The 20 Greatest Wrestlers of the Modern Era

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If great wrestlers were just judged on in-ring ability, Dean Malenko and Shelton Benjamin would have been two of the greatest during the modern era.

However, it probably won’t shock anybody that neither of these two are included on the following list.

Wrestlers are also actors due to the business growing a heavy focus on in-ring and backstage segments since the Monday Night Wars.

Now, how many of you can remember a brilliant segment involving Malenko or Benjamin? Exactly.

Fair enough, they never got as much on-screen time to talk as Chris Jericho and The Rock, but that was clearly a business decision with reasoning.

Many of the most recognisable wrestlers in recent history have gained popularity through their verbal as well as in-ring talents. It has usually been those who regularly wore gold, particularly the prestigious World Championship.

This countdown is a tribute to the 20 greatest wrestlers who have stood out among the rest since the modern era, from the 1990’s onwards.

20. GOLDBERG

Goldberg

In-ring: B
Mic skills: C
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 5 (2 World Championships)

WCW pushed Goldberg as the man to carry the company forward with stars such as Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan reaching the end of their in-ring careers. His undefeated streak of 173 matches gave him a destructive reputation that proved to win over fans and resulted in him main eventing Starrcade on two occasions. His absence from the business after WCW’s closure led to many wondering if he would ever sign for WWE, which he eventually did in 2003. Goldberg quickly gained victories over The Rock and Chris Jericho before defeating Triple H at Unforgiven later on in the year to become World Heavyweight Champion.

 

19. KANE

Kane

In-ring: B
Mic skills: C
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 18 (3 World Championships)

Kane has been one of the most notable performers in WWE for nearly two decades. He has been involved in numerous feuds with his on-screen brother The Undertaker which often involved their father, the late Paul Bearer. For a big man, Kane has always had impressive athleticism and consistently put on decent showings inside the ring. However, there’s no doubt that his image will always be the focal point of his legacy. His unmasking on Raw’s June 23, 2003 edition caused fascination among the wrestling world.

 

18. JEFF JARRETT

Jeff-Jarrett

In-ring: B
Mic skills: B
Popularity: C
Total Championships: 22 (10 World Championships)

Jeff Jarrett deserves recognition on this list simply for his love of the business. After all, he’s the man who created TNA from nothing, and although the company is having its problems at the moment, it’s responsible for many great moments in recent wrestling history. Prior to being a six-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion in TNA, Jarrett was a solid mid-carder in WWE and a main event star in WCW where he won four WCW World Heavyweight Championships. He’s currently in the process of building another promotion after failing to buy back TNA from the Carter family.

 

17. EDDIE GUERRERO

eddie

In-ring: A
Mic skills: B
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 15 (1 World Championship)

Continuing a family tradition of a career in the wrestling business, Eddie Guerrero showed brilliance inside the ring and worked naturally as a heel or face. In WCW, he shone above all other cruiserweights to earn plaudits for being a potential World Champion. Latino Heat had to be patient in WWE for a main event run but he eventually got where he belonged and became WWE Champion at No Way Out in 2005 by defeating Brock Lesnar. There’s no doubt Guerrero was best suited to being one of wrestling’s biggest stars until his unfortunate death on November 13, 2005. Viva La Raza!

 

16. EDGE

edge

In-ring: B
Mic skills: B
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 31 (11 World Championships)

After making a name for himself with Christian as one of WWE’s greatest ever tag teams, Edge became a successful singles competitor in the mid 2000’s. The Rated-R Superstar was involved in many comical moments but also proved to be a top heel at main event level. He won his first of four WWE Championships at New Year’s Revolution 2006, which began the first of many feuds with rival John Cena. Overall, the Canadian won a combined 11 World Championships and would probably still be wrestling today if his neck injury didn’t force him to prematurely in 2011.

 

15. CHRIS BENOIT

benoit

In-ring: A
Mic skills: C
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 21 (2 World Championships)

In his prime, there was nobody in the business with a better work ethic than Chris Benoit. The ‘Rabid Wolverine’ was the most gifted technical wrestler of his generation and involved in many great matches including bouts with Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle. Benoit’s finest moment undoubtedly came at Wrestlemania 20 when he defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels to win the World Heavyweight Championship. However, the Canadian’s murder-suicide involving his wife Nancy and son Daniel will unfortunately overshadow his legacy in the ring.

