Brock Lesnar and the Best Former Amateur Wrestlers in WWE History
Brock Lesnar went from dominating the wrestlers in the Big Ten to slapping a Brock Lock on the WWE's best.
There is no sport where the amateur and pro variation is so many worlds apart. Still, many college wrestlers have gone on to trade their singlets for tights, their headgear for blading scars.
Being a great wrestler in college doesn't guarantee one success in the world of chair shots and foreign objects. Nor does a lack of experience on an amateur mat prevent one from greatness in WWE.
These 20 men found success in both worlds.
The list includes a Wolverine, Golden Gophers, Sooners and a pair of Cornhuskers.
One has to wonder who the next Brock-like monster will be. Is he wrestling right now, grinding someone's headgear into the mat?
20. Larry Hennig
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The former AWA star and patriarch of the Hennig mini-dynasty, Larry "The Axe" Hennig would spend much of the '60s and '70s smashing people in the mouth to the delight of the crowd.
Before all the tag team titles and in-ring feuds, Hennig was an accomplished amateur wrestler at the high school level.
He won the Minnesota State High School Heavyweight Championship in 1954.
The skills born from the amateur version of wrestling weren't quite as obvious with his power-centered style, but it certainly showed in his son, Curt.
Curt Hennig became one of the crispest and most precise technical wrestlers we've ever seen.
19. Ric Flair
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One of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time cultivated his ring skills first on a wrestling mat in his high school.
Flair attended Wayland Academy in Wisconsin, where it's unlikely he used the figure-four to win two private school wrestling championships.
A natural athlete, Flair was also recruited to the University of Minnesota on a football scholarship.
Had Flair not dropped out, had he decided to wrestle and play football for the Golden Gophers, who knows what the pro wrestling world would look like.
Flair was a fine amateur wrestler, but his explosive charisma and engrossing talent on a microphone paired with his grappling skills to create one of the biggest and most influential legends of the squared circle.
18. Rick Steiner
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Teaming with his brother Scott, Rick Steiner wore a collegiate-style singlet and headgear.
These weren't items borrowed from the prop closet.
Rick Steiner was an excellent wrestler in college.
Wrestling for the University of Michigan Wolverines, Steiner placed second at the Big Ten Championships in 1983.
He compiled a record of 125-51-2 at Michigan. During one of those matches, he established the school record for the fastest pin at 15 seconds.
17. Gorilla Monsoon
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To one generation, Gorilla Monsoon was Bobby Heenan's long-time broadcast partner. Another remembers him as a giant wrestler who battled Andre the Giant and Bruno Sammartino.
Still an older generation remembers Gorilla as a college wrestling great.
Monsoon (real name Robert Marella) earned a spot in the Ithaca College Athletic Hall of Fame and made his name on wrestling history with a then-record 18-second pin.
In 1959, Monsoon took second place at the NCAA Wrestling Championships.
16. Mr. Saito
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Mr. Fuji's former tag partner wrestled for Japan in the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
By the time Mr. Saito wore WWE gold, he had wrestled for the NWA for about two decades, where he fought the Brisco brothers and Pedro Morales, among others.
As an amateur, his powerful build helped him overcome his opponents.
His college career certainly prepared him for grappling in the pros, but not for the wacky world he was entering. Saito famously wrestled Antonio Inoki on a deserted island.
15. Mike DiBiase
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"Iron" Mike DiBiase went on to collect a number of championships in the NWA and AWA in the '50s and '60s.
His mat skills were refined in the world of amateur wrestling.
While representing the Navy, DiBiase won the AAU championship in 1946. He then attended the University of Nebraska, where he didn't have quite as much success.
DiBiase lost in the the opening round of both the '47 and '48 NCAA tournament.
Toughness earned DiBiase the "Iron" nickname, something he showed throughout his college career.
14. Bret Hart
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There may not have been a wrestler who executed his moves as flawlessly as Bret Hart.
A fantastic technical wrestler, Bret didn't just do suplexes and counters well, he made every wrestling move mean so much, turning every match into a story that had fans glued to the TV.
Some of that skill can be attributed to the genes his father, Stu, passed onto him, some of it to the training he received in the Hart Family Dungeon and of course, his experience as an amateur played its part as well.
The Hitman won a city championship in Calgary in 1974 and became the Mount Royal Collegiate Champion in '77.
Had he poured the same amount of dedication into the amateur game that he did the pro ranks, he may very well have medaled in the Olympics.
13. Gerald Brisco
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His older brother was a better pro and a better amateur, but Gerald Brisco was a fine amateur wrestler himself.
Winning two AAU tournaments caught the attention of Oklahoma State. The school awarded the younger Brisco a wrestling scholarship.
He eventually dropped out of college after succumbing to the call of the pros.
Would Gerald have surpassed his brother's success in the amateur ranks? Jack was stronger and a better athlete.
His was a shadow Gerald could never step out of.
12. "Dr. Death" Steve Williams
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Steve Williams is the first of two Oklahoma Sooners to appear on this list.
Dr. Death was one of the toughest men ever to step into a ring. It's no surprise that in addition to wrestling for Oklahoma, he also played on the offensive line for Barry Switzer.
It was during his amateur days that he earned the "Dr. Death" nickname when he was forced to wear a protective mask and chose a hockey goalie mask.
He never won a national championship, coming closest in '82, placing second. Still, the future powerslam specialist was named an All-American every year of his college career.
11. Jack Swagger
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This is the only list where Jack Swagger ranks above Ric Flair and Bret Hart.
His nickname of "the All-American American" is kind of silly, but it comes from the truth.
As an Oklahoma Sooner, Swagger was an All-American in wrestling, setting the record for most pins in a season with 30.
