Happy Wednesday Everyone!
A few months back in one of the Daily Thread’s young Phredric posted a list they found of the top 100 greatest wrestlers ever and it led to some debate. Now I don’t personally feel I have seen enough wrestlers to have any sort of a stab at coming up with an objective list of the best wrestlers ever (I wouldn’t have a clue about most of the stars from Mexico for instance, let alone the Joshi promotions) but I could do a Favourite Wrestlers list quite easily as it’s all subjective and I just have to explain to you fine readers why I like each wrestler as opposed to giving you things like business metrics etc in order to justify their inclusion.
Obviously there’s a good chance I’ll either have wrestlers lower on my own personal list than you would, and some of your favourites might not even make the list at all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Who knows, maybe this will be a debate starter? I’ll also be listing a match that I feel is one of the standout bouts of the wrestler in questions career.
One thing that surprised me is that there aren’t any women who made the Top 50, as even though there are plenty of great women wrestlers out there who I respect and enjoy watching, I ultimately liked 50 blokes more and they got the eventual nod. So honourable mentions must go to the likes to Asuka, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Hikaru Shida, Molly Holly Becky Lynch, Bull Nakano, Jazz and Nikki Storm, because I do really enjoy what they bring to the table even if they didn’t manage to crack the Top 50. It’s not a negative against them or women’s wrestling; the just ended up working out the way that it did when all was said and done.
Too Cold Scorpio
The Match: Vs Barry Windham, WCW Clash of the Champions XXIII (16th June 1993)
I actually first became aware of Scorpio during his WWF run in 1998 when they teamed him up with the likes of Al Snow and Bob Holly in the J.O.B Squad. I thought he was really impressive athletically but they never really did much with him and he was so not over he was basically under. However, once I discovered his work in WCW and ECW I realised just how good he was, especially in a company that actually committed to pushing him instead of making him a lackey for the wacky mannequin head guy.
Scorpio entered WCW as a partner for Ron Simmons and became an over mid-carder almost instantly due to his exciting innovative high-flying offence and effortlessly cool demeanour. Scorp had many good matches in WCW, and even picked up the tag belts for a brief period with Buff Bagwell, but probably his two best matches under the WCW umbrella came against Chris Benoit at SuperBrawl III and Barry Windham at Clash XXIII. The latter match was actually for the NWA World Title and was probably either the best or second best match Big Bazza had during that Title run depending on how much you like the great match he had with Arn Anderson.
Scorpio really excelled in ECW during the mid-90’s, as any metaphorical handcuffs on his character and wrestling style were removed, allowing him to be both a great brash cocky Heel and a cool rebellious babyface depending on what part of his run there you were watching. Scorp even held both the TV and Tag Titles at the same time briefly, leading to him being named “Too GOLD Scorpio”, much to mine and many others’ amusement. Scorpio eventually jumped to the WWF in 1996, where they gave him the Flash Funk gimmick (kind of a prototypical version of the Godfather without the overt pimp aspect) but they soon gave up on him and he was soon heading out to both ECW and All Japan on loan until his WWF deal ended.
Scorpio managed to rejuvenate his career in Japan and he ended up becoming one of the top foreign wrestlers in Mitsuharu Misawa’s breakaway NOAH promotion, leading to him teaming with most of the other foreign wrestlers such as Mike Modest, Vader and Doug Williams. Scorpio and Williams were a good team, with Scorpio’s brash persona and high-flying style meshing well with Williams’ more subdued personality and highly technical style.
Outside of the meh run in the WWF Scorpio was usually a pushed commodity who got over, even if he was never a World Title level guy, and he usually delivered in the ring as well, both in tag and singles. He had pretty darn impressive longevity for a guy that worked the style he did and he was able to successfully reinvent himself as his career wore on from being cocky youngster to wily veteran in his NOAH days.
Little Spike Dudley
The Match: Vs Mike Awesome, ECW Guilty As Charged 2000 (9th January 2000)
This one will almost certainly raise some eyebrows, and I get it. Spike has possibly one of the worst physiques of any wrestler to ever work in one of the “Big Three” promotions of the 90’s and 00’s, but oddly enough that always kind of worked in his favour in a weird way because it merely highlighted just how talented he truly was. Spike is widely regarded as one of the best bumpers of all-time, and with good reason. Spike spent most of his career in ECW and WWE getting flung around by much bigger wrestlers, and he was excellent at it.
What often gets forgotten though is that Spike was a very good gutsy babyface fighting from underneath. His lack of physical size made him the textbook underdog, and his ability to sell and time his comebacks meant he could have entertaining matches when matched up against the right opponent. His brutal bump-fest against Mike Awesome at Guilty As Charged 2000 is a great example of just how good Spike could be in a big match setting, with his ability to absorb the sort of punishment that bigger wrestlers couldn’t even handle setting him apart from other wrestlers his size.
