What does it mean for one wrestler to put another wrestler ‘over’? Most fans and people in the industry itself would think it means when one willingly loses to the other to make them look strong in front of the fans through victory. This isn’t wrong and it’s not entirely correct either. Through my eyes one wrestler ‘putting over’ another means making his opponent look good in order to move the storylines forward regardless if they win or lose. Another major slang for ‘putting one over’ is ‘passing the torch’. This is referred to when an aging talent will put over an often younger wrestler to cement their star power and future legacy in the business. While this ritual is often viewed as a time-honoured tradition in the business it unfortunately doesn’t always get followed through at the proper time. Either through backstage politics, an overbearing ego, a contract that won’t surrender creative control to the company or just a missed opportunity due to bad timing.
Now that the terminology is out of the way I want to address a question that we all get asked as fans….who is the greatest wrestler of all time? We all have our favourites of course but this is a very difficult question to answer. Is it the best technical wrestler? the most consistent? the biggest box office draw? the most ground-breaking gimmick? the best promo? You can factor any of those into equating the answer but for this exercise I will go to the one who constantly jumps into my mind when this discussion comes up. That is the man who has passed the torch to more younger wrestlers and given himself more arguably than any performer in the history of the business……Terry Funk.
Terry Funk wrestled around the world in almost five decades, retired more times than Kiss, accurately predicted industry trends, but most importantly with his star power and family name passed the torch to the younger generation with a selflessness almost as insane as his moonsault. If it was for the NWA Title, tagging with brother Dory in Japan or as the middle-aged and crazy ‘hardcore legend in WWF and ECW, Terry went out of his way to make new stars at his own expense. Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer publicly stated that Terry’s main reason for competing in ECW was to make new stars. I will also argue that the New Age Outlaws may not have become the hottest tag team in the business in 1998 without the hot feud they engaged in with Cactus Jack and Terry’s insane alter-ego Chainsaw Charlie. Point being here is that Terry was a star and a bonafide hall of fame in the making. I don’t recall coming across any stories of him refusing to work with anyone or refusing to lose because he was a major ‘star’ at one point in the business. I could go on all day on the positive legacy of The Funker but I would like to give some examples of when passing the torch went absolutely right, when it should have happened and when it just got murky.
Terry passed on his gift of giving back to arguably his most famous protege Mick Foley. Foley has gone out of his way to make others look good at the expense of his physical well being, but the one that stands out is his 2004 encounters with Randy Orton. Orton beat Foley cleanly at WMXX and a month later at Backlash when in bitter defeat Foley ‘snapped’ and turned to his violent alter-ego Cactus Jack. As memorable as the Mania moment was the brutality of the ‘hardcore’ match the two would engage in would go done as one of the most memorable ever. Orton would win in epic fashion however the match was so good with a frenetic back and forth pace that if Orton would have lost he still would have ended up being the same star who would become the company’s youngest champion at the time four months later at Summerslam. In this feud Foley passed the torch by not only having Orton pin him twice but in terms of character development. Foley would do things that would have fans asking ‘what the hell is he doing?’ like being tossed down the steps of MSG, being spat in the face, and even walking out on a fight putting his character in question. During the Backlash match Orton came back from some insane bumps (including landing bare-back on thumbtacks) and in the end Foley made Orton look like a threat while having him take enough punishment to make it look like Foley got beat by somebody almost as tough and badass as him.
Which brings me to my next point. Honourable mention needs to be brought to a couple of examples where stars were put over in losing situations. The most obvious is the back-to-back match series between Bret Hart & Steve Austin in ’96 & ’97. It’s hard to remember that Steve lost both matches and at the second one at WM13 turned Bret into a bad guy and Steve into a good guy by the nature of the match. Austin lost, but he passed out due to blood loss and didn’t officially tap out. He looked tougher in defeat than he would have in victory. Another honourable mention is one I saw live at NXT Takeover Phoenix in January 2019. NXT Women’s Champion Shayne Baszler defeated Bianca Belair. Baszler went on an epic unbeaten streak and had an impressive two time run as champion. Belair was still a newcomer to the big stage and was the first to pass out from her Kirifuda Clutch instead of tap out. Belair was also the first competitor to get as much offence on Shayna as anybody at the time. Hard to say who will be more over in due time but Belair’s star is just beginning to rise and I feel it was being passed the torch in defeat from the dominant champ.
