The FGB crew has been working hard for the last month, putting together a list of the top 25 greatest wrestlers of the WrestleMania era. The WrestleMania era started in 1985 with the original WrestleMania and now in two weeks, the Rock and John Cena will main event the 28th version of WrestleMania.
Here’s how we determined who the best wrestlers of the era were:
– The WrestleMania era started in 1985 and is still ongoing. Basically, any wrestler who wrestled within the last 28 years was open to being on the list.
– This is not simply a WWE list. The WrestleMania era doesn’t mean only WWE wrestlers. Because WrestleMania kicked off a new direction for pro wrestling, it affected every organization going forward. Everyone who made our list at one point worked in WWE, but their career didn’t have to be defined by WWE in order to be ranked.
– We decided that wrestlers who spent most of their career in Mexico and Japan weren’t going to be considered because our cumulative knowledge is best in US wrestling. However, wrestlers who spent some time in the US were open to be selection.
– There were six of us who voted and all six of us are fans in different ways. Alan has a wide-range of tastes in wrestling, while my wrestling fandom includes mostly WWE and NWA/WCW going back to 1984. Jason, Alan, Duan, and Big D are all in their mid-20s or younger, while Don and I are older. Thus, our lists were wildly different at times. While Hulk Hogan may have been number 1 or 2 on the list of more casual and older fans, because his legacy has been on a downward spiral since 1996, he wasn’t ranked as highly on our list. But someone like Curt Hennig, who shaped the vision of what great pro wrestling was to some of us, was ranked higher.
For every post, you’ll see an overview of the wrestler and why they made an impact. And you’ll get our opinion on what the defining match of the era was for that specific wrestler.
To give you an idea of the breadth of our list, these were the 10 best who missed the cut:
35. Samoa Joe
34. Barry Windham
33. Arn Anderson
32. John Cena
30. Stan Hansen
29. Dean Malenko
28. William Regal
27. CM Punk
We’ll begin posting our list tomorrow, starting with number 25, written by none other than Big D from the Superfriends Universe.
Stan Hansen is an interesting fellow. Considered by many to be one of the best overall workers in the history of the business. His runs in Texas, the AWA, a short sting in WCW, and big runs New Japan and All Japan Pro Wrestling have made him legendary.
Known to have influenced such workers as Barry Windham and John “Bradshaw” Layfield (both of which incorporated the “Lariat” into their arsenal of moves), Hansen seems to be a forgotten legend to most casual fans. I can’t blame them too much though; he was before their time.
He knew how to sell, he knew how to put together a main event caliber match, and he knew how to make everything he did look real. His punches looked like they would knock your head off, and at times they did. It was a well-known fact that Hansen was blind. I mean, not Helen Keller blind, but he couldn’t see very well. So when he’d throw out his arm for a looping right hand or a Lariat, he swung it as hard as could and made sure it connected. He would rather have knocked somebody unconscious and protected the business than have missed completely and made it look fake. This subsequently led to Hansen accidentally knocking Vader’s eye out of it’s socket in a match in Japan.
On March 31, 1985 Wrestlemania was born. It was born at Madison Square Garden in New York City. While history will try to say that this was a great, entertaining event, some near 30 years later, it’s not the best wrestling show you’ve ever seen. But for its time, it was built as something very special. It was glitz and glamor. The legend says that Vince McMahon put all of his money into the show and was either going to live by the sword, or die by it. As you can tell, they lived.
The show was an event that tried to make wrestling nationally mainstream. It had Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Cyndi Lauper, and Mr. T. It would be like Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Torre, Rihanna, and Vin Diesel being involved in a wrestling show today. It was Vince McMahon’s official statement that wrestling was no longer just a regional business. Vince was in New York City with Liberace playing the piano.
They worked with MTV to help with promotion. MTV was hip and on the up and up with pop culture America and it was the perfect launching pad. With Lauper in tow and MTV in their back pocket, they could market Hulk Hogan, Vince’s hand picked superstar. History may try to say that Hogan was the star of the show, but in reality, it was Hogan piggybacking Mr. T’s popularity to rise to stardom. Hogan was already a huge wrestling draw while working in the AWA, but his popularity there would be peanuts compared to what he was about to become. MTV and WWE put on a special show titled The War To Settle The Score which was recap of all the angles they did with Cyndi Lauper, Lou Albano, and Roddy Piper. Piper’s character felt that Lauper had no place in wrestling and the new Rock N Wrestling connection was ruining his business. It was an absolutely silly show. Kenny Loggins made fun of Roddy Piper’s skirt. Piper did not in fact get to make fun of his beard. Tina Turner thought Piper was wrong. Dick Clark thought Piper would get his. Hulk Hogan had to come and save the day. Hogan and Piper wrestled on the show, which set up the WrestleMania main event. It was set up as Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
From a work rate standpoint, this was a bad WrestleMania, but Vince didn’t set out to shock the world with a wrestling show. He wanted to shock the world with a sports entertainment show.