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.
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.
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