WWE Proclamation: 30 Wrestlers That Changed the Course of History
You do the best you can every day. It may be on a different level, but it’s still the best you can. After that, you can’t worry about it. You’ve got to let go. After you’ve done the best you can, there is nothing more you can do. - Vince McMahon for Raw Magazine 2001
One moment can make a person into a legend. In the wrestling business, one move can turn a backstage nobody into a household name. For the example of one man, a 30-foot fall created a legacy that will live in fame.
Wrestling has been running since the 1850s, when it became the one of the main attractions at the circus.
Through the days of the carnies and into today's society, wrestling has changed tenfold. It's almost unidentifiable. If Ali Baba were to watch WWE Raw, it would not be the same show he was accustomed to, all of those years ago.
Not to say change is a bad thing, because it is a necessary part of life. Change is everywhere and professional wrestling, between each trial and tribulation crossed in its storied history, evolves with the times.
As we evolve as people, so does everything around us. The human brain attempts to adapt to its surroundings and bring out the best emotion that correlates with the situation. Why am I giving you a lesson about the human brain and basic evolution?
Because wrestling has changed and evolved with the people who support it. With that change, wrestlers and people have made the sport successful and made an imperative mark on society.
It's hard to imagine a world without WWE bragging about its newest app or the latest Tout made by WWE Superstar Sheamus.
The lives of many in the wrestling community have impacted the lives of many fans. For that reason and many more, I'm here today to celebrate my 100th article on Bleacher Report. It has been one of the best experiences of my life and as writer, I'm only as successful as the people who read.
Throughout this slideshow, I'll be looking back in history to break down the 30 wrestlers who I felt have had a share in changing the history of professional wrestling. Each one I feel impacted the business enough to make this list.
A great way to begin this article is with the man who helped begin pro wrestling...
Martin "Farmer" Burns
Burns was born on February 15, 1861 in a log cabin in Cedar Point, Iowa. As a farmer growing up, he wrestled his first match when he was only eight years old. The objective was to toss an older/rival child for the prize of 15 cents; and he did.
He had already gained a reputation for being one of the toughest around, and when he turned 19, David Grafft took on the Farmer, only to wrestle to a two hour and 15 minute draw.
Burns only weighed 165 pounds, but on a regular basis defeated men who outweighed him by 50-100 pounds. During that time, freestyle wrestling often had no time limit. The match was decided when a wrestler threw his opponent to the ground.
During his period of success, he became the master of the pinfall, while performing moves such as the full and half-nelson, hammerlock, double-wrist lock, chicken wing and more submission toe holds. Burns claims to have wrestled over 6,000 matches, only to lose seven of them.
In 1914, Burns wrote a 96-page course, by mail, called The Lessons in Wrestling and Physical Culture, which incorporated breathing techniques, stamina exercises and Eastern world martial arts practices. Lessons turned into the "Bible" for all aspiring wrestlers during the early 1900s.
At the end of his career, he opened a gym in Rock Island, Illinois in 1893 to aide young amateur grapplers in the world of catch wrestling. It is said he trained 1,600 wrestlers in all.
Six years later, he defeated a 21-year-old man from Iowa and decided to train the man after witnessing his skill and promise.
That man turned out to be the next wrestler on this list...
Gotch, who trained under Martin Burns, quickly became one of the most popular athletes in the early 1900s. He is widely considered the greatest wrestling champion of all time. The likes of Georg Hackenschmidt and Burns crossed the path of this American wrestling hero.
During his time, it was all about championship prize fights, which was very similar to the UFC booking style we see today. The promoters advertised each fight prior to its beginning. Despite men like Burns and Ed Lewis, who wrestled in over 6,000 matches, Gotch was down for only 160 matches.
He won 154 of those bouts and lost six, one to Dan McLeod and one to Burns, while the other three losses were to the former American Heavyweight Champion Tom Jenkins.
