Note from John Canton: This is a guest column from Zander Rodriguez. It was sent to us by Zander after he inquired about writing a column, I told him to check out our Contact Us page that has simple instructions on how to send in a sample column. Here’s Zander.
Heath Slater is the most underrated wrestler of the last decade. As one reads that, a million contradictory opinions will probably come to mind. Cesaro, Hirooki Goto, and Alex Shelley among a million other wrestlers probably fall more in line with the traditional fan’s understanding of the word “underrated”. I think in today’s climate of entertainment, and especially wrestling, we have a deep misunderstanding of the word underrated.
Let’s use Cesaro, a prime candidate for being called underrated, as an example. Cesaro is an excellent professional wrestler who several people consider to be underrated. Some fans argue that he is easily World Champion material, but most would probably agree that he deserves a higher position on the card. If seemingly everyone agrees that Cesaro is underrated, doesn’t that make him not underrated? Wouldn’t that make him properly rated, or even potentially overrated? Everyone knows how great Cesaro is, we just want to see him given a bigger spotlight and higher position on the card. We know how great Cesaro really is because Cesaro sometimes has the chance to show us how great he really is. Underrated, taking the compound word apart, simply refers to something that is not rated or valued as highly as it should be. Cesaro is not underrated; Cesaro is underutilized. If a wrestler is signed by a large wrestling promotion, odds are, they are at least pretty good at wrestling, or have great potential.
Someone like Heath Slater is far more underrated because he so rarely gets the opportunity to show how great he can be, and so few recognize his true greatness. In addition, having so many people notice you, and not recognize your excellence is one way I define underrated. Let’s all think back to his “hottest free agent” gimmick during the SmackDown 2016 brand split. People were all aboard the Slater bandwagon then, and that’s when I really bought in. He had great crowd reactions due to his mic work, catchphrases, and entertaining segments. That’s also partially thanks to Rhyno being a great oddball partner for Slater.
It was a perfect utilization of Heath Slater: his ability to be funny and an underdog chasing something. He’s also a very solid and safe in-ring worker. He’s been entrusted numerous times to work matches or segments, sometimes squashes, with older, semi-retired legends. When working with an older wrestler, safety is an incredibly high concern. He worked with people like Bret Hart, Vader, and Sycho Sid. While these encounters were primarily one-sided on the legends’ side, he did get a few good hits in on occasion, and he was clearly trusted enough to not hurt them.
Looking at the WWE roster right now, some people might consider Ricochet to be underrated due to his low position on the card. Ricochet is a critically acclaimed wrestler who has held numerous championships across many promotions, and most fans can recognize that. Underrated has just become a catch-all term for anyone that is too low on the card for their level of talent. The problem lies in that it’s basically a paradox in being underrated when it seems that a majority rate you as underrated.
Another interesting way to look at this topic is to look at the exposure and ease of access to a wrestler. It’s relatively easy to see and judge who is underrated on WWE and AEW programming since those shows are pretty easy to view both online and on television.
However, some may consider people wrestling on the independent promotions or even overseas to be underrated simply due to lack of exposure to a wider audience. I’ve heard people refer to All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Kento Miyahara as underrated when he was the top champion of the promotion. Granted, I myself am not super familiar with his work, but I do recognize that he is in a promotion that, at least at one time, was very well respected among pro wrestling aficionados. Miyahara also had several critically acclaimed matches and rivalries, and was the top champion of the promotion. Can all of this apply to a wrestler and can they still justifiably be called underrated due to the fact that not everyone knows who they are? I’m not so sure. It seems like if more wrestling fans knew Kento Miyahara, they’d love him just like his current supporters.
It raises an interesting question in and of itself as well, if AEW wasn’t well known in Japan, would some Japanese fans consider a wrestler like “Hangman” Page to be underrated in the same way some American fans consider Miyahara to be underrated? Even if that isn’t the case, as I don’t know any wrestling fans that live in Japan to verify yet, it’s still interesting to think about.
At the end of the day, we’re all allowed to have whatever opinions we want, most of the time at least. We can think whoever we want is under or even overrated. I could (and for a time did) make the case that John Cena is an underrated wrestler. Be that as it may, it’s just wrestling and we’re just fans. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there that think that Barry Horowitz was World Champion material.