For many professional wrestling has always been a family business. There were dynasties, stables, and families that dominated territories for decades. And it’s not really a surprise that many followed their fathers into a career fighting in the squared circle. If you had Hart or Von Erich for a last name you were probably going to find yourself presented with more opportunities than most. So why not give wrestling a go? Of course with those extra opportunities comes extra pressure and expectations. It can sometimes be a little painful to watch some fall WAY short of expectations. There are a few, however, who far exceed the legacy of their parents.
This list is bound to be controversial. It can be very hard to compare wrestling from different generations. The sport evolved so often over the decades. Professional wrestling in the 1950s and '60s was such a different spectacle to the WrestleMania years and the Monday Night War, and this list at first glance might appear to be disrespectful to the “Golden Age” of wrestling in the 1950s. That is definitely not my intention. Those who appear on this list are sons of wrestlers who took the torch handed from their fathers and went onto have an even greater impact on the industry.
15 Shane McMahon
Vince McMahon utterly changed the world of wrestling, making it mainstream entertainment. In the process he became the great heel of the Attitude Era through his feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. But when it comes to pure wrestling ability Shane McMahon was way more entertaining.
Shane started working for the WWE as a teenager, and worked his way up as a backstage hand, referee, and commentator. Once Shane was allowed in front of the camera he was always entertaining. Fans and wrestlers alike appreciated the effort Shane put into his screen character, and he took some of the most brutal bumps you’ll ever see, when he really didn’t need to. His street fight with Kurt Angle at King of the Ring in 2001 was one of the matches of the year, with a truly shocking finale where Kurt Angle repeatedly tried to belly-to-belly Shane through a glass window until he finally broke through.
14 Tully Blanchard
After a successful stint in the amateur ranks, Joe Blanchard became a tough wrestler in the Texas Territory during the 1950s and '60s winning numerous singles and tag team titles. But it was as a promoter that he made his mark for Southwest Championship Wrestling in San Antonio in 1978 before going onto become president of the AWA. Blanchard was a throwback to a pre-WWE, famous throughout the industry for his honesty and integrity. By the 1980s Blanchard was also famous for being the father of the great Tully Blanchard.
Tully was an impressive athlete, playing quarterback in college for West Texas State, but was always likely to follow his father into the wrestling business. In the mid-80s he joined Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, and Ole Anderson as the infamous “Four Horseman.” As “The Brainbusters” he and Arn Anderson won the WWE Tag Team Championship in 1989. Blanchard also had success as a singles wrestler. For vintage NWA fans the “I Quit” match Tully had with Magnum T.A. on Thanksgiving 1985 is legendary, considered by many to be all-time great.
Tully Blanchard’s could have achieved more. When he sighed a $250k deal to return to the WCW and reform the Four Horseman with Flair, he never got to see any of the money, failing a drug test for cocaine. His career never fully got back on it’s feet after that, but Tully Blanchard had made his mark in the professional world during the 1980’s.
13 Jeff Jarrett
Jerry Jarrett was a big-time player in the world of professional wrestling as a promoter in Tennessee. He was responsible for the rise of Jerry Lawler and famously pushed comedian Andy Kauffman’s foray into “Inter-Gender Wrestling.” Jerry admittedly always had a passion for booking than actually competing in the ring. His son Jeff, while also being an influential figure behind the scenes, was the much better wrestler.
Beginning with an arrogant country gimmick “Double J” for the WWE, Jarrett didn’t quite make his mark during the Attitude Era, but had much more success in WCW winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship four times. Like his father, booking and promotion was Jeff’s strength, and together they launched Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in 2002, and have gone to great lengths in trying to tun the company into a competitor.
12 Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
A controversial choice, for Johnny Valentine was one of the biggest heels during the “Golden Era” of wrestling. With his flowing blond hair and tanned body, the arrogant Valentine had memorable feuds with Harley Race, Lou Thesz, and Bruno Sammartino, before his career was ended after being hurt in a plane crash that also broke Ric Flair’s back. With his cocky in-ring persona, Johnny Valentine was one of the most respected wrestlers of his generation.
