This was a mighty tough list to put together. There was a ton of concern over whether I was ranking certain veterans and legends too low or whether it was too soon to place certain newer wrestlers as high as I did. There was definitely a ton of concern over the gender balance; I wanted to make sure there were a decent amount of both men and women on the list. This will probably be well illustrated in the Top 20, which contains a mix of legends, wrestlers I grew up watching, and wrestlers who are still active today. These are the wrestlers who not deliver from an in-ring standpoint more often than not, but they’re also showcases of stellar personality in most cases. No need to keep you waiting; let’s just get into the cream of the crop of my personal all-time favorites.
If you watched WWE NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn II less than two weeks ago, you remember the debut of a new face in the NXT Women’s Division by the name of Ember Moon. While she may be a fresh talent to Vince McMahon’s playground, that certainly wasn’t her first in-ring rodeo as she’s been at it for almost a decade on the Independents under the mythical name of Athena. First coming to my attention when she debuted in SHIMMER as one of the few black women they had on the roster at the time, she was able to stand out in more ways than just her ethnicity. Her offense was off-the-charts spectacular as she could take to the air one minute and lock opponents up in submission holds the next. As proven against Mercedes Martinez in the match below, she’s not opposed to a good brawl as well. And as for her finishing move? It is a thing of beauty. Try to watch the O-Face performed and NOT hop out of your seat with your mouth wide open. It’s impossible.
Britani Knight is the ring name I first got to recognize this woman as after reading up about the Pro Wrestling: Eve promotion in late-2010. The following year, she and her mother Saraya Knight would debut for SHIMMER and the year after that, Britani would be rechristened under her current persona of Paige and the ride to superstardom officially began. While some fans seemed to lose interest in her after her shocking main roster debut where she won her first of two Divas Championships, she was widely praised in NXT where she reigned as the first Women’s Champion there. And I’m happy to say that my support never wavered at any step; whether as the Anti-Diva who was a lone wolf or as the Total Diva who just had a different look and feel about her and always gets into mischief with Alicia Fox, I knew that Paige was a star in the making, and I’m glad to say that I was absolutely correct.
#18. Mick Foley
If there is any wrestler who deserves respect for just how much they’ve risked in their entire career, it’s this hairy, flannel wearing guy from Long Island, New York who got over by being the most lovable, dorky madman in the entire profession. He’s lost an ear for this business; he’s taken God knows how many thumbtacks and miles of barbed wire to the flesh and chair shots to the head over the years. He’s spilled so much blood and even cheated death in that Infamous Hell in a Cell match. He’s gone through THREE different personalities and upped his charm by getting a stinky sock puppet over with fans. And even after all that, he’s still finds time to write children’s books and autobiographies on the regular. One of wrestling’s toughest cookies and a best-selling children’s author? Gotta love Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy.
#17. Veda Scott
How far could one little cat-loving redhead with glasses go in the pro wrestling world? Apparently, pretty far. The winner of the 2012 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year award can be called upon to do just about anything in pro wrestling. You need her to wrestle a match? She can lace up the boots and compete against both female and male grapplers as either a plucky face or an arrogant heel. You need her to be a manager? She’ll do whatever she can to ensure success for her client. You need her to do commentary? She’s very well-spoken and always does her homework, so she’d be well versed in that field as well. A well-traveled athlete who’s competed for many promotions and is always a hoot when it comes to promos, here’s hoping the woman with nine lives (and a real-life law degree) will stick with pro wrestling as long as she possibly can.
#16. Booker T
I’ve already mentioned that I got into wrestling well after the closure of WCW, and as such, I missed every single one of the five WCW Championship victories that Booker T has often bragged about during his career. But I’ve been there pretty much every step of the way in his time in the WWE, from his oddball pairing with Goldust to his run as a World Title contender in 2003 (that he should have won, by the way) to his run as a no-nonsense heel on Smackdown in 2004 to he and Sharmell’s over-the-top reign of the blue brand as the King and Queen, where he won another World Title. I even sat through his TNA run. Booker T was a lock to get a decent place on the list; one of my favorites from my childhood and now a Hall of Famer, the master of the Spin-A-Roonie is one of wrestling’s brightest African-American stars and one of the athletes that always made me enjoy pro wrestling.
