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The WWE likes to call their wrestlers “superstars,” but not all their roster lives up to that elite classification. Being an actual superstar means more than just getting in the ring, although anyone that enters the WWE has to be immensely talented. Right now, we are in wrestling universe with no true larger than life stars. Over the past few decades, there have been a few legendary wrestlers that have lived up to an iconic status. This article will list the top 10 WWF/E superstars of the WrestleMania era so you will not see the likes of Ric Flair whose best years were for NWA or Andre the Giant and Bruno Sammartino whose best years were of a previous era.
I have constructed this list according to the following qualifications:
- Star Quality: This is one of those difficult qualities to measure. It is a combination of charisma and having a magnetic aura that draws audiences to watch them. This list will factor in a wrestler’s overall appeal including impact on mainstream pop culture.
- Success and Drawing Power: All of these wrestlers have attracted fans to the product and brought financial riches to the organization for long periods of time.
- Matches and Moments: These are performers that have provided memorable matches and moments in the ring and on promos that we will look back at for years to come.
10. Bret “the Hitman” Hart
Bret Hart’s catchphrase was that he was “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.” Although his star power may not place him at the top of this list, his consistency and cool factor made him one of the greatest attractions in wrestling history. He was not loud or flashy, but his greatness in the ring and the fans’ belief in his character made him a major international attraction for years. He also helped carry the company during a down period after a steroid scandal and also helped elevate the next major superstar, Steve Austin, that would take WWF to new heights.
9. “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels
Like Hart, Shawn Michaels helped carry the WWF after some major icons left to the competition. Although he may not have major mainstream name recognition, he was the greatest in-ring performer in the history of the company. HBK was also a charismatic entertainer that was a huge draw in some of the biggest wrestling matches and moments of all time. His brash persona also helped usher in the Attitude Era with DX. He had the bad luck of getting injured during the most financially successful period in history, but I believe Michaels’ charisma, looks and incomparable talent would have launched him into mainstream icon status if he stuck around. Thankfully, Mr. WrestleMania had a heroic return and had possibly the greatest run of matches on a grand stage in wrestling history.
In 2005, WWE was planning a main event between Triple H and Randy Orton, but it was the charisma and subtle acting mannerisms of Dave Bautista that elevated him to the Wrestlemania headline match. That same magnetism and acting ability has made him a star in Hollywood and a major figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although he was injury prone, he had a five-year run as a top star in WWE and he was considered a huge international attraction. That worldwide star power has now made him a force in the movies as well.
7. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar was immediately hailed as The Next Big Thing when he arrived in the company after being a national champion in NCAA wrestling. His frightening presence and unfathomable athletic ability made him live up to that billing. I often compare Lesnar to Bo Jackson as the freakish athletic specimen of his time. Lesnar not only became the youngest champion in history, he went on to nearly make the NFL and against all odds became the champion of UFC as well. Brock legitimized the true athletic abilities of superstars in a predetermined sport. He has also been a major draw for decades now and was a major reason WWE received it’s current mammoth television deal.
6. The Undertaker
When Undertaker first entered the WWF with his haunting gimmick, few could have imagined his enduring status as an iconic figure in wrestling. He was a main eventer from the very start of his tenure and his appeal and aura are even stronger three decades later. Amazingly, he surpassed the confines of his cartoonish character to become one of wrestling’s great workers with a string of big box office matches late in his career. I still argue that The Streak should never have been broken, but the Dead Man’s status in wrestling history will live forever.
5. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
During the golden age of the early WrestleMania years, the WWF was built around two major superstars, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. Although the Hulkster was undeniably the bigger attraction, the Macho Man was the most talented wrestler of the decade. His charisma and unique presence made him a star immediately when he entered WWF. His performances in the ring and the presentation of his character gave him an appeal that made him famous even to those who never watched wrestling. Savage made it cool to be a wrestling fan, and he was part of the most watched match of all time against Peter Parker in Spider Man.
4. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Steve Austin’s peak years at the height of the Attitude Era were the most financially successful period in the history of wrestling. He was the man responsible for saving WWF in the war against WCW. During his run as the top star in the company he was a mainstream icon and the company reached unprecedented success. Austin’s merchandise was the best selling in history, and his appealed crossed over to pop culture and drew millions to the product. He may not have had the longest run, but no star has ever burned so bright.
3. Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan laid the foundation for the success of WWF/E over the past few decades, and what an icon a wrestler can be in pop culture. Hulkamania and Wrestlemania were synonymous with each other in transforming the WWF into a global juggernaut. He powered the 80’s wrestling book period and would do the same for the competition a decade later. Hogan also appeared in major movies and television shows and became a household name all over the world. He may have brought plenty of embarrassment to wrestling and himself over the years, but we cannot deny his star power and his role in making WWE part of Americana.
2. John Cena
This is extremely difficult to rank John Cena ahead of Hogan and Austin because I was not a fan of his character, but right now I do not think it could be denied that he is an iconic figure even beyond the ring. Nobody has had the longevity of success as the top guy during the Wrestlemania era. He never reached the highs of the Hulkster or Stone Cold, but he did it for a longer time, and he has surpassed their mainstream recognition. His promos and presentation were often goofy and embarrassing, but his charisma and appeal to wrestling fans and the general audience have made him a movie star. Cena’s major matches were consistently great, and he worked hard improved throughout his career in the ring. That same work ethic has made him a star in television and films as he is now a part of major franchises like Fast and the Furious.
1. The Rock
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is arguably the most popular entertainer in the world right now. His appeal stretches to every demographic, and that has made him one of the biggest box office attractions in the history of movies. His charisma and electrifying presence and athletic ability also made him a major draw in the wrestling world. He wasn’t the best wrestler, but his promos were unparalleled and his unique knack for connecting with the audience would launch him into a stratosphere even he could never have imagined. The Rock is the ultimate example of what a wrestler can become in mainstream culture and he’s the realization of Vince McMahon’s vision of his talent being true superstars.
Speaking of people in wrestling making movies, I wanted to proudly announce the launch of our latest movie on Amazon Prime. It is the first ever movie saga produced by wrestling journalists, Rich Twilling, formerly of www.ProWrestling.net, and me. It also stars former WWE and TNA talent Shelly Martinez and a cameo from a wrestling legend. Watch now HERE and please rate five stars if you enjoy it.