Top Superstars of the Wrestlemania era

Introduction Thirty years ago, in March 1985, mad genius Vince McMahon unveiled the first-ever Wrestlemania, and guest referee Muhammad Ali raised the hands of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in a tag-team main event. The event changed sports and entertainment forever, laying the groundwork for countless Pay Per Views to follow and powerhouse ratings on weekly cable shows. As we gear up for the annual event this Sunday, we want to know: who are the greatest superstars of the Wrestlemania era?
Disclaimer This list only includes wrestlers from the Wrestlemania era of 1985-2015. So before we get to the list, it’s time we honor those who paved the way. Pre-Wrestlemania Legends: Bruno Samartino
“Superstar” Billy Graham
Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
Gorilla Monsoon
The Iron Sheik
Dusty Rhodes
Gorgeous George
Jesse “The Body” Ventura
Bob Backlund
Lou Thesz
Harley Race
The Junkyard Dog
Classy Freddie Blassie
30. The New Age Outlaws Trademark Quote: “Oh, you didn’t know?” Finishing Moves: Shake, Rattle and Roll; The Fameasser “Oh, you didn’t know?” Enter any sports arena today and you’ll still hear those four magic words blaring from the rafters. The Outlaws are not only the most prolific tag team in history, they also had a killer ring entrance: “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages. D-Generation X proudly brings to you its WWF tag team champions of the wooooooorld. The Road Dogg Jesse James. The Badd Ass Billy Gunn. The New Age Outlaws!” “And if you’re not down with that, we’ve got two words for ya.”  
29. Jake “The Snake” Roberts Trademark Quote: “The snake will always bite back.” Finishing Move: DDT The DDT seems so commonplace today — grabbing an opponent’s head under your arm and driving it into the mat — but it was pioneered by the great Jake “The Snake” Roberts. His character remains one of the all-time best gimmicks, instilling fear in opponents with his pet snake Damien (i.e. “The Omen”).
28. TLC (Hardys, Dudleys, Edge & Christian) Trademark Quotes: “Team Extreme;” “Get the tables;” “For those with the benefit of flash photography” Finishing Moves: Twist of Fate; Swanton Bomb; Dudley Death Drop (3D); The Spear While Edge and Jeff Hardy went on to reputable singles success, it’s almost impossible to separate the three tag teams from the revolutionary TLC matches. The Hardy Boyz (ladders), Dudley Boyz (tables) and Edge & Christian (chairs) put on some of the most death-defying matches we’ll ever see.
27. Eddie Guerrero Trademark Quotes: “Latino heat!” Finishing Moves: Frog Splash Eddie Guerrero was a talented high flyer in WCW, but it wasn’t until he leapfrogged to the WWE that his stock really skyrocketed. His early death makes him a James Dean style martyr for any best list — not to mention a welcome replacement for the murderous Chris Benoit.
26. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat Memorable Quotes: N/A Finishing Move: Diving Cross Body While Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant made wrestling myth out of headlining “Wrestlemania 3,” it was an undercard match that shined with technical brilliance. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat defeated Randy Savage for the Intercontinental Title in a fast-paced contest that shaped the way matches unfold to this day.
25. Batista Memorable Quote: N/A Finishing Move: Batista Bomb Easily one of the most intimidating wrestlers to step into the ring, Batista came on the scene as a foursome with Triple H, Ric Flair and Randy Orton. Today, he’s still kicking ass in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
24. Goldberg Trademark Quotes: “Who’s next?” Finishing Moves: The Spear; Jackhammer With a Mike Tyson style run through WCW’s heavyweight ranks, Bill Goldberg steamrolled his way to the title and featured one of the coolest entrances of all time, growling his way through the backstage hallways and emerging through sparkler pyrotechnics. Unfortunately, his WWE run was rather short-lived, as he and Brock Lesnar stunk up the joint at Wrestlemania. Still, his WCW run can’t be ignored.
23. Randy Orton Trademark Quotes: “I am the legend killer.” Finishing Moves: RKO The son of Cowboy Bob Orton, Randy Orton earned the nickname “The Legend Killer” by defeating a series of icons when he first burst onto the scene. Today, the Viper has become a social media sensation, with even non-wrestling fans cutting videos of his finishing move with the line: “RKO! Out of nowhere!”
