(Writer’s Note: Before I get this column underway, I want to make sure to say Rest In Peace to the one and only Scott Hall. One of the most naturally and effortlessly cool performers in the history of the business, Hall captured your attention from the moment you saw him and he just wouldn’t let it go. He is smack dab in the middle of the argument when it comes to the greatest professional wrestlers who have never held a World Title, but that doesn’t mean he is without accomplishments. A four-time Intercontinental Champion, seven-time WCW World Tag Team Champion, two-time United States Champion, one-time Television Champion, and one-time TNA World Tag Team Champion, among other titles won, he entertained countless wrestling fans all over the world. He will be most remembered for, and rightfully so, “jumping ship” to WCW in 1996, where he declared “war” on WCW and would go on to start the nWo with Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan. Thoughts, prayers, well-wishes, and everything of the sort go out to his family and friends. The “Bad Guy” will be missed.)
(Writer’s Note Part Deux: I also want to take time to send well wishes to Big E, who suffered two fractured vertebrae on last week’s episode of Smackdown. I’ve seen the rumors, but I’m not going to talk about his in-ring future until we hear about it from the man himself. All I can say is that his personality, character work, and in-ring skills will be sorely missed on WWE programming, no matter how long he’s out of action. Get well soon, E.)
It’s that time again, folks.
Well, yes, it is WrestleMania Season, but that’s not what I’m talking about right now. If you know me at all, you already know I’m referring to the NFL Draft. I love the Draft. Love, love, love the Draft. If there’s a way to consume NFL Draft content, I do it. I’ll “scout” players as I watch college football games during the season, and then watch the postseason games like the Senior Bowl, Hula Bowl, and so on. I purchase Draft magazines, subscribe to certain Draft sites, read other Draft sites, and do my own Mock Drafts on a semi-regular basis. Then, the NFL Combine rolls around, where most of the year’s top potential Draft selections work out for the front offices of every NFL team at the same time, and I watch everything intently. For the Draft itself, I live tweet every single selection on Twitter, along with my own analysis, answering questions from people along the way.
When these words are available for the world to read, the first night of the 2022 NFL Draft will be 43 days away. The NFL Combine is what made me start thinking about this week’s column topic…
What would a Pro Wrestling Combine look like if it featured all of the wrestlers you know and love today?
In my first of two Draft-related columns (the other one will come closer to the date of the Draft itself), I’m going to try and create the Pro Wrestling Combine, using a lot of the same tests and evaluations that the NFL Combine uses. Speaking of those tests and evaluations…
- 40-Yard Dash: Used to measure someone’s straight line speed, explosiveness, and acceleration.
- Wonderlic Test: Used to measure the “cognitive ability and problem-solving aptitude” of the test taker.
- Bench Press: Used to measure upper body strength.
- Interviews: Used by teams to determine how passionate a player is about the sport, as well as the type of person they are off the field.
- Vertical Jump/Broad Jump/Three-Cone Drill/20-Yard Dash: Various drills used to measure someone’s overall explosiveness and athleticism.
I’m going to stick to the major mainstream wrestling promotions for my “player” pool. One, it makes things a lot easier on me. Two, it opens things up for you, the readers, who don’t all have access and knowledge of Tony Tonitone from the Massacre Wrestling Federation to work with. In another effort to make things easier on me, I’m only going to be using current, active wrestlers. I may mention wrestlers from the past who would have put on a show in certain tests, but that will be the extent of it.
Let’s go ahead and get started, and we’ll do it in the order of the tests I posted just up there ^^^ a little while ago. The 40-Yard Dash is the marquee event of the NFL Combine, and you have to assume it would be the same with a Pro Wrestling Combine, as well. If this was something I opened up to any and everyone, past and present, I just might want to say Dragon Gate’s Masato Yoshino would win this. They didn’t call him “Speed Star” for nothing. I’ve never seen a wrestler pick up the type of speed that Yoshino did running the ropes. If you’ve never seen him wrestle, head over to YouTube and watch just about anything with him in it. You’ll be blown away. Alas, Dragon Gate is not a “major, mainstream promotion” and Yoshino is retired, anyway, so he’s out of the running. Pun fully intended. If Rey Mysterio was in his prime, he would be another interesting name to watch in this type of situation. He was so fast that opponents would twist themselves into all types of pretzels trying to catch up to him.
There are plenty of wrestlers who could be labeled as “fast” without any issues. You see the way they move in the ring, and in certain instances, you actually get to see them running to the ring. For my pick here, I’m going with someone who has definitely showcased his speed in his matches, but who is also someone who has a very successful history as a track star in high school before turning his attention to becoming a wrestler. My pick to win this event is none other than Shane “Swerve” Strickland. Wrestlers such as Wes Lee, Pac, Carmelo Hayes, Sammy Guevara, and so on could be contenders here, but in the end, I think Swerve could be the one to put up the best time in the event.
