There was never a better time to be a pro wrestling fan than during the period from 1996-2002, when WWF was in the midst of its legendary Attitude Era. This era of wrestling made it in number 4 of the best things of the 1990s and still to this day I can go back and watch any episode, segment, or match from the Attitude Era and remind myself why I am a wrestling fan. Though I do have a very soft spot for the New Generation Era, it was important for the company to change from the family-friendly image to keep up with the times. TV ratings were at an all-time high, it was cool to be a fan and you could find a good wrestling product on TV just about any time you wanted to. Sit through one three-hour episode of Monday Night Raw, and you’ll be longing for the old days, even if you weren’t a wrestling fan in the old days. This era captures everything that I truly miss about wrestling; proper storytelling, amazing in-ring work, varied match stipulations, and outrageous character that definitely felt bigger than life. Outlandish things were happening, but there was always a reason behind them, and the stories were most often very interesting. These are not just story lines, these were epic sagas that was happening in wrestling and never again did we ever felt the same with the media again. If that’s not enough, the matches in this era took risks. In the Attitude Era, WWE climbed back to the top of the wrestling world by taking chances. People got hit with chairs, set on fire, thrown off the top of gigantic structures and run over by cars on a weekly basis. All of these things kept my interest and mixed that up with a good story, you’re presented with the most awesome moments in life! Sure, The Attitude Era ripped off Extreme Championship Wrestling’s hardcore wrestling phenomenon, but for the fact that this single era brought the highest ratings that the WWE has ever had should tell you about the success and reception it deserved. And who do we have to thank for all that was given to us in the Attitude Era? None other than Vince McMahon. Sure, the man has done some of the most questionable decisions in the business, but starting this trend in wrestling was the best thing he’s ever done for the company and wrestling itself. This was an era of wrestling that was so innovative, captivating, and so entertaining, that it’s always worth coming back to. Wrestling fans to this day are still waiting for another era like this but unfortunately since WWE went back to the times of PG, not giving two shits about telling good stories, and over enthuses on pointless in-ring work more-so than anything else. As a result of seeing wrestling getting worse and worse, it makes going back to the Attitude Era a lot better than we remembered. And these are the ten wrestlers that are responsible for making the Attitude Era so great!
If you can go out on the street and tell anyone about any wrestler that’s currently in any wrestling organization, chances are they won’t even know who you’re talking about. However, if you instead talk about wrestlers that came from the 1980s to the early-1990s, chances are, people would recognize who you’re talking about. Just what is it that makes these wrestlers more iconic and recognizable than the wrestlers of today? How about the fact that each of them had a diversity of characters that felt bigger than life itself. Many of these wrestlers are the image and embodiment of professional wrestling and still to this very day we talk about each of their legacy. Even the WWE knows the impact that these wrestlers given us for making wrestling as big as it is today. We call this the Golden Age of Wrestling because WCW and WWF were in big rivalry with each other and they did almost everything to beat the competition. Dusty Rhodes created the Super Bowl of Pro Wrestling called StarCade in 1983 and Vince McMahon wanted to make a bigger event calling it Wrestlemania. Since then, wrestling started to deliver bigger events like The Big Four PPV’s and many more. This was the first time professional wrestling went on mainstream by getting celebrity involvement (Cindi Loper, Muhammad Ali, Mr. T, etc.) and also putting wrestlers in public appearances outside of the ring and backstage area. Each of these wrestlers really felt like real-life superheroes and it drew huge attendance records and television ratings. It’s all thanks to these wrestlers that made wrestling huge as it once was and it’s time for me to pay respects to ten of my favorite wrestlers of the Golden Age of Wrestling (from 1983 – 1991).
Number 10. – Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow was one of professional wrestling’s most unique individuals. With his tattooed head and large frame, Bigelow was unlike anyone or anything else in the world of professional wrestling. His uniqueness went beyond his looks, however. In an era of lumbering big men, Bigelow broke the mold, demonstrating a work rate and level of agility never before seen, by a man of his size. During the late eighties and early nineties, it was rare to see wrestlers in the United States pulling off moonsaults, much less 350+ pound monsters doing so. Bigelow’s matches never cease to amaze me with the things he was able to do in the ring, and the matches he put on. He’s the only wrestler from the Golden Age that managed to keep himself relevant in the later years of wrestling such as The New Generation Era, Attitude, WCW’s Bishoff-era, and even ECW’s top star. He was everything you wanted in a monster heel and a great babyface. He was the stuff that your mother’s nightmares are made of. Every movement he made and syllable he uttered just gave off the impression of a bad ass mofo who was there to absolutely raise hell. There was no wrestler whose character fit his look better than Bam Bam Bigelow.
Number 9. – Jake “The Snake” Roberts
So what makes Jake the Snake Roberts such an iconic name in the wrestling world? He didn’t have a good wrestling ability, didn’t have the look, he lost a lot more matches than winning them, and he didn’t have the “it” factor which is why he never won a WWF Championship. What Jake Roberts offered as a truly dark character in wrestling. His dark persona inspired many future stars like The Undertaker & Stone Cold Steve Austin that being the happy, smiling wrestler can’t be the only wrestler to love. Jake’s interviews simply give us chills down our spines and he was intimidating none the less. If his interviews didn’t get you at ease, then his python, Damien will. Damien and Roberts were a huge attraction when tuning into the WWF product because it was terrifying to see it but we want to know who’s Damien was going to get. Better yet, Jake Roberts introduced in-ring psychology where what’s happening in the ring was just as well telling a story as much as an interview. Jake Roberts was a true innovator of the wrestling world and he became famous for it. Even despite the fact that he never won a WWF Championship, it’ was his character that made him such a big name today. At the end of the day, it isn’t about the wrestling’s appearance or skills, it’s his character and how he slivers to our hearts.
Number 8. – The Ultimate Warrior
Most people would like to look at the Ultimate Warrior like a 1990’s comic book character or He-Man come to life, but Ultimate Warrior was simply the most intense wrestler of all time! No one had as much energy and intensity as Warrior did and we all believed that he was that powerful. It’s always so damn exciting to see Warrior do what he does best because as soon as you hear his entrance music, you know he’s rushing in the ring and shaking the ropes like no tomorrow! Every young WWF fan loved the Warrior’s character, even though he doesn’t make any sense most of the time, he captured our attention because of his undying passion to wrestle. His powerhouse style was completely freakish. He was the second best baby face the company had, right behind Hogan. I’ll never forget Ultimate Warrior finally defeated Honky Tonk Man’s Intercontinental Championship streak and went on to face Hulk Hogan. For the first time ever, babyface vs. babyface in Wrestlemania 6 and it was a defining moment for the wrestling world. A year later, Warrior took on Macho Man in Wrestlemania 7 in the best match of his career. He sure had a lot of backstage problems with Vince McMahon, but that didn’t’ stop him from being as awesome as he was. There was so many great moments of the Warrior that made him one of the biggest names ever! His character was so unearthly and his style was so fiery, it made you believe the power of the Warrior.
Number 7. – Sting
I really want to put Sting higher on the list, but he had a much better time after this era has ended. But if there was a star that WCW built up extremely well, it had to be Sting. Sting, in his early year, was a unique mixture of flying, technical, and powerhouse style of wrestling. It was like he was WCW’s version of the Ultimate Warrior, but much more understandable and relatable. I know a lot of wrestling fans prefer Sting in black and white instead of blonde and colorful, but I really enjoy Sting’s presence before the Bishoff-era. He really was a star that really gets us engaged. He wrestling like no other individual as he flew and slammed his opponents with so much energy. Sting just simply had the it factor for WCW and there were a lot of people that tuned into the product just to see Sting do what he does best. He’s also the innovator of the Scorpion Death Drop (reverse DDT) and the Scorpion Death Lock before it was even called the Sharpshooter. No other young wrestler grew as much popularity fast as Sting did. He faced legends like Ric Flair, The Great Muta, and many more WCW wrestlers and pushed each of his opponents to the limits. I really think blonde Sting is unappreciated because he’s one of the few WCW stars that made World Championship Wrestling so big.
Number 6. – Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Steamboat may be the least iconic or memorable wrestler in the list, however he delivered technical martial arts in the ring making him look like the Bruce Lee of wrestling. Ricky brought nothing less than intensity in each and every one of his matches that makes the all worth coming back and watching them. No one shall ever forget that he stole the Wrestlemania III show with his match against Randy Savage winning the Intercontinental Champion. It’s remembered as one of the best greatest matches of the 1980s. Despite his Wrestlemania 4’s poor tournament structure, he didn’t make it pass Round 1 and all of the sudden started to loose fame in the WWF. However, he did kept the momentum going when he joined WCW and delivered matches that were so much better than his time in the WWF! Ricky made tremendous legacy in wrestling in WCW with rivals with Ric Flair. Steamboat and Flair never had a bad match with each other, rather they were all a series of 5-star matches that all rivalries wishes they have. I argue that his time in WCW is so much better than his time in WWF, even despite the fact that WWE wants everyone to forget about it. Anyone can watch any of his matches and want to be a professional wrestler. The is one of the most recognizable Intercontinental Champions and NWA World Champion of all time.
