Although the WWE is based in the United States and has largely been dominated by American superstars over the years, there is no question that foreign-born wrestlers have played a huge role in the success of the company.
In fact, some of the greatest superstars in WWE history were born outside the United States and exist as gold standards that the current crop of wrestlers aspires to equal. Whether they acted as hated, foreign heels or friendly imports from a faraway land, foreigners have always added a unique flavor to the WWE's product.
For the purpose of making things fair, Canadian wrestlers will not be considered for this list of the greatest foreign-born WWE superstars of all time. The WWE is American based, but Canada is as much a part of the company's history as the United States is and Canadians would certainly occupy this entire list if allowed. That's another list for another time.
Also, wrestlers whose gimmicks touted them as being from a foreign land won't be eligible if they weren't actually born there. For example, Yokozuna was billed as a Japanese sumo wrestler, but he was actually born in San Francisco. Additionally, loopholes such as Kane being born on a U.S. military base in Spain are disqualified from the list, so you won't be seeing The Big Red Monster.
With the ground rules clearly laid out, here are the 10 best foreign-born superstars in the long and illustrious history of the WWE.
The pride of Krakow, Poland, Ivan Putski was among the WWE's most popular wrestlers throughout the 1970's and in the early 1980's. The Eastern European strong man had an impressive physique and was known to many as "Polish Power." Putski wasn't an overly decorated superstar in the WWE, but he was beloved and battled many of the biggest heels in the company during his heyday.
Putski is a rare breed in any era of wrestling as he stood just 5'6", but is still one of the most impressive physical specimens in WWE history. It was pretty rare for such a small person to excel in wrestling at that time, but Putski managed to do it through hard work and determination. Putski had the look of an underdog due to his height, and that allowed the fans to get behind him, but he also had the tools necessary to compete with the top dogs in the business.
Putski's one and only WWE title was won in 1979 as he and Tito Santana beat The Valiants for the Tag Team Championships. That was the highlight of his career until he was part of the third WWE Hall of Fame class in 1995. Putski isn't a wrestler who a lot of today's younger fans are familiar with, but he definitely paved the way for future foreign wrestlers to have success in the WWE.
Since there have been so many great wrestlers to compete in the WWE over the years, it's only natural that some guys fly under the radar. One such superstar is Haku. Born on the archipelago of Tonga, Haku came to Canada in the early 1980's and began to make a name for himself as King Tonga before making the jump to the WWE in 1986.
Haku made an instant impact and formed a tag team known as The Islanders alongside Tama. He eventually became a singles competitor under the guidance of Bobby "The Brain" Heenan. After King Harley Race suffered an injury, Haku was named the new king of WWE and adopted that gimmick for a period of time. Haku's greatest success and notoriety came when he formed a team with Andre the Giant in 1989.
The Colossal Connection was one of the most physically-dominant tandems in WWE history and they went on to win the Tag Team Championships by defeating Demolition. Haku then went on to have a long and fruitful run in WCW as Meng before returning to the WWE briefly in 2001. During a different time period, Haku might have had a bit more success, but he is still viewed as one of the toughest men to ever grace the business and was an incredibly underrated in-ring worker.
Alberto Del Rio has been part of the WWE's main roster for a little over two years, but he has already managed to accomplish more than most foreign superstars over the course of WWE history. Del Rio already had a great resume and a huge fan following prior to coming to the WWE as he wrestled under the name Dos Caras, Jr. in Mexico. Del Rio is also the nephew of Mil Mascaras and that pedigree was a big reason for his immediate success.
Del Rio defeated Rey Mysterio in his first official WWE match and was instantly the top heel on SmackDown. Roughly five months into his WWE tenure, Del Rio won the 2011 Royal Rumble, which was the largest in history with 40 participants. He was unsuccessful in his World Heavyweight Championship bid, but he eventually won the Money in the Bank contract and cashed in on CM Punk to become WWE Champion. Del Rio lost the title to Cena, but regained it to become a two-time champion.
The Mexican Aristocrat scuffled after losing it again, but he recently turned face and has been an instant hit. Del Rio's face turn has gone so well that he defeated Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown. There are very few superstars in WWE history who have won both of the company's major titles, but Del Rio is one of them. I was careful not to rank him too highly since his WWE career is still in its infancy, but he could very well be at or near the top of this list in a few more years.
