Top 50 Wrestlers: Ranked by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (Number 50-36)
This ranking is a follow-up to the tag team series that was written in October, which was a pleasure to write and fun to go down memory lane.
Similar to the tag team series, I will list and provide career summary of the top wrestlers in the order which Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) ranked them in 2003.
The wrestlers ranked fought during the existence of this fine publication. Therefore, pre-70s superstars like Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, and Buddy Rogers are not included.
Nor, will Japanese greats like Antonio Inoki, Shohei Baba, and Tiger Mask. I have narrowed the list to wrestlers who mostly fought in North America.
I hope you enjoyed this series and look forward to your comments and opinions.
50 - Magnum TA
Prior to joining Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), Magnum TA started out fighting in NWA territories like Florida and Pacific Northwest under his real name, Terry Allen.
It was in Mid-South where "Magnum" was born, and then "TA" was added after Andre The Giant recommended his initials be included.
In Mid-South, Mr. Wrestling II took Magnum TA under his wing and showed him the ropes (so to speak). They won the tag titles in December 1983 by defeating two future WWF stars named Butch Reed and Jim Neidhart.
This team was extremely popular and seemed to be the perfect match. Mr. Wrestling II had delighted fans in both Georgia and Mid-South with his combination of fine scientific wrestling and fine sportsmanship.
Magnum TA, on the other hand, was in the early stages of his career and already showing enormous promise.
He already held the Mid-South tag team title with Hacksaw Jim Duggan and was quickly becoming a big favorite of Mid-South fans. Under Mr. Wrestling II, the sky seemed to be the limit.
The heel turned began when II became envious of Magnum's success in the single front. Magnum TA was named the number one contender to the North American Title (Regional's top championship).
At the contract signing between TA and champion Junkyard Dog, II claimed that Magnum was too inexperienced and that JYD was a cowardly champion.
This was totally out of character. Magnum immediately tried to calm down his mentor. II amazingly thanked Magnum with a hard slap in the face.
The jealousy led to the split of the team and the mentor v. student feud. This was a classic and legendary feud.
With JCP, Magnum won the U.S. title twice including an I Quit match against Tully Blanchard at Starrcade 1985.
In 1986, the seed was planted for Magnum TA to becomes the organization's Hulk Hogan until a terrible car accident occurred in October which derailed Magnum's career.
As mentioned in World Wrestling Entertainment Presents Starrcade The Essential Collection , plans were set to have Magnum defeat Ric Flair at Starrcade '86. It was a total shame what occurred that fall day.
49 - Scott Hall
Around the time that Magnum joined JCP, Scott Hall was signed by AWA and became a carbon copy of Magnum TA and Hulk Hogan.
With Curt Hennig, Scott Hall won the AWA tag belts and after dropping them, received a push for the AWA World Title. Hall was unsuccessful in beating Stan Hansen.
In the WWF, Hall changed his name to Razor Ramon. The character was developed based on Al Pacino's Scarface character Tony Montana.
Hall's "bad boy" image, mic skills and terrible accent was a hit with the WWF fans. He won four Intercontinental championships and participated in many outstanding matches like the Ladder Match at Wrestlemania X against Shawn Michaels.
In WCW, Hall participated in the greatest wrestling angle ever as a member of the Outsiders and then NWO.
Hall won the WCW Tag Team belts seven times, United States title twice, and the WCW TV title once.
48 - Chris Benoit
Chris' hope of becoming a pro wrestler began when he was allowed to train with Stu Hart and the clan in the legendary "Dungeon" at the age of 14. There he trained for three years and endured a strenuous training.
Chris would later be quoted saying "Going to the Hart family for training was kind of like, if you're a very religious person, going to the Vatican" - WWE Unscripted.
Chris began fighting in Stampede Wresting at the young age of 17, idolizing and competing with Bret Hart and Dynamite Kid. He was successful in winning the regional titles but left to compete in Japan as the '90s rolled in.
Though Chris was successful and was well-trained, his stardom didn't take off until 1995. He returned to WCW to become a member of the Four Horsemen.
After leaving the group, Chris rekindled his ECW success and began teaming with Dean Malenko again, this led to them winning the WCW Tag Team Belts in 1999.
In 2000, Chris joined the WWF/WWE with fellow stars Eddy Guerrero, Malenko, and Perry Saturn to for The Radicalz.
