Every Wrestling Rookie Of The Year: Where Are They Now?

Do the hardcore wrestling fans really know what a star looks like?

Essa Rios Lita
WWE

Being good early is no guarantee of being great later.

Sometimes a wrestler shows immense potential, even in a mean-spirited and fundamentally broken pressure cooker. Sometimes a promoter will break the star-making system, deliberately, in a weird bid to "test" the talent, to see if they can retain their credibility. WWE did this with the original NXT and to Alex Riley, and it didn't work.

He was somehow amazing in that brutally awkward context, as charismatic as it got within that constrictive era, but he either pissed somebody off, didn't actually have it, or some combination of the two. He showed immense promise, through the optics of 2010, anyway. What we know now about how wrestling evolved meant he probably had little chance to get over, but still.

WWE in 2002 took something of a gamble by nicknaming Brock Lesnar 'The Next Big Thing' in 2002, because it's an albatross of a designation. Hype too often leads to disappointment.

The following list is based on the reader-voted Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards. You might think that subscribers to that publication are a niche within a niche - but they were remarkably prescient about the future of the mainstream industry, on occasion...

43. 1980: Barry Windham

Essa Rios Lita
WWE.com

A massive unit and amazingly dynamic worker in his prime, Barry Windham evolved from rookie sensation to outright critical darling throughout the 1980s. His matches with Ric Flair were outstanding by the standards of the time. Both men had unreal engines in them.

His prime was shorter than most, and after the Great American Bash 1991 fiasco was never really considered a top main event player. He was more over in the main event than reductive history suggests - on the night of "We Want Flair", he actually did well to pop the crowd - but the injuries had mounted up, too. His size and style didn't mesh long-term, and he was finished as an in-ring wizard when he was saddled with the babyface (!) 'Stalker' gimmick in the WWF in 1996.

Sadly, Windham has spent much of his last few years mired in health problems.

Contributor
Contributor

Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and surefire Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!