Hardcore Wrestling's Innovators of Violence: My Top 10
Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a hardcore streak in me. In fact, my first love could only be referred to by one name: bloodshed.
Whenever I’d see trickles of crimson falling from a man’s face, I’d get giddy inside. Back in my formative years, the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, I’d subconsciously made it my mission to figure out just how much physical duress the human body could sustain.
At home, it’d be my stepbrother and I swinging at each other with wrenches, bashing one another’s face into electric sockets and shooting BBs at the other’s bare skin. On the road, it’d be me going undefeated in competitive kickboxing for my fighting academy and claiming a couple of medals and trophies in Greco-Roman wrestling for my high school, while also spending a few years earning several of the darker belts in Karate and perfecting my throwing techniques in Judo.
My goal? To one day be able to compete with some of the guy’s I’d watched on T.V.—the ones from Mexico’s Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA), Japan’s Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), the United States’ Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and the Octagon’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Yes, I watched regular wrestling, too, but knowing that that stuff was being faked and would result in much less gory outcomes than my preferred telecasts, there was only so much I could bear of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, George “The Animal” Steele and the Junkyard Dog. Therefore, I stuck mostly to the exploding barbed-wire and 40-foot scaffold matches I’d grown up watching.
In doing so, I learned quite a bit about tough guys, and eventually decided to rank my favorites in order, which brings me to this list…
No. 10: Raven
Yes, I realize that during a short stint in the early ‘90s, Scott Levy was involved with the WWF as a preppy manager named Johnny Polo. I also realize that in real life, he’s Jewish and a member of Mensa. Those aren’t really hardcore credentials, are they? Probably not.
However, everything he’s done since then is. From building his hardcore image as the cult leader of "The Flock" in WCW and psychologically mind-effing his followers into fighting for him there, to creating some of the more memorable feuds in ECW history (e.g. stealing Beulah McGillicutty from high school jock Tommy Dreamer and becoming Tyler Fullington, the Sandman’s son’s, “favorite wrestler”), to creating some of the best bloodfests TNA has ever aired, such as the “Clockwork Orange House of Fun," the “Raven’s Rules” and the “Hangman’s Horror” matches.
But, does he have the credentials to kickstart our list? Well, considering he was the first professional wrestler to hold championships in each of the major American promotions of the last decade—World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA)–I’d say he does.
True, the majority of the time, he may be more image than toughness, and more psychological than physical, but all those championships prove that he can also hang in there with the best of them when the going gets tough.
So if you want to sell a hardcore product in the U.S.A., Raven is certainly among the best places to start, as is this next guy…
No. 9: New Jack
Before becoming one of the most recognizable shoot-fighting wrestlers anywhere, legend has it that the man formerly known as Jerome Young worked as a bounty hunter and committed four justifiable homicides. Although these rumors from independent sources have never been confirmed, a few other things have.
One, the man’s now known as “New Jack” because of the name’s gang affiliation in both movies (New Jack City, anyone?) and real life (the "New Jacks" are an offshoot unit of the California-based Crips gang).
Two, this man may not have created 40-foot drops-through-table matches, but those matches have sure as heck become his trademark. While in XPW, after his March 12, 2000 match against Vic Grimes had gone terribly awry, he even suffered some legitimate brain damage and temporary right-eye blindness courtesy of a premature fall off a balcony, since he missed the wooden tables that were supposed to break his fall and landed on the concrete floor below them.
Three, the man has a serious addiction to staple guns and cocaine. Don’t believe me? Then, for the first one, just ask anybody he’s fought since debuting in 1992. For the second one, just go to YouTube and type in "New Jack’s shoot interviews," many of which feature him talking about his cocaine habit.
But I ain’t knocking him for it, because I agree with his take on the whole thing: Of course he’s on coke, any man jumping 40 feet through tables every night is gonna have to be on some $#!+ because sober men don’t do that. He’s right, they don’t!
That blatant honesty mixed with his “gangsta” style, are what place him No. 9 on my list.
No. 8: Sabu
How do you know if you're damn hardcore?
When you fight mostly in extreme leagues and are still referred to as “the most homicidal, suicidal, genocidal” of them all, you know you’re damn hardcore!
