There is more than one way to the top of an industry, be it the sports entertainment industry or any other. Perhaps due to the scripted and borderline fantastical nature of the profession, pro wrestling in particular has been one business where the strangest and most bizarre characters find their way to incredible success, and unsurprisingly, these unique characters often found said path to fame through non-traditional means. This usually isn’t a problem, but sometimes the path to wrestling greatness veers so far off track important details start getting ignored, like whether or not they had any talent to begin with.
It isn’t fair to say any wrestler to find their way to a WWE ring is entirely untalented. Merely standing in front of tens of thousands of fans takes a certain skill in and of itself, and yet comfort in front of a crowd alone a sports entertainer does not make. The strange thing about pro wrestling is that certain individuals have nonetheless been able to achieve some seriously high profile roles with little else on their plate than a smile and a dream.
Another important designation is that simply because a talent was able to accomplish more than their talent level would imply doesn’t necessarily mean they had no talent whatsoever. The wrestlers we’re about to detail were able to go further in their careers than anyone could have logically predicted, but that doesn’t mean their success was entirely unwarranted, just greater than it made any logical sense. With those considerations in mind, keep reading to discover the top 15 wrestlers who achieved the most with the least talent.
15. Brutus Beefcake
One of the trends that will definitely follow throughout this entire list is that having the right friends can make up for virtually any shortcoming a pro wrestler could have. Few wrestlers have shown less shame in proving that statement than Brutus Beefcake, who followed in the footsteps of Hulk Hogan wherever he went. More accurately, that is, he was pulled up by Hulk Hogan’s bootstraps, and it started immediately after their respective careers began. Jerry Lawler has told the story about a young Terry Boulder refusing to work for Lawler’s company unless his “brother” Eddie Boulder was brought along for the ride, and the same thing kept happening as Terry became Hulk, Eddie became Brutus, and Lawler was replaced by more famous promoters like Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff. Depending on where Hogan and Beefcake went, certain bookers were wise enough to refuse Hogan’s demands that his little buddy get pushed as well, but WCW and other companies known for giving in to the Hulkster’s every whim had no problem in pushing Brutus to the top.
14. Triple H
Speaking of wrestlers who earned their status in the business thanks to their friends…in all fairness to Triple H, he’s ranking fairly low on this list because his talent level in the very least far exceeds most of the other people he’s appearing with. However, it bears mention that he’s achieved far beyond what anyone could have expected from his in his debut, especially considering he’s poised to take over a billion dollar company should the unthinkable happen and Vince McMahon retire. Triple H lucked into his position by marrying Stephanie McMahon, and though he was well on his way to the main event when that happened, he never would have inherited the company based on his wrestling acumen alone. Quite frankly, we still don’t know enough about Hunter’s business sense to decide if he’s truly capable of taking over WWE, but we do know based on his matches that 14 World Championships and reverence as one of the best of all time is something he never could have accomplished without his wife’s influence and name.
13. Johnny Ace
There’s a valid question in a list like this about how exactly talent is defined, with names like Johnny Ace explaining why it’s such a crucial distinction. Ace never accomplished much in the ring while wrestling in America, but he became a huge star in Japan, where he and Kenta Kobashi formed one of the greatest tag teams in All Japan Pro Wrestling history. Another tag team with Steve Williams led Ace to dozens of high profile matches, and yet to most fans in the States, he’ll be forever remembered as the lame surfboard carrying Dynamic Dude who tagged with Shane Douglas. Based on his accomplishments in Japan, Ace was a talented superstar who earned everything he achieved. For all his innovation and promise in the ring in Japan, Ace simply never showed any potential in the ring or on the microphone in his native land. That his greatest success came working behind the scenes for WCW, where he was a jobber, and WWE, where he never even wrestled until after he technically retired, muddies the waters enough that there’s a valid question to how he earned his biggest and best jobs.
12. Greg Gagne
Any time an athlete’s father is a great athlete as well, fans of the sport are going to have unrealistic expectations about the younger family member’s ability to success. In this vein, Minnesota wrestling fans probably had higher expectations for Greg Gagne than he could ever live up to, considering his father Verne had more or less defined the sport in that area by creating the American Wrestling Association while Greg was still a young child. Verne held his company’s World Championship a record ten times, turning himself into a massive star on television in the process. Once Verne was ready to retire and Greg was reaching his mid 30’s, it seemed obvious that the younger Gagne would take his father’s place. Unfortunately, Greg was nowhere near the wrestler Verne was, and only had the skills to succeed in the tag division. Without his partner Jim Brunzell in the High Flyers, fans couldn’t accept Greg as a serious threat, and his singles push died almost instantly. The AWA tried to establish him as their first Television Champion, only serving to make that belt a joke upon arrival, and the further Greg was pushed, the faster the company went out of business entirely.
