In the world of popular culture, wrestling is not usually listed under the more respected forms of entertainment but that doesn’t stop over 3 million viewers from watching the WWE’s flagship show ‘Raw’ every Monday night. I have been a wrestling fan since a Saturday morning while turning the knob on an old color TV in my mother’s room; I came across Hulk Hogan fighting Andre the Giant in a replay of Wrestlemania III on NBC weeks after it was shown as a pay per view in 1987. Watching these larger than life characters fight one another with the roar of the crowd shaking the building around them was a great addition to He-Man, Rambo and all the comic book heroes that were taking up residence in my mind and heart. Ever since that day, I have been a wrestling fan. My friends and I put on wrestling matches in the local gym, watched wrestling on TV and even went to shows every chance that we could. You can read more about professional wrestling with this informative wrestling blog…
Ever since that Saturday in 1987, I have been a fan of many wrestlers. Since the wrestling business does not forebode well on these athlete’s bodies; it is common that wrestlers come and go BUT there are some that make a huge splash. Some of these wrestlers don’t exactly make the splash that the companies thought that they initially would (cue the Shockmaster’s infamous fall or WCW’s white eyed ninja Glacier). To me, there have been some greats and here are the top ten most influential/best wrestlers according to me:
- A.J. Styles
AJ styles was the face of TNA wrestling for 11 years and worked with New Japan Pro Wrestling as a co-leader of the Bullet Club. He has been one of the best all-around wrestlers despite just recently joining the WWE. The high flyer has been around for a long time and will continue to be a forerunner in the wrestling industry.
- John Cena
John Cena is the face of the WWE, whether the half of the crowd that chants “Cena sucks” every time he comes to the ring wants to claim it or not. Cena signed a contract with the WWE (WWF at the time) in 2001 and went from a intense yet generic wrestler to an arrogant and edgy rapper to the Hustle, Loyalty, Respect Fruity Pebble that we all love today. He’s the franchise player, the face of the WWE and is amazing with the fans. And last year, he amazingly has granted over 500 wishes with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
- “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Ric Flair, whom you will hear about later, slated Piper as the ‘most gifted entertainer in the history of professional wrestling’ and to that I have no doubt. In a career that spanned over four decades, the WWE Hall of Famer wrestled for everyone from the AWA in the 70s to the WWE to WCW during the NWO vs WCW period and then back to the WWE. Until his untimely death in 2015, Piper was a pivotal part of the wrestling world. He will forever be remembered as one of the best wrestlers ever.
- “Macho Man” Randy Savage
He’s the tower of power, too sweet to be sour. He was funky like a monkey. Sky was the limit and space was the place. “Oooh yeah!” The posthumously inducted Hall of Famer is one of the greatest pro wrestlers in history. His early career led to many championships, famous tag teams with the Ultimate Warrior (where they formed the Ultimate Maniacs) & Hulk Hogan (where they formed the Mega Powers) and forged a place in the annals of wrestling and pop culture history.
The macabre Lord of Darkness has been choke slamming his way into the greatest wrestler of all time spot for more than 30 years. He has reinvented himself many times but every time that the bong clashes to show that the Undertaker is coming down the aisle, still makes the hairs on my arm stand on end. Undertaker is close to hanging up his wide brimmed hat but I hope that we will see the delivery of Tombstone Pile-drivers for many years to come.
- The American Dream Dusty Rhodes
The Son of a Plummer who has eaten caviar with kings and queens but also scraped the can of pork and beans with his spoon. Not a silver spoon. He was the working man’s wrestler. He didn’t have a perfect body. He had a lisp when he talked ‘if ya will’. The charismatic ‘Common Man’ personified greatness. The feud that he and Ric Flair had was so memorable that I can see some of the interactions in my mind, to this day. I can see his dancing before knocking his opponents to the mat with his Bionic Elbow. Dusty Rhodes was amazing. He made me think that I could a wrestler too. I didn’t have to have 22” pythons like Hulk Hogan or pectoral muscles like the Ultimate Warrior. I too could lock a sleeper hold onto some punk kid because he put my family through ‘hard times’.
- Hulk Hogan
I said my prayers, exercised and ate my vitamins because Hulk Hogan told me to. Over the years, the most famous wrestler of all time may have reinvented himself a couple of times but one thing is for sure, he has always been in the limelight. My wife and I had the pleasure of meeting Hulk at an event down in Orlando a couple of years ago and he proved that he wasn’t a superhero with a super ego. He was a really down to earth guy and even joked with me upon our first meeting when he was hugging my wife and said with a smile to me ‘hey, you’re nice and all but I’m not hugging you’. He talked to us about his back surgeries and the chicken wings that we all were eating at the Hard Rock Café. I genuinely appreciate how he treated us and the multi decade professional wrestler treated us with a respect that deserves recognition. The decorated wrestler may have had his name drug through the mud in the last couple of years but that doesn’t change the fact that wrestling would not be what it is today without Hulk Hogan.
- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
What?!? During the WWE’s Attitude Era, Stone Cold Steve Austin was (and in reality still is) one of the biggest names in the industry. Stone Cold transcended all demographics and his frustrations with his superiors gave us the example that we wish that we could have followed. When the glass broke, Stone Cold ‘stunned’ his through the so many times that it became comical. Stone Cold’s name shall be listed as one of the greatest sports entertainers…err wrestlers of all time.
- “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
WOOOOOO! The legendary professional wrestler has cultivated a legacy that will reign as the greatest of all time due to the greatness that has endured in his 40 year career. The 16 time World Heavyweight Champion has kept the audience excited by his strutting and his rule breaking antics. This dirtiest player in the game has knife-edged chopped his way into the hearts and minds of the wrestling world. The limousine-ridin’, jet-flyin’, kiss stealin’, wheelin’ dealin’, son-of-a-gun was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a single’s competitor and for his work in the infamous Four Horsemen faction. Congress honored the North Carolina native because of how much he meant to the state. Flair’s impact on Pop Culture has been so impactful that his sequin-covered robe has now been placed in the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC. The Master of the Figure Four has and will be a pivotal part of Wrestling history.
The “Franchise of WCW” and for many years the major draw of TNA had a career that spanned for more than 30 years before he finally made the jump to the WWE in 2014. Sting has been a force in professional wrestling since he and the Ultimate Warrior set out across the country in a T-Top Trans Am to wrestle. Complete with Gold’s Gym membership, the muscle clad duo stepped into the ring and over time, even though they would part, would become gigantic parts of the wrestling landscape. Sting was one of my favorite wrestlers for a long time but it wasn’t until the nWo vs WCW wars started filling the Monday Night Nitro TV time. Sting was our savior against the evil nWo. Sting’s epic battle against Hollywood Hulk Hogan at 1997’s Starrcade literally had me so on edge that I could barely breath. When Sting’s hand was raised, I could not contain my excitement. But years went by and times changed. The WWE (then WWF) purchased WCW and most wrestlers went ahead and jumped ship early or rode out until the last Monday Night Nitro….but our Sting did not. Sting went to TNA wrestling which was an offshoot of the NWA (which has always had ties with the WCW) and stayed there until his 2014 WWE jump. Sting was and still is the paramount, the literal Icon of professional wrestling. He deserves his accolades and he most definitely deserves my placement of him atop my top ten list of my favorite/most influential professional wrestlers.
Honorable mentions: The Rock, The Hardy Boys (Matt and Jeff), Dolph Ziggler, Goldberg, Ivan Koloff