a combination of size and beauty to a division that desperately needed a real, crazy heel to battle Trish and Lita, in order for them to establish themselves as the queen babyfaces. Molly brought with her perhaps the most extensive move set possessed by a female competitor ever. Both Molly and Victoria were capable of getting more out of the other women on the roster than most and pushed the entire division forward by helping to change the perception of what women’s wrestling could be. The two eventually collided at Wrestlemania 20 in a hair versus title match, which saw Holly get her head shaved after her loss to Victoria.

For some reason, the WWE seems to credit Lita and Trish with redefining women’s wrestling, seemingly ignoring Victoria and Molly. Even more confusing is the induction of Beth Phoenix into the HOF before either Victoria or Molly. Hopefully the WWE’s current focus on featuring their female superstars will bring their careers back to the forefront and both find HOF inductions in their futures.

Finally, Rey Mysterio, Jr. Though injuries shortened his career in the WWE and caused long absences from the ring, one could say that the current cruiserweight division as a whole might not exist in the WWE if Rey Mysterio didn’t prove to Vince McMahon that fans like to watch smaller, fast guys wrestle, too. Over the course of his multi-time championship winning career, Rey was involved in memorable storylines, with the ones had with Eddie Guerrero and Batista being the most prominent. Guerrero also had one of the most memorable entrances, shooting up from below the stage when his music hit, and became a huge hit among the younger members of the WWE Universe, who wore masks like his while they cheered wildly. The ultimate David, Mysterio shone brightest in matches where there was a size disparity to overcome on the road to victory. The best of the little guys should join the giants of sports entertainment in the Hall of Fame very soon.

The wrestlers on this list may not have the notoriety as some others, but nonetheless are bankable Hall of Fame inductees when considering their breadth of their accomplishments and influence. Hopefully the powers that be recognize their numerous achievements and extend them invitations over the next few classes.

WWE and the Hall of Fame: Part 3: The Missing

You can find parts 1 and 2 here and here

As is the case with other sports Halls of Fame, there are some names missing from the roster of inductees. In traditional sports, there are usually reasons, real or perceived by the voting membership committee (usually comprised of journalists and HOF members), which keep these seemingly well-qualified athletes from gaining admission into the hall (for example: Pete Rose’s gambling ban or Roger Clemens performance enhancing drug suspicions). Over the course of a player’s eligibility term, someone who had gained little support might eventually receive enough support for election, while others remain blackballed, forever outside the gates.

The WWE Hall of Fame is a unique case in that the election committee seems to be Vince McMahon and perhaps his inner circle. On the “Ravishing Rick Rude” episode of his amazing podcast Something to Wrestle With, longtime WWE producer (and former Brother Love) Bruce Prichard mentions that ballots are submitted by company officials each year, but those ballots are taken more as suggestions than votes towards honorees. Regardless, since no formal criteria or voting standard exists, there is much room for speculation in regards to why certain high profile talent are noticeably absent from the roster of HOF members, despite evidence which speaks favorably for their inclusion. As with other lists, position does not indicate or reflect most/least importance. Without further adieu, here are the names:

“It’s Complicated” or “Vince McMahon Hates Me”

Owen Hart

Chyna

X-Pac

Lex Luger

The British Bulldog

Vader

Psycho Sid

Scott Steiner

CM Punk

Chris Benoit

Not all of the names on this list are there directly due to issues they might have had with Vince and or the McMahon family. Some of them are there of their own volition. Some are there because of some event that turned their fame into infamy. In any case, they are performers who had a impact on the WWE during their time with the company but for one reason or another, haven’t garnered an invite.

Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: Chris Benoit will never EVER get into the WWE HOF. Never. The company has gone to never-before-seen lengths to distance itself from Benoit and the horrific end to his family’s lives and that will never change. After no amount of time will searching “Chris Benoit” ever return any results on the WWE Network. The only lasting remnant of Benoit is the concussion policy adopted by the WWE and even then he will never be referenced. His legacy is a specter that hangs over the WWE forever. His is the only NEVER in the world of “Never say never”.

