For many people the golden age of professional wrestling spanned a brief period in the 1970’s into the 1980’s. The World Wrestling Federation reigned supreme churning colorful and outrageous characters like Andre the Giant and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
It was a more innocent time when fans could still suspend disbelief and believe that the matches were real and not part of a larger scripted storyline. Regardless of the reality behind it the WWF was entertaining and fun. The larger than life personas and antics had some ups and downs adjusting to somewhat the more subdued sensibilities of 1990’s.
Today’s embodiment – World Wrestling Entertainment pretty much embraces the idea that the “sport” is a form of reality based programming with a mix of scripted elements and real action.
15. Rowdy Roddy Piper
Canadians are known for being mild, but Roderick Toombs made an impressive career out of being an out of control villain in the WWF. His “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was that of a Scottish Highlander complete with kilt and bagpipe music.
Fellow wrestlers considered him a consummate performer as he played the foil to some of the biggest stars in wrestling including Hulk Hogan and Greg Valentine. Piper gained fame outside the ring after starring in the science fiction cult-classic They Live in 1988.
He also appeared as a maniac wrestler on the television show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. he was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005 and passed away ten years later.
14. Always Cheat
Early in his wrestling career James Janos picked the stage name Jesse “The Body” Ventura and adopted a surly persona known for saying “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.” This was an appropriate motto for one of the villains fans most loved to hate. Apparently Ventura felt under appreciated by the WWF because of his “heel” status, which prompted him to turn to acting. he appeared in The Predator and The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He later turned to politics, becoming the mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota in 1991 and the Governor of Minnesota in 1999. He went on to write several books and host several television and radio programs – most recently The World According to Jesse.
13. Sgt. Slaughter
Born Robert Remus in 1948, the man who would become Sgt. Slaughter served in the Marine Corps as a drill instructor. Remus signed with the World Wrestling Federation in 1981, but he began his career there as a villain. But soon he took to the ring as Sgt. Slaughter where he became a staunch defender of the flag and American values. He left and returned to the WWF several times. One of his incarnations was as villain in 1990 during the run-up to the Gulf War. He turned into a supporter of Saddam Hussein. Remus, apparently found the role difficult and refused to burn the American flag in the ring. Remus is an ambassador for the WWE.
12. Dusty Rhodes
The “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was born Virgil Runnels Jr. in 1945, but fans certainly knew him as Dusty Rhodes. At 6’1” and nearly 300 pounds he didn’t have classic good looks or an athletic physique so he became known as a wrestler for the common man.
Before he got into professional wrestling he played football for the Hartford Charter Oaks in the Continental Football League. Over the course of his long career he was heavyweight champion of several different wrestling organizations and was inducted into several wrestling Halls of Fame.
11. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was born James Smith on Fiji in 1943. He is most known for introducing a more explosive style of wrestling to the WWF with his high flying moves often launching himself from the ropes into the ring.
These moves have since become standard moves in wrestling. he was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996 and his two sons also became wrestlers. In 2015 he was arrested for the 1983 death of his girlfriend, but was later found to be unfit for trial and the charges were dismissed. Jimmy Snuka died in January 2017.
10. Iron Sheik
Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri is a Persian American better known to wrestling fans as the Iron Sheik. He reached the pinnacle of his professional career in 1983 when he won the WWF heavyweight championship. Unfortunately for him he was destined to lose the belt just four weeks later to the up and coming Hulk Hogan.
Vizier’s character was an effective villain with the Iranian hostage crisis fresh in Americans’ minds. The Iron Sheik and Hulk Hogan became a legendary rivalry helping to propel the WWF to a new level of success. He was a frequent guest on Howard Stern’s radio show and was known for his candid opinions of the wrestling scene. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
9. Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page wrestled for two decades for various associations including the WWF. However, he was born with the more humble name Page Joseph Falkinburg in 1956. Along with his colorful wrestling career, Falkinburg pursued several endeavors outside the ring including as a fitness instructor and a motivational speaker.
Unlike most wrestlers, he broke into the sport first as a manager in 1988 before signing a wrestling contract of his own. As the 1980’s drew to a close Diamond Dallas Page represented an old school breed of larger than life characters.
8. George “The Animal” Steele
This man of steel’s physique didn’t much match Superman’s, but William Myers did construct a larger than life character. He initially used the alias George Steele to hide his identity because he was still a high school teacher and coach when he began his professional wrestling career in the 1950s.
Myers played up his large, hairy body to the hilt and eventually became known as George “the Animal” Steele. He carried the wild man image further and limited his responses in interviews to grunts and growls. Myers received some publicity when he appeared in Tim Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood. He played a Swedish actor and wrestler named Tor Johnson.
