There is no scientific methodology to declaring the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. Like pornography, I know the Greatest Wrestler of All Time when I see them. That’s is, I swear, how I’m making this list, how I have chosen to explain how 100 different wrestlers can simultaneously be the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. I’m just going through the rolodex of professional wrestlers in my mind and stopping if I have (or would) publicly stake my reputation on giving them the distinction. I have no sense of shame and have no intention on giving you the same ten wrestlers, so yes, Steve “Mongo” McMichael is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time.
I’ve had to delete a few comments from these pieces that are flat out angry in an unproductive way about wrestlers like Mongo and, inexplicably, Owen Hart, so I am going to drop a tweet here that I hope will explain my relationship to the great sport of professional wrestling:
idk anything about wrestling, it’s all just emotion to me
— colette arrand (@colettearrand) July 17, 2021
This is as official a project as anybody else’s Greatest Wrestlers of All Time list (only it’s not a list, and thus no implication that I’m ranking anybody), I just straight up do not care about workrate, title reigns, or money drawn. I care about emotion, the full gamut of it, from joy to anguish, annoyance to adoration. Razor Ramon HG? That’s pure joy. Bret Hart? Adoration. I’ve been watching this medium for so long that it is often difficult to feel something beyond contempt or antipathy. The Greatest Wrestler of All Time breaks through all of that, reminds me of the things that I truly love about wrestling, to say nothing of how they’re capable of validating the long hours I’ve spent with it. It’s all vibes, y’all. Trust them. Relax.
Here is a list of all of the suplexes I know Taz can do off the top of my head: T-bone Tazplex. Belly-to-belly Tazplex. Overhead belly-to-belly Tazplex. Vertical Tazplex. German Tazplex (no bridge, all impact). Northern Lights Tazplex. Tazmission Tazplex. Head and arm Tazplex. Leg capture Tazplex. Tiger Tazplex. Pumphandle Tazplex. Wheelbarrow Tazplex. Backdrop Tazplex. Full Nelson Tazplex. Side Salto Tazplex. Half Nelson Tazplex. Fireman’s Carry Tazplex.
He also appears to be a loving father. I rest my case.
Maybe you think it’s a bit early to call Tay Conti the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. That’s fine, but I have my reasons, the first of which is this: she is legitimately the most exciting squash match wrestler since Goldberg. Engaging squash matches are an art, and while AEW takes its sweet time developing its women’s division, Conti is staking her claim as one of its masters. All of her moves, from her judo throws to her hammerlock DDT, are so smooth and beautiful—it’s like watching a fast break in basketball, or, to be exceptionally lofty, a Bryan Danielson comeback spot, only it’s the whole damn match, just one rolling wave of beautiful, horrifying violence that is frequently punctuated by a breathtaking pump kick. That’s the second reason. I think the kick and all of its permutations is the best wrestling move. I think the pump kick is the coolest kind of kick. Hers? Man. It’s like fireworks popping off at just the perfect moment. I could live in the time it takes her to erase someone’s face with a series of three pump kicks. Greatest Wrestler of All Time? Absolutely.
From 2014 to 2017, no wrestling championship on Earth was better or more important than NJPW’s NEVER Openweight Championship. Tomohiro Ishii held the championship four times during that run, pulling a good last feud from Togi Makabe in the process. He never had long reigns marked by successful defenses, but the deal with Ishii is this: every match with him is a war of attrition—nobody really beats him, they just survive. Anchor of the best division in modern wrestling history and secret ace capable of having bangers up and down the card? The Stone Pitbull is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time.
If squash matches are an art, and they are, one must acknowledge their master as the Greatest Wrestler of All Time, which I do without hesitation. I know a fair number of wrestlers I love have used “he’s just squash matches” to either justify their own decisions or diminish the man, but Goldberg is a perfect 5-15 minute wrestler, someone whose offense works no matter how much time has elapsed, unless his offense is an “MMA inspired” submission. His beef battles against Scott Norton during the streak rule. He quietly has a backlog of matches where he stretched out a little against the likes of Raven, DDP, and Hogan that suggest him as capable of being led. His match against Nash was less an issue of his not having more than 12 minutes in him than it was an issue where the guy laying out the match couldn’t justify his nigh cataclysmic victory. It is what it is, and I love Big Kev, but people have dogged Goldberg for over two decades now, and it feels pretty selective given how much people love to hate Nash and Triple H. Either be disingenuous and hang with the Kliq or declare Goldberg the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. How is this even a choice?
Atsushi Onita is 63 years old and is still blowing himself up. That some of his work in FMW-E looks even more painful than the work he put in during his run in the original FMW is beyond words. He is beyond words, though I’ve written more than a few about him. So instead of a meaty paragraph extolling the man’s virtues, I’ll ask that you take off your hats and rise for the playing of our national anthem.
Dean Malenko famously knows 1,000 holds. In WCW he got to use maybe 150 of them, but I’m willing to believe the dude on the other 850 lest I get stretched by the Iceman. It’s really hard to explain just how over Dean Malenko was when I was a kid, how much of that was a charisma the announcers swore he didn’t have. He carried himself like a man with a purpose, and was so good at playing cool that it really did mean something when he snapped. Unquestionably one of the most influential wrestlers upon this generation of wrestling (beyond his work as a producer), pay your respects to this short king and rise for the playing of our (sadly abbreviated) national anthem.
You know I’m going to do the national anthem thing again, you just don’t know if I’m going Three 6 or salmon suit. SURPRISE, it’s his King of the Ring qualifier against Terry Funk from 1998! Like a lot of big, purposeful wrestlers, Henry didn’t start getting his due until towards the end of his run as an in-ring performer, but given how great he was against wrestlers like Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Bryan Danielson, he absolutely ranks as one of those wrestlers who was just a bit before his time given the makeup of both WWE and AEW today. The Hall of Pain was one of the best short-term runs of all time, something that served as a precursor to both Bobby Lashley’s recent WWE Championship run and Roman Reigns’ current one while allowing him to threaten people to make them pay for the right to breathe. And yes, his theme song, to say nothing of the salmon suit. But here’s why Mark Henry is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time: he was one of four men in the ECW Monster Mash Battle Royal, an achievement more rare, more enviable than any powerslam on John Cena.
There are wrestlers who main evented arenas and wrestlers who made grown men and women cry, but not a lot who did both. Junkyard Dog is one of those wrestlers, and in my opinion, anybody capable of that feat is worthy of being called the Greatest Wrestler of All Time. While he wasn’t a great lower-case-w wrestler even at his peak, he was one of the most charismatic, sympathetic babyfaces of his era, which counts a lot more than workrate if we’re being honest. JYD’s work as a babyface is…man. Check out the video of him selling the Freebirds’ “hair removal cream,” then imagine this man talking about how he couldn’t see his baby daughter. Push that out to 1987 and make it a crushed larynx and you’ve got yourself the makings of the WrestleMania III barnburner between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. What we’re talking about is elemental wrestling. And if the story about a fan pulling a gun on Michael Hayes on JYD’s behalf is true? Pump up the volume on the Dog being the Greatest Wrestler of All Time, hoss.
Call it a hunch, but Hook has strong Greatest Wrestler of All Time energy.
If I have to tell you why Bryan Danielson is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time, you must live in a dark, deep hole that gets enough internet access for me to tell you, but not enough for me to provide crucial evidence. Is it kicks? No. Is it submissions? No. Is it his obvious, possibly reckless enthusiasm for professional wrestling? No. Is it a combination of those three things and several thousand others? Yes, but there’s also the simple, straight-line efficiency of the criteria I established for Junkyard Dog: He can main event an arena, and he can make the audience cry. The ability to make a large room feel intimate is insanely rare, more like a gift than a skill I’d wager. I’ve seen Danielson wrestle in a flea market and I saw him win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXX—he and Eddie Kingston made the former venue feel much larger than it was, and he made his triumph in New Orleans feel like it was happening in a space built just for me. That’s magic, y’all. That’s Greatest Wrestler of All Time grade magic.