But Greg “The Hammer” Valentine was a genuine star of the WWE and NWA throughout the 70s and 80s. Much like his father, who used to insist on being hit as hard as possible to sell matches to the crowd, The Hammer had a tough, hard-hitting style that earn him many titles, including WWE Intercontinental Champion in 1984, which he defended at the first WrestleMania in 1985 against the Junkyard Dog. He also competed in the NWA’s first Starrcade against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to win the United States Championship.
11 Dean Malenko
In the same way The Iron Sheik played on Iranian-US tension when he fought Hulk Hogan in the 1980s, “The Great” Malenko, billed as coming from Russia, personified Cold War tensions throughout the 1950s and '60s, becoming a huge draw across the country. Malenko could generate so much heat during this time he was once stabbed by a fan needing 33 stitches in his abdomen.
Adopting a realistic “shooting” style of wrestling, Boris would go on to teach his son Dean. While never achieving main event status, Dean Malenko became one of the most respected technical wrestlers of the glory years of professional wrestling during the mid-1990s and early 2000s with memorable stints at ECW, WCW, and WWE. His feud with his personal close friend Eddie Guerrero produced some of the most memorable matches in ECW during the mid-90s, the highlight being a Two-out-of-Three Falls Match that ended in a draw when both had their shoulders on the mat for the final fall. It would be the last match the two would have at ECW before jumping ship to the WCW where Malenko became known as “The Man of 1,000 Holds” and competed in the exhilarating Cruiserweight Division against Guerrera, Psicosis, and Billy Kidman. In 1997 Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Malenko the No.1 wrestler in the world.
10 Ted DiBiase
Before “Iron” Mike Tyson there was “Iron” Mike DiBiase. The adoptive father of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was an AAU Amateur Wrestling champion as a young man before turning professional in 1950. “Iron” Mike’s career and life was tragically cut short when he died of a heart attack while in the ring during a match in Lubbock Texas on July 2, 1969. DiBiase left behind a respected legacy, but his son would go onto achieve even greater things.
Ted, a superb athlete, was determined to follow his father (and also his mother Helen Hild who was a professional wrestler) into a career in the ring. Ted joined the WWE in 1987 and Vince McMahon gave him one of the most memorable gimmicks of the early WrestleMania years. The WWE spent hundreds of thousands to allow DiBiase to live as “The Million Dollar Man” for a real so fans would really buy into it, mirroring the “Donald Trump-esque” opulence of the 1980s. On Feb 5 ,1988, DiBiase became WWE Heavyweight Champion by buying the belt off Andre the Giant. DiBiase would be stripped of a title and a tournament was held at the Trump Plaza for WrestleMania IV where DiBiase lost the final to Randy Savage.
9 Nick Bockwinkel
Warren Bockwinkel was one of the top wrestlers in America from the 1930s through to the mid-1950s. Born in 1911, he was one of the first wrestlers to put Lou Thesz over, as Thesz became one of the first icons of professional wrestling. Matches between Warren Bockwinkel and Lou Thesz were some of the first to attract crowds of 10,000 plus. The money wasn’t great back then, and Bockwinkel had to work as a trucker while he was wrestling which Thesz believed prevented him from being a bigger star. His son Nick, who was trained by Warren and Thesz, would go on to be a superstar.
Along with his manager, WWE Hall of Famer Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Nick Bockwinkel was one of the top heels of the AWA. Dubbing himself “the smartest wrestler alive,” Bockwinkel generated enormous heat with his arrogant persona. He defeated AWA legend Verge Gagne for the World Championship in 1975 and held onto the belt for nearly five years. On March 25, 1979, Nick Bockwinkel made history by fighting WWE Champion Bob Backlund in the first-ever “unification” match between AWA and WWE Champions (the match ended in a double-count-out). Bockwinkel’s name would be synonymous with the AWA and he fought the final AWA match in 1986 against NWA World Champion Ric Flair. Nick owes a lot to his father who gave him the best start possible, as Nick made the most of the opportunities his father didn’t have.
