If you were asked to name your Wrestling Mount Rushmore without hesitation (men’s and women’s), could you do it? Furthermore, would you be able to re-evaluate what that looks like after finishing this article?
When asked in 2021, Mark Calaway (The Undertaker) named Shawn Michaels, Andre the Giant, Steve Austin and The Rock as his top 4 faces. But if we break down exactly what makes and breaks a great wrestler, does his top 4, or possibly yours, hold up?
First and foremost, we need to define what a great wrestler truly is.
Break a Leg
No, I’m not talking about an early 20th century wrestling hooker, but live theater. As someone who has produced a bit of live musicals and plays, I can tell you that pro wrestling and live theater share a lot in common. In theater, we even have what’s called a “triple threat” (though unlike what it means in wrestling).
Singing | Dancing | Acting
When a talent holds all three of these in great ability, they are likely Broadway superstars. If not, they may serve other roles in the cast, either supporting or ensemble. In a lot of ways, wrestling works the same way.
Dancing = Wrestling Ability
Singing = Promo Ability
Acting = Storytelling Ability
However, it’s not that simple when it comes to wrestling or theater. Defining a great singer requires examining the range in which they can sing and the difficulty of hitting certain notes. When it comes to dancing, the greats can pull off multiple styles of the craft other than specializing in one area (tap dancing for example). And much like TV or movies, actors need to have a wide range on their own.
So what is the wrestling equivalent of these? Let’s dig in, with examples of wrestlers from each category. (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
Note: I will not be listing every single “great” wrestler from every category. We both just don’t have that much time on our hands….
Men: Eddie Guerrero | Bret & Owen Hart | Curt Hennig | Chris Benoit | Dean Malenko | William Regal | Mitsuharu Misawa | Randy Savage | Ric Flair | Rikidozan | Antonio Inoki | Jushin “Thunder” Liger | Dory Funk Jr. | Kurt Angle | Shawn Michaels | Lou Thesz
Women: Manami Toyota | Alundra Blayze/Madusa Miceli | Sara Del Rey | Mildred Burke | Allison Danger | Chigusa Nagayo | Wendy Richter | Mae Young | Fabulous Moolah | June Byers | Molly Holly | Sherri Martel
Men: Bryan Danielson | Kenny Omega | Chris Jericho | Hiroshi Tanahashi | Kazuchiko Okada | A.J. Styles | Cesaro | Finn Balor | Rey Mysterio Jr. | Edge | Christian
Women: Asuka | Charlotte Flair| Becky Lynch | Meiko Satomura | Bayley | Hikaru Shida | Serena Deeb | Mayu Iwatami | Momo Watanabe/Io Shirai | Deonna Purazzo | Tessa Blanchard | Mickie James | Jordynne Grace
Being a great technical wrestler with a wide move set is important, but so are other factors. This mainly includes execution. Is this wrestler hitting their spots with care to their opponent? Do they look fluid in the ring or do they sometimes look sloppy?
We’ve seen wrestlers that are considered “good” but can have quite botched matches at times. However, becoming a great technical wrestler is only one part of the entire equation. We’ve seen cases such as Lance Storm, Dean Malenko and Jerry Lynn, where personality didn’t really match their in-ring greatness – and they were great.
In addition, can these talents work multiple styles and different types of matches?
Keep in mind that consistency is key here. Guys like Steve Austin could wrestle well enough, but in reality, only had a few marquee matches in his career – even as popular as he was. We need consistency in this category above all. How many marquee matches a wrestler has had must be considered here.
Men: The Rock | John Cena | Steve Austin | Roddy Piper | Eddie Guerrero | Randy Savage | Dusty Rhodes | Bobby Heenan | Freddie Blassie | Gorgeous George | Mick Foley | The Undertaker | Ric Flair | Curt Hennig | Hulk Hogan | Shawn Michaels
Women: Manami Toyota | Fabulous Moolah | A.J. Lee | Molly Holly | Sherri Martel | Ivory | Madusa Miceli | Trish Stratus
Men: Chris Jericho | C.M. Punk | Kevin Owens | MJF | Bray Wyatt | Adam Cole | Bryan Danielson | Kenny Omega | Edge | Christian
Women: Britt Baker | Charlotte Flair | Becky Lynch | Rosemary | Alexa Bliss | Giulia | Asuka
Promo ability goes beyond reading a script really well. You can watch a performer deliver a solid promo, but that doesn’t take into account many factors: Is the promo delivered fluidly without awkward pauses? Is this wrestler commanding the stage/ring when he/she speaks? Are the fans hanging on their every word? Perhaps they’ve even coined catchphrases that are hugely over.
Not just everyone can do this, even if they deliver the occasional good promo. Even the top guys in the industry, be it Roman Reigns or “Hangman” Adam Page, can have trouble cutting consistently great promos (though Page is getting much better very quickly as he fills his championship shoes).
Those on this list simply do not have this problem. It’s a unique ability to connect to the audience by your sheer presence and speaking ability, and only the great ones can lay this claim. This speaks to an overall commitment to your character and embodying it 110%. It’s one of the hardest things to do in professional wrestling.
Men: Shawn Michaels | Undertaker | Jake Roberts | Ric Flair | Sting | Steve Austin | Ricky Steamboat | Bret Hart | Terry Funk | Gorgeous George | Hulk Hogan | Eddie Guerrero | Triple H | Andre the Giant | Dusty Rhodes
Women: Manami Toyota | Wendy Richter | Kairi Hojo | Molly Holly | Lita | Asuka | Sherri Martel | Sara Del Rey | Megumi Kudo | Aja Kong | Bull Nakano
Men: Chris Jericho | Bryan Danielson | MJF | Kenny Omega | A.J. Styles | Adam Cole | Randy Orton | C.M. Punk | Paul Heyman | Finn Balor | Kenny Omega | Edge | Christian
Women: Asuka | Tam Nakano | Giulia | Britt Baker | Charlotte Flair | Becky Lynch | Bayley | Sasha Banks | Thunder Rosa | Meiko Satomura | Io Shirai | Serena Deeb
Telling a story through pro wrestling is an artform. The great ones understand how to convey the right amount of emotion, sell appropriately, and be able to follow the natural story that a match can tell. This comes down to infusing how a wrestler may feel towards the other; be it angered or nonplussed – down to working a specific injury, and selling that injury through the match. In short, telling a narrative that anyone can follow just by watching – wrestling fan or not.
When you have a fan on the edge of their seat for your every move in a match, then you’re probably a great storyteller.
In short, you can talk yourself up all you want, and you can be technically sound in the ring. However, if you can’t tell a good story, then the other two almost don’t matter at all. Not many excel at this throughout wrestling history, and any top 4 on any list should be filled with pure storytellers.
Men: Andre the Giant | Sting | The Rock | Goldberg | Bray Wyatt | Hulk Hogan | The Rock | John Cena | The Undertaker | HBK | Eddie Guerrero | Randy Savage | Ric Flair | Randy Orton
Women: Trish Stratus | Lita | Luna Vachon | Chyna | Bull Nakano | Gail Kim | Manami Toyota | Megumi Kudo
Men: Finn Balor | C.M. Punk | Bray Wyatt | Roman Reigns | Darby Allin | MJF | Bron Breakker | Brock Lesnar | Matt Riddle | Chris Jericho | Kenny Omega
Women: Britt Baker | Alexa Bliss | Utami Hayashishita | Bianca Belair | Jordynne Grace | Trish Adora | Kris Statlander | Sasha Banks | Maki Itoh | Asuka
Some wrestlers just aren’t good wrestlers – yet they still have an “It” Factor about them. It’s a high level of presence, no matter their possible limitations.
This doesn’t mean they CAN’T wrestle well, but it gives them a pass in case wrestling isn’t their strong point. There is often crossover with those who are a triple threat – but sometimes, it’s just not the case.
Case in point, Goldberg.
I was never a Goldberg fan, but even I recognized that he was insanely popular. His move set was limited, possessed almost zero promo ability, and could barely tell a story in the ring. But wow was he over – and it was because of a certain “look” and presence he possessed that you simply cannot teach.
An “It” factor.
No matter what they do, or what they say, you just want to see them in a wrestling ring – and that alone can print enough money for a promoter to keep them around.
Mens: Ric Flair | Gorgeous George | Buddy Rodgers | Dusty Rhodes | Gory Guererro | Antonio Inoki | El Santo | Rikidozan | Hulk Hogan | Roddy Piper | Randy Savage | Eddie Guerrero | Mitsuharu Misawa | Lou Thesz
Womens: Mae Young | Manami Toyota | Madusa Miceli | Bull Nakano | Allison Danger | Mildred Burke | The Four Horsewomen | Sara Del Rey | Aja Kong | Sherri Martel | Trish Stratus | Lita
Mens: C.M. Punk | Chris Jericho | A.J. Styles | Brock Lesnar | Kenny Omega
Womens: Bianca Belair | Britt Baker | Charlotte Flair
Influence is important.
This is a hard one to put into current form, as you don’t really know one’s influence until years after. However, it’s easy to look back at the greats and note how they’ve influenced generations of professional wrestlers.
But influence is important, and if anyone were to take up a spot on a top 4, a wrestler needs to have the ability to have influenced many others in the industry, past, present, and future.
