4 Guys Who Should’ve Made it Big, but Didn’t

For whatever reason, lots of guys in wrestling just never make it.  That’s fine by me if the wrestler in question is someone like the Wall, but it royally sucks if it’s someone talented like Terry Taylor.  There’s just nothing sadder in the world than wasted potential.

So here is a list of guys who should’ve made it BIG, but never quite did.  In most cases, it’s too late.  But it’s never too late to recognize these greats, so let’s do it!

Brad Armstrong

Brad was one of my favorite guys in WCW, and it’s a damn shame he got buried by every single booker who came along.  What was his problem?  Sure, he was shy on interviews, but who says you have to let him talk?  Just let Brad be Brad and let his wrestling do the talking!

I’ve seen some of Brad’s matches with New Japan, and he was simply incredible.  Choshu let him shine, and his precision and execution were on par with any wrestler in the world.  He just never got a break here.  I don’t get it, he had the physique, the hair, the family history, the talent, the size, the respect from the boys, and he was a treat to work with.  What went wrong?

In his infinite wisdom, Dusty Rhodes saddled the talented Armstrong brother with gimmicks like Arachnaman, the Candy Man, Badstreet, and several other lame characters that were beyond stupid.  Meanwhile, his less-talented brother Road Dogg Jesse James made hundreds of thousands of dollars in WWF.  Yes, he did have more charisma.  But Brad surely had more charisma than Billy Gunn.  And he was 20 times the wrestler!

Brad did do himself no favors by using lots of restholds, but when he was on fire, he was on fire.  Here are some of Brad’s career highlights:

  • Brad actually holds a pinfall victory over Ric Flair from a house show in 1986.  I thought that was impressive until I saw Rico do the same damn thing on TV in front of millions.
  • Brad won the cruiserweight title, whoopee, in 1992 when Watts was in charge.  With Brad’s luck, he went and got injured immediately.
  • After losing to Arn Anderson on WCW Saturday Night in the early 90s, Arn was a real class act and really put over Brad in his post-match interview.  He made it seem like a big deal that he beat Brad Armstrong, and let everyone watching know how good a wrestler BA was!
  • Brad got a good push in Smokey Mountain in their dying days, as Cornette has naturally always been a big fan of the Armstrongs.  But alas, the promotion fizzled and died, as did Brad’s time in the limelight.

Vince Russo attempted the lamest gimmick of all for Brad, which failed, much like everything that Russo touches.  Mr. Armstrong made good money in WCW, which some never get a chance to do at all, so at least he was well taken care of.  But given that guy’s talent, my God, he could’ve been a really major player.

Terry Taylor

Poor Terry.  All those years of hard work in Mid-South, and most people remember him for a short stint in WWF pretending to be a farm animal.

Boy, that Vince McMahon sure is a genius for coming up with names like Red Rooster, Mason the Mutilator, Papa Shango, and Repo Man.  They took a guy who was an excellent-working, intelligent-talking, good-looking, fast-bumping world championship caliber super-talent, and turned him into a guy who crowed like a rooster.  Poor, poor Terry.

I must say, I’m very proud of Terry’s influence behind the scenes in the wrestling world.  Mr. Taylor was majorly responsible for the gigantic ratings gap between Nitro and Raw when he booked the best Nitros you’ve ever seen.  After he left, Raw started winning.  It wasn’t all Terry’s doing, but he played a major role. 

Terry also did back-office work in WWF, but left on bad terms.  As of this writing, he was just hired as an agent of sorts, and I wish him luck and hope they utilize his incredible talents.

Aside from pushing Meng and Barbarian, Terry Taylor is probably my favorite booker aside from Paul Heyman.  His success behind the scenes is all I can hope for, since his chance to be a major wrestling star was blown by a string of bookers who never figured out what a goldmine they had in him.

Bobby Eaton

I’m not sure Bobby qualifies as a near-miss, given how much success he had as a tag team wrestler in the Midnight Express.  Even after his peak years on top, he had a good enough rep that WCW employed him for several more years at a very good salary, sometimes just for sitting at home.  For someone with a family and living in one of the cheapest parts of America, that’s almost a dream.

I don’t know Bobby personally, but have heard nothing but positive things about his character.  Mick Foley really put him over in his book, “Have a Nice Day,” recounting the stories of Bobby handing out food and money to homeless people at gas stations.  Most admirable of all, though, is Bobby’s ability to shut the fuck up.  He never put up a fight to WCW’s blatant misuse of his talents, and wasn’t a pain in the ass to work with like, oh, say, Shawn Michaels.  Bobby was also not a serious abuser of harmful chemical substances, so his career never self-destructed like so many others did.  He was just a good guy with loads of talent, who shut his mouth and collected a hefty paycheck for doing his job.

Eaton had an average physique and wasn’t big, and on interviews he was, well, who knows?  The man never spoke.  I think I heard him utter one sentence in all my years of watching him, and it was nothing special.  As a singles guy, he might not have ever made it.  He lucked out by having the world’s best manager as his mouthpiece, and a steady stream of talented tag team partners like Dennis Condrey, Stan Lane, Arn Anderson, Chris Benoit, and Steven Regal.  He was nicknamed Bobby “Bumps” Eaton in his prime (’86 – ’90), but they weren’t the career-ending bumps you see today.  Eaton had a Hell of a lot of great luck in his career, but he held up his end by being one of the most talented guys you’ll ever see.

