Mother Brainâ€™s Top 10 Underrated Wrestlers Who Never Became WWF/WWE Champion
By Mother Brain
People often wondered recently if I could expand my underrated actors segment to underrated professional wrestlers. While I havenâ€™t ruled out the possibility for the near future, I just didnâ€™t feel the time was immediately right to do it when there have been so many wrestling tragedies over the years. Plus thereâ€™s an entire (AND I QUOTE) â€œuniverseâ€ of wrestling superstars who never got their due. So I plan to cover my picks as a top 10 list of those who never became WWF/WWE Champion. My criteria was based on certain wrestlers who never worked for WWE but were stars in other promotions or worked in WWE but never elevated (or was close) to main event status. On to my picks:
10. Nick Bockwinkel
My earliest memory of Nick Bockwinkel was that of a commissioner role in WCW during the mid-90s. But there was a time when he was one of the biggest heels in the business. As part of the AWA, Bockwinkel won his first AWA title at age 40 after ending the 7 year title reign of AWA owner and legend, Verne Gagne. Bockwinkel had 4 title wins in all and feuded with the likes of Bob Backlund (in an AWA/WWWF unification title match that went to a double count-out), Ric Flair, Curt Henning, and even a pre-WWF Hulk Hogan. Bockwinkel retired just as the wrestling boom heated up in the late 80s and spent the rest of his career as a road agent and color commentator before getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
9. Brutus Beefcake
Most wrestling fans donâ€™t think of Hulk Hogan without thinking of Brutus Beefcake aka the Barber. After spending some time in Mid-South, Beefcake came to the WWF as a heel alongside â€œLusciousâ€ Johnny Valiant. He won his only title, the tag team title, alongside Greg â€œThe Hammerâ€ Valentine as â€œThe Dream Teamâ€ in 1985 and held them until losing the belts to the British Bulldogs at WrestleMania II. Beefcake eventually turned babyface after breaking up from Valentine and helping Roddy Piper cut Adrian Adonisâ€™ hair at Wrestlemania III, the day he earned the nickname â€œthe Barberâ€. The fans fell in love with Beefcake and over the course of the next few years, he engaged in feuds with Randy Savage, Honky Tonk Man, Mr. Perfect, etc. But he was always sidelined whenever he was booked to win the Intercontinental title, particularly in 1990 due to a near-fatal parasailing accident. He continued to do his barber shop segments for the rest of his WWF run and followed Hogan in nearly every promotion he wrestled in.
8. Adrian Adonis
Although he was mostly a tag team competitor alongside the likes of Jesse Ventura and Dick Murdoch, Adrian Adonis was best known for his â€œAdorableâ€ gimmick where he gained weight, bleached his hair blond, and started cross dressing to the ring long before Goldust ever came around. He was a very controversial character during the mid 80â€™s period in WWF and he gained a great deal of momentum when he took over the Piperâ€™s Pit set and made it into â€œThe Flower Shopâ€, only for Roddy Piper to destroy it and challenge him to a hair vs. hair match at Wrestlemania III. The night when Adonisâ€™ hair was cut was also his final career high point. After a less than memorable final run in AWA, Adonis died in a car accident in the summer of 1988.
7. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
When one thinks of major stars in the WWF in the late 80s-early 90s, Jake Roberts always comes up in that topic. His wrestling ability was solid as he was the first to invent the DDT maneuver. His promo skills were less about screaming and more about his slow but imposing choice of words. His pet Damien is pretty much self-explanatory. But despite big and sometimes controversial feuds with Honky Tonk Man, Rick Rude, Ted DiBiase, Randy Savage, and Undertaker, Roberts never won a single title in his WWF career (unless one counts the unsanctioned Million Dollar Belt). It was a deliberate choice on his part as he mentioned on his 2005 DVD how titles were meant to make stars and he was seen as just a mid-card guy who built up his opponents for Hulk Hogan to face. Even though his career was tarnished by excessive alcohol and drug use, Roberts was big enough in his prime to be a champion.
6. Ron Simmons
Younger wrestling fans might know him better either as the DAMN guy or one half of the APA along side the man who would become Justin Bradshaw Layfield aka JBL. But there was a time when Ron Simmons was trying to make big strides for African-Americans in professional wrestling. Long after his football career ended, he trained with the great Hiro Matsuda before signing with the NWA in 1989. Simmons gained national exposure as one half of Doom alongside Butch Reed and they eventually became the first holders of the WCW Tag Team titles in 1991. That same year after Doom broke up, Simmons engaged in a highly controversial angle with WCW Champion Lex Luger where he asked Simmons to join his entourage, but as his personal chauffeur. Simmons would later defeat Big Van Vader for the title and become the first black WCW Champion. His WWE career, however, was mediocre at best as he was renamed Faarooq and underwent several gimmick changes (a black and blue gladiator, leader of the Nation of Domination, Acolytes, and APA) before his retirement in 2004.