At the end of the day, he not only won the WWF Tag Titles with Taz but he also had a brief run with the European Title as well as a surprisingly effective Heel run as Cruiserweight Champion in 2004 when they made him the diminutive snide little Heel who hid behind his much bigger “brothers” D-Von and Bubba. Spike’s feud with Bubba and D-Von spanned two promotions, with plenty of blood getting spilled along the way, with even flaming tables getting involved when all three were competing in the Land of Extreme.
To be that small and STILL get pushed in the WWF during perhaps its most cosmetically obsessed era ever is a genuine testament to just how good Spike was as a worker. I really don’t think he gets the credit he deserves sometimes. He wasn’t a pioneer for smaller wrestlers like the original Tiger Mask, Dynamite Kid and Rey Mysterio Jr, but he was a good wrestler who understood how to wrestle against much bigger opponents and make it believable, and I genuinely think we perhaps need to reassess his overall standing as an in-ring performer because he’s often overlooked and dismissed and I don’t personally believe that to be fair.
The Match: Vs Jushin Thunder Liger, NJPW Best of the Super Junior Final (30th April 1992)
The New Japan Junior Heavyweight scene was an excellent way of getting me into Japanese Wrestling, with the high-flying style being a good bridge to get me into the action before I was quite ready to give the Heavyweight style a look. The division was on fire in the 90’s, with not only the New Japan Junior’s being on form but also wrestlers from WAR and Michinoku Pro delivering great action on a regular basis when they were invited to New Japan events such as the Super J Cup and Best of the Super Junior.
By comparison to the likes of Ultimo Dragon, Super Delfin and Great Sasuke, El Samurai was far less flashy and didn’t really have much in the way of a physique. He could also suffer from the occasional bout of laziness. However, when he was motivated El Samurai was a very good wrestler who could have a solid bout with basically everyone. What really got me on board the Samurai train was the Best of the Super Junior 94 tournament, as Samurai entered strong performances against the likes of Shinjiro Ohtani and just generally existed as the base of the tournament, having good matches with everyone and pretty much doing the donkey work so others could shine.
BOSJ in some ways is the event that really defined Samurai, with arguably the two best matches of his career coming in the tournament finals of 1992 and 1997, when he took on Jushin Liger and Koji Kanemoto respectively. Samurai for me was similar in some ways to the footballer/soccer player Dennis Irwin of Oldham Athletic, Manchester United and Republic of Ireland fame. Irwin was never the flashiest player in any of the sides he played in, but he was an important cog and a skilled performer who you could often expect a 7 or 8 out of 10 from most weeks.
Outside of the odd occasion where he just wasn’t feeling it, El Samurai was very much the Dennis Irwin figure of the New Japan Junior Heavyweight scene in the 90’s. Whether he was in there with Liger, Kanemoto, Ohtani, Benoit, Guerrero or others, you could usually expect him to deliver a good or even great match. He was a mechanics mechanic, and ultimately you need guys like that in order to make a division tick. I certainly consider him to be a big influence on me when it came to getting into watching Japanese Wrestling and I still enjoy going back to watch his better efforts.
The Match: Vs Umaga, WWE Royal Rumble 2007 (28th January 2007)
You know, I honestly don’t think saying John Cena had good matches is even a controversial take in most places of the internet now. Sure, there was a time when saying that you thought John Cena was an entertaining worker whose matches you looked forward to was tantamount to blasphemy on the old World Wide Web, but these days I think most of us would concede that JC could deliver the goods in most cases. The “Big Match John” nickname may have started as a bit of a running gag, but by the second half of the 00’s Cena could mostly be relied upon to smash it in the big matches.
I’ve never really especially hated Cena’s character or the fact he won a lot either. Sure, it would be annoying when he would lose a big match but then come out smiling on Raw the next night like everything was fine, but ultimately I wasn’t the target audience for what his character was supposed to be. And him winning so often never really bothered me either. He was the top babyface, he should have vanquished evil more often than surrendering to it. When you have a character who essentially exists as a super hero that kids can live vicariously through then you kind of have to expect that they’re going to win a bunch. I doubt the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be the gigantic smash it’s been for so many years if the babyfaces lost in every movie.
For me I quickly viewed Cena in a very binary way of whether he delivered entertaining matches or not. More often than not, he would bring the goods, so I was soon looking forward to whatever his next pay per view offering was to see if he could once again deliver me a great match. Whether it was his shockingly entertaining bout with Triple H at WrestleMania XXII, his wild Last Man Standing match with Umaga at Royal Rumble 2007, his wonderful near hour long match with Shawn Michaels on Raw in the spring of 2007, his psychologically strong battle with Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2007 or his many epic battles with Edge, John Cena has a darn fine back catalogue of great matches to fall back on.
Yes, the stuff with the Nexus basically killed them off and his WrestleMania Main Event with Miz disappointed, but he did at least redeem himself by having a fun I Quit match with Miz on a B show not too long after the Mania show, and his feud with The Rock was captivating stuff (although they really didn’t need to go back to it in 2013 if we’re being honest). Cena also did his part establishing the likes of Kevin Steen and AJ Styles in WWE by having cracking matches with them and even putting both of them over when the time called for it. Kevin Steen is still dining off that big victory he got over Cena in 2015 and was able to craft a very healthy against all odds successful WWE career from it.
