KELLER EDITORIAL – 20 YRS AGO: Picking WWE’s Top Ten Future Stars – Who fulfilled expected promise, exceeded expectations, or came up short?

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor


Twenty years ago in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter (issue #613), I wrote an editorial picking WWE’s future stars from the group of young prospects on the 2020 roster who hadn’t been top tier regular main eventers yet.

I’d say the main wrestler I underestimated was Eddie Guerrero, placing him outside of the top ten as an honorable mention. The biggest misses were probably X-Pac and Val Venis, whoever reach the level that Eddie Guerrero did as a featured singles star. But Edge, Chris Jericho, and Jeff Hardy have had serious runs as top tier players and main event stars. Kurt Angle also leapfrogged several on the top ten list.

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Original Headline: “So who is the WWF’s next Big Star? Edge? Angle? Christian? Jericho? Benoit?”
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
Original Headline: So who is the WWF’s next Big Star?
Originally Published: July 30, 2000
Torch Newsletter #613

Without a doubt, the top tier wrestlers in the WWF are Triple H, Rock, and Undertaker. The tandem of Rock and Triple H is contributing as much to the WWF’s success as any two wrestlers in WWF history have. The jury is still out on what Taker is able to contribute, and whether his presence justifies the “Big Three” description. At this point, there is a big dropoff between him versus Triple H and Rock. It seems, and WWF insiders agree, that the wrestling industry advanced quite a bit during Taker’s layoff. He is trying to catch up, but it’s not happening quickly. He needs to progress both in terms of character development and in-ring performance in order to fit with the standards being created by Triple H and Rock.

It would be difficult to choose who is more important to the WWF right now – Triple H or Rock. Triple H has completely closed the gap with one strong PPV performance after another, and not always against the most well-rounded of wrestlers. Triple H and Rock give different things to the WWF on camera and behind the scenes, but all assets stacked up next to each other, neither has much of a lead over the other in terms of value to the WWF.

If Triple H and Rock were to give each other a double clothesline and both knocked each other’s shoulders out of socket and both needed surgery and six months off, who would be most likely to seize the opportunity and rise to a Top Tier level?

Should the WWF reach a state of emergency due to injuries, they could always call on Mick Foley to come out of retirement. He could be a stop-gap measure, and if he were simply filling in for injured wrestlers, the fans would probably be forgiving of him breaking his retirement vow.

But resorting to Foley might not be necessary. The WWF has some young wrestlers who, if given the opportunity, could elevate themselves quickly and effectively. Here is my top ten list of who would most likely succeed in such a situation, and at the same time who is most likely one year from now to be pushing Triple H and Rock for top tier positioning.

(1) Edge: He has the size, presence, and charisma to carry a top tier spot. It’s smart of the WWF not to put him in that position right now because he probably isn’t ready, and fans probably aren’t quite ready to accept him in that role. It is also smart to give Edge a chance to expand his character in a comedic role for the time being so he has more experience to call upon when he has to sell main event matches. He has no experience being tested in main event positions, yet he is the freshest. And because he is a wrestler born and bred in the WWF for the most part, he is most likely to get the hard push from Vince McMahon. Even though Christian has been outshining Edge lately behind the mic, Edge is still considered the future top tier player by McMahon. McMahon putting Edge on the cover of the Canadian TV Guide is an indication of that.

(2) Chris Jericho: He has improved so much in the time he has been in the WWF. Combine that with his never-in-doubt popularity with fans, and he might be ready to carry a top spot month after month. Jericho was determined, according to his friends, to show he had an effective, credible serious side to his personality. That’s why he had a serious look on his face as he charged the ring to aggressively attack Triple H. He has realized that you can be entertaining and popular if you are a “goofball,” but to draw money at the top, you have to go beyond that. You have to be taken seriously. His offense still hurts his opponents even when the fan watching doesn’t think it looks like it hurts. He could still stand to work on making his offense look more effective and effortless. With most of the people on this list not of substantially above average size, Jericho’s height isn’t as much of an issue as it otherwise could be. There is still a great upside to Edge, and Jericho isn’t Vince McMahon’s creation, so he has certain elements working against him. But he has recently won over Triple H and this weekend’s match against Triple H showed he is getting better all the time.

