March 7, 2008
A peek into wrestling's future
By MARK XAMIN - SLAM! Wrestling
Professional sports teams have scouts sprawled out across the globe searching for the next Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, Brett Favre, or Nolan Ryan. Professional wrestling works slightly differently, but with many similarities.
In recent years, with the advent of the internet, independent wrestling promotions have had the ability to gain popularity through DVD sales and the ability to promote events with relative ease. Ring of Honor is a shining example. Like professional sports, most wrestlers who crack into the business have one goal in mind -- to make it to the WWE. The WWE has several trusted representatives take in the occasional indy show, watch a DVD here and there, and take note of any stand out performers that they think would succeed in the mainstream. ROH has produced such stars as CM Punk, Jamie Noble, A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Paul London, Brian "Spanky" Kendrick, Mickie James, and a plethora of future stars that most casual fans will come to know in the years ahead. ROH has, in fact, become something along the lines of the "new old" ECW -- the same ECW that produced stars like Rob Van Dam, Tazz, The Dudley Boys, Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, the late Mike Awesome, Tajiri, Sandman, and many others.
So, who are the stars of tomorrow? If you ask me, we have to stick to the ROH roster to find the best of the best, and right now there are so many terrific young stars in the making in Gabe Sapolsky's now well-respected promotion that you can't help but feel optimistic about wrestling's future.
As far as tag team wrestling is concerned -- something of a lost art in the WWE these days -- you don't need to look any further than The Briscoes. They have earned such respect and accolades from fans and fellow wrestlers alike that they actually took over the main event scene in 2007. Think about that. Tag team titles being contested in the main event rather than the ROH World title. We haven't seen that since the NWA glory days when the Midnight Express was headlining.
Canadians Kevin Steen and El Generico, while not quite ready for the mainstream yet, are loaded with potential. Incredibly entertaining, the duo is primed to explode in 2008. While both are very gifted singles wrestlers, they are undoubtedly at their best when they are together.
In the singles department, "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson is the cream of the crop. If there is any independent wrestler in the world who is poised for more stardom than Bryan Danielson, I would love to see him. Trained by Shawn Michaels, Danielson has carried Ring of Honor on his shoulders since the departure of CM Punk. In 2006, he wrestled hour-long broadways with a separated shoulder for some four months, just so he could follow through with the planned program to drop the title to Homicide at the end of the year. His mic skills are on par with The Heartbreak Kid himself, and he can generate so much heat that the he could be considered a fire hazard. He can make any opponent look like a star. His 2006 bouts with Nigel McGuinness catapulted the current ROH World Champion into a perennial main eventer. His hour long match with Colt Cabana -- the same match that he separated his shoulder five minutes in -- turned Cabana from a mid-card comedy act to a legitimate title contender; that is, until the WWE scooped him up. Dragon's blood feud with Takeshi Morishima was featured on ROH pay-per-views and were some of the best matches of the year. His greatness has been evident since 2002, way back when ROH was running shows out of the Murphy Rec Center in Philadelphia. I could go on and on about Danielson, but if TNA or WWE wants the best technician since Bret Hart, they'll be all over him as soon as his ROH contract expires.
Nigel McGuinness, the current ROH World Champion, is gifted both in the ring and on the mic. He plays one of the best heels I have seen in years. Not quite as effective as a babyface, McGuinness is an Englishman who would likely be stuck in the high mid-card scene in the WWE, but who would be able to play a Jake "The Snake" Roberts type role, getting wrestlers ready to take on the champion. At least, that's how I see him at his most effective. McGuiness was to the ROH Pure Title as Samoa Joe was the ROH World Title. He carried the division and drew in crowds, and when you can do that, the big boys have to take notice.
What about women's wrestling, though? The WWE runs the ridiculous diva search every year. Basically they take models and try to turn them into professional wrestlers. Sure, they've had a certain amount of success. They discovered Maria Kanellis, who will be gracing the cover of Playboy this month. Melina, Michelle McCool, Candice Michelle, and Christy Hemme were all products of the diva search. But if the WWE wants to legitimize the women's division, they need more Mickie James and Beth Phoenix types. Take a look at the TNA Knockout Division. Amazing Kong is no looker, but she has more heat than every WWE diva combined. And she can work. ROH's sister promotion, SHIMMER, has a dazzling array of women wrestlers who are not only incredibly good looking, but they can work, too. Lacey would be an excellent fit in the WWE. Her long legs rival that of Stacy Keibler, and her ring-work is on par with Mickie James. Sara Del Ray is perhaps the best women's wrestler on the planet right now, and is more than attractive enough to play a role on WWE television. If the WWE is serious about its Women's Division, someone should send them a SHIMMER DVD.
If you're looking to see what the next generation of talent in professional wrestling looks like, pick up an ROH DVD or two and see for yourself. The WWE has been doing the same, and ROH graduates have a high success rate. CM Punk, Paul London, Brian Kendrick, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and most others are living proof. With Colt Cabana working under a WWE developmental project, you will probably be able to add him to the list as well.
Indeed, the future looks bright for professional wrestling -- or sports
entertainment, whichever you prefer. The next two or three years should see an
influx of new talent that could very well be the stars of tomorrow.
Mark Xamin is tired of watching stiffs like Snitsky and Khali wasting space
on the roster when so much potential is sitting down in Ring of Honor. He would
also like to give honorable mention to Jimmy Jacobs, who is entertaining as
hell. If you know of any independent wrestler who deserves some recognition,
send him a name and he'll try to get his name out there. He's awesome like that.
You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.