List like these are as old as wrestling itself. The fallacy in most of them is that there isn’t a clear consistent standard. How much weight do you give to match quality, or drawing power. Generally people fall into two camps, the match quality camp and the drawing power camp. Depending on how much weight you give to each you’re going to come up with biased results.

In this exercise I’ve attempted to give a set criteria and rating system to determine who the greatest wrestling in WWE history is.

Note: We are talking WWE history only here so names like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and Harley Race won’t appear on this list, as the majority of their careers were spent outside of the WWF/WWE.

 

Criteria

All categories will be scored on a 1-10 basis.

Drawing Power: The point of wrestling, from a booking perspective at least is to put butts in the seats. Or “draw” as people in the industry call it.  Who were the stars that got fans to attend house shows, buy pay per views?

Legacy: In retrospect how is the wrestler and his career looked back upon? Fondly? Or was he impossible to work with. Were they selfish and damaging to the business long term, or were they helpful, willing to put over and “make” other stars.

Workrate: What kind of in-ring performers were they? How often did they give a five star or four star match? Did they always work hard, or were they prone to coasting? What were their greatest matches and where do those rank all time.

Promos: What kind of mic skills did they have? Did they make the audience want to attend the show or buy the pay per view?

Longevity: Not simply how long they wrestled but how long they were on top of (or close to) the business.

Role/Value to the company: More than just money, what was the value of the wrester to the company, on camera and off. Could they truly be the “face” of the company? Or maybe a behind the scenes locker room leader.

 

10. John Cena

Drawing Power: Cena is currently the only big time draw in professional wrestling today. It’s evidenced by the quarter hour breakdowns of segments he’s in,PPV buys when he’s in the Main Event and merchandise sales. Cena appeals to women and children and before every adult male goes on a rampage, women and children make up the majority of the WWE’s audience.

Score: 8

 

Legacy: The John Cena story has yet to be written. So far he’s had a remarkable run as the company’s babyface. He’s essentially a poor man’s Hulk Hogan, which really isn’t a bad thing.

Score: 8

 

Ringwork: Early in his career Cena had a reputation for only using five moves. He’s gotten much better he’s up to seven. Seriously Cena can work a good match. He’s actually underrated as a worker because there’s so much hatred of him from the internet crowd. Cena has mastered the WWE main event style and storytelling within a match. He’s made both of those concepts his own and developed a “Cena style” match in his main events.

Score: 7

 

Promos: John Cena has mic skills. He’s got it all the look, the size, charisma, real emotion. The problem is Cena rarely gives intense promos that make you want to watch him kick someone’s ass. Instead he settles for preaching, sounding self righteous and going for adolescent jokes.

Score: 6

 

Longevity: At this point in his career it’s not fair to compare Cena to the heavyweights in this category. He’s the prime of his life and his been a Main  eventer for roughly five years. Cena shows no signs of relinquishing his top spot in the company anytime soon so there’s something to be said for that.

Score: 5

 

Role/Value: Cena is perhaps the hardest working wrestling that the company has ever seen, no one has ever been more devoted, his appearance schedule alone would cripple most. He’s a great ambassador for the WWE. Then there’s his marketability, the man is money, chicks dig him and kids love him. Whenever I want to buy my kids wrestling gear it’s almost impossible to find anything other than the Cena stuff.  Outside the ring he’s everything you could ever want from your top star.

Score: 10

Total score 44

 

9.HHH

Drawing Power: For a while HHH was a guy that was shoved down the fans throat he eventually earned their respect but he’s never been the guy the company was built around. Score: 6

Legacy: HHH’s legacy will always be tarnished by the fact that many believe that he married his way to the top. It’s actually not true he was a main eventer before marrying Stephanie. However one has to wonder how much preferential treatment he’s received over the years. Score: 8

Ring work: HHH is a solid worker and he definitely knows how to tell a good story in the ring. He’s not an elite worker, a solid one but not elite. How many five star matches can you remember? Score: 7

