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WWE’s 10 greatest heroes
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” — Joseph Campbell, author of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”
Regardless of how you define what it means to be a hero, we can all agree that such individuals represent a righteous ideal — setting an example to live by and believe in. Himself earning global admiration as the principled “People’s Champ,” The Rock aims to impart his virtue as the host of TNT’s reality series “The Hero,” which tests the strength, courage and integrity of nine contestants in a life-changing competition.
In honor of his latest effort in the name of nobility, The Great One joins nine other heroic Superstars on WWE.com’s assemblage of ring warriors who have inspired generations of WWE fans through their valiant actions and honorable victories.
He’s a third-generation Superstar, but make no mistake: The Rock never relied on his lineage on his journey to become The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment. Since his WWE debut in 1996, The Brahma Bull — son of Rocky Johnson and grandson of “High Chief” Peter Maivia — has wholly dedicated himself to exceeding expectations, whether he’s dominating in the ring as an eight-time WWE Champion or conquering the box office as the star of such films as “Fast & Furious 6” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.”
As the eyebrow-raising People’s Champ and the host of TNT’s “The Hero,” The Rock consistently empowers his fans to meet challenges head-on with unwavering conviction. For The Great One, “Just Bring It” isn’t merely a catchphrase. It’s a way of life.
Bret "Hit Man" Hart
If you ask any Superstar in the WWE locker room who they admired growing up, one WWE Hall of Famer who is consistently brought up is Bret Hart, the pink-and-black-clad pioneer whose Hart Dungeon-honed submission skills made him one of the most technically gifted in-ring competitors of all time.
Placing a pair of his signature wraparound shades on a lucky WWE Universe member each time he confidently strode to the ring, the “Hit Man” stood strong as a pillar of moral integrity as WWE approached the Attitude Era, a period synonymous with the coarse behavior of rebels like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and D-Generation X. Even as crowds began cheering those who would have traditionally been regarded as “bad guys” in the sports-entertainment realm, Hart remained as virtuous as ever — even if it made him unpopular in the eyes of some WWE fans at the time.
When you’re “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be,” you don’t always make the popular decisions — you make the right ones.
Most heroes don’t “lie, cheat and steal,” but then again, most heroes aren’t Eddie Guerrero.
Earning renown in Mexico and Japan before turning heads as a technically savvy high-flier in ECW and WCW, Guerrero made his WWE debut in 2000 as part of a group known as “The Radicalz.” Immediately, WWE Universe members were drawn to the uncanny charisma of the Superstar many came to know as “Latino Heat.”
Guerrero ignited WWE’s tag team division alongside his nephew, Chavo, and became the United States Champion. However, Guerrero’s career-defining victory would come at No Way Out 2004, when he conquered the rampaging Brock Lesnar to attain the WWE Championship in an emotionally charged upset.
He didn’t always play by the rules, but it was difficult not to admire Guerrero’s passion for his craft, which laid the foundation for a WWE Hall of Fame career celebrated by the WWE Universe.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
On the surface, there’s little about The Texas Rattlesnake that screams “role model.” He rarely smiles. He greets most people with a one-finger salute that most certainly isn’t a thumbs-up. His favorite words should never be muttered in front of your mother. Or anyone’s mother, for that matter.
Yet, when you strip away the crass exterior of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, you’re left with a blue-collar common man who made a career of fighting corporate oppression, living by his own rules and making no apologies as he stomped mudholes in WWE’s Attitude Era.
But “Stone Cold’s” empowering acts of heroism didn’t begin and end with combating the machinations of the sinister Mr. McMahon. In 1997, Austin defied critics and even his own doctors when he battled back from a career-threatening neck injury to become a six-time WWE Champion, a WWE Hall of Famer and the celebrated standard-bearer of WWE’s most chaotic era.
A legendary competitor renowned for his historic bouts at New York City’s Madison Square Garden — a venue he sold out 187 times — Bruno Sammartino brought WWE into a bold, new era when he captured “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers’ WWE Championship on May 17, 1963. Sammartino would hold that illustrious title for a remarkable seven years, eight months and one day, a feat that is yet to be matched.
