Back To School: Which Wrestlers Would Make The Best Professors?
Take the turnbuckle with effect, hit the ropes so hard your lat muscles cry in disgust, a chest slap here, belly to belly suplex there, now kick-out at two. Mix it all together with some stage presence, and a great body slam, and you have an associates degree from "Bump U".
Who could teach you the best rules of the trade? Who would know the best way to take a hard bump? Who would be the best ring mentor to put you on the path to superstar status, or at least give you the tools?
These are some of the questions I asked, along with a few others as I put this list together.
If you could build your own fantasy league of personal in-ring trainers, who would they be? Here are my professors of pain: past, present and future.
The Basics: Walter "Killer" Kowalski
He was good enough for Triple H, and look where he is. No offense to the The Game, but he's not really a technical wrestler, although I think he's one of the best big men in the business.
When you get right down to it there are only a few big men who have enough stamina to take as many bumps as Triple H over the years and keep getting back in the ring, however his time as an active wrestler is heavily rumored to be on borrowed time.
Regardless, for his stamina and basic skill sets, hats are off to Killer Kowalski. Who better to train a big man right? His former students include Big John Studd, Prince Albert, Perry Saturn, Chyna and of course the Cerebral Assassin himself.
According to good ol' dad, he and Andre the Giant feuded, and Killer was rumored to have pinned Andre at least once. But years later when Andre was interviewed he told the writer that he had tripped on the canvas and Killer covered him and his raised shoulder that the referee could not see. Because of this, he and Andre never spoke to each other again.
Heavy Lifting: Arn Anderson
One half of the Minnesota Wrecking Crew and stage brother to Ole Anderson, Arn was also a founding member of the Four Horsemen with Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard and Ole.
Anderson (a.k.a. Martin Lunde) was well known for the innovation of the belly to belly suplex, and was an expert at putting severe momentum into a body slam coming off the ropes.
What he was really famous for was his heavy lifting, he could slam the biggest of men with ease. It was truly amazing to see him in action. One second he's standing in front of a rope-sprung Barry Windham. Then he picks him up-arms wrapped snugly around his chest, and poof, Windham was on his back.
AA slides his face off Windam's sternum, scoops a leg, and the ref slides into place for the three count. All of this takes place as the ring still vibrates from the impact, and the crash still echoes through the studio.
Unfortunately AA suffered several spinal and neck injuries throughout his career that subsequently forced him to retire from mat action way too early.
Today he does creative production for WWE, but the things he could teach up-and-comers are infinite.
Technical Mechanics: Bret "The Hitman" Hart
If you have enough money and the right attitude you may be able to con your way in "The Dungeon."
Trained by his father Stu Hart, Bret started "getting stretched" at an early age with his brothers. The early years with his father and the time he spent as an amateur Greco-Roman wrestler helped develop and hone the skills he would need for the ring.
Despite all of the drama that surrounded Bret, he beats out Ric Flair for his real wrestling skills in the ring. Often criticized by Flair on many accounts, many issues seem unfounded; such as his inability to pack venues.
With his ability to keep his shoulders off the mat, and his easy use of submission holds and locks I would say this is an easy pick for most to agree.
Although it was a little tough to choose when you consider other guys like Dean Malenko, Mr. Wrestling Number Two and Stu Hart himself.
If he could teach you how to wear pink and get away with it, that would be enough.
Flying Lessons: Jeff Hardy
Now look, we all know there are other guys that have performed cooler stunts, jumped from higher etc. But, for consistency Hardy gets my vote for high flying.
Whether you love Hardy or hate him, you have to respect him. You can count on one hand how many guys his size have made it in the ring this long and stop way before you ever reach your thumb. This alone should testify to his ability to effectively stay airborne for a good many years to come.
Attaining his real fame through the use of ladders and tables and his quirky attire, he and his brother Matt have left their mark on the wrestling world and shouldn't have any problem making it to the Hall of Fame.
Graciously, Jeff Hardy has been able to closet many of the demons that have plagued him in his personal life and returned to a persona of daredevil wrestler for any brand.
For his ability to wrestle all comers and still manage to get really high up every match, he gets my vote.
Greco-Roman: Kurt Angle
Say whatever you like about Angle; arrogant, crass, entitled, prima donna, it doesn't matter at the end of the day he's still an Olympic gold medalist.
In 1996 he stole America's heart by winning the gold medal for heavyweight freestyle, beating the disliked Iranian, Abbas Jadidi. The win was disputed by the Iranians, but Angle still prevailed.
His clean, all-American image got boosted when he refused his likeness or image to be aired because of controversial antics on ECW.
This of course helped manifest his early image as the great hero in pro wrestling. Before taking the stage at WWE, Angle actually attended Dory Funk's wrestling school to learn the basics, but much of what he knew from Greco actually morphed into pro moves.
We all understand that amateur wrestling does not a pro wrestler make, but being athletic enough to survive gives you an advantage when Dory Funk Jr starts throwing off the top turn-buckle, or when Brock Lesnar isn't skilled enough to "NOT" break your neck; a lesser man might have died.
