Classifying a performer as underrated has always been a tricky thing. What does it mean exactly? Who's doing the underrating? And if the rating is based on popular opinion, isn't that the only rating that mtatters?
Not really. If the majority vote was always on point, Miley Cyrus wouldn't have been a runner-up for TIME's "Person of the Year." Fact is, the greats aren't always appreciated in their time, which is why a few of the editors at WWE.com rallied behind Superstars who they believed to be overlooked in a variety of ways - whether it be as entertainers, in-ring technicans or main events stars.
Things shift drastically in WWE. Two decades ago, people were calling Steve Austin underrated. That changed, of course and it may change for these competitors, too. But, for now, they are the most underrated Superstars in WWE.
1.) Seth Rollins
The hierarchy of The Hounds of Justice may not involve ranking its members, but it can feel at times that Seth Rollins gets short shrift. United States Champion Dean Ambrose offers more unpredictable moments. Roman Regins intimidates the opposition by stomping on anyone who dares to question him.
And Rollins? The smalllest Shield member carries his weight as the workhorse of the trio, the relentless warrior of the group. He speaks in the measured tones that often elude his cohorts, and backs up a natural swagger with an aresenal of maneuvers designed to grind down any grappler's ability to endure.
This strategy already paid dividends in singles competition against everyone from Jey Uso to Goldust, let alone all the pairings that Rollins & Regins dominated during their reign as WWE Tag Team Champions. It also draws inevitable comparisons to CM Punk and Jeff Hardy, two competitors who overcame criticisms about their size and talent to reach unprecedented heights in WWE.
The Shield cast a large shadow over the WWE Universe, and that shade often obstructs what Rollins has achieved compared to his fellow Hounds. Those measuring success in championships point out Ambrose's eight-month possession of the U.S. Title, then fail to mention that Rollins was the first NXT captivating sight of the "Black Out" stomp kick by by the black-clad Superstar with the blond streak in his hair.
Seth Rollins can already boasts accomplishments in one year in WWE that some Superstars never experience in their career. Ignore him at your own perill.
When Tensai came back to WWE in April 2012 dressed like a samurai and speaking mainly Japaneese, a vocal portion of WWE fans wondered what had happened to the intimidating dude from the Attitude Era who looked like an eloganted George Steele and barked with a thick Boston accent.
In turn, the cargo-plane immensity of Tensai's sentons was overlooked from the get-go. His emphasis on the space between the notes was drowned out by his shiny red trunks and chants of "Albert".
Despite the intial hiccups, I heartily celebrated his return. With a body constructed for the rigors of wrestling, the 360-pounder is the type of athlete that only comes around once in a blue moon, even if some of Tensai's less flattering moments - doing the robot in a woman's nightly, for example - make us forget it once in a while.
He's gigantic, but unlike plenty of lumbering galoots and overly yoked muscle heads who try getting by on size alone, Tensai boasts serious mobility. It may take time to build up spped, but once he gets going, watch out. Yet, Tensai sacrifices no precision, and there's little observable wasted movement.
His is a controlled veloctiy, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another Superstar who is as measured in his attack. Such unflappable composure might be owed to the world-class training he recieved early on from WWE Hall of Famers Killer Kowalski and Dory Funk Jr., or from his lengthy tenure competing in Japan - a country where almost every WWE Hall of Famer piled his trade at one point or another.
In a modern wrestling landscape that too often places a heavy emphasis on aesthetics, Tensai - an updated mash-up of Big Boss Man and Vader - isn't merely underrated; he's a necessity for a well-balanced roster. The veteran of more than 15 years represents a disappearing breed of wrestler, one that's essential to the well-being of the genre. With any luck, this and future generations of Superstars are learning from his example.
3.) John Cena
As a guy who teared up when Mick Foley first won the WWE Title and continually pulled for the underdog, I wasn't always sure how to feel about John Cena. He was the stereotypical jock with a Clark Kent jawline, the type of beefy Red Sox fan you might see wandering the UMass campus. But here's the dirty little secret: He's really, really good.
It almost inexplicable at this point that fans continue to chant "You can't wrestle!" at a man who so clearly can. For someone with his muscle mass, John Cena's finesse in the ring is, quite simply, astounding. Watch his versatility countering a bodyslam into a half-nelson spinning neckbreaker, or reversing a chokeslam in mid-air to an implant DDT. And then watch him follow up that savvy with a lariat that would make Stan Hansen proud. Cena's not just about brushing the dust off his shoulder and socking you in the teeth. But he can do that, too.
You might not realize it, but John Cena has wrestled his way through so many amazing matches in so many styles. From gruesome encounters with JBL, to ECW-style melees against each and every single one of them. Even in his fantastic series against CM Punk, Cena rarely gets credit for bringing just as much of the drama to those matches as Punk.
There was backlash to Hulk Hogan after one too many Atomic Legdrops. There was even backlash to The Rock when he bailed for Hollywood. We really ought to appreciate Cena while we have him.
4.) Damien Sandow
“The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives everything except genius.” ― Oscar Wilde
Damien Sandow is more than a misunderstood intellect and a groundbreaking luminary who is light years ahead of his time. He is WWE’s most criminally underrated Superstar.
Refined, elegant and multitalented, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses is everything a WWE fan could ever hope for and aspire to be. A true Renaissance man, Mr. Sandow’s effortless charm, staggering brainpower and immaculate grooming can make it easy to overlook his substantial skills in the ring — a grave error his maladroit opponents often make to their own detriment.
