20: Bret Hart
The excellence of execution. The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. I know that on talent alone, Hart deserve to be on the top of the list. Something just never clicked for me with Hart. He never jumped off the screen and got me excited for wrestling in the same way that contemporaries like Shawn Michaels did.
That being said, Hart’s place among wrestling’s all-time elite is undeniable. Known as a guy who could get a great match out of anybody, he went out of his way to make sure fans were given a match they could go home talking about. Hart was really a victim of his own ability. He was such a good in-ring performer that he was always there when WWF needed him, but that they rarely used in such a role, and his reputation as doing what was best for the business usually got him taken advantage of. Hogan notoriously put his foot down in 1993, saying that Hart wouldn’t draw as well as him as champion, which gave us the Hart/Yokozuna/Hogan finish at Wrestlemania 9. And of course, we all know about the Montreal Screwjob at this point. Still, Hart deserves recognition for caring about the business and being as important as he was to it.
Greatest Match/Feud: Hart vs. Austin at Wrestlemania 13. Hart vs. Mr. Perfect at Summerslam 91. Hart vs. Owen Hart at Summerslam 94.
Vader’s underwhelming run in WWF does a disservice to how great he was, and how much of a game changer he was in wrestling for big men. A former NFL football player, Vader moved with more grace and agility than could ever be expected from a man his size. That he was still doing a moonsault up til the bitter end is a testament to his determination and desire. He was one of, if not the dominating presence in the late 80’s in Japan through the mid 90’s in WCW. With Harley Race acting as his manager, Vader gave new definition to the in-ring monster persona.
Greatest Match/Feud: His feuds with Sting and Cactus Jack in WCW are benchmark feuds in the early days of WCW.
18: The Rock
At the peak of the Attitude Era, everyone knew what the Rock was cooking, they lived on Know Your Role Boulevard and Shut Your Mouth Lane, and were never anything more than roody-poo candy asses. Undoubtedly one of the greatest mic men alive, The Rock developed into the ultra-heel that WWF needed in the late 90’s and into the 2000’s. Dropping the belt to Foley made Foley’s career. Rock vs. Stone Cold was an era defining rivalry. The Rock was, in a sense, a king maker during his run in WWF. If you were going to be anything, you went through the Rock to get there. His athleticism could lend to a great match with damn near anyone.
Greatest Match/Feud: Anything with Stone Cold. Rock vs. Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania XVIII.
17: Jushin Liger
Liger is finishing up one of the most globetrotting careers in wrestling history. His final show will be at Wrestle Kingdom in a few months. In the meantime, he is out cementing his plaque in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Liger’s championships are a who’s who of organizations around the world. He has been wrestling for 35 years and has competed in over 4000 matches, numbers that are staggering in scope.
Greatest Match/Feud: Liger vs. Brian Pillman at Superbrawl 92. Liger vs. Own Hart at NJPW Explosion 92. Liger vs. Great Muta at Super Grade Tag League VI
16: Chris Jericho
The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla has been wrestling at a consistently high level since the early 90s, when he teamed with Lance Storm and a seriously awful haircut to form the Thrillseekers in Jim Cornette’s well noted mud show know as Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Perpetually over achieving and under-utilized in WCW, Jericho jumped ship to WWE in 2000 and immediately became a main eventer. His matches were usually the best on every card he was on. He spent 17 years reinventing himself like a chameleon in WWE, earning the respect of the notoriously smarky crowd. That “You Just Made The List” was in the twilight of his WWE run is all the more remarkable. More remarkable than that, though, is that he then went to NJPW and started a feud with Kenny Omega, generally considered one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Greatest Match/Feud: Jericho winning the championship at All Out. Jericho vs. Benoit/Malenko/Mysterio, pretty much anyone in the WCW cruiserweight division.
15: Harley Race
We could talk about how he legitimized the NWA title. We could talk about how rugged he was. How great of an in ring wrestler he was. How he was considered the bad boy of wrestling to the previous generation. But instead, I’d just like to point out that in the mid 80’s, WWF was ruining wrestling by invading the various territories like a spandex wearing Asian Carp. In 1984, WWF was running a show in the same town, on the same night as Harley Race was. Race was wrestling Ric Flair that night. So the story goes, Race got a gun and told Flair he would be back soon.
