Now anyone can be labeled The Next Big Thing if your a pro wrestler, but what truly makes someone a Franchise guy? Now a combination of looks, charisma, talent and the IT factor are all needed. The prize guys of promotions are generally regarded as people who can have multiple title reigns, be at the center of the promotions main storyline the majority of the year without people loosing interest and he must be able to headline events WITHOUT the company’s World Title around his waist. To be the franchise you have to do more then just label yourself The Franchise after getting kicked out of two promotions. It takes more then just winning your promotions biggest prize and it must mean more that you, the wrestler, has won the belt compared to everyone else.
But being the guy to build around is more then just being the youngest champion, or the biggest, or even the first. Most people who win the title, do so as a transitional champion.
But see in the business today, the term transitional is a bad word and it shouldn’t be. Ideally speaking the World Title should never leave the waist of the three or four deserving few who meet all the criteria to being THE headliner in the company. However in today’s world, people don’t want 6 year reigns let alone 6 month reigns anymore, and people want to see more and different people involved in the World Title chase. So instead of having 1 or 2 title changes a year, we end up getting much much more. Now this is not to say that it isn’t better this way, it is. It adds to the “any given Sunday” adage that the NFL promotes. The adage goes like this: On any given Sunday, any team, no matter who’s “better” can pull off a win”. This also now is the prime example in pro wrestling. What does this mean you ask? Well it means that it’s possible to loose a title to someone who’s no way your equal in the ring. So you can have a guy like
Rob Van Dam beat John Cena and it’s now believable because even the best wrestlers loose now a days.
Since Hulk Hogan became the WWE World Champion and launched the era known as The Golden Age of wrestling, there have been 47 different World Champions that have competed and won either the WCW, TNA/NWA or WWE titles.
Most of these men would win a world title in any promotion they choose to go too. It’s because of this that I’ve excluded the original ECW from this list of title holders. Much like the new ECW, it’s hard for me to accept the old ECW as being a place with viable big time wrestlers. No one from ECW has ever been labeled or branded THE GUY for another company after they’ve won the ECW World Title. In most cases it’s the end of your career if you do so. In fact only one man has won the ECW World Title and then went on and won another promotions World Title. That man is Rhino.
Rhino went to TNA in 2005 and after debuting in July, Rhino upsets Jeff Jarrett at Bound For Glory winning the NWA/TNA World Title. Dating all the way back to the days of Jerry Lynn, Shane Douglas, Taz, Bam Bam Bigelow, Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk and Raven, no one has ever gone from ECW World Champion, to another promotions World Champion. In fact, of all ECW Champions since the NWA split with ECW, til the close of the company, only Tommy Dreamer and Rhino still wrestle on a regular basis for a major company.
So again, what makes a guy the Franchise, THE GUY, The man the promotion revolves around? Well universal appeal is one obviously. That’s a reason why guys like RVD, Taz, The Sandman never got to another promotion and was given the ball, because they were minority wrestlers. Not minority in terms of race, but minority in terms of gimmicks, styles or persona’s.
A franchise guy needs to be established in the ring. Look at the names and ages of some of the younger stars to ever win the world title.
Ron Killings (30) TNA
Triple H (30) WWE
Samoa Joe (29)
John Cena (28) WWE
Yokozuna (27) WWE
The Rock (26) WWE
Rhino (26) – ECW/ (30)-TNA
The Undertaker (26)
A.J. Styles (25) TNA
Brock Lesnar (25) WWE
Randy Orton (24) WWE
The Giant/Show (23) WCW
Of these names above, how many would you build your company around? How many of these guys can stay healthy/in shape, be reliable both in the ring and out (aka no messing up), give great matches, and have the longevity to stay around the ring and wrestle for years to come?
Well Ron Killings, unless properly motivated is not one of them, Randy Orton, albeit Raw’s top heel at the moment, has had injury problems, and behavioral problems to boot. Lesnar and Rock? Both left the sport to peruse other venues. Yokozuna and Big Show? They both did not stay in good shape, and both would bounce around from the top of the card to the bottom of the card. Samoa Joe? Weight issues and ego problems make him probably the most problematic of the group. And The Undertaker? While a Hall Of Famer, the man was never once considered to be the main guy. He’s had his moments were he was at the top of the mountain ,but when he got his chances he was either knocked all the way down the mountain, or have to take time off to heel injuries.
So who are the guys you could of relied on? Triple H is one. Yes he’s boring and stale now, but he’s 40, he’s had a good 6 years at the top, so there’s no real problem with that. Sure he suffered two quad injuries, but neither time was he the World Champ….hmm….interesting thought actually.
