History is written by the winners, and in terms of the WWE Universe, that means Vince McMahon alone will forever get to decide which of his wrestlers were the most “important.” Truth be told, if anyone is qualified to do this, it’s Vince, but at the same time, he doesn’t always make the right choices when informing fans which superstars made the biggest impact on his company. McMahon is only human, and as such, he’s naturally bound to remember his friends and allies in a more favorable light than wrestlers with whom he wasn’t particularly close.
In that same way, the wrestling press is likewise to treat superstars of whom they’re big fans with rose-colored glasses. However, simply being entertaining and memorable doesn’t always directly translate to genuinely changing the way wrestling is made. Another possibility is that the wrestlers in question themselves will take great efforts at talking up their own contributions, such to the extent some less informed fans might even start to believe them.
Unfortunately, this trend means that some other wrestlers who do deserve a lot of credit for shaping sports entertainment get left out of the story, because for whatever reason, someone else is getting it instead. In the best case scenarios, true innovators all inevitably get their due, but sometimes it takes years or even decades for this to finally happen. Even after they finally get recognized, it’s usually in a begrudging way that downplays just how important they were. For the full story, keep reading to learn about 8 wrestlers who never get enough credit, and 7 who get way too much.
15 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Bull Nakano Tried Bringing The Japanese Style To America
Long before the current WWE women’s wrestling revolution began, something similar had already happened over in Japan. Multiple all female promotions were receiving record ratings, and one of the standout stars was Bull Nakano. In all reality, Nakano was just one of many women changing the game in the Land of the Rising Sun, but she nonetheless deserves distinction on this list for being a rare early Japanese female wrestler to get a true shot at success in WWE.
Alongside Alundra Blayze, who is appropriately respected by the company as a legend, Nakano wrestled some of the first truly great matches contested over the Women’s Championship throughout the winter of 1994.
Granted, Nakano wasn’t the very first Japanese wrestler to go stateside, nor even the first female — the Jumping Bomb Angels made a similar move in the late'‘80s, and also don’t get nearly enough credit for their innovation. However, it makes sense they’ve been forgotten, as the Women’s Tag Team Championships haven’t existed in decades, making it hard to bring them up. As a former Women’s Champion who predicted revolution, Nakano could at least get mentioned come Hall of Fame season, yet the company never acknowledges her at all. Of course, the fact McMahon quickly gave up on women’s wrestling at the time might have something to do with it.
14 GETS TOO MUCH: Vince Russo Couldn’t Overrule The Other Vince
In fairness, at this point, pretty much the only person left desperately attempting to give Vince Russo credit for the Attitude Era is, well, Vince Russo. That said, there was most certainly a point when almost everyone in the wrestling industry was singing his praises, with some even calling him responsible for the general mood and feeling of WWE’s most popular time frame.
Of course, Russo is also cited for slowly ruining WCW with ridiculous angles and making it difficult for TNA to find footing for the same reason, questioning how much good he could have done for the McMahon’s.
As many Russo critics later pointed out, the fact he was once the WWE “head writer” was pretty much a title only position, as the real head writer is and always has been the other Vince McMahon. Sure, Russo had a bunch of solid ideas, but they needed to go through McMahon’s filter before they hit the airwaves. There was no such controlling body in WCW or TNA, and virtually every wrestling fan alive is all too aware of how an unfiltered Russo damaged both companies. Even if Russo had made a huge impact on the Attitude Era’s storylines, the wanton disrespect and destruction of the WCW Championship more or less canceled that out, slowly chipping away his once positive reputation.
13 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Ivory Deserved The Glow Of The Spotlight
For all the talk about how Trish Stratus and Lita were in many respects the godmothers of the current women’s wrestling revolution, they were hardly alone in attempting to change the industry from the inside. On top of Bull Nakano and Alundra Blayze a few years earlier, another Attitude Era female wrestler who wanted to increase her gender’s stance in the industry had been Ivory.
In an era where blonde hair was far more important than actual wrestling skill, Ivory stood out as a veteran talent who could both talk and grapple, leading to three turns as the WWE Women’s Championship.
While Ivory was finally inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2018, the move came far too late for her influence to truly feel appreciated. The fact she always rejected the term “diva” says it all, as no one else in WWE seemed to catch on to the fact it was basically an insult for another decade. That she attempted to create good matches with the weakest opponents hired solely for their looks was also admirable, whether or not it always paid off. Stratus, Lita, and other subsequent top tier female wrestlers may have done more for the sport overall, but only after Ivory started proving women in general deserved a chance to actually wrestle.