(3) Chris Benoit: From a personality standpoint, he doesn’t have the range of Jericho or Edge, much less Rock and Triple H. He isn’t especially big. He is overrated as a worker in the ring, although he is still a 9.5 out of 10 in most areas. If the WWF built around Benoit as their top heel, and if Shane McMahon was his spokesman, the WWF would be just fine. Benoit appeals to the masses despite his below-average interview skills and height because he is believable in everything he does in the ring and his offense has a snap to it that resembles Dynamite Kid and Bret Hart before him. Bret Hart stood out from the crowd in the WWF in the early ’90s because his execution was so crisp and sudden. Benoit is even stronger in those categories. Benoit is weak in certain areas, such as feeding the comeback of his opponents. Although a world class worker, the psychology of his matches is usually no better than the person he is wrestling. But in an era where most wrestlers are trying to get over based on looks and catch phrases, Benoit is a refreshing antithesis of that. He gets over by making you believe in a sport that reminds us dozens of times an hour that it’s scripted. Sometimes it’s not the best wrestler, or the most well-rounded wrestler who becomes a top draw, but the wrestler who is good in areas where most everyone else is weak.

(4) Jeff Hardy: Three years from now, Jeff Hardy might top this list. But right now, if push came to shove, you’d pick the three above him on this list to build around. Jeff, the more athletically gifted and spectacular of the Hardy brothers, is a joy to watch. His offense is graceful, yet looks like it hurts. What Shawn Michaels was to the Rockers in the early ’90s, Jeff Hardy is to the Hardy Boyz – except for his personality on camera and off camera. While Michaels always had mischievous, selfish, leadership qualities to him, Jeff is more laid back, sometimes appearing to fellow wrestlers as if he just doesn’t care that much. It’s as if so many things come naturally to him, why concern himself with the fundamentals. He’s akin to Kobe Bryant his first couple of years in the NBA. Like Kobe did this past season, Jeff could stand to benefit from deciding why he is about to do what he is about to do, then decide if he is doing it simply because he can, or because it is best for the result he wants. Jeff’s interview skills aren’t strong, even behind the pace of Michaels’s early in his career. Michaels wasn’t a strong talker early in his career, but becoming the leader of the promotion helped give him the confidence behind the mic he needed to carry out money-drawing interviews. Like with Edge, because he is born and bred in the WWF, he will get partial treatment from McMahon in the long run.

(5) Big Show: His salary is probably already equal to the previous four on this list combined, yet to a much greater extent than Jeff Hardy, he is resting on what comes naturally to him rather than striving to become well-rounded. Big Show is big. Bigger than anyone else. So, he seems to reason, why work hard when nobody can ever take away the market value of his size. The WWF is trying to find ways to take the notoriously immature Show and show him the upside to being more dedicated to being well-rounded. When Show first joined WCW as the Giant, he was the most athletic 7 footer ever, but he wasn’t tall and lanky. He looked to be the sure-fire next big thing. Then, thanks to Eric Bischoff’s incentive- and motivation-free contract structures, Show got complacent and fat and slow. His attitude got worse, no thanks to Hulk Hogan. And he went from a main eventer to a sideshow role-player. However, I see money 18 months from now in a heel Big Show vs. babyface Triple H feud. The wave of the future seems to be the Edge/Jeff Hardy types, and Big Show will be hurt by the shortage of wrestlers his size to feud with. Still, he has enough assets that he belongs in the top five.

