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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The Most Under-praised Legends of the Past 25 Years
June 14, 2005 by Matthew Jones


Heroes" Legends" Wrestling Gods" Every time you watch the WWE these days everyone is claiming greatness, but everyone knows only time will tell. Time separates the flavour of the weeks from the true talent. Now while recently the WWE Hall Of Fame has taken a huge step towards credibility its still the fans memories and webpages such as OWW that recall and praise talents of the past. A few months ago I was lucky to meet one of my favourite wrestlers from my childhood days, for weeks I told all my friends, including WWE fans, about my joy of meeting this true legends. The reply from many was...who" Who indeed am I talking so highly about" None other than Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat!

Now while every wrestling fan will remember Hogan, Hart, Piper, Flair, Sting, The Undertaker and Michaels as true legends I feel the need to praise those great wrestlers of the past who although remember fondly will never be truly classed as Legends!

Ricky Steamboat: During a generic house show on a UK tour I happened to stop Fit Finley and a group of road agents watching at ringside. I couldn't contain my excitement when I noticed Mr Steamboat was one of them. Once the halftime interval came there I was surrounded by a group of ten years olds trying who were trying to get Teddy Long's autograph waiting to speak to "The Dragon". A true gentleman he acknowledged me and spoke for a few minutes before kindly taken a photo with me. Id seen him wrestle before in 1992 but it was a true honour to speak to Steamboat. "The Dragon" is one of the few wrestlers I always remember as being a babyface, Steamboat didn't cheat, he didn't brawl, he was a true wrestler who can drive a crowd crazy using only an arm-drag. His recent run in RoH with C.M Punk shows that while big brawlers got the headlines long-time wrestling fans will always appreciate Steamboat. A high flyer in his time and a superior technical wrestler makes Ricky Steamboat an under-praised legend who has many career highlights. His WrestleMania Three match with Randy Savage is often seen as one the events best ever matches, I will always remember his 1992 run in WCW against the Evil Dangerous Alliance. One of wrestling's true good guys!

Randy Savage: Perhaps you may think it's unfair to not class Savage in the same class Hogan and Hart and I think so too! When people list the true greats from the last 25 years I rarely see and hear Savage's name. I don't understand why" Perhaps his recent run in TNA has ruined his image, perhaps he will be seen as second best to Hogan or perhaps it was his backstage antics in the dying years of WCW! But in the last 80's up to 1992 Savage was the true glue that held WWF together. His work-rate often made matches involving Hogan, Zeus and The Ultimate Warrior more enjoyable than the rest of their performances. His previously mentioned match with Steamboat at WrestleMania 3 and his WrestleMania 5 match with Hogan are classics. WrestleMania 5 was based around the super-powers split after a long built and is still one of the most successful WrestleMania events ever! His second run as WWF Champion during a feud with Flair was a highlight of a very slow period in 1992. Another good all-rounder, he could brawl, he could fly and he could wrestle! Savage was also versatile a hated heel as the "Macho King" or beloved and colourful babyface the Macho Man could hold the crowd in his arms, and is part of one of the greatest on-screen couples ever with the late Miss Elizabeth.

Curt Henning: The greatest wrestler never to be a World Champion" Perhaps" Mr Perfect took his WWF gimmick and made it work. The talent was obvious in AWA but WWF made him a true star. There were two reasons for Henning's WWF success, firstly the gimmick made him look like a winner, he rarely lost! Secondly, he was good enough to make you believe! Excellent in the ring and charismatic on the microphone! Don't remember him for his WCW run as a "Redneck" but for the glory days in WWF. Perhaps the true greatest Intercontinental Champion ever (sorry Honky) it was Henning who made Bret Hart a star. Their Summerslam 1991 match still looks fresh and exciting today, which is amazing considering some matches can age terribly. The only true shames of his career were a lack of main event run - which seemed likely with Hogan and having the retire in the early 1990's for a while due a neck injury during his peak. Henning was always a good talker and his early death was a huge loss for the business. Henning's Oscar winning performance as Ric Flair's manager, especially at Royal Rumble 1992 shows that he would have been a perfect GM in the modern day WWE. RIP.