11. Erik Watts
The only thing saving Erik Watts from being an even worse case of nepotism than Greg Gagne or any of the Von Erich boys is that even his father, Bill Watts, was eventually able to realize what a mistake it was to push his son. Bill was legendary for his time booking and promoting Mid-South Wrestling, causing a great deal of excitement when he was hired to be the new booker for WCW circa 1992. There were pros and cons to Bill Watts’ tenure in WCW, with one of the most glaring downsides being that Erik went on a lengthy undefeated streak despite only having received some three months of training. Despite having such a poor grasp of the sport he couldn’t even perform a dropkick, Erik took United States Champion Rick Rude to a number of time-limit draws and defeated rising star Steve Austin, making insiders suddenly feel a lot less hopeful about the whole Watts family in general. Lucky for fans but unlucky for the family, Bill would lose his job over racially insensitive comments before the Erik situation could get any more out of hand.
10. The Junkyard Dog
Nowhere is it written that a lack of talent would prevent a wrestler from becoming popular, and few superstars have made that more clear than The Junkyard Dog. The top babyface of Mid-South Wresting, JYD became famous for his incredible charisma and unique look, making him one of the first African American wrestlers to be named the unquestionable top star in any given promotion. For all his energy, though, JYD had remarkably little to give in the ring, and his promos where nothing above standard fare. Small Southern crowds that had never seen anything like him gravitating to his more individual qualities, but the second JYD went to Vince McMahon’s WWE, it became clear he didn’t have what it took to succeed in the mainstream. Still very popular for his dancing and personality, JYD nonetheless would never replicate his Mid-South success anywhere else he went. Even fans of WCW, where a more Southern mentality prevailed, were unable to accept JYD as a threat to Ric Flair in the early ‘90s, causing his career to appropriately fizzle out when the territorial days were over.
9. Jim Duggan
It speaks volumes about Jim Duggan’s personality that he was best known for incoherently shouting while carrying around a plain wooden plank. Considering his only other quality was unbridled patriotism, it makes sense that Hacksaw became a hugely popular face wherever he went, but unfortunately this popularity in no way translated to in-ring ability. Like many superstars on this list, Duggan wasn’t entirely without wrestling ability, having competed in many a passionate brawl during his days working for Mid-South Wrestling. Also following the trend, Duggan apparently stopped trying when he was signed by WWE, and the idea of giving any effort whatsoever went out the window by the time he jumped to WCW. In defiance of Duggan’s decision to stop giving a damn, WCW naturally pushed him further up the card than he had ever before been, giving him the United States and TV Championships at varying points in his seven-plus year tenure with the company. The more gold Duggan won, the less he actually tried in the ring, leaving him a sad shell of his former self, fading away in the spotlight.
8. Giant González
Standing an alleged 8 feet tall, truth be told, there was only so much fans could expect from Giant González. Pro wrestling is a dance between competitors, and it’s hard to dance with a partner at least a foot or two taller than what you’re used to. For as hard as it was for other wrestlers to work with González, the monster from Argentina brought next to nothing to the table himself, lumbering around the ring and incapable of performing even the simplest of moves. Although he was completely void of wrestling skill, González was such a unique and impressive physical specimen he instantly entered feuds with Ric Flair in WCW and then The Undertaker in WWE, making him a top attraction wherever he went. His lack of skill was apparent enough he never stuck around long after his first big program in each company, fading away from the industry entirely after less than five years in the sport. Amazingly, González didn’t teach WWE any particular lessons, and the McMahon family would continue hiring talentless lugs for decades to come…
One cannot simply become the master and ruler of the world without exerting any effort, so we have to admit “Psycho” Sid Vicious must have been doing something right. On top of taking over the world and winning both the WWE and WCW Championships, Sid managed to become extremely popular wherever he went, such to the extent we don’t even blame promoters for constantly trying to sell him as their top star, heel or face. However, for some strange reason, crowds have long been gravitating to the unhinged psychotic monster since he made his WCW debut in 1989. Sid went on to spend the 1990s as a main eventer, making his way to the top of WrestleMania, Starrcade, and even stealing the show at the few ECW events he stopped by (at least in terms of making the crowd go wild). More importantly, he did so despite having a move set that consists almost solely of big boots, an interview style that lends more to embarrassment than intimidation, and a global reputation as more of a goof than a bad ass.