If you look at John Cena’s body of work from purely a match quality perspective then he’s got one heck of a resume to fall back on, and for that reason more than anything else he just about sneaks onto the Top 50 list for me. I’ll wait for you all to be appalled. Heck, some of you will probably be salty that he’s so LOW on the list, which is just bloody typical and one of the many potential pratfalls that comes with a gig like this.
The Match: Vs Hulk Hogan, WWF SummerSlam 1990 (27th August 1990)
Wrestling as The Earthquake, John Tenta remains one of more memorable foes Hulk Hogan tangled with during the initial Hulkamania Era in the WWF, with Quake squishing Hogan on an episode of The Brother Love Show in order to set up a lucrative feud on the House Show circuit. This feud really captured the public’s imagination, so much so that it kind of overshadowed the WWF Title feud between Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude at the same time.
What made Tenta so good in the role of Earthquake was his deceptive speed. Despite being a huge man, Tenta could move and top stars such as Hulk Hogan and Jake Roberts regularly sold big for him in order to get him over as believable monster. Tenta had gained a reputation for being a bit of a diva during his days in the sumo world, but in the pro wrestling domain he was generally well-liked and he worked better as a big monster Heel than most.
Quake’s match with Hogan at SummerSlam was notable in that they didn’t have Hogan come right back to slay the monster and instead did a count out in order to protect Quake and build to some rematches. Of course Quake would eventually end up looking at the lights to the almighty Hulkster at the Survivor Series 1990 event before he ended up as runner up of the 1991 Royal Rumble event, but he still enjoyed a good run and he went into a feud with Jake Roberts next where he squished Jake’s pet snake in storyline and then turned it into burgers. Yeah, it was 1991, just roll with it.
Tenta’s next big career chapter was his team with fellow hefty haranguer Fred Ottman. Ottman had been a babyface as the spectacularly crap Tugboat (complete with horn sound effects on his music) but the WWF turned him Heel and renamed him Typhoon, thus creating The Natural Disasters pairing with Earthquake. The two would eventually wrestle their way to the WWF Tag Titles, going babyface along the way. Tenta had been a very effective monster Heel but he was a good enough seller and also naturally likable enough that he was able to work as a babyface as well and TND had some fun matches, notably against The Beverley Brothers at Wembley Stadium in 1992.
When that run eventually fizzled the WWF tried Tenta as a singles babyface and he actually got pretty over in that role, with a big sumo match victory over Yokozuna getting a rousing reception from the crowd in attendance. However, Tenta decided he would ditch the WWF and move on to WCW seeing as old buddy Hulk Hogan was there and needed some opponents. Thus Tenta jumped ship to WCW and became The Avalanche (a name that didn’t stick because it was so obviously a rip off of his WWF name) and wrestled the likes of Sting and Randy Savage.
A lot of people bag on Tenta’s matches with Sting and Savage but I personally enjoyed them and thought Tenta fitted comfortably back into his previous monster Heel role. However, sadly for Tenta he would soon find himself in gimmick hell, as WCW renamed him to The Shark and then just called him plain John Tenta, which led to Tenta going babyface and feuding with Big Bubba Rogers over Rogers giving him an embarrassing haircut. The fire was gone from Tenta at that stage though and eventually he left WCW to go back to the WWF in 1998.
The WWF decided they’d stick poor Tenta under a mask as the mentally challenged Golga, a masked nutter who was obsessed with Cartman from South Park. Even though the gimmick itself was an all-time stinker, Tenta actually delivered in-ring whenever he was given the chance to cut loose and actually wrestle. It helped that all of the other members of the Oddities stable that Tenta found himself a member of were utterly cack, as it only made Tenta’s competent wrestling look all the better by comparison. It was a shame though as you got the feeling they might have been able to actually do something with Tenta during that run as he could still go in the ring.
Tenta did have a brief WWF return in 2001 at WrestleMania X-Seven and even got a good reception in a try out match prior to a Smackdown taping, but sadly the WWF had no interest in signing him and that was it for his mainstream wrestling career in America. It’s a shame as Tenta is someone whose work I genuinely like, but he was just saddled with so many loser gimmicks that didn’t get over and his talent was ultimately wasted. That period in the WWF where he was booked as a genuine threat was great fun though and Tenta knew exactly how to work as that character, with his mixture of big power moves, hefty strikes and deceptive speed making him a really entertaining guy to watch. Even as Golga he could still entertain between the ropes when he was actually allowed to.
I’m not sure how others will feel about Tenta being included here, but I really appreciate what he brought to the table and I think he’s one of the better big man workers ever to hit the big time. If anything they should have moved him onto Warrior following the count out loss to Hogan at SummerSlam and then looped back round to a WrestleMania VII match with Hogan where Hogan would finally pin him. They still wouldn’t have sold out the LA Coliseum, but it probably would have been just as heated as the Slaughter feud and wouldn’t have been anywhere near as sleazy due to them not doing the whole Iraqi sympathiser thing.