Before we get into this list, TheSportster would just like to send out their respects to the families of George “the Animal” Steele, Ivan Koloff, and Nicole Bass who passed away recently. In a weird and eerie twist, both Steele and Koloff would have been on this list if they didn’t pass away. Let’s hope the trend doesn’t continue.
With that said, most of you probably weren’t alive, let alone were your parents, when these wrestlers on this list debuted. Some of you may remember them from the ‘80s, others may have watched these guys perform using the WWE Network or YouTube. Regardless, all these Superstars were bonafide studs and helped blaze the path of wrestling that you see today.
Without these warriors breaking their bones, putting blood on the mat, and physically destroying themselves for our entertainment, wrestling might not be around today. What’s remarkable is that a lot of these guys have gone dark and we don’t necessarily hear about them until they pass away. If you have the chance, try and watch some of their work in their prime, as you'll enjoy it!
15 Stan Kowalski
He’s the oldest surviving wrestler on this list at the age of 90 years and 280 days. “The Big K” was a key talent for both the NWA and AWA throughout his wrestling career. He would make his debut in the wrestling industry in 1948 and retired in 1976. He could have been a Green Bay Packer, but decided to take a dive into the crazy world of professional wrestling.
He would work in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling before making it to the AWA and NWA. In 1970, he would work for the WWE as “Krippler Karl Kovacs.” He would feud with legends such as Gorilla Monsoon and Bruno Sammartino before leaving the company and retiring in 1976. After wrestling, he would become a commentator for AWA until its closure in 1990.
14 Mil Mascaras
He’s considered one of the iconic luchador wrestlers, which include El Santo and Blue Demon. Mascaras’ career still influences the young wrestlers of today. He would debut in 1965 in Mexico and would be an established star in three years. His size and strength was one of his best calling cards and he would eventually make it to the states in 1968.
His mark on wrestling can never be questioned as he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, by his nephew, Alberto Del Rio, in 2012. The legend has participated in matches as recently as last year in Mexico and Japan, making for an impressive resume. At 74 years old, it’s possible we could see him in the ring one last time.
13 Spiros Arion
One of the few Greek wrestlers to make a big impact in the wrestling industry, Spiros Arion debuted in 1961 as a 6’5” monster. He would work across Europe and gain tremendous popularity as a face. He became so popular the WWE had to sign him in 1966. The American audience loved him just as much as the international fans did and Arion was on a path of greatness. He would feud with greats such as Gorilla Monsoon, Johnny Valentine, and George Steele.
He was taken under the wing of Bruno Sammartino and they would team up in some remarkable matches. The two would eventually collide in an epic storyline that ended at Madison Square Garden. His biggest feud came against Bob Backlund in the late ‘70s, which involved the Heavyweight Title. Spiros would retire in 1979 and lives in Greece today at the age of 77.
12 "Cowboy" Bill Watts
Bill Watts may be known for his best work being in the NWA, however, the Oklahoma native has traveled around the world and is part of the WWE Hall of Fame. He made his debut in 1962 and would have his last match in 1986. He was one of the original wrestlers to use the “cowboy” gimmick and it was true to his real life lifestyle. Watts became a booker and would be involved in some major controversy, involving racism for the WCW.
This definitely impacted his legacy because the guy was a trailblazer of a wrestler, but will now be more known for his attitude with booking. Nevertheless, he would later work for the WWE as a booker for a short time before leaving the business. He’s 77 years old and resides in Miramar Beach, Florida, today.
11 Danny Hodge
Ever see a man crush an apple with his hand? Mark Henry did it once on an episode of WWE’s Ride Along, but the original wrestler to do it was Danny Hodge. The former boxer and wrestler performed the feat as recently as 2013 at the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Hodge was an excellent amateur freestyle wrestler and won the silver medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
The Dan Hodge Trophy, which is the Heisman Trophy of amateur wrestling, was named after him. He would begin his wrestling career in 1959 for the NWA and would have a very prestigious career. The Oklahoma native made appearances on Raw in which he honored Jim Ross, another Oklahoma wrestling native. Hodge is 84 years old and is chairman of the Oklahoma Professional Boxing Commission.
10 The Mormon Giant
Don Heaton, better known as The Mormon Giant, started his wrestling career in 1949. He is a second generation wrestler and traveled all over the world to help grow the industry. He would make his mark in Canada, working for Toronto's National Wrestling Alliance, winning titles and being part of key feuds. He would settle down in Vancouver and work the territories in the surrounding area. In 1972, the 6’6” monster would battle Andre the Giant in one of the most hyped matches of the time called, Battle of the Giants.
He did work for the WWWF, losing to then-champion Pedro Morales as a heel. His final match would be a six-man tag team match, teaming with Andre the Giant and Roddy Piper in a win against The Sheepherders and Buddy Rose. Today, he’s 85 years old and is one of the wrestlers involved in a class action lawsuit filed against the WWE for incurred traumatic brain injuries.
9 Rene Goulet
The WWE Universe may know Rebe Goulet as a jobber from the 80s but his career wasn’t as terrible as you would think. Before taking up a role as a jobber, Goulet debuted in the professional wrestling business in 1957. Billed from France, he would call himself “The Number One Frenchman” and wrestle all over the world. He would win titles for many promotions, such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, and World Wrestling Association.
This guy was an absolute workhorse and helped a lot of young wrestlers that turned into legends of today. He also has the honor of being the first wrestler to officially beat Ric Flair in 1972. Even though he became a jobber in the twilight of his career, he still was a solid wrestler that helped put a ton of talent over. Today, he’s 84 years old and regularly competes in golf charities.
