It’s pretty hard to get yourself over in the world of professional wrestling if fans can’t believe that you’re actually capable of beating up other wrestlers. Fans may accept the scripted nature of the business, but that doesn’t mean that a wrestler doesn’t at least have to allow them to suspend their disbelief and buy into the possibility that their favorite wrestlers are letimately tough competitors who can at least put up a fight. Some wrestlers become popular without a “tough” persona, but even then, those wrestlers still have to be able to put up a convincing fight from time to time.
Just because every wrestler has to act tough, though, doesn’t mean that every wrestler is actually tough. In fact, some of the most infamous tough wrestlers of all-time just act like they’re tough when they’re really just a good person. Other supposedly tough wrestlers are really just wusses behind the scenes. Actually, the only reason that some of these wrestlers don't get the same tough-guy reputation is because is because they work alongside wrestlers that are legitimately some of the toughest competitors on the planet. These are the top 10 wrestlers who were legitimate tough guys and 10 who were only tough on screen.
20 Acts Tough - Kane
Like we said, don’t take this as an invitation to walk up to Kane on the streets and start talking trash. Odds are good that he’s still going to smack you into the ground, if for no other reason than he’s significantly larger than the average man. Still, if we’re talking toughness relative to the business and relative to Kane’s character, there’s a big gap between Glenn Jacobs and Kane. Jacobs is known far and wide a genuine wrestling nice guy as well as one of the most intelligent men in the locker room. He’s one of those “gentle giants” you sometimes hear about who seemingly prefers a low-key life devoid of any drama or action that doesn’t take place in the ring. Again, though, we probably still wouldn’t test him.
19 Is Tough - The Undertaker
Now, on the flipside of the Kane situation, we have The Undertaker. Undertaker may be Kane’s kayfabe brother, but the two are polar opposites so far as their relative toughness is concerned. For years, The Undertaker has been the godfather of the WWE locker room. He’s the guy that other wrestlers turn to when they have problems, and he’s the guy who goes out of his way to ensure that people who cause problems don’t cause them for long. He’s also a guy who doesn’t mind a bit of trouble outside the ring, even if he doesn’t seek it out. If you’re at a strip club - one of The Undertaker’s old favorite haunts - and a fight breaks out, you can bet that The Undertaker is going to be the guy who steps in to stop it.
18 Acts Tough - Shawn Michaels
Well, if you need some proof regarding The Undertaker’s toughness, Shawn Michaels can probably help you out there. There’s a story that’s been floating around for years involving Michaels refusing to lose to Stone Cold at WrestleMania until The Undertaker stepped in and threatened to beat him up if he didn’t do the job. There’s a lot of stories like that about Michaels, actually. You’ve probably heard that he was a bit of a diva during his younger days, but there’s few reports of Michaels ever really being able to back up his over-the-top attitude. From getting stomped by a group of marines at a bar to having to be talked down from a temper tantrum constantly, Michaels was a guy that loved to start trouble, but not much else.
17 Is Tough - Sabu
Whenever examples of wrestlers who had to endure a tremendous amount of injuries are brought up, you always hear about guys like Mick Foley. While Foley, and other hardcore wrestlers like him that are in the conversation, were certainly tough, few people come close to matching what Sabu went through. Sabu was a pioneer of the hardcore high-flying style. With his innovations came a ton of injuries. Along with life-threatening injuries like broken necks, Sabu had to endure having flesh ripped off of his body and falling on unprotected concrete from great heights. Through it all, you never really heard about Sabu taking a day off or phoning it in. He was the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal wrestler who was just as crazy in real life as promoters told fans his character was.
16 Acts Tough - Luke Harper
Luke Harper looks like the guy you see at the back of a bar who is just waiting to stab someone just to avoid being bored for too long. He has crazy eyes and the type of beard that you only grow with the blood of your enemies. Promoters have been booking him as as a destroyer for years. The thing about Harper, though, is that he is probably one of the nicest guys in wrestling. The man is simply bursting with personality and everyone that has ever met him in real life comes away saying that they can’t believe how awesome he is. Whenever you hear Harper talk outside of his character, you have a hard time imagining him being a real life enforcer.
15 Is Tough- Wade Barrett
You have to wonder how Wade Barrett’s career would have progressed if he didn’t suffer so many injuries throughout his career. Barrett had a great look, could cut a decent promo, and was tough as nails. Seriously, Barrett is an all-time tough competitor. Barrett has said that there’s a good story behind every scar on his body, but we tell you there is certainly a good story about the 12-inch scar that runs from his upper back to his tricep. Barrett got that when he was stabbed by a thief who tried to take his bag of money. Tried is the key word here, as the thief didn’t make off with the cash. Barrett was also a bare-knuckle fighter, which we hear is a profession that requires a little toughness.