6. The Sandman
There’s something to be said for understanding an ethos, and it would be easy to argue that no wrestler represented ECW quite as well as the Hardcore Icon, The Sandman. Regularly drinking so much beer during his epic entrances that he would be drunk during his matches, there might be some version of The Sandman that was a decent wrestler, but he was always too bombed by the time he hit the ring for anyone to know it. The only thing stopping Sandman’s mind-numbingly dangerous behavior from ranking him higher up this list is the fact he was unable to achieve much fame outside of ECW, where he was a record setting five time World Champion. WCW knew enough to never push him outside of the hardcore division, and his time in WWE was more confusing than anything else. In ECW, though, he was so beloved fans would sing his entire theme song, regardless of the fact he couldn’t even perform a piledriver correctly.
5. Kevin Nash
It might be a little harsh to rank Kevin Nash so highly on this list, because he was certainly capable of at least wrestling a decent or even great match when motivated and with the right opponent. However, given just how much power he was able to achieve, the peak of which was controlling the WCW booking only a few months after that company’s peak, Nash’s undying laziness overpowered enough of his potential to make him one of wrestling’s most unnecessary embarrassments. Nash, laziness, and WCW all seem to go hand in hand, with his workrate dropping dramatically upon his decision to start wrestling under his real name. Granted, Diesel wasn’t exactly known for his in-ring skills, either, only capable of rising to championship quality matches against Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels. Still, there’s no justification for Nash giving less of an effort the more power he received, especially as he became one of the most decorated athletes in WCW.
4. The Great Khali
One of the most shocking moments in recent wrestling history came on July 20, 2007, when The Great Khali won a 20-man Battle Royal to become the World Heavyweight Championship. The belt had previously been vacated by Edge due to a serious injury, and to say Khali was a dark horse contender in the match would be an understatement. He had made his WWE debut barely over one year earlier, earning victories against top names like The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio despite showing absolutely no aptitude for the sport of wrestling. Khali was virtually immobile in the ring, his main moves either overhand chops or nerve holds that turned every match into a complete and instant bore. He somehow reigned as champion for two full months, and remained a top contender in WWE until his contract finally expired. Though he kept earning title shots at random intervals, Khali gradually descended down the card and turned into a comedy character by the time his career ended. One might assume he was better suited for this role than his time in the main event, but that would discount the fact he had no particular skill at comedy, either.
3. The Ultimate Warrior
There’s a time and a place for everything, and the time for Ultimate Warrior’s destrucity was the 1980s; the place, the World Wrestling Federation. It would be hard to fault Vince McMahon for striking while the iron was hot, because Warrior was without question one of the most popular superstars in the business when the 1990s began. That said, Warrior became popular because his average match length was somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 seconds, and if he ever went longer than a minute, things fell apart almost instantly. Though he was capable of putting together a handful of classic matches through great training, Warrior’s usual match only resembled wrestling in the sense someone was pinned at the end. His typical promos were even worse, only recognizable as conversation in the sense they contained a few real human words interspersed with his made up ones. Once Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship, there was nothing left for the Warrior to conquer, and the shine wore off almost instantly, the fans realizing Warrior’s nonsense would literally have no point from then on.
2. Lex Luger
Plenty of rookie athletes have a great first year or two and suddenly drop off in talent, and the only difference in the wrestling industry is that this doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll drop off in prominence, as well. Lex Luger had a good two or maybe even three years as a top level talent in WCW, wrestling solid matches against legends like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat and standing in The Four Horsemen as a worthy member of the group. Something happened around his jump to WWE in 1993 that made him decide to stop caring entirely, resorting to flexing far more often than he used actual wrestling moves. By the time he jumped back to WCW, Luger was virtually all style and no substance, but the nature of this list means it was the highest profile era of his career, constantly in the main event against the nWo and even briefly winning the WCW Championship. The Lex Luger of 1988 could’ve changed the business, but all the Lex Luger of 2000 did was slow down main events and make WCW look out of touch for keeping him employed and in top feuds.
1. The Fabulous Moolah
It would be fair to call the pro wrestlers on this list bad, but it would probably be a bit much to blame to say they deserve all the blame for stinking up the scene while they were around. Promoters had equal culpability for pushing them, after all, and most of them did have loud enough fans that the McMahon’s and Bischoff’s could sleep easy for having done it. The Fabulous Moolah is an exception, however, for her absolute stranglehold on women’s wrestling from the 1950s to the late 1980s, slowly but surely destroying the entire enterprise for decades to come. Little of Moolah’s in-ring career survives in video form, but we can at least admit she made a decent heel in her day, so we won’t complain about the Moolah of the Golden Era. Rock and Wrestling Moolah is well documented, however, and she continued to dominate over all female comers despite barely being able to bump and looking like she was old enough to be the average fan’s grandmother (which, in her mid 60s, she was). The older Moolah got, the more time robbed her of whatever talent she had, but her power only grew, making the gap between her success and ability only grow wider until she finally retired.