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The 25 roughest brawlers in wrestling history
In the tumultuous world of the squared circle, there are many types of competitors. Among them are some of the most technically proficient professional athletes, who can be found in the highest levels of any arena of competition.
However, this is not the class of warrior we are talking about here. Oh no. Instead, WWE.com breaks down the toughest, roughest ring destroyers who have ever stepped through the ropes.
One of WWE’s ultimate brawlers on the current roster, the fiery Sheamus has battled his way to both the World Heavyweight Championship and the WWE Title, decimating any Superstar who dares to cross his path.
The Celtic Warrior doesn’t rely on the luck of the Irish when he gets in the ring. Instead, he lays out his opponents with his devastating High Cross, Irish Curse and his most lethal weapon, the Brogue Kick. While it often comes with a warning of The Celtic Warrior pounding his fist on his chest and repeatedly shouting “Brogue!” his rivals rarely anticipate the massive boot in the face coming their way.
Dick the Bruiser
You don’t become known as the “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler” by accident, and Dick the Bruiser proved he was as dangerous as they come.
Forged on the midway alongside the tough-as-nails Green Bay Packers of the 1950s, the ruthless Bruiser combined an absolutely explosive brawling style with a complete and total disregard for the rules. This outrageous battler was so intense that he was once banned from competing in the state of New York for causing a riot in his very first match there.
On another occasion, legend has it he started a bar brawl with Detroit Lions great Alex Karras. This encounter would serve as a prelude to a legendary match between them that is widely regarded as one of the early frontrunners of hardcore wrestling.
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
A true, red-blooded American, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was as strong and as tough as he was charismatic. A former football player drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, the patriotic competitor would march to the ring with his trademark two-by-four slung over his shoulder — a suggestion from Duggan's rough-and-tough mentor, Bruiser Brody — while chanting "U.S.A.!"
“Hacksaw” charged into hard-hitting matches against a slew of top-notch brawlers, winning the inaugural Royal Rumble Match by eliminating One Man Gang, reigning supreme over Haku to call himself the "King of Wrestling" and defeating Steve Austin on his first night in WCW to capture the United States Championship.
Still occasionally returning to WWE to mix it up today, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan is definitely a true American brawler, “tough guy!”
“Captain Redneck” Dick Murdoch is one of the toughest men to ever step inside the squared circle. Coming out of Waxahachie, Texas, Murdoch had the physique of a bar fighter and the surly attitude to match.
Though he was never one to turn down a one-on-one battle, Murdoch found success as a tag team competitor. As The Texas Outlaws, Murdoch and Dusty Rhodes traveled all over the United States, wreaking havoc in matches that resembled saloon brawls. Perhaps his greatest achievement came in WWE in 1984, when he and a brawler from the streets of New York City, Adrian Adonis, captured the World Tag Team Titles.
Maybe it’s the disheveled hair, taped fists, or gimme-a-reason-to-punch-you-out look Dean Ambrose seems to be sporting at all times, but The Lunatic Fringe just looks like a fighter. Looks aren’t everything, of course, and he has had no trouble backing it up. Where his former Shield-mates Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns favor finesse and power, respectively, Ambrose goes for a rabid-animal style of mugging that he seems to make up as he goes along. From pouncing punches to wild, unpredictable foreign-object riffs, this merry maniac’s fighting style is both unsophisticated and near unblockable, especially when paired with opponent who expected a wrestling match and got a fight instead.
Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy
In the infamous rebel trio of The Fabulous Freebirds — a unit consisting of Michael “P.S.” Hayes, Buddy Roberts and Terry Gordy that thumbed its nose at authority — it was never in doubt that Gordy was the intimidating muscle of the group.
At 6-foot-4 and a husky 260 pounds, the man nicknamed “Bam Bam” laid waste to lesser opponents in the Texas and Mid-South territories with a variety of strikes and slams. Rare was the occasion when a Gordy match didn’t veer outside the confines of the ring. His use of the incapacitating “Asiatic spike” — a rude thumb to the throat — had a reputation for injuring opponents, and it sparked outcry from officials, fans and foes alike.
Though he flirted with a run in WWE, briefly appearing as The Executioner in 1996, Gordy is perhaps best remembered for the destruction he carried to Japan, where he and partner “Dr. Death” Steve Williams teamed as the aptly named Miracle Violence Connection.
