Through out my four years on this site, I've had a few people ask me what my personal top ten look like. Not too many people or anything, but enough to at least make me think about making one. And I decided today I'm going to do it.
So before I get started, there's quite a few disclaimers I want to get out of the way. You'll know when to start reading if you don't feel like reading these parts, but I would like to ask the mods who may come across this column to please read these disclaimers (you'll understand why in a moment).
Disclaimer #1: My knowledge of Pro Wrestling as a whole isn't extensive enough to the point where I can get people from every part of the globe from every time frame from which the day Pro Wrestling first became a thing and put them in a proper position on this list. While Pro Wrestling as a whole is in fact subjective (to an extent, there's a point where it becomes a cop out), I still will be basing this on both the knowledge I do have of the sport and on what I feel is best fit for properly ranking based on greatness in the ring. I'm not going to name someone from the 50s or someone who spent most of their time performing in Japan or Mexico or anywhere else to that extent. Don't expect Misawa on this list. Another reason I'm not putting them on the list is due to the fact that I'm holding these wrestlers standards based on how they are able to make the best of what they are given. A lot of these guys had to make the best of circumstances and make great matches under limited time frames with limited options on what they were allowed to do in the ring. We've seen with guys like Nakamura who was a critically acclaimed in-ring performer in Japan what going to the WWE and having to work under a more restrictive environment can do to them. I'm not saying guys like Misawa and Kenta aren't worthy of being on the list, I just don't have the full knowledge necessary of them or other people from Japan and elsewhere to really give an accurate statement on them. Just know that they aren't people I am forgetting about. And one person who will not be on this list, Jushin Liger, is someone I heavily considered but I have not seen much of his matches apart from his best of the best. And thus I would not be able to give a fair assessment.
Disclaimer #2: I know this has been done to death many times, and that is a constant reason for closing threads such as these. I'm not calling that line of reasoning into question. I would like to ask, however, that the mods take into consideration the fact that in this particular instance, I will be opening up discussion regarding WHY these people are selected, and why others aren't selected. I feel that talking about what these people actually brought to the ring and the profession in general will make for a better overall discussion rather than it turn into a mark war of some sort. I am providing my interpretation and offering others the chance to look at it from that perspective, or provide their own.
This list will not be perfect. There will be names missing from the list who absolutely deserve to be on the list that I am choosing to withhold due to not possessing the knowledge needed to properly rate them. This is based on what I've seen and how I feel these people deserve the honor of being given such praise. And I hope others will be able to contribute to the list with their own interpretation of other wrestlers who should be here and they can help give proper insight on why they should be there. I hope you will keep that in mind.
And hey, if you don't even consider closing the thread then great! Pretend the above doesn't exist.
Alright, so this list will be based on a number of factors, mostly the knowledge that these ten Pro Wrestlers had of how to perform in the ring, and how they used said knowledge to create the most compelling matches they could possible. What part they played in the ring, what they generally did and how they did it, and the overall impact they had on the sport will be taken into consideration. A wrestler will not be selected because they were the most athletic one. They will be selected based on how they used what they had to provide us with the best entertainment possible. Hopefully that makes sense. Otherwise, can't really help you there.
So lets get started.
Top Ten In-Ring Performers of all time
10. Eddie Guerrero
I guess I should point out that I am a Eddie Guerrero mark. I'm a fan of all of the people on this list apart from two of them, and one of them is number one on the list, but I was a passionate fan of the man growing up and yes, like many others, I too was devastated by his death. But we won't harp on the details.
I had a very difficult time picking who should go at number 10. Samoa Joe, Big Van Vader, Terry Funk, Brock Lesnar, Rey Mysterio, and many, many others were considered. But I felt that Eddie Guerrero deserved that spot the most. I'm not going to sit here and say that the man was great at everything that involves in-ring work, because all of these guys were. They were masters of the craft. So what made Eddie stand out to me and many others? Well, I've always felt that his execution was what made him stand out among so many, and part of it had to do with the difficulty in the moves he performed. He was a man who crafted his personality into what he did in the ring. He moved and fought exactly how I felt Eddie Guerrero the character would fight. He had an incredible understanding of both character and in-ring work that made it difficult not to be memorized by what he did in the ring. He brought legitimate personality to his matches.
