10: Ricky Steamboat
He will forever go down as one of the greatest pure wrestlers of all time, and one of the most notable early examples of Vince McMahon jerking a wrestler around just for the sake of it. The story is well known at this point: After winning the Intercontinental Title over Savage at Wrestlemania 3, Steamboat told Vince he would like to have a lighter schedule to work around the birth of his child. Vince took the belt off him and jobbed him out.
Steamboat then left WWF and went on to have what is generally considered one of the greatest feuds in modern wrestling history with Ric Flair. Their matches were the stuff of legends. He would eventually return to WWF, but Vince then saddled him with the Dragon gimmick, so instead of being a serious wrestler, he wore scales and breathed fire to the ring.
Either way, true wrestling fans know the razor sharp brilliance that Steamboat brought to the ring. He was the obvious precursor to how most wrestlers handle a match today.
Greatest Match/Feud: I’m not kidding. Everything against Flair. Boogie Jam 84. Chi Town Rumble 89. Clash of Champions 6 in 1989. WrestleWar 89.
9: Andre The Giant
It’s easy to remember Andre as a lumbering Giant, a broken down body just barely holding it together out of loyalty towads Vince McMahon. Whether he was selling for Hogan at Wrestlemania 3, or basically acting as a slow cheerleader for Haku, most wrestling fans have a view of Andre as “just kind of a big guy” who pales in comparison to modern day big men such as Braun Strowman.
But that doesn’t give respect to a guy who was in the business for 30 years, even as his body battled against him. He is regarded as one of the all-time legends in Japan. His mere presence gave legitimacy to territories he went into. He was the monster that came in to vanquish the hated heel in a region before heading off to do it all over again. When he was younger, he could move too. It wasn’t until his knees started going away from him in the 70’s, that we started to see one of the true legends of the ring start to slow down. His place in the pantheon is undisputed.
Greatest Match/Feud: Hogan vs. Andre at Wrestlemania 3 isn’t a clinic by any means, but they do a great job telling a story in the ring. Andre the Giant vs. Harley Race in 1979. Andre the Giant vs. Strong Kobayashi in 1972.
As I’ve grown older, my fondest has moved to other wrestlers, but when I was a kid, Sting was my favorite wrestler. He looked like Zach Morris. He had awesome moves. He was always the good guy! When he switched over to vigilante Sting in WCW, he provided the necessary push back to the NWO that couldn’t be replicated by anyone else. The less said about the TNA days, the better, but that actually has nothing to do with him.
His WWE run was wasted before a back injury ended his career. One of the great what-if matches in wrestling history would have been prime Undertaker vs. Vigilante Sting. If that would have gotten a proper go after WCW folded, it could be talked about as one of the great matches of both wrestler’s careers.
Greatest Match/Feud: Sting vs. Cactus Jack at Beach Blast 92, Any Sting vs. Flair match from old Clash of the Champions, Survivor Series 2014, when Sting debuts in WWE to help beat HHH and the Corporation. One of the most electric moments since the WWE Network debuted.
7: Mick Foley
He was a criminally underrated wrestler that perfected his gimmick in ECW and in Japan. He and Terry Funk are revered worldwide for their death matches. He lost part of his ear in a match with Vader. He was awesome against every type of wrestler. He was in WCW’s first House of Horrors match. Ya know, the one where they put Abdullah the Butcher in an “electric chair.” Universally regarded as one of the most respected in ring performers of his era. THEN, he signed with WWF and went on to have a bunch of great years putting his body on the line.
Greatest Match/Feud: January 4, 1999 Monday Night Raw, Foley wins the title to the biggest pop in Raw history. Royal Rumble 1999 vs. The Rock in an I Quit Match. Mankind vs. Undertaker in Hell in a Cell.
6: Dusty Rhodes
Dusty was ahead of his time. Dusty paved the way for guys like Kevin Owens, who don’t have chiseled bodies, but get by with their mic work and in-ring abilities. Dusty is one of the wrestlers who got tagged as “someone who could put on a good match with anyone.” Hell, Dusty was the inventor of War Games, which WWE still used on their NXT brand every year.
Dusty was an innovator. Dusty was a guy who could never really get over as heel as his career went on because too many people identified with him and clung to him as the everyman who rose up to become something greater. His promos were the stuff of legend, and him and Flair made each other better every time they stepped into the ring against eachother.
Greatest Match/Feud: Pretty much everything he did with the Four Horsemen. The Hard Times promo. His rivalry with Harley Race. Dusty vs. Superstar Billy Graham at Madison Square Garden.
