The art of true living in this world is more like a wrestler’s than a dancer’s practice.Marcus Aurelius
Throughout history, many North-American pro wrestlers contributed to making professional wrestling what it is today. In today’s post, we bring you our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time born on North-American soil.
Rather due to their in-ring skills, charismatic looks, mic-skills, or how they revolutionize the business, some names are impossible not to invoke when talking about the GOAT of professional wrestling.
Before jumping on our list, I’d like to remind you that our list isn’t more than a compilation of opinions and as I said previously, opinions are like assholes; everyone has one as sometimes it stinks, so it is normal to have a different list of Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time. 🙂
To better help you understand our criterion to arrive at our final list, here are some considerations that we took:
- Our list only concerns North-American-born pro wrestlers, as referred on the article’s title.
- We only consider retired pro wrestlers, meaning that names like A.J. Styles, Randy Orton, or John Cena, will not profile our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time list.
- We will take into account the pro wrestlers achievements and their impact on their respective eras, so let’s not enter into a discussion about the number of years that Bruno Sammartino held the WWWF World Heavyweight Title in the 1960s and 1970s versus the number of followers that The Rock as nowadays on social networks.
- It is equally important to us the achievements on the ring and the achievements behind the scenes, meaning that all will judge a particular pro wrestler’s contribution.
Now that you’re aware of our criterion, let’s jump on our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time, and to kick off our list, we start with our honorable mentions.
# Frank Gotch
- 04/27/1877 – 12/16/1917
- Height: 5′ 11″ (180 cm)
- Weight: 209 lbs (95 kg)
- In-ring Debut: 04/02/1899
- Career’s End: 04/01/1913
- In-ring experience: 13 years
- Total number of matches: 38
- Wins: 29 (76.3%)
- Losses: 8 (21.1%)
- Draws: 1 (2.6%)
To kick out our honorable mentions list, we have none other than Frank Alvin Gotch!
Although we know some facts concerning Frank Gotch’s career, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence, mostly because Gotch lived in an era where the information wasn’t so accurate, easy, and fast to share like today, nor pro wrestling wasn’t what it is today.
A good example is the number of matches that Frank Gotch had. Though I’m sticking by the stats available incagematch.net, other sources show other numbers.
Some sources show a 154 – 6 record; others show a 324 – 7 record (with 5 of the 7 losses were in handicap matches).
In an era when pro wrestling was way more legit, to say the least, with wrestlers being prizefighters, I highly doubt that someone was able to have 160 fights on their records, let alone 331.
Due to the inconsistencies that I found throughout my research, it’s hard to place Frank Gotch in a higher position on the list, even if, in the opinion of many like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Gotch is “arguably the best North American professional wrestler of the 20th century.”
Now focus on what we can take most certainly for granted. Gotch had his 1st bout against Marshall-Green in Humboldt on April 2, 1899, making him the only pro wrestler on this list that fought in the 19th Century!
He tried his luck on boxing too, but Gotch was completely smoked by the heavyweight champion at the time, Frank “Paddy” Slavin.
Back to pro wrestling, Gotch made a name by himself become a bonafide star and one if not the most popular American athlete from the 1st decade of the 20th Century.
For that contributed the wins in 2 matches (in particular the first one in 1908), over the (at the time of the 1st bout) World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion George Hackenschmidt, in one of the most iconic matches of all time.
Frank Gotch become, in the process, the first American wrestler to win the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, having one of the 10 longest reigns in pro wrestling’s history, from 1908 to 1913.
The second encounter between Gotch and Hackenschmidt took place on September 4, 1911, in front of almost 30,000, making a record gate at the time of $87,000.
After he died in 1917, at the age of 39 years old (uremic poisoning), Frank Gotch become a legend, with many praising Gotch’s achievements.
(If you want to know more about this era, check our post, The history of Pro Wrestling.)
In the 100 Greatest Sports Heroes, Mac Davis wrote, “As the idol of millions in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, Gotch made wrestling a big-time sport in his day. He drew larger audiences than did the heavyweight champion of boxing when defending his title.”
But not everything is roses, and some rumors about his conduct start to pop out, mostly accusing him of being in the “lack of a kinder description, a dirty wrestler…someone who delighted in hurting or torturing lesser opponents, even when they were supposed to be working out.” Lou Thesz recording a talk he had with an old-timer, “a fine man named Charlie Cutler.”
Despite some clouds in Gotch’s legacy, he went to get multiple recognitions from the pro wrestling’s universe way after his death, as the following attests:
- Iowa Sports Hall of Fame: Class of 1951 (It was among the 1st inductees)
- George Tragos & Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 1999
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum: Class of 2002 (It was the 1st inductee)
- WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2016
Despite some uncertainty surrounding Frank Gotch’s career, we can take for granted that the world of pro wrestling would be quite different without Frank Gotch’s achievements.
# Ed “Strangler” Lewis
- 06/30/1891 – 08/08/1966
- Height: 5′ 10″ (178 cm)
- Weight: 264 lbs (120 kg)
- In-ring Debut: 07/18/1905
- Career’s End: 03/04/1942
- In-ring experience: 36 years
- Total number of matches: 192
- Wins: 124 (64.9%)
- Losses: 54 (27.7%)
- Draws: 14 (7.3%)
Born as Robert H. Friedrich, in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, Ed “Strangler” Lewis was an American professional wrestler, manager, and trainer with a career spanned four decades.
Starting wrestling professionally at the age of 14, the young Friedrich adopted the in-ring name Ed “Strangler” Lewis in tribute to the very first man recognized as American Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, Evan “Strangler” Lewis, the man credited as well with perfecting the commonly known today Sleeperhold.
Due to Ed and Evan’s physical similarities and the Sleeperhold and the Headlock Submission Hold signature moves used by Friedrich, it’s easy to understand why he took that gimmick name.
Although there’s more reliable information concerning Ed Lewis’ life, there are still some inconsistencies around the matches’ numbers; if my most reliable source points out 192 matches throughout his career, some other sources gave me different numbers like over 6,000 matches wrestled with only 32 losses.
Despite the incoherence in some of his stats, Ed “Strangler” Lewis was the biggest draw in pro wrestling throughout the 1920s and most of the 1930s, and arguably the most recognizable and popular sports star from the 1920s.
Lewis was a five-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, and despite the achievement that isn’t the main reason he’s profiling in our list, the main reason is that he was part, dare to say, a decisive figure in what was known as the “Gold Dust Trio.”
The Gold Dust Trio was composed by “Toots” Mondt, Billy Sandow, and Lewis himself, and the achievements of this trio were fundamental to changing the face of professional wrestling forever.
The trio created a much-needed new and more exciting product; they created script matches with a predetermined result. The first storylines were developed, feuds between wrestlers popped up, undercards created, and full events started to be promoted in place of one match events.
The Gold Dust trio had in Ed “Strangler” Lewis the face of their own promotion, and due to the legit skills from all the members of the trio, they could change the title whenever they want since they knew if someone tries to cross them, they could take the title from anyone in a shooting match if needed.
Lewis was such a big name at the time that on September 20, 1934, in a match against Jim Londos at the Wrigley Field, they drew a record gate at the time of $96,302, numbers just surpassed in 1952.
