Each year, the night before WrestleMania, six or seven of the greatest acts in professional wrestling history are inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. All of the individuals who are inducted have left some sort of lasting impression on the wrestling business and its fans, and have had careers that are worthy of Hall of Fame induction. However, regardless of who gets inducted into the Hall in a given year, each Hall of Fame class has a headliner; an individual around whom the entire class is assembled. This individual is usually the biggest star among the group of inductees.
Ranking the headliners from WWE Hall of Fame classes is like asking who the best Packers quarterback is (Starr, Farve or Rogers), or who the greatest Lakers center is (Kareem, Wilt, Shaq or Mikan). Which wrestler has had the better career, Randy Savage or Dusty Rhodes? Was Ric Flair better than Hulk Hogan? Was Shawn Michaels more impactful than Bret Hart? Did the Warrior do more for the business than Sting? This list will look at these questions as it will rank the headliners of every WWE Hall of Fame Class, beginning with the first inductee in 1993, and going through the upcoming 2017 class.
19 “Classy” Freddie Blassie (1994)
1994 was the first year when WWE inducted a group of individuals into the company’s Hall of Fame. All of the 1994 inductees could be seen as the headliner of a Hall of Fame Class, but the choice for this list came down to “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers or “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Rogers was the first WWE Champion, and was the first person to have held both the NWA and WWE titles, but Blassie’s career seemed to encompass much more for the history of professional wrestling.
Blassie managed several WWE talents, and even managed Muhammad Ali in his match against Antonio Inoki. Blassie was pivotal during the Rock and Wrestling era, and appeared in the film My Breakfast with Blassie with Andy Kaufman. The film helped lead Kaufman into his stint in professional wrestling. Freddie Blassie was one of the most colorful and memorable characters in professional wrestling, and deserved his place in the Hall of Fame.
18 Jesse “The Body” Ventura (2004)
After the 1996 Hall of Fame Class, the WWE waited eight years before inducting a new class. The 2004 class was created to coincide with WrestleMania XX before becoming a yearly event. The nine wrestlers in the 2004 class were some of the most highly decorated performers the business had seen. Add in Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Celebrity Inductee Pete Rose, and the 2004 class was one of the best ever. The headliner of this class could have been any one of them, but the nod goes to Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
Jesse was a good wrestler who borrowed much of his gimmick from fellow 2004 inductee “Superstar” Billy Graham, but Ventura’s career was made when he stepped outside of the ring and became a color commentator. Ventura helped to set the standard for the heel commentator who gave credit where it was due to the faces. His work with Gorilla Monsoon and Jim Ross is what made him a Hall of Famer.
17 “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase (2010)
The 2010 class was one of the weaker classes. It was at this point when fans started to believe that WWE was reaching with the inductions, because with 6-7 inductees per year, WWE was going through the available inductees too quickly, and with so many people on bad terms with Vince, there were not many talents remaining. The headliner of this class was Ted DiBiase who, with respect to the Million Dollar Man’s career, would have been a secondary inductee in any other class.
DiBiase was a champion in territories all over the country and in Japan, but in WWE, he was a three-time tag champion and was a two-time holder of a title that he created. However, the Million Dollar Man was one of the greatest heels creations that WWE has ever come up with. He main evented with Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes and Randy Savage, and was a top star whose career was successful without titles.
16 Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka (1996)
Jimmy Snuka was a former ECW champion before the company went extreme, and defeated Ricky Steamboat in a tournament to win the NWA US Title. Snuka was also, along with Antonino Rocca, one of the pioneers of the more athletic style of professional wrestling. He earned the nickname “Superfly” because of that style. In the WWE, his style was a departure from the larger, brawling contenders to Bob Backlund’s WWE Title.
