Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #2 – Bret Hart

The most flawless in-ring competitor of his generation or any other, Bret Hart possessed the rare ability to connect with people through matches alone. He was an expert storyteller, bringing a Stampede realism and believability to mainstream pro wrestling at a time when it was needed most.

Hart made his own luck in WWE. We have grown accustomed to seeing “great workers” of the modern era fall flat or lose a crowd given the wrong program or card position. Bret never allowed an audience that option. He just dragged you into it – a meaningless match he could make mean something. And while the company was out looking everywhere else for their next big star, he took the choice from out of their hands.

Seen at the time as an also-ran by the powers that be, it was tag team success with The Hart Foundation which threw his career an early lifeline. He and Jim Neidhart mixed contrasting styles and characters, creating a compelling dynamic while giving Bret the platform to showcase his talent clearly. Once that door creaked open for him, Bret forced his way through – his combination of technical ability and match psychology separating him from the rest of the locker room.

It was at this time we first saw one of Hart’s greatest strengths as a wrestler; the duality he brought to The Hitman character. At the drop of a hat, he could slide from heel to face / face to heel, equally effective in each, without losing his edge. It gave him depth as a performer. He could show a darker side to the hero or redeemable qualities in the villain as a storyline or match required it. It was a concept he grasped better than anyone and was able to utilize effectively throughout his run.

Solo stardom was the next logical progression for the already very popular Hitman. His connection with the crowd and near-perfect match quality made him the guy to build the company around. Hart had a terrific wrestling brain and understanding of how to work around the limitations of opponents. His name on top of a card guaranteed the main event would always deliver. He could be paired up with anyone from the 1-2-3 Kid to Yokozuna and produce a match worthy of closing the show.
Continue reading

Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #4 – “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

The other biggest star of the 1980s, Hulk Hogan, didn’t fare all that well in our list. I wrote about why Hogan may have fallen down the list, and my theory was that the last 10 years of his career have left a bitter taste in the mouths of wrestling fans. It’s not like Ric Flair has had a glorious last ten years, but the man is teflon. Not even this eye-brow raising story on Grantland hurt his standing.

To most huge 80s wrestling fans who started watching in the 80s, Flair is the greatest wrestler of all-time. He’s the kiss-stealing, wheeling-dealing, limousine-riding, jet-flying son-of-a-gun. He’s the man who changed for me what I always knew wrestling to be. I became a pretty big wrestling fan in the mid-80s, stemming from the time just before the first WrestleMania. I was a Hogan guy through and through. I believe that one of the main reasons I became such a big WWF fan is that their TV was so easy for me to find. They had a nationally syndicated TV show on Saturday morning right at the tail-end of the Saturday morning cartoon run (when that was a major deal). Finding the NWA was a bit harder, but as a budding wrestling fan, I eventually did find them.

I would see bits and pieces of the NWA and one of my best friends at the time would tell me about the Road Warriors, who were his favorite tag team. When I saw the Road Warriors, it was like looking at two super heroes in the ring. But if I trace back the first time I ever saw Ric Flair, it would’ve been on a syndicated Joe Pedicino/Gordon Solie show called “Pro Wrestling This Week”. They were discussing “The Nature Boy” against the “American Dream”. I didn’t know of Flair and Dusty Rhodes quite yet, but when they started talking about who is who, I just figured that the dream would’ve been Flair, since he was wearing his trademarked sequined robe and flanked by blonds. And when Rhodes came out shirtless and fat with a splotch on his belly, I just figured he was of nature. I was very confused when it turned out to be the reverse.

But soon-thereafter, I was hooked on Flair. Now, I would never claim to be a big Flair fan in the mid-to-late 80s, because I was such a Hogan guy and I had to be loyal to Hogan. And plus, Flair was a heel. I was too young to root for the heels at the time. But you couldn’t not keep your eyes on him, especially since one of the main stories the Apter mags would present was about who was better between Hogan and Flair. I would say Hogan was better, but silently believe that Flair was the better guy.
Continue reading

Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #5 – Randy “Macho Man” Savage

Perhaps the greatest all-round performer/wrestler in the 80s, Randy “Macho Man” Savage had it all. The look. The personality. The voice. The showmanship. The wrestling talent. But most of all, he WAS the Macho Man – in AND out of the ring.

Outside of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage may be one of the most oft-imitated wrestling personality, with his trademark “Oh yeeeah” and “Dig it!” I’d be remiss not to mention his “Snap into a Slim Jim!” commercials. And other than Ric Flair, he often had the most amazing outfits on his way to the ring.

Growing up in a wrestling family, his father being WCW Hall of Famer Angelo Poffo, Savage was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals as a catcher straight out of high school. An injury later in the early 1970s and he focused primarily on a wrestling career, taking up the name Randy Savage.

A stalwart of the WWF in the 1980s, Savage was a 3-time champion, ending his career in the WWF in the early 90s having won the World Title twice. Of course, possibly his most famous match was him losing the Intercontinental Title to Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III, after he had held it for 14 months.

Of course you have to mention the woman behind the man, as wherever there was Savage, there was the lovely Miss Elizabeth. Usually his doe-eyed escort to the ring, Elizabeth did her best when she stood at ringside and looked concerned. One of the iconic images of the 80s was Savage holding Elizabeth on his shoulders.

