Mount Rushmore — that iconic image of stone faces looming large in the South Dakota sky. It bears the faces of the men often considered to be our nation’s four greatest presidents. However, over the years, the idea of a Mount Rushmore has been tossed about in every genre from film to sports to comics. So, with that in mind, the staff of Place to Be Nation decided to take a crack at constructing our own personal Mount Rushmores of professional wrestling. Enjoy!
This is one of the hardest lists I’ve ever had to create. But when it comes down to it, I believe these four deserve to be here.
Hulk Hogan – Hogan isn’t just a professional wrestler, he was a household name in the 1980s. From Saturday morning cartoons to movies to making several cameos on television shows, the Hulkster was the definition of pop culture.
Vincent K. McMahon – Without VKM we aren’t watching WrestleMania every spring, watching Raw Monday Nights or be able to log on to the WWE Network whenever we please.
Andre The Giant – There has never been a bigger, literally and figuratively, special attraction than Andre. He was a household name, larger than life and unfortunately he left us way too soon.
Steve Austin – What the Hulkster did in the 80s and early 90s, Stone Cold did in the late 90s and early 2000s, but with a twist. Austin didn’t tell you to, “say your prayers and eat your vitamins”. Instead he drank beer, raised hell and didn’t respect his boss. Austin made it cool to wear wrestling t-shirts in public again and was the backbone in the next boom period of wrestling.
Hulk Hogan —When discussing a professional wrestling “Mt. Rushmore”, there is one figure that virtually everyone agrees on off the bat. That individual is of course the Immortal Hulk Hogan. The moniker is well earned, as one name that will surely remain forever connected to the world of professional wrestling is that of Hulk Hogan.
Hogan is a slam-dunk case for many obvious reasons: He was the WWF World Heavyweight Champion when Rock ‘n’ Wrestling and WrestleMania launched professional wrestling into the mainstream. Even people who couldn’t care less about professional wrestling and have never watched one second of it know who Hulk Hogan is. He is easily the most globally recognizable star in the history of professional wrestling and it’s really not close.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin — If Hulk Hogan is Wrestling Rushmore #1, Steve Austin is #1a. Austin doesn’t have nearly the body of work that Hogan has in his career, and his run on the top of the industry was no more than six years. But what Austin’s career lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Steve Austin is responsible for so many great wrestling matches and in-ring moments during the height of his run. From his historic matches with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to his epic battles with the Rock, Triple H and Kurt Angle, Austin’s “brawling” style often sees him underappreciated as a ring general. And then we have all of the memorable RAW moments – stunning Vince McMahon, driving a Zamboni to the ring, scrapping with Mike Tyson, and of course the never-ending beer celebrations.
Steve Austin is not only one of the best wrestlers in history; he is one of the most memorable. His influence on the wrestling business will be felt for as long as pro wrestling exists.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair — My third spot on the wrestling Mt. Rushmore may have been the most difficult to decide on. I could go with a classic wrestler that helped build the business – Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers, or Bruno Sammartino. I could go with one of my modern day personal favorites like Shawn Michaels or The Rock. Strong arguments could be made for any of these guys. While I was fairly objective with my first two wrestling Rushmore subjects – neither Hogan nor Austin are among my personal favorite wrestlers – at this point it’s time for me to let my bias take over. My third spot on the wrestling Rushmore goes to “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
How many amazing matches and feuds has Ric Flair been involved with? Ricky Steamboat, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk, Lex Luger, Sting, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Triple H – Flair was involved in memorable matches and feuds with almost every single superstar of significance during his career.
I may be biased due to the era I grew up in – I am sure there are many old-school wrestlers that had legendary careers and matches before Flair’s time that I cannot judge properly because I just haven’t been exposed to them. But since this is my list, I gladly award the 3rd wrestling Rushmore spot to my personal favorite wrestler, “The Nature Boy”.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon — Depending on one’s definition of “wrestler”, I may or may not be cheating with my final selection. While he is best known for his business acumen and ruthless aggression in pushing the World Wrestling Federation to become the undisputed top promotion in the wrestling world, Vince McMahon has competed as a wrestler, and frankly I cannot comprehend a wrestling Rushmore without the brains behind the ascension of modern day professional wrestling.
Without Vince McMahon deciding this “Irish” wrestler named Hulk Hogan should be his champion, there is no Hulkamania (yes, geeks, I know the term was coined pre-WWF, but come on…). Without Mr. McMahon trying to keep “Stone Cold” Steve Austin away from the WWF title, there is no “Attitude Era”. Without Vince McMahon deciding the territory days were over and deciding to go national much to the chagrin of the old school territory promoters, there are no Monday Night Wars, no WWE Network.
Many great businessmen and wrestlers laid the foundation for professional wrestling to flourish, but only Vince McMahon had the vision that vaulted wrestling into the modern, larger-than-life, globally recognized form of “sports entertainment” we have today. He was willing to go against the grain and take risks, and seeing as he was recently recognized as a certifiable billionaire, it would be hard to argue with many of his decisions along the way.
For my Mount Rushmore of Wrestling, I decided to take a personal slant with it. I went with the guys that, in my 20+ years of fandom, have always entertained me. The wrestlers I just cannot help but watch over and over when I need a fix. My top four singles competitors are:
Barry Windham — I don’t know what it is exactly, but I was a Windham fan from Day One. He had size, he had power, he had speed, but he was just always so smooth in the ring. Everything he did looked great and it looked legit.
He could brawl with the best of them but still serve up really strong technical performances when needed. During my first exposure to wrestling, Windham was in WCW, feuding with everyone from Brian Pillman, to Arn Anderson, to Larry Zybysko, to Steve Austin. Then he formed an excellent tag team with Dustin Rhodes and eventually turned heel, where he got to show off my all-time favorite variation of the DDT.
My favorite move of Windham’s: Implant DDT.
Big Van Vader — Another guy I came to love during my formative years with WCW. Vader was imposing, brutal, and absolutely staggering to me as a youngster. The strange thing was that at the time my favorite was Vader’s arch-nemesis, Sting. But looking back, that fact, to me, speaks to just how amazing Big Van Vader was. I loved those heavy, HEAVY forearms in the corner. I loved the running standing splash. I loved, Loved, LOVED the powerbomb. Vader truly is, and was, the man.
My favorite move of Vader’s: standing running splash.
Chris Benoit — Put aside, for a moment, his final legacy. It’s hard to do, but I always enjoyed Benoit between the ropes. I can still remember the first time I saw him, on Clash of the Champions 22, against Brad Armstrong. At that time, I’d never seen much high-flying. I missed the boat on Dynamite Kid, and was not yet exposed much to guys like Jushin Liger. So, Benoit was the epitome of a high-flyer for me at that time. He was, in my view, everything Brian Pillman wanted to be. In the ring, anyway. In his later WCW run, I was ecstatic to find Benoit joining the Horsemen with Arn Anderson. Again, I’d missed the heyday of the Four Horsemen, but since my early days in late ‘91, I had read and talked to others about their greatness. I couldn’t WAIT to see how high Benoit could rise. But alas, it wasn’t until years later that he got his moment at Mania XX.
Arn Anderson — This guy is IT. Capital letters: IT. For me, I’m listing Arn fourth, but he’s easily my favorite. Love everything he did in that ring. He could tell a story with his moves and holds, or he could do it with his walk, his talk, and the look on his face. I will never not watch an Arn Anderson match.
I know I’ve written the least about him out of the four, but I just can’t think of any more superlatives to express the greatness of the man.
My favorite move(s) of Anderson’s: Spinebuster, Gourd-buster, left hand punch, DDT
Hulk Hogan — This one is an absolute no-brainer. Probably the biggest star in the history of professional wrestling, Hogan unarguably redefined the industry and became the first real crossover star. Mention the name “Hulk Hogan” in virtually any country around the world, and you’re guaranteed to get a response. He is also the only name I can think of who was on top of the two most mainstream eras in wrestling history in two totally different roles. He was the most over face in the business during the 80s and the most over heel during the mid-90s. Everything about him, from the mustache to the trunks to the moveset, is instantly recognizable.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin — Probably the second-biggest star in the history of wrestling, Austin is another no-brainer for the list. He drew more money for about a three-year stretch than anybody ever, and he was the guy the WWF built around during its most successful period. Austin changed the game, creating the era of the antihero and bringing huge attitude to the Attitude Era. He also has a legacy of unforgettable promos and classic matches.
The Rock — There can be no question that in 2014, the Rock is the most well known professional wrestler in the world. Let’s get the wrestling credentials out of the way — the top star during Raw’s highest-rated year (2000), the headliner of the most-bought PPV in WWE history (WrestleMania 28), a guy who drove WrestleMania over a million buys for the first time in years with his comeback, headliner of the greatest PPV in WWF/E history, creator of the most successful crossover catchphrases, and the possessor of dozens of ****-plus matches and promos. He’s also the only pro wrestler to ever truly succeed in Hollywood. The Rock did what many tried and failed to do before him, and as a result he truly transcended the business.