Waging epic battles with the likes of Gorilla Monsoon, Killer Kowalski and Ken Patera, The Italian Superman became an icon to immigrant populations in the United States, and his ability to connect with fans from a multitude of backgrounds and nationalities made him the blueprint for Superstars that would follow in his footsteps.
Reminiscent of the masked guardians that grace the covers of your favorite comic books, Rey Mysterio lives by a strict moral code that drives him to battle the forces of evil. Even when seemingly outmatched by larger opponents, including the likes of Batista, Kane and even Big Show, The Master of the 619 has never backed down, dazzling the WWE Universe with his aerial offense in the process.
In one of his most miraculous feats, The Ultimate Underdog entered at No. 2 in the 2006 Royal Rumble Match, outlasting 29 other Superstars to win the bout and go on to contend for the World Heavyweight Championship in a Triple Threat Match at WrestleMania 22. Facing both Randy Orton and Kurt Angle, Mysterio would overcome the odds to claim his first World Championship on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Thanks to an indestructible connection with the WWE Universe, Mysterio’s incredible feats of heroism in the face of adversity have cemented the highflier as one of the most beloved Superstars of all time.
When Shawn Michaels threw his best friend, Marty Jannetty, through a window two decades ago, he wasn’t much of a hero, and morality was the last thing on HBK’s mind when he aligned with Triple H to form the rebellious D-Generation X. His inner nobility shone through, sure — like when Michaels fulfilled his boyhood dream to become WWE Champion at WrestleMania XII — but by and large, The Showstopper was regarded as an egotistical “bad boy” up until a debilitating back injury forced him to hang up the boots in 1998.
When Michaels returned to WWE full-time four years later, however, he was a man renewed: pure of heart and deeply imbued with a sense of humility. His past mistakes behind him, Michaels endeared himself to the WWE Universe as he clashed with devious Superstars like Chris Jericho, JBL and Randy Orton, and helped sharpen the skills of a new generation of fan-favorites like John Cena and Randy Orton.
His commitment to himself, his family and the WWE Universe unmatched, there will truly never be another Superstar quite like The Heartbreak Kid.
Rousing legions of Hulkamaniacs to train, say their prayers and eat their vitamins, Hulk Hogan was wrestling’s most influential figure during the 1980s, capturing the WWE Universe’s undivided attention when he felled the villainous Iron Sheik to become WWE Champion on Jan. 23, 1984.
In the years following that Madison Square Garden victory, the Hulkamania movement transcended sports-entertainment to become a pop culture phenomenon — one based around The Immortal One’s strict code of honor and ardent defense of the greater good. Hogan’s powerful message resonated with mainstream audiences, who thrilled to The Immortal One’s in-ring encounters with the likes of Andre the Giant and Sgt. Slaughter, as well as Hogan’s forays on the silver screen and even Saturday morning cartoons.
There are few success stories in WWE quite like that of Mick Foley, a Long Island-born competitor whose lifelong dreams of in-ring glory were made manifest on Jan. 4, 1999, when he captured his very first WWE Championship and proved to the world that no goals are unattainable.
Despite being known for competing in hardcore bouts around the globe and his career-defining plummet from the top of Hell in a Cell in 1998, Foley is perhaps most proud of the smiles he brought to the faces of WWE fans … not the gasps. As the affable Mankind, Foley created some of the Attitude Era’s most hilarious moments, many of which involved his crude cotton sidekick, Mr. Socko.
Since brazenly challenging Kurt Angle on the June 27, 2002, edition of SmackDown, John Cena has personified the virtues of “hustle, loyalty and respect,” putting others before himself and fighting the good fight at every turn in the name of his Cenation faithful. It’s that unflagging devotion to his roots that makes Cena one of the most polarizing figures to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots (or, in Cena’s case, high-tops).
A 13-time World Champion, Cena has triumphed over such elite Superstars as JBL, Kane, Brock Lesnar and even The Rock, but the altruistic warrior’s most inspirational victories have been won outside the ring, where he has granted more than 300 wishes alongside Make-A-Wish — the most granted by a single celebrity.
Whether or not you join in on the “Let’s go Cena” chants at WWE Live Events, it’s impossible to ignore what Cena represents: the absolute good in all of us.