wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Is Roman Reigns the Biggest Star in Wrestling?

December 9, 2022 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Roman Reigns WrestleMania 38 2 WWE Image Credit: WWE

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AP in Cambridge, UK is the star that stirs the drink:

A couple of questions about an easy topic that I promise will raise no discussion or outrage at all!

The biggest star is wrestling.

I’ve very much switched off from all WWE, and become loyal to AEW. However, the rumours of the Roman Regins heel performances got me back in (solely to watch him.) Everything he does just feels so big, am I right in saying he’s the biggest star in pro wrestling? What metrics would you use in the modern day to confirm that? Am I missing someone? Is there even a biggest star anymore of lots of good level wrestlers?

Also, on the topic of biggest stars (Hogan, Goldberg, Austin, Rock, Cena, et al.) Were they something that just happened naturally or did the company have a marketing strategy in place for these and a good feeling, much like a wonder kid in sport?

Roman Reigns is the biggest star in professional wrestling.

How do I make that call? To quote Scott Hudson in an infamous moment from TNA history, “It’s really quite simple.” Reigns is the top guy on what is currently the most-watched professional wrestling show on the face of the earth. As a result, he’s more recognizable to the general populace than any other current, full-time(ish) professional wrestler, and that makes him the biggest star.

Regarding the marketing of the other biggest stars in wrestling history, there were absolutely marketing plans for them developed at a certain point in their careers, but the majority of them didn’t have that plan put into place until they started to gain support organically. Goldberg and Austin were just meant to be guys on the roster until something clicked with fans and then their promotions started pushing them as big deals. Rock and Cena were both wrestlers who were earmarked to be huge as soon as they debuted but didn’t live up to their potential at first, though they ultimately overcame their early setbacks and transcended the industry. Of those named, Hogan is really the only one who was brought into his main promotion for the specific purpose of being its top star from the start of his run, though even that only occurred after a hot main event stint in other companies (AWA, NJPW) and gaining attention in the entertainment industry outside of wrestling (Rocky III).

IMissMarkingOut is waiting in the wings:

With Kofi Kingston getting a title shot after 11 years, it had me wondering: What is the longest time a performer has been employed by the company before receiving a shot at the WWE Championship and/or winning it? I wasn’t sure to include the World Title since it hasn’t been with them as long, though if we consider it, two names that come to mind are Mark Henry and Christian.

First off, Kofi didn’t really wait eleven years to get a WWE Championship match. He made his televised main roster debut on January 22, 2008, and he was involved in a WWE Title match for the first time at the 2010 Elimination Chamber pay per view in February of that year, so it was slightly over two years for him to get a crack at the belt.

Even if you want to say that it took Kingston that long to get a title shot, I can think of one man who took even longer:

“The Brooklyn Brawler” Steve Lombardi.

Lombardi had his first WWF match on July 15, 1983 in New York, losing out to Swede Hanson, and it’s not as though he came and went. He was with the promotion consistently from then on until he was released in 2016. His first and only WWF Championship match came on November 15, 1997, when he was defeated by champion Shawn Michaels in Madison Square Garden, more than fourteen years after his promotional debut.

Interestingly, this match has a tangential relationship to the Montreal Screwjob, as the Brawler had won a title shot in a battle royale at the September 22, 1997 MSG card. Because Lombardi had the title match owed to him at the time Fed management and Bret Hart were trying to sort out how the Hitman would lose the WWF Championship as he left for WCW, Hart apparently said that he would drop the belt to anybody other than Michaels on the way out the door, including the Brooklyn Brawler.

Of course, that would not happen thanks to the Survivor Series shenanigans. Instead, Shawn Michaels was the man the Brawler got his crack at, less than a week after the infamous screwjob.

Who lives, who dies, who tells Michael‘s story:

A question popped in my head while I was replying to another commenter about your evaluation of the Steamboat-Savage Wrestlemania III match. You basically said over time, the match has somewhat lessened in your opinion. That’s also been said about other “classic matches” on this site, most notably the first Razor-HBK ladder match and the HBK-Hart Iron man match, that they haven’t aged as well over time. So my question is, what matches has time had the opposite effect on in your opinion? Where you feel time has elevated the match? Personally, I think over time the Tully-TA “I quit” match has risen to epic proportions and is more highly regarded now than it was back then.

