10 Superstars who put the 'W' in WWE
Last Monday, Antonio Cesaro continued his roaring rampage of revenge by Neutralizing Zack Ryder into a splatter and proclaiming that he was the kind of competitor who puts the “W” in WWE. As in, “Wrestling.” Old-school, down-and-dirty, carny-rumblin’ wrestling (though, to be fair, since he does speak five languages, Cesaro probably qualifies for the “World” W as well). Easy as it is to nitpick at the egotistical ramblings of recently dethroned champions, it’s honestly tough in this case to disagree with The Swiss Superman’s sermon.
With his brutal strength and technical precision, Cesaro is nothing if not a throwback to a bygone era of technical grappling and he’s certainly not alone in this characterization. While WWE has become known these days for the superhuman statue of its competitors, there are a few like Cesaro who go about their business in a decidedly old-fashioned way. These are ten of the throwback Superstars (and one Diva) from the WWE locker room, a unique blend of seasoned competitors and newcomers, seeking to bring the roots of amateur wrestling and sports-entertainment into the future. Try lacing up their boots … if you dare.
The closest thing to a regional territory-system throwback WWE has today, Chris Jericho has long been the perfect combination of both style and substance, carving a niche for himself as a technical master in a land of bruisers and brutes. The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla honed his craft in the ring for decades in promotions all around the world before coming to WWE, passing through the hallowed Hart Dungeon before competing in Mexico, Germany, Japan (#SuperLiger) and everywhere in between before finally making his bones in ECW, WCW and WWE.
An agile, stocky rumbler who culls skills and maneuvers from every country he’s competed in, Jericho can throw a mean punch or kick and even take to the air if he so chooses, but he’s truly deadliest when he lets his old-school instincts take over on the mat (see his WWE Title Match against CM Punk at WrestleMania XXVIII, which morphed from a slugfest into an intricate mat contest that was ultimately decided via submission). A Superstar who can take opponents out with a knee to the face or an armbar ( he knows 1,004) in equal measure, Jericho’s the kind of world-bred, well-traveled Superstar who can truly give his foes something they’ve never seen before. Those who enough to face him had better have a Corazón de Leon to match his own if they hope to ever, eeeeeever be the same a-gain.
She may seem like a girl in an all-boys club, but don’t let the long blond hair and dazzling smile fool you: When it comes to the art of wrestling, Natalya can’t throw down with the best of them. Not only is she the first woman to survive the gloom and doom of the Hart Dungeon, but the blood of The Excellence of Execution literally flows through the veins of this Canadian beauty. As the daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and niece of Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Natalya carries on her family’s legacy with her brutal precision on the mat, stretching Divas at will and even adopting the famous Sharpshooter as her signature maneuver. She’s the kind of Diva who makes you question the gender partition altogether; even the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club would offer her first-ballot admission.
It’s not too often you see a Superstar who’s so good at wrestling that he seems to literally make moves up as he goes along, but that’s Tyson Kidd for you. Another Hart Dungeon grad (the final one) who adopted the “Hit Man’s” surgical approach to the mat, the Calgary daredevil eventually decided that path was too traditional for him and incorporated the kind of high-flying that would make any luchador sit up and take notice.
Kidd largely toiled in the trenches while he honed his hybrid craft, competing in five-star bouts on NXT and Superstars before a breakout year in 2012 that saw him compete in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a World Heavyweight Championship Contract, and emerge as the hero of Survivor Series in a supplemental Traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Tag Team Match. A knee injury cut his year short, but as anyone who follows Kidd on Twitter can attest, the CM Punk-endorsed “ workhorse” isn’t about to ride quietly off into the sunset just yet.
It’s a hard-and-fast rule that you can’t create a list of Superstars who put the “W” in WWE and not include the progeny of Dusty Rhodes. A former Intercontinental Champion with a no-frills style of combat, Cody Rhodes is a walking throwback to the kind of old-school competitors his father used to rumble with back in the day. But where Dusty was a big brawling type, Cody’s more of the stick-and-move variety; a competitor who incorporates skill and athleticism into his ever-changing arsenal — not to mention a few cues from his father, his brother Goldust, and even a Figure-Four or two when the moment suits him. Not bad for the son of a son of a plumber.
He’s that damn good at being that damn good, and you’ll find few Superstars who embody the perfectionist aspect of competition quite like Dolph Ziggler. The current World Heavyweight Champion subscribes to a quality-over-quantity style of offense; you won’t see him execute moves quite as intricate as Kidd or Cody Rhodes might try, but the maneuvers he does use are executed to absolute perfection. And if Dolph does deign to add a new move to his arsenal, he executes it perfectly the first time out, as though he’s been practicing it in secret or (as he would probably say), because he’s good enough to get it right the first time.
A record-setting amateur wrestler as well as a multi-time champion in the WWE ring, Dolph’s old-school tough in a new-school coat of paint — and that’s not even mentioning his Flair-esque technique for absorbing punishment and winning at all costs. He may be a jerk — OK, he IS a jerk, but, good gravy, the man can wrestle.
