One of those truly nasty and subjective concepts for a wrestling fan would definitely be:
LVI. Wrestlers with potential
Everyone has an opinion, and every wrestler has potential, so I’ll need to illustrate this one very carefully, with a selection of eight candidates.
D’Angelo Dinero begins this group. Currently a member of the TNA roster who had a significantly more important 2010 than 2011, he’s a poster child for potential. Originally competing under the name Elijah Burke, he rose to prominence in WWE under its ECW brand, though his first appearances were on Smackdown as an associate of Sylvester Terkay. Terkay was supposed to be the hot prospect, but he disappeared quickly, and Burke’s own journey got underway. He was more than competent in the ring, but what got him noticed was his showmanship. For whatever reason, WWE chose not to retain him, and he resurfaced in TNA as the “Pope” and was quickly identified as a rising star, frequently competing in tournaments to determine the top contender for the world title. His big chance came at Lockdown in April of 2010, in which he failed to defeat AJ Styles. For many fans, it’s the ability to be dynamic and creative as a personality that sets a wrestler apart, and Dinero quickly proved he was able to do that. Ironically, if anything it was his wrestling style that got in his way in TNA, whereas as a complete package he would probably now have succeeded better in WWE. If anyone is able to figure out how to use him, Dinero has the potential to be one of the top stars in professional wrestling. I had a chance to see him live in 2008 at a taping for Smackdown and ECW, and he was easily the most impressive performer that night. At least for me, that’s all I need to know about his potential.
Jack Swagger is a former world champion in WWE, but that seems like a lifetime ago at this point, and so he falls into the category of potential. Swagger was a hot commodity before WWE acquired him for its ECW brand in 2008, and quickly became champion there, a move that took many by surprise, but clearly potential is exactly what the company saw. He was still a surprise winner of Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 26, and his defeat of Chris Jericho a few weeks later to capture the world heavyweight champion introduced an entirely new face to the main event. Many observers like to comment on his lisp, but Swagger immediately proved that if given the chance he could present a notable presence as champion. His opponents during this time were all existing main event figures, including Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio, who eventually beat him for the title. While he could make a credible champion, Swagger wasn’t given an opportunity to present a particular presence as one. On losing the title he slipped below the status he’d had before the run, and didn’t resurface until Michael Cole needed someone to support his wrestling delusions prior to this year’s WrestleMania. Suddenly Swagger meant something again, a little more generic a heel than before, while he worked to improve his performance in the ring. Some claim he’s become a rip-off of Kurt Angle, but that’s like saying Chris Benoit was exactly like the Dynamite Kid. Given a chance to truly flourish, Swagger could fulfill the potential WWE saw in him, and the promise that his first world title suggested.
Dolph Ziggler began his career in WWE as a member of the Spirit Squad, and that’s probably why he had to be so obnoxious about his new Ziggler persona when he came back repackaged. When I first saw him in action, I thought he had immediate star power, the ability to present himself in the ring with exceptional flare. So far, WWE has been extremely cautious about how far it can push him; since his skills on a microphone have not always been obvious, he’s spent a great deal of time with Vickie Guerrero as his manager and voice, but recently has displayed the ability to represent himself with the same kind of confidence his wrestling suggests. It’s not hard to see that WWE has always seen a great deal of potential in him, and that it has slowly but steadily been grooming him for greater things. That pace may work in his favor, but it might also hinder his progress, as fans become comfortable with him in a supporting rather than main event role. Time will tell.
Alberto Del Rio is someone WWE obviously saw a huge amount of potential in, straight from his days in the Mexican scene, and pushed him accordingly, right from the start. He’s a WWE champion several times over, so it seems a little strange to still be talking about him in terms of potential, but what I mean to say is that his potential hasn’t been tapped. In the short-term, he has proved to be what WWE hoped he’d be, someone they could plug almost immediately into the main event scene. It’s the fans who will ultimately determine whether or not he’ll stay there. What I mean to say, then, is that I believe Del Rio really does have what it takes to win over the fans, that he will be able to stay in the main event scene for a long time to come.
Sheamus is another former heavyweight champion, and so again it seems a little strange to see him with the label of “potential.” His surprise win over John Cena for the WWE title at TLC in 2009 thrust him into the main event scene, and for the most part he’s been able to remain in it, even having return engagements with the title, but it’s hard to say that he has truly been welcomed onto the top of the card. He’s someone who to this point has made a credible insertion in a main event, but not a superstar WWE has felt comfortable working a real angle around, and that is how I’d define true success, the real fulfillment of potential. He’s probably closer than anyone else I’ve talked about so far, however.
Cody Rhodes has made a great deal of progress in 2011 establishing himself as a second-generation star in WWE, with the plastic mask seemingly transforming him from a generic heel to a psychotic and unpredictable fiend, the likes of which his one-time mentor Randy Orton needed a lot more gimmicks to attain in a relatively shorter period of time. For someone who had a lot of encouragement from WWE bookers for an extended period of time, whether on his own, as part of Legacy, or even directly afterward, Rhodes seemed to be going nowhere fast. He might have gone down as the slimmest Rhodes, but the one who completely spoiled any concept of potential. Well, now he’s making up for lost time.
Daniel Bryan is a true underdog. The “American Dragon” made his name in Ring of Honor under his given name, Bryan Danielson, and established himself as one of the best pure wrestlers in the world, but even then, rarely received the respect he was due, spending more than a year as ROH heavyweight champion but receiving far less hype than Samoa Joe in the process. As the most famous member of the original NXT line-up, he was paired with Chris Jericho and once again everyone expected the world from him, and even though he was constantly featured as the most accomplished competitor, when he didn’t win, fans once again felt ready to abandon him. Then the Nexus angle began, he was actually released after a questionable decision in the ring, and once again became a minor indy darling. Then he made his big WWE return at Summer Slam, and got a monster push for the next several months, but again, fans were still not pleased. Daniel Bryan is someone who has time and again overcome the concept of “potential,” and he’s proven it to both ROH and WWE, but the fans seem almost dead-set against him actually receiving it. Winner of Smackdown’s 2011 Money in the Bank contract , he may be approaching his definitive moment of truth, and the fans will finally have to decide if they decide to support him as wrestling’s next big technical superstar.
Whether you know him as ROH’s Nigel McGuinness or TNA’s Desmond Wolfe, the eighth member of my posse of potential is probably the biggest underdog. He’s another ROH champion who held the title for more than a year, while in TNA and after a huge 2009 debut where he took Kurt Angle to the limit, he quickly slipped back below the surface of the average fan’s notice, and is only now working on a comeback (where he could conceivably push ROH forward in the new Sinclair era). He’s got confidence on the microphone and tremendous ability in the ring, he just needs other to believe in his potential. That’s what it’s all about.