I love professional wrestling, or as it is more commonly known now “sports entertainment.” Even though the outcomes of the wrestling matches are scripted, there is no denying the physical talent and dedication of the players. I’ve been a fan since I was a child – fascinated by what I called “a soap opera on steroids.” There are good guys and bad guys, love interests, plot twists, cliff hangers – everything that makes for good television viewing.
So of all the amazing performers who I’ve had the chance to witness in the ring, who among them can be called the best of the best? I’m going to answer that question with a Top 10 list of the best wrestlers of all time.
10) Andre the Giant. Standing over seven feet tall and weighing over 500 pounds, Andre the Giant is regarded as one of the largest athletes in history. Without a scripted ending to the contrary, it is doubtful if Andres would have ever lost a match. Not only was he a legend in the ring, he proved a loveable movie star in one of my favorite movies of all time: The Princess Bride. As a child, I had the opportunity to see Andre live when he tag teamed with the Junkyard Dog to face Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy.
9) Randy Orton. A third-generation wrestler, Randy Orton became the youngest world champion in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) history at the age of 24. He has headlined the promotion as both a good guy and a bad guy, usually as an anti-hero. Orton has held the WWE Championship nine times and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship four times. One of his gimmicks is hearing voices in his head. Even crazy people get a superhero.
8) Bret The Hitman Hart. Bret Hart was an amazing wrestler. He wasn’t as big as other perennial heroes like Hulk Hogan, but that didn’t stop him from become “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there’ll ever be.” I’m particularly fond of Bret because he was attached to play the mayor in a sitcom I created titled Champion of the People about a former wrester who is elected mayor of a small town. Corey Feldman was also attached to play the chief of staff. Why it didn’t catch on? Who knows. I still think it’s a great concept. Hollywood works in strange ways. Maybe interest will get revived down the line.
7) Sting. Steve Borden, known in the ring as Sting, was one of the top draws in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for over three decades in which he held 25 championships. Readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated named him Most Popular Wrestler of the Year on four occasions. One of the things I most admired about Sting was his ability to reinvent himself over and over to stay relevant as the wrestling game changed over the years. He started off as a bleach blond surfer type and ended up a dark protector styled after The Crow. In all cases, he was a joy to watch as he wrestled into his 50s.
6) John Cena. Like Hulk Hogan before him, John Cena has carried the banner of the baby face or good guy for most of his career in WWE. He signed a development deal with WWE in 2001. For a while he had a terrible gimmick in which he as a Marky Mark style rapper. But in 2004 he revised his image to that of a squeaky clean good guy who champions the common man. No matter what title he holds or who he feuds with, Cena always brings class to his character. Another contributing factor to his being one of the best of all time, is that he regularly donates his time to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
5) Hulk Hogan. While some debate about his actual in-ring talent, there is no denying that Hulk Hogan forever changed the face of professional wrestling. Starting with a scene stealing role as pro wrestler Thunder Lips in the massive movie hit Rocky III, Hogan has proved a magnet to audiences. Throughout the 1980s and 90s he was the face of WWE (or WWF as it was known then) and then joined The Outsiders Scott Hall and Kevin Nash to take over rival promotion WCW in the mid to late 90s in one of the most dramatic turns of good guy to bad guy in the history of pro wrestling. Without Hulk Hogan as its pillar, WWE would not have the universal popularity it does today. He is a twelve-time WWF champion and a six-time WCW world heavyweight champion. He was inducted into the 2005 WWE Hall of Fame by Sylvester Stallone.
4) Triple H. How long have I been a wrestling fan? I remember when Triple H actually stood for Hunter Hearst Helmsley – a conceited aristocrat character played by Paul Michael Levesque. He as a member of the informal alliance of Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, and X-Pac known as The Clique and the formal alliance of Shawn Michaels, Billy Gunn, The Road Dogg, Chyna, X-Pac, and Rick Rude known as D-Generation X. A man who has truly made good on the marrying into the family business, Levesque married Stephanie McMahon, daughter of billionaire WWE promoter Vince McMahon in 2003 and has helped to sculpt the creative landscape of the current face of pro wrestling. He has held 25 championships over the course of his career.
3) Dwayne The Rock Johnson. Known now as a movie star under his actual name Dwayne Johnson, The Rock (as he is known in the WWE) started wrestling in 1995 under the name Rocky Maivia – a name derived in tribute to his grandfather Pete Maivia and his father Rocky Johnson. The Rock was a decent wrestler but really stood out with his mic skills, cutting crazy good promos. He rode his abilities to fame both in the ring, and as an actor – eventually leaving the WWE as his acting career flourished. Not one to turn his back on the industry that gave him his shot at fame, The Rock continues to make occasional appearances with the WWE. Ironically The Rock didn’t have that stellar of a physique when he was wrestling, but since becoming famous as an actor, he has dedicated himself to sporting a body that rivals Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger during their prime.
2) The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels. Proving that the little guy can carry the weight of the WWE on his shoulders, Shawn Michaels served as one of the most popular champions in the history of the wrestling promotion. He started his WWE career in 1988 as a part of the tag team The Rockers and wrestled until retirement in 1998. It was after turning on tag team partner Marty Jannetty that he become the brazened anti-hero that forever changed the face of wrestling. He resumed wrestling in 2002 and made his final wrestling appearance in 2010. Like The Rock, Hulk Hogan, and Triple H, Michaels was a master on the mic. He formed D-Generation X with Triple H and served as a perennial headliner for WWE. He is a four-time WWE world champion and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.
1) Macho Man Randy Savage. In the 1980’s Hulk Hogan was the champion. He held the title for three years straight. When that started to get stale, I knew the WWF (as it was known then) needed a new figure head and I began debating with friends who that would be. Based on talent and charisma, I felt Macho Man Randy Savage would be the one to take the mantle – and in 1988 my prediction came to fruition. He held the title for over a year. Over the course of his wrestling career he held 29 titles including WWF world heavy weight championship twice, WCW world heavy weight championship four times. The WWE now acknowledges Savage as the greatest intercontinental champion of all time. He also appeared as Bonesaw McGraw in the 2002 Spider-Man movie opposite Tobey Maguire. He also gained fame as the spokesperson for Slim Jim meat snacks. When I had the chance to meet Savage in person he was kind and giving of his time. He will forever be my favorite wrestler of all time. He was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.