These Wrestlers Are All-Time Legends
What’s that you say? Wrestling is fake? Sure it is, but that has never stopped wrestling fans from embracing the unrivaled theater of it all. And what’s more, some wrestlers take things to the next level. They’ve left an indelible mark on wrestling, and they should be recognized.
Whether their trademark of choice was bravado, intimidation, or sheer flair, these legends of wrestling did what needed to be done to put on a show.
Andre The Giant
André René Roussimoff wasn’t a man who had to seek out wrestling, as his giantism left him few career options. Born in a French town called Coulommiers, Andre was nearly seven feet, though he was usually listed as seven feet, four inches.
Andre the Giant is one of the most recognizable wrestlers today in part because of his role outside the ring in the film The Princess Bride. His size made him beloved and then notorious as a wrestler, and he weighed over 500 pounds when he died.
Randy “Macho Man” Savage was of the brash, bodacious school of wrestling popularized by Ric Flair and later The Rock. After he died, Bill Simmons called him “one of the greatest pro wrestlers who ever lived.”
His father, Angelo Poffo, wrestled in the 1950s under the name “The Masked Miser.” So when Savage, whose real name is Randall Poffo, called quits on his career after stalling as a catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system, wrestling was a natural fallback.
Before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was the world’s foremost action movie star, he was just …The Rock. Once a college football player at the University of Miami, The Rock parlayed his family history in wrestling as well as his 6 feet 5 inches and 260-pound frame into a legendary wrestling career.
You could say that destiny gave Johnson no choice — his dad and grandfather were both wrestlers, and his grandmother Lia Maivia was one of the first women to promote professional wrestling. So did The Rock choose wrestling, or did wrestling choose The Rock?
Bruno Sammartino may be a name unknown to casual wrestling fans. Still, if you’re a wrestling purist who followed the sport during the Kennedy White House era, there is no way that you don’t recall Bruno Sammartino.
He holds the record for longest-reigning WWE champion, contributing to the legitimacy of his nickname: The Italian Superman. Now, we won’t say that Clark Kent necessarily wasn’t Italian, but he certainly wasn’t Bruno Sammartino, who spent his childhood dodging Nazis in his Italian hometown of Pizzoferrato, Italy.
Ric Flair was a clever play on the wrestler’s real name: Richard Morgan Fliehr. He debuted in 1972, but nobody could have known that his trademark bravado and catchphrase (“Wooo!”) would catapult him into the pro wrestling pantheon.
Flair was known as Nature Boy, a cash-spending, girl-getting macho-man who to this day wears his confidence on his sleeve. At the age of 39, executives in charge of the WCW urged him to drop the Nature Boy schtick and become … a Roman gladiator. That never happened.
Bret Hart is one of the few wrestlers who hail from Calgary, Canada. Hart comes from a lineage of Hart family wrestlers, and while he once wanted to be a cartoonist or filmmaker, it seems that wrestling was always in the cards for the man known as “Hitman.”
Hart is on this list for many reasons, one being that he became the first wrestler to fight in ten or more consecutive WrestleMania events. Hart performed in 12 straight, a true testament to his work ethic, toughness and loyalty.
While wrestling was originally a game by men and for men, it evolved to include the gentler sex. The greatest female wrestlers are anything but gentle, however, and Chyna tops the list of the most well-respected females to ever grace pro wrestling.
Her nickname was “The Ninth Wonder of the World,” and she was the rare female wrestler that was able to compete against the boys. Born Joan Marie Laurer, most fans know her only as Chyna. The wrestling community mourned her untimely death in 2016 due to a drug overdose.
Speaking of iconic female wrestlers, the stunning Lita was one of the trailblazers of the sport. Born Amy Christine Dumas, she loved Pee-Wee Herman and engaged her thrill-seeking side by imitating a stunt from one of his movies.
That thrill-seeking streak led her to pro wrestling, and she was willing to do anything to pursue the dream. She flew to Mexico to begin her climb up the pro circuit despite no guarantee that she would make it. She did — she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014.
In any sport, old school fans may be hesitant to bestow praise on new school fans. Still, nobody could deny that John Cena is not only an iconic pro wrestler, but one of the best crossover talents ever to grace the sport.
He transcended the wrestling platform by starring in movies like Blockers, Trainwreck, Daddy’s Home, and Fast and Furious 9. He waded into the musical sphere with some success as well, all while maintaining a loyal following purely as a wrestler. Cena is a no-doubt, sure-fire future WWE Hall of Famer.