12 GETS TOO MUCH: The Fabulous Moolah Wasn’t As She Seemed
Now that WWE could actually lose money over the situation, chances are they’ll be downplaying the amount of praise The Fabulous Moolah has received over the past half century or more. That said, the controversy surrounding WrestleMania 34’s giant 30-woman contest is just a small piece of the story. Shocking as the rumors about Moolah’s personal life and business practices were to many fans, the real issue is how her in-ring work already stifled the growth of women’s wrestling for her entire career.
When fans are treated to a WWE Women’s Championship match today on Raw, SmackDown, or NXT, they expect fast paced and exciting action from the hardest working females in the business.
From 1956 to the late '80s when Moolah finally stepped away for the first time, women’s matches meant mostly scratching, weak snapmares, and a whole lot of hair pulling. This is largely because these cheap tactics were the only things Moolah was willing to do. The idea of a 20-minute hard fought match would never cross her mind, nor would WWE dare ask her to wrestle in one, knowing it wouldn’t work. Of course, the fact Moolah allegedly used her influence to destroy the prospects of any rising star who could actually wrestle and thus might take her place was just as bad.
11 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Goldust Helped Usher In A New Attitude
Truth be told, Dustin Rhodes doesn’t quite reach the level of his famous father Dusty, but he still deserves more credit for his role in changing wrestling than he’s ever given. More specifically, the Goldust character is rarely viewed as the turning point it was, arguably standing as the first sign of the impending Attitude Era. Just as it was becoming clear the cartoonish characters of the New Generation weren’t working, along came a dark, mysterious, and decidedly adult character that drew an incredible amount of hatred from the WWE audience. Granted, the less said about Goldust’s inappropriate overtones the better, but the mere idea of a layered character in such a weak era creatively was a pivotal moment.
After Goldust established himself, it wasn’t long before Mankind came along and took the idea of a crazy wrestler giving long speeches to what he believed was an intelligent audience even further.
Removed from his influence on the Attitude Era, Dustin Rhodes also deserves a great deal of respect simply for managing to stick around for so long. Overall, he’s been working for WWE somewhere around 20 years, and while some angles have been better than others, he can always deliver in the ring when necessary, which is much more than can be said of most men with that sort of longevity.
10 GETS TOO MUCH: Kevin Nash Tanked For Years
Largely due to the fact he is very tall and has remarkably pristine long hair, Kevin Nash managed to become a World Champion just about wherever he went. Not only that, but Nash had a tendency to hold on to the gold for quite some time when he won it, despite the fact this never lead to positive results for his employers. Wrestling as Diesel, he experienced the longest WWE Championship reign of the 1990s, holding onto the belt for nearly a full year during which Raw ratings dropped to record lows, and certain episodes needed to be taped at high school gyms because the company could no longer fill arenas.
Somehow, Diesel’s inability to take off didn’t hurt Nash’s prospects in WWE overall, and he arguably reached even greater heights in WCW.
Though he would never experience another year-long reign, Nash won more gold for Ted Turner than he ever did for Vince McMahon, including four runs as World Champion. Not unlike his WWE Championship reign, the second Nash won the gold, ratings started to sag. Granted, it didn’t help that he killed off the company’s top star Goldberg to win the belt, nor that the Fingerpoke of Doom came soon after, but Nash’s next three reigns didn’t help ratings at all, either, making it hard to view him as a true legend.
9 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: The Glamour Girls Were Years Ahead Of The Revolution
The second the women’s revolution was announced, it seemed like a given WWE would revive the Women’s Tag Team Championships, but it as of yet seems unlikely they’ll actually do so. Not only does this hurt any current female wrestler who might do well in a potential doubles division, but it further buries the legacy of two wrestlers who desperately attempted kick starting the whole movement a solid 20 years before it began.
Individually, Judy Martin and Leilani Kai didn’t accomplish all that much in WWE. Kai is a former Women’s Champion and Martin challenged for the belt a few times, but their true lasting accomplishments came when banding together as The Glamour Girls.
Under the direction of Jimmy Hart, the two dramatically increased their work rate for a feud against the Jumping Bomb Angels that innovated moves even men’s American wrestling wouldn’t attempt for years. In some respects, the Girls and their opponents were actually making their male counterparts look bad, not to mention destroying the draw power of weaker female talent like the Fabulous Moolah. It was the second issue that allegedly lead to their downfall, but now that Moolah isn’t such a sacred cow, perhaps WWE can stop protecting her image and admit just how ahead of their time the Glamour Girls had been.
