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Ask 411 Wrestling: What are the Best Rosters in Wrestling History?

July 5, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WWE 2002

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

Hey, ya want a banner?

Gabbie (The Saint(ess?)) wants to rabble about rosters:

A recent Matt Taven article had him blasting that the current ROH roster could stack up against any roster in history. That sparked an idea for me. What roster year and company would you consider the best top to bottom, in terms of both star power and skill? The next part would be to pick the best roster year for each of these companies. (NWA/WCW, WW(W)F/E, TNA/Impact, NJPW, AJPW, CMLL, ECW, and AAA.) Then do like a tournament to see who you think the winner would be.

First off, I’m going to exercise some editorial discretion and take AAA and CMLL off the list, because, even though I’ve watched some lucha libre on and off over the years, the fact of the matter is that I don’t think I’ve ever followed it consistently enough to have an informed opinion about them in regards to this question.

The other promotions are fair game, though, and here are the answers:

ECW – 1997 – Of all the promotions involved in this question, ECW is probably the easiest to pick an answer for because, in the grand scheme of professional wrestling history, it only lasted for a very brief period of time. In my mind, 1997 gets the nod for the honor because it’s the point where the roster had matured to the height of their talents, but we also haven’t really reached the point where key wrestlers started getting poached by the WWF and WCW. Raven, The Sandman, Taz, Tommy Dreamer, The Dudley Boys, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, Shane Douglas, The Gangstas, The Eliminators, Chris Candido, Jerry Lynn, Terry Funk, Mike Awesome, Lance Storm, and Bam Bam Bigelow are all around for different parts of the year, pretty much all of them at or near their athletic primes.

TNA – 2010 – A lot of people will tell you that TNA was godawful in 2010, and, from what I saw of it, I would agree with those people. (However, some people act as though Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff ruined a great promotion in 2010, whereas I will tell you that they just took a shitty promotion booked by Vince Russo and turned it into a shitty promotion booked by other people.) Even though TNA was putting out a lousy product during this era, it wasn’t because they didn’t have talent and it wasn’t because they didn’t have big stars. On the talent side of the coin, you had the Murder City Machine Guns, AJ Styles, Amazing Red, Christopher Daniels, Nigel McGuinness, Doug Williams, Eric Young, Homicide, Beer Money, Jay Lethal, and Samoa Joe, among others. On the star power side of things, you had Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Sting and Kevin Nash. Kurt Angle was there too, straddling both categories. Heck, even the women’s division was pretty stacked at this time, with Cheerleader Melissa, Amazing Kong, Ayako Hamada, and Victoria hanging out. Even if you didn’t like the shows, it’s hard to argue that the talent wasn’t there.

All Japan Pro Wrestling – 1992 – Let’s face it, the All Japan roster was absolutely STACKED during most of the 1980s and 1990s, up to the point that Pro Wrestling NOAH broke away from it in 2000. Thus it’s difficult to pick one year over any of the others, but I’m going to have to go with one of the earlier years in the 90s because you get a little bit of generational crossover going here. In 1992, you still had Jumbo Tsuruta as an active member of the roster, but you also had the next generation coming in to their own, with all of the so-called “Four Pillars” of AJPW – Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Toshiaki Kawada, and Akira Taue – turning it up in the ring. Oh, and do you want badass gaijin? You’ve got yourself some badass gaijin. Steve Williams. Terry Gordy. Doug Furnas. Dan Kroffat. Johnny Ace is also there if you’re Motoko Baba and want something pretty to look at.

New Japan Pro Wrestling – 2018 – Honestly, I thought about this decision quite a bit before I made it, because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t caving in to recency bias. There certainly are periods of NJPW’s history during which there were bigger stars on the roster because, even though its popularity has climbed back from the lows of the mid-2000s, pro wrestling in Japan still isn’t as mainstream as it was in the 1990s and earlier. However, when you weigh both in-ring talent and star power, I think that the 2018 roster (which I use instead of 2019 mainly to keep Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in the mix), I think that the contemporary group edges out the stars of the past. This is particularly true because you’ve got both Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada on the roster at the same time, both of whom are, in a bit of an oxymoron, once-in-a-generation performers who have managed to have a pure in-ring feud rivaling if not eclipsing the Flair/Steamboat rivalry that was previously considered tops in the mat game. Oh, and you can make an argument for Haku being part of the 2018 roster as well, since he appeared in a couple of matches during the year. It’s rare that you’re going to see me voting against something that even just arguably includes Haku.

