Saturday mornings in the 1980s were a magical time reserved for cereal, a few cartoons, and watching professional wrestling. Some of the biggest names in professional wrestling absolutely captivated audiences throughout the decade and beyond. So, to honor the athletes of the decade, we’re putting together a list of the best pro wrestlers of the ’80s.
Of course, there’s nothing better than watching your favorite professional wrestler win a hard-fought match against their biggest rival. And according to a recent survey, watching your favorite sports teams or athletes win a big game can make you happier than hearing the words ‘I love you’ from a spouse or family member. Some of life’s happiest moments happen while watching sports or sports entertainment. A recent poll of 2,000 Americans found that watching your favorite sports team pull off a victory makes people happy for an average of four hours and nine minutes while hearing ‘I love you’ creates happiness that lasts for four hours.
Professional wrestling has a tendency to create riveting storylines similar to that of a soap opera or television show. Sports entertainment is just that – entertainment. However, watching wrestling on television and watching a live wrestling event in person are two completely different experiences. In fact, scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that watching live sporting events improves well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness. A survey of 7,000 adults showed that those who watch live sporting events – professional or amateur – scored better in terms of life satisfaction than those respondents who did not recently attend a live event. Don’t let anyone tell you that being a wrestling fan isn’t good for your well-being.
So, which entertainers are considered legends? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 expert websites to bring you a list of the best pro wrestlers of the ’80s. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently listed wrestlers from across these sites. See one we missed? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Pro Wrestlers of the ’80s, According to Experts
1. Hulk Hogan
For many kids growing up in the ’80s, Hulk Hogan was a real-life superhero capable of amazing feats of strength. “There is a strong argument that would support the claim that Hulk Hogan is the most popular names in not only WWE history, but all of professional wrestling. Capitalizing on the Rock n’ Wrestling craze of the 1980s with MTV, Vince McMahon chose Hogan to be the figurehead of the company. This gamble would turn out to be a very successful one, as both WWE and Hogan benefited from this partnership ever since. Everyone was — and likely still is — part of Hulkamania. He’s been inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame twice,” writes Fanbuzz.
Hogan headlined the first Wrestlemania and several after that. But Hulk’s biggest moment came at Wrestlemania 3 when the Hulkster body slammed the great Andre the Giant in a match that catapulted professional wrestling to the forefront of sports and pop culture. Not only did Hulk’s victory over Andre the Giant make wrestling a popular sporting attraction, but it sparked Hulkamania.
“Hulkamania didn’t just take over the WWF, it took over the country, and eventually the world. In the 1980s he was the most requested celebrity for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, had his own cartoon, appeared on numerous late-night talk shows, co-hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, among other super-80s things. And why not? His gimmick of wearing down only to be brought back by cheers from the audience, holding his hand to his ear to get just that much more strength, until, finally, it exploded into a finishing leg drop on his opponent, was simply infectious. How could you not be, at the very least, entertained by it all?” furthers Classic Nerd.
Hulk Hogan is synonymous with ’80s professional wrestling and vice versa. However, like most influential athletes, Hulk Hogan transcended wrestling and made his way into other areas of life. “He created mainstream entertainment. He was not much of a wrestler in WWF as much as he was an entertainer. Hulkamania is the greatest concept ever created in wrestling. I will stand by that. Hogan made wrestling a national phenomenon in the mid-1980s,” adds Bleacher Report.
2. Ric Flair
Nature Boy, Ric Flair, personified professional wrestling throughout the ’80s, and he’s widely regarded as one of the best professional wrestlers in history, not just for that decade. “RIC FLAIR IS WRESTLING. While Hogan was creating a theatrical persona, Flair was wrestling 60-minute matches and beating everyone across the globe. He won the world title 16 times in the NWA, WCW and WWF. He helped launch the careers of Sting, Lex Luger, Rick Steamboat and Arn Anderson. There is no one in wrestling with a greater pedigree,” writes Bleacher Report.
Flair is often compared to Hulk Hogan and is viewed in the same light. Although Flair had a different persona and impact on sports entertainment, he is credited for taking the popularity of professional wrestling up a notch.
“The second largest in-ring personality behind Hulk Hogan, Flair may not have been as popular as Hogan was, but he came pretty darn close. What separates Flair from Hogan, though, is the Nature Boy’s incredible in-ring work. In terms of his character work and wrestling style, few wrestlers came close to achieving the acclaim Flair won in his matches — such as his indelible bouts against Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Terry Funk, and Dusty Rhodes,” explains Wealth of Geeks.
Ric Flair versus Dusty Rhodes is one of the best rivalries in professional wrestling history. The two legends were perfect for one another, and they helped make wrestling a household event in the south. “Ric Flair’s animated character and charisma turned him into one of the most memorable wrestlers of the ’80s. Prior to joining the WWE, Ric Flair wrestled in WCW and NWA wreaking havoc with what many wrestling fans termed as the greatest factions in professional wrestling, the Four Horsemen. A dominant figure at WCW and TNA, the Four Horsemen would go ahead and lift multiple world championships at both promotions,” furthers SportLister.
3. Macho Man Randy Savage
Coming off the top rope and into the third spot on the list of the best pro wrestlers of the ’80s is none other than the Macho Man Randy Savage. “He was as flamboyant as they came. A great mat wrestler and high-flyer with a flying elbow that was lethal. Wrestled against Jerry Lawler in the Mid-South area and then took his act to WWF where he teamed with Miss Elizabeth and found gold. Savage was WWF champion and then went to WCW to claim more world gold and fight and then join the NWO. He was truly one of the best showmen the business has ever seen,” writes Bleacher Report.
Randy Savage and his Macho Man gimmick are widely regarded as one of the best in the history of professional wrestling. However, Savage might not make this list without some legendary feuds with other big names including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Ricky Steamboat.
“In the decades since the 1980s ended, the general consensus among fans has been that Hogan was wildly overrated, and Macho Man Randy Savage was massively underrated. Often playing second fiddle to Hogan — so much that it became its own storyline — Savage had the in-ring acumen and psychology down pat, and his bout against Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III is considered a perfect match. His relationship with his valet and real-life wife Miss Elizabeth has been imitated countless times, and recent fans could easily lose count of the number of wrestlers who do Flying Elbows in honor of the Macho Man,” explains The Sportster.
When Macho Man went to the top rope and spun his index finger in the air, fans knew what was coming next – the elbow drop. Macho’s elbow drop is still one of the most imitated finishing moves of all time. High-flying moves aside, Randy Savage has been part of some of the best wrestling matches in history and his match at Wrestlemania III against Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat was undoubtedly one of the best matches of the ’80s.
“Despite his theatrics, sideshows, and innuendos, Randy ‘The Machoman’ Savage always gave his heart out when he stepped into the squared circle. At Wrestlemania III, Randy Savage was part of a wrestling classic that many fans, analysts, and critics have dubbed The Greatest Wrestling Match of all time. The epic encounter between Randy ‘Machoman’ Savage and Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat was a wrestling masterclass that not only lived up to its expectations but was more impressive than the main event later that night between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant,” adds SportLister.
4. Andre the Giant
Speaking of Wrestlemania III, the fourth spot on the list of the best pro wrestlers of the 1980s belongs to the late great Andre the Giant. “Popularly billed as the 8th Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant was a towering behemoth and one of the biggest wrestlers of all time. During the 80s, Andre the Giant was one of the biggest draws for the company mainly due to his massive size. Fans loved giant wrestlers and thus many wrestling promotions did all they could to bring these larger than size athletes onboard. Prior to becoming the superstar that he later came to be, Andre the Giant was nothing other than a regular wrestler with a unique build,” explains SportLister.
Andre the Giant’s career started to wind down in the ’80s, which presented him with an opportunity to help move the business forward. Andre the Giant did just that when he turned ‘heel’ and went after Hulk Hogan, setting the stage for an epic showdown at Wrestlemania III.
“André’s work as a face was always commendable, but it was his sudden betrayal of Hulk Hogan and his alignment with the devious manager, Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan, where he really began to shine as an entertainer. Though by that point he was beginning to wind down his career as a wrestler, his feuds with Hogan, Jake the Snake Roberts, and Randy Savage were always exciting. And André — class act that he was— always managed to make his opponents look like absolute superheroes, putting them over in the eyes of the fans any way he can,” adds Wealth of Geeks.
Andre the Giant had no problem putting guys ‘over’ with the fans, which means he’d lose to them in dramatic fashion to make the ‘good’ guys look even better for beating him. “A giant in and out of the ring, there really was no bigger figure in wrestling in the 1980s on multiple levels… This was a man who went undefeated for nearly 15 years straight and only stopped wrestling due to the health effects of his enormous size. And let’s not forget his fan-favorite character in 1987’s The Princess Bride. There’s not much else to say about the Giant that hasn’t been said before, but it certainly bears repeating that he was clearly one of the top WWF wrestlers of all time,” furthers Classic Nerd.
5. Dusty Rhodes
The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes is one of the most vibrant characters wrestling fans have ever seen and his rivalry with Ric Flair helped define professional wrestling throughout the 1980s. “Known as the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes was not your typical ’80s musclehead that was heavily presented in professional wrestling. Instead, he used his infectious charisma and amazing promo skills to win the crowd over, becoming one of the biggest babyfaces in NWA/WCW history and a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion,” writes Fanbuzz.
True, Dusty Rhodes was not a big, muscular wrestler, but that’s part of why fans loved Dusty Rhodes so much. Fans could see themselves in Dusty Rhodes, and his blue-collar persona helped him endear himself to wrestling fans. Combine his persona with his amazing microphone skills and his mind for creative wrestling matches and Dusty Rhodes is undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers of the ’80s.
“Dusty represented the people, making him the perfect foil to the peacocking Flair, and a slam-dunk underdog babyface for the fans to rally behind. His ‘Hard Times’ promo going into Starrcade ‘85 is legendary, and his booking style behind the scenes was equally influential, as he popularized the ‘Dusty Finish,’ where the hero would ostensibly emerge victorious, only to have the win stolen away from him,” furthers The Sportster.
Dusty Rhodes is responsible for some of the best wrestling matches in history. But, Dusty was also very creative, and he conceived some of the most entertaining wrestling events in the history of sports entertainment. It’s just unfortunate that Rhodes’ talents weren’t used to their full potential once he finally agreed to sign with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
“He had the best mind to create anything he wanted. War Games, Starrcade, Bunkhouse Stampede. He was a three-time world title holder, and held court in Florida and the Carolinas. He feuded with everyone and was the lead face while Ric Flair was the lead heel. Rhodes went to the WWF and was summarily used as a mid card wrestler,” adds Bleacher Report.
You might also be interested in:
- Bleacher Report
- 80s Kids
- The Sportster
- Wealth of Geeks
- Classic Nerd
- The Famous People
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