Every decade had wrestlers that meant more than the roster. When you try to pick the best wrestlers, win-loss records don’t mean much since winners since there is so much more to wrestling than that.
The impact left behind of a wrestler is often a deciding factor if someone was “the best”. Will anyone argue that Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock weren’t the best in the late ’90s when they helped WWF defeat WCW in the rating war?
This isn’t about the 1990s. What we will be looking at is the best wrestlers from the 1980s that left the biggest impact so professional wrestling would continue to be enjoyed for decades to come by fans of the next generation.
Everything is an opinion, there is no right or wrong especially when you factor in the different regions of the world. This article will cover North America only as we breakdown the
21 Best Wrestlers Of The 1980s
Some people may think that Windham could have achieved more if Ric Flair wasn’t as great as he was. In 1986, they were in the same company and wrestled regularly. Some matches ended in 60-minute draws and some bouts went even longer.
Windham would sporadically team up with Lex Luger. In 1987 Luger would turn his back on Windham wanting to join the Four Horsemen. Windham would return the favor and join the Four Horsemen himself about a year later.
Jerry “The King” Lawler
Most wrestling fans today know Jerry “The King” Lawler from being a commentator for Monday Night Raw alongside Vince McMahon, Jim Ross, and later Michael Cole. However, Jerry “The King” Lawler started his wrestling career in the 1970s.
While there are many great feuds, his most notorious rivalry was the one against Andy Kaufman. Jerry Lawler delivered a second piledriver to Kaufman after their match was over and nearly broke Kaufman’s neck.
When they appeared on the Late Night Show with David Letterman, Lawler punched him in the face. Jerry Lawler has claimed that he and Andy Kaufman are friends and everything on screen was a work.
Arn Anderson was one of the original members of the Four Horsemen and some claim Arn was the reason The Horsemen stuck together.
Arn Anderson did wrestle in WWF but didn’t have much success until he formed The Horsemen with Ric, Ole, and Tully.
As part of The Horsemen, Arn Anderson had feuds with legendary teams like The Rock and Roll Express and The Road Warriors. Arn Anderson also feuded with singles superstars like Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A.
Many people don’t realize how important Tito Santana was connecting the Hogan Era of WWF to The New Generation Era.
Tito Santana is a two-time Intercontinental Champion and also held the WWF tag titles twice. One with Ivan Putski and once with Rick Martel.
Tito Santana had also won the untelevised 1989 King Of The Ring and competed at all of the first nine Wrestlemanias. Tito Santana never turned heel in the WWF and no one has accused Tito Santana of having a bad match.
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
If you were a fan of wrestling during the 1980s then you know who “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan is.
Jim Duggan won the first-ever Royal Rumble that was televised on the USA Network but WWE is not the only place Jim Duggan had found success.
Jim Duggan had won the United States Championship in WCW and was the final Television Champion in the federation. Duggan also won the IC Title in WWF. Despite his huge success, Duggan never wrestled for a World Title in either company.
Ravishing” Rick Rude
Rick Rude was active as a wrestler from 1982 onward and wrestled his retirement match in 1997. Rick Rude held 14 belts during his wrestling career and while he fought for the WWE title, he never held it.
After 1994, Rick Rude would become a manager. He is one of the original members of D-Generation X along with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna.
He is the only man to appear on Monday Night RAW and Monday Nitro on the same night which happened right after the 1997 Survivor Series. After an injury, Rick Rude would go on to manage Curt Hennig and also joined the New World Order. He is the only wrestler to be a member of the NWO and DX.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Before we had Brian Pillman doing his loose cannon gimmick in the ’90s, there was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Roddy Piper was a great wrestler and he was a great talker which helped him become legendary. Everybody remembers Piper’s Pit with “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka.
What was so legendary about Piper’s Pit segments is this was done when most wrestlers didn’t get time on the microphone. Usually, interviews were reserved for the champion and they were cookie-cutter when the champion was interviewed by an announcer.
When you think of WrestleMania, Roddy Piper played a big part because the Hulkster needed enemies to wrestle against. The Hot Rod was in the main event of the very first WrestleMania when he teamed with Paul Orndorff to take on Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
MMA fighter Ronda Rousey was also called “Rowdy” by the people who knew her. Rousey was not going to use “Rowdy” because she didn’t want to risk tarnishing Piper’s legacy. When the two met, he gave her permission to use the nickname.
Before Hulkamania defeated the Iron Sheik to win the WWF Championship, The Iron Sheik had defeated Bob Backlund. When Bob Backlund got his re-match, Backlund was announced to be injured which was kayfabe. That’s why Hogan took Backlund’s place.
Later on, Bob Backlund would become a manager and an on-air personality. Bob Backlund managed Kurt Angle after returning at the 2000 Royal Rumble until Kurt fired him at Wrestlemania a couple of months later.
When Curt Hennig wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation, he was given the name Mr. Perfect.
The athleticism that Curt Hennig possessed is what helped make him believable as a man with the last name Perfect. In fact, his technical wrestling was so good that many fans of the sport liked him even though he was supposed to be hated.
Curt Hennig has held 15 titles during his time as a wrestler and has been part of just about every heel stable from the Heenan Family to the NWO.
When he won the Intercontinental Championship, he became the longest title holder of the 1990s.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts has won 15 championships and surprisingly never held any gold in World Wrestling Entertainment.
Jake lost the finals of the 1996 King Of The Ring Tournament to Stone Cold Steve Austin. This was Austin’s launching pad.
Jake Roberts always had the gift of gab when he was speaking on the microphone and he always carried a snake to the ring and would spring it on opponents.
With Roberts highs came some sad lows as well, like the events of Heroes Of Wrestling pay-per-view in 1997.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts currently works as a manager for Lance Archer in All Elite Wrestling. He was always one of my favorites growing up and it makes me so happy to see the recovery he has made.
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes
If Ric Flair was the top heel in NWA, then Dusty Rhodes was the top babyface. In addition to being one of the top babyfaces, he has been responsible for many innovations in wrestling that are still used today.
War Games was created by Dusty Rhodes. Two wrestling rings surrounded by a steel cage and could only be won when somebody submits or surrenders. If you watch Impact Wrestling, Lethal Lockdown was a form of War Games. So was Blood & Guts from AEW.
WrestleMania was the SuperCard for WWE. The SuperCard for WCW would be Starrcade. The original Starrcade was run by Jim Crockett Promotions which would eventually become WCW. Starrcade was originally on Thanksgiving until WWE ran head-to-head with Survivor Series.
While Dusty Rhodes passed away in 2015, the legacy of the Rhodes family continues through his sons: Dustin and Cody. Many wrestlers in WWE like Sasha Banks and Bayley credit Dusty for helping them find their on-screen personas.
When many people think of Ricky Steamboat, they think about him and Randy Savage tearing the house down at WrestleMania 3 over the Intercontinental Championship. This match is looked at as the greatest of all time by some fans.
Ricky Steamboat had even more success in WCW. He won the NWA Championship from Ric Flair after pinning him at the Chi-Town Rumble. Steamboat would retain at Clash Of The Champions VI then lose the title at WrestleWar.
Kerry Von Erich
Does any family in wrestling have a dark history like the Von Erichs do? Most people remember the Von Erichs from when Kevin and Kerry would take on the Fabolous Freebirds. That rivalry between the Von Erichs and Freebirds is memorable to wrestling fans in the South.
Kerry Von Erich did have success winning a total of 40 championships from numerous companies throughout his career.
Kerry Von Erich as the Texas Tornado handed Mr. Perfect his first loss when he defeated Mr. Perfect to win the Intercontinental Championship.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase has won thirty championships across all the promotions he worked for.
Everybody has complimented Ted DiBiase for his ability to work as a heel as well as his skills as a technical wrestler.
In addition to the championships that Ted DiBiase has held, Ted DiBiase has also won the untelevised 1988 King Of The Ring. He is also responsible for the Million Dollar Championship that he and his proteges have held.
The Ultimate Warrior
Depending on whom you ask, you will be met with differing opinions of the Ulitmate Warrior. The Ultimate Warrior had success winning the Intercontinental Championship defeating Rick Rude and Honky Tonk Man when he first hit WWE in 1987.
In the early 90s was when The Ultimate Warrior enjoyed his biggest success when he defeated Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI for the WWF Championship and defeated “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Mania VII the following year in a loser must retire match.
Realizing they could not milk Hulkamania forever they started looking for the next big thing. They thought it would be the Ultimate Warrior but he didn’t draw as much money as the Hulkster did which is why he only had one reign.
For those who claim the Ultimate Warrior had no skill, Chris Jericho stated “The Ultimate Warrior was underrated as a wrestler because he could have good matches.”, and he did. That claim was made in the 2005 “Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” DVD.
Andre The Giant
While Andre The Giant began wrestling in the 1960s, he was still in the main event picture of WWE during most of the 80s. Showdown At Shae Stadium was when he defeated newcomer Hulk Hogan in their first-ever meeting.
When Hulk Hogan eventually won the WWF Title and there is even footage of Andre spraying him with champagne and celebrating with his now friend.
The first Wrestlemania featured Andre taking on Big John Studd in a bodyslam match.
In 1987, Andre turned heel by aligning himself with Bobby Heenan to come after the WWF championship. Andre had also feuded with the Ultimate Warrior. Unfortunately, after WM3, Andre’s abilities began to decrease just like his health.
