Okay, so I'm writing something and I need a mainstream example of a wrestler who while never achieving main event success himself was instrumental in other wrestlers becoming big stars, A guy who gave a great rub in other words.
Ted DiBiase springs to mind except that while Ted never held the WWF title (except briefly when Andre handed it to him before Tunney got all rulebbok throwing about it.) he was the biggest heel in the WWF for several years, so arguably had the main event spot.
Heyman comes to mind as well as a non-wrestler who tended to give under-pushed guys a step up.
My shortlist would be Arn Anderson, Kevin Sullivan, and Fit Finley. Maybe it was the overall Horseman mystique, but every time Arn made a move it was intense. Kevin Sullivan had a huge hand in one of the best feuds, both on and off screen, with Chris Benoit. Finley makes everybody look good, and also constructed a pretty good Women's division before it was jettisoned away again.
This category is also a good time to bring up HHH v TAKA. Even though Hunter doesn't meet the qualification of never achieving main stream success, he is the only person who convinced me of TAKA's Heavyweight Champion possibilities.
Originally posted by chillJake Roberts. Honky Tonk Man. Big Boss Man. Curt Hennig. End of conversation.
Dibiase wasn't that influential in his WWE career, which was only a smidgen of what was his overall career. He was on top everywhere else before he joined WWE.
You can't have an end of conversation label on this subject without including Tito Santana. Tito was used tremendously. "Used" in a good way. He found consistent mid-level success all throughout his WWE career and was constantly willing to put over future stars. I think I remember a pretty good feud with Macho Man back in the 80's. Didn't he also have a few matches with Shawn Michaels?
I'd also include JYD & Ricky Steamboat in this group (at least the WWF part of his Ricky's career).
Even though Steamboat was a world champion and had the classic series with Flair, the work he did in the ring with a young Steve Austin in the early 90's in WCW would be a good example. From the TV Title feud in '92 to the tag title feud in '93 to the US Title feud in '94 Steamboat was able to work with Austin in different scenarios and helped develop Austin's in-ring skill. Also, except for that fateful night when the Gladiators apppeared, everyone looked like a star when facing the Mulkeys.
The Horsemen DVD is 3 Discs and 9 hours. Let Us Rejoice and Sing Its Praise.
Although immensly popular, Roddy Piper I don't think ever held the WWE title.
But the Million Dollar Man and Curt Henning gets my primary votes.
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Don't forget Rick Rude, he made the Ultimate Warrior look like a million bucks. Also, one person who DID win the World Title but I don't think was quite "main event status" was DDP. He had a good run of a year or two where he made a lot of guys look good.
I'd argue Mick Foley for this. Nobody was better at making others look good, and while Mick was a multi-time champion and headline star in 1999, he was never called on to be 'the guy' in a company that already had Austin and Rock.
I don't know what is more disquieting -- the fact that the rest of the statue is missing, or that it has four toes.
I know Chris Benoit held the title for five months in 2004, but he's spent a career making other guys, both talented and sub-par performers, look good. Despite his title run (though you could argue he still wasn't really booked as the top guy for some of it - i.e. Badd Blood 2004, headlined by Michaels vs HHH in Hell in a Cell, while Benoit fought Kane) I don't think you could make a list like this without including Benoit. Hell, after he lost to Orton, he pretty much went back to where he was on the card before his title push, and remains there to this day, so his "main event success" was certainly the exception rather than the rule for his career. Also, this may or may not be relevant, but they've kept in him extremely long periods of time in all three Royal Rumbles he's been in to help hold them together.
I agree with the mentions of Jimmy Superfly Snuka and Mick Foley, they were the 2 that popped into my mind right away as I read the thread. Yes, Foley had a couple of minor runs with the belt but he was never really THE GUY, but he has done wonders for quite a few wrestler's careers.
The Million Dollar Man, Bossman, and Mr. Perfect are also good examples of guys who were better for other's careers than their own. Same with Piper, but he was a consummate entertainer.
I can think of 2 other guys who have helped other folks' careers/characters more than their own, and without ever really holding a major title for a material part of time. First, is Vince McMahon himself - he helped make Austin Austin, and he really helped solidify HHH as a legit champ, during the Steph wedding angle.
Second I would suggest Tony Garea - he had multiple tag championship runs with multiple partners, and sold remarkably well. Many of his tag partners and opponents went on to much better things. He was the ultimate face-in-peril, who took a beating so his tag partner would look good with the hot tag. For a long while, the best way to build a character was to tag with someone, get over, breakup, and one of them moved on to a higher level. Garea, and maybe Mr. Ass also, were guys who helped get the rest of the roster over without looking like Charlie Brown, Val Venis, Barry O of Bob Holly.