#15. Roddy Piper
The Rowdy One sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 61. This was twelve years after I first saw him appear on a modern WWE broadcast, hitting Hulk Hogan with a steel pipe in his WrestleMania XIX fight with Mr. McMahon. At the time, I wasn’t very aware of his legacy in the sport or his history with Hulk Hogan. But after following recurring appearances and doing my homework by watching videos of him in his controversial prime, I knew right away that he was the quintessential despicable pro wrestling villain. A slimy savage who reveled in his own rotten nature, and he was so good at it that he was able to transcend beyond the ring and become a mainstream star in his own right. If you haven’t seen They Live, you have at least heard of it through either parodies or the recurring utterance of it’s most famous line. As far as legends from before my time that I quickly grew an appreciation for, the Piper’s Pit host was it for me.
#14. Kurt Angle
First of all, how surreal is it that this man has spent more time on the TNA roster than the WWE roster? His six-year WWE run was enough to make the only Olympic gold medalist in the company’s history worthy of going in any Hall of Fame wrestling had to offer; many World Titles, numerous hilarious moments from “Jimmy Crack Corn” to being outraged at the “You Suck chants”, to the many great matches with Undertaker, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar. But then he made the jump to TNA and was a marquee name every second he was there. Sure, he slowed down a bit at times, but the submission and suplex machine was always on and held every men’s championship the company had to offer. I know it was fun to chant “You Suck” at him even as a fan favorite, but the truth is quite the opposite; this American icon rules.
#13. Eddie Guerrero
The life of Eddie Guerrero was a tragically bumpy one. Before he passed away in 2005 while still an active member on the WWE roster, he had a long history of struggling with drugs and alcohol. I didn’t even realize all of this when I was watching him on-screen because his TV persona was one of the most invigorating, entertaining characters on the blue brand. In WCW, he was one of the men that set the Cruiserweight Division on fire with matches against the likes of Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit. In WWE, he was the man who loved to lie, cheat, steal, ride low-riders to the ring, and often joke around. But he was no joke in the ring; the guy was a technical master and his WWE Championship victory remains one to remember. I knew making this list that he would be in the Top 20 automatically.
#12. CM Punk
The cruel irony about CM Punk’s inclusion on this list is that I don’t think at this point of his life, he would care if I left him off. However, back when he was active in the squared circle, he’d probably tell me off if I didn’t put him at or near the very top of it. While he has moved on from the world of pro wrestling (along with his wrestler-turned-author wife) and continues to not compete for his current employer, UFC, he dubbed himself the Best Wrestler in the World™ during his time in WWE and fans such as myself immediately gave into the hype. Because honestly, he had the tools. His moveset was exciting and we were guaranteed an event or at least a memorable soundbite anytime he grabbed a microphone. Plus, he’s from Chicago, so extra cool points. Say what you want about CM Punk, but you definitely can’t call him a boring or un-engaging personality.
#11. The Rock
Everyone knows Dwayne Johnson as one of the biggest, most lucrative stars in Hollywood and an all-around entertaining guy, but even if a person doesn’t and never have kept up with pro wrestling, certainly no one has forgotten his time in the ring, primarily in the 90’s, that launched him to superstardom. Originally a vanilla babyface everyone loathed, he was able to reinvent himself into the rightfully-named most electrifying man in sports-entertainment, with an offense that was explosive, flashy, and usually bought the crowd to their feet. Along with that were probably the best mic skills in the history of pro wrestling, and a long list of catchphrase that never get old. His battles with the likes of Triple H, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, and John Cena are the stuff of legend (regardless of quality in the case of those last two) and cement his place on WWE’s all-time Mt. Rushmore and a respectable place in my top faves.
#10. Shawn Michaels
You have to be one arrogant wrestler to come out to entrance music that lyrically talks about how sexually irresistible you are to every woman in the room. And be the one singing it, no less. Yup, that was the Heartbreak Kid alright. He may have been a handful to deal with backstage in his early days in the business, but when he got in the ring, he could back up the braggadocio that he let fly because he was truly a one of a kind wrestler and showman. I’m glad he was able to make that early-2000s return so a new generation of fans (myself included) wouldn’t miss out on the greatness he could bring. His matches and feuds with Triple H, Bret Hart, Ric Flair, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and many others are the stuff of legend. In fact, he has 11 PWI Match of the Year awards. So though he seems like a more humble guy now, he certain has a right to brag.
#9. Cheerleader Melissa
Believe it or not, the first time I’d ever seen Cheerleader Melissa wrestle was actually on a WWE broadcast. She faced a recently heeled Victoria on a 2005 episode of Sunday Night Heat in a losing effort. I wouldn’t have minded if she stuck around WWE because from an in-ring standpoint, she could have been one of the biggest female wrestlers they ever had. Instead, she ended up joining another promotion that opened that same year, SHIMMER, where she’s captured their top championship twice and appeared on more of their volumes than any other wrestler. Her runs in Lucha Underground and TNA also allowed her to flex her acting muscles by portraying the personas of Mariposa and Raisha Saeed with her beautiful face concealed as both. Between the ropes, the Female Terminator is quite the force; she quite possibly may be the best female wrestler in the world even.
