Wrestling fans are among the most loyal in all of sport. However, the interesting dynamic among fans is that most are loyal to a specific era, and they stand by it as the best. Frequently, fans point to the wrestling that first attracted them to the business as the era that was the best. However, there is little dispute that professional wrestling saw its biggest surge of growth in the 1980s with the jump to cable television, which took the product from regional coverage to national visibility. The stars of the 1980s remain among the most revered stars of all time, and their exploits are regularly re-visited in clips on the WWE Network and through YouTube footage as well.
But how do the stars of the 1980s stack up against the current headliners on television today? What are some of the exciting showdowns that we wish we could see today to settle the dispute? From an era when the wrestlers were on the road for 300 days a year, to today when the saturation of the wrestling product sees the wrestlers on TV every single day, how would these dream matches play out? Take a look at this line up and you decide.
20 The Bushwhackers vs. The Dudley Boyz
WWE fans may point to the unorthodox team of Butch Miller and Luke Williams during their run in the Vince McMahon empire, and dismiss The Bushwhackers as an undercard comedy duo. However, before the New Zealand-born cousins arrived in the WWE, they were among one of the most internationally celebrated and feared teams as The Sheepherders. In bloody feuds with the likes of The Fabulous Ones and The Fantastics, they carved a wide swath. In fact, their legacy reminds us a little of a team that cut their teeth as a duo in a Philadelphia bingo hall for Extreme Championship Wrestling; The Dudley Boyz.
Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley ascended to the top of the tag team scene, holding the WWE tag team titles on nine occasions. The Bushwhackers at their villainous best against the Dudleys outside of a “PG” environment, would be a tag team showdown that would remind people of how rough pro wrestling can really be. We’re hard pressed to identify who has the edge.
19 Dusty Rhodes vs. Goldust
As fans, we have been blessed to witness a number of family legacies in the sport – watching sons rise from the shadows of their father, and carve out their own place in wrestling history. Dustin Rhodes began his career alongside his father during the close of the 1980s, but in 1996 a brief estrangement from his World Champion father led to the creation of the character that would define his career.
For the past 20 years, Goldust has achieved success in both solo and tag team action. Dusty, by his own admission, never had the look of a top athlete, but his admission of his own flaws only served to connect him with his audience. In this showdown between the elder and junior Rhodes, there’s still no topping “The American Dream”. While we suspect that their familiarity would make for an aggressive contest, Dusty would level Goldust with the bionic elbow for the win.
18 Demolition vs. Ascension
There is an astonishing similarity between the introduction and the debut of Demolition, and the television debut of The Ascension. When Demolition first appeared on the scene in 1987, they were quickly dismissed as the WWE’s (wrong) answer to the Legion of Doom. However, they rose to become one of the most iconic and memorable teams of the 1980s, generating a loyal following and championship success. Similarly, the Ascension alienated the WWE Universe with their introductory promo on television, declaring themselves to be dominant in the same scale as the best teams of the 1980s.
In a battle between two of the WWE-created face painted teams, it's safe to say that Demolition vs. The Ascension would be a highly anticipated match up. This one would be close call, but Ax & Smash may have a slight advantage with their years of experience, and success with other tag team partners at a national level before joining forces as a team. The Ascension may yet reach their prime in the WWE, but Demolition in their prime vs. The Ascension of present sees Demolition taking the win.
17 Iron Sheik vs. Rusev
As long as there has been professional wrestling, the business has leveraged the political sensitivities. Wrestling promotions would utilize foreign "evils" of the day, to create threats who would be a natural foil for the most patriotic rivals. In 1983, the American hostilities with Iran made Khosrow Vaziri one of the most visible and reviled villains of the 1980s. The former Olympic wrestler-turned pro was a dangerous customer whose infamy was great enough to launch the era of Hulkamania.
In the years that followed, a parade of international antagonists has been paraded for wrestling fans with varying success. Aside from Muhammed Hassan and Yokozuna, few wrestlers have demonstrated the dominance of Rusev, who immediately turned heads with his hulking appearance and punishing ring style. Rusev’s reign as United States Champion incited the same type of cultural tension as the Iron Sheik. Pitted against each other, The Iron Sheik and Rusev are both certain to be showered with a chorus of boos. The outcome may be dependent upon whether or not The Iron Sheik has loaded up a foreign object into his curly-toed boot or not.