Two other all-time greats who might never see HOF invites come their way at least partly due to their out of ring exploits are Chyna and X-Pac. Both left the company under strained circumstances and seemed stonewalled thereafter. Once gone, both seemed to go out of their way to criticize both the company and Triple H and Stephanie. Complicating things further is the sex tape that the two made together and released, along with some pornographic films made by Chyna. Triple H has gone on record as saying that Chyna’s porn career has been a big consideration because of worries that the company has in regards to their PG age fans Googling Chyna and finding explicit results instead of her many wrestling accomplishments (which is a bit hypocritical given that some of those results are from Playboy shoots done while she was a WWE talent at the encouragement and promotion of the company).

Though X-Pac has been somewhat brought back “into the fold” in recent years, Chyna never found any such bridges rebuilt. At best, they may find themselves as part of a Degeneration-X faction induction some time down the road, but individual inductions in the near future seem to be somewhat doubtful at best. Either way, it’s almost inconceivable that one of the most influential male or female competitors of all time, someone who actually changed the game over the course of her career, may never be enshrined.

Lex Luger also has a bad combination of wrestling and non-wrestling related issues working against his candidacy. Luger did himself no favors by leaving the WWE and appearing on the first episode of Nitro back in 1995. While changing companies in and of itself wasn’t out of the ordinary during this time, especially considering that Luger’s contract with the WWE had expired after Summerslam, that Luger had appeared at a WWE house show the night before and didn’t tell McMahon that he was leaving caught the WWE on its heels and really left a bad taste in Vince’s mouth. So bad in fact that it’s rumored that when the WWE purchased WCW and talent was being reviewed for potential WWE use, Luger wasn’t even considered. Factor in that Luger was in a relationship with former WWE manager Miss Elizabeth at the time of her controversial drug-aided death along with these other events and it doesn’t seem like “The Total Package” will be able to add the WWE Hall of Fame to his list of career achievements anytime soon.

Three legendary performers who had successful but truncated runs which ended under somewhat controversial circumstances yet are considered among the best ever for their bodies of work are Vader, Psycho Sid (a.k.a. Sid Vicious, a.k.a. Sid Justice), and Scott Steiner. All three headlined PPVs and competed in championship matches during their time with WWE, with Sid main eventing two Wrestlemanias (8 with Hogan and 13 with The Undertaker) and being a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Unfortunately, all three had issues either during or after their tenure. Working against Sid seems to be an incident with current WWE official Arn Anderson while both were in WCW. Allegedly, Sid stabbed Anderson with a pair of scissors after an altercation. Steiner has been very critical of Triple H since his run ended, which can only be a detriment to his candidacy. As far as Vader is concerned, it seems that the perception that he was a bit of a disappointment during his time in WWE is holding him back. On the “Vader in the WWF” episode of his podcast, Bruce Prichard references multiple times that Vader was to have won the championship only to have those plans scrapped at the last minute due to injury. Unlike the other two, Vader doesn’t seem to have any bad blood with the company, having been brought back for one-off’s since, so he seems to be the most likely of this group to be honored by induction sooner rather than later.

CM Punk is the odd wrestler who not only has burned bridges with the WWE but both he and the WWE continue to throw gasoline on the fire in order to keep it burning. Since Punk decided to leave the WWE unexpectedly and the WWE in-turn fired him on his wedding day, there has been a lot of dirty laundry aired publicly by both sides. Punk laid out his grievances with the WWE during an appearance on Colt Cabana’s podcast “The Art of Wrestling”, going as far as alleging that the WWE medical staff may have mishandled some of his injuries. In light of this, the doctor identified by Punk, Dr. Chris Amann, has sued Punk for defamation and that litigation has yet to be resolved.

On air, Punk (whose name is used as a derisive chant by the crowd these days) has been ridiculed for the lack of success he had in his subsequent UFC career, where he lost his first fight to Mickey Gall in just over 2 minutes. Predictably, despite Punk having the longest continuous world championship reign in the last 25 years (434 days) and being one of the most popular and controversial stars ever, it seems that neither Punk nor the WWE have any interest in adding him to the list of WWE Hall of Fame members.