John Cena? Love him or hate him he always gets a reaction, when matched up with a talented wrestler he can put on good matches, and even when he get’s hurt he bounces back in no time.
And of coarse there’s A.J. Styles. A former 3 time champion, and TNA’s consensus pick to be Mr. TNA almost every year he’s been there. While men like Angle, Joe and Sting may rotate at being the face of TNA, Styles is the heart and soul of TNA.
So giving someone The World Title to early can prove to be a problem as only three men have shown that they are considered to be financial successes with the belt. (Orton has shown over the last three years that he is one of the worst heel draws in some time.)
But what about giving someone the belt to late? To often times people will win the belt long after they would have deserved it. Sometimes the gimmick, the heat and the angle is just perfect for it to work, but those RARE times are often just a result of being a Transitional Champion to give the belt back to the cheating heel or the enduring face. Sometimes however a promotion can strike relative gold with a wrestler as they go on to have successful reigns.
Lex Luger 33
Mick Foley 33
Ron Simmions 34
The Great Khali 34
Booker T 35
Sid Vicious 36
Macho Man 36
Eddie Guerreo 36
Scott Steiner 38
Ken Shamrock 38
Sgt. Slaughter 43
Twenty-four names make up this list. This is every world champion who has won the belt at the age of 33 or higher.
Of this list, there are only two men who have been labeled THE GUY for more then a brief time period. Those names are Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart. Austin had a chronic knee problem and a neck problem but was still the WWE’s top guy (off and on due to injuries of coarse) from early 97 to the end of 01. Four years. But a very successful four years in terms of revenue garnered. Bret Hart was the top guy for either WWF or WCW for five years in the WWE, and for about 14 months in WCW.
What doe that tell you about these two men? That even though short their stays at the top may have been for Austin and Hart, the fact that they are considered two of the best of all time really speak to people.
Slaughter, Steiner, DDP, Vader and Shamrock were universally held up as people who weren’t told to do much else then their one run. And only Steiner was given the entire company push. But the company that Steiner represented bottomed out less then 6 months into his reign. Batista and Eddie Guerreo suffered from the same problem, too old to have a roster built around them. Eddie would tragically pass away before he could try and disprove that. And while Batista has always mentioned Eddie as being a close confidant and friend, Batista was not able to buck that trend either as he has become one of the most injury prone wrestlers in recent memory. Khali’s reign in 2007 was about as big of a mistake as one can have. Sure Edge, Smackdown’s top heel went down with an injury, but Khali’s winning the title showed just how limited the WWE main event status is if one of the top guys goes down with an injury.
Ron Simmions was a failed experiment of a mid card wrestler getting a break, Booker T’s only real chance came at the dying year of WCW, but Booker was still over shadowed by the much younger and more popular Goldberg. Rob Van Dam was given his only chance to ever main event in June of 2006 and by July it was over due to drug issues. Sid Vicious only took the belt off of HBK because HBK did not want to put Bret Hart over.
Macho Man was given a reign because he was the second most popular man in the WWE at the time. Savage would go on to hold the belt two times total, for a whopping 520 days. However after Savage went to WCW, Savage would go on to win the title 4 times, but he’d only hold the title for 53 days. It’s possible that Savage should have stayed in retirement.
Kevin Nash while an entertaining champion in WCW, was quite a terrible draw in the WWF. Lex Luger was WCW’s Savage for a long time, often times being overshadowed by either Sting or Ric Flair depending on weather Luger was a face or heel. Mick Foley was an every man type wrestler who relied on courage, brains and brawling tactics to overcome the odds. Foley was a three time WWE Champion when he retired at the age of 34. Some people claim he walked away to soon, but when Foley left his job as an announcer to go to TNA, Foley showed the world that even though he’s been semi-retired for ten years, that he still had it when he beat Sting for the TNA World Title.
The last name that needas to be mentioned is Chris Benoit. Benoit first won a world title in January of 2000. He defeated Sid Vicious for the belt, then the next night Benoit vacated the belt after claiming he wasn’t being given the chance. Benoit left WCW and his reign as world champion and went to the WWE. The horrendous events that happened at the end of Benoit’s life aside, one must wonder what exactly would have happened with Benoit’s career should he have stayed with the WCW and what his reign would have been. Benoit instead of probably being WCW’s franchise man, left and didn’t even sniff the WWE World Championship for four years. After he won it and lost it in August, he’d never win it back. Good career move.