Promos: HHH has a tendency to drone on and on in his promos, worse yet he continually puts down his opponents which makes you wonder why  would we pay money to see you fight someone so awful.  Like most areas HHH is good but not great. Score: 7

Longevity HHH has been the most consistently dominate wrestler in the 2000’s. At this point he’s only making spot appearances during WrestleMania season. HHH has a solid ten year run on top of the business which is about the norm for the men on this list. Score: 8

Role/Value: There are many that believe that HHH will run the company when Vince retires. How’s that for value? He currently plays a huge role in talent acquisition and is a defacto member of the creative team. Most importantly he has the ear of Vince McMahon. HHH’s mind is perhaps his most valuable asset, he’s a locker room leader and he understands the business on a level few others do. HHH is a glue guy; he’s held everything in place for years. Score: 10

Total Scorer: 46

 

8. Hulk Hogan

Draw: Hulk Hogan can lay claim to being the biggest draw in wrestling history. 93,000 people watched him slam Andre the Giant, unlike Bruno he traveled around the country packing the house everywhere he went. He put the WWE on a national platform that it has yet to relinquish. He’s also the first wrestler  to really sell merchandise. The man had his own cartoon for goodness sakes. Score: 10

Legacy: Hulk Hogan has perhaps the most complex legacy of any wrestler. He drew money no one can ever take that away from him. Hogan has a reputation (well earned) for doing what’s best for him and not the business.  His hand in the fall of WCW and his participation in TNA have only served to further tarnish his legacy. Grade: 7

Ring work: Admittedly this is not the Hulkster’s best category. Honestly I liked his worked in WCW much better than WWE, but of course that has no bearing on this list. If you were only fan of the WWE you not understand what was lacking with Hogan’s ring work. But if you caught the NWA, AWA or World class, you realized that Hogan was all style and no substance. To his credit Hogan knew how to tell a good story which kept the crowd engaged in his match. Score: 6

Promos: It’s easy to call Hogan’s act cheesy now, but in his prime he had us all. At some point almost every fan was in Hogan’s camp. The 24 inch pythons, the blatant pro America pandering. Hulk Hogan was presented and carried himself as a piece of Americana. Score: 8

Longevity: Without counting his time in WCW which would put him even higher in this category. Hogan was everything you could ask for ten years as the top draw in the sport. Surprisingly Hogan had a second act with the WWE having memorable matches at mania with Vince and the Rock  Score: 9

Role /Value: Hogan drew millions, brought new fans to the sport and transcended wrestling during the 80’s. Where Hogan falls short is in the area of being a good teammate for lack of a better word. What stars did Hogan help make? He was never giving in the ring; much of his career was made off of no-selling the moves of his competitors. Hogan owes a great debt of gratitude to those who helped put him over. I’d say that debt has gone unpaid. Score: 9

Total Score: 49


7. Shawn Michaels

Drawing Power: This has always been the knock on Michaels, he never drew. I don’t think that’s true, however he certainly never drew to the level of a Hogan or Austin. The only time Michaels was ever the centerpiece of the company was during a down period. In Michael’s defense the product was stale and Michaels gave the fans their money’s worth every time he performed. Score 7

Legacy: Shawn Michael’s inarguably as the stands as the greatest in ring performer in WWE history. Michaels was famously known as a diva during his first run, after retiring for five years, he came back not only a better wrestler but a better man. Score: 9

Ring work: Again Michaels shines. Let’s just look at his matches at WrestleMania. His clashes with the Undertaker at the last two are considered some of the greatest ever, ditto for his Mania X ladder match with Scott Hall. Score:10

Promos: Michael’s promos as a heel are a ten. He had the same skill for putting himself over as the best wrestler in the world that Ric Flair had. Honestly if he was only a heel he’d have a ten. However as a face Michaels lost his edge especially when he returned from retirement. Score: 8