Chris won 12 WWE titles, including the World Title. At WrestleMania XX, Triple H tapped out of The Crippler Crossface.
No doubt that Chris Benoit worked hard to be as successful as he was. The man was born to wrestle and put his body on the line to entertain the fans.
47 - Bam Bam Bigelow
In a recent article that I wrote, "Ranking the Giants of Pro Wrestling," my omission of Bam Bam Bigelow was identified by many readers. Which was a big mistake to leave him off.
I'm glad to see that PWI had more sense than me and included him in this ranking.
Bigelow was popular due to being so agile for a big man. His popular moves were cartweels, dropkicks, flying headbutts, and flying moonsaults which were usually performed by men 100lbs lighter.
He was also popular due to the ring attire and many tattoos of flames.
Due to Bigelow's constant traveling between organizations and countries (Japan), his championship list was limited.
His major titles were holding the ECW World Title, ECW TV Title, and the WCW Tag Team Titles (with Diamond Dallas Page and Kanyon).
46 - Jack Brisco
Jack and his brother Jerry formed one of the best and most successful tag teams during the 70s. They held NWA tag team titles over 24 times for various regions.
Jack also was a successful singles wrestler, holding over 10 different titles including the NWA World Title (2 times).
Jack defeated Harley Race in 1973 and held the belt for a year and half before losing to Giant Baba. Four days later, Brisco regained the belt, marking him as the second wrestler (after Lou Thesz) to hold the titles on multiple occasions.
He defended the belt all over the NWA regions for another year until losing the belt to Terry Funk in 1975. Jack has the recognition of being the only multi-titleholder to have his title reigns last over a year.
45 - Owen Hart
Owen Hart began his WWF career as the masked highflyer named Blue Blazer. This gimmick was develop to avoid promoting Owen as Bret Hart's brother.
Though the Blue Blazer was exciting and the fans enjoyed the aerial maneuver, the Blue Blazer was not able to gain any success.
After leaving the WWF for two years, Owen returned and started teaming with Jim Neidhart to fill the void left by Bret who was being pushed as a singles competitor.
Owen began teaming with Bret in the mid-90s which led to a feud between the two and some outstanding matches.
Two matches that stand out are the steel cage match at SummerSlam '94 and a lumberjack match which Owen initially won but the match was order to continue due to interference. In both matches, Bret was victorious.
In 1995, Owen won his first title which was the WWF Tag Team titles with Yokozuna. The team held the belts for five months until Shawn Michaels and Diesel defeated them.
Owen went on to hold the Tag Titles a total of four times, the Intercontinental Title twice, and once held the European Title. He probably would have won the World Title if it wasn't for that terrible accident in Kansas City.
Owen was a terrific wrestler who was very entertaining with the mic and in the ring. His role as the younger and spoiled brother of Bret was played to perfection. Perhaps the jealous act and need to get out of Bret's shadow was based on reality.
Owen, you are missed.
44 - Diamond Dallas Page
DDP broke into the wrestling biz as a heel manager in the AWA in 1988. He managed the team of Badd Company (Paul Diamond and Pat Tanaka) who he led to the World Tag Team titles.
Page went to the WCW to manage the Fabulous Freebirds (Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin) in 1991.
Later in the year, Page decided to train with Dusty Rhodes to become a wrestler at the age of 35.
In the fall of '94, Page won his first title when he defeated Ultimate Warrior wannabe Renegade for the WCW TV Championship.
In the late 90s, Page held the tag belts four times, the US title twice and the World Title three times.
Twice he won the World Title via a Four-Way Match and the third time, he defeated Jeff Jarrett in a steel cage match.
Though he won all the titles and being a fan of DDP, I feel this ranking was a bit high. Most of his titles, especially the World Titles, were during a period when the talent in the WCW was limited.
The World Title basically changed hands every month during 1999 and 2000. Everyone was champion.
But man, was that Diamond Cutter lethal.
43 - Arn Anderson
This ranking is mostly due to his extreme success in the tag team divisions teaming with Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson, and Bobby Eaton.
As a singles competitor, the "Enforcer" won the NWA TV Title in 1990 by defeating Great Muta with a DDT. He held the belt for almost a year before losing it to Tom Zenk. This marked the second time he held this belt (1984).
He held the NWA/WCW TV Title a total of four times in between winning the NWA, WCW, and WWF World Tag Team Championships.
Arn Anderson, along with Ric Flair, was the reason why the Four Horsemen stable dominated professional wrestling for almost two decades.
