Ranking the Most Underrated and Underutilized WWE, WCW Stars Ever

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2020

Ranking the Most Underrated and Underutilized WWE, WCW Stars Ever

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There is only so much room at the top, and not everyone can be in the main event.

    Those statements are unequivocally true, but there are stars throughout the long and illustrious histories of WWE and WCW who were underrated and underutilized for the majority of their careers, lacking even strong midcard runs that would have reflected their talents and contributions to the product.

    From the obvious, like Dean Malenko and Bam Bam Bigelow, to the more obscure, like Blitzkrieg and the original incarnation of Doink the Clown, they are performers and characters who impressed between the ropes while also capturing the attention of fans who value more from their wrestling stars.

    On this Underappreciated Stars Day here at B/R Wrestling, relive these 15 competitors who most definitely earned more than they received from the creative and managerial teams in wrestling's two most storied promotions.

15. Blitzkrieg

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    If you blinked, you would have missed Blitzkrieg's run with WCW.

    It's apropos considering the speed with which the cruiserweight approached his in-ring game. Lightning quick with an aerial arsenal matched by few, he had several superb matches against the likes of Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio, Billy Kidman and Dean Malenko.

    He won few matches but often left fans buzzing about him, even in defeat.

    Only 23 when he signed with the company, he had a bright future ahead of him and the ability to star for any company he chose.

    After only a year, though, he was gone.

    Despite all of the rave reviews and television spotlight, the man behind the mask opted for early retirement to pursue a career in computer technology, bringing an end to one of the flashier, more impressive young stars in WCW.

    His influence can be seen in All Elite Wrestling's Jack Evans, who utilizes a similar in-ring style and even competed briefly as Blitzkrieg II early in his career.

    Only 44 today, one can only wonder what might have been had Blitzkrieg stuck it out and continued pursuing sports-entertainment greatness. His decision to leave the business makes him more underrated than underutilized because management never had the chance to push him.

14. Wade Barrett

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    When Wade Barrett debuted as the leader of Nexus in 2010, most pegged him to be a sure-fire top star in WWE for years to come. He was charismatic, could cut a promo and possessed raw abilities between the ropes he could refine by working with more experienced performers.

    Throw in a great look and an eager push from management, and you had every reason to believe Barrett was set for superstardom over the next decade.

    Injury and inconsistent booking, coupled with the political minefield that is the backstage environment in WWE, brought him crashing to reality. After working with John Cena and Randy Orton early, he found himself bogged down in the midcard abyss.

    While Barrett won the Intercontinental Championship on five occasions, his Bad News and King personas never netted him the level of success that his work to get them over with audiences should have.

    Today, Barrett works for the National Wrestling Alliance as a commentator rather than headlining pay-per-views for the company that introduced him to the wrestling world—the same company he left in 2016 after being underutilized.

13. Val Venis

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    Val Venis had the in-ring talent of a main event star but a gimmick that forever confined him to the midcard.

    The minute Venis was introduced to the world as an adult film star, any chance he ever had of climbing to world title status ended. That is unfortunate given the number of times he proved he had the skills between the ropes to be so much more.

    One must look no further than his underrated gem of a match against Mankind at No Mercy 1999, which saw him defeat the Hardcore Legend and show just how good he could be. He proved as much against Steve Austin and The Rock when given the opportunity too, and he was a vital part of the Intercontinental Championship scene through 1999 and 2000.

    Even when Venis underwent brief changes in character, whether it be as a member of The Right to Censor or "Chief of Staff" Sean Morley, there was no making up for his previous gimmick, thus limiting his upward projection.

    He could have followed in Triple H’s path as a talented technician who rose to prominence as a main event heel.

12. Brad Armstrong

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    Take one listen to any one of the Conrad Thompson-hosted podcasts featuring Eric Bischoff, Jim Ross, Tony Schiavone and Bruce Prichard, and you will hear stories of just how funny and charismatic Brad Armstrong was behind the scenes in WCW.

    Unfortunately, that personality never quite translated to the screen, dooming him to a career of underutilization and being underrated.

    A master of mat technique, he could wrestle anyone of any style or background and deliver a great match. He could compete against Jushin "Thunder" Liger in a match on Nitro that showcased WCW's renewed attention to the cruiserweights and then head right over to Saturday Night on TBS and have a quality match with Barbarian or Hugh Morrus.