Shortly after Lewis went into semi-retirement, mostly because the Strangler was almost blind from trachoma, he made some sporadic appearances until he put his career to rest for good in 1948, with 57 years old.
He trained some of the biggest wrestlers that would shine in future generations and even become manager of a young NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Lou Thesz.
Posthumously Lewis was inducted into the following Hall of Fames:
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame: Class of 1996
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 1999
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum: Class of 2002
- WWE Hall Of Fame: Class of 2016
If there were men that paved to others the path for greatness in professional wrestling, Ed Lewis was most definitely one of them, long live to the Strangler.
# Hulk Hogan
- 08/11/1953 – …
- Height: 6′ 4″ (193 cm)
- Weight: 275 lbs (125 kg)
- In-ring debut: 08/09/1977
- Career’s end: 01/27/2012
- In-ring experience: 34 years
- Total number of matches: 2065
- Wins: 1548 (75.0%)
- Losses: 386 (18.7%)
- Draws: 131 (6.3%)
Terry Eugene Bollea, or like most of you know him, Hulk Hogan, closes our honorable mentions list.
I know that Hulk Hogan is one of the biggest draws of all time; according to IGN, Hogan is “the most recognized wrestling star worldwide and the most popular wrestler of the 1980s”, probably one of the few names you will recognize on our list in case you’re a casual fan.
So why on earth the Hulkster only makes the honorable mentions list? Why isn’t profiling in our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time list? Arguably hitting the Top 1, or Top 3 at the very least?
So before you freak out, I will make myself clear on the matter. Remember the last point of our criterion to decide who makes our list? That “It is equally important to us the achievements on the ring and the achievements behind the scenes”?
Well, concerning what Hulk Hogan was behind the scenes speak volumes of how much harm he made to the business; using backstage politics for his own advantage, not hesitating to bury other (often younger) talent to keep his position of the top guy in the promotions he worked for, after all, “Hulk Hogan does what’s best for Hulk Hogan” as it was infamously known within the industry.
He holds a great deal of responsibility for the growth of WCW in the same way it was one of the reasons for that ship’s sinking.
He was responsible for the almost demise of the only wrestling promotion after WCW’s death, and in a span of almost 20 years was the only thing closer to competition for WWE, Impact Wrestling (formerly known by TNA).
If all of this already makes it difficult to put him higher on this list, his racist rant caught on a leaked sex tape in 2015 tore apart his image of a born-again Christian and his legacy as arguably the GOAT of professional wrestling.
In the sex tape, you can hear The Hulkster talking about his daughter Brooke, accusing her of sleeping with a black man and also saying that he’s “a racist, to a point.” Here are some of the words pronounced by The Immortal:
“I mean, I don’t have double standards. I mean, I am a racist, to a point, f*cking n*ggers. But then when it comes to nice people and sh*t, and whatever.”
“I mean, I’d rather if she was going to f*ck some n*gger, I’d rather have her marry an 8-foot-tall n*gger worth a hundred million dollars! Like a basketball player!“
“I guess we’re all a little racist. Fucking n*gger.”
Shortly after the release of the sex tape, WWE terminated their contract with Hogan and erased all the references to The Incredible from their website.
Although Hulk Hogan excused himself multiple times, some name’s like Booker T came in is defense, saying that Hulk Hogan wasn’t a racist and should be given a 2nd change, and the eventual reinstated of The Hulkster into the WWE Hall Of Fame in the Summer of 2018, it’s almost impossible someone’s image recover for this blow.
And now that you know why Hogan is so low on our list, let’s look at what made Hulk Hogan the biggest blockbuster of all time in the pro wrestling industry.
Hogan was the chosen one for Vice MacMahon to be the face of WWE (WWF at the time) in the early 1980s, and Hogan most certainly delivered, being the major force behind the Wrestling Boom in the 80s.
His all-American gimmick immediately clicked with the fans. After the beginning of the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection,” that saw wrestlers and musicians (most notably Cindy Lauper) making a crossover that brought huge exposition to WWF’s product and Hulk Hogan himself.
From here, he went to headline the firsts 9 editions of Wrestlemania, becoming a bonafide star, holding the WWF Championship 5x (his 1st reign holds the record to the 2nd longest in WWE history), won back-to-back Royal Rumble matches (1990 and 1991) among other accolades.
When everyone thought he was entering his career’s twilight, he proved us wrong when he signed with WCW. There he went on to make the biggest heel turn in pro wrestling history and become the leader of the biggest faction that pro wrestling saw, the New World Order (NWO).
In the role of “Hollywood” Hogan, The Immortal was a key player in the Monday Night Wars between WCW and WWE (WWF at the time) and was directly involved in another pro wrestling boom, this time the beginning of the “Attitude Era.”
In the early 2000s, Hogan returned to WWE and had some interesting feuds with The Rock and Randy Orton’s likes. After the above-mentioned crash plane of TNA with him at the steering wheel and the leaked sex tape, The Hulkster biggest fight is to repair the damage done to his image.
The recent induction for a 2nd time into the WWE Hall of Fame as an NWO member on December 09, 2019, shows goodwill to give him a second chance to do things right.
Let’s hope The Hulkster had learned from his mistakes and made the most of this 2nd chance; after all, we all deserve one, right?
Top 10 Greatest Pro Wrestlers Of All Time In North America
Now with the honorable mentions on our backs, let’s check who made our list, so without further ado, our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time in North America.
10# The Rock
- 05/02/1972 – …
- Height: 6′ 4″ (193 cm)
- Weight: 264 lbs (120 kg)
- In-ring debut: 03/10/1996
- Career’s end: 04/03/2016
- In-ring experience: 20 years
- Total number of matches: 852
- Wins: 452 (53.1%)
- Losses: 353 (41.4%)
- Draws: 47 (5.5%)
Dwayne Douglas Johnson is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the biggest draws ever in professional wrestling.
The 3rd generation wrestler (unheard at the time) made his debut in WWE (WWF at the time) in 1996 as Rocky Maivia, a direct reference to his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather Peter Maivia.
“The Blue Chipper” (as it was labeled) was a smiling babyface, with a gimmick full of clichés of his Samoan lineage, and he had a powerful push since day one though he was quite green as a pro wrestler.
Rocky won within the first months in WWF the Intercontinental Championship from Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H) and successfully defended it at Wrestlemania 13 against The Sultan, better known as Rikishi.
The strong push didn’t go well with the fans, especially hardcore fans that not only rejected the push but started to get hostile until the point that chants of “Rocky Sucks” or “Die Rocky Die” started to be heard every time Maivia performed.
During a match with Owen Hart where Rocky dropped the Intercontinental Championship, he suffered a knee injury that put him on the shelf for a while. Upon his return, Rocky Maivia turned hell for the very first time, joining the faction Nation of Domination.
In the company of his new Nation’s teammates, Kama, D’Lo Brown, and their leader Faarooq, Rocky started to drop the all-day smiling, clean-cut babyface Rocky Maivia’s gimmick and developed to a cocky, trash-talk, big-mouthed, blowhard, full of oneself, overbearing, and incredibly charismatic character that he will be best remembered.
Referring to himself in the third person and presenting himself simply as “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson became known as one of his generation’s best workers, and he was untouchable with the mic in his hands, being arguably the best performer of all time when it was time to talk the talk.
This new persona conquered fans worldwide. The Rock was one of the most important wrestlers during the Attitude Era, being decisive to the victory of WWE (WWF at the time) against WCW in the Monday Night Wars during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
After 8 years as a pro wrestler, The Rock started pursuing a career as an actor. Things went pretty well for The People’s Champion, so well that The Rock went into semi-retirement from professional wrestling to dedicate himself to his acting career 100%.
And who can blame him? He is currently one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, with his movies generating throughout time over $10 billion worldwide.
Although The Brahma Bull made a comeback to WWE as a part-timer to work a program with John Cena Between 2011 and 2013 and kept doing some sporadic appearances, the fact of the matter is that once his acting career took off, he never thought of comeback to pro wrestling as a full-time performer.
The Rock is an 8x time WWE Champion, 2x Intercontinental Champion, and 5x World Tag team Champion, making him a Triple Crown Champion. He held memorable feuds with Triple H, Mankind, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, and Kurt Angle, to name a few.
He was so good and original on the mic that he was credited twice for creating a word. The first was “Smackdown,” and more recently, the second was “Jabroni,” although the last one he only takes credit for turning the expression known since the Iron Sheik created it.
The Rock didn’t have a long career; nevertheless, he will go down as one of the GOAT in the business as he proved that quantity does not always refects quality.
“If ya smeeeell, what The Rock… is cookin’!”
9# Shawn Michaels
- 07/22/1965 – …
- Height: 6′ 1″ (185 cm)
- Weight: 227 lbs (103 kg)
- In-ring debut: 10/16/1984
- Career’s end: 03/28/2010
- In-ring experience: 25 years
- Total number of matches: 2067
- Wins: 1404 (67.9%)
- Losses: 572 (27.7%)
- Draws: 91 (4.4%)
Michael Shawn Hickenbottom, better known as Shawn Michaels, started his career working in several territories controlled by the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1984. Still, it was in 1986 that the future Mr. Wrestlemania had his 1st success.
Working to the American Wrestling Association (AWA), Shawn Michaels was put alongside Marty Janetty in a tag team. The duo known as The Midnight Rockers got incredibly over with fans due to their fast pace, high-flying style and eventually won the AWA World Tag Team Championships.
The duo joins the WWE (WWF at the time) in 1987 to be fired a couple of weeks after due to an altercation in a bar. The Midnight Rockers returned to AWA and regained for a second time the AWA World Tag Team Championship, and a year after, they were resigned again by WWF.
Upon their comeback to WWF, the duo, now known simply as The Rockers, had an excellent run as a tag team, being incredibly popular among young and female audiences.
They had two solid years working consistently in the mid-card, being quite over with the fans, and on October 30, 1990, in the tapings for “WWF The Main Event IV,” The Rockers won the WWF World Tag Team Championship from the Hart Foundation.
Unfortunately, the title was given back to the Hart Foundation, the match never aired, and WWE never acknowledge the title change, though The Rockers defended the belts once in a house show.
By this time, Shawn Michaels was more than ready to new highs as a singular competitor, and on January 11, 1991, on an episode of Wrestling Challenge, during a segment on the Brutus Beefcake’s televised Barber Shop talk, one of the most infamous moments in pro wrestling occurred when Shawn Michaels delivered a superkick on his partner, Marty Janetty and threw him through the barber’s window, turning heel in the process.
From there, Shawn Michaels assumed a new persona, a cocky and narcissistic heel, with an entrance resembling a male striptease act, and accompanied by his brand new mirror-carrying manager.
That manager was none other than the Sensational Sherri, that inclusively sang Michaels’ first theme song, “Sexy Boy.” The duo immediately connected, and the chemistry between both as workers was outstanding.
With his manager on his side, the now coined Heartbreak Kid captured the Intercontinental Championship and assumed himself a successful singles wrestler.
Michaels eventually lost Sherri as a manager and the Intercontinental Title to his now rival Marty Janetty, to regain it a couple of months after, from the same Janetty in the night, Shawn debuted his new bodyguard, Diesel.
After a short depart from WWF, Shawn Michaels returned and entered a program with Razor Ramon that ended up in a ladder match for the IC title at Wrestlemania X. The match won by Ramon was an instant classic, with Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter giving five stars to the bout.
HBK started to team up with Diesel, and they won the WWF Tag Team Championship, but after Michaels cost Diesel the Intercontinental Title, the team started to crack, and the two become rivals.
Diesel went to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, and Michaels won his first Royal Rumble by entering number one, something unheard at the time. That lead to a championship match against Diesel that HBK lost.
After some time off, HBK returned as a babyface and went to win his second Royal Rumble in a row. In a title match settled to Wrestlemania XII, Shawn Michaels finally captured his first WWF World Heavyweight Title in another instant classic, this time in a 60-minutes Iron Man match against Bret Hart.
HBK relinquished the title months before Wrestlemania XIII allegedly due to a knee injury, though the common consensus between fans is that Shawn Michaels didn’t want to drop the belt to Bret Hart.
By this time, Shawn Michaels was the leader of an off-screen faction known as the “Kliq” that basically tried to use his influence backstage to put themselves over and hold other talents back. Yes, Mr. Wrestlemania was a prick during this period, far from the newborn Christian from nowadays.
And he was the leader of another faction, this one on-screen called D-Generation X. Alongside Triple H, Chyna, and Rick Rude, the stable was huge at the time, creating one of the best and funny moments from the Attitude Era.
They had memorable feuds with The Hart Foundation and his leader Bret Hart that lead to one of the most infamous moments in pro wrestling, “The Montreal Screwjob” (more on that later).
The Showstopper was retired between 1998 and 2002 due to a back injury. Upon his return, HBK had some excellent feuds with Triple H, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, and John Cena, to name a few.
Michaels retired for good in 2010 at Wrestlemania XXVI when he lost a Career vs. Streak match against The Undertaker. Many wrestling fans acclaimed this match as the best match in Wrestlemania history.
In 2016 Shawn become a pro wrestler trainer, and in 2018 had a one-match comeback that was awarded the “2018 Worst Match Of The Year” by Dave Meltzer with Triple H vs. The Undertaker & Kane. Sometimes we don’t know when to let it go… or maybe the blood money from Saudi Arabia speaks louder.
Before we’re done with Shawn Michaels, here are some additional accolades from MR. Wrestlemania.
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame: Class of 2003.
- 2x WWE Hall Of Fame: Class of 2011 individually; Class of 2019 with DX.
- 15x Match of the Year awards between Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
- Match of the Decade by Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, in his match against Ric Flair at Wrestlemania XIV.
- 2x 5 stars match by Dave Meltzer: The already mentioned ladder match vs. Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X, and the first Hell In A Cell match vs. The Undertaker at Bad Blood 1997).
- Wrestlemania main event: 5x
“And if you not down with that I have two words for you! Suck it!”
