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WWE Power Rankings: The 25 Greatest Superstars of the '60s and '70s

Dan PowerSenior Analyst IJuly 25, 2011

WWE Power Rankings: The 25 Greatest Superstars of the '60s and '70s

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    After I completed my previous top 25 lists covering the 1990s and the 2000s, I thought about doing one more list with the '80s, but there are already two of those that have been published recently. So I decided to explore an unknown zone for me and to tackle an era I didn't witness, the '60s and the '70s. 

    I started to watch wrestling around the age of nine, and it was in the middle of the '80s so I had to do extensive research to complete the following slideshow.

    In the process, I discovered countless wrestlers I hadn't heard about or I didn't really know. I also discovered many gems of the WWWF era before it became the WWF.

    As for any similar list, I considered many factors to rank the wrestlers. However, since I didn't watch wrestling in those great days, I could hardly evaluate the in-ring abilities, the charisma and the mic skills. For some, it was obvious because there's a lot of footage available, but for some others, very little stuff could be found.

    To build the list, I had to rely mostly on reading and assumptions in regard to what I could actually watch. So, I took in consideration the impact, the popularity, the legacy and the "it" factor when I could.

    I also considered the longevity with the WWWF, a point not very important after the early '80s and the death of the territories concept. Back in the days, most wrestlers moved from one territory to another, or in other words, there was no promotion exclusivity.

    Now, with no more introduction, let's travel back in time when pro wrestling was absent from the mainstream media and when it caused actual riots on many occasions. 

25. "Baron" Mikel Scicluna

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    The Baron enjoyed a great career with the WWWF in the '60s and in the '70s as one of the top heels. He was a master user of foreign objects and one of the best ever to sell opponents' moves.

    He was often a top contender to the WWWF Championship, and he battled Bruno Sammartino on several occasions in high-profile matches.

    His biggest accomplishments were in the tag team division. He is a former WWWF United States Tag Team Champion, and his biggest achievement was to win the WWWF World Tag Team Title along with King Curtis Iaukea. 

    Click here to watch The Baron teaming up with Frand "The Moose" to face Jay Strongbow and Peter Maivia.   

24. Pat Patterson

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    When he joined the WWF in 1979, Patterson was an established heel who already accumulated 32 vhampionships in various territories.

    He only spent one year with the company in the '70s, but what a year it was! In June, he defeated Ted DiBiase to win the WWF North American Championship, and in September, he merged that title with the South American version to become the first ever Intercontinental Champion.

    He held the new championship 233 days, then he hung his boots a couple years after his historic reign. In addition to his championships, he left his mark on the WWE hardcore scene, with his uncommon mix of technician and brawler's skills.


    Click here to watch Pat Patterson defending the Intercontinental Championship against Dominic DeNucci.    

23. Spiros Arion

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    For many, including myself, that name is totally unknown, but he left a big mark on the WWWF from 1966 to 1975.

    He was a top draw in Australia and in Europe when he headed to America to join the company. He was an instant top babyface who battled Gorilla Monsoon and The Sheik among others. He eventually became a three-time WWWF United States Tag Team Championship.

    After his face run, he ended his stint with WWWF as a heel, but it was not before earning the 1975 PWI Match of the Year award against Bruno Sammartino and to win a long feud against Jay Strongbow.

    Click here to watch a classic match from the mid-70s between Spiros Arion and Bruno Sammartino.    

22. Tony Garea

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    Garea made his mark in the tag team division by winning the gold on three occasions, with three different partners, for a total of 384 days with the title in the '70s.

    When he left New Zealand after he signed with the WWWF in 1972, he quickly became a big star, earning the 1973 PWI Rookie of the Year.

    Despite he never broke out of the tag team division, he was very over with the fans, and he was one of the best technical wrestlers of his time.

    Click here to watch Tony Garea in action against Billy Graham.  

21. Larry Zbyszko

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    The 1974 PWI Rookie of the year was trained and introduced to the WWWF by Bruno Sammartino.

    Zbyszko slowly climbed the ladder in singles competition until he won the WWWF Tag Team Championship along with Tony Garea, for a 105-day reign.

    However, at the end of the decade, he could not get rid of his "Sammartino's Protégé" label, and he turned heel, to eventually leave in 1981. And, when we take a look at everything he did in 1980 and after he left, he is clearly one of the most misused talents in WWE's history.

