Pro Wrestling, like in any sport, is all about opportunity and what you do with it. Opportunity comes in many forms. A wrestler might get injured and you get their title shot opportunity. A new promotion opens and you have a chance to make a name there. You get signed and get asked to take a certain gimmick. The booker asks you to turn heel. The amount of times the road will fork for a wrestler is endless. It’s unfortunate when a wrestler looks to have all of the right skills to make it to the top but they don’t because the choices they made. Today, let’s look at five examples of choices that had to be made and how they affected wresting history.
The Perfect Rooster?
In the summer of 1988, the World Wrestling Federation signed two young wrestlers with great potential. The first was Terry Taylor, a good technical wrestler that got over as a babyface and heel in several wrestling promotions. The second was Curt Hennig, the son of Larry “The Axe” Hennig and former AWA World Champion. Both were blonde, in decent shape, average on the microphone yet excellent wrestlers, Hennig being the better of the two.
With two wrestlers of similar look and stature, the WWF had to decide what they wanted to do with them. They had two gimmicks written up for a future debuting wrestler. One gimmick was of a “perfect” athlete who could compete with pro stars of any sport and was now showing his perfection in pro wrestling. The second gimmick was of a novice wrestler who needed serious instruction by manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, but would eventually turn on Heenan and use that turn to catapult himself into a babyface run. The decision came down to who could play which gimmick better and who needed Heenan’s rub more. The WWF went with Curt Hennig as Mr. Perfect and Terry Taylor as “Scary” Terry Taylor, and soon turning him into the Red Rooster.
History proved how this was the right decision to make. Hennig excelled as Mr. Perfect and even improved on his microphone skill to be one of the most well rounded workers in the company. Funny enough Perfect still got to work with Bobby Heenan down the road and even turned on Heenan. As for Taylor, being handled like a novice gave him very little confidence to the crowd. He was soon involved in a feud with the Brooklyn Brawler and it was clear that even if Heenan could get anyone over, they still had to get themselves over as well. Taylor was out of the WWF by late 1990. Had the gimmicks been switched, Hennig probably would have been over as the Red Rooster but might have also found himself out of the WWF. He would have been a serious coup for World Championship Wrestling. As for Taylor, he wouldn’t have been able to quite back up being perfect the way Hennig did. At the very least, the undefeated streak would have kept him strong but once broken, he would have fallen down the card. Disappointing as Taylor had a real mind for the wrestling business.
The Eggman Cometh?
In October 1990, Mark Callous signed to World Wrestling Federation. Vince McMahon was excited for Callous because he had a gimmick in mind for him to be based around the image of a mortician from the Frontier times, an image used commonly in western films. However, this mortician would have supernatural powers and be impervious to pain. Unlike other gimmicks in the day, it was very original and tapped into a concept wrestling only briefly played with back in the 80s with Kevin Sullivan in Florida. Callous soon became Kane the Undertaker and worked a few matches on WWF Superstars tapings under the gimmick.
Around the same time, the WWF made buzz around the pro wrestling world with an egg that was going to hatch at Survivor Series 1990. It wasn’t just fans of the WWF intrigued as to who would be unhatched but wrestling insiders and wrestlers working all over North America. Even Dusty Rhodes in the NWA/WCW at the time speculated that Vince might have signed NWA World Champion Ric Flair away and he was going to hatch out of the egg. Vince knew he had the attention of the wrestling world at the time and considered taking this unique gimmick he just created for Mark Callous and changing it up a bit for the egg reveal. The talk turned into scrapping the mortician image and turning him into The Eggman. Callous would still be impervious to pain but now would be… hatched out of an egg. Callous turned it down and McMahon eventually agreed. He just knew he had the attention of the wrestling world and wanted to make a splash. McMahon instead dropped “Kane” from the monicker and had Undertaker make his official WWF debut at Survivor Series the same time as the egg. His debut in the match captivated WWF audiences. In only a year’s time from his official debut, he beat Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Championship. An interesting moment because it was Hogan who pushed for the company to sign him, getting Callous cast in his film Suburban Commando. Undertaker has since become the most iconic gimmick in pro wrestling history.
