The Success Of Foreign Stars In American Pro Wrestling

TNA Wrestling fans recently saw Magnus capture the group’s world title following a heated scrap against the departing AJ Styles.

For the Norfolk-born star, the win cemented his status as one of the premier players in North American pro wrestling.

Indeed, even TNA’s legions of naysayers would be hard pressed to disagree with the argument that, as the top dog in the second biggest wrestling company in the US, Magnus is a star of some calibre.

For the rest of us, the concept of Magnus: World Champion raises an interesting point about the success, or lack thereof, of foreign stars wrestling in North America.

History is full of perfectly respectable talents from outside the US lumbered with the role of ‘foreign dude’ and spending most of their careers languishing in the lower regions of the card with it.

From evil Russians to pompous Frenchmen to the Japanese stars who, whilst talented wrestlers, were there mostly so that we could all have a good chuckle and say ‘LOL, these guys don’t understand English’ (See: Tenryu and Kitao and whatever that thing was that they did at Wrestlemania VII), wrestling promoters in the US haven’t always been kind to outsiders.

Thankfully, for both wrestlers and fans, that seems to be exception rather than the rule in the modern-era.

Not only do we have a British TNA champion, we have an Irishman at the top of the WWE food chain.

Former World Heavyweight Champion, Sheamus

Sure, with his Celtic Warrior schtick, the Dublin native uses his roots to his advantage, and for good reason. Among the sea of cookie-cutter ‘sports entertainers,’ Sheamus’ look, background and whole repertoire have helped him stand out, get noticed and rise up the card.

Still, Sheamus is not on the World Wrestling Entertainment roster simply to be ‘The Irish Guy’ no more than TNA employ Magnus to be the token tea-drinking English dude.

This is a far cry from the likes of Fit Finlay, who, as talented in the ring, and well-respected out of it, as he was, will perhaps be best remembered by casual fans in North America as the fisticuffs-loving Irishman with a stick and a leprechaun buddy. Stereotypical? Just a bit.

Or how about Squire David Taylor? You know, the man whose entire career in the US can best be summed up as ‘Regal’s former tag team partner.’

Speaking of the former Blue Blood, William Regal is one of those rare instances where playing the stereotype actually worked in his favour. Whether battling for the Television title in WCW or leaving viewers in stitches as the WWE Commissioner, it’s a testament to Regal’s abundant talent that he managed to turn ‘pompous, arrogant Englishman’ into a winning character which allowed him to enjoy a long, successful career in the States.

Sure, Regal never quite made it to the level of bonafide maineventer, yet compared to many of his contemporaries who made the journey across the pond, Regal has enjoyed a pro wrestling career many of them could only have dreamed of.

Many that is, apart from arguably two of the most revered wrestlers to come from the British isles.

It was the small, non-descript little British town of Golborne in Greater Manchester which gave the world Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid.

Whilst the latter crashed and burned in the early 90s, he still left behind a legacy as one of the greatest highflyers of his time, inspiring any number of stars who rose to prominence in the second half of the decade.

In the case of the former, Davey Boy Smith is unquestionably one of the most successful foreign stars to ever compete in North America.

With an Intercontinental championship, multiple tag titles and a run the first European Champion (for what that was worth) to his credit, The British Bulldog enjoyed high profile runs with both the WWF and WCW.

In the first, he headlined several pay per views against the likes of Diesel, Shawn Michaels and brother-in-law Bret Hart, was part of a number of thrilling matches and could generally be relied upon to deliver no matter what his position on the card.

In his first, short-lived run with World Championship Wrestling, Davey Boy enjoyed associations with Sting, Sid Vicious and Vader.

Though things wouldn’t work out quite so well for Davey Boy towards the end, he nonetheless enjoyed a stellar career throughout the 80s and early-to-mid 1990s.

The Bulldog’s success Stateside must surely have been a source of inspiration to fellow northerner, Wade Barrett.

Barrett was at the helm for one of 2010’s hottest angles as he led The Nexus into battle. Confident on the mic and a bad ass in the ring, it seemed for a while that the sky was the limit for the future of the grappler from Preston, Lancashire.

Since then, Barrett’s star has begun to dwindle, and though this writer sees a glimmer of hope in his current Bad News Barrett role, it’s still a far cry from being close to a main event attraction just a few short years ago.

Nor is Barrett the only foreign star who must surely be wondering where things went wrong.

From Intercontinental Champion and Mr. McMahon’s Chosen One to lowercard comedy act as part of 3MB, Drew McIntyre’s bumpy fall down the WWE ladder over recent years has been difficult to watch.

What’s the cause of the aforementioned two’s change in fortunes?

Is it the current WWE environment, whose apparent stop-start mentality when it comes to giving wrestlers a chance to rise up the card has turned everybody from McIntyre and Barrett to Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and scores of others not named Cena or Orton from hot commodities to also-rans.