Also, what other matches do you feel will drop in legacy over time? Personally I always thought the first HBK-Taker Mania match was a tad overrated and doesn’t hold well even a few years later (lots of breaks/rest in that match) so that might drop.

One match that I would say has received a positive critical re-evaluation over the years is Antonio Inoki versus Muhammad Ali. When it originally happened and even as recently as the 1990s when I first saw people discussing it online, the main things fans based in the United States said about it were: 1) it was a boring disappointment of a match and 2) Inoki was a coward because he didn’t actually stand and fight with Ali.

Nowadays, even though I still don’t think that anybody is rating it as a ***** classic, American fans seem to have a much more positive opinion of the bout, recognizing it has historically significant and one of the foundations upon which modern MMA was built. Also, due to increased familiarity with shoot fighting, they’ve come to realize that Inoki had Ali in some real trouble with the leg kicks that he was throwing. In fact, he probably should have won the match if not for some creative judging that allowed the boxer to save face.

As to matches that will lose their luster over time, I went back and watched one of the Kurt Angle/Shawn Michaels matches recently, and it didn’t hold up nearly as well as I thought it would. It just seemed like both guys were spamming finishers and relying on their reputations as opposed to bringing what made some of their bouts with others great. Don’t get me wrong, it was still better than what the vast majority of other professional wrestlers are capable of doing, but it seemed outside the top tier of classic matches.

Tyler from Winnipeg is zipping in to the column:

What is Dave Meltzer’s highest star rating for a Tom Pritchard match?

The Doctor of Desire, as he was called by James E. Cornette, was actually involved in a match that received the full compliment of five stars from Da Meltz. It occurred on May 9, 1993 for Smoky Mountain Wrestling at the company’s show Fire on the Mountain and was a “Rage in the Cage” match, which was essentially War Games that wasn’t legally allowed to be called War Games. The Heavenly Bodies of Prichard and Stan Lane teamed with Kevin Sullivan, Killer Kyle, and The Tazmaniac in a losing effort against the Rock n’ Roll Express, Brian Lee, Jimmy Golden, and Robert Fuller.

Prichard has also wrestled in two 4.5-star matches as certified by Meltzer, both of them being Heavenly Bodies versus Rock n’ Roll Express bouts, though with the two different versions of the Bodies. The first saw Prichard and Lane win the SMW Tag Team Titles from the RnR’s on November 28, 1992 at a card called Thanksgiving Thunder, and the second saw the Express win the same belts off of Prichard and Lane’s replacement, “Gigolo” Jimmy Del Ray on April 1, 1994’s Bluegrass Brawl II inside of a Steel Cage.

Michael understands that, when it’s time to change, you’ve got to rearrange:

What do you think is the greatest transition from one feud to another? Is it Flair-Steamboat into Flair-Funk, Taker-HBK into Taker-HHH, or HBK-Flair to HBK-Batista to HBK-Jericho?

Or do you have another choice that I’m overlooking?

It’s Flair-Steamboat into Flair-Funk, and I’m not even sure there’s an argument for anything else. That is professional wrestling booking at its absolute finest. Every character had a believable motivation (even the heel), the performances were top notch, and it was all done in the context of wrestling as simulated sport as opposed to there being a lot of hokey or supernatural gobbledygook.

Really all the examples Michael raised are good ones, and I’m not going to claim that any of them don’t belong in a list of best transitions.

I am going to add one to the list that he didn’t mention, though:

1997. ECW. Tommy Dreamer versus Raven to Tommy Dreamer versus Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lawler.

Raven and Dreamer already had a lengthy feud in their own right, and the Innovator of Violence couldn’t buy a win, as his rival shut him down at every opportunity. Then, headed into June’s Wrestlepalooza event, word breaks that Raven has signed with WCW, and the two are scheduled for what, at the time, we believed could be their last match.

Of course, with Raven going out the door and the story presumably being wrapped up, Dreamer did manage to get his big win with the DDT. However, before he can even begin to properly celebrate, the lights go out. When they come back up, it’s . . .

Rob . . . Van . . . Dam.

