Many of the WWE’s greatest eras have developed by way of a few experienced wrestlers losing to—or “putting over”—younger talent, who then went on to become megastars.
Often, the biggest names in the wrestling industry struggle to let go of their position and want to be on top forever. This holds up-and-coming performers back.
The fallout to such a situation is only felt a few years later when there is a distinct lack of main event talent. This was the case in the WWE during the mid-1990s and late 2000s.
Athletes who help the next generation by putting others over often become highly respected in the wrestling community for their consideration. Those who fail to do so and try to cling onto their former glory can be slowly forgotten.
This list is comprised of seven wrestlers who have particularly excelled at putting over others.
The variety of ways and the times they have done this makes ranking them impossible, but inclusion means they have gone the extra mile to push those under them. Each has thus allowed the WWE—or the companies that came before—to have some of the most successful times in history.
At a time when wrestlers did not want to give up their spot on the top of the roster, Terry Funk bucked the trend and helped develop a generation of new talent.
Funk was one of the highest-earning stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He, along with brother Dory Funk Junior, brought a brawling style to the ring that was not commonly seen. This led to both brothers holding the NWA title, the most prestigious wrestling belt at that time.
It was only later on in the mid-90s that he came to the forefront as a man who made stars.
According to Paul Heyman in The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary, Funk realized that his storied career only mattered if there was a new generation to remember him. He saw ECW as a place where wrestling was changing, and he used his considerable fame to make stars in that company.
Those who benefited include Mick Foley, Steve Austin and Raven.
But in fact, every wrestler who made it through ECW’s proving grounds to become a star in one of the bigger companies was helped by Funk.
Anyone who starred in ECW came across the likes of Shane Douglas, Sandman, Sabu or Tommy Dreamer. All of these guys were blessed to have with a program with Funk, who helped them become stars in that company.
Funk was rewarded for his efforts by ECW in April 1997 when he won the World Heavyweight Championship. This was a particularly momentous occasion since it was the company’s first pay-per-view.
Funk’s influence carries on to this day, as older stars who were helped by Funk, or one of his prodigies, remember that wrestling must continue for their careers to be remembered.
All wrestling fans should be glad of this fact.
Few wrestlers have been as universally successful as The Undertaker. He is a multiple-time WWE and World Heavyweight champion. He has won the Royal Rumble. He has had a 20-year career and is undefeated at WrestleMania.
The Undertaker is certainly in the argument for greatest WWE Superstar ever.
Yet ‘Taker has also given back periodically throughout his career and has successfully put over several up-and-comers who have gone on to become stars in themselves.
This arguably started as early as the mid-1990s when The Undertaker took several losses to Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Diesel. These three would be the main holders of the belt at this time, and ‘Taker was often the opponent when they were not clashing.
Another notable person ‘Taker helped develop was Brock Lesnar. The infamous Hell in a Cell clash that saw Lesnar triumph over “The Deadman” was one of the more shocking contests to happen in the ring.
JBL was still not taken as a serious champion at the beginning of his title run due to his long tag team association. By defeating Undertaker on several occasions, he suddenly became the big, mean, calculated character he was being portrayed as. This was a really clear-cut case of a feud completely changing the perception of one talent.
John Cena gained a lot from this by being the man who dethroned JBL. Had JBL been a less serious champion, Cena would have had to fight much harder to receive the type of acceptance that he did.
The Undertaker is living proof that a wrestler can both be successful and help others succeed.
As someone who suffered against the glass ceiling that developed in WCW in the late 1990s, Chris Jericho appears to have dedicated the latter part of his career to helping others make the jump to stardom.
Jericho was gracious enough to promote John Cena and Christian when he took his first hiatus from WWE. After “The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” first returned, Jack Swagger and then Edge benefited from wins over the Canadian. Then there is the current WWE champion, CM Punk, who has used Jericho as a stepping stone on two separate occasions in his career.
Even more impressively, Jericho has been known to take defeats from stars who are making their first steps into the company.