Gotch's popularity came from his matches with legend Hackenschmidt, who is quoted in Mike Champan's book Frank Gotch: World Greatest Wrestler:
He is the king of the class, the greatest man by far I ever met. After going nearly two hours with him, my muscles became stale. My feet also gave out. I had trained constantly against the toe hold and had strained the muscles of my legs. When I found myself weakening, I knew there was no use continuing and that I had no chance to win. That was the reason I conceded the championship to him. I have no desire to wrestle him again. A return match would not win back my title.
The American champion won on both occasions, once on April 3, 1908 at Dexter Park Pavilion in Chicago and three years later at the newly built Comiskey Park on September 4, 1911.
Gotch retired in 1913 as one of the longest title holders in wrestling history, behind Bruno Sammartino, who we'll get to later. The next man on this list got his nickname from Evan Lewis, but eventually he was known as the Strangler.
Ed "the Strangler" Lewis
Best known for his work with the Gold Dust Trio, Ed "the Strangler" Lewis did not create his own nickname. His idol, Evan "the Strangler" Lewis, was the main reason for his rise through wrestling and, of course, the name attached itself (via The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling on A&E):
He was dubbed the Strangler after a match in France where he applied a sleeper hold, and the French, who were unfamiliar with the hold, thought he was strangling his opponent.
Lewis made his biggest impact with the trio as he, Toots Mondt and Billy Sandow formed the Gold Dust Trio, a traveling road show that was the precursor for wrestling tours and created the undercards instead of just one big match.
The trio helped innovate storylines, which was a first at that time, and worked feuds for the wrestlers to entertain the masses.
As a wrestler, however, nothing could do justice to his skill except for the quotes by Lou Thesz and Verne Gagne, when they noted, "Ed Lewis was the greatest wrestler ever and he could only be beaten when he allowed himself to be beat to further a work angle."
He captured his first championship on December 13, 1920 and didn't look back. In his illustrious career, he was a two-time AWA (American Wrestling Association) champion, a four-time world heavyweight champion and a part of the 2002 class of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
To follow Lewis on this list is no easy task, but doing so is a man who gave the Strangler great credit. That man is Lou Thesz.
The originator of the Thesz Press, Lou Thesz debuted on the wrestling scene in 1932 and began one of the most legendary careers in professional wrestling history. He was a pioneer of his time in the wrestling industry and rightfully so, as he innovated the wrestling world with moves not seen before, many of which are still used in the modern wrestling era.
He invented the German suplex, STF, Thesz Press and the original powerbomb. Ed "the Strangler" Lewis, who trained Thesz, taught him the art of "hooking," or the application of stretching the opponent in painful holds.
The Hall of Famer was a multi-time champion in many organizations, none more famous than the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) after its inception in 1948. He was their inaugural champion. His reign lasted for nine years.
After his wrestling career ended in 1979, he went on to become a color commentator, manager, promoter and referee of the sport he helped mold and evolve over his active years.
Today, he is the only male wrestler to have competed in seven different decades.
Thesz was a pioneer of modern wrestling, and this next gentlemen helped bring a new form of wrestling to the world early in the 1950s. His name is Bull Curry.
While Thesz and many others were adapting the world to freestyle wrestling, Bull Curry was the originator of hardcore wrestling—not Abdullah the Butcher or Terry Funk. The Wildman started and innovated hardcore wrestling beginning in the 1950s.
Instead of letting Bull win the top title with the Texas territory, the NWA created a new title for Curry that was named "NWA Texas Brass Knuckles Championship"—which he beat Danny McShain for on March 6, 1953.
He won titles in Maple Leaf Wrestling, Mid-South Sports and NWA Big Time Wrestling. A list of his "walking riot" actions is available on his Wikipedia page, but a match with Ray McIntyre in 1955 once resulted in over 140 fans sent to the hospital after a riot broke out.
Curry passed away on March 2, 1985 and left a legacy that will never be forgotten. From the hardcore scene to the carnival, this next man on the list of 30 wrestlers certainly changed history. Ladies and gentlemen...Ali Baba.