Sheamus is currently one of the most popular superstars in the entire WWE and his legend will only continue to grow as the years go on. Sheamus burst onto the scene in WWE in 2009 as a monster heel who ran through ECW. Known then as The Celtic Warrior, it didn't long for the Irish-born superstar to reach the pinnacle of professional wrestling.
Less than six months after his debut on the main roster, Sheamus defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship at TLC. Few believed that Sheamus had a chance to win, but his victory remains one of the most shocking in WWE history. Sheamus went on to win the WWE Championship once more as well as the United States Championship and King of the Ring as a heel. During the summer of 2011, however, Sheamus underwent a character change that saw him become a fan favorite.
As a face, Sheamus gained an incredible amount of support and went on a huge winning streak. He won the 2012 Royal Rumble and then defeated Daniel Bryan for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania in 18 seconds. Sheamus had a seven-month run with the belt before losing it to Big Show and is now a constant threat to win it back. Sheamus is also a great in-ring worker and he has an outgoing personality that will allow him to thrive in the WWE for a long time to come.
Although the bulk of Dynamite Kid's success in wrestling came in Canada and Japan, there is no question that he deserves a spot on this list. The native of Golborne, Lancashire, England debuted in the WWE in 1984 and was an instant hit. His high-flying style of wrestling wasn't often seen in the United States at that time and he was truly a trailblazer in terms of making that style of wrestling mainstream.
The vast majority of Dynamite's WWE tenure was spent as one half of the British Bulldogs alongside Davey Boy Smith. Dynamite provided the skillful, fast-paced action, while Smith served more as the power guy. Their skills complemented each other perfectly and that is what made them such an effective team. The Bulldogs feuded with many of the top tag teams of the time, including the Hart Foundation, and they almost always stole the show.
Kid and Smith went on to win the Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania II from The Dream Team and held them for nearly a year. Dynamite was injured at certain points throughout the reign and it resulted in them losing the belts to The Hart Foundation. Kid would leave the WWE in 1988 with injuries and backstage heat mounting. From a wrestling standpoint, there is no doubt that Dynamite is among the best ever, but his struggles to stay healthy prevented him from becoming even bigger in the United States.
Every fan has a list of guys that he believes should have been WWE Champion at some point, but one superstar who seems to appear on those lists more than most is William Regal. The veteran billed from Blackpool, England has done and seen it all in the wrestling business, and although he does still mix it up on occasion, his best chance to win a world title in the WWE has unfortunately come and gone.
With that said, Regal still managed to have an incredible career in WWE and in WCW as well. Despite a world title win being absent from Regal's resume, he has worn plenty of gold over the years. Regal is a four-time Tag Team Champion, four-time European Champion, two-time Intercontinental Champion, five-time Hardcore Champion and he won the King of the Ring in 2008. Regal was always a safe guy to put a title on because he constantly performed well in the ring and could cut a great promo as well.
Most thought Regal might be in line for a world title run after winning the King of the Ring, but a wellness policy violation forced him to miss two months and curtailed his push. Regal continued to compete, but that essentially marked the end of his WWE run in terms of being a contender near the top. It's definitely unfortunate that he never quite broke through, but Regal still managed to accomplish more than most in the WWE.
Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka is the only wrestler on this list who never held a title in the WWE, but that doesn't diminish his accomplishments in the least. Born on the island of Fiji, Snuka was one of the most exotic superstars to ever set foot in a WWE ring and that alone helped him engage the audience. Snuka was initially involved in bodybuilding, but he started wrestling for the NWA and eventually made the leap to the WWE in 1982.
Snuka started as a heel and was thrust into the spotlight immediately as he feuded with WWE Champion Bob Backlund, but the crowd reaction was so strong in his favor that he became a face. Snuka's most memorable moment came in 1983 as he began to feud with Intercontinental Champion "Magnificent" Don Muraco. They wrestled a number of steel cage matches against each other with the most famous coming at Madison Square Garden. Snuka performed his signature Superfly Splash from the top of the cage, and although he didn't win, he earned the respect and adulation of the fans.