Originally emerging as the well-groomed Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Triple H evolved into a brutal warrior who tenaciously fought not only his foes, but also his way to the very top of WWE. En route, The King of Kings racked up 13 World Championships and some grisly injuries in his physical wars against terrors like Cactus Jack, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kane.
If there is any doubt about how far The Game is willing to push himself in a fight, just look to his epic showdown with The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVIII. It’s required viewing for anyone who thinks they know what being tough is all about.
Standing at a brutish 6-foot-9, Blackjack Mulligan was one of the roughest in-ring competitors to ever come out of the state of Texas — and that’s saying something.
A star football player at West Texas State University, Mulligan brought the full force of his aggression to the squared circle in many memorable battles against WWE Hall of Famer Andre the Giant, as well as wars with Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino. While he had no problem taking out the opposition on his own, Mulligan joined forces with Jack Lanza to form one of the most infamous and merciless tag teams ever. As The Blackjacks, the two rough and tough Texans backed up their intimidating look with relentless offense and rule-breaking.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
Although a beloved WWE Hall of Famer today, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper began his WWE career as one of the most hated villains ever to step between the ropes. From his early days in the squared circle to his days in WWE, the out-of-control Superstar ran wild in brutal fashion.
Famous for hosting the most innovative (and controversial) interview segment in WWE history “Piper’s Pit,” “Hot Rod” always backed up his words in the ring, taking on everyone from Ric Flair to Hulk Hogan to Andre The Giant to Jimmy Snuka to Mr. T (in a Boxing Match) to anyone else he didn’t particularly like. Once the bell rang, he would unleash a furious onslaught of pure brutality. Never one to back down from a fight, he once even competed in a gory Dog Collar Match against Greg Valentine that cost him partial hearing in one of his ears.
Before JBL was JBL, he was simply Bradshaw, and he combined with Faarooq to form the always ready to rumble APA. If it wasn’t enough that the rough-and-tough combination was known to share company with the likes of The Undertaker, The APA were also so intimidating that other Superstars would actually hire them as their bodyguards.
Fond of playing cards and drinking, Bradshaw and Faarooq always came ready to mix it up. Whether they were duking it out in World Tag Team Title Matches, Bar Room Brawls or, on occasion, actual pub fights, the brawling “brothers” always gave as good as they got against everybody from Kane to Edge & Christian to The Dudley Boyz.
It’s more than just his hardcore heritage that make former ECW Champion Tommy Dreamer one of the greatest brawlers of all time. Neither pain nor penalties nor consequences nor the agony of defeat ever kept Dreamer from completing his appointed rounds in the ring. He remained steadfast in taking the fight to his opponents when rivals like Jerry “The King” Lawler, Raven and The Sandman tried to break his spirit. He stayed loyal to the hardcore cause of ECW during the Monday Night War and WWE’s relaunch in 2006.
It was never hard to knock Dreamer down. It was getting him to stay down that was the trick since, as sure as the sunrise, he would always get up again. It was not championship gold or fat paychecks that motivated The Innovator of Violence, but an unbreakable fighting spirit that kept Dreamer going.
"Dr. Death" Steve Williams
Some guys just look like brawlers — and Steve Williams certainly fits that description. Big, burly and bearded, “Dr. Death” was the last person you’d want to meet in a dark alley. Talented in the ring, Williams was a naturally gifted athlete who took full advantage of his size and strength to deliver a brute-force offensive assault to his opponents.
A master at putting foes away, Williams’ arsenal included three devastating finishing maneuvers: the Doctor Bomb, the Backdrop Driver and, perhaps most devastating, the Oklahoma Stampede. A classic rough-and-tumble performer, “Dr. Death” is also remembered for his tag team run with Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy. Together they were known as The Miracle Violence Connection as they rampaged through Japan, racking up victims for nearly a decade.
The Dudley Boyz
In the opinion of the ECW announcer Joey Styles, The Dudley Boyz are, quite simply, the greatest tag team of all time (sorry, Road Warriors fans).
Originally an ECW comedy act spoofing the goonish Hanson Brothers from the movie “Slap Shot,” half-brothers (wink wink) Bubba and D-Von went on to be the longest-tenured and most decorated tag team of all time, winning 23 recognized World Team Titles over 14 years.
