By Thomas Sellers Jr.
This native Memphian loves wrestling.
Let me correct that statement, I love rasslin’. From my grandfathers Ben and Billy passing on the gene to my brothers Carlos, Cordarous and me, the sport of professional wrestling has been vital to my family.
That passion brought several names and icons into our home Saturday from Channel 5 to “WCW Saturday Night.” Those wrestlers became a part of our daily life. So the recent death of Brian Christopher hit me hard.
The son of wrestling legend Jerry Lawler earned his own recognition from a decorated career in Memphis and the WWE. Grandmaster Sexay was a colorful, athletic wrestler. He had the charisma to demand your attention once he popped onto your television.
Then when the bell rang, Christopher was a DDT machine that could match up with a technical grappler or a high-flyer. His Tennessee Jam finisher is one of my favorite moves of all time.
My prayers goes out to the Lawler family, all his colleagues and those who love Brian. That list is long because professional wrestling gave him a chance to impact so many.
Too often professional wrestling loses so many who have given their lives to the sport too soon. The names read like a wonderful Saturday or Sunday evening in front of the TV watching nonstop action.
Some of the notables are Andrew “Test” Martin, Bam Bam Bigelow, Big Boss Man, Brian Pillman, Chris Kanyon, Chyna, Crash Holly, Curt Hennig, Davey Boy Smith, Eddie Guerrero, Junkyard Dog, Kerry Von Erich, Mike Awesome, Miss Elizabeth, Road Warrior Hawk, Rick Rude, Sherri Martel and Owen Hart.
I’ve imitated so many of these guys since I was 5 years old. I broke my parent’s bed superplexing my dad. Then with the arrival of TNA in the early 2000s, I ventured into the backyard to take on all comers with moves I learned from Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, Bobby Roode and Austin Aries.
Monday nights at the Mid-South Coliseum was like Wrestlemania every week for me as a child. I saw many superstars from territories across the country and future icons like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Ultimate Warrior.
From those who are still in the ring creating magical moments, those who promote the past and the grapplers participating in the battle royal in the sky, here is my personal top 10 of the best wrestlers.
10. Nick Bockwinkel
Let’s start this week’s countdown with the smartest wrestler to ever step into the squared circle. The face of the American Wrestling Association, Nick Bockwinkel was the Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan of that organization. Bockwinkel was a true professional wrestler. He was a four-time AWA champion and traveled the United States to define that title or take on the best wrestler in certain areas. He was a great promo and could work the crowd from the microphone.
He dressed like a country club member and had the appearance of high-class elegance. But in the ring he was technical and would use dirty tricks to get the 1-2-3.
9. Sid Vicious
“The Man who rules the world.” Born Sid Eudy, the massive wrestler from West Memphis was also known as Sycho Sid, Sid, Sid Justice and Sid Vicious. The master of the power bomb lived up to all those names from Memphis to the larger promotions of WCW and WWE. He held the world championship wherever he decided to dominate. Standing nearly 7 feet and packed with muscles, Sid was able to carry on an entertaining match with the likes of fellow big men the Undertaker or Kevin Nash. Then he would make a matchup with the likes of Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart a classic.
8. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid had the charm and looks the ladies love. And Michaels possessed the in-ring ability to thrill the guys. He was a true iron-man as a co-author of the classic “Wrestlemania 12” showdown with Bret Hart. The two wrestling icons when more than an hour in the ring with Michaels coming out on top with his first world title.
He is known as Mr. Wrestlemania. He should be called Mr. WWE. Michaels was co-founder of Degeneration-X along with Triple H. That group shaped the promotion for 20 years.
Michaels was a pioneer and fierce competitor. Just go watch his matches with Shane-O-Mac, Undertaker, Flair or the ladder match against Razor Ramon. Michaels was the best WWE wrestler ever.
7. Arn Anderson
The Enforcer, the most intimidating nickname in wrestling. And it belong to the NWA legend Arn Anderson. He was the protector of Ric Flair, his kayfabe cousin. Those two men were founding members of the best wrestling stable ever: The Four Horsemen. Anderson and Flair joined Tully Blanchard, Ole Anderson and JJ Dillon to set the wrestling world on fire.
Anderson makes this list because how much he sacrificed for his colleagues. He gave up world championships to promote his friends. Although he had success as a tag-team champion, Anderson did make a large mark on me as a singles competitor. I would use his triple edge spinebuster and quick DDT in my matches.
6. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Poetry in motion whenever Ricky Steamboat was in action. His diving cross-body was graceful. Then Steamboat would devastate an opponent with an elevated double-arm chickenwing. Steamboat made his mark across multiple promotions like the AWA, NWA/WCW and WWE.
His Wrestlemania 3 match against Randy Savage still holds up today. Then the best wrestling trilogy took place between Steamboat and Flair in 1989. Some are saying this year’s three match series between Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega might be the new No. 1.
