Top 50 good guys in wrestling history
Some folks might try to tell you it’s the villains that make sports-entertainment fun. And why not? It’s the baddies in the black hats who get to throw fireballs, electrocute millionaires and run people over with monster trucks. But it’s the good guys who give the fans something to believe in, a hero to look up to and a reminder that, more often than not, good does triumph over evil.
In compiling our list of the 50 greatest good guys in sports-entertainment history, WWE Classics extended our gaze beyond WWE history, paying specific attention to local heroes who made an impact in smaller territories across the country in the days before television. Popularity was important, but so was character — there was a special place on this list for those who never strayed far from the path of righteousness. More than anything, though, we were just looking for heroes, those inspiring competitors worthy of being enshrined on a tattered poster on a kid’s bedroom wall.
Here, we present the 50 Superstars that wrestling fans grew up admiring — and still do today. ( PHOTOS)
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Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page’s career in sports-entertainment is well-documented — from the moment he drove the Pink Cadillac carrying Rhythm & Blues to the ring at WrestleMania VI, to his legendary rivalry with “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Beloved by WCW fans and the WWE Universe, the New Jersey native represented a working class hero — a tireless competitor who earned every accolade.
Following the formation of The New World Order, DDP was one of the first WCW competitors to stand up to the notorious faction, becoming an “everyman hero” as he outright refused to join their ranks. During his heated rivalry with “Macho Man,” Page defended both his honor and that of his wife, Kimberly, against Savage’s brutish, nWo-inspired tactics. No matter the odds, DDP never backed down from a fight, earning the moniker of “WCW’s People’s Champion.” ( WATCH)
If Page proved one thing throughout his career, it was that respect is earned, and his hard-working demeanor and support of friends, family and WCW made him a true good guy. — KEVIN POWERS
Rocky Johnson earned his place in sports-entertainment history on Nov. 15, 1983, when he teamed with Tony Atlas to become one-half of the first African-American World Tag Team Champions. ( WATCH) But the nimble, magnetic “Soul Man” had been thrilling audiences since the mid-60s when he transitioned from boxing to wrestling and brought the fleet footedness and sharp tongue of Muhammad Ali with him.
Quick and agile despite being one of the most muscular grapplers of his era, Johnson’s smooth moves helped him become a popular attraction in areas of the country that were still struggling with segregation. The racial barriers Johnson broke are remembered today, but “Soul Man” wasn’t motivated by politics — he just wanted to entertain. “What set my dad apart from a lot of guys wasn’t the fact that he was this incredible black wrestler,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson once said of his WWE Hall of Fame father. “It was just that he was a great wrestler.” — RYAN MURPHY
“My dad was a local hero,” The Road Dogg said of his legendary father, Bob Armstrong. A major star in Alabama and Georgia during the ’60s and ’70s, the WWE Hall of Famer’s “salt of the earth” appeal endeared him to Southern fans who favored substance over style. “He was one of them,” WWE official Scott Armstrong added. “He came from very humble beginnings and never hid that. He got up in the morning and had fried eggs and grits and gravy and did his thing.”
A champion not only to folks in Dixie, but to his four sons — Brian, Brad, Scott, and Steve — the blue collar "Bullet” had his boys behind him when he took on rivals like Roddy Piper ( WATCH) and Bobby Duncum, who he battled in a 1973 gorefest in The Omni Coliseum. “My father had a white singlet on and it was stained red,” Road Dogg vividly remembered. “He had to go the hospital and have a blood transfusion, but my father won and we won a 1974 Cadillac.” — R.M.
With stunning beauty matched only by her incredible athleticism, Trish Stratus set the standard for all Divas that would come after her. Debuting in 2000 as the sultry manager of Test & Albert, the curvaceous Canadian eventually set her sights on in-ring competition, determined to connect with the WWE Universe not merely as eye candy, but as a true ring warrior.
That dedication paid off, with Trish earning a record-shattering seven Women’s Championships, the last of which was won against Lita at Unforgiven 2006 in Toronto. In front of her hometown fans packed inside the Air Canada Centre, Trish made Lita tap out to fellow Canadian Bret “Hit Man” Hart’s Sharpshooter in her final bout as a full-time Diva. ( WATCH)
Thankfully, Trish hasn’t strayed too far from the WWE Universe’s orbit since her emotional farewell as Women’s Champion. The iconic Diva has returned to clown around with D-Generation X and battle Team Lay-Cool alongside Snooki at WrestleMania XXVII. — JAMES WORTMAN
In the 1960s — long before cable television or pay-per-view — most of us only saw one locally produced hour of wrestling each week. The local star of my weekly program in Oklahoma was Danny Hodge. Hodge was a legit sports star in our part of the world because he was a three-time national amateur wrestling champion, who had never lost at Oklahoma University. Hodge was also the national Golden Gloves heavyweight boxing champion and was the first wrestler to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Dan was a star on the sports pages long before he turned to professional wrestling, but remained a naturally modest and likable sportsman.
Hodge carried himself like a true champion, because he actually was one. His honest, humble demeanor came across organically to fans of all ages. Because of his amazing tendon strength, Hodge could smash apples and break pliers with his grip. It usually took only one handshake for anyone to discover that Danny Hodge was everything that he portrayed. — JIM ROSS
I couldn’t write this piece about Tommy Dreamer objectively if I wanted to. I’ve known The “Extreme Original” for more than 20 years. Now that we are “grown-ups” (by our standards anyway), our wives and children are friends as well. I think my son has a crush on his twin daughters.