    He was a great worker at a time of explosive personalities. Unfortunately, no amount of timing or deep move sets would elevate him beyond a guy who could captivate fans with posing or entertain them with a catchphrase.

11. Dean Malenko

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    If Armstrong was a supreme technician, Dean Malenko may have been the most talented of his generation. The self-proclaimed Man of 1,000 Holds could escape moves or holds with his arsenal of counters and then twist his opponent into submission with his patented Texas Cloverleaf.

    Malenko, unlike most on this list, was heavily featured on WCW for the majority of his run with the company. Whether he was revolutionizing the cruiserweight division with Rey Mysterio, feuding with Chris Jericho in one of the best feuds of 1998 or standing alongside Perry Saturn and Shane Douglas as The Revolution, Malenko was a staple of programming.

    Unfortunately for him, his prominence did not always reflect his in-ring output, and a jump to the competition in 2000 did not help matters, as Malenko again struggled to benefit from any substantial and consistent push.

    One of the hottest wrestlers in the industry following a series of matches in ECW with Eddie Guerrero, Malenko never received the sort of push that reflected his in-ring prowess or the fans' appreciation of it.

10. Chris Kanyon

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    Chris Kanyon was an offensive innovator.

    There was not a single move he shied away from attempting or a variation of an established hold that he could not create. No one match of his looked like the other thanks to his willingness to be different. Despite his ability to make the most simply maneuver look flashy and interesting, Kanyon spent years as an enhancement talent in WCW before his big break in 1997 as Mortis.

    After the masked villain gimmick ran its course, he slowly rose up the card before settling into the midcard. A friend of Diamond Dallas Page, he also spent time as one-third of the Jersey Triad and later adopted the persona of "Champagne" Kanyon in reference to his role in Ready to Rumble

    A shocking heel turn in 2000 saw him enjoy his most sustained push as a key member of the hated New Blood, but even that petered out.

    A jump to WWE when the company bought out WCW should have netted him the push he wanted, but after a glorified squash at SummerSlam 2001 at the hands of Undertaker and Kane, he drifted into obscurity. Despite solid outings on the SmackDown brand's Velocity show, WWE officials never understood what they had in Kanyon, and in 2003, they released him from his contract.

    Sadly, he died in 2010, with another star burning out far too early. 

    Kanyon was a damn good wrestler who could have excelled in either WWE or WCW as an upper-midcard competitor had one person in power got behind him. If one writer or producer had gone to bat for him and pushed the issue, who knows how his story would have ended.

    Multiple runs as United States champion? Classic matches with Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Edge and Kurt Angle over on the blue brand?

    Unfortunately, it is all speculation and fantasy booking at this point.

9. Rhyno

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    Rhyno was the last ECW champion in the original incarnation of the promotion's history, and upon his arrival in WWE, he appeared to be in line for a sizable push.

    A ferocious competitor with off-the-charts intensity, he tore through the competition early in his run in McMahonland, winning the Hardcore and United States Championships before a neck injury put him out of action for more than a year.

    When he returned, despite being the same worker, that initial support had disappeared.

    Rhyno would become bogged down in the midcard, fighting for an opportunity at bigger and better things that never came. A tag title reign here, a high-profile television match there but nothing sustainable or interesting to speak of.

    It was especially disappointing because, when given the opportunity, he had proved he could talk, making him a well-rounded performer.

    After being let go in 2005, it was 11 years before The Man Beast returned to WWE television. He partnered with Heath Slater in an immensely entertaining tag team, but even that creative effort wore off and he found himself right back where he was before.

    Today, he works in Impact Wrestling, primarily as an upper-midcard star and a throwback to an era of extreme, never living up to his potential, though through little fault of his own. For whatever reason, WWE management never bought into him after that neck injury put him out of action, and the result was a career wasted in the midcard when he could have been goring the competition all the way to championships and stardom.

8. Doink the Clown

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    Doink the Clown is the single most misused and underrated character Vince McMahon has ever created.

    No, not the fun-loving jester who ran around with Dink, making kids laugh. That incarnation was week-old garbage on a hot, summer New York City day. No, the Doink that initially debuted in 1992 after McMahon watched Stephen King's It for the first time was the epitome of the dark and twisted characters WWE has proved it can create when it puts its mind to it.

    A demented clown who would laugh one minute and then stare menacingly into the camera the next, he took great joy in using trickery on fans and Superstars alike. Just when everything appeared to be in good fun, he would take out a fake arm and bludgeon Crush with it or attack Bret Hart.