Harry Ezikian or "Ali Baba"
Ali Baba has the look of a carny, and consequently he was the first true gimmick wrestler. Played by Harry Ezikian, the athlete played a great heel in the 1930s. The character was based off of the Arabic individual known as Ali Baba.
One of his greatest achievements was defeating Dick Shikat to be recognized as the world champion of wrestling in New York.
Although his accolades are not wholesome, sometimes awards aren't what make a legend. Rather, it's the way you create history, and Ezikian certainly changed the course of wrestling history. Now, let's shift from a man who started gimmick wrestling to a woman who helped start women's wrestling.
Let's introduce our next wrestler...Mildred Burke.
The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame chose a winner when she was inducted in 2002. Burke is a pioneer of the industry of women's wrestling. In her heyday, she held the World Women's Championship for 20 years.
At the age of 15, she began as a waitress, not realizing her true potential in the world. Notable trainer Billy Wolfe was looking to train aspiring women's wrestlers, and as the story goes, a man was asked to bodyslam her so she wouldn't stop asking Wolfe to train her.
As the legend goes, she bodyslammed him and the rest is history.
In the 1930s, Burke wrestled over 200 men and only lost to one of them. You can read much more in Lilian Ellison's book First Goddess of the Squared Circle.
Burke left more of a legacy after she started the World Women's Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California. After a multi-championship career and becoming the creator of a promotion, Burke is a legend and will remain as the first goddess of the squared circle.
For more on Burke and her legacy, read John Cobbcorn's article on her and the history of Mildred Burke.
Shifting back to the males, this next gimmick wrestler was certainly stunning. Let's call him Gorgeous as we pay tribute to...Gorgeous George.
George Raymond Wagner is a legend. Maybe not as his real name, but Gorgeous George will never be forgotten. He was the man who first used promos to induce the audience into a stupefied coma of entertainment.
He was the greatest wrestler in the world, George told the masses. It wasn't Chris Jericho or Shawn Michaels who said it first.
It was said that Mohammad Ali and James Brown were influenced by the former AWA Heavyweight Champion. He left his mark with the mainstream media during the '50s as a very popular figure outside of the wrestling ring.
According to historical reports, he was the first wrestler to use entrance music, as he strolled to the ring by "Pomp and Circumstance."
In Bob Dylan's book, The Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan is quoted as saying George changed his life. Certainly the flamboyant one altered the lives of many—and the course of wrestling history. Our next legend on this retrospective took off where Mildred Burke ended.
Let's introduce the Fabulous Moolah.
The Fabulous Moolah
Mildred Burke reigned for over 20 years as champion, but the Fabulous Moolah won the NWA World Women's Championship for for approximately the next 30 years. These two were easily the top women in all of the wrestling world during their times.
After her time in the NWA, she joined the famous WWF in the 1980s as part of the Rock n' Wrestling Connection storyline, feuding with Cyndi Lauper and wrestling legend Wendy Richter. Once a wrester's career comes to end, the prominent few stay to mold the future.
Moolah became a very good trainer in the 1990s and then became part of a comedic duo on WWF television alongside WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young.
She was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995, and became the oldest champion in professional wrestling at 76 years old by winning the WWF Women's championship in 1999. Also in 2010, WWE recognized her as the 27th-best wrestler of all time.
Our next wrestler is of Italian descent and helped begin the high-flying style today. Antonino Rocca is next...
The true Italian-born professional wrestler was not known for his technical skill, but rather the acrobatic and high-flying style he portrayed at an early age of wrestling. He was one of the most popular and invigorating faces in the WWWF during the 1950's.
An opera fan, Rocca gained a large following due to his background with Hispanic culture and American people.
He was a champion in many organizations, more notably the World Wide Wrestling Federation and Stampede Wrestling. His main finishers included the Argentinian Backbreaker rack, Airplane spin, diving cross-body and the hurricanrana.
To transition between a high-flyer and the next man on the list, a great technical wrestler, is to transition between polar opposites. However, both men are legends in the sport. My next wrestler is Verne Gagne.
