Professional wrestlers are some of the toughest athletes in the world but unfortunately they never seem to get the credit that they truly deserve. These larger than life individuals work extremely strenuous and demanding tour schedules that almost always result in them sustaining some sort of injury. Moreover, wrestlers work year-round, so unlike other organized sports they don’t have an offseason. As a consequence of working this type of schedule, these athletes are never really given the time required to completely recover from any small or nagging injuries. Unless they sustain a major injury requiring surgery or are unable to receive the medical clearance to perform, professional wrestlers are often forced to simply rely on their mental and physical toughness to get through a match. In this aspect alone it’s blatantly clear that any individual able to sustain a career in the professional wrestling industry needs to have an extraordinary pain threshold as well as an innate toughness.
Although every professional wrestler obviously has these attributes in some shape or form, there are undoubtedly some professional wrestlers on have them in working capacity. On the other hand, there are actually some individuals that not only have these attributes they exude them. For some of these individuals it may be just from proving themselves in the ring. Perhaps accomplishing this by working through a major injury or taking some sort of unprecedented amount of punishment in a match. In other cases it might come from a real life situation or altercation that occurred outside of the ring. Regardless of the scenario, professional wrestlers are legitimately some of the toughest athletes in the world. This list contains the top 15 toughest wrestlers of all time. This will feature the kind of guys you wouldn’t want to cross on the street. So while guys like Mick Foley have an insane threshold for pain, he’s about the nicest guy in wrestling history. These are the professional wrestlers that should scare you because they don’t just look the part…
15. Chris Masters
At first glance, it may come as a surprise to see Chris Masters on this list but trust me when I say it’s definitely for a good reason. After a crazed neighbor held his mother inside her home against her will, the former WWE Superstar came to the rescue what can only be described as a truly heroic fashion. “The Masterpiece” used his pure unadulterated strength to uproot a tree (yes you did read that correctly) and use it as a battering ram to come to the rescue after the neighbor set the house on fire to keep police from coming into the residence. Masters used the tree to break through a window, save his mother, and lead her to safety.
14. Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock is clearly one of the toughest athletes to ever lace up his boots and enter the squared circle. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was just that in the WWE. He is one of the biggest stars in the history of MMA, headlining over 15 main events and co-main events in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and Pride Fighting Championships over the course of his career. Furthermore, Shamrock was the first UFC Superfight Champion (after defeating Dan Severn at UFC 6); the title was eventually renamed the UFC Heavyweight Championship when weight categories were introduced to the UFC. He definitely brought legitimacy with him to the WWE.
Arn Anderson is widely considered one of the best and toughest professional wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots. On October 27, 1993, during a WCW tour of the United Kingdom, Arn Anderson and Sid Vicious got into one of the most insane brawls in wrestling history. It started as an argument at a bar that eventually escalated to a point in which Sid grabbed a pair of scissors and reportedly stabbed Anderson 20 times. Although both parties (especially Arn) ended up losing lots of blood, it ultimately serves as a testament of Arn Anderson’s toughness and believability as a legitimate badass.
12. Bam Bam Bigelow
Based solely off his physical appearance alone, “The Best From The East” always exuded toughness. In 2000, Bigelow dashed into a burning house and rescued three children that were trapped inside. Bigelow reportedly suffered nasty burns on over 40% of his body (which is eerily ironic, considering that his full-body wrestling outfit was covered in flames). Bigelow reportedly spent weeks in hospital, and the injuries forced him out of wrestling forever. In a tragic turn of events, Bam Bam Bigelow died in 2007 at the relatively young age of 45 from a drug overdose.
11. Steve Blackman
In May of 1989, Steve Blackman was days away from beginning his career with World Wrestling Entertainment. A week later, he was in sub-Saharan Africa on the brink of death. Blackman wound up getting dysentery and malaria. He spent the next six years recovering and training until he eventually made his way to the WWE in 1997. After stepping away from the squared circle “The Lethal Weapon” opened his own MMA School and actually began working as a Bounty Hunter.
10. Akira Hokuto
Akira Hokuto is the only woman to make this list but she is definitely one of the toughest wrestlers of all time. In 1987, Akira Hokuto won the AJW’s top tag team belt (the WWWA World World Tag Team Championship) with Yumiko Hotta. Twelve days later, the duo lost the titles to the Red Typhoons (Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura) in a two out of three falls match. During the finish of the first fall, Hokuto took a tombstone piledriver off the second rope and broke her neck. She wrestled the entirety of the second and third falls holding her head in place with her hands. Then in 1990, during a Grand Prix match against Manami Toyota, Hokuto performed a plancha and crashed her knee into the ringside metal barrier. She tore open her knee, and was rendered unable to walk. Crying, she tied a bandage around her leg, pulled herself back into the ring, and attempted to continue the match.
Before Big Van Vader found success in the United States by competing in WCW and the WWE, he made his way in Japan. In 1990, Vader stepped into the ring to take on Stan Hansen for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. At the beginning of the match, Stan Hansen (who had terrible eyesight without his glasses) was swinging his cowbell around before the match started and bashed Vader in the face by accident, breaking his nose in the process. Naturally Vader flipped out resulting in an extremely stiff match between the two. After exchanging a couple of punches, Hansen accidently poked Vader’s eye causing it to actually pop out of the socket. However, the superheavyweight trued his true toughness by simply pushing the eye back into the socket and continuing the match.
8. Harley Race
There’s a reason Andre The Giant only feared two men. Harley Race might be the toughest S.O.B to ever put on wrestling trunks. He’d drink a case of beer and smoke a pack of Marlboro Reds then get up the next day and slam his body around the mat for 60 minutes against guys like Ric Flair and Terry Funk. On Christmas night 1961, Race and his wife (Vivian) were driving to visit his parents when their car collided with a tractor-trailer along the highway. His wife died instantly and doctors said Race would never wrestle again. The accident shattered one of his forearms and damaged his right leg so badly that doctors actually contemplated amputation. Race would show his true strength, determination, and overall toughness by making his triumphant return to the ring two years later.
Side Note: Harley Race also overcame polio as a child.
7. Kazushi Sakuraba
Kazushi Sakuraba is arguably one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time and still wrestles fairly often in NJPW. He beat Royler Gracie by technical submission when he broke his arm with a Kimura Lock (this was the first time a Gracie has lost in DECADES). Royce Gracie came out of retirement to face Sakuraba and “avenge” his brother in a bout with special rules. In the actual fight Sakuraba dominated Royce for a full 90 minutes until Royce’s corner eventually threw in the towel. He then faced Renzo Gracie, breaking his arm before they even hit the mat.
6. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is widely considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He won a Gold Medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics “with a broken freakin’ neck”. Again, he won a Gold Medal with a broken neck! I could go in depth about how he’s also dominated the competition in every organizations he’s every competed in, or how he’s won countless championships in them as well, but he proved his overall toughness back in 1996. Since that moment it’s always been clear, Kurt Angle is legitimately one of the toughest wrestlers of all time.
5. Bad News Barrett
While living in Liverpool in his early 20s, Barrett became a champion bare-knuckle boxer, fighting in various locations throughout Europe. He competed in a match dubbed by the bare-knuckle underworld as “The Battle of Buda”, in which he defeated a reputable opponent for a big cash prize. Afterwards, while walking through an alleyway in search of a taxi, he was stabbed with an eight-inch blade by someone attempting to steal the money. He has refused to elaborate on the incident for legal reasons, but the assailant incurred serious injuries, and Barrett escaped with the cash despite significant blood loss. The attack left him with a 12-inch scar that stretches from his upper back to halfway down his right triceps and the punches he took during his bare-knuckle career left him with a disfigured nose, but he has expressed no regret over that period of his life.
4. Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn is one of the most underrated professional wrestlers in the history of professional wrestling. In 2004, still wrestling after being released from WWE (in 2002), Saturn would show true toughness and heroism outside of the ring. While driving his girlfriend to work, He saw two guys on top of a woman. Saturn immediately ran over to come to the woman’s rescue. Although he fought with the men and saved the girl it wasn’t all good news. In the struggle Saturn, was shot twice. When the police arrived and tried to get Saturn to go into the ambulance he claimed he had no idea that he had been shot (he thought had merely been punched twice).
Sabu is certainly one of the toughest wrestlers of all time, and the “Homicidal, Suicidal, Genocidal Maniac” obviously has the scars to prove it. After suffering an injury, he would regularly use super glue to help remedy the situation. Furthermore, Sabu has competed in countless barbed wire matches in both the United States and internationally as well. One of Sabu’s most infamous matches was the No-Rope Barbed-Wire match with Terry Funk at ECW Born To Be Wired. In one of the most memorable moments, Sabu attempted a corner splash on Funk and ended up colliding violently into the wire, which tore open his bicep. He then asked his manager (Bill Alfonso) for some tape and began to tape the up the gash (which was about 10 inches long) and continued the match. Due to his toughness, extreme style, and lack of regard for his own well-being, Sabu is widely considered to be one of the toughest wrestlers of all time.
2. Brock Lesnar
It should come as no surprise to see The Beast Incarnate this high on the list. Prior to his start with the WWE, Lesnar was an accomplished amateur wrestler, winning the 2000 NCAA Division I Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. He finished his amateur career with a record of 106–5 overall in four years of college. After making his professional wrestling debut he dominated all the competition eventually winning the Undisputed WWE Championship. Lesnar further proved his toughness in the main event of WrestleMania XIX against Kurt Angle, when he botched a shooting star press, landing on his head. The move would have perhaps paralyzed a normal man, but Brock escaped with only a concussion. After leaving the WWE, he transitioned to UFC where he defeated Randy Couture in his second match for the UFC Heavyweight Championship by technical knockout. Now back in the WWE, Lesnar conquered The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak and is the current reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion. He is the only person to have won a WWE Championship, UFC Championship, and NCAA Wrestling Championship. Understandably, Brock Lesnar is considered by most to be the toughest man on the planet.
Haku is the toughest wrestler of all time. To place any other person in the number one spot would be sacrilege. The stories about Haku (aka Meng, and King Tonga) are legendary and after reading some of them I’m sure you’ll agree with his placement on this list.
On a trip to Puerto Rico, Meng was walking with fellow wrestler Jesse Barr when Barr decided to kick dirt onto a man who was digging ditches. Meng was upset by it and told Barr he shouldn’t have done it. Barr decided to get in Meng’s face and argue with him, which turned out to be a bad idea. Meng grabbed him and popped his eyeball out of socket. Some wrestlers claimed he completely tore it out, but Meng said that wasn’t true. Barr ended up getting fired for the incident.
In his biography, “Arn Anderson: 4 Ever” Anderson claims that there are three types of men in the world. There are tough men, there are wrestler-tough men, and then there’s Meng. He was in a completely different category than anyone else on the planet. Anderson recalls one instance where a large cowboy was arguing with Meng and he pushed the cowboy through two different sets of doors using only one hand.
The Million Dollar Man said that one time they were in a rough part of St. Louis for a show. Everyone had been drinking and a large fight broke out, which resulted in the police showing up. Meng had a few drinks, but saw the fight break out so he started trying to break it up. In the process, police thought he was part of the fight and maced him then handcuffed him. He said that Meng was cuffed behind his back, looked at the police, and snapped the handcuffs.
Wrestler Perry Saturn, when asked who would win a bar fight between several legitimately tough wrestlers, said, “Tonga. Nobody else would stand a chance. Not even a question. He could kill everyone without blinking and there is nothing anyone could do about it.”
Jake “The Snake” Roberts said during one of his shoot interviews: “If I had a gun and was sitting inside a tank with one shell left and Meng is 300 yards away, he’s mine, right? Well the first thing I’m going to do is jump out of the tank and shoot myself because I don’t want to wound that son of a bitch and have him pissed off at me.”
In a shoot interview, Bobby Heenan talked extensively about Meng and referred to him as the toughest man he’s ever met in his life. The most extreme story he shared was in regards to a bar fight in which he claimed Meng “took his two fingers on his right hand, his index finger and trigger finger, and he reached into the guy’s mouth and he broke off the guy’s bottom teeth.” Heenan said that if he hadn’t been there and seen it himself, he wouldn’t believe it. Heenan was also close friends with Andre the Giant and claimed that the only two men in the world that Andre feared were Meng and Harley Race.
If those testimonials aren’t enough, just Google the incident with him in the Baltimore Airport where he bit off a guy’s nose for suggesting wrestling was “fake”.
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