    Click here to watch Zbyszko turning on his mentor at the end of 1979; then, treat yourself by clicking here to watch their classic cage match in August 1980.


20. Buddy Rogers

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    Rogers mostly worked for Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the promotion that was the ancestor of the new WWWF created in 1963; he then became the first world champion on April 29 the same year.

    The inaugural WWE Champion lost the title 21 days later against Bruno Sammartino, and he suddenly vanished for a while. Following that, he made sporadic appearances in various territories to eventually retire for good in the late '70s.

    The original Nature Boy was the total package back in the day, and he directly inspired Ric Flair with his flamboyant gimmick. He was a master of in-ring psychology and an ace on the mic who could generate heat like no others. He is even credited as the inventor of the figure-four leglock.

    There's no Buddy Rogers WWWF footage available but click here to watch a little gem from the '50s between him and Johnny Valentine.    

19. Ken Patera

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    Patera made a name for himself as a dominant strongman wrestler who had a successful weightlifting career behind him.

    When he joined the WWWF in 1977, he quickly made his way into the world championship picture as a top heel. He had grueling rivalries against Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund over the WWWF Championship.

    He became one of the most infamous heels ever in the late '70s when he injured many babyface wrestlers with his signature swinging full nelson he didn't release after the bell. He did it so often that he was named the PWI Most Hated Wrestler in 1977.

    Click here to see Patera injuring Billy White Wolf after the match and click here to see the strongman clashing with Bob Backlund. 





18. "Crazy" Luke Graham

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    Luke Graham was one of the rare to have a gimmick that didn't include specific outfits such as cowboy or other Russian characters. As his nickname "Crazy" suggests, he portrayed a deranged persona who covered his ears and claimed he was not insane when someone made allusion to his craziness.

    Graham, one of the greatest brawlers ever, won three different tag team championships during his runs with the company. He won the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship in June 1964 with Dr. Jerry and they held the title for nearly eight months. Graham also managed to put the hand on the short-lived WWF International Tag Team Championship.

    Then, in June 1971, he and Tarzan Tyler became the inaugural WWWF World Tag Team Champions. After that last success, Graham slowly faded away from the WWWF.

    Click here to watch Luke Graham in the ring; it's probably not a WWWF footage, but that's all I could find.   

17. Dominic DeNucci

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    DeNucci, who trained Mick Foley and Shane Douglas among others, was mainly a tag team specialist and a great brawler. He won three WWWF Titles in the tag team division with three different partners from 1971 to 1978.

    In 1971, he and Bruno Sammartino put the hand on the short-lived WWWF International Tag Team Championship, a secondary Title.

    With his rising popularity, he eventually won the WWWF Tag Team Championship on two occasions. His first reign, in 1975, lasted 105 days, and he teamed up with Victor Rivera who was later replaced by Pat Barrett.

    In 1978 DeNucci enjoyed his second reign with Dino Bravo as his partner, and they held the belt for 104 days.

    Click here to watch Dominic DeNucci in tag team insane action with Victor Rivera against The Blackjacks.   

16. Johnny Valiant

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    If the whole clan of the Valiant Brothers is inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame, Johnny is the one who embraced the most success.

    In two reigns, one with Jimmy and one with Jerry, he was Tag Team Champion for a total of 600 days.

    Knowing every heel tactic in the tag team action environment, he became the manager known as "Luscious" Johnny V who introduced Demolition to the WWF and who worked with The Dream Team (Greg Valentine / Brutus Beefcake) among others.

    Click here to watch Johnny Valiant teaming up with his brother Jimmy in 1974 and click here to watch him and his other brother Jerry in the late '70s.





15. Stan "The Man" Stasiak

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    The Master of the Heart Punch had one of the shortest reigns as world champion in WWE history, but he holds the unique distinction to have ended Pedro Morales' 1,027-day reign.

    He can also brag to have faced all the greats of the era, such as Bruno Sammartino and Billy Graham.

    If his nine-day reign was short, Stasiak can at least say he was one of the only six WWWF champions of the '70s and to have been a top heel of his time.

