The Most Dominant Pro Wrestlers By Decade
After seeing a similar list on SportsIllustrated.com, I started thinking about the most dominate pro wrestlers in wrestling history. And after some searching and prodding, I came up with the Most Dominant Pro Wrestlers By Decade, starting with the 1950s.
There are a lot of great wrestlers who could have made the list but narrowly missed out. I used popularity, title reigns, impact on wrestling and legacy as determining factors for this list.
Read, Discuss, Enjoy.
1950s: Lou Thesz
Known as “the greatest pro wrestling champion,” it’s hard to assign just one decade to Lou Thesz as he dominated many.
Wrestling in an era when professional wrestling was deemed a legit sport, the shooter was said to accumulate 936 straight wins as he went undefeated for seven years, 1948–1955.
Lou Thesz was so good he wasn’t content with simply being the world champion. He wanted to unify all the titles so that the NWA world title was the only recognized heavyweight championship.
Thesz was successful with his quest and was deemed the first undisputed world champion since Karl Gotch. This would only be the start of many firsts associated with the great Lou Thesz.
The youngest world champion in wrestling history, at age 21, Thesz went on to invent and make famous numerous moves that are now as common as the clothesline including the belly to back suplex, STF, powerbomb and, of course, the Lou Thesz press.
Thesz went on to hold his prestigious undisputed title for four years, only dropping it when an ankle injury wouldn’t heel.
He would regain the title seven months later in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His next title reign would not be nearly as long, but its impact was far greater.
Thesz became the first NWA champion to defend his title in Japan, and his series of matches launched the pro wrestling craze in the Land of the Rising Sun. After his 61 min time limit draw against Rikidozan, pro wrestling soon became as popular in Japan as samurais and sushi. Few men can say they were truly a world champion.
Lou Thesz soon crowned himself the NWA International World champion, but HitTheRopes.com is naming him the champion of the 1950s as he was without a doubt the most dominate wrestler of the 1950s.
1960s: Buddy Rogers
Buddy Rogers entered the 1960s with a decade of wrestling’s greatest names, and winning. His triumphs include handing losses to the great Ed “Strangler” Lewis and the most dominate wrestler in the 1950s, during his reign, Lou Thesz.
But his most import accomplishment of that decade was establishing himself the “Nature Boy” a title that would go on to be almost as prestigious as the gold he wore around his waist.
“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers kicked off the 1960s off like only he could, with a 1961 NWA world title bout with champion Pat O’Conner. Rogers walked into the bout the current US title holder, and the most hated heel of his era.
His win over then champion Pat O’Conner was the largest viewed wrestling match at the time, as 38,622 fans squeezed into Comiskey Park in Chicago to see him get destroyed. It never happened as he came out victorious in the best-of-three match, and the attendance record also remained his for over 20 years.
The Nature Boy went on to hold the title for two straight years with the title being defended five nights a week in multiple territories all over the country, right at the height of what is deemed the “Golden Years” of professional wrestling.
And even when Rogers finally lost to Lou Thesz, the champ couldn’t be beat. Many north east promoters didn’t recognize the title change, since it was only one fall, and Rogers was crowned the new world champ of World Wide Wrestling Federation (which would later be shortened to the WWE). The Nature Boy was the first wrestler ever to hold both the NWA and the WWWF titles.
Buddy Rogers set the standard of professional wrestling. He’s noted as the inventor of the figure-four leg lock and was one of the best at being a cocky, arrogant heel as opposed to the angry, yelling, and monster bad guy.
If you weren’t privileged to see him in action, just take a look at the man he passed the torch to, Ric Flair, and think of his persona turned up a notch.
And just like The Nature Boy would have said himself, being named the most dominate wrestler of the 1960s, “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
1970s: Bruno Sammartino
Probably the greatest wrestler yet to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, Bruno Sammartino was professional wrestling in the 1970s. And although the ‘70s started with his professional wrestling record eight-year title reign coming to an end at the hands of Ivan Kolof, this did not stop Sammartino from shining.
Fans were shocked, many of whom were seen crying, but Sammartino used this as a moment to refuel.
After the next three champions were having troubles drawing and maintaining a crowd, the WWWF world title was placed around Bruno Sammartino’s waist once again.
His second title reign wasn’t as long, as it only lasted four years, but he defeated some of the brightest stars during this reign. And like a true champ, he wrestled with a “broken frickin neck” for a huge portion of that time.
It was ultimately the reason he chose to step away, which resulted in him dropping the strap to Billy Graham.
Bruno Sammartino was by far the most dominating pro wrestler of the 1970s. He had four of the decade’s PWI’s Match of the Year, (1972, 1975, 19976, 1977) despite closing out the decade wrestling with a broken neck. And he was the WWWF World Champion for 5 of the ten years.
1980s: Hulk Hogan
The 1980s belonged to the man who redefined how we look at professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan. Long before he went “Hollywood,” Hulk Hogan was getting all his Hulkamaniacs to say their prayers and take their vitamins, as he became the biggest baby face the industry has ever seen.
But his rise to stardom wasn’t as rosy as it seems.
His first run in the WWF was unlike what we know today. Originally wrestling as a heel under the tutelage of “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Hogan never quite found his own in the WWF. He left the company in 1980 to return to the AWF and New Japan, where he’d finally get his big break.
Known as "Ichiban" or No. 1 in New Japan, Hogan caught on quickly with the Japanese crowd. He had everything going for him there from t-shirts to CD’s. But most of his draw in the States was due to his part in Rocky III.
As Thunderlips, Hogan captured the attention of moviegoers nationwide, more importantly he found favor in Verne Gagne and the AWA. Hogan was quickly turned baby face and started using the Eye of the Tiger, the theme for Rocky, as his entrance music.
Hogan later claimed to be the first person to ever use entrance music and he paid the jabroni in the truck $5,000 to play it.
But as popular as Hogan had become, Verne refused to put the AWA title on him and opted to stay with then champ Nick Bockwinkel. This didn’t sit right with Hogan who decided to bolt back to the WWF.
Seeing he was about to lose his biggest cash cow, Verne promised Hogan the title, only it was too little too late. Hogan was set to return to the WWF.
Upon his return to New York, Hogan set the WWF on fire. Hogan was brought back as a heel once again, but this was quickly discarded as he was set to feud with then champ Iron Sheik after coming to the aid of Bob Backlund. Hogan beat the Iron Sheik for his first of twelve world titles.
Hulk Hogan went on to usher in a huge era in wrestling known as the Rock ‘n Wrestling Connection with MTV. This put wrestling out there for pop culture to eat up and it led to both the first ever Saturday Night Main Event and the first ever Wrestlemania.
And despite achieving the dubious distinction of the “Worst Match of the Year” by the Wrestling Observer, his 1987 match with Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania is known as the slam that changed the wrestling world forever.
Hulk Hogan was the WWF’s world champion for five of the ten years and without a doubt the flagship for the company in a time where there were no other superstars. Hogan crossed over to movies, and even music, and quickly became a household name as he toured the late night and early morning talk show circuits regularly.
Hogan went on to become the one of the most recognized people in the world, and wrestling’s first cover on Sports Illustrated. Hulk Hogan was not only the most dominate wrestler of the 1980s, but possibly of all-time.
1990s: Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock
The first half of the 1990s was pretty lackluster. Wrestling was in a slump, partially due to a steroid scandal that almost permanently crippled the WWF and the WCW was… well just hanging around.
But at the end of the 1990s came a time that more than made up for the previous six years. And it’s all summed up with two words: Attitude Era.
Feeling that the prayers and the vitamins were no longer working, Vince McMahon borrowed a theme from Paul Heyman’s ECW and perfected it. He let the boys be boys and nothing was off limits.
The Attitude Era was born. And it all started at the King of the Ring in 1996.
When Steve Austin no longer felt stunning and couldn’t get over with help of a million bucks, he reinvented himself taking the demeanor from a killer he saw on TV.
But it wasn’t until he flipped a Bible script on Jake Roberts that a star was born. Stone Cold ushered in his reign as America’s favorite heel with his now notorious Austin 3:16 line that was aimed for a recovering alcoholic, but caught on with fans around the world. And as he blazed a path to superstardom, he began a feud with the up-and-comer Rocky Maivia, and history was made.
Tired of hearing the Die, Rocky, Die, Rocky Miavia began to care less and succeed more. He shortened his name to The Rock and quickly became the most arrogant and successful crossover star pro wrestling has ever seen. He’s forgotten more catchphrases than most wrestlers are able to come up with and he went on to find success in everything from TV to movies.
Together Stone Cold and The Rock led the charge for the WWE during the most successful era in pro wrestling history. Although they had arguably the most talented cast beneath them, and the aid of a Monday Night War, these two legends are responsible for more than their share of the WWE’s success in the late ‘90s, which is why together they are the most dominate wrestlers of the 1990s.
2000s: Triple H
Everything that goes up must come down, and professional wrestling did… hard. WWE quickly gobbled up its two main competitors, ECW and WCW, but this was not as good as it seemed.
By 2002 pro wrestling has reached hard times and it looked for its main star for support. And as a major player during the Attitude Era, Triple H knew what it took to be at the top, so the WWE leaned on him to take them back to that place.
With the crashing of the Attitude Era, somehow when the dust settled it was Triple H who emerged as the lead man.
Although he led the popular group DX, it was Stone Cold and The Rock who were known as the company’s golden boys. But that all changed with a new regimen that would be known as the McMahon-Helmsely era.
What started out as make-believe quickly became real life and Triple H dumped then girlfriend Chyna for the boss’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon. And from there he would reign as The Game and the self-proclaimed King of Kings.
He kicked the decade off as PWI’s No. 1 on the top 500 list, thanks to his feud of the year with Kurt Angle and his breakthrough match with Cactus Jack at the previous Royal Rumble.
And he was named Wrestler of the Year by both PWI and the Wrestling Observer.
The McMahon-Helmsely era was so powerful that it even overshadowed the blown Invasion angle, which many deemed one of the biggest busts of all-time.
Triple H went on to feud with a man he was very familiar with, The Rock. The duo switched from battles over the IC title to wars for the world title.
And over the last nine years Triple H has the second most world title wins, Edge having the most, of the 2000s and has without a doubt the biggest pull. He has main evented or wrestled for the world title in all eight of the Wrestlemainias that he has appeared in, he missed one due to injury, this decade and without a doubt is the most dominate wrestler of the 2000s.
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