Courtesy of The Times & Democrat (South Carolina)
Picking top 25 men's wrestlers of last 25 years not easy
By JIM SPEARS, T&D Production Manager
This week's article focuses on the greatest men's singles wrestlers of the last 25 years.
It is a very subjective list, and one that was very hard to winnow down to only the top 25, there being so much talent to choose from. But here it is, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Jerry "The King" Lawler (Jerry Lawler) — A former AWA world heavyweight champion and multitime Mid-South champion. A babyface in his hometown of Memphis no matter if he was a villain elsewhere. A commentator now in the WWE with Jim Ross. Also famous for slapping comedian Andy Kaufman on David Letterman's show a few years ago.
"Dr. Death" Steve Williams (Steve Williams) — A four-time football All-American at Oklahoma. He was one of only four UWF heavyweight champions, a tag team champion in The Varsity Club and achieved greatest notoriety as a tag-teamer with Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy in the early 1990s when they captured both the NWA and WCW world tag team belts in the space of seven days. Now battling cancer.
Dory Funk Jr. (Dorrane Funk Jr.) — The son and brother of two former NWA world champions, he became the NWA world champion himself in the 1970s and then lost the belt to Harley Race. Was popular wrestler in Japan into the 1980s and later continued his career as "Hoss" Funk in mid-card singles matches.
Antonio Inoki (Kanji Inoki) — One of two Japanese promoters, he helped pave the way for American wrestlers, as well as Mexicans, to make their mark in Japan. He held various world-level titles into the 1980s, but is probably best remembered for his 1975 exhbition at the Budokan arena in Tokyo against American heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali. Established New Japan Pro Wrestling.
"Giant" Baba (Shohei Baba) — The other Japanese promoter, he established All-Japan wrestling. He had many classic battles against Inoki and often teamed with him. Together they opened the country's market to world-class competition from the NWA, WWF and other organizations. Baba was a three-time NWA world heavyweight champ and the first Japanese wrestler to win a major version of the world heavyweight title.
Mankind/Cactus Jack/Dude Love (Mick Foley) — One of the toughest wrestlers to ever set foot in a ring, might even be considered the king of hardcore wrestling. His matches in Japanese hardcore are legendary, while his bouts in the United States are only one step below that. His "Mandible claw" finishing move is something to see.
Randy "Macho Man" Savage (Randy Poffo) — It's hard to believe this trash-talking, high-flying, loudly dressed champion once was a ballplayer in Orangeburg, but in the 1970s, as Randy Poffo, he played semipro baseball right here in the Garden City, while weighing a mere 175 pounds. Now, at around 260, he is a different person. He has been both the WCW and WWF world heavyweight champion and held the WWF Intercontinental title. His partnership with Hulk Hogan and his vicious bout with Ricky Steamboat at one of the Wrestlemanias stand as highlights of his career.
Harley Race (Harley Race) — The eight-time NWA world heavyweight champion managed to hold off a charging Ric Flair until 1984 when Flair took the gold away the first time. Race won it back, but then Flair took it again, this time for good. Race jumped to the WWF and was one of the first winners of the "King of the Ring" competition. From the start of his career to the finish, he held 42 titles at various times.
Big Show/The Giant (Paul Wight) — This is another man with an Orangeburg connection. He graduated from King Academy and his mother was a deputy sheriff with Calhoun County for a long time. He has been both WCW and WWF world heavyweight champion. Suffers from acromegaly, same disease that eventually killed Andre the Giant, but Paul controls his carefully with medication.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin (Steve Williams) — Multitime WWF champion, famous for beer-swilling, cursing tactics and "Stonecold Stunner" finishing move. As "Stunning" Steve Austin in WCW, feuded with Ricky Steamboat over U.S. title and teamed with old friend Brian Pillman as The Hollywood Blondes. Has feuded with and defeated almost everyone in WWF.