Let’s face it. Everyone who writes even semi-professionally about professional wrestling can be considered a “smark”, or someone who believes he or she is so wise to the guts of professional wrestling that judgment over the product of a given organization holds no bounds.
One would have to be a smark in order to construct a list of the “Top 101 Greatest Wrestlers of All Time”. Luke Winkie did just that for Sports Illustrated, as his “definitive” list was published on July 26. To be honest, his list was good, as he did not take the easy way out by sticking within the confines of all-time WWE/WWF/WWWF and NWA/WCW rosters.
I, however, am also a smark marinating in self-righteousness, so I naturally must combat anyone who would have a list that is at-all different than mine. As a lifelong wrestling fan, it is in my DNA to judge other wrestling fans, especially smarky writers (which I became…go figure).
The following list is going to pass judgment on the list that Luke Winkie constructed for Sports Illustrated, focusing on those he left off of his list, along with those is misappropriated. However, Winkie also made some excellent points, so they will not go unrecognized.
Professional wrestling, what is good and what it bad about it, is subjective based on one’s individual taste, so my opinion should not be considered gospel. At the same time, as I will quickly point out, neither should Winkie’s.
17 The Road Warriors
Forget the fact that Winkie should have included tag teams as one single spot on the list, as those involved were often not given the opportunity to give audiences the full spectrum of their in-ring ability. For example, The Hart Foundation, Harlem Heat, The Dudley Boyz (I’ll get to them in a bit), and the Fabulous Freebirds all should have been on the list as a team.
The Road Warriors, Hawk and Animal, are the greatest tag team in the history of professional wrestling. In a career that spanned over two decades, they won tag team gold in nearly every company they touched. They would also take part in legendary tag team feuds with the likes of The Four Horsemen, Demolition, and later on with a reformed and repackaged Hart Foundation.
What makes them so worthy to be on Winkie’s list is the lasting legacy they have left in addition to the gold they won. When one thinks back to wresting during the late 80’s and early 90’s, Hawk and Animal would rank just below polarizing stars such as Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Ric Flair.
16 The Dudley Boyz
If The Road Warriors are the greatest tag team of all time, The Dudley Boyz are their understudies.
Bubba Ray and D-Von cranked up WWE’s tag team wrestling game when they arrived in the company in in 1999 after making their bones in ECW as members of the profane, ultraviolent Dudley family. This arrival would lead to multiple runs with the WWE Tag Team Championships (multiple forms of them) and the legendary Tables, Ladders, and Chairs matches with The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian.
Overall, what makes them deserving to be on the list in their lasting legacy in professional wrestling. Careers spanning two decades, also including runs in New Japan Pro Wrestloing and Total Nonstop Action (where Bubba, as “Bully Ray” was also World Heavyweight Champion), has made them the most decorated tag team in the history of professional wrestling. They are enhancing this already impressive legacy today as they look to enhance the members of WWE’s New Era.
15 Jeff Jarrett
Alright. I think Jarrett is a bit of a weasel, too. However, he has had a career in professional wrestling that deserves to be included in the Top 101 of all time.
No matter what organization he happened to be a part of, he always managed to get involved in the title scene. He has held seventy-seven different championships over the course of his career four World Heavyweight Championships in WCW, and six runs with the Intercontinental Championship in WWE, a record eventually broken by Chris Jericho.
His greatest accomplishment, however, came in the form of co-founding Total Nonstop Action with his father Jerry. Although he is only involved with the company today as a minority investor, Jarrett was instrumental in getting TNA on the map and also won four NWA Championships there, strengthening his already impressive professional wrestling resume.
14 Booker T
Ron Simmons may have been the first African American World Heavyweight Champion while in WCW, but Booker T would end up surpassing that feat and going on to win the same belt five times, making him a five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time World Heavyweight Champion (he would win another years later, but we will get to that).
Before winning single gold, Booker T was half of the tag team Harlem Heat, along with Stevie Ray. In WCW, Harlem Heat would end up winning an unprecedented ten WCW Tag Team Championships, defeating the likes of The Nasty Boys, Public Enemy, and The Outsiders.
After breaking with Stevie Ray, Booker would go on to have multiple runs with both the WCW Television Title and United States Title, and would also have a legendary Best of Seven series with Chris Benoit, a series that Booker won. He would then win five World Heavyweight Championships, the last one ending when WCW went out of business.
His legendary career would continue to WWE, where he would win the Intercontinental Championship, Tag Team Championships, and eventually the World Heavyweight Championship as “King Booker”. He would also have a memorable match at Wrestlemania 19 against Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship, a match he lost.
He still occasionally wrestles, but he is mostly an on-air personality for WWE, enhancing his legacy as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, certainly deserving to be named as one of the 101 best.