Longevity: Michael’s career is intriguing as it has two distinct acts. The heart break kid started as a tag team wrestling and then infamously threw his partner Marty Jannety through the barbershop window. Michaels turned heel and was immediately turned into one of the top heels in the company. It took him 14 years to get into the mainevent picture and soon after he was injured and forced to retire. Then after a five year absence he returned and outworked everyone in the business again. In Michael’s career there was never a time where he wasn’t on the top of his game so in his case longevity has a different look, a high level of excellence for a long period of time. Score: 8

Role/Value: Michael’s value is an interesting question. Admittedly he was not a financial success; however when WWE was getting creamed on a weekly basis by WCW, Michaels was the WWE’s lifesaver churning out four and five star matches on consistent basis. Would the WWE have gone even further in the hole if it wasn’t for Michaels? Also Michaels served as the guy who could go out and tear the house down, every company needs that guy and no one did it better than Shawn. Score: 8

Total score 50

 

4.(tie) Undertaker

Drawing Power: If Taker has a weakness it’s here, he was never used as the centerpiece of the company. Quickly think to yourself of how many pay per views you bought soley because of the Undertaker? Taker has always been seen as a special attraction, a star to be sure but never thee star. Score: 6

Legacy: When he finally retires(and it’s probably sooner than later) The Undertaker will leave a legacy of consistency that the WWE has never seen, 20 years as one of the main stars of the company it’s unprecedented in the modern era. The Rock went to do movies, Stone Cold retired, Bret left for WCW and Shawn Michaels was hurt for five years before coming back.  During all this the Undertaker remained the one constant. Score: 10

Ring Work: Early on in his WWE career, the Undertaker was an average worker at best. He relied heavily on his uncanny ability for a big man, his matches passable.  Over the years he’s improved by leaps and bounds and is currently doing the best work of his career, with standout matches as the last three WrestleManias. Score: 8

Promos: In many ways the Undertaker is limited by his gimmick in this area, his boogie man voice can be a bit cheesy at times. However when he wants to turn up the intensity Taker can definitely cut a solid promo. Score: 7

Longevity: Two words, the streak. To go 19-0 and next year undoubtedly rack up his twentieth win at mania is nothing short of amazing.  The scariest thing is that despite injury and a reduced schedule the Undertaker can still put on a hell of a match, especially on the grandest stage of them all. Score: 10

Role/Value: To steal a line from good ole JR the Undertaker is the conscience of the WWE. Literally. Within the lock room there is something know as Undertaker court where wrestlers plead their side of disputes before the Undertaker and he settles them. Taker is an enforcer a diplomat, and a grizzled veteran willing to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.  He is  the most respected wrestler the WWE has ever seen. Score: 10

Total Score: 51

4.(tie) Macho Man Randy Savage

Drawing Power: Randy Savage wrestled in the WWE before bookers and fans alike obsessed with quarter hour breakdowns. He wrestled before monthly pay per views, an era where every house show was essentially a pay per view. What should be noted is the huge success of his teaming and subsequent feud with Hulk Hogan. It was one of the most profitable angles in WWE history  and it also made Savage one of the two people that were tapped to carry the ball while Hogan was still in the prime of his career. Score: 9

Legacy: Savage’s legacy is a complicated one. For decades he found himself at odds with Vince, many speculate as to the reason but no one knows for sure. Nevertheless he stands has Hogan’s greatest  foil as well as one of the most versatile wrestlers the industry has ever seen. Score: 8

Ringwork: The first thing that stood out to me about Savage was his athleticism, a legit professional baseball product, the Macho Man seem ed to physically be at another level. His elbow drop and top rope double ax handle were revolutionary for its time. Score: 9

Promos: Savage’s matches were always good, but nothing was more enjoyable than his promos. There were times he rambled, other times it was impossible to understand what he was talking about but it worked for him.  Then there was the voice, the most imitated in the history of the sport. Savage’s promos made you want to be him. Score: 9

Longevity: From 1985 to 1993 only Hogan’s star burned brighter. After being shelved and turned into a color commentator, Savage bolted for WCW where his career experienced a revival. Vince’s intention was to have Savage as a type of ambassador wrestling only sporadically to make room for future stars such as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Score: 7