RVD hadn’t been seen in an ECW ring for a month. In storyline, that was because he was off in the WWF becoming Mr. Monday Night. (In reality, he did a couple of matches for the Fed but had spent most of his time on tour with All Japan Pro Wrestling.) Van Dam immediately hits Dreamer with the Van Daminator, though Tommy is immediately able to retake control with an inverted atomic drop, because he’s not a weak babyface.

However, before he can do much more, the lights go out again, and . . .


Sabu joins RVD in beating down Dreamer. In the middle of all this, Raven recovers from losing the match and briefly looks like he’s going to get involved but ultimately blows it off and walks away without so much as throwing a single stomp, which was the perfect character moment for him.

Even outnumbered two-on-one, Dreamer somehow manages to make his own comeback, hitting Sabu and RVD with a double DDT.

However, before he can do much more, the lights go out one last time, and . . .

Jerry “The King” Lawler.

Making his ECW Arena debut, the King doesn’t get involved physically at first but districts our hero for long enough that Van Dam and Sabu can take over on him again. At this point, the locker room starts to clear in an effort to save Dreamer.

Axl Rotten. Blue Meanie. Nova. Little Guido. Balls Mahoney. The heels dispatch them with little difficulty. Paul E. Dangerously tries to run in on behalf of his company, but that goes about as well as you would expect. “Natural Born Killas” starts to play, signaling the arrival of the Gangstas, but they are surprisingly ineffective. Dreamer briefly rallies and tackles Lawler, but Van Dam cuts him off with repeated chairshots. Even though Tommy has effectively been neutralized, he’s still pissed Lawler off, so the King starts throwing the WILDEST punches I’ve ever seen him throw, which is saying something because he’s always had perhaps the greatest right hand in wrestling.

The Sandman shows up. Sabu double legs him, and he gets added to the babyface body count. The crowd starts to erupt in “We want Taz!” chants, given his rivalry with Sabu.

Eventually, the Human Suplex Machine does arrive to a mega-pop, and only at that point do the heels bail, though they have to hold Sabu back the whole way.

Admittedly, the formula of “babyface’s new rival attacks him immediately following his match with old rival” isn’t exactly groundbreaking or particularly exciting on paper, but the execution of how this version of it was handled was excellent. Dreamer showed enough fire and overcame enough odds that he wasn’t totally neutered, even though he was beaten down for minutes on end. The heels were obviously put over as a threat, because they took out the whole locker room . . . but the locker room has an out because they were all just involved in a grueling pay per view.

On top of that, everybody’s entrance was timed beautifully, and, with all the negative things that have been said about the ECW crowd, they were absolutely rabid here and made the moment. Plus, for those of us watching the recording as opposed to being there live, they made the simple yet brilliant decision to have the announcers Joey Styles and Rick Rude SHUT THE F UP, not saying one word until Taz arrived. That made the whole thing all the more memorable, as it felt raw and organic whereas commentary would make it feel more “produced.”

The whole thing is a really fun watch, and I’ve gone back and viewed it at least three times as part of writing this answer.

Stromi is loud and proud:

I have a question about crowd “pops” in wrestling. Has there ever been a definitive list of the greatest/loudest crowd reactions? I don’t mean sustained cheering the whole match like Hogan-Rock, Punk-Cena, or the Canadian Stampede main event. I mean either a finish to a match or a surprise moment during a match. I’m thinking Hogan beating the Iron Shiek, Goldberg beating Hollywood, Ultimate Warrior beating Honky Tonk Man, Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson beating the Samoans, the introduction of WWE Chris Jericho and the ultimate, Stone Cold coming down to help Mick Foley beat the Rock on Raw. At the very least, we can relive some awesome moments coming up with a list!

There’s not really been a definitive list made, and, honestly, it’s near impossible to make. Yes, there is equipment out there in the world that can measure decibel levels of audience reactions, but unless you have that equipment live at the event and you ensure you’re positioning it the same way each time and accounting for things like the unique acoustics of each venue, you’re not going to be able rank a Rock/Hogan pop against a Hogan/Andre pop or the like. Plus, let’s be real, with anything from the late 1990s onward, you’re going to have to be concerned with the possibility of crowd sweetening.

(I originally typed that as “crow sweetening,” and as a result pictured a big black bird with sugar being poured all over it.)

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.