Mount Rushmores of Wrestling is a series that breaks down the cream of the crop of professional wrestling in our quest to come to a consensus on the top four of any given category. In today’s edition we’re looking at the best WWE careers.
Jay: The Rock used the WWE as a launching pad to become a household name, to become the current reigning top box-office star in Hollywood, and the future President of The United States. No, seriously – a recent poll shows that 46% of Americans would consider voting for him and he hasn’t even confirmed he’d be interested in the job. I think it’s time to end the debate here but for academic purposes, how did The Rock do this? By remembering that wrestling is entertainment. Yes, The Rock comes from a legendary wrestling pedigree and loves the craft very much, a fantastic athlete who put on some unforgettable matches, and takes great pride in being a multiple time World Champion, but unlike so many of his colleagues that are brought up during discussions like this he never forgot that professional wrestling is entertainment.
Unlike Hulk Hogan, The Rock lost most of his big matches because he knew there was more money in the chase. Unlike Triple H, The Rock knew that it was important to help your opponents establish themselves in the eyes of the audience for future gains. Unlike The Undertaker, The Rock knew that it was important to make yourself accessible to the media to best take advantage of marketing channels outside of professional wrestling. And unlike, so many other wrestlers who live and breathe for titles, The Rock realized that no one would give a sh*t if he was the champion if it didn’t benefit the story they were producing (*cough* Kenny Omega *cough*). In just six short years as a full-time member of the WWE, The Rock accomplished more than any other wrestler before him, and likely after him, by simply remembering that wrestling is entertainment and used his time with the company to better himself as a performer and do right by his colleagues. Do you think he’ll run as a liberal or a conservative?
Darius: Upon his debut, Hunter Hearst Helmsley wasn’t touted as the son of a legend or an already established wrestling mega star. Though he walked around with an aristocratic character, the only advantage that Triple H had was that he was really good at falling into cliques — and even that bit him right on the rear when the rest of his buddies were either too important or too not-working-for-WWE-anymore to be punished for the infamous “curtain call.”
But despite this fairly bog-standard debuting position, Triple H has not only gone on to become a legendary wrestler, but he also currently holds one of the most prominent roles in WWE on the business side of things. He’s a 14-time world champion, and he’s an EVP. A 7-time WrestleMania main-eventer and the creator of the beloved NXT program. The Game is a future two-time WWE Hall of Famer (because he’s already in with DX), and likely the future co-owner of WWE with his wife, Stephanie McMahon.
He may have had a reign of terror here and there, and he definitely did not ride an actual tank to WCW Monday Nitro, but even without embellishments, the mere fact that Triple H has been a mainstay on WWE TV for over 25 years (and in ever-changing roles) shows the reliability that this man has for the former Federation.
Jay: There are many perks to being a WWE talent. You have the opportunity to perform for the preeminent wrestling company in the world, to earn a very handsome living traveling the world and seeing places you would have never otherwise, to learn many aspects of media production to better yourself as an on-camera talent in preparation for future endeavors but, beyond anything else, you have a platform in front of a captive audience. The WWE, being the juggernaut multimedia conglomerate that it is, has a stranglehold on a rather sizable niche market and being on their roster almost immediately puts eyes on you as a performer. Many use that platform to progress their characters and storylines, others use it to promote their sponsorships and beach bodies on Instagram, but others use it to promote goodwill and no one does the lattermost better than Titus O’Neil.
The perennial undercarder has been on the company’s main roster since 2010 to varying degrees of success. He started on the original incarnation of NXT as a smiling babyface, transitioned into a heel and won the tag-team titles with long-time partner, Darren Young, enjoyed a long-stint as a leader of an undercard faction, won a slip-n-slide world record in Saudi Arabia, and, uh, yea wrestles from time-to-time. But what earns Titus a spot on this list isn’t his in-ring exploits, no. It’s the good he does for the world using his spot on the roster.
Titus leverages his presence to promote various charitable and philanthropic avenues in his home community of Tampa Bay. These ventures include programs to help student athletes get into college, helps to bolster various grassroots movements to ensure local children have access to school, and, most astonishingly, has helped to raise $20 million dollars in charitable donations to the Tampa Bay area. No, Titus O’Neil has never never been WWE Champion or main evented a WrestleMania but I dare you to find another professional wrestler who has done so much with such a humble spot on the roster during their WWE career. Titles be damned, Titus will always be a champion.
Darius: My answer changes every time someone asks me who the best wrestler of all time is. Flair, Michaels, Hart, Austin, Misawa, Jericho — there are so many wrestlers that I can argue a case for (and so many I had to leave out for brevity’s sake, so don’t @ me). But the first answer I ever gave to that question was The Undertaker, and as far as WWE Superstars are concerned, I think that answer is hard to top.
The Undertaker debuted on top and stayed on top, winning his first WWF Championship one year after his debut and beating Hulk Hogan of all people to win the gold. And though that reign didn’t last long, by golly, The Deadman was still a huge deal. A man so protected that they accidentally started a WrestleMania streak for him and just ran with it, Taker is the stuff of legend to fans and non-fans alike. For three straight decades, the American Dead Phenom stayed relevant, and a match with him was often just as — if not MORE — rewarding than a championship match elsewhere on the card. When WWE made their own version of the Last Dance, The Undertaker was their Michael Jordan, because he is the franchise, the big dog, the whole f’n show.
The Undertaker is WWE.
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