Ted DiBiase: I can't praise Ted DiBiase enough. The "Million Dollar Man" was the ultimate heel. From bullying Virgil, to making his own Belt and even buying the WWF world championship, DiBiase was pure evil. Just listen to that laugh! His music made you know he was rich and he was evil, that's all you needed to know! Of all on this list I feel DiBiase is least praised, a good but perhaps not great worker it didn't matter his charisma made you believe in him, and that's what was important. I still remember cheering watching Royal Rumble 1991 when Virgil finally punched him! I was so happy to see him get his punishment and after all that's the best sign of a great heel! DiBiase was reliable, you could always depend on him to raise the profile of his opponent and for many years he was the backbone of the WWF heel section. He would have been ten times the heel champion Sgt Slaughter! To this day id have trouble accepting him as babyface, always thinking it would be part of an evil scheme. He made the gimmick work, the gimmick didn't make him!

Just quickly I'd like to mention a few more wrestlers who haven't got the true praise they deserved:

Rick Rude: Another true heel, perhaps not the best wrestler, but a great talker who did the best he could with the Warrior! Steamboat and Rude's 1992 feud in WCW will always be a fond memory of mine!

Jake Roberts: Don't think of the man you saw on RAW in March, think of the greatest heel promos ever seen. It's not an over-statement that Roberts made you believe he was evil and twisted. The eyes, the voice and all his actions were perfect and should be studied by anyone trying to perfect their game! Shame he's fallen so hard, but perhaps one day he'll find a safe place!

Thank you for reading my column, perhaps if you feel I've left an under-appreciated legend off my list, feel free to mention them" I always had a soft spot for Rick Martel to be honest!

by Matthew Jones..


Andrew Betts wrote:
great column i agree 100% although Macho Man ruined his image with the rap album which was awful but everyone mentioned is great now then Jake Roberts man the years have not been kind to him he was a great wrestler he never won a WWF title ever but still the stuff he did in the ring was great he had the DDT nobody has ever used that move better than him but even the setup to the DDT was great that short arm clothesline it spoke volumes it meant he was 1 move away from putting the guy away.... and what can be said about "Ravishing" Rick Rude one of the best heels of the 80's he made you hate him so much i remember his feud with Jake Roberts that was a classic....Now Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat is still a great tallent he would more than likely still be wrestling if not for him slipping off the top rope during a match with Steve Austin but he had some great matches with Ric Flair now the "The Dragon" is backas a road agent his knowledge and skills will be a huge asset to the young guys comming up hell i'd put him on as head trainer for OVW all the wrestlers mentioned in the column are very over looked at times so i say give them their proper respect
Steven Brooks wrote:
Well Matthew, I agree on your article 100 percent. Everybody you mentioned is a bona-fide legend. To me, I hope all 6 (not really counting Martel. He is good but when compared to the others, he is chump meat) of those legends enter the Hall Of Fame. Others that should enter are Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, LOD, and Bob Backlund.True Rhodes and Funk were better in NWA but so was Harley Race and they wrestled in the WWF like Race did. And it would be nice to see LOD put in their place, right smack dab in the Hall of Fame. Bob Backlund carried the WWF before they started Hulkamania but is in before Backlund" Oh well, I hope that they are all put in the Hall of Fame come WM22.
Chris Arney wrote:
Great article and I agree with everyone on your list - especially Henning and Debiase. I still have trouble believing that those guys never got title runs. The only person I'd rather see get one who didn't (and should be on the list) is the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. People always seem to say so much great stuff about the Dynamite Kid (well, not about his personality), but what about Davey" I was on a message board recently and the people there were saying that Bret Hart carried him at Summerslam '92. The truth is that he was always great - he was one of, if not THE strongest wrestler on the roster, but was also more agile than most wrestlers. A true total package.

I also think Bam Bam Bigelow and Marty Jannetty (maybe not quite a legend) belong on the list. Neither ever seem to get the proper credit.
JB Neely wrote:
Great article, Matthew, though I did notice one factual error. You mention Curt Hennig as "the greatest wrestler never to be a World Champion", when, in actuality, Hennig held the AWA Heavyweight title for over a year (5/2/87-5/9/88). Hennig dropped the belt to Jerry Lawler in order to jump to the WWF. Perhaps it was a simple oversight, as you did mention Hennig's AWA run, but I wanted to send in the correction just in case.
Jfbuf wrote:
If you children knew anything about wrestling, you would know that Curt Henning was the AWA World Champion in 1988. It pains me sometimes to read and listen to the number of ignorant minors who know so little about the great sport of wrestling.So many of you got on the wrestling bandwagon during 1996, with the emergence of the NWO, and the rise of WCW. I just wish you people would spend a little time educating yourself on the true facts about wrestling and its very rich history, and less time on the backstage politics and rumors.
Matthews Jones wrote:
cheers for the feedback. Good call on Bam Bam, he was a talented big man who was never used to his full potential in WWF, but I feel if we are talking about most-under praised big man surely the title would go to the Vader. The man was a legend in WCW, he was truely scary, WWF really screwed this guy up!

