WWE Best of Best, Pt. 7 of 7: The Greatest Technicians
That's it. Here is the final Top 10 many readers were waiting for.
In the seventh part of the series, in which I categorized wrestlers according to different styles, it's now time to take a look at the greatest technicians in WWE history.
The grapplers featured on this list are the most prodigious mat wrestlers. They are submission move specialists and they apply to perfection the art of scientific wrestling. With their precise work on opponents body parts, they are the surgeons of the ring.
So, with no more introduction, let's see who made the cut and who is number one.
10. Mike Rotunda (IRS)
In 1984, Rotunda formed a successful duo with Barry Windham. Together, as the popular U.S. Express, they captured the Tag Team Championship twice and they took part in the first Wrestlemania. With his amateur wrestling background, Rotunda was the technician of the team while Windham was the powerhouse.
The following year, Windham left the WWF and Rotunda had a forgettable run in singles. He also teamed up with Danny Spivey in a new version of the U.S. Express, but they became jobbers. Rotunda eventually left the company to join up with his former partner in the Florida NWA territory.
After four years with NWA, Rotunda made a memorable return with the WWF, as the infamous taxman known as IRS. In no time, he became a serious contender for the Intercontinental Championship and he had a great rivalry with Bret Hart over the title.
With his brand new gimmick, he became one of the most hated heels ever and he truly started to display his great in-ring talent with his signature multiple suplex variations and his work on opponents specific body parts. Every time he found an opening, he worked on a specific body part for the whole match.
His career reached its peak when he teamed up with Ted DiBiase and formed the duo known as Money Inc. Both men formed a very successful tag team and they won the gold three times to dominate the division for almost one year.
After The Million Dollar Man retired from active wrestling, he formed a stable in which IRS was an important member. When he was associated with the Million Dollar Corporation, Rotunda mostly feuded in singles. However, he and the stable itself never achieved huge success.
IRS' last big feud with the WWF was against the legendary Undertaker. The Taxman was obviously on the losing end, but, with his amazing technical skills, he gave hard times to The Deadman.
Mike Rotunda never really reached main event status, but for five years he was an important draw in the mid-card division. No one likes taxmen and, because of that, he portrayed one of the most hated heels in WWE history.
9. Ken Shamrock
In 1997, Ken Shamrock introduced the ankle lock and the mixed martial art style in WWE. As a submission holds specialist and with his UFC background, he quickly became a top draw.
The Wolrd's Most Dangerous Man wasted no time to make his mark. At his first pay-per-view, he defeated Vader with his ankle lock. Following that, he feuded with The Hart Foundation and he even came close to winning the WWF Title against Bret Hart, but it ended in a no contest.
Shamrock then entered into a long and grueling rivalry against The Nation Of Domination.
The next year, he won a match for the Intercontinental Title against Rocky Maivia at Wrestlemania XIV, but the decision was reversed when he refused to release the ankle lock after the bell.
After his bitter loss at Wrestlemania, he became the King Of The Ring which meant he was destined to the main event status. He then won the Intercontinental and the Tag Team Championships. He turned heel in November 1998 and he became a vital member of Mr. McMahon's Corporation.
He left the WWF in 1999 to resume his UFC career, but before doing so, he quit the Corporation to become face again and he formed The Union. He and his partners defeated The Corporate Ministry at the Over The Edge 1999 pay-per-view in a four-on-four elimination match. He wrestled his last match at Summerslam in a winning effort against Steve Blackman.
When he left, he was about to be put in a feud against Kurt Angle, in what could have been one of the best rivalries ever.
With a longer run with the company, he would certainly be higher on the list because he did very well in WWF Championship matches with his MMA style. He battled the best at the time, exchanging wins and losses with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Mankind and The Undertaker.
8. Dean Malenko
For 18 months, "The Man Of 1,000 Holds" graced the WWE with his presence. Even today, Malenko is considered as one of the best technical wrestlers in pro wrestling history.
If he had more impact on WWE and if he spent more time with the company, he would be higher on the current list.
He had some success with The Radicalz and he won the Light Heavyweight Championship twice. But unfortunately, he retired from the ring before the WWE fans could really appreciate him as he deserved.
Malenko could do anything in a ring and he was a cold calculator. He never took useless risks and he worked on opponents' body parts like no one.
