Monday, October 22, 2007

My Tops in Pro Wrestling

I'm not a big fan of 'lists,' so it may come as a surprise that I would post one. But the other day I got to thinking - generally a scary prospect - after I wrote that Shawn Michaels is in my top five of the best pro wrestlers, who else do I think is great? I decided to go back to around 1984 when wrestling began to end its regionalization and became an international game. Thanks to Vince McMahon, wrestlers would now travel all over the world. The W.W.E. started this trend and its competitors would soon follow suit with varying degrees of success. This was a factor in considering who are the best: those who grappled worldwide and maintained great longevity, like Ric Flair, for instance. Other factors include in-ring accomplishments (championships, big wins, etc.), fan reaction, and mic skills. They get you into the arena and they get you watching on television, if they can sell the fan a story. Remember, these are my choices, I'm not even sure if these picks would be the consensus of most fans. Oh well, here is my list with a memorable moment for each, as well:

1- Hulk Hogan. Unmatched charisma. I think he is the best and most pundits do as well. Body slamming Andre the Giant in front of 93, 173 at Wrestlemania III.

2- Ric Flair. Fought anyone, anytime. Flair had the dramatic skills of Al Pacino and the coolness of Joe Montana. Classic matches with Rick Steamboat.

3- Bret Hart. Outstanding mat skills. I loved when he stood in the middle of the ring at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1997 and basically told the fans that he convinced Mark Messier to leave New York for Vancouver.

4- Dusty Rhodes. The best talker in the biz, do doubt about it. Rhodes-Flair was wrestling's version of Yankees-Red Sox.

5- Shawn Michaels. The second best talker in the biz, a high-flyer, and great mat skills to boot. HBK's Wrestlemania X bout against Razor Ramon in a ladder match.

6- Owen Hart. From the fabled and tragic family of Calgary, this guy's life was ended way too soon by a freak accident. Owen would be World Champion today and running circles around all the top stars if he were still alive. He was everything that Bret was with more acrobatic ability. Owen vs. Bret at Wrestlemania X was one of the greatest matches ever!

7- Terry Funk. Mean and tough dude from the "Double Cross Ranch" in Amarillo, Texas. I had to run out of the E.C.W. Arena in Philly because Funk's branding iron set the ring ablaze. No, this wasn't part of the show either! I kid you not, some kerosene was spilled by - The Dudleys, off all people - in the prior match and it was not entirely cleaned up. Fire + kerosene equals bad news! Funk was completely misused in the W.W.E., but his matches in E.C.W. were classic. I also remember an old bout with Funk vs. Jerry Lawler in an empty arena match.

8- Ricky"The Dragon"Steamboat. His arm drag take downs exhibited remarkable technical skills. Steamboat fought Randy Savage in the best match of 1987 at Wrestlemania III. Story goes that Vince McMahon was really ticked off that Steamboat's match overshadowed the main event of that card: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant.

9- Randy"Macho Man"Savage. Agile and quick as a cat. Winning four matches at Wrestlemania IV to become W.W.E. Champ.

10- Bob Backlund. Was a great amature wrestler. Had an absolutely classic bout with Jimmy Snuka in a steel cage at Madison Square Garden in the early '80s. Snuka leaped from the top of the cage (some 18 feet up) but missed. Backlund was able to roll away from Snuka and out the cage door for the win.

11- Sting. Another charismatic wrestler billed from Venice Beach, California (Hogan being the other). Sting's days in the U.W.F. on channel 11 in New York were very memorable.

12- Ron Simmons. Extremely powerful. First black world champion in pro wrestling. Simmons' number 50 is one of three numbers retired by Florida State University. He played football there and with the Cleveland Browns. I remember him teaming up with former Kansas City Chief, Butch Reed, to form the awesome tag team, Doom.

13- Mick Foley. Would do anything to make sure the fans got their money's worth. His rants on t.v. during the old E.C.W. days are priceless. Foley's career was inspired by Snuka's leap off the steel cage at M.S.G. against Backlund and the next man on the list:

14- Bruiser Brody. A powerful brawler. Sadly, his murder was never solved. He had some brutal matches with Abdullah the Butcher. E.C.W. was made for Brody, sadly Paul Heyman's promotion wasn't formed until years after Brody's murder.

