The Mount Rushmore of WWE Superstars from USA

Erik BeastonAugust 8, 2022

The Mount Rushmore of WWE Superstars from USA

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    The concept of a pro wrestling Mount Rushmore has long held the interest of fans, many of whom debated hard and passionately for their favorite's inclusion.

    Considering the long history of the industry, there are plenty of candidates and reasons for their place on the monument.

    When sticking strictly to WWE and the United States stars who have helped it achieve its success, the candidate pool becomes smaller and more obvious.

    There is no Bruno Sammartino because he was born in Italy. There is no Ric Flair because his greatest success and legacy-building occurred under the National Wrestling Alliance/World Championship Wrestling banner.

    What there are, though, are four genuine Superstars who forever changed the business and championed entire eras as the biggest stars of their generation both in and out of the squared circle.

Hulk Hogan

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    Without a performer with the magnetism and charisma of Hulk Hogan, it is likely Vince McMahon's efforts to expand his New York territory nationwide would have failed.

    Hogan was a larger-than-life performer who captivated audiences with his enormous personality, ability to sell a beatdown and his trademark "hulking up" babyface comebacks that spoke to audiences everywhere.

    The face of WWE's Rock 'n' Wrestling Era of the mid-80s that helped the company explode onto the national scene and the flag-bearer for the promotion as its biggest star for a decade, he helped pro wrestling achieve popularity at a level it had never before experienced.

    The first real household name since Gorgeous George ushered in the television era, Hogan earns his place on the Mount Rushmore of WWE Superstars from the U.S. because without him, it is likely pro wrestling would not be as mainstream as it is today.

    Fans who grew up in Memphis, Dallas, St. Louis or the Carolinas and loved the days of the territories may look at that as a bad thing and believe Hogan shoulders some of the blame for the bastardization of the old-school business they once loved.

    Others will point to racist comments made by Hogan in a sex tape leaked in 2015, and say they should be taken into consideration when deciding on his inclusion.

    Both carry validity and should be considered carefully, but when discussing the WWE Superstars who changed the industry and were forefathers for the way we see the company today, there is no denying his contributions.

'Stone Cold' Steve Austin

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    If Hogan altered the course of the wrestling industry and took it to heights never before seen, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin turned it on its ear by injecting it with potent mixture of attitude and whup-ass.

    The Texas Rattlesnake bucked authority, flipped middle fingers and delivered his trademark Stone Cold Stunner to anyone, regardless of their role on the show. He was no babyface, no matter how he was positioned on the card. He was, instead, an antihero who presented himself in a way that was traditionally rejected by fans but did so with a bravado that endeared him to those who were tired of the tired babyface vs. heel dynamic.

    It was the shot of adrenaline the industry needed. After 83 weeks of getting obliterated in the weekly ratings during the Monday Night Wars, WWE rose back to the top, thanks in large part to the audience's desire to see Austin win titles and make life a living hell for his uptight businessman rival, Mr. McMahon.

    Though his time on top was short (just five years from start to finish), Austin guided the company to unprecedented box-office success and established himself as the face of an entire era of WWE programming.

    Epic rivalries with The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley captivated audiences and made McMahon's television destination viewing.

    Today, nearly two decades after his retirement from in-ring competition, he remains one of the hottest merchandise sellers and most popular pro wrestling personalities in the world.

    Look no further than WrestleMania 38, which was built heavily around his return to the ring for one last match against Kevin Owens. The ovation he received entering AT&T Stadium and the buzz surrounding his final encounter netted WWE more eyes and interest than just about anything it had done in recent memory.

    It's a testament to his longevity that his legacy and connection to the audience have endured to the extent they have. It is for that reason, and the change he ushered in at a time when the company most needed it, that he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of WWE Superstars.

The Rock

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    Cue Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure."

    The Rock probably never should have succeeded.

    There was incredible pressure on him from the onset, with constant reminders of his status as a third-generation star and the lofty expectations assigned to him by fans and management.

    That pressure only intensified when he finally broke free of those expectations and became WWE champion in 1998. When Austin went down with a neck injury in 1999 and the company needed a babyface to build its shows around, The Great One again had the weight of the world on his shoulders.

    Every time, though, he put in the work, captivated audiences and achieved greater success. He evolved into The Most Electrifying Man in sports entertainment while producing unforgettable matches with the likes of Austin, Undertaker, Kane and Triple H.

    As important as his legacy in the ring was what he did for professional wrestling beyond it.

    Again, pressure was on his shoulders as he made the transition from wrestler to actor. It was a switch even Hogan could not make, leaving many to wonder if The Rock would falter.

    He not only thrived, but he also became the biggest star in Hollywood and its biggest box-office attraction. He helped elevate wrestling's status in showbusiness and made it cool to be a fan. Celebrities who grew up watching the product embraced it publicly, thanks in part to his mainstream success.

    A real-life superhero, entrepreneur and bona fide A-lister, his return to WWE in 2012 and dream match with John Cena again sealed his status as one of the most must-see Superstars in pro wrestling history as WrestleMania 28 shattered pay-per-view buy-rate records.

    A breakout star during the Attitude Era, The Rock belongs on this Mount Rushmore because he succeeded despite unprecedented expectations. And along with Austin, he gave the company something it had never had before: two megastars of equal popularity and prestige.

John Cena

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    John Cena was nearly fired in 2002.

    A mostly uninteresting young performer whose greatest asset was a jacked physique, he found himself floundering just three months into his main roster run in WWE. Then, by little more than happenstance, Stephanie McMahon heard him rapping on the bus during an overseas tour.

    During the Halloween episode of SmackDown that October, he debuted his freestyle rapping persona while in Vanilla Ice costume and instantly stole the scene.

    Cena would go on to become the Doctor of Thuganomics, a freestyle rapper who amused the fans and quickly became one of the most popular stars on the show. From there, he would capture the WWE title within three years and become the face of the company's flagship show, Raw.

    The face of the Ruthless Aggression and then PG Era of WWE Television, Cena was the biggest star in the business and the measuring stick for any newcomer who management thought might have the ability to rise to his level.

    Beyond his 16 world titles and unforgettable matches with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Edge lies a man whose commitment to being a leader and ambassador for WWE is unrivaled.

    His work with Make A Wish record is well-documented, and he has always managed to represent his company with dignity and class.

    Sure, fans turned on him when it became clear the company was fully behind pushing him as its featured performer, but as he did so many times over the course of his career, he took a poor situation and made the most of it.

    He embraced the divide and made the jeers as much a part of the show as the cheers that greeted him as he exploded through the curtain. He was a fearless performer, walking defiantly through the Hammerstein Ballroom at the 2006 ECW: One Night Stand pay-per-view even as fans hurled obscenities (and his own shirt) at him.

    Cena's energy was undeniable, as was his connection with the audience.

    A classic babyface, he generated the loudest reaction of any show and was the star young fans looked up to as their hero.

    Like The Rock, he now carries the mantle for professional wrestling in Hollywood, where his star burns a little brighter with every project.

    Years from now, fans will look back on Cena with the same adulation and appreciation that they do Austin and Rock, and his status as a role model for a generation of fans will be even more apparent.


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