In 1993, the WWE created their Hall of Fame and Andre The Giant was the first person to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame.
In March of 2014, a battle royal named Andre The Giant Memorial was announced to take place at Wrestlemania and the winner of the battle royal would win a trophy resembling the legend. Cesaro won the battle royal after eliminating Big Show with a body slam.
Sting rose to stardom after wrestling to a 45-minute draw with “The Nature Boy” at Clash of The Champions in 1988. That became the launchpad for Sting and it was only a couple of years later when Sting would win his first World Championship.
Hulk Hogan has said that when you talk about the greatest wrestlers of all time, Sting should be part of that conversation. In 1999 Sting defended the World Championship against Diamond Dallas Page and that has been named the greatest match to air on WCW Nitro.
Many of the opponents that wrestled with Sting in WCW had sung Sting’s praises. Big Van Vader said Sting is one of the best in-ring performers. Ric Flair said Sting was his greatest opponent. Diamond Dallas Page has said Sting was the guy everyone wanted to be.
In 2012, Impact Wrestling began their own Hall Of Fame and the first inductee was Sting who was a part of the main roster at the time. Many current names John Cena, Shelton Benjamin, Tommy Dreamer, and many others have all been influenced by Sting in one way or another.
Bret “The Hitman” Hart
There are very few families that make you think of wrestling when you hear their name. One family that is synonymous with wrestling is the Hart family. Out of all the family members that were involved in the sport, no one enjoyed more success than Bret Hart.
Bret Hart had his first match in Stampede Wrestling in 1978. He has won 32 different championships during his wrestling career. The championships won from World Wrestling Entertainment and WCW only add up to 17 of his titles.
He is a triple crown champion in WWE and WCW. Bret Hart is the only wrestler to win the WWE King of the Ring twice and Bret is a co-winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble. During the 90s, Bret Hart holds the record for most combined days as a WWE Champion.
He has also been inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame twice. Once for his singles career and once as one-half of the tag team, The Hart Foundation. Even people who don’t like wrestling recognize the name of Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage
When you think of 80s champions, how long does it take before you start thinking of The Macho Man? When Hulk wrestled Andre at WrestleMania 3, Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat for the IC title happened on the same show and is also looked at as another main event.
In 1988, Randy Savage won the vacated WWF championship in a tournament when Hulk Hogan came out to watch Randy’s back while Andre The Giant was trying to help Ted DiBiase cheat to win. Hulk and Randy would then form the Mega Powers.
The main event the next year was the implosion of the Mega Powers when the tag team partners would have to face each other. Two years later was the infamous retirement match against The Ultimate Warrior. But Randy Savage would continue his in-ring career in WCW.
Randy Savage was in the six-man tag along with Sting and Luger to defend WCW against Nash, Hall, and their mystery partner. Later Randy Savage would join the NWO. While in the NWO, he helped Diamond Dallas Page become a big main eventer.
When Randy Savage was asked what he wanted the finish of his first match to be against Diamond Dallas Page, Randy said he wanted Diamond Dallas Page to go over. This was the rivalry that helped Diamond Dallas Page become a bigger star.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Depending on where you grew up, You may think Ric Flair deserved the #1 spot on this list. Just like you can look back with nostalgia at Hulk Hogan performing in the first WrestleManias, he was wrestling hour-long matches keeping the NWA alive.
Everybody knows Ric Flair is credited with winning 16 World Championships. In addition to those championship wins, he helped the career of countless other wrestlers whether they were rivals or allies.
In 1988 at the first-ever Clash of the Champions, he and Sting wrestled to a draw for 45 minutes. While Sting did not win the championship, this match was responsible for launching his career.
Ric Flair was also responsible for launching other careers. There were many variations of “The Four Horsemen” Wrestlers that would benefit were Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Lex Luger despite not being original members. Ric Flair helped keep companies alive.
Many people in World Wrestling Entertainment say “If there was no Vince McMahon, there would be no WrestleMania.” WrestleMania wouldn’t exist if there were no big names to wrestle regardless of who was running the company.
The push for Hulk Hogan started when he defeated the Iron Sheik for the WWF Championship in 1984. The next year was the first WrestleMania and Hogan teamed with Mr. T in the main event.
Hogan would continue to be in the main event of WWF’s biggest shows for years to come. People criticize him for only having a few moves in his repertoire and those people are misinformed.
If you watch some of his matches from Japan, you will see a very different fighter. That is because, in Japan, Hulk knew he couldn’t get away with a few fists, a bodyslam, and a leg drop.
People who think Hulk Hogan had a few different moves would be surprised to see what he is really capable of.