I am a fan of lists. I like to categorize, pick apart, and sort things out. I like to plan things and have them organized. I find great joy in taking a conventional sport such as baseball and delving into player statistics and creating “all-time greats” lists. With a sport such as baseball, which is known for its obsession with statistics, this type of list is possible, yet challenging. The same goes for other sports to some extent such as football and basketball.
Yet professional wrestling is different from many conventional sports in a great many ways. One of those differences is that it is much more difficult, maybe near impossible, to create a “greatest” list of professional wrestlers. So many factors must be considered when attempting to do so that aren’t an issue with other sports. The only statistic that is generally kept across the board in wrestling is that to do with title reigns. Whether it is the number of reigns a wrestler has had, how long the reign was, or when it took place, these tend to be the only statistics kept when it comes to professional wrestling.
Because of this, statistics play much less of a role when compiling a list of all time greats in the wrestling world than it would for a sport such as professional baseball or football. We must look at a different set of criteria in attempting to take on such a daunting task. But what is that criteria? What issues must we look at to determine what makes one great? I have attempted to compile a list of criteria in which we can use to do just that.
The first factor, in my mind, should be the one already mentioned. We should look at title reigns. Obviously the first thing we should look at is number of title reigns. Men such as Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan come to mind when this is brought up. But this is not the only issue that needs to be addressed when we look at title reigns. I believe it is also vital to look at the quality of such title reigns. By quality I mean a multitude of things. The length of a title reign is important in many cases. Bruno Sammartino held the WWE Championship for over a decade. This has to be counted for something.
Yet length and number cannot be the only determinants. Though men such as Sammartino and later Hulk Hogan had extensive title runs, it could be argued that though title reigns in the current era of wrestling are generally shorter, the level of competition and the amount of times one must defend the title is much greater. Therefore it is important to look at who was challenged and how often the title was defended. When looking at title reigns in respect to judging a wrestler, these three factors; number of reigns, length of those reigns, and the “quality” of reigns, are very important.
The last of three factors when dealing with title reigns parallels the next issue in which I like to look at when judging a wrestlers place in history. And that factor is the competition he faced. This, to some, gives current wrestlers a distinct advantage. Many will choose to argue that the amount of talent and competition in the current era of professional wrestling is unmatched in history. Yet this is truly another argument for another time, though it still should play a factor in creating such a list.
We must then go to the next issue. That very simply is one of in-ring ability. Who has the ability to tell a story in the ring, and do it seamlessly and convincingly. These are men who blur the line between reality and fiction. It is an important factor when determining the all time greats. Men as far back as Lou Thesz, up to current wrestlers such as Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit dazzle us with their in ring excellence. Others such as Ric Flair, Buddy Rogers, and Freddie Blassie knew how to weave a story into their matches, and their flawless ring psychology make them prime candidates, among others, for this category.
I have left one more factor out until the very end. I did this for a reason. I think, in many ways, it is the factor that is most important. When thinking of the greats, I ask myself the question, “Who could draw?” Which wrestlers could pull it the crowds, and entertain the masses. Unfortunately, no matter how good a wrestler may have been in the ring, if they didn’t have an audience to share their greatness with the skill they possess would be of little use.
At times wrestling ability and this “entertainment factor” go hand in hand, but other times it doesn’t. Hulk Hogan could step in a ring and mesmerize a crowd even before his opponent stepped foot in the ring. He had the crowd won and satisfied before the bell even rang. Men such as The Rock, who, while talented, possesses in ring ability that is not stellar, can still draw because the crowd is drawn to him. This is the “it” factor. It is the factor that if a wrestler does not possess it to some degree the crowd will turn a blind eye to them. If this factor is possessed all other things will fall in place.
There is of course what some would call exceptions. There have been champions in the past that didn’t “draw”. Many would be quick to bring up Diesel’s year long reign as WWF Champion. Yet I believe that wrestling has its ups and downs. It cycles through the good and bad. I will argue that while some champions and men who are placed at the top sometimes aren’t accepted whole hardly by the crowd, they still did something right to get there. And for them to stay there, the fans must embrace them.
I would of course like to create my own list of the all time greats based on this system. Yet that would take time, and I don’t think I am the most qualified to take on such a large task. But I will do something else. I am twenty years old. For most of those twenty years I’ve watched wrestling. Because of this, I will take it upon myself to designate who I believe are the top wrestlers in the past twenty years. But I’m not going to do that now. That can wait until the next column, so I can devote a full column to it, in which it deserves.
I will admit now that my list will be biased, because of the experiences with professional wrestling that I have had growing up, among other things. In creating such a list it is almost impossible not to have a slight hint of bias. I will also admit that this list will not be all inclusive. Unfortunately, though I consider myself knowledgeable about wrestling, I don’t know everything. But that’s not going to stop me from doing this. The great thing about wrestling is that we all have our own opinions, thoughts, and ideas on this subject. The nature of the sport allows us to have such opinions and they all can be valid in one way or another. And personally, I find that to be great.
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