Ranking the 5 biggest box-office draws in WWE history
Top draws in the WWE bear much more responsibility than privilege, but pushing various Superstars to the “top spot” often sparks off controversy theories and complaints. Roman Reign’s recent push was viewed exactly as such, with the audience initially rebelling at the thought that the WWE was literally gifting the spot to him with other greater “deserving” superstars, in their book, seemingly looked over.
And then, there is an incessant debate about whether a Superstar is “ready” for top billing or not, with in-ring experience counting as much as respect earned in the industry in contributing toward that argument. Looking past all that, there is the highly disputed matter of the prototypical main eventer, much to the ire and incredulity of the modern day fan.
Through the years, distinctions and discretions have been applied aplenty, mostly inside of Vince McMahon’s head, in the choosing of the “top guy”. Several fans have voiced their displeasure with the company for failing to elevate deserving Superstars to the main event spot but in all fairness, it’s hard to argue with the WWE’s track record when you examine the instances that they got right.
To be a top draw entails the main event status but also demands committed maintenance of performance. The main eventer’s success determines not only his stock in the company, but also affects the payday of the wrestlers on the undercard. To put it in a nutshell then, top billing in the WWE has to be earned every inch of the way. It dictates far greater responsibility than entitlement and is decidedly not for the faint of heart.
Time has thrown up examples of wrestlers who practically had every necessary qualification to carry the company and yet wilted when push came to shove. Conversely, those who managed to pull it off have immortalized their names in WWE lore, and truly, it is their influence in the past that engenders our present involvement with the product in some senses.
Greatness, once it crosses a certain threshold, defies comparison and definitively ranking these custodians of the business has been a process that teeters on an unforgiving line. Nevertheless, this is a look back at the top draws in WWE history, with qualification as much as quantification perused in what is an attempt to rank them according to their drawing power as well as influence on the industry.
Honorable Mention #1 – Bruno Sammartino
In an era that pre-dated the reach of mainstream appeal through television, an Italian-American grappler championed the hopes and harbored the awe of the audience. In what is still the lengthiest recorded single reign, Bruno Sammartino held the then WWWF Title for an unbelievable 2803 days at a stretch before dropping the title to Ivan Koloff in 1971 at Madison Square Garden.
If that were another Superstar, then the place would not have mattered half as much as the travesty of losing the title after a reign of over 7 years, but Bruno Sammartino is a name that is intertwined with the history of Madison Square Garden. In what is merely one of the unlikely records never to be breached that were set by Sammartino, he sold-out Madison Square Garden an astounding 187 times.
Upon losing the title to Ivan Koloff, pin drop silence reportedly reigned in the arena. So much so that the officials sensed the disquiet before the storm; Koloff’s win was not announced, nor was the title bestowed around his waist. As Bruno left the ring, the tears of the fans in attendance followed him out.
Bruno Sammartino wrestled all over the world, defending the WWWF Title with dignity and integrity, captivating the audience in the process. The bond between Bruno and the fans was unique in that it was achieved through personal interaction rather than television or other digital media of transmission that the WWE is dependent on today.
Bruno Sammartino is undisputedly the Living Legend of WWE and in many senses, was the bedrock upon which the foundation for a successful business was laid.
Honourable Mention #2 – John Cena
This is a tricky one. Innately true to the polarizing nature of John Cena, he could have as easily been #1 on this list for the admirable qualities that he displays both as a human being and a professional coupled with the consistency and quality of his career. John Cena has carried the company on his back for the past decade when it wasn’t entirely fashionable to be a WWE fan.
On the back of an era comprising excessive gore, violence and scandal, the WWE direly felt the need to tone down the shade of their product. Considering that the competition had also been wiped out, monopoly lent the WWE leeway to re-model its approach. Then there was the controversial double murder-suicide involving Chris Benoit and Vince McMahon’s hand was further moved. Add to that Linda McMahon’s political aspirations and the necessity to garner a new generation fan-base.
John Cena was the man who addressed all of the aforementioned facets of need that the company encountered and he did it with hustle, loyalty and respect - forgive the cliché. He restored much needed stability and credibility as the face of the company and has been singularly responsible for changing the product from one that angled toward the adolescent male demographic into one that caters to the viewing pleasure of the whole family.
However since the advent of the internet, and the unique gateway to the industry that it opened to fans, the business does not quite entertain the idea of a “top draw” the way it has always done historically. Once the fans are privy to the backstage workings of the business, there is naturally a decline of interest in the end product and a marked increase in curiosity regarding the internal workings of the industry.
It is not John Cena’s fault that his prime oversaw such a dynamic, and he really could not have done anything differently during his tenure either. However, it does mean that he has to settle for a spot just outside of the top 5 draws in WWE history, owing purely to the slight lessening of significance that a top draw had to endure due to the changing perception of the business in recent times.