In the pantheon of WWE greats, Rob Van Dam is a shooting star streaking across the black of night while the biggest icons in the business have shone for far longer.
Van Dam returns this Sunday, jumping right into the WWE title Money in the Bank match. He joins a fray that includes former world champs and future Hall of Famers.
When Van Dam's career comes to a close, where will he rank compared to those men and to the long list of WWE legends fans have cheered for over the years?
When the innovative star signed with WWE in 2001, his reputation of being a thrilling daredevil from his time at ECW followed him. He had an incredibly hot run over the next two years and spent the majority for his seven years with WWE with championship gold draped over his shoulder.
For the excitement he brought to the ring, for his creative and reckless style of offense, Van Dam will always be fondly remembered and respected.
As strictly a WWE star, though, the lack of longevity, the suspension that halted his momentum and his lack of time as the top guy has him rank below a large number of WWE icons.
A Burst of Greatness
Van Dam's WWE run lasted from 2001-2007, from the ECW invasion to the ECW revival. In that span, Van Dam became one of the most popular guys on the roster and provided a number of memorable moments and matches.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers voted him the most popular wrestler of 2002.
It was during that year that Van Dam had an impressive run of great matches. He battled Brock Lesnar, Eddie Guerrero and Mr. Perfect among others. He won and lost the Intercontinental title three times in 2002 as well.
WWE had their first-ever Elimination Chamber match and Van Dam was the talk of the match despite not winning it. He provided some stunning moments that night, including a Five-Star Frog Splash that busted Triple H's face open.
Van Dam later joined forces with Kane, forming an entertaining odd-couple tag team that won the tag titles in March 2003. He had a front-row seat to when Kane unmasked for the first time. Their subsequent rivalry was just as interesting as their partnership.
Van Dam was a part of countless thrilling ladder matches including the Money in the Bank ladder match he won at WrestleMania 22. His battles against Christian and Guerrero remain two of WWE's best ladder matches.
Then, when WWE brought back a revived version of ECW, Van Dam was the centerpiece. He was already the bridge from ECW's history to WWE's present, but when he took on WWE golden boy John Cena at One Night Stand 2006, Van Dam became even more popular.
The fans in attendance that night roared when he pinned Cena and held up the WWE Championship.
Memories like those, the impressive collection of other championship titles, the fantastic performances and moves like the Van Terminator are why fans as so pumped to see Van Dam return.
Lower-Tier Hall of Famer
All that success will likely lead to Van Dam wearing a tux on his way to the WWE Hall of Fame. If one begins to discuss Van Dam in context with all the best performers the company has ever had, he finds himself below a number of huge names.
Were the WWE Hall of Fame divided into tiers, men like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino, Bret Hart, Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels would be placed in the highest tier and Van Dan would have to join his former tag team partner Booker T on a lower level.
Van Dam was only WWE champ for 22 days and, as popular as he was at his peak, he was never asked to be the face of the franchise like the men mentioned above.
You have to rank him below guys like Edge whose career lasted over a decade and whose peak outlasted Van Dam's.
That fact that Van Dam can't crack the upper echelon of all-time greats is not so much a reflection of his deficiencies, but a testament to just how many amazing performers that have been a part of WWE history.
He doesn't need to be in the all-time top 25 to have had a career he should be plenty proud of. As his entrance music says, Van Dam was and is one of a kind.
Van Dam's return on Sunday can either have him add to his resume or simply remind us of a time when WWE overflowed with talent and Van Dam flew across the ring like a comet.