    There was something not right about him, a switch he could turn off that shone a light into the darkness that lied beneath the paint.

    Matt Borne, the man behind Doink, was brilliant. He played the character to perfection. And beyond his portrayal, his in-ring work was excellent. During his run, he had superb matches with Hart, Mr. Perfect and Marty Jannetty, bringing a level of work rate along with his captivating facial expressions and can't-miss promos.

    WWE had a gold mine in Doink, but unfortunately the minute it got wind of children being frightened by the persona, it changed it to the more traditional good guy clown who went down in the annals of WrestleCrap infamy.

    Despite the fact that the character was clearly designed to leave children uneasy.

    Who knows—had WWE stayed the course as it did with The Undertaker early in his run, Doink may well have risen to the top of the card. Was he ever going to be WWE champion? Probably not, but he could have been a consistent challenger who left the bucket of confetti gags at home for a more serious and dangerous approach.

    Instead, it became more Bozo than Pennywise and faded away as WWE injected attitude into its programming.

7. Victoria

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    The women's division of the early 2000s was rife with talented competitors, most of whom are finally starting to earn the respect and adulation they deserve as they enter the WWE Hall of Fame. Trish Stratus and Lita headed a division that also featured the likes of Molly Holly, Jazz, Ivory and Jacqueline. It also featured a former fitness model who worked extremely hard to develop her skills to turn into one of the best workers on that roster: Victoria.

    A raven-haired badass who worked the majority of her career with a torn ACL, she transformed from one of the Godfather's valets into a championship competitor, defeating Trish Stratus to capture the Women's Championship at the 2002 Survivor Series.

    She had blistering, hard-hitting matches with Stratus and proved she could adapt her style along the way. Victoria found success both as a brawler and wrestler, heel and babyface, serious fighter and comedic entertainer. She was adaptable, making her incredibly valuable.

    Unfortunately, WWE officials never saw her as the star.

    Even when she was champion, the feud with Stratus was more aimed at spotlighting her opponent. When she got a second run with the title in 2004, she was overshadowed by the soap opera involving heel Stratus and Lita. Even as one-third of Vince's Devils with Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle, she struggled to be the centerpiece of the faction.

    This, despite all signs that she was a true asset to the company.

    While she would go on to have a lengthy career with WWE that ended in 2008, one that saw her get a considerable amount of television time, it was hard not to feel like WWE missed out on a legitimate star in Victoria.

    A hard worker whose dedication to the industry is apparent by the knee injury she wrestled on throughout her career, she remains one of the more underappreciated stars of an era that produced some of the best women's wrestling in WWE history. Hopefully she takes her rightful place in the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later to firmly etch her legacy into the annals of sports-entertainment history.

6. Billy Kidman

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    Any list of underrated and underappreciated talent from WWE or WCW is not complete without Billy Kidman.

    Yes, he got a significant push in WCW as one of the faces of The New Blood and even wrestled Hulk Hogan in two pay-per-view bouts, but that half-assed push is not indicative of how valuable Kidman was to Ted Turner's wrestling company in the late 1990s and 2000.

    Kidman was a workhorse for WCW. As in-ring content sunk to its lowest quality in a decade, Kidman was out stealing the show on a nightly basis, wrestling extraordinary matches with Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, Shane Douglas, Vampiro, Jeff Jarrett and Booker T.

    An adaptable worker, he could deliver against any wrestler of any size. With his patented Shooting Star Press, he was as over as anyone in the dying days of the company. Fans believed in him, and more importantly, they trusted that he would deliver even if no one else did.

    The 1999 Readers' Poll in Pro Wrestling Illustrated even named him the pound-for-pound best wrestler in the world.

    Yet despite significant roles on Nitro and Thunder, it always felt like he was capable of more. Whatever political forces were running amok at the time were conspiring to keep him out of a higher-profile spot. It was almost as if the old guard was threatened by how good he was. 

    When he arrived in WWE in 2001 as part of WCW's sale, he lost momentum. Then he lost television time. By the time he returned as part of the SmackDown brand in 2002, he wasn't quite the same performer he had been. Sure, there were quality matches against familiar foes Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero, as well as some bangers against Paul London and Tajiri, but he did not receive consistent enough television time to even approach the level of competition he was at in WCW.

    Now a producer with WWE, his influence is felt in today's in-ring product, and respect for him among the wrestling community online is undeniable. Still, he is one of those stars who was underutilized and missed out on realizing his potential.

