Monday, 24 October 2011

40/40: My All Time Favourite Wrestlers Part 2

As I near the final two weeks of my 30’s it’s time to take a look at the second part of my countdown series 40/40: My All Time Favourite Wrestlers.

In case you didn’t read the first part, here’s the quick rundown. To mark my 40th birthday I’m listing my 40 all time favourite wrestlers. It’s as simple as that really. But for those of you who missed the first part, those who made up numbers 40-31 were:

40) Tito Santana
39) Nigel McGuinness
38) Gorgeous George
37) Steve Grey
36) Roddy Piper
35) Ricky Steamboat
34) Marc Rocco
33) Steve Corino
32) Andre the Giant
31) Jushin Liger

So with that out of the way it’s time to reveal numbers 30-21.

 30) FLASH BARKER
For those of you who don’t know who this guy is, he’s one of the best wrestlers Britain has produced over the past 20 years.

When I first began to get into the British scene again nearly ten years ago Flash was one of those names that kept popping up. He was one of the top names in the Frontier Wrestling Alliance, competing against the likes of Doug Williams, Robbie Brookside, Jonny Storm and more.

Flash was one of those guys who made wrestling look real. He looked like a tough SOB in the ring, and he was easily able to back up his claims. I once described him on the UK Fan Forum as double tough. I was quickly corrected. He’s not double tough, he’s quadruple hard.

Outside of the ring he couldn’t have been more different, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with him before and after shows, discussing the various goings on in the wrestling business. The man treated me with the utmost of respect, and for that I’m truly grateful.

His career was put on hold a few years ago because of injury, which was a great shame considering there was talk of Ring of Honor giving him a go. He made a comeback a couple of years ago, so let’s hope he can scale those heights again.

 29) SAMOA JOE
When The Wrestling Channel began in Britain in 2004 one of the first wrestlers who really grabbed my attention was Samoa Joe.

He stood out as one of the shining lights of Ring of Honor. I never saw him have a bad match against a variety of different challengers as he became the longest reigning World Champion in ROH history.

Like Flash Barker he was one of those guys who made everything look incredibly real, which was a quality he carried over into TNA when he dominated the X Division and put on classics with the likes of A.J. Styles and Kurt Angle before winning their version of the World title.

I have to admit I have been a little disappointed with the way his career has panned out of the past couple of years though. We’ve seen in flashes the brilliance that he showed a few years ago, but sadly they’ve been few and far between.

28) MICK FOLEY
If you don’t know who the hardcore legend is then you really aren’t a wrestling fan.

He may not have been the best looking and he may not have had the best body, but you can’t deny that he’s one of the top performers the wrestling business has ever seen, a man who’s been in five star classics time and time again, whether it’s been as Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love or as himself.

He’s also a best selling author, capable of drawing you into his world with just a few choice words, talking to you like you’re an old friend who he hasn’t seen for years.

Although I love Foley’s work, as with the previous entrant on this list his performances over the past couple of years have left me a little disappointed. There’s a part of me that wants to see Foley on TV on a regular basis, but not in active competition.

27) LES KELLETT
The second Brit to make this part of my list is regarded as one of the best wrestlers this country has produced. But you wouldn’t think that just by looking at him.

Outside of the ring he was regarded as a miserable old git, but once he got inside those ropes he was one of those wrestlers who could hold you in the palm of his hand.

He came across as something of a joker, a comedian if you will, to start with. He’d use the simplest of actions to make you laugh. But it wasn’t all fun and games though. He was also a great technician, capable of tying his opponents in knots. He was regarded by friends and foes alike as one of the toughest men in British wrestling.

26) KEJI MUTOH
It was way back in 1989 that I first saw the Great Muta in action. I hadn’t watched wrestling for about a year or so when we first got satellite television, and along with my staple diet of WWF Superstars the old Screensport channel occasionally showed old NWA shows.

Mutoh, as the Great Muta, was one of those stars that stood out above most of the others. His move set was incredible. He would do things that none of his contemporaries would do. The whole image just grabbed my attention, and it was an image that would go on to be copied by many of his fellow countrymen.

There was a part of me back then that wanted to see him jump ship to the WWF as a protégé of Mr. Fuji. Looking back now I’m glad that he didn’t.

25) THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR
I know this particular choice is going to take a bit of stick. But picture this scene if you can.

I’m 18 years old. I haven’t seen any wrestling for a year, and back then the biggest matches involved an overweight guy in his 50’s who should have retired years before, taking part in tag matches in which his younger and fitter opponents would take a beating before tagging him in to get the pin.

After a long time without wrestling I’m suddenly faced with a man built like the proverbial brick wall, face hidden by extravagant paint, screaming at me from my television, beating on his chest and telling me how he’s going to destroy his opponents.

Yep, the Ultimate Warrior had me hook, line and sinker.

Today he may come across as a bigoted old man who likes nothing more than digging up the dirty past of his former colleagues and embarrassing himself with his un-PC comments, but back then he was one of the greatest. He may not have been the best skill-wise, but he was capable of getting the fans emotionally involved in his matches, as evidenced by the time I cheered loudly when he defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWF title at Wrestlemania VI.

He’s also one of the smartest men in wrestling. Just think of this; he’s hardly had to wrestle over the past decade or so because he was wise with his money and investments. That’s something you can’t say for others who began their careers back in the 80’s.

24) JOHNNY SAINT
The third and final Brit on this part of my countdown is a veritable technical legend, the proverbial man of 1,000 holds.

Although considered somewhat strait-laced by others, Saint was one of those wrestlers you just couldn’t take your eye off. He was a genius who could tie his opponents up in knots. He’d also tie himself up in knots, as evidenced by the infamous Johnny Saint ball tactic he’d use to confuse his opponents.

It’s kind of hard to believe that Saint began his career way back in 1958, 13 years before I was born. He competed all over the world, retiring in 1996, before making a comeback in 2007 and recently stealing the show while working for Chikara.

It’s hard to believe that at the age of 70 he’s still capable of outlasting many of today’s great technical stars.

23) TIGER MASK
Satoru Sayama was the first man to become the real life Tiger Mask when New Japan licensed the rights to the character. But that wasn’t the first time I saw him in action.

Sayama, competing under the name of Sammy Lee, was sent on tour here to Britain and stole the show every time he competed. British wrestling fans had never seen anything like him as he took on Britain’s best.

It was against one of Britain’s best, the Dynamite Kid, that Sayama truly excelled himself in his homeland. These matches proved just how good he was, and all these years later you can still see something new each and every time you watch them.

22) A.J. STYLES
Like many others on this list I first saw the Phenomenal One in action when The Wrestling Channel began, as a mainstay of both Ring of Honor and Total Non-Stop Action.

I could see from the outset just how good this guy was, and like many others who were coming through the same time as him he was one of those wrestlers who never seemed to have a bad match with anyone, whether it was against guys who were far bigger than him such as Samoa Joe or Abyss or guys his size such as Christopher Daniels and Jonny Storm.

Whether it’s in the main event or the opening match Styles continues to impress me whenever I see a TNA show, and while I get the feeling that he’ll end up in McMahon-land one day there’s a part of me that hopes he never gets there because of the great work he continues to put in.

21) ARN ANDERSON
The final entrant in this part of the list still gets massive cheers to this day whenever he appears on television, even though he officially retired 14 years ago.

One of the mainstays of the legendary Four Horsemen, I never really paid much attention to him back in 1989 when I started to watch the WWF on a regular basis. As one half of the Brain Busters with Tully Blanchard he’d have solid enough matches, but compared to all the Warriors, Barbers and Warlords of the day he didn’t seem to stand out from the crowd.

But as time went on I came to appreciate what Anderson gave to the wrestling world. He may have seemed like Ric Flair’s bag boy at times but like many others he could have a great match with anyone, and he could also be a great tag team partner for anyone. Just think of the number of great teams he’s been a part of over the years, and the fact that he still gets a massive cheer whenever he appears in a backstage segment on a WWE show says how much the fans appreciate his work.

Well, that’s your lot for part two. No doubt this will cause some debate, including the obligatory “I can’t understand why wrestler X isn’t on this list” comments.

But for those wondering who will make part 3, here’s some clues for you: the next 10 include six Americans, one Mexican-American, two Canadians and one Brit. Also, one of those, at the time of writing, is a current World Champion. That should keep you guessing.