The last two names on the list are linked by both family and tragedy and are very conspicuous by their absence: Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith a.k.a. The British Bulldog. Both are among the most beloved wrestlers ever despite never holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Both are members of the legendary Hart family. Unfortunately, both died very young and under dubious circumstances. Smith passed away at 39 after a heart attack and Owen died tragically in a WWE ring at the age of 34 as the result of a body harness rigging failure that occurred while Hart was being lowered from the ceiling.

For a long time, Owen and Smith’s absence was assumed to be tied to Bret Hart’s controversial exit from the WWE. However, even after things with Bret were smoothed over and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Owen and Smith continue to be overlooked. There is some thought that Smith hasn’t been honored because of the allegations that perhaps the circumstances that caused his premature death are too similar to some other wrestlers of the same era who died young. Causes of those deaths have been tied to steroid and drug abuse while they were active performers and the thought is that the WWE might not want churn up any old, bad press related to these deaths by honoring Smith.

Owen’s exclusion is also somewhat complicated. While the wrongful death suit filed by Hart’s widow Martha Hart has long-since been settled and a tribute DVD honoring Owen’s life has been released, it seems that something is delaying Owen’s induction. Allegedly, Martha Hart is not interested in allowing the WWE to honor her late husband and because there was a lot of tension between Martha and the rest of the Hart family after Owen’s death, there was little good will gained in regard to Owen when Bret’s issues with the WWE were resolved. For the time being, Owen Hart, one of the most popular and influential wrestlers of all time (he’s probably your favorite wrestler’s favorite wrestler) has yet to take his place among the greats but maybe one day both he and the Bulldog will find their way in their rightful place in the WWE HOF.

All of these performers have HOF credentials but circumstances which are preventing them from induction. Seemingly, only one man holds the keys to the Hall of Fame. Will Vince let them in? Only time will tell.

Next: Part 4: The Not-So-Obvious 10 (ok, some ARE obvious)

WWE and the Hall of Fame: Part 2: The No-Doubters

You can read Part 1 here

Now that we have identified those honorees whose inclusion is perhaps the most questionable, who exactly is on the list of current and recently retired performers whose HOF rings are already sized? These are the best of the recent best, as it seems as though the WWE will utilize the Legends designation to honor wrestlers from the territory era and before. Simply put, a Hall of Fame wouldn’t be worth having without them. Once again, these are in no particular order of importance.

The “Duh” List or “Did you Even Have to Ask?”

The Rock

John Cena

Triple H

The Undertaker

Chris Jericho

Brock Lesnar

Randy Orton

Goldberg

The Big Show

Daniel Bryan

The names listed above are a veritable “Murderers Row” of talent. Each and every one has been a part of multiple high-profile storylines, has sold out shows around the world, and has held the WWE championship. All of these stars have become synonymous with the WWE, been featured in non-WWE related media and, in some cases, have found crossover success outside the WWE. In short, a mere mortal doesn’t need to make a case for these superstars.

For the sake of argument though, here are the reasons:

The Rock is the biggest no-brainer on this list. The man at whom fans once chanted “Die Rocky die!” turned himself into one of the biggest draws of all time. A multi-time world champion and Wrestlemania main event participant, The Rock took part in 2 of the most significant “torch passing” matches in Wrestlemania history: his match versus Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 18 and his matches versus John Cena at Wrestlemanias 28 and 29 signaled the ends of 2 WWE eras and the beginning of 2 others. His matches against Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemanias 15, 17, and 19 comprise the only main event trilogy ever.

Outside the ring, The Rock became everything Vince McMahon has ever wanted a headliner to become in the mainstream entertainment culture achieving success on the highest level. From hosting Saturday Night Live to becoming the biggest movie star in the world, The Rock is truly no longer just “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports-Entertainment” but “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports AND Entertainment”. The only question regarding his invite is “What is taking so long?”

