WWE Superstars Goes to War by Jerry Whitworth
For Fall 2014, Papercutz’ imprint Super Genius will explore its series WWE Superstars in a more typical comic book fashion by taking readers through time and across space. From the minds of Mick Foley (multi-New York Times bestselling author who famously wrestled as Cactus Jack, Mankind, and Dude Love) and Shane Riches (R.P.M., Afflicted), “Legends” is inspired by Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars (while riffing on Monday Night Raw is War) and summons performers from across the last thirty five years of WWE history beginning with its days as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to today as World Wrestling Entertainment. While the exact details of the story have yet to surface, what is known is performers from throughout time have been captured and brought to the world Battleground where they’re forced to compete across a variety of stages. Featured in the story is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Daniel Bryan who must uncover the mystery of their abduction and, more importantly, how to get home. Thus far, the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Iron Sheik, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Junkyard Dog, Honky Tonk Man, Mr. Perfect, Ultimate Warrior, Undertaker, Road Warriors, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, Randy Orton, Wyatt Family, and “Bad News” Barrett are set to appear (as the likes of Sgt. Slaughter, Big Daddy Cool Diesel, Vader, Big Show, Kane, Triple H, Rey Mysterio Jr., Sheamus, Great Khali, Alberto Del Rio, and the Shield have been pictured in art released at this point).
Something that should be noted, when using actual people in a story, their likeness can’t be used without permission from the person (or their family for those who have passed). So, some notable performers like “Superstar” Billy Graham, Bob Backlund, André the Giant, Rick “The Model” Martel, Tito Santana, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Big Boss Man, Bam Bam Bigelow, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, Dusty Rhodes, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Steiner Brothers, Lex Luger, Razor Ramon, X-Pac, Goldust, New Age Outlaws, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Edge, Christian, Dudley Boyz, Hardy Boyz, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Brock Lesnar, Batista, CM Punk, and Sin Cara have not been confirmed and may not appear for just such a reason. Lets take a look at what matches are proposed for the storyarc thus far.
Often times when one mentions professional wrestling, amateur wrestling slips rather far from one’s mind. In reality, many pro wrestlers have backgrounds in amateur wrestling. And in terms of the Iron Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri), he was an Olympic-level competitor. Born and trained in Iran, Vaziri competed internationally for his country only to defect to the United States following the assassination of his coach who publicly spoke out against the Shah. Working as a wrestling coaching assistant in America (including for U.S. Olympic teams), the Greco-Roman wrestler was invited to join the world of pro wrestling in 1972 and adopt a heel (villain) motif akin to the wrestler the Sheik. Around the time of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, Vaziri as the Iron Sheik came to the WWF where history would bill him as the villain of villains. Praising Iran and denouncing America while in character, the audience found the Iron Sheik to be absolutely vile which made him perfect to get over babyfaces (heroes) with the crowd. In the WWWF (the precursor to the WWF), arguably the most legendary figure was Bruno Sammartino who held the promotion’s world heavyweight championship belt for eleven years. His reign came to an end when Sammartino suffered a broken neck and the belt passed to “Superstar” Billy Graham and then to Bob Backlund. As Hulk Hogan was becoming a big star in the emerging WWF, Backlund refused to pass the belt on to the performer because he lacked an amateur wrestling background. So, Backlund instead lost the belt to the Iron Sheik who then lost it to Hogan giving the rising star the much sought after championship. The Iron Sheik would go on to partner with Russian wrestler Nikolai Volkoff as the Foreign Legion, one of the most documented heel teams in WWF’s early years.
Earning such titles as “Best in the World” and “American Dragon,” Bryan Danielson was a force unto the pro wrestling world long before coming to the WWE. Referred as a “Founding Father” of Ring of Honor, Danielson was trained by one of the most regarded champions in WWF history. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels was a popular and controversial figure in WWF known for his charisma and exceptional ring talent with significant pull at the company as part of the Kliq (which was perhaps the biggest catalyst for change in pro wrestling in the 1990s) and Degeneration X. A student of Michaels, Danielson would come to the WWE’s television series NXT as Daniel Bryan and went on a losing streak before coming to the WWE with his fellow NXT rookies as a heel. Bryan would be released soon after but return a couple of months later against the Nexus (the NXT competitors’ stable). Bryan would become a rising star at the company, making an unsuccessful run for the WWE Championship against CM Punk (arguably WWE’s modern day villain of villains) before forming a popular partnership with the monster Kane (becoming tag champs as Team Hell No). Bryan would go on to found the popular Yes! Movement and became the WWE’s top babyface, eventually becoming a four-time world champion.