Hulkster is a real American, as the song goes, and you can argue that he is the most iconic wrestler of all time. His blonde mane gave way to a bandana look that lives onto this day, but some things never changed: the bravado … and the guns.
You knew when you stepped in the ring against the Hulk that you were the heel, bound to be made the bad guy. You can’t argue with the numbers: Hulk has 12 total titles, six with the WCW and six with the WWE.
The Iron Sheik
Just as the antagonist in a book is equally as important as the protagonist, for every Hulk Hogan, there must be an Iron Sheik. This wrestler played the bad guy throughout his career, though he had the opposite personality outside of the ring.
As a native Iranian proud of his roots, the Sheik became a natural foil for Hogan, who wrapped himself in the American flag in every performance (“He is a real A-mer-i-can!”). Whether you loved or hated the Sheik, you feared his signature Camel Clutch move.
Trish Stratus made her debut in 2000, serving as part of a duo not-so-subtly acronymized as T&A. But Stratus was much more than T or A, as she was a seven-time WWE Women’s Champion, making her one of the most successful wrestlers of any gender.
Her primary rival was Lita, and they became the first female match to headline a main event during 2004 RAW. Stratus retired in 2006 after winning her final title, fittingly over Lita, who she’d battled many times throughout her career.
The Undertaker is still going strong as a pro wrestler due to his amazing, freakish shape. He doesn’t just have one of the most intimidating acts; he is one of the largest, ripped-est, most intimidating human beings in wrestling history.
Casual fans may not know that The Undertaker didn’t settle on his iconic name on the first try. He’s been through eight different wrestling names, including The Punisher, Punisher Dice Morgan, Mean Mark Callous, and Texas Red, to name a few. Good thing he found The Undertaker, which finally stuck.
Triple H started as a wrestler, but he is now upper management within the WWE empire. He also married the daughter of the founder of the league, Vince McMahon. However, it seems Triple H was destined to spread his wings thanks to an unrivaled work ethic and vision.
Triple H was not always Triple H, as he had to go through less-lasting names like Terra Ryzing and Jean-Paul Levesque before settling on the name that stuck fast. But he may prefer that you simply call him King of Kings.
The Fabulous Moolah
Let’s take it back, way back, to the old school for a moment. The Fabulous Moolah, an iconic figure in female wrestling, made her debut in 1949. She had four separate title reigns, each lasting a substantial amount of time.
Perhaps most impressive, she retired at the ripe age of…76! And by the looks of her, she had at least a few more years of gas left in the tank. Moolah entered the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995 and passed away in 2007 at the age of 84.
Charlotte Flair came from a lineage of pros, as her dad is an icon: Ric Flair. Known for her notable athleticism, Charlotte carved her own lane in the wrestling game, becoming one of the most popular female wrestlers in today’s version of the sport.
Flair is the only female wrestler to have won four titles, yet some fans may not realize that her birth name is not Charlotte, but rather Ashley Elizabeth Fliehr. Like her dad, she knows how to spin a narrative to get the fans worked up.
Batista has clearly taken cues from the likes of The Rock and John Cena in beginning to get his name out beyond wrestling circles. Dave Batista has a consummate body for wrestling at 6 feet 6 inches and 290 pounds, but he’s also turning out to be something of a movie star.
The wrestler known as The Animal broke into film through the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and has continued his run of success in films like Blade Runner 2049 and Stuber. He’s also a six-time world champion — not too shabby.
Brock Lesnar keeps trying to follow his heart to the UFC, but a combination of poor conditioning and a penchant for using performance-enhancing drugs keeps bringing him back to the league that made him a star: the WWE. Lesnar is a country boy from Webster, South Dakota, and he’s attracted a loyal fanbase.
The results speak for themselves: he’s a five-time world champion, including King of the Ring in 2002 and Royal Rumble Champion in 2003. Not everyone is a Lesnar fan, but he appears to be headed for the WWE Hall of Fame.
AJ Lee first appeared alongside the likes of John Cena in a supporting role — arm candy, if you will. But Lee made the jump to true wrestling status, mastering the moves and schtick necessary to make her a four-time WWI Divas Champion.
She held onto the title for 296 days, a record at the time. Her career highlights include a title defense where she fended off 14 other contenders. When she retired at 28 years old in 2015, it came as a surprise.
Steve Borden, better known by his stage name of Sting, became an icon of WWE during the 2000s for, among other things, having a terrifyingly made-up face. His signature move was the Stinger Splash, but even his moves didn’t measure up to the terror his make-up artist imposed on the audience.