Role/Value: Equally adept at playing a heel or a face in his prime Savage was a valuable asset. He was a solid second to Hogan’s flagship position. His feuds with the Million Dollar Man, Jake Roberts and Ultimate Warrior are legendary. He got the most out of every program he was ever put him into. In many ways Hogan brought people to the dance and Savage kept them coming back. Score: 9

Total Score:  51

4.(tie) Roddy Piper

Drawing Power: Intelligent fans often debate whether WrestleMania 1, Hulkamania and the WWE in general would have had the success it did without Roddy Piper. Every story needs a villain and Piper played the role to perfection. Unpredictable and explosive Piper actually garnered mainstream attention, helping to launch the Rock N wrestling connection. Score 8

Legacy: Somehow, someway the legacy of Roddy Piper has been over looked. Possible because a generation of fans has come that doesn’t know of the Rowdy Scots exploits. They never saw him smash a coconut over Superfly Jimmy Snuka’s head. They’ve never watched a Pipers Pit and sadly they’ve never seen a Piper promo. Roddy Piper was the first wrestler to successfully star in a movie not Hogan or Rock. Roddy Piper was the one who had a feud with Grammy award winner Cydni Lauper who vowed revenge on Piper at the Grammys. Can you imagine if the Miz was feuding with Lady Gaga and she called him out at the Grammys? That’s what Piper was doing. He was groundbreaking and way ahead of his time, the wrestling world will never have another Rowdy Piper. Score: 9

Ring work: I’ve always found Piper’s ringwork to be serviceable, not great, not awful. In his younger days he had classics with Ric Flair in the Mid Atlantic territory. However at that time the WWE did not place a premium on in ring work. Score: 7

Promos: The Hot Rod had this way of presenting himself as slightly unbalanced and very dangerous. He was like a can of soda that you just shook; he could explode at any moment. He used his voice as a tool, modulating it during his interviews, often gasping in the middle of his interviews to add effect to his anger. The man knew how to tell a story, and leave you on the edge of his seat every moment he spoke. Score: 10

Longevity: Piper’s run as the top heel in the company didn’t last that long, however the man has come back in almost every capacity imaginable. He’s been a manager, a commentator, host of Piper’s pit. McMahon seems to call Piper out of the bullpen from time to time and the result is always must see television. Score: 8

Role/Value: Piper’s value has always been overrated, earlier I asked the question if Hulkamania  or the WWE as we know it would would exist without Rowdy Piper. The answer is no, without Piper no WrestleMania, no Hogan, no 80’s boom. Score: 9

Total score: 51

 

3. Bruno Sammartino

Draw: Bruno appealed  to the Northeast’s Italian immigrant population, they saw themselves in him and they paid their hard earned dollars to see him wrestle. Bruno is known as the King of Madison Square Garden no act in history has ever sold out the garden more times. In that time a show at MSG was like headlining WrestleMania. Score: 10

Legacy: Another complex one.  Bruno is one of the biggest draws and most important wrestlers in the history of the WWE. He is the foundation on which the WWE is built, more so than even Hogan. Without Bruno, there’s no Hogan, no Austin, no Rock and certainly no Cena. That being said since he’s retired Bruno has been at odds with WWE owner Vince McMahon and professional wrestling in general. Everyone knows that Vince is difficult to deal with but Bruno has been reached out to on multiple occasions, even rejecting an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. Bruno has become a grumpy old man and in some respects tarnished his legacy. Score:  7

Ring work: It’s next to impossible to compare Bruno’s workrate to the stars of today. Wrestling was different, America was different,less fast paced and  people actual believed that wrestling was legit. From all accounts Bruno was a good worker, not on the level of a Lou Thez but a solid worker none the less. His matches were routinely recognized as match of the year candidates. On the down side the matches simply don’t translate in to this present era. Score: 8

Promos: Promos were rare in Bruno’s day; the best you’d get would be a thirty second comment before or after a match. For Bruno his mannerisms from the moment he came through the curtain were his promo. He had to make the audience believe he was a legit tough guy. Bruno drew solely because of his ability to make the audience believe that he was an athlete Score: 8

