As those of you who follow this blog can tell, I enjoy a good top ten list. Often I am asked “who do I think the greatest wrestler of all time is?” That’s such a loaded question, because the wrestlers I typically like are not those who end up being hall of fame pro wrestlers. My personal all time top ten would include wrestlers such as; Brian Pillman, Lex Luger, Edge and Dolph Ziggler, none of which are on this top ten.
I have based this top ten on several different factors. First, I had to narrow it down to the last forty years. Going back further than that, would have been before my time and it wouldn’t be fair to make a case for someone who I didn’t see wrestle. Guys like Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz are not going to be on the list, but clearly are all time greats.
The number of championships, length of career and the impact a wrestler made on the industry during their era, is how I came up with the list. I feel it’s a list of who’s who in professional wrestling and the rankings are up for debate, but I don’t think there is much of an argument as to why the following ten wrestlers are who I consider to be the best over the last forty years.
10. John Cena
Yes John Cena is at number ten. The sixteen time world champion has been the franchise of WWE for nearly two decades. Granted he doesn’t have a large move set, but the five knuckle shuffle, Attitude Adjustment and STF have put away many opponents. John Cena is by far the most polarizing WWE superstar of all time. He is loved by millions and hated by more.
John Cena has always stayed true to his character never turning heel, even when being booed out of buildings. Love or hate him, he gets reactions that no one else does. With not much more to prove in WWE, John has moved to a part-time schedule, but make no mistake about it, John Cena will be a sure-fire WWE hall of famer very, very soon.
9. Bret Hart
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart was one of the top stars in the WWE during the 90’s. He was a multi time world, intercontinental, and tag team champion during his days in the WWF. The mid nineties were owned by Bret Hart and his sharp shooter finisher. He put on some incredible matches against the likes of; Mr. Perfect, Roddy Piper, Shawn Micheals, The Undertaker and Stone Cold.
His tenure within WWE ended in the now infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’. Unfortunately, Bret will probably be more known for this crazy November night, than his long illustrious career. Bret Hart was noted for saying “I’m the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be!” Based on his accomplishments, it’s hard to argue with the WWE Hall of Fame wrestler.
I can remember growing up in the late eighties and nineties and the man called Sting was clearly the most popular wrestler in WCW. At the time he had short blond spiked hair and even a rat-tail if I remember correctly. His face was painted and he wore bright colors similar to what a California surfer would have worn during the time.
Sting battled all the WCW greats, Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Cactus Jack and Vader. He had won multiple world championships and then… the NWO. When the NWO invaded WCW, Sting went on hiatus. He came back, not as the charismatic California surfer, but as a dark, quiet and mysterious man like the picture above.
Sting completely morphed his character and found even greater success as ‘The Crow’ like character. Sting went on to win more world championships before WCW folded in 2001. He and Ric Flair were in the main event of the last WCW Nitro in March of 2001. Just a couple of years ago he found himself in the WWE Hall of Fame. A great lengthy career for the man called Sting.
7. The Rock
As the list goes on, I find myself struggling to find the right place for these wrestlers. The Rock is one of my all time favorites. Maybe even my favorite of all time, but he lands at seven on my list. There is no questioning the popularity of this man, even to this day, he is one of the most recognizable people in the world.
But in wrestling he was able to cause wrestling fans to do a complete one-eighty when it came to the reaction of The Rock. When he first started, he was absolutely rejected by the fans, to the point of die, Rocky die chants. An injury was the best thing to happen to The Rock, because he had some time off to re package himself.
When he returned from injury he was no longer Rocky Miavia, he was The Rock. He referred to himself in the third person, raised his eyebrow and droped ‘the people’s elbow’. The Rock went on to win his first WWE championship in November of 1998 and never looked back. For the next four years The Rock would have some of the best matches and promos to ever grace the WWE. If somehow The Rock found out I placed him at seven on my list, I’d probably get my candy ass kicked. If you smell what The Rock is cookin!