8# “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
- 12/18/1964 – …
- Height: 6′ 2″ (188 cm)
- Weight: 255 lbs (116 kg)
- In-ring debut: 09/30/1989
- Career’s end: 03/30/2003
- In-ring experience: 13 years
- Total number of matches: 1391
- Wins: 785 (56.4%)
- Losses: 497 (35.7%)
- Draws: 109 (7.8%)
Steven James Anderson debuted as a professional wrestler as Steve Williams while working for United States Wrestling Association (USWA). However, his name was changed shortly after to Steve Austin due to another wrestler already existing with that name, the popular “Dr. Death” Steve Williams.
Like Steve Austin, the “Stunning” made his debut in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in 1991, and at this early stage of his WCW career, Steve Austin made himself being accompanied to the ring by a “valet.”
Steve Austin didn’t need too much time to seize gold; just a few weeks after his debut Steve Austin won the WCW World Television Championship, which he held for 329 days.
Then Steve Austin was paired with Brian Pillman, and the duo was known as “The Hollywood Blonds” (yes, Steve Austin had blonde hair once).
The duo won the WCW World Tag Team Championship, but after Pillman gets injured and Austin has been paired with Steven Regal as a replacement, the duo lost the titles.
Austin then joined the “Stud Stable,” a heels faction, and upon Pillman’s return, Austin turned on him and eventually won a match between both.
Until the end of his stint on WCW, Austin won twice the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship. Still, due to some injuries and apparently a bad business relation with WCW Vice President Eric Bischoff, the Stunning was fired by Bischoff.
From there, Austin was hired by Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). While injured, it was there that “Superstar” Steve Austin showed the first signs of his future persona that is best remembered by fans in in-ring interviews, vignettes, and promos. Steve Austin credited multiple times Paul Heyman, ECW’s leader, as the person who helped him most in developing his mic skills.
Austin had some interesting feuds on ECW though he never won the ECW World Heavyweight Championship; according to Heyman, Austin himself refused it since Austin thought he was better chasing for the title rather than defending it.
When Austin debuted in late 1995 with the now WWE, he was introduced as “The Ringmaster,” with Ted Dibiase as his manager and holding the Million Dollar Championship, awarded by the Dibiase himself.
The Ringmaster never really connected, and when Austin drop Dibiase as his manager, Austin tried to change it since he never enjoyed the gimmick. After some “awesome” names suggested by WWF (most likely Vince McMahon) like “Chilli Mcfreeze,” “Fang McFrost,” “Ice Dagger,” and “Otto Von Ruthless,” Steve Austin end up with the nickname “Stone Cold.”
During this period, Austin was going bald, so he decided to shave his head a grow a goatee. That might be had one of his best decisions since the new look matched his new brash, anti-hero, and anti-establishment persona perfectly. Eventually becoming the face of an era, the Attitude era.
His legend started at the King of the Ring tournament in 1996, after beating Jake “The Snake” Roberts in the finals. At his coronation, Austin cut an infamous promo on Jake Roberts (who was portraying a newborn Christian) mocking his newfound faith while delivering one of the best catchphrases of all time, the “Austin 3:16”, derision of the Bible verse John 3:16.
“You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn’t get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16… Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
After entering a program with Brian Pillman, both men had an infamous segment on Raw remembered by fans as “Pillman’s got a gun.” After Austin invaded Pillman’s house, Pillman points a gun at Austin right before the episode goes to break.
Despite all the controversy surrounding the segment, it was a moment that helped WWE move away from more cartoonish and childish content.
At the co-main event of Wrestlemania XIII, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret “The Hitman” Hart battle in a submission match with “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock as special referee, and the match was an instant classic.
The match ended with Stone Cold fading away at the Sharpshooter applied by The Hitman while bleeding from his front head. Bret Hart refused to release the hold at the end of the match and attacked the unconscious Stone Cold until Ken Shamrock stepped in.
This moment saw Bret Hart turning heel and Steve Austin turning face, a double-turn just occurred, and arguably the best of all time.
One year after at Wrestlemania XIV, The Rattlesnake arrived at the top of the mountain by defeating Shawn Michaels for the WWF World Heavyweight Title in the main event of the show.
Throughout a lengthy period in the late 1990s, Stone Cold had one of the most remembered feuds of all time with the WWF’s chairman Vice McMahon, bringing the best out of each other while creating some if not the best memories from the Attitude Era.
Stone Cold retired due to multiple injuries he inherited from his wrestling career in 2003, though he stayed an on-screen character on Raw until 2004.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is a very accomplished performer with amazing accolades:
- Steve Austin held 19 Championships throughout his career, including 6x WWE World Heavyweight Title.
- WWF King of the Ring 1996 winner.
- 3x Royal Rumble winner (all-time record).
- Wrestlemania main event: 3x
- WWE hall Of Fame: Class of 2009
According to pro wrestling journalist, Wade Keller Steve Austin is “in every conversation for the greatest wrestling act of all time…the most profitable and the most influential”, while Vince McMahon and other WWF figures claimed Stone Cold was even a bigger draw than Hulk Hogan.
Nowadays, The Rattlesnake hosts “The Stone Cold Podcast” and released the “Broken Skull IPA” beer.
“And that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold says so!”
7# Gorgeous George
- 03/24/1915 – 12/26/1963
- Height: 5′ 8″ (173 cm)
- Weight: 207 lbs (94 kg)
- In-ring debut: 10/05/1936
- Career’s end: 11/07/1962
- In-ring experience: 26 years
- Total number of matches: 501
- Wins: 247 (49.3%)
- Losses: 208 (41.5%)
- Draws: 46 (9.2%)
George Raymond Wagner was one of if not the most mediatic pro wrestlers from the first Golden Age of Professional Wrestling.
Although George wasn’t a big individual by pro wrestling standards, he was a gifted amateur wrestler and a solid worker, though George’s biggest attribute was his outrageous and provocative persona.
George learned amateur and freestyle wrestling at a young age. Still, as a teen, he started to compete in carnivals; after getting a promoter’s attention, George started to work as a pro wrestler and eventually had a good initial run with some titles to attest it.
But it was only after changing his look and his mannerisms that George becomes Gorgeous.
With long hair dyed platinum blonde with his “Georgie Pins,” extravagant robes, an effeminate behavior, accompanied by a valet, and a glamorous entrance at the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance,” Gorgeous George pushed the boundaries of showmanship like anyone before, making him a must-see attraction.
The entrance was so full of details that sometimes it took more time than the fights themselves.
With his mirror carry valet setting a red carpet, spreading rose petals, and spraying the ring and referee’s hands with Chanel No 5 that George would call “Chanel No 10” (“Why be half-safe?” as George usually said.) and finalizing with George famously saying “Get your filthy hands off me!” to the referee while being checked for illegal objects before matches made his entrance something unforgettable.
George was known as the first coward heel in pro wrestling history always looking for some illegal advantage over their opponents (“Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!”). Adding that to the already mentioned entrance antics usually resulted in an infuriating crowd and real heat in the process.
George’s persona was an immediate success in the early days of television, making him the most popular and charismatic pro wrestler of his generation and one of the highest-paid athletes at the time. His first television appearance is among the Top 100 televised acts of the 20th century by Entertainment Weekly).
The star power of the Human Orchid rivaled with other national celebrities at the time like Lucille Ball and Bob Hope (which donated many of George’s robes), with many claiming that George helped to sell many televisions as Milton Berle, being the major figure in establishing television as a source of entertainment in the US.