22. The Roar Warriors / Legion of Doom
Trademark Quotes: “Ohhhhhhh, what a rush!” Finishing Moves: Doomsday Device Arguably the greatest tag team in the history of the ring, Legion of Doom’s Hawk and Animal marched to the ring wearing face paint and spiky shoulder pads. When the Seattle Seahawks secondary brands itself the “Legion of Boom,” where do you think it comes from? Oh, what a rush indeed.
21. C.M. Punk Memorable Quotes: “Best in the World” Finishing Move: GTS (Go to Sleep) For a shining moment, C.M. Punk mastered the art of the “shoot,” where a wrestler breaks character to talk about backstage politics. The fans loved him for it, and Vince McMahon gave him a title run as a result. If only Vince could have been more disciplined in that particular storyline by allowing Punk to promote his stolen title belt on social media for many more months. In the end, he was misused, became frustrated and took his ball and went home.
20. Kane Memorable Quotes: N/A Finishing Move: Chokeslam from Hell; Tombstone Piledriver Removing the mask was one of the dumbest career moves of any wrestler, as it was the mystery and silence that made Kane such a monstrous figure. His arrival as the vengeful brother of The Undertaker created one of the most memorable rivalries in WWE history, matching Taker with his own Tombstone Piledriver and sending flames shooting up from the turnbuckles. Hell, fire and brimstone personified.
19. Rowdy Roddy Piper Trademark Quotes: “Just when you think you know the answers, I change the questions.” Finishing Moves: Sleeper Hold Not only did Rowdy Roddy Piper headline the first Wrestlemania as the opponent of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, his “Piper’s Pit” talkshow was imitated by everyone from Carlito to Chris Jericho. Piper remains one of the most gifted performers on the mic with so many clever turns of phrases. If you fancy yourself a great trash talker, you need to check yourself and pay the Piper.
18. Chris Jericho Memorable Quotes: “Welcome to RAW is Jericho!” Finishing Move: Walls of Jericho After a “Liontamer” run in WCW, Chris Jericho burst onto the WWE scene with the greatest intro of anyone who ever jumped ship: the Y2J countdown right as Y2K approached in December 1999. Soon after, when WCW and WWE merged, Jericho was the very first unified champ. To this day, his theme song “Break the Walls Down” is hard to beat.
17. The Ultimate Warrior Memorable Quotes: N/A Finishing Move: Gorilla Press Drop Sprinting to the ring with scary warpaint and streamers flying from his chiseled arms, The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan in one of the most memorable “Wrestlemania” main events in history. After his victories, he would repeatedly motion toward the heavens, as if drawing a superhuman strength. And now, the late Warrior has ascended to those same heavens, leaving us with many fond memories.
16. Brock Lesnar Memorable Quotes: “Here comes the pain!” Finishing Move: F5 He lets manager Paul Heyman do all the talking, but then again, Brock Lesnar’s in-ring viciousness speaks for itself. His first Wrestlemania main event against Kurt Angle saw him attempt a death-defying Shooting Star Press — jumping forward while flipping backward off the top rope — and land awkwardly on his head. Somehow, he popped up and finished the match concussed. After leaving for UFC, he returned to end Undertaker’s 21-0 win streak at Wrestlemania and decimate John Cena for the title at Summerslam.
15. Kurt Angle Memorable Quotes: “It’s true. It’s true.” Finishing Move: Angle Slam, Ankle Lock Submission Arguably the best real-life wrestler ever to grace the WWE ring, Kurt Angle was an Olympic gold medalist — and he let everyone know it. His cocky attitude and “drink your milk” wholesomeness made his character irresistible, creating some hilarious moments with the beer-swigging Stone Cold. He also remains one of the most gifted technical wrestlers ever to lace up the boots, with stellar suplexes and inescapable submission holds.
14. Mick Foley Memorable Quotes: “Have a nice day!” “Bang bang!’ Finishing Move: Mandible Claw; Double-Arm DDT Mick Foley is undoubtedly the craziest S.O.B. in wrestling history. His three alter-egos — Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack — provided plenty of barbed wire memories across the WWF, WCW and ECW. But his most brutal encounter came with the Undertaker in the second ever Hell in a Cell match, as Taker threw him off the top of the cage, chokeslammed him through the top of the cage (dislodging a tooth through his nose), then chokeslammed him onto a mat of tacks. Aside from the pain endurance, Foley was extremely lovable for Mr. Socko and his odd-couple pairing with The Rock for “The Rock and Sock Connection.”
