Friday, October 26, 2018

History's Most Transcendent Wrestlers

The Rock
For dedicated wrestling fans who know the sport’s history and still track it through the modern WWE, there are literally dozens of throughly memorable figures. Because of the theatrical nature of professional wrestling, the competitors are as much like superheroes (or at least action stars) as they are athletes, which means their various traits and personae wind up being very memorable. And inevitably, given the popularity of wrestling over the years, some of these characters have been vivid enough to establish themselves as memorable cultural figures even among those who haven’t been dedicated wrestling fans.

This list is not scientific or based on any specific poll. But if you talk to people who are only marginally interested in pro wrestling, or perhaps aren’t fans at all, these are the transcendent figures they tend to remember anyway, in something approaching an accurate order.

10. Ric Flair

Ric Flair and to some extent Vince McMahon seem to be known to most casual observers more as businessmen and promoters than as actual wrestlers, which is actually somewhat understandable. Flair in particular has ventured outside of wrestling to make himself accessible to new audiences - most notably, weirdly enough, the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. For years, Flair was part of the goal celebration at Hurricanes games, and was noteworthy enough that he was even written about as one of the reasons to hate the Hurricanes. Basically, people know who he is even if they don’t recall seeing him in the ring.

9. Sting

Sting definitely had his heyday, even if it took place primarily in the WCW. Ultimately he’s not as famous for his wrestling prowess as some of the guys higher up on this list, but the combination of some people having fond WCW memories and the fact that he painted himself up like a muscled KISS member seems to have left an impression.

8. Roman Reigns

The argument can be made that Roman Reigns has provided over an era of WWE action that largely lacks the star power of previous generations. However he’s also established himself as a seriously top-notch performer in his prime, and sadly he’ll now be even more famous for an unfortunate reason. Reigns has announced that he’ll be stepping away due to a battle with leukemia, and we wish him all the best in his recovery.

7. Randy “Macho Man” Savage

Honestly, it might be the name that’s kept Randy Savage in people’s minds all these years. That’s not to say he wasn’t a legendary wrestler in his own right. But something about the full name - Randy “Macho Man” Savage - just had a lasting effect.

6. John Cena

One could actually say that John Cena is one of the most impressive physical figures ever to step into the ring. While there have been taller and all around larger men, few have looked like quite the all-world athlete Cena is. This may ultimately have helped him establish a memorable persona despite the the fact that he did very little to enhance his “character,” so to speak, from a visual standpoint. However if we’re being completely realistic, Cena also has the advantage of having become a public figure beyond wrestling, having appeared in several movies and television series by this point.

5. The Undertaker

Here as with Randy Savage, we have to assume the name is at least partially responsible for the fact that casual and non-fans know the competitor. The Undertaker also culminated about as deep and thorough a persona as anyone to ever do it though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s a 6’10’’ monster who’s been active in professional wrestling for almost 35 years.

4. André The Giant

André the Giant has a very famous name as well, but he’s also become newly relevant. First, a couple of years ago, a game based on the career of the larger-than-life wrestler started to make the rounds online. An online slot game, it did a reasonable job of chronicling his legacy to a whole new audience. Then, more recently, HBO put out a fantastic documentary on André’s life and career, from his origin to his work helping to turn the sport into a global phenomenon. Because of all this he’s achieved new recognition beyond the fame of his name - and every bit of it is deserved.

3. Stone Cold Steve Austin

At this point we’re getting into a different tier, because at least as far as casual observers and people who aren’t fans go, there are three wrestlers who are decidedly more famous than the rest. Stone Cold was arguably the biggest name in the sport for at least a few years in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and remains memorable to just about everyone who’s paid even the littlest bit of attention to pop culture and entertainment.

2. Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan is a pure icon. It’s hard to find someone who isn’t at least aware of his name, and most have a general idea of how he looks and what his general persona was like as well. Not for nothing, Hulk has also enjoyed some renewed fame because of the aforementioned André the Giant documentary. The two wrestlers famously feuded in the ring, in part because Hulk was about the only fighter big enough to go against the giant.

1. The Rock

Finally there’s The Rock, and while some wrestling purists might dispute his placement at the very top of this list, there’s simply no denying his fame beyond the wrestling community. On top of being a ten-time wrestling world champion, The Rock is known as a former athlete, a public figure, a possible 2020 presidential candidate (seriously), and now the highest paid actor in Hollywood history. For these reasons as much as for his time in the ring (when he was immensely popular, and even then transcended the sport), there’s no debating his place at the top.