His WWE career has been up and down.
Whlie wrestling for Oklahoma, he wasn't asked to display charisma or hold an audience's attention with his words, he was allowed to do the suplexes and takedowns he does so well.
10. Shelton Benjamin
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Shelton Benjamin's phenomenal athleticism propelled him to a WWE career that always seemed poised on blossoming into all-time greatness.
A lack of mic skills and support from the fans held him back.
As an amateur, he didn't have to worry about any of that. He just wrestled.
In high school, Benjamin compiled a 122-10 record, as well as winning the South Carolina state high school championship twice.
Benjamin began his college career at Lassen Community College, where he became a Junior College national champ. He later transferred to the University of Minnesota and earned All-American status twice.
9. Bob Backlund
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Perhaps the most vanilla WWE Champion ever, Bob Backlund was always an excellent technical wrestler.
He wrestled at North Dakota State University, where he was awarded All-American honors twice. He initially played both football and wrestled at the university, but soon realized where his real talents lie.
He went on to win the Division II NCAA Championship in 1971.
Though I doubt Backlund's opponents had to suffer through any crossface chicken-wings, they most certainly encountered a tireless, tough adversary every time out.
8. Jack Brisco
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The former NWA World Heavyweight Champion spent much of the '70s involved with compelling battles with Dory Funk Jr. and legends like Giant Baba and Jerry Lawler.
Before he started slapping the sleeper hold on people, though, Jack Brisco was the NCAA wrestling national champ in '65.
His record at Oklahoma State is an amazing 27-1-1.
Possessing that much natural wrestling ability, it's no wonder Brisco was an immediate star in the pro ranks.
7. Mad Dog Vachon
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In his often brutal matches, Mad Dog Vachon brawled, bit and piledrived his way to a number of championships in the NWA and AWA.
We'll have to assume that he didn't use the same tactics during his amateur career.
As a young man, he made a name for himself in Canada as a tenacious grappler.
Vachon wrestled in the 1948 Olympics at only 18 years old and also won gold at the 1950 British Empire Games.
6. Dolph Ziggler
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The Show Off had plenty to brag about during his amateur wrestling career.
Ziggler holds the St. Edward High School record for most career pins with 92. He wrestled collegiately at Kent State.
Three times he was the All-Mid-American Conference champion and is second all-time in Kent State career victories.
Watching him wrestle today, smooth and natural, it's no wonder he came from an amateur background.
His charisma and fantastic selling ability would help make him a great WWE superstar alone, but his amateur wrestling skills have him poised to be the next megastar.
5. Mr. Wrestling
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Before he was Mr. Wrestling, he was George Woodin. Before he amassed a collection of championship titles in various territories, he was a decorated amateur wrestler.
Woodin wrestled at Michigan State, where he won the Big Ten Conference Championship in both 1958 and 1959.
In addition, he won the Amateur Athletic Union twice as well.
The former All-American went on to a successful pro career, but like the men riding with him, his life was changed dramatically when he survived the famous '75 plane crash where Ric Flair broke his back.
4. Brock Lesnar
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Brock Lesnar has won championships at the college level, with WWE and during his MMA career.
While not quite the behemoth he is today, Lesnar was still an intimidating presence.
He first attended Bismark State College before wrestling for the University of Minnesota.
His NCAA career list of achievements is a long one.
Lesnar was the Big Ten Conference champ twice, an All-American at the junior college level for his first two years and an All-American twice during his time at Minnesota.
He won the NJCAA Heavyweight Championship in '98 and the NCAA heavyweight title in 2000.
WWE saw him power through his competition with ferocity and knew they had to sign "the Next Big Thing."
3. Bobby Lashley
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An amazing athlete, Bobby Lashley is as quick as he is strong.
Considered by many to be a flash in the pan with the WWE, he was far more successful as a college amateur.
After a high school wrestling career where he won a state championship, Lashley captured a litany of medals and championships.
At Missouri Valley College, he won three national championships. He was also named Collegiate Wrestler of the Year in 1998 by the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association.
His dominance continued as he wrestled in the military.
Lashley tacked on a gold and two silver medals at various Armed Forces events onto his resume.
2. Baron Von Raschke
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Wrestling fans in the '70s and '80s saw the villainous German, Baron Von Raschke clamp the claw on his opponents and goosestep around the ring.
As plain old Jim Raschke, he was quite the accomplished amateur wrestler at the University of Nebraska.
His long, robust resume includes a high school championship, a Big Eight conference title, a bronze medal from the 1963 World Games and two Amateur Athletic Union championships.
Seeing him as the Baron, a predatory, plodding heel, it's hard to imagine him in a singlet grappling his way to accolades. But he was a phenomenal amateur who also had a flair for the spectacle of the pro game.
1. Kurt Angle
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Kurt Angle's Olympic hero gimmick was no mere gimmick. He was as equally great as an amateur as he is a pro.
His Olympic gold medal from the '96 Games is enough to land Angle the top spot on this list, but he had a fruitful amateur wrestling career beyond that.
He went undefeated in his freshman year of high school and won the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Championship as a senior.
At the Clarion University of Pennsylvania, he twice won the NCAA Division I championship and garnered All-American honors three times.
Those medals he wore around his neck during his WWE weren't real, but did earn some very real ones.
Besides the well-documented gold medal from 1996, Angle also took home gold in the '95 World Championships and a bronze and a silver at two different wrestling World Cups.
From the fluidity of his moves in the ring, to his devastating suplexes, his amateur skills helped elevate many of his matches to classic status.
WWE and TNA have both been lucky to have such an incredible wrestler in their ranks.