16 Samoan Swat Team vs. The Usos
In 1989, Pro Wrestling Illustrated suggested that it was hard to tell Samoan tag teams apart without a score card. The 1980s featured a number of dominant pairings from the south Pacific – The Wild Samoans (Sika & Afa), The Islanders (Haku & Tama), and The Samoan Swat Team (Samu & Fatu). After running rough shod over the competition in World Class Championship Wrestling, the Samoan Swat Team raided WCW, where their physicality was only matched by the Steiner brothers. In the WWE as the Headshrinkers, they achieved championship success.
The Usos, both second generation wrestlers, and incidentally Fatu’s sons, are continuing the tradition of Polynesian tag teams in the current generation. The duo have found a way to incorporate their cultural traditions, with a new school style of wrestling that has electrified audiences. While The Samoan Swat Team were known to pull out all of the stops, that sometimes resulted in a disqualification loss. If these teams locked horns, the Usos would emerge victorious, though possibly via disqualification, and most certainly not unscathed.
15 Wendi Richter vs. Becky Lynch
As the WWE first launched its national expansion in the mid-1980s, Wendi Richter was poised to become the face of the women’s division, ending the long reign of the Fabulous Moolah, and aligning with rock star Cyndi Lauper. In fact, there was a point where her merchandise sales eclipsed almost everyone but Hulk Hogan. Richter may be credited with ushering women’s professional wrestling into the Rock ‘n Wrestling era. Becky Lynch, by comparison has emerged as one of the leaders in the current women’s revolution. Her career, which started humbly in Ireland, has seen her tackle markets in Japan, Germany, the UK and Canada before reaching the pinnacle of the business. More importantly, she’s still young enough to have a lengthy career and influence the next generation of women in the ring. While Richter would no doubt bring an old-school mentality to the match, the versatility and resilience of Becky Lynch would serve her well in this contest. The Lass Kicker takes the match.
14 The Freebirds vs. New Day
The Fabulous Freebirds weren’t the first trio to change the scope of tag team wrestling, but they certainly took the earlier template set by The Grahams and The Valiant Brothers to a whole new level in their travels during wrestling’s territory era. Best known for their wars against the Von Erichs in Texas, some might argue that the Fabulous Freebirds were simply ahead of their time; their efforts to record their own music videos and release albums would have fit right into the culture of the WWE a decade later.
Fast forward to the present, and the New Day has emerged as one of the most entertaining trios younger fans have ever seen. Their position as one of the wrestling industry's top teams is evidenced by the team being called out by rival promtions. However, regardless of how cohesive New Day is as a unit, when it comes down to pure craftiness to secure the win at all costs, the match would have to go to Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts.
13 Steve Williams vs. Brock Lesnar
“Bring me some men! I want some competition!” bellowed Steve “Dr. Death” Williams into the TV cameras after trouncing an opponent on television. Dominating in Mid-South and later reigning as UWF Heavyweight champion, Williams was highly touted for his physicality in the ring, a carryover from his football career. It was a reputation that served him well later, when he went to Japan where his career rose to even greater heights. Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, has enjoyed a reputation similar to Williams. A formidable talent with an aggressive ring style, Lesnar has reigned as ruler of both the WWE and the UFC during his career, and continues to straddle both planes. Williams vs. Lesnar would not be a scientific encounter, though both men have skills in that regard. We instead expect it to be a battle of the bulls, a slug fest which would result in a hard fought victory for Lesnar.
12 Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Orton
There are a lot of similarities in the ring style and movements of both Randy Orton and Ricky Steamboat, that make a potential match between The Viper and The Dragon very compelling. Both wrestlers are lithe and agile, versatile enough to compete with the cruiserweights, all while seeing success in the heavyweight division. Both are also very animated, even when they find themselves at the mercy of their opponents; which has contributed to define their delivery as performers.
Stacking both men’s careers side by side, we can’t escape the mindset that nice guys finish last. Add to that Orton’s campaign as a legend killer, and we believe that Orton would emerge from the showdown with a sly grin across his face, knowing that he had just found a way to slide past one of the smoothest wrestlers in the history of the sport. Orton tops Steamboat in a match that is certain to be studied more than Steamboat-Savage from WrestleMania III.
11 Bruiser Brody vs. Kane
Can you believe that Kane celebrates 20 years of dominance in the WWE this year? Since we first saw the Big Red Machine descend upon the WWE Universe, there is very little that he hasn’t achieved both in and out of the ring. Still, whether masked or unmasked, as a fan favorite or as a hated villain, Kane has maintained a reputation that holds him as one of the most combustible and unpredictable elements in the company. Wherever he sets his focus, he’s sure to succeed, which means he could just as easily find himself in the championship hunt, just as quickly as he could lay a field of contenders to waste. It’s an aura that surrounded Bruiser Brody as well – a take no prisoners attitude that made him an attraction which made promoters and opponents nervous. Even close to three decades after his passing, we are still debating the ‘what ifs’ of Brody’s career. In this one, we expect a battle through the arena without a clear winner – except the fans, that is.