Some of these—like Lance Cade and Heath Slater—have not been successful. However, Jericho’s willingness to give even young guys a chance is testament to how much he values promoting new performers in the WWE.
Abdullah The Butcher revolutionized the way novelty acts worked in wrestling. So that his act retained its notoriety, he frequently changed the company—or area—he performed in.
This meant that Abdullah tended to be used as a dominant heel who was brought in to attack a rising babyface. After a short feud, the hero of the piece would eventually get the better of the terrifying outsider. To the fans, it looked like the face had forced Abdullah out of whichever company he was then working for.
Abdullah was able to continue his act elsewhere and accidentally made dozens of superstars in his long career.
Wrestlers like Ivan Koloff, Bruiser Brody and The Sheik all directly benefited from Abdullah’s act in the U.S. Elsewhere, Carlos Colon and The Giant Baba became legends in their own countries due to The Butcher’s performance.
Somewhat ironically, Abdullah never fought in the WWE. However, the pure number of stars he has helped means that he has made an impact through every generation of professional wrestling since his arrival on the scene.
Abdullah is a wrestler who has made an entire career out of putting people over.
“The Big Red Monster” Kane makes this list because he has put people over throughout his career rather than just in the latter half.
This is mainly down to his size, as the seven-foot-tall behemoth looks incredibly imposing. Because of this, it is impossible not to be impressed by someone who can get the better of him. A wrestler can get even more credit when he is able to physically match up with such a colossus.
What this has meant is that Kane has never really won out in a feud.
His first feuds cemented the legacies of the vastly more experienced pairing of the The Undertaker and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He then helped promote the next generation, including Gene Snitsky, Rob Van Dam and Edge.
Such a pattern has continued throughout the career of the “Big Red Monster.” Currently, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow and Daniel Bryan are all gaining from Kane’s uncanny ability to make others look like stars.
This skill cannot be purely from size alone. His natural charisma in the ring—even under a mask—cannot be denied. Nor can his in-ring ability, which shows his power but allows smaller wrestlers to provide a convincing offense against him. This last point is a skill very few big men possess.
Kane is almost guaranteed a spot in WWE’s Hall of Fame, and he will have gotten there through being the ultimate professional who has always been able to get his opponent across to the fans.
Most wrestlers who become renown for putting opponents over do so later in their careers. This is down to a performer needing to build up enough of a reputation themselves for it to matter if they are beaten.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is the exception to this generalization.
His first major feud against Chavo Guerrero—known as Chavo Guerrero Senior to younger fans—was a three-year epic that Piper would eventually lose. He would follow that by a run in Jim Crockett Promotions. There he lost consecutive feuds against Sergeant Slaughter, Ric Flair and Greg Valentine.
Most famously of all, Piper would also go on to lose repeatedly to Hulk Hogan during the 1980's glory days of wrestling.
Later in his career, Piper would help bring youth to the forefront of each company he worked for. Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Yokozuna benefited from this in the early '90s. So did Bill Goldberg in WCW and later Rikishi and Chris Jericho in Piper's last major run in WWE after the end of the Monday Night Wars.
The key to Piper’s success as a loser was his ability to talk. He could make someone into a star by using the right insults and position them as underdogs by his demeanor.
As a result, victories over Piper felt special.
Piper is often viewed as one of the greatest wrestlers never to be WCW or WWE champion. Yet his legacy is so much greater than that, and he is on this list because he can legitimately claim to have made others into stars throughout his whole career.
Another modern giant who has taken many falls to help others get over is The Big Show.
His colossal size—much like Kane and Undertaker’s—makes him an impressive giant who looks too big to be taken down by a mortal man. When someone does manage to slam him, they immediately receive a level of credit higher than a victory over a normal-sized opponent would give.
This can turn an up-and-comer into a star overnight. It certainly worked for John Cena at WrestleMania XX.
The one mark against Big Show’s name is that he has been beaten so many times that the effect has been somewhat diminished. This cannot be considered his fault, but rather that of the booking team, which sees him as an easy way to promote someone. However, this is unlikely to take away from his long-term legacy as a star-maker.