Underrated: Superstars without their due

Dean Malenko, chosen by WWE Classics

Dean Malenko is so universally considered to be underrated that he teeters on the realm of overrated.

The reasons why so many ring fans believe the stoic Malenko flies under the radar are numerous. As his Iceman moniker suggests, the understated second-generation grappler brought a quiet, unflinching intensity to his craft that was lost on the casual viewer. His ring gear was dully pragmatic. Forget kaleidoscopic tassels around the biceps – Malenko opted for plain white athletic tape around the wrists.

A perennial threat and titleholder in WCW’s Cruiserweight division and WWE’s Light Heavyweight Championship scene, the 5'10" Malenko never bowled anyone over with colorful interviews, nor did he pander to audiences, nor did he stand above the competition in any literal sense. But what he did do better than just about anybody else was wrestling.

Nicknames like "The Man of 1,000 Holds" were justifiably bestowed upon Malenko because his knowledge of the sport was so vast. He dissected limbs with the persistence of an Anderson and glided in and out of holds with regal finesse. Although Malenko was never a main event stalwart, his matches frequently stole the show. During WCW’s late-'90s peak, the cruiserweight division – anchored by Malenko – kept fans on the edge of their seats.

Dean Malenko was never credited with popping a buy rate or moving merchandise, but he was known for forcing opponents to raise their game. Even if fans didn’t think much of Malenko when he stalked his way to the ring, by the time the closing bell rang, they knew they had witnessed a specialist at work. — JOHN CLAPP