With this weekend and next weekend being rife with what is likely to be a lot of truly spectacular wrestling (including NJPW’s Dominion which may well feature the inevitable Match Of The Year in Kenny Omega vs Kazuchika Okada IV), it seems that the time is appropriate to talk more wrestling. Which I am ALWAYS down to do! A lot of wrestling! All of the time! So between now and the end of the month, I’ve got a Money In The Bank preview post, a ranking of the five best gimmick matches in WWE, and this: a two-part personal ranking on my ten favorite wrestlers ever.
Now, this wasn’t easy. Well, that’s not entirely true; the top half of this list was incredibly easy. The five wrestlers that top any such list for me are unchanging and have been for years. While there may be room for fluidity within that top 5, the names of the men involved are set in stone. But we’ll get there. It’s these names, the ones that round out the list, that gave me and my eraser no end of trouble (that’s actually a lie; I used an ink pen. But saying “it gave my scratching out of names no end of trouble” sounds weird. It’s a metaphor! It dawns on me, I don’t have to tell you any of this! I can still backspace it all out, and you’d never know!). I had THIRTY-FOUR names in the running for spots 6-10 before I finally and defeatedly chose the five in which I felt the most confident.
Obvious caveat: These are the superstars that I would and have most enjoy[ed] watching in my history as a wrestling fan. These are not my “greatest” wrestlers of all time; these are the men I would CHEER FOR over the greatest of all time. Eat it, Lou Thesz! I’ve never watched a whole match of yours!
I’m a coward who hates leaving out names, so let’s start with some quick-and-dirty Honorable Mentions before we get to the big time: Randy Savage and Rob Van Dam, who are the #11 and #12 who JUST missed the cut, and who I loathed myself over not including. They repeatedly cycled in and out before I settled on an ultimate ranking and refused to keep changing anything, lest I never complete this article. They are both tremendous talents. Also, respect to Mickie James. I had four female superstars’ names on the overall list of thirty-four, but Mickie was the one who was tops among them and got the most serious consideration for Top Ten inclusion.
10. The Miz
The Miz has become THE FACE that springs into my head whenever I think about the Intercontinental Title, and I have a long history of loving that title dating back to when I started watching WWE and saw Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels fighting over it. Miz took that championship from its recent wasteland of being a prop thoughtlessly moved from competitor to competitor and made it feel cherished and important again. You can tell from every aspect of Miz’s work–the way he carried himself, the way he spoke, the way he fought tooth-and-nail in the ring–that the Intercontinental Title and its prestige meant everything to him. Basically, The Miz made you buy what he was selling. Fact is, I’m not sure how many men in wrestling history could claim to be a harder worker than Miz; he dragged himself from unwanted former reality television star to widely respected future hall-of-famer through intense desire (with a sprinkle of his own off-the-chart charm no doubt helping). He’s possibly WWE’s single-best assassin with a microphone, and is a great storyteller in his matches.
Also? Maybe my favorite entrance music ever.
9. John Morrison/Johnny Mundo/Johnny Impact
Obviously, I was a big fan of the Miz/Morrison WWE team from the late 2000’s.
Johnny Mundo–the man my wife just calls “Side Muscles Guy”–was the easy gateway drug for WWE fans to get into Lucha Underground due to his history as a borderline main eventer with WWE. But he wasn’t just a name to reel in fans; he is an absolute star in the world of LU. Now I was a big fan of Morrison in WWE where his feud over the ECW Title with CM Punk really caught my eye (I have seen others say their feud wasn’t as great as I seem to recall, but to me, they just put on epic match after epic match over that belt), and then his tag team partnership with The Miz (and their Dirt Sheet vignettes) solidified him as an entertainer both in the ring and out. When he ventured on his own as a solo talent, I think he struggled a bit being a babyface (it seems obvious given his flashy style and good looks, but Johnny actually excels as a heel). After leaving WWE, he was a centerpiece of the birth of Lucha Underground, where they ultimately allowed him to revert to his heel ways as the leader of the Worldwide Underground, a quartet of obnoxious, cocky, win-at-all costs villains that you loved to hate. Mundo puts on fast-paced matches that I love to watch and carries a smug, better-than-you personality that I get a kick out of.
8. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins reminds me a lot of Johnny Mundo. Both are freaks of athleticism in the ring. Both are handsome and have similar physical builds. And both have luminous personality. But while Mundo is serviceable as a babyface and superb as a heel; Rollins is superb as a heel, but dynamite as a babyface. It’s a shame that we may never see evil Rollins again, but he’s so magnificent as a hero that there’s no reason to ever switch him away from it.
I’ll be honest… for the first few months of The Shield’s existence on the main roster, I wasn’t as caught up on them as others were. But even when I didn’t entirely dig the group, I enjoyed Rollins and pegged him as a breakout star. When he got his chance as a solo act, he showed it. Great feuds with Dean Ambrose and John Cena followed, and his run as WWE champ was a fun bit of watching a chickenshit heel constantly find ways to hang onto his title. Since returning from a devastating knee injury, he has been the star of WWE and the single-biggest reason to keep tuning in. He is the man who defeated The Miz for the Intercontinental Title, and he looks to be maintaining the pedigree to which The Miz restored that championship. It’s only a matter of time before he’s a world champion again, taking his place at the top of WWE’s mountain.
Two of the WWE moments I revisit more than any other both belong to Rollins: his destruction of The Shield by turning on them, and his Money In The Bank cash-in during the main event of Wrestlemania 31. Perfect moments of playing a crowd.
And wow… do I wish we could somehow, someway get a Rollins/Morrison feud now that I think about them together.
7. Owen Hart
Even all this time later, it feels almost like cheating to put Owen on a list like this. No one at all is going to argue with his inclusion. He was that respected, that well-liked, and the end of his life… that tragic. But I honestly always loved Owen as a performer in WWE; there was never a moment or a role in which I didn’t cheer for him. The Blue Blazer gimmick he was working at the end may have been beneath him–it may even have been a punishment for turning down an infidelity story (if reports are to be believed)–but Owen put every ounce of his soul into it, and it was my absolute favorite thing in WWE during the time he was doing it (no easy feat given this was the heart of the Attitude Era). The ability to take such a ridiculous angle and make it work–to take moments where he cowered in his cape as Jeff Jarret covered his unmasked face and yelling out to see if anyone saw who it was, or to say things like “That Godfather makes my blue blood boil!”–was what made Owen the dynamic superstar that he was. Another Owen moment that had always sealed him as a favorite of mine was when he stole a Slammy Award for, I want to say it was Best Bowtie?, just so he could continue his angle of being “Slammy Award Winner” Owen Hart. His feud with his brother gave us multiple almost-perfect encounters, his tag team work with Yokozuna and Davey Boy Smith was high quality, and really… just everything Owen did was fun and designed to entertain. He’s been in any iteration of my ten favorites for well over twenty years now, and I imagine he always will be.
6. The New Day
The only tag team that makes my list is The New Day, and BOY’s it’s weird to think that a team that is still in the prime of their career is already my favorite tag team of all time. But not as weird as it is to consider that The New Day has been around for just shy of four years! For Kofi, Big E, and Woods to still be together and successful after four years is a testament to WWE resisting what HAD to be an overwhelming urge to break them up by now. People complain a lot about superstars like Rusev and Zack Ryder being punished for “getting over when they weren’t supposed to”, but there is NO WAY WWE saw the popularity and success of this trio coming when they let them form their team. But The New Day proved to be much greater than the sum of its parts, and magic was born. These three are relentlessly amusing and have gelled into glorious workers who tell fantastic stories in their matches. Their skits are a delight, and their Hell In A Cell match against The Usos was my WWE match of the year. Hopefully they stick together for another four years!
And that’s it… the opening salvo before we get to The Fabulous Five next time. I can already picture some grumbling in the comments that this list (these #6-10 in particular) is so loaded with current talent, but what can I say? I think the modern day superstars are some of the best combinations of ringwork and personality the wrestling world has ever seen. I regret nothing! I just wish Creative was usually a bit better for them.
But stay tuned… the Top Five are still to come…