As one of the few men to enter the WWE Hall of Fame, the WCW Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, Gagne contributed much to the sport of professional wrestling beside his championship prowess.
Gagne broke away from the National Wrestling Alliance to begin the promotion known as the American Wrestling Alliance. A few of his biggest feuds were against Larry "the Axe" Hennig and Fritz Von Erich.
He instantly became AWA's biggest star and was awarded the AWA Heavyweight championship, one of his 10 reigns. Throughout his experience, he accumulated 16 championships in the AWA, Omaha's version of the World Heavyweight Championship and the IWA.
Once Vince McMahon went national and broke away from the territorial system, Gagne's AWA could not live, and it ended up closing its doors after losing all of it's top stars in 1991. However, it lasted 30 years all thanks to Laverne Gagne.
Our next man is the Jackie Robinson of wrestling. Though not in the same context, each man did something important in his respective sport that few can match. Bobo Brazil is next...
Few men have the courage to do what Bobo Brazil accomplished. As mentioned on the previous slide, Jackie Robinson innovated baseball, while Brazil altered the landscape of pro wrestling forever. On October 18, 1962, he defeated Buddy Rogers to win the NWA Heavyweight title.
That marked the first African-American male to win a championship in professional wrestling. This barrier was broken in order for men such as Rocky Johnson and Ron Simmons to break into the industry and leave their own legacies.
Houston Harris wrestled for 42 years while feuding with the likes of Killer Kowalski, Johnny Valentine and the Sheik.
He was a seven-time WWWF United States Champion and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994, thus cementing his historic career. This next man on my list of 30 course-changing wrestlers was one of the best champions of all time. In fact, he was recently inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Let's say hello to Bruno Sammartino.
To attempt to write a slide that would give justice to this man is nearly impossible with the space I have. Quite possibly the greatest wrestler of all time and the reason WWE is still around today, Sammartino was selling out Madison Square Garden—by himself.
His most impressive feat came on May 17, 1963 as he defeated Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds to win the WWWF Title, which he held on to for eight years.
Throughout this historic reign, he transcended the world of professional wrestling, as he was easily the most popular star of his era. Not before had any wrestler sold out the most popular venue in the world. Regardless of his loss to Ivan Koloff to lose his title, he was still the man.
He began the sport in the studio wrestling business in Pittsburgh (which is where I hail from) and ended being the greatest champion of all time. It's safe to say, as I mentioned before, there wouldn't be WWE without him.
Sammartino was known for his power and brute wrestling tactics, but this next man had the look Vince McMahon loves to this day.
Superstar Billy Graham is next on our list.
Superstar Billy Graham
The perfect example of Vince McMahon's muscle crush, Billy Graham was a heel in the 1970s with his monstrous look and deafening interview skills. To further his legacy, a few of his proteges are Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura and the Nature Boy Ric Flair.
He first began as a bodybuilder, and in 1961, he won the West Coast Division's Mr. Teenage America bodybuilding contest. Graham took part in the World Strongest Man contest and trained with the likes of celebrity Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Graham began his career with the NWA, then transitioned to the AWA and finally the WWWF. In Vincent McMahon Sr.'s camp, he claimed the WWWF Heavyweight belt one time against Bruno Sammartino in 1977.
More or less the highlight of his career, Graham was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. The Superstar and genetic freak paved the way for men such as Batista and Ryback, who is now a standard in the WWE.
This next man is the complete opposite of Billy Graham. In fact, he might be the most charismatic superstar of all time.
The "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes
As we start to watch this thing, I am the legend; you are the man and there is mighty big difference between the two. - Dusty Rhodes talking about Ric Flair in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling
That promo says it all about Dusty Rhodes. He didn't have the look of a professional wrestler, but his involvement within the South was synonymous with excellence and passion for the wrestling industry. His work with Jim Crockett Promotions and the WWF made a legend out of Rhodes.
He is a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, NWA National Heavyweight Champion and a member of the WWE, WCW, Wrestling Observer Newsletter and Professional Wrestling Hall of Fames. The Rhodes lineage hasn't stopped with Dusty, as his sons Dustin and Cody are employed by WWE.
