Succeeding in the family business can sometimes be dependent on how successful the family is.
The Rock, Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio, Cody Rhodes, Ted DiBiase, The Usos, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Curtis Axel, Primo, Epico, Rey Mysterio, Tyson Kidd, Natalya, Tamina―are all second- or third-generation wrestlers on WWE's current roster.
Wrestling went through a boom period in the '80s. The boom was led by the launch of WrestleMania and was the beginning of the end for regional territories when national cable exposure came into play. It was an exciting time to work in the business and be a fan. Many names became famous during this time. Many of those names boast family members on the current roster.
Naturally, 20 to 30 years later, when the son, daughter, niece or nephew of these classic names who helped build wrestling become wrestlers themselves, there is great interest and fanfare surrounding their careers. It's a blessing and a curse.
It's a blessing in the sense that most fans and critics already assume you have talent, and most times that holds true. The second- and third-generation wrestlers have great respect, understanding and training for the business of professional wrestling. They've been around it all their lives and have been trained by some of the best, who just happen to be family.
It's a curse because of high expectations, and their identity can be a double-edged sword.
Orton, Rhodes, DiBiase, Hennig and Hart are all names that get you to the front of the line in terms of attention. Now that attention is on Randy, Cody, Ted, Joe, Natalya and Tyson, they're expected to be at a certain level by fans and the industry.
They can all put on a good match from start to finish. They're always learning and trying to improve, but their ring work is up to standard. A lot of wrestlers, from WWE down to the independent ranks, can work a match. That's the easy part. It's being able to sell the match and yourself that gets someone in the high-profile spots.
The reality is, the bigger the name of their predecessor, the tougher time the stars of today are going to have.
Just as it is today, the '80s were no different. Every guy had a ranking or position on the card. Some were bigger than others. Rocky Johnson was successful, but he wasn't as big a name as Dusty Rhodes. This left the Rock with easier shoes to fill than Dustin or Cody Rhodes.
What did it take for Dustin? Change the name and change the look. Before he became Goldust, he was a carbon copy of his father, with nowhere near the charisma or entertainment on the mic. He became Goldust and gave the people a character like no other, with his own unique voice. He would quote movie titles and speak in a seductive voice. It was a long way from the jive that his father spit.
Let's be honest: Being “so and so's” son really benefits you the most behind the scenes. A certain respect is already there from your peers. It can also get you looked at faster by WWE because they're familiar with you or your family.
It shouldn't be relied on to mean much in front of the crowd and cameras, because you're creating a tough situation for all involved. The fans naturally want the next Million Dollar Man, but there can only be one Million Dollar Man.
I'm a fan of the way WWE went about things with Rocky Maivia and are now doing with Curtis Axel. Break the characters in with a reference to their family but have the name altered and send them on their own path. It's the best way for them to be able to talk and create a genuine character that connects with the audience today.
It goes back to how big the shadow is that you have to step out of. Mike Rotunda is a good guy and made a living in wrestling. He was best known as a tax guy. Point blank, he wasn't a big star. Easier path for the soon-to-debut Bray Wyatt. Not as big of a family name and legacy equals less stress and difficulty.
Tyson Kidd, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase have the toughest task. They have the biggest family names, and all three use the name or family gimmick. Kidd slowly started to get away from it just before his recent injury.
DiBiase's had his challenges with staying healthy. Prior to that, in 2010, he had a solid schedule of appearances in midcard with the Million Dollar Championship, a belt that his father introduced. He had Maryse by his side and played a sequel to his father's character. They even brought back Virgil to be his servant.
DiBiase is a talented wrestler, but I don't feel we heard enough of his voice. We didn't hear enough of him getting to sell himself or the feud he was involved in.
Something didn't connect.
He was given a lot of camera time, but nothing much came out of it. He has rich looks and solid talent. I hope he gets another chance, but only if something is changed or added to his character. The money gimmick has been tried. So what's next?
This leaves me with Cody Rhodes.
In my eyes, his father was the most successful by the current standards of second- and third-generation stars. This means he has the toughest situation.
I think WWE had their brightest time with Rhodes thus far when they followed the plan of how his brother succeeded. Get away from everything conventional or reminiscent of the "American Dream.” It was similar to his brother breaking out with Goldust. You looked at him and said "That's Goldust," rather than "That's Dusty Rhodes' son."
Cody Rhodes had good matches and moments paired with Sandow. The self-proclaimed savior of the WWE was a new voice for the audience. There was much more focus on Sandow than Rhodes in that pairing.
I'm convinced that Rhodes has too much talent not to succeed if the opportunity is given. How and under what character he does that is the big question.
Succeeding in the family business can depend on how successful the family is―unfortunately the more success a family has had can create a tougher road to travel for some.