Many Attitude Era wrestlers from the New York area cite Snuka’s 1983 Madison Square Garden match against Don Muraco as the event that led them into professional wrestling. In that match, Snuka, after suffering the loss, climbed to the top of a steel cage and dove onto a prone Muraco. The Sandman, Mick Foley, Tommy Dreamer, and Bubba Ray Dudley were all in attendance at the match, and cite this event as their reason for becoming wrestlers. Snuka’s legacy continues through these wrestlers, and with anyone who was inspired by them as they were inspired by him.
15 “The Rated ‘R’ Superstar” Edge (2012)
Edge’s career is one that compares favorably to nearly every wrestler who has ever existed. Edge retired as an eleven-time World Champion, a 14-time tag champion, the first ever Money in the Bank winner, a Royal Rumble winner and a former King of the Ring. Edge was the first ever wrestler to win the MITB, the Rumble and the KOTR, and he was also a five-time Intercontinental Champion. Edge deserves to be in any wrestling Hall of Fame that exists, but the reason that he occupies this position is because the other wrestlers on the list had greater historical significance to the business than Edge, but that is not to discount Edge’s accomplishments.
Edge was inducted into the Hall of Fame shortly after wrestling his last match; because there was no doubt that he deserved to be inducted. He was inducted by his childhood friend Christian, who also deserves to be in, and was inducted with Ron Simmons, the first African-American World Champion, and Mil Máscaras, the first masked wrestler to perform at Madison Square Garden.
13 Pedro Morales (1995)
Pedro Morales was the first Latino World Heavyweight Champion, holding the title for 34 months, which is the sixth longest reign in the company’s history. He also had the second longest Intercontinental Title reign ever, and the total length of his two reigns is 2½ months longer than the next closest total. By winning the tag titles with Bob Backlund, Morales became the first wrestler to claim the WWE’s Triple Crown, and it would be 12 years before he was joined in that exclusive club by Bret Hart.
Pedro was inducted in 1995, in the second group of inductees that the WWE held. Names like Ivan Putski, George “The Animal” Steele, Ernie Ladd and The Fabulous Moolah were included in that class, but Morales stood out from them all. Because of his accomplishments, and because he was one of the first prominent Latino professional wrestlers in the business, Morales was a true Hall of Famer.
12 The Ultimate Warrior (2014)
When the Ultimate Warrior arrived in the WWE, it was clear that he was just as popular as Hulk Hogan, if not more so. The Warrior worked his way up the ladder in the WWE and he became the top contender to Hulk Hogan’s WWE World Title. The Warrior defeated Hogan at WrestleMania VI for the World Title, handing Hogan his first clean pinfall loss since Hogan first became champion over six years prior.
The Warrior fell out of favor with Vince McMahon and WWE, which delayed Warrior’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Warrior and McMahon eventually made amends, and Warrior was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Warrior will be remembered for cleanly pinning Hulk Hogan, and for ending the longest Intercontinental Title reign in the history of the company when he defeated the Honky Tonk Man. He will also be remembered for being perhaps the second most popular professional wrestler during the Hulkamania era.
11 Bret “The Hitman” Hart (2006)
Many believed that Bret Hart would never actually get into the WWE Hall of Fame because he was at odds with Vince McMahon and with WWE because of the Montreal Screwjob. However, Vince has been known to bury the hatchet for the sake of the company and the almighty dollar, and this is what happened with WWE and Bret Hart. The sides made amends, and Hart was inducted into the Hall of Fame, where he belonged.
Hart was the second wrestler to achieve the WWE Triple Crown, and was the first wrestler to achieve both the WWE and WCW Triple Crowns. Hart’s rivalries with Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin made stars out of all three men, and helped WWE to become the global giant that it is today. Bret Hart also helped WWE to transition from the large, muscle-bound stars to gaining an acceptance for smaller and more athletic stars who could actually better performers in the ring than the strongmen were. Guys like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk can thank Bret Hart for their opportunities in the “big time”.