Sadly there are many examples of when this type of moment should have happened in the industry but I will pick one fairly recently. Cue, Bill Goldberg. The Hall of Famer who redeemed himself with the fans and the wrestlers in 2016-2017. Like many legends Goldberg would come out of retirement after the storybook ending and take the Saudi money to headline one of their shows with a ‘dream’ match with The Undertaker. The match would be a nightmare that would scar both men’s legacies and those who would bare witness. Like the old Metallica songs rolls along…..sad but true. Goldberg especially became a pariah with his actions and reactions of this match and then he comes along for another Saudi cheque in Feb. 2020 to face Universal Champion Bray Wyatt. In an intriguing segment the match is set and fans wonder how will this match really play out? Wyatt’s awesome new character had a rough ride in late 2019 but would become Universal Champ and would redeem himself through talent and sheer determination. While Goldberg redeemed himself with Brock Lesnar at WM33 Wyatt would lose the WWE Title in a disastrous run with Randy Orton. Wyatt is looking forward to WM36 to redeem himself in another title match. All signs would point to Goldberg passing the torch to Wyatt. Bill had nothing to lose, he’s in the HOF, he has money in the bank, a wonderful looking family, his health and incredible physical conditioning….but he simply refused to lose. His complete dismantling of The Fiend character would cause a wave of nuclear heat amongst fans, social media and even some backstage. Instead of passing his legacy down to the newer generation Bill pulled something along the lines of ‘not wanting to lose in front of kids’ or some rhetorical garbage to disguise the fact that his bruised ego couldn’t handle losing to an overweight masked man. Bill would do the honours for Braun Strowman at Mania and Wyatt would have one of the most bizarre and memorable segments in Mania history alongside John Cena in the Firefly Funhouse Match. It will be interesting to see in the long run who’s legacy will be remembered more.
Finally there are times when passing the torch just gets weird. What I mean is that some use a ‘slight of hand’ trick to make people think they passed the torch when the really didn’t. First example is Kevin Nash and Rey Mysterio. Nash and Mysterio had a feud in early 1999 WCW and in one PPV match Rey pinned the big man via a fluke. Nash swears to this day he ‘put-over’ Mysterio and that his star rose from this. What really happened was that Nash would beat Rey again and have him lose his mask in the process which Nash would wear as an undersized toque. What happened to Rey? Did he main event or go for titles? No, not really. He floundered without his trademark mask and Nash moved onto to burying more hard working talent. The mask-less Mysterio footage is nearly erased in WWE history and is not remembered very fondly. But hey, Nash let himself get pinned by the little man right? How did that not help?
In closing I have to make mention of Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s contributions to the business are seismic. Most of us wouldn’t be here without him. However, for all the positive he brought the industry there is almost as much negative. The full story on that will be saved for another writing in the future. This includes the man having an iron-clad contract where he gets full creative control in not only his matches but some of the shows he even appeared on! So yes, that is a power trip gone totally mad and I will objectively say that Hogan had repeated attempts to pass the torch like the way Andre did for him and fell short or resorted to some political ‘funny business’. His match with The Rock at WM18 is an all time classic, especially with that Toronto crowd. However it was designed for Hulk to pass the torch onto The Rock. Hulk was the bad guy and Rock was the good guy, the fans changed all that. But I challenge you intelligent reader to rewatch that match with the criteria of passing the torch from this column and objectively tell me if Hogan did his job in that regard or did he go into business for himself while ‘appearing’ to pass the torch to Rocky? If your not satisfied with the result then fast-forward to WM 33 in 2017 when the main matches of the show feature vets HHH and Undertaker passing the torch to the company’s future talent Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns….it’s textbook, trust me! Feel free to continue the discussion on MCW’s Social Media or comment below….until next time…have a Magnificent time!