5: Hulk Hogan
Alright, let’s muddy the water a bit! Yes, Hulk Hogan was not one of the best wrestlers of all time. I will say that, point blank. Yes, he should be dinged for thinking it’s okay to use the N word, and then making a sex tape with his buddies’ wife, then suing Gawker over it to the tune of 140 million dollars, thus killing Gawker, and in essence Deadspin, Jalopnik, Io9, Gizmodo, and other sites.
With all that said, wrestling probably isn’t where it is today without Hulk Hogan. The cultural relevance that he carried/carries to this day transcends any one thing he did in the ring. His match vs. Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3 is probably one of the most important matches in the history of wrestling. That even today, Hogan keeps it kayfabe about Andre’s intentions during the match shows his commitment to how big the match was, and the mythology of it.
Beyond that, the NWO was an inflection point in wrestling. The day glo wrestlers, the wrestlers with everyman professions, and the nonsense of it all was over. That Hogan agreed to go heel for the first time in his career to join forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash is the biggest turning point in the history of wrestling. WWF would eventually seize control of the momentum from this, but there is no denying the importance of it.
Greatest Match/Feud: Hulk vs. Andre at Wrestlemania 3. Hulk Hogan joins the NWO, Bash at the Beach 1996. Thunder in Paradise.
4: Shawn Michaels
He took all of the best(and worst) parts of Ric Flair and Randy Savage and turned them into one of the most iconic wrestlers to ever step into the ring. He actually had great matches with both men as well. Shawn will always be remembered for some of the biggest moments in the history of wrestling, from the Barber Shop Window, to DX, to Ric Flair’s retirement match. I’m choosing to pretend he stayed retired, rather than take millions of dollars to shamelessly come back and look old and washed up in Saudi Arabia. If I had more of my morals to stand on, I’d eliminate him and Undertaker from this list specifically because of this, but I’m choosing to let their body of work stand on it’s own.
Greatest Match/Feud: Monday Night Raw in Toronto, his first time back since the Montreal Screw job. Michaels vs. Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Title in a ladder match at Wrestlemania 10. Shawn vs. the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 25.
3: Steve Austin
Yes, it’s fair to quibble about his placement due to the lack of high end longevity in his career, but that isn’t fair to the icon that Steve Austin was and what he meant to Wrestling in the late 90’s. He meant every bit as much to WWF as Hulk Hogan did in the mid 80’s. To steal a phrase from Jim Ross, he put butts in seats. Austin was such an absolute phenomenon that we are nearing 20 years since he retired from in ring performing, and he has his own tv show, his own beer, his own clothing line, and god only knows what else. It’s easy to forget, but he was also great in WCW as Stunning Steve and as a member of the Holywood Blondes.
Greatest Match/Feud: Austin vs. Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13. His incredible promo’s that he did in his brief time in ECW. Austin vs. Jake Roberts at KOTR 96, where the birth of “Austin 3:16 happened.” Austin vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14, with Mike Tyson as guest referee.
2: Randy Savage
Sometimes to portray crazy on tv, you have to be a little crazy. Savage was definitely a little bit crazy. But my god, he was great, too. He had that “it” factor that made you feel like everything he was saying was real and important even though you knew wrestling was fake. He has one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history in his back pocket, and even after Vince McMahon thought he was done as a wrestler in the early 90’s, he was able to go have a great run in WCW for another 7 years.
Greatest Match/Feud: Savage/Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3. Savage/Jake Roberts on Saturday Night Main Event when he got bit by the snake. Savage vs. Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 7.
1: Ric Flair
Probably the greatest to ever do it. He was the basis for what wrestling, and in many ways, hip hop culture would become in the ensuing decades. Flair was the complete wrestler. He was a great heel and a better ambassador for wrestling. He could talk on a mic as well as anyone who ever did. Plus, he could really go in the ring. He had classic matches with so many wrestlers on this list, that it’s obvious why he is the anchor. Number one with a bullet. Ric F’ing Flair.
Greatest Match/Feud: Take your pick. Flair/Steamboat is the greatest rivalry of all time. Flair/Dusty is in the pantheon. His retirement match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania. Winning the Royal Rumble in 1992. His king making performance with Sting at Clash of the Champions in 1989. If you want a deep cut, take a look below at the promo he cuts on the final Monday Nitro. That came from a very real place. 10 years before CM Punk did the Pipe bomb, this was the foundation for what 4th wall breaking promos could be.
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