Moving from physical skills to mental skills, it’s time for the Wonderlic Test. You’re looking at this one from an entirely different point of view as the last event. When you think of the wrestlers that have graced your television screens recently, a lot of smart people immediately come to mind. You’ve seen them pull off some intelligent thinking in the ring, and you’ve heard them talk about life in interviews, podcasts, etc. Right away, someone like Chad Gable came to mind. He did just earn his Master’s Degree, after all, graduating with a 4.0 GPA and being named the Valedictorian of his class. You can’t be a moron and reach that type of status. Chris Jericho also came to mind, but in a different fashion. He has always been a “cerebral” type of wrestler, and has been able to tap into, and figure out, what is needed to stay relevant in pro wrestling. He is coming up on 32 years in the wrestling business, and he has changed his look and style so many times, but he has remained a star. That’s some “problem solving” for you. To a lesser extent, someone like Edge would fall into the same category as Jericho. Edge made his television debut nearly 24 years ago, and has undergone numerous changes to his look and character in that span, but they’ve all worked out for him.
Keith Lee? I have no idea how smart he is or isn’t, but just listen to him speak. It sounds like he reads the dictionary on a daily basis for fun.
There is a lengthy list of wrestlers who are college graduates, with degrees of all sorts. That list is topped by one man, though. A man who has not one… not two… but three college degrees, and has been working on earning a fourth one. Two Bachelor’s Degrees, one Master’s Degree, and working on picking up his PhD? Yeah… the man is as intelligent as they come, and I have no doubt he would be able to put up a very high score on the Wonderlic. Folks, this is an event for Xavier Woods to get his shine on, without a doubt.
Let’s get back to the physical tests, though, shall we? The Bench Press event is always a blast to watch at the NFL Combine. If you’re not familiar, it isn’t about who can bench the most weight. Instead, it’s about who can bench 225 pounds the most. In 1999, Eastern Kentucky Defensive Tackle Justin Ernest set the Combine record of 51 reps. However, he would go on to be undrafted that year, so the NFL currently recognizes Stephen Paea, a Defensive Tackle from Oregon State, as the record holder after he put up 49 reps in 2011.
Obviously, if Mark Henry were still an active competitor, you might as well gift wrap this event for him. The same could be said about John Cena. Cesaro is also someone that could really do some damage in this event if he was eligible. Some may take issue with this, but I excluded Big E from the conversation. Clearly, he isn’t an active competitor, so he doesn’t make the cut. If he was eligible, he’s someone else that would be a clear-cut favorite to win.
When you look up and down the rosters of these promotions, there are definitely some names that jump out at you immediately when you think of this event. Apollo Crews remains, pound-for-pound, one of the strongest people under WWE contract. Omos would make that weight look like it was a toy. We’ve seen Rick Boogs pull off some crazy feats of strength on Smackdown over the last few months. Jake Hager is, as the saying goes, “country strong.” Keith Lee is a refrigerator with arms. Miro was an accomplished powerlifter in his pre-wrestling days. Powerhouse Hobbs isn’t called that for nothing. The list goes on and on and on.
I kept thinking and I kept thinking, but the more I thought, the more I continued coming back to one name… Brock Lesnar. This is a man who has kept wrestling fans in awe of his strength ever since he first debuted on WWF television in 2002. I still vividly remember him showing up on an episode of Raw and manhandling a 400-pound Rikishi, including an F5 where he was not only able to pick Big ‘Kish up, but actually toss him up in the air to deliver the move. You name a “big” wrestler to be under contract to Vince McMahon over the last 20 years, and chances are, Brock Lesnar has picked them up and thrown them around as if they were a child. The aforementioned Rikishi, The Undertaker, Big Show, Braun Strowman, Mark Henry, A-Train, Luke Harper, Kane, Baron Corbin… you get the point.
The funny thing about including Lesnar here is that he has already participated in the NFL Combine. When he left WWE in 2004, he took part in that year’s Combine, hoping to make the jump from WWE to the NFL. This was before the Combine was televised for the world to see, so there aren’t any real clips to watch, but his stats and results were released by the league. He put up 30 reps in the Bench Press event in 2004. That’s a pretty good number, but in case you aren’t a math genius, it’s less than Justin Ernest’s 51 reps and Stephen Paea’s 49 reps. However, I will point out that 2004 Brock Lesnar and 2022 Brock Lesnar are two different people entirely. You can just take a look at each of them and see that. Not only does he have a completely different body type now, but he also admits to taking better care of himself now. Even though he was 26 years old when he participated in the NFL Combine, I feel confident in saying he could perform better… at least in this event… right now, at the age of 44.