    The best quality video I could find was Stan Stasiak vs. Tony Garea in three parts: part 1, part 2 and part 3. You can also click here to watch another poor quality video (Sammartino defeating Stasiak for the WWWF Title).







14. The Fabulous Moolah

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    The Fabulous Moolah is the longest reigning champion in pro wrestling history.

    Officially, according the WWE, she held the Women's Championship for 28 years without interruption, from 1956 to 1984. Unofficially, she lost the title on four occasions, but she only spent 70 days without the gold in that 10,778-day time frame.

    She won the Women's Championship in 1956, and she battled each and every woman on her path to build her unique legacy.

    If there were some great female wrestlers back in the '60s and in the '70s, none of them could overshadow her, and that's why she's the only woman featured on the current list.

    Click here to watch The Fabulous Moolah facing one of her toughest rival in the '70s.    

13. The Sheik

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    The hardcore wrestling pioneer trained many wrestlers who became original ECW icons such as Rob Van Dam, Raven and his nephew Sabu. He was a fierce brawler but also a sound technician.

    His most notable feud, that lasted for over two decades in and out WWWF, was against Bobo Brazil, and in the process, he became a two-time WWWF US Champion. 

    The Original Sheik portrayed a rich and brutal Syrian who brought a new level of violence in pro wrestling. One of his trademarks was to cut his opponents' face with a pencil hidden in his outfit. However, on many occasions, he was caught at his own game, and it ended in a bloodbath after his rival returned the illegal object against him.

    I found no WWWF footage of The Sheik, but you can click here to see the hardcore legend in action against Dusty Rhodes in the '70s; or, if you're curious, click here for a match between him and Chief White Eagle in the late '50s or early '60s.




12. Killer Kowalski

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    Throughout his whole career, Killer Kowalski was a top heel everywhere he wrestled, and he cemented his status when he ripped off an opponent's ear in the ring. If it was not really his fault, it was still the birth of a legend.

    He didn't fail to bring his aggressive style with him when he joined the WWWF in the mid-60s. He immediately became the No. 1 contender to Bruno Sammartino's WWWF Championship, but he always fell short, and he greatly contributed to put the champ over in the process.

    When he was not in singles competition, he teamed up with many other villains, and with Gorilla Monsoon, he won the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship in 1963.

    Kowalski, who opened a pro wrestling school after he retired in 1977, trained none other than Triple H and many others. He was also a trainer even when he was an active wrestler. He won the WWWF World Tag Team Championship in 1976 with one of his students, Big John Studd.

    The duo, called The Executioners, holds the distinction to have not actually lost the belts since they were stripped after a third Executioner interfered in a match.

    Click here to watch Killer Kowalski battling Pedro Morales.  

11. Haystacks Calhoun

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    Think about Yokozuna or Big Daddy V but wearing a farmer boy outfit and carrying a horseshoe necklace from 1955 to the late '70s. Think also about a 600-pound, 6'1" behemoth who could actually wrestle and who finished his opponents with a big splash.

    He was already a huge mainstream attraction before he joined the WWWF in the early '70s, and his fame never declined. In the late '50s and in the whole '60s, he never stayed in the same territory very long because his presence often overshadowed the various World Championship promotion matches.

    He could've been a world champion in any promotion, but he preferred the freedom of travelling all over the USA thus becoming the most popular wrestler in the country.

    His sole presence guaranteed sold-out arenas to any promoter, and it was no exception for the growing WWWF. He headlined many Madison Square Garden supercards, mainly in two or three-men tag team action, and in 1973, he had a 105-day WWWF World Tag Team Championship reign along with Tony Garea.

    I found no singles action for Haystacks Calhoun, but you can click here to watch some three-against-three action and click here to watch him in a WWWF World Tag Team title defense.





10. Gorilla Monsoon

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    Gorilla Monsoon is not just that face commentator known by the younger fans in the '80s and '90s. He once was a fierce wrestler, with a heel character back in the '60s.

    He became a face in the '70s to eventually turn back heel in preparation for a legendary boxing match between him and Andre The Giant in 1977. Monsoon lost the match, but he once again proved he could hold his own against the largest wrestlers in the business at the time, being himself a 6'5", 400-pounder.

    He was very agile and resilient for a man his size; he battled several 60-minute time limit draws against the greats of the time, such as Bruno Sammartino.