His most memorable match happened in 1959, against Whipper Billy Watson. Gorgeous George did not lose only the match but his hair at the end of the bout, to the joy of millions of fans who watched worldwide his iconic platinum hair shaved on television.
George was someone with a close relationship with alcohol, which led to cirrhosis diagnosed by doctors in 1962. Although George tried to fight the disease, he eventually quit and chose to keep his drinking habits rather than live a life he didn’t want.
George Gorgeous’s legend died of a heart attack on December 26, 1963, at the age of only 48 years old.
Gorgeous George was posthumously inducted into the following Hall of Fames:
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2002
- WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2010
The biggest legacy of Gorgeous George is the way he paved the path for other flamboyant, outspoken, and self-promoters figures like Muhammad Ali and James Brown, for example.
“I’ll crawl across the ring and cut my hair off! But that’s not gonna happen because I’m the greatest wrestler in the world!”; this words of George about the possibility to lose a match to Classy Freddie Blassie caught the attention of a young Ali that had the privilege to receive a piece of advice from the Gorgeous one, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.”
6# Bruno Sammartino
- 10/06/1935 – 04/18/2018
- Height: 5′ 10″ (178 cm)
- Weight: 264 lbs (120 kg)
- In-ring debut: 10/23/1959
- Career’s end: 08/29/1987
- In-ring experience: 28 years
- Total number of matches: 1565
- Wins: 1178 (75.3%)
- Losses: 221 (14.1%)
- Draws: 166 (10.6%)
Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino was born and spend his firsts years in Pizzoferrato, Italy. These were tough times throughout Europe due to WWII, so Sammartino and his family emigrated to the US in 1950.
Although he was a weak kid that didn’t speak English, Sammartino endured those firsts hard years and eventually became an excellent amateur wrestler and devoted powerlifter; Sammartino inclusively set a world record in the bench press in 1959, with a lift of 565 lbs.
Sammartino acted as a strongman stunt too. During one of his shows, a pro wrestler promoter named Rudy Miller recruited Sammartino to make him a professional wrestler.
After debuting in late 1959, Bruno Sammartino quickly made a name for himself and became a reference in the New York territories. Still, after realizing he was being held back in New York, he decided to move to San Francisco.
Sammartino believed that Vince McMahon Sr. set him up on his way out from Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) by booking him in a match while not informing him. As a result, The Strongest Man in the World found himself suspended and without work.
After returning for a while to Pittsburgh, Sammartino found a job in the north of the border. Again he becomes a household name, and the fact of being an Italian speaker made him even more popular near Italian communities throughout Canada.
Sammartino returned to the US by the hand of his previous promotion, the now known WWWF. After being handpicked by McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt to be the company’s face, The Living Legend was on the path to becoming one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time.
Although Sammartino only held the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship for two occasions, the two reigns’ length is incredible, to say the least. The first reign lasts for an impressive 2,803 days; that’s seven years, eight months, and one freaking day! The longest in the promotion’s history!
In 1972, one year after losing the title, The Italian Strongman was booked to regain the title he lost to Ivan Koloff from the now champion Stan Stasiak, but Sammartino refused.
After being offered a percentage in all gates he wrestled and a reduction in his schedule, Sammartino agreed, and he became a two times WWWF World Heavyweight Champion, with the reign lasting for 1237 days.
After defeating George “The Animal” Steele in 1981, Sammartino went on a tour by Japan and entered semi-retirement.
The Living Legend made a comeback to tag with his son, The Sammartinos wrestled most notably the teams of Brutus Beefcake & Johnny Valiant, and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff & Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
On August 29, 1987, Bruno Sammartino held his last match in a WWF house show in a tag team match between Sammartino & Hulk Hogan against King Kong Buddy & One Man Gang; Sammartino and Hogan were victorious.
The Living Legend became a commentator on “Superstars of Wrestling,” but after some months on the new role, Sammartino departed from WWF.
Bruno Sammartino then became one of the most critics and outspoken figures concerning the path that pro wrestling entered with Vince McMahon Jr. Sammartino mostly criticized the “vulgar storylines” and the use of steroids among pro wrestlers.
After decades with their backs turned, McMahon and Sammartino buried the hatchet. After several refusals, Sammartino finally accepted and was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame – Class of 2013, being inducted by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Besides the above-mentioned induction to the WWE Hall of Fame, The Italian Strongman has numerous other accolades in his resumé:
- Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame: Class of 2012
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2019
- International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2021
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year award: 5x (1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1980)
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated Wrestler of the Year Award: 1974
Bruno Sammartino left us on April 18, 2018, at 82 years old, leaving behind an unmatched legacy in professional wrestling. The man had died, but the legend will live forever.
“I think people saw me as someone who was real, and not somebody subject to the criticism and ridicule given to my profession.”
5# Lou Thesz
- 04/24/1916 – 04/28/2002
- Height: 6′ 1″ (185 cm)
- Weight: 224 lbs (102 kg)
- In-ring debut: 04/05/1934
- Career’s end: 12/26/1990
- In-ring experience: 56 years
- Total number of matches: 4126
- Wins: 3040 (73.7%)
- Losses: 317 (7.7%)
- Draws: 769 (18.6%)
Aloysius Martin “Lou” Thesz might have been the best pure wrestler who ever graced the square circle, starting to train at an early age by his father, a Greco-Roman champion in his home country, Hungary.
Aside from the train endured with his father, Lou Thesz was trained by the best, including the legendary George Tragos, Ray Steele, Ad Santel, and Ed “Strangler” Lewis; Lou Thesz had at his disposal the best train and guidance that the industry had to offer at the time.
The year was 1932, when the young Thesz made his professional wrestling debut, with only 16 years of age, while still competing as a legit catch wrestler.
Without surprise, Lou Thesz became one of the big draws in the St. Louis territory.
After the creation of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1948, it was decided to have one undisputed World Champion, and Lou Thesz was booked to fight with the at the time NWA World Champion Orville Brown. Still, the match never occurred due to a car accident that ended Brown’s career.
At the time, many were the wrestlers looking for personal glory and took business into their own hands, double-crossing opponents and promoters.
To avoid these “would-be shooters” messing up matches’ finishers, the NWA World Championship was put in Lou Thesz due to his legit skills as a wrestler, meaning if someone deviated from the plan, Thesz would make sure that the transgressor will pay the price for such boldness.
In 1956, Thesz had unified all the titles within the NWA and became the undisputed National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship.
As NWA World Heavyweight Champion Lou Thesz went in 1957 on tour through Japan, having legendary bouts against Rikidōzan, that was decisive to the acceptance and fame of pro wrestling in the land of the rising sun, though all their matches ended in a 60 minutes draw.
Due to the mainstream that professional wrestling gained in Japan and the money Thesz was making there, Thesz campaigned to defend more often the NWA World Heavyweight Championship there, which was refused.
That led Lou Thesz to decide to drop the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to his own picked champion, Dick Hutton, instead of his rival Buddy Rogers.
After touring in Europe and Japan, labeling himself as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Lou Thesz had his first retirement.
Lou Thesz would come back from retirement to win for the 6th time the NWA World Heavyweight Champion from his eternal rival, Buddy Rogers.