To this day, fans find The Four Horsemen so intriguing and the benchmark for all stables to compare.
42 - Big John Studd
Prior to the WWF, Studd held the Mid-Atlantic tag belts with Ken Patera and participated in titles matches against the NWA World Champion Ric Flair.
In the WWF, Studd was the backbone of the Heenan Family and featured in some classic feuds against Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant.
This ranking may be a bit high for Studd as he was not able to sustain a long period of success that would warrent a top 50 ranking.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter may agree as they chose Studd as the Most Overrated Wrestler in 1984, which was during peak of his success.
41 - Kevin Nash
Contrary to Nash's success in the WWF as Diesel, he was known in the WCW as Master Blaster Steel (in 1990), Oz (in '91), and Vinnie Vegas (in '92). These gimmicks were short lived and were not pushed.
In 1994, Diesel started to find success winning all three WWF titles during that year. He won the Intercontinental Title from Razor Ramon and months later won the World Tag Team belts with Shawn Michaels by defeating The Headshrinkers. He then beat Bob Backlund for the WWF title in November after turning face.
In '95, Diesel and Shawn Michaels feuded for the belt which culminated at WrestleMania XI with Diesel winning. The team was united after Michaels was attacked by his new bodyguard Psycho Sid.
Nash joined Scott Hall in leaving the WWF in early '96 to join the WCW. They formed the Outsiders and starred in one of the best angles in wrestling history. The team initially appeared as fans taunting the announcers, wrestlers and the company with the angle that they were sent by the WWF to "invade" WCW.
After weeks of stating that a third member would appear and join their movement, Hulk Hogan finally appear as that member and the nWo was formed.
Nash held the WCW Tag Team belts nine times with Scott Hall, Diamond Dallas Page, and Sting. He also the World Title five times.
Funny thing with Kevin Nash's career is the various roller-coaster recognition he received from PWI and Wrestler Observer Newsletter.
His Oz gimmick was voted the Worst Gimmick of 1991, Most Improved Wrestler in 1994, Wrestler of the Year in 1995 and participated in the Match of The Year against Shawn Michaels, Tag Team of the Year in 1997 with Scott Hall, Most Overrated and Worst Wrestler in 1999 and 2000, and voted Readers' Least Favorite Wrestler.
I feel Nash should be higher in the ranking, perhaps breaking the Top 25 list.
40 - David Von Erich
David was the first of the brothers to break into the family business, which he debuted in June 1977.
Two months later, he fought the NWA World Champ Harley Race to a 30 minute draw. Two years later he would defeat Race in the NWA Missouri region with the famous Iron Claw in a non-title match.
In 1982, David Von Erich fought in the Florida region as a heel under JJ Dillon and fought with Kendo Nagasaki and Jimmy Garvin. He would become great friends with Garvin and convince him to join him in Texas.
In 1983, Garvin and David enjoyed a successful feud in the WCCW for the Texas Title which changed hands throughout the feud. The feud also included in Garvin and his valet Sunshine being forced to serve as David's valet for a day.
These two flamboyant people were required to work on the farm cleaning up after the animals. It was funny watching Jimmy plea to David about the chores.
In September of 1983, David defeated Ric Flair for the NWA Missouri Title which he held for four months. This victory was suppose to push David to win the NWA World Title.
The St. Louis Club and Central States Wrestling regions were the biggest draw for the NWA during the 70s and 80s. The founders Sam Muchnick (St Louis Club) and Bob Geigel (CSW) were powerful men on the board.
Geigel served as the NWA President during these years which was the reason for the guys like Race, Flair, and Terry Funk getting shots to win the World Title. All politics!!!
Unfortunately, David did not live long enough to capture the World Title which many felt he would win. He died in Japan in February '84, months before the schedule bout with champion Ric Flair.
39 - Rick Rude
Prior to joining the WWF in 1987, Rude competed in various regions like Georgia, Memphis, Florida and for Jim Crockett Promotions.
During this time he capture many of the regional titles, including the Mid-Atlantic Tag Titles with "Ragin Bull" Manny Fernandez and the World Class Wrestling World Heavyweight Title.
In the WWF, Rude featured in notable feuds against Jake "the Snake" Roberts and the Ultimate Warrior. Rude defeated Warrior to win his only WWF title in WrestleMania X, the Intercontinental Belt.
