WHO is on the Mount Rushmore of wrestling? It’s one of the most frequently debated topics by both fans and wrestlers alike.
It’s about more than wrestling skills.
To achieve legendary status in wrestling, a superstar needs to have charisma, box office clout and an impact that changes the sport forever.
Looking back at wrestling history, these are the four superstars who deserve a place on the Mount Rushmore of WWE.
Thirty-six years after he first became WWE Champion, the Hulkster is still the most important performer in modern wrestling history.
By the time he was made WWE Champ, Hulk Hogan had already been a star attraction in the AWA and Japan. He also played a cameo role in Rocky III.
Hogan’s immense popularity turned WWE into a national and later global juggernaut and launched WrestleMania.
His blockbuster match with Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III made WWE what it is today. He rejuvenated the business again in the mid-90s when he became leader of the New World Order.
Though he’s not known for his technical wizardry, Hogan was a master of arguably the most important skill in wrestling – connecting with and controlling the crowd.
Just watch him going face-to-face with The Rock at WrestleMania X8 and steal the fans from under the nose of the hugely charismatic Rock.
Hogan was also a much better wrestler than critics give him credit for (see more athletic matches in Japan) but Hulk had the smarts to work a style that kept him at the top for decades.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
If Hulk Hogan made modern wrestling what it is, Stone Cold changed it forever in the late 1990s. He led WWE into its hottest period ever – the Attitude Era.
Austin was Attitude personified – drinking beer, flipping middle fingers and generally raising hell.
Austin was already a brilliant technical wrestler. Just watch his I Quit match against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13.
Even a broken neck – suffered from a botched piledriver in August 1997 – didn’t stop him. He changed his in-ring style to ferocious brawling and became even more popular.
Austin’s real gift was unparalleled intensity – both in matches and on the microphone.
Stone Cold’s fired-up performances tore the house down and turned WWE into a cultural phenomenon. No one was ever hotter – or received hotter reactions – than Austin in 1998-99.
His three greatest rivalries – against Mr McMahon, The Rock, and Bret Hart – remain three of the best ever.
As a pure in-ring talent, nobody did it better than “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. He reinvented himself – and WWE along with him – more than once.
Originally one half of high-flying tag team The Rockers, Michaels was an exciting performer when he arrived in WWE in the late 1980s.
Becoming a breakout singles in the 1990s, he was part of the “New Generation” that changed WWE from lumbering big man wrestling to a more athletic style.
He pioneered the ladder match and had multiple Intercontinental Championship runs.
As world champ in 1996, HBK shouldered the company as it battled WCW in the “Monday Night War” – while also raising the bar for sheer quality of action in main event matches.
Behind the scenes, Shawn’s backstage crew "The Kliq" were a major force in dragging wrestling out of the cartoon era and creating what became known as Attitude.
After a career-threatening back injury he returned to action in 2002 and had more all-time classics against superstars such as Undertaker, Triple H, Kurt Angle and John Cena.
No superstar has exemplified WWE’s brand of “sports-entertainment” better than the legendary Deadman.
Debuting in 1990, Undertaker would become wrestling’s greatest gimmick ever. The secret of his longevity has been constant reinvention.
As the last true relic of the Hulkamania era, the Deadman has presided over every era since. He announced his retirement this year after defeating AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match.
Undertaker was more than just a gimmick. At 6’10”, he’s WWE’s best ever “big man” style wrestler and had classic matchups across generations.
Taker’s best matches came during the 2007-13 period, when he defended his WrestleMania undefeated streak, which lasted an incredible 21 years.
“The Streak” became more important than the WWE Championship itself. It was intrinsic to the fabric of WWE and its closely-held sense of history.
It’s no coincidence that the aura of the Undertaker (and arguably WrestleMania itself) hasn’t been the same since WWE sacrificed the Streak to Brock Lesnar in 2014.
Here are some honorable mention superstars worthy of consideration for the WWE Mount Rushmore.
Le Champion and Inner Circle head honcho himself, Chris Jericho was WWE’s first undisputed world champion when he defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night in 2001.
For years prior to his success in WWE, Jericho held titles and competed all over Mexico, the United States and Japan for various promotions.
He was also a workhorse in the WWE, becoming the company’s only nine-time Intercontinental champion.
Since his undisputed title reign, Jericho has continued to reinvent himself in the wrestling world, winning several world titles afterward and even becoming the inaugural All Elite Wrestling world champion.
Andre the Giant
“The 8th Wonder of the World," Andre the Giant was one of the pillars of the WWE during the 1970s.
His start in the wrestling business began in the 60s, where he wrestled around the world as fans bought tickets to see the 7’4 giant toss grown men around.
He made his WWE debut in 1973, where he wrestled for years as a face, which in the business is a heroic or a “good guy” wrestler aimed at being cheered by fans.
Although, Andre’s most memorable moments came as a villain that challenged the immortal Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III, shattering attendance records.
A man who needs no introduction, “The Game” Triple H is one of the most decorated wrestlers in the WWE.
He debuted in 1995, under the name Hunter Hearst Helmsley, which he later adopted the name Triple H.
A product of the WWE, Triple H would become a five-time World Heavyweight Champion and a nine-time WWE champion.
Occasionally “The Game” does come out to wrestle in featured bouts, but his main focus is outside of the ring as the Executive Vice President of Global Talent for WWE.
He uses his role to scout new wrestlers for WWE’s developmental system and the mastermind behind NXT.
John Cena became the face of WWE as it transitioned from the Attitude Era to what it is now – a slick corporate machine, highly polished and kid-friendly.
He’s had killer matches throughout his multiple title reigns. But fans have criticised him for his unrealistic performances and treatment of new talent.
Whether you cheer or boo him, Cena’s drawing power is undeniable – as proved by diminishing ratings since he departed for Hollywood.
It’s the question that rages on about the Attitude Era – The Rock or Stone Cold?
Rock’s mic skills and charisma were off the chart. He was also a superb in-ring worker and had some of the best WrestleMania matches of all time against Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan.
Without Austin at the forefront of the Attitude Era, there’s little doubt Rock would have been the man to change wrestling.
Much more than just brute force and freakish athleticism, Brock Lesnar has a mind for the psychology of wrestling. He’s an underrated storyteller in the ring.
See his performance in this year’s Royal Rumble – the finest ever Rumble match – which he carried almost single-handedly for 30 minutes.
Fans have complained about Lesnar's part-time schedule, but he’s a true box office attraction. WWE titles mean more around the waist of “The Beast.”
The “Hitman” was a professional wrestling artist – a master of in-ring storytelling. Many big name wrestlers from in the 90s had their best matches against him.
As de facto leader of the mid-1990s “New Generation”, Hart raised the standard of wrestling. In 1997 he also had an incredible heel run.
Despite being a five-time WWE champ, Bret is let down by the lack of meaningful, era-defining title run.
“The Nature Boy” is considered by fans and his fellow wrestling peers to be the greatest world champion ever.
Ric Flair was praised for his ability to wrestle hour-long matches while defending the NWA championship early every night.
His endurance in the ring served him well, leading him to winning the 1992 Royal Rumble and his first WWE Championship after wrestling over an hour.
A savant on the mic and an unparalleled ability to cut promos made Flair must-watch TV.
He found success outside of the WWE as well – winning the WCW World Championship in 1994 after defeating Sting.
Flair is a two-time WWE Hall of Famer as he and his Four Horsemen faction were inducted.
Sprinting to the ring with a catchy rock tune, flexing his muscles, sporting colorful wrestling attire and face-paint is what made the Ultimate Warrior.
Making his WWE debut in 1987, the Ultimate Warrior was one of the most popular wrestlers from the mid-80s to the 1990s.
Fans loved the Ultimate Warrior’s high energy, massive physique and rope-shaking charisma.
His popularity would put him at top of the company in 1990 when he won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania VI.
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