Ric Flair — Another name recognized worldwide, Ric Flair might have the deepest legacy of great matches and promos of anybody. Flair managed to become a household name worldwide despite only having one year during his prime in the biggest global company. Flair’s persona, charisma, talking ability and incredible in-ring skills elevated him beyond even the greatest of his NWA/WCW peers in terms of recognition. Flair also managed to remain a draw from the late 70s to the late 90s.
If you want to build a Mount Rushmore of wrestling, in my view, there are two guarantee picks. Rikidozan and El Santo. Both were national heroes that helped to establish wrestling in their respective countries as a huge deal. Both are remembered to this day, decades after their deaths.
Outside of Japan and Mexico it is harder to point out one legend or founding father that really stands above the rest. One wrestler that I would give a nod to is Jim Londos, who was considered one of the greatest draws of all-time and he did it during the great depression.
Rounding out the mountain is a difficult choice. Hulk Hogan was the man in one boom and Steve Austin was the man in the other boom. So whom do you choose? Hogan had a longer run (84-92 to 98-02), however Austin’s boom was hotter. I think Hulk Hogan gets the nod due to also being a giant mainstream star (and helping to spur) the second boom as well
Ric Flair — He is the template of a wrestler that could create the perfect match. The reason I say that is because unlike some of some of the other greatest wrestlers of all time, Flair can work with any kind of performer and make anything out of it. Besides the legendary matches with workers like Harley Race and Ricky Steamboat and Dusty Rhodes, he’s also faced unusual opponents. I mean guys like Ricky Morton and Road Warrior Hawk, both tag team specialists who had limited experience with singles main events. Those matches were watchable and very entertaining. He is in the top three of most people’s lists of greatest workers ever (at least those who could watch him in the 1980s).
Hulk Hogan — If Flair is the greatest wrestler of all time, then the Hulkster is the greatest entertainer of all time. When it comes to grading workrate matches, Hogan certainly doesn’t have nearly as many as Flair. However it’s not just in-ring that makes a superstar. Hogan was the ultimate hero of the masses. From the minute he pinned the Iron Sheik at “The Garden” on January 23, 1984 till the start of the NWO on July 7, 1996 Hogan was the face of professional wrestling in the mainstream. As much as Ric Flair is the better wrestler and one of the greatest ever, he never made the cover of a Sports Illustrated. Hogan still brings the juice and sparkle to any wrestling event.
Shawn Michaels — Ol’ HBK is probably the Ric Flair of the modern day. He can wrestle anybody and is one of the greatest workers of all time. The reason he may be lower on some all-time lists is that unlike Flair, who doesn’t have many detractors (other than Shane Douglas), HBK definitely has had his enemies over the years. That doesn’t detract from the fact that he may be wrestling’s greatest worker. His unpredictability and ability to work without a formula is unparalleled. Even missing four and a half years of his career didn’t hold him back from putting out eight incredible years of matches until his retirement in 2010.
Steve Austin — The man who probably saved the industry. A great mid-carder in WCW in the early 90s, he was cast off as a guy with no personality and no future. Fast forward ahead to 2009 and he entered the WWE Hall of Fame as Hulk Hogan’s equal. In 1997 when WWF was making no money and WCW was kicking their ass in the ratings Austin just grew his character slowly and surely. He beat fellow Rushmore resident Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV and turned the tide to the WWF and now WCW is a WWE property. Austin’s window of greatness may have been the smallest of anybody here (really from 1997-2003). Regardless his impact is invaluable to the business and definitely belongs with the others here.
When I decided to create my own Mount Rushmore of wrestling, the criteria were pretty simple. Much like the actual Mount Rushmore, I wanted to include the four guys who I felt had left the biggest impact on the modern landscape of professional wrestling.
For me, that meant that three of the four spots were slam-dunk locks. There’s no point in debating the worthiness of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan being on this list. They are by almost all indicators the two most popular and financially successful wrestlers of all time.
I also considered Ric Flair a lock, mainly for his longevity as a top draw and the way he ruled the old territory system in its waning years. That left only one spot, for which there were at least a dozen guys I considered.
In the end, I decided that I wanted to honor the actual in-ring performances these guys put on by including the guy I feel is the best in-ring wrestler of our lifetimes – Shawn Michaels. His longevity, amazing matches on the biggest stages and his ability to always keep us entertained one way or another gives him the nod over other potential candidates such as Vince McMahon and The Rock.