Wrestlers' wrestlers on wrestlers' wrestlers
What exactly is a “wrestlers’ wrestler”?
The vague term is often employed by color commentators, ring veterans and historians to identify certain performers that practice their craft in a very specific manner. But does a “wrestlers’ wrestler” refer to a performer’s adaptability in the ring, their knowledge of styles, their toughness or none of the above?
WWEClassics.com set out to learn what a “wrestler’s wrestler” actually is by talking with CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, William Regal and other men in the WWE locker room who are often referred to as such. They each spoke in-depth about the men they look up to as “wrestlers’ wrestlers.” And each of these “wrestlers’ wrestlers” gave their own definitions – some similar to others’, some completely divergent of their peers’ views. But one thing’s for sure: these guys know their stuff.
ON WHAT MAKES A WRESTLERS’ WRESTLER:
Part of it, to me, is the grittiness. There are people who can do fancy reversals. Guys who are tough and aren’t afraid to get into it and brawl and fight a little bit. But then just wrestle and take somebody down.
ON WHO HE CONSIDERS TO BE A WRESTLER’S WRESTLER:
It’s interesting, because there are a lot of people that WWE fans wouldn’t know. The first people I think of are Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, those types. In England, there’s so many. I think of guys like Johnny Saint and in Japan there’s [Tatsumi] Fujinami. There are just so many guys over there who are wrestlers’ wrestlers. To me, that’s awesome.
ON FACING JOHNNY SAINT:
Johnny Saint is somebody who does fancy reversals, but what made him a wrestlers’ wrestler is when he’d get gritty with his wrestling. He entertained people through wrestling. He knew a million different holds. He’d go out there and always have fantastic matches. I wrestled him when he was 60-something years old and was still absolutely phenomenal in the ring. He was so good at what he did, technique-wise. There were a lot of old English wrestlers who were like that. He’s still around and he’s still doing his thing. It’s pretty cool.
ON HIS ADMIRATION FOR BILLY ROBINSON:
When you talk to older wrestlers, they don’t necessarily like Billy Robinson – maybe because he took liberties in the ring. But when I think of a wrestler, I think of Billy Robinson. He’d wrestle and be kind of mean about it, but then he’d get ready to fight like he was going to box. He was ready to go. He was a cool wrestlers’ wrestler.
ON WHAT MAKES A WRESTLERS’ WRESTLER:
You may ask different people and get different answers. It’s usually the fellows that aren’t the most flashy or the guys that haven’t always been the biggest stars. But there are certain people that the other professionals usually stop to watch. Daniel Bryan gets that kind of a thing. You see that in him now. People stop when he’s on.
ON THE BEST ADVICE HE RECEIVED FROM A WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
From where I’m from in England, there was Pete Roberts. If you watch me and then you go back and watch him, you’ll see a lot of me in him. He was my idol. The greatest compliment I ever had was when [Yoshiaki] Fujiwara in Japan told me that he thought I was his son. Pete Roberts told me, when I was a teenager, “Make everything you do mean something, or else don’t bother doing it.” All the best wrestlers’ wrestlers do that.
ON THE WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS HE GREW UP ADMIRING:
Another guy from England was Terry Rudge. Terry looked like a wrestler should look — perfect build for a wrestler. He looked like an old circus strongman — bald head, big pieces of ham on his arms. You watch him and you go, “That’s what I want to do.” Every move that he did meant something. No wasted motion. Everything looked like it should do. They were wrestlers’ wrestlers.
Another hidden gem in England is a guy called Jon Cortez — an absolute gem. He’s another guy like Terry Rudge. You watch these two — Terry Rudge or Jon Cortez — you’re taken into another world of how good they are and the way they do things compared to everybody else.
ON THE WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS WHO INFLUENCE WWE TODAY:
Finlay. People talk about who’s the actual best pro wrestler, as far technical skills and whatever else. Even the pros don’t know how good he is, because he doesn’t do that style in the ring. He’s a brawler. He is, without a doubt, a thousand miles ahead of anybody else when it comes to technical skills. But you only really get that when you train with him. He knows more stuff, how to do it better, make it hurt more, he’s just the best of them all.
Arn Anderson’s a wrestlers’ wrestler. Every move that he made meant something. No wasted motion. It was all exactly how it should be. It looked like it should look. That’s really what makes a wrestlers’ wrestler — to people who know, anyway.
ON BEING CONSIDERED A WRESTLER’S WRESTLER BY FINLAY AND WILLIAM REGAL:
Get out of here. Really? To me, that’s very flattering, because those are all people that I would say are wrestlers’ wrestlers.
ON SPORTS-ENTERTAINMENT VS. WRESTLING:
We like to use the word sports entertainment. I’ve always said wrestler. I wanted to be a wrestler when I was a kid. I think what I do now is wrestling.
ON THE WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS THAT INSPIRED HIM:
Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid — those are the guys that I’ve always been drawn to. I think they are a lot less flashy. There’s more of a mean streak in a wrestlers' wrestler. They really know how to take it to the mat and grind a guy out and that’s what I’ve always been into.