When you look through your family tree and see the name "Ed Farhat" a few branches above your own, you know you’re damn hardcore!
When you had one of the longest and most memorable barbed-wire-ropes matches with the granddaddy of extreme, you know you’re damn hardcore!
And lastly, when your body has so many scars on it that it looks like Edward Scissorhands sculpted it, you know you’re damn hardcore!
Anybody who watches hardcore wrestling already knows Terry Brunk (a.k.a. Sabu) is one crazy S.O.B. and that you just cannot start a hardcore establishment if he’s not in your ranks.
That said, need I really delve any further into Sabu’s hardcore credentials? I think not!
No. 7: Mick Foley
Some argue that because he became such a household name as Dude Love in the WWE, Mick Foley should no longer be mentioned among the greatest hardcore wrestlers of all time.
I beg to differ. In fact, I think the exact opposite: Would hardcore wrestling have thrived as much as it has, had “Mrs. Foley’s Little Boy” not brought it into the limelight and given it as huge a stage as he did? Nope.
From the days of his youth, when he’d set up mattresses on the ground to break his fall as he voluntarily jumped off the roof of his childhood home, to his infamous overseas fights, where two-thirds of his ear once got ripped off during a match with Big Van Vader after Mick had gotten hung up between the ropes, I can argue that there’s never been somebody more born for this kind of wrestling style.
If there was no Mick Foley, ECW would never have made it past its formative years. Not only did he bring some awesome WCW talent with him when he joined its ranks and more media attention than that then-fledgling organization had ever seen, but he also cut the single most influential promo in that company’s entire existence (“Those fans that chant 'He's Hardcore, He's Hardcore, He's Hardcore' wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire!"), which laid down the blueprint for how all the misfits around him would forever carry on with interviews.
Unlike many, I do not chastise Mick for that hippie Dude Love or even for that masochistic Mankind, but rather praise him for the journeyman hardcore icon that is Cactus Jack. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico’s claim to fame was the first hardcore person to ever adorn my chest, in the fashion of an Old West “Wanted” poster wherein he was shooting his patented bang-bang.
No. 6: The Sheik
I mentioned him earlier during his nephew’s quick outline, but now it’s time to talk about him a little more in depth. Wrestling in the ‘80s was rather mundane, you either had racist rednecks or roided-up pretty-boy gimmick fighters, you didn’t really have too many crazy mother-truckers yet.
But then, along came Ed Farhat...
Although he was really from Michigan, “The Sheik” was billed as being a wild man from the Syrian Desert. He never spoke a word, which made him seem all the more crazy, instead allowing others–typically, his managers—to do the talking/explaining for him. What would those handlers be explaining?
They’d be trying to explain why Farhat would lock on backbreakers and other holds, and then refuse to break them, even after the referees pleaded with him to do so, a practice that was totally uncommon back in those days.
They’d also be trying to justify his tendency for hiding pencils, knives and hooks on his person and using them to stab his opponents when the referee wasn’t looking, or for cowering in corners creating illegal fireballs (usually under a hood or rag) and then launching them at his opponents’ faces as they approached.
Occasionally, his illegalities backfired on him, leaving him a scarred mess just like his nephew. When they didn’t, though, they were gruesome to watch. That’s why "the more things change, the more they stay the same"—he was viewed as a nutcase then, just as he still is today.
Ed Farhat, you can now rest in peace, knowing that your legacy lives on these days more than ever!
No. 5: The Sandman
Former real-life construction worker James “Jim” Fullington may be part-Sheik (carrying illegal objects into the ring) and part-New Jack (having a real-life arrest record), but he’s all bad-@$$, and has been since day one in the wrestling world, when he started under the guise of a surfer-turned-pimp. As his theme song used to warn opponents, now will “Enter Sandman.” Translation: Run!
I mean, c’mon, when a guy chain smokes and beer guzzles his way to the ring, then stops only to bloody himself up with the empty cans or his own Singapore Cane before the match has even begun, you know he ain’t working with a full deck. If he has that kind of disrespect for himself, imagine what little he’ll think of his opponents.
