Since WrestleMania I began at Madison Square Garden on March 31, 1985, professional wrestling has been part of mainstream entertainment. It wasn’t always that way, however, as wrestling was once considered a niche sport by most observers.
At the time, few knew what to expect out of WrestleMania and nobody knew whether or not it would succeed. Fast forward nearly 27 years, and WrestleMania has essentially become an American institution in many ways.
The likes of Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper helped launch wrestling—the WWE in particular—to unseen heights in terms of popularity. As important as they were it is equally as important to remember the wrestlers who blazed a trail for guys like Hogan and Piper.
If it weren’t for “Superstar” Billy Graham, Harley Race, Bruno Sammartino and many others, WWE would never have been in a position to create such a spectacle. While wrestling’s pre-WrestleMania stars may not be known by the new generation of wrestling fans, they are forever appreciated by wrestling purists.
This list will focus on the 25 most dominant wrestlers from the pre-WrestleMania era. Since the WWE’s roster tended to be fairly sparse during that time period, wrestlers from other promotions such as the NWA and AWA will be considered as well. The list will also mostly hone in on the era from 1960 to 1985.
So many legendary wrestlers competed during that time that it’s an impossibility to list every deserving competitor in a top-25 list. These wrestlers, however, are the cream of the crop from the pre-WrestleMania era, in my humble opinion.