Article: Top 25 of Past 25 Years

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.

  1. 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.

  2. "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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. "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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. "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.

Continued

  1. Mil Mascaras (Aaron Rodriguez) — The Mexican luchadore who opened the Japanese market to his countrymen. "The Man of a Thousand Masks" starred in movies, held numerous titles, wrestled all over the world in independent organizations as well as the big ones and was active into his 60s as a wrestler.

  2. Jesse "The Body" Ventura (James Janos) — One of the best commentators ever, the first to be a "villain" while doing it. He worked all three major federations at one time or another, never held the top belt, captured WWF's I-C title. The ex-SEAL left wrestling with a heart condition, went into politics, first becoming a mayor, then governor of Minnesota. Has also worked as a radio talk show host.

  3. Shawn Michaels (Michael Higginbotham) — Started out as one-half of The Midnight Rockers with Marty Jannetty. Came into his own when he entered the WWF and legitimized his reputation as a truly tough competitor with a ladder match against Razor Ramon, even though he lost. Captured the WWF world title on multiple occasions.

  4. Mr. Wrestling II (Johnny Walker) — Started out as a rulebreaker called The Grappler, became a good guy when he moved into the Georgia wrestling circuit and teamed up with Mr. Wrestling. Wrestling II was a great tag team wrestler as well as singles grappler, holding the Georgia heavyweight title a record 10 times. He was never unmasked, not even when he was invited to Jimmy Carter's inaugural in 1977 and refused to take his mask off.

  5. Mr. Wrestling Tim Woods (George Woodin) — A superb technical wrestler who threw kinks into rulebreakers with his style, having been both an AAU national champion and a Big 10 champion. Teamed with Wrestling II to win Georgia tag team belts. Was on the plane in 1975 that carried Ric Flair and Johnny Valentine when it crashed in North Carolina, leaving Valentine paralyzed for life.

  6. Bob Backlund (Robert Backlund) — A multitime WWF champion, one of the last purely technical wrestlers in the federation whose gimmick was that he HAD no gimmick. He defeated Superstar Billy Graham in 1978 for the belt and held it until being defeated by The Iron Sheik in 1983 when his manager threw in the towel. But he regained it from Bret Hart at the age of 45 in 1994. Later made a run at politics in Connecticut.

  7. The Undertaker (Mark Callaway) — A multitime WWF champion, he is still a force to be reckoned with after more than a decade in the federation. He is still undefeated in more than 12 Wrestlemania appearances and his finisher, The Tombstone Piledriver, absolutely devastates the opposition. Has faced and defeated the best.

  8. Ricky Steamboat (Richard Blood) — A technical wrestler of extreme intelligence, even he could be pushed too far. His match against Randy Savage at a Wrestlemania, when Steamboat captured the I-C title, is still considered one of the best and most brutal. Steamboat, now retired, was always a babyface, whether in the NWA or WWF.

  9. Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels Jr.) — Started out in the late 1960s as part of The Texas Outlaws with Dirty Dick Murdoch as rulebreakers. Rhodes has excelled in singles, tag teams, six-man and bunkhouse stampede. He also had enough foresight to move behind the camera as a booker long before other wrestlers of the modern era did so. A three-time NWA world heavyweight champion, an ex-TV champion, ex-U.S. champion, former partner of Nikita Koloff. A fan favorite.

  10. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper (Roderick Toombs) — A man who could talk more trash than anyone. The first to host his own talk show during a wrestling segment. Dethroned Ric Flair in the early 1980s from a U.S. title reign. Piper's unpredictability made him a fan favorite but probably unstable to promoters.

Continued

  1. Andre the Giant (Andre Rene Roussimoff) — The first truly global superstar. His huge size and immense approachability attracted fans around the world. His exhibitions against the likes of Gorilla Monsoon are legendary. His death at an early age from acromegaly could have been avoided. Won numerous titles and was even WWF champion once.

  2. Chris Benoit (Chris Benoit) — Known as The Rabid Wolverine and The Crippler, the Canadian-born and -trained Benoit is probably the finest technical wrestler still in the game today. His five-month reign as WWF world champion this year proved his talent. Also a former WCW world champion. Trained in Stu Hart's infamous "Dungeon."

  3. Bret "The Hitman" Hart (Bret Hart) — The Excellence of Execution showcased some of the finest technical wrestling the world has ever seen. A multiple WCW and WWF world heavyweight champion. The death of his younger brother Owen forced Bret into exile as he and Owen's widow filed suit against WWF owner Vince McMahon Jr. Bret's wins against the likes of Hulk Hogan, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair and others are indeed the stuff of legend.

  4. Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) — Like him or hate him, this man helped propel professional wrestling into the stratosphere in the 1980s. Backed by Vince McMahon, Hogan became the face everyone knew. Has held the WCW and WWF titles numerous times. Was talked out of retirement and convinced to turn heel, becoming "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan, joining the New World Order, which helped bring about the downfall of WCW. Had his own TV show and has had numerous movies. Helped sell pro wrestling to the masses.

  5. Ric Flair (Richard Morgan Fliehr) — The man whose staying power has been measured over the course of better than three decades now. Debuting in 1972, he was mentored by the likes of Rip Hawk and Johnny Valentine. He became the golden boy of Crockett Promotions and the NWA and carried them a long time. When he defected to the WWF, it almost killed WCW. His return lifted the promotion to new life. The Four Horsemen were his brainchild. A man who knew how to "sell" to the crowd and always knew where he was in the ring, his figure-four leglock finishing move can break a leg. Truly the face of professional wrestling that everyone associates with the sport.

Flair is the greatest but Arn Anderson came up with the Horsemen concept.

"4. Chris Benoit (Chris Benoit) — Known as The Rabid Wolverine and The Crippler, the Canadian-born and -trained Benoit is probably the finest technical wrestler still in the game today. His five-month reign as WWF world champion this year proved his talent. Also a former WCW world champion. Trained in Stu Hart's infamous "Dungeon."

WTF

I have always been a huge fan of Benoit in fact his one of my favorite wrestlers.

But putting him above Andre the Giant, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat?

Way too high of a ranking for Benoit. In fact he shouldn't even be on this list. Hes a Great wrestler but no way has he achieved the status and had the impact that ever one else on this list has.

Hell the Rock had more impact on wrestler than Benoit and hes not even on this list.

wierd how the text is half shoot and half kayfabe......

benoit is good but doesn't belong on that list.....how about verne gagne....