One day when I was a little kid, I happened to catch my dad watching a wrestling match on the television. It was the legendary wrestlers, Ric Flair and Sting, going one-on-one and it immediately changed my life forever. From that moment, I became a huge fan of professional wrestling. The action and drama in the ring drew me in instantly and it has been a constant in my life to this very day.
Pro Wrestling is something very important to me. It was something that my dad and I bonded over and we spent our time watching it together every week. This remained true, even up to the day he tragically passed away from stomach cancer in 2013. After my dad passed, I stopped watching wrestling for a while, as it reminded me as to what I had lost. However, with the help of my friends, I found myself drawn back into this crazy world of suplexes and submissions.
With WWE’s WrestleMania, one of the biggest nights of the year in the world of wrestling, coming up this Sunday night, I thought I’d take a look back at my top five favorite pro wrestlers of all time.
5. Eddie Guerrero
Championship Highlights: WWE Championship, WWE Intercontinental Championship, WWE United States Championship, WWE Tag Team Championship, WCW Cruiserweight Championship
“Latino Heat” is one of the greatest Latino wrestlers of all time. Born into the legendary Guerrero wrestling family, Eddie made his debut in 1986 for CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) in Mexico. He would later travel the world, from AAA (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración) in Mexico (from 1992 to 1994) to New Japan Pro Wrestling in Japan (from 1993 to 1996) before ultimately finding his first mainstream success in the U.S. in ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) in 1995 where he won the ECW World Television Championship. He then found success in WCW (World Championship Wrestling) (from 1995 to 2000), winning the WCW Cruiserweight and United States Championships, before leaving for the WWE (then World Wrestling Federation or WWF) in 2000 after a dispute with management. He would find even more success with the WWE, winning the WWE European and Intercontinental Championships.
His success would be cut short after being fired in 2001 due to succumbing to drug and alcohol addiction. After fighting hard and overcoming his addiction, he would return to WWE in 2002, forming a successful tag team with his nephew, Chavo, and coining their slogan: “We lie, we cheat, we steal”. The duo would win the WWE Tag Team Championships and would rise in popularity due to their mannerisms and charisma. Eddie would also find singles success, winning the WWE United States Championship. Eddie would slowly climb up to the main event, winning the WWE Championship in 2004 from Brock Lesnar. Eddie had become one of the most beloved wrestlers of his generation before he tragically died from heart failure in 2005. He was later inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
Eddie is regarded as one the best technical wrestlers ever and is held in regard by many of his peers as one of the greatest of all time. The day Eddie died was one of the saddest days of my life, as Eddie had become one of my favorites to watch. I will always remember Eddie for his lovable charm and fantastic ability in the ring. He was truly one of the greats.
4. Mick Foley
Championship Highlights: WWE Championship, TNA World Heavyweight Championship, WWE Hardcore Championship, World Tag Team Championship (WWE), TNA Legends Championship
“The Hardcore Legend” is, as his nickname suggests, one of the greatest hardcore wrestlers of all time. He made his debut in 1983 after being trained at Dominic DeNucci’s wrestling school. He had become inspired to become a pro wrestler after seeing his favorite wrestler, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, fly off a steel cage onto Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden while Foley was in collage. After wrestling several years on the independent circuit, Foley would first make his name as Cactus Jack in CWA (Continental Wrestling Association), WCCW (World Class Championship Wrestling), and UWF (Universal Wrestling Federation). Foley would build a reputation as a “hardcore wrestler” and this would gain the attention of WCW.
Foley would join WCW full time in 1991 where he found some success, including a violent feud with Big Van Vader that led to Foley losing half his ear during a match between the two in Germany. Foley would leave for the hardcore wrestling promotion, ECW, in 1994 and wrestling stints in SMW (Smoky Mountain Wrestling) and IWA (International Wrestling Association) Japan. In ECW, Foley would create an “anti-hardcore” character and became a major villain for the promotion. He would continue this character until he left for WWE (then WWF) in 1996. In WWF, Foley created a new character called Mankind and had great success in the company by having a legendary feud with The Undertaker, forming the Rock and Sock Connection with The Rock, and winning the WWF Championship on three occasions. Foley would retire in 2000, but would return to the ring in 2004 and would wrestle occasionally until 2008 when he left for TNA (Total Nonstop Action) Wrestling.