If Hulk Hogan was the protagonist of the WWF in its early years, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper would likely be best described as his nemesis (something undoubtedly true for the animated series Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling). To describe Piper is a challenge as that while he was a major heel for the WWF, he was also a fan favorite. Played up as a Scottish warrior who was viewed as something of a rockstar by fans, Piper was famous for his unique interview segment “Piper’s Pit.” Unscripted, the popular portion of WWF’s programming would generally feature Piper progressively getting under the skin of his guest (often times another superstar) that on occasion resulted in a set destroying brawl. It displayed Piper’s most notable talents to the audience, namely his sharp, crafty mind and his brawling style of wrestling. For the history making first WrestleMania, Piper would team with “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff against Hogan and Mr. T for the main event. In the years that followed, Piper would turn babyface and became an entity not to be trifled with in the WWF defeating some of the best the sport had to offer (just generally not in a main event capacity anymore). While its often been cited that later monumental superstar “Stone Cold” Steve Austin became an everyman champion that stood up to authority, it’s undoubtedly true elements of that story could also be applied to Roddy Piper. Never one to be told what to do and stubbornly doing things his own way, he was a villain everyone loved which eventually led to his becoming a hero.
Winner of the first season of NXT, Englishman Wade Barrett was the leader of the Nexus who invaded Monday Night Raw forcing the various performers of the program to band together to fend them off (leading to a feud between Barrett and John Cena). CM Punk would eventually take control of the Nexus from Barrett and exile him from the group. Barrett moving on to found the Corre, the wrestler would eventually break out on his own when that group fell apart founding instead the “Barrett Barrage.” Becoming something of a rising star, Barrett later re-branded himself as “Bad News” Barrett and would become a four-time Intercontinental Champion.
Few in the history of pro wrestling have held the intrigue of the audience as Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Perhaps holding sway like the hypnotic snakes he has as his symbol or the dark, cerebral style of mind games he famously played with his opponents, Roberts is a second generation wrestler (son of Aurelian “Grizzly” Smith) known for bringing snakes with him to the ring (most famously, the python Damien). Despite being played as a heel, Roberts famously won over fans becoming one of the earliest examples of a fan favorite heel in the WWF (in fact, it appeared at one point Roberts was becoming more popular than Hulk Hogan, which squashed his chances of facing Hogan in the ring). Following the success of Roddy Piper’s “Piper’s Pit,” Roberts would get his own likewise segment in “The Snake Pit” though his was less adversarial and would instead largely push along storylines. For a while, Roberts would turn babyface only to return to his heel status in the feud between the Undertaker and Ultimate Warrior where he remained a heel for his original run in the WWF. Sadly, Roberts would never gain gold during his run for the company.
A third generation wrestler as grandson to Bob Orton, Sr., son to “Cowboy” Bob Orton, and nephew to Barry Orton, Randy Orton entered the WWF to become an early-on fan favorite until he transitioned quickly into a heel joining the stable Evolution with Triple H, Ric Flair, and Dave Batista. Claiming the nickname “Legend Killer,” Orton targeted older wrestlers until becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history. His title would see him violently expelled from Evolution and would later lose the belt to Triple H. Orton moved on to form the popular tag team Rated-RKO with former WWE champion Edge and the pair would go on to win the tag team belts. Following the dissolution of that team, Orton founded the Legacy stable with fellow legacy wrestlers until that team folded and he wrestled largely solo for some time. Eventually, Orton was judged the “face of the company” by Vince McMahon and was endorsed by the Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) to represent the company as its champion.
When you talk about the best tag team in the history of wrestling, at or near the top of most of those lists is the Road Warriors Hawk and Animal. Performing together around the world for almost a decade with their trademark face paint and spiked shoulder pads (modeled after the characters depicted in the Mad Max film series) before coming to the WWF, Vince McMahon re-branded the duo as the Legion of Doom (after the villainous group depicted in Challenge of the Super Friends) who quickly laid waste to the tag teams of the company. However, their stay with the WWF would be relatively brief after they grew weary with their storyline (which involved a ventriloquist dummy named Rocco). In truth, the team’s greatest days stemmed from their time at WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and in Japan where they fought some of the best tag teams the world had to offer.
While the teams the Road Warriors will face have not been named, there’s some groups that instantly come to mind. Some of the best tag teams to pass through the WWF/E include the Fabulous Freebirds, British Bulldogs, Steiner Brothers, Nasty Boys, Acolytes Protection Agency, New Age Outlaws, Edge and Christian, Dudley Boyz, and the Hardy Boyz. However, if the aim is to pit legends of the past against the more recent superstars, it’s likely the Shield will be featured. A trio of performers who came out of NXT, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns came to the WWE as a team of hired guns working for CM Punk’s manager Paul Heyman. Previously, Ambrose and Rollins had highly acclaimed runs in the indie wrestling circuit before coming to WWE as the latter was the inaugural NXT Champion (Reigns a professional football player before joining NXT). Following their run working for Punk, the Shield went on an undefeated streak for six man tags and began a successful quest for gold as Ambrose became United States Champion and his compatriots the tag team champs. This advent led to their working as Triple H’s enforcers, helping Randy Orton in his bid to retain the WWE Championship. Eventually, the group would rebel against Triple H only for Rollins to betray the team where the group essentially fell apart in the aftermath.
