This is part three of a countdown exploring superstars who deserve to make an appearance in the upcoming WWE 2K20. Criteria for this list included their previous appearances in WWE games, their fit in the current product or modes, and their influence on the world of wrestling.
10. William Regal
As the King of the Ring tournament is making its long overdue reappearance, a previous winner cracks the top 10. We are fast approaching a younger fanbase that will not have any knowledge of that 2008 run by Regal or know what it means to see an uptight British man carry brass knuckles wherever he goes.
He will be known by that younger audience as the general manager of WWE’s incredibly successful NXT brand, ubiquitous with overseeing and booking match of the year candidates for the brand’s Takeover shows. His trademark grit still comes through in his leadership of the developing talent, and it’s clear the respect he commands.
A master technician, Regal has earned that respect from fans the world over. It’s now time to insert him into the active roster of NXT in Universe mode, using his trademark brash toughness to step from behind the desk and elevate the yellow brand to even greater heights.
9. Gorilla Monsoon
Earlier in this list we mentioned what it means to have something in the business named after certain personalities because their impact was so profound. Every night, no matter if it’s a live event, TV taping or pay-per-view, countless talent and staff step through the Gorilla position.
This is the last spot separating “behind the scenes” from the roaring crowd and dazzling lights just beyond the curtain. And it’s named for one of the most beloved personalities in WWE history.
Most will recall Monsoon’s inspired performances as the voice of some of the company’s biggest moments. From “the irresistible force meets the immovable object” to “you can cut the electricity in the air with a knife!” it’s difficult not hearing his voice in your memory when recalling matches from the golden age of wrestling. His work with Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura is legendary. Make sure you take a moment to experience the absolute pleasure of listening to these men perform their craft.
As Monsoon’s career moved to that of an authority figure, it became easier and easier to forget that at one time he was one of the most feared competitors between the ropes. His imposing nature helped him make his mark on the industry as a performer, and his ability to transcend into the man that reached so many homes behind a microphone was astonishing.
This broad range allows him to fulfill multiple roles in WWE 2K20. Whether as a primetime host, an authority figure or a wrestler, this is a slam dunk pick.
8. Mae Young
One of the most recognizable ‘lady wrestlers’ of all time, Mae Young’s career began during World War II and would span seven decades. One of the foremost pioneers for women in wrestling, she would work for Stu Hart in Canada as well as tour post-war Japan alongside Mildred Burke.
Perhaps the original ultimate opportunist, Young would use the absence of men to advance women’s wrestling in North America. Throughout the decades, she was often the featured female performer for promotions such as the NWA and WWWA. But it is perhaps from the Attitude Era that most fans will recognize the trailblazer.
Along with her one-time trainee, the Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young would become a regular in 1999 during the peak of professional wrestling’s exposure. Taking on a more comedic role, we were nevertheless reminded that the diminutive woman was tough as nails, taking bumps that would give people half her age pause, including an unforgettable power bomb delivered by Bubba Ray Dudley off of the Raw stage.
She had a reputation for becoming annoyed if one of the superstars held back on her, so it’s understandable she might be annoyed to have only appeared in one wrestling video game, WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. With the creation of the Mae Young Classic in her honor, this is as good a time as any to reintroduce a true classic.
7. Bruno Sammartino
Perhaps no superstar at their peak was ever held in such high esteem as Bruno Sammartino. Performing as champion a decade before “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” would catapult the WWE nationally, Sammartino once held New York City’s Madison Square Garden in the palm of his giant hands.
Selling out the famed arena 188 times and holding Vince McMahon Sr.’s championship 2,803 consecutive days, Bruno was a larger-than-life personality who became one of the first true heroes of wrestling. He would return for a short stint in the 1980s, forming a tag team with his son, before returning to retirement and speaking out against the WWE during the company’s steroid scandal.
But time heals all wounds, and Bruno would finally accept an invitation to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. His absence from the Hall of Fame was glaring, and his acceptance repaired a giant hole that had been shredded in the fabric of what made the WWE what it is today.
Immortalized in a bronze statue the following year by Triple H, Sammartino should be immortalized in WWE 2K20’s legends section. His death just last year reminded the wrestling world that Bruno once embodied how professional wrestling was viewed, and his legacy demands his inclusion in 2K.
6. Antonio Inoki
If you enter the WWE Hall of Fame having never stepped foot in a WWE ring, you mean something special to the world of wrestling. Inoki is a national treasure in Japan, and his presence and influence can be seen even today in performers like the “King of Strong Style” Shinsuke Nakamura, a discipline known to be, ahem, snug.
Catapulting to stardom after a “match” with Muhammad Ali in 1976, Inoki would ride this fame to an encounter with the WWF Champion Bob Backlund in 1979. Inoki would win the title and soon after vacate it (a reign that the WWE hence does not recognize).
Inoki would continue to impact the industry with events such as Collision in Korea, a joint WCW and NJPW event in which he would defeat Ric Flair in the main event in front of the largest audience for a professional wrestling show in history.
Still, the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling has not lent his lofty presence in a digital ring since Yuke’s own Wrestle Kingdom series on PlayStation 2. Hopefully the developers, who bought Inoki’s share of NJPW at one point, can pave the way for the Japanese megastar.
5. Supporting Cast
Each of us visits Operation Sports because we love sports video games, and we love dissecting what makes them work. Sometimes it’s as simple as adding a referee on-screen or a studio show using real-life personalities.
Which begs the very interesting question, where are all of the non-wrestling personalities in WWE 2K? While we have seen JoJo recently announcing matches, and Greg Hamilton this year, an emphasis has not been made to include more characters that would make WWE games feel like more of an emulation of a broadcast.
Longtime referees such as Mike Chioda, Charles Robinson and John Cone are replaced by generic faces. Backstage interviewers such as Charly Caruso and Kayla Braxton are a missing opportunity to provide a pre-match word from upcoming superstars. Studio shows hosted by Cathy Kelley and even pay-per-view pre-shows featuring personalities such as Sam Roberts, Booker T and David Otunga are all elements that are nearly as important as the entrances and post-match celebrations.
These personalities and clips provide the entire WWE experience, and they have been missing for far too long.
When a superstar finishes one last promo backstage with Caruso as their music hits and they walk away, then Lil’ Naitch calls for the bell, you can truly think “aw yeah, here we go.”
4. Tommaso Ciampa
One of the strangest things to happen with the release of WWE 2K19 was the realization that the NXT Champion at the time would not be making an appearance. While we are used to seeing stars pulled because of exiting the company or not being in the company soon enough, having an established champion missing was a significant blow to the game’s authenticity.
While rumors circulated as to why he was omitted, ranging from motion capture (unlikely) to contract disputes (more likely), the reason is ultimately moot. WWE 2K19 was simply missing one of its biggest heels of the year, and it was a glaring hole.
After making his debut on Raw in February 2019, Ciampa is once again sidelined after relinquishing the NXT Championship the following month after neck surgery. He himself has said that he would be on “borrowed time” if he were to ever return to the ring, and that is truly a shame for the career of the Blackheart.
Still, his program with Johnny Gargano is arguably the best storyline that NXT has presented in its young history, and their matches at Takeover events blew away expectations each and every time. That is no easy feat when you are placed in a main event against the same opponent in such a short amount of time.
However long his career turns out to be, Ciampa has cemented himself as an important character in the story of NXT, and that makes him an important inclusion in WWE 2K20.
Finally, the ice seems to have thawed on the relationship between the WWE and the Ninth Wonder of the World, Chyna. One of the most enduring figures of the Attitude Era, Chyna exited the WWE under a controversial set of circumstances that alienated her from the company. This combined with her appearances in adult films and known drug issues seemed to ensure that her she would remain only a memory, and one never mentioned on programming.
An original member of D-Generation X, presented as the group’s bodyguard (revolutionary in a time when women were considered mere eye candy), Chyna would later forge her own path as a singles competitor. While she occasionally did battle with other women, she also became the first-ever female Intercontinental Champion by defeating Jeff Jarrett.
Chyna would become a two-time IC Champion, only winning the Women’s Championship once, highlighting her tendency to transcend gender norms. She would continue to ignore barriers by becoming the first woman to qualify for the King of the Ring, advancing to the second round. She was the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble match. She was, well, you get the idea.
In 2019, three years after her passing, it was announced that Chyna would be included with DX as inductees into the Hall of Fame. Though it was long overdue, the fervent pitch of the fans willed her back into existence and she has been mentioned prominently since. No wonder, from the woman who specialized in breaking down obstacles.
It’s time for her to break another and bring the powerhouse to WWE 2K20.
2. AJ Lee/CM Punk
You probably knew this was coming. Perhaps the most missed pair of wrestlers currently walking the planet, CM Punk and real-life spouse AJ Lee were last seen on WWE programming in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Since then, the internet has been ablaze any time their names are mentioned in the same breath as wrestling, in any promotion, anywhere in the world.
This isn’t without reason. Both were incredible characters that helped carry the company through some leaner years. While Punk would reign as WWE Champion for 434 days, Lee would keep a stranglehold on the Divas Championship for 295 days.
Their dominance is a testament to how important they were to WWE programming during this time, and the impact of their absence has been felt far longer than the average future endeavored superstar.
Consider the Ultimate Warrior. Or Bill Goldberg. Or Sting. Take your pick and realize that for whatever reason, 2K seems to have some sort of magic wand that rebuilds the bridge back to Titan Towers. These are superstars who have left the company under the worst of circumstances, and yet all have arrived in WWE and still remain in 2K rosters to this day.
Whoever this magician is has to be checking his list, and there are two names that are written in bold who just so happen to be a tandem. We have seen this script before and sat in awe of the latest commercial revealing the magician’s work.
The Black Widow. The (actual) Best in the World. WWE 2K20 is the vehicle for their return.
1. Owen Hart
On May 23, 1999, the wrestling world stood still. One of the most beloved figures in the history of the sport had passed away in the ring following an accident. 2019 makes it 20 years, and fans are still not over the shock of that moment in time.
The reason for this is simple. While brother Bret carries most of the fanfare, fans of this generation of wrestling know that his younger, fun-loving sibling carried the potential to be every bit as electrifying between the ropes. In fact, the self-proclaimed King of Harts would defeat Bret at WrestleMania X to cement the fact that the family talent ran deep.
That undeniable talent was lost at only 34, leaving one of the biggest what-if scenarios in wrestling history. Tragically, the celebration of Owen’s gifts have been a contentious issue over the years, and perhaps even more tragically, this actually is not the fault of WWE themselves.
While the Hart family has largely reconciled with WWE, Martha, the wife of Owen, has remained staunch in her stance against the company. This has resulted in several lawsuits concerning the image and career of Owen in which WWE has been unable to present more than archival footage.
This block has resulted in years of family members and fans alike imploring Martha to reconsider and allow her husband to be honored as the all-time great that he is. The youngest of Stu Hart’s children, Owen touched the world like few others could and was a pivotal part of helping to carry WWE through the ‘90s.
This one would mean everything to the wrestling world. It’s time to bring Owen home.
(All photos courtesy of WWE.com)