Being a star professional wrestler requires many things: A great entrance theme, a great character/gimmick, an appeal to the crowd, and of course, in-ring ability, which comes with athleticism, quickness, and agility. But not every great wrestler has that.
When you think of the biggest wrestlers ever, you'll think of Hulk Hogan and John Cena. But you wouldn't say those two guys are more entertaining as actual wrestlers than, say, Rey Mysterio and Kevin Owens. Some of the most historic and accomplished wrestlers of all-time got by with their way of entertaining the fans. They were not all that great of wrestlers.
It's like if Justin Bieber turns to acting. Put him in a movie with stars. Sure, the movie will make a lot at the box office and millions of DVD copies will be bought, but it's not cause he's a great actor. It's cause of the name and how marketbale he is.
That's the way with many of the top wrestlers to ever live. Their characters are sold to the audience. Here are the 15 wrestlers who got to the top, but really lacked skill in the wrestling part.
16 John Cena
Some may want the leader of Cenation higher, but it's still a debate as to whether or not he's a great wrestler. So here's my reasoning for putting John Cena on this list.
Yes, he's the most marketable WWE Superstar of the past decade. The ridiculous money draws, merchandise sales, and appeal to the kids make him the most beloved wrestler since Hulk Hogan in the '80s. But as much as we love Cena and the kids who look up to him so much, he's really not a great wrestler.
I grew up disliking his gimmick because he headlined every main event and the match was so predictable: Cena's going to get a beatdown, get back up, do the Five Knuckle Shuffle and either lock in the STF or slam his opponent with The Attitude Adjustment to become champion. Cena's not as bad as most other wrestlers in the ring, but he basically had key moves that helped him win every match. How exciting.
The Big Red Machine had a cool gimmick. The 7-feet-tall monster really was a freak of nature and did some pretty scary stuff, such as electrocuting Shane McMahon's (you know what), and attempting to throw him in a bin of fire.
I liked Kane as a child, and he definitely was someone who scared the daylights out of you, whether he was wearing his iconic mask or just revealing his face with that cold stare. But with all due respect to him, he was never a great in-ring performer, and really just relied too much on the Chokeslam finisher.
He did have some good tag teams, especially The Brothers of Destruction with The Undertaker, as well as his alliance with The Big Show. He won the WWE Championship from Stone Cold Steve Austin at the 1998 King of the Ring Pay-Per-View, and has also captured the World Heavyweight and ECW Championship.. Kane just didn't have the persona or athletic ability to be a full-time main event wrestler.
13 Hacksaw Jim Duggan
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan had an interesting gimmick that got him over, but his in-ring skills were never anything spectacular. He had a massive frame of 6-feet-3, 270 pounds. Duggan played the All-American hero, so that was an easy way for him to appeal to a country that's known for being very, very patriotic.
Duggan also looked like a real tough guy with his "hacksaw," hence his ring name. Duggan did win the United States Championship in WCW, but never won one of the most sought-after titles. Luckily for Duggan, rivalries with Hall of Famers like Hulk Hogan, Ted DiBiase, and Randy Savage built up his character and looked more appealing. Duggan didn't have the speed or athleticism to really intrigue fans with his in-ring work.
He was also the very first Royal Rumble winner, which helped him earn a huge push. Duggan wrestled well into his '50s, but he really wasn't much worse than he was when his wrestling career started.
12 Dean Ambrose
In case you aren't familiar with my work, I'll cut to the chase and say how I love and respect what Dean Ambrose has done to rise to the top of the card, but I really don't buy his character at all. He's supposed to be a lunatic but doesn't come off as the intimidating wrestler like Brock Lesnar does.
Ambrose was carried by Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins when they were The Shield. Rollins did all the good promos that made those two look better. Reigns, despite having poor mic skills, is really one of the best wrestlers the WWE has produced in recent memory. But Ambrose is extremely dull on the mic, and his in-ring skills are much more cringe-worthy.
He's not a giant freak like Lesnar, he's not fast and elusive like Rey Mysterio, and he's not much of a wrestling character. Ambrose is slow and not all that athletic for a man of his size and stature.
11 Mick Foley
Ric Flair and Mick Foley had real life beef backstage, and The Nature Boy went as far to call him a "glorified stuntman."
I'm having a hard time talking about Foley like this, because he legitimately put his life on the line with that epic 1998 match against The Undertaker where he got thrown off the the Cell and later Chokeslammed through the structure, landing in the ring (that wasn't planned, by the way).
However, if you take a look at the rest of Foley's career, it wasn't quite as epic as that match against The Undertaker. He cemented his legacy with that match. His partnership with The Rock helped build his character, and his shocking title win in 1999 (against Rock), helped WWE win the Monday Night War. Foley was a man of a few iconic moments, but not really a great all-around wrestler.
10 Scott Hall
Scott Hall definitely had a huge impact in the wrestling industry. His Razor Ramon gimmick was one of the most recognizable in WWE. When he jumped ship to join WCW, it was a huge loss for Vince McMahon that led to the Monday Night Wars. Even though Hall is a Hall of Famer, his in-ring ability was limited.
He's a household name, simply for being an original part of the nWo trio. Hall, Kevin Nash, and Hulk Hogan formed arguably the greatest wrestling alliance ever, but Hall kind of hung around and let those two do the dirty work. Hall was just a henchman in the alliance. He had a large 6-feet-5 frame, so he looked intimidating. But The Bad Guy was more of an entertainer. He had phenomenal microphone skills and his snobbish, arrogant attitude made him one of the greatest heels during the '90s.
But make no mistake: Hall was not a man to headline any Pay-Per-Views, and there's a reason he never won a major title in WCW nor WWE. He just didn't have the skills to put on memorable matches.
When I was a young child who loved WWE and believed it was real wrestling, my favourite moment was when Batista did the "thumbs down" to Triple H and Batista Bombed him through a table to signal his departure from Evolution and challenge The Game for his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21.
Batista was one of my favourite wrestlers as a child, and I don't think there were many better heels during his prime. But it was actually other authors from this website that made me realize...wait a minute...he really wasn't that great.
The Animal is a freak, 6-feet-5, and at points in his career, weighed over 300 pounds. He is a freak of nature and undoubtedly had the look to be an intimidating wrestler. But Batista's matches were never that special. They were boring for about 10-15 minutes, and he either lost or hit the Spinebuster, did the thumbs down, shook the ropes, delivered a Batista Bomb, and won. Like many Cena matches, the ending was too predictable and always the same.
8 The Sandman
Perhaps The Sandman really could have been a bigger wrestler if he starred in WCW or WWE, instead of ECW. You see, ECW was only making a name for itself because of the hardcore matches they were putting on. It was a style of wrestling you almost never saw in America's top-two wrestling promotions. Bravo, Paul Heyman.
The Sandman captured the ECW Championship in 1995, leading him to the desired push to become a top wrestler. He became one of the top stars of ECW, and it was more than enough for that company to have a guy to market. However, Sandman was far from a great wrestler, like many others. He was popular because of the "hardcore" wrestling style none of the legends like Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair and others went by. The Sandman fought in hardcore matches that included tables, ladders, and chairs (before this became mainstream). Sure, it was great entertainment for fans, but that's exactly what it was: Entertainment. Only half of what being a professional wrestler is about.
7 Sid Justice
Like many others on this list, Sid Justice's character was appealing because of nothing more than his size (6-feet-11, over 300 pounds). He won both the WWE and WCW World Heavyweight Championships twice. He had some memorable matches against Hulk Hogan (such as WrestleMania VIII), had team-ups with Shawn Michaels, and was a member of the most iconic factions, The Million Dollar Corporation.
That being said, Sid was a man who was carried by other stars. Guys like Hogan, Michaels, and Savage were bigger household names that worked with Justice and it made him look better. Perhaps Justice is also a big deal to many because he was a main-event wrestler in WCW and WWE and also spent time in ECW. Justice bounced around with all the companies, but none of them really helped him turn the corner. Justice always lived in the shadow of bigger stars, and there's a reason for that. He just wasn't all that special in the ring.
6 Lex Luger
The Lex Express was actually one of the main event wrestlers in both WWE and WCW. When he shockingly left Vince McMahon and was recruited by Eric Bischoff to go to WCW, it really left WWE in a bind. Lex Luger's giant star status helped WCW gain momentum and really stick it to Mr. McMahon.
Luger was undoubtedly one of the most popular wrestlers of the '80s and '90s. His ring name was enough to draw in Superman lovers. He played the American hero, becoming McMahon's top babyface once Hogan left. Another reason Luger became a big deal was because of his feud with the nWo. Anybody who fought that alliance appealed to the fans. Luger was involved in the match where Hogan completed his 360 heel turn.
But Luger was really not a great wrestler. He was like another Batista: He was one of the most muscular wrestlers of his time. But Luger didn't have speed or athleticism to put on clinical matches like Savage, for example. He moved around slowly and didn't have the pace to bring fans to their feet.
5 The Ultimate Warrior
When you think of the greatest wrestlers during the '80s, when pro wrestling became a major boom, The Ultimate Warrior is easily one of the first names that comes to mind. The name itself was very catchy and marketable, but his iconic face paint and promos made him almost as big of a deal as Hulk Hogan.
However, Warrior's wrestling ability failed to live up to his name. A guy named The Ultimate Warrior should be high-flying and exciting to watch, like, say, the Macho Man Randy Savage. Warrior's name didn't go well for a guy who really couldn't put on the most exciting of matches. Warrior's name became a huge deal when he beat Hogan for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania VI. Think about David Tyree of the NFL, he's known for one moment. But for Warrior, that victory over Hogan put him over as one of Vince McMahon's favourite wrestlers.
I must confess that I was too young to witness Goldberg in his prime. Hey, I was only two years old when he started becoming a huge deal in WCW, okay? Now, listen up if you want to know what I've got to say, brother! (Cue the Hogan reference).
I watched who knows how many hours worth of Goldberg on WWE Network, where there's an episode of the Monday Night War dedicated entirely to him. Right away, I could not understand how the fans cheered for him. He was simply a beast who came out to sparks and fireworks, flexing and looking all pumped up.
Uh...no. Goldberg just looked plain silly with those intros and he was instantly a favourite when he had that "undefeated streak," and took down the nWo. But he was simply a guy who put on boring matches and used his Jackhammer or Spear to put ends to matches. His name was a big deal, but his wrestling ability wasn't there.
3 Kevin Nash
The Nature Boy, Ric Flair, once had something harsh to say about Kevin Nash, though you can make a case it was somewhat true:
“Kevin Nash’s claim to fame is playing basketball in Tennessee, though I never saw him play; and coming in this business as a bouncer from a club. Good physique, good look. Just on the record, zero talent. Right place, right time; zero [talent] in the ring.”
Nash didn't have "zero talent," but his name was simply a bigger deal than what he actually did in the ring. Nash was able to get over easily because of his massive 7-feet-tall frame. But in all honesty, he wasn't a great wrestler. Much like Scott Hall, Hulk Hogan helped both of them look more legendary when they formed the nWo.
Put it this way: When it was Nash and Hall as "The Outsiders," duo, they weren't recognized as the greatest tag team. Once Hogan aligned himself with them to become the nWo, the rest became history. Nash's size made it tough for him to move around quickly and look like a real wrestler.
But he gets the last laugh. In WWE, working as Diesel, Nash would serve as the longest reigning WWE Champion of the '90s. He made it big, even if most of us don't think he should have went over.
2 Ric Flair
Alright, Mr. Flair. I've used your shots at other pro wrestlers to try and make my points stronger (Sorry Foley and Nash). But these two gentlemen get the last laugh, because you rank higher on this list than them.
You see, The Nature Boy is my favourite WWE entertainer of all-time. Nobody matches the charisma and excitement when cutting a promo. He was the epic hot-shot wrestler who had elite trash-talking skills on the mic and really fired up the crowd. Seriously, search some of his top WCW promos and you'll see how great they were. Flair was simply a great entertainer, but he was never a very good wrestler.
He simply moved around slowly and did the iconic Nature Boy flop and strut, but those just further showed how wrestling can't be taken seriously; because he really can't wrestle. The fact he wrestled into his 60s also didn't help him erase the reputation of being a poor wrestler.
1 Hulk Hogan
Well you know something, brother!
Hulk Hogan is the one name that is synonymous with professional wrestling. What would baseball be like without Babe Ruth? Basketball with Michael Jordan? The music industry without Michael Jackson or The Beatles? Hogan is a huge reason that Vince McMahon became a billionaire. And that is no exaggeration.
Listen, everybody loves Hulk Hogan and everybody would love him to come back to WWE, but his wrestling style was never exciting. For the many of you that didn't see him wrestle in the '80s or '90s, it was just like John Cena matches. Hogan would be down and he looked like he would lose. Then he would "Hulk Up," point the finger at his opponent, take a few punches, shake his body, throw three punches, and are we done yet?
Then, he'd Irish Whip his opponent, kick them in the face, and hit them with the Leg Drop to win the match. That's how almost every Hogan match went down, and it got more and more boring with time. Just because he was widely marketed and endorsed during his prime, it doesn't come close to meaning he was a great wrestler. Not even close.