Jim Crockett Promotions / WCW – 1997 – I was debating between 1989 and 1997 for this answer. 1989 was a banner year for professional wrestling in WCW, with Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, Sting, Lex Luger, the Roadwarriors, and many more all at their best. However, as great as that core group was for WCW in 1989, when you take a look at 1997 you’ve got a lot of those same guys PLUS major former WWF stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and Roddy Piper PLUS some of the best up-and-coming wrestlers in the world like Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho and Rey Misterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko PLUS underutilized-yet-uber-talented international stars like Ultimo Dragon, Juventud Guerrera, and Fit Finlay PLUS emerging stars like Bill Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page. Granted, WCW was throwing boatloads of money at those wrestlers in order to have them all on the roster (to the point that several guys were getting paid to stay at home) and that business model ultimately proved to be unsustainable, but there’s no denying that they had perhaps the deepest bench of all time.

WWWF / WWF / WWE – 2002 – I know that quite a few people are very high on the current WWE roster and it is a fairly impressive crew that contains talented wrestlers, some of whom were snagged from indy or international promotions and some of whom were created in house. However, as good as it might be, I still don’t think that the current WWE roster holds a candle to what was going on in 2002. The WWF/WWE in 2002 had most of the best parts of the 1997 WCW roster that I praised in the immediately preceding paragraph, with the significant additions of the men who carried the WWF through some of its most popular years, including Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle. You also very technically have wrestling’s next generation of stars on the roster at the same time here as well, because John Cena, Brock Lesnar, and Randy Orton all made their WWF main roster debuts in 2002, though they were all still at least a couple of years away from becoming the major players that we now know them to be. Take all of those factors together, and the WWF/WWE in 2002 has a good case for being the greatest professional wrestling roster in any company at any point in history, not just the best WWF/WWE roster in history.

Mohamed will make you jump, jump:

Would underused WWE stars jumping ship to AEW be as problematic as WWF stars jumping over to WCW in the 1990s?

I’ll say no to this one because of a key word that is contained in the question, namely “underused.” When WWF wrestlers jumped to WCW in the 1990s, it wasn’t “underused” WWF wrestlers who caused WCW to rocket past the Fed in terms of popularity. It was guys like Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, with Luger, Hogan, and Nash having been in the top mix of the WWF within the prior eighteen to twenty-four months and Hall being a popular second-tier wrestler who had been dominating the Intercontinental Title scene. Those are the sort of guy who cause problems when they jump.

If “underused” current stars jumped from WWE to AEW, I don’t know that it would be much of a problem. If we’re using the qualifying term underused, then we’re not talking about a John Cena, Seth Rollins, or Daniel Bryan teaming up with Cody and the Young Bucks, because all of them are used to the level that they ought to be. Those guys would be the type of wrestler who would hurt WWE if they switched to the competition. Nobody is going to miss the truly underused WWE wrestlers like Tye Dillinger, barring some huge unexpected turn in the trajectory of his career.

From all-time great rosters and jumping wrestlers, we go to all-time great comedy wrestlers, courtesy of Vegasdonk

With the unexpected critical success of the 24/7 Championship, due in no small part to the sheer awesomeness that is R-Truth, I was wondering who you would put in your Mount Rushmore of all-time comedy wrestlers?

First off, anytime that anybody asks me a “Mt. Rushmore” question, I am contractually obligated to mention that you might want to check out Caliber Winfield’s periodic Mount Rushmore of . . . column on this very website, with the most recent edition focusing on the Mt. Rushmore of ridiculous WCW matches. (I didn’t know that the term “Mount Rushmore” could be applied to negative things, but there you go. I look forward to the Mount Rushmore of lousy American presidents being carved into a hillside in North Dakota.)

Second of all, I have to assume that you’re being sarcastic about the “critical success” of the 24/7 Championship, because I have yet to hear or read one positive review of it.

Third of all, I guess I’ll go ahead and answer the question now.

Back in 2012, I actually wrote a full-length column for this site counting down my Top 8 Comedy Wrestlers. In case anybody doesn’t want to click through to read the whole thing, my list at that time was:

8. The International Homewrecking Crew (Lacey, Rain, & Jetta)
7. Norman Smiley
6. Pimpinela Escarlata
5. Gran Naniwa
4. Disco Inferno
3. Kuishinbo Kamen / Kikutaro
2. Stalker Ichikawa
1. Santino Marella

So, if we go with the old list, my “Mount Rushmore” would be Marella, Ichikawa, Kikutaro, and Kamen . . . but has anything happened in the interim that warrants an update?

I would say that, yes, changes need to be made. I don’t think that Marella’s work has aged particularly well, in large part because of his less-than-stellar babyface run that was nowhere near as good as what he did when he was a goofy heel. Also, I feel the need to rectify what, in retrospect, seems like a pretty big omission from the original list.

Stalker is unquestionably staying. Kikutaro and Kamen are unquestionably staying. They’re too influential to the foundations of contemporary comedy wrestling to go anywhere.

However, for position number four, the Japanese trio of Stalker, Kikutaro, and Kamen are going to be joined by a guy who probably should have been on my 2012 list from its very beginning and has only gotten better with age . . .

Colt Cabana.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].

article topics :

Ask 411 Wrestling, ECW, WWE, Ryan Byers