After being for over one decade semi-retired, Lou Thesz officially retired in 1979. However, eleven years after, on December 26, 1990, the Iron Man made a comeback to the last match, making him alongside Abdullah The Butcher, the only two men to wrestle in 7 different decades!
Lou Thesz was one of the driving forces behind the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, which distinguishes pro wrestlers with an amateur wrestling background.
Lou Thesz is credited to create several wrestling moves and holds such:
- Lou Thesz Press
- German Suplex
- Stepover Toehold Facelock (STF)
Lou Thesz was too critical of modern-day pro wrestlers, calling their work a “choreographed tumbling” without any wrestling skills displayed by professional wrestlers.
Considered by many as the most prominent professional wrestler of the XX Century, with three championship reigns that combine more than ten years as a champion, Lou “Iron Man” Thesz was one of the most influential figures in pro wrestling history.
Lou Thesz was inducted into the following Hall of Fames:
- WCW Hall of Fame: Class of 1993
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame: Class of 1996
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall Of Fame: Class of 1999
- NWA Hall Of Fame: Class of 2005
- WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2016
- International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2021
On April 9, 2002, Lou Thesz passed away at the age of 86.
‘The reality, or substance, of professional wrestling is to perpetuate a fantasy. I never distinguished between fantasy and reality. I made my fantasy reality for over 60 years.”
4# Bret Hart
- 07/02/1957 – …
- Height: 6′ 0″ (183 cm)
- Weight: 235 lbs (107 kg)
- In-ring debut: 03/29/1978
- Career’s end: 01/10/2000
- In-ring experience: 21 years
- Total number of matches: 2895
- Wins: 1850 (63.9%)
- Losses: 742 (25.6%)
- Draws: 303 (10.5%)
Bret Sergeant Hart is the son of one of the most influential figures in pro wrestling history, the late Stu Hart, making him a second-generation professional wrestler.
Bret was already an excellent amateur wrestler at a young age before being formed in the infamous Hart Dungeon (more on The Dungeon later).
He started to shine as an amateur wrestler at the Ernest Manning High School and later at the Mount Royal College. According to Bret, while in high school, the reason that made him enter the wrestling team was “for the sole reason that my dad expected me to.”
This means Bret had legit expectations of having a successful career as an amateur wrestler. Still, he didn’t desire that outcome, so the only option for him to don’t follow that path without disappointing his father was to become a professional wrestler.
After graduating from the infamous Hart Dungeon, the pro wrestling school ruled by Stu Hart located in the Hart mansion’s basement, the young Bret started to work at his father’s promotion, Stampede Wrestling, in Calgary, Canada.
After debuting as a referee in 1976, Bret made his in-ring debut in 1978 as a last-minute replacement. From there, The Hitman consolidated himself as one of the most solid workers in the promotion, achieving gold as part of a tag team and as a solo competitor.
During this period, Bret Hart competed multiple times in Japan, mostly in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), with Tiger Mask being one of the biggest names he fought in Japan.
When WWF bought the Stampede Wrestling promotion in 1984, several wrestlers made the jump to WWF, Bret Hart included.
In WWF, Bret was offered a cowboy gimmick that he promptly refused, claiming that where we grew up, “if you called yourself a cowboy, you’d better be one.”
He was then put in a tag team with his brother-in-law, Jim Neidhart, with the duo known as The Hart Foundation. The team achieved great success in the tag team division, becoming WWF Tag Team Champions on two occasions.
Despite the success as a tag team competitor, Bret Hart was reserved for bigger things. In the early 1990s, he had his first (of two) runs as WWF Intercontinental Champion.
At this time, Bret was arguably the best worker in WWF. Still, due to his size (relatively small to WWF standards), he was probably condemned to an up mid-card slot, but then the steroids scandal involving WWF broke loose, and the promotion had to make some adjustments, to say the least.
One of those adjustments was building new top-card wrestlers based on their in-ring work rather than physic. And who will fit better on the role of new top guy than The Excellence Of Execution, Bret Hart? The answer is no one!
Bret Hart will become WWF World Heavyweight Champion for the first time in late 1992, after beating Ric Flair, and from there, he went to become not only the face of WWF but arguably the biggest superstar from the New Generation Era.
Although the New Generation Era was one of if not the worst era in professional wrestling, due to his incredible technical in-ring work and in-depth knowledge of the business, Bret Hart was one of the major forces that changed the image of pro wrestling in North America, in particular during the first half of the 1990s.
In WWF, Bret Hart had memorable feuds, being the most famous with his arch-enemy Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin. No one will forget the 60-minute Iron Man match between Hart and Michaels in Wrestlemania XII main event, nor the Submission match with Stone Cold in Wrestlemania’s XIII co-main event.
The most (in)famous Bret Hart’s match was his last one in WWF against Shawn Michaels in November 1997; the match is commonly known among wrestling fans as the “Montreal Screwjob.”
In a nutshell, Hart had his last match in WWF before leaving to rival WCW; since he had creative control over his gimmick, he didn’t want to drop the title to Shawn Michaels, instead forfeit the title after that night.
While Shawn was applying the sharpshooter to Bret and without him tapping, the referee called the match to an end, following McMahons’ order.
After the match ended, a furious Bret Hart spitted on McMahon’s face, destroyed some tv equipment, and later on backstage punched McMahon in the face. And just like that, the relation between Bret and the WWF abruptly ended.
Bret was one of the hottest things in pro wrestling after the “Montreal Screwjob” events, and how WCW capitalized on it? Making of Bret, the most misused pro wrestler in wrestling history by killing all his momentum.
Although Bret won two times the WCW World Heavyweight Title, the WCW United States Title in other four, and was once WCW World Tag Team Champion, Hart’s career at WCW was so forgettable that it is hard to find something worthy to share with you.
Probably the most notorious event in Hart’s WCW career was sadly his match with Goldberg in 1999. After being kicked in the head during the bout, Hart got injured and consequently had to retire.
In 2005 Bret Hart and Vince McMahon came to good terms, and The Hitman made (a very limited) comeback to WWE, where he most notably feud with the chairman, the good old Vinnie.
Here are the most important accomplishments from The Excellence Of Execution:
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame: Class of 1996
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall Of Fame: Class of 2006
- 2x Times WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2006 individually; Class of 2019 with Jim Neidhart (The Hart Foundation)
- Quebec Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2017
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter attributed to Bret Hart dozens of prices, including Wrestler of the Year, Feud of the Year, Comeback of the Year, and the list goes on.
The Hitman is one of the few pro wrestlers to hold championships in five different decades (the 1970s up to 2010s).
At his prime, Bret Hart was “the best there is, the best there was, and the best that ever will be.”
3# “Toots” Mondt
- 01/18/1894 – 06/11/1976
- Height: 6′ 0″ (183 cm)
- Weight: 260 lbs (118 kg)
- In-ring debut: 1910
- Career’s end: 1932
- In-ring experience: 22 years
- Total number of matches: 37
- Wins: 11 (29.7%)
- Losses: 19 (51.4%)
- Draws: 7 (18.9%)
Joseph Raymond “Toots” Mondt might be the biggest pro wrestler you never heard of and closes our podium in third place.
