The Meat and Potatoes of Professional Wrestling
It isn’t a term you hear all that often anymore. Meat and Potatoes.
In the professional wrestling world, a meat and potatoes kind of performer was more common during the 80’s and 90’s when Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Verne Gagne took center stage.
Sure, there were immense talents up and down the rosters of every single territory and promotion, and when Vince McMahon went to the global product of the World Wrestling Federation, he increased those talents tenfold.
But the term, “meat and potatoes,” refers to the unsung heroes in the locker room who never quite get their dues despite paying them each and every night.
They are fan favorites regardless of their face/heel standing within the current regime and story. They are charismatic performers who always seem to hit the glass ceiling, never excelling past, and often left to obscurity.
In professional wrestling, the meat and potatoes competitors are the kinds of guys you cheer for week-in and week-out despite their unenviable predicaments.
Some of these wrestlers are known by the latter-day term “jobber,” which might as well be a stigma you cannot rid yourself of in the pros.
But if competitors like The Miz and Jay Lethal were able to shed themselves of such a tag and prosper all over the world, then there is indeed a market for the “meat and potatoes” kind of wrestler.
Few companies understood what having these talents on your card each week meant like World Championship Wrestling. Believe it or not, very little separates WCW during the Monday Night Wars from WCW pre- and post-eras.
While the New World Order may be running the show and much of what you do is jab at the competition, you keep “the meat” wrestlers heavily featured to give the audience more than just an acted out diatribe week-to-week.
Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Harlem Heat, Ultimo Dragon, and others preoccupied this fascinating role on television and in-person.
It took the WWF years to discover just what it meant to find that even setting; a counterbalance to the overwhelming stars with their brash and cocky attitudes.
As we cross over another horizon of professional wrestling, two more companies must strive to find that counterbalance and regenerate interest in the sports entertainment lexicon that has become nearly as black-balled as it was when the early 90’s steroid scandal depleted supportive interests.
Here now, submitted for your approval, are ten representatives who will lead us as “the meat and potatoes” of the wrestling stew in the WWE and TNA.
Beth Phoenix, WWE SmackDown! Diva
Pop quiz, hotshot: Who is the most popular WWE Diva? Most of you may say Mickie James, and in all fairness, you’d be correct. Mickie represents the all-American girl perfectly and is still beloved by those who supported her first psychotic incarnation.
But behind James is the incredibly dominant Glamazon, Beth Phoenix. It has been quite a rocky road for this talented Diva who looks like an absolute beast in comparison to her peers.
And yet, there is still a subtle trace of sexy and intelligent being inside of her muscular physique. The Glamazon is one of the most cheered for WWE Divas currently performing for the company, if not ever.
Purists respect her willingness to go along with whatever silly story the creative team can come up with (like humanizing her in a love affair with Santino Marella) and fans admire her pugnacious skills.
Beth’s appearance at the 2010 Royal Rumble was easily one of the most welcomed surprises in Rumble history, and not because she was a woman. It was because she was entertaining to everyone.
D’Angelo Dinero, TNA Impact Star
Even in his previous persona, “the Pope” was fondly recognized by a smaller congregation of cult wrestling fans. The former Elijah Burke was always seen as something of a missed opportunity during WWE’s all encompassing missed opportunity, the ECW Revival.
As one of several stars to disperse elsewhere during a seasonal, company-wide talent cut, Burke departed for greener pastures in a slightly more independent (yet still very well known) setting.
With a chance to reinvent himself, D’Angelo Dinero created a larger, more chauvinistic persona than he had previously been saddled with. In fact, Dinero was attempting to erase any memory people had of the somewhat cartoon-like representation of a stereotypical black fighter he once portrayed.
Instead, Dinero challenged TNA to respect his raw talent and enthusiasm for the business. They have responded, graciously, by pushing him to the stratosphere during their biggest period of expansion ever. Win or lose, the fans will back this unlikely underdog.
Dolph Ziggler, WWE SmackDown! Superstar
Everybody has to get their start somewhere, and for Dolph Ziggler, it had to be as a member of the Spirit Squad.
While most of the stars on this list had some kind of built-in fan base due to their previous reputation, Ziggler had absolutely no credentials that made him any more legitimate than the stiffs hired to perform just for the evening’s dark matches.
He was Nicky of the Spirit Squad, a five-part male cheerleading outfit, long before he became the introduction-favoring Ziggler.
While the gimmick was, for all intents and purposes, a dead end, Ziggler made the most of it and even managed to dodge certain doom when he was suspended via a WWE Wellness Policy violation. In the ring, we weren’t really familiar with what he could do when he wasn’t bouncing off a trampoline.
That’s how he did it. Ziggler sold the audience on Friday Nights week after week with a great style of in-ring wrestling that was reminiscent of Flyin’ Brian Pillman. His promos were arrogant, and he looked like a younger, better Tommy Rich.
Old school fans were able to get behind him because he was an old school kind of guy, and newer fans grew an affinity for Ziggler through a series of unfortunate events, because the WWE seemed to change plans week-to-week on Ziggler when it looked as if he was about to breakthrough.
Hamada, TNA Impact Knockout
Around the world, wrestling is described in different ways in every country, and it seems that each country believes it houses the best wrestler.
Obviously, we’re all familiar with the North American standard of “storytelling” within a one-fall bout, but other countries are about different facets of the matches. Some simply command respect and give it regardless of the outcome.
Welcome to Japan, likely the only remaining land that lets professional wrestling keep its fleeting dignity. Japan may separate itself on occasion with a different product than what we’re used to seeing, but that doesn’t mean the competitors are of lesser value.
Hamada, one of the legendary Gran Hamada’s wrestling children, is of a much greater value than she’ll ever be appreciated for.