Myers continued to make occasional appearances at wrestling events into the 2000’s and he died from kidney failure in 2017 at age 79.
7. Brutus Beefcake
Ed Leslie joined the WWF full time in 1984 under the stage name Brutus Beefcake. Beefcake was a villain who was a frequent antagonist of the up and coming Terry Hogan, later Hulk Hogan. Beefcake partnered with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and the duo became a formidable tag team known as the Dream Team.
They won the WWF tag team championship in 1985. Eventually Beefcake gave up the tag team and during a match where he helped Rowdy Roddy Piper to victory he shaved an opponents head earning the nickname “The Barber.” A parasailing accident in 1990 interrupted his wrestling career. He wrestled a few times afterward, but was never able to regain his past glory.
At 6’5″ and 310 pounds Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr. is one of the bigger wrestlers in WWF history. He started his professional wrestling career in the 1989 movie No Holds Barred starring Hulk Hogan. He later appeared in several WWF events. Lister is most known as an actor appearing in dozens of films including Friday, Universal Soldier and The Dark Knight.
Although Lister is blind in his right eye from birth, he was able to perform at a high level in the ring and on the gridiron where he played briefly for the New Orleans Breakers of the United States Football League.
5. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Although he was born Richard Blood he went by Ricky Steamboat during his early wrestling career. It wasn’t until 1985 when he signed a contract with the WWF that he became known as The Dragon. he was involved in a number of intense matches, but is probably most known for dramatic events before and after matches.
On several occasions he was attacked by wrestlers and managers outside the ring and was even hung up by his black belt before being saved by other wrestlers. These antics fuelled a couple of ongoing feuds between Steamboat and several wrestlers. After taking some time off from the WWF in the late 1980’s he returned in 1990 for a second run and was known simply as The Dragon.
4. Ultimate Warrior
James Hellwig was an aspiring bodybuilder before becoming a professional wrestler and he transferred his stage presence on the posing platform into the ring. The Ultimate warrior was known for his dramatic entrances that seemed exhausting in themselves, but he still had plenty of energy when battling his opponents in the ring.
The pinnacle of his career came when he won the WWF Heavyweight Championship by pinning Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI. He retired from wrestling in the late 1990’s and started a second career as a public speaker. Three days before passing away in 2014, Hellwig was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame.
3. Ric Flair
The Nature Boy Ric Flair was known as much for his exertions with women outside the ring as he was for his exertions inside the ring. Born Richard Morgan Fliehr in 1949, he is often regarded as the best professional wrestler of the 198os and perhaps of all time. Flair is recognized as a sixteen time world champion, however, he disputes this arguing he holds 21 championship titles.
In 1975 Flair was one of several wrestlers who were passengers on a small plane that crashed. The accident paralyzed one wrestler and Flair broke his back. Doctors told him his wrestling career was over, but he embarked on a tough rehabilitation regimen and was able to return to the ring in less than a year. His career spanned 40 years that included matches as recently as 2012.
2. Hulk Hogan
Terry Bollea was born in 1953, but is known around the world as Hulk Hogan. Fans argue over whether he or Ric Flair deserves the title of best of all time. When Bollea joined the WWF in 1979 he was given the name Hogan and was a villain. In 1983 He appeared as a wrestler in Rocky III increasing his profile considerably.
The WWF decided to capitalize on Hogan’s popularity by making him a good guy known as Hulk Hogan. In one particularly memorable match Mr T of Rocky III and The A-Team joined Hogan in the ring to help him defeat his arch nemesis Rowdy Roddy Piper.
In the early 1990s Hogan and other wrestlers were accused of taking steroids; he denied the allegations, but was forced to take a leave of absence from wrestling. After more than a decade of playing a good guy, Hogan switched back to playing a villain by double-crossing his long-time manager “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
In 1998 he announced his retirement from wrestling on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
1. Macho Man Randy Savage
Randy Poffo’s father Angelo was a professional wrestler in the 1950’s and 1960’s so its not so surprising Randy became a wrestler as well. He went by several stage names as a wrestler, but Randy became famous as the “Macho Man” Randy Savage. He became known for his gravely voice and intensity as well as his flamboyant costumes.
He was also unique for having his wife and manager “Miss Elizabeth” in his corner during his matches. Savage won the WWF World Heavyweight title twice and is considered by many of his fellow wrestlers to be among the best competitor in the sport’s history. In 2011, the Macho Man suffered a heart attack while driving and died at the age of 58.