11 MOST EPIC AND INFLUENTIAL PROFESSIONAL WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME
There are many professional wrestlers who could be the greatest of all time. Hulk Hogan could be the G.O.A.T. based on being the biggest draw in wrestling history and contributing the most to make the sport a mainstream attraction. Stone Cold could also be considered the greatest for being the second biggest draw ever and having some of the best and most historic matches. The Undertaker could easily go down as the greatest ever for his legendary streak, having classic matches, and pulling off the most mysterious characters in wrestling history. Some might laugh but even John Cena could one day go down as the best of all time for holding a mythic record of twelve reigns as WWE (World Heavyweight) champion and we’re pretty sure he will earn the title a few more times before he retires. The list could go on to include wrestlers such as Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, The Rock, Randy Savage, and other legends of World Wrestling Entertainment, and so for that reason TCmag takes a look at the men who will go down in history as the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
11. RANDY SAVAGE
Few superstars were as dynamic as “Macho Man” Randy Savage. His style—perfectly punctuated by his entrance music, “Pomp and Circumstance”—was outshined only by his performances in the ring, which led him to two WWE Championships, four WCW World Championships, and a fourteen-month reign as Intercontinental Champion. Savage became a WrestleMania staple early on, making his debut on The Grandest Stage of Them All at WrestleMania 2, where he defended the Intercontinental Championship against the intimidating and unpredictable George “The Animal” Steele. From there, he defended the title all the way till WrestleMania III, where he fell short to Ricky Steamboat in what is considered by many to be one of the greatest matches of all time. Following his untimely passing in 2011, Time named Macho Man one of the most influential professional wrestlers who ever lived.
10. BRET HART
Reverently described as the “Excellence of Execution” and trained in the storied Hart Family Dungeon, Bret Hart is arguably the greatest technical wrestler in WWE history. Without a doubt, Hart is the greatest Canadian (of Greek origin, according to his autobiography) wrestler of all time and emerged from Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling, coming to WWE as a tag team with his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Together, the Hart Foundation won the World Tag Team Titles twice, and became one of the most popular pairings in WWE. From there, the Hart Foundation separated, and Bret became an instant sensation as an individual too. He defeated Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Championship in August 1991, and became a two-time holder of the title at WrestleMania VIII, where he defeated “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in a memorable matchup. Hart won his first WWE Championship in a non-televised event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, forcing Ric Flair to submit to the Sharpshooter. It was the first of five WWE title reigns for the man who boldly declared, “I’m the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
9. ANDRE THE GIANT
In the WWE, there have been many superstars that were larger than others, but French superstar Andre the Giant has proven to be larger than the WWE itself. Throughout the ’70s and well into the ’80s, the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World was the company’s leading attraction, towering over the competition at seven feet, four inches tall and tipping the scales at a gargantuan 500-plus pounds. After making an impact in Japan and Canada, the twenty-seven-year-old giant was taken under Vincent McMahon Sr.’s wing in 1973. Andre spent the next twenty years with the WWE, even going so far as to turn down a contract from the NFL’s Washington Redskins in order to remain with the WWE. In the WWE, Andre’s already burgeoning career caught fire. He blazed through the WWE on an unprecedented winning streak, remaining undefeated for nearly fifteen years. Even in heated rivalries with such superstars as “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Blackjack Mulligan, and even Hulk Hogan (whom Andre defeated in an epic clash at Shea Stadium in 1980), no one could overpower the giant.
8. THE ROCK
He’s been dubbed the Great One, the People’s Champion, and the Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment, but mere words fail to capture the essence of the most charismatic and beloved WWE athlete of all time. Unquestionably the most famous Hollywood actor to have ever laced up the boots, Dwayne Johnson, a third-generation wrestler, had all the tools necessary to more than live up to his moniker “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment.” WWE legend Hulk Hogan called The Rock “the biggest superstar in this business,” while John Cena described him as “the biggest superstar in the history of WWE” and “the most successful WWE superstar ever.” Not bad to hear such nice compliments from fellow competitors and legends, right?
7. BROCK LESNAR
Many might disagree with this one but as a hard-core MMA fan myself, there’s no way I wouldn’t include the man who shut so many millions of mouths around the world and made them reconsider some things about professional wrestling (especially them calling it a “fake” sport) when he became the UFC World Heavyweight Champion. Possessing the type of staggering strength and scary intensity usually only seen in Superman villains, the six-foot-three, 266-pound freak of nature from Minneapolis, Minnesota, has forced his way to the top of every major combat sport.
He won the NCAA Division I collegiate wrestling championship as a senior at the University of Minnesota, the WWE Championship within six months of his debut, and we already mentioned the UFC heavyweight title in his fourth professional MMA fight. Plain and simple, the man was built to destroy, while making big bucks in the process. He took part in a few of the best-selling pay-per-views in UFC history, including a co-main event at UFC 100, the highest-selling UFC pay-per-view event ever. After his pay-per-view bonuses and fight purses, Lesnar became the highest paid UFC fighter in 2010 and was on ESPN’s list of highest-paid athletes in thirty sports. Not bad for a “fake” wrassler, no?
6. STEVE AUSTIN
Proudly raising his middle fingers in the faces of everyone who dared oppose him, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the blue-collar warrior for the common man. Nobody embodied the Attitude Era quite like Austin. Following successful stints in WCW and ECW, “The Rattlesnake” entered and won the 1996 King of the Ring. What followed was a show-stopping speech where the phrase “Austin 3:16” was born. Within a couple of years, Austin was WWE champion and at the forefront of record-setting WWE telecasts. Austin went on to become a six-time WWE champion, movie star, WWE Hall of Famer, and pop culture phenomenon.