This kind of attitude is what has made The Sandman, as ECW so definitively put it, the “Hardcore Icon.” Having more individual title reigns than any of the other legends within that company, the Sandman won its World Heavyweight Title a total of five times.
Feuds with Raven, Tommy Dreamer, Sabu, Terry Funk and Taz helped define his legacy, almost as much as his laundry list of petty arrests for burglary and criminal mischief and assault charges.
A little known fact about the Sandman is that he isn’t really a struggling, desperately-in-need-of-money wrestler. It’s quite the opposite, actually. He’s financially independent and fairly wealthy, due in large part to the Salt Lake City-based construction company he's owned since 1994. Whenever he appears in public, he does so only because of his sheer love for professional wrestling and to give younger talent the opportunity to wrestle “someone with a name.”
If you want my honest opinion, pro wrestling needs more guys like that, and that’s why the Sandman is one of my all-time favorites. Keep up the good work, you drunken cuckoo!
No. 4: Hayabusa
Those reading from the U.S. might not recognize his name, since he ain’t exactly one of the big-name guys over here, but trust me, if you cross the oceans and go to Japan, everyone knows him over there.
However, I’ve got some bad news: If you haven’t heard of him by now, you never will because he’s now paralyzed and no longer wrestles. And yes, he got that way by being a little too hardcore for his own good, and wrestling’s karmic gods not thanking him appropriately.
As Wikipedia tells it: “In October 2001, Hayabusa suffered an injury during a match against Mammoth Sasaki while attempting a springboard moonsault. His foot slipped through the middle rope and caught the underside of it after bouncing from the bottom rope, and he landed on his head, paralyzing him. The injury also provoked a very high fever and Hayabusa required surgery. Hayabusa was considered the heart and soul of FMW, and after his departure, FMW slowly folded.”
Hayabusa, which literally means "peregrine falcon,” was named after the unmanned spacecraft developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Why? Because he used to fly around like nobody’s business.
To this day, he still wheels himself around the world via airplanes to cheer on good buddies such as Sabu, Rey Mysterio Jr. and Rob Van Dam, all of whom learned a lot of their repertoire from watching him push the limits throughout the 1990s.
Part-lucha libre wrestler and part-crazy mofo, Eiji “Hayabusa” Ezaki made his reputation in FMW, as he fought Atsushi Onita in an exploding cage match, Terry Funk and Mr. Pogo in an electrified barbed-wire deathmatch, Tetsuhiro Kuroda and Mr. Gannosuke in an Octagon Cage Explosion Time Bomb Death Match, and other such crazy bouts usually featuring the words “landmine,” “barbed-wire,” “death” and “flaming” to some degree in their title.
If that doesn’t equal hardcore, then I don’t know what does!
No. 3: Bruiser Brody
Frank Goodish was “hardcore” long before that was even a real word. He was one of the sport’s innovators. Tough people feared him because of his stiff performances. Even though wrestling was supposed to be fake back then, when you fought this guy, his hits would seriously hurt you.
Though wrestlers hated fighting him, they respected the heck out of him because they realized this was a man who really just loved to fight, and the fans ate that style up everywhere he went.
Though these stats were often debated, he was most frequently billed as standing six-foot-eight and weighing two hundred eighty-five pounds. Mix those numbers with the fact that he was a freakishly athletic former All-State football and basketball player at Warren High School in Michigan, and what you had was a human wrecking machine.
Additionally, given that his style was more “brawling” than technical wrestling, even the baddest of the bad had to admit that it hurt like heck when he’d hit them with steel chairs, ringside bells and metal staircases.
His 1988 stabbing death in Bayamón, which was believed to be part of Carlos Colón’s hostile takeover of the WWC, crippled Puerto Rican wrestling. Since fighters knew how tough Frank was and how there was no way to intimidate that guy, they realized if Colón couldn’t control the guys fighting in that organization, he’d simply hire people—as he supposedly did with Jose Huertas Gonzalez, in this case—to “take care of the problem.”
