WWE Rankings: Top 5 High Fliers of All-Time
One of Professional Wrestling’s greatest attractions is the high fliers. Watching Jimmy Snuka leap off the top rope and crush his lame duck opponent with his patented Superfly splash, or Rey Mysterio, Jr. performing a picture-perfect springboard hurricanrana perhaps best exemplifies the nobility of the industry's sometimes mystifying appeal.
It is the astonishment as well as the jubilation of seeing, witnessing, espying something we very well could not have thunk or foreseen, that former impossibility now rendered very much possible, that cross between our imagination and reality that is most exciting about these athletes.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jushin “Thunder” Lyger and Mil Mascaras are just a few of these acrobats who have drawn our awe with their death-defying moves. And since we live in a society that is obsessed with ranking one over another, as if it truly proved something, it was only a matter of time before this confounding impulse swung toward them.
I have ranked the top five best high-flyers of all-time. The five that I have selected as the premiere daredevils of the squared circle were picked based on their supremacy in three crucial categories—innovation, influence and technique.
While this list is restricted to five, it does not diminish the accomplishments or proficiency exhibited by others that were ultimately left off of it for one reason or another.
5. Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka
The infamous "Super Fly" Jimmy Snuka. In the 1970's and 80's, nobody was more synonymous with high-flying than Snuka (except for maybe George Jung). During an era of bruisers and brawlers, Snuka stood out with his array of aerial maneuvers that included such classics as the cross body block and diving head butt. Not to mention, his patented top rope splash.
While his moves are tame to say the least by today's standards, many of the present-day air stylists may never have even thought of jumping off the turnbuckle if it wasn't for Snuka. Shawn Michaels, Marty Jannety, Mick Foley and Ricky Steamboat, among others, were influenced by his innovative performances.
You cannot compile a list of the top high-fliers without Jimmy "Super Fly" Snuka.
Proof: Versus Don Muraco—Madison Square Garden Steel Cage Match, 1983
4. Shawn Michaels
Building off what Snuka did the decade before, the Heartbreak Kid took it a step further—standing hurricanranas, diving splashes off ladders and suicide plancha over the top rope.Trained by Jose Lothario, a famous Mexican wrestler, Michaels picked up many of the moves then surfacing in Lucha Libre. He combined that with what he learned from Snuka to buttress the innovative style that would leave its impression on nearly every wrestler to come for the next decade—most notably, Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio.
Proof: Versus Vader SummerSlam 1996
3. Jushin "Thunder" Liger
Perhaps the best junior heavyweight of all-time. Jushin "Thunder" Liger was a hybrid of sorts, combining the disparate skill sets of heavyweights and lightweights, while injecting a shot of his own invention. He is responsible for the shooting star press and the surge of junior heavyweight dominance that started in Japan and migrated, as a result, across the world.
Few wrestlers today are untouched by Liger's greatness.
Proof: Versus the Great Sasuke at the Super J Cup '94
2. Rey Mysterio, Jr.
Known today simply as Rey Mysterio, after he was forced to drop the "jr" to again don the mask he lost to Kevin Nash in 1999 in good conscience. Mysterio's career has spanned nearly two and half decades. During which, he has drawn more "oh's" and "ah's" than perhaps any high-flier professional wrestling has ever seen.
Mysterio was the figurehead of Lucha Libre's hostile takeover of the American professional wrestling scene and not for nothing. His moves were not only breath-taking, they were executed with a flawless technique that has become his trademark and remains largely intact to this day, despite his mounting injuries.
Still going at 36-years-old, the full extent of Mysterio's influence has yet to be seen, but its tract marks are vividly on display in the work of Mistico (Sin Cara), Evan Bourne and the Amazing Red. Chris Jericho himself called Mysterio the best high-flier of all-time.
Proof: Anything before 1997.
1. Mil Mascaras
Kicking off his career in 1965, Mil Mascaras spawned the groundbreaking style that would captivate millions in the years to come through the future generations that picked up the ball he had gotten started rolling.
In Mexico, where his legend rests most comfortably, Mascaras was largely known for his technical prowess. It was the top rope planchas and headscissor takeovers that have earned him the seminal position in this list.
A paltry contingent of his move set, they were nonetheless revolutionary, breathing life into a style that had not really existed until that point and inflating beyond the capacity of what any athlete had done before or since.
His oeuvre casts a tall shadow that swallows up every wrestler that has or will take to the sky, knowingly or not, for their offensive arsenal. Simply put, Mil Mascaras is the best high flyer of all-time.
Proof: Versus Buddy Roberts for the IWA Heavyweight Championship at AWA SuperClash on September 28, 1985. Look it up, if you can.