COUNIHAN: My New Greatest Wrestler Ever Top 100 List with a new no. 1, plus the top 247 wrestlers compiled from our panel

By Alan Counihan, PWTorch columnist

Shingo Takagi


To some, the idea of a Greatest Wrestler Ever list is a ludicrous and headache-inducing exercise. There is the very fair argument that wrestling has evolved in both positive & negative ways over the years and the different environments and eras make ranking and comparisons impossible. Then you have another argument which views wrestling purely as a star driven business where objectively your greatest ever are the ones that drew the most money i.e. your Austin’s, Hogan’s, Rikidozan’s etc and that thinking about it any deeper than that is futile.

I understand folks having any of the above stances. However for many fans of wrestling, or any other entertainment medium be it sports, movies or musical artists – the act of simply making a list can provide hours of fun and mental engagement. Some might take their opinions very seriously; others might just do it for the fun. I remember when I was a kid, bored in school and I’d flick to the back of my copy book and starting drawing up lists for different soccer categories. My Euro 96 dream team, my Serie A dream team, my top 20 strikers etc. etc. Just the other night after finishing all of The Wire for the second time, I was lying in bed ranking my top TV shows ever when I should have been asleep.

As my wrestling fandom evolved over the years and as I got more into it with the internet and newsletters, I was drawn to things like year-end awards, MOTY lists and so on. In 2006 the fan forum SmarksChoice ran a big Greatest Wrestler Ever poll with many participants of notable message boards involved. Ten years later a large number of those who participated got together to run it back again. Housed at the ProWrestlingOnly message board, it was bigger and better this time around and had a lot more participation. It caught my eye at an early stage and I engaged in a whole bunch of “research projects” throughout 2015 to fill gaps in my wrestling watching history, and to get myself ready to submit a well thought out top 100 list in 2016. That was the year Akira Hokoto became one of my favourite wrestlers ever, and without the project that may not have ever happened. Similarly I realised how amazing Tatsumi Fujinami vs. Riki Choshu was in the early 80s in one Japanese promotion while Genichiro Tenryu and Jumbo Tsuruta were forming a classic rivalry in the other.

Five years later, and we found ourselves in a worldwide pandemic with all kinds of interruption to modern wrestling. What better time to look at doing another GWE list, I thought to myself. I spent the guts of last year digging into old wrestling, and continued that into 2021. It was a blast to go from watching Ron Garvin and Greg Valentine beating the tar out of one another to seeing a young Io Shirai in her early years at Stardom – and everything in between. Did I get to watch everything I wanted to? No of course not. One thing you’ll learn engaging in a project like this is that there’s ALWAYS more wrestling for you to watch. Nobody’s seen it all. That said, I think I’ve seen a heck of a lot, and more than enough to put together a pretty comprehensive list.

The way I approach my rankings is with the a few key codes/criteria.

•A level playing field. I keep this strictly bell to bell performance. Unfortunately I’m just limited to one language, so I don’t let promos come into this because if I did it would change the dynamics too much when trying to compare a Terry Funk to a Jun Akiyama. I don’t understand Japanese or Spanish, so I can’t grade the wrestlers from Japan and Mexico on their promos. Similarly, things like executing angles outside of matches, backstage skits etc – none of that plays into it for me.

•I don’t really count being a top star in the business for this. If you’re a top star and you routinely deliver in big show, big match situations with the eyes of the world on you then absolutely that helps your cause. However a big match situation for some might be in a stadium on worldwide PPV, and for another wrestler it might be a Korakuen Hall main event.

•Longevity. This absolutely plays a huge role. Those who were able to prove themselves as great across multiple decades get a lot of marks from me.

•Versatility. If you can wrestle different styles, against different types of wrestlers and you excel in both singles and tag settings, that will count for a lot.

•Bell to bell doesn’t just mean athletic performance in the ring. Having charisma, having an aura, that all plays a part. Also if you’re in a blood feud and you can convey that story into your match – or any story for that matter – then that will serve you well.

•Sheer volume of great matches. This counts for a lot with me and it’s probably the single thing which favours the modern performers the most. Having great matches, which build to dramatic, explosive conclusions is a much bigger part of the business than it was in previous eras. The performers are much more motivated to deliver the goods in that regard than ever before. I would say this has been the case more and more since about 2002, although for my personal taste I think we’ve been seeing a bit of a dip since 2016/2017 – as I find myself less moved by where things have been going stylistically recently.

There’s plenty more to it going through my mind than that, but I don’t want to bore anyone!

My final list that I settled on saw my 2016 no. 1 Kenta Kobashi dethroned by the wrestler that plays to my sensibilities as a fan more than any other before him including the great Kobashi. He’s gained more attention in recent years as a New Japan star, but to me Shingo Takagi has been one of the best in the world for nearly 15 years, and I’m comfortable now in 2021 calling him The Greatest Wrestler Ever.

1 Shingo Takagi
2 Kenta Kobashi
3 Masaaki Mochizuki
4 Jun Akiyama
5 Toshiaki Kawada
6 Genichiro Tenryu
7 Tomohiro Ishii
8 Hiroshi Tanahashi
9 Bryan Danielson
10 Jushin Thunder Liger
11 Shawn Michaels
12 Daisuke Sekimoto
13 A.J. Styles
14 Bret Hart
15 Rey Mysterio
16 El Generico
17 Mitsuharu Misawa
18 Dick Togo
19 Akira Hokuto
20 Chris Hero
21 Kazuchika Okada
22 Big Van Vader
23 Ric Flair
24 Eddie Guerrero
25 Gran Hamada
26 Meiko Satomura
27 Kenny Omega
28 Kenta
29 Minoru Suzuki
30 Kota Ibushi
31 Hiroshi Hase
32 Jumbo Tsuruta
33 Tatsumi Fujinami
34 Cima
35 Akira Taue
36 Katsuhiko Nakajima
37 Yuji Okabayashi
38 Io Shirai
39 Zack Sabre Jr.
40 Stan Hansen
41 Will Ospreay
42 Walter
43 Susumu Yokosuka
44 Masato Yoshino
45 Samoa Joe
46 Yuji Nagata
47 Masato Tanaka
48 Roderick Strong
49 Shinya Hashimoto
50 Naomichi Marufuji
51 Minoru Tanaka
52 Pac
53 Kurt Angle
54 Shinjiro Ohtani
55 Riki Choshu
56 Cesaro
57 Satoshi Kojima
58 Takashi Sugiura
59 Mick Foley
60 Akira Tozawa
61 William Regal
62 Shinsuke Nakamura
63 Ricky Steamboat
64 Aja Kong
65 Steve Austin
66 Keiji Muto
67 Dustin Rhodes
68 Terry Funk
69 Prince Devitt
70 Chris Benoit
71 Negro Casas
72 Kensuke Sasaki
73 Steve Williams
74 Arn Anderson
75 Katsuyori Shibata
76 Terry Gordy
77 Ron Garvin
78 Jim Breaks
79 Tetsuya Naito
80 Go Shiozaki
81 Yoshihiro Takayama
82 John Cena
83 Ricky Morton
84 Kushida
85 Tully Blanchard
86 Alex Shelley
87 Hirooki Goto
88 Shiro Koshinaka
89 Masanobu Fuchi
90 Ricochet
91 El Hijo Del Santo
92 Johnny Saint
93 Brock Lesnar
94 Jay Briscoe
95 Naruki Doi
96 Gary Albright
97 Matt Sydal
98 Chris Sabin
99 Dragon Kid
100 Randy Savage

One of the most fun things about this project was getting to share it with others who came along for the journey. My great friends Case Lowe and Mike Spears (hosts of the tremendous Open The Voice Gate podcast) joined me on multiple occasions here on PW Torch VIP audio as we discussed our research, and the great matches we’d been watching. You can check out the archives of ProWres Paradise to find those episodes including a mammoth three-part GWE wrap up series which went nearly 8 hours!

Case and Mike were among a group of us (nine in total) who combined our lists to come up with a consensus ranking which you’ll see below. As you can see it boasts an incredibly eclectic list of wrestlers across all regions and eras. I asked the contributors to share with me any thoughts they had about their GWE experience.

“I don’t think I’ve ranked anything since I was ranking favourite albums as a teenager, but putting together my GWE list was a blast. It allowed me to go back and watch some 90s Joshi that I hadn’t seen in ages, and 80s US territories which I have lots of blind spots in. Funnily enough, the top 20 or so was the easiest to rank but it got a lot harder from there. And like many others, I realized I had forgotten a wrestler after submitting it and realized that I didn’t list Minoru Tanaka, which Alan rightly castigated everyone else for not including in their lists on the podcast accompaniment to the GWE. But my biggest takeaway is that I cant wait until 2026.”

– Gerard Di Trolio, master of AJPW coverage over at Voices Of Wrestling

“As the pandemic made current wrestling more and more difficult to consume, the GWE helped remind me why I love pro wrestling in the first place. The deep dives on promotions and wrestlers was both a learning experience and a trip down memory lane. This project has shown me that there is always more to watch, more wrestlers to discover, and that even if you’ve been watching for decades, someone you may not have heard of could end up a new favorite.”

– Jamie Sessions, @JamieSessions

“I was aware of the Greatest Wrestler Ever project in 2016. It seemed somewhat overwhelming and somewhat impenetrable for being something so simple on the surface: Rank your top one hundred wrestlers of all-time. I stayed away from it then. When the list came out, I somewhat went “Okay well I guess that makes sense for them” and I went along my way. Time passed and late last year on an episode of Open The Voice Gate’s Dragon Gate USA retrospective Alan and Case talked about it, asked me to join them with it. Either peer pressure or the itchiness of wanting another project to fill my spare time worked and I agreed.

I never came into the project wanting to reinvent the wheel, I just wanted to take a look at wrestling as a whole and kind of figure out what it meant to me. Through the months, I got to fill in some glaring blanks in my wrestling viewing, talk a lot with some of my favorite people, and came back to one thought I had when I started the exercise: Terry Funk, in my opinion, is the greatest wrestler to ever live. And I’m glad I got to spend time with friends confirming that. I probably won’t go heavy on research and reassessment until 2024 or 2025, but I’m already excited about how things may change for 2026’s edition of the Greatest Wrestler Ever project.”

– Mike Spears, @fujiiheya, co-host of the Open The Voice Gate and Everything Elite podcasts

“Greatest Wrestler Ever lists are intensely personal as well as inclusive providing an excellent standard of where overall pro wrestling discourse amongst hardcore fans currently stands. My decision to curate a GWE list every year has provided a “moment in time” totem pole for where my fandom is each solitary year. That creates a list every year that I don’t feel is perfect but is more reactionary to what I have been watching and my perpetual quest to consume wrestling history. The overall cumulative list from 2021 showed the great strides of individuals such as Will Ospreay and Kenny Omega compared to their 2016 results. Speculation and anticipation are rampant on who will make a splash debut in the 2026 version of GWE. As for me, 2021 will just serve as another year to see where my journey as a wrestling fan navigated me towards.”

– Chad Campbell, @bigboysplaywcw, co-host of Wrestling War Zone at North South Podcast Connection

“2021’s Greatest Wrestler Ever project is the most amount of fun I’ve ever had working on something wrestling-related. The 2016 incarnation of the project, hosted on the Pro Wrestling Only forum, exposed me to various wrestlers and promotions that I had never had the time or energy to view before. Five years ago, I was getting a taste of Puerto Rico, 80s New Japan, and various territories in America. I adored the communal aspect of the project, even when things got heated. This time around, having Alan and Mike Spears by my side (literally my two favorite people to talk wrestling with), provided me with such joy and entertainment. I’m proud of the audio that we did and I’m always delighted to hear that people enjoyed these shows. 

There will always be holes in my viewing. There’s no way to watch everything and I accept that as a reality of this project. I’m still far too ignorant in joshi and lucha, entirely unfamiliar with French wrestling from the 60s, and largely uninterested in “boom period” American wrestling. My ballot, however, shows a wide array of styles, promotions, and eras that I simply adore. 

It has been hard to love wrestling in its current presentation. COVID-19 is obviously the biggest factor, but I continue to worry that a majority of people in wrestling have lost the plot. The Greatest Wrestler Ever Project constantly reminded me why I love wrestling. 

That being said, this project shouldn’t act as an injection of nostalgia that keeps you grounded in your comfort zone. Both incarnations of this project have pushed me outside of my normal viewing habits and in the end, I have been rewarded by the results. 

