About one year ago I wrote five articles detailing the careers of superstars I called the forgotten legends. These are wrestlers whose contributions to the industry often go overlooked, but had incredible careers none the less. The first five highlighted George "The Animal" Steele, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Big Van Vader and Bob Backlund.
These articles got such great feedback last year that I have decided to do another series on people I feel are overlooked by the IWC and wrestling fans alike.
The man I chose to highlight first in this second series of articles is "The Man of 1000 Holds" Dean Malenko. He proved that you didn't have to be a big man to be feared, and he also proved that you didn't have to be a high flyer if you were a smaller wrestler.
The son of Boris Malenko, famed wrestler of the Florida NWA division in the sixties, Dean started out in the business as a referee. He was a ref in different places throughout the eighties, even making some appearances in WWE.
He began wrestling as part of a tag team with his real life brother Joe Malenko. When his brother retired in 1992 Dean went his own way and began wrestling all over the world for various promotions, including those in Mexico and Japan.
Gaining the reputation as a superior technical wrestler, Dean eventually gained the attention of ECW promoter Paul Heyman. Heyman brought in Malenko during the tournament that would see the introduction of Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Nicknamed "The Shooter", Malenko held the ECW Television Title twice and the Tag Team Titles once with Chris Benoit. Malenko was part of a group in ECW who didn't need to cut themselves and get thrown through tables to entertain the fans. His talents in the ring were all the fans needed to appreciate what he could bring to the table.
Malenko faced some of the people who would end up having similar career paths. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were all in ECW at the same time as Malenko, and they all made their way through WCW and into WWE together.
When Malenko joined WCW he maintained his heel character and became known as "The Ice Man" due to his thousand yard stare and calculating demeanor. He would gain his first title at the hands of Shinjiro Otani when he won the Cruiserweight Championship.
Malenko would return to the Cruiserweight division after an absence to face off against an up-and-comer named Chris Jericho. Jericho claimed he was the man of 1004 holds to irritate Malenko's and provoked a feud that had some great promos and encounters.
The two faced off in an amazing match which saw Malenko submit to a high angle Liontamer submission. He would not be seen again until Jericho held a Battle Royal for a shot at his title.
Melanko entered the match under the disguise of a masked wrestler named Ciclope. He won the Battle Royal before revealing himself to in fact be Dean Malenko. He won his fourth and final Cruiserweight title when he defeated Chris Jericho.
Later in his WCW career he would hold tag team gold again when he and long time friend Chris Benoit won the titles by winning a tournament, and defeating legends Curt Hennig and Barry Windham. They only held the titles for two weeks as they eventually lost them to Kidman and Rey Mysterio.
Malenko and Benoit were part of the final version of The Four Horseman when they won the titles. They feuded with the NWO and Eric Bischoff for the majority of their time in the stable.
Malenko and Ric Flair would eventually face off in what I remember as being one of the best technical matches in WCW history. The two men who were known as great technicians put on a clinic.
Malenko left WCW along with Benoit, Guerrero and Perry Saturn to go to WWE to form the stable known as The Radicalz.
These four men were all a force to be reckoned with, and each one held gold in WWE. Malenko had a considerably better career in WCW in terms of title reigns, but he did gain the WWE Light Heavyweight Title on two separate occasions.
Malenko would eventually fade away from WWE television right around the time the ECW/WCW invasion storyline began.
His final wrestling match happened at the fourth annual Brian Pillman Memorial Show when he teamed with former partner Perry Saturn to face off against Justin Credible and Raven, two other men who got their first breaks in ECW.
Malenko now works behind the scenes with WWE as an agent and he makes the occasional appearance during backstage and in-ring segments, the most recent being when he was in the ring with Ricky Steamboat and the Nexus would attack the group of legends.
The Man of 1000 Holds, The Shooter, The Ice Man, whatever you want to call him, there is really only one way to describe Dean Malenko and that is "Amazing".
He is a sure fire Hall of Famer and I look forward to the day I get to hear his induction speech because I know he has some great stories to tell.