(6) X-Pac: He’s been around so long, hovering in the tag division and playing the the Robin role (to Triple H’s Batman) that there almost seems to be a resignation that he’s reached the top level he can achieve. That just isn’t the case, though. As he showed this week on Raw color commentary, he has an untapped dry sense of humor that McMahon has yet to try to really shine a spotlight on. He is as much a student of the game as Triple H. He is considered a locker room leader. He is wise enough to know not to try to compete with the Jeff Hardys of the world anymore and instead focuses on his strengths, such as match psychology and credible looking offense. He’s as tall or taller than Edge, Jericho, Benoit, Jeff Hardy, and Angle, so height is no longer a liability. Now it’s time to decide if he is going to linger in the second tier with the content-to-a-fault Road Dogg, or if he is going to push for a top tier spot now that he is entering his prime years (he turned 28 this month).

(7) Kurt Angle: He has yet to do what Jericho did this weekend, and that is show a serious side that will draw money. He is the resident comedy goofball whom everybody laughs at but nobody takes seriously. His match with Undertaker didn’t help matters. Taker easily could have pinned Olympic gold medalist Angle several times early in the match, but lifted his shoulders. But because Angle isn’t a money-drawing top tier worker now doesn’t mean he won’t be. Everybody in the WWF raves about how quickly he has come along. He has a natural aptitude for pro wrestling, both in the ring, behind the mic, and behind the scenes. He has a natural sense of timing when it comes to mic work and in-ring transitions that can’t be easily taught. He picked up on them right away. He isn’t ready this year to carry the WWF, but two years from now he has a good chance.

(8) Test: Vince McMahon gave Test a taste of the top spot, but then pulled back and is humbling him with a year or two of lower-card status. It’s something McMahon has a pattern of doing. And it might work. When a young wrestler such as Test gets a big push, they get a little cocky, and at the first sign of that, Vince shows them who needs whom in the WWF-Wrestler equation. Those somewhat necessary games aside, Test early on showed great potential as a big man with above average big-man skills and athletic ability. He was at least average behind the mic from the get-go. He has a good look and might be a good opponent in future years for Triple H, Big Show, and Rock, yet isn’t “too big” for Edge, Jericho, and Jeff Hardy to look credible against. He isn’t ready to be a top guy now, but a year or two from now he is a good bet to be pushing for a main event slot.

(9) Christian: He doesn’t have the charismatic “look” of Edge, those intangibles that turn heads in airports, but since turning heel he has really upped his stock value in the WWF. His mic work has outshined Edge and he no longer is seen as simply that long-haired tag partner of Edge. He has his own identity, and is a good worker in the ring on top of it. Like with Matt Hardy though, he has yet to show what his strengths are that could justify a main event push.

(10) Val Venis: He’s kind of awkward in the way he moves and talks, and it worked great for his porn star gimmick. Now his persona is being completely reworked and it’s impossible to tell where that is going to end up. That said, he has a solid look, a main event body, good ring aptitude, and enough talking skills that he could end up being a well-rounded top tier worker. Like with Triple H, it may take a while for him to find his stride, but there are no attitude or motivational or drug problems that indicate he might cut short his potential growth.

Others To Consider…

Rikishi’s stock has dropped in the last couple of months for no reason other than his act isn’t especially fresh anymore. He could still be a heel main eventer now and then, but not someone to build the future around…

Matt Hardy, if he weren’t a Hardy and in the shadow of Jeff, might be taken more seriously. Time will show what his strengths are. He will be a valuable second-tier wrestler, but there’s no strong reason to believe he’ll go beyond that…

Tazz might tease main events a year or so from now, but he isn’t an all-around package who could be the centerpiece of the WWF. His interview skills, though, more than any other quality could really surprise McMahon, who at this point is luke warm on him. He is careful about how he is portrayed in the ring to the point of aggravating his opponents, but McMahon could only wish that some others would care so much…

Eddie Guerrero will benefit from smaller and mid-sized wrestlers solidifying main event slots. He will seem close enough to their size to be given a chance in a money-drawing position. If given the chance, he has experience in Mexico cutting main event promos and working as a top heel, so unlike most on this list, he’s been there…

RECOMMENDED NEXT… 20 YRS AGO: WWE RAW REPORT (8-14-2000): The Rock, Angle, Stephanie, Triple H, Shane, Hardys, Lita, Undertaker, Trish, Guerrero, X-Pac

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