 

14. MICK FOLEY

mick foley

In-ring: C
Mic skills: B
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 17 (4 World Championships)

He’s fallen off cages, landed in thumbtacks and taken more chair shots than anybody else in the business. Whether he was wrestling as Mankind, Cactus Jack, Dude Love or under his real name, Mick Foley is the ultimate hardcore legend. His willingness to sacrifice his body for our entertainment meant he was involved in many contemporary matches that will be remembered in wrestling history, including his Hell in a Cell bouts with The Undertaker and Triple H. Despite his bloody matches taking violence to new levels, Foley also had a comical side, such as his tag team with The Rock, known as The Rock N Sock Connection.

 

13. JOHN CENA

cena

In-ring: C
Mic skills: B
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 22 (14 World Championships)

Whether you love him or hate him, there is no doubt that John Cena deserves a mention on this list. He may represent everything Attitude Era fans hate about the business today but he has been the focal point of WWE for nearly a decade in a career that involves 14 World Title reigns. His popularity with the younger generation has made the WWE millions through merchandise and although his wrestling ability may be limited, Cena has still stepped up for the big occasions including his five Wrestlemania main events.

 

12. CHRIS JERICHO

jericho

In-ring: B
Mic skills: A
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 30 (6 World Championships)

Y2J is without a doubt one of the most naturally gifted wrestlers in every major department. His brilliant mic work included high levels of humour, such as memorable insults against Stephanie McMahon, William Regal and Kurt Angle, which entertained the fans and made him a hit. Jericho was also a great in-ring competitor with technical skill and high risk athleticism. Unfortunately, he peaked at a time when WWE already had established stars such as The Undertaker, The Rock, Mick Foley, Steve Austin and Triple H, which meant he had a prolonged stay in the mid-card. Regardless, he had eventual success in the main event, including his victory at Vengeance 2001 where he defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in one night to become the first ever Undisputed WWE (then WWF) Champion.

 

11. KURT ANGLE

kurtangle

In-ring: A
Mic skills: B
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 19 (11 World Championships)

Olympic gold medalist, Kurt Angle has been the best pure athlete in the business since his breakthrough for WWE in 2000. That year, he won the WWE European Championship, WWE Intercontinental Championship, King of the Ring, and of course, his first of four WWE Championships. He was undoubtedly WWE’s biggest star before his move to TNA in 2006 where he has also achieved success as a record five-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Angle’s in-ring ability is second to nobody and has been involved in many classics down the years, against the likes of Chris Benoit, Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels, Sting and Samoa Joe. Earlier this year, he was rewarded for his success by being inducted in TNA’s Hall of Fame, and there’s no doubt that he’ll receive the same honour from WWE one day. It’s true, it’s true.

 

10. BRET HART

brethart

In-ring: A
Mic skills: C
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 17 (7 World Championships)

The Montreal Screwjob will always be the major talking point of Bret Hart’s career but the whole purpose of that very incident at Survivor Series 1997 was based on Vince McMahon bitterly losing his top star to WCW. The Hitman had been a major asset to WWE for fourteen years, achieving success as a five time WWE Champion. He also starred in two of Wrestlemania’s most memorable matches, against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12 and against Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13. Following his move to WCW, Hart also became a two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion before his career was cut short due to a post-concussion injury suffered at Starrcade 1999 during his match with Goldberg. His real life rivalry with Vince McMahon has been put to rest as he was rightfully inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

 

9. STING

sting baseball

In-ring: B
Mic skills: B
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 21 (14 World Championships)

In the early days of the Monday Night Wars, WCW were beating off competition from WWE and one of the key factors behind that was the return of Sting, who sported a different look compared to the 1980’s. The Icon had a unique appearance and his feud with the NWO goes down as one of the greatest in wrestling history. In total, he is a 14 time World Champion, including five reigns as WCW World Heavyweight Champion and four as TNA World Heavyweight Champion. In his mid-50’s, he was still a vital part of TNA’s rooster until his recent departure and headlined Bound For Glory four times, along with being the inaugural inductee in the TNA Hall of Fame. There’s no doubt that Sting is the greatest wrestler in history to never work for WWE, although rumours are reporting a deal could be close in the near future.

 

8. TRIPLE H

Triple-H-water-Spit

In-ring: B
Mic skills: A
Popularity: C
Total Championships: 23 (13 World Championships)

There’s no doubt that Triple H has received favouritism in WWE for his marriage to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, particularly in the latter stages of the 2000’s. However, during the late 1990’s, The Game was establishing himself as a main event star and quickly became the best heel in the business. In his prime, he had memorable feuds with Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock and Chris Jericho, and had entertaining runs as WWE Champion. Triple H was brilliant on the mic and could draw heat from the crowd better than anybody else. He is a 13 time World Champion and has headlined Wrestlemania on six occasions, as well as leading classic stables such as D-Generation X and Evolution.

 

7. RANDY SAVