We are about to hit the midway point on the list of my all-time favorite men and women to ever step into a squared circle, and already we’ve seen Hall of Famers and newcomers aplenty. The pervious installment included three members of the celebrated Hart Family, as well as current stars who are carving out their paths in WWE and TNA Wrestling right now. Some of the next 20 entrants hit their stride right in the period of wrestling I grew up on, not too much before and not too much after. Of course there will be some legendary and newer acts tossed in there as well, but for the most part, this entry will be a humongous nostalgia bomb dropped straight from the helicopter of teenage me. Without further ado, let’s get started with #60…
#60. Becky Lynch
Out of all the members of NXT’s Four Horsewomen, this one is probably the all-around best, but that’s a matter of opinion. While Sasha, Bayley, and Charlotte can all get it done on the ring, Becky Lynch is perhaps the most natural on the microphone, and it’s been that way even back in her days as Rebecca Knox on the independent scene. She’s always been the quirky, fun-loving girl from Ireland who could often get a funny line out. She’s also a very skilled submission specialist and suplex machine, as spotlighted in the majority of matches that she’s had since joining WWE. While also working under Vince’s umbrella, she’s become the latest example of an underdog; usually playing second-banana and sometimes being the punching bag in a situation. The problem is: she’s better than that, and hopefully her skills are rewarded with a Women’s Title run down the line.
#59. Kevin Owens
I wasn’t watching Ring of Honor in the late-00s and a large chunk of the early-10s due; their lack of TV deals meant that my access to them was limited. But one wrestler I kept always hearing people bring up and praise was Kevin Steen. I’d seen a picture of him, wearing a shirt that read “Kill Steen Kill” with the same font and color scheme as one of John Cena‘s old shirts. I thought to myself “Can’t he get sued for that?” Not that his character would care or anything. I had no idea what he was a capable of until I finally got to watch his work. By the time he showed up in WWE as Kevin Owens, I kind of felt like he would be an interesting addition. And boy is he; while his Indy stuff is good, he’s since gone on to prove his worth in the ring and on the mic in WWE, to the chagrin of various announcers. He’s one of the best villains that they have and I hope he gets the WWE Title soon.
Elephant in the room: No, AJ Lee is not on the list. I know she’ll be on a lot of people’s all-time faves list, but you won’t find her on this one. But there is another NXT Season 3 standout who does make the list, and that is this former Orlando Magic dancer from Sanford, Florida. I didn’t know anything about her going in, not even the fact that she was the inaugural FCW Women’s Champion. But when I saw her athletic ability for myself on the obstacle course and in the ring, I knew she’d be one to watch. That potential has been met and furthered in later years and she’d one of the hidden gems in recent wrestling history. A heel turn in 2015 even saw her show a mean streak we didn’t know she had in her. Don’t let the fact that she’s a Total Divas regular fool you; she’s come a long way since coming in 2nd on the NXT of old in 2010.
#57. Beth Phoenix
When Beth Phoenix came into WWE, it was a breath of fresh air. Not since Jazz had WWE seen a woman who was so built. Her muscles made her unique compared to the other women at the time and gave her a level of intimidation. But she was beautiful too, so she wasn’t completely out of place with WWE’s vision for the roster. She was the closest to a monster heel the women’s division had at the time; she was easily able to take down most of the other ladies in most matches, but she has also wrestled some totally awesome matches against the likes of Melina, Eve Torres, Mickie James, and even Kelly Kelly. Sure, that dream match with Awesome Kong never happened, the dream match with Natalya was short, and Glamerella… OK, actually that was entertaining. But as is, in retirement, she can be proud of the career she had.