14 Acts Tough - Big Van Vader
Vader’s toughness has been a source of debate for years. There’s no denying that Vader endured some incredible punishment throughout his career. Just watch his matches in Japan with Stan Hansen if you want to see him give and take a beating. Yet, just about anyone who has ever worked with Vader seems to say that he was really just a nice guy who used his natural size to “get over” how dangerous he could be. Vader himself seems to corroborate these stories as he usually describes himself as kind of a big softie and overall nice guy. If you really want to press the issue, you could cite the time that Paul Orndorff apparently took him to task backstage. Then again, we’re not entirely sure that he’s really that nice.
13 Is Tough - Hardcore Holly
By all accounts, Hardcore Holly was not a beloved person. As a matter of fact, most anyone who knew him or worked with him is quick to describe him as a real jerk and other words that are best left elsewhere. People may have not really liked Holly, but he tends to be the person that people turn to when they want some perspective on who the real tough guys in wrestling are. He’s kind of a barometer for toughness. You might know about some of the in-ring injuries Holly has worked through over the years, but most stories involving Holly’s toughness have to do with his incredibly violent nature. Holly has legitimately teed off on some wrestlers in the ring before and apparently isn’t afraid to do the same to anyone else.
12 Acts Tough - Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is a lot like Luke Harper. When he’s in the ring, he comes across as the ultimate wrestling bad-ass. A true fighter who simply doesn’t care how much pain he has to endure as long as it means that he has the chance to dish out just as much pain in the process. However, Owens isn’t really like that. Nobody has ever denied that he’s a guy who is willing to put his body on the line in the ring, but there’s nothing about Owens’ out of ring life or his general personality to suggest that he’s a traditional wrestling tough guy. Instead, Owens is really just a big wrestling fan who loves his family, loves his job, and would prefer to crack a smile rather than throw a punch.
11 Is Tough - William Regal
It would be interesting to ask someone who has only ever watched WWE what they think about William Regal. If we had to guess, they probably wouldn’t think he’s much more than just a funny guy with a strong accent who occasionally serves as an authority figure. The truth of the matter is, though, that William Regal is one of the toughest men that’s ever graced the world of wrestling. Regal wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with guys like Goldberg and anyone else he felt needed to be taken down a peg or two. Regal came up through the carnival circuit and grew up fighting his whole life. He’s a classically trained wrestler who could tie most performers up in knots and, by all accounts, a decent fist fighter to boot.
10 Acts Tough - John Morrison
Here’s a strange one. It’s safe to say that not too many people really thought of John Morrison as a “tough guy” during his WWE run, but he didn’t really have a reputation for not being one either. Around 2011, however, a former WWE creative member revealed that Vince McMahon didn’t like John Morrison because he didn’t feel that Morrison could legitimately beat anybody up. Apparently, he also wasn’t too thrilled about the fact that Morrison apparently let Batista sleep with Melina while Melina and Morrison were dating. We’re not sure about that, but the general idea seems to be that Morrison really didn’t have a stomach for the more aggressive sides of the business. Some called him stubborn, while others suggested that he really just didn’t have the attitude McMahon likes.
9 Is Tough - Mark Henry
Many wrestlers have been billed as the “World’s Strongest Man,” but most of the time, the label doesn’t mean much than that the wrestler in question has a few more muscles than the other wrestlers. That is not the case with Mark Henry. Henry is legitimately one of the strongest men that has ever lived. Now, while being strong doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re also tough, the two do seem to go together in the case of Henry. Henry appears to be a pretty nice guy most of the time, but the way you hear other wrestlers speak about him, you’d think that he’s ready to rip-off people’s heads at a moment’s notice. Maybe that’s just the way Henry carries himself, but at a certain point, if you get everyone to believe that you’re tough, you’re tough.
8 Acts Tough - Batista
Batista has enjoyed quite the career as a tough guy. He was brought into WWE as a tough guy bodyguard for D-Von Dudley and soon became the tough guy bodyguard for Evolution. Eventually, he also enjoyed a brief MMA run and became a well-respected tough guy actor. Was Batista really ever that tough, though? Some have argued that he really wasn’t. There’s an infamous story out there involving Booker T winning a fight against him backstage that hindered Batista’s “street cred,” but people really started talking about Batista’s overall toughness during his MMA run. You’ve got to be tough to even step into an MMA ring in the first place, but Batista just didn’t look like he had that killer edge that separates wrestling’s toughest guys from the business's best “tough guys.”