In many cases, the same can be said for John Cena. Cena, who once criticized The Rock for being a part-timer who only comes back to the WWE when he has something to sell, has in recent years found his acting and hosting careers blossom in such a way that his wrestling has almost become secondary. Appearances in “Trainwreck” with Amy Schumer and “Sisters” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, have helped Cena broaden his acting lane from “action dude” into comedy by showcasing his sense of humor. Cena is a featured part of the WWE’s highly successful Total Divas and Total Bellas television programs along with hosting his own reality game show “American Grit”. Cena also works frequently with both the WWE’s Be A Star anti-bullying campaign and the Make-A-Wish Foundation being recognized as their most-requested wish ever.

Cena’s in-ring accomplishments start and end the fact that he is a 16-time world champion, a number only matched by the incomparable  Ric Flair. Once criticized for only using “Cena’s Five Moves of Doom” in his matches, Cena has worked to improve his skillset in effort to matchup better with the WWE’s new stars who have perhaps a greater toolbox of holds from which to draw. This has allowed Cena to work great matches even at this late hour of his career. No matter which side of the “Let’s go Cena!/Cena sucks!” chants fans fall, there is no doubt that he is an absolute lock for the Hall of Fame when he hangs up his boots for good.

In fact, quite a few members of this list have used wrestling as a springboard to other successful ventures. Chris Jericho has had a great career inside the ring, most notably beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night in 2001 and becoming the first undisputed champion in wrestling history by uniting the big, gold WCW championship belt with the WWE World Heavyweight championship. He also found success with his band Fozzy and travels the world touring with bands like Metallica and Avenged Sevenfold and running The Jericho Network of podcasts, which includes his very successful podcast Talk is Jericho, when he’s not in the ring having show-stealing matches at the age of 46.

Likewise, Brock Lesnar cashed in on the notoriety afforded to him by becoming the youngest WWE champion in history to pursue a career in mixed martial arts. Lesnar became one of the biggest draws in all of the UFC and becoming heavyweight champion in only his second match with the company. This allowed Lesnar to achieve mainstream success in a legitimate sport in a way that few other pro wrestlers have ever done. After successfully defending his title a couple of times but eventually losing it, Lesnar returned to the WWE as a greater attraction than ever before. He proceeded to dominate his competition in ways not previously witnessed, culminating in his Summerslam bout with John Cena. Lesnar took Cena to Suplex City, leaving the man who has sold millions of dollars of merchandise featuring his personal mantra of “Never Give Up” a broken, befuddled heap, cementing his legacy as one of sports-entertainment’s true badasses. Still active but with limited dates, Lesnar will be enshrined as soon as he permits.

A couple of other members of this group, The Big Show and Goldberg, are in less for their skill on the mic or in-ring prowess, but because they are two of the biggest attractions ever. Both used their intensity and physicality to dominate their opponents and capture the imagination of the crowd. Pro wrestling has a history of promoting the spectacle of the moment over the quality of the performance and both maximized on this as well as anyone ever.

The Big Show commands attention simply for his size alone. Once billed as simply “The Giant”, The Big Show helped change the tide of the Monday Night War by defecting to the WWE from WCW and instantly impacting the title picture and becoming a multi-time champion over the course of his long career. In better shape than ever before, The Big Show is still getting cheers today and helping to make stars out of up-and-comers by having excellent matches that others his size simply can’t have. Once retired, he won’t have to use one of his gigantic hands to knock down the door to the Hall of Fame, someone will happily open it for him.

The legend of Goldberg was written 20 years ago, solidified by an incredible 173-0 record to start his career, and it’s only been enhanced since then.  Goldberg changed the game with his dominant babyface character, squashing greats left and right along the way, in matches featuring more fists than headlocks. Each and every Goldberg match was an event and the aura of Goldberg continued to grow even during a 13 year hiatus from the ring and despite a fairly unmemorable run with the WWE in the early 2000s, which culminated in one of the most reviled matches in Wrestlemania history versus Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20.