When I started watching WWE television in 2002, the women’s division were filled with talented and hard working women; of that bunch, the one who was able to hook me in the most whenever they were on-screen was Lita. It was for more than just her good looks and her punk-rock aesthetic (though they certainly helped). It was also because she was out there doing moves the other women in WWE at the time were just not doing. She would get in the ring and hit hurricanranas and moonsaults a plenty on her foes, and not just on the ladies either. She was a revolutionary in the who rode that wave through a career that included four Women’s Championships and a deserving WWE Hall of Fame induction. Effective as a attention-grabbing face or despicable, sexually-liberated heel, Lita made an impact on me and many others as a wrestling fan.
#7. AJ Styles
It was kind of strange for me to grasp the fact that 2016 was the first year AJ Styles ever competed on a WrestleMania given that the first time I’d ever watched an AJ Styles match was on a Friday evening Fox Sports Network airing of TNA iMPACT Wrestling in 2004. My cousin and I agreed that he lived up to his nickname of “Phenomenal”, being one of the shining stars of an already glorious concept in wrestling, the X-Division. He managed to transcend that area, though, by breaking into the Heavyweight ranks and winning a few World Titles there too. After becoming a household name in TNA, he ditched that burning house and continued to grow in ROH and New Japan before arriving on the grand stage of WWE that he honestly should’ve stepped onto a lot sooner. Few wrestlers in my lifetime have been as exciting and innovative as the Phenomenal One.
#6. Steve Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is one of those wrestlers I actually remember hearing about and seeing before I even started watching wrestling. He was on 1-800-Collect ads and everything. He’s been called the most popular WWE Superstar of all-time and to this day, that’s something that probably can’t be disputed. Even when he appears on TV today, he still gets such a huge pop from the crowd; the roof could tear off the place. He came around to the right place at the right time, an anti-authority rebel who wouldn’t play nice with corporate head Vince McMahon and did whatever he damn well please, be it drinking beers, flipping people off, or causing destruction using various modes of transportation. And it was always entertaining; his moments and some of his matches hold up today. He had to retire too soon, but his legacy is forever.
#5. Chris Jericho
I wonder what Chris Jericho has had more of: comebacks or reinventions. Every time Chris Jericho returns to the ring (and he returns to the ring A LOT after lengthy hiatuses for outside endeavors like his band, Fozzy), it seems like he adds some kind of tweak to his game. But that’s a good thing; it has allowed him to stay relevant in wrestling since the 90s. It’s allowed the fans to continue to embrace him and most importantly, it has allowed him to expand his performance range as well as his championship resume. He’s been loud and arrogant, quiet and demanding, and through it all, he’s remained one of pro wrestling’s most entertaining showmen, in addition to being a well traveled athlete, highly decorated athlete with great matches galore. He’s so good that he got a simple insult like “stupid idiot” over; that’s genius.
#4. Eve Torres
Chances are this is one name you’d never expect to see in the Top 5 of a list of all-time favorite pro wrestlers. After all, this is a woman who got into WWE and pro wrestling by winning the controversial Diva Search contest in 2007 and had no wrestling experience before signing a contract. Not that you’d be able to tell though as in a time when women’s wrestling in WWE wasn’t highly prioritized, she’d become one of the better, most visible female grapplers in the company and after achieving success as an athletic, polarizing face, she knocked it out the park as a charismatic, cunning heel who would do anything to get ahead. Before her 2013 retirement, she became the first women to win the now defunct-Divas Championship three times, a record she now forever shares with AJ Lee. In my opinion, she was one of the best women of WWE’s PG Era and I’m proud to call myself a fan.
The longest tenured active wrestler still in WWE (albeit with a WAY more reduced schedule now), he deserves credit for his longevity because he’s been working with a pretty cartoonish gimmick for most of that time. Aside from his Limp Bizkit biker phase in the early 2000’s, he’s always been an undead zombie who can summon lightening and rise from the dead, among other supernatural abilities. His character isn’t rooted in reality at all. But we don’t care because he is a living legend who has given us his all over the years. His chilling ring entrance: iconic. His 21-match WrestleMania streak: prestigious. His World Championship count: multiple. His list of memorable matches: lengthy. I even appreciate how he’s adapted to stay fresh over the years, both in persona and moveset. What else can I say? The Deadman is THE man!