7 Is Tough - Terry Funk
You may notice that Mick Foley isn’t listed on the tough guy portion of this list. To some, that might be an oversight. Foley has certainly gone through the ringer in terms of in-ring injuries and hardcore matches. There’s no denying Foley’s in-ring toughness, but Foley is also a pretty nice guy outside of the ring who probably doesn’t seek out the tough guy lifestyle. If you’re looking for that guy, you’re looking for Terry Funk. Funk has become the butt of several jokes over the years because of his multiple retirement matches, but Funk’s refusal to retire despite the years of abuse he has suffered speaks to his gladiator mentality. Out of the ring, Funk has lived the life of an ex-gunslinger. He’s hung his guns up, but only because he spent a lifetime relying on them.
6 Acts Tough - Goldberg
From the moment Goldberg arrived in WCW, he immediately became a fan favorite by virtue of his toughness. At a time when WCW fans were craving a hero that could destroy the nWo, Goldberg came along and destroyed everyone. He was booked to be a destroyer, but he certainly looked the part as well. He was big, he was angry, and he was convincingly tough. However, Goldberg never really claimed to be a tough guy. His chosen professions suggest that he’s at least kind of tough, but Goldberg has never really been into trying to maintain a true tough guy image.
Guys like Perry Saturn have called him out in the past for being a fake tough guy, and there is that famous story about Chris Jericho smacking him around a bit backstage as well.
5 Is Tough - Steve Blackman
Blackman’s run in WWE wasn’t the kind of career that gets you into the Hall of Fame. Blackman enjoyed a few memorable moment, but for the most part, fans associate him with some bad comedy segments and even worse matches. It’s almost enough to make you forget that WWE billed Blackman as a “lethal weapon.” It’s almost enough to make you forget that Blackman really was one of the baddest men on the planet. Blackman has always been an accomplished bodybuilder and martial artist, and some believe that he was just as capable in a real wrestling match as guys like Kurt Angle and Ken Shamrock. In fact, fellow wrestling tough guy Hardcore Holly said that he tried to take Blackman on one time, and Blackman tied him up in knots and made it so that he couldn’t retaliate.
4 Acts Tough - Taz
The toughness of Taz has always been the subject of great debate. Taz became famous in ECW when he broke his neck during a match, fought on, and returned months later as a faux-MMA fighter. Since then, bookers have treated Taz like he was a legit street fighter. Taz has played the part well over the years and his reputation remains largely intact. However, some fellow wrestlers have called into question whether or not Taz’s toughness is actually an act. Bob Holly claimed that he asked for him to be removed as a Tough Enough trainer because he was worried a trainee was going to hurt Taz. There’s stories about guys like Rob Van Dam forcing Taz to back down. New Jack even straight up called out Taz for being a fake. His overall toughness is a matter of debate, but the evidence against him is certainly out there.
3 Is Tough - Scott Steiner
Why is it that Scott Steiner isn’t regularly considered to be one of wrestling’s greatest tough guys? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most people can’t get over his incredible physical transition and insane, rambling promos. Regardless, Steiner is a legitimate amateur wrestler who has never taken any lip from anybody and regularly scared every wrestler he’s ever worked with. Seriously, there are WCW guys who will tell you that they were petrified of Scott Steiner. Even before he became Big Poppa Pump, Steiner was known for brutalizing jobbers in the ring and anyone else that dared wrestle him. He’s been called wrestling’s version of Mike Tyson in his prime, in that he’s just a guy that even the best in the world wouldn’t dream of messing with.
2 Acts Tough - Ric Flair
When you’re talking about the toughness of Ric Flair, you’ve got to talk about the fact that they guy walked away from a plane crash that doctors said he should have never survived. You also can’t discount the fact that Flair worked a true champion’s schedule in his day and spent years enduring brutal matches across the territories. If we’re talking about Flair’s toughness in relation to other famous tough wrestlers of Flair’s era, however, Flair doesn’t seem to rate highly. Flair achieved stardom at a time when some of the toughest wrestlers that ever lived were making a name for themselves and, by the accounts of some of those wrestlers, Flair was someone who was likely to talk a big game, but unlikely to back it up. We can’t blame Flair for not feeling the need to prove his toughness, but the fact remains that he wasn’t always the fighting champion he billed himself to be.
1 Is Tough - Harley Race
Sometime around the early ‘80s, Harley Race was seen as the guy that all young wrestlers had to face if they wanted to prove that they were going to be future stars. That’s partially because of Race’s history as a well-known champion, but it had much more to do with the fact that Race was a legitimate all-time tough guy who would put any young star through their paces and make them prove their worth. There are many stories about Harley Race’s toughness out there, but one of the most amusing involves a party Owen Hart and his wife threw. At some point, the Harts realized they had to start chipping down a big block of ice they had bought. Race said not to worry about it and began to punch the block of ice in order to break it down into cubes. So far as Race’s toughness goes, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.