As a wrestler, Tommy’s persona always put what was morally right before what was right for him personally. This course of action did not garner Tommy a litany of championships, but it did earn him the respect, admiration, and loyalty of fans when he won the ECW Title that mattered most to him.
Frankly, anyone can play a selfless character in wrestling or Hollywood and actually be selfish. Tommy Dreamer was, and is, the same man you’ve been entertained by for more than 20 years. When the original ECW went bankrupt in 2001, Tommy went down with the ship, rather than board a WWE lifeboat full of money.
Tommy’s loyalty caused a temporary setback to his career, but I doubt he remembers that six month period. Tommy joined WWE as part of the ECW Invasion, then worked in WWE’s corporate offices in Talent Relations, then laced up his boots again for WWE’s necromancy of ECW. Tommy selflessly helped make Zack Ryder a star when he left WWE and always enjoyed helping younger wrestlers as his mentor Terry Funk had done with him in the original ECW. ( WATCH)
Today, Tommy wrestles every weekend on independent events across North America, owns a wrestling school and is starting his own New York-based wrestling promotion. Whoever coined the phrase “nice guys finish last” probably finished behind Tommy Dreamer. — JOEY STYLES
From the Puerto Rican island of Culebra came one of the greatest Hispanic performers that ever donned a pair of tights — Pedro Morales. A rugged, no-nonsense individual once the bell rang, Morales first gained prominence on the West Coast in the 1960’s before venturing east to continue his blossoming career. That career hit full bloom on Feb. 8, 1971, when Morales won the WWE Championship from Ivan Koloff. ( WATCH FULL MATCH) His popularity soared, especially with the Latino fans that he represented so well.
In 1972, Morales battled challenger Bruno Sammartino to a curfew draw at New York’s Shea Stadium in what Morales said was the greatest match of his career. And he also had the honor of becoming WWE’s first ever Triple Crown Champion, winning the WWE, Intercontinental, and World Tag Team Championships during his career. The WWE Hall of Famer valued the support he received from his fans, and proved time and time again that once the bell rang, he was ready for any kind of action. — HOWARD FINKEL
A high-flying, dreadlocked dynamo, Kofi Kingston burst on the scene in 2007, dazzling crowds on ECW with his high-energy offense. The Ghanaian Superstar immediately connected with the WWE Universe, encouraging them to clap along as he prepared to take flight and floor his opposition with a devastating Boom Drop or Trouble in Paradise kick.
Kingston’s ever-present smile has made him popular among his fellow Superstars. The former Intercontinental Champion has become a sought-after tag team partner, winning tandem titles with CM Punk, Evan Bourne and R-Truth.
He truly earned the respect of his peers in 2009, when he stood up to Randy Orton and Legacy. After preventing The Viper from cheating to win the WWE Title, Kingston became a target for Orton. Rather than back down, Kofi brought the fight to WWE’s Apex Predator, destroying a custom stock car presented to Orton as a gift and driving The Viper through a table with a huge Boom Drop in Madison Square Garden. ( WATCH) — BOBBY MELOK
The Superstar known as “Polish Power” will go down as one of the most popular competitors in WWE history. Hailing from Krakow, Poland, Ivan Putski joined the ranks of WWE in the mid-1970s. His bright smile and positive attitude immediately made him a fan-favorite.
Once the bell rang, however, there were no smiles. Putski’s muscular frame made it near impossible for opponents to lift him. While he wasn’t a master of mat wrestling, his pure power gave him the ability to throw foes around the ring with ease. ( WATCH)
Putski finished off his opponents with a clubbing blow to the chest, named the Polish Hammer in tribute to his homeland. Though he was never a singles champion, he and Tito Santana silenced the loudmouth Valiant Brothers to capture the World Tag Team Titles in 1979. His unwavering popularity among the WWE Universe earned him a place in the WWE Hall of Fame. — B.M.
In the late 1970s and early ’80s, a blond Tennessee boy with a big smile took the Georgia territory by storm. Much like Sherman’s March to the Sea razed through the Peach State, Tommy Rich’s popularity spread like “Wildfire.”
The baby-faced grappler battled with a tenacious spirit that endeared him to fans. He stood up to villains like Ole Anderson and Harley Race without hesitation. And he shocked the wrestling world in April 1981 when he upset Race to become the NWA World Champion. Though he only held the title for four days, Rich’s fans were elated that he carried one of sports-entertainment’s most prized possessions.
Rich went on to have one of the most brutal rivalries in history with “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer. ( WATCH) The two warred for nearly two years before officials said “no more.” They were given one last opportunity to fight, locked inside a roofed steel cage for a vicious war dubbed “The Last Battle of Atlanta.” Despite Sawyer’s best attempts to put out “Wildfire,” Rich tamed the “Mad Dog” to end the bitter rivalry. — B.M.
The impressive physique and raw strength of “The Total Package” Lex Luger made him a star from the moment he made his NWA debut in 1987. Originally an associate of The Four Horsemen, Luger was betrayed by Barry Windham and the wicked faction, turning The Total Package into a competitor that fans could rally behind.
In WWE, Luger initially debuted with a self-centered demeanor, but soon embraced the fans and his pride in America. Touring around the nation in the Lex Express, The Total Package became an inspiration to millions of fans around the world. Luger’s ultimate display came on the deck of the USS Intrepid when the Chicago native picked up and slammed Yokozuna. ( WATCH)
Eventually returning to WCW, Luger became a stalwart of the organization during the struggle with The New World Order. At times, Luger aligned himself with shady competitors, but his close friendship with Sting always ensured he would uphold his own moral code. — K.P.