15- Kerry Von Erich. If it was the 1980s and you were in Dallas you loved the Cowboys, the t.v. show Dallas, and the Von Erichs. David, Kerry's older brother, was the best performer inside the squared circle, but Kerry's popularity was staggering. Texas Stadium filled up to watch him beat Ric Flair back in 1984. The Von Erich story is as sad as it gets, though. Six brothers and only Kevin is still alive. Three Von Erichs committed suicide.

16- Tully Blanchard. Remember the kid in high school who wasn't the best athlete but thought he was and made sure he told everyone so? That was Tully Blanchard. His slingsghot suplex was a thing of beauty.

17- The Undertaker. Vince McMahon has come up with some horrible gimmicks: turning Terry Taylor into the "Red Rooster," Duke"The Dumpster"Drocie (think garbage man), the Repo Man and so on. But when he took "Mean" Mark Callous who looked pretty grim and stoic most of the time and paired him up with Percy Pringle (a licensed mortician) you got the greatest gimmick in the history of pro wrestling. Throw in some eerie music and rename Pringle "Paul Bearer" and you've got someone who exceeded all expectations. Creative genius was at work with this one.

18- The Iron Sheik. Strong, with very good amature wrestling moves. Sheik was truly from Iran and wrestled in the Olympics and the Pan-Am Games in 1972. He got the fans to hate his guts, which means that he also helped to "put over" the good guys like Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. I'll never forget when Sheik got hit in the face with an ice cream while his tag team partner, Nikolai Volkoff, sang the Russian National Anthem at Madison Square Garden.

19- Psycho Sid. More powerful than Hogan, but a better technical wrestler. The "psycho" moniker stemmed from a real-life incident in which a drunken Sid tried to stab an equally inebriated Arn Anderson in a hotel room with a pair of scissors. I saw Sid wrestler four guys once and he threw them all around like they were the proverbial sack of potatoes. His two reigns as World Champ between 1995 and 1997 are regarded as the most successful in the history of the W.W.E. Rumors persist that he is headed back to the W.W.E.

20- Triple H. Reminds me of Sid in terms of wrestling ability. Great ring entrance. Has won the W.W.E. Championship 11 times. It's hard to find one great moment because Triple H puts on a great show almost every time out.

21- The Rock. Tremendous athlete who talks as well as anyone. Charisma almost as good as Hogan's. Had a great match with Hogan about five or six years ago.

22- Jerry"The King"Lawler. Lawler is the second most popular person in Memphis history. I remember him winning the A.W.A. World Title; you may remember his little spat with comedian Andy Kaufman.

23- Chris Jericho. All around great wrestler. The believability factor is very high with Y2J. Wrestled some spectacular matches in the old E.C.W.

24- "Stone Cold"Steve Austin. Eric Bischoff mistakenly made Steve Austin. The former head of W.C.W. fired "Stone Cold" by FedEx. An irate Austin moved on to E.C.W. and was told by head promoter, Paul Heyman that "he could say whatever he wanted." Giving free reign to Austin led to some of the best spoofs I've ever seen. Austin used his time in the land of extreme to perfect his "Stone Cold" attitude before going to the W.W.E. where he wrestled Jake Roberts, who had basically become a Bible thumper. After getting whupped by Austin, "Stone Cold" declared in an interview immediately after the bout that "Austin 3:16 says that I just kicked your ass." Thus, led to the sale of probably millions of t-shirts which say, "Austin 3:16."

25- The Sandman. O.K. this one is sort of for laughs, but here's the deal about this wild brawler. I went to E.C.W. wrestling in Middletown, N.Y. at some armory or such around 1997. I go up to the bar to get some drinks for me and a friend of mine, and there's a guy sitting at the bar wearing the E.C.W. World title around his waist, smoking a cigarette and nursing a beer. Oh yeah, his bamboo stick is also leaning against the bar. I made some regrettable remark, got my drinks, and never forgot that moment. Sandman was managed in E.C.W. by a beautiful young lady who simply went by the name, "Woman." You may know her better as the late Nancy Benoit.

Keep it in the Ring!

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