Now there’s one branch of the WWE and wrestling for that matter that has yet to be really examined. The brand of ECW. Now since the ECW title has come into play, seven men have won their first “world” title on WWE’s ECW. However, I do not fully recognized ECW as a viable World Title. So men like C.M. Punk (28), John Morrison (27) and Jack Swagger (26) did not win their respective first world titles on ECW. However Punk would win his first actual world title a year later. Men like Mark Henry (37), Chavo Guerreo (37) and Matt Hardy (33), while they were headlining the show on Tuesday’s for some time, never truly got a real title run in my eyes. Now Morrison is on the verge of breaking out this year or next, so it’s not unlikely to see his name on the 30 and under list, next to Punk. Same goes for Swagger. But men like Chavo, Henry and Matt Hardy, well their time has already come and gone unfortunately. Matt is still young enough to resurrect a headlining career, but his outlook bleak.
Now you must be asking yourself, “there are some names missing on those lists, were are they?” Well there is a list of the who’s who in wrestling. That list is the list of Franchise wrestlers. This list is of the wrestlers who headlined, starred and carried companies on their backs for years. Well for the most part. Even this elite group has some failures for one reason or another. But lets look at the list.
31 year olds
Ultimate Warrior (wwe)
Hulk Hogan (wwe)
Kurt Angle (wwe)
Chris Jericho (wwe)
Jeff Hardy (wwe)
Rey Mysterio (wwe)
Bill Goldberg (wcw)
32 year olds
Jeff Jarrett (WCW/TNA)
Christian Cage 32 (TNA/WWE)
Abyss 32 (TNA)
Edge 32 (WWE)
Now right off the top of your head you look at the names of Kane, Goldberg and The Ultimate Warrior and you go..”wait a second, they weren’t around that long” or in Kane’s place never found another run with a world title. But lets look at Ultimate Warrior first.
The Ultimate Warrior was the air apparent to Hulk Hogan. Warrior beat Hogan at WrestleMania, headlined against the new stars of wrestling (Rick Rude, Rick The Model Martell among others) and even though he lost the title to Sgt. Slaughter, Warrior went on to put Macho Man Randy Savage into retirement. However after SummerSlam 1991 Warrior was fired due to him holding the WWE hostage (figuratively not literally) pre match. Warrior would make his come back in 1992 but due to copy right squabbles Warrior would leave again. The British Bulldog and Warrior would then be fired due to failing drug tests. Warrior would come back to the WWE in 1996 and then go to WCW in 1998, but never again won a World Title nor was he ever considered as a legit main eventer ever again.
Kane for one reason or another was never seen as a viable main eventer. Kane would beat Stone Cold Steve Austin at King of the Ring in a First Blood match. Kane would then loose it back to Austin the night after. Kane’s tragic situation is compressed and identified as mainly being a damn good wrestler in a stock pile of good talent. Kane wrestled when Austin, Undertaker, HBK, The Rock, Mankind, and Triple H all were around and present. Kane basically got the “red headed step child” treatment due to “better” or more popular stars ahead of him. Kane though would wrestle consistently through out the ten year span and prove to everyone that he should of had more then just one world title.
Goldberg was a victim of circumstance as well. When he first won the WCW World Title in 1998, Goldberg ran through everyone possible. But then Goldberg would end up injuring his knee, and have to take three months off in a time period were Sting was putting over young talent, Flair was crazy, Hogan was hurt and it was really just DDP, Nash and Savage. In fact Goldberg wouldn’t sniff the World Title again until October of 1999, nearly 10 months after first loosing it. Goldberg would cut a vein in his hand in early 2000, be turned heel in June of ‘00, and be forced into retirement in early 01, all along the way being terribly booked by Vince Russo and others. However throughout the run in WCW Goldberg would only be rivaled by Sting in popularity. WCW would rely on Goldberg in the most important angles in the company, and was often times the spokesmen for the company.
Hulk Hogan, Sting, Shawn Michaels, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho are 5 of the greatest pro wrestlers ever. Hogan’s accomplishments are legendary, Y2J was the first ever unified World Champion, Kurt Angle is the only Olympic Gold Medalist and now a 9 time (pro) wrestling world champion and arguably one of the top five greatest wrestlers ever. Then there’s Shawn Michaels who can main event against the best, worst and indifferent wrestlers out there. HBK is generally regarded as the best big match wrestler of all time. And then there’s Sting. Sting is the only Icon in wrestling to never go to WWE. Sting carried WCW on his back for years, his popularity was never touched by Hulk Hogan in WCW, and even when Goldberg raised to prominence, he was still able to keep his foot hold in WCW as the franchise of the company, often time splitting time with Goldberg as the focal point of the company.
The interesting note of all this is the relative young age of Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy. Both Rey and Hardy are still in their early 30’s and both men have alot of years left in them to help solidify their spots of all time greats. Rey has been the face of Smackdown, and the WWE Latino fan base since 2002. And Jeff Hardy, even though an impending sabbatical is coming up, seems to be one of the next few guys ready to step up and start headlining more frequently.
Flair was at the top of his game from 1984 (the year in which he won his first NWA World Title) all the way to 1999, the year in which he last headlined a major WCW ppv.
Flair himself is usually one, two or three top wrestler of all time.
But the others? Jeff Jarrett’s run went from WCW to TNA, but neither of those times did fan’s believe he deserved that run. Christian Cage have always suffered from critics who believed that he would never be able to believably compete with the top guys on a roster. Abyss was a hardcore wrestler who would never win another World Title.
Edge is a different species. He’s of relative young age 32. But unlike others such as Cage, Jarrett, Flair or even Foley, Edge would never wrestle as a world champion in a unified promotion. It’s hard to speculate weather or not he could be a top draw for one reason, he rarely ever headlines a pay per view. Edge has had 9 world title wins, really just inflating the number with two world belts. But has headlined 14 ppvs since 2006. And only 9 of those pay per views were one and one. Also Edge has only headlined one of the last four WrestleMania’s. Sorry folks, but if your as good as a draw as people say you are, you would not be playing second fiddle. This has always been my knock on Edge. Two shows, and only one main event spot. That is why unless someone goes on last on the ppv in the scheduled main event, they cannot be called headliners. The headliners are the guys who go on last all the time. With the exception of this year, (4 this year, one of which was inside an Elimination Chamber) Edge had ten headlining pay per views, over the coarse of 4 years and of them 7 of them were one on one. And often times those one on one’s were a type of specialty match. So even though Edge’s inflated 9 World Titles seems impressive, in WWE now a day’s, it really doesn’t mean anything.
The lesson to be learned is this. Most wrestlers who win a World Title before the age of 31 is usually more of a crab shoot then people would expect.
A wrestler needs to be fully developed both physically as a wrestler, and mentally as an adult. Throw them into the spotlight to soon and you get wrestlers like Samoa Joe and Randy Orton, men who come into things with the “they owe me” train of thought. Will this happen to Jack Swagger, John Morrison or even C.M. Punk? More then likely not. But could it happen to younger stars such as Ted Dibiasie Jr, Cody Rhodes, David Hart Smith among others? Well that’s the risk you take.
Wait to long and you’ll more then likely get transitional champs. For every Flair, Jarrett, Edge, Batista, Hart and Austin you’ll get a Vader, DDP, Shamrock, Steiner, JBL and Sid Vicious. It’s more then likely that after the age of 32, the window (depending on their talent level and gimmick) slams shut. Now does this mean that men like M.V.P (35), Shelton Benjamin (34), Hernandez (36) or Daniels (37) and a select few others can never reach the level of success others have thought of? Well no it doesn’t mean that. But the odds are not with them.
After the age of 32 it’s almost unlikely that a wrestle who ever wins a World Title will do so unless in a transitional role. There is obviously a grace period of age, being that four of five of the wrestlers who won a title at the age of 32 have shown longevity and face value. Anything after that is a risk. For every older wrestler that succeeds late into his career, there are two more that fail.
Wrestlers who are between the age of 31 and even 32 often times have a better chance at succeeding just because they are young enough and fresh enough to headline for years. But they are also old enough and (hopefully) mature enough at this time to handle themselves both in the ring and out of it.
To be labeled as a Franchise guy is not only an honor, but it’s also something that should not be taken lightly.
Men like the Rock, Brock Lesnar, Paul Wight and Yokozuna may seem like attractive picks early on, but that doesn’t always mean that they are the right picks for the long haul. WWE had something special both in the Rock and in Lesnar, but both decided that they wanted more.
Yoko and Wight both showed that they could not keep their weight in check, and went form being some of the best in ring big men to some of the worst, all in the matter of a few short years.
Older stars are a risk too, for every JBL (a long tenured one time, decent drawing champ) there’s a Diamond Dallas Page, a three time, three time, three time disappointment as a headliner.
So the next time you start volleying for your favorite star to become the next big thing, ask yourself this….is he ready? Is it too late? Or is he really…….The Next Big Thing?
From Chad: This was an older column I wrote when I did column exclusively for forceofwrestling.com. After we parted ways I always wanted to pay them the proper respect and they me. So I used one of my best column from my tenure there.
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