6. Andre The Giant
When people say that Andre The Giant was “larger than life”, that’s not just a saying, it’s the truth. I was a very young child when Hogan slammed Andre at WrestleMania three, but I can certainly remember Andre as a true Giant. He didn’t speak clearly and he didn’t move around that great, but Andre was a presence.
Andre didn’t win a lot championships in the WWE, but he was an attraction. He didn’t need championships to validate his career. I have watched the documentaries and read the books about this man and what an incredible life. His contributions to the wrestling industry are immense, and his allowance of the body slam from Hogan propelled the WWF to unparalleled heights during that era.
The Undertaker has never really been one of my favorites, but I can’t overlook his accomplishments in the WWE. ‘The Deadman’ has had one of the most impressive careers of anyone to walk through the doors of the WWE. His WrestleMania undefeated streak was that of legends, and his entrance is matched by no one.
He has won multiple world championships and was able to go from ‘Deadman’ to ‘American Badass’ back to ‘Deadman’. Nearly thirty years in the WWE and one of the most respected men among his peers, The Undertaker is without questions an all time great! A future WWE Hall of Famer for sure.
4. Stone Cold Steve Austin
If you think Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of the best ever, give me a Hell Yeah! Steve Austin is synonymous with the attitude era. Stone Cold was the top guy in the WWE during the attitude era, winning multiple world championships and drinking multiple twelve packs of Steveweisers.
Stone Cold was never one to discriminate, putting anyone in the stone cold stunner. Men, women it didn’t matter, if you crossed the ‘Texas Rattlesnake’ you were going to get bit. He won the king of the ring in 1996 and after being crowned, he coined the phrase “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” That one line cemented his legacy.
Not only did he have some the most memorable promos, Stone Cold wrestled all the greats. But the match that put him on the map was a submission match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania thirteen. Bret had his patent sharpshooter submission locked in and with blood flowing down his face, Stone Cold refused to quit. Instead after several minutes in the hold and losing a large amount of blood, Stone Cold passed out.
At the time Stone Cold was a bad guy, but he earned the respect of the fans that night and embarked on a ‘baby face’ run that would last for the next four to five years. He would go on to main event multiple WrestleMania’s against Shawn Michaels and The Rock. Austin’s great career culminated in an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
3. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michael started out in WWE as one half of The Rockers with tag team partner Marty Jannetty. The two found success as a tag team, but Shawn Michaels wanted to be a singles star. In one of the most memorable segments in WWE history, The Rockers split up in dramatic fashion when Michaels super kicked Jannetty, then threw him head first through a glass window.
From there Michaels went on to unbelievable heights winning the intercontinental championship and world championship on multiple occasions. In the mid nineties Shawn Michaels earned the nickname of the ‘Heartbreak Kid’, ‘HBK’ for short. HBK went over sixty minutes with bitter rival Bret Hart at WrestleMania twelve to win his first World Championship.
HBK had some amazing matches against Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Diesel, Vader and Undertaker. In the late nineties with friends Triple H, Rick Rude and Chyna, HBK formed the faction know as D-generation X. DX went on to become one of the greatest factions in the history of wrestling, even being introduced as the first inductees of the WWE Hall of Fame this year.
A back injury put a halt on the career of HBK in 1998, but that back injury probably saved his life. He took time off of wrestling to heal and recover from a serious pain-killer addiction. HBK, then found religion and eventually made it back to WWE in 2002, for another eight year run. HBK is regarded by many as the best in ring performer of all time and will be the second person to be a two-time WWE Hall of Famer.
2. Hulk Hogan
‘The Immortal’ Hulk Hogan was everyone’s hero in the eighties and early nineties. Hogan notoriously told Mean Gene during his interviews that he is successful due to “saying his prayers and eating his vitamins.” With Rick Derringer’s Real American playing, Hulk Hogan would enter an arena with thousands of people screaming as he ripped his shirt off.