Kenta Kobashi is the greatest wrestler to ever lace up a pair of boots, the core Dragongate roster is the greatest collection of talent in the history of wrestling, and everything that we value and appreciate now could be drastically different in five years. Talk to you all then.”

– Case Lowe, @_InYourCase, co-host of Open The Voice Gate and Dragongate reviewer at Voices Of Wrestling

Our final cumulative listing, with all 247 wrestlers who received at least one vote. If you’re reading this and you have your own top 100, or even a top 10, we’d love to see it! Let us know on Twitter at @Alan4L and @pwtorch.

Rank Name Points
1 Kenta Kobashi 936
2 Ric Flair 915
3 Daniel Bryan 890
4 Toshiaki Kawada 873
5 Jun Akiyama 832
6 Genichiro Tenryu 819
7 Jumbo Tsuruta 778
8 Hiroshi Tanahashi 770
9 Mitsuharu Misawa 764
10 Terry Funk 754
11 Stan Hansen 736
12 Jushin Liger 735
13 Tatsumi Fujinami 734
14 Shingo Takagi 700
15 Vader 660
16 Bret Hart 651
17 Rey Mysterio Jr 636
18 Eddie Guerrero 619
19 Masaaki Mochizuki 613
20 Tomohiro Ishii 602
21 Shinya Hashimoto 599
22 Kazuchika Okada 586
23 Aja Kong 576
24 Akira Hokuto 560
25 Negro Casas 546
26 Manami Toyota 527
27 Akira Taue 503
28 Samoa Joe 497
29 Kenta 493
30 Kota Ibushi 485
31 A.J. Styles 482
32 El Hijo del Santo 477
33 Ricky Steamboat 450
34 Kenny Omega 426
35 Chris Hero 422
36 Shawn Michaels 417
37 John Cena 415
38 Cima 406
39 Nick Bockwinkel 402
40 Riki Choshu 375
41 Yuji Nagata 357
42 Masato Yoshino 353
43 Shinjiro Ohtani 350
44 Sami Zayn 348
45 Gran Hamada 346
46 Meiko Satomura 331
47 Brock Lesnar 325
48 Arn Anderson 325
49 Kurt Angle 318
50 Minoru Suzuki 313
51 Tetsuya Naito 311
52 Steve Austin 305
53 Volk Han 305
54 Kiyoshi Tamura 301
55 Chris Benoit 296
56 Pac 293
57 Bull Nakano 292
58 Kensuke Sasaki 285
59 Ricky Morton 282
60 Satoshi Kojima 275
61 Dick Togo 272
62 Yoshiaki Fujiwara 267
63 Roderick Strong 266
64 Daisuke Sekimoto 263
65 Walter 258
66 Dynamite Kansai 249
67 Hiroshi Hase 246
68 Yoshihiro Takayama 242
69 Will Ospreay 240
70 Zack Sabre Jr 234
71 C.M. Punk 232
72 La Parka 231
73 Buddy Rose 230
74 Jerry Lawler 229
75 Masato Tanaka 229
76 Billy Robinson 223
77 El Satanico 222
78 Antonio Inoki 222
79 William Regal 220
80 Mick Foley 211
81 Keiji Mutoh 210
82 Io Shirai 210
83 Susumu Yokosuka 210
84 Blue Panther 210
85 Atlantis 197
86 Chigusa Nagayo 191
87 Yuki Ishikawa 190
88 Yuji Okabayashi 188
89 Terry Gordy 187
90 Randy Savage 182
91 Cesaro 181
92 Masa Fuchi 178
93 Sasha Banks 177
94 Koji Kanemoto 170
95 Jim Breaks 166
96 Naomichi Marufuji 163
97 Low Ki 158
98 Katsuyori Shibata 153
99 Dean Malenko 149
100 Akira Tozawa 146
101 Tully Blanchard 139
102 El Dandy 137
103 Katsuhiko Nakajima 135
104 Giant Baba 133
105 Chris Jericho 130
106 Steve Williams 126
107 Bob Backlund 122
108 Rick Martel 116
109 Dustin Rhodes 112
110 Shinsuke Nakamura 111
111 Harley Race 109