Number 5. – Andre The Giant
Before Hulk Hogan was the biggest star in professional wrestling, Andre the Giant was the most popular and iconic wrestler in the world. Without him, wrestling and Wrestlemania wouldn’t be as big as it is today! Even people who doesn’t watch wrestling know who this guy is! Before Wrestlemania III, Andre The Giant was undefeated for 15 years. Sure his style is slow, but there was so athlete that was as big or as strong as Andre was. He was a huge attraction to the masses because he was unlike any human being ever seen and even his opponents were scared of what he was capable of. It was certainly a wise move to turn Andre heel by betraying Hulk Hogan to side with Bobby “The Brain” Henan, it made him the most despised man in the whole wrestling industry. He made Wrestlemania III to have the attendance record of 93,173. Sporting events ever had an attendance record that big until the 2010 NBA All-Star series. The show also delivered by having him get body slammed by Hulk Hogan and for the first time became defeated. His feud with Hulk Hogan continued by creating the big four PPV’s in main eventing the first ever Summerslam, Royal Rumble, and Survivor Series. He really made the big four PPV’s happen, but unfortunately, after his rivalry with Hulk Hogan was over with, Andre’s popularity faded because Hulk Hogan began to have bigger rivalries with heels like Macho Man, Ultimate Warrior, and many more. Andre also showed that his back is hurting and it affected his wrestling ability. He deserved a retirement in the early 1990s. To even show how much of a legend Andre is, when he passed away in 1993, he was the first ever inductee in to the WWE Hall of Fame. We did have 7′ footer wrestlers, like Big Show, Great Kahli, Giant Gonzalez, etc., that reminded us of Andre, but nobody can match up to the Eight Wonder of the World. Nobody has done more for the wrestling business than Andre the Giant and it’s all thanks to him that me made wrestling all possible!
Number 4. – Rowdy Roddy Piper
I simply love Rowdy Roddy Piper. He’s a wrestler of many sides, many wrestling abilities, and dared to be the most hated wrestlers above all else. I admire Roddy for being such a wild character that is willing to be all over the place. From main event heel, become a lovable face, to Piper’s pit, to even helping the mid-cards like Bret Hart to become a big name. He was such a rebellious individual and this was around the time where the public won’t stand for it. He went wild with this direction and became the most hated guy. It’s highly entertaining to see Roddy Piper do what he does best because nobody else was doing it. Piper’s Pit is always one of the best wrestling interview segments ever as it continues to surprise fans who gets interviewed with Piper that continues to created history. Piper’s responsible for making the Rock and Wrestling Connection work and make Wrestling big as it is today because who else would take the job as being so hated the people would want to pay money to see him get beat? He knows very well that controversy creates cash and because he became such a different character, it certainly made him stand up against all else. And as for his wrestling skills, it also lives up to the name as he introduced technical brawling style before Stone Cold Steve Austin flipped the bird on camera. Today, Piper still is part of the wrestling world and does all he can to keep the business going. Hell, even when the Golden Age era was over, Piper did not slow down as he continued to be part of both WCW and WWF and make Wrestlemania moments like in Wrestlemania 12 against Goldust. I always have a lot of fun watching Piper and never was I ever bored watching what he does.