5. Raven

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    There may not be a more intellectual, creative performer in WCW or WWE history than Raven.

    Always thinking, always looking to tell a story, the enigmatic slacker straight out of the American grunge scene arrived in WCW gift-wrapped by Paul Heyman and ECW. He was served up on a silver platter, ready to become a massive star for Eric Bischoff. Instead, the company failed to develop him, letting him skate by while competing under Raven's Rules, a gimmicky way of implementing the hardcore style of ECW.

    When that ran its course, it presented Raven as a spoiled, entitled rich boy whose family life was everything anyone could want, but he was too disenfranchised to be bothered with it.

    Lacking creative freedom and any upward momentum, he left and returned to ECW before signing with WWE less than a year later.

    Back in the company that once employed him as Johnny Polo, Raven established himself as the face of the hardcore division. There, he was able to use his intelligence and creativity to tell stories within the context of his matches, even if WWE Creative was not overly concerned with evolving his character.

    Then the hardcore title run faded away, and he was left to wallow as an undercard member of the Alliance before he was banished to the doldrums of Sunday Night Heat. Even when he attempted to tell the story of a manipulative and cult-like leader who punished offenders by using the Seven Deadly Sins, he found pushback from the creative team.

    In 2003, he was released from his contract, never to return to WWE, where he spent three years as one of the most undervalued members of an evolving roster that could have used his smarts and storytelling to get them over more than a few bumps in the road.

4. Tito Santana

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    When discussing the best and most pure babyfaces of all time, fans universally point to Ricky Steamboat. The Dragon never portrayed a heel for a good reason: He was so damn likable and effective as the hero.

    Tito Santana very much fits that mold, and the fact that he is not mentioned in the same breath as Steamboat is proof of just how underrated and underappreciated he was.

    There was a time in WWE history when it looked like Santana was destined to be the next big star in Vince McMahon's promotion. He teamed with Ivan Putski to win the tag team titles and feuded with Greg Valentine in an incredibly underrated program over the Intercontinental Championship. 

    As McMahon expanded his territory, taking it from the Northeast to a national product, Santana was suddenly deemphasized. Despite being a fiery, beloved babyface, he was shoved to the background in favor of the larger-than-life characters.

    He had another run as tag team champion, this time with Rick Martel, but Santana's career with the company saw a steep decline. He was an undercard performer for the most part, working with The Barbarian, The Mountie and the aforementioned Martel while other, less talented performers enjoyed the spotlight that should have been his.

    A superb worker, even when he may not have been as motivated or was creatively frustrated, he was a consummate professional. To this day, it is puzzling that he never had the chance at a great run once WWE became a global phenomenon.

    Even in the early 1990s, when there certainly was not a plethora of established stars running around, he could not get a sniff at a championship opportunity. Instead, he was dressed up like a matador and left to put over guys like Repo Man and The Berserker.

    Imagine what he could have done with, and for, Shawn Michaels in a legitimate IC title feud rather than a last-minute, one-off match at WrestleMania VIII or as an ally for Bret Hart during his initial run as WWE champion.

    Of all the great in-ring performers from that era, WWE's underutilization of Santana remains one of the most disappointing because he could have been a truly special, cultural hero for many rather than the glorified enhancement talent he devolved into.

3. Mike Awesome

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    The minute Mike Awesome emerged from the locker room and attacked Kevin Nash on WCW, while still the ECW world champion, should have been the start of a magical run for the most talented big man the industry had seen in years.

    After wowing fans in ECW via his brutal wars with Masato Tanaka and his David vs. Goliath battles with "Little" Spike Dudley, Awesome was primed to be a star for one of the two major wrestling promotions. That the brain trust in WCW was able to secure his rights while he was still ECW champion was the type of controversy Eric Bischoff lived and breathed for early in the Monday Night War.

    Unfortunately for Awesome, no one in WCW cared or was equipped enough to ensure he was utilized to the fullest of his abilities by the time he arrived in the company. A two-year ass-kicking in the ratings war with WWE had left the company a shell of its former self, and rather than capitalizing on the buzz he had upon his debut, WCW squandered it.

    Awesome should have won the United States Championship immediately but did not. He should have feuded with Kevin Nash but did not. He should have been a top contender to the world title, a brutal gladiator unfazed by the carnage he inflicted. He was not.