South Philly Street Fights? Check. TLC Matches? Check. Electrified Steel Cage Matches? Check. Beating up The Gangstas, The Hardys, Edge and Christian, The APA and countless other teams? Checkmate.
The man they call Vader earned the nickname “The Mastodon” for a reason. He attacked opponents with the force and rage of a prehistoric beast, leaving his competition in a heap when he was through.
Big Van Vader burst on to the American scene in 1990 after terrorizing Japanese rings, crushing opponents with clubbing blows before finishing them off with his trademark powerbomb. His bruising style in the ring knew no bounds. The laundry list of stars who fell at the hands of Vader is a who’s who of sports-entertainment’s elite: Sting, Cactus Jack, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, just to name a few, all have felt the unbridled fury of Vader.
Born the son of a plumber, WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes mixed a blue-collar work ethic with a soul singer’s charisma to become one of the most in-demand competitors of all time as he fought for the common man with everything he had.
With unrelenting guts, Rhodes fought his way to the top of the NWA where he waged a brutal and lengthy war against the legendary Four Horsemen while capturing the distinguished NWA World Heavyweight Title on three separate occasions. Crowds lined up to see Rhodes deliver his Bionic Elbow to legendary rivals like Harley Race, Ric Flair, Ernie Ladd, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, “Superstar” Billy Graham and “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
He may have called himself a common man, but when it came to spilling copious amounts of plasma in one of his countless wars in the ring, Dusty Rhodes was anything but common.
A seven-time holder of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship between 1973 and 1983, Harley Race earned his accolades in the countless wars he waged against such greats as Dory Funk Jr., Giant Baba, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair. Through it all, he forged a reputation as one of the toughest men ever to step through the ropes.
Representing the sport's oldest World Title with pride and defending it with his raw-boned and rugged mat style, Race destroyed opponents with headbutts and suplexes, but it was his punches that caused the most damage. "If I hit him with my left and he doesn't go down," Race once said, according to Mick Foley, "I will walk around him to see what's holding him up."
Dubbed “The Bad Man from Borger, Texas,” Stan Hansen was the walking, talking, tobacco-chewing epitome of a no-nonsense cowboy. Though far from Herculean in appearance – The Last Outlaw’s belly unabashedly spilled over his simple black trunks – Hansen was a blustery force inside the ring.
His bullwhip-cracking entrance was terrifying enough; never mind Hansen’s trademark Lariat clothesline, which was thrown with bullet velocity and, as Hansen got on in years, often half blindly.
In 1976, he broke the neck of WWE Champion Bruno Sammartino, and in 1990, he knocked Vader’s eye out of its socket. A bounty-hunting mercenary at various points in his career, Hansen wreaked havoc around the world for nearly 30 years before hanging up the bullwhip in 2000.
Abdullah The Butcher
“The Madman from the Sudan” has been jabbing his fork at opponents and fans across the globe for more than half a century, and in all this time, the 400-pounder's distinctive look has barely changed — his baggy pants hiked high above his bulging belly, his eyes mad and wandering, his forehead carved so deeply with scars that he can firmly insert quarters into the wounds like a coin slot.
The WWE Hall of Famer never stayed put in one spot for long, inflicting his damage and moving on to the next wrestling company. His most significant exposure came in WCW where Abby terrorized Sting and was fried in an electric chair during the infamous Chamber of Horrors Match at Halloween Havoc 1991.
The terror brawled with a list of victims that reads like a Hall of Fame itself. They all can attest to the same fact — a champion wasn’t a champion until he came face to face with Abdullah the Butcher.
The Streak may have been snapped, but let's remember The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXIX when he was as dangerous and as brutal as he’s ever been.
On The Grandest Stage of Them All, The Phenom laid his body and mind on the line in an epic brawl against CM Punk. It was one of the most grueling matches in recent memory. Not only did Taker push The Streak to an ungodly 21-0, but he also reminded the WWE Universe that any time The Deadman steps inside the squared circle, it’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out fight to remember.
The Road Warriors
The Road Warriors are the most dominant tag team in sports-entertainment’s history, period. Bodybuilder thick with their heads shaved into wild Mohawks like some post-apocalyptic monsters, Hawk & Animal’s intimidating appearance immediately brought them attention, but it was the carnage they caused in the ring that truly gave them a following.
