Niall Williams writes.
There have been many who are considered “all time greats”, Bret Hart, Jushin Liger, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Buddy Rogers, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Brian Stone. The list goes on and everyone will have a different list. That’s the beauty of wrestling, each fan has their own personal relationship with the industry and that shapes who they consider the GOAT. In this article I’m going to try and explore the many aspects of what makes a great wrestler. Many of you will totally disagree with any opinions I air and you know something brother? That’s just fine because “great” is subjective and if we all had the same opinions then that would make for pretty dull times.
One of the fundamentals of professional wrestling is the ability to actually do the graps. Every good wrestler needs some degree of technical proficiency to get by, even if it they don’t appear to utilise this all the time. Kurt Angle, Daniel Bryan, Bret Hart and Dean Malenko are all praised for their technical work and rightly so. A truly great technician can dominate an opponent and woo the fans with tricky sequences that are just as difficult to execute as any moonsault.
The UK has a long tradition of great technical workers, from the halcyon days of World Of Sport to the British Strong Style guys in WWE now, wrestling marks like the very writer of this here article love a bit of tech. But who’s the best of all time? Looking at this category alone then Daniel Bryan would surely have his name in the hat for this with 5 Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards for Most Outstanding Wrestler. Chris Benoit, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle and AJ Styles all have multiple awards in this category too. But again, this is an award picked by a panel of people who will each have their own opinions so who am I to tell you who’s the best?
Of course there are exceptions to the rule, Stone Cold being the first example that comes to mind. The Texas Rattlesnake relied more on strikes than anything but even so, he could do technical. Look at his early matches in WCW and his WWE match with Benoit if you don’t believe me.
A wrestler has to look the part; bleach blonde hair woo, a nice tan woo, rippling muscles woo, a bejewelled robe woo. Of course I’m not saying that Ric Flair is the epitome of what a superstar should look like but there is a reason the Nature Boy’s look is mimicked so much. Flair himself even took the idea from Buddy Rogers. Jesse Ventura inspired wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Scott Steiner with his signature look too. Don’t believe me sucka? Ask your local lollipop lady (all avid wrestling fans, it’s well known).
Vince McMahon loves big sweaty men. A line that’s been hammered by fans who are fed up of seeing their favourite “little” guy get squashed in favour of some 6’8 bag of muscle. The thing is, it’s believable. Someone walks into that ring who looks like he could legitimately rip you limb from limb then people are going to go for it. Ultimate Warrior is the prime example. Warrior wasn’t the greatest worker, he didn’t possess amazing charisma either; he did have an awesome physique and an intensity that few others could match though and it worked for him. Undertaker, Kane, André, Big Show; all guys who are attractions because of their immense size, they all had different degrees of skill in the ring but it doesn’t matter, they look like they should be dominating everyone and that’s what makes them special.
Again, there’s exceptions to this rule. Dusty Rhodes was as popular as any face has ever been but looked like he had just been pulled off a random bar stool. Daniel Bryan is a more recent example. The point is these “everymen” are all part of what makes it so subjective as to what makes a great. Move star looks like Rock and Cena; an amazing musculature like Warrior or Hogan; impressive size like André or Big Show; looking the part like Flair or Jericho. These all go a long way to making a wrestler into a superstar.
Longevity. It’s something that too many careers lack. In the ever more high risk world of wrestling, injuries are going to happen. It’s a tough ask on your body to throw yourself around without something giving in. I can’t remember a single time the Undertaker has botched massively and seriously injured someone. Sure, he’s had a couple of small knocks himself that have set him back a few months but for a big guy he really throws himself around.
Injuring yourself and others will seriously damage your career. It may cost you opportunities by being absent or being denied them because you’re not trustworthy. Not to say that working safe means not taking risks. Many extreme wrestlers go on to have long careers because they know how to do those spots safely and with minimal damage. I would quite happily watch two guy never leave the mat and just go back and forth with technical moves, submissions and counters but I understand that some people want to see high flying athleticism. You god damn casuals!
Being able to hold your own on the mic is the best way to draw a reaction from the crowd outside of an actual match. It’s a way of establishing who’s the guy to cheer and who’s the guy to boo, ya dig? Many memorable catchphrases will no doubt be stuck in your head and associated with some of the most memorable stars of all time, Woo! Guys like the Rock, Jericho and CM Punk have all made a name as guys who are great talkers.
People talk about certain promos in the same way great matches are spoken about. The Austin 3:16 promo was the beginnings of a new era for WWE. The Pipe Bomb from CM Punk still sticks in the mind now. “Do you smell what the rock is cooking?” Admit it, you said that in his voice. The point is that these superstars will be remembered for what they did with a microphone in their hand and well as what they did in the ring.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Brock Lesnar is a notable example of a future hall of famer who doesn’t cut it on the mic. However he had his mouthpiece in Paul Heyman. Being a good manager is a career in itself and one of the key aspects of that is doing the talking that your client can’t. Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan and several others will go down in memory as amazing managers and a huge part of that is their ability to run their mouths.
There are so many other categories and sub categories we can go into. Athletic ability being one of them. People do love high flying moves and a fast paced match and watching people perform moves that are seemingly impossible to us mere mortals. However I do think we can pinpoint who is the greatest of all time without just using the old cliche of having the X factor. X-Pac does definitely not come into this conversation before you make that link. There is however a certain appeal about all the top stars that just can’t be quantified. Whether they’re big, slow giants or nimble, small luchadors; they all have an appeal which you can’t put your finger on, whether you’re booing the hell out of them or cheering their every move.
So we have established there are many things that make someone great. “But who is the greatest?” I hear you ask. Well in my opinion, AJ Styles is currently the greatest in the world. He isn’t the best on the mic but his matches are always great. The GOAT for me is the Undertaker, he doesn’t lack in any single department. 6’10, built like a wardrobe and can move like a cat. He has a weird aura about him, not the cocky charisma of the Rock or the brash machismo of Stone Cold but a creepy, intimidating presence. The fact he’s still going aged 50 is testament to how safe he is. I know many of you are reading this screaming at your screen “you stupid idiot! You’re wrong on so many levels!” And that’s what makes this conversation so great, it’s all subjective. If your opinion differs then let us know on the Fusion Pro Facebook page Jabroni!
Words by Niall Williams.