Top 50 Wrestlers Ranked by Pro Wrestling Illustrated: Nos. 15-6

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Top 50 Wrestlers Ranked by Pro Wrestling Illustrated: Nos. 15-6

We are nearing the top and will take a look at the next ten wrestlers listed by Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) in 2003.

 

15 - Nick Bockwinkel

The Bockwinkel vs. Verne Gagne feud is what brought the AWA to the top of wrestling during the 70s. Bockwinkel ended Gagne's title reign of seven years in 1975, winning his first of four AWA World Heavyweight Championships.

He was the face of the organization heading into the 80s and fought top wrestlers like Billy Robinson, Dick The Bruiser, Crusher, Mad Dog Vachon, Jerry Lawler, Otto Wanz, and Mr. Saito.

Bockwinkel also was part of a successful heel team in the early 70s with Ray "The Crippler" Stevens. That team held the AWA Tag Team Championships three times.

 

14 - "Rowdy" Roddy Piper

It may be the Dog Collar Match vs. Greg Valentine in the first Starrcade for the NWA United States Championship, or the Piper Pit shows, or his feuds with Hogan and Orndorff that separated Piper as one of the best entertainers in wrestling.

Piper first became successful in the NWA Pacific Northwest region battling "Playboy" Buddy Rose, Jesse Ventura, and Stan Stasiak.

He twice won the region's heavyweight championship and their tag team championship three times.

In the early 80s, Piper won the NWA Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship three times, NWA Television Title three times, NWA United States Title twice and the NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team belts once with Big John Studd. 

Though successfully competing in the WWF for more than a decade (1984-1996), Piper held only one of their titles (Intercontinental Title) during this time. He was still instrumental in the WWF movement in the mid-80s, helping to promote Hulk Hogan as World Champion.

 

13 - Stan Hansen

Hansen jumped back and forth between Japan and North America competing for their top belts.

In North America, Hansen held the NWA World Tag Team belts with Ole Anderson. They were selected Tag Team of the Year in 1982.

He also held the NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship and NWA Georgia Tag Team Belts.

Hansen's biggest achievement was winning the AWA World Heavyweight Championship from Rick Martel in 1985 via the Boston Crab submission.

He held the belt for seven months before being stripped by Verne Gagne. Rumor has it that he would not drop the belt to Nick Bockwinkel.

In 1990, Hansen defeated Lex Luger for the NWA U.S. Championship. This will be his last title reign in North America.

In Japan, Hansen was extremely successful and held numerous titles including the AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship four times.

His "Lariat" was one of most popular moves.

Hansen has the distinction of being the only one to pin Japanese's greats Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba.

 

12 - Sting

One of my favorite wrestlers of all-time. His matches in the late 80s with Ric Flair were classics.

Sting became the face that Magnum T.A. was being groomed to become. It was apparent that Sting would lead JCP/WCW into the next decade.

Sting's first taste of championship glory was in the Universal Wrestling Federation. He won the UWF World Tag Team Championships with Eddie Gilbert twice and Rick Steiner once.

After Jim Crockett bought UWF, Sting was one of the few wrestlers to receive a push in NWA by top booker Dusty Rhodes.

All through 1988, Sting was unsuccessful in defeating the Four Horsemen members for their titles.

Finally in early '89, Sting one his first NWA title by defeating Mike Rotundo for the Television Title.

Sting defeated Ric Flair in July of '90 for his first World Title. He ended up winning a total of seven NWA/WCW World Titles.

His championships also included winning the United States Title, World Tag Team Championships (with Lex Luger, The Giant, and Kevin Nash), and WCW International Title.

Sting was voted the Most Popular Wrestler four times and Wrestler of the Year in 1990 by PWI readers.

Wrestling Observer Newsletter voted Sting Best Baby Face in 1992 and voted his draw with Ric Flair in the first Clash of the Champion, Match of the Year for 1988.

Sting is one of the top wrestlers in North America who never fought for the WWF/E.

 

11 - Bruiser Brody

When talking about wrestlers who had their careers come to an end while in their prime, Brody's name should be one of the first mentioned. Unfortunately, this outstanding wrestler had his life cut short in Puerto Rico on that fateful July day in 1988.

The story supposedly goes that Invader 1 (Jose Huertas Gonzalez) was upset with Brody and stabbed Brody in the stomach several times. Gonzalez was acquitted of murder.

Brody fought over the world and basically every region in North America. Wherever he fought, he brought excitement with his brawling style.

Brody had classic feuds with Kamala, Abdullah The Butcher, and Jerry Blackwell which carried over from one organization to another.

By 1985, Brody was the highest-paid wrestler and was estimated to earn $14,000 per week. This shows how much of a draw Brody was.

You are missed, big guy.