Toots Mondt is credited with revolutionizing the entire wrestling industry in the mid-1920s, being the pro wrestling that we watch and enjoy today, the brainchild of his own genius.
Mondt was trained by another legend of the sport, Farmer Burns, and made his debut in 1910 in Greeley; with only 16 years of age, the young Toots decided that was the age to compete against a carnival wrestler.
Following Burns’s advice, Toots Mondt joined Ed “Strangler” Lewis and his manager, Billy Sandow. The three become known as “The Gold Dust Trio,” and they changed the image of professional wrestling forever in a relatively short period of time.
Tired of the existing promotions’ politics and seeing the general loss of interest in the product, Toots convinced Lewis and Sandow to join him to create a new wrestling promotion based on a different set of rules and despite the matches would be contested in a “shoot” style, they were scripted and the end predetermined.
Toots Mondt understood that wrestling in its current form was doomed, and changes were needed. Lewis and Sandow contributed with some ideas, but the vast majority of the changes or came from Toots’ mind, or it was refined and improved by Toots himself.
I already explained to you in a nutshell about the changes that the trio brought to the sport in the Ed “Strangler” Lewis biography, and though I will not repeat it, I will put things in another perspective.
At the time, wrestling matches were, most of the time, legit, mat orientated, and had a slow pace. The matches lasted an average of one hour but often, matches cold last two or three hours; hell, in 1912 in the Olympic Games, a wrestling match lasted for 11h40, Jesus!
The style proposed by Toots that he named “Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling” combined Greco-Roman with freestyle wrestling, boxing, and lumber-camp.
With the introduction of a time limit for matches, a higher pace, less mat orientated than traditional wrestling, the introduction of slams, suplexes, arm drags, powerbombs, and finishers, Toots presented crowds with a more appellative product. Basically the product we have nowadays, apart from all the high-flying action. Toots created tag team wrestling as well.
In the ring, Toots was a gifted wrestler though his record says otherwise. Due to his new product’s scripted nature, Toots never had an incredible run as a champion since Ed Lewis was the face of their promotion.
Aside from being a wrestler, Toots was a trainer, sparring partner, policeman, and most notably, a booker. Although wrestlers rarely tried to go out of the script (mostly by the regular paychecks, another innovation presented by the trio), they would have to deal with Toots Mondt if they tried.
After changing the course of professional wrestling’s history in about six months, the trio later dissolved due to disagreements between Mondt and Sandow’s brother, Max.
After leaving The Gold Dust Trio, Toots Mondt worked with a Philadelphia promoter, Ray Fabiani, then later introduced Mondt to Vince McMahon Sr.
By the hands of Mondt and McMahon Sr. will appear the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). After they departed from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in 1963, they renamed CWC as World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF).
During this period, Mondt already had turned the Madison Square Garden (MSG) into the Mecca of professional wrestling. He brought pro wrestling back to the MSG in 1948 after eleven years without a single wrestling match in the emblematic arena in New York.
Despite all his qualities, Toots Mondt never got used to television, unlike McMahon Sr. Additionally, Toots had gambling problems too; the two factors were decisive on his way out from WWWF and the New York territory in general.
Despite the later facts, Toots Mondt was one of the most important figures in pro wrestling, proving that sometimes one person is all it needs to big changes occur.
Toots Mondt was inducted into the:
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame: Class of 1996
- Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum: Class of 2008
- WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2017
2# Ric Flair
- 02/25/1949 – …
- Height: 5′ 11″ (180 cm)
- Weight: 242 lbs (110 kg)
- In-ring debut: 12/10/1972
- Career’s end: 09/12/2011
- In-ring experience: 38 years
- Total number of matches: 4652
- Wins: 2364 (50.8%)
- Losses: 1839 (39.5%)
- Draws: 449 (9.7%)
Richard Morgan Fliehr, or simply Ric Flair, is widely regarded by many as the best pro wrestler that ever lived, with a career that spans four decades that includes a record of 16 World Championships (8x NWA World Heavyweight Champion, 6x WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and 2x WWF Champion).
However, some sources claim that he had up to 25 World Championships, and with the man himself, Ric Flair, claiming a total of 21 World Titles won throughout his career.
Richard Fliehr was already a good amateur wrestler when he started to train pro wrestling under Verne Gagne’s guidance. He had as colleagues the likes of Jim Brunzell and The Iron Sheik.
In 1972, the young Richard made his pro wrestling debut under the name Ric Flair while working for American Wrestling Association (AWA); during his spell at the AWA, Flair wrestled most notably Dusty Rhodes and André the Giant.
During this period, Flair wrestled in Japan while working at International Wrestling Enterprise (IWE) and later on the decade to All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW).
When in the mid-1970s, Flair left AWA to work for Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), his career continued to improve, and he had his first taste of gold as a solo competitor.
Things were going well for Slick Ric until, in 1975, Flair was involved in an airplane crash. As a result, Flair broke his back in three places and was told that his career was over.
With 26 years at the time, Ric Flair refused that idea, and being the workhorse he was, he put on the work, and eight months after, Flair was back to the ring.
Ric Flair recovered his career though he had to adopt a different style in the ring, as Flair became more of a grappler and less of a power brawler.
Flair took his share of inspiration in old gimmicks to finalize his reinvention. If the robes and some of his antics were taken from Gorgeous George, his new moniker, “The Nature Boy,” it was the nickname of one of the most famous wrestlers of all time, Buddy Rogers.
Flair had a feud inclusively with Rogers in the late 1970s over the nickname in which Ric Flair won, After all, “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.”
Throughout the 1980s, Ric Flair became the face of NWA, mostly working for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). He was the first recipient end of the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
He achieved gold on multiple occasions and formed one of the biggest stables of all time, The Four Horsemen. As a heel stable, The Horsemen ran through all the competition, becoming holders of most of the company’s titles.
After some disagreements, Flair left WCW and sign with the World Wrestling Federation in 1991. Since Flair had paid US$25,000 as a deposit for the belt, and WCW didn’t give the money back, Flair appeared on WWF television holding the WCW World Heavyweight Title and claim to be “The Real World Champion.”
In 1992 The Nature Boy made history by winning the vacant WWF Championship at the Royal Rumble Match. Flair Lasted over 60 minutes while entering the match at number three!
In 1993 Flair left WWF for WCW, where he worked until the company closed its doors in 2001. During the 1990s, the biggest achievement of Flair was arguably his match (which he lost) against Antonio Inoki on April 29, 1995, in Pyongyang, North Korea; the match had a record attendance of 190,000 spectators!
Upon his return to WWE in 2001, Flair was at the twilight of his career. He played the role of co-owner of the promotion, later was part of another memorable stable, Evolution.
In 2009, he had his last match on the company when he faced Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XXIV.
The match was highly praised by fans all over the world, with Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) distinguishing the match with the PWI “Match of the Year” award and PWI “Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year” award. Flair had considered his best match of all time.
Ric flair then had a not-so-glamorous run at Impact Wrestling until he finally hanged the boots in 2012, though to date, he still makes sporadic appearances in WWE television.