5. SHAWN MICHAELS
If you ask any athlete on the WWE roster to pick who’s the most gifted entertainer of all time in the sport’s history it’s very possible that pretty much everyone will have the same answer—Shawn Michaels. A cocky, confident heartbreaker from San Antonio, Texas, HBK started off his career as one-half of the Rockers and ended it in a classic match with The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI. Along the way, he won every major WWE title, two Royal Rumbles, entry into the WWE Hall of Fame, and a reputation as the Icon, the Showstopper, the Main Event. The self-proclaimed “Sexy Boy” could be an unrepentant prima donna, but he was so fluid and brilliant in the ring that it hardly mattered.
His ladder match with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X established his reputation for having the best bout on The Grandest Stage of Them All—a tradition he’d continue in classic matches against Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and The Undertaker. Although it was one of the final times WWE fans would hear the crack of Sweet Chin Music, audiences did not mourn HBK’s retirement. Instead, they celebrated it, grateful to have witnessed the evolution of Shawn Michaels from high-flying Rocker to sports entertainment immortal.
4. JOHN CENA
When John debuted on SmackDown in June 2002, he was just a beefy guy in purple trunks. Within a year, he transformed into the battle-rapping, chain-wielding “Doctor of Thuganomics,” and thirteen years later, he’s the biggest star in WWE by far. Fans love him or hate him. There’s no middle ground, and that’s the power of John Cena. Whatever you think of the Champ, there’s no denying that his achievements make him one of the greatest ever and a living legend.
As of October 2015, Cena has won twenty-four championships, with fifteen reigns as world champion; a record twelve reigns as WWE World Heavyweight Champion and three reigns as World Heavyweight Champion, five reigns as WWE United States Champion and four reigns as world tag team champion (two World Tag Team and two WWE Tag Team). He is also a 2012 Money in the Bank ladder match winner, a two-time Royal Rumble winner (2008, 2013), and a three-time Superstar of the Year Slammy Award winner (2009, 2010, 2012). However, what makes him the sweetest guy in our eyes is that he is heavily involved in numerous philanthropic causes, most notably the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where he has granted the most wishes in Make-A-Wish history.
3. RIC FLAIR
Regarded by many as the greatest professional wrestler of all time, Ric Flair can’t be encapsulated in words. He was a man of vibrant actions and endless sound bites. Even though many, many fans loved to hate him because of his trash talk in the ring, Ric was everything a heel was supposed to be. He created a formula for a match that worked to perfection. He simply was the master of doing everything and anything he had to in order to get the crowd to react. The way he could dominate a match was a work of art, as his countless sixty-minute matches felt like ten. Furthermore, his storytelling and psychology were both phenomenal. Every move he made was in the context of the story.
Flair’s phenomenal career lasted more than four decades, and he is officially recognized by WWE, TNA, and Pro Wrestling Illustrated as a sixteen-time world champion (eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and two-time WWF champion). The actual number of his world championship reigns varies by source, however, ranging from sixteen to twenty-five titles.
2. THE UNDERTAKER
For more than three decades, “The Deadman” has loomed over the WWE landscape like a menacing shadow, spelling out doom for those who dare cross him. Imbued with seemingly mystical abilities and preternatural in-ring ability, The Undertaker is not just another WWE great but the face and soul of WWE. First introduced at 1990’s Survivor Series, The Phenom debuted as the final member of Ted DiBiase’s “Million Dollar Team.” It wasn’t long before he began to battle with Hulk Hogan, then at the top of the food chain in WWE.
The Undertaker became extremely famous for The Streak, an unprecedented run of twenty-one straight victories at WWE’s WrestleMania (including main event bouts at WrestleMania 13, WrestleMania XXIV, and WrestleMania XXVI). He sustained his first loss at WrestleMania XXX to Brock Lesnar, after remaining undefeated for twenty-three years. However, in the face of all challenges, The Phenom has risen stronger and mightier than ever, serving as sports entertainment’s grim reaper of justice. It seems that no loss or, for that matter, grave can hold him; no god will claim him and no devil will have him. In the end, there can only be one suitable resting place for the almighty Deadman: the WWE Hall of Fame.
1. HULK HOGAN
Say what you want to say about Hulk, truth be told is that like it or not, he is one of the best entertainers in any form of show business. One of the greatest (if not THE greatest), most popular, most hated, and charismatic wrestlers of all time, Hulk Hogan is one of the men who helped parlay the circus-like world of professional wrestling from a cult following to the forefront of American and later global entertainment. A regular pay-per-view headliner, Hogan closed the respective annual events of the WWF and WCW, WrestleMania and Starrcade, on multiple occasions. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
He was signed with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) from 2009 until 2013, where he was the on-screen general manager. Hogan is a twelve-time world champion: a six-time WWF/E (World Heavyweight) Champion and six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He was the first wrestler to win consecutive Royal Rumbles, in 1990 and 1991. Unfortunately, in July 2015, Hogan was fired from and blacklisted by WWE, coinciding with media scrutiny of racist remarks he made in 2007. A totally shitty decision by the WWE if you want our opinion.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Triple H, Bruno Sammartino, The Ultimate Warrior, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, Edge, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Sting.
Special thanks to the WWE Hall of Fame for “donating” all the wrestlers’ biographical information to us.