Throughout 2016, nostalgia has been high on the agenda for WWE. And reached its peak this month with the resurrection of wrestling legend, Goldberg, who faced off against another WWE stalwart, Brock Lesnar, in a titanic clash at Survivor Series.
So, with everyone’s gazes firmly set firmly on the past as the WWE tried to remind us what made Goldberg such an unstoppable wrecking machine in the first place, albeit largely in WCW, it seems the perfect time to roll out the often-divisive “Greatest of All Time” list.
Seeing as the current crop of WWE superstars are hardly living up to the “super” or the “star” in their job titles, I’m delving into the annals of wrestling history to pick out the ten greatest performers.
To minimalise the arguments, this top ten is compiled using a number of factors: actual wrestling ability; sheer popularity; ability to connect with the fans; capability to cut promos; and proficiency at telling a compelling story.
So, without further ado, here we go!
10. Randy Orton
Although by far the youngest wrestler on this list, Orton deserves his place due to the incredible longevity he’s enjoyed in his career despite his relatively young age.
Still only 36, he’s held the WWE Championship/World Heavyweight Championship a staggering 12 times, winning it for the first time at 24 to become the youngest champion in the company’s history.
But it’s not just his title reigns that earn him a spot in this list. As a heel, he’s one of the most authentic WWE characters in a hell of a long time. Whether during his Legend Killer run, or as the sly and slippery Viper, Orton knows how to get a crowd to loath him.
Add to all that the fact he has one of the most effective finishing manoeuvres in the business, and you have a genuine contender for the Hall of Fame.
9. Triple H
He might have drawn ire from some quarters for his supposed marrying into the ruling hierarchy, but putting this aside, Triple H has enjoyed a fantastically successful career.
The Cerebral Assassin was not just a terrific singles competitor – winning the WWE/World Heavyweight Championship no fewer than 14 times – he was also behind two of the biggest stables in wrestling history: D-Generation X and Evolution.
On top of that, Triple H has competed with many of the WWE’s biggest stars over the years, and has headlined Wrestlemania a record seven times, bringing him equal with Hulk Hogan.
There was absolutely no way he was going to ever miss being on the list.
8. Chris Jericho
In terms of sheer charisma, there are very few performers who can match Chris Jericho. Through tenures in WCW and WWF/E, he’s forged a star-studded career on the back of electric promos and compelling matches.
Not just an excellent performer, Jericho is also a near-flawless wrestler, combining mat skills with impeccable aerial ability. And every kid in the ’90s and ’00s was trying out the Walls of Jericho on his mates.
It was testament to his dedication to the art of wrestling that he was chosen to be the first Undisputed Champion back in 2002, beating both The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night.
Whether face or heel (and he was one hell of a heel!), Jericho is a hero, and a perplexingly unsung one at that. A true legend.
Loyalty is the word that springs to mind whenever Sting is mentioned. Even when WCW was being driven into the ground in the final years of the Monday Night Wars, their longest-serving star refused to abandon ship.
An exemplary wrestler, Sting coupled a mysterious presence, akin to that of The Undertaker, with superb technical ability. He could take part in a match with absolutely anyone and make them look fantastic.
A six-time WCW Heavyweight Champion, Sting was the face of the company throughout the 1990s, surviving the waves of high-profile superstars that came from rivals WWF to ensure he was still Ted Turner’s most important asset.
Following a stint in TNA later in his career, he finally made his WWE debut and was rightfully inducted into the Hall of Fame. Whether he made the right call to avoid the calls of Vince McMahon for so long is up for debate, but no matter what, he still goes down as one of the very best.
6. Hulk Hogan
Urging kids to “take their vitamins and say their prayers”, the Hulkster drove the then-WWF to enormous heights of popularity in the ’80s and was the first wrestler to genuinely crossover into the mainstream public eye.
Hulk Hogan is practically synonymous with the wrestling industry, thanks to his tenures in WWE and later in WCW as Hollywood Hogan. From national icon and boyhood idol, to arrogant villainous heel, he was a guaranteed box office hit.
For many, he was the reason they got into wrestling, especially back in the glory days in the 1980s. However, for all his appeal, Hogan wasn’t the most gifted of wrestlers. “Hulk Up”, big boot, leg drop, pin. For the most part, that was literally all he could manage.