13. Sting Memorable Quotes: N/A Finishing Move: Scorpion Death Lock Arguably the greatest superstar in WCW history, Sting intimidated opponents with his soft-spoken demeanor and chilling face paint. His bouts with Ric Flair became the stuff of legend, and this year, he takes on Flair’s buddy Triple H in his first ever Wrestlemania.
12. Scott Hall & Kevin Nash Memorable Quotes: “Hey yo.”  Finishing Move: Razor’s Edge; Jack Knife Power Bomb Scott Hall found great success in the WWF as Razor Ramon, inventing the ladder match with Shawn Michaels and flicking his signature toothpick with two words: “Hey, yo.” Likewise, Kevin Nash was a dominant champion as Diesel in the WWF. But they cemented their place in wrestling history by jumping ship to the WCW and forming the rebellious NWO group with Hollywood Hulk Hogan, peeling back the curtain on backstage antics that made us wonder what was scripted — and what was not.
11. Triple H Memorable Quotes: “Time to play the game.” Finishing Move: The Pedigree Nicknamed the Cerebral Assassin, Triple H is one of the smartest figures in understanding “the business” of pro wrestling. In other words, he knows how to play “the game.” After teaming with Chyna and Shawn Michaels to found D-Generation X — popularizing the crotch chop and delivering unforgettable antics — he went on to marry the boss’ daughter, Stephanie McMahon, to gain a front office foothold. From his water-spitting ring entrance to his prolific in-ring performance, we must all bow down to the king.
10. Andre the Giant Memorable Quotes: N/A Finishing Move: Double Underhook Suplex Billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant was as big a star as they come — literally. The 7-foot-4 giant offered some of history’s most memorable matches, including a body slam challenge with Big John Studd, the “Colossal Jostle” with King Kong Bundy and the iconic main event with Hulk Hogan at “Wrestlemania 3,” where Hogan shocked the world by picking up the giant and slamming him. His post-wrestling career was tragically short, but not before leaving us the comedic gem of “The Princess Bride” (1987). From the Giant Gonzales to The Big Show, Andre has inspired every mammoth star since.
9. Macho Man Randy Savage Memorable Quotes: “Oooooh yeahhhhhh.” Finishing Move: Diving Elbow Drop Easily the most out-of-his-mind character, bordering between genius and insanity, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage delivered an Intercontinental classic against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at “Wrestlemania 3” before winning the heavyweight title in a tournament at “Wrestlemania 4” and taking on Hulk Hogan at “Wrestlemania 5” in a match billed “The Mega Powers Episode.” From his love for Miss Elizabeth to his Slim Jim commercials, it’s hard to top Savage in the realm of pageantry and charisma. “Oh yeahhhh.”
8. John Cena Memorable Quotes: “You can’t see me!” “The champ is here!” Finishing Move: Attitude Adjustment He arrived on the tail-end of the “Attitude Era” with a finisher called the “F-U,” but John Cena quickly became the face of a new PG-rated product, fittingly changing his finishing move to the “Attitude Adjustment.” While many resent the end of the Attitude Era, there’s no denying that Cena has carried the company on his back for more than a decade, headlining countless main events with an unrivaled work ethic and returning the business to a family-friendly style similar to the 1980s run of Hulk Hogan.
7. Ric Flair Memorable Quotes: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man!” “Woooooooo!” Finishing Move: Figure-Four Leglock No one saw greater success across different federations than “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. A legend of the NWA, an architect of The Four Horsemen in WCW, and an elder statesman of the WWE, Flair “styled and profiled” his way to the ring, strutting in flowing robes, entering the ring to “2001: A Space Odyssey” music and grabbing the mic with signature catchphrases like “To be the man,  you’ve gotta beat the man!” His entire persona can be summed up in one enthusiastic vocal eruption: “Woooo!”
6. The Undertaker Memorable Quotes: “Rest…in…peace.” Finishing Move: Tombstone Piledriver; Last Ride Hands down the greatest gimmick ever created, The Undertaker’s “Dead Man” persona provided countless memorable ring entrances, arriving to funeral music in a darkened arena, walking down the ramp through smoke and raising the stadium lights with his hands. His sheer longevity is unmatched, from Casket Matches with Hulk Hogan and Yokozuna, Hell in the Cell Matches with Shawn Michaels, Buried Alive matches with Mankind and Stone Cold and Inferno Matches with brother Kane. While Brock Lesnar finally broke his unbeaten Wrestlemania streak, his 21-0 run will never be matched by another.