While in TNA, he won their World title from Sting and would have many feuds, with the likes of Abyss and Ric Flair, before returning to the WWE in 2011 and officially retiring in 2012. He would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. Outside of wrestling, Foley is a successful writer, becoming a multi-time New York Times bestselling author. I always loved Foley’s characters, whether he was Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love, or even as just Mick Foley. Foley will always be one of my favorites due to his charm, amazing hardcore moments, and genuine nature.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Championship Highlights: WWE Championship, WWE Intercontinental Championship, WCW United States Championship, WCW Television Championship, World Tag Team Championship (WWE)
“The Texas Rattlesnake” is truly one the greatest and most popular wrestlers of all time. Austin debuted in 1989 in WCCW and later USWA (United States Wrestling Association) before signing with WCW in 1991. In WCW, Austin found success teaming with Brian Pillman as The Hollywood Blondes, winning the WCW and NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) Tag Team Titles, and as a singles star winning the WCW Television and Unites States Championships. While recovering from a triceps injury, Austin was infamously fired in 1995 by Eric Bishoff who didn’t see Austin as a marketable wrestler. Austin would join ECW where he would develop his future “Stone Cold” persona, cutting promos running down WCW and Bishoff and adopting his signature finisher, which would later be known as the “Stone Cold Stunner”.
Austin would join WWE (then WWF) in 1995 where he was paired with Ted DiBiase as The Ringmaster. After deciding that The Ringmaster wasn’t working, Austin debuted the “Stone Cold” character: a surly, anti-authority, badass redneck. Austin’s rise to stardom began at the 1996 King of the Ring event where, after winning the tournament of the same name, Austin cut one of the most famous promos of all time, coining the phrase “Austin 3:16”. “Austin 3:16” would become one of the most popular catch phrases in wrestling history and the slogan became one of the best selling T-shirts in WWE history. The moment is also credited with starting the WWE’s “Attitude Era”, arguably the most popular era in the company’s history.
Austin would find success after the tournament, feuding with the Hart Foundation and winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship. After the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”, Austin would begin his legendary feud with the boss of the WWF, Vince McMahon. This would lead to many historic moments, including Austin winning the WWF World Championship on six occasions and having amazing feuds with likes of The Rock, Triple H, Mankind, and The Undertaker. During this time, Austin would become one of the most popular wrestlers in history.
Austin would controversially leave the company in 2002 after felt he was being given bad storylines. He would return in 2003 and have his last match against The Rock at WrestleMania 19, retiring from the ring the next night. Austin continues to makes appearances to this day and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009. Austin was always a favorite of mine to watch. His anti-hero, badass character drew me in and I remember his legendary moments as some of the best and most entertaining moments in wrestling history.
2. Chris Jericho
Championship Highlights: WWE Championship, World Heavyweight Championship (WWE), WCW Championship, WWE Intercontinental Championship, WWE United States Championship
"The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla", “Y2J” Chris Jericho is truly one of the best of all time. Jericho made his debut in 1990 on the Canadian wresting scene. Jericho would then tour the world the next few years, from Japan to Mexico to Germany to America. He would return to Japan for the WAR (Wrestle Association R) promotion in 1994. He would next join ECW in 1995, winning the ECW World Television Championship. His time there drew the attention of WCW, who he joined in 1996. In WCW, Jericho found great success, winning the WCW Cruiserweight and World Television Championships. During his time with WCW, Jericho also made appearances for New Japan Pro Wrestling, who WCW had a talent sharing agreement at the time. Jericho would have great rivalries in WCW with Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio. Jericho would leave WCW in 1999 and sign with the WWE (then WWF).
Jericho would make an immediate impact in WWE, interrupting The Rock in his debut. Jericho would go on to have many great matches with the likes of Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. He would find championship success as well, winning the WWE Intercontinental, European, Hardcore, and World Tag Team Championships. Jericho would go on to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship a record nine times in his career. During the feud with the WWF and the invading WCW/ECW Alliance, Jericho would win his first World title in 2001, beating The Rock for the WCW Championship. After losing the title back to The Rock, he would go on to defeat The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night to unify the WWF and WCW championships, becoming the first ever Undisputed WWF Champion.
In the years following, Jericho would have legendary feuds with Shawn Michaels and Christian before leaving WWE in 2005. Jericho would return in 2007 and would later reignite his feud with Shawn Michaels and win the World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions (becoming a six time World Champion overall). He would also win the WWE Tag Team Championship before leaving WWE again in 2010 to focus on his music career with his band, Fozzy. Jericho would make his second return in 2011. Jericho would go on to have many memorable feuds over the next few years with CM Punk for the WWE Championship, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, and Dean Ambrose. In 2016, Jericho would form an alliance with Kevin Owens, which led to Jericho winning the WWE United States Championship. After feuding with Kevin Owens and AJ Styles over the United States Championship, Jericho would take another sabbatical from WWE.
Recently, Jericho made his surprise return to New Japan Pro Wrestling where he feuded with Kenny Omega over the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship which led to a match at the Tokyo Dome that was won by Omega. Jericho’s charisma, incredible in ring ability, and the ability to constantly reinvent himself are all reasons why Jericho is one of my all time favorites. Where will Jericho go from here? I don’t know for sure, but I am looking forward to it.
