The other night my I had an interesting conversation with my good friend about who the top 5 wrestlers of all time are.
Obviously any list of this nature is an opinion only, with the fact that some people have all time favorites that didn't last long or that weren't transcendent but rather, they just were a personal favorite. For me, Kevin Fertig (who first did the Mordecai and then the Kevin Thorn characters in WWE) would fall into that category.
So I needed to come up with a criteria.
First of all length of career is important. A wrestler like the Ultimate Warrior was huge for a period of time but he did not stick around for a long time.
Secondly a significant impact on the wrestling world. I mentioned Kevin Fertig above. Yes the characters he played were a little more gimmicky and brought something different to the table but you can't say that he had a significant impact on the wrestling world. He was just a cool character for a period of time.
Third; DO NOT consider their personality outside of wrestling. For example we all know that Ric Flair is a complete mess outside the ring. He's been divorced so many times and has no money left. He also is known to drink too much and party too hard, but I'm not going to hold that against him. We're only talking in a wrestling context here, not personal life.
Fourth; Championships do not matter. They sure don't hurt of course but, you can not compare numbers. Brunno Sammartino had the WWWF had only 2 title reigns but they lasted a combined 11 years. Meanwhile Triple H has won 13 world championships which haven't lasted half the time Sammartino was champion. Of course Roddy Piper never won the NWA/WCW/WWE world championship and is still considered an all time great. On the flip side Ric Flair has won 16 world championships....or 21 as he says. Which proves the point that there are many discrepancies. So world championships are not to be taken into consideration, though they tend to be associated with the all time greats.
I should also note that these are NOT my all time favorite wrestlers. In fact only one of these 5 would make it to my top 5 list of personal all time favorites (which may be a blog post for the future).
With that all said. My top 5 (in no particular order)
RIC FLAIR: I don't see how anyone can have a top 5 list and leave out Ric Flair, for over 40 years he's been one of the top names in wrestling. Known for his playboy gimmick (going so far as to once arrive to a wrestling event in a helicopter) and lavish clothes Ric Flair had the rare ability to wrestle good matches and work the mic very well. His trademark "Woo" can still be heard at wrestling shows today when a series of chops is preformed. The 16 time world champion was the hottest thing going in the NWA/WCW and became famous for his feuds with Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Dusty Rhodes and, Harley Race. He was the lead member of the famous 4 Horsemen group that through it's lifetime created many new stars. Through the 70s and 80s Ric Flair was the star of the NWA/WCW while Hulk Hogan was the star of the WWF. Then in 1991 Ric Flair jumped ship WITH the WCW championship belt. You see back in the NWA days the champion had to pay a deposit on the world championship belt when they won it. The NWA thought that would be the way that they could ensure getting the belt back when it was time for a champion to loose it. Ric Flair dropped and won the belt back so many times that he never bothered to collect his deposit and felt that he was owed his deposit back now that he changed companies. WCW sued him and eventually Flair gave the belt back and just wore a replica version on WWF TV, but for the first little while both WCW's and WWF's championship belts were on WWF tv, another reason Ric Flair is one of the all time greats, he made memorable moments at every turn. Eventually he went back to WCW in 1993 and, like most big names who wrestled in WCW during the late 90s/early 2000s he became a bit stale. When WWF bought WCW Ric came back, first as an owner of the Raw brand, then as the elder statesman of Evolution, a group that included Triple H, Batista and, Randy Orton and was very 4 Horsemen like. Right up until 2008 Flair remained a somewhat active wrestler and wrestled the big names you never got to see him wrestle like Shawn Michaels Triple H, Edge and, Chris Jericho.
Flair has gone on to sints in ROH and TNA as well, in both cases as the authority figure role with limited wrestling.
Without question Ric Flair's signature robes and crimson masks are some of the most memorable moment's in wrestling history and generations later up and coming wrestlers still claim he has been part of the reason they have gotten into wrestling.
That's why Ric Flair makes my top 5.
MIL MASCARAS: Much like Antonio Anoki (who I'll talk about later) Mil Mascaras was a huge cultural icon who helped revolutionize wrestling. It all started in 1965. Mascaras rose to fame quickly because he was a well conditioned luchador in a heavyweight division that was dominated by foreigners at that time. Unlike most luchadores, who tend to be short and not heavy enough to be heavyweights, Mascaras was able to compete in Mexico, the USA and, Japan as a heavyweight. This alone set him apart from most luchadores. He was also one of the first luchdores to complete outside of Mexico in non-heel rolls and was known for being an expert when it came to countering moves. He's also credited for being one of the first wrestlers to bring the luchador style of wrestling to Japan.