8 Terry Funk
“The King of the Texas Death Match" Dory Funk Sr. was a tough as nails grappler who made his name mainly in the Texas Territory. His greatest contribution to the sport was his two sons, Dory Jr. and Terry who he trained. Dory Jr. is regarded as one of the most technically gifted wrestlers of all time, and gave his father his proudest day when he won the NWA Heavyweight Championship on February 11, 1969 to beat the great Gene Kiniski. Dory Jr. held the title for over four years, and while he is very much a legend, it his younger brother Terry who has captured the imagination of wrestling fans for over 50 years.
Terry, who defeated Jack Brisco for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1975, has been one of the most successful journeymen wrestlers in history. Funk had memorable stints with the WWE, WCW, and the ECW, where he fought with Cactus Jack to produce some of the most violent blood-baths the ring has ever seen. Terry is beloved by wrestling fans all over the country and is one of the most respected by his peers. Dory the elder and younger were technically gifted wrestlers, but it was Terry who was able to adapt with the constantly evolving industry. He announced his retirement from the sport just last month.
7 Curt Hennig
It takes a certain amount of confidence to pull off the moniker “Mr. Perfect.” But that’s exactly what Curt Hennig was in the ring. Sublime in his execution, “Mr. Perfect” showed that technical wrestling could also be entertaining. Many wrestling purists cite his Intercontinental Championship battle with Bret Hart at SummerSlam as one of the best matches in WWE history.
Curt came from great pedigree, his father being the legendary Larry “The Axe” Hennig. While Larry would never be quite the household name his son would go on to be, he earned a reputation for being a tough competitor, and formed a popular tag team with the great Harley Race during the 1960s. As a singles wrestler Larry would frequently challenge Bruno Sammartino in New York for the WWWF Title.
Tragically, Larry would outlive his son who died of a cocaine overdose in 2003.
6 David Von Erich
The story of the Von Erich family is a sad one. It all started when Jack Adkisson, football star for SMU, tried to go Canada to try and make it in the Canadian Football League. He didn’t make it in the CFL, but crossed paths with the great trainer Stu Hart, and the path for himself, and his future sons, was altered forever.
It was Hart who gave Adkisson the Nazi Villian character of Fritz Von Erich. Von Erich was a top performer for the NWA, wrestling all over the country winning multiple titles. He was also a promoter for the popular World Class Championship Wrestling which headquartered in his hometown of Dallas.
His eldest son Kevin would become a fan favorite at WCCW, but it would be his son David who seemed set for stardom. Known as “The Yellow Rose of Texas” David was the breakout star feuding with Harley Race and Ric Flair. At the age of 25, the NWA committee voted for Von Erich to defeat Flair to win the NWA Heavyweight Championship, an honor not even his father had achieved. But then on February 10, 1984, Von Erich suddenly died under mysterious circumstances while touring in Japan. Flair claimed it was a drug overdose, but the Von Erich family gave heart attack as the cause of death.
As a tribute to the NWA let David’s younger brother Kerry, who’s life would also be tragically cut short, defeat Flair to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in front of 45,000 fans at the Texas Stadium. Well aware of Kerry’s own drug issues, they made Kerry drop the title after only 18 days.
When you consider Ric Flair was almost 10 years David’s senior at the time he was supposed to beat him for the title, it is certain that David Von Erich would have gone on to be one of the biggest wrestling stars in the world over the next three decades, maybe even replacing Flair as the face of WCW in the late 80s/early 90s. Fritz had a great career in his own right, but had things been different his son David, and possibly Kerry, they could have been true superstars.
5 Randy Orton
"Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr. could lay a stake to be on this list as being a better wrestler than his father, the original "Cowboy" Bob Orton. Orton Jr. had a long and successful wrestling career for various organizations, the highlight being a stint in the mid-80s for the WWE as “Ace” Bob Orton where he served as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s bodyguard. He featured prominently in the main event of the first ever WrestleMania where he missed a chair shot aimed at Mr T, taking out Piper’s Tag team partner Paul Orndorff.