5. Bret Hart Memorable Quotes: “The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.” Finishing Move: The Sharpshooter Dubbed the “Excellence of Execution,” Bret Hart is the best technical wrestler to ever grace the ring. His 60-minute Iron Man match with Shawn Michaels is as famous as his Survivor Series screwjob is infamous, but through it all, Bret “The Hitman” Hart remained a fan favorite, handing his sunglasses to adoring kids in the front row and tying up opponents in his signature Sharpshooter. It was also Hart’s greatness that legitimized Stone Cold Steve Austin, making Austin pass out in a pool of his own blood during Wrestlemania 13.
4. Shawn Michaels Memorable Quotes: “I’m the showstopper, the headliner, the main event, the icon!” Finishing Move: Sweet Chin Music He was dubbed Mr. Wrestlemania for a reason. No one rose to the occasion of wrestling’s big event better than “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels, whether it was ziplining to the ring to beat Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man match, inventing the Ladder Match with Razor Ramon, or stealing the show with The Underaker late in his career. His antics with Triple H in “D-Generation X” will never be topped for outside-the-ring hilarity, while few can match the in-ring excitement of Michaels stomping his foot in the corner, tuning up the band for Sweet Chin Music.
3. The Rock Memorable Quotes: “Do you smell what The Rock is cookin’?” “Finally, The Rock has come back to (insert city);” “Know your role and shut your mouth;” “It doesn’t matter what your name is!” Finishing Move: Rock Bottom; People’s Elbow Hands down the best performer ever on the microphone, The Rock was a catchphrase machine. Snorting his way to the ring like a Brahma Bull, he was perfection as a corporate heel for Vince McMahon, before his sheer charisma won over the “millions…and millions” of Rock’s fans. Fans waited with anticipated to join in his arrival: “Finally, The Rock has come back to (insert city)!” They roared when he cut off opponents with “it doesn’t matter what your name is!” And they sent him off each night shouting, “If ya smellllllll what The Rock is cookin’.” His sheer popularity inspired an entire show — “Smackdown” — while his popularity transcended the sport to become a top-grossing moviestar. Duane Johnson is a force to be reckoned with in any arena, but to wrestling fans, he’ll always be The Rock.
2. Hulk Hogan Memorable Quotes: “Whatcha gonna do, brother, when Hulkamania runs wild on you!” Finishing Move: Running Leg Drop The Babe Ruth of professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan has become synonymous with the business itself. Ask any non-wrestling fan to name a professional wrestler, and “Hulk Hogan” is the default response. Perhaps they remember him as Thunderlips in “Rocky III.” Or, perhaps they watched his reality show “Hogan Knows Best.” Most likely, they remember his legendary run in the ring, headlining Wrestlemania after Wrestlemania with the likes of Roddy Piper, King Kong Bundy, Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter and The Rock. Donning yellow and red and marching to the song “I Am a Real American,” Hulkamania will run wild as long as pro wrestling exists. So the question becomes: “Whatcha gonna do” when The Hulk comes in at No. 2?
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin Memorable Quotes: “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass;” “DTA: Don’t trust anybody;” “What?;” “And that’s the bottom line because Stone Cold said so.”  Finishing Move: Stone Cold Stunner After a decade of all-American babyfaces who took their vitamins and said their prayers, Stone Cold Steve Austin launched the era of the anti-hero by telling Jake Roberts: “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!” A new Attitude Era was born, and fans couldn’t cheer loud enough when that glass shattered and Stone Cold hit the ring, flipping the bird, swigging Steve-weisers, driving countless vehicles (from beer trucks to zambonis) and dropping opponents with the best finisher in history: the Stone Cold Stunner. His rivalry with Vince McMahon remains the best wrestling storyline of all time, tapping into the universal theme of employer-employee tension and allowing the WWE to ultimately defeat WCW in the Monday Night War for ratings. While Hulk Hogan jumped to WCW, Stone Cold grinded away and drove Hogan’s rival company right out of business, all within a monthly PPV format more rigorous than the yearly tentpoles of Hogan’s heyday. For that, Stone Cold tops our list. “And that’s the bottom line, ’cause Stone Cold said so.”
November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

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