As a result, many tough men feared going there to wrestle, and stayed away for many years, including this list’s No. 1. To this day, Huertas has maintained his innocence and has never been found guilty of the crime, despite Tony Atlas and several other eyewitnesses’ testimonies.
Between Colón’s desire to be the biggest hero of Puerto Rican wrestling (which Frank undoubtedly was at that time) and Brody’s incessant refusal to job, the result was a very tearful one for the sport of hardcore wrestling, as it lost one of its very best.
There will never be another Bruiser Brody!
No. 2: Abdullah the Butcher
Although billed as the “Madman from the Sudan,” truth of the matter is that 430-pound Larry Shreeve was born in Canada and is one of the sport’s smartest men—at least, from a marketing standpoint.
Much like Ed Farhat, the original Sheik, he rarely ever spoke and would just show up with forks, spikes, barbed-wire or whatever else he could get his grubby hands around, and go to town injurying people. He did this for six decades, winning multiple awards and a few short-lived championship title reigns along the way.
Since he rarely ever spoke, he was an anomaly in a sport built around personalities. Nevertheless, because he never spoke, people didn’t know what to make of him, and so they just assumed they really were watching some uncontrollable nutjob from the Middle East. This helped draw huge crowds every time Abby’s name would appear on an event’s card, thus kicking wide open that door behind which hardcore wrestling would eventually emerge.
Is he really crazy? Heck to the no, he’s not! In fact, in real life, though Abdullah fans probably don’t care to hear this, Larry’s one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. He just came from a poor family that needed money badly, and so if carving up his forehead is what it took for him to bring that money back home to mama, then so be it.
(And for those of you wondering, yes, he really did have a lot of martial arts training. That was about the only true thing in his entire, mysterious background.)
Are there people in this world that could control him? Though Bruiser Brody and Terry Funk came awfully close at times, truth of the matter is that the only person that truly owned his heart and mind was Mama Butcher.
So, who could possibly be more hardcore than this six-foot-three blood monger?
No. 1: Terry Funk
Unlike fellow hardcore legends Abdullah, Sheik and Brody, many things have already been written about this man in the past. So instead of rewriting his entire history, I’ll just tell you one thing, and then I’ll see y’all off with a poem from Albert del Toral’s book, Home Sweet Home.
In my honest opinion, the best written, most fact-relying book ever written on hardcore wrestling is Terry Funk’s autobiography, More Than Just Hardcore.
From beginning to end, that book is an encyclopedia of wrestling knowledge that no wrestling fan should be without. If you haven’t purchased it yet, you definitely should, as that man truly knows his sport.
And on that, I leave you with my namesake writer’s poem…
“The Funker (Ain’t No Clunker)”
I’ve always loved pro rasslin’,
It’s always been my thing.
While many freaks came out of Texas,
Just one man became their king.
He is the “Hardcore Icon,”
The “granddaddy of extreme.”
Middle-aged and crazy,
Terry Funk has reigned supreme.
He’s feuded with Abdullah,
Dusty Rhodes and Harley Race.
Cactus Jack smoked him with fire,
Flaming right into his face.
The Sandman flung a ladder,
Which sent him reeling to the mat.
Old man got his funkin’ @$$ back up,
And clocked him with a bat.
Sabu wrapped him in barbed-wire,
But that wasn’t quite enough,
‘Cause this Amarillo rancher’s,
The toughest of the tough.
With no cartilage in his legs,
This dude shouldn’t be at war,
But I ain’t going to tell him,
‘Cause he’ll knock me to the floor.
All his blood, sweat and tears,
Further prove he’s a survivor,
And if you think you’ll step to him,
Prepare for the nastiest piledriver.
When Vinny tried exploiting him,
“Charlie” faded into dust.
His mouth began ‘a cussing,
And the chainsaw grew some rust.
Funk dumped the stocking cap,
And every hardcore fan rejoiced.
That move earned him more respect,
Than every belt he’d ever hoist.
Funk U’s dean of discipline,
Has never been that smart,
But with that branding iron of his,
He’s burned a place within my heart.
If ever there’s been a motherfunker,
Who’d beat down any top-ranked punk,
Throughout five very different decades,
It’d be the kooky Terry Funk.