10 Nick Bockwinkel vs. Chris Jericho
As much as fans marvel at the performance of the wrestlers from bell to bell, it is often the work on the microphone that has raised our ire, and urged us to buy tickets to see the grapplers we love to hate get their comeuppance. Such is the case with both of the competitors in this dream showdown.
Nick Bockwinkel carried himself with gentlemanly sophistication, waxing eloquently in pre-match interviews in a condescending fashion that alienated him from the majority of the ticket buying public. Despite that, fans turned out in droves to see the good guys try to make Bockwinkel eat his own four syllable words.
Similarly, some of Chris Jericho’s most timeless moments have been on the microphone, stirring up the audience or getting under the skin of an opponent. Jericho could keep up with Bockwinkel on the mat in a match that is sure to go the distance, but factor in his aerial repertoire, and Jericho might have a few maneuvers that even tricky Nick hasn't seen before. Jericho steals the victory, and finds the nearest microphone to gloat.
9 Jake Roberts vs. Bray Wyatt
Over the past three generations, there have been a number of wrestlers that have left us with an uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomach. A feeling that leaves us apprehensive about the unseen horrors that may await us around the next corner. In the 1980s, it wasn’t only Jake “The Snake" Roberts’ python Damian that made our skin crawl, but also his piercing gaze and ominous tone that sent chills down our spine. Conversely, few have been able to rattle fans to the same degree as the leader of the Wyatt family has with his lantern and rocking chair.
A showdown between Wyatt and Roberts would undoubtedly feature weeks of one-upmanship as each tried to unnerve the other and reach new levels of eeriness for a match that would leave us on the edge of our seats and hard pressed to choose who we would like to see secure a victory. In a war between psychological masters, the experts would be divided ... and both ring generals would keep us guessing until the the climax, then assuredly leave us stunned at the conclusion.
8 British Bulldogs vs. Killer Elite Squad
In 1996, a decade after their sole reign as WWE World Tag Team Champions, The British Bulldogs were recognized by RAW Magazine as the greatest WWE Tag Team Champions of all time. That’s quite a feat when you consider the number of teams that have passed through the doors of the WWE over the years. Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid were innovators that combined their English training, Stu Hart’s dungeon, and Japanese experience to bring a dynamic tag team style to the WWE, that mainstays in the company had a hard time adjusting to.
There are a lot of commonalities with the Killer Elite Squad, the pairing of Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer, who have dominated Japan for three years. One similarity is that both teams have enjoyed championship success in North America. In this two generation family rivalry, we expect that the British Bulldogs would still demonstrate that they were years ahead of their time, schooling the Killer Elite Squad, though leaving the contest knowing that they had been tested to the limit.
7 Sherri Martel vs. Charlotte
While Sherri Martel is often remembered as a manager, it is important to consider her achievements as an active competitor before she assumed a role of a valet; supporting the careers of Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Shawn Michaels and Harlem Heat. Martel reigned as AWA Women’s Champion and was the woman to finally unseat Fabulous Moolah in 1987 as WWE Women’s Champion. Sherri brought a physicality to her matches that made many uncomfortable, and Shawn Michaels has stated “she was tougher than some of the guys”.
Martel’s presence during her reign as champion is most closely matched by the poise and confidence of Charlotte in the New Era. While the daughter of Ric Flair comes into the business with high expectations on her shoulders, she has earned her spot through hard work and stellar performances. Charlotte dominates against her peers but she hasn’t been tested against a cagey veteran like Sherri. Martel would take the victory, and the fans would be none too happy about it.
6 Road Warriors vs. War Machine
The intimidation factor and pure dominance of the Road Warriors, aka the Legion of Doom, has been almost without rival in the entire history of tag team wrestling. At their peak, they inspired a lot of jealousy among their peers, especially at the money they were able to command for appearances. Despite being considered less skilled than some of their foes, The Road Warriors captured the attention of the fans and inspired many copycats in the years that would follow. Claiming to “snack on danger, and dine on death” Animal and Hawk remain in a class by themselves.
Scouring today’s tag team scene high and low, we come up with our best bet to give them a run for their money in Ring of Honor with War Machine. While the former ROH World Tag Team Champions may suffer the same fate of many teams that have gone before them, they pose the most serious threat to the myth of the Road Warriors of any team that’s currently active.