Is it a lack of talent on behalf of said individuals? Just like Regal managed to make things work for him thanks to a ridiculous amount of talent both in the ring and on the microphone, there have been plenty others who would ultimately be exposed as not having quite the right attributes to hang in the upper echelons of the card.

Wade Barrett

Take Vladimir Kozlov for example. Pushed hard and thrown into a program with noneother than Triple H, the Ukrainian proved not to be quite up to standards, and played out his days as straight man to Santino Marella’s comedy act.

Maybe there just isn’t the demand for their particular schtick right now.

TNA, with its strong international demographic (the company enjoys much greater success in other markets outside the US), has benefited from the employ of such stars as Doug Williams, Magnus himself and even Rockstar Spud (whose terrible ring name makes this writer cringe every time).

WWE being WWE, it can pretty much get away with being the John Cena Show anywhere in the world.

Maybe there is no concrete answer.

Maybe there’s no reason why some foreign stars like The Great Muta, Antonio Cesaro, Sheamus and Andre the Giant (although let’s face it, how could Andre have been anything but a success) made a pretty good go of things in North America, whilst others, the likes of Taka Michinoku, Drew McIntyre and Ludvig Borga- to name but a few random examples- fared less well, beyond the former group having that all important star quality which the latter lot lacked.

Still, one thing’s for certain. With the likes of Magnus and Sheamus ruling the roost in both TNA and WWE, foreign wrestlers have never had it so good in North America.

What do you think, dear readers? Is there a reason why some international stars succeed and others didn’t? Is there anyone I forgot to mention when discussing foreign-born pro wrestlers? Do you still think there’s time for Barrett, McIntyre and their ilk to rise up the card once more?

Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised. It would be great to hear from you.

About Chris Skoyles: Chris Skoyles is a writer who once saw Shawn Michaels hurl Marty Jannetty through a window and has been hooked on pro wrestling ever since. He tweets about wrestling at @Allpwrestling

  • Chibi Canton

    I’m yet to see any sort of Japanese talent ever succeed on any of the big US feds. I can only remember Tajiri making it to the midcard, the rest waaaaaay lower.

    Might be the only ethnicity the WWE can’t yet make up for considered their past treatment.

    • Chris

      Muta had a fairly decent, albeit short, run in the NWA at one point and had some good matches with Sting and Flair.

      Beyond that I’d have to agree.

  • theripperdannyb

    You did forget one name, probably the most successful non American ever, EDGE!

    • Michael F

      I wonder if they just consider Edge North American and thus didn’t include him. Otherwise this makes no sense. Also Bret Hart, Owen Hart, ect.

  • Michael F

    How can you do an article on foreign wrestlers working in the US that gives recent examples and not include Antonio Cesaro? Dude was pushed hard, buried, and now is over and in a PPV main event.

  • David Garcia

    For the purposes of this discussion, I think I would not differentiate between American and Canadian, as I think Canadians just don’t face the glass ceiling in front of other international stars.

    I’m reminded of something Kevin Sullivan said once. He referenced how the crazy wrestlers and their wild stories often created the impression that wrestling was a liberal, wide open industry…when in reality the business has always been run with an extreme conservative philosophy.

    I think wrestling promoters ignore the international movie stars who have been big box office and the international athletes who rival any of their American counterparts financially. While Vince McMahon values his international markets, for him they are ancillary, always second to the domestic market and only a point of focus when absolutely necessary. I think Vince has a very close-minded world view, where fans won’t relate to anybody with an accent and they see every non-North American as a stereotype…which is born out by the above examples. Kevin Nash has said Vince still believes that his money is in the all-American, flag-waving, white meat babyface…and that philosophy trickles down to the rest of the card and as a result many a great talent has been mis/underutilized or never given a shot at all.

  • Chris

    Thanks for the feedback guys. For those who brought it up, yes, my focus here was on those stars not born in North America.

    We could do a whole series of articles on the success of Canadians in pro wrestling, and indeed much has been written about the Harts, Edge, Jericho et al. I wanted to talk more about how wrestlers from Europe and elsewhere had done.

    Cesaro, admittedly, is the big omission here!

    • theripperdannyb

      Aye, there are the other Canadians, but I’m an Edgehead so that one popped out.

      Speaking as an English fan, it does suck that the Brits are overlooked, and never make it to more than Mid Card Fodder, its a real shame that TNA has created the first UK born world champion too, the Bulldog should of had it, and Barrett is one of the best natural heels in years.

      There does seem to be a slightly different rule for North Americans, Candians and Mexicans have never really been overlooked, even though most Mexicans struggle more on the mic than their European Counterparts!

  • Raihan Khan

    u forgot 3 best canadian wrestlers in wwe history; edge, jericho and christian