In the WCW, Rude help to form the Dangerous Alliance and defeated Sting to win the WCW United States Championship. He held the title for 14 months and lost it due to a legitimate injury in December of 1992.
If you need any proof that steroids are terrible in the long run, just remember how fit Rude was and then realize he died at the age of 40.
Too, Too Young.
38 - Rey Mysterio Jr.
Rey Mysterio helped to revolutionize the Cruiserweight Division in the United States beginning in the WCW.
In 1996, Eric Bischoff made an agreement with Mexican organization Asistencia Asesoria y Administraction (AAA) to have their top fighters compete in the WCW.
This agreement was a hit with the fans of WCW who were pleased with the high flying, fast pace performance that wrestlers like Juventud Guerrera, Psychosis, and Rey Mysterio perfected.
Mysterio finished his WCW reign winning the Cruiserweight Title five times and the WCW World Tag Team belts three times (with Billy Kidman, Konnan, and Juventud Guerrera).
By the time of the ranking in 2003, Mysterio was competing in the WWE and teaming with Edge. They defeated Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit for the WWE World Tag Team Championship.
I believe his ranking would be a lot higher if tallied later on in the decade. Mysterio has proved to all doubters that lightweight fighters can compete in all weight classes. As proved by the feud with The Big Show.
He remains one of the most exciting wrestlers of all time.
37 - Curt Hennig
I had the privilege of seeing Curt grow as a professional wrestler from the AWA to the WWF to the WCW as a member of the Horsemen and then nWo.
In one of the most famous match in Road Warriors history, Curt teamed with Baron Von Raschke to compete for the AWA World Tag Team Title. Curt's father Larry "Ax" Henning was doing commentary outside the ring.
During the match, Larry was talking about how proud he was of Curt and his success at a young age. The Hennig team had the Road Warriors on the run and looked like they may win the belts.
Unfortunately the tides changed after Hennig's head got caught between the ropes. It was now time for the Warriors to take advantage and pounce on the young wrestler which led to a bloody mess.
His father's attempt to help was interrupted by Paul Ellering and the Warriors continued to beat down Hennig, now with a chair.
What a match!
This led to brawls between the Hennigs and the Road Warriors.
After the Warriors departed the AWA, Hennig started teaming with Scott Hall to fill the void. They defeated Jimmy Garvin and Steven Regal, who beat the Road Warriors, for the tag team belts.
After dropping the belts to Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers, Hennig received a push as a singles wrestler. The angle was that Henning was developing an edge that borderlined heel.
Eventually, Hennig turned heel and defeated Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Title at SuperClash '87. He held the belt for over one year and quickly left after losing it to Jerry Lawler.
Henning appeared in the WWF as Mr. Perfect. I felt this was one of the best angles that the WWF developed and was fitting for this fine wrestler.
Henning went undefeated for over a year fighting guys like Blue Blazer, Jimmy Snuka, and Terry Taylor.
Under the management of Bobby Heenan, Henning won the Intercontinental Title tournament by defeating Tito Santana in 1990.
As talented of a wrestler Hennig was, I never understood why the "Perfect-Plex" was his finishing move. It was pretty lame.
36 - Abdullah The Butcher
Abdullah fought in six decades, dating back to 1958.
His violent battles against Carlos Colon, Bruiser Brody, and Herculez Ayala were legendary.
Abdullah goal was to make his opponent's face match his red wrestling pants that he wore. His excessive violence and complete disregard of his and his opponents body was reputation which followed him throughout his career.
Abdullah’s matches almost always turned into bloodbaths, and he was infamous for stabbing his opponent’s wounds with his trademark fork (or any other foreign weapon that he could get his hands on).
This style of fighting was admired and adapted by Cactus Jack, Kevin Sullivan, Kamala, and Sabu to name a few.
Though very popular in Puerto Rico, Japan, and Canada, Abdullah The Butcher didn't participate much in the "Big Three" organizations.
His most famous angle was when he was introduced in WCW in a giant, gift-wrapped box which was given to Sting as a gift from Cactus Jack. Sting unwrapped his gift and Abdullah attacked him.
This led to a "Chamber of Horrors" match at Halloween Havoc 1991. Abdullah was accidently "electrocuted" by Jack during the match.
Abdullah the Butcher is one scary dude who really enjoys what he does for a living as evident by his long tenure in this profession.
I will continue the series shortly and hope you enjoy the first installment.
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