Fans were treated to a dream rematch when Goldberg returned to face Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg showed that he was older, but still a dominant animal, beating Lesnar in under 2 minutes. This previously unimaginable dominance over Lesnar whipped the WWE Universe into a frenzy that couldn’t be ignored by management and as a result Goldberg got a brief run as Universal Champion before dropping the title to Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33. Though it seems like Goldberg has finally retired for good, odds are he will find himself in the Hall of Fame sooner than later.

Daniel Bryan’s WWE run was a phenomenon,  a burning comet flashing across the sky that burns brightly but disappears quickly, leaving a feeling of something undone. The ultimate underdog, Bryan was one of the most beloved superstars ever and the title chase storyline with the Authority that played out leading to Wrestlemania 30 is the modern equivalent of the Vince McMahon/Stone Cold storyline.

In many ways, it was better.

The constant references to Daniel Bryan as being a B+ player by most notably Stephanie McMahon and the many seemingly stilted situations that occurred made it seem as though Bryan might never have a real shot at claiming the title. Month after month, Bryan found his quest for the title stymied at every turn by agents of the Authority, but his fans grew and the “Yes Movement” was born. This atmosphere of inequity collided with the “Yes Movement” and helped create one of the most magical moments in Wrestlemania history at Wrestlemania 30 when a damaged, bandaged Daniel Bryan emerged victorious over the Authority and claimed his title. While real-life injury would force Bryan to relinquish the title just months later and ultimately cause him to permanently retire just a year later, Bryan is still one of the most cheered performers ever.

Randy Orton has one of the most impressive resume’s ever, as he ranks highly on the list of most title runs ever and has been near the top of the heap for almost 15 years. Over his career Orton has been the proverbial dark side to John Cena’s light side, with the two engaging in numerous memorable battles. Orton is a natural, able to have great matches with workers of varying skillsets.

Orton is such an athletic freak seemingly destined for greatness that it has long been said that if someone was designing a sports-entertainer from scratch, they would make him look like Randy Orton. Orton carries a quiet fury with him at all times, seemingly ready to strike at any time, a perfect reflection of his moniker “The Viper”. Despite seeming too quiet at times, and not as skilled on the microphone as some others, Orton is without question one of the top stars of his and any era.

Someone included on this list who hasn’t had the outside crossover success of The Rock or John Cena but instead sold himself out to the old-school idea of keeping kayfabe to become a wrestling icon is The Undertaker. Often referred to as Vince McMahon’s Greatest Creation, The Undertaker is a multi-time world champion across his storied career, along the way compiling the greatest win streak in Wrestlemania history, running his record to 22-0 before falling to another all-time great (and member of this list) Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 30 and ultimately finishing with an astonishing 23-2 record.

In later years, The Undertaker made only 1 or 2 appearances outside of his Wrestlemania match each year, in order to build the mystery. Despite the infrequency of his appearances, The Undertaker continued to have entertaining matches with talent many years his junior by keeping himself in excellent, almost-freakish condition. Now that it seems “The Phenom” has finally left the arena for good, without question his invitation to join the pantheon of immortals in the HOF is soon to arrive.

Who’s left? Hmm…

Oh yeah. Triple H.

The man is so good, he was able to overcome the stigma of “The Curtain Call” and marry the boss’s daughter. Having done enough by helping define the Attitude Era as a member of Degeneration X, Triple H grew into one of the most fierce competitors the squared circle has ever seen, becoming one of the most decorated champions ever along the way. Possessing an amazing ability to combine size, speed, and skill, Triple H made every win feel inevitable and every loss mean something for the victor.

The man simply known as “The Game” has dedicated his later career to building others, either via matches at Wrestlemania or through his work in building the next roster of superstars at NXT. It can be said that no in-ring performer has done more to shape the future of wrestling than Triple H and he has done it over the past 20 years and he shows no signs of slowing down, aside from the fact that he’s taken a page from The Undertaker’s playbook and become mainly a Wrestlemania-only in-ring performer. The self-anointed “King of Kings” will take his throne in the Hall of Fame when he wants to claim it.

These are the workers without whom the story of wrestling could not be written.

As a fan, I wouldn’t have wanted to know the story of wrestling without them.

Next: Part 3: Who is NEVER (or maybe never) getting in?