Lest we forget, WWE’s most sophisticated competitor is not only a highly technical, Killer Kowalski-trained grappler, but also a capable and willing brawler. Few Superstars combine practiced technique with a vicious mean streak as seamlessly as The Duke of Decency, as victories over everyone from Kane to Daniel Bryan attest.
The biased proletariats who are in a rush to declare Mr. Sandow a haughty egoist are merely illuminating their own ignorance and deep-seated anti-intellectual prejudice. Whether he’s subliminally raising the collective intelligence of the WWE Universe by making his ring entrance to George Frideric Handel’s "Hallelujah Chorus" or he’s taking time out of his busy day to lecture us on our many mental and moral shortcomings, this is a chronically underestimated, underrated Superstar who not only excels in the squared circle, but goes above and beyond the call of duty to help others better themselves. And how is he repaid? With the disdain and boos of an ungrateful WWE Universe.
True genius, unfortunately, is rarely appreciated in its own time.
5.) Antonio Cesaro
Never thought the day would come when a Superstar as remarkable as Antonio Cesaro would be thrown in the “underrated” category, but here we are.
I mean, really, how do you even begin to talk him up like the whole deal isn’t right there? The notion is preposterous. With the verbal dexterity of a Rosetta Stone, the physique of an Olympian and the strength of 12 men, he sets the bar for what a professional athlete — not just a WWE Superstar — should look like and what he can do.
“But he doesn’t talk,” the WWE Universe might respond, and therefore label him incomplete. Fair enough. The sight of Cesaro on the mic is about as rare as a wild jackalope. But even if Zeb Colter hadn’t taken over that responsibility, Cesaro does his talking in the ring. Remember when he first arrived, it was as the rugby stud who broke up Teddy Long and Aksana? No? Right. That’s because he’s destroyed everyone since that happened. Turning The Great Khali into a human hammer throw was just the icing on the cake. Cesaro’s beaten up more main-eventers than Father Time. Even if he hasn’t pinned all of them, he’s made a sizable chunk look like the shark bait ham-and-eggers of the territory era. If you tested this guy’s blood and found traces of Hercules himself, it wouldn’t be surprising in the least.
This, it must be said, is nothing new. Cesaro was manhandling fools across continents for years both in and out of WWE, and anyone who followed his early career knows he’s just scratching the surface of his arsenal. Even CM Punk — that rebel who bows to no one — paid homage by wearing Cesaro’s T-shirt during WrestleMania 29’s press week.
Truth of the matter is, everything Cesaro’s been, from the linguistic Casanova of his debut to the mudhole-stompin’ Real American that he is now, has been pretty fantastic. He’s more than just the best recruit Big Johnny ever brought up to SmackDown, and he’s more than just the bald guy with the big swing. He is the future. Plan accordingly.
6.) Alicia Fox
Alicia Fox has shown the most in-ring improvement of any Diva — or Superstar, for that matter — in the last year. Don't believe me? Search her name here on WWE.com and watch one of her matches from 2012. From her tight lockups to her precisely placed dropkicks, her wrestling is Divas Championship caliber.
In addition to improving her craft on the canvas, the fabulous Miss Fox is in flawless condition. With a body that looks like it belongs to a comic book heroine, her speed and conditioning are better than ever.
There seems to be just one intangible piece missing to complete the puzzle of Alicia wearing the butterfly again. Perhaps a fresh finisher? In any case, the hen house that is the Divas locker room would do well to fear the fox.
7.) Santino Marella
When gauging which Superstars draw the respect of the WWE Universe, Santino Marella is not the first name that comes to mind. By and large, The Milan Miracle is generally perceived as comic relief rather than a crushing rampage of dominance. However, I would characterize him simply as the most underrated Superstar in WWE today.
Santino is so much more than WWE’s favorite foreign joker. Many fans forget that he is a two-time Intercontinental Champion, a former United States Champion and a former WWE Tag Team Champion. He contains so much heart, in fact, that he once battled his way into the Elimination Chamber for an opportunity at the World Heavyweight Title.
The Italian Stallion also possesses true charisma, at a level that is truly uncommon. The WWE Universe loves him day in and day out. He even has a way with the Divas, including past relationships with the likes of Maria, Tamina and Beth Phoenix. Most importantly, the keeper of the Cobra has an extremely unique and unpredictable in-ring style, which has thrown many an opponent off-guard over the years.
Bottom line: On any given night, Santino Marella can be the Superstar to watch. Respect the Cobra.
8.) Tyson Kidd
Definition of underrated: Underestimate the extent, value or importance of something / someone.
With that being said, I look to Tyson Kidd as WWE’s most underrated Superstar.
Granted, any number of individuals could fill that bill very easily. But one thing that I have come to admire about the Calgary native is his never-say-die attitude and the tenacity that he displays inside the squared circle. He has mixed it up with the best of them and, win or lose, his opponents have come away with a measure of respect for him.
I saw something special in Kidd when he made his WWE/ECW debut in 2009. Knowing that he was trained at Stu Hart’s Dungeon in Calgary immediately piqued my interest and curiosity, and he didn’t disappoint and still doesn’t to this day. He’s got a crisp and fluid style, yet exhibits a great deal of poise in the process. For what Kidd brings to the ring, he most definitely leaves it there, which to me is an excellent attribute.
He suffered a setback at the beginning of this year with a knee injury that sidelined him for more than six months. Yet, he was hell-bent on getting back into the ring and being better than ever, and I believe he’s accomplished that.
If you have given Tyson Kidd just a fleeting glance, I strongly suggest that you take a good long look at what this man brings to the table, and you’ll see why I believe that he is WWE’s most underrated Superstar, hands down!