    Instead, he became The Fat Chick Thriller. Then That '70s Guy. Finally, a member of Team Canada despite not being even the slightest bit Canadian.

    WCW picked away at the aura and mystique of Mike Awesome, exposing his shortcomings on the microphone and sticking him with asinine gimmicks until the powerbombing badass from ECW had been picked apart and left as roadkill during WCW's demise.

    WWE is not blameless in Awesome's rapid descent, either.

    When it purchased WCW, it had the opportunity to bring him in and re-establish Awesome as an ass-kicker. Instead, it never once even suggested it cared to do anything with him. Sure, he won the Hardcore Championship on his first night with the company, but that title features such esteemed previous champions as "Godfather's Ho" and a skidmark-wearing Pat Patterson, so it was hardly a distinguished honor.

    Instead, Awesome disappeared from television in the summer of 2001 and was not seen again until his release from the company.

2. Bam Bam Bigelow

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    Bam Bam Bigelow may be the most athletically gifted super heavyweight in wrestling history. At 350 pounds, he could cartwheel around the ring with ease and keep up with the smallest, fasted and highest-flying Superstars on the WWE roster.

    The Beast From The East was also a hell of a worker, something he learned during his days in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. He could brawl with the best, as most his size could, but he could also engage Bret Hart in a scientific wrestling match if need be. And he did that many times during The Hitman's first WWE Championship run in 1993.

    Whether he was tossing around the 123 Kid or throwing fists with Lex Luger or Diesel, he was one of those talents management could rely on to turn in a strong performance when the card most needed it.

    But not one it thought could be a sustainable main event attraction.

    Sure, Vince McMahon booked Bigelow against Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI, but that had as much to do with their trust in him as a worker than anything. Coming out of that show, he should have been a humiliated force of nature seeking vengeance, recommitted to demolishing the opposition en route to a title run.

    Instead, the company turned him into a cartwheeling babyface who never got over with the masses.

    After an ECW run in which Paul Heyman restored his credibility, putting the world title on him and letting Bigelow be the Bam Bam everyone thought he could be, the Asbury Park, New Jersey, native signed with WCW.

    Despite early work with Goldberg, he faded into the undercard, becoming a member of that promotion's messy and uninspired hardcore division. There were some fun brawls with Brian Knobbs and Finlay, a comedic battle here or there with Norman Smiley and a run with Diamond Dallas Page and Kanyon as The Jersey Triad, but none of it reflected Bigelow's abilities.

    By the end of WCW, he was stuck feuding with Shawn Stasiak, a young performer who tried hard but did not have an ounce of the talent Bigelow had.

    Heyman's ability to get the most out of Bigelow proved that there was money to be made in The Beast from the East. He was a guy who could believably be a world champion. He was a monster of a competitor who, for whatever reason, WWE and WCW never saw as the guy to stand toe-to-toe with the top stars in their companies on a nightly basis, headlining PPVs and winning world titles.

    And it's a shame because Bigelow would have been the perfect guy to put at the top of a card at the height of wrestling's popularity in the Monday Night War, an anti-authority badass with tattoos and a mean streak a mile wide.

1. Vader

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    Very rarely does Vince McMahon miss on a sure thing as badly as he missed on Vader.

    A major star for New Japan Pro-Wrestling and WCW before he arrived in WWE, Vader was world championship material and a star who could work with any style of performer. He could throw those clubbing forearms with Sid Vicious, he could brawl with Cactus Jack and work the big-small formula with Sting. He was a hell of a worker, deceptively athletic and a convincing, nasty bastard of a heel.

    McMahon should have ridden him right to the bank, putting the title on him and letting him star as the unconquerable heel champion until the next big babyface emerged to topple him.

    Instead, he booked him to lose his first world title match to Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam in 1996, looking like a fool while doing so. Then he lost to The Undertaker at Canadian Stampede. Then Bret Hart. In fact, through his first year with the company, he settled into a pattern as the monster heel WWE built up momentarily just to put over the babyface champion.

    Then WWE inexplicably turned him babyface.

    It did not work. A year of inconsistent booking that saw him in and out of the main event, up and down the card, heel then babyface ruined the mystique of the character and rendered him little more than a bigger, more intimidating version of every other heel on the roster.

    Within two years, WWE managed to water down one of the best heels of the decade, taking him from world title contender to opening match enhancement talent. By the end of 1998, he was gone, with his status as the most underrated and underutilized talent in WWE history solidified.