10 “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels (2011)
The 2011 Hall of Fame class created as much controversy as the 2010 class because it seemed that only HBK and the Road Warriors were true Hall of Famers in that class. The class included Sunny, “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, Abdullah the Butcher, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Drew Carey, but regardless of the other inductees, Shawn has had a career that is more than worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Shawn is recognized as the first ever Grand Slam Champion because he captured the now defunct European Title, but it could be said that the distinction belongs to Pedro Morales, as he once held the WWE United States Title, which has no connection to the current WWE US Title. Regardless of that, some of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history featured HBK, as well as some of the sport’s most memorable moments. His one-foot balance in the Royal Rumble and his turn on Marty Jannetty are some of the moments in HBK’s career that fans will be talking about forever.
9 Randy “Macho Man” Savage (2015)
Randy Savage is another one who should have been inducted into the Hall of Fame years before he actually was, except for the fact that he too fell out of favor with Vince McMahon. He left the company when he was being counted on to be Raw’s color commentator, and there were rumors that he slept with Stephanie while she was a minor. Despite this, Savage’s career was Hall of Fame worthy, as he was one of the top stars in the sports.
Between the WWE and WCW, Randy Savage was a six-time World Heavyweight Champion, and he also won the King of the Ring in the WWE and one of the WCW World War 3 60-man Battle Royals. Savage’s match against Ricky Steamboat at WM III is considered one of the best matches in the history of the event, but his feuds against the Ultimate Warrior, Hogan, Rick Rude and DDP are some of Savage’s very best work. Savage was a talented performer, and one of the best wrestlers of his era.
8 “The Icon” Sting (2016)
Sting elected not to sign with WWE after WCW was purchased by Vince McMahon. Instead, Sting furthered his legacy in Impact Wrestling, winning five World Titles to go with the nine that he won in WCW. Sting was the third man to win the Triple Crown in WCW, after Ric Flair and Lex Luger, and his participation in the main event of the first Clash of the Champions against Ric Flair had an impact on the way that wrestling was broadcast on television.
Sting was considered “The Icon” and “The Franchise” in WCW because, despite the fact that Ric Flair was always with or near the World Title, Sting was the center of WCW’s universe, as John Cena is today in WWE. With his induction, Sting became the first wrestler to be inducted into the Halls of Fame in both TNA and WWE. Though his WWE record is 1-2, Sting’s career in WCW was more than enough to qualify for the Hall of Fame.
7 “The Olympic Gold Medalist” Kurt Angle (2017)
As the first professional wrestler who won a gold medal in the Olympic Games, Kurt Angle was able to parlay his amateur success into success in professional wrestling. Less than a year after Kurt made his WWE debut, he won the World Heavyweight Title, and was one title short of the WWE Triple Crown, which he would achieve two years after his world title victory. Kurt established himself as one of the best in-ring performers in the business, and his ability to excel in backstage skits made him a top all-around performer.
Kurt left WWE for TNA and achieved that company’s Triple Crown inside of three months while winning six World Titles. But grading him solely on his WWE work, he won six World titles, and had one reign with every other men’s title that existed during his era except for the Curiserweight Championship (IC, US, Hardcore, European & Tag), in addition to wining the King of the Ring in 2000. Kurt Angle would be a headliner in practically any Hall of Fame class.
6 “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes (2007)
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was the epitome of a sports entertainer, long before the term was a part of common speech. At 300-pounds plus, Dusty Rhodes did not look like an athlete, but he could move like a much smaller man, even throwing the occasional dropkick. However, his matches were filled with dance moves, playing to the crowd and a finisher that gave no appearance of being damaging or painful. The key to Dusty Rhodes was in his interviews. He could talk fans into the building like no one else in the business.
It could be said that Dusty achieved the NWA Full House, as he won the NWA World Title, the tag titles, the US title, the Television title, and the six-man tag titles. Dusty was an effective in-ring performer, had no peer in promos, and was a pretty good booker. He succeeded at everything in the wrestling business except owning a company, and did it all on a Hall of Fame level.