#2. Rob Van Dam
From the second I started putting this list together, I knew Rob Van Dam would be a lock for the Top 5. Call it nostalgia, but as a wrestling fan, your childhood faves are stick with you. And when I started watching WWE, Rob Van Dam did quickly become my personal favorite. Everything about him stood out: his colorful singlet, his laid-back attitude, his offense of flips and kicks with the educated feet, the taunt that’s fun to join along with even if your name isn’t three syllables long. He could get extreme as evidenced by his successful ECW run; he wasn’t TV Champion for almost two years for nothing. In fact, I’ve practiced perfecting my Five-Star Frog Splashes on God knows how many mattresses over the years. As far as overall influence and connection as a fan goes, it was gonna be hard for any wrestler to top RVD on my personal list.
In 2002, Edge was one of the most popular WWE Superstars on the roster, as well as a premiere member of the blue brand as part of the Smackdown Six. In the span of two years, that would completely change as he morphed into the Rated-R Superstar and went from being a tag team specialist who could always be called upon for a good match to a dangerous singles threat who always seized the opportunity to not only save a story, but also snag a championship. He and Lita remain my persona favorite on-screen wrestling couple and his partnership with Christian is up there as one of my favorite partnerships in the history of tag team wrestling. He would retire a multiple-time World Champion who racked up a classic list of rivalries and matches in many different styles against many different opponents. His charisma, talent, and storytelling puts him in a class all his own and justify his spot as a modern great.
Honorable Mentions (Shoutout to some wrestlers who just missed the Top 100; this is in no specific order):
+ Big E: I have to show some appreciation for the 5-loving big guy of The New Day and the fact that he’s underrated in almost every category.
+ Ultimo Dragon: Probably would’ve made the list if his WWE run, which I mostly know him from, wasn’t so disappointing.
+ Eric Young: Comic relief is wrestling is essential, and it’s something he’s built his career on. Not too bad a wrestler either.
+ Cedric Alexander: Like Shinsuke Nakamura, Alexander is releatively new to me. If I revise this list down the line, he might make it on.
+ Michelle McCool: Let the record show that I can give Michelle McCool the credit she totally deserves. And even then, she just missed the cut.
+ ODB: I actually surprised myself by leaving this woman off; she’s so hysterical. How can you not laugh when she says “Knocked-Up Title”?
+ Low-Ki: Also known as Kaval, this is a wrestler that I can’t really name any standout match for, but I really love his standout moveset.
+ Rock-C: You’ve probably never heard of her and she usually competes in smaller promotions, but she’s actually pretty good though.
+ Kevin Nash: My mom bought me his WCW action figure before I even started watching wrestling and I still have it. That said, hard to see him as anything other than a living, breathing quad meme these days.
+ Sara Del Rey: You probablt couldn’t name a better woman to be training the current crop of female newcomers at WWE’s Performance Center than the self-proclaimed Queen of Wrestling and former SHIMMER Champion.
+ Jerry Lynn: Hailed as a legend in high-flying wrestling, I have seen a handful of his matches. Not enough to grant him inclusion on the list though.
+ Jacqueline: Don’t think just because the Hall of Famer and holder of both Women’s and Cruiserweight Championship gold didn’t make the list that you shouldn’t watch her on YouTube. Go watch her now.
+ Amazing Red: One of the best and most under-appreciated X-Division stars in history. His Top 50 moves video on YouTube is an extraordinary highlight reel.
+ Jack Evans: Dude is currently doing gang-busters in Lucha Underground, and like Amazing Red, he’s like a magician of high-flying moves between the ropes.
+ Evan Bourne: He went from Indy star to WWE superstar to sitting out two years for Wellness Policy violations and injury to Indy star again. What a career.
+ John Morrison: He may not join his on-again/off-again flame Melina on the list, but the Guru of Greatness’ runs in WWE and Lucha Underground are nothing to scoff at.
+ Taylor Wilde: I kind of wish she hadn’t retired so soon; she was on a roll in the Knockouts Division. The sky was the limit for her.
+ Daffney: She was committed to that crazy gimmick, which I admire. She’d probably still be wrestling today if it weren’t for TNA’s recklessness.
Who are your favorite pro wrestlers of all-time? Do you have a suggestion for my next Top 100 Countdown? Hit me up in the comments section or on Twitter @FearlessRiOT with feedback; it always helps to engage with people when it comes to my content or writing quality.