Rhodes is credited for creating many of the PPV names in Jim Crockett's Promotions, such as War Games, BattleBowl and Lethal Lottery.
Now Rhodes is the commissioner of NXT and giving back to the industry that created his legend. He is molding the minds of the younger generation, including future stars like Bo Dallas, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Romans Reigns and many more.
Let's transition from one Southern superstar to another. Rhodes never won a title with WWE, but this next man won it 16 times.
The Nature Boy Ric Flair
The only person to win 16 championships in any wrestling promotion, Ric Flair is considered one of the best wrestlers in all of mankind. Since 1972, Naitsch has been "wooing" wherever his voice can be heard.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Flair dominated the South quite like his counterpart and formidable foe Dusty Rhodes. He won many titles in the WWE, NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-Atlantic wrestling promotion.
As the master of the figure-four leg lock, there aren't words that can describe his contribution to the wrestling industry except that he made it more competitive and put his stamp on every championship that can be attained.
He was truly the "dirty heel" with his cheating antics and stupendous promo skills. Flair is quite possibly the best mic worker of all time. To prove it, here is Flair's best promo. The intensity in his eyes sells every word and it makes his retirement from WWE much harder.
Flair made his mark in the singles world, but he also put four fingers up and created a legacy with the best stable in WWE's history.
The 4 Horsemen
Today's era of wrestling fans remember Evolution or Degeneration-X as being the best stables of all time, but don't forget about the original stable...the Four Horsemen dominated the WWE with the likes of Arn Anderson, Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Ole Anderson.
They revolutionized the "stable" in professional wrestling by succeeding and taking over the NWA. Many superstars such as Barry Windham, Sting, Lex Lugar and Curt Hennig joined the emphatic group.
On to the Four Horsmen DVD, commentator Jim Ross stated that without the Horsemen, we would not have the nWo or Degeneration-X. As many of the men won titles, it was their charisma and mic skills, as well as natural heat, that trailblazed the industry and won over the fans.
From one legendary group to a legendary man—Terry Bollea single-handedly altered the course of history.
What if the Hulkster never left the AWA and instead decided Vince McMahon and the WWF weren't good enough? Well, that wasn't the case in 1983; after his immense popularity struck in Rocky III, he left the AWA and joined McMahon and his new giant wrestling promotion.
Hogan was the face of the 1980s and catered to the younger fans. He was the Golden Era in wrestling. A few of his shining moments came when he bodyslammed Andre the Giant, thus marking a historic and monumental moment in wrestling history.
Hulkamania ran wild throughout every home, and if you asked the non-wrestling fan, he or she would likely know who Hulk Hogan was. It was McMahon's genius that allowed this success to occur.
He became the "American Hero" beating the likes of the Shiek, who portrayed the terrorist gimmick. If you were alive in the 1980s, it wasn't a pleasant atmosphere in the US. Hulk Hogan helped to alleviate the sadness and promote happiness on people's television screens.
However, the man whom he bodyslammed at WrestleMania III also left behind a legacy...a rather large one.
Andre the Giant
It was a matchup of two behemoths. A man who could probably pin any superhero against the eighth wonder of the world. Before Chyna, it was Andre the Giant. And he was facing Hulk Hogan at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
To this day, it is still the indoor record for any WWE event. A massive 93,000 gathered to watch the man who was never beat in 15 years of professional wrestling. As the story goes, Hogan slammed Andre in what would become the most iconic event of that era.
Andre Roussimoff was a peaceful man that lived on a farm. From Russian descent, he had symptoms of gigantism, standing 6'3" and weighing 240 pounds at the age of 12. He couldn't fit on the bus, so Samuel Beckett drove him.
There aren't enough words to describe Andre's contribution to the wrestling business. At one point, he was the highest paid wrestler in the world, once making $400,000 in one year. He is a winner of the WWF Championship, WWF Tag-team championships and the first inductee in the 1993 WWE Hall of Fame (the only inductee that year).
It's true when they said his heart was bigger than his body, and after his untimely death in 1993 due to congestive heart failure, a legend was lost in the wrestling industry.
From one big man to another, Andre has epitomized the term "pro wrestler" and is still doing it today.
"WrestleMania would have been robbed of its most dependable draw, and Vince of a face that is recognised in every distant corner of the world," per Chinmay in his 52 Events article.
“But you’re in one of the main events, you’re wrestling The Undertaker," said CM Punk in an interview with ESPN, per wrestlezone.com.
Two simple quotes about the Undertaker say it all. He debuted at one of the most prominent pay-per-views in WWE history—Survivor Series in 1990—and Vince McMahon never looked back. His matches with Kane, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, the Giant Gonzalez and 18 other men (his WM match at Big Show and A-Trian at XIX) helped solidify his legacy on-screen.
Although, what you do and portray yourself as on screen, is what a wrestler should do behind it. Put simply, the respect people show Mark Callaway is astounding.
He helped make WrestleMania what it is today, jump-starting gimmicks such as the casket match and the buried alive match, as well as putting WWE on the map in an era full of legends. The day Undertaker retires full-time will be a sad day in professional wrestling.
To the best at WrestleMania, to the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.
Bret "the Hitman" Hart
Bret Hart is one of the most iconic figures in WrestleMania, not for his stature and championship victories, but more along the lines of the sacrifices he's made and the overall wrestling showcases he's exemplified. To triumph over any accolade, he competed in 12 straight showcases dating from 1986-1997, a still-standing record.
The native of Calgery, Alberta, Canada perfected the craft of professional wrestling by becoming one of the best technical wrestlers who ever set foot in a squared circle.
His memorable feud with Shawn Michaels will go down in WWF infamy. As the story books go, Vince McMahon prematurely called for the bell as Michaels put Hart in his patented sharpshooter submission maneuver and won the match.
Although Hart's exit from WWE wasn't as calm as other legends, his wrestling prowess and matches are forever archived as one of the all-time greats.
He is a multi-time WWF champion, a two-time Intercontinental champion, a one-time United States champion and a Hall of Famer, being inducted with the class of 2006.
Next on this list is the man who was involved with the Montreal Screwjob. None other than the greatest sports entertainer in WWE history.
"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels
"The greatest wrestlers which I've been priveleged to see, two names, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels."
-Jim Ross, via wiki.answers.com
His work with Degeneration-X is legendary and so is his singles work. The multi-time world champion did not win 13 of them. Michaels didn't have to.
HBK put more passion in this business, and I would say Edge is a close second. The miracle run of Shawn's last two years against the Undertaker will be remembered as an amazing feud that featured two of the most memorable matches in history.
Five-star match after five-star match, Shawn believed he could stop the Undertaker's streak. As did I.
I never gave up hope on Mr. WrestleMania.
Nicknames are given for a reason. You just don't walk in a business and be granted a name synonymous with wrestling history. Each one has a purpose, and I can't thank Michaels enough for what he has done.
Our next wrestler gained popularity throwing himself through barbed wire and one time... off of a cell.
An established author, former WWF champion, owner of one of the greatest spots in wrestling history and now comedian, Michael Foley started as an unorthodox high school athlete from Bloomington, Indiana and became one of the all-time greats.
He is more synonymous with his work alongside Terry Funk in ECW and its hardcore wrestling style. Once Bull Curry started the craze of extreme, Abdullah the Butcher and many others continued the innovation of barbed wire, steel chairs and thumb tacks.
Foley has personified many faces in wrestling history such as Cactus Jack in ECW, Dude Love, Mankind and of course, Mick Foley. Throughout all of the crazy spots and the hellacious fall from the steel cage in Pittsburgh at the King of the Ring PPV, Foley never had a WrestleMania moment.
That is, until WrestleMania 22, when he faced off against the sadistic Edge in a hardcore match. The two went back and forth through a pool of blood until the match's end, where he was speared out of the ring and through a flaming table.
Regardless of the statistic, he solidified his legacy. Only a three-time WWF champion, Foley garnered respect from everyone and is still giving back to the future of wrestling today.
Foley did team up with a Hall of Famer, but it was't this next man.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
"Austin 3:16 said I just whipped your a$$."
-Stone Cold after winning the King of the Ring in 1996.
It's often a battle of names and historic events that help you solidify your point as a fan of the sport. Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of those names that is forever intertwined with the sport's pure existence.
From 1997-2002, we saw brutality, harsh vulgar, lots of blood, controversial subjects and story lines, excitement and maybe the best era in professional wrestling's history. We can thank Stone Cold for all of those memories.
As Austin progressed as a star and went toe-to-toe with the Rock in their legendary feud, his anti-hero status jumped to all-new heights and launched his name to synonymous status around the wrestling world.
He is the anti-hero, six-time WWF champion and his feud with Mr. McMahon helped base the Attitude Era and their victory over WCW in the Monday Night Wars. If it wasn't for Stone Cold, today's WWE could be completely different, if not subsided.
Austin had two foes in his illustrious career. One was McMahon and his rebellious fight against "the man." His best feud, however, came against this next man.
Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson
Arguably the most iconic superstar in wrestling history, the Rock had it from the beginning. He started out as Rocky Maivia with a feud against Hunter Hearst Hemsley in attempt to win the Intercontinental championship.
He did just that, receiving his first belt in the World Wrestling Federation and becoming the first third-generation superstar in WWE history. Check out and this promo with Kevin Kelly before his very first match. You could tell that a wrestling legend was born.
The Rock is an eight-time WWE champion, a part of one of the funniest tag-teams in history (the Rock n' Sock Connection), the most electrifying man in all of sports entertainment and alongside Stone Cold, brought the WWF/E into the mainstream media for good.
Even though people did not like his departure to Hollywood full-time in 2004, Rocky did WWE a favor and brought them into the limelight. He's as famous as Hogan was back in the 1980's. The order is as follows: Hogan in his era, Rocky in the 90's and a man to be named later in the 2000's.
Back to one of my earlier points, Rocky won his first belt in WWE on February 13th, 1997 against this next man on our list.
His sledgehammer is a metaphor for his toughness in the industry and the pounding he put on his opponents during his tenure as a full-time wrestler. Triple H put his name with the business as soon as the Attitude Era hit full circle.
Hunter was the leader of Degeneration-X alongside his best friend in real life, Shawn Michaels. Many of their memorable moments were during the Monday Night Wars—HHH leading his crew on a tank in Atlanta outside of WCW's studios, HHH, Chyna and HBK going through their cuss word list.
Many classic memories exist thanks to the contributions of Paul Levesque. He is second all-time in WWE championship reigns with 13 and is the closest to Ric Flair's record of 16.
After his full-time wrestling schedule dissipated, HHH went into the corporate world and is now putting his label on the business side of things. His initiatives have consisted of changing FCW to NXT and making a weekly program. He is also heavily invested in the tag-team division and a soon-to-be cruiserweight show.
It's a different regime these days, and once Vince McMahon retires, it will be HHH's game and the Game will change the WWE for the better.
Edge and Christian, the Hardyz and Dudley Boyz
A few tag-teams throughout history have sustained their name and fame. The Rockers with Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were an excellent high-flying tag-team in the 1980's. But as soon as three teams entered the WWE, it would change the course of history forever.
Bubba Ray and Devon Dudley, Edge and Christian, as well as the Hardy Boyz revolutionized tag-team wrestling. Hardcore elements that included a spear, in which Edge jumped off a ladder and speared Jeff Hardy, who was grabbing a title in the air, became an instant hit.
The triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000 also became a legendary bout, pitting six men representing three teams in the ring at once.
This paved the way for groups like Trevor Murdoch and Lance Cade, Paul London and Brian Kendrick and John Morrison and the Miz.
Apart from the tag-team division, another underlying part of WWE television is the women's division. This next woman kept it alive after Burke and Moolah retired from the business.
Trish Stratus and Lita
Trish Stratus and Lita revitalized the division after the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young went past their prime. This could be considered as one of the best rivalries in pro wrestling history.
In the beginning, Trish and Lita were managers of tag-teams: T&A (Test and Albert) and the Hardy Boyz, respectively. Stratus was the heel (fitting since she was naturally cocky), while Lita was the babyface. She was up there with Chyna, considering fan reaction.
It took Lita until the Dec. 6, 2004 episode of Monday night Raw to win the championship. A four-year long feud that cultivated to a woman's dream was great television and a great sign for the women's division.
Trish Stratus (inducted in 2013) and Lita are Hall of Famers in my opinion. Both put their bodies on the line every night to entertain the fans. The one trait I respect out of the two is the passion and heart they displayed in the ring.
That is why Trish Stratus and Lita will leave a legacy, never to be repeated.
Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero
Every slide in this retrospective has been very positive and uplifting. However, these two, no matter their contributions in the ring, are forever endowed with controversy and sadness.
For Eddie Guerrero, he had everything. A great wife, child and one of the most successful wrestling careers in history. Then, out of nowhere, on November 13th, 2005, he was found dead in a Minneapolis hotel room that was later connected with steroids.
On June 24th, 2007, Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son and committed suicide right after. It was later proven that Benoit had severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy and his brain was damaged in each of his four lobes.
It was rumored, but never proven, that his incident was an example of roid rage. That got Vince McMahon to finally act and break out against steroid use.
Within the next 12 months, 40 percent of wrestlers tested positive for steroids and other banned substances. According to the report, 22 wrestlers tested positive for steroids alone. What followed was a new era in wrestling, drug free.
However, the untimely losses of Guerrero and Benoit were tragic and awful. It showed McMahon that actions needed to be taken immediately before other wrestlers would tragically be lost to the evils of drugs.
The last man on this list took the potential he had and ran with it. He ran so far, that he is the epitome of the PG-era.
It is more than just a saying on each t-shirt, but a way of life. This is why John Cena is and should be one of the most respected men in the entire industry for many years to come.
Over the past few years, Cena has embraced the “hate” from the fans for being stale, boring, a five-move master, the company status quo and many other clichés that he most certainly is.
As soon as WWE television turned PG in 2008, it was up to one man to lead them in peace and successful living. Others helped, but John Cena was the man. His determination is almost unmatched and his passion for the business is paramount.
Recently, Cena won his 11th WWE championship and is only ready to win more. His work with Make-a-Wish has been noted by the entire world as he has granted the most wishes in history with over 300. He's also an accomplished rapper, actor and WWE champion.
Cena has never been satisfied and that's truly what has enabled him to change the course of history in professional wrestling. The blunt fact is, he's not done revolutionizing the business. There are still years remaining for the man they call... John Cena.
Throughout WWE history, many things have changed. Martin Burns transcended the history of mankind due to this actions and beliefs. It took a farmer to translate what many of us love today to the masses over 100 years ago.
What have we learned as this list of 30 wrestlers, male and female, crossed our eyes? Many have stepped foot in this business, and few have made an impact as deep as these men and women I have mentioned. Even one man broke a racial barrier that existed for many years prior.
A few women put their label on the wrestling docket, only for another to continue the legacy. Bruno Sammartino was selling out stadiums, now the new age of wrestlers are doing the same and following in the footsteps of champions.
Each person had a goal in mind and completed their life's dream of wrestling. They entertained, educated and wowed us with every move, step or look.
As we celebrate the 30 wrestlers who I believe changed the course of wrestling history, I celebrate my 100th article on Bleacher Report. It's been a two-year journey for me in the wrestling writing world, and it was Kevin Berge that helped me pick this topic.
What my challenge for all of you is to comment below on your opinions of this piece. Do you agree with the list compiled? Who did I miss out on, or did I include someone that didn't belong? And if you could, put down your favorite wrestling memory of all time. Everybody has one and I would love to read them.
One hundred down and many more to go. See you out there friends!
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