Race then walked into the arena that WWF was at, walked into the dressing room, and slapped Hulk Hogan in his titty from behind.
Hogan realized who hit him and immediately started panicking. According to legend, he said “Harley, I thought the first time I saw you in Kansas City, you’d have a great big gun.” To which Race responded “I don’t have a great big gun” and pulled out a handgun. It should be noted that about a year later, Vince McMahon would hire Harley Race into his company.
Greatest Match/Feud: Harley Race vs. Dusty Rhodes for the NWA Championship in 1979. Harley Race vs. Ric Flair for the NWA Championship in a Steel Cage at Starrcade 83.
14: Terry Funk
One of the most underrated wrestlers of all time. His career spanned 5 decades, which is insane to think about. In the movie “Beyond The Mat” which was shot in 1997, his doctor explains to him that he has no cartilage left in his knees and that he shouldn’t be able to live without being in constant pain. He wrestled for another decade after that. His death matches vs. Cactus Jack are the pivot point in the history of wrestling, showing that pure violence had a place in wrestling with a well told story in the ring. He wrestled every wrestler that ever mattered from the 60’s all the way through the 90’s, and he put on barnburners with every one of them.
Greatest Match/Feud: His feud with Ric Flair in 1989. His death matches with Cactus Jack. Funk vs. Stevie Richards vs. Sandman, followed by Funk vs. Raven for the ECW Championship at ECW Barely Legal 97.
13: Roddy Piper
Nobody ever did it quite like the Hot Rod. He was the prototype for the loose cannon in an age where a lot of wrestling felt very monotone. His matches were great before his knees and hip went away from him, but it was his personality that often shone through. His Piper’s Pit segment with Jimmy Snuka is still considered one of the most iconic moments in the history of televised wrestling.
He was so indispensable that he featured heavily in the Main Event of the first two Wrestlemanias. His WCW run could be considered a mixed bag, as he was very obviously fighting a body that was failing him.
Greatest Match/Feud: Wrestlemania 8 vs. Bret Hart. Starrcade 83 vs. Greg Valentine in a Dog Collar Match, pretty much his entire feud with the Guerrero family.
When you look at the inherent silliness of wrestling, an undead funeral home operator that is impervious to pain and is led around by an ashen white old man holding an urn ranks towards the top. 30 years later, it’s one of the most enduring characters in the history of wrestling.
The Undertaker is the backbone of WWE. He is probably the heart and soul, as well. He made you matter in the WWF. Beating him meant you were at the top of the mountain. He didn’t hold the Heavyweight title that much, and he never really needed to. His Wrestlemania victory streak is iconic. His matches with Shawn Michaels at Mania are some of the pinnacles in the history of the event. That he is still out there doing it is a testament to the enduring ability of the Deadman.
Greatest Match/Feud: Either Wrestlemania Match with Shawn Michaels. Hell in a Cell with Mankind. Undertaker vs. Yokozuna in a casket match at Royal Rumble 1994.
11: Eddy Guerrero
It’s not out of the realm to think that if Eddy hadn’t tragically passed away, he would be much further up this list. It’s not like he had lost the ability to wrestle. But, instead of dwelling on that, let’s look at one of the best wrestlers of all time to come out of Mexico. His entire family were wrestlers. He wrestled in Japan and Mexico for much of the early 90’s, becoming a hero in the wrestling tape collecting scene. In the mid 90’s, Paul Heyman was running ECW and bringing in young talent to put on matches that would excite his crowds and draw worldwide hype to his organization. Guerrero, along with Rey Mysterio Jr, Juventud Guerrera, and Psicosis were putting out matches that American crowds had never seen before.
He ended up with everyone else in WCW, filling out the cruiserweight division. In retrospect, it’s one of the greatest groupings of wrestlers anyone has ever seen.
Greatest Match/Feud: Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 04. Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko at Hostile City Showdown 95.