Batista was custom-made to be successful in WWE. He has the muscles that Vince likes, but unlike most other meatheads that Vince usually hires, this Beast actually had something that made him becoming such a huge star believable. And that something wasn’t just the badass ring name. I don’t think he’s ever been regarded as one of the best technical masters, but whether that’s the case or not, he’s had numerous great matches in his WWE career, with his match against the Undertaker as WrestleMania 23 being a personal favorite of mine. And then there was a matter of his charisma; there’s a reason he’s been able to successfully cross over into movies. He can actually work the mic just fine, whether it’s him being menacing and threatening or even if something funny comes out of his mouth. And in 2010, he had plenty of things to say that were both funny and menacing. Mock him all you want, but Batista is pure entertainment.
#55. Cody Rhodes
Turns out the offspring of pro wrestling legends don’t always get high perks. Case in point: Cody Rhodes. When he debuted in 2007, it was evident that he was a rookie with a lot of work ahead to really find his voice and his groove as a performer. Playing a henchman to Randy Orton certainly helped, but he definitely still wasn’t there yet. Then the ‘Dashing’ gimmick came about and we learned that Cody Rhodes had some charisma that hadn’t previously been tapped into. Then he transformed into being delusionally ‘Undashing’ and he continued to grow and show potential to be a major player. And he probably could have reached that level had Stardust never happened. He did his best with the gimmick and his feud with Arrow’s Stephen Amell was fun, but it came as no surprise when Cody left WWE this year to seek opportunities elsewhere. He’s proven that he deserves them though his improved ring and character work, so hopefully he finds them.
#54. Brooke Adams
Brooke’s start in pro wrestling wasn’t exactly stellar. She was just a beautiful woman signed to WWE to dance alongside Kelly Kelly and Layla El on the promotion’s C-show. Despite her obvious sex appeal, the jury was still out on what she could do as far as actually wrestling was concerned. She was released by WWE before she got the chance to formally compete; not including Battle Royals in that analysis. However, TNA snatched her up years later; starting out as a non-wrestler, she eventually found her way into active competition and she proved to be such a valuable asset to their Knockouts Division that she won the TNA Knockouts Championship three times and even had a reign as the TNA Knockouts Tag Team Champion before leaving the company in 2015. She’s not just a model; she’s a fighter and as she proved with time, she’s also a winner.
Chances are if anyone remembers any woman from the RAW brand on the Ruthless Aggression Era aside from Trish Stratus and Lita, its Victoria. Maybe it’s because she’s actually still active in wrestling today, but fans definitely haven’t forgotten the woman who portrayed one of the most convincing, scariest mentally unstable characters in wrestling. An angle that saw her and Trish’s modeling backgrounds used as a source of conflict, Victoria more than held her own as the villain, leading to a couple of Women’s Championship reigns. Her success wouldn’t end there as she’s also won the TNA Knockouts and TNA Knockouts Tag Team Championship. Her entrance theme resume isn’t too shabby either, coming down to the ring from vocals by t.A.T.u. and a then-unknown Nicki Minaj when she was in WWE.
#52. William Regal
Admittedly, William Regal is a wrestler I didn’t come to appreciate until his career began to wind down. He’s been in the game since the 90s, long before I ever started watching. When I did start watching, he was paired with Lance Storm in a team that while talented, I never found that interesting. His pairings with other acts like Tajiri and Eugene, however, allowed William Regal to show more dimensions than just “tough Brit who needed brass knuckles to win matches”. And even though his comedic side did shine through, I didn’t realize how much he excelled in seriousness until his reign as RAW GM and King of the Ring. He was great as a dastardly villain or an amusing babyface, and you still totally remember how great he is in the ring. I’m with everyone when I say he deserved to hold the World Title at least once.
#51. Samoa Joe
When TNA said the X-Division wasn’t about weight limits and that it was about no limits, this is the kind of wrestler that slogan was referring to. There have been numerous big guys who held the X-Division Title, but you’ll never be able to convince no one that Abyss and Lashley wrestled the X-Division styles. Samoa Joe, on the other hand, did. He could fly just as well as he could slap on a submission hold and it is because of this that he’s been hailed as an amazing performer for so long. After winning every title he could in TNA though, Dixieland started paying him in dirt with one lame storyline after another. So he then took his talents down to Full Sail and it’s completely rejuvenated his career. He’s the current NXT Champion (as of this writing, anyway; Shinsuke Nakamura might have dethroned him by the time some of y’all read this) and obviously has more gas left in the tank.