She competes without cutting promos or selling t-shirts. She is as pure and unadulterated a wrestler as one can get, and may well be in the upper echelon of women’s wrestlers throughout history.
Currently, her supporters are a sort of different breed of marks, believing themselves to be on the inside track for a rapidly rising star. They all play her agent, debating every move TNA makes with her career all the while saying “I would have done it this way…”
James Storm, TNA Impact Star
Even in his filthiest of heel days as part of Jeff Jarrett’s stable in America’s Most Wanted, there was little to dislike about “Cowboy” James Storm.
If you don’t believe me, watch the amateurish funeral for Team 3D that TNA put together just a few years ago. Storm’s outwardly goofy and redneck-infused persona is too darn infectious not to like.
In the ring, Storm is evolving into the same sort of professional Tully Blanchard was. He’s a no-nonsense striker who will hit you harder than you’re supposed to for effect and isn’t afraid to take you to the limit.
But after the bell rings, everybody feels as if they’re his best friend, heading out for drinks with all the boys. Storm is reportedly one of the friendliest guys in the locker room and always seems willing (as has been proven) to do the job.
His tag team efforts with Robert Roode continue to infuriate fans across the globe, but not because they’re a bad team. It’s because they could both use to be bigger stars on the singles circuit.
Jay Lethal, TNA Impact Star
After reading the headline, you may, like me, ask the question “but for how long?” Truth is, Jay Lethal is one of the best wrestlers in the company and easily the most exciting on any given night. He’s willing to sacrifice his body and mind to be the show-stealer, leaving it all out there for the fans to decide whether or not he is worthy.
Lethal’s popularity only grows due to the fact that he’s relegated to the midcard most often, that is, when he’s not busy losing to newer, less worthy stars.
He falls into the category of misused and abused, as everyone and their mother thinks they have a better idea for where he should be at this point of his career.
Matters are made worse by the fact that he is usually battling not only opponents, but a catastrophically bad gimmick harkening back to a circus era long forgotten.
So what if he can’t cut a promo or speak into a microphone like The Rock? Let his mouth be shut and his moves do the talking. Otherwise, we’ll keep discuss what could have been with the guy who never fits on the card where he should.
John Morrison, WWE SmackDown! Superstar
The comparisons have been drawn for nearly four years now on what could end up being the most successful star in the history of Tough Enough. Some call him the next Bret Hart, and others, the next Shawn Michaels. Whatever you choose, always call him outstanding.
WWE’s John Morrison is a perfectly chiseled specimen that defies gravity and the limits of human athleticism every time he steps in the ring.
His moves are well timed, well choreographed, and worth snapping a photo of with the action setting on. His ring entrance is the perfect blend of corny and timely in an age where being both is actually cool.
It always seems as if there are “bigger plans” in the works for the Shaman of Sexy, likely the only frustrating thing about watching him every week. Morrison may be the WWE’s Rock Star, but he’s the fans almost unanimous choice for the next World Champion.
MVP, WWE RAW Superstar
And then there’s this guy. I’ve made it no secret from day one that I was an MVP supporter, right from the second he appeared out of an inflatable, NFL-style entrance draped in a used Power Ranger outfit.
The style was all wrong, but the character was all right. Everything about this cocky, head-in-the-stars heel made you smirk slyly that WWE knew exactly what they were doing.
But for Montel Vontavious Porter, bad luck would hit him harder than anyone else on this list. Diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, an irregularity that causes the heart to beat fast than normal, his push hit a screeching halt in 2007.
This future main eventer may have played a self-obsessed athlete, but his deficiency was a glaring setback on his career track.
Then, at WrestleMania 23, the wheels began turning again. It looked as if MVP was back again after an impressive showing in the biggest event of the year, and at May’s Judgment Day pay-per-view, he would become the United States Champion after running the table against Chris Benoit.
This was a huge accomplishment, as he beat Benoit at his own game and became a featured player for years to come.
Or at least he would have, if Chris Benoit hadn’t killed his family. Sorry I didn’t sugarcoat it, but his reputation onscreen was built entirely around those victories over Benoit, and now, they couldn’t even be mentioned due to the disastrous consequences.
Since his initial push, MVP has been ambling along the middle of the card with others like him, never once hitting the big time.
Maybe his entry in Money-in-the-Bank will change all that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Robert Roode, TNA Impact Star
Sometimes, all you need is “the look.” Robert Roode had “the look.” When it was time for him to breakaway from his Team Canada allies and form his own character, TNA took a page out of the vintage history book and went with an old dandy: the arrogant, robed heel who thinks he’s better, richer, and destined for more than anyone else. He’d even get a dastardly manager to help do his bidding.
TNA couldn’t lose. They had created a persona for Roode that was one part Ric Flair, one part Ted DiBiase, and one part Rick Rude, and it got over in a hurry.
At one point during his biggest singles feud with Booker T, he was the most over heel in all of TNA. And then, suddenly and without warning or reason, it ended, and he was paired with James Storm.
Though hilarious, Roode’s abrupt yanking from top of the pops to curtain jerker is enough to give any sensible fan the need to cheer for him. A potential feud between him and his Beer Money, Inc. partner James Storm may be the best thing for all parties.
Shelton Benjamin, WWE SmackDown! Superstar
See Jay Lethal. Enough said.
There isn’t enough time in the day to deduce every single wrestler in every ring across the globe for their imminent value as a performer, so for now, we’ll leave it at these 10. And much like the fans who support them, I too will root for that one big break to finally hit so that the meat and potatoes of the company becomes the main entrée.
Think someone was left of the list? Believe one of these ten isn't that good? Let's hear it.
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