WWE is a company that survives and thrives on the backs of the men and women who perform in the ring. From Hulk Hogan to Stone Cold Steve Austin, from Shawn Michaels to The Undertaker, WWE has featured some true greats who built a solid foundation for the company that we know today.
From the time that Vince McMahon took WWE to the worldwide stage, they have succeeded because of the Superstars who have made a lasting impact with both their words and their actions. These are the workers who made WWE a must watch company and changed it forever.
Many Superstars have come and gone, but the following list contains 10 of the best, talents that I feel made a true lasting impact. But, it is not an "all time" list, as it is directed more at the 1980's through the present day. Because of that, it may not actually be considered a "top 10" for some out there.
So while this may not be a definitive list for every fan, it certainly contains the names of some long time favorites and perhaps even a few that you may not expect.
Again, this is about Superstars whose work made a lasting impact, an impact that is still being felt today.
Enough talking, let's do this.
With one moment, CM Punk changed WWE. It was not the first time that a WWE Superstar cut a heartfelt, realistic promo. And it was not the first time that fans connected to a guy in a very believable, very spontaneous moment.
But there was something about that night in June of 2011 when Punk sat crossed legged on the ramp and spoke. On that night CM Punk tore down the veil and gave the audience something that quite frankly we do not always get.
He gave us the truth.
Punk was upset. He was frustrated. He was tired of not getting his just due for the hard work he was putting in to the company and he was ready to call it a day.
So when he decided to air his grievances on live TV, Punk did not necessarily have the ultimate goal of becoming the biggest Superstar in WWE. But that is exactly what happened.
The fans just felt everything he said that night and from that moment on he was must see TV for WWE.
But it was not just Punk's ability to entertain on the mic that drew fans to him, it was what he could do in the ring that makes him the complete package. And with a guy like Punk who is a wrestler first, the focus on the ring action came like never before.
Fans were reminded of just how good Vince McMahon's company could be when it is firing on all cylinders, when the technical side of WWE is on display. Punk turned in arguably the best work of his career and because he is not the typical musclebound Superstar, he opened the door for others to be spotlighted.
Daniel Bryan has a great spot in the company. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are riding high in The Shield. For me, Punk is the man who opened the door for the independent wrestler who may not look the part, to succeed in WWE.
Love him or hate him, there is no denying that CM Punk has made a definite impact in WWE.
Trish Stratus was not the first woman to lace up a pair of boots in Vince McMahon's company. And, she was not the first woman to appear on TV in a WWE ring.
But there are two versions of the Divas division-before Trish and after Trish. That's how good she was.
It is a testament to just how talented she was and more importantly, how much of an impact she made, that Stratus is still being talked about to this day. Her run as the top female in WWE came during a time that was just right for the company.
There was room for talented women, the desire to feature them and a willingness among fans to not only watch the matches but to become invested in them. The Divas of Trish's period were the best that the company has ever known and Stratus was the queen of the mountain.
She raised the bar, redefined the role of the woman as champion in the industry and wore the belt with pride. She brought respect to the championship and helped bring credibility to the division.
Every Diva who followed her has likely had to hear the comparison in some fashion. And they likely always will.
January 14 1999 marked the beginning of the end for WCW, who foolishly decided to give away the results of Raw live on the air.
Fans turned the channel to see the moment that Mick Foley was crowned the new WWE champion, forever changing Vince McMahon's company. And to think that Foley was at the center of it all.
When fans looked at Mick, they saw a brawler. The saw a tough as nails competitor, an insane Superstar with multiple personality disorder and a crazy death wish. They likely did not see a WWE champion.
But Foley's title win not only changed the course of history for WWE, it also forever changed the idea of a what a champion should look like. For the first time, the door was wide open for the possibility of someone who did not look like the typical WWE Superstar to succeed on the main event level.
Foley was given the nod because it was different, because he was red hot at the time and because he had put his body on the line for so long in the company. He proved that hard work paid off, that the mold can be broken and that anyone can have a chance if they have what it takes.