Continuing the physical-mental-physical-mental roller coaster ride, it’s time to switch it up to the Interviews portion of the Combine. This is yet another portion where you could come up with a long, long list of people who might excel at it. As I said earlier, this is partially to see the level of passion a player has for the sport. As an NFL team, you don’t want to use a high Draft pick and spend millions of dollars to sign someone who only kinda sorta likes football. This process is also to make sure that you’re getting to know the interviewee as a person. Are they kindhearted? Is he an overly arrogant prick?
This is another part of the Combine that I think Big E would shine at, but again, he’s not an active competitor, so he’s not eligible here. If you mention Big E, you have to mention Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, who could also be favorites to do well here.
Mike Bennett is someone who may not immediately come to mind, but he’d do great in an interview setting. If you’ve ever heard him tell his story about battling addiction, you can just feel his passion, both for the business and for life, now that he has been able to get clean. Even if you don’t know much about him going in, you’d come out of an interview rooting for him.
Edge is someone that is constantly labeled by his peers as someone they look up to as a bit of a mentor. There are numerous stories of him going above and beyond when it comes to being generous with his time and money, both with his co-workers as well as with fans. We don’t even need to discuss his passion for the business, as that is as well-documented as can be by this point.
Kevin Owens. The Miz. Sting. Christopher Daniels. Drew McIntyre. Mustafa Ali (if you want to define him as active). Roman Reigns. They would all do amazing jobs here, and for various reasons. The beauty of this portion of the Combine is that there isn’t a “winner” of the whole thing. You’ll have a bunch of guys who come out looking great, but it’s not like there’s a trophy for who performed the best in the interview section. Call it a cop-out if you want, but there’s no reason to pick any one person here. As long as we can all agree that Veer would just keep everyone waiting and wouldn’t actually show up for his interviews, then we can move on.
Finally, it’s time for the Vertical Jump/Broad Jump/Three-Cone Drill/20-Yard Dash events. To avoid repetition, I’ve just lumped them all into one portion, searching for who has the best overall athletic ability and explosiveness. With pro wrestling shifting from the old days of everyone trying to look like The Ultimate Warrior or Lex Luger, you’re going to have a wildly long list of candidates here. No matter what promotion you prefer watching, you’re going to find yourself saying “holy shit” at least once every episode because someone, somewhere, did something that doesn’t look like it should be physically possible.
Someone like Apollo Crews would do well here. If you’re talking about a combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism, there aren’t many in the business who can top what Crews brings to the table. If we’re talking about Crews, you also have to look no further than one of his best friends in the business, Ricochet. I’m not even 100% sure that the man is fully human based on the things he’s capable of doing in the ring.
Dante Martin came out of nowhere to become a rising star in AEW because of his jaw-dropping athletic ability. Sticking with AEW, it’s a shame that Angélico is injured, because he’d be a great representative here. He hasn’t always gotten to show a lot of what he can do in AEW, but look no further than his time in Lucha Underground for proof that he’s a freak of nature. Isiah Kassidy and Marq Quen would be fun to watch here, too. Same for Sammy Guevara, Matt Sydal, Pac, 10 of The Dark Order, Swerve Strickland, and Scorpio Sky. Guys like Rey Fenix and Kenny Omega would certainly be included if they were healthy. Even someone like Wardlow, who showcases a stunning amount of athleticism for someone his size, deserves mention here.
Again, the list of names that would do great here is super long. Trey Miguel, Wes Lee, Finn Balor, Reggie, Seth Rollins, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Ace Austin, Chris Bey, Bron Breakker, Carmelo Hayes, Grayson Waller, Nash Carter, Xyon Quinn… it’s almost an embarrassment of riches right now. However, there’s one name that, to me, stands out above everyone else when it comes to his athletic ability.
When you watch Montez Ford wrestle, it’s like what I said about Ricochet… you’re just SURE he’s at least part alien. No human being should be able to fly like he can. When he hits a Frog Splash from the top rope, WWE has to pull to a wiiiiide shot of the ring because he literally jumps right out of view. If there’s ever going to be someone who can win a Ladder Match without having to climb the ladder or use any of that other shenaniganery, it would be Ford. These events are tailor-made for someone like him to put up ridiculous stats like Wilt Chamberlain in the 1961-62 season.
What say you, Readerland? If there was a Pro Wrestling Combine, who do you see as the standout performers in the various events? As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind. You don’t have to follow my “rules” for your results. If you want to include inactive wrestlers, go for it. Same for if you want to make it an all-time event with wrestlers from the past, or if you want to expand it to other promotions.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Foley Is Pod: On one hand, the wrestling podcast market is flooded. There are a billion of them out there. On the other hand, though, this is Mick Fucking Foley we’re talking about. There might not be a better “talker” in the history of the wrestling business, and it’s about time he has his own podcast. There haven’t even been details released about the pod, but I’m excited for it. I don’t care if he’s interviewing other wrestlers, other celebrities, telling stories from his career, or any sort of combination of the three. He could be reading movie synopses for an hour, and I’d still tune in.