Stand up and take a bow professor.
Submission Holds: Kazushi Sakuraba (The Gracie Hunter)
Sakuraba is more notable for his MMA skills than his pro wrestling career, but his true claim to fame is having his way with several of the Gracie jiu-jitsu family (Royce Gracie pictured here about to get pummeled).
His pro wrestling career was short-lived as the higher-paying MMA organizations lured him away from conventional pro wrestling. He soon found that with his success against the Gracies, MMA fighters, grapplers and wrestlers alike were ready for him to market his brand.
Before I embarked on my family adventures, several of my colleagues lured me away from Gracie jiu-jitsu to seek out private audiences with him in Katagami, Japan.
I must confess I have witnessed inescapable arm-bars, front and rear chokes, leg shifts and vicious mounts that I have never seen equalled past or present. For undeniable true submission skills Sakuraba-san gets the nod.
I know he seems more MMA than pro wrestling, but this cat is way too cool to be left off any list.
Physique Mentors: Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson
Capitalizing on Arnold's popularity with the release of Pumping Iron, Tony and Rocky sculpted their bodies into stone statues. It was only a matter of time before somebody noticed.
Tony was actually a body builder who only wrestled on the side to finance the lifestyle, while Rocky was already very chiseled to begin with, sparring with heavyweights like Ali and Foreman.
I know, why even mention such a ludicrous thing. Rocky Johnson was always better of the two while Atlas relied heavily on his sculpted muscles to get him through the match, Johnson was the more innovative of the two, trying things in the ring that simply allowed him to flex and rest, then use a gimmick to close it out.
The real reason I mentioned them was that like many wrestlers in today's competitive market a great body is desirable simply because of aesthetics.
There are very few wrestlers now that have not defected over to, or don't at least start out with streamlined bodies that please the eye, or just make you go "What the hell is that?"
As corny as it is, I give them both a nod for retaining their physiques way after retirement and having moderate success long enough to notice they always looked good. This is no easy task with all the injuries and bumps that could sideline them along the way.
Punch-Outs and Stomping: Ron Garvin
In a sport where you get as good as you give, it's important to know the fine dynamics of throwing and taking a punch, or stomping for that matter.
In the 70s gimmicks weren't as creative as they are now, but Ron Garvin (a.k.a. Roger Barnes) took something relatively basic and worked it into a great gimmick.
There was a rumor that he and brother Jimmy Garvin fought relentlessly, but alas it was always misunderstood. He and brother Jimmy were constantly trading punches, which in turn transformed his persona.
Because of the constant practice and wear on the hands Garvin began to tape his fists to protect them, and his "Hands of Stone" gimmick actually came from a commentator remarking on how the big bandaged fists looked like stones. The name stuck and became his trademark.
He makes the list because of the constant punching and stomping he went through in every match, and not managing to pulverize his opponents. Nothing more.
Marketing: Hulk Hogan
Whatever history surrounds Hulk Hogan, one thing will remain untouched or unequalled, his impact on the wrestling world. All it really took was an appearance as "Thunderlips" in Rocky III.
Soon after marketing promoters and Vince McMahon alike saw a great chance to make a buck off the Hulkster, and they did.
Now, you won't hear me say poor pitiful Hulk, because he has made his money also (literally hundreds of millions). If you stacked all of the money he has made he still wouldn't be in Forbes' money makers, but he would be the richest wrestler to date.
At the moment, the closest wrestler to him could in fact be The Rock, or most notably Ric Flair who really at the moment dwarfs all wrestlers making a buck.
Arguably though, no one else achieved quite as much fandom and popularity as Hulk in such a short amount of time.
With Wrestlemania appearances, spots on SNL with Mr. T, Saturday morning cartoons and merchandise that would make the Star Wars franchise blush, Hulk was everywhere.
Even today in TNA, after all of the outside trouble, Hulk continues to be the most recognized wrestler in the world. He is indeed a household name.
Everything Else Not Mentioned: Ric Flair
Often imitated but never duplicated. If you ask any wrestler, nine of ten will tell you that he has influenced their career in some way.
Wanna be a heel? Ask Flair. Need to work on speaking skills? Flair. Want to return to the ring after breaking your back? Flair. How 'bout gimmicks? Well, you know.
If anybody has done it, probability is, Flair has tried or perfected it to some degree. In the Southeast through the 70s and 80s he was the most widely known wrestler there was.
Globally, he was also renowned for his stage presence. Once you saw Ric Flair, you never forgot him.
He has enjoyed longevity in the business that can only be rivaled by a handful of wrestlers. Not to mention that he's got more money than Davy Crockett.
With his flowing robes, which are many, to his once flowing golden-locks, at 61 years of age he is forever enigmatic in the wrestling world. It's hard to pin down one thing Flair is really good at, because he is really good at them all.
If I were an up-and-comer and Flair was the sole professor at the School of Wooooo, I would be camping out and fighting to be his first student.
I think he really says it best: "Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it still has the longest line!"