He was capable of providing you with a variety of matches. Slow to fast paced, high flying to grounded action, he could do it all and then some.
My favorite memory of Eddie is the first time I ever watched him, and that was when I decided I'd give WCW a try and watched Halloween Havoc. Yeah, that was my first time watching Eddie (and Rey Mysterio for that matter). And I was completely blown away by the style that they were wrestling. I was so impressed that I actually watched WCW just for those two, and soon got acquainted with other wrestlers who were around at the time as well. So in a way, Eddie Guerrero was a draw for me in regards to WCW (take a bite on that Nash).
So yeah, number 10 is Eddie. The man is a Pro Wrestling legend and I'm glad he continues to be treated as such.
9. Dynamite Kid
It's an absolute shame (and disturbing that this man went from this:
But when you keep in mind how this man performed in the ring, it unfortunately doesn't come across as a surprise.
Forget the Diving Headbutt for a moment, a move of which shortened his career by a good number of years. The style this man performed at, as well as the no fucks given mentality, could not have helped in the least bit. But the man took the in-ring aspect of Pro Wrestling very seriously. He incorporated multiple styles he had learned over the years from wrestling across the world on various platforms and used it during his time in the USA. His combination of speed and strength was unlike anything we had ever seen before in the ring. He was ahead of his time.
It's no wonder that a great number of wrestlers were inspired by Dynamite Kid. And one of them is one this list. He stood out among the rest at his time because there were none like him. He took the sport of Pro Wrestling and helped transform it from a portrayal of showmanship-like fighting to a legitimate, athleticism based sport.
It's a shame that his career, and his life, were shortened by how he performed in the ring. It was without question his best quality as a Pro Wrestler. He wasn't just a legend. He changed the game of Pro Wrestling and helped turn it into what it is now. And while I can't say I for sure am happy with the focus being shifted away from storytelling and being based more on athleticism and moves, Dynamite Kid gave every bit of effort in making sure the match was done right, in a way only he knew how.
8. Bret Hart
I was never too high on Bret's mic or character work, but this man knew how to work a match and then some.
I can go on and on about what he was able to do in the ring, the matches he was able to have, the legendary moments he was able to create. But what I really felt made him stand out among the rest was his ability to use his technical style of wrestling and properly incorporate it into the gimmick matches he competed in during his time with WWF. From Steel Cage matches to Street Fights, to the greatest match of all time (his submission match against Stone Cold Steve Austin). Regardless of the match stipulation, he stayed true to his style and used it to bring out the best of the story being told to make it work. I can't really say much beyond that. It's a shame things turned out the way they did for him in the industry. Gets screwed in WWF, gets misused, concussed and forced to retire early in WCW.
...man, these last three had depressing endings.
7. Ricky Steamboat
I don't know what I can say about Steamboat that hasn't already been said. His rivalry with Ric Flair is one of the greatest Professional Wrestling rivalries of all time. He played a crucial part in producing a great number of matches considered to be the greatest of all time. He's a true pioneer in the realm of Pro Wrestling, a man who wasn't just ahead of his time, he showcased why the mid card can just be as valuable to the company as the main eventers. Even in the face of one of the biggest and most highly anticipated matches of all time between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, he and Randy Savage were able to steal the show at Wrestlemania 3 and cement his legacy as one of their all time greats in the ring. And even when he came back, way past his glory days, at Wrestlemania 25 to compete in the embarrassment that was the three on one handicap match, he blew away everyone by showing us that he was still capable of putting on a great performance. He is without question one of the best babyface in-ring performers of all time. And he demonstrated it time and time again through out his accomplished career.