The Phenom. Deadman. The Last Outlaw. The Undertaker has had many names in his illustrious career in the WWF/E. While people have often gone on about the impact Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and the Rock have had on the WWF, one man has spent decades as the cornerstone of the company. A backroom enforcer keeping the roster in line, a WrestleMania legend whose Streak has taken on a life of its own, and a performer who tirelessly gave his body to the company for nearly a quarter of a century. When the Undertaker made his premier in the WWF in 1990, he was an absolute monster. Virtually impervious to pain, he destroyed any wrestler put before him eventually leading him down a path to the Ultimate Warrior. After a year long feud with Warrior, Undertaker set his sights on the rest of the higher echelon of talent leading to the defeat of Hulk Hogan and the Phenom becoming the youngest WWF Champion in history at that time. Hogan would shortly thereafter regain the belt but the Undertaker would then turn babyface and start cleaning out all the villains the company had to offer. In a very real way moving forward, as wrestlers came and went from the WWF, the Undertaker remained as the measuring stick by which performers were judged by. Heel or babyface, your dominance in the WWF was legitimized almost exclusively by the fact that you could beat the Undertaker in the ring. Perhaps as part of this, the idea of the Streak became an event unto itself of WrestleMania. While the Undertaker remained undefeated at WrestleMania since his first match there, performers started actively trying to conquer the Streak by beating the Phenom at the event. Out of twenty two WrestleManias the Undertaker wrestled in, he was only defeated once and that was earlier this year at the hands of Brock Lesnar.
Many giants have passed through the doors of the WWF/E. Names like Big John Studd, Sid Justice/Sycho Sid, Giant González, Big Daddy Cool Diesel, Kane, Big Show, and the Great Khali are some of the most notable big men to step into the squared circle of the company, but they all stand in the shadow of the immortal André the Giant. Dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” André quickly became a fan favorite when he emerged in the WWWF and was one of the most well known and beloved babyfaces in the history of the company. André was undefeated by pinfall or submission within the WWWF and WWF in fifteen years until his defeat at the hands of Hulk Hogan. After becoming the WWF’s heavyweight champion, the only wall left to climb for Hogan was defeating the sport’s biggest and most powerful man André the Giant (who became a heel to sell the conflict). In what was considered perhaps the most historic moment in wrestling history at WrestleMania III, Hogan lifted up and body slammed André to defeat the Giant and retain the belt. Following this, André’s declining health meant the end of his career was fast approaching and after a few more tussles with Hogan, the ailing wrestler was used to sell the new rising star Ultimate Warrior. André wrestled his final match in December 1992 and died a month later. He was the first person inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame.
In the entertainment business, producers are always on the look out for the next big thing. In terms of the WWWF and its successors, Bruno Sammartino was the face of the company in the ’60s and ’70s and Hulk Hogan in the ’80s. Going into the ’90s, there was a push for the next big thing and for fans of the WWF, it looked like the Ultimate Warrior was it. With a seemingly superhuman physique and an untamed spirit, the Warrior literally ran onto the scene and destroyed the competition with his high octane moves. Even better from a business standpoint, his trademark face paint design was iconic and sold more than its fair share of merchandise (becoming a phenomenon in the U.S., any event with face painting meant many several requests for the Warrior’s design). However, issues arose with the performer. His trademark run from the backstage to the ring was almost as exhausting for the audience as it was for the Warrior. Matches were often short in part because of this practice as well as the fact the Warrior didn’t have a strong background in wrestling. The Ultimate Warrior had to evolve for him to keep moving forward but issues beyond his physical problems would rear up. Described at worst as eccentric, those who worked with the Warrior admitted the man as being somewhat disconnected from reality. The final straw for the performer was extorting money from the WWF for a show he agreed to perform in only to demand more money the day of the event. While Vince McMahon bowed to the Warrior on that day, following the event Warrior’s short career with the company was ended.
