by Joe Thunder - February 29, 2012
Welcome to part five of my top 25 from 1990-2012! The criteria hasn’t changed but here it is in case you forgot or didn’t read the first four parts of this piece. My ranking system is based on accomplishments, longevity, character appeal, and my overall opinion of each performer(nostalgia being a key factor for me). Below I’ve listed 25-6 before listing the primary four of this column. I hope you like it!
25. John Bradshaw Layfield
24. CM Punk
22. The Big Show
21. Jeff Hardy
20. Jeff Jarrett
19. Booker T
18. Chris Benoit
17. Macho Man
16. Ric Flair
15. Hulk Hogan
14. Rey Mysterio
13. Randy Orton
12. Mick Foley
11. John Cena
10. Stone Cold Steve Austin
9. The Rock
7. Triple H
6. Kurt Angle
5. Sting – Arguably the biggest performer never to sign with WWE, Sting has accomplished a lot and established himself as a star over the course of twenty six years in the business. Sting’s two biggest rivalries in his career are a big reason why I have him rank him so high on this list. His matches with Ric Flair are legitimately some of the best matches you’ll ever see. I did a top ten column of their best matches with one another over the years(it can be found in the notes section of my facebook page with all my other writing) and have literally set the bar over the years on in ring chemistry and quality of technical wrestling. Sting was also a part of the biggest storyline in the history of World Championship Wrestling in regards to being the guy to take the World Title from Hollywood Hogan and the nWo. The match was built up for a long time and took place on one of the biggest shows WCW ever produced, Starrcade 1997. Despite the questionable finish, the celebration with Sting holding the title and the WCW locker room lifting Sting on their shoulders was a sight that solidified Sting’s status as one of the biggest stars in the history of WCW. After WCW folded, Vince buried WCW during the invasion angle and did very little to put over the best talent(namely Booker T, Lance Storm, Gregory Helms, among others and later Scott Steiner) so Sting decided WWE wasn’t the place to carry on his legacy. Sting had held the NWA World Title in 1990 as a part of WCW and is the only competitor EVER to hold the NWA World Title before and after TNA was created and represented the title. He would feud with Jeff Jarrett in TNA over the title and would put over guys like AJ Styles, Mick Foley, Samoa Joe, and Kurt Angle while working for TNA. I don’t go into a lot of detail as to why specifically I rank one superstar over another, but I want it made clear that Sting will be 53 years old this year and can still go. Can he go like he used to? Of course not, but he can do more in the ring at his age than some of other guys in his age range who made this list. Sting might be near hanging it up and calling it quits, but he’s got a non-title match booked with Bobby Roode(the ultimate heel for the second time around) for Victory Road this year. The fourteen time world champion has done a lot in his career without setting foot in WWE and has kept Vince’s competition stay afloat in some cases(TNA) and flourish in others(1997 WCW) and deserves to be considered one of the greatest superstars of the last 22 years.
4. Bret Hart – The Excellence of Execution. The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be. Hard to argue when you consider that Bret has worked more professional matches than ANY wrestler in the last 30 years and only missed one event due to flight conflicts. Bret’s career was ended far too soon and for ridiculous reasons(thanks Goldberg, and thanks Bischoff for pushing a guy that couldn’t wrestle to save his life). I have numerous moments that I’d consider favorites with Bret Hart. My first memory of him was him losing the WWF Title at WM 9, and Hogan coming in and stealing the spotlight. I was four years old and believed that Hart and Hogan were friends. Comical. My next memory of Bret came at the 1993 Survivor Series when his team defeated Shawn Michaels and his knights. I remember the start of his feud with Owen after Owen was the only brother to be eliminated from the match. The two would reconcile but Owen would turn on Bret at the ’94 Rumble after they failed to win the tag titles from the Quebecers(We are not the mounties!). I remember being five years old watching a historic year for the Hitman. First, Bret lost to Owen to open WM 10, and then he beat Yokozuna for the WWF Title later in the night. After that, he defended the title against Owen all Summer long and defeated him at Summerslam in a steel cage match. I remember crying(five years old, give me a break) when Bret was in the crossface chicken wing(horrible name for a wrestling move) at the ’94 Survivor Series when Owen convinced Helen to throw in the towel during their submission match. Bret would lose the title that night to Bob Backlund(who drop the title a few days later to Diesel and thus the bad year of 1995 started). I remember watching Bret feud with Jerry Lawler throughout 1995(a couple good matches with Hakushi resulted as well, along with the future Kane in Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS). Bret would capture the title once again at the 1995 Survivor Series after playing possum on Diesel and getting the small package three count. Bret would drop the title to Shawn at WM 12 and would disappear. I remember his return and his rivalry with Austin. I also remember cheering for Bret when he became a heel in 1997. He was used all wrong in WCW and didn’t hold the title nearly enough while with the company. Bret prided himself on being a wrestler who never hurt anybody else in the ring. His career was ended because of Goldberg’s inexperience and legitimate kick to the head that caused Bret to suffer a severe concussion. Bret always put on the most technically sound match of the night, no matter the occasion or the rivalry. Despite not being a big talker on the microphone for most of his career, his Hitman character excelled at letting his matches speak for themselves. Bret’s return to WWE in January of 2010 made everything feel right in the world of wrestling after his twelve year absence from the company. He belongs in WWE, whether it’s as an ambassador in Europe or just to do promotional stuff; WWE is home to the Hitman and he should be recognized for what he’s done. Bret makes my top five list because he lives up to his slogan of being the best ever. Gorilla Monsoon said it best when he dubbed Hart the Excellence of Execution; Bret is a wrestler whose legacy should never be forgotten.
3. Chris Jericho – When Jericho pinned Triple H for the WWF Title in the opening match of Monday Night Raw during the McMahon Helmsley Era, I was jumping all over the living room like a ten year old fan would do. When they took the title back from Jericho and said it was a fast count by Earl Hebner, I was cursing like no ten year old ever should. I was livid. Luckily Jericho would see a lot more success than that over the next decade(and it would count). Jericho lost the Intercontinental Title to Chyna, and that’s why I can’t allow him to be any higher on my list(kidding). He’s held a record nine Intercontinental Championships and has always been very flexible going back and forth from the IC Title scene to the World Title scene. Jericho would win the 2010 Elimination Chamber match to capture the World Heavyweight Championship and go on to defend against Edge in a very good match at WrestleMania 26. Aside from being the first Undisputed World Champion, Jericho has portrayed the heel gimmick better than almost anyone ever has. He’s a seven time world champion as well as a seven time tag team champion. He was awarded Superstar of the Year in 2008(which he didn’t stop talking about until 2010) by WWE at the Slammy Awards. Jericho is versatile in the ring and can be a mat technician just as well as he can be a high flyer. One of my personal favorite Chris Jericho matches is his Hell in a Cell match in 2002 with Triple H, and then his ladder match in 2008 at No Mercy with Shawn Michaels for the World Title. Both were excellent matches. Another classic that Jericho was involved in was a two fall triple threat match with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 2000 with both the IC Title and the European Title on the line in the match. Jericho has wrestled feuds with The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Orton, John Cena, and now CM Punk. He has gone toe to toe with the best in WWE and has proven his title as best in the world on numerous occasions with the incredible matches that he’s been apart of. For that, he makes in into the top five of my top 25 superstars list.
2. Shawn Michaels – I could list Shawn’s nicknames here, but it would take up too much space. This guy has done it all when it comes to the world of wrestling. Shawn was awarded Match of the year by Pro Wrestling Insider from 1993-1996, and from 2004-2010(2006 was against Vince McMahon and might be a debatable choice, but the rest were good matches). Michaels was the first grand slam champion and has held four world titles, six tag titles, and three Intercontinental Titles along with the European Championship. Outside of the long list of accomplishments, Shawn executed the heartbreak kid gimmick better than anyone could have ever imagined. It’s been quoted by big men like Vader, Kevin Nash, and Sid that there was nothing Shawn Michaels couldn’t do in the ring as a performer. Had Shawn never made his return in 2002, it’s easy for me to say that he still would have been in the top ten of this list, because I absolutely loved watching Michaels go from heel to face after WM 11(lost a bet to my aunt that Shawn would beat Diesel for the title) when Sid powerbombed him and put him out of action until May. Shawn returned and went on to win a classic match against Jeff Jarrett on July 23, 1995 at the In Your House pay per view event to once again become the IC Champion(in Jarrett’s hometown of Nashville, I might add). Everything after this seemed to go by really fast. Michaels forfeited the title at the October In Your House in Winnipeg after being beaten up outside a nightclub. He went on to win his second Royal Rumble and defeat Bret Hart in the longest match(Iron Man Match with Sudden Death) I had ever watched up until that point at WM 12. He defended the title all year long against Diesel, Bulldog, Vader, Mankind, and then lost the title to former friend, Psycho Sid at Survivor Series 1996. He would win the title back at the Royal Rumble only to forfeit it a month later for disputed reasons(knee injury vs not wanting to return the favor to Bret at Mania 13). He would win the title back at the ’97 Survivor Series in the screwjob incident and then injured his back at the Royal Rumble in a casket match against the Undertaker. He dropped the title to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WM 14 and did not wrestle again until 2002. He made sporadic appearances on tv as the commissioner. I can’t tell you how much it sucked knowing that Shawn Michaels would never wrestle again. Then, he came back and joined the nWo. It made very little sense. Then, the nWo storyline was dropped after Hall was fired and Nash was injured(all you had left were Waltman, Big Show, and Michaels trying to recruit Triple H). Michaels went to reform DX with Triple H but Hunter turned on him. Then the unsanctioned match was booked. Shawn was wrestling one more match. I assumed he’d play it safe and it would just be a one time deal. Shawn beat Hunter in that match. Then Shawn won the first ever Elimination Chamber and captured the World Title. He lost a three stages of Hell match to Triple H a month later along with the title(Shawn and Hunter would wrestle countless pay per view classics against one another over the next four years). He would never hold a World Championship after that. He would wrestle a terrific match with Chris Jericho at WM 19 and became a full time performer for the first time in five years after that match. Shawn was back. I was thrilled. He put on a lot of incredible matches since his return; most would say his best matches from the early years don’t even compare to what he has did in the ring from 2002-2010. He worked either a larger than life match or the main event of every WrestleMania from 19-26(Jericho, Hunter&Benoit, Angle, McMahon, Cena, Taker x2). Michaels has done it all and put his body on the line for twenty five years in the ring. Everything he did was for the entertainment of the fans. For his classic matches and his never stop performing attitude, for his incredible promos and huge rivalries, and for his accomplishments and overcoming adversity to live his childhood dream, Shawn Michaels slides his way into the number 2 spot of this top superstars list.
Agree? Disagree? I can’t wait for the feedback on this one. I love these four performers and could talk about them and their accomplishments all day long. My tribute column for number one will be out around WrestleMania. The tribute column will have my full top 25 list along with Mike Lightning’s full top 25 list for comparison. I’ll have my Smackdown column up on Friday. Feel free to add me on facebook and follow myself and Mike Lightning with our status updates and random analysis all week long on current happenings in WWE and the rest of the wrestling world. Until next time, you’ve been ThunderStruck!
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