I think Jannetty its in the same league as Martel, but he's no Steamboat/Henning.

On the subject of Henning I failed to realise AWA was a reconised world title, just assumed it was a heavyweight. We didnt get too much AWA over here so I apologise to all AWA fans, by World champion I was looking at WCW/NWA, WWF or IWGP e.t.c . - My Bad!
Johnny LaRue wrote:
As a fellow OWW columnist you were spot on with the list but I have to mention the following:

1.) Arn Anderson: I think people overlook him and were focused on Flair instead of him.

2.) Harley Race: I think most remember him in his waning years in the WWF but overall I thought Race had a solid career and was always overlooked since he was not "flashy"
Matthew Jones wrote:
Well despite all the positive feedback (including JB Neely who sent me apolite personal email). I feel it necessary to state my dissatisfaction at the comments made by JFbuf. I have a rich knowledge in the history of wrestling swell as embracing the current and modern events. In my other articles I have stated my great fondness for NWA/WCW from the late 80's onwards, which doesn't class me as an ignorant minor who jumped on the bandwagon in 1996. Now ive never stated to know everything and made a mistake of not recognizing the AWA title as a World title, and have made comments to adjust this. But what JFbuf should understand is that new fans that embrace wrestling everyday are good things. So what if they only first got into wrestling following the nWo's success, if they stayed that's good as it means wrestling is successful and reaching new fans! Perhaps you should be more tolerant and realise that many new fans (especially in the era of the internet) have made a conscious effort to increase they're knowledge of the past. As a British citizen it often hard to get tapes and information of deceased 80's American promotions such as AWA, but I would expect perhaps the same errors from an American fan talking about the current European scene or old school UK wrestling.

Again thanks for those with useful and helpful comments and those who have mentioned un-praised heroes of their own!
Matthew Jones wrote:
I liked your article about 95% it was great and I think it is sad that most people as the year go by will forget alot about these guys. Ive seen enough Flair.HBK,Bret Hart Sting Hogan matches to last me a long time. these are the ones id like to see on a WWE DVD. Only thing i don't see the same as you is when you said Ted DiBiase would of been a better heel champ than Slaughter. Slaughter being a traitor was this biggest angle in Wrestling untill Hogan/WCW/nWo time. It was supposed to be Ted DiBiase winning at Mania4 but soemthing with the Honky Tonk man not giving up the belt ( i dont remember enough facts about the situation) prevented him from getting it. Now at that time DiBiase would of been the best heel champ. Jake the Snake wasnt great in the ring but his interviews and the intense look on his face and in his eyes can't be matched by anyone now.
Matt Lewis wrote:
I just finished viewing the Online World of Wrestling web site for the first time and I must say I am impressed. I am not a wrestling fan anymore (thanks to Vinny Mac and the stale WWE) but was a huge fan for most of the 25 years I have been alive. I remember wrestling for what it was, not what it is now. The days of watching Ricky Steamboat and Jake the Snake wrestle for 20-30 minutes with no truely over the top moves or ridiculous juicing are long gone, yet not forgotten. I agree fully with everything stated in your well written article, but find that one wrestler was not mentioned. That wrestler is and will always be my all time greatest...Shane Douglas. Shane has the talent in and out of the ring that makes a truely great performer. First he is one of the most athleticly gifted men to ever grace the squared circle. No he doesn't fly through the air with the grace of Owen Hart (or Brian Pillman..RIP for both) but the little things make the differnce. The Pittsburgh Plunge was and still is awesome. Yes I know it is the Perfect Plex, and nothing against Hennig (who is probably a close second on my list) but it will always be the Plunge to me and I don't have the time or knowledge to figure out who was the first to do this move so we will just call that a tie. If I ever, and in my head already have started a Pro Wrestling career, I would model myself after Douglas. The manner with which he performs on the mike can be rivaled by very few. And the mental games he plays with both his opponent and the audience, dare I say, matches that of the greatest mental wrestler of all time Jake Roberts. I am not trying to make an arguement for Shane Douglas to be listed as one of the top wrestlers of all time, I am meerly stated my opinion.
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