1. The Undertaker
Championship Highlights: WWE Championship, World Heavyweight Championship (WWE), World Tag Team Championship (WWE), WWE Hardcore Championship, WCW Tag Team Championship
Known by many names throughout the years, such as “The Phenom”, “The Deadman”, and “The American Bad-Ass”, The Undertaker is, in my opinion, the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He debuted in WCCW in 1984 as Texas Red. He would later wrestle under various names in WCW, New Japan, and USWA before joining the WWE (then WWF) in 1990 as The Undertaker, originally a western mortician that was impervious to pain. He would later make his WrestleMania debut at WrestleMania VII, defeating Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and starting the longest undefeated streak in WrestleMania history at 21 and 0. Undertaker would go to defeat Hulk Hogan for his first WWE Championship. After losing the title back to Hogan, Undertaker would begin a feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Over the next few years, Undertaker would dominate in various feuds before starting a legendary feud with Mankind which led to Undertaker being buried alive after being betrayed by his manager, Paul Bearer. Undertaker would return with a more gothic, dark persona calling himself “The Lord of Darkness”. He would go on to defeat Mankind and Sycho Sid for his second WWE Championship. Undertaker would lose the title to Bret Hart after accidently being hit with a chair by Shawn Michaels. This would lead to the first Hell in a Cell match against Michaels where Undertaker’s half brother, Kane, debuted and cost him the match. Undertaker would go on to defeat his brother. After this, Undertaker concluded his feud with Mankind in the legendary Hell in a Cell match in which Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the Cell to the announcer’s table below in one of the most iconic moments in WWE history.
Undertaker and Kane would form an alliance against Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Undertaker would become a villain and form The Ministry of Darkness and develop a new persona: that of a dark priest who answered to a “higher power”. Undertaker and his Ministry would go on to feud with Austin, Kane, and Vince McMahon’s Corporation stable. Undertaker would then defeat Austin for his third WWE Championship with help from Shane McMahon and merging his Ministry with the Corporation, revealing Vince McMahon as the “higher power” all along. Undertaker would lose the title back to Austin and his alliance with McMahan dissolved. Undertaker would go on to win the World Tag Team Championship.
In 2000, Undertaker dropped his entire dark persona and took on a new identity as “The American Badass”: a motorcycle riding, bandana wearing biker. He feuded with Triple H and Kurt Angle, becoming a good guy again. He reformed his alliance with Kane as The Brothers of Destruction and would go on to feud with Triple H, Steve Austin, and Diamond Dallas Page. During the WCW/ECW invasion in 2001, Undertaker and Kane would win the WCW Tag Team Championship. After the Invasion, Undertaker would defeat Rob Van Dam for the WWE Hardcore Championship in 2002 and go on to feud with the likes of Maven, Ric Flair, and Austin. Undertaker would win his fourth WWE Championship by defeating Hulk Hogan. After losing the title to The Rock, Undertaker would be moved to Smackdown as part of the brand extension and over the next year, feuded with Brock Lesnar, Big Show, John Cena, and Vince McMahon, which led to Undertaker being buried alive by Kane in 2003.
Undertaker would return in 2004, now back to his original “Deadman” persona, and defeated Kane. Over the next ten years, Undertaker would have many memorable feuds with John “Bradshaw” Layfield, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels (which led to Undertaker retiring Michaels), CM Punk, and Kane and winning the World Heavyweight Championship three times (making him a seven time World Champion overall). Undertaker would start making less and less appearances only returning to defend his WrestleMania undefeated streak against Triple H and CM Punk before losing the streak to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 30 in 2014. After losing “The Streak”, Undertaker would return in 2015 to feud with Bray Wyatt, Brock Lesnar, and then later team with Kane against the entire Wyatt Family. At the next two WrestleManias, Undertaker would defeat Shane McMahon in 2016 and lose to Roman Reigns in 2017. After losing to Reigns, the Undertaker left his gear in the middle of the ring, seemly leaving for good. However, recently, John Cena has called out the Undertaker for one more match at this year’s WrestleMania. Will The Undertaker return? We shall see.
Undertaker is one of the most respected wrestlers by his fellow peers and fans alike. From the first time I saw him as a kid in the WWE in the 1990’s, I found his gimmick of being an all powerful, darkness fueled, undead force of nature to be awesome and he immediately became my favorite to watch in the ring and remains so to this day. There is no one like “The Deadman” and I believe there never will be. He truly is “The Phenom” of WWE and a first ballot future Hall of Famer.
That’s it for my top five. Hope you enjoyed it. I hoped I inspired some of you non-wrestling fans to check out the wacky and amazing world of pro wrestling. If you need me, you can catch me ringside at the next local wrestling show. Otherwise, I’ll see you next week for the next edition of Nick’s Noble Notions!