    On an interesting side note, Santino Marella's name is a tribute to Monsoon, who's real name is Robert Marella.

    Click here to watch Monsoon taking on the wrestler who later became the legendary manager Captain Lou Albano; you can also click here to watch some vintage moments, the Muhammad Ali-Gorilla Monsoon incident and Vince McMahon Jr. leading an interview in 1977.





9. Mr. Fuji

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    For most Bleacher Report readers, Mr. Fuji is that iconic manager of the '80s and '90s who led Yokozuna and Demolition to the gold.

    However, before his run as manager, Mr. Fuji was one of the greatest tag team specialist ever. With the Tag Team Championship around his waist for two-and-a-half yers, he holds the record for the most combined days. With two different partners (Professor Tanaka and Mr. Saito), he managed to have five reigns as Tag Team champion, for a total of 932 days.

    From 1972 to 1978, in an age when tag team wrestling actually meant a lot, Fuji portrayed the stereotypical heel Japanese persona, and he was often involved in anti-American storylines. He was a master of the heel tactics, but he was also very agile in the ring.

    Click here to watch Mr. Fuji in rare singles action taking on Pedro Morales and click here to see him in some tag team action.   





8. Chief Jay Strongbow

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    Strongbow will probably be most remembered for his Native American gimmick, with the complete outfit, including his famous traditional headdress than for his achievements. And, with his trademark war dance, the fans went as crazy as when Hogan was "Hulking" up in the '80s.

    When he was not embracing success in the tag team division, he had some memorable feuds in singles against the likes of Billy Graham and Ken Patera.

    He managed to win two Tag Team Championships in the '70s, once with Sonny King and once with Billy White Wolf.

    On the top of all that, if that means anything, he was the PWI Most Popular Wrestler of the Year in 1973 and the Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year in 1979.

    Click here to watch Strongbow taking on Professor Tanaka—Mr. Fuji's tag team partner at the time.  

7. Ivan Koloff

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    The Russian Bear was with the WWWF for only two years, but he claimed the most shocking world championship victory of all times when he defeated Bruno Sammartino on January 18, 1971.

    His reign only lasted 21 days, but with only six different WWWF Champions in the '70s, it means a lot. In addition, he accomplished the unthinkable when he ended Sammartino's seven-year reign.

    No matter where he wrestled, Koloff generated heat like no other with his Russian gimmick, all that right in the middle of the Cold War. He was a real animal in the ring, and his brutality was matched by only few other hardcore legends.

    Click here to watch history being made when Ivan Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF; and click here if you want to see The Russian Bear in a cage match again vs. Sammartino, in 1975.  



      



6. Bobo Brazil

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    Brazil was the Jackie Robinson of wrestling, opening the door to future generations of African-American wrestlers. He was so popular that the fans wanted him to wrestle against opponents who were not exclusively African American in the racial segregation era in USA.

    Once the race barrier was finally crossed, he had feuds against Killer Kowalski, The Sheik and all the other heels in WWWF at the time.

    With his famous headbutt and his piledriver, he became a seven-time WWWF United States Championship from 1963 to 1971, when the title was deactivated. He was even put in rare face-against-face matches when he challenged Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF World Title on a few occasions in the mid-60s.

    Click here to watch Bobo Brazil taking on his nemesis, The Sheik.  

5. Bob Backlund

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    On February 20, 1978, Bob Backlund reached the top of the mountain when he won the WWF Championship against "Superstar" Billy Graham in what was declared "The Match of the Year" by Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

    His run as the World Champion officially lasted 2,083 days, and it took him less than one year with the company to win the title. He joined the WWWF in early 1977, and only four months later, he had his first shot at the WWWF Championship against Graham, but he lost via countout. Both men clashed on many occasions with no clear winner until that famous day in 1978 at the Madison Square Garden.

    Backlund will always be remembered as one of the greatest technicians in pro wrestling history who built his legacy by battling other promotional World Champions several times and any comer, often very bigger than him.

    Click here to watch the only excerpt I found of Backlund winning the WWWF Championship and click here to watch him against Pat Patterson in a cage match in 1979. 





4. "Superstar" Billy Graham

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    With his flamboyant gimmick, combined with his powerhouse in-ring style and his bodybuilder's physique, he was the prototype who established the future WWF wrestlers standards.