For two decades, it was a massacre every time the duo suited up in their motorcycle boots and spiked leather collars. They smashed Baron Von Raschke & The Crusher in Minnesota, stomped through The Midnight Express in Georgia and battered Harley Race & Stan Hansen in Florida. Wherever they went — from the Deep South to Japan — they broke bones and won titles.
Finally arriving in WWE in 1990 as The Legion of Doom, the tough guys immediately disposed of Demolition before defeating The Nasty Boys to become the World Tag Team Champions at SummerSlam 1991. With this victory, The Legion of Doom became the only duo in the history of sports-entertainment to hold the tag team titles in AWA, NWA and WWE. Oh, what a rush!
Bruiser Brody was the prototypical brawler. A massive, ill-mannered brute with the beard of a mountain man and the unpleasant disposition of a DMV employee, the 6-foot-8 masher from Santa Fe, N.M., pioneered what would become hardcore wresting through his brutal wars with Kamala the Ugandan Giant, The Funks and, most famously, Abdullah the Butcher. Revered for his freewheeling melees from Texas to Japan, Brody intimidated opponents and promoters alike with his blunt attitude and disarming intellect.
A former journalist with a college education, the big man understood that every spurt of red plasma mattered — a quality too often lacking in the most careless of brawlers. In the years after Brody’s untimely death in summer 1988, many would adopt his “intelligent monster” persona. None would do it better.
When considering Terry Funk on a list of the greatest brawlers of all time, we’re not referring to the clean-shaven, clean cut, wool tights wearing youngster who won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from fellow WWE Hall of Famer Jack Brisco in 1975.
No. We’re talking about the self-proclaimed “middle-aged and crazy” Terry Funk who returned from starring in Sylvester Stallone movies to piledrive Ric Flair through a table. We’re talking about the Terry Funk who replaced the short arm scissors and spinning toehold with a flaming branding iron and barbed wire as his weapons of choice. Last but not least, we’re talking about the brawling badass who amped up his extreme etiquette in WWE as Chainsaw Charlie while wielding, you guessed it, a chainsaw. OH MY GOD, a chainsaw! Enough said.
Brock Lesnar said it himself, and he said it best: He’s an “a**-kicker,” plain and simple.
As evidenced by his horror show fighting style since his WWE return at WWE Extreme Rules 2012 against John Cena, Lesnar’s methods inside the ring are nothing short of brutal. The former UFC Champion has imposed his will on old guard icons like The Undertaker and Triple H in a way no other opponent has done before. And when it comes to sheer destruction of a major player, there may not be a single contest that compares to The Beast Incarnate's dismantling of John Cena at SummerSlam 2014.
Why was Cactus Jack so dangerous? Because he never got in a fight that he cared if he could win. This deranged Superstar — one of the “three faces” of WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley — didn’t concern himself with victory so much as punishment. He went into each match with the singular mindset of leaving his opponent a quivering mess by the time the final bell rang.
True, Cactus didn’t always win the fights, but it’s hard to argue against a Superstar who literally fell onto an explosive device and came back for more. Cactus traveled all around the world, from stints in WCW and ECW to tours of Japan, leaving a trail of pain and suffering in his wake before his grand swan song in WWE — a Hell in a Cell Match against Triple H with his career on the line. That it took a stipulation to finally get him to stop fighting says more than any YouTube clip ever could.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
What would “Stone Cold” Steve Austin do? For the most part, the answer involved an awful lot of fighting. This beer-swilling son of Texas loved to throw down against anyone on two feet, from the iconic Rock to “The Baddest Man on the Planet” himself, Mike Tyson.
Austin’s fighting style was pretty basic at its core — locate target, punch repeatedly — but what made The Texas Rattlesnake special was the world-beating attitude with which he carried himself. There was never an ounce of humility in him, and Austin, more so than anyone else on this list, was never in doubt that he was going to win a fight. Oh, and the guy he liked to beat up on the most? His boss. Mr. McMahon felt “Stone Cold’s” wrath more so than any Superstar before or since. Austin ultimately never fought for us, but he always fought like we wished we could, against the people we wanted to fight the most.
So raise your Steveweisers, WWE Universe, and run for cover before “Stone Cold” sees you’ve got your guard down.