As for the egg? The unfortunate debut ended up being given to one Héctor Guerrero, who hatched from the egg as the Gobbledy Gooker. The character was immediately abandoned after the Survivor Series debut. It was an unfortunate moment for Guerrero, who was a good worker. Sadly, Vince McMahon never learned from the Gooker/Egg moment when he revealed that the Undertaker had a “Higher Power”. The wrestling world turned their eyes to see who would be known as the higher power of the Undertaker. Was it Mankind? Was it Jake Roberts? Nope, it was just Vince. After those two moments, I only blame fans who get excited for major WWF reveals. The track record proves McMahon has no clue how to do them. At least we didn’t get the Eggman. Goo goo g’joob.
Bret vs. Bruce at Wrestlemania X?
This story begins back at Survivor Series 1993 when the Hart Brothers faced Shawn Michaels and a bunch of masked “Knights” (Jerry Lawler was supposed to be captain but was facing rape charges at the time so Michaels made an early return from his own WWF suspension to captain the team) with the Hart Brothers being victorious… except youngest brother Owen. Owen was the only member pinned and blamed his brother Bret. Bret tried to make amends by working with Owen to face the Quebecers for the WWF World Tag Team Titles, (Bret and Owen had teamed up prior in 1993 to face the Steiner Brothers in one of my favourite tag matches of all time, as well as worked as heels in Memphis during the WWF invasion of Memphis Wrestling. If you want to watch some of that angle, check YouTube for “McMemphis” and “Hart’s War”) only for Bret to get hurt and Owen to again blame Bret for costing him the match. One kicking a leg out of their leg and the feud was on, culminating in some of the greatest matches in WWF history including their opening show encounter at Wrestlemania X. The storyline solidified Owen as a midcard commodity and made his career.
However, Owen was not considered as Vince McMahon’s first choice for a feud against Bret. Despite Owen having worked in the WWF as Koko B. Ware’s tag partner in High Energy and under a mask as the Blue Blazer, McMahon didn’t consider him the right guy for the job. McMahon first pitched the storyline as it being Bruce Hart who turns on Bret. Bruce Hart was a professional wrestler but not a very good one. The only thing memorable about his career in Stampede Wrestling was being tag team partners with Brian Pillman and even that was clearly one man carrying the other. Bret, who had been working with Owen in tag matches, nixed Bruce in favour of Owen. A bullet dodged. While Owen had a strong career in WWF ended by a tragedy, Bruce did little to nothing for the rest of his career but live off of the legacy created by his brother and father.
Truth be told, Owen wasn’t ready for the role. While he excelled as a smarmy heel, the crowd had little idea who he was and why he was getting a title shot against Bret instead of other more established talent. His career at that point was completely based on being related to Bret. I’ve always said that in 1994, Owen and Bret should have stayed apart after Owen’s heel turn. Owen should have focused on proving he could do everything Bret could do. He should have won the WWF World Tag Titles with Jim Neidhart and won the WWF Intercontinental Title later on before eventually ending Bret’s hopes at winning the Royal Rumble two years in a row to re-spark their feud in 1995. Instead, the WWF rushed him in 1994 and Owen never returned to the World Title stage. Oh well, at least it was better than Bruce.
The British World Order?
There were a lot of minds involved in 1996 when it came to the formation of the New World Order. You couldn’t really credit one person with the concept. According to Kevin Sullivan, part of the WCW booking team back then, early on the group was to stay small and simply be an all-star team of wrestlers similar to the Four Horsemen. The difference would be that every man in the faction would in some way be an outsider. Once Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were established, the plan was only to grow the faction by two more members at most according to Sullivan. One spot was always considered for Sean Waltman, who had to wait a little longer than his friends Hall and Nash. Sullivan stated that the hope was for Shawn Michaels to join the nWo but he wasn’t able to get out of his contract with the WWF. So WCW instead set their sights on the man who Michaels just beat at King of the Ring 1996: Davey Boy Smith.