His runs as WWE champion and his hardcore career are still being talked about. His ability to get into character and death defying fall from the Hell in a Cell are the stuff of legend. And, he was forever immortalized in the WWE Hall of Fame. Mick Foley has done it all.
And he changed the company along the way.
I recently did a list of the current toughest acts to follow in WWE. For an all time list, The Hardy Boyz would be in the top 5.
Matt and Jeff brought such incredible energy, intensity and inventiveness to the company that fans could not help but fall in love with them. They were daredevils, risk takers and did everything in their power to impress when they entered the company.
And they continued doing just that through their entire careers.
There was no cage too high, no ladder too unstable, no table too hard, for them to leap, climb and crash their way into the WWE. They looked at the impossible and made it possible. The Hardy Boyz were a video game come to life—they did things that fans had not seen before and they did it like nobody else ever could.
Matt and Jeff, along with The Dudleys, Edge and Christian, redefined the tag team division in WWE. They made tag team wrestling must see TV once again and they entertained fans every step of the way.
Much like Trish Stratus with the Divas, the tag team division has never quite been the same since Matt and Jeff's heyday ended. They raised the bar to near impossible heights and set the tone for young, dynamic, exciting tag team combinations who want to impress in WWE.
The Hardyz were the measuring stick for those tag teams that followed. And I believe they still are.
Rocky Maivia was going nowhere fast in WWE. His smile, his youthful energy, his willingness to please fans, all of it was done to make the crowd happy.
And all it did was make them want to puke.
But the moment that Rocky became The Rock, his whole world changed; and so did WWE.
Suddenly, fans could not get enough of the People's Champion. When he spoke, he held the audience in the palm of his hand, captivating them like few other Superstars ever could. Rocky took the art of the promo to a whole new level, engaging the crowd and making them feel like they were important, that what they wanted truly meant something.
He also had no censor on him, not then and not now.
The Rock says what he wants, when he wants and fans love him for that. His mic work, his career main event matches, set on him a different level than anyone else and for so many of his fans, there is one simple truth; he can never be duplicated.
The Rock forever changed WWE due to the kind of talent that he was and for his ability to reach into the crowd and make a connection that just cannot be made by anyone else.
Guys are still trying to have that "epic" promo. The Rock made a career of it.
Standing 7'4" and weighing over 500 pounds, Andre the Giant was a main event attraction all around the world. Fans flocked to arenas to see him perform and were absolutely stunned at his immense size. But they were also impressed by his attitude and personality.
Andre was a gentle giant, a babyface for fans of all ages. Kids loved him and looked up to him. He was the embodiment of what a good guy is supposed to be and he is a legend in WWE.
Vince McMahon saw Andre's potential to be a draw and capitalized on the giant's size to sell tickets and increase interest in his company. As a result, Andre was one of the first WWE Superstars to transcend the business and is still remembered as a pop culture icon, thanks in large part to his role in The Princess Bride.
Andre proved that not all pro wrestlers were big, scary and unapproachable. He was loved by so many fans who may have been intimidated by his size but once they met him, understood that behind the character was a real person. Andre represented the best of what the industry had to offer and he will never be forgotten.
He forever changed WWE because he brought more spotlight onto the product and helped create the entertainment environment that McMahon had always wanted. His impact will be felt for generations to come.
The Showstopper. Mr. WrestleMania. These two nicknames alone tell you all you need to know about Shawn Michaels. Why?
Because to Shawn they were not just nicknames. He took them very seriously.
For a kid who idolized Ric Flair, to headline in WWE was definitely a "boyhood dream come true." But Shawn's rise to stardom was not just the result of slick video packaging and hype by the WWE machine. He earned his place through hard work and dedication to his craft.
It was that dedication that put him head and shoulders above so many others during the Attitude Era and it was the same dedication that makes him a legend in the industry. Even when many of his contemporaries doubted his motivations and questioned just how deep his backstage stroke with Vince McMahon actually was, no one could question his talent and heart for the business.