1968 was the year Mascaras made his debut internationally, starting to wrestle in the Los Angeles area predominately gaining his fame by wrestling Ernie Ladd. In 1971 he debuted for All Japan Pro Wrestling and defeated Kantaro Hoshino. During this period in time he gained fame by wrestling an American masked wrestler known as The Destroyer.During the '70s, M scaras also had feuds with Mexican wrestlers such as TNT, El Canek, El Halcon, and Angel Blanco. These feuds took place mostly in Mexico and the USA, and were broadcast on Spanish language stations in the USA. Interesting little fact: during the 70s Mascaras was also the heavyweight champion of the IWA wrestling promotion, which was founded by Eddie Einhorn, and still holds the title to this day.
Mascaras made his wasy to the WWF in the late 70s after a ban on masked wrestlers was lifted specifically for him. During his time in the WWF he had a feud with "Superstar" Billy Graham over the WWF Championship. in the 1980s and 1990s Mascaras went over to Puerto Rico to wrestle for World Wrestling Council on a regular basis.
Mascaras ended up in WCW in 1990 and wrestled Cactus Jack at clash of the champions and, would make his return to WWF in 1997 at the Royal Rumble.
In 1991 Mascaras won his last championship, the WWA (Mexico) World Heavyweight Championship. He held that title until 1994 and at that time he assumed a semi-retired role in the wrestling world.
Clearly Mil Mascaras wrestled all around the world for all the big promotions but, he also was a massive movie star in Mexico. That career all started in 1966 when he was cast to be in a wrestler/horror movie which was the popular genre at the time. In fact, this movie was the launching point of the Mil Mascaras character and his wrestling career started as promotional appearances for this movie. You see at the time Enrique Vergara (a Mexican film producer) had issues with his 2 stars walking out on him. Those 2 starts were actually Blue Demon (who was actually injured) and Santos (contract dispute). So, because Vergara didn't want to stop making his films, which were quick to make and successful, he decided to use Mil Mascaras as he was new and relatively unknown to the wrestling world at the time and, his wrestling trunks were very flashy. Perfect for the movie world.
So, Mascaras was scheduled to appear in 2 movies. The first was simply called Mil Mascaras and was a black and white origin story about a kid who adopted by scientists and was created to be a superhero of sorts. Very "comic book-esk". Los Canallas was the second movie in which Mascaras fought a gang.
Federico Curiel directed the next 2 movies Mascaras was in. Enigma of Death and Las Vampiras. Both featured John Carradine as the "bad guy". Enigma of Death had Mascaras facing off against an underground Nazi group while Las Vampiras had him facing off against a cult of femlae vampires.
In 1970 Curiel then had a brilliant idea, it was time to make a couple "team up movies". First one was The Mummies of Guanajuato in which Mascaras, Blue Demon and, El Santo teamed up to take on a team of mummies. That movie became the highest grossing Mexican wrestler film of all time. The Champions of Justice (also 1970) saw Mil in action with fellow wrestlers Blue Demon, Tinieblas, El Medico Asesino and La Sombra Vengadora (who all joined together as sort of a super-team to fight monsters, mad scientists, criminals, evil dwarves or whatever else crossed their paths.) He would continue to do team up movies through 1983 gaining the reputation as the "team up king". The one exception being 1972's A Rose in the Ring.
In 2007 Mil Mascaras vs the Aztec Mummy (or Mil Mascaras: Resurrection) was the first movie in the wrestler genere done by "the big 3" (Mascaras, Blue Demon and, Santo) to be made in English. The film was screened at film festivals around the world and even got a magazine cover as late as 2012. Mascaras is not retired from movies and is currently working on his 20th film.
Mascaras, like many traditional luchadores, has made it very important that his real identity is not seen and wears his masks in public at all times. He's never been unmasked in the ring. He is also an uncle to the current world heavyweight champion in WWE Alberto Del Rio. He also has appeared on 3 stamps in Mexico.
For being the predecessor to what The Rock is now doing, for being an international wrestling star and, for being a defining figure in Mexican pop culture Mil Mascaras makes my top 5.