8 GETS TOO MUCH: The Ultimate Warrior Was Too Wild To Stay On Top
For all the firm decisions required of a man ruling with an iron fist, Vince McMahon sure seems to change his mind a whole lot. Case in point, The Ultimate Warrior, who probably wouldn’t have wound up on a list like this one 10 years ago, because up until recently, he was perhaps rightly viewed as a bizarre fluke who almost immediately fizzled out when placed in the spotlight. WWE especially promoted this image through their DVD release The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior, and the man in question did not appreciate it.
However, once McMahon and the Warrior were on good terms again, all of this was completely whitewashed, with the former WWE Champion now celebrated through his very own award each Hall of Fame ceremony.
Fans can forever debate whether the Warrior deserved his time in the spotlight or not, but to make him the first wrestler with a special Hall of Fame award greatly inflates his legacy. It can’t be ignored that immediately after Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI, television ratings and Pay-Per-View buy rates started to go down, and they didn’t shoot back up until Hogan was the champion again. Granted, part of the blame could be placed on the Hulkster hogging the spotlight, but the fact remains Warrior alone wasn’t changing the business.
7 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Bearcat Wright Was The First Official African American World Champion
To this day, only a very small number of former wrestling World Champions have been people of color, whether in the WWE Universe or elsewhere. According to WWE, the first African American World Champion was Ron Simmons, who achieved the honor wrestling for WCW in late 1992. Other sources give the credit to Bobo Brazil, who technically won the NWA Championship in 1962, though he immediately refused the title and his reign is officially unrecognized.
In between the two (and much closer to Bobo historically) was Bearcat Wright, who defeated “Classy” Freddie Blassie for the WWA World Championship in 1963.
Even before winning the World title, Wright was already changing the game for African American wrestlers by refusing to compete on any shows that were segregated. This briefly got him suspended by the Indiana State Athletic Commission, but he had the last laugh when he started wrestling white wrestlers for their gold. Unfortunately, immediately after he won the WWA Championship, Wright was accused of being unprofessional in refusing to lose it, which immediately hurt his reputation in the wrestling world. This left his major accomplishment pretty much forgotten until WWE finally inducted him to the Hall of Fame in 2017. Of course, Wright went in the Legacy Wing, which meant the game changing performer still flew under history’s radar.
6 GETS TOO MUCH: The Sandman Epitomized Every Criticism Against ECW
Depending on how one feels about ECW in general, the idea of a wrestler known primarily for the hardcore Philadelphia promotion being on this half of the list may be redundant. For as popular as the company was amongst fans, ECW detractors were never all that big on the chair swinging freaks who took wrestling to the extreme. Of course, this attitude would cause people to miss out on a whole lot of great action, which ECW did indeed create at one point in time.
It just so happens that some of their top stars weren’t the ones creating it, especially when it comes to five time ECW Champion and alleged “hardcore icon,” The Sandman.
A microcosm of everything wrong with ECW, Sandman looked less like a legitimate wrestler and more like an intoxicated man stumbling towards a bar fight. This is mostly because after drinking a few beers during his entrance, that’s exactly what he became. According to Sandman’s contemporaries, the pre-gaming would regularly lead to sloppy matches that instantly killed the crowd after the Metallica song stopped playing. Despite this, because audiences genuinely went wild as he walked out to the ring, Sandman is still seen as one of the defining stars of ECW, when he was actually more responsible for its bad reputation than just about anyone else.
5 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Billy Kidman Keeps WWE Running On Time
Okay, so in terms of his actual wrestling career, Billy Kidman gets pretty much the exact amount of credit he deserves. A regular hand in the WCW and WWE cruiserweight scene, Kidman was a solid talent who could always deliver a good match, but he didn’t have much charisma on the microphone, leading to a relatively low success ceiling. That said, Kidman’s place in WWE dramatically changed after his retirement, at which point he was signed to a new contract as a road agent and producer.
While the company has dozens of wrestlers technically in the same position, Kidman specifically has one of the toughest jobs in all of live television.
Raw and SmackDown may have a spirit of recklessness due to the fact “anything can happen in the WWE Universe,” but the networks that air these programs are very specific about when the action needs to stop for commercial consideration. Believe it or not, Kidman is the one sitting backstage and deciding when something needs to be cut or extended at the last second so the show fits the allotted TV time. The same job was once performed by Gerald Brisco, who has long been considered a legend several times over, yet Kidman hasn’t received nearly the same respect, likely due to his weaker in-ring career.