5 Randy Savage vs. Kenny Omega
After listening to opponents of Randy Savage during the 1980s, you will learn that he was a perfectionist but perhaps more importantly that Savage was decidedly “new school” in his approach to matches. Ricky Steamboat has reported that Savage memorized every sequence of their heralded WrestleMania III match ... which was contrary to the convention of the day. Should Randy Savage be re-introduced to wrestling today, he would fit in without missing a step. The Macho Man was also a renegade in the business – stemming from his days working for his father’s outlaw promotion, and publicly challenging wrestlers from rival organizations to show up and face him. We’ve seen the same recently out of Kenny Omega. Omega, who has emerged as the leading gaijin in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Omega was recently interviewed by Sports Illustrated and identified as the greatest wrestler not under contract with Vince McMahon. A Savage-Omega match would be a thrill ride taking fans to dizzying highs and chilling lows; this bout is honestly a toss up, as it could go either way.
4 Mr. Perfect vs. Dolph Ziggler
It’s not just the slick curly locks that have us drawing comparisons between Curt Hennig and The Showoff. Both wrestlers enjoyed lengthy stays at the height of visibility, securing the Intercontinental Championship and frequently headlining matches. Yet, neither of them were able to parlay their talent into a memorable run as World Champion. Both wrestlers come from credible amateur sport backgrounds and have risen to the top through their own performances between the ropes, unselfishly showcasing the best in their opponents, even to their own physical detriment.
It's hard to say whether or not Hennig was ever discouraged by his lack of a title run, as kayfabe dominated the 1980s wrestling scene. Hennig’s confidence in his reputation among his peers as one of the best may have abated his hunger, a condition that would be advantageous to Dolph Ziggler who would seize the opportunity and a victory.
3 Roddy Piper vs. Dean Ambrose
WWE officials wanted Piper to concede to Mr. T when they met in a boxing match at WrestleMania II, and they were met with resounding and absolute defiance of that order. Roddy Piper was old school, fearing that any loss on television or pay-per-view decreased his value and created the possibility that he could be shown the door. There are very few occasions that anyone will find wherein Piper’s shoulders were ever pinned to the mat, taking most of his losses by DQ. For Piper, it wasn’t a matter of needing to have his hand raised, but instead a matter of survival in a business that wasn’t always kind to the stars that put their well-beings on the line.
Dean Ambrose has proven to be similar to Piper. His interviews are unpredictable and thought-provoking, and the risks he’ll take in the ring to deliver a fan-pleasing performance is without limit. Ambrose has found a way to succeed in the corporate machine of the WWE, ascending to the WWE World Title, and he might likely emerge with a win over Piper – but not by pinfall or submission.
2 Andre the Giant vs. Big Show
Upon his retirement from the business, Ric Flair declared that Big Show was the “best big man in the history of the business,” in a subtle way suggesting that Paul Wight had eclipsed Andre the Giant’s status as the top giant in the sport. However, Andre was a worldwide phenomenon in his day, a marquee attraction that packed the house wherever he appeared around the world – often appearing in handicap matches against two or three foes, then again in a battle royal, to illustrate his sheer enormity over all others who laced their boots. A showdown with Andre the Giant might help to erase the matches that Big Show has endured with Floyd Mayweather and Akebono, but nothing would be decided in terms of who was wrestling’s most dominant giant.
In typical sports entertainment fashion, and to protect the investment in both colossal stars, we expect that near the climax of the match, the ring would collapse beneath these two titans, followed by the edict Jack Tunney read after the Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior main event for WrestleMania VI – for the safety of all involved, a rematch will not be signed.
1 Hulk Hogan vs. John Cena
There may a debate for years to come about who the single greatest star in the history of the WWE has been. Hulk Hogan carried the brand through national expansion and for nearly a decade that followed. Hogan transcended wrestling to become a pop culture icon that was recognized by people who weren’t even wrestling fans. Presently, though, one of the most polarizing stars on the WWE roster, John Cena, has seen the same success – movie roles, personal appearances, merchandising, etc. Cena has become the Hogan of the modern era. But pitted against one another – Hulk Hogan at the height of Hulkamania against the Cenation – theirs would be a match that is sure to capture the imagination of both fans and the industry. Both are charismatic, both have excelled using a fairly modest repertoire of moves, both have had the ear of Vince McMahon. Who wins? That’s one debate that won’t be settled on this list.