#50. Mickie James
Like many, I was first introduced to Mickie James by way of her debut angle in WWE with Trish Stratus in 2005. Unlike many, it took a while for her to win me over because I had no idea what to think of her freaky stalker character. I can definitely see why she immediately connected with fans though (and not just the horny ones who got a kick out of her kissing Trish); not only was it the angle that allowed her to play a distinct character different from the other women at the time, but it was also her ABILITY to play that distinct character, as well as to advance it through her in-ring performances. Soon enough, I found myself coming around to her as well. By the end of her TNA run, she had become the first woman to hold the WWE Women’s, WWE Divas, and TNA Knockouts Championships. And on the side, she also happens to make some pretty decent country music too. Yes, for realsies. I’m not making that up.
#49. Dusty Rhodes
Dusty Rhodes’ placement on this list is largely benefitted by the fact that he maintained a presence in pro wrestling long after his heyday was over. Not only did he help train WWE newcomers in the Performance Center in the 2010s and clearly built a bond with everyone he taught, but he also participated in a few segments and matches in the 2000s as well. After feuding with Vince Russo in TNA and winning the Director of Authority job in 2004, he soon returned to WWE as one of a long line of legends to help put over Randy Orton as a big deal. And that’s just what he’s done since I started watching. Polka dots during his WWF run aside, his battles in the NWA are legendary and his promos are some of the best remembered and most quoted of all time. Trust me, you know that “Hard Times” one! A Hall of Famer who is gone yet not forgotten.
#48. Jay Lethal
Remember the peak of TNA’s X-Division? The Division may be a shell of it’s former self now, but there as once a time where it was filled to the brim with talent who you simply couldn’t miss. And one of the stars who got the biggest push was Jay Lethal. Admittedly, while he was an exciting wrestler, part of the reason he got so big in TNA was definitely because of his talent for impressions. His entire “Black Machismo” character was Randy Savage parody. And it was a good Randy Savage parody. And later on, he would perform a good Ric Flair impression during Flair’s only good moment in TNA. Before leaving, he would win a total of six X-Division Titles and the TNA Tag Titles once. He’s since become one of ROH’S biggest names and the face of the House of Truth. The impressions are gone, but his abundance of wrestling skill is enough to get him by.
#47. Alicia Fox
I will admit that when Alicia Fox first debuted, I didn’t become a fan immediately. She was one of those wrestlers that I had to build up an appreciation for overtime since she was actually kind of all over the place in the ring originally. It was almost painful to watch her oversells sometimes. But to my surprise, the long-legged beauty continued to gradually gain more control and technique in the ring to the point that moves like her tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, northern lights-suplex, and dropkick are all underrated gems to see be performed. The scissors kick still needs work, but overall, she’s come far and really earned my respect and admiration. Also helping is the fact that she’s a pretty decent promo, able to be perky some of the time and other times come off convincingly intense. This is one fox to never underestimate.
#46. Torrie Wilson
I heard a rumor once that Torrie Wilson was originally supposed to be the inaugural WWE Divas Champion when the belt was introduced in 2008. And honestly, that makes all the sense in the world. From the moment a ten-year old me immediately began crushing on her in 2002 to her injury-caused retirement in 2008, she’d been the female face of Smackdown, save for a couple of years she spent on RAW. And in that time, she’d feuded with every female villain the blue brand had to offer, whether it be the wicked Victoria or the scheming Sable in the twilight of their WWE careers, hilarious hillbilly Nidia, or scheming seductress Dawn Marie in one of Smackdown’s all-time weirdest angles. Torrie was never the best wrestler, but was passable. She also didn’t break down any doors, but she definitely lit up screens in a big way.