What else can I say? It's Ricky Steamboat.
6. Daniel Bryan
This is where I'm going to start going a little bit more in depth with my reasoning behind my choices, especially since we're pushing closer to the number 1 spot.
Daniel Bryan was a tough one for me to decide on. I felt that he was without question worthy of being in the top ten, where at was another question in of itself. But I feel that this is the appropriate spot.
Before Daniel Bryan became a WWE wrestler, he had spent years within the indies scene being used to performing at his own pace with his own style under his own conditions. That was no longer the case when he came to the WWE. And as I stated before, there were some people who simply weren't able to adapt as well to the WWE style. And Nakamura seems to be the best example of this. That was never an issue for Daniel Bryan however.
When he finally broke away from NXT and found himself on Raw, it didn't matter what restrictions he was given. Whether it was a five minute match with Batista on Raw, or a ten minute match with Ted Dibiase Jr to open a PPV, he found ways to make what he was given work through both his skills as an in-ring performer and his knowledge of Pro Wrestling. He knew exactly what he was doing.
His match catalog in WWE is nothing short of sensational. And even with the improvements he's made in other aspects of Pro Wrestling, his in-ring work continues to stand out among the rest. There's no person in the WWE that he hasn't managed to get good-great matches out of, and the important thing to understand here is that he always played his part.
It also helps that Bryan is arguably the greatest technical Pro Wrestler of all time. There's a reason the technical wrestler award from Wrestling Observer Newsletter is named after him.
(Because he had to retire due to injury and no one really thought he would come back...so that doesn't really help my argument but I'm mentioning it anyways).
5. Randy Savage
This guy took a worthless shit called Ultimate Warrior, who could barely manage a five minute match, and gave him two classic matches.
I shouldn't even have to say anything else besides that. Actually, fuck it, that's all I'm saying. Moving on. Don't like it? Well, sorry can't help you. It's Randy Savage. I don't really know what else I can say beyond that.
(Yeah I know I lied about going more in depth. Next one I will).
4. Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Was he the most athletic? No. Was he the most technically sound? No. Was he gifted in any physical sense? No. So why is he on this list?
He knew what the fuck he was doing. And he was better than pretty much anyone at doing it.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts is a classic example of why someone not having a long list of legendary matches under their belt isn't living proof that said person is not a great in-ring performer. Jake Roberts demonstrated from the beginning that he knew better than almost anyone else besides a very select few that he knew exactly what he was doing.
His knowledge of story structure, and his extensive use of character work in his matches was unprecedented. He had some of the most incredible timing you would ever see from any in-ring performer. This stuff just clicked to Jake. He understood why certain moments needed to occur at certain points in the match. He understood the audience and he used that to his advantage.
And even despite the fact that he has no catalog of matches compared to some of the others on this list, there's still a lot of great work from him in the early/mid 80s that often goes unnoticed. And if you want an example of masterclass work from him, google anything that he did from the mid 80s. You will not be disappointed.
He also invented the DDT. Your argument is invalid.
We are now settling in on the top three. Lets dive right in and see who took bronze, silver and gold in this top ten list.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin
I'm just going to go on record now and say that I have stated multiple times on this forum that Stone Cold Steve Austin is in fact my favorite Pro Wrestler of all time, and I have in fact called him the greatest Pro Wrestler of all time from a talent standpoint. So I know that there are going to be claims of favoritism from people who don't view Austin as highly in this regard as I do. I mean, after all, I can make a case pretty easily for his mic work and character work being this high on different top ten lists, but his in-ring work? Yeah, I'll admit that I can see why there are some who wouldn't buy into it as much. So, allow me to briefly explain my reasoning for him being this high.
I'm going to refer back to one of my Analysis threads in the columns section and post a quote I made when I was discussing Austin's in-ring work.