5. Dynamite Kid
Before the killer… oops I meant â€œthe Cripplerâ€ Chris Benoit dazzled fans with his arsenal of punishing submission holds and snap suplexes, Dynamite Kid elevated the momentum of a wrestling match at a time when most promotions focused heavily on guys with a lot of muscle but very little in-ring ability. Even the legendary Bret Hart considers him “pound-for-pound, the greatest wrestler who ever lived”. Dynamite Kid made his bones in the business by wrestling for Stu Hartâ€™s Stampede Wrestling in the 1970s. Dynamite accomplished a great deal during that time from training Bret Hart, winning 16 titles, and later having a series of unbelievable matches with Tiger Mask in Japan. But most wrestling fans knew him best as one half of the British Bulldogs in the WWF along side Davey Boy Smith. Their matches with the Hart Foundation laid the groundwork for the golden age of tag team competition in the WWF. Dynamite could have had a popular singles career if he stayed on the WWF route; however, a series of injuries, steroid use, and bridge burning fellow wrestlers ruined his career and a botched surgery left his left leg paralyzed for life.
4. Magnum T.A.
A great career cut short way too soon. Cashing in on the popular success of TVâ€™s Magnum P.I., Terry Allen was the heart throb of the NWAâ€™s Jim Crockett Promotions. He engaged in feuds against the Four Horsemen, specifically Tully Blanchard who he had a memorable â€œI Quitâ€ match with at Starcade â€™84. He was a 2 time U.S. Champion and a favorite among not only the fans but also his most respected peers, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. Magnum had enough charisma to become a star anywhere he went. But sadly,Â a car accident in 1986 ended his active wrestling career and he spent the rest of his time in the NWA as a manager and color commentator.
3. Rick Rude
The Ravishing One oozed charisma and had the wrestling ability to back it up. Arriving in the WWF in 1987 with Bobby â€œThe Brainâ€ Heenan as his manager, Rick Rude always knew how to keep the fans talking. He came out to the ring in special airbrushed tights that usually mocked his opponents. He would cut short promos where he insulted fat people and made women glance at his muscular 6â€™3 physique. More importantly, Rick Rude knew how to tell a story in the ring (the love triangle between Rude, Jake Roberts, and Cheryl Roberts; his hunt for Ultimate Warriorâ€™s Intercontinental Title, etc). Unfortunately, his anger towards Ultimate Warriorâ€™s lack of professionalism held him back and Rude made the jump to WCW in 1991 where he engaged in high profile feuds with Sting, Ricky Steamboat, and Nikita Koloff. A back injury would force Rude into retirement and the rest of his career was extremely spontaneous from being the â€œinsurance policyâ€ of DX to jumping back to WCW to be part of the nWo. Rude sadly died of a heart attack in 1999 just as he was preparing for an in-ring comeback.
2. Diamond Dallas Page
It is rare to hear of any performer in any business becoming a star past 40 years of age. DDP proved he was that rare exception during the wrestling boom of the late 90s. He spent the majority of his career as a manager until he became a singles competitor in WCW in 1994. As a heel, DDP was often overshadowed by his beautiful wife and valet Kimberly Page. But when he turned face and feuded with the nWo in 1997, DDP became an overnight superstar. Soon DDP became U.S. Champion and teamed up with big celebrities like Karl Malone and Jay Leno in high profile PPV matches that earned DDP mainstream attention. His popularity was rewarded when he defeated Sting, Hogan, and Ric Flair for the title in a four way dance at Spring Stampede in 1999. Once WCW closed its doors for good and DDP jumped to WWE, he should have been a shoe-in for main event status. Instead, he was buried in a stalker angle involving the Undertakerâ€™s former wife, Sara, followed by a motivational speaker gimmick that went nowhere. While he never became WWE Champion or even a major WWE superstar, DDP has had a successful career in movies like The Devilâ€™s Rejects and is also a successful fitness guru.
1. Owen Hart
If the question of underrated wrestlers who never held the WWE title was ever posed to me, Owen Hart will forever be my first answer. I find it truly sad that people tend to remember Owenâ€™s tragic fall at the 1999 WWE PPV, Over the Edge, and often overlook the career he was building up until that moment. Where his brother Bret was more of a street fighter with a punishing executing style of wrestling, Owen had more of a technical approach like his father Stu and also the aerial abilities that Bret was lacking because of his knee injury. Owen initially floundered in his early WWF career as he jumped from one short gimmick to another: The Blue Blazer, the New Hart Foundation, and High Energy. He was on the verge of retirement from the business when Bret came up with the jealous brother angle which instantly made Owen the hottest heel in the WWF. Owen mocked his brother every chance he could and made all his accomplishments feel one step closer to becoming WWF Champion. He would win several tag team titles, King of the Ring, 2 Slammy Awards, the Intercontinental and European titles. Like Bret, Owen knew how to tell a good story in the ring and could make his opponents look better than they could ever imagine. Some might say Owen would still be working today if he left the company after Bretâ€™s Montreal Screwjob or if Bret stayed and prevented the accident from happening. In any case, Owenâ€™s career should not be erased from history like some athletes who disgrace themselves. As long as people like me continue to write about these guys who worked hard for the fans and not for politics behind the curtain, their memories will never be forgotten.