The loss of the Ultimate Warrior was a major stumbling block for the WWF. Even worse, rumors arose of steroid use by the WWF talent with a focus on Hulk Hogan (who was a fervent advocate for healthy living) leading to the company’s star taking a leave of absence to escape the public scrutiny. Hogan would eventually admit to using steroids and left to perform in Japan and later WCW. Other stars, like Bret “The Hitman” Hart and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, would arise but it wouldn’t be until the emergence of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as the ultimate anti-hero in 1996 that the company opened a new chapter for the WWF. However, Austin’s career as the company’s face was stifled by a series of injuries. Fortunately, another star would be born in the Rock. Eventually, Austin would be forced to retire as the Rock took on a skyrocketing acting career in Hollywood. In other words, another face of the company was needed and that role would be filled by John Cena. Arriving on the scene in 2002, Cena was a fast fan favorite that developed a popular gimmick as a rapper. Cena worked his way up the ladder, eventually becoming the WWE Champion. However, the fans began to turn on Cena, booing him at live events (the on-air talent blaming it on his ring style and clothes he chose to wear). While performing at an ECW event, fans started yelling obscenities at the performer and claimed he couldn’t wrestle and did the same old boring moves all the time. To this day, Cena largely remains the face of the WWE but continues to be bashed by the company’s audience (a call rallied publicly by wrestler CM Punk who has called Cena a phony and advocates change for the WWE, going so far as to leave after pushing for change from within the company for three years).
In the United States, when someone says wrestling, the person generally associated with that statement is Hulk Hogan. Undoubtedly, the most recognized and iconic figure in the history of pro wrestling in the U.S. and forevermore the face of the WWF, Hulk Hogan was a culture shifting event taking wrestling from essentially a regional sideshow to something of a national past time in the 1980s. Celebrities from music, Hollywood, and sports flocked to the WWF to own a piece of the experience it offered. While it wouldn’t be fair to say without Hogan pro wrestling would have never caught on, it’s certainly true it rose out of obscurity when it did because of him and holds the place it does today in our society because of the trail he blazed (of course, partnered with the vision of Vince McMahon). In fact, one really doesn’t need to relate the extensive career of Hogan in the sport because his impact alone is proof of his status as a legend. That being said, Hulk Hogan has performed in the pro wrestling arena for the last thirty seven years, roughly half of that time under the roof of the WWF/E. He has faced many of the best competitors the world has had to offer. However, the one person fans have always wanted to see Hogan face in the ring and will likely never get the chance to witness is “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
In the world of professional wrestling, the landscape of the industry can be broken up into ages. For the purposes of this article, there was the time before the WWF rose to take its place in pop culture (which has its own long and storied path) and the changing tides of what followed. Hulk Hogan led the WWF to the world stage but the spotlight waned. WCW, a company that emerged from the chaos created by Vince McMahon’s damage to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) to make his WWF, was essentially getting a blank check from billionaire Ted Turner to produce the most dominant wrestling organization on the planet. WCW would add Hulk Hogan to its roster and went on to start attracting some of McMahon’s rising WWF superstars. Mentioned earlier, the most dominant group of performers at the WWF was the Kliq of which WCW managed to attract members Kevin Nash (Big Daddy Cool Diesel) and Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) to join their company. Staging it as if the WWF was invading WCW, Nash and Hall came to the company and formed the New World Order (nWo) stable with Hogan which became perhaps the most dominant heel stable in the history of pro wrestling. The move was a monumental success, eventually flipping WCW into becoming the most popular wrestling promotion with the WWF behind it. McMahon tried to fight back, having Kliq members Triple H and Shawn Michaels form the heel stable D-Generation X (DX) and, while popular, it paled in comparison with the impact of the nWo storyline. McMahon wouldn’t be able to properly fight back until the rise of the anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the Attitude Era.
By the time Steve Austin came to the WWF, he had spent four years scraping to get ahead in WCW only to get passed over and fired for not being a “marketable” wrestler. Fortunately, Austin had made a friend in manager Paul Heyman during his tenure at WCW who brought on the wrestler to film a series of vignettes venting his frustration for the up-and-coming promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Austin did not hold back, ripping into his former company with a fury and dug out every nugget of issue that held that company and its performers down. Within the year, Austin was brought into the WWF as a gimmick wrestler. However, it wasn’t long before the performer began just doing what he wanted with his own image and would become “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (modeled after a contract killer called “The Iceman”). Likely the moment in which Austin started to really stomp a path toward the character he wanted to be was at the 1996 King of the Ring. Following the defeat of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, whose character at the time was a born-again Christian, Austin mocked his fallen opponent with the unscripted remark “…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” The phrase sent shockwaves through the wrestling world, showing the WWF had some teeth, and became a marketable soundbite for the performer and the company. The Attitude Era had come to the WWF as its performers became characters that generally lived in a gray area of morality and Austin led the charge. Inevitably, poor business decisions by WCW and a turn of bad luck for ECW saw those promotions shut down and be purchased by the WWF as the company largely stood alone atop the wrestling world (something still largely true today). One could argue that one of the reasons the WWF didn’t fall alongside WCW and ECW was because of the Attitude Era and the man who embodied it in “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. If Hulk Hogan brought the WWF to the world, Steve Austin was the man who saved it for generations to come.