5 Bruno Sammartino (2013)
There are some who will say that Mick Foley was the headliner of the 2013 class, as most current fans would recognize him instantly. Others will state that Bob Backlund, Trish Stratus or Booker T could have filled that spot. In fact, Donald Trump was the celebrity inductee, but the headliner for the 2013 class was the man who was a wrestler, a character and an attraction all rolled into a single individual.
Bruno Sammartino was the longest reigning WWE Champion, dominating for 2,803 days. He won the title twice and held it for a combined 4,040 days. That record, much like Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, will likely never be broken. He left a lasting impact on the wrestling business that will never be matched.
4 “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (2009)
Steve Austin was once told that he would never be a main event performer because fans would not buy into a wrestler who, in the mold of Mike Tyson, came to the ring in black trunks and black boots without any flair to their wrestling attire, and because of his Texas accent. However, the person who believed this had no idea how talented Austin was. Austin made his mark in WCW as a mid-card act, and then as a tag team performer with Brian Pillman.
Once Austin arrived in WWE, his career really took off, and there was no stopping him. He became the top draw during the Attitude Era, and one of the top draws in the company’s history. Austin’s feud with Mr. McMahon changed the business, and its effects are still being felt through the presence of “The Authority” storyline with Stephanie and Triple H. All of the top stars of the Attitude Era can thank Austin for putting so many eyes on the product.
3 “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair (2008)
Ric Flair is listed as a 16-time World Champion, though the number could actually be closer to 25. Flair is considered the greatest professional wrestler who has ever lived. Borrowing much of his gimmick from “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, wrestlers like Austin Idol, Buddy Landell and Jeff Jarrett, as well as Flair’s own daughter Charlotte, have all incorporated some of Ric Flair’s mannerisms into their characters. So iconic is Flair that whenever a wrestler is hit with a knife-edge chop during a match, the crowd will almost always respond with “Wooo”.
If a wrestler was among the top stars in the business in the NWA, WCW, TNA or WWE, they have at some point feuded with Ric Flair. Though he is most remembered for his feud with Dusty Rhodes, alone and with the Four Horsemen, Flair’s feuds with Harley Race, Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Sting, Lex Luger and Barry Windham were all memorable. The legend that is Ric Flair will live on long after he does.
2 Hulk Hogan (2005)
Hulk Hogan was the top performer in professional wrestling in his prime. While Ric Flair was the better wrestler and in some instances, the better interview, Hogan was better able to reach fans. No one received louder cheers than Hulk Hogan, and even today, his receptions are among the loudest in the business. Hogan was never much of a wrestler, but no one achieved more with less than he did.
Hogan captured 12 World Titles between WWE and WCW, and headlined every major show that he was involved in. His turn to “Hollywood” Hogan when he joined the NWO was one of the greatest bits of wrestling theater in many years. His work in WCW with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall reinvigorated Hogan’s career, and introduced him to a new generation of fans who had not seen him during his Hulkamania days. Hogan is still an icon in the wrestling business, and crowds still explode whenever “Real American” is blasted over the speakers.
1 “The Eighth Wonder of the World” André the Giant (1993)
André the Giant was the very first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was conceived as a way to honor André, as he was inducted shortly after his death. André was the only inductee that year, as the induction was all about him. As a performer, André would come into territories whenever the operators of the territories were at their wits end regarding dealing with the heels in the territory. The Giant would enter and, like Wyatt Earp, would clean up the town and then head on to his next conquest.
André entered the WWE and became the second most popular talent in the company, which created the opportunity for a memorable feud with Hulk Hogan. The two men’s match at WrestleMania III, though not a scientific classic, drew over 93,000 fans to the arena, and showed how successful professional wrestling could be if presented correctly. André is the standard by which all other giants in professional wrestling are measured, and not surprisingly, none have measured up to the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.