Longevity: Comparing Bruno’s run on top of the wrestling world to anyone else is futile. Bruno is the long reigning WWE champion ever holding on to the strap for seven and a half years. He followed that with a four year title reign. Bruno was wrestling’s top draw from 1963 to 1981. Amazing. Score: 10

Role/Value: Bruno sold out MSG 187 times. You tell me his value. Score: 10

Total Score: 53

 

2. The Rock

Drawing Power: Want to know how much the Rock moves the needle.  Over the past few years Wrestle Mania’s buy rate was plummeting. Add the Rock to the mix this year and the buy rate shoots back up over one million.  Not only that but in his prime the Rock appeared in the highest rated quarter hour segment in the history of the biz. Score:  10

Legacy: While it wasn’t one of the longest careers it is definitely one of the most impactful. There are few if any wrestling fans that don’t at least have the Rock in his top five. He leaves behind a legacy of unbelievable promos and charisma that is unmatched to this day. Score: 10

Ring work: No one will ever confuse the Rock with Shawn Michaels or Chris Benoit in terms of technical ability. However that was never the Rock’s goal, he set out to entertain, and that’s exactly what he did. Score: 8

Promos: In my opinion the only one that could touch the Rock on promos was Ric Flair in his prime. With his energy and the creativity the Rock set the standard for entertaining promos. He could be funny, intense, even vulgar, but he always had your attention. Score: 10(can I give someone an 11?)

Longevity: Somewhat like his rival Austin, the Rock’s career was cut short, instead of injury the allure of tinsel town drew the Rock in and he never looked back, until lately. The Rock says he will make sporadic appearances, and while that’s better than nothing, every wrestling fan worth his salt has wondered what could have been. Score: 6

Role/Value: I can’t tell you how many times; a casual wrestling fan has asked me when the Rock’s coming back.  Or they lament that he no longer wrestles and that they would watch if he was. The Rock’s impact cannot be limited; he is a bonafide movie star. During his active career he was the kind of wrestler that drew every demographic to the screen.  Simply put the Rock was money. Score: 10

Total Score 54

 

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin

Drawing Power: By all statistical measurements, no one put more butts in the seats or glued more eyes to the tube than Austin. He was the King of the Attitude era wrestling’s most lucrative period. Score: 10

Legacy: Very few people inside the industry have a bad word to say about Austin; from all accounts he was a joy to work with and had very little if any diva in him. His after wrestling transition has been refreshing.  Unlike many others he hasn’t wrestled into his late 40’s early 50’s thus leaving his fans with the best possible memories of the rattlesnake. Austin stands as the one guy during the number one era in wrestling history. Score: 10

Ring Work: Towards the end of his run as injuries caught up to him Austin became a one dimensional wrestler. Even at his worst Austin still knew how to tell a story in the ring and give a quality match. His battle with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 is considered one of the greatest in WrestleMania history. While his match with the Rock at Mania 17 is one of the most underrated matches in history.  Any fan would be hard pressed to say that they left an Austin match feeling like they didn’t get their money’s worth. Score:8

Promos: It’s hard to put Austin’s promo style into words  the best I can do is say that he was one pissed off redneck. The anger and intensity in Austin promos not only kept fans on the edge of their seats, but it made them want to pay money to see him kick ass. Score: 10

Longevity: Austin rose to the top quickly and burned brighter than anyone else in history.   In comparison to many others he wasn’t there long. Austin’s peak lasted roughly 7 years. Compare that to the Title reign of Bruno Sammartino (7 yrs) and you realize that as great as Austin was, he wasn’t great that long. Score: 7

Role/Value to the company: To this day Austin is still one of the biggest draws in WWE. His personality alone relaunched  WWE’s Tough Enough vehicle. In his prime Austin represented the very embodiment of male defiance. His feud with Vince McMahon is legendary; others have feuded with Vince but none as effectively. Austin was the perfect anti-establishment foil to the Chairman. Score: 10

Total Score: 55