The origins of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) can be traced back as far as the 1950s when their first show was produced under the company name Capitol Wrestling Corporation. And, while it’s unclear who exactly started the CWC (some say it was Vincent J. McMahon, while others claim it was his father, Jess McMahon), this was the entity that would eventually grow into the WWE.
The CWC would eventually join the National Wrestling Alliance, and the joint enterprise would then become the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation), which was later renamed the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The era of the WWF was when the sport really started to skyrocket in popularity, thanks in part to well-known superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Big Van Vader.
In 1999, the WWF had its IPO and became a publicly traded company on the NYSE. And in 2002, after a lawsuit with the World Wildlife Fund (also WWF), the company changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). It was around the same time when the WWE decided to create two separate rosters of wrestlers, known as Smackdown! and Raw. This era gave birth to household names like Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, The Big Show, Chris Jericho, and many more.
Today, the WWE has a massive following in the U.S. and internationally. In fact, for a stretch of years in the late 2010s, the WWE was the most-watched sports league in India. And, despite harsh competition from the AEW (All Elite Wrestling), which has poached several of the WWE’s biggest stars, the WWE doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
And throughout the long history of the WWE, there have been some truly unforgettable wrestlers. So, in this article, we’re going to run through the 7 greatest WWE wrestlers of all time. And, for those of you who say that pro wrestling isn’t a real sport, go read something else.
1. Shawn Michaels
There can be endless debate about the best WWE wrestler of all time. However, being that I’m a ‘90s baby, I have to give that honor to Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid wasn’t just a pretty face; he was a formidable wrestler in the ring with one of the most iconic finishing moves ever: Sweet Chin Music. It was simple: a swift kick to the chin that left his opponents seeing stars.
Michaels also gets bonus points for singing on his own entrance music (a wonderfully 2000s song called “Sexy Boy”), which was meant to play up his heartthrob persona. He was also a member of D-Generation X, arguably the greatest team in WWE history (which also had an amazing theme song titled “Are You Ready?”).
2. Hulk Hogan
For the generation that lived through the 1980s, the name most commonly associated with professional wrestling is probably Hulk Hogan. His fame in the ‘80s elevated him to the status of an American hero, and he was a six-time world champion in both the WWE and WCW.
Hulk’s looks and demeanor were big reasons why he became so emblematic. He had long bleach-blonde hair, he called everyone “brother,” and he looked as if he’d fallen asleep in a tanning booth. It was amazing. He was also known to go into a state known as “Hulkamania,” in which he was virtually unbeatable.
3. Randy Savage
The “Macho Man” Randy Savage is another wrestler who may have been more famous for his personality than his in-the-ring prowess. Randy Savage was known to sport the most colorful, eccentric, and tacky outfits you can possibly imagine. He spoke in proverbs in his low growl of a voice, which made his interviews incredibly entertaining. And he’s also the star of the greatest Slim Jim commercials ever made.
Randy Savage’s finishing move was a beautifully simple flying elbow off the top rope, which carried him to six world championships over his 32-year career. For some reason, though, “Pomp & Circumstance” (that song the graduates walk across the stage to) was his theme music. Can anyone explain that decision to me?
4. John Cena
Before he was a big-time Hollywood actor, John Cena was the hero of the WWE. A decorated military veteran, an American everyman, and a 16-time WWE champion, Cena stole the hearts of the world whenever he stepped in the ring. His signature phrase, “You can’t see me,” is undoubtedly one of the coolest things that has ever been broadcasted on television. And, somehow, Cena managed to retain that “cool factor” even though he wore oversized jean shorts in every match.
Cena’s most well-known signature move is probably the Five-Knuckle Shuffle, which basically involved him punching a defenseless opponent in the face as they lay nearly unconscious on the ground. Pretty brutal if you ask me.
5. The Undertaker
The magic of the WWE is not only in its beloved heroes like John Cena but also in its most hated villains. And no WWE villain has ever been as feared as The Undertaker. When he would walk out, the lights dim, smoke pouring out from under the stage, and eerie graveyard music playing in the background; it was nearly impossible not to get the chills. The Undertaker was also a force to be reckoned with in the ring. According to WWE records, the man stood 6’ 10” and weighed over 300 pounds, not to mention his intimidating long hair and tattooed arms.
The Undertaker’s signature move, The Tombstone Piledriver, involved savagely dropping opponents on their heads, which would probably break someone’s neck if performed in real life. He also won the WWF/WWE Championship four times, the Hardcore Championship once, and the World Tag Team Championship six times.
6. Steve Austin
The persona of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was apparently inspired by Bruce Willis in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction as well as by notorious New Jersey hitman Richard Kuklinski (although it was never really explained in what way The Iceman inspired Steve Austin). Nevertheless, Stone Cold would become one of the most well-known names in WWF/WWE history, largely because of the Stone Cold Stunner. The move involved a devastating kick to the gut before finishing off the opponent with a three-quarter facelock, driving their skull into his shoulder.
Steve Austin is definitely one of the most beloved superstars in pro wrestling history. And the audience particularly loved it when he would climb the ropes after a victory, smash two beer cans together, and pour them down his throat. Can you imagine anything more American?
7. Ric Flair
Ric Flair has recently come into the spotlight once again because of the song “Ric Flair Drip” by 21 Savage, Offset, and Metro Boomin. I believe that the song is a reference to Ric Flair’s proclivity for bragging about his expensive clothes and accessories, which was definitely a major part of his personality. But, of course, he’s probably most well known for his on-screen tantrums and screaming “Woo!” every single chance he got.
Oddly, Ric Flair went by the moniker “The Nature Boy,” a name he won after beating Buddy Rogers in a one-on-one match. Flair’s Figure-Four Leg Lock is also one of the greatest submission moves ever done inside a WWE/WWF ring.