ANDRE THE GIANT: The 8th wonder of the world, Andre the Giant's career spanned over 30 years and across the globe, a popular name in both North America and Japan. In his early days, he was a hot commodity for territories who needed a boost at the gates and Vince McMahon sr. would loan him out all over the country and as a result his career's wins and losses were lied about and he was billed as an undefeated Giant. He grew to the main event level in WWf in the late 80s wrestling names like Ken Patera and King Kong Bundy. It was during this era he made his appearance in the classic film "The Princess Bride" and was one of the first crossovers from wrestling to movies, something that hulk Hogan would later do to a bigger degree. Then in 1987 Andre turned heel, setting up the "biggest match of all time" as Hogan was the top babyface at the time. It all culminated at Wrestlemania 3 at the Pontiac Silverdome just outside of Detroit, Michigan. Andre was being billed as "the only undefeated wrestler in professional wrestling" as well as weighing 520 pounds and seven feet tall. Of course, in those days it was easier to lie about all this stuff as WWF had just become the first national promotion and the history of wrestlers was very blurry from territory to territory. Andre went on to loose via bodyslam and leg drop to Hogan and that helped cement Hogan as one of the all time greatest.
Andre went on to be the "goon" for the Million Dollar Man, winning the WWF championship and "sold" the championship to Ted DiBiase in one of the more famous and original storylines of all time. From there he went on to feud with Jake Roberts, team with Haku and, eventually became the guy who was constantly used by WWF to make up and comers look better.
For being the first wrestler to star in multiple movies, for his involvement in making huge starts like Hogan and DiBiase, for being the "8th wonder of the world" and, for becoming a worldwide wrestling legend Andre makes my top 5.
CHRIS JERICHO: This may see a little surprising as Jericho is a WWE guy and why wouldn't I pick the The Rock or Stone Cold over Jericho? Well I plan on telling you.
It's been almost 30 years that Jericho has been in the business, believe it or not. From his training at the Heart Brothers Wrestling School where he met Lance Storm and immediately set out as one of the best tag teams on the independent scene to becoming the go-to guy in WWE right now Jericho has done it all.
Jericho started wrestling in 1990 exactly and was a hot commodity in the Canadian independent scene fairly quick. Being known for partnering with Lance Storm and feuding with the guys who eventually would be Christian and Edge. Only a year into his career Jericho made his way to Japan, Germany and, eventually Mexico's famous CMLL. Along the way he wrestled names like Ultimo Dragon, Silver King, Gedo, the Rock n' Roll Express and, the Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit).
Jericho came to ECW by 1996, just over 5 years into his career. He didn't stay in ECW long due to his strong matches with RVD, Taz, Sabu, 2 Cold Scorpio and, Shane Douglas.
In August of 1996 Jericho made his way to WCW, making his name by competing as part of the cruiser weight division that had gotten it's reputation as having fast paced matches and was lined with stars from Mexico and Japan. His work with wrestlers like Rey Mysterio, Alex Wright and, Juventude Guerrera got him a push in WCW which is something that was rare for wrestlers in that cruiser weight division. in 1998 Jericho made his way into the the TV championship picture and really started to blossom. His character became an ego maniac that did really weird things all the time, including one night on Nitro when he listed the 1,001 holds that he knew and during his feud with Saturn constantly asking for matches with weird stipulations like "the looser wears a dress match". During this time Jericho could not get booked as a main event star and became annoyed with WCW and eventually just let his contract run out so he could go elsewhere.
That's where the famous Y2J problem came to be. A series of videos, playing off the "Y2K" computer scares would pop up on WWF shows counting down a debut. It caused tons of conversation "who is it?". Finally on August 9, 1999 the Y2J problem arrived in WWF.....and we would never, eeevvveeerrr be the same again. The first long feud Jericho was involved in was for the Intercontinental championship and it was against Chyna in which they shared the title. Right off the bat Jericho was being different and making a name for himself. Buy 2001 Jericho was one of the most over babyfaces in WWF due to his incredible mic skills and when WWF decided to merge the WCW and WWF championships Jericho got his first huge push and became the first ever undisputed champion, which he held until Wrestlemania 18.
He then went on to one of my all tiem favorite fueds/teams with Christian. The were originally a tag team, with Jericho having a love intrest in Trish Stratus which they agreed would not work due to a bet over 1 Canadian Dollar that was offensive to women, They made amends, making Jericho face and eventually Trish turned on Jericho, revealing her and Christian were a couple which lead to a match between Jericho and Christian. Jericho continued his persuit of the world championships until he left WWE in 2005.
In 2007 Jericho returned after spending time with his band, Fozzy and working on various TV projects.
He returned with a similar countdown clock, this time in a more Matrix style clock. When he returned he claimed that he was coming back to WWE to save all the fans from the how boring things had become. He was a cocky, well dressed heel that was a self proclaimed savior of the WWE. He started feuding with the big names like Shawn Micheals and Randy Orton, Even teaming with Big Show as Jeri-show. It was this period in time from 2007 to 2010 in which he cemented himself as a main event star. He left again in 2010 and wouldn't be seen until September 2011. Again working on his band and other various projects.
His 2011 return he re-invented himself again! He came out with a jacket that had flashing lights and would be jumping and high fiveing fans but every time he went to speak on the mic, he could find the words. Essentially, Jericho turned himself heel (as he was a face at his return due to the crowds cheers) without saying a word! Since his 2011 return he's been used in feds with up and coming stars to help them get over by giving them a good match every night.
Jericho's band, Fozzy, has released 5 studio albums and have gone from being a gimmicky cover band to a serious rock band. Jericho has also written 3 books, 4 movies, been part of 7 TV shows, participated in sketch comedy troupes and, has been a main actor in a theatrical production called Opening Night.
For his ability to constantly reinvent himself as a wrestler, his microphone skills and, his ability to be a significant part of popular culture Chris Jericho makes my top 5 wrestlers of all time.
ANTONIO INOKI: I think if I left this gentleman off the list it'd be one of my biggest mistakes. Antonio Inoki met Japanese superstar wrestler, Rikidozan at the age of 17 and (along with another future star, Giant Baba) became one of Rikidozan's "disciples" or students right up until the time of Rikidozan's death.
During the 1960s Inoki wrestled in the USA from time to time and flipped between Japan Wrestling association and Tokyo Pro Wrestling. It wasn't until 1971 when Inoki was fired from Japan Wrestling Association (he was planning a takeover of the promotion) that his significance went from being a popular wrestler to becoming a massive hero in Japan.
It was 1972 when Inoki started New Japan Pro Wrestling, A promotion that was considered as saving pro wrestling from the Yakuza and all the scandals that happened during Rikidozan's days. Inoki, became a big legend in Japan when he fought Muhammad Ali in 1976 in a "Boxing vs wrestling" match. Unfortunately it was for the wrong reasons as the match was scored a draw, Anoki, who's strategy was to lay on the ground and kick up at Ali, said later that he had, in fact, won but lost points due to penalties. Of course Ali just called Inoki a cheater. To this day people still are not certain if this was a worked match or not.
Inoki continued his legacy on November 30, 1979 when he beat WWF champion Bob Backlund in Japan for the WWF title. Then on December 6 they had a rematch which Backlund won but the title did not change hands due to interference but, Inoki refused the title and it was declared vacant. Later, Backund won the belt back and WWE still does not recognize this event as a title change (this is why you see one title reign for Backlund from 1978-1983 as the official record).
Inoki became so popular in Japanese culture that in 1989 Inoki established his own political group, the sports and peace part and was elected into the Japanese Legislature. In fact, in 1990 he was sent to negotiate with Saddam Husseinover the release of Japanese prisoners being held hostage in Iraq.
1995 saw another high profile match involving Inoki. The Japanese and Korean governments had arranged a 2 day peace festival. Part of the festivities was a TV segment in which Inoki went to Rikidozan's grave site and paid tribute to his career. The day after Inoki and Ric Flair had a match in which Inoki won.
From 1994 to 1998 Inoki had his retirement tour billed as "the final countdown". The series was all re-matches of his famous matches culminating in a match with Don Frye.
As the years went on Inoki's influence with New Japan continued to decline, culminating in selling his 51.5% share in the company to Yuke's (A video game company). He has since started a new promotion (in 2007) called Inoki Genome Federation.
For being a pioneer of Japanese pro wrestling, for being in some of the most high profile matches of all time and, for remaining relevant in Japanese wrestling AND politics since the 1970s Anotnio Inoki makes my top 5 wrestlers of all time.
With that said, this is just how I feel.
I realize that there are names out there like Lou Thez, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers, "Whipper" Bill Watson and, Sting (just to name a few) that deserve consideration for this list. Don't get me wrong, these people all deserve a place in wrestling's history and I'm not taking anything away from them, I just think these 5 are the biggest influences on the wrestling world.