ON WHY FANDANGO IS A WRESTLERS’ WRESTLER:
He knows how to wrestle. Guy’s been with the company for a very long time and he got a break doing something flamboyant and I think it’s great. But, over time, you’re going to find out that he can go. Bell to bell, he can wrestle. You’re going to find that out.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING A WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
A wrestlers’ wrestler is somebody that fellow wrestlers enjoy watching. I think it’s a huge compliment that people refer to me as that, but I think I’m more than that. I think I’m also a fans’ wrestler. In the past, [a wrestler’s wrestler] may have been a guy who was not publicly recognized.
ON OVERLOOKED WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS:
Karl Gotch was not that successful in the United States, but he was very successful in Japan, because they appreciate straight wrestling. There were many wrestlers’ wrestlers in the United States. For example, Lou Thesz and Pat O’Connor. Anybody wrestlers watch and look to for inspiration or how to improve their game. People who have been so far ahead of their time and so good at what they do in the ring, that other wrestlers look up to them. They don’t have to rely on a heavy gimmick or promo. They’re just that good.
ON THE INFLUENCE OF LOU THESZ:
Lou Thesz was a man’s man. He was a real man. He knew what he was doing in the ring. That’s back in the day when they had to have a “shooter” as the champion in case somebody tried to screw them. They had to be able to take care of themselves in the ring. Lou was the best at it. And I think that’s what a wrestlers’ wrestler is – still to this day – somebody that can take care of themself.
ON THE SKILLS OF A WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
A wrestlers' wrestler is someone who can work with any wrestler. I think the term is “ring general.” Someone who can orchestrate what’s going on inside the ring and make it happen no matter what. Anybody can have a great match with Rey Mysterio. Trying to have a great match with Big Daddy V or The Great Khali is a whole different ball of wax. Not everybody can do that.
ON HIS FAVORITE WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS TO FACE:
A guy like Shawn Michaels was always a great wrestlers' wrestler. Triple H is a wrestlers' wrestler. Then you have guys like Eddie Guerrero — those type of guys who can do any style of wrestling. If you want to do shoot style, you can do it. If you want to do mat style, you can do it.
ON THE NEXT GENERATION OF WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS:
I think in this day and age, a guy like Daniel Bryan is a wrestlers' wrestler, because he can do anything. It’s a pretty rare thing to be able to do anything and adapt your style to have a great match with anybody.
ON WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
I think it’s someone who is 100 percent about the business. Someone that has traveled the journey, has battled all the battles and is a pure, throwback wrestler from all the old traditions of wrestling. In the normal world, it would be a “man’s man.” Win, lose or draw, it doesn’t matter to them. It’s the journey, not the destination.
ON WHY “STONE COLD” STEVE AUSTIN IS THE CONSUMMATE WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
Steve has broken out of the mold. He always did. He always stepped outside the box. He’s not afraid of physicality in any way, shape or form whether it’s coming at him or he’s given it to someone else. It’s that whole demeanor of being a predatory athlete. That would be my phrase to sum it up — predatory athlete.
ON EUROPE’S RICH HISTORY OF WRESTLERS’ WRESTLERS:
There are a lot of them. There’s a guy named Terry Rudge who was just tough as nails. Skull Murphy from England — there was a Skull Murphy in the States, but this guy was my tag partner. There’s a guy named Marty Jones from England. William Regal is one. He molded himself out of those guys from the ’60s and early ’70s. Just those rawboned, big, burly guys who didn’t spend all their time in the gym, but they just had that natural roughness about them.
ON HIS OWN REPUTATION AS A WRESTLERS' WRESTLER:
To be honest with you, I’ve never thought about it. It’s nice that others think of me like that. I’m a third-generation wrestler with 40 years in the business. I take pride in what I did and what I do. I guess it would be nice if I could call myself a wrestler’s wrestler.
Alberto Del Rio
ON THE WRESTLERS' WRESTLER WHO INSPIRED HIM:
Dean Malenko, The Man of a 1,000 Holds. He is one of my favorites. He is amazing. I had the opportunity to see him in Japan when I was working there. From the first day I saw him, I was in love with his work. He is one of the most technical wrestlers in history. And now in WWE, I can say that I have the opportunity to have him as one of my mentors.
ON MALENKO’S INFLUENCE:
When I came to WWE, I came from the lucha libre style, which is a totally different style. He is one of the producers who helped me improve my technique to become a complete wrestler. He practically put me under his wing and he guided me all the way until I became one of the most popular wrestlers and one of the champions in WWE. I’m a well-rounded wrestler right now, and that’s because of him.
ON THE WRESTLERS' WRESTLER WHO RAISED HIM:
I always admired my father and became a pro wrestler because of him. I watched him since I can remember. My father worked for all the companies around the world. For [Mr. McMahon]’s father, for Japan, for Europe, of course Mexico. He’s part of the most important dynasty in Mexican lucha libre history. And he was always a heavyweight, but he could move as a cruiserweight. I think that’s the reason he was so successful during his career.