    Many greats, including Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, Ric Flair and Triple H, were inspired by him to forge their characters.

    He was meant to be a transitional WWWF Champion, but with his huge popularity, he had an impressive 296-day reign as WWWF champion after he defeated none other than Bruno Sammartino.

    His nickname is used by today's wrestlers as a tribute to his legacy, and they are now known as Superstars. Despite his runs as a heel in the '70s, he managed to have a huge fanbase because of his revolutionary style.

    Click here to watch the 1977 PWI Match of the Year—Graham defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Title. 

3. Pedro Morales

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    From 1970 to 1973, Pedro Morales left a permanent mark on WWE. He won the WWWF US Championship in 1971, but he had to drop it one month later, when he became the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion on February 8, 1971.

    His impressive reign lasted until December 1, 1973 when Stan "The Man" Stasiak defeated him for the title in a shocking moment.

    Morales, who would later become the first Triple Crown Champion in WWE history, was known for his uncommon resilience and for his mat skills.

    He was also a great brawler so he had everything to deliver many classic encounters, which he did with panache, especially in 1972 when he was named the PWI Wrestler of the Year.

    However, the highlight of his career was the first ever babyface vs. babyface championship match, at the legendary main event of "Showdown at Shea 1972" against Bruno Sammartino.

    The contest ended after an hour-and-16 minute time limit draw in front of a crowd that went nuts after the officials declared they had to comply with a curfew.

    Click here to watch Pedro Morales defeating Ivan Koloff for the WWWF Championship.   

2. Andre The Giant

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    From his debut in 1973 and for the rest of the decade (in fact until 1987), Andre was one of the most beloved wrestlers and the most well known across the planet.

    If he was officially undefeated for over 15 years, he never touched any WWWF gold in the '70s, proving there's no need to win championships to become a legend.

    With wrestlers not wrestling exclusively for one promotion, Andre became the most popular wrestler of the decade. In fact, he was more than a pro wrestling top draw; he was, with his size, an attraction wherever he went.

    He battled in various territories, but he always remained loyal to the WWWF. He built his reputation with a hardcore side that disappeared in the early '80s due to health issues.

    He especially made his mark in handicap bouts and in what would become his specialty, the battle royal matches. And, in those years, he often fought in 60-minute time limit draws.

    Click here to watch Andre The Giant winning a battle royal in the mid-70s.    

1. Bruno Sammartino

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    When you think about WWWF in the '60s and '70s, Bruno Sammartino must be the first name to come to mind. He was built to become a legend, and he was just that. It would take a whole book to cover his unique career, but to make it short, he was the face of the company for over 15 years.

    From 1963 to 1971, the man held the WWWF Championship for an astonishing first reign of 2,803 days. At nearly eight years long, it is the longest World Championship reign in pro wrestling history.

    Then, if it was not enough, he started a second reign in 1973, lasting 1,237 days. When his three-year reign ended in 1977, Sammartino established an unbeatable record of 11 years as the reigning WWWF Champion. Can you imagine if Cena held the WWE title that long nowadays?

    The wrestler called The Living Legend had it all to be a genuine superstar. He had the strength, the technical abilities, the charisma and that mythic "it" factor to draw the audiences.

    And I invented nothing here; he was the 1974 PWI Wrestler of the Year, and he received the PWI award for Match of the Year on four occasions in the '70s.

    Click here to watch Bruno Sammartino in a WWWF Title defense against Ernie Ladd, a wrestler who barely made the cut on the current list.   

Conclusion

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    As you could see, pro wrestling didn't start with Hulk Hogan in the '80s. Many icons paved the way to what would become an empire in the world of wrestling. Those I ranked are only the tip of the iceberg because other legends and pioneers existed before them.

    You probably noticed that the name of Bruno Sammartino was repeated often and was featured in many videos. It's normal because he was like the main attraction for all those years. One built a reputation just meeting him in the ring.

    However, he was not alone and this top 25 is the proof. Just like Hogan or Stone Cold, he could not do it all by himself. He needed a solid supporting crew to become such an icon.

    I hope you enjoyed that ride back to the old school universe, and as usual, your comments are more than welcome—especially if I missed anyone on the list and/or if you disagree with the order.

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