Dozens of qualities are required for the creation of a great professional wrestler. While the general look of a performer can no doubt be one of if not the absolute most important element to creating a superstar, there are actually plenty of technical necessities that are also needed along the way to turn a run-of-the mill grappler into a bona fide superstar. It might seem like WWE, as the pinnacle of the wrestling industry, is the one place where this holds true the most, but in fact it’s an element that resonates throughout virtually every wrestling promotion no matter how big or small. Despite this, there have been countless wrestlers that somehow managed to excel based on their look alone, and this time around WWE might actually be the most responsible entity for this phenomenon.
For this list, we’re talking about wrestlers who might have had a marketable image, or even a strong enough understanding of acting and character work to allow them to succeed in the wrestling industry despite having next to no actual talent in the ring. In some cases, the wrestlers aren’t exactly hopeless when it comes to their actual jobs, but they’ve been pushed far beyond their means thanks solely due to the fact Vince McMahon or some other executive was impressed by their look. We’re mostly focusing on WWE and more recent cases, but this problem has existed long throughout wrestling history, as giants and monster attractions have long been seen as the stars above actually talented wrestlers for decades. Keep reading to learn which 15 wrestlers were all style and no substance.
15. Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is the current embodiment of this idea, as his push towards the top of WWE resulting in Roman already being a three time WWE World Champion has been marred by critics and fans alike claiming he’s in no way fit for the role as a top star in the wrestling industry. Vince McMahon has for whatever reason become completely enthralled by Roman’s look, with his impressive physique and leading man looks seemingly more important than the fact he is a virtual vacuum of charisma who can only work decent matches against opponents with significantly greater talents than his.
Roman is booed louder and louder with every appearance, but WWE still can’t get the message that fans aren’t buying into the image the company is trying to sell anymore. It would seem Reigns might be out of the main event scene for now and building his character work so he doesn’t stay on this list his entire career, but the WWE Universe will never forget that for his first several years on the top, Roman Reigns was a huge dud once it became clear the audience wasn’t going along with what was written in the script.
14. The Sandman
The Sandman is considered the Hardcore Icon and one of the greatest and most important superstars in ECW history. Sandman held the ECW World Heavyweight Championship a record five times, more than any other superstar, and there’s no denying he was perhaps the most popular performer ever to step into the ECW Arena. With his screaming fans guiding him along the way, The Sandman’s entrance was a sight to behold that left even the most docile fan absolutely pumped and excited for whatever wild antics this beer swilling maniac would get into. The problem was that he was drinking real beers on the way to the ring, so once the match started, there was pretty much nothing left in The Sandman, and he was no more than a drunken mess.
Sandman regularly endangered his own life and the life of his opponents to an almost ridiculous degree, and this is in a company where people willingly wrapped themselves in barbed wire. He was incapable of executing even the simplest wrestling moves, and his trademark leg drops were almost sad in how choreographed and stumbling he appeared whenever he tried to perform them. Somehow, the ECW faithful never stopped supporting him, perhaps still on the high of getting to hear Metallica.
13. The Fabulous Moolah
The Fabulous Moolah for a long time stood as the preeminent icon of women’s wrestling, especially within the WWE Universe. Recently, a revolution has been occurring that is at long last destroying the clichéd version of women’s wrestling that dominated the wrestling industry for so long. Although no one is willing to say it, the revolution is basically just undoing the conditioning Moolah forced upon her audience by refusing to wrestle good matches against talented young performers less she make herself look week and loosen her complete and total strange hold over the women’s wrestling industry.
Moolah technically held the WWE Women’s Championship on and off for several decades, but she’s officially recognized as having held the belt for 28 consecutive years. Maybe some of her matches near the beginning weren’t too shabby, but as she approached her 50’s, 60’s, and then for her final reign as Women’s Champion even late 70’s, it was clear she didn’t have anything whatsoever to give as a performer in the ring. Moolah’s interviews weren’t terrible, and she maintained a consummate heel throughout the majority of her career, but the main reason some people thought women couldn’t be good wrestlers for over five decades is the fact Moolah was the only female wrestler anybody knew.
12. Eva Marie
Eva Marie is aware she’s appearing in articles like this one, and she’s doing everything she can to get better and change that reputation. The gorgeous young superstar is one of very few to request she be “demoted” as it were and head back to NXT after making her debut on the main WWE roster, and she did so because she knew fans thought her in-ring skills were seriously lacking in relation to her position in the company. Despite this perception, Marie has meanwhile managed to also build a reputation as one of the most promising heels in the industry today, and against her best efforts, these two reputations seem to be exponentially growing regardless of their seeming contradiction.
Unlike most of this list, Eva Marie at least is trying to get better when it comes to actually wrestling, but many fans feel she has yet to show in her ring performances. Her promos, character work, and general style as a sports entertainer continues to flourish, but she still is having trouble picking up the subtle nuances required to become a true WWE superstar. Time will tell whether or not Eva becomes a breakout success story later in her career, or if the perception as a pretty face with nothing to back it up haunts Eva for the rest of her life.
Tiny Lister can’t be blamed too harshly for the fact he wasn’t the greatest professional wrestler when thrust into the role in 1989, because Tiny Lister was actual a professional actor who quite literally fell into a second career with sports entertainment. Lister turned into a wrestler thanks to his participation in the film No Holds Barred, in which he was cast as the villainous Zeus. The film was universally panned and the less said about it the better, but if there’s any one positive thing we could mention, perhaps the fact Lister gave his all in the role and genuinely looked the part of an unstoppable heel could be the only strongpoint the film has. Unfortunately, when he tried to parlay that success into an actual wrestling career, it wasn’t quite as easy to pull the wool over the eyes of the collective audience.
As he did in the film, Zeus primarily feuded against Hulk Hogan. Zeus quickly proved that while he looked big, mean, and scary, he was almost completely untrained in the art of pro wrestling. The idea was that nothing could hurt him, but many felt he took it too far by making every single opponent aside from The Hulkster look weak and ineffectual. The fact Zeus couldn’t exactly dish out any punishment of his own because he didn’t know how to do so definitely hurt the character a bit, too. Of course, that didn’t stop WCW from giving Lister a second chance in the mid ‘90s as Ze Gangstas, which predictably fell apart almost as quickly as it did in WWE.
10. Randy Orton
This entry might be a little bit controversial, but we feel steadfast in our statement that Randy Orton simply isn’t an interesting or entertaining wrestler in any way. There’s a reason his harshest (and least imaginative) critics refer to him as Blandy Boreton, and if it weren’t for his movie star good looks and natural appeal towards female fans, no one would be cheering for RKOs out of nowhere. And in all fairness, he pretty much lifted that shtick directly from “Diamond” Dallas Page, as well, proving his one popular idea inside the ring wasn’t even original.
Orton might comparatively have the most wrestling prowess out of any of the superstars on this list, but he has also unquestionably been the most successful. As such, there’s still a pretty wide margin in terms of what he’s achieved in the sport versus his actual talent level. Orton hasn’t had any of the classic matches most true WWE legends are known for providing in spades; much to the contrary, Orton is well known for delivering major disappointments when all the cards seem to be in order for him to create something special.
9. The Junkyard Dog
Certain wrestlers only work in the right time and the right place, and for The Junkyard Dog, that place and time was the American South throughout the 1980s. JYD was one of the most popular superstars wherever he roamed during the territorial days of wrestling, reaching the peak of his popularity while working for Bill Watts and Mid-South Wrestling. Junkyard Dog had boundless charisma and was able to command a crowd’s attention with his every move, but when it came time to actually get in the ring and work a wrestling match, he almost always found himself instantly overwhelmed and unable to compete at the most basic level.
JYD was at least in pretty good shape and looked like he could hold his own in a fight during the beginning of his career, but as time went on and he progressed from regional territories to extended stints in WWE and WCW, he started to gain weight and seriously let himself go along the way. When forced to rely on his lackluster in-ring capabilities, the Junkyard Dog quickly found himself a relic of a lost era, and was essentially forced out of the spotlight due to the industry growing into an enterprise that demanded the most out of its performers both as wrestlers and entertainers.
8. Giant González
The entire point of a list like this one is to admit that a wrestler can go extremely far based on their look alone, and if that look is special enough, they seriously don’t need anything else whatsoever to back it up when they step in the ring. Never was this more true than in the case of Jorge “Giant” González, the ex-basketball player on record as the actual tallest man ever to perform in WCW or WWE. González was billed as standing 8 feet tall, and came fairly close with a legitimate height of 7 feet 7 inches. González also boasted an impressive physique as a result of his gigantism, but WWE had to go muddy the waters with our list by putting him in a ridiculous painted-on body suit.
González was a true spectacle thanks to his massive frame, and WWE did the one thing they could do to accentuate it by pairing him with the diminutive Harvey Wippleman. However, there was nothing they could do about the fact he was completely inept in the ring, as his size unfortunately prevented him from having any sort of normal wrestling career, as well. González’ height made him such a rarity that outside of Ric Flair, virtually no wrestler was compatible enough with González to even work a watchable match, and he was forced to retire from the business after a brief and unremarkable career as a result.
Nelson Frazier was known by a few names throughout his surprisingly long and storied tenure in WWE, but we’re referring to him first and foremost as Mabel, since that was the name with which he managed to achieve his greatest heights as a performer. Mabel is similar to several others on this list in that his unique size was solely responsible for his success in the wrestling industry, as he regularly held a massive frame weighing well over 500 lbs. As one might imagine, Mabel’s immense size made it hard for him to move as athletically and fluidly as some of his co-workers. This wasn’t a huge problem when he was part of a tag team with the slightly more talented Mo in Men on a Mission, but when Mabel was pushed as a solo star, his faults were overwhelmingly apparently and started to drag down the entirety of WWE.
Mabel won the 1995 King of the Ring tournament, and many fans consider him to be the worst wrestler ever to hold the crown. His SummerSlam main event against Diesel ranks as one of the worst main events in WWE history, and Frazier’s track record continued to look pretty dire even as he transitioned out of the Mabel gimmick into later characters including Viscera and The World’s Largest Love Machine. Despite some creative work on the microphone during the latter gimmick, Frazier was still incapable of improving his performance as a wrestler, and fans were unable to forget this and allow him to rise back to the top of the card.
6. Mustafa Saed
At one point or another, virtually ever major ECW wrestler was criticized for being unable to work a regular match, and from suffered an over reliance on brawling, hardcore antics, and gimmicky weapons. Fans of the promotion know this was hardly the case across the board, but it’s somewhat understandable how a person with limited access to their catalogue could have managed to build that reputation. There were definitely some wrestlers in ECW that made their way to the top without ever becoming so much as competent wrestlers, and one of the worst offenders was Mustafa Saed, one half of The Gangstas.
New Jack, the other Gangsta, has long been accused of being careless and needlessly dangerous in the ring, but Mustafa is far more deserving of attention when it comes to his ability to safely perform his job. When a wrestler is described as “stiff,” it usually means they hit their opponents too hard, but we’re calling Mustafa stiff to mean the man was wooden and could barely move. His physique was impressive, and The Gangstas character, although mostly New Jack, was well served by an imposing figure backing up Jack’s words. Mustafa should never have actually tried to wrestle, though, because especially after the team broke up, it was clear he never bothered learning how to do so in the first place.
5. Ludvig Borga
It’s hard for wrestling fans to complain too generally about the idea of the foreign heel monster, because the concept is so integral to the core success of some of the greatest eras in sports entertainment, and therefore being too critical of it would almost be missing the point of wrestling in the first place. Regardless of the idea itself, the fact remains there are certain wrestlers who were good at portraying the evil foreign menace, and other wrestlers who had no place attempting to take the role in the first place. Such was the case with Tony Halme, better known as the evil Finnish environmentalist Ludvig Borga.
If you’re struggling to figure out how an environmentalist can turn into an evil wrestler, take some solace in the fact most wrestling fans were right there with you. Borga was big and scary like most foreign monsters, but Finland is hardly what people think of when it comes to stereotypical villains. Borga didn’t have any of the in-ring finesse his monstrous character required, either, which is probably why he only managed brief feuds with Tatanka and Lex Luger before leaving wrestling for an equally strange career in Finnish politics.
Thanks to repeated public outbursts on the Internet, maybe it can be pretty safely said that Ryback would not agree with his position on this list. If you really think about his complaints, though, perhaps it isn’t so cut and dry, since Ryback at least understood that he was simply hired to portray a role that he thought he’s been doing pretty good at, regardless of the length of technical quality of the matches he was having in doing so. Ryback is yet another wrestler whose primary function was to act as an unstoppable monster, and a wrestler like this doesn’t need to be having unforgettable classics every night in the same way a true main event talent does. Unfortunately, WWE wasn’t as self-aware as Ryback himself, and occasionally tried pushing him into the main event anyway, exposing him for the mid-tier worker he was destined to become.
Ryback received “Goldberg” chants almost from the beginning of his career, and the implication was that wrestling fans had seen this before, and the latest version wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. Ryback may have put in just enough work to earn his place in WWE history for several years, but time would tell it wasn’t nearly enough to actually get the company to view him as a valuable performer. Thanks to his own inabilities as a wrestler, it was only a matter of time before they didn’t see him as having any value whatsoever.
3. Michael Hayes
Most of the wrestlers on this list were all style in the sense they looked the way a wrestler is supposed to look without being able to perform the way a wrestler is supposed to perform in the ring. Michael Hayes may not have had the single greatest look in wrestling history, but he had a mouth that knew how to turn his moderate look into one of the hottest acts in Texas wrestling history. Unfortunately, he never bothered to master the wrestling element of his job while he rode his oratory skills towards repeated championship success both in Texas territories and later in WCW.
Hayes usually wasn’t alone, always flanked by some combination of Buddy Roberts, Terry Gordy, and Jimmy Garvin in his legendary group The Fabulous Freebirds. Hayes was the foundation of the team, but he was also by far the weakest wrestler, and only managed to become a Hall of Fame worthy performing on the success of his partners and through his own gift of gab. Plenty of wrestlers have been solid on the microphone with less to back it up in the ring, but Hayes took superficiality to a new level by convincing people he was such an magnetic personality he somehow deserved credit for the work of multiple other men.
2. Ahmed Johnson
There are several ways to judge a wrestler’s in-ring performance, and some of those ways would actually imply Ahmed Johnson was as good of a wrestler as he appeared to be at first glance. Ahmed was built, strong, and most importantly, intense in a manner that the WWE Universe had never seen before he made his debut in 1995. Ahmed brought a fire few other wrestlers could possess, and this intensity followed him into the ring and riled up crowds into a frenzy during his first few years with the sport. Unfortunately, Ahmed was also extremely careless and repeatedly injured both his opponents and himself, and the shine on his alleged abilities started to wear off once he began failing at the most important element of wrestling.
The popularity of Ahmed Johnson is often overlooked and forgotten even in Attitude Era retrospectives, so it’s worth pointing out he was a truly magnetic personality who brought fans to their feet when he became the first African American to win the Intercontinental Championship. However, that same indication of success starts to show why his career unraveled, as his history-making title reign quickly came to an end when he was unable to defend the belt. Ahmed would make a series of returns only to injure himself again, reminding fans no matter how great he looked, he still never actually learned how to wrestle.
1. The Great Khali
We’ve covered again and again the fact The Great Khali might have been the worst wrestler to rise to the top of WWE in the history of the company. He was almost definitely the least talented wrestler to win the World Heavyweight Championship, and his rapid descent down the ranks and transformation into a fun loving “Punjabi Playboy” didn’t manage to help things in the slightest. If anything, all turning into a dancer did was prove Khali was as immobile as a dancer as he was as a pro wrestler, and that should probably put him in the ranks as one of the worst playboys in history, as well.
The Great Khali checks almost every box shared amongst wrestlers on this list. He was much taller than the average wrestler, and he looked to be in better shape with an all around scarier frame than even most of the other grapplers we’ve already covered. Khali couldn’t do anything at all to back it up in the ring, though, and fans collectively groaned whenever he started his slow crawl towards the ring. The one silver lining in the story of The Great Khali is that eventually even the WWE figured out whether he was a Punjabi Monster, Playboy, or Nightmare, he was never going to figure out how to become a Punjabi Wrestler.