Monday, July 21, 2014



So I recently finished reading Larry Matysik's new book, The 50 Greatest Professional Wrestlers of All Time and it has, obviously, got me thinking about wrestlers and who might be the best IMO.

Matysik lays out his choices very meticulously and very competently (he devotes the first 100 pages of the book stating his criteria and denouncing the WWE's picks for the Greatest WWE Superstars of All Time DVD).  In the end, his Top Ten are:
10. Frank Gotch
9. Gene Kiniski
8. Buddy Rogers
7. Jim Londos
6. Steve Austin
5. Bruno Sammartino
4. Hulk Hogan
3. Ed Lewis
2. Ric Flair
1. Lou Thesz

From a historical point of view, I can't argue much with his choices as his list pretty much covers the whole history of wrestling.  I may have a problem with Steve Austin being ranked so high as he had absolutely no appeal for me as a wrestler and I actually stopped watching wrestling because of him because I didn't like him so much.  Also, Gene Kiniski's placement in the Top Ten is a bit of a stretch but the rest of the list is fairly solid.
But... several of these wrestlers on this I only know as names, such as Frank Gotch, Buddy Rogers, Jim Londos, Bruno Sammartino, Ed Lewis, and Lou Thesz as I have seen very few matches with these men if any at all. 
And that brings me to my criteria for the Top Ten Best Wrestlers.
For me, it all boils down to one thing:  Does the wrestler deliver great matches? 
That's it.  Everything else is superfluous.
The best wrestlers deliver the best matches, the most compelling matches, the most emotional matches, the most exciting matches and those matches have to be seen to be believed.
In other words, how do we know how great Frank Gotch was when none of his matches survive on any kind of media (due to the fact that he wrestled in the early 20th century before television).  In a sport that is fixed, scripted, predetermined and often choreographed, stats don't mean anything (and there are precious few of those in wrestling anyway).  All that can be relied on is the performance in the ring and if no one has seen the performances then there is no way to classify a wrestler as the greatest ever.
Here is an example - I believe that I have seen one or two Lou Thesz matches and they were ok but they weren't great IMO.  Where are all these great matches that Lou engaged in over his near 10 year reign as World Champion to be called the Greatest Wrestler of All Time.  If they exist they are locked up in some vault or studio somewhere and the general public (and certainly me) have never seen them.
When compiling a Greatest Wrestler list, I can only speak of the wrestlers that I have seen and seen many of their matches.
Without further ado, here is my Top Ten Greatest Wrestlers

The Undertaker

World Titles: 7

The best “gimmick” wrestler of the modern age, The Undertaker is a wrestler unique in the sport as he has evolved from a complete entertainment to a complete wrestler entertainer. At the beginning of his career he was more show over substance but slowly progressed into one of the best wrestling brawlers of all time with great matches that tell compelling stories. He also developed from one of the eeriest heels ever to one of the most endearingly popular figures the sport has ever known really hitting his stride in the decade of the 2000's winning World titles and engaging in epic feuds with all the wrestlers of the time.

Randy Savage

World Titles: 6
1988 PWI Most Popular and Wrestler of the Year

The “Macho Man” was intensity personified and a main event star during the 80s and 90s. A multiple time World Champion, Savage was always eclipsed by the two greatest wrestlers of the time who were his greatest rivals: Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan (who he won and lost every one of his World Championships too). A perfect blend of strength, agility, and charisma, Savage never gave a dull interview or a dull match.

Kurt Angle

World Titles: 11
2003 PWI Comeback, Feud, Match, Most Popular, and Wrestler of the Year

The 1996 Olympic Gold medalist in the Heavyweight division is the best legitimate wrestler in any federation that he stars in but that is only the beginning to Kurt Angle who transitioned to the pro ranks and succeeded like none before him or since. Learning the craft of pro wrestling, Angle excelled as both a heel and face and was a World Champion wherever he wrestled. A shooter in a worked business, Angle translated his intensity from the amateur ranks to the his professional in-ring work delivering great matches time and and again.

The Rock

World Titles: 9
PWI Most Popular and Wrestler of the Year 2000
If God were to create a wrestler, he would create The Rock. Blessed with all the natural attributes and charisma possible, Dwayne Johnson quickly went the way of Hollywood. In many ways he is the combination of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. He accomplished a great deal in the business in a very short amount of time (even surpassing the achievements of his long-time rival Steve Austin). Wildly popular and extremely entertaining, The Rock is and probably will always be the best wrestler ever to pick up a microphone.

World Titles: 9
4-Time PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year

Sting was one of the most popular and greatest wrestlers of the 90s. He was known as “the franchise” in WCW and was the enduring warrior for that federation. A multi-time world champion, Sting was the perfect blend of strength and speed mixed with a great deal of technical knowledge and entertainment value.

Dusty Rhodes

World Titles: 3
PWI Wrestler of the Year 1978 & 1979

The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was one of the most popular and most successful wrestlers of the late 70s and throughout the 1980s. His popularity was probably second only to Hulk Hogan during that time and in Hulk’s most successful year (1987), it was Dusty who was voted PWI Most Popular Wrestler of theYear. But beyond his charisma and unparalleled microphone skills (he was one of the best interviews along with Ric Flair in the NWA), he was also quite skilled in the ring and for a big man could execute flying moves and wrestle for hour-draws every night.

Ricky Steamboat

World Titles: 1

Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat could possibly have been the greatest pure worker in the ring ever but due to a variety of reasons he was never at the top of the card for very long in any one federation but was a star wherever he went. A babyface his entire career, Steamboat was beloved and could have a great match with anyone including legendary matches with Ric Flair and Randy Savage. Perhaps no one possessed the raw tools for wrestling as a complete package than Steamboat

Ric Flair

World Titles: 16
PWI Wrestler of the Year: 1981, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992.
In short Ric Flair lives and breathes wrestling. He has headlined every promotion he has ever been in from the 1970s to the early 2000s, winning multiple World Championships in each. Flair is legendary for being able to generate reactions from the crowd, with a mix of rule breaking and a flashy ring entrance. His incredible durability and colorful “promos” have made him a constant favorite whether he was a good guy (babyface) or bad guy (heel).
Shawn Michaels

World Titles: 4
10-Time PWI match of the year winner
Shawn Michaels was a relatively little man in a big-man’s business but almost single-handed (along with long-time rival Brett Hart) transitioned the business away from the behemoths to the beautiful. Excelling at both tag team and singles action, Michaels could do it all. He was successful as both heel and face and was revered for his ability to “tell a great story” through his intense matches. He could have a good match with anyone.
Hulk Hogan

World Titles: 12
PWI Wrestler of the Year: 1987, 1991, 1994
The Hulkster ruled professional wrestling for two entire decades. Possessing incredible charisma and physical stature he helped transform wrestling from a niche pastime; spread out over several regional promotions to a mainstream brand of entertainment. He was the inheritor of Andre the Giant’s mantle as both the most beloved wrestler and the most invincible. Hogan’s marketability and appearances in movies and television helped turn the WWE into a billion dollar industry and paved the way for today’s high paid stars and elaborately produced shows. In his prime, Hogan rarely lost a match and no one’s legacy is so easily identified as Hulk Hogan’s.

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