- Seth Rollins vs Kevin Owens: I haven’t been a fan of the “well, I guess we don’t have matches at WrestleMania” storyline they’re in, because it’s always stupid, but these two could have entertaining matches in their sleep. Owens wins here, so he gets to have a chat with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at Mania. Rollins loses, so clearly, there will be nothing for him to do all weekend. Nope. Not a thing. Nothing that has been rumored or speculated on. Nothing.
- Jeff Hardy: I literally laughed out loud when Jeff ran out on Dynamite and, in the middle of his brother getting his ass handed to him in the middle of the ring, decided to take a break to pose and dance for the fans. I would’ve done the same thing if Matt Hardy were waiting for my assistance, though, if we’re keeping it a buck with each other. Either way, it was good to see Jeff back on television.
- Sammy Guevara vs Scorpio Sky: Last week, I said Sammy had a good thing going with his TNT Title reign, but that AEW sure seemed to love having the belt change hands after only a few weeks. Sure enough, Sammy drops the title to Scorpio Sky a few hours after I posted the column. Nothing against Scorpio Sky, mind you. He has been deserving of this type of push from the beginning. It’s just weird to witness the title history unfold the way it has.
- Dolph Ziggler vs LA Knight: On the main roster, Dolph has been jogging in place for years. In his brief time with NXT, he seems rejuvenated and energized again. It’s part of the beauty of having main roster workers mixing it up in NXT from time-to-time. He’s putting in some good work. Time will tell if that continues when he moves back to the main roster permanently.
- Edge: Hey, he got new entrance music! It really fits the new heel character, too, no matter how you feel about the decision to turn him heel in the first place.
- William Regal: One of pro wrestling’s most underrated promo men ever, Regal was great on Dynamite, delivering a different type of promo. It was full of real emotion and thanks to the people who have helped him along the way. I am really looking forward to more of his work with Bryan Danielson and Jon Moxley, his two sons from different hons.
- Cameron Grimes vs Santos Escobar: As always when Cameron Grimes is mentioned, I am legally and contractually obligated to mention the fact that he nearly broke my leg at an independent wrestling show a few years ago. This was a match that featured, arguably, the two most misused wrestlers in NXT recently. Both men are capable of so much more, but the trigger just hasn’t been pulled on a true push for either one of them. With Escobar winning and being placed in the five-way Ladder Match for the NXT North American Title at Stand & Deliver, could this finally be his time? We’ll see.
- Ricochet vs Sami Zayn: A really good match, albeit not as good as the match they had where Ricochet won the Intercontinental Title. Sami is really doing some great work to get this feud with Johnny Knoxville going. Johnny Knoxville… a 51-year-old stuntman… is having a high-profile match at WrestleMania, and people aren’t shitting all over the idea of it. That’s thanks to Sami. Kudos to him.
- Queen Sharmell: Well, she’s certainly not being inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame based on her in-ring career, but hey, she’s being inducted nonetheless. There’s still only a small percentage of people who have ever been involved in the wrestling business who can say that they’re WWE Hall Of Famers, so she’s got that going for her, which is nice. She also joins a pretty exclusive club of husband and wife Hall Of Famers, as she and Booker T are the second such couple, behind only Edge and Beth Phoenix.
This Week’s Playlist: “Kaisarion” by Ghost… “Spillways” by Ghost… “Call Me Little Sunshine” by Ghost… “Hunter’s Moon” by Ghost… “Watcher In The Sky” by Ghost… “Twenties” by Ghost… “Darkness At The Heart Of My Love” by Ghost… “Griftwood” by Ghost… “Respite On The Spitalfields” by Ghost… “Wild Child” by The Black Keys… “Losing You” by James Arthur… “All My Love” by Queen Pen & Eric Williams… “Dazzey Duks” by Duice… “Tell It Like It Is” by Aaron Neville… “Scummy” by Crucial Conflict… “2 Bogus” by Crucial Conflict & Three 6 Mafia… “Candyman” by Dirty… “Searchin’ 4 Peace” by Poetic Hustla’z… “Killing Fields” by The Graveyard Shift… “Ain’t No Reason” by Ken Dawg… “Thug Devotion” by Krayzie Bone, Layzie Bone, Ken Dawg, Souljah Boy & Tré… “Rumors & War” by The Graveyard Shift & Flesh-N-Bone… “Low Down” by Souljah Boy & Krayzie Bone… “Mighty Mo Thug” by Souljah Boy & Layzie Bone… “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes