Mount Rushmore of WWE Superstars: Who Are the Top 4 Legends of All Time?

Ryan DilbertWWE Lead WriterSeptember 14, 2017

Image by B/R

Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena are immortals among men in the WWE Universe.

Should the company ever decide to represent its biggest icons in stone as Gutzon Borglum did with American presidents beginning in 1927, those four men most belong on the WWE Mount Rushmore. No one made as lasting a mark on the history of the sports entertainment giant than them.

Sammartino's longevity as a headliner is unmatched. Hogan spearheaded a surge in WWE's popularity. Austin led the way for the company's best days.

Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan meet in the ring at WrestleMania 30.
Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan meet in the ring at WrestleMania 30.Credit: WWE.com

And today, Cena continues to extend his resume as an icon of the squared circle.

Financial success, popularity and historical significance placed each of those champions on a pedestal that only fits four. With apologies to Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, The Rock and Bob Backlund, here's why these four wrestlers make up WWE's Mount Rushmore.

            

Bruno Sammartino

On WWE's Mount Rushmore, Sammartino is the George Washington.

When the company was still a regional promotion in the New York area, when it was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, The Italian Strongman stood at its center. The barrel-chested titan served as more than a marquee star in those early days. Sammartino was the blue-collar hero to the people, the embodiment of the American dream, WWE's first superhero.

As a child, he hid from Nazi soldiers in the mountains of Italy. As a man, he became a symbol of strength and perseverance in the wrestling ring, fighting off one black-hearted monster at a time.

Less than a month after the creation of what was known then as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, Sammartino put a stranglehold on the title.

He steamrolled Buddy Rogers in May 1963 to win the strap. Ivan Koloff didn't dethrone him until January 1971. Sammartino boasted unfathomable reigns as world champ that lasted nearly eight years and three-and-a-half years, respectively. His title runs lasted longer than some wrestlers' entire careers.

Madison Square Garden served as the then-WWWF's home base in those years, and time and again, Sammartino helped sell out the place.

As Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver recalled in The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: Heroes & Icons, "When Sammartino's name was on the marquee at the old Madison Square Garden off 8th Avenue in New York City, thousands of people nervously milled around the lobby, anxious about the challenge their hero was about to face."

Whether the top heel of the day was Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, Toru Tanaka or George Steele, it was Sammartino who stood across from them in the main event, the no-nonsense gunslinger waiting to grind them into the mat.

            

Hulk Hogan

When the World Wrestling Federation marched into the national spotlight, Hogan carried the flag, with his tanned, bulging biceps glistening in the spotlight.

Star power was key to Vince Kennedy McMahon's plan to take his father's business to new heights. He raided the nation's territories for names like Junkyard Dog and Roddy Piper. It was Hogan, though, who proved to be the centerpiece.

He urged his fans to say their prayers and eat their vitamins. He shook off his merciless foes' attacks as adrenaline filled his frame. 

Hogan was a broad-shouldered patriot who fought for justice between the ropes, a quintessential good guy in a black-and-white violent stage play. 

When McMahon birthed WrestleMania, pushed his product onto the MTV airwaves and created cartoons and action figures to celebrate his larger-than-life world, The Hulkster was front and center. When pro wrestling began to attract a younger audience and slide its way into the forefront of pop culture, Hogan was largely to thank for that.

As David Shoemaker put it in The Squared Circle: "Suddenly the WWF, with Hogan as its figurehead, was everywhere, and pro wrestling as a whole was once again emerging as a cultural force."

Hogan stood atop what is now the WWE for the bulk of the '80s. He was world champ in the early '90s. The Hulkster even came back and served as champion in 2002.

He was an ever-present force in a key period. Hogan headlined six of the first seven WrestleManias, three of the first four Survivor Series events and three of the first four SummerSlams.

Throughout the various waves of Hulkamania, Hogan was a part of some of the company's most iconic moments.

His defeat of Iron Sheik in 1984. Him bodyslamming Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. The Mega Powers imploding. The icon staring down The Rock at WrestleMania X-8. 

Even some 38 years after his debut, the transcendent Hogan remains one of the most recognizable names in WWE history.

              

Steve Austin

One downed beer, one raised middle finger, one stomped mudhole at a time, Stone Cold made an indelible mark on WWE history.

The product shifted toward an edgier, more irreverent direction in the late '90s. The time for cartoon gimmicks and pure-of-heart babyfaces was over. And Austin not only epitomized the spirit of the Attitude Era, he was its torchbearer.

After his famous Austin 3:16 speech, arenas begin to fill up with fans wearing T-shirts displaying that catchphrase.

Just about everything Austin fired from his mouth caught on. His penchant for saying "What?" after everything his adversaries said morphed into a crowd chant that still lingers today. Whether he was threatening to open a can of whoop-ass or raise hell, he gave WWE's merchandise team plenty to work with.

As Chris Flynn of The Richest pointed out: "When Austin was at his peak, WWF is said to have sold 12 million Stone Cold T-shirts and unbelievably Austin merchandise accounted for half of all merchandise sold by the company."

His antics, be it hitting someone with a Stunner or spraying beer on his corporate stooge enemies, were often the heart and soul of WWE TV. 

Austin was key to WWE winning the Monday Night War with rival World Championship Wrestling. And during wrestling's peak in popularity, when it was most cool to be a fan, Austin was the king. His popularity was instrumental in allowing WWE to rake in more money than ever before. 

Preeminent wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer noted, "The business would have never reached the levels it did without Austin."

The Texas Rattlesnake had perhaps the most iconic finishing move in the Stunner and was one-half of arguably the greatest rivalry in wrestling history—Austin vs. McMahon. He elevated the careers of The Rock, Mick Foley and Triple H.

The badass, beer-drinking antihero extraordinaire has often imitated, but there will never be another Stone Cold. Because of that, there may never again be a period as white-hot as Austin's prime.

            

John Cena

Little did we know, the sculpted prospect who stepped up to Kurt Angle in 2002 would go on to be a megastar who sat in the WWE throne for over a decade.

Preaching the virtues of hustle, loyalty and respect, Cena became a straight-laced superhero of the squared circle. He overpowered giants. He outlasted opportunists. He climbed out of hole after hole en route to becoming WWE's cornerstone.

The reaction to him has always been visceral, be it positive or negative, but he's undoubtedly one of the most talked-about performers in WWE history.

Cena has captained the PG Era, helping the company continue to expand its reach as a global enterprise. 

In the ring, he boasts a commanding presence and is one of the top big-match performers in WWE history. Outside of it, he has thrived as a spokesman. Even as new stars arrive, Cena has remained the face of WWE, representing the company on morning TV shows, red carpet events, radio row, everywhere.

He has fulfilled more wishes at Make-A-Wish Foundation than any celebrity ever, a testament to his stardom.

The man McMahon called "the Babe Ruth of WWE" won the United States Championship in 2004. He went on to be a headliner for the rest of the decade and beyond. He has been world champ 16 times, more than anyone not named Ric Flair. 

His collection of classic bouts at WrestleMania and elsewhere continues to grow. Randy Orton, CM Punk, Edge and AJ Styles are among those whose careers were made bigger because of facing him.

The Face That Runs the Place has begun to transition into more of a part-time role as his acting and TV career picks up. But even as he slides one foot out of the door and the New Era's top stars charge ahead, Cena remains the man.

It will take quite the Herculean feat from the likes of Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins in the coming years to knock Cena off the Mount Rushmore of WWE.