The 5 Former WWE and WCW Stars Who Would Have Been Even Bigger in This Era

Philip LindseyContributor I

The 5 Former WWE and WCW Stars Who Would Have Been Even Bigger in This Era

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    WWE

    Any fan who has watched wrestling long enough can expound on the most underrated names from their favorite era. It's even more fun to fantasy book stars from different generations against one another. This kind of speculation often opens the door to conversations about stars who could be successful during another period. 

    Ken Shamrock was among countless wrestlers who were ahead of their time. The World's Most Dangerous Man achieved so much as one of the most legitimate shootfighters in professional wrestling. He recently became an Impact Hall of Famer and once held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

    Still, one has to imagine he would have thrived with WWE after UFC established itself as a juggernaut and Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey successfully crossed over.

    The former UFC superfight champion didn't have a failed wrestling career by any stretch of the imagination. He wasn't an ill-fated byproduct of Inoki-ism, Antonio Inoki's infamous attempt to introduce shootfighters to New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

    However, his tenure with WWE, in particular, is surrounded by "what ifs." Hypothetically, a young Shamrock could have been an even bigger star with the current roster. 

    With that in mind, let's take a look at five more stars from WCW and WWE who would have flourished in this era. 

Dean Malenko

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    Speaking of Ken Shamrock, Dean Malenko inspired the UFC Hall of Famer to try out for the Japanese-based shoot-style company, Universal Wrestling Federation well before he found success in MMA in 1990.

    Malenko is currently a senior producer for All Elite Wrestling, but he is best known for his stint with WCW and later WWE. The Iceman famously took part in amazing matches with Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho. His prowess as a world-traveled and exceptional mat-based wrestler granted him the moniker, The Man of 1,000 Holds.

    To date, Malenko is considered one of the best technical wrestlers of all time. However, he didn't exactly have a storied tenure with WWE like his Radicalz stablemate, Guerrero. He won the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship two times but got lost in the shuffle in 2001.

    In today's era, smaller guys such as Daniel Bryan have done well with the company. In fact, fans can see glimpses of what made Malenko so great in Drew Gulak, who worked a similar style against high-flyers as part of the cruiserweight division. 

    WWE would have possibly had the same issues developing a character for Malenko but imagine the masterclasses he could have with guys like Bryan, Gulak, AJ Styles, Chad Gable, Pete Dunne, or even Ring of Honor's pure champion, Jonathan Gresham.

    The Iceman worked with New Japan from 1992 to 1999, but he and Zach Sabre Jr. could put on a clinic today.

Jazz

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    Last week, two-time WWE women's champion Jazz made a surprise appearance on Impact Wrestling as Jordynne Grace's partner for the Knockouts Tag Team Title Tournament. It's her first stop en route to retirement after a 22-year career.

    The ECW stalwart helped to legitimize women's wrestling with WWE as a foil for Trish Stratus. Her heel work helped to transform the seven-time women's champion into a legend. 

    However, she never got the credit she deserved, and the level of competition just wasn't there for her and other superior workers such as Ivory or Molly Holly to reach their true potential at the time. WWE also didn't give women's wrestlers the amount of screen time they rightfully receive today. 

    A vicious and believable threat like Jazz would thrive in this era. The Louisiana native would fit perfectly in some of the stipulation matches that women have made history in recent years.

    It's truly a shame that WWE hasn't invited her to participate in a women's Royal Rumble match yet, but seeing Jazz enter the Elimination Chamber or Hell in a Cell in her prime would have been even better. 

Brian Pillman

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    If anyone was ahead of their time during the Attitude Era, it was Flyin' Brian Pillman. The one-time NCAA Division 1 All-American defensive lineman was such a dynamic performer. His in-ring style was unique, and he worked tirelessly to think up creative characters and ways to improve them.

    Pillman made a name for himself along with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as The Hollywood Blonds and later became a member of The Four Horsemen with WCW. His Loose Cannon gimmick was groundbreaking and proved he could cut spellbinding and masterful promos as well. 

    The Ticking Timebomb signed a high-profile deal with WWE in 1996, but he sustained a catastrophic ankle injury following a car accident that robbed him of his athleticism. As a result, he could no longer work the dazzling high-flying style that made him heavily sought after at the time.

    With WWE, he and Austin produced the notorious "Pillman's got a gun" segment but that was one of his few claims to fame with the company before he died in 1997 at the age of 35.

    Flyin' Brian could have had a much bigger impact during the late 1990s if he didn't suffer such a life-changing injury. But he would have been a massive star if he got to work with the current generation of death-defying wrestlers he eventually paved the way for.

    His organic character work alone would've been refreshing today in an era of scripted promos.

Beth Phoenix

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    WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix bucked gender stereotypes during the Divas era, the company's most creatively stifling period of women's wrestling. For that reason, many fans remember The Glamazon as one of its highlights. 

    In some ways, the women on the roster during that time are unfairly criticized for WWE's failure to develop and promote them as anything more than eye candy. Nevertheless, fixtures such as AJ Lee, The Bella Twins, Eve Torres and Kaitlyn managed to overachieve despite the constraints that were placed on them. 

    Phoenix also excelled when given the chance as a three-time WWE women's and a Divas champion. Her memorable feud with Melina delivered an incredible first-ever "I Quit" match, and she had an underrated rivalry with Kelly Kelly in 2011.

    The 2008 Diva of the Year left WWE in October 2012 at just 31 years old. Last year, during an appearance on Prime Time with Sean Mooney, Phoenix revealed she became exasperated with the company's women's division. 

    "I was really frustrated with where the women were at from a company standpoint, and the investment that was being made in us," she said. "I felt in my heart I had done my best, and I'd try really hard to change things but, at some point, I just got really frustrated."

    It's not hard to see how she grew disenfranchised, but her amateur wrestling background put her in a league of her own. The Glamazon would fit much better in the current era following the Women's Revolution alongside The Four Horsewomen.

    Phoenix and Natalya would also make excellent tag team champions as The Divas of Doom.

Owen Hart

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    Owen Hart's tragic passing is one of the most devastating stories in the history of professional wrestling. His life and death were the subjects of the finale of Season 2 of Dark Side of the Ring

    The King of Harts was a true pioneer. His experience in amateur wrestling and time in the Hart Dungeon groomed him into an outstanding technician. The 1994 King of the Ring winner also soared from the top rope with a beautiful moonsault, diving reverse crossbody and missile dropkick, which he usually followed up with a kip-up.

    He was only 34 years old when he fell to his death at Over the Edge 1999 as a result of a stunt he never should have been involved in. It's still baffling that WWE would subject someone with his in-ring ability to such an outlandish gimmick.

    In a perfect world, Owen would have picked up the torch his brother, Bret, left behind and immediately entered a rivalry with Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. After all, it was the only title he had never won, which is criminal. 

    Even worse, he just missed a crop of talent that came after he passed away, which included Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle. He had a dark match with Angle in May 1999 but we could still go on and on about how amazing a program featuring the two could have been.

    In the current era, Hart would have undoubtedly been a perennial main-eventer. He was one of the greatest in-ring competitors of all time and was so versatile that he could do comedy and be a consummate villain.

    The Slammy Award winner could be a workhorse with the intercontinental title and a world champion.