Who says good guys can’t hit hard? Certainly not Wahoo McDaniel, the rugged Choctaw-Chickasaw Indian from the oil fields of Midland, Texas who clobbered opponents on the AstroTurf as a star with the New York Jets and in the ring as the “Master of the Indian Strap Match." ( WATCH)
A terror on the gridiron in the early ’60s, Wahoo tomahawk chopped his way to stardom in Hawaii, Houston, and Minneapolis when he became a fulltime grappler at the end of the decade. But the powerful Native American made his biggest impression in the Mid-Atlantic region where he battled rival Johnny Valentine in blistering matches that reddened the mat long before anyone put the letters ECW together. Late in his career, Wahoo brought the fight to young antagonists like Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and Greg Valentine, helping to establish the promising upstarts as the next generation of great ring villains. — R.M.
WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero was never shy about cheating to win, so why did we feel like cheering for him every time he did it? Charismatic, resourceful and able to outwit opponents thrice his size, the son of Mexican grappler Gory Guerrero honed his skills in Mexico and Japan before dazzling crowds in classic bouts stateside in ECW and WCW, most notably against fellow ring technician Dean Malenko.
It was alongside The Iceman that Guerrero journeyed from WCW to WWE in 2000, becoming affectionately known as “Latino Heat” by the WWE Universe for his uncanny affect on women. After taking a hiatus from the ring to battle personal demons, Guerrero made an inspirational return to WWE in 2002 and attained his greatest successes ever. With renewed focus, Eddie captured the United States Championship and enjoyed four WWE Tag Team Title reigns before becoming WWE Champion at No Way Out 2004 in an emotional main event. ( WATCH) — J.W.
For WWE Superstars, being able to stand out from the other guys in the locker room has always been a key to success. Antonino Rocca did just that and then some. Unleashing an arsenal of aerial maneuvers long before high-flying was common in sports-entertainment, the acrobat from Treviso, Italy, thrilled packed houses across both North and South America. And his trademark “Argentine Backbreaker” spelled defeat for many opponents.
In the 1950s, when wrestling discovered television and vice versa, Rocca was one of the genre’s most popular stars. Barefoot and limber, Rocca formed a highly successful tag team with Miguel Perez in 1957, and their legendary battles against The Graham Brothers headlined Madison Square Garden no less than seven times in the late ’50s. At the height of his popularity in the early ’60s, the WWE Hall of Fame inductee even appeared in ink on the cover of a Superman comic. — H.F.
Mr. Wrestling II
Journeyman grappler Johnny Walker barely made a dent in the Southern wrestling scene as the contorting “Rubberman.” But he became an indelible icon to the old-fashioned folks in the “Bible Belt” when he yanked on the white mask with black trim of Mr. Wrestling II in 1972. ( WATCH)
First introduced as a protégé of the original Mr. Wrestling, Walker quickly overshadowed his predecessor as he knocked off top villains like “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd and The Masked Superstar with his trademark Million Dollar Knee Lift. Before long, Mr. Wrestling II was Georgia's most popular competitor and United States President and Peach State native Jimmy Carter was among his biggest fans. As the story goes, Carter personally invited his favorite wrestler to the White House to attend his 1977 inauguration, but the competitor declined when he found out that he would be required to remove his hood by the Secret Service. When the two men finally did meet, Carter slapped a good-natured headlock on the masked man. The resulting photograph became one of sports-entertainment’s most iconic images. — R.M.
Jerry "The King" Lawler
Known for his acerbic wit as a broadcasting mainstay for nearly 20 years, Jerry Lawler has become one of the most beloved figures in sports-entertainment history. But long before he gained fame as a color commentator, “The King” earned his crown as the top hero in his hometown of Memphis, Tenn. ( WATCH)
Taking on the era’s greatest villains including “Superstar” Billy Graham, “Dirty” Dutch Mantell and Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the WWE Hall of Famer became as revered in Memphis as another king, Elvis Presley. Lawler rose to national prominence in 1982 when his legendary rivalry with comedian Andy Kaufman resulted in a notorious encounter on “Late Night with David Letterman.” Their pro wrestling saga broke pop culture barriers, and paved the way for other celebrity involvement in sports-entertainment.
When “The King” suffered a heart attack on Raw in 2012, the WWE Universe suffered a scare of what a world without Jerry Lawler might look like. Thankfully we didn't have to find out. — ZACH LINDER
As one of WWE’s longest-tenured Superstars, Tito Santana fired up the WWE Universe during his 15-year career with his rallying cry of “Arriba!” A tag champ alongside Ivan Putski shortly after his debut, he became embroiled in a heated rivalry with The Magnificent Muraco, ending the Hawaiian’s yearlong Intercontinental Title reign.
After dropping the title to Randy Savage, Santana re-entered the tag team ranks with youngster Rick Martel. The combination of Martel’s speed and aggression and Santana’s technical know-how and experience paid off quickly for the duo known as Strike Force. They defeated The Hart Foundation to capture the World Tag Team Titles just weeks after becoming a team.
After Martel decided to split his time between wrestling and modeling, Santana went back into the singles ranks. ( WATCH) Santana is one of two Superstars that can say he appeared on each of the first nine WrestleManias, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. — B.M.
An amateur standout at the University of Minnesota, a World War II veteran and a former Green Bay Packer, Verne Gagne became a true Midwestern celebrity when he formed the American Wrestling Association in 1960.
Instantly establishing himself as the AWA’s top hero, Gagne battled noted antagonists like “The Crippler” Ray Stevens, Maurice “Mad Dog” Vachon and Larry “The Axe” Hennig. But it was his bitter rivalry with the dangerous Nick Bockwinkel that solidified Gagne in all-time ring lore. Trading wins back and forth with their signature Sleeper Holds, Verne and “Wicked Nick” were the only two competitors to hold the AWA Championship for 15 years. The crowd always hoped the title would land around Gagne’s waist, and it often did. ( WATCH)
As the AWA’s proprietor, Gagne was also one of wrestling’s revered teachers and trained grappling greats like Ric Flair, The Iron Sheik and Ricky Steamboat. A dynamic performer and respected businessman, Verne is a true sports-entertainment hero. — Z.L.
Rob Van Dam
Utilizing an innovative arsenal of aerial attacks and martial arts, Rob Van Dam was spectacular and he knew it. But ECW crowds didn’t mind the cocky ways of the self-proclaimed “Mr. Monday Night.” He captured the ECW Television Championship and held it for an astonishing two years before relinquishing it due to serious injury in a heartbreaking moment for his legions of fans.
After the demise of ECW, RVD took sports-entertainment by storm. He won the Intercontinental Championship, unified it with the European and Hardcore Championships, and also captured the WWE Tag Team Championship and World Tag Team Championship. In 2006, RVD achieved his career-defining victory when defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship inside an emotionally charged Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City. ( WATCH) The rowdy Big Apple crowd was firmly in Mr. Pay-Per-View’s corner as he pinned the champion to win the title in one of the most memorable moments in WWE history. — Z.L.
Chief Jay Strongbow
He never held the WWE Title, but Chief Jay Strongbow was dubbed “The People’s Champion” by the WWE Universe long before The Rock ever laid the smackdown. For nearly 15 years, the Pawhuska, Okla., native entered the squared circle and battled it out with the likes of “Superstar” Billy Graham and Spiros Arion in front of a wildly passionate fanbase. ( WATCH)
The people believed in the Chief. A very humble man, he never bragged or boasted about himself, and let his talking be done inside the ring. And if an opponent rubbed him the wrong way, then you could be sure that Strongbow’s war dance was forthcoming, which more times than none culminated in a sleeper hold for a victory. A four-time World Tag Team Champion, Strongbow was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. — H.F.
Jack Brisco became one of the all-time great fan-favorites after a stellar NCAA Championship–winning career at Oklahoma State University. A modern-day Jim Thorpe, “Handsome Jack” was everything that one could want in a hero in his era. He spoke softly, but distinctly and honestly with his rich, baritone voice, had movie star good looks, was in magnificent condition, never bragged or lied to his fans and could wrestle or fight with the best in the world. ( WATCH)
Jack’s reign as the NWA World Champion was stellar as no NWA Champion was ever more athletic or skilled than Jack Brisco. Jack’s wrestling role models were Lou Thesz and Danny Hodge — two globally recognized fan-favorites whose exploits young Jack read about in the monthly wrestling magazines. Jack, with no father in the home, grew up a wrestling fan and is considered by his peers and fans alike to be one of the most popular and prolific wrestlers of all time. — J.R.
"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
Americana personified, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was a rugged competitor whose code of ethics was sturdier than the two-by-four he carried to the ring. Everyone’s favorite “tough guy” was never a particularly polished grappler, but audiences forgave Duggan for his lack of grace, because he was always the first to volunteer his services whenever an evil-doer espoused an anti-American sentiment. Plus, his blue-collar offense always seemed to get the job done. ( WATCH)
Before defending Old Glory against The Iron Sheik and Boris Zhukov in WWE, Duggan was one of the most beloved fighters in Mid-South Wrestling, earning the territory’s Athlete of the Year award in 1984. The accolade scored Duggan a handsome pair of Lucien Piccard cufflinks but also bred envy in Duggan’s former ally, Ted DiBiase. The ensuing rivalry culminated with Duggan besting DiBiase in an epic Loser Leaves Town, Coal Miner’s Glove on a Poll, Tuxedo Steel Cage Match in New Orleans in 1985. — JOHN CLAPP
He never was a purveyor of glitz and glamour, nor did he ever exhibit a flashy style. But the one thing that endeared Bob Backlund to the WWE Universe was his grass roots approach toward the mat game and toward the people. And that took the Princeton, Minn., native to his first WWE Championship on Feb. 20, 1978, as he defeated “Superstar” Billy Graham in Madison Square Garden. ( WATCH)
Known for his great stamina and physical conditioning, Backlund was one of a select group of men who won an NCAA Championship in college, then parlayed that into a successful career in the pro ranks. An unwavering do-gooder, Backlund’s humble Midwestern manner sometimes seemed out of place in the wild world of sports-entertainment, but the technician’s fire and fervor were undeniable in his bouts against rivals like Greg Valentine, Sgt. Slaughter and Don Muraco. — H.F.
If you were a wrestling fan growing up in Mexico in the late 1960s, you believed that Mil Mascaras was more than just a man in tights. In the eyes of those kids that lined up outside of movie theaters in Guadalajara and San Luis Potosi, Mil Mascaras was a superhero concocted in a laboratory by a team of scientists, a masked marauder against hordes of the undead and the man who saved Mexico from an alien invasion.
In the years before he became the first masked man to compete in Madison Square Garden, Mil Mascaras was a movie star in his native country. His success in pictures allowed “The Man of 1,000 Masks” to become the first Mexican wrestler to succeed on a global scale as he introduced the lucha style to Japan and became a major attraction in territories across America. ( WATCH) The WWE Hall of Famer’s agility and colorful masks inspired Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger while his international breakthrough opened doors for future stars like Rey Mysterio. — R.M.