To give you an idea of the exceptional quality of his in-ring skills he was already acknowledged as a great technician before joining the WWF. He won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Award for the Best Technical Wrestler in 1996 and 1997. He was also declared the 1997 Wrestler Of The Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
7. Tito Santana
One of the best and most popular mid-carders in WWE history, Tito Santana was inducted to the Hall Of Fame in 2004. He is a two-time Intercontinental Champion and he won the Tag Team Title twice.
He spent 14 straight years with the company, from 1979 to 1993, and he was a pillar of stability. He won the first ever Wrestlemania match in history and he became the 1989 King Of The Ring.
If his role with the company became less prominent from 1990 on, he was still important to put over new WWF talents, such as Shawn Michaels and Mr Perfect.
Santana was not flashy in the ring, but he was an agile mat wrestler. He was a master of scientific wrestling and a rare babyface wrestler to have never turned coat.
He was not the kind of wrestler to take risks in the ring, but his flying forearm was looking spectacular because it was coming out of nowhere. He was a specialist of the arm-bar hold and he often used the figure-four leg-lock.
6. Mr. Perfect
Mr Perfect, probably the greatest Intercontinental Champion ever, didn't seal his spot into the WWE Hall Of Fame. He had the potential to become a top draw and a WWF Champion, but for unknown reasons, it never happened.
However, many of the greatest wrestlers ever, including Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Hulk Hogan praised his amazing in-ring talent.
During his runs with the WWF, Curt Hennig portrayed the perfect heel (pun intended). He did cut arrogant promos and the crowd hated his Mr Perfect character, but he always backed his words with his uncommon technical skills.
His finisher, the Perfect-Plex, was just one of the many moves he had in his arsenal. The knee of his opponents was the body part he used to target to keep them down. And, among his signature moves, he had the figure-four leg-lock, the Indian deathlock and the sleeper hold. But he could also perform nice drop kicks and he wasn't afraid to climb on the top turnbuckle when he was sure his opponents could not counter.
Mr. Perfect rarely made mistakes in the ring and he used everything available to hurt his rivals, including a huge variety of illegal heel tactics.
5. Chris Benoit
In 2004, he was declared the Best Wrestler Of The Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. During that year, he became the second wrestler to win the Royal Rumble as the first entrant. He then headed to Wrestlemania XX to win the World Heavyweight Title in a triple-threat match against the champion Triple H and Shawn Michaels. When Benoit applied his signature Crippler Crossface for the victory, it was the first time a Wrestlemania main event ended in a submission hold.
He was one of the most gifted and complete wrestler to have stepped in a pro wrestling ring and, even before joining the WWF in 2000, he was seen as one of the best by most of pro wrestling magazines. In 1994, Dave Meltzer awarded him and Great Sasuke a five-star match. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter also gave him the Best Technical Wrestler Award in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2004 as well as many other awards.
Benoit was the twelfth Triple Crown Champion and, with a total of 12 WWE Championships in less than seven years, he became one of the most successful wrestler in the company.
He was respected by his peers and the fans liked him for his uncommon in-ring abilities. In addition to his outstanding scientific wrestling skills, he never hesitated to put his body on the line with his famous diving headbutt from the top turnbuckle.
Benoit was a wrestling machine and he could apply with ease about any submission hold, from the sharpshooter to the figure-four leg-lock. He was also a suplex master with 10 variations he used regularly.
4. The Dynamite Kid
With his unique in-ring technique, the Dynamite Kid inspired a lot of wrestlers who followed him in the 1990s and 2000s. Some of the greatest technical wrestlers, such as Chris Benoit, idolized him and adopted a part of his moveset, including the diving headbutt.
During his run with the WWF, from 1984 to 1988, he teamed up with Davey Boy Smith who complemented him with his powerhouse style. Together, they formed one of the most popular and greatest tag teams ever. They only held the Tag Team Title once, but their reign lasted 294 days.
Kid also invented the superplex and he was as good in the air as in mat wrestling. He even won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Award for the Best Flying Wrestler and Best Technical Wrestler in 1984.
His style, influenced by the British and Japanese schools, made him a complete wrestler who had a huge influence on the WWF and North American pro wrestling overall.
Despite his relative short run with the company and his little success, he made such an impact on the future generations that he fully deserves his spot on the current list.
3. Bob Backlund
Those who saw Backlund in action in the '90s had no clue how great he was in the '70s and early '80s.
In 1994, when he won the WWF Championship against Bret Hart at Survivor Series, he was still able to hold his own for a man of 45-years-old. After a 35-minute technical clinic, Backlund won the Title via submission with his trademark Crossface Chicken Wing. If his reign as WWF Champion only lasted three days, with his new crazy heel character, it was a totally different story in his prime.