Still, despite the notable in-ring limitations, missing his name of the list off all-time greats is about as close to treason as you can get in the wrestling business.
5. Ric Flair
For wrestling fans of a certain generation, it might come as something of a surprise not to see the 16-time world champion higher up this list. Where Hulk Hogan was the face of the WWF in the 1980s, Ric Flair was the face of just about everywhere else.
Travelling the territories, the record World Heavyweight Champion turned regional competitors into wrestling stars, such was he guaranteed to give a scintillating performance every time he stepped inside a wrestling ring.
Following his performances in the NWA in the ’80s, Flair continued to establish himself as one of the industry’s top performers throughout the ’90s in WCW and finally in the ’00s in WWE.
Whether he was bellowing “Woo!”, handing out knife-edge chops to everyone in sight or cutting one of his rampant promos, Flair was in a league of his own when it came to having the audience in the palm of his hand.
4. The Rock
When it comes to wrestling stars who have successfully transitioned into pop culture icons, there are none as recognisable as The Rock. Even eschewing his famous moniker for his actual name these days still doesn’t detract from his phenomenal wrestling career.
In terms of charisma, The Rock had no equal. He cut some of the finest promos in the business and holds the record for Raw’s highest ever rating when he and Mick Foley took to the screen to celebrate the Great One’s birthday.
Inside the ring, The Rock was an athletically-gifted performer, even if he did sell the many Stone Cold stunners he received to within an inch of his life… He knew how to get a crowd to react and he did it with aplomb.
It’s a testimony to his career that he was welcomed so vociferously back into the WWE fold when he returned in 2011 and regained the WWE Championship in front of a new set of fans.
3. The Undertaker
One of WWE’s longest-serving stars, The Undertaker is practically synonymous with longevity. In a captivating career that has thus far spanned three decades, The Deadman is routinely regarded as one of the greatest the business has ever seen.
This is down in no small part to his ability to adapt and re-invent. Over the years, his character has encompassed a mute western mortician, a supernatural dark lord, a badass biker and an amalgamation of all three. No matter what incarnation, The Undertaker has engrossed audiences.
Renowned for being an excellent wrestler in spite of his enormous stature, The Undertaker has been involved in his fair share of compelling matches, with his bouts against Shawn Michaels going down as two of the most exciting spectacles in wrestling history.
While he may not have reaped the title gold that the likes of John Cena, The Rock and Randy Orton have accumulated, his legacy has been cemented. There are few superstars with as much presence in the wrestling world as The Undertaker.
2. Shawn Michaels
If you ask many professional wrestlers who their choice is for the greatest of all time, there is one name that pops up with deserved frequency. The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, established himself as a heroic performer in the 1990s – and his legacy lives on to this day.
He pretty much carried the then-WWF throughout the mid-’90s when most of the company’s high-profile names were jumping ship, and if it wasn’t for a horrific back injury suffered during a match with The Undertaker, HBK’s career wouldn’t have been put on indefinite hiatus.
He returned in 2002 following a four-year absence and it was like he’d never been away. His story-telling skills weren’t dulled, his in-ring ability undiminished and his sheer charisma as wild as ever.
Few wrestlers can make you feel like Shawn Michaels can: he made viewers privy to his pain and share in his triumphs. When it comes to connecting with an audience, no one can top Shawn Michaels.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
In terms of sheer popularity, there was absolutely no one bigger than the Texas Rattlesnake. He led the WWE resurgence at the end of the ’90s, eventually turning the tide in the infamous Monday Night Wars.
His brash, beer-swilling, finger-flipping redneck anti-hero persona resonated with millions of fans and propelled him to the very top of the pile. He spawned the 3:16 movement, popularised the “What?” chant, ended every promo with “‘Cause Stone Cold said so” and had tens of thousands on their feet screaming “Hell yeah!” at the top of their lungs each and every night.
It’s somewhat of a tragedy that his phenomenal career was cruelly cut short by a recurrence of a neck injury he suffered at the hands of Owen Hart in 1997, but for the six or so years he was active in WWE, he was untouchable.
His feuds with Mr McMahon, The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker were legendary; his Stone Cold Stunner finishing move is about as iconic a manoeuvre as has ever been invented; and he made the company more money than anyone else in its history.
There is simply only one Steve Austin. And that’s the bottom line…