Tuesday, 8 November 2011

40/40: My All Time Favourite Wrestlers Part 4

On Tuesday, November 8th I will be celebrating my 40th birthday, and for the past few weeks I’ve been counting down my top 40 all time favourite wrestlers.

Now we’ve reached the last part. So who has made my final ten? Who are the ten men whose performances I’ve enjoyed more than anyone else during my lifelong experiences as a professional wrestling fan.

Well wait no more. The answers are here!


 10) DANIEL BRYAN
The first man on this part of my list is another one of the many wrestlers I first encountered during the glory days of The Wrestling Channel.

I’d heard a great deal about him, but the first time I actually saw him in action was against current TNA star Doug Williams on an FWA show. Back then he was just plain old Bryan Danielson, and he wore a mask for this match. The FWA smart marks were convinced that it wasn’t actually the famed American Dragon in there with Williams. They soon shut their mouths when they saw him wrestle though.

Since then I’ve seen him in matches from all over the world, tagging with Curry Man in Japan, numerous visits to merry old England, working as a jobber for WWE, and his brilliant career as World Champion in Ring of Honor, delivering five star classics against everyone he stepped into the ring with.

For years I kept wondering why WWE hadn’t taken a chance on him. Now they have, and although I still enjoy his performances I kind of had the feeling that he may drop off the radar a little.

But who knows, he may actually be in the main event at Wrestlemania next year! He has got that briefcase after all!

 9) DEAN MALENKO
This man is probably the greatest pure wrestler not just in my top 40, but in my original shortlist of 100.

I first saw Malenko teaming with his brother Joe and managed by his father Boris many, many years ago on a show on the old Lifestyle channel one Saturday afternoon. It was so long ago I can’t even remember the name of the promotion.

It wasn’t until WCW Monday Nitro was shown on a regular basis over here that I really began to appreciate Malenko’s skills. It began with his memorable series against Rey Mysterio Junior, and continued throughout his WCW and WWE career.

Like the aforementioned American Dragon he could have an excellent match with everyone he stepped in the ring with, and I have to admit that I was really disappointed that WWE didn’t give him a bigger tribute when he retired. Shame on you Vince. Shame on you.

 8) THE UNDERTAKER
Has it really been 21 years since this guy debuted in WWE?

I was in awe when I saw this guy appear as Ted Dibiase’s mystery partner at that year’s Survivor Series. The awe continued as he demolished everyone in his path that night, and continued his rampage while defeating Hulk Hogan for his first WWF title a year later. Needless to say that I cheered like hell when he won.

Whether he was locking the Ultimate Warrior in a coffin or throwing Mankind off the cell, whether he was a Dead Man or an American Bad Ass the man delivered each and every time he stepped into the ring. He truly was the WWE’s franchise, their impact player.

The end may be near for his career, but he certainly has left us with some great memories.

7) C.M. PUNK
I know what you’re thinking. This guy’s only on this list and this high because of what he’s done recently. You couldn’t be more wrong, because I’ve been a fan of Punk’s for years, before he ever stepped foot in a WWE ring.

Like many others on this list I first caught sight of Punk on The Wrestling Channel back in 2004, working for Ring of Honor, Major League Wrestling and TNA among others.

In fact rather than going into hyperbole mode I’ll tell you a story. When Punk was visiting Britain for the FWA I told a certain wrestling promoter that he should get him on his shows. My pitch was that he was well known because of his appearances on The Wrestling Channel, he was a great talker, he had tons of charisma, and he was a hell of a wrestler.

My plea fell on deaf ears. “I can’t see what all the fuss is about myself.” was the reply.

Now Punk is one of the biggest wrestling stars of the 21st century, while this promoter….I’d best leave it there, otherwise he’ll rant about me on Facebook again.
 
 6) KENDO NAGASAKI
Way back in the deep and dark 1970’s Kendo Nagasaki was the first wrestler that stood out from the crowd for this young wrestling fan.

While my Dad was your typical mark, cheering the baby faces and booing the villains every Saturday afternoon this masked man became one of my favourites of all time. He had this aura about him. Even when he officially unmasked the aura remained with him.

Nagasaki was one of those wrestlers who really lived his gimmick. A quick look around his website is a perfect example of how, years after his prime, he still lives it. Kayfabe is a concept that is still alive and well in his life.

But despite all of this the great man is only the second highest ranked Brit on my list. Events during his comeback, which saw him wanting to cut open his opponent with his samurai sword during a match and a somewhat strange companion who goes by the name of Chronos Goth or something like that have kind of devalued him a little in my eyes.

5) KURT ANGLE
The only Olympic gold medallist on this list is one of the true greats of the 21st century, despite a long list of injuries that consistently threaten to end his career.

Like many of you reading this I never had any idea he’d become such a big star when he made his first appearance on pay-per-view against Shawn Stasiak. Within a year he’d won all of the major singles titles in WWE.

Whether it was as a heel or blue eye he always gave it his all. He could have a great match with anyone, no matter what their size or stature.

Despite his injuries he continues to put in top notch performances in his current TNA. There’s constant talk of a switch to mixed martial arts and a return to the Olympics next year, and while it’s admirable that he wants to try new things or return to former glories there’s a big part of me that would like to see him remain fit and healthy in the Impact Zone.
4) STEVE AUSTIN
About 20 years ago watching the USWA on Screensport was a regular thing for me on Monday afternoons. Among the likes of Eric Embry, Tom Prichard, Jerry Lawler and Jeff Jarrett was a  guy with long blonde hair called “Stunning” Steve Austin.

Back then I used to wonder just how successful he’d be if he went up to New York. He soon moved to WCW where he had a great deal of success alone, as part of the Dangerous Alliance and as one half of the Hollywood Blondes with Brian Pillman before being shown the door because the powers that be said they didn’t know how to market him.

A couple of years later and he was a part of the biggest wrestling movement of the 90’s, heading the WWF’s “Attitude” era alongside the Rock, Mick Foley, the Undertaker and Triple H.

The rest, as they say, is history, and if this list had been made ten years ago he’d would probably have been in the number one spot.

3) SHAWN MICHAELS
It’s hard to believe it’s been over 22 years since I first saw the Heartbreak Kid in action, as one half of The Rockers with Marty Janetty, taking on The Twin Towers at Wrestlemania V.

Since then it’s been a pleasure to see him develop into a superstar, the show stopper, the main event who would go on to hold every major title in WWE, despite the fact that he was a colossal pain in the backside in the mid-90’s.

A serious back injury robbed him of several years, but he returned to the ring, winning even more titles and becoming an even greater wrestler than he was before, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I shed a little tear when he retired.

I actually considered putting Michaels at the top of this list. So if he isn’t there, then the top two must be good.

2) THE DYNAMITE KID
For me Tom Billington is the greatest wrestler my homeland has ever produced.

I don’t really remember much about him during the old World of Sport era, but thanks to the often mentioned Wrestling Channel I had the chance to relive some of his greatest moments, and there were quite a few of them.

I saw him go up against the likes of Marc Rocco, Marty Jones, his cousin Davey Boy Smith, and, of course, his perennial foe Satoru Sayama, the first Tiger Mask.

Everything he did was just so intense, and it was easy to see why so many other wrestlers have tried to emulate him over the years.

Sadly life hasn’t been good to him over the past few years. Many have said that he deserves a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, and although I’d love to see it I don’t think it will happen, and that would be a tremendous shame.

1) BRET HART
To those who know me well the fact that the Hitman is at number one will come as no great surprise.

Gorilla Monsoon said it best when he described Hart as having the excellence of execution. For me he’s the best wrestler Canada has ever produced, and the best of all time.

I really can’t speak too highly of him here. Whether it was as one half of the Hart Foundation with Jim Neidhart or in the singles ranks he never had a bad match, and was capable of making the most useless of men look like superstars. Just ask Ted Arcidi.

Sadly his later career will always be known for the Montreal Screw Job and it’s premature end in WCW at the hands of Bill Goldberg, as well as his less than stellar performance against Vince McMahon.

But despite this for me he’ll always be the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be.

Well, that’s your lot. My top 40 all-time favourite wrestlers. It took me quite a while to compile this list, and it was hard to leave out some of those who didn’t make the final cut.

So as I begin life in my 40’s I’d like to thank each and every man and woman (well, most of them) who I’ve watched in the thousands of wrestling since I was a young lad. Some of you were great, some of you were good, and some of you were just plain awful, but at least you had the courage to step between those ropes, which is something I never could have done, even though it was something I wanted to do many, many years ago.

And a final thank you to YOU, the readers of The Two Sheds Review, those of you who have been with me since my debut in The Wrasslin’ Analysis way back in the summer of 2000, and those of you I’ve picked up along the way. Your support, as always, is greatly appreciated.