Anyone who knows me knows that I am a mark for professional wrestling. I started watching when I was eight or nine years old, and I was instantly hooked. I was a comic book kid and the World Wrestling Federation was like a real life comic. The battle lines were drawn. Good versus evil. Mastermind managers like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan using his stable of goons to carry out his diabolical plans on the good guys like Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior. Storyline “foreigners”, like the Iron Sheik and turncoat traitors like Sgt. Slaughter waging war against the flag waving patriots like “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. What a time to be alive. Over the years, professional wrestling has changed. The actual in-ring action is more dynamic and daring, and the illusion of good guy/bad guy has all but faded. WWE (former WWF) runs wrestling shows on three nights awake, and pay-per-view events once or twice a month. The WWE Network is a subscription-based place where you can watch basically whatever past and present events you desire. To be fair, there is an over-saturation of WWE programming. It was special when I was a kid. Waiting for a long time for an event to happen was half the thrill. Now you can just turn on the television and there it is. There are still over the top characters, but for the most part, the veil of “kayfabe” (the portrayal of events and stories in the industry as being “real”) does not exist. I still watch wrestling when I can, and I still love it. I do admit that not a lot of today’s “sports entertainment” stars capture my imagination like the ones I grew up watching in the 80’s and early 90’s. At the risk of making myself come across as a total nerd, I present to you a list of my top five favorite professional wrestlers of all time. This was a very hard list for me to narrow down to five performers, so I will include a few honorable mentions. Starting at number five and counting down…
5. Owen Hart – “The King of Harts” spent most of his life wrestling in his older brother Bret’s shadow. Maybe the most underrated wrestler of all-time. I grew up going to Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, and Owen was always the top good guy. He was by far the superior Hart family wrestler in ring, and could put on a spectacular match with a broom if he had to. He Passed away in 1999 after falling from the ceiling at a WWE pay-per-view event after his harness rigging failed. Owen would have been world champion in the not so distant future if it weren’t for the accident. The heel you love to hate, but also loved because of his skill and charming “confidence”. Owen took his character and ran with it. He made it fun to cheer him on.
4. “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels – “The Showstopper”. “Mr. Wrestlemania”. “HBK”. Whatever nickname he went by, he is probably my favorite in-ring performer. He was an artist in the ring. Shawn Michaels delivered high spot after high spot. He could sell and put over his opponent as good as anyone. His “finishing” move, “Sweet Chin Music”, was as good a finisher as anyone had. It was a side super kick to his opponents face, and ninety-nine out of one hundred times, looked very convincing. HBK probably has more classic matches than any wrestler alive besides maybe Ric Flair. Shawn Michaels was cocky, confident, and handsome. Michaels and Triple H created one of the most popular groups in wrestling history in Degeneration-X. He could deliver a good interview and make you love him or hate him from sentence to sentence. Michaels took pride in his performances, and love him or hate him; you were satisfied after watching him wrestle.
3. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair – “To be the man, you have to beat the man!” There is not a wrestler, past or present, who could deliver a performance on the microphone like Ric Flair. He boasted about his abundance of women, money, limousines, watches, suits, parties, and most importantly, world heavyweight championships. Animated, stylish, devious, and intelligent are some of the words I could use to describe the character Ric Flair portrayed for forty years. “Naitch” was also a brilliant ring general, making it seem he was strategically using wrestling and cheating simultaneously to win a match. In my opinion, Flair was the first true anti-hero in wrestling. Even in his career twilight, he gave legitimacy to wrestlers like Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista. His retirement match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV was classic and still one of my favorite matches. As he used to say “men want to be him, and women want to be with him”. After sixteen world titles, countless bloody matches with the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Sting, The Nature Boy is the most respected and emulated performer of all time. WOOOOOOOO!
2. “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper – The first true “bad guys” I gravitated towards when I was a kid, Roddy Piper was a true bad ass. He made being a jerk seem cool. It is the biggest shame in wrestling that he was not put over Hulk Hogan for a world title run. Piper did so many “heinous” acts in the WWF that fans lost their minds. His “Piper’s Pit” segments where the best bits ever. He was a six foot two man, but still insisted on having a bodyguard; “Cowboy” Bob Orton. No matter whom Piper was interviewing, he was always smarter and made them seem stupid by using his cleverness. The natural progression of wresting is for bad guys to turn good, and good guys to turn bad. When “Hot Rod” finally made the transition to fan favorite, it cemented his legacy as a legend in the business. Piper never stopped wearing a kilt and never stopped kicking ass and taking names. His starring role in John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film They Live is one of my favorite protagonist characters ever. Roddy Piper was a true character. Rest in peace, Hot Rod.
1. Randy “Macho Man” Savage – Over the years, you hear stories from his peers about Randy Savage being a touch mentally unstable and eccentric. I assume that you would have to be to achieve the level of cool that the Macho Man achieved. Everything he did in the ring looked real, like he hated his opponent and wanted to cripple him. His interviews always had a touch of insanity that gave Savage a level of intensity that still has not been reached by anyone. His feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, and Jake Roberts are legendary. He even let a real live cobra bite him for a television spot. Second to Hulk Hogan, I believe Savage is responsible for the surge of popularity in wrestling in the 80’s. If I was going to build a wrestler from the ground up, Macho would be the prototype. He had the look, the style, the gimmick, the skills, and charisma to be the best. Not to mention his valet (and real life wife), the lovely Miss Elizabeth. A real Beauty and the beast story, and maybe one of the first instances where a wrestlers personal life spilled over into the façade of professional wrestling. All of this very much fascinated me as a kid. Still to this day, I suffer from the Macho Madness. Dig It!
Honorable Mention: Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith