This is not a list.
I cannot stress that enough. I love lists, I like how they reveal the biases and blind spots of the communities that put them together, but this is not a list. Rather, it is a gathering together of wrestlers who I have (or would) called The Greatest Wrestler of All Time.
Yes, there are multiple of them. Again, no, this is not a ranked list. I have called so many men and women throughout the history of the great sport of professional wrestling its greatest practitioner that non fans like poet Nikki Wallschlaeger have called me out on it.
I feel like u say this alot about wrestlers, I don't know what it means, but it signals that you're happy, so I like it lol
— Nikki Wallschlaeger (@nikkimwalls) September 12, 2021
Here’s the thing: Every time I call a wrestler the Greatest of All Time, I am absolutely sincere in doing so. I’ve seen a lot of wrestling and I have a weird brain, so I’m cursed to walk this earth with cogent arguments for probably 200 or so wrestlers, though to keep this brief I’m going to keep things to 100.
You’re not going to be happy with who does and does not rank as Greatest Wrestler of All Time, and that’s fine. You’re welcome to have as many as you like, for whatever reason. Me? Generally speaking what I’m talking about when it comes to the Greatest is who makes me Happy when I watch them. Notice the capitalization. Towards the end of his life, Roger Ebert was taken with writing about frisson, or uplift, a tangible thrill that runs through a person as they experience something. That doesn’t always happen, even with wrestlers commonly considered to be the greatest, but I’m not common, and I’m not talking great. I’m talking Greatest, y’all.
Inside Toru Yano there are two wolves. The first wolf is a guy who can beat you by taping you to a guardrail or tricking you into pity buying one of his DVDs. The other will threaten to stab you with a pair of scissors. Both of them, if the line of convenience store curries, the cookbook, and the Instagram focused more on food than wrestling are any indication, seem to be enjoying life. I don’t need to justify my selection of Toru Yano as Greatest Wrestler of All Time—real fans of the great sport of professional wrestling already know. But a lot of Yano’s charm comes from his ability to project that wrestling is really just a thing he does for fun, one of a half-dozen side hustles that’ve somehow assembled themselves into something resembling a life. He’s a king, and you can either recognize royalty or worry about your five star classics somewhere else.
The most incredible thing to me is that William Regal grew out the coif he currently sports relatively late in his career, otherwise dedicating himself to uglying up for the sake of heel heat. When I was a kid, he regularly wrestled luchadors on WCW Saturday Night and strutted like a chicken. When I was an adult, he once threatened to end an episode of Raw early, then did us a favor and did so, cut to black, roll Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I have had to explain both of these things to people I’ve been dumb enough to give an earnest answer to when I’m asked “who is your favorite wrestler,” but thankfully smartphones exist now and I can just show them his luxurious mane.
Big Van Vader
Yeah, duh. Big man, mean punches, 450-pound moonsault. Big Van Vader is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time for sure. My favorite Vader bit is from UWFI, where he had to explain how his punches were legal. In a very calm and measured voice, he demonstrated how he went in with a closed fist, but opened it up at the last second so that it was an open palm strike. I had never questioned Vader’s punches before, but you could tell dude was a little hurt by the accusation, and a little enthusiastic about getting into the science of how he fucked someone up. I like that in a guy.
Literally the only good thing about D-Generation X.
C’mon. Anybody whose theme song can make me cry is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time.
Which means CM Punk is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time
I saw him live a few years ago, and watching an old skeleton shake his ass to George Thorogood & The Destroyers’ “Bad to the Bone” is an act you must see. He was selling kitchen aprons, and to this day I regret not buying one. He also has the best taunts in WCW/nWo Revenge on the N64.
1998 was a weird year in pro wrestling. It was also Booker T’s year. Breaking out of Harlem Heat and becoming TV Champion, Booker was at the helm of what was briefly the most contested pure wrestling championship in the sport. He’s had other great runs, but when I think of him, it’s from that year, and yes, one utterly transcendent year can make you the Greatest Wrestler of All Time.
Steve “Mongo” McMichael
One-time Super Bowl Champion Steve “Mongo” McMichael is my favorite “project wrestler,” a genre of professional wrestler who is learning on the clock, wrestling way before they’re really ready to due to his or his promoter’s belief that he’ll get it someday. A cut above the usual project wrestler in that he, like Lex Luger and Sid Vicious, was a project Horseman, Mongo never quite did achieve mastery of his craft, but he was always ridiculously fun to watch, throwing dudes around and yelling country shit when he was tussling with other big boys. If your vision of what WCW was is complete without him, your vision is trash.
Stan Hansen is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. Those are just facts. You look at that dude—a big-ass cowboy with nicknames like “The Unsinkable Battleship” and “The Unstoppable Dump Truck”—and you can just feel the violence of an era of wrestling long passed. An inspiration to legally blind people like me, Hansen couldn’t see without his glasses and didn’t wear contacts, so his solution to the problem of putting together a wrestling match against the vaguely defined blur across the ring from him was to kick and punch and swing his massive arms at a fella as hard as he possibly could. When he hit, which was “most of the time,” the result was spectacular, the kind of neat, simple brutality that has a music just as beautiful as the best technical or high flying wrestling, supposing you have an ear for it. I do, and Stan is one of its best players.
The Greatest Wrestler of All Time updates on Friday.