The Road Warriors
At first, fans were terrified of Hawk & Animal. But as time went on, crowds began anticipating the Chicago natives coming in and destroying everything in their path. Eventually, the crowds began cheering the two massive, face-painted monsters in spiked shoulder pads who unleashed hell on the poor saps unlucky to be standing across from them.
Hawk warned everyone that The Road Warriors “snacked on danger and dined on death,” but some were still willing to step up to the tall task of taking on the muscular pair. Those brave souls usually ended up crumpled in a heap after feeling the tandem’s Doomsday Device finishing maneuver.
In addition to being the only team to hold the AWA, the NWA and the WWE World Tag Team Titles, The Road Warriors were so popular and so dominant that Dusty Rhodes hand-picked them to enter WarGames with him and Nikita Koloff against The Four Horsemen. ( WATCH) The anything-goes mentality made the WWE Hall of Famers a perfect fit for “The Match Beyond.” — B.M.
Dubbed the “Jackie Robinson of professional wrestling” due to the racial barriers he broke while competing in the ’50s and ’60s, Benton Harbor, Mich.’s Bobo Brazil did more for equality in the ring than perhaps any other grappler. Standing at a strapping 6-foot-7”, Brazil was one of the very first African-American wrestlers to garner great success in his chosen profession, and was constantly in demand by promoters nationwide.
He never had a flamboyant in-ring style, but when rivals like Abdullah the Butcher and The Original Sheik went into battle with Brazil, big Bobo gave them everything and then some. ( WATCH) Brazil’s meal ticket to victory was the Coco Butt, and once he delivered it to his opponent, victory quickly followed. Always a fan fan-favorite, Brazil reaped the ultimate accolade in 1994, when the multi-time United States Champion was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. — H.F.
Shawn Michaels was known to break a rule or two during his career, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he was a bad guy. Beloved early in his career as one-half of the high-flying Rockers, HBK ultimately shocked the world when he turned on his partner, Marty Jannetty.
Though he was essentially a “bad boy” at heart, the WWE Universe couldn’t help but love Michaels for his fast-paced arsenal of maneuvers, unbridled charisma and, of course, D-Generation X. However, it wasn’t until his return to WWE after a four-year hiatus following a near-career ending back injury that HBK established himself as one of the most beloved Superstars in history.
Upon his return to active competition in 2002, the WWE Hall of Famer became a humble, family-first fan-favorite. The WWE Universe remained in his corner until his final battle with The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI, grateful that they had the opportunity to watch the boy become a man. ( WATCH FULL MATCH) — K.P.
The Crusher & The Bruiser
Dick the Bruiser and Reggie “The Crusher” Lisowski were as blue collar as a case of Schlitz and a cheap cigar. Mainstays of Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association from the late ’50s until the early ’80s, the brawling cousins bashed rivals like The Blackjacks and The Valiant Brothers to win five AWA Tag Team Championships and become the Midwest’s unlikeliest heroes.
Villains apart, Da Bruiser & Da Crusher turned into idols together as they stomped to the ring to the “Beer Barrel Polka” and pounded Pabst Blue Ribbon long before “Stone Cold” cracked his first “Steveweiser.” In a territory where the majority of the good guys were “Minnesota nice” Olympians, the duo bucked the trend by smoking stogies on the way to the ring and training for matches by eating sausages and dancing with Polish barmaids. “The World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler” and “The Wrestler Who Made Milwaukee Famous” proved that being good guys didn’t mean you had to be bland. How ’bout ’dat? — R.M.
Jimmy Snuka flew through the air with the greatest of ease, and landed into the hearts of wrestling fans both young and old alike. Hailing from the Fiji Islands, this talented superstar enjoyed a stellar career that definitely got validated during his WWE tenure.
Snuka started out in WWE rings as an individual who had Captain Lou Albano as his manager. But with every successive match that culminated in the fabled “Superfly” Splash from the top rope, more and more fans gravitated toward Snuka. Eventually, the cheering turned him into a crowd favorite. “Superfly” is best remembered for coming off the top of a steel cage in 1983 in Madison Square Garden on a fallen Magnificent Muraco. ( WATCH) And in 1996, deserved recognition came Snuka’s way, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. — H.F.
For 15 months in WCW, the former NFL defensive tackle from the University of Georgia was the most dominant competitor in the history of sports-entertainment. Fans wouldn’t so much chant his name as they would sing it. Victory after victory, Goldberg demanded to know who was next on his impressively growing laundry list of victims including Curt Hennig, Raven and Bam Bam Bigelow.
On July 6, 1998, Goldberg took his undefeated record to his home state’s Georgia Dome. In front of more than 40,000 cheering Atlantans, he challenged Hollywood Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. With a flick of his finger, Goldberg signaled to the world that he was about to finish off the champion. The roof nearly blew off as The nWo leader was lifted into the air, slammed to the canvas and pinned. With a record of 108-0, Goldberg became the first undefeated World Champion in the history of professional wrestling. ( WATCH) And the crowd loved it. — Z.L.
We didn’t know it yet, but Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy won our hearts before he ever sacrificed his body for our entertainment. After competing in brutal matches in Japan, WCW and ECW, he finally arrived in WWE a battered and twisted man. But when WWE fans had the opportunity to gain insight into Mick’s personality through a series of interviews with Jim Ross, it began to humanize him to the WWE Universe.
By the time Mankind began challenging The Rock for the WWE Championship, Mick’s popularity had reached an outrageous zenith. And when he finally won that title on Raw, we lived vicariously through him. And Michael Cole told us why: “Mankind has achieved his dream, and the dream of everyone else who’s been told, ‘You can’t do it.’” ( WATCH)
After reigning on three occasions as one of the most beloved WWE Champions in history, The Hardcore Legend attained status as a pop culture icon known equally for his self-deprecating humor as he is for landing on a bed of thumbtacks. — Z.L.