Coming from such a respected family, big things were expected from Randy Orton, and he delivered, far surpassing the impressive legacy of his father. Joining the Evolution stable, Randy Orton became known as the “Legend Killer” in a story where he attacked wrestling legends. He is a 12-time World Champion and featured in the main event of WrestleMania XXV and WrestleMania XXX, and has been one of the dominant figures of the modern e
4 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Many of the wrestlers on this list followed their fathers into the world of professional wrestling through respect and reverence for their fathers. The story of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is a little different. In the Netflix documentary “The Resurrection of Jake The Snake,” it becomes clear that Roberts crippling depression and substance abuse stems from the relationship he had for his father, and his step-mother who abused him. In the documentary Roberts admits the reason he got into professional wrestling was that if he succeeded it would be the only way he could make his father proud of him.
Grizzly Smith had a successful wrestling career, most notably as one half of the popular tag team “The Kentuckians.” But his legacy is nothing compared to his son who created one of the most iconic personas in wrestling history. For the WWE in the late '80s and '90s Jake “The Snake” Roberts brought a commitment to his character that was intense and often frightening. His promos were a huge influence on Superstars such as The Undertaker and Stone Cold. He was also the first to make the DDT famous, turning it into one of the most devastating finishers in wrestling.
3 Eddie Guerrero
Gory Guerrero was a versatile talent during his career in professional wrestling. Mastering the “lucha libre” tradition, he was innovator in the ring, credited with inventing the Camel Clutch, plus version of the Piledriver and Powerbomb. He was also a great promoter for the NWA and WCCW. But his career did not match that of his son, the unique talent that is Eddie Guerrero.
Eddie Guerrero always seemed to love being in the ring. He wrestled with joy and abandon, often with a smile on his face, that the fans loved. Sadly, behind the scenes Eddie was different person. A motorcycle crash in 1998 left Eddie with an addiction to pain medicine that spiraled into depression and substance abuse.
Dazzling fans in ECW and WCW with acrobatic aerial maneuvers, Eddie became a Superstar in the WWE. When the “Latino Heat” persona was born, the charismatic Guerrero would go any lengths to win, sometimes fooling referees that he had been hit by his opponent with a chair. In 2004 he was rewarded by the organization by defeating Brock Lesnar to win the WWE Championship, a title he defended in a great match against Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX at Madison Square Garden. On November 13, 2005 the wrestling world went into mourning when news broke that Eddie had died in a hotel room in Minneapolis. His legacy, however, will live on for decades.
2 Bret Hart
Of all the great wrestling families no legacy quite matches the Hart family. The number of great professional wrestlers who did time learning their craft in Stu Hart’s “Dungeon” in Calgary, Alberta is astonishing. Stu Hart had twelve children who all followed their father into the wrestling business in some way. As a wrestler Stu Hart became a household name in his own right, facing many legends in the right such as Lou Thesz. But it was as a trainer that Stu really made an impact, and his sons benefited from his intense methods more than any. None more so than Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
Bret Hart is one of the true greats of the squared circle. He produced some of the greatest matches in history for the WWE such as the 1991 SummerSlam battle for the Intercontinental Championship with Curt Hennig, the Ironman man matches against Shawn Michaels in the main event of WrestleMania XII, and the Cage match against his brother Owen at SummerSlam 1994. The Submission match with Stone Cold at WrestleMania 13, considered by many to this day to be the finest match ever Pay-Per-View match in WWE history.
By his own admission Bret Hart was “The Best There Is, There Best There Was and The Best Ever Will Be,” but he could never have reached the heights he achieved in the business without his father.
1 The Rock
There are few people more recognizable in the world right now than Dwayne “The Rock”Johnson. After being “The Most Electrifying Man In Sports-Entertainment” the Rock has gone onto a hugely successful career on the silver-screen. Johnson is currently the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
The eight-time WWE Champion had wrestling in his blood, coming from the legendary Maivia family, and his father Rocky Johnson is a legend of the squared circle in his own right. Johnson was a pioneer for African-American wrestlers, wrestling all over the world and winning various regional titles across America. He challenged Terry Funk and Harley Race for the NWA World Championship, before joining the WWE in 1983 where he and Tony Atlas became the first African-Americans to win the World Tag Team Championship.
Rocky Johnson was a great wrestler with an impressive legacy, but the main thing he will be remembered for is the fact he fathered The People’s Champion.