Most impressive of all is Sting’s wins. He is a 12-time champion and four-time Tag Team Champion. He also owns the record for the most Pay-Per-View appearances in the WCW, a metric that speaks to his popularity among fans of wrestling.
Kane is another wrestler who perfected the art of menace. His penchant for wearing a red mask made him appear more fitting for a horror flick than the a wrestling ring, but it worked during a time when fear sold as far as WWE was concerned.
His real name is Glenn Jacobs, but Kane was a more intimidating monicker, so he understandably stuck with it. His most impressive statistic is that he won the Tag Team Championship twelve times, and he largely avoided injury or absence during a 22-year career.
While the ladies don’t always get global recognition, we’ll make sure they get some shine. Sasha Banks may not be a name you hear in discussions about wrestling’s all-time greats, but it probably should. Her nickname is “The Boss,” after all!
She was one of the trailblazers in what was dubbed the Women’s Revolution in wrestling spanning the past few years, and she emerged as Charlotte Flair’s primary championship-caliber rival during that period. The two have headlined the RAW main event multiple times, a huge step for women’s wrestling.
Goldberg is one of only a few wrestlers who used their real name (William “Bill” Scott Goldberg) as a wrestling moniker. He had a 6-foot-4 inch, 270-pound body that was ideal for wrestling domination.
Also known as The Myth and The Iconic, he became a three-time World Champion, one-time Tag Team Champion, and one-time U.S. Champion. He would often ask his catchphrase, “Who’s Next?,” right before dealing out more punishment.
Vince McMahon is most known as the creator of the WWE, a master businessman and even as the mind behind the failed (but soon-to-be revived) XFL. However, he’s also thrown down in the ring at times. Wrestling fans certainly noticed when Vince transformed into Buff Vince.
The blurring of the lines between reality and fantasy is a necessity in wrestling, and nobody has done it better than Vince himself, who only adds to his semi-villainous perception among wrestling fans whenever he chooses to insert himself into the storyline.
Wendi Richter is an iconic female wrestler that fans of 80s wrestling will never forget. She was a key figure in the Rock ‘N Wrestling era, and she was involved in a storyline that included Cindy Lauper of all people.
Female wrestlers who followed in her footsteps are judged by wrestling purists according to the Richter scale, from Sasha Banks to Chyna and those still to be discovered. She put an end to The Fabulous Moolah’s 28-year title reign, defeating her in the Brawl to End It All in 1984.
Mick Foley played a big role in the growth of so-called backyard wrestling. Unregulated, dangerous takes on the pro sport are certainly not advisable, but being a backyard wrestler cemented Mick’s reputation as one of the most real men in the game.
Foley was known for backing up his wild-eyed gaze with interviews that were chock-full of memorable quotes and headline material. Foley is the blue-collar wrestling fan’s icon, and he was willing to take more shots than virtually anybody else on the wrestling circuit.
Sensational Sherri truly was sensational when it came to being a trailblazer and legend in the sport of wrestling. Born Sherri Martel, she was the rare talent that was both an in-ring wrestler and a manager of some of male wrestling’s most iconic figures.
When she wasn’t guiding the careers of wrestlers like Ric Flair, Randy Savage and “The Million Dollar Man,” Sensational Sherri was also cracking skulls and taking the names of any female wrestlers who would dare challenge her. She was unique in her range of skills.
Born in El Paso, TX in 1967, Eddie Guerrero became a favorite of many wrestling fans because of his ability to manipulate the crowd’s emotional scale in a good way. At 5-foot-8, he was also one of the most diminutive wrestlers around.
He was a natural athlete, having attended the University of New Mexico on an athletic scholarship, and his legend only grew because of his tragic death. At only 38 years old, Guerrero was found in his hotel room in Minneapolis, having died due to heart failure brought on by atherosclerosis.
Michael Shawn Hickenbottom is known to most wrestling fans as Shawn Michaels, and he is considered by most to be among the greatest showmen that the sport has ever known. Michaels had a plan to wrestle from a young age and began his training for the sport when he was only 19 years old.
He’s also a living story of resilience, as he was fired from the WWE only two weeks after making his debut. He would continue to work for his shot and eventually became one of wrestling’s biggest stars and eventually a WWE Hall of Famer.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Texas Rattlesnake, was an integral player in defining the so-called Attitude Era in professional wrestling. He grew up in Edna, Texas and claims to have had his first beer at the ripe age of 14.
Stone Cold often cracked cans of beer together and ingest the suds as they poured all over him. He has had many iterations in pro wrestling after having been fired from the WCW, migrating to the WWF, and now acting as an icon of the WWE.