In this edition of the Roundtable, the staff gives their picks for a Wrestling Mount Rushmore.
I think when you look at a Wrestling Mount Rushmore, it’s conventional wisdom to segregate your choices by era. However, personal preference has to play a role, too, as that’s what makes this a fun exercise.
For me, I think you need to include guys who are sort of synonymous with professional wrestling and Ric Flair immediately comes to mind. Flair is the standard bearer for combining a flamboyant character with flawless in-ring work, so he has to be included. The most remarkable thing about Flair, perhaps, is that he made more stars than you can count on two hands, all of which could be argued for this list. He made them all without diminishing his own star, which has shone bright for nearly 40 years.
Vince McMahon once said the two most important things in wrestling are talent and television. Well, he was a hell of a talent in his heyday, and without him, there is no wrestling on TV nowadays. Yes, his recent decisions will leave you scratching your head sometimes. But without McMahon, there is no Hogan, there is no Rock n’ Wrestling, there is no WrestleMania, there is no Undertaker, and certainly, no WWE.
They say the brightest stars fade the fastest and that holds true for “Stone Cold.” While Steve Austin didn’t have the main event longevity of Hogan or Cena, his time on top helped transform wrestling. The business was never more popular than it was when Austin reigned supreme, plus his style had a ripple effect on the entire industry for a good decade after he retired. Add this to the fact that unlike Hogan or Cena, Austin was not the “handpicked” cash cow. Instead, he came into the fold with a massive chip on his shoulder, got himself over and transformed the business with minimal help from McMahon…well, unless you count the feud that put a nail in WCW’s coffin, which further justifies McMahon’s spot on the list.
Andre the Giant
The notable omission of a certain Hulkster on this list is two-fold. To quote Drake, Hogan has come back, “on his worst behavior” since leaving TNA. Certain things he has done and said have certainly put somewhat of a dent in his legacy. Secondly, he had a lot of help in making it to the top.
While Cena’s run is somewhat comparable to Hogan’s, nobody’s run can be compared to that of Andre the Giant. There was only one Andre and several urban legends regarding feats of strength, consumption and dare I say sex have immortalized him in pro wrestling lore. He had tremendous agility and coordination for a man his size, particularly in the 1970s. He was perhaps the top draw in the entire world pre-Rock ‘n’ Wrestling.
Of course, my personal Mount Rushmore takes less thought. Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin and Kurt Angle are all, in my opinion the standard bearers for the way wrestling needs to be, which is a Petri dish of comedy, character development, athleticism and suspense.
I would have to choose Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and John Cena. I may get crucified with my Cena pick, but no one has put WWE more on the map in the past 15 years than him.
My first two spots were easiest to figure out: Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Whether Corrigan likes it or not, the Hulkster took wrestling into the mainstream and made it insanely popular. Stone Cold is the probably the most popular wrestler to ever lace up the boots, and a top 3 overall entertainer as well. I think if you asked 100 wrestling fans to give their three favorite wrestlers of all time, the Texas Rattlesnake would be in 90% of them. I don’t think there is anyone more deserving of a spot.
Now, as Corrigan can attest, I am no huge Ric Flair fan. However, objectively, Mount Rushmore would not be Mount Rushmore without the Dirtiest Player in the Game. Flair stands the test of time and always will.
The last spot came down to two guys: The Rock and John Cena. Rock may be much more loved, but Cena has the longevity advantage. Take it easy, I opted for The Rock because he is the best to EVER do it on the mic. I know all the wrestling purists will have a meltdown knowing someone even considered Cena for the Mount Rushmore of Wrestling but he really deserves to be in the discussion. I’ll save the Cena praise for another time, though.
I know this is the same Mount Rushmore that good ol’ J.R. gave, but I am not going to pick someone different just for the sake of it. I truly believe these four gents are the most deserving.
My George Washington: “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair? Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan? Growing up as a wrestling fan, that was a question that got asked a lot amongst my friends. I always did and still do pick Ric. The Nature Boy’s spot on Rushmore boils down to two main factors for me: career longevity and his ability to inspire others. Flair has maintained the same character virtually his entire career, and while he may never have shone quite as bright as Hogan, cumulatively, he has had the proverbial spotlight on him longer than Hogan ever did. Flair’s never-ending charisma, humor and charm alone could have earned him a place on Rushmore. He truly is one of the best talkers that ever was and ever will be. When Flair became the Dirtiest Player in the Game, his “win at all cost but cheat if you can” style became cool for the first time in mainstream wrestling.
