6. Climbing To Greatness
Edge, Christian, and The Hardy Boyz were each coming into their own as cult figures in WWE, and I don’t mean based on each of their Brood connections. When all four were young men in the late-nineties, each had a certain untapped “it factor” that was just begging to be sprung. High-impact matches against each other revealed some of that collective potential. Then came the ladders.
When the two duos met in the finals of “Terri Invitational Tournament” at No Mercy 1999, with a large bag of money hanging over the ring, they would etch themselves into wrestling lore forever. The crowd in Cleveland was in sheer awe of the stunts being executed, and each dangerous fall would top the prior one. The ovation for all four men after the fact was practically a ticket-punch for each, as their synonymy with dangerous (and cool) high spots gave them the niche they needed to build their legacies on.
5. Big Match Ice
As the story goes, John Cena was in sink-or-swim mode come the fall of 2002, having failed to catch on as anything more than an enthusiastic babyface that occasionally won close matches. The charisma and look were there, but the clay needed to be moulded into something with a stronger hook. Of all things, a throwaway Halloween-themed episode of SmackDown would see Cena find his skeleton key.
Cena, by now playing it heelish, dressed as Vanilla Ice for a locker room costume party, and even dropped a few rhymes while in character. Said skit took place around the same time 8 Mile was being released to theaters, so could there be potential for a wrestler with some Eminem-like characteristics? Cena took the freestyle-rapping, throwback jersey-wearing shtick and made it his own, ascending the ranks on the merit of his energy, grit, and wordsmithery.
4. Killing The Legend Killer
When Randy Orton started kicking around as Evolution’s fresh-faced junior, earmarked for future greatness, many fans wondered what the big deal was. Sure, he looked like a taller, more athletic Josh Hartnett, but he’d yet to really make good on any promise, aside from a few funny “RNN” segments. He appeared to be nothing more than an overpushed pretty boy, chosen by a company that valued sizzle over steak.
The feud with Mick Foley in 2003-04 began to reveal some of Orton’s potential as a capable fighter, but it wasn’t until he hit the thumbtacks at Backlash 2004 did sentiment really begin to sway his way. Orton, tack-holed and covered in blood from some other gnarly moments at Foley’s hands, fought back from his compromised state, putting Foley away. It was a true star-making performance, as not only could Foley make a star, but Orton demonstrated that he had the tools to be one.