There are times when the desire to be able to view pro wrestling as you did when you were a kid can be quite strong. It was just much simpler back then, wasn’t it? You rooted for the good guys, booed the bad guys and were able to more easily brush aside your lingering doubts that the competition between wrestlers may not have been entirely on the up and up. You never even considered elements like match star quality or who is getting their rightful push. There was nothing else to the world of professional wrestling outside of what you witnessed in that ring, and what happened in that ring was something truly special.
But that perspective isn’t quite as perfect as you may believe. Wrestling was much easier to enjoy when you were younger because you were often ignorant to what was really transpiring. While ignorance can be bliss, it is not the only way to find amusement in something. Watching professional wrestling as an older fan may not be the easy pleasure it once was, but in place of that simple joy comes a greater appreciation for how the business really works and a greater knowledge of who truly does it better than anyone else.
Once you have that knowledge, it’s tough to not look back on the way you used to view professional wrestling without feeling a little foolish. In fact, attempting to do so is liable to make you feel hungover. Your head hurts, and you can’t stop muttering “Wow, what was I thinking?” If you’re looking for a cure to this nostalgic migraine, consider thinking about the wrestlers whose work you are now able to fully appreciate with a little experience at your side. Think back on these 15 wrestlers that you hated as a kid and love as an adult.
15 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho's career only really took off once he turned heel. While in WCW, Jericho really came into his own as a whiny loudmouth. He would tear fans' signs and take every opportunity he could to say how much better he was than you. While kids in the crowd may have hated him, over the years, adults now seem to cheer Jericho whether he is a face or a heel.
We've come to realize just how brilliant a performer Y2J is and try as we may to hate him, we're always nodding in approval, as we're aware he's a master of his craft.
14 Jerry Lawler
We may not have liked Jerry Lawler's work on commentary in recent years, but there's no doubt we appreciate his brilliant heel work in the 90s. Lawler came into WWE in 1993 and as kids, we thought he was the meanest king we've ever seen. He would insult everybody he came across, antagonizing the babyfaces, the fans, heck even Stu and Helen Hart. Looking back on his heel work today, you have an enormous smile on your face and you can't help but laugh.
His past work is why Lawler still gets cheered today. All those adults giving him an ovation every time they see him do so because of the fond memories they have of The King back in his heyday.
13 Mr. Perfect
How'd you feel when you were a kid being told that no one is perfect, then all of a sudden, here comes a guy calling himself Mr. Perfect? Curt Hennig found the right character for him, because as it turned out, he really was good at anything he tried. The hilarious vignettes of him playing various sports or performing tasks to perfection may have been antagonizing as kids, but we laugh at them now, realizing Perfect's brilliance.
Looking back as adults, the only thing that makes us angry about Mr. Perfect was that he was never given a world title.
12 The Iron Sheik
Few wrestlers have ever gotten as much mileage out of the “evil foreigner” gimmick as The Iron Sheik did. The man’s career grew as tensions in the Middle East did, and The Iron Sheik seemed to enjoy playing off of the patriotic feelings of wrestling audiences everywhere in a way that no other performer quite could. It was easy to hate the man because he crossed the line between wrestling and the real world.
While a little more knowledge about how exactly professional wrestling works makes it easier to appreciate the Sheik’s work, he has made himself more lovable over the years due to a series of wacky and politically incorrect interviews that has made him the unofficial crazy grandpa of wrestling fans everywhere.
11 Rick Rude
There were a few reasons to hate Rick Rude. Most likely you hated him because he was a bad guy and bad guys were not cool in your book, but there is also the fact that Rude was playing a highly sexual male on a show that tended to cater to a very traditional audience. Rude’s sole purpose in life was to make older male viewers feel inadequate and younger ones feel uncomfortable. In this pursuit, he became one of the greatest heels of all time.
Rude’s work has aged more gracefully than most other performers during this time not just because of a greater personal understanding you may have regarding what makes a great wrestling bad guy, but because the man was a true ring general capable of telling incredible in-ring stories.
10 Arn Anderson
Many of the entrants on this list earn their spot due to their ability to play effective bad guys. While Arn was certainly no slouch in that department, it’s likely that’s not the reason you hated him when you were younger. Instead, it’s because Arn was boring to younger wrestling fans. He lacked any real gimmick, and real personality and - if you’ll excuse the pun - any real flair. He looked like he could be the drunken dad that lived down the block, but you were expected to believe he could hang with real life superheroes like Hulk Hogan. In retrospect, it’s hard to not appreciate how Anderson brought an air of legitimacy to the wacky world of pro wrestling.