4 GETS TOO MUCH: Triple H Didn’t Exactly Create The Game
Nowadays, aside from Vince McMahon himself, no one in WWE has more power than Triple H. Given what this article posited in the intro, it was only natural the Game would try and make his own favorite wrestler look more important in retrospect. Obviously, Triple H’s favorite wrestler is and always has been, well, Triple H.
In fairness, it’s a stretch to claim his familial ties alone were responsible for the 14 World Championship reigns he experienced or the many other times Triple H was given the spotlight.
Nonetheless, when WWE talk about the Game retrospectively, it’s clear they’re doing so through their boss’s rose-colored glasses when it comes to his own past. The area they get wrong the most is the Attitude Era, when Triple H was at best the fourth or fifth most important superstar around, known primarily for his silly sideshow antics and sophomoric sense of humor. Somehow, this has translated to him and DX being the driving force behind the Monday Night War, all due to a single comedy skit where they rode a tank to a WCW arena. Triple H may deserve all the credit he gets behind the scenes, but that moment didn’t mean much compared to The Rock or Steve Austin, nor did anything else he accomplished until it was already clear WWE won the war.
3 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Buddy Rogers Was The Real Nature Boy
Professional wrestling never slows down, meaning the older a wrestler is, the less likely they are to be remembered by the current era. While it’s reasonable that some names would slip through the cracks, one would assume genuine legends would always retain their iconic status. Somehow, though, the first ever WWE Champion, who also happened to have recently held the NWA Championship when he achieved that honor, almost never gets mentioned by his former employers in the echelon of performers who shaped the industry.
The original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was an intensely charismatic performer, and perhaps one of the first wrestlers in history to value style over substance.
Not that he was lacking in the latter category, able to wrestle hard-fought, long-lasting main events against any opponent who challenged him. Well, in the NWA, anyway. In WWE, he was bested by Bruno Sammartino after just a few months as champion, and in 48 seconds, no less. Rogers nonetheless remained respected by WWE for many years, appearing as a regular face in the 1980s as the host of talk show segments. Once Rogers died, he was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, but it almost feels like they forgot about him from there, as he’s seldom acknowledged for being the first man to define the phrase “WWE Champion.”
2 GETS TOO MUCH: Stephanie McMahon Is Only Somewhat Revolutionary
Ultimately, the world at large will never quite know for sure how important Stephanie McMahon has been in the current WWE women’s wrestling revolution getting off the ground backstage. Any way one looks at it, there must have been someone behind the scenes supporting the idea for it to explode in the way it has, and as a top ranking female executive, Stephanie may well have been that person.
However, it’s a wild exaggeration to treat her like the single most important factor in the entire revolution, which is pretty much the way WWE tries to play it.
Apparently, the McMahon family thinks the person who announces a new Women’s Championship or the first ever all female Royal Rumble is more important than any of the wrestlers who put on great matches because of them. Similarly, whoever okayed the women getting a half hour of TV time seemingly thinks they deserve the credit for said wrestlers going out there and winning over the crowd time and again. It also really doesn’t help that aside from UFC outsider Ronda Rousey, no female wrestlers are ever able to stand toe to toe with Steph without looking weak. Because she almost never gets in the ring and wrestles, this could mean she’s doing more harm than good to the division overall.
1 DOESN’T GET ENOUGH: Toots Mondt Basically Invented Sports Entertainment
The way Vince McMahon tells the story, his father pretty much created the WWE Universe entirely by himself, running the show like a dictatorship in the exact same manner Vince, Jr. does today. In reality, this was most definitely not the case, as the elder McMahon had several aides and allies helping him out when building the company from the ground up. Chief among them was a creative genius named Toots Mondt, who had practically invented what we now know as sports entertainment long before the McMahon’s even entered the picture.
Way back in the 1920s, Mondt developed what he called “slam bang western style wrestling,” which focused on heroes and villains in charismatic encounters, rather than the 60-minute slow-paced slogs that originally defined pro wrestling.
Instantly, the newer version of wrestling was a huge hit, and while Mondt had trouble with some of his early collaborators, Vince McMahon, Sr. was one of the few names to trust his vision. Together, the two co-founded the World Wide Wrestling Federation, though it wasn’t long before McMahon ousted his partner from the business and the history books. In 2017, WWE finally acknowledged Mondt’s contributions with a Hall of Fame induction, but they still dramatically downplayed how integral he was in founding the industry itself, leaving him direly underrated.
References: wwe.com, thesportster.com, usanetwork.com