#45. Seth Rollins
I first heard of Seth Rollins through word of mouth, with many people claiming him to be the next CM Punk. Personally, since Rollins was nowhere near as outspoken and controversial as CM Punk, I think the only reason those comparisons came up was because they had similar looks with the beard and long-black hair. But both men also had something else in common: that they’re both spectacular, but in completely different ways. The former Tyler Black joined WWE in 2010 and quickly became a favorite among people who’d probably never seen him compete before. After becoming NXT Champion, he came up as part of the Shield before driving a spike through that era of his career and striking out on his own to once again claim the World Heavyweight Champion. He’s another wrestler who can excel in many forms of wrestling, including the fun-to-watch daredevil style that got me on his train and WWE clearly sees big things for “The Man”.
#44. Shelton Benjamin
For a guy who started his WWE career as one of two lackeys for Kurt Angle on Smackdown in 2003, Shelton Benjamin sure went on to become a guy who could very well won the World Championship one day. Supposedly, the thing that hindered Shelton a bit was his microphone skills, and unfortunately, I would be lying if I said that he was the most captivating talker in the locker room. But hey, if Roman Reigns can get a push while being a laughably bad promo, Shelton Benjamin could get graded on a curve too, especially since as far as pure athleticism goes, Shelton Benjamin is one of the all-time best. He’s stolen the show in every Money in the Bank match he’s been in and went toe-to-toe in impressive outings against Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and others. Stints in Japan and ROH further his skill set and make him one NOT to miss.
#43. Nicole Matthews
When I picked up the 2010 PWI Female 50, the women’s Indy scene was still new to me, so I was hoping to learn about some of the most fascinating ladies competing down there. Nicole Matthews – then one half of the SHIMMER Tag Team Champions with fellow Canadian Ninja Portia Perez – was #31 that year and seemed like a fun person to keep an eye on. Sure enough, after checking out her SHIMMER matches, including her Ninjas matches and her series with Jessie McKay, and some of her ECCW outings, she was on the fast track to becoming a favorite. I even found her loud-mouth trash talking endearing. And she continued to impress to the point that she won top championships in both promotions. Her feud with Madison Eagles also happens to be a personal favorite of mine.
#42. Triple H
I think I respect Triple H more than I like him; truth be told I was not always a fan of the guy. In fact, I started watching WWE at a period when he was the most overexposed and overpushed guy in the entire business, plowing over everyone and hogging the World Championship for an annoyingly long period of time. But after that period of misery ended, I was able to actually see what a talented, dedicated, and sometimes funny guy he actually was; the guy that people actually got behind during the DX days in the Attitude Era, and to a lesser extent, the McMahon-Helmsley Era. And adding to his legacy is the invention of NXT, WWE’s widely praised developmental promotion/third brand that’s grooming the stars of tomorrow. In that respect, I definitely appreciate Triple H more as an older fan than I did as an annoyed younger one.
#41. Jeff Hardy
In some ways, it’s hard to tell how much you can rely on Jeff Hardy. After all, this is the same guy who not only recently had a Tag Team Championship reign cut short due to a real-life reckless stunt that left him seriously injured, but also the guy who ruined an entire PPV main event when his drug habit took over. But when he is on his game, Jeff Hardy can deliver the goods. His aforementioned recklessness is actually part of the reason why he became so popular in the first place because his fearless feats of flight were always a highlight to watch regardless of the toll it took on his body. Also, as a fellow artist myself, I appreciate Jeff Hardy’s ambitions in that avenue. Don’t get me wrong, his art is peculiar and puzzling and his music sounds like someone dropped an mp3 player on full blast in a bathtub, but it all lets you into the twisted mind of Jeff Hardy and that’s what makes him such a magnetic personality in the sport.