Everyone has a favorite wrestler. Even if you hate wrestling, you probably laughed at the antics of the Macho Man Randy Savage (the major exception to this is my sister, Sue, who despised, abhorred, and detested pro wrestling as much as I did her love affair with soap operas).
So how about Doc Ridler?
While all lists are subject to change, here’s the five that defined me and my love of the insane world of pro wrestling
NUMBER FIVE: THE DYNAMITE KID!
Built like a gassed-up Spider Man and twice as agile, the Dynamite Kid was a pure wrestling machine. His moves had such high impact, you thought they were really connecting . . . and sometimes they were! Here’s a young Mick Foley getting clotheslined for real by one of the most gifted, and nastiest, wrestlers to ever live!
Sadly, Dynamite’s lesson to the world is probably “don’t do so much steroids that your heart grows too large and has black scars from inhuman enlargement.” Now confined to a wheel chair and weighing something akin to 160 lbs, the mighty little man is more a warning on becoming a wrestling casualty than anything else.
NUMBER FOUR: RICKY “THE DRAGON” STEAMBOAT!
The ultimate good guy! A natural athlete, Steamboat was famous for crisp moves, epic combos, and being a cardio machine that was unequaled (with the exception of perhaps Ric Flair). He never turned heel (becoming a villain) , and his matches with Flair and Randy Savage are all time classics. Here’s a fun clip collection of his legendary battle with Savage at WrestleMania III (using CM Punk’s current theme music, Living Color’s “Cult of Personality”!). They don’t make them like this any more, folks.
Steamboat’s lesson to the world is probably to do your best no matter what you do. A pro’s pro, a fan favorite, I don’t think I ever saw him phone in a wrestling match ever. The last of a dying breed of cardio machines who could make the crowd pop just by doing an arm drag take down.
NUMBER THREE: RANDY “MACHO MAN” SAVAGE
He was the first villain I loved to hate. Quick as a bullet, eccentric as a tweaking meth head, Savage was one of those heels who I always feared could beat anyone. And his interviews were the best unscripted cosmic head trips this side of Timothy Leary! Here’s some vintage nutso dialog that you can’t be beat.
His lesson to the world? Dig it!
NUMBER TWO: CURT “MR PERFECT” HENNIG
I first saw his star rising in the AWA, and he was the last good thing to watch as the promotion dried up and died in the late 1980s. Like Savage, a second generation wrestler who was born into the ring, Hennig made everyone who faced him look amazing. Often tossed against giants like Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior, he made those strong men of three moves or less look like gods. But what I always remember about Hennig was when he beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Belt. He was the first heel I saw who beat a babyface cleanly. No cheating. He was a bad guy who as better than the good guys. Absolutely loved that angle! Here’s his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame
Hennig’s lesson to the world? Be better than everyone else, and no one can take away your glory!
NUMBER ONE: BRET “HIT MAN” HART
This one comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. Hart’s career was the first one I followed all the way to the end, the first career that fired my interest into the backstage, business, and political side of making a great wrestling match and the true nature of this often shady, unfair, and nasty industry. One of the best storytellers in the ring, able to work with just about anybody, Hart’s rise from Stampede Wrestling to wrestling legend was one I watched with amazement. At a time of cartoon gimmicks and bodybuilders or legends holding titles, Hart managed to breakout and be a headliner by having the strangest gimmick of all: he was a great wrestler! The Excellence of Execution had to prove this moniker every night so that his next phrase would hold water. While others will always raise Flair or Shawn Michaels to the top of the ladder, for me, Hart will always be the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. Why? In every match he was in, you thought he might lose against bigger, meaner, and stronger guys. His comebacks were epic and his command of the ring was first rate. His matches with everyone on this list, plus Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, and his brother Owen Hart were among the best in the business. Here he is, beating Ric Flair for his first WWF title, a day I thought would never come!
His lesson for the world? Survive. Don’t become a casualty to your art, or business, but bust your ass so that you don’t have to take shit from others. Hart had a rep for taking care of whoever he was working with, and for him, the art of wrestling was to make a great match where no on really got hurt beyond what you’d get at a heavy day at football practice. The art is about protecting the other guy, while giving the fans the illusion of violence.
Of course, the cautionary note here is that two of these folks are dead (Hennig and Savage), one is crippled (Dynamite), and one suffered a near fatal stroke (Hart). Even Steamboat suffered a career ending injury.
Whatever else it is, kids, wrestling ain’t for the weak or the weary. So ring the bell to these titans of the ring, who helped hammer in my mind the value of epic storytelling.