And now we come to the Superstar who put all this in motion. Antonio Cesaro is a man of few words, but frankly, he’s not the kind of Superstar who needs them, because his work in the ring speaks for itself. A lean, mean wrestling machine who made his bones on the rough-and-tumble independent circuit, Cesaro brings a down-and-dirty brutality to the mat combined with Herculean strength and the innovation of a mad scientist.
He’s the rare Superstar whose arsenal seems to grow exponentially, but it’s never spontaneous, as it is with Kidd, or meticulous like Ziggler. He rolls out new maneuvers gradually and methodically, almost as if they’re phases in a larger plan. The moves in question, by the way, are almost always something members of the WWE Universe has never seen before, from the ruthless Giant Swing that turned The Miz into a Raggedy Andy doll, to the fluid punishment of the slam he dubbed the “ Swiss Blade.” Oh, and he yodels, too.
He’s amaaaaaannn… and a pretty damn good wrestler, too. The WWE Universe doesn’t see too much of the Blackpool-bred villain these days, as he’s largely found a new niche in commentary on WWE NXT. But when Regal does wrestle, attention simply must be paid. The former Intercontinental Champion and King of the Ring holds a special place in the heart of the crowd as one of the most technically gifted grapplers ever to set foot on the mat. A self-professed (accurately) “old pro” who spent his days dreaming of in-ring glory, Regal carried that old catch-as-catch-can mentality well through The Attitude Era and proved that simple, effective mastery of the art of wrestling itself has a place in the modern realm of WWE. Budding technical purists are largely encouraged to seek out his bout against protégé Daniel Bryan in 2011, but only if they’re willing to take notes in the process.
This particular Superstar doesn’t exactly put the “W” in WWE so much as he puts the “F” back into it. Of course, we mean an F as in, “fight,” because in case you haven’t heard, Brock Lesnar truly can fight. LOVES to fight, actually, and he’s quite good at it, too. The Anomaly is the kind of Superstar whose training is so extensive that he actually has no discernible weaknesses; beating him requires no less than driving steel to his face to put him down for a three-count, and even that doesn’t keep Lesnar down for much longer than that (see: Cena, John and H, Triple).
A more traditional Superstar during his initial run in WWE, “The Beast Incarnate’s” amateur training and mixed-martial arts skills have come more to the forefront since he reinvented himself as a self-proclaimed “War Machine,” trading powerbombs and shooting star presses for demolition-grade strikes and bone-shattering Kimura Locks. Granted, he executes these moves with all the subtlety of cannon fire, but the technical expertise is still there, as his keg-toss belly-to-belly suplex of Jinder Mahal can illustrate. For all the lofty Paul Heyman rhetoric that is thrown his way, Lesnar actually lives up to the mad scientist’s hype; he’s a true triple threat (the only man to ever hold an NCAA Championship, the UFC Heavyweight Championship and the WWE Championship), born and bred in the toughest environment — and if he hasn’t pinned or submitted you in the first five minutes, rest assured, it’s coming. He’s just trying to savor the moment.
He did say he was the best wrestler in the world, and CM Punk has gone a long way over his one-of-a-kind career to engrain that as an indisputable fact. The vicious Straight Edge Savior decided at a young age he wanted to wrestle and never looked back, competing in some of the dingier corners of the planet to build himself up into the kind of competitor spoken of in hushed whispers. By the time he got to WWE, Punk’s abilities were already legend, and it made sense that he’d be taken under the wing of Paul Heyman, who prides himself on scouting out old-school talent such as Punk.
In the near-decade he’s spent under the WWE banner, Punk’s abilities have only grown along with the ( very vocal) chip on his shoulder, and he continues to incorporate exotic, rarely seen maneuvers such as the Koji Clutch into his already brutal arsenal, while he defies WWE conventions by taking larger, stronger Superstars such as John Cena and The Rock to the breaking point. It’s a testament to Punk’s skills that he held the WWE Championship for an old-school 434 consecutive days; so, while his actions may not always command respect, his abilities certainly do.
Way before Chris Jericho and CM Punk referred to themselves as the best wrestlers in the world, Daniel Bryan was being given that moniker by anyone who was paying attention in whatever back-alley arena in which he was putting on his latest wrestling clinic. After a while, a lot of people were paying attention. Mentored by no less legends than William Regal and Shawn Michaels, the submission expert from Aberdeen, WA, turned heads for years with his methodical style of mat grappling; a unique blend of Japanese “puroresu” and grappling technique culled from bona-fide mixed martial arts (he boasts legitimate submission training under some of the best coaches in the world), Bryan forged a legendary career long before he ever broke into WWE as The Miz’s protégé in the original version of WWE NXT.
Though it took a while for Bryan’s personality to shine through, he immediately made an in-ring impact by becoming the United States Champion, winning over the WWE Universe little by little with his in-ring style and infectious, underdog mentality. Before long, he was winning World Championships as well; his egomaniacal World Heavyweight Title reign gave birth to the “ YES!”/“ NO!” phenomenon, and his WWE Title challenge of CM Punk at 2012’s WWE Over the Limit is as pure a wrestling match as a modern WWE audience is ever likely to see. Forget putting simply the “W” in WWE — with his worldwide pedigree and entertainment value ( Team Hell No, anybody?), at this point, Daniel Bryan’s pretty much the whole package. We haven’t even mentioned his beard yet, but frankly, that’s a story for another article.