Shawn brought a whole new level of respect to the WWE product with his work ethic and the skill that he showed in the ring. So many of Shawn's matches are considered classics and thanks to what he contributed to WWE and to fans, he left a lasting imprint that can never be erased.
Shawn Michaels redefined the role of the working WWE champion and brought a new level of respect to the title that some fans feel has never been topped.
Oh and Shawn is also the Icon. Almost forgot that one.
Vince McMahon has always had a taste for the theatrical.
As a result of that, WWE was always a bit over the top in its presentation, more so than any of the territories were during the 1980's. Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, all of them were larger than life characters cast into very dramatic, sometimes bizarre storylines.
But then The Undertaker debuted in 1990 and "theatrical" took on a whole new meaning.
Taker was a zombie, an undead phenomenon who took the industry by storm. He shattered any preconceived notions that fans outside WWE may have had about McMahon's company with his intensity and his commitment to his character.
Fans may have understood that it was all just part of the show, but when Taker gave that stare and followed the urn that Paul Bearer carried down to the ring, they believed. It was almost impossible not to.
Undertaker brought a whole new level of entertainment to WWE. He took a Hollywood horror movie concept and brought it to life, opening up a world of possibilities for the company. He took that same character and reinvented himself a few times over the years, but the core theatrical edge still remains and is still as powerful today as it was when he first debuted 23 years ago.
Undertaker is an original who will never be duplicated but whose influence will always be felt in WWE.
Hulk Hogan was just another big, bleached blond heel who was breaking rules in Verne Gagne's AWA. But when Vince McMahon brought him to WWE, Hogan became the face of professional wrestling.
He brought WWE higher than anyone had ever expected and gave McMahon the mainstream media crossover that he had always wanted. Hogan became more than just a WWE Superstar, he became a pop culture phenomenon.
His iconic look and larger than life personality made him a star and made WWE a company to take a second look at. People who had never watched pro wrestling were drawn to Hogan and could not get enough of his superhero image. Hogan was a trendsetter and gave fans something to believe in.
Without Hogan's ability to play his character to the hilt and Vince's promotional machine working to get him over, WWE would certainly not have become the worldwide powerhouse that it did.
Hulk Hogan was exactly what Vince needed to transform his father's regional promotion into a pro wrestling empire. Hogan was the catalyst that brought pro wrestling into the mainstream and WWE never looked back.
Hogan put WWE on the map for the rest of the world and they are still watching to this day.
Hulk Hogan may have been the driving force behind the initial growth of WWE, but Stone Cold Steve Austin was the rebirth.
Much like Hogan before him, Austin came along at exactly the right time for WWE. The company was ready for someone to come in, to reinvigorate them from top to bottom. He brought a new wave of excitement, of merchandise sales and a new spotlight the likes of which had not been seen for years.
He also brought fans by the truckload.
Basically, if you were a working class man who wanted to step out of your everyday routine and beat down anyone who ticked you off, including your boss, then you had the opportunity to live vicariously through Steve Austin. It was this audience, the kind that typically loved pro wrestling, that Austin brought to WWE. He was must see television for every wrestling fan and he was the epitome of what attitude was all about.
How much of an impact did Stone Cold make in WWE? To this day, fans continue to debate about what the company should be doing and what era they would love to see make a comeback-and it's not the 1980's era of Hulk Hogan.
Stone Cold made WWE cool again and helped put them far ahead of WCW, the only outside threat that Vince McMahon had ever faced since his company had went global. Austin may have had help from other popular Superstars of the era but they arguably could not have done it without him.
Steve Austin drew more money and brought more ratings than anyone could have dreamed possible. He was the reason WWE survived the Monday Night Wars and he is the reason that they experienced such incredible growth. Without Steve Austin, WWE may have died when it was still the WWF.
Stone Cold Steve Austin forever impacted WWE. And that's the bottom line.