Snuka was also part of a famous Piper's Pit segment during which "Rowdy" Roddy Piper hit him in the head with a coconut. Snuka left the WWE a year later, but he resurfaced in 1989. Although he was no longer a featured player, he did add one more major accomplishment to his list as he was The Undertaker's first WrestleMania opponent at WrestleMania VII. Even without any titles to his credit, Snuka's body of work is nearly unmatched.
In terms of longevity, The British Bulldog dwarfs pretty much everyone else on this list. The Golborne, Lancashire, England native began working for the WWE in 1984, and while there were a few interruptions in between, his final year with the company was 2000. Davey Boy Smith had all the talent in the world and was one of the finest physical specimens in WWE history, and that led to a very impressive career.
Smith's first WWE run was from 1984 through 1988 and it featured him teaming with fellow Brit Dynamite Kid. As The British Bulldogs they won the WWE Tag Team Championships once and were one of the most dominant teams of the era. Davey Boy left for a couple years, but he returned in 1990 as a singles competitor. His crowning achievement came at SummerSlam in 1992 as he challenged his brother-in-law, Bret Hart, for the Intercontinental Championship at Wembley Stadium in front of his countrymen.
The Bulldog won the IC title and became one of the most popular stars in the company, but human growth hormone allegations caused him to depart the company. He returned once again in 1994 and he went on to become Tag Team Champion once again alongside Owen Hart as well as the first ever European Champion. Smith never quite reached world title status and he unfortunately passed away in 2002, but his career is certainly one worth remembering.
Because of his wild antics and penchant for saying whatever is on his mind, it's easy to forget just how successful The Iron Sheik was as a wrestler. Sheik was originally a Greco-Roman wrestler and he even competed in the 1968 Olympics for his native Iran. The Iron Sheik eventually transitioned to professional wrestling, though, and he was first seen in the WWE in 1979. He was an instant top heel as he feuded with the likes of Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino.
Sheik's first WWE run was short-lived, but he resurfaced once again in 1983. He was once again thrust into a feud with Backlund, but this time he defeated him for the WWE Championship. The Iron Sheik put Backlund in his signature Camel Clutch and Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel to protect his wrestler. The Iron Sheik was ultimately a transitional champion as he dropped the belt to Hulk Hogan a month later, but he was unarguably the most important transitional champion of all time.
Life after the WWE Championship was still good for The Iron Sheik as he had a memorable feud with Sgt. Slaughter and became a Tag Team Champion with Nikolai Volkoff. Sheik left the WWE in 1988, but returned in 1991 as Col. Mustafa. Despite the fact that he was Iranian, he aligned himself with Slaughter who had become an Iraqi sympathizer. It certainly wasn't the highlight of Sheik's career, but it proved that he was one of the biggest heels in wrestling history.
Not only is Andre the Giant unquestionably the greatest foreign superstar in WWE history, but he is one of the greatest attractions to ever step foot in a wrestling ring. Born in Molien, France and billed from Grenoble in the French Alps, Andre the Giant was a truly unique performer. At 7'4" and as much as 540 lbs., fans would fill up arenas across the world in order to catch a glimpse of him, so it's no surprise that the WWE absolutely had to have him.
Andre began wrestling in France, but he came to America and wrestled for the WWE starting in 1973. He routinely sold out Madison Square Garden and was the most popular man in wrestling throughout the 1970's and early 1980's. Hulk Hogan's emergence as a face in the 1980's prompted Andre to turn heel, but he was equally effective in that role. He lost much of the impressive athleticism he had in his earlier days when he began feuding with Hogan, but he was a natural rival and played his role perfectly.
Prior to WrestleMania III, it was said that Andre hadn't lost a match in 15 years, so his showdown with Hogan was absolutely huge. Hogan won the match, but it is still considered one of the most anticipated bouts in wrestling history. Andre went on to beat Hogan for the WWE Championship in a rematch, although it was found that Ted DiBiase paid off the referee. Even so, Andre's brief title run counts in the record books.
Because of his immense size, it was clear that Andre was operating on borrowed time. He appeared from time to time in the WWE throughout 1991 and sadly passed away in 1993. Andre may not have had a long life, but his contributions to professional wrestling were immeasurable.