"Macho Man" Randy Savage
When Randy Savage debuted in WWE in 1985, he was the cocky and brash villain that shielded Miss Elizabeth from television cameras and stole Tito Santana’s coveted Intercontinental Championship. But as the WWE Universe began to witness “Macho Man’s” true greatness, it became impossible not to cheer this absolute marvel of a professional wrestler.
Before Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara dove off the top rope, Savage was one of WWE’s first true highfliers. In an era when Superstars were known for flamboyance, no one could match the irrepressible spirit of the one and only “Macho Man.” Sailing high from the turnbuckles with that signature elbow drop, Savage was our genuine superhero. And there was some part of us that believed “Macho Man” would always be part of our lives.
Savage fought for his career against Ultimate Warrior, for Elizabeth’s love against Hulk Hogan, for the WWE Championship against Ric Flair ( WATCH) and for survival against Jake “The Snake” Roberts. But most of all, he fought for each and every one of us. — Z.L.
A tough-as-nails grappler out of Virginia, Magnum TA captured the hearts of wrestling fans across the country in the 1980s. While the ladies loved him for his resemblance to “Magnum, P.I.,” star Tom Selleck, men admired the mustachioed competitor for his tenacity in the ring. ( WATCH FULL MATCH)
Perhaps Dusty Rhodes’ most trusted ally, Magnum stood beside “The American Dream” in his battle against The Four Horsemen. TA zeroed in on United States Champion Tully Blanchard. The two fought in a vicious Steel Cage “I Quit” Match at Starrcade 1985, with Magnum emerging victorious, jamming a splintered chair into his foe’s eye and forcing him to give up.
Unfortunately, this hero’s story doesn’t have the usual happy ending. It was a unanimous sentiment that Magnum TA was on the verge of becoming NWA World Champion before a 1986 car accident cut his career short in his prime. One of his most bitter rivals, Nikita Koloff, was so moved by Magnum’s battle to recover, that “The Russian Nightmare” ditched his Soviet compatriots and joined forces with Dusty Rhodes. The tandem known as The Super Powers went on to win the 1987 Crockett Cup, with Magnum TA in their corner. — B.M.
Wherever Parts Unknown may lie, its people would appear to be a bizarre yet benevolent race. That is, of course, if you use Ultimate Warrior as your measurement.
Standing firm on the side of good in the struggle against evil voodoo doctors, maddened royalty, giants and more, Warrior consistently applied his talents — immeasurable strength, uncanny mobility, boundless stamina — toward championing WWE fans and plowing through the rogues of the squared circle. Not surprisingly, the fringed phenomenon quickly assembled a sizable collective of loyalists in the WWE Universe. And, barring his signature brilliant attire, the former WWE Champion never changed his colors throughout his career. He never turned his back on his “Warriors.” ( WATCH)
A comic book–like superhero manifested in real life, Warrior is still beloved for being a loose cannon — one that was always pointed in the direction of the bad guy (including, but not limited to, Razor Ramon). — CRAIG TELLO
Sure, teenage girls loved Jeff Hardy, but The Charismatic Enigma’s connection with the WWE Universe went beyond the “Twilight” crowd. Part of a new death-defying breed, Hardy crashed onto the scene with his brother Matt in 1998. Together, the colorful duo shattered sports-entertainment’s status quo, redefining tag teams and pushing high-flying to a new level.
In 2002, however, Jeff took his daredevil ways solo, which irritated then–Undisputed Champion The Undertaker. Although The Deadman beat Hardy in a thrilling Ladder Match, he couldn’t “break” The Charismatic Enigma. Jeff refused to stay on the mat defeated — a display of the grit the WWE Universe loved — prompting The Phenom to raise Hardy’s hand in a shocking display respect. ( WATCH FULL MATCH)
The three-time World Champ never hid behind a façade, especially during his rivalry with a pontificating CM Punk in 2009, always assuring the WWE Universe to “live for the moment.” — JEFF LABOON
Andre the Giant
The wrestling industry has generated performers of all shapes and sizes through the years, but there was only one Andre the Giant. Known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the 7-foot-4 native of Grenoble in the French Alps was immensely popular for the entirety of his career. No matter what corner of the globe he went to compete, the public followed.
Andre could be affable outside of the ring, but if rubbed the wrong way during a match, the big man would erupt into a menacing volcano, which more times than not spelled defeat for his opponent. The giant is best remembered today for the villainous stance he took against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III, but Andre spent most of his career as a fan-favorite, eliminating bad guys like Killer Khan, Blackjack Mulligan and Big John Studd in arenas around the world. ( WATCH) Andre was immortalized in 1993 as being the very first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. — H.F.
The Rock 'n' Roll Express
The ultimate good-guy tag team, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express sent Southern wrestling crowds into a frenzy before they even got in the ring. With long, flowing mullets and bandanas adorning their tights, Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson were teen idols, to say the least. The sound of girls screaming whenever they entered arenas was deafening.
Morton’s never-say-die attitude often meant he was on the bad end of some hellacious beatdowns, just out of the reach of Gibson’s hand. Fans were on the edge of their seats as Ricky fought back from seemingly impossible odds. Arenas almost exploded as Morton snuck out of his opponents’ grasp and tumbled across the ring to tag in Gibson, who came in and gave the evildoers a little taste of their own medicine. ( WATCH)
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express warred with teams like Ole & Arn Anderson, The Midnight Express and The Heavenly Bodies while becoming one of the most decorated teams of all time. — B.M.
The Junkyard Dog
Forget Drew Brees. No athlete in the history of New Orleans was as beloved as The Junkyard Dog. Thumping into “Cowboy” Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling in the early ’80s to the bass of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” the powerfully charismatic Superstar became a hero to the people of The Crescent City as he slammed his way through villains like Butch Reed and Buck Robley during weekly cards at the Downtown Municipal Auditorium aka The Dog’s Yard.
Admired by both blacks and whites despite the prevailing racial tensions of the region, JYD drew thousands to the Louisiana Superdome as he fought blinded against The Fabulous Freebirds and battled Ted DiBiase in a Loser Leaves Town Match. By the time JYD arrived in WWE in 1984, personal problems and an expanding waistline had taken away some of his Mid-South magic, but it didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most recognizable faces of the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection.” ( WATCH) — R.M.
The legend that surrounds The Undertaker is something that has allowed the mythical Superstar to transcend the typical “good guy vs. bad guy” archetype often seen in WWE. The Deadman has been on both sides of the fence, whether representing the dark evil of The Ministry or upholding his status as the quintessential WWE Superstar. However, over the course of his storied career, The Phenom has garnered more respect from the WWE Universe and his peers than any other competitor in history. ( WATCH)
The Demon from Death Valley’s actions speak louder than any words spewed into a microphone. He has never demanded or asked for respect — he commands it. Since his debut at Survivor Series 1990, The Undertaker has stood apart from every other WWE Superstar and was often “reborn” with a new attitude or demeanor. Nevertheless, The Deadman’s impact on WWE history is immeasurable and his legacy is one of the few that goes beyond the traditional role of a WWE Superstar. — K.P.
The Von Erichs
There’s something beautifully American about the Von Erich family name. Appropriated by a Texas wrestler named Jack Adkisson in the 1950s to enrage the sensitivities of post–World War II crowds, the surname would soon inspire those same fans when it was passed down to Jack’s handsome sons — Kevin, Kerry and David Von Erich.
Adorned with the monikers of “The Golden Warrior,” “The Modern Day Warrior” and “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” the stars of Fritz’s Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling were all-American boys who adopted a name meant to conjure up images of unspeakable evil and turned it into a symbol of Texas pride. ( WATCH) Beloved in The Lone Star State for their good looks, rock 'n' roll cool and unforgettable war with The Fabulous Freebirds, the Von Erich boys are known today for the tragic end all but one of them would meet, but they’re best remembered as they lived: wild, carefree, and unmistakably Texan. — R.M.
Since his ECW debut in 1995, Rey Mysterio has amazed sports-entertainment fans all over the world. Though he did not join WWE until 2002, he built upon his legacy and reputation in both the Land of the Extreme and WCW. Mysterio has never wavered in his loyalty to exciting the fans and portraying himself as an unlikely hero.
Battling the likes of giants such as Kevin Nash, The Ultimate Underdog never backed down and never allowed himself to be bullied. These character traits carried over to WWE as Mysterio faced his greatest challenges battling larger-than-life Superstars like The Undertaker and Batista. ( WATCH)
The smallest Superstar to ever hold the Word Title, Mysterio always takes the time to acknowledge his younger mask-wearing fans on his way to the ring. A perfect example of someone overcoming insurmountable odds, Rey Mysterio is an inspiration to all ages of the WWE Universe. — K.P.
The whitest of white hats, Ricky Steamboat gave sports-entertainment fans around the world a hero they could believe in. He valiantly battled Randy Savage in late 1986 until Savage viciously injured his throat with the ring bell. After Steamboat recovered and regained the use of his voice, he challenged “Macho Man” to put his Intercontinental Championship on the line at WrestleMania III. More than 93,000 fans witnessed what was arguably the greatest match at The Show of Shows, if not sports-entertainment history. ( WATCH FULL MATCH)
Steamboat wasn’t done there. After he left WWE for WCW, “The Dragon” became embroiled in a bitter rivalry with Ric Flair, who ragged on Steamboat for being a family man instead of wheeling and dealing like “The Nature Boy.” Ricky responded by tearing one of Flair’s custom suits off and ripping it to pieces. Steamboat went on to defeat Flair for the NWA World Title at Chi-Town Rumble in 1989. Their first battle and two rematches are also considered among the best matches in history. — B.M.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
At Survivor Series 1996, a third-generation competitor wearing blue trunks and a big grin named Rocky Maivia debuted in WWE. However, the WWE Universe was quick to voice their negative feeling for the do-gooder, chanting: “Die, Rocky. Die.” Shortly thereafter, The Rock sided with nefarious groups like The Nation of Domination and The Corporation, but following the merger between The Corporation and The Ministry, The Rock became The People’s Champ.
The Great One’s unrivaled charisma and in-ring abilities drew support from millions … and millions of WWE Universe members all over the world. His Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection with Mankind spawned WWE’s oddest and most beloved pairing. Teaming with Mick Foley highlighted a rarely seen side of The Rock that showed that deep down, he was still the same do-gooder that debuted in 1996. Beneath his haughty attitude, The Great One was intensely loyal to his friends and hated seeing them outmatched. Facing the combined efforts of Evolution’s Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista at WrestleMania XX, Foley called on The Rock and The Great One answered the call to stand by his friend. ( WATCH) — K.P.
No competitor in the history of sports-entertainment embodied the hard-working spirit of the American people quite like Dusty Rhodes. The son of a plumber from Austin, Texas, “The American Dream” electrified crowds across the country with pure soul, riling them up like a preacher with the rhyme and flow of a rapper. He dubbed it “gettin’ funky like a monkey.”