My Thomas Jefferson: “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
It only feels appropriate that my first pick inspired, trained and in a lot of ways passed his legacy off to my second pick – Shawn Michaels. He started off as an innovative high flyer as a way to break into an industry where he was considered too small to be a serious contender for the world title. But HBK wasn’t content with just that, much as he never really seemed content with being second place at anything. He set himself apart during the era of Doinks and Earthquakes and IRS’s by keeping his character very grounded. Shawn’s promo work even during his early days gave his matches a real emotional weight and made him look like a star.
On top of this, his wrestling acumen is second to none. HBK is widely accepted as the greatest in-ring performer of all time. His role in kicking off the Attitude Era with D-Generation X and helping Raw win the Monday Night Wars certainly can’t be overlooked either. Finally, Shawn Michaels is the reason I started watching WWE and professional wrestling in the first place, so how could I not include him on my Mount Rushmore?
My Teddy Roosevelt: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Now while I believe D-Generation X started the Attitude Era, it was the crazy antics of a rebellious Stone Cold Steve Austin that catapulted it to new heights. Not only was his promo work incredible, but he really became the master of getting catchphrases to catch on (love it or hate it). He was embraced as a hero by blue-collar and white-collar fans alike. He’s no HBK in the ring, but Austin has had plenty of classic matches of his own. Along with The Rock (who didn’t end up in this spot only because Stone Cold won two out of three at Mania), he oversaw the last great era when wrestling was considered “cool” by the mainstream pop culture. He’s a figure who comes around once in generation. One can only wonder what his legacy might be today had his career not been cut so short.
My Abraham Lincoln: John Cena
Certainly a controversial pick, but then again, John Cena has been known to stir controversy. It has taken me a long time to become a John Cena fan. So long, in fact, that it seems I almost missed jumping on the bandwagon, with Cena admitting recently that he has more matches behind him then he has ahead of him. When he burst onto the scene in 2002, Cena was a babyface with no fire and as milquetoast as they come. But he soon became a heel with his “Doctor of Thuganomics” persona – a gimmick so uncool, it somehow managed to loop back around and became cool again. His natural charisma finally began to shine through, the crowd grew to love it and he turned babyface again. His indommitable hustle got him to the WWE Title a short three years after debuting on the main roster.
Then everything changed – WWE went PG and the Chain Gang Soldier was the first real casualty of this change. Cena managed to adapt well though, and as a result has become this generation’s Hulk Hogan, but without a lot of Hulk’s real life… idiosyncracies. He never used drugs, never did or said anything to embarrass the company that he worked for, and has, remarkably, stayed squeaky clean his entire career. Cena was WWE’s perfect poster boy in an era where that wasn’t always considered cool. Of course he can talk with the best of them, but it’s really been in the last five years or so that I’ve come to recognize Cena’s role as one of the great ring generals of all time. Sure, he’s had incredible matches with some of the greats, but I believe the thing that truly sets Cena apart in the ring is his ability to carry up and coming stars to great heights. And, whether you like it or not, he’s tied with Flair with 16 world titles (and all with the same company, no less). “Big Match John” is a well deserved nickname and despite whatever anyone else thinks, I know I’ll happily chant “Let’s Go Cena” whenever he makes his return to the squared circle.
Can you believe two people, almost three, picked Cena? Such a sick, demented world we’re living in.
The G.O.A.T. already has Space Mountain, but he’s generous enough to let these three other scrubs rub shoulders with his $50,000 robe. In addition to his unprecedented in-ring achievements, The Nature Boy was the sole reason Ted Turner purchased WCW, subsequently changing the industry.
He’s still the most recognizable pro wrestler on the planet. Despite WWE’s attempts to edit history, the Hulkster’s issues in his personal life will never diminish his herculean effort in catapulting wrasslin’ into mainstream pop culture.
What Hogan did in the Eighties, Stone Cold did even better in the Nineties. He drew more buys, popped more ratings, sold out more buildings and sold more T-shirts than any wrestler ever. The crimson face of the Attitude Era carried pro wrestling to its zenith, opening a can of whoop ass on WCW and leading WWE into victory.
Nobody has been more influential to pro wrestling than Vince McMahon. He transformed the landscape, conquering the territorial structure and ultimately replacing it with a monopoly. He’s the greatest promoter in sports and entertainment history, cultivating an American art form for four decades, producing countless childhood memories for generations.
His combination of all-around greatness, longevity and star power makes him the easiest choice for this. His only weakness was not knowing when to quit.
Mr. Wrestlemania is the best big-match performer in wrestling history. He’s worked well with everyone and even makes his bad matches entertaining.
Despite a relatively short peak, he climbed higher than just about anyone else and, besides perhaps Flair, still has the biggest cultural impact of any pro wrestler.
The greatest character in wrestling history. His impact has been unlike every other and everyone speaks well of him. Thank God he didn’t have to stay as Texas Red.