13 Dynamite Kid
When one lists the greatest champions in the history of professional wrestling, Dynamite Kid’s name is rarely, if ever, mentioned. However, without his innovative, high-impact moveset, we many have never been graced with performers such as Daniel Bryan or Chris Benoit.
Wresting experts and legends like Dave Meltzer and Bret Hart have been talking about the Dynamite Kid legacoy for years, a legacy that originated in Stampede Wrestling, and would continue to New Japan Pro Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation.
His matches were often gorgeous to watch, and spawned styles utilized by wrestlers like Bryan, Benoit, and more recently Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards. Although his style alone deserves to get him a spot on the list, it also needs to be remembered that his style came with a price that usually causes a multitude of concussions, especially with the use of the flying headbutt (again, see Bryan and Benoit, whose careers ended for MUCH different reasons).
His injuries would eventually lead to steroid and drug abuse, and then to a paralyzed left leg. Although he is a legend in professional wrestling, his career also needs to be considered as a cautionary tale to all up-and-coming wrestlers.
11 Randy Orton Ranked At #17
Randy Orton has undoubtedly earned the right to be on a list of the top 101 wrestlers of all time, if only for his 12 World Championships earned since debuting in the WWE in 2002. However, Winkie made reference in his article to someone once saying to him that Orton “reminds them of a guy who’s been working at the same place long enough to not really care anymore,” then stating, “That might be true…”
Someone with such an “accolade” should not have a spot so high on this list.
Here are some names that Orton was ranked ahead of: Kurt Angle, Antonio Inoki, Eddie Guerrero, and his kayfabe mentor Triple H. Each of these performers (and others Orton was ranked ahead of) have produced more memorable moments than “The Viper”, and have done so without being accused of not really caring anymore.
A spot between #30 and #40 seems more appropriate, as he has the history of titles and has at least been around for multiple keynote moments. However, his lack of sole impact in these moments place many, including those without twelve World Championships, ahead of him.
10 Wild Bill Longson Being Included On The List At All
Winkie did a solid job of backing up his placements for performers on this list, but this one is baffling. Wild Bill Longson is on this list for being the inventor of the piledriver.
What about the inventor of the suplex? Armbar? A freakin’ LOCK-UP???
What about the inventor of the superkick (Chris Adams, I think?), which is currently the most bastardized move in professional wrestling. Shawn Michaels should puke in his soup every time it gets a kick-out at one.
Listen, the piledriver looks just as realistic as Winkie says, but one needs to accomplish more than simply inventing a move. Seeing that Longson seemingly did nothing beyond inventing this move, he’s gots-ta-go.
9 Lita Needs A More Prominent Spot On The List
Lita came along at a time when women’s wrestling was somewhat respected in the WWE, as she, Chyna, Trish Stratus, and Jacqueline were capable of putting on great matches when in the ring with each other (not with Tori, Miss Jackie, and other similar nincompoops). This period should be ever more memorable, as WWE women’s wrestling would soon enter a period that saw the Women’s Championship go to barely athletic, uncoordinated super models that has matches less organized than a monkey crap fight at the zoo.
The success found in today’s women’s wrestling needs to be greatly attributed to Lita. She was beautiful and had in-ring talent that rivaled many male members of the WWE roster. She would frequently be in the ring and take bumps (and give them) to male wrestlers such as The Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. This fearless approach to her career earned her unprecedented respect from both the locker room and the fans alike.
Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Bailey need to thank their lucky stars on a nightly basis, for without Lita, there may be no current revolution in women’s wrestling
8 Goldust Is Ranked WAY Too High At #49
Nobody should ever dispute that Goldust has had his fair share of memorable moments in the WWE. His androgynous characters was extremely edgy for WWE programming that seemed more focused on beating Sesame Street in the ratings than the invading World Championship Wrestling.
He was cool. The attempt at progression was cool. However, “cool” is all Goldust was (at that time). Does that warrant a position on this list?
It seems that Winkie’s biggest defense of Goldust being on this list is that his character “accidentally invented the Attitude Era.” Goldust was definitely a contributor to the risqué nature that makes the Attitude Era so memorable, but he is far from the inventor. The Attitude Era was a company-wide demand for a break from the family friendly, after school special programming and an embrace of risky 90’s programming in an attempt to vanquish WCW. There are many individuals responsible for the success of that era, but Goldust is far from the inventor.
Forget the misjudgment of giving Goldust that much credit. His career has been solid and enduring, but cannot be ranked ahead of names like Rob Van Dam, Scott Hall, Rick Rude, and not even the emerging Seth Rollins. All of these, and others, have trumped Goldust’s overall impact, making his ranking in the upper tier of this list asinine.
7 It’s Too Early To Include Samoa Joe On This List
We all expressed unrestrained jubilation when Samoa Joe was hired by the WWE. Fans everywhere were consistently perplexed about just why Vince McMahon never pulled the trigger on hiring Joe. His career prior to becoming NXT Champion was impressive during stints with TNA and Ring of Honor. He took part in legendary matches against the likes of CM Punk, Christopher Daniels, and AJ Styles that would have, on their own, made him a name that would be remembered for years to come.