“The American Dream” stood tall in the face of flashy foes like “Superstar” Billy Graham and The Four Horsemen, letting them know that thousand dollar suits and huge muscles weren’t all you needed to succeed. ( WATCH) That sometimes, with a little elbow grease, a heavy-set cowboy in denim can reach the top of the mountain.
The three-time World Champion fought for the working class, ensuring them that though hard times were often the norm, the impossible was possible. His 2007 induction into the WWE Hall of Fame guaranteed that generations to come will know what “The American Dream” was all about. — B.M.
Bret "Hit Man" Hart
Bret Hart was the consummate good guy. He defeated The Nasty Boys as a young tag team competitor, and baddies including Yokozuna and Ric Flair during the prime of his career as perhaps the greatest technical wrestler of all time. ( WATCH) Even when the “Hit Man” scowled at American fans late in his WWE tenure, he remained a lauded champion in his native Canada.
But most of all, Bret believed in standing up for what was right. He knew that for every terrible villain, a hero needed to save that day. And that’s exactly what Bret did. Night in and night out for nearly 15 years, the “Hit Man” was WWE’s knight in shining armor. In 1997, when non-Canadians began to tire of Bret, the five-time WWE Champion merely advocated for what was ethical, virtuous and good. Because in the end, Bret wasn’t about attitude, he was simply about being the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be. — Z.L
WCW’s greatest good guy, Sting was the antithesis of Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen and remained at odds with “The Nature Boy” throughout his career. The master of the Scorpion Death Lock always played by the rules and backed up everything he said with his action in the ring. The Stinger’s colorful face paint and bright ring attire mixed with his enormous charisma helped become beloved by the fans.
In 1996, Sting adopted a darker persona, becoming a silent avenger of WCW as The New World Order’s power expanded. Sting descended from the rafters to disrupt the plans of Hollywood Hogan and the infamous faction, defending the honor of WCW. All along, the organization’s face-painted franchise never wavered from his allegiance to the fans. ( WATCH)
Diamond Dallas Page once told WWE.com: “Every time I got in the ring with Sting, I always had to be the bad guy, even if I wasn’t. Sting represents everything that makes a great good guy in wrestling.” — K.P.
Whether you chant “Let’s go Cena!” or “Cena sucks!” one thing about John Cena remains absolutely certain: He is unwavering in his moral standing and does not let the polarized opinions of the WWE Universe prevent him from doing what he feels is right. The Cenation leader fits the mold of superhero; he believes in fighting for the greater good and often puts himself before others. The 10-time WWE Champion wears his creed of “hustle, loyalty and respect” on his sleeve and it has led him to victory over wicked rivals like Randy Orton, Kane and Batista. ( WATCH)
Outside of the squared circle, the Cenation leader remains a leading example of a noble celebrity and has granted more than 300 wishes for Circle of Champions and Make-A-Wish. Love him or hate him, John Cena may not be the hero the WWE Universe needs, but he is the hero they deserve. — K.P.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin didn’t fit the typical mold of a WWE good guy. He was everything Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior weren’t, but The Texas Rattlesnake was still a hero to millions of members of the WWE Universe. Though he initially came across as a villain, “Stone Cold’s” smash-mouth attitude and refusal to back down ultimately redefined what it meant to be a fan-favorite in sports-entertainment.
The WWE Hall of Famer’s greatest conflict came against Mr. McMahon. Austin never pulled punches when it came to the boss and each time he laid out The Chairman with a Stunner, members of the WWE Universe who wished to throw down with their boss lived vicariously through The Rattlesnake. ( WATCH) The multi-time WWE Champion made no apologies for his actions, whether he was spraying the ring with beer, or pouring concrete in Mr. McMahon’s convertible.
The quintessential antihero, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin changed WWE not by following trends, but by creating them. — K.P.
In the 1980s and ’90s, there was no individual in WWE more popular than Hulk Hogan. Leading a sports-entertainment revolution dubbed Hulkamania, The Hulkster implored his legions of loyal Hulkamaniacs to follow three simple virtues: “Train, say your prayers and eat your vitamins.”
Hulkamania began in 1984 when Hogan defeated the nefarious Iron Sheik for the WWE Championship. From there, Hogan became more than just a WWE Superstar — he became an American icon. Achieving pop culture ubiquity outside of the ring with his feature films, cartoons and even his own brand of chewable vitamins, The Immortal One stayed focused in the ring as he carried the WWE Title for more than four years in the face of seemingly indestructible rivals like Andre the Giant and King Kong Bundy. ( WATCH)
Always standing up to those with villainous intent, The Hulkster was unwavering in his dedication to upholding a moral code. And there is no understating the impact of Hulkamania on WWE and sports-entertainment. — K.P.
May 17, 1963, was the dawning of a new era in the wrestling industry, as an upstart Italian competitor named Bruno Sammartino did the unthinkable: defeat “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in a quick 48 seconds in Madison Square Garden to win the WWE Championship.
Sammartino went on to hold the title for seven years, eight months, and one day, a record that still stands as the longest continuous men’s World Title reign. He also enjoyed a second championship reign in the mid-70s for a period of nearly four years. A superhero on the east coast — particularly in cities with heavy Italian populations — Bruno was so beloved in the Big Apple that he sold out the Garden 187 times. ( WATCH) Using a powerful, deliberate and to the point style, the paesan’s popularity was unrivaled during his tenure in WWE, and that support led him to one of the most successful careers in WWE history. — H.F.