Perhaps his most famous feud was against Hulk Hogan, with the breakup of the Mega Powers. Which, of course, was over a woman. Savage got his name by not only being a savage in the ring, but also being fiercely jealous over anybody who looked at Elizabeth a little too long.
Continue reading

Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #8 – Eddy (Eddie) Guerrero

Eddy Guerrero is the greatest “all-rounder” in the history of pro wrestling. Considered in the 90s to be one of the premier in-ring workers in the world, due to his seamless fusion of lucha libre, puroresu, and old school US psychology, Eddy took his game a step further during his WWE career when the character and personality side of things became as big an asset for him as his imperial technical ability. He could be a beloved babyface, a hero to a community or he could flip a switch and be the lowest of lowlife heels. What’s more is that he could play either role with the charisma of a thousand men. While injuries and non-stop pain were a fixture in his life in 2005, he was still one of the most entertaining performers in all aspects of the game when he was tragically taken from us in November of that year. With all his knowledge, and with the type of great guy he was (always willing to help others) – losing Eddy was a massive blow to the future of wrestling.

Beginning his career in Mexico, Eddy did well as the babyface son of Gory Guerrero, but his career there took off when he turned rudo and formed Los Gringos Locos with the late Art Barr. An early highlight of his career was the sensational AAA “When Worlds Collide” PPV where he and Barr got their heads shaved in front of a rabid crowd that they had built into a frenzy. Donning the Black Tiger mask in New Japan, Eddy took on the likes of Jushin Liger, Chris Benoit and Shinjiro Ohtani in classic bouts. It was in 1995 when Eddy was finally given his shot in one of “the big two” and did well for himself during a run in WCW but injuries and mis-management prevented him from reaching his potential. Glimpses of his amazing charisma were seen during his first run as “Latino Heat” in WWE before a stint battling addiction put him on the sidelines. He rebuilt himself from rock bottom, both as a wrestler and as a man. After touring the indies and Japan, he was picked up once by WWE and his career went to new heights. Getting over as an icon to Latin fans, he was rewarded with a historic title win over Brock Lesnar in 2004. It was a match and a moment that no wrestling fan will ever forget and it was the undoubted high point of an amazing career.

Defining Match Of The WrestleMania Era: Eddy Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio at Halloween Havoc 1997

While the Lesnar match may be the most special of Eddy’s career, he had another match which may be the ultimate showcase of his talents – the classic Halloween Havoc 1997 encounter with his career rival Rey Mysterio. A textbook rudo performance by Eddy and perhaps the best match of WCW’s peak era.

Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #9 – The Rock

It’s great timing for this list that just one week ago, The Rock returned to face John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania 28. It was Rock’s first WrestleMania since being in a handicapped tag match with Mick Foley against Evolution. The match was good, not great, but it did rekindle the memories of possibly Rock’s most famous match ever; the one in which he and Hulk Hogan wrestled in front of a huge crowd in Toronto at WrestleMania X8. That match was built as a battle of the ages. It was the 80s versus the 2000s. It was old school versus new school, an eventual passing of the torch.

In hindsight, the torch may have been passed to the wrong person. It was Rock’s seminal moment as a wrestling superstar. He’s had better matches for sure. In 1998, he and Triple H had a Ladder Match at SummerSlam that helped catapult him into superstardom. He would win wrestling’s highest honor at Survivor Series of that year. In 1999, he main evented his first WrestleMania against Stone Cold Steve Austin. In 2000, he was in the main event again at WrestleMania 2000. At WrestleMania X-7 just one year later, he and Stone Cold Steve Austin had one of the greatest money drawing matches in recent memory. While all of those matches helped The Rock achieve great status in the wrestling world, it wasn’t until his match with Hogan in Toronto that he was actually the biggest star in the business. In each of his matches with Austin, it was Austin who was the bigger star. But this time, it was Rock’s show.

Even though the torch was passed, Rock wouldn’t be around all that much until he simply wasn’t there at all anymore. He would be in and out because of his burgeoning movie career, wrestling Austin again at WrestleMania XIX and finally winning and then at the match I described above with Foley against Evolution. It took him eight years to get back into the ring against Cena and he’ll be gone again filming more movies.
Continue reading

Greatest Wrestlers Of The WrestleMania Era: #10 – Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig

One of the greatest compliments you can say of any performer is that their work is timeless. This is especially the case in a trade as evolving, and at times fickle, as pro wrestling. Curt Hennig, at his best, was timeless – a great worker in an era of great workers.

Hennig understood the makings of a heel. He knew his job was to make whoever he was paired with look great, and he knew sometimes that meant making himself look silly. He knew when to sell, when to back off, when to cower – Hennig just got it. Seeing Mr. Perfect’s name on the card was a guarantee of quality.

While Perfect could bump like a boss and carry inferior opponents to matches few felt they were capable of, it was only when he wrestled guys like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart that you truly saw the best of him. That was the type of level he was at and it was a level only a select few could match. While injury issues cost him ring time, he transitioned seamlessly between roles of wrestler, manager and commentator – his performance in each case; always perfect. During his entire stint with WWE, he could do no wrong.
Continue reading