The British Bulldog actually agreed to join WCW after King of the Ring with the plan that he would come out as the fourth member of the nWo. On the night where he would have officially signed his contract to the company, Bulldog relented and instead signed a five year contract with the WWF. He only worked a little over a year on the contract before quitting due to the Survivor Series Screwjob and joined WCW like he was originally planning to in 1996.
Instead of Davey Boy, the fourth member of the New World Order ended up being The Giant. The Giant joining hurt the validity of the original faction since Giant was never a member of the WWF and a big part of the gimmick was the idea of the north (WWF) invading the south (WCW). They soon added a fake Sting and Syxx-Pac (Sean Waltman) as the fifth and six members. The Bulldog’s year and change with the WWF had some highs but mostly lows. McMahon broke close to every promise he made to Bulldog after he signed the five year deal with Vince instead of going to WCW. Despite this, Bulldog did become the first ever WWF European Champion and had great success as a member of the Hart Foundation. While Giant was a poor choice as the fourth member, Davey Boy likely would have been as well. A poor talker and with no real allies in WCW aside from maybe Sting, Davey Boy might have had a small run as a high profile signing before being lost in the shuffle of egos like Hogan, Hall and Nash. It was really just WCW throwing names at the wall. Soon enough, WCW lost their handle and once guys like Vincent started joining, the nWo ballooned and eventually burst.
The Million Dollar Wolverine?
In early 1995, Chris Benoit was working for Extreme Championship Wrestling in a tag team with Dean Malenko. Around that same time, Benoit received a World Wrestling Federation tryout. During the tryout, Benoit was billed as “The Pegasus Kid” and was even managed by the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Benoit worked three tryout matches and even cut a promo, though all of these happened as dark events. The WWF was impressed enough to offer Benoit a contract but Benoit still wanted to keep up his work with New Japan Pro Wrestling, as there was more money to be made in New Japan than the WWF back then for a midcarder. The WWF and Benoit could not come to an agreement. Benoit continued to work in ECW until Paul Heyman, in typical Heyman management fashion, forgot to renew Benoit’s work VISA, leading to Benoit having to go back to NJPW and leave ECW. Heyman actually wanted Benoit to eventually become the next ECW World Champion in 1995. Back in New Japan, WCW and New Japan worked out a talent exchange deal which meant that wrestlers who sign with WCW could also still work in Japan. This was exactly the deal Benoit was looking for. Benoit would stay in WCW with some occasional trips to New Japan until his departure to the WWF in 2000.
It’s hard to say if Benoit would have worked in the WWF. Vince was a big stickler on ensuring his talent worked for him. Scott Hall once said he would have never left for WCW if the WWF let him go to Japan two months out of the year to make some extra money. If Benoit gave up his interest in working for New Japan they would have come to an agreement. Benoit was first working dark matches with DiBiase but it’s more believable that he would have moved into Camp Cornette eventually with British Bulldog and Owen Hart. Benoit also might have had time in the Hart Foundation had he stayed in the company by 1997. However, Benoit was a small man in a land of giants and it would have been difficult for him to carve a name for himself there quite like he did in WCW. In WCW, Ric Flair told the fans that Benoit was, “pound for pound the best wrestler in the world.” Those words helped catapult Benoit to stardom in the midcard ranks. Once Bret left WWF in late 97, Benoit would have been lacking any friends at the top to help him out. It would have been likely for him to get lost in the shuffle. He wouldn’t have been considered a hot commodity and likely found himself back in Japan instead of working in the big three. It was good for Benoit’s career to head to WCW.
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