Originally Posted by AlternateDemise
But one thing that a lot of people don't talk about that I want to bring light to for a moment is this. When Austin started out, he didn't work the brawler style. He worked the technical wrestling style. Yeah, remember the Ringmaster gimmick I was talking about before? The whole idea of that was that he was a wrestling machine who couldn't be outclassed in the ring. But then suddenly, he decided that he wanted to change. And with that change, came a drastic change in his in ring style. Changing your in ring style is incredibly difficult. The moves, the pacing you have to perform at, the way you act, the way you move, all of these have to change and it's not an easy transition to make. But Austin did it with little to no difficulty and that's just insane. It would be like Apollo Crews one day deciding he no longer wanted to do high flying moves and instead wanted to do strictly power moves. Such a transition is hard to make, and Austin was able to do it with little to no difficulty.
I honestly can't think of anything wrong with the way he performed in the ring. He did all the things he was supposed to do and then a shit ton more. He had one of the greatest in ring years in Pro Wrestling history in 2001, he was in one of the greatest Wrestlemania main event matches ever, had one of the most iconic finishers of all time, he was simply perfect.
All of what is said here basically says everything that needs to be said about why Austin is not only on this list, but why he takes the Bronze medal. He always brought out the very best in every opponent he had. Wrestlers were at their best when competing with him. Even Angle got his best match ever with Austin.
And honestly, it's even more impressive when you consider that his best years came when he was limited due to injury. Being forced to change his style up completely after having the neck injury, he used his superior Pro Wrestling knowledge to continue to bust out great matches and turned in numerous all time classics. Before he was injured, he was one of the best technical in-ring performers in Pro Wrestling. I don't see why he shouldn't be this high. He is without question one of the all time greats, and in the ring, that is no exception.
2. Ric Flair
The greatest heel in-ring performer of all time. This is not an exaggeration. If you needed someone to not just look great, but look like a legitimate main eventer, Ric Flair was the man to do this. He could take any opponent he was given and make them look like the next big thing. Flair was an absolute god as an in-ring heel. There is no equal to him. It's his bread and butter. And as a face, he wasn't too bad either.
There are an insane number of classics featuring Flair. And what's even more insane is how often he would wrestle the same opponents to incredibly long matches. I would probably be horribly off if I had to guess how many times he and Ricky Steamboat wrestled against each other.
Flair was living proof that you didn't have to be technically sound (although he was) or super athletic or strong or anything of the sort. You just had to know what you were doing. And Flair knew exactly what he was doing. He is proof that knowledge is the key ingredient to any Pro Wrestler succeeding in the ring. It's a lesson that many wrestlers today could learn from.
1 Shawn Michaels
As if this were a surprise.
The Rock has made a career being known mostly for his mic work (although he's great in other areas). The Undertaker has been known for his character.
Well, Michaels was, is and always will be known for his in-ring work. It defined his entire career. He was the perfect example of what an in-ring performer should. Someone who took every important aspect of in-ring work very seriously and paid more attention to the details than anyone else ever did. He did some of the craziest shit anyone would ever do in the ring. He created some of the most iconic in-ring moments of all time. He took elements created by past wrestlers, and incorporated them to create a work of art unlike anything we had ever seen before. The WWE had no problem acknowledging this man as "Mr. Wrestlemania". That was the entire purpose behind his gimmick. He was there to do one thing and one thing only. Win or lose, he was going to steal the show. And he made a career out of doing it.
And above all else, he excelled in every aspect of in-ring work that matters. Selling, psychology, pacing, timing, execution, and most importantly, storytelling. The man could do it all. And it's incredible that he was able to do it, be forced to retire due to injury, and then come back four years later and not break a sweat. There is no other person more worthy of being at the top of the list than Shawn Michaels. He is the greatest in-ring performer of all time.
That is my list. If you have some people you felt should have been in the list, feel free to name them. There were a lot of people who didn't make the cut that I had strong consideration for, and there's good reason for that. Feel free to give your disagreements as well. Just be sure to explain your reasoning. I'd love to see another perspective on this.