People have always had doubts about the authenticity of professional wrestling in the landscape of professional sports. Though the outcomes may be predetermined, professional wrestlers are some of the most athletic people in the world. These are athletes that use their body over 300 days a year with no offseason, and fight through pain every single day.
Very few performers who make it to televised wrestling programs start as only a professional wrestler, with most transitioning to the sport after refining their athleticism in another. Two of the greats, Steve Austin and The Rock both started on a football field before jumping into the squared circle. Another great example is Mick Foley, who despite his lackluster physique, was actually a half decent amaetur wrestler. This isn’t to say that you have to be a great athlete to be an elite professional wrestler, with stars like Hulk Hogan relying more on their physical presence, than athletic ability.
What we are trying to rank here are some of the guys who truly utilize every part of their body, to ensure that when they are in the ring, you will be watching. You will be in awe during their matches, and think to yourself, “how is he not dead”, or “how is he still breathing”. Please be warned that for the sake of diversity, this list is not loaded up with former football players; in fact there is only one person on this list who played college football, and chances are you won’t know who he is until you read it.
After you see the ranking, please scream at us in the comments below, and let us know who we forgot to mention.
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15 Mark Henry
Sure Mark Henry is 400 pounds, but that doesn’t make him any less athletic than someone half his size, on the contrary it makes him more. The World’s Strongest Man isn’t just a nickname, Henry has placed in almost every weightlifting competition that he has competed in; most notably winning the inaugural Arnold Strongman Classic in 2002.
Oh I hear the naysayers now in the comments, “oh he is just big, so of course he is strong”, and to them I say Google “Foot Locker Slam Fest 1994”. If you look that up you will see a younger Mark Henry dunk a basketball...multiple times. This was not as a lightweight, Henry was well north of 300 pounds at that point, and took flight.
14 Bret Hart
I didn’t want to put the Hitman on this list, but there is no denying the pure athletic ability that Bret Hart had. Prior to becoming WWE Champion, Hart was an accomplished amaetur wrestler, his father (Stu Hart) even claimed that he could have went to the Olympics if he had applied himself. The Canadian born superstar had a habit of looking completely gassed in the ring, but that was actually not due to being tired. Hart was the master of telling a story and would pretend to be gassed, but could legitimately go for an hour.
Cesaro has been called the pound for pound strongest man in the WWE by many in the sport, which can be seen by him throwing around opponents with ease. However most fans don’t know that while wrestling as Claudio Castagnoli in the independents, Cesaro was more of an agility wrestler. Early in his career, Cesaro would routinely perform top rope enziguris, fallaway avalanche slams, and springboard uppercuts. If you want to see the best example of why Cesaro is an entry on this list, watch him do his no handed Spinning Backbreaker Rack.
12 Big Show
Another super heavyweight on this list may turn some people off, but before father time attacked Big Show, he was super agile and very athletic. While performing in WCW as The Giant, the former Heavyweight Champion was able to move like a cat, with the power of a bull. At 500 lbs, Big Show could do drop kicks, flying shoulder blocks, and there is even a legend that while training at the WCW Power Plant he could do a moonsault...regularly. If all that nostalgia isn’t enough for you, The World’s Largest Athlete is still able to get off the ground and spear people at the age of 43.
11 Scott Steiner
Before he became an absolute genetic freak, Scott Steiner was a tag team specialist with his brother Rick Steiner. While he was still rocking a mullet and a singlet, Steiner was a powerhouse, that was able to do some unique things for a guy his size. The former University of Michigan NCAA Division I All American would utilize scoop slams and powerbombs, and made lifting 200 pounders look effortless. Although he had massive strength, he also was nimble, popularizing the hurricanrana in the United States in the early 90s. Steiner is actually credited for introducing many slam variations to American audiences throughout his career, that he was able to pull off due to his athleticism.
10 Ric Flair
Why is Ric Flair on this list? Well the Nature boy is notorious in the wrestling community for never blowing up during a match. According to Steve Austin on his podcast, he can’t ever remember watching a match where Flair would need a rest. Aside from his great ring condition, Flair won two private school amaetur wrestling championships, and was recruited on a scholarship to attend the University of Minnesota for football. If you don’t believe anything else, just remember he still has enough energy to dance all night, and then take your girlfriend to space mountain; WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
9 Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam has always had a style that is undefinable, unmethodical, and unbelieveable. The ECW original is one of the few guys in the business that hasn’t seem to have changed his approach with age. A testament to his conditioning, RVD can still clear the ropes with no effort and jump to the other side of the ring in a single push off of the turnbuckle. If he isn’t the most athletic, he is surely the most flexible, lifting over 165 lbs while in a elevated split position.
8 Johhny Mundo
Johnny Mundo is a wrestler who currently is working for the Lucha Underground promotion, but formerly went by John Morrison in WWE. Mundo has always used more of a lucha inspired style, preferring agility over power. The Prince of Parkour was the Vice President of the Gymnastics Club at his college, as well as a member of the Kung Fu Club, and an avid breakdancer in his free time. During his audition tape for the original Tough Enough, Jim Ross was quoted as saying “the son of a bitch is an athlete” when referring to the former WWE Superstar.
7 Bobby Lashley
A musclebound freak of nature, Bobby Lashley is currently the only person to ever actively participate in both MMA and professional wrestling concurrently. The current TNA star dominated amaetur wrestling, capturing championships at the high school, college, and armed forces levels. Lashley has constantly tried to improve his career by taking boxing and kickboxing lessons regularly to supplement his shoot wrestling ability. He has adapted well, only losing two of his 14 professional fights.
6 Kofi Kingston
When your name becomes synonymous with the word spectacle during ladder matches and Royal Rumble matches, chances are you are a pretty good athlete. Kofi utilizes more of a high flying explosive style, that lacks raw power, but more than makes up for in athleticism. Kingston is able to get higher than any other wrestler when he jumps off the ropes, seemingly hanging in the air until he chooses to come down. It seems like the only thing that Kofi can’t do is escape the mid-card, which is a shame considering all that he has to offer the main event picture.
5 Dolph Ziggler
The Show Off can do anything you ask him to in the ring; he can match up with the high flyers, and also work in the heavyweight division. His selling of any move is second to none, and he makes you believe everything that is happening in the ring is real. His pure athleticism is probably due to the fact that prior to joining the ranks of the WWE, Ziggler was an accomplished amateur wrestler. He actually earned the title of three-time All-Mid -American Conference Champion while attending Kent State.
In a normal match, Ziggler will do a standing elbow drop where he jumps at least three feet off of the ground from a stand position. He also has great hang time when performing the Zig-Zag on an opponent, staying in the air for a few seconds before slamming his competitor to the mat. Don't believe he's a real athlete? Ask Amy Schumer.
4 AJ Styles
Not to sound like a broken record, but AJ Styles is capable of doing anything in the ring. He is one of the few Grand Slam Champions in TNA history, and is the only one to win all of the titles under the NWA branding. He can seamlessly transition between X-Division and heavyweight competition without missing a step. Styles is probably the best all around guy on this list, he can put guys like Samoa Joe on his shoulders, lay him down with power, then go to the top rope and perform a Spiral Tap; and not be out of breath after.
3 Kurt Angle
Maybe this is a personal opinion, but Kurt Angle has carried every single match he has ever been in. This is due to the fact that Angle, who is a 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist, has the best conditioning in the history of the sport. Countless wrestlers have talked about how Angle just wouldn’t stop, and he never would need to catch his breath. In fact whenever Angle is laying on the ground while wrestling, it is actually just for show.
Angle in interviews talks about his extreme workout regiments, claiming that he would run up hill with people on his back for miles at a time; and that was just his morning workout.
2 Brock Lesnar
Well you had to know that he was going to make this list. I know there are a lot of people that despise Lesnar, but he has a track record like no other athlete in history. It made sense for Lesnar to jump into professional wrestling, as he was a champion NCAA amaetur wrestler in college. What didn’t make sense to many was when he retired from wrestling, to pursue the NFL in 2004.
Lesnar, who had no collegiate experience in football, decided to tryout for the Minnesota Vikings. At the time the 27-year-old Minnesota native was actually offered a position on a NFL Europe team based purely on his athleticism. Although he turned down the football career overseas, he eventually found his place in UFC, holding the UFC Heavyweight Championship for nearly two years. Oh and there is that whole return to WWE thing that he did.
1 Shelton Benjamin
In the truest case of what ever happened to that guy, Shelton Benjamin is a beast who had limitless bounds in wrestling. He was a multiple time mid-card champion, and a show stealer at most events. But for his pure athletic ability, for some reason he never was able to truly succeed as a singles superstar.
Although he never lived up to the potential he had in the WWE, Shelton Benjamin is hands down one of the best athletes to ever step foot between the ropes. Benjamin is a throwback wrestler, in that he was a worker’s worker; he could wrestle anyone, anytime, in any situation. The guy could literally do anything you wanted him to do, he is a heavyweight that can clear the ropes without touching them, and do a swanton to the outside of the ring, or a 450 splash, or a Split Legged Asai Moonsault.
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