It’s been almost two years since we brought you our list of the Top 15 Legitimately Toughest Wrestlers of All Time. You all seemed to enjoy that piece quite a bit, but considering the list contained a lot of former wrestlers who are no longer in the spotlight, it left many wondering what happened to some of these gargantuan greats and how their lives have been holding up since leaving the spotlight.
The answer is a mixed bag of triumph and tragedy, of longevity and limitations, and the tales of the post-wrestling lives of these athletes range in length from a few years to a few decades. To quell all of the curiosity, we’ve tracked down each one of these 15 wrestlers in order to update you on their current whereabouts, for better or for worse. One entry on our older list, Bam Bam Bigelow, will not be included as he passed away nearly a decade ago. In his place will be a new entry to the list. No matter the good or the bad, the good lives or the hardships and the ups and the downs, here are the “where are they now?” stories for the 15 toughest men and women to ever enter the squared circle.
15 15. Chris Masters
Chris Masters may have only spent a few years with the WWE, but he still made our tough list thanks to an incident that happened after his release from the promotion in 2011. According to a March 2013 tweet, an arsonist set Masters’ mother’s house ablaze with her trapped inside, and Chris resorted to uprooting a 10-foot-tall tree with his bare hands in order to save her.
14 14. Ken Shamrock
Although Ken Shamrock spent several years wrestling professionally in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s (grabbing titles with both the NWA and WWE), he’s known much more for his MMA prowess, earning the nickname “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” and getting inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2003. Since then, Shamrock became a coach for the now-defunct International Fight League’s Nevada Lions (in 2007) and has fought for numerous MMA promotions, most recently battling fellow UFC legend Royce Gracie on February 19, 2016 at Bellator 149.
13 13. Arn Anderson
12 12. * Danny Hodge
If you don't know much about Danny Hodge, or how tough he was (still is), just take Jim Ross's word for it:
"I have never laid eyes on any sports entertainer that could handle Danny Hodge in Dan’s prime. None. There have been better entertainers, better talkers, guys who sold more tickets and PPVs, but no one on a physical or mentally tough level ever compared to Hodge. In a legit fight, Hodge ruled his domain."
Hodge was one of the toughest of his time, and even today at 84, he has still demonstrated his famous ability to crush an apple in his hand.
11 11. Steve Blackman
Steve Blackman nabbed a spot on our toughest wrestlers list after he spent six years battling malaria and recovering his physique enough so that he could once again perform on the professional circuit. After five years with the WWE, Blackman left the promotion due to a nagging neck injury and opened a massive gym and self-defense school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2003. He also hosted numerous MMA events as part of the Pennsylvania Fight Championships, personally putting together the bouts, booking the spaces, and handling all of the details.
10 10. Akira Hokuto
If you needed proof that Akira Hokuto was one of the toughest wrestlers of all time, just look to her infamous 1989 WWWA World Tag Team Championship Match. Hokuto took a tombstone piledriver off the second rope and broke her neck - but instead of quitting, she finished the match (which still had quite a bit of time left) by physically holding her head in place with her hands. Need further proof of her toughness? Hokuto retired in 2002 and was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years later. She went under the knife for a mastectomy in 2015 and braved chemotherapy in the months that followed.
9 9. Big Van Vader
Already a hulking mass of a man, Big Van Vader further proved his toughness by getting accidentally smashed in the face with a cowbell and having his eye pop out of its socket and personally putting it back into place - all in a single match against Stan Hansen. This was back in 1990, which leads fans to wonder how he’s been spending his retirement. The short answer is he hasn’t been retired at all, as Vader has appeared with All Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Zero1, WWE (both in the ring and to induct Hansen into the Hall of Fame), Resistance Pro, TNA, and XWA Wrestling all in the past five years.
8 8. Harley Race
In addition to his obvious toughness in the ring, Harley Race also had to overcome polio as a child and survived a serious car wreck that killed his wife, shattered his forearm, and damaged his leg so badly that he nearly lost it and doctors told him he’d never walk or wrestle again. Harley followed this diagnosis with a 30-year wrestling career that established him as one of the greatest of all time. After retiring in 1991, Race managed, worked as a process server, founded World League Wrestling in 1999, and started Harley Race’s Wrestling School in 2000.
7 7. Kazushi Sakuraba
Known mostly for his extensive and legendary MMA success (getting dubbed “The Gracie Hunter” after besting multiple members of the famous fighting family), Kazushi Sakuraba also spent many entertaining years wrestling with Japanese promotions such as UWFi, Kingdom Pro Wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Most recently, after taking three years off from MMA (in which he temporarily joined NJPW), Kazushi returned to compete in a grappling match in 2014 against Renzo Gracie (a draw) and with the new Japanese MMA promotion Rizin Fighting Federation in a bout against Shinya Aoki on December 29, 2015.
6 6. Kurt Angle
In addition to breaking and setting all sorts of records with TNA and WWE, Kurt Angle previously competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and won a gold medal in the heavyweight division - even though he was suffering from a broken neck at the time. Injuries are what would ultimately lead to Angle asking for a release from the WWE in 2006 - however, he signed with TNA only a month later. While still wrestling, Angle also rose to the rank of executive director of wrestling operations in his decade with the promotion.
5 5. Bad News Barrett
Bad News Barrett made it on our original toughest wrestlers list mostly due to his reputation and success as a bare-knuckle boxer in his younger days back in England. However, since signing with the WWE in 2007 and winning the first season of NXT in 2010, he also put together quite the career as a professional wrestler. Barrett won the Intercontinental Championship five times in addition to winning the 20th King of the Ring event.
4 4. Perry Saturn
A former soldier in the U.S. Army, Perry Saturn studied wrestling under Killer Kowalski and made his pro debut in 1990. He has since been a member of ECW, WCW, WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and numerous independent promotions. However, Saturn had to take time off for several years after he was shot twice in 2004 while fighting off two men who were raping a woman. Despite successfully returning to wrestle at the AWE Night of Legends in 2011, the 3XW Pure Wrestling Championship and the Extreme Rising World Championship in 2012, and for Heavy on Wrestling in 2013, among other events, there was bad news brewing.
3 3. Sabu
Sabu made our original list for his numerous barbed wire matches and the countless injuries he suffered yet powered through in order to finish his matches - often using glue or tape to temporarily patch gashes and stop excessive bleeding. Sabu has wrestled with a number of promotions in his 30-year career, rarely staying with one company for more than a few years a time. After his years in the spotlight with ECW (1993-95, 1995-2000), TNA (2002-06), and WWE (2006-07), Sabu also performed with Mexico's Asistencia Asesoría y Administración, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, and numerous independent promotions around the world - in addition to temporarily rejoining ECW and TNA.
2 2. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar’s accolades have been well documented in numerous places, including the original toughest wrestlers article. As that also stated, he was the reigning WWE Heavyweight Champion at the time, but he eventually lost the title to Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 31.
1 1. Haku
After personally penning the article entitled “Top 15 Insane Stories That Prove Meng/Haku Was The Toughest Wrestler Ever,” I’d hope you don’t need any further convincing that Haku (a.k.a. Meng, a.k.a. King Tonga) is the toughest wrestler ever to step into the squared circle. One thing the article didn’t address, however, is what Tonga Fifita is currently up to. Since essentially retiring in 2003, he has made sporadic appearances on the independent circuit, including a surprise return to New Japan Pro Wrestling on January 4 and 5, 2016 for Wrestle Kingdom 10.
When he’s not in the ring, Fifita manages an auto detail shop, plays golf, and spends time with his famous wrestler nephew, The Rock, who recently bought a truck for his supportive uncle.
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