Number 3. – Hulk Hogan
Surprised to see Hogan not number 1? I really have nothing against Hulk Hogan, I just like a few other wrestlers more than Hogan from this era. When Hogan became the top star in the WWF, he was a big fish in a huge pond. To make him the top star, he had to be main event, give promos unlike any other, win his matches, and had to become a fan favorite no matter what the cost. That’s what Hogan did. Andre The Giant used to be the biggest name in the wrestling world, but after he allowed Hogan to put him over in Wrestlemania III, he passed the torch to Hogan and became a bigger star than Andre was. People who never watch wrestling knows very well who this guy is. Hogan really is the face of professional wrestling and he’s the measuring stick of what other wrestlers strived for. Everyone remembers him ripping off his shirt, putting his ear to the crowd, his poses, and his interviews about “Eating your vitamins, saying your prayers” & “Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania comes after you!” Everyone loves to impersonate the Hulkster like Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Beatles, and more. He is what everyone wishes to be and to be with. He was such a babyface that definitely is a positive influence to the masses around the world. He really made routing for the good guy cool and to see him fight for what’s right was so damn engrossing. Hogan is such an amazing storyteller as he dealt with betrayals that is after his popularity and faced the most hated heels that deserved the Hogan treatment. No one has ever accomplished as much as Hogan did. He had the most WWF title reigns of the era, held it the longest, and main evented in almost every Wrestling event that he’s been in. You might think Hogan was too invincible, but you have to remember that in the Golden Era of Wrestling, fan everywhere took their babyfaces extremely seriously. If there was anyone that was to save the day, it had to be dear old Hulkster. We always relied on Hogan to do the job and he always effortlessly deliver the goods. Hulk Hogan is responsible for all the success that the wrestling world has succeeded and still to this day people tune into a wrestling show if Hulk Hogan is in it. Even though all of his matches isn’t exactly the best that we seen in wrestling, what mattered was to see Hogan defeat the odds and show that fighting for what’s right is meaningful to all the Hulkamaniacs. What Hulk Hogan does, that not many wrestler can do, is really connect with the crowd and because he was so good in presenting himself to be very likable, he earned that reputation as being the greatest and most successful wrestler in the industry. Only little number wrestlers can live up to Hulk Hogan’s stature and we all strive to be as big as him.
Number 2. – Ric Flair
I’m one of those wrestling fans that argues that Ric Flair is a better wrestler than Hulk Hogan. While WWF’s biggest star was Hulk Hogan, WCW’s star was Ric Flair. Flair, is just like Rowdy Roddy Piper, in which he’s all all the map in his wrestling career. He’s very good in being the main event, help the mid-cards to become a bigger star, he was a really good heel, a very good babyface, his interviews were incredibly intense, and his wrestling stills were gold. Flair just did a lot better things than Hogan did. He was a pioneer of main eventing StarCade before Hogan even started a Wrestlemania, he created and lead the Four Horsemen, and he never stopped fighting his spot in the World Heavyweight Championship. Flair also is iconic for his wrestling abilities for the Figure Four Leg Lock, turning upside down when running into a turn buckle, and slapping his opponents in the chest to shout “Woo!” This is a man with class and style and throughout his career, people want to see it again and again. He continue this trend for over 2 decades and he became successful for it. Even more important, Ric Flair just had very good rivalries with many of the best talents in the WCW like Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, and so many more. There’s no doubt in my mind that because Ric Flair has accomplished so much in the wrestling world, he has to be the second greatest wrestler of the 1980s.
Number 1. – Macho Man Randy Savage
There’s simply no other wrestler that is at all similar to the Macho Man. Macho Man is such an amazing storyteller where he knew how to cut promos and had the charisma to engage us in it. Macho Man just has everything that I want to see from a wrestler; charisma, storytelling, in-ring ability, emotion, and the ability to connect with the audience. Savage is such a unique character that he can really endure the toughest challenge, but at the same time grab sympathy to the audience because he tries harder than anyone in the business. I always loved seeing his partnership with Miss Elizabeth because they were the best romantic couple of the wrestling world. Still to this day they both capture all our hearts by showing how much they love each other on screen. More importantly, Randy Savage has been involved in some of the best matches of the ’80s/early ’90’s like Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Ric Flair, Honkey Tonk Man, Hart Foundation, Tito Santana, and so many more that each of them had a relatable story into them. Even though Savage had a match against Steamboat that stole the Wrestlemania III show, he had his big break by winning the Wrestlemania IV tournament and holding the WWF Championship for an entire a year. I’m also a big fan of his Macho King persona when he betrays Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth. He was such a ferocious heel and his King gimmick was so lovable. I still will never forget his match against Ultimate Warrior in Wrestlemania VII where he lost but we route for him when he reunited with Miss Elizabeth that always gets me that emotional feeling. Not to mention that in Summerslam in that year, both of them had the best on-screen marriage in Wrestling period! If people didn’t know who Hulk Hogan is, they surely would know who Macho Man Randy Savage is because of his entertaining slimjim commercials, many movie/television appearances, and his merchandises that sold millions. Savage such a tremendous storytelling and a very entertaining wrestler that inspired every single man in professional wrestling today. His spirit will live on in the squared circle forever as the best professional wrestler of all time!