The criteria for this list is simple: to be on it, you just have to be one of my favorite wrestlers — not the best grappler, not the most decorated; just one of the 10 guys that has kept me watching since I was 6 years old.
Guys with a chance to crack the top 10 in the future: Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes
10. Perry Saturn
I first noticed Saturn when he was a member of Raven’s Flock, and that’s saying a lot since I was a then-World Wrestling Federation loyalist. When he left World Championship Wrestling — along with Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko — for WWF, Saturn’s value in my mind only increased. Though he was never a “top guy” or world championship contender — his tattoos, bald head and in-ring ability were enough to help him crack my top 10.
Raven’s grunge look and the hardcore match were a perfect pair. He helped take those contests to the next level and was a big reason why those matches started to bleed into main events. A veteran of several promotions, Raven was a guy to watch no matter where he starred.
8. Billy Gunn (Mr. Ass)
He was the better half of the New Age Outlaws, one of the greatest tag teams in WWE history, and he had a respectable singles career, too, highlighted by winning the King of the Ring and an Intercontinental championship. He also had solid tag team runs with Bart Gunn (Smoking Gunns) and Chuck Palumbo (Billy & Chuck). And his Fame-Ass-Er legdrop made me a threat to anyone who stood in my way in Nintendo 64’s “WWF No Mercy.”
7. Ultimate Warrior
You can say he was a terrible in-ring technician. You can say he was a jerk. You can say he’s crazy. All that matters is he’s the guy who got me hooked on wrestling. It was impossible for a 6-year-old in 1988 to look at the Ultimate Warrior and not have a hyperactive spaz attack that could only be matched by downing a box of Lucky Charms marshmallows. And no, the “original one” didn’t die.
6. Chris Jericho
At times, Jericho was the only bright spot in a crap-filled WCW. His move to WWF in 1999 provided a well-deserved push to his career that had to make WCW feel like the ex-girlfriend who didn’t know what she had until it was too late. After two-and-a-half successful years, Jericho became the first undisputed WWF champion, winning the WCW title (his second) and WWF title (his first — and only, at this point) by defeating The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on the same night at “WWF Vengeance” in 2001. Y2J is smart, too. At age 42, Jericho continues to wrestle as a member of WWE by wisely working a few months at a time between taking breaks to tour with his band and pursue other interests.
5. Kurt Angle
I miss Kurt Angle. Sure, he still wrestles (for Total Nonstop Action) — and wrestles extremely well — but it’s not the same. WWE misses Kurt Angle. Angle began his professional career in 1999 and had a meteoric rise to the main event. The past six-plus years have been lost without the Olympic hero as a member of the WWE roster. He can pin A.J. Styles and Samoa Joe all he wants; if it isn’t happening in a WWE ring, I don’t care. And, believe me, I’ve tried.
4. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Randy Savage is one of the most underrated and under-appreciated wrestlers in WWE history — mainly due to Hulk Hogan’s overwhelming popularity in the 1980s. Sadly, it took Savage dying in 2011 for some people to recognized just how awesome this guy was. He was the whole package when it came to physical ability, charisma and the uniqueness of a wrestler’s character. Thank God this guy won the WWE championship (twice) — since many top performers from his day didn’t (Mr. Perfect, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, etc.). After leaving WWF on a sour note, Savage had a solid run in WCW but again played second fiddle to Hogan.
3. CM Punk
No one in professional wrestling is riding more momentum than CM Punk. He has clawed his way to the top of the industry, and the way in which he did so — by being nothing but himself — has to be admired. His 434-day reign as WWE champion (November 2011-January 2013) is the longest reign in the past 25 years. The quality of his matches and workload in that time span is second to none. When his career is over (hopefully years from now), the accolades will be astonishing.
2. The Rock
The Rock, along with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, helped make wrestling cool again to the kids (and adults) living in the late 1990s and dawn of the 21st century. His rivalries with Triple H, Austin, Mankind, Undertaker and Big Show, just to name a few, provided some of the best moments in WWE history. Now, at age 40, he looks better than ever and still manages a couple of matches a year after leaving wrestling for Hollywood almost 10 years ago.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Steve Austin made a name for himself in wrestling circles from the work he did in other organizations. But it was when he became “Stone Cold” that he made Hulk Hogan take a permanent backseat when it came to being the greatest wrestler of all time. Austin’s matches and patented Stone Cold Stunner provided chill-inducing moments, which were extra-special because injuries limited his number of matches and shortened his career. No one has made the overall lasting impact to wrestling that Austin has from his work as the face of WWF/WWE’s Attitude Era. He’s the reason why that sometimes-overrated era in wrestling is so beloved.