From February 1978 to December 1983, Backlund was the dominant force in the WWF and he only spent six days without the WWF Championship and the Title change is not recognized by WWE. Anyway, no matter if we consider he had two or three reigns, he is ranked third in history for the most days as Champion with 2086.
In 1980, he received two Awards from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter; one for the Best Technical Wrestler and one for the Match Of The Year (against Ken Patera). Pro Wrestling Illustrated also recognized his talent: they gave him the Wrestler Of The Year Award in 1980 and 1982 as well as two Match Of The Year Awards (in 1978 against Billy Graham then in 1982 against Jimmy Snuka).
No matter if it was in his first or second run with the company, he always totally invested himself in his matches. With his amateur wrestling background, he was a genuine mat wrestler and a master to hold his opponents down. His favorite body part to work on his opponents was the arm. And if he was not finishing his matches with his perfectly executed Crossface Chicken Wing, he could always perform an impressive half-nelson bridging cradle to get the pinfall.
In addition to his natural abilities, he was trained to become a professional wrestler by the legendary Eddie Sharkey, so no wonder why he was a great wrestler.
If Bob Backlund ever accepts to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame, the doors will be undoubtedly wide open for him.
2. Kurt Angle
The first and only amateur wrestling Olympic gold medalist left a permanent mark in WWE. With such a background, it's no wonder why he is one of the most decorated wrestler in pro wrestling history.
The 2000 King Of The Ring is the fifth Grand Slam Champion and, except the U.S. Title, he won everything in WWE.
His ankle lock quickly became famous because no one could resist when it was locked in. He is the first one to have forced The Undertaker to tap out despite it not being made official.
Angle received countless accolades from pro wrestling magazines, including the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Wrestler Of The Decade (2000-10) Award.
He was one of the most complete wrestlers to have ever stepped in a WWE ring. If his signature arsenal including a huge variety of mat wrestling moves wasn't enough, he had in store an impressive moonsault from the top turnbuckle.
I know many will tell he deserves the number one spot on the list, but we are talking about WWE and there can be only one.
1. Bret Hart
After a lot of deliberations in my own head, I came to the conclusion that Bret Hart is the greatest technical wrestler in WWE history.
If, for many, the Montreal Screwjob overshadowed what he could do in a ring, those who saw him in action will always remember why he was "The Excellence Of Execution."
Bret Hart built his legacy on his unmatched scientific wrestling skills he perfected in the famous Hart Dungeon. When he entered a ring, there was no room for mistake and he rarely allowed his opponents to take advantage of an opening. He also found a weak point to anyone he faced and capitalized on it on every occasion he had.
Monsters like Yokozuna, Vader and even The Undertaker all fell down to Bret Hart. He also had countless classic matches against legends such as The British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels. He even participated in half of the five-star matches in WWF, once at Summerslam 1994 against Owen Hart and once against Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13.
When Bret locked in his iconic Sharpshooter, there was no escape because he always avoided to be near the ropes.
His list of accomplishments would take too long to list them all here. He dominated both singles and tag team divisions. He will be remembered as the second Triple Crown Champion, as the 1994 Royal Rumble winner and as the only one to have won the King Of The Ring tournament twice.
Bret Hart, a unique pro wrestling legend. His impact on WWE will always be felt and when he accepted to make peace with Vince McMahon, he proved he was also a great human being.
He claimed to be The Best There Is, The Best There Was And The Best There Ever Will Be... and he was right when we talk about the greatest technicians.
The debate is now open. Please comment on who you think is the greatest between Bret Hart and Kurt Angle. I also invite you to comment about the picks and the order.
In your opinion, who should make the cut and who should be dropped from the list? The comment section is wide open.
Please note that I have put wrestlers in only one category. So, if you don't someone like Jericho, it's because he features in another slideshow.
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That's it for the Best of Best series. After seven categories of wrestling style, 70 wrestlers were presented with the showcase they deserved.
Each wrestler who are ranked number one on each list can hardly be compared between each other and the same could be said about the other positions in most cases.
In fact, the only way to compare all wrestlers is by ranking them as the Greatest WWE Superstars ever. And that is what I will present next: a Top 100 of my own. It will be the ultimate ranking in which will feature the 70 wrestlers I already presented you and 30 new entries to complete the Top 100.
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If not done yet, I you can take a look at the previous parts of the series here: