This is perhaps the age-old question for true blue wrestling fans; especially those that have been watching the longest, or at least know their history quite well. Just who is the greatest of all-time? And who does deserve to have their faces etched in the stone of the Mount Rushmore of the professional wrestling industry?
The answer is arguable and dear readers, you may all have your own opinions on that, but here are mine and I’ll set out to prove them as best as I can here.
The stone artist
Perhaps it is important to mention that right now AEW is at a critical juncture, especially with recent signings and rumored signings, it seems as though the company is sure to gain even more momentum than it already had. But the list that follows includes four names that passed through WWE alone, and not only that they took what once was the old New York territory of the NWA by storm.
If I could paint anything but abstract art, I’ve always wanted to paint a portrait of my wrestling Mount Rushmore, but an inclusion that would have been necessary would have been a Vince McMahon figure at the bottom holding a chisel, his father’s hand on his shoulder, as Vince has a part to play in all of these men’s rise in the industry, as they all four have equal parts in that as well. I found that rather important to mention.
So without further ado, why not get started…?
Maybe no one will ever break his record in the modern era; no one else on this list has, that’s for sure, and perhaps no one is meant to.
The legacy Bruno Sammartino left behind one that will stay etched in the annals of wrestling history, or etched in stone, pardon the pun.
Also known as “The Italian Strongman” Sammartino helped cement into the minds of a generation what a wrestler looked like and how a pro wrestler should act. The traveling circus freak image that was attached to professional wrestlers was itself already in the minds of many during the fifties. That stigma would follow wrestlers and the industry overall, for many years and believe it or not, in some circles, some believe that wrestling—even today—was and is a child’s interest. Sad but true folks.
This coming from a writer who writes for a living and garners the most money from his writings in the professional wrestling industry publications, so I guess the joke’s are on the rest of that demographic that doesn’t believe how exactly ‘over’ the business is.
Regardless, Sammartino’s 4,040 day reign is unequalled. It actually lasted altogether in two reigns for a whopping 11 years. The first of his two reigns lasted 2,803 days and was unequalled by anyone. Bob Backlund came close with 2,135.
And it was during Sammartino’s run that he brought the then considered sport of professional wrestling to the masses. Of course it was a joint effort and always has been and always will be…the McMahon’s, the fans, and the spearhead that is the wrestler in question, and in this case, the man carrying the whole thing on his shoulders, and for that era it was without question, Bruno.
It can be argued that Sammartino was responsible for bringing in interest to the New York Territory from Canada perhaps even before Stu Hart, as when frustrated with the New York territory, he went to Canada, landing very well with the influx of Italian Immigrants in the city…then returning to New York, bringing a whole new demographic with him in the Italian/Canadians.
This of course can be argued, as I stated, but then again we can argue that the world is round and not flat until we’re blue in the face, but flat-earthers still hang on to their beliefs and hey…good for them. What would the world be without a little argument now and again and I can applaud their conviction. “You’ve gotta serve somebody,” as Bob Dylan once said.
Bruno did very well in the rest of Canada before returning to New York where his popularity and workhorse mentality landed him the top spot and for 11 years. Now talk about carrying the company.
The eighties were an era of big hair, loud music and fast times. But the eighties were likewise a time when pro wrestling hit the mainstream so to speak, and that was owed almost entirely to one blond-haired myth.
That myth was the legend that is Hulk Hogan and his run through WWE is legendary, as his fall in the early nineties was as well.
But before that he helped Vince McMahon usher in WrestleMania, along with everyone else on that first card. He ultimately started a movement in professional wrestling known as Hulkamania, and boy did it “run wild” amongst the masses. He suffered a low point in that run only by the time that 1994 rolled around and WWE at the time was going through what the company called a “youth movement,” discarding of the older members of their roster.
Of course he wouldn’t stay down for long and in 1994 started with Ted Turner’s WCW and almost had a hand in ruining WWE for good when he helped start the NWO with the Outsiders, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
The rest, when it comes to Hulk Hogan, is pro wrestling lore.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
1999 was the best year in wrestling. If you don’t believe me, take a look at these stats.
This was primarily due to Steve Austin who had practically ushered in the Attitude Era almost by his lonesome. He did a heck of a lot in his 13 years in the business—as an active wrestler—and one of the major things he did was to help catapult WWE into the stratosphere, ultimately passing the football to the next man on the list…
More on Steve in just a bit…
What can be said about the man that recently almost broke Twitter because of his return to WWE at Money In The Bank?
He “was the last in line,” as he’s stated. Most of his OVW class, which included Batista, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar, were supposed to be favored to be the next big thing, quite literally. But after each of them had some hiccups along the way and after Brock left the business in 2004 (he’d return in 2012) it was Cena that was left holding the bag…a bag he very much liked holding and for very good reason. He was great at this and he caught on quick, ultimately gaining the favor of Stephanie McMahon first.