After his Midnight Express days were over, Bobby had a main event-less singles career.  He gave us some great matches on TBS and PPVs with people like Terry Taylor, Dustin Rhodes, & Rick Steamboat, but it ended there.  His long flowing blond hair was cut, and he looked like just an average Joe.  In 1993, Dusty used him to put over green, untalented newcomers like the Cole Twins (who had an infamous TV win over Eaton & Benoit that angered many).  He made appearances for ECW and SMW, and I believe his last role in WCW was as Sir Robert Eaton of the Blue Bloods (with Steven Regal).  Japan was never an option, as his Japanese debut was in the early 90s, when he was older and didn’t make any impression at all.

I’m not sure where Eaton is today.  He worked as a trainer for Cornette for a while, had a falling out with WWE, and last I heard, Cornette fought for him to keep his job.  He’d make a super road agent, but the only time I hear his name is when Jim Ross mentions old Midnight Express moves in his commentary and Ross Reports.  Someone could make a great TV biography on the Midnights, but that is wishful thinking.  I just hope that whatever happens, Bobby is able to feed his family, and wrestling fans never forget the incredible matches the Beautiful one gave us!

Barry Windham

Ain’t nothin’ more frustrating than wasted talent.  And there wasn’t any bigger waste than big ol’ Barry Windham.

Windham had lots of highlights in the 80s.  While he did participate in the first ever WrestleMania, he and tag partner Mike Rotunda never set the WWF on fire.  But in the NWA, Barry did as famous chef Emeril Lagasse did, he kicked things up a notch.

After having the best match of 1986 with Ric Flair (a major Windham supporter), Barry went on to join the 4 Horsemen with Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and JJ Dillon in everyone’s favorite version of the Horsemen.  Dusty gave him the US title, and in 1988 Barry had the greatest year of his career.  He was awesome to watch; this tall, lanky Texan with incredible timing, wicked punches, an iron claw, long blond locks, and a punch-drunk way of selling that whipped the Southern crowds into a frenzy.  A Starrcade match with Bam Bam Bigelow showed his ability to carry an inexperienced big man to a very good match in front of one of the most enthusiastic PPV crowds I’ve ever seen.

Suddenly, it all stopped.  Windham headed to WWF as the Widowmaker, a gimmick that lasted weeks before fading into oblivion.  Thankfully, he returned to WCW and proceeded to engage in dozens of excellent tag and 6-man matches with the likes of Dustin Rhodes (who has never had great matches since), Arn Anderson, Rick Steamboat, Larry Zbysko, Bobby Eaton, and even Steve Austin.  Those matches drew respectable numbers, and were the saving graces of television that turned off viewers en masse with main eventers like Bill Kazmaeir and El Gigante.

1992 saw the return of Bill Watts as VP of Wrestling Operations of WCW.  Following months of bland television, a Barry heel turn on Dustin caught the attention of the 20 viewers WCW had left.  For the next 12 months, Barry came as close as he ever would to regaining his 1988 form.  At Starrcade ’92, he wrestled twice in front of a dead crowd (that he helped turn hot) at the Omni in which he lost an excellent tag team title tourney final to Shane Douglas & Rick Steamboat.  A ’93 Clash match with 2 Cold Scorpio (on the same night Flair made his in-ring return to WCW in a match with Arn against Austin & Brian Pillman) showed flashes of brilliance and almost stole the show. 

And then again, suddenly it all stopped.

Barry left WCW, but returned at Slamboree ’94 in Philadelphia as Ric Flair’s “surprise” opponent.  All Flair was told was that he’d be facing a “Former NWA world champion.”  While not a total disaster, the match failed to break the *** barrier.  Windham showed up out of shape, but eked out a watchable match out of his pure natural talent, and having the best performer in the business carrying him.  The match also had a semblance of a storyline behind it.  Months earlier at SuperBrawl ’93, Flair returned to WCW by handing the NWA world title to Barry after he had defeated Great Muta in an average match.  They had a heated staredown, ending when Flair smiled and strutted out of the ring as cool and calm as could be.  A killer feud could’ve been born, but…

… who knows.  I’m not privy to the behind-the-scenes activities that ruined Barry Windham.  From the outside, all us viewers saw was a deteriorating workrate, expanding waistline, and increasingly Rick Steiner-like lazy performances.  He wasn’t even that old, but injuries had taken their toll, and only BW knows what did him in.

His final years were marred by a forgettable tag team with Justin Bradshaw, and a colorless tag team with Curt Hennig that elicited “Boring” chants at a live SuperBrawl ’99 match against Chris Benoit & Dean Malenko I attended at the Cow Palace.  The last I heard of Barry was his involvement in some indie shows for Dusty’s Turnbuckle Championship Wrestling.

At least we have the 80s to remember Barry by.  His size, talent, unique charisma (loved the “Lone Wolf” character), and mic skills were a rare combination promoters dream of, but all of that meant zilch without the drive and determination.  He had it, but it got lost somewhere along the way.