In the six matches between the four men, I bet money that the best was in New Orleans between Flair and Steamboat. It was the best two out three falls. And Steamboat walking out of the Superdome with the “Big Gold Belt” was a classic moment.
5. Macho Man
Every graduation I attend, I think of this wrestling icon. “Oh, Yeah!”
But his career was no pomp and circumstances. He was clearly the best wrestler of the Mega Powers, his union with Hulk Hogan. Savage could cut a vicious promo, and his presence on the television was captivating. That’s why he was able to sell us Slim Jim and other products.
Savage was a good actor around the ring, even from relationship situations with Miss Elizabeth, spotting the lust in the eyes of Hogan.
Let’s step back into the ropes to finish off Savage’s legacy. He was a second-generation grappler who made his father Angelo Poffo proud. Randy Savage was a combination of athleticism and power. He was Shawn Michaels before Shawn Michaels. Macho Man’s skills still hold up today. The Flying Elbow is still a fantastic finisher. Just go to YouTube and watch five minutes’ worth of elbows.
4. AJ Styles
Allen Neal Jones is simply phenomenal. Better known as AJ Styles, he is the man who put TNA on the map. His signature moves and finishers are worth viewing over and over again. Here are just a few: Styles Clash, The Spiral Tap, The Pele Kick, Wheelbarrow Facebuster, Rack Bomb and Superman.
Styles has made his mark in TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan. Now he is finally getting the shine he’s earned in the WWE. Submissions, high-flying, technical or grinding, Styles does it all. He’s the best pure wrestler I’ve seen, and he’s the best of this modern era of professional wrestling.
3. Jerry Lawler
“The King” is from Memphis. To some folks who call the Bluff City home, he’s the most important King in the 901 over a certain music icon. From Treadwell High School to the Mid-South Coliseum, Lawler represents his city with love and pride and as one bad man. You don’t mess with the King, or you’ll get hurt. He ruled his territory with class and flash. An artist outside of the ring, Lawler could paint a picture with his words.
He passed on the wrestling genes to his late son Brian Christopher and has been an advocate for the business as a promoter and an analyst.
This man his given heart, body and soul to the industry. He’s made us laugh and cry. Lawler has managed to make us hate him and pray for him against an opponent.
In May 1988 the King’s crowning moment came when he beat Curt Hennig for the AWA championship in a packed Coliseum. It was the sweetest of his nearly 170 championships. Lawler was so good at winning titles that he unified the WCWA and USWA championships into becoming the Unified World Champion.
Lawler is the main reason I think Memphis and the Mid-South Coliseum should be the home of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Once the venue is transformed into the holy grounds for rasslin’, Lawler should have a statue outside of it and Monday nights should be free to the public.
2. Ric Flair
He’s a natural pick to be this high on the list. He is the Nature Boy. Born in Memphis in 1949, Flair grew up to be the Best Wrestler of All-Time. In order to pull off that feat, a grappler must process three key elements — microphone chops, heel/babyface abilities and in-ring skills. Flair did it all in a superb matter.
Against Terry Funk, I rooted for Flair to overcome the devious hardcore wrestler. But just before that, I despised Flair for his rivalry against Steamboat. How did he do that?
Flair was the leader of Four Horsemen, NWA and traditional wrestling. But as the industry changed, Flair adjusted and kept his name prominent.
One reason he was able to stay fresh was his skills between the ropes. Flair could have a 15-minute classic with a broom. And he would win with his signature Figure-Four Leg Lock.
“To be the man, you’ve got to be the man,” was one of Flair’s signature statements.
“I’m Ric Flair! The Stylin’, profilin’, limousine riding, jet flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun!” I can listen to Flair talk all day because, if you don’t like it — learn to love it. Because Ric Flair is almost the best thing going today.
The best thing going today is the man they call Sting. I am a Stinger. Back in 1988 I became a Little Stinger once I first viewed the muscle man with colorful tights, matching face paint and the blonde crew cut.
He flew through the air and crushed his opponent with the Stinger Splash. Then he would apply the Scorpion Death Lock to finish off the opposition.
He had classic feuds with Flair, Vader, Lex Luger, Rick Rude, Great Muta, Hogan, Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg. Sting was the flag carrier for WCW and doing your business in the ring. Whether it was in the United States or Japan, Sting packed a house because fans knew they would get a great match.
Then in 1996 Sting transformed into the crow Stinger. He captivated a nation without even speaking a word. His silent presence in the stands or raptures would send thousands in attendance in the arena into a frenzy. The millions watching at home would stop whatever they were doing to just get a glimpse of Sting.
Sting puts a Scorpion Death Drop on the competition and is my best wrestler of all time.
From Sting to the Grand Master Sexay, I appreciate the sacrifices these men have made over the year. They sacrifice time from their families and endure physical aches, and most turn to a life of substance abuse. Most of them want to entertain and inspire the public through the theater called Professional Wrestling.
As they help us hold on to our childhoods, some of the wrestlers never grow up or get a chance to grow old.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.