Hulk Hogan was a multiple time world champion and with the support of all the ‘Hulkamaniacs’ would run wild on his competition. Hogan’s matches were pretty much all the same, he would start out great, then get beat up, ‘Hulk up’, big boot and leg drop for the win. No matter how repetitious it was, the fans ate it up.
Hogan would have some memorable matches in WWE against Andre The Giant, Randy Savage, Iron Sheik, Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Ted DiBiase and Yokozuna. After his initial run in WWE was up, he jumped ship to rival promotion WCW in 1994. By this time his run as Hulk Hogan was getting stale and Hogan noticed it. He then did the unthinkable… turned heel.
That’s right, the guy that was every kids hero in the eighties was now hated by those teenagers in the nineties, but not for long. As one of the three founding members of the NWO, Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were some of the coolest people in wrestling at the time. Wrestling was changing and Hogan was changing with it.
After a few years as ‘Hollywood’ Hulk Hogan, he then went back to the red and yellow colors before taking a few year hiatus. Hogan would eventually return to WWE and at WrestleMania eighteen went one on one with The Rock. Hogan was supposed to be the bad guy in the match, but the fans would not allow it. Hogan received all the cheers that night even in a loss.
Obvioulsy, it would only be a matter of time before Hogan was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. If you ask anyone older than 30, who is the first person they think of when they hear pro wrestling, I would bet a dollar the majority of them would say Hulk Hogan. The ‘Babe Ruth’ of professional wrestling.
1. Ric Flair
We made it! Number one on my list is ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. I don’t even know where to start with this man. He has done it all in professional wrestling and he’s done it longer than anyone too. Even on his seventieth birthday he was in an angle on RAW this past Monday night.
Sixteen time world champion, although he will tell you its more than that, this kiss stealing, wheeling dealing, jet flying, limousine riding, son of a gun is the personification of pro wrestling. He had the best of everything; Rolex watches, alligator shoes, five thousand dollar suits, the finest women and the biggest bank account.
He was a bad guy, but deep down every man wanted to be just like him. It was nothing for Flair to spend an entire night drinking and partying only to go on the next day and have a sixty minute match with anyone. ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair was not a character, the man on tv was the man in real life.
Flair had some of the greatest matches and rivalries, most notably with Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes and Flair had a rivalry that lasted for what felt like a decade. Starting in the seventies it carried over into the eighties, and if Dusty were alive today I feel like they would still be going at it.
Flair was the head member of the most famous wrestling faction of all time… the Four Horseman. He and Arn Anderson were staple members of the faction, but it was a stable of notable wrestlers like; Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Sid Vicious, Chris Benoit and Brian Pillman. The stable would take on any all wrestlers, especially Dusty Rhodes.
Aside from Rhodes, Flair and the horseman would have memorable matches against wrestlers such as, Harley Race, Sting, Lex Luger, Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Curt Henning, Brian Pillman, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, The Rock and Shawn Michaels. Ric Flair wrestled well into his sixties under various promotions.
But his last match with the WWE was one that always sticks out for me. In 2008 at the age of fifty-nine, Flair took on the man who idolized him, Shawn Michaels. If Flair were to lose the match he would be forced to retire. As the match was about to end, Flair stood up and could barely hold back tears as Michaels stood waiting to deliver his finisher.
Before Michaels could hit ‘sweet chin music’ he said to Flair “I’m sorry, I love you!” Flair waved to Michaels to bring the kick, Flair went down as Michaels covered him for the pin. Before the referee’s hand came down for three, Flair was already crying. I don’t think he wanted to be done, but his body was giving up before his heart would.
You could argue to flip-flop the top two of my list, but for me they both belong on the Mt. Rushmore of wrestling. A long read today and if you made it through the entire blog… thank you! Let me know what you think, who did I snub? Who would you put in or replace? As always thanks for checking out GoHomePWB.com, the people’s wrestling blog!