112 Nick Jackson 106
113 Hayabusa 104
114 Ricochet 104
115 Sangre Chicana 102
116 Ron Garvin 100
117 Dragon Kid 97
118 Matt Jackson 95
119 Naruki Doi 94
120 Daisuke Ikeda 94
121 Akira Maeda 92
122 Villano III 91
123 Carlos Colon 90
124 Negro Navarro 90
125 Bobby Eaton 89
126 Perro Aguayo 87
127 Ultimo Dragon 84
128 Jay Briscoe 83
129 Takashi Sugiura 82
130 Mayu Iwatani 81
131 Kana 80
132 Atsushi Onita 78
133 Dusty Rhodes 78
134 Barry Windham 78
135 Jack Brisco 76
136 Sting 74
137 Megumi Kudo 74
138 Curt Hennig 73
139 Virus 70
140 Kevin Steen 70
141 Rey Hechicero 69
142 Lou Thesz 67
143 Great Sasuke 64
144 Dynamite Kid 64
145 Nobuhiko Takada 61
146 Hirooki Goto 58
147 Austin Aries 57
148 Kyoko Inoue 57
149 Go Shiozaki 57
150 Super Dragon 57
151 Rey Fenix 57
152 Masahiro Chono 57
153 Bruiser Brody 56
154 Pirata Morgan 55
155 Mark Briscoe 53
156 Black Terry 53
157 Jun Kasai 52
158 Kyle O’Reilly 51
159 Steve Grey 51
160 Minoru Tanaka 50
161 Sgt Slaughter 46
162 Yoshinari Ogawa 46
163 Taka Michinoku 43
164 Destroyer 43
165 Yoshiaki Yatsu 42
166 Ultimo Guerrero 42
167 Rush 41
168 Yamato 41
169 Takeshi Morishima 41
170 Roman Reigns 40
171 Johnny Gargano 39
172 Steve Corino 36
173 Tiger Mask 35
174 Kento Miyahara 35
175 Tsukasa Fujimoto 34
176 Lioness Asuka 34
177 Alex Shelley 34
178 Owen Hart 32
179 Stalker Ichikawa 32
180 Finn Balor 32
181 Johnny Saint 32
182 Milano Collection AT 31
183 Dr Wagner Jr 31
184 Suwa 29
185 Greg Valentine 29
186 Brian Pillman 29
187 Hiromu Takahashi 28
188 Mayumi Ozaki 28
189 Hideki Suzuki 27
190 Ted DiBiase 26
191 Davey Richards 26
192 Yoshihiro Tajiri 26
193 Masashi Takeda 26
194 Devil Masami 25
195 John Zandig 25
196 Terry Rudge 25
197 Big Show 24
198 Timothy Thatcher 24
199 Kushida 22
200 Rock 22
201 Jaguar Yokota 22
202 Tsuyoshi Kikuchi 21
203 Arisa Nakajima 20
204 Shuji Ishikawa 18
205 Kevin Von Erich 17
206 Fit Finlay 17
207 Bill Dundee 17
208 Dory Funk Jr. 16
209 Mick McManus 15
210 Atsushi Aoki 15
211 Bayley 15
212 Yoshinobu Kanemaru 13
213 Shiro Koshinaka 13
214 Goldberg 13
215 Masato Yakushiji 12
216 Ayako Hamada 12
217 Andrade 12
218 Hulk Hogan 12
219 Homicide 11
220 Yoji Anjoh 9
221 Nick Gage 8
222 Suwama 8
223 Eddie Kingston 8
224 Kotaro Suzuki 7
225 Kazushi Sakuraba 6
226 Fujita Jr Hayato 6
227 Sean Waltman 6
228 Gary Albright 5
229 Too Cold Scorpio 5
230 Ian Rotten 5
231 Jack Evans 4
232 Genki Horiguchi 4
233 Mr Gannosuke 4
234 Matt Sydal 4
235 Chuck Taylor 3
236 Jon Moxley 3
237 Mistico 3
238 Chris Sabin 3
239 Takehiro Murahama 3
240 Charlotte Flair 2
241 Andre the Giant 2
242 Cody Rhodes 2
243 Fuminori Abe 2
244 Veny 1
245 Shocker 1
246 Shinobu Kandori 1
247 Don Fujii 1

PWTorch VIP members can hear the VIP-exclusive “Pro Wres Paradise with Alan Counihan.” Catch up on his timeless evergreen theme-episodes HERE.

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