Before the 1990s, many of the wrestlers that succeeded and reached the top were usually past the age of thirty. Hulk Hogan began "Hulkamania" after the age of thirty. He would not turn heel and form the New World Order with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash until his early 40s. While there were many younger talent in the WCW, the focus was put on their biggest draw despite his age. The young talents suffered because of the focus not being place on them and WCW would fold because of it.
Many young talents however were able to reach to proverbial "brass ring" in all wrestling promotions. Success in wrestling is usually defined as winning the world title, or consistently being a part of the upper echelon in the respective company. The case for young stars making a name in TNA has not happened up until recently so there will not be any inclusions from them. This list is mainly focusing on the ECW, WCW, and WWE. Al three companies featured wrestlers very young and gave them a chance to rise to the top.
Here are the top 15 wrestlers who reached the top before the age of 30.
15 The Undertaker
Although The Undertaker in the '90s is nowhere near the performer he would become later on, 'Taker would win the WWE Championship in the year 1991. The Undertaker would do something few men would do albeit not clean. He would defeat Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series with help from Ric Flair. The Undertaker made his debut the year prior at Survivor Series 1990 and would capture the title at the age of 26. His reign would last six days before dropping it back to Hogan at the next mega event and a flop of a show This Tuesday in Texas. With this reign, The Undertaker became the youngest world champion (at the time). The Undertaker may be the best wrestler on this list, but the 'Taker in the '90s is nowhere near the star he became later in his career.
A member of the legendary Anoa'i family, Yokozuna is easily considered to be one of wrestling's best big-men ever. For a man who was truly gigantic, he was able to move around the ring very well considering his size. He won the 1993 Royal Rumble eliminating the "Macho Man" Randy Savage. He would then defeat Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX before dropping the belt immediately to Hulk Hogan after the match. He would then win it back at the King of the Ring that same year. Yokozuna did all this at the age of 26. He would have two world title reigns before he was 30 and was the main guy for the WWE at the time. However, Yokozuna would never reach this height in his career again after he lost the WWE Championship to Bret Hart at WrestleMania X.
13 Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales wrestled for the WWE all the way back in the early '70s. He would defeat Ivan Koloff to become the first Hispanic WWE Champion. He won the title at the young age of 28. Not only that, he held the belt for 1,027 which equates to almost three years. During his reign he dominated many WWE wrestlers. He was able to set an example for many of the Hispanic wrestlers to come. Future WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero surely idolized Morales as he was the "man" in WWE for a number of years, doing so at such a young age. Pedro was the first Triple Crown Champion in WWE history and would get inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995.
12 Big Show
One of WWE's mainstays since 1999, the Big Show had success even prior to when he arrived in Vince McMahon's company. Big Show (known as The Giant) defeated Hulk Hogan in his debut match at WCW Halloween Havoc 1995 for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at the age of 23. He would win the belt once more against Ric Flair. When he came to the WWE, he would win the WWE title in less than year at the age of 27. Big Show won two of wrestling's biggest championships both in less than a year upon his arrival and each before the age of 30. This goes without saying that Big Show was an important part of the WWE's product at the time. Since then, Big Show has won multiple championship throughout his WWE run. Although fans may be tired of him now, Big Show was once more entertaining and exciting to watch.
11 Bruno Sammartino
Bruno Sammartino was only 27 when he won the WWE Championship for the first time. When his reign ended, he was in his late 30s. Sammartino carried the WWE in to the early '70s and was one of wrestling's most polarizing figures. Sammartino's reign is constantly mentioned and is always compared to whenever someone has a long title reign. Sadly, Sammartino was not inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame until 2013. He was way overdue to be inducted. This is because of differences between himself and the company. Many believe this is also because of the way the WWE used and booked his son David Sammartino. Although he had a decent size and a decent look, David Sammartino was unfortunately nothing more than a jobber. But, all is forgotten and Sammartino and the WWE are on good terms again.
10 Mikey Whipwreck
One of the most beloved wrestlers in ECW history, Mikey Whipwreck started in ECW as a perennial loser. Many of the fans became sympathetic to Whipwreck causing him to become massively over with the ECW crowd. He would eventually win the ECW Wolrd Heavyweight Championship by defeating The Sandman. In ECW, he would pick up a victory over Steve Austin, a match considered to be a highlight for the promotion. He was also one of only four ECW Triple Crown Champions, winning the ECW Championship, the Television Championship, and the ECW Tag Team Championship. All before he was 30 years of age. Whipwreck was truly an innovative performer and still continued to wrestle impressive and creative matches for ECW up until it's end.
9 Ivan Koloff
Ivan Koloff made wrestling history when he won the WWE Championship. At the age of 28, Koloff defeated the legendary Bruno Sammartino to win the belt. Fearful of a riot, Koloff was unable to even leave with belt he rightfully won that night. Koloff ended Bruno Sammartino's decade-long reign the night he won the WWE Championship. That night Koloff cemented his place in professional history. He will forever be known as the man that ended the legendary reign of Bruno Sammartino. Not only that, he did it at the age of 28. And although his reign was short lived, he has his place in wrestling history. Koloff was inducted in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2015. Sadly he is still not a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
8 The Rock
The Rock won his first WWE Championship at the Survivor Series Pay-Per-View event in 1998 after defeating Mankind in the Deadly Games Tournament. He was 26-years-old at the time of him winning the championship. Little did anyone know that this would birth the most charismatic star of the Attitude Era and one of the most charismatic stars ever. He would win the belt a few more times before turning the age 30. Before he was 30, many considered him to be a part of a WWE list that would consider The Rock amoung the greatest stars to ever grace a WWE ring. He main-evented three WrestleMania events in row before turning 30 as well as his winning the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championship on more than one occasion.
7 John Cena
Though he is hated by many wrestling fans, John Cena's first reign as WWE Champion is one of wrestling's most dominant in recent history. Cena won the belt at WrestleMania 21 against JBL at the age of 27. During this title reign, Cena ran the Gauntlet on SmackDown (for a short period) and RAW against some of wrestling's best in-ring performers. In his first reign, Cena defeated the likes of Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, and Shawn Michaels. His reign would last almost a full year until Edge cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase for the first time ever, ending Cena's long reign as WWE Champion. He would defeat Edge later in the month at the Royal Rumble Pay-Per-View making Edge's reign short-lived. This is the reign that really cause many fans to begin disliking Cena because he came across as an overpowering champion and defeated some of wrestling's most beloved characters.
6 Tommy Rich
Tommy "Wildfire" Rich was a tremendous talent in many of the independent wrestling promotions for the NWA in the 1980s. He wrestled for the Memphis and Georgia territories. He defeated the legendary Harley Race to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Rich was just 24 years of age when he won the title which was completely unlike the NWA at the time. His reign was short-lived, and he would drop the belt four days later, back to Harley Race. Later on in his career, Rich would become a member of the entertaining ECW stable The Full Blooded Italians along with Little Guido and Tracy Smothers. Rich never gets the respect he deserves in the wrestling business and is often forgotten. When fans bring up young World Champions, his name is often never mentioned.
5 Kerry Von Erich
Known in the WWE as the The Texas Tornado, Kerry Von Erich was a tremendous wrestler and a part of the legendary Von Erich family. Von Erich wrestled for the WCCW. He was nicknamed the "Modern Day Warrior." He would win the WCCW Championship by defeating Gino Hernandez to claim the vacant belt. He was just 20-years-old at the time of him winning the championship. He would win it once again at the age of 21. Von Erich would have two world title reigns before the age of 30. Von Erich also had the legendary and masterfully done feud with The Fabulous Freebirds. Von Erich would receive some success in the WWE, winning the Intercontinental Championship once but nothing more. Von Erich died sadly after having his foot amputated and him becoming addicted to pain killers.
4 Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund is currently embroiled in a horrible, boring, and dreadful feud between Darren Young and Titus O'Neil, a feud that should definitely win Worst Feud of the Year on the Wrestling Observer. But before he was "Making Darren Young Great Again", he was a former WWE Champion, winning the title at just 29 years of age. He would go on to hold the belt for 2000+ days making him the second longest reigning WWE Champion of all time next to Bruno Sammartino. He was the third WWE Champion to have reign of over a 1000 days. During this reign, he would face the likes of Bob Orton, Big John Studd, and Adrian Adonis. Backlund's reign would end at the hands of The Iron Sheik.
3 Lou Thesz
Lou Thesz is without a doubt on of wrestling's most respected and toughest figures. Thesz wrestled for the NWA all the way back in the 1940s and would be there second ever World Champion. He would defeat Orville Brown to win the championship. However, prior to this, Thesz would wrestle for another NWA, the National Wrestling Association winning their world title as well at the age of just 21! Thesz is also the innovator of many moves including the Powerbomb, the STF, and the Lou Thesz Press. Thesz passed away 2002 at the age of 86. Thesz was inducted in to the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 1996 and the WCW Hall of Fame in 1993. Thesz was finally inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this year.
2 Randy Orton
The third generation Superstar Randy Orton trained in OVW and was brought up to the main roster in 2002. He joined the stable Evolution and was kept under the wings of Triple H and Ric Flair. Orton defeated Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2004 to become the youngest ever World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history at the age of 24. His first reign is nothing worth talking about as he lost it Triple H at the next Pay-Per-View event (Unforgiven). Orton would claim the WWE Championship in historic fashion at No Mercy 2007 when the title was defending three times in a single night. At this point, Orton was a three-time World Champion before the age of 30. His third reign led to Orton becoming a incredibly dominant champion defeating the likes of Jeff Hardy and both John Cena and Triple H at WrestleMania XXIV in a Triple Threat match.
1 Brock Lesnar
Randy Orton's recent SummerSlam defeat came at the hands " The Beast" Brock Lesnar. Lesnar's first run with the company was absolutely remarkable. He won the King of the Ring in 2002 and defeated The Rock at SummerSlam that same year for the WWE Championship at the age of 25. He won the title in just 126 days from when he arrived in the company. He would hold the title twice more before he turned 30. He would defeat Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XIX in an unforgettable encounter to capture the gold for the second time. Before the age of 30, Lesnar had three world title reigns, a Royal Rumble victory, and the King of the Ring crown. Sadly, Lesnar also left the company to pursue other athletic ventures such as Mixed Martial Arts and the NFL. Since his return to WWE, Lesnar has capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at a later age. However, we can never overlook the success Lesnar obtain as such a young man.
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