9 Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper was not necessarily a wrestler meant to be liked by children. I don’t say that because he regularly feuded with the biggest heroes in the wrestling world, but rather because the man’s work and words was often intended to go over the heads of young wrestling fans. WWE tried to give him a hook by playing up the whole Scottish angle, but Piper’s true brilliance went far beyond some bagpipes and a kilt. His seemingly random promos contained nuggets of sheer brilliance that weren’t meant to be understood by kids, but as adults, it’s hard to not appreciate how Piper rode that fine line between insanity and genius.
8 The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase
Unlike Roddy Piper whose greatest abilities weren’t really meant for children, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase was designed for the sole purpose of getting under the nerves of young fans everywhere. As if his flaunting of great wealth wasn’t enough to rile the masses, the man went so far as to specifically target children for his antics. Who could ever forget the time he kicked away a kid’s basketball just so he wouldn’t have to pay up on a bet? What a jerk! Now, though, hating on DiBiase is a lot like hating LeBron James. He may not play for your favorite team, but you’d be a fool to deny the man’s talent.
In a lot of ways, Raven was like Roddy Piper in that it was tough for young wrestling fans to really understand what he was all about. Unlike Roddy Piper, Raven didn’t even have a broad gimmick like Piper’s Scottish traits to work with. It was hard to put your finger on what the guy was going for, exactly. Was he an angry teenager? Did he actually think he was a Raven? What was his deal? It’s only later in life that you’re able to appreciate the brilliance of a performer as subtle as Raven. As a demented narcissist who surrounds himself with weaker wrestlers in order to boost his own ego, Raven is truly one of wrestling’s greatest characters.
6 Bobby Heenan
“Ugh, why do they even let wrestlers have managers?” I found myself asking this question as a child whenever Bobby Heenan was on-screen. For the life of me, I just couldn’t understand why WWE let someone like Hennan near a wrestling ring despite his constant interruptions and assaults. Even worse, why would anyone choose such an annoying braggart as their manager?
Besides his talents as a world-class wrestling announcer, the one thing that I’ve come to appreciate the most about Bobby Heenan later in life is just how skilled he was as a wrestling manager. It’s a position that modern wrestling has forgotten, which only makes the man’s work that much greater.
5 Owen Hart
Owen Hart didn’t get to enjoy many years as a smiling babyface before fans quickly discovered that the man made for one excellent heel. Specifically, he was incredibly good at playing the whiny heel that felt he never got his way. Even wrestling fans that grew up liking the bad guy usually held a special point of hatred in their hearts for Owen Hart due largely to the fact that many of us knew an entitled person just like him. It was easy to get lost in Owen’s character and believe he was all he portrayed himself to be. In retrospect, it’s hard to not appreciate how brilliant the man’s work is both on the microphone and in the ring.
4 Ric Flair
Old man Flair. That’s what me and my young wrestling friends always referred to Ric Flair as. He was a relic of an age that none of us particularly cared for. The only thing he could ever seem to do was poke people in the eyes and put them in a figure four leglock that never seemed to actually work. For years, young wrestling fans waited for Flair to step away from the spotlight and for years he just kept doing the same old thing in an increasingly awful series of storylines.
Now, I can’t help but feel a little guilty for not recognizing Ric Flair as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time and for failing to see that the man remained a constant professional even as the company he helped to build slowly gave up on him.
3 William Regal
If there’s one thing that’s easy to overlook as a young wrestling fan, it’s subtlety. Professional wrestling is not exactly known as the most subtle form of entertainment in the world, so sometimes it's difficult to really appreciate it when a master of that craft enters the ring. That’s exactly what William Regal was. Oh sure, he loved to play up his British heritage to cartoonish degrees at times, but for the most part he was an incredibly talented in-ring worker who put on textbook wrestling matches as easily as Hulk Hogan ripped his shirt off. It’s a shame that the latter was so much easier to appreciate at a young age than the former.
2 Macho King Randy Savage
It didn’t matter if Macho Man Randy Savage was a bad guy because he so happened to be one of the most entertaining men in the wrestling world. How couldn’t you love someone as over the top and amusing as the Macho Man? Randy must have also known that people would have a hard time hating him following his run at the top of WWE, which is why he adopted the Macho King gimmick. At the time, the Macho King angle seemed unnecessary and frustrating. What it really was, though, was a way for Randy Savage to turn even his biggest fans against him again. You have to admire how well it worked.
1 Kurt Angle
By the time that Kurt Angle made his professional wrestling debut, it was perfectly cool to root for the bad guy. However, Kurt Angle managed to earn the scorn of wrestling fans of all ages by playing up the idea that he was somehow an unworthy WWE competitor whose Olympic exploits allowed him to rise to the top of pro wrestling’s greatest promotion.
Angle was able to make fans young and old hate him equally by playing the role of an incredibly talented man who thought he was too good for pro wrestling and pro wrestling fans. The funny thing is that all these years later, it’s hard to argue against his character’s viewpoint.