However, these matches did not take place in WWE or NJPW. Whether my dear smarks want to admit it or not, one does not get admittance onto this list without at least a memorable run in either company (unless you were around during the Vaudevillle era).
There is no doubt that Samoa Joe is going to make his bones while in WWE. Potential matches with Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Rusev, and John Cena, and even a potential rematch with AJ Styles is enough to keep wrestling fans awake at night. This day will come, Until it does, Samoa Joe should have to wait.
5 Acknowledging The Originals
One cannot deny that professional wrestling has become much more of a spectacle since the days of Frank Gorch, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Verne Gagne, and Bruno Sammartino. The style these legends brought to the table, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, would not go over with today’s fanbase.
Although a bit outdated, these legends had tremendous careers and title reigns that made the belts they wore seem polarizing. Today, having a Heavyweight Championship is a lovely little ornament, but these gentlemen, with title reigns that lasted years and made souls crumble when it changed hands, made titles seem like one was carrying the weight of the world into the ring each and every night. They set the tone for today’s business, and their spots are well-deserved.
4 Including Chris Benoit On The List
Nobody will dispute that what Chris Benoit did over the dates of June 22 through June 25, 2007 was repugnant and warrants the WWE never mentioning his name on their programming. As CM Punk once said in a press conference when a fan asked about Benoit’s name being stricken from the company, a global juggernaut such as the WWE cannot advertise such an individual.
However, Luke Winkie does not work for the WWE and showed conviction in adding Benoit to his list.
He is on this list because he deserves to be on it. His career was sterling, continued the in-ring style of Dynamite Kid, and kept technical wrestling at the forefront of WWE programming. His matches with guys likes of Booker T, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho stole the show each and every time they were included on a card. His World Heavyweight Championship win at WrestleMania XX was an indication to all wrestlers that consistently excellent work, even if it takes twenty years, can eventually pay off.
His career, up to the unfortunate end, needs to be recognized as one of the 101 best.
3 CM Punk’s Respectable Spot On The List
Not since “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had one wrestler made professional wrestling cool to watch. CM Punk filled that void, and although his run at the top of the company (the “Pipe Bomb” and beyond) was brief, it was as polarizing and unique as any run in the history of the WWE.
Phil Brooks really was fed up with his experience in the WWE in 2011 as his contract was set to expire. Years spent in creative purgatory left him willing to pursue areas beyond the WWE, as they did not seem to find a way to successfully realize the talent that was contained within the Second City Saint.
Then, WWE took one last stab at him, handing him a microphone to let him air his grievances. What followed was a three-year run in the company that saw Punk have the most captivating storyline in the last decade of WWE programing, a 434-day reign as WWE Champion, and cutting the best promos in the business.
He may have had a falling out with WWE, and fans may have a misguided opinion of Punk not fulfilling his obligations to them. Despite this, his run was amazing and is appropriately located on Winkie’s list.
2 Hulk Hogan Is Not #1
It is going to take a god-like talent to remove Hulk Hogan as the face of professional wrestling. Without Hulkamania, professional wrestling would not be as popular as it is today, and Hogan also does not receive enough credit for the range in character he showed when turning heel to form the New World Order.
Should one walk up to a random citizen on the street and ask them to name the first wrestler that comes to mind, the majority will say “Hulk Hogan”. No statistics need to be compiled; that’s the truth.
Despite his polarizing status within the world of professional wrestling, he came along at a time when spectacle took precedence over in-ring ability. Since his run, wrestlers have become more athletic and less gimmick-centric, allowing believable, humanistic storylines and matches to take place. Wrestling has progressed, and has left the style of Hogan and many of those in his era in the dust.
1 Ric Flair And Shawn Michaels Are #1 And #2
When one is asked to construct the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling, neither Flair or Michaels will, most likely, be on there. What makes them #1 and #2 is the fact that they are the two best storytellers in the history of professional wrestler. Period…without a peer.
In each of their matches, they took wrestling fans on an emotional roller coaster of the human condition only seen in Oscar-nominated films. When they experienced joy, you were jubilant. When they were in pain, you felt it. When each of them reached the end of their careers (I’m forgetting Flair’s TNA run), you cried.
Admit it. You did.
No other two wrestlers ever excelled at each and every quintessential attribute an excellent professional wrestler must have. Due to being so good, it was conceivable that each of them, even being somewhat undersized, could take down giants, or lose to the next up-and-coming prospect. No matter what, fans loved them anyway, They are completely and utterly above the law when it comes to being over with wrestling fans.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair and “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, in wrestling terms, are perfect. Nobody touches them, and they should own Winkie’s and every list like his.