 

10 - Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat

During Steamboat's stay in Mid-Atlantic (1976 - 1985), he captured the NWA United States Championship three times, NWA World Tag Team Championship six times, NWA Mid-Atlantic Championship twice, NWA Mid-Atlantic Tag Team Championship twice, and the NWA World TV Title twice.

In the WWF (1985-1988), "The Dragon" was born. He feuded with Don Muraco and Jake "The Snake" Roberts which led him to competing for the Intercontinental Title.

He defeated "Macho Man" Randy Savage at WrestleMania III for the title, which is considered a classic match and defined both of these wrestlers.

Returning to the NWA/WCW (1989), Steamboat defeated Ric Flair at Chi-Town Rumble. He defeated Flair in the rematch at Clash of the Champions and then lost back the title at WrestleWar. All three matches mentioned were give "5-Star Ratings" by Wrestler Observer Newsletter.

The rest of the decade saw Steamboat bounce back and forth between WCW and WWF, which included more championships and exciting matches.

Top 10 ranking is a well deserved spot for this "Dragon."

 

9 - Dusty Rhodes

Dusty receives credit for coming up with the Starrcade idea and starting up many of the Jim Crockett Promotion's pay-per-views and gimmicks.

As a top booker, the "Dusty Finish" was created. The "Dusty Finish" is defined by having a match end in controversy after the referee is unconscious.

This type of ending initially maintained fan interest from one television show to the next and helped to propel JCP to the top of the wrestling world.

During the 80s, Rhodes had a classic feud against the Four Horsemen, receiving help from the Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff, Manny Fernandez, and others during this rivalry.

The main titles Rhodes held were the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship (10 times), NWA Georgia Heavyweight Championship, NWA National Heavyweight Championship, NWA World Heavyweight Championship, NWA United States Championship, NWA World Television Championship (3 times), and NWA World Tag Team Championship (2 times).

PWI awarded two Rhodes' bouts, Match of the Year. With Harley Race in 1979 and with Ric Flair in 1986.

He was also voted Wrestler of the Year in 1977 and 1978 by the same publication.

 

8 - Shawn Michaels

Along with Sting, Flair, Steamboat, Savage and the Road Warriors, Shawn Michaels is one of my favorite wrestlers to watch.

His matches are exciting, intense, and well performed. No surprise that nine Michaels' bouts were recognized and voted Match of the Year by PWI readers.

The nine matches were against Marty Jannetty (1993), Razor Ramon (1994), Diesel (1995), Bret Hart (1996), Chris Benoit (2004), Kurt Angle (2005), Vince McMahon (2006), John Cena (2007), and Ric Flair (2008).

The championships won are the AWA Tag Team Championships, WWF World Heavyweight Championship (4 times), WWF Intercontinental Championship (3 times), and WWF/E World Tag Team Championship (5 times).

Let's not forget being a member of the most successful stable, since The Four Horsemen, Degeneration X. 

Michaels is a legend and still fun to watch. I'm looking forward to what happens with the return of Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

 

7 - "Macho Man" Randy Savage

Savage held six world titles during his career (two-time WWF Champion and four-time WCW Champion). He was also popular for his Slim Jim commercials.

Prior to the WWF, Savage wrestled in his father's promotion International Championship Wrestling and then feuded against Jerry Lawler in the Continental Wrestling Association.

The introduction gimmick that the WWF drafted was to have the heel managers compete for the services to manage Savage. He eventually settled to be managed by his future wife Elizabeth.

Though he won the Intercontinental Title in controversial fashion from Tito Santana, his reign was exciting as he fought the top wrestlers in the WWF.

After losing the title, Savage began teaming with Hogan to form the Mega Powers. This friendship was formed after Elizabeth ran to the dressing room and brought out Hulk Hogan to help save Savage from the beatdown the Hart Foundation was delivering.

Eventually jealousy would break the team up and led to a Savage-Hogan feud.

 

6 - Harley Race

By the time I began watching Race fight, he was half of the man he was while dominating the NWA during the 70s.

Race ended up winning a total of seven NWA World Heavyweight Championships competing against guys like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., and Jerry Brisco.

He was champion who fought extensively all over the globe, including Japan fighting the best like Giant Baba.

Three Race matches were voted Match of the Year by PWI. The three were against Dory Funk Jr (1973), Dusty Rhodes (1979) and Ric Flair (1983).

He was also voted PWI Wrestler of the Year in 1979 and 1983.

By the time he reached the WWF, he was 43 and already wrestled for a quarter of a century. His only achievement was to win the King Of The Ring tournament which provided him with the gimmick as the "King". 

Similar to Dusty Rhodes, Race's stint in the WWF was a black eye to their careers.  

 

I will come back shortly with the remaining five wrestlers and hope you have enjoyed the series so far.

Thank you and Happy New Year.

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