Ric Flair will go down as one of the best heels of all time, with a mind far advanced for his era that can be seen in his iconic promos; after all, we’re talking of “The Stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun! Woooo”
Here are some of Ric Flair’s accomplishments:
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall Of Fame: Class of 1996
- NWA Hall Of Fame: Class of 2008
- 2x WWE Hall of Fame: Class of 2088 individually; Class of 2012 with The Four Horsemen
- George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall Of Fame: Class of 2013
- International Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame: Class of 2021
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler of the Year award: 8x (a record)
- PWI Wrestler of the Year award: 6x (a record)
For everything he achieved in his professional life, The Dirtiest Player In The Game gets second place on our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time.
“In my life, I’ve been a movie star, a rock star, and a sports star, all wrapped up into one-and worked harder at it than anybody else.”
1# The Undertaker
- 03/24/1965 – …
- Height: 6′ 10″ (208 cm)
- Weight: 299 lbs (136 kg)
- In-ring debut: 06/26/1987
- Career’s end: 11/22/2020
- In-ring experience: 33 years
- Total number of matches: 2389
- Wins: 1780 (74.5%)
- Losses: 514 (21.5%)
- Draws: 95 (4.0%)
Finally, we arrived at our number one pick on our list, and that distinction goes to none other than The Phenom, The Undertaker!
Mark William Calaway started his pro wrestling train in the late 1980s and had his first match while working for World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) in a losing effort against Bruiser Brody.
Calaway’s first gimmick was Texas Red; a masked wrestler accompanied to the ring by his manager, Percival “Percy” Pringle III. Percy and Calaway’s paths will cross again in WWF when Percy became Paul Bearer, the sinister Undertaker’s manager, more on that later.
Calaway wrestled for other promotions under multiple gimmicks like Commando, Dice Morgan, The Punisher, and The Master of Pain, until he signed for a brief period with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) under the name of “Mean” Mark Callows.
During this period, Mark Calaway never achieved more than mid-card status in WCW while making some appearances in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
In 1990 Calaway joined WWF and was given Kane The Undertaker’s gimmick, a heel, a dark, bizarre, and scary character with supernatural powers and incredible pain resistance.
It was the beginning of the Next Generation Era, an era marked by childish and cartoonish gimmicks and storylines, so the gimmick fitted and was accepted by fans in general.
After debuting in November 1990 at Superstars’ tapings, The Deadman made his official debut a couple of days later at the Summerslam. At this time, Taker was accompanied to the ring by his manager, Brother Love.
Then in 1991, came the switch and Paul Bearer became his new manager. Bearer was a dark persona that usually carried an urn with him, which he used to revive The Undertaker (meanwhile, WWF dropped Kane from his name). Paul Bearer was the final touch of weirdness that made The Undertaker’s gimmick work so well throughout the Next Generation Era.
His first feud in WWF was with Jimmy Snuka that led to a match at Wrestlemania VII that Taker won. This moment marked the beginning of the legendary streak of The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
The Undertaker became one of the top wrestlers in the company, and his ascension to the top of the chain happened exactly one year after his debut, at Summerslam 1991, when he defeated Hulk Hogan to become WWF Champion, at the time he was the youngest person to ever achieved WWF’s top title.
Throughout the 1990s, The Deadman became a cult figure among WWF fans and had amazing matches; many of them were entire new gimmick matches made to serve his character and storylines.
The Undertaker was in the:
- 1st Casket Match at Survivor Series 1992, against Kamala
- 1st Buried Alive match at In Your House 11: Buried Alive in 1996, against Mankind
- 1st Hell in a Cell Match at Badd Blood: In Your House in 1997, against Shawn Michaels. This match marked the debut of an important character on the Taker’s universe, his kayfabe brother, Kane.
Aside from the gimmick matches, the feuds held by The Deadman are legendary, though it’s hard to select the best one throughout the 1990s.
Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Kane were formidable opponents for “The Phenom,” but if I would pick one, it will be with Mankind.
Mankind vs. The Undertaker at the King of the Ring 1998 was the conclusion of their feud, and things couldn’t end with a bigger bang. They had the most famous Hell in a Cell match of all time, with the match itself being one of the most popular matches of all time.
The match had two iconic moments; the first Taker threw Mankind from the cell’s roof into the commentary table in a 16ft (4,9m) fall; the second was a chokeslam from the roof of the cell into the ring canvas, which left Mankind legitimately unconscious. Taker’s victory wasn’t the most important in the end, but what the two achieved with their performances.
The Undertaker gimmick took some changes throughout the 1990s to better suit the different eras (Next Generation and Attitude Era). Following that path in the early 2000s, The Undertaker changed yet again, but this time changes went beyond fans’ imagination when Taker became a biker.
Calaway will make his entrance riding a bike, and his in-ring style had changed to a technical brawler. He will be better remembered during this time as the “American Bad Ass” and later the “Big Evil.”
In the mid-2000s, McMahon asked Calaway to bring back the old Undertaker gimmick, which he was against. Not only was he happy with his wrestling style, but he was afraid of the fans’ reaction.
After mutual agreement, the old gimmick was brought back, though Calaway was allowed to incorporate some American Bad Ass gimmick traits on his new version of The Deadman.
In January 2007, Undertaker won his first Royal Rumble match and went to win another world title on Wrestlemania XXIII against Batista.
Although The Phenom was at the descending arch of his career throughout his last decade as a competitor, this was a period where he had some of the most famous or infamous (depends on how we look at things) moments of his career.
At Wrestlemania XXVI, The Undertaker battled Shawn Michaels in a Streak vs. career match, which The Phenom won. This match is praised by many (me included) as the best match in Wrestlemania history and made both competitors the first men to main event Wrestlemania in three different decades.
The most infamous moment in Taker’s career happened at Wrestlemania XXX when The Undertaker lost to Brock Lesnar, ending the legendary Undertaker’s streak surprisingly at Wrestlemania (21-0 before the match), generating “the most shocking result in WWE history.”
From there, Taker had other bouts at Wrestlemania, with the last one, a cinematic match against A.J. Styles being praised by fans in general. The final record of The Undertaker at Wrestlemania is 24-2, impressive nevertheless.
In November last at Summerslam, The Undertaker retired 30 years after making his debut at the same event, making him the wrestler with the longest-tenured in WWE’s history.
Since The Undertaker just retired a couple of months prior to our post, he doesn’t have (yet) the same distinguishes that his pairs on the list, nevertheless here are some of his career highlights:
- Digital Spy poll (2013): WWE greatest wrestler ever
- 7x WWE World Champion
- 1x Royal Rumble winner: 2007
- The highest-rated segment on Raw, June 28, 1999, in a match versus Stone Cold: drew a 9.5 rating.
- Wrestlemania Streak: 21 consecutive wins
The Undertaker was a respected pro wrestler, inside and outside of the ring. It’s a reference and an example of how to handle yourself as a professional wrestler and as a human being.
The future Hall of Famer had one of the most memorable and iconic careers in the pro wrestling industry. That is more than a reason for the legend of The Undertaker “Rest In Peace” in the first place of our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time in North America!
“Regardless of anything, I’m gonna write my own story and my own ending.”
And there you have it, our Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time in Nort-America. I hope you did enjoy our list!
Do you think we miss someone? And what’s your Top 10 greatest pro wrestlers of all time in Nort-America? Superkick me in the comments section below, and I’ll gladly chop you back! Woooo!
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Founder of Against the Ropes.