8 Pampero Firpo
Before there was Bruiser Brody, a hardcore wrestler with wild hair and gimmick, there was Pampero Firpo, one of the first pioneers of hardcore wrestling. He debuted in the wrestling industry in 1953 after being trained by Rudy Dusek. Some of his names included Ivan the Terrible, Ervan the Armenian, and The Great Pampero. The Argentinian native had a great career in the NWA, winning numerous titles and becoming a household name.
He would never work for the WWE, however, his mark on the wrestling industry cannot be unnoticed. Randy Savage even took Firpo’s “Ohhhh Yeaaaah” and made it into an iconic catchphrase. After retiring from wrestling in 1986, he worked for the United States Postal Service in San Jose, California. No longer with a beard or long hair, Firpo has made appearances and signed autographs throughout the country since retirement.
7 Dick Beyer
The New York native made his professional wrestling debut in 1954 for Worldwide Wrestling Associates after graduating from the University of Syracuse. He started off as a babyface but donned a mask and became The Destroyer in 1962. Beyer would become an international sensation, traveling to Japan in 1963 and wrestling Rikidozan in front of 70 million TV viewers. Beyer would also become a top talent for the American Wrestling Association as well, wrestling under the name Doctor X.
Throughout his career, he would wrestle established performers, such as Pedro Morales, Dick the Bruiser, and Shohei “Giant” Baba. Beyer was semi-retired by 1984 but wouldn’t officially hang up the boots until 1993. He’s 86 years old today and owns a golf course called, Destroyer Park Golf in Akron, New York.
6 Carlos Rocha
The Portuguese Champion was built like a brick house for his era and made his wrestling debut in sometime in the 40s. The early part of his career isn’t well documented, but he did travel all over the world, including South Africa and Europe. By the 60s, he would be performing in North America and started to become more famous. He had ties to legendary Canadian wrestler, Stu Hart, and eventually found his way into the WWE.
Unfortunately, by the time he reached one of the biggest promotions ever, he was already well into the twilight of his career. His greatest feud came against “Superstar” Billy Graham for the WWWF Heavyweight Title in the summer of 1977. At 90 years old, Rocha lives in his home country of Portugal.
5 Mr. Wrestling II
Johnny Walker, or Mr. Wrestling II, made his debut in the wrestling industry in 1955 but retired in 1964. He would bounce back in 1967 and come out of retirement and would begin his transition into Mr. Wrestling II. By the early 70s, he would wrestle under a mask and, in 1972, a promoter asked him to don the Mr. Wrestling II mask for the Georgia Championship Wrestling. His career would take a huge turn for the best as he would be involved in the territory wars in the southeastern corner of the country.
Even former President Jimmy Carter was a fan of Mr. Wrestling II. Today, Walker is 82 years old and lives in Mililani, Hawaii. Even though he retired in 1989, he did make a few appearances as a wrestler in 2007 for Hawaii Championship Wrestling, a company he worked for as director of talent relations.
4 Jose Lothario
Most people reading this probably never watched Jose Lothario wrestle live, but the guy was a stud back in his day. He may be best known in the WWE Universe as Shawn Michaels' mentor and manager, training the young star in the ‘80s. Vince McMahon would bring Lothario into the fold in 1996 when Shawn Michaels turned into a babyface. He would accompany Michaels several times to the ring, most notably at the main event of WrestleMania XII.
For most of Lothario’s career, he would work with the NWA and is attributed to a losing streak of over 500 matches. Don’t knock the guy for being a jobber because he did end up training one of the greatest of all-time. Lothario is 82 years old today and was recently inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame.
3 Bobby Heenan
When Shawn Michaels turned heel and tossed his former teammate, Marty Jannetty, into a glass window, the great Bobby Heenan was on commentary and said, “Jannetty tried to dive through the window to escape!” It’s classic lines like this one that has made Heenan into a legendary icon in the industry. Heenan was not only one of the greatest managers in the business but he also was a wrestler, starting his career in 1965.
After a ten-year career with American Wrestling Association, Heenan was signed by Vince McMahon in 1984. His face would be as popular as Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant and his stable, The Heenan Family, is arguably at the top of the pile when it comes to the history of wrestling. In 2002, Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer but overcame the deadly illness. Heenan’s health isn’t the best today, but the warrior spirit is strong in him.
2 Pedro Morales
The Puerto Rican native is one of the most decorated wrestlers on this list and helped WWE become the promotion it is today. His career started in 1959 at the young age of 17. By the late 60s, he became an established star in multiple territories on the east coast. His first years with the WWE lasted from 1970 to 1975 and he would win the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Ivan Koloff.
After leaving the company he would work in Canada, Japan, and on the west coast. His return to McMahon’s promotion would come in 1980 and he'd quickly team up with Bob Backlund to win tag team gold. He would become one of the legendary wrestlers of the WWE and retire in 1987. Today, Morales is 74 years old and resides in New Jersey.
1 Bruno Sammartino
Before John Cena, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Hulk Hogan, the WWE had Bruno Sammartino. He was an absolute beast of a wrestler and was the top dog for several decades, spanning from the 60s to the 80s. His debut in the wrestling industry happened in 1959 for a Pittsburgh based promotion that he would eventually own. You can spend hours upon hours watching and reading all his achievements throughout his career.
His most impressive achievement is holding the WWE Championship the longest, which is 4,040 days between two reigns. His last match was teaming up with Hulk Hogan in a win against King Kong Bundy and One Man Gang in 1988. The WWE Hall of Famer is 81 years old today and still looks like he could raise hell.