Used as a tiebreaker in my mind. When a promoter puts a title on a wrestler, it means there is a level of trust for said talent to carry a very prestigious part of the company. That being said, I will only be counting world title reigns, as getting into secondary and tag team title territory would turn into a giant clusterfuck.
(Notable names who aren’t in the top 10 of overall world title wins: The Rock, Bryan Danielson, Steve Austin, A.J. Styles, Mitsuharu Misawa, Chris Jericho, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels)
Most decorated men’s world champions: Ultimo Dragon | Ric Flair | John Cena | El Canek | Sting | Triple H | Hulk Hogan | Randy Orton | Kurt Angle | Jeff Jarrett | Verne Gagne
Most decorated women’s champions: Mickie James | Manami Toyota | Madusa Miceli | Wendy Richter | Mildred Burke | Aja Kong | Fabulous Moolah | Charlotte Flair | Sasha Banks | Becky Lynch | Trish Stratus
As you can see, not all great wrestlers have held multiple world championships across multiple promotions. So accolades only come into play when absolutely necessary. This is especially true when you consider that the length of a reign is often more important than the number.
So who takes up the top spots based on hitting on ALL categories? More importantly, who is left out?
Hulk Hogan is a name synonymous with pro wrestling, but his actual wrestling is left to be desired. While he CAN wrestle (if you watch his matches in Japan), he wasn’t presented as such in the states, and we cant base his wrestling ability on his WWF and WCW runs. Andre the Giant is a legend – but with no real promo ability, it’s hard to put him in the top 4, as amazing as the man was.
The Undertaker and Bret Hart make the lists of many, but not mine. Legendary? Yes, but while Taker and Hart were fantastic storytellers, they miss out on a few categories: Undertaker was never a great technical wrestler (alright, but not great), and Hart wasn’t as great as you think in his promos.
Many point to women like Trish or Lita; and while trailblazers in their own respect, fall short in wrestling ability, in my opinion.
I’m looking for wrestlers that excel in literally all categories. (as much as possible)
So who is in?
My Wrestling Mount Rushmore
As much as I would love to piss off some marks that read this, Kenny Omega narrowly misses my top 4. Though I honestly still consider him the best in the world right now, especially when you consider what he has accomplished in not just Japan, but in AEW.
Mitsuharu Misawa is a legend in Japan, but like Kenzo Suzuki, KENTA, and Kenta Kobashi — there was never a real splash made in the United States. The only Japanese wrestler I can think of that has is Shinsuke Nakamura. A talent like Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega, however, DID make splashes across the pond.
Though I hope we see Kazuchika Okada in AEW soon…
You almost have to make a separate Mount Rushmore of Japan, which wouldn’t make sense as an American attraction. But theoretically, Rikidozan, Mitsuharu Misawa, Giant Baba and Jushin Liger get my vote.
That all being said:
Ric Flair | Eddie Guerrero | Shawn Michaels | Chris Jericho
Manami Toyota | Sherri Martel | Madusa Miceli | Asuka
It’s simply hard to not recognize the greatness of Ric Flair, even though his past behavior towards women is pretty garbage. I don’t think Shawn Michaels would surprise anyone either. However, some may question Guerrero and Jericho — these are two extremely influential wrestlers.
Not only did both Guerrero and Jericho excel in all categories, but Guerrero’s lasting influence on a generation of Latino (and non-Latino) wrestlers can still be measured to this day. In the same way, Jericho helped kickstart the first rival promotion to McMahon in 20 years. In lieu of Jericho’s accomplishments and ability, becoming a cornerstone of wresting history in this sense puts him above some others.
As for the women, if you haven’t seen Manami Toyota wrestle, go do this now. She could go down as the greatest women’s wrestler of all time. (YouTube: Manami Toyota vs. Akira Hokuto – 1995)
Madusa Miceli, also known as Alundra Blayze, is an easy pick. Like Manami, she was a trailblazer, and dominated Japan for some time before continuing to dominate the U.S.
Honorable mentions: Mildred Burke/Fabulous Moolah/Trish Stratus
Mildred Burke is another near hit, if not just for her contribution to women’s wrestling, and fighting the early patriarchy that existed in the NWA. On the other hand, we have the Fabulous Moolah. Yes, I recognize what she accomplished within a tough industry — but she did what amounted to sex trafficking as well — and that’s disgusting. She will not make my top 4.
As far as Asuka goes? She has the total package, and has found large success in Japan and the U.S. Her accomplishments are insane. From winning the Royal Rumble to being voted #1 in the PWI Female 50 — and buttloads of title wins across the world.
She’s a rare legend that can still put on a 5-star match to this day. All hail Asuka.
So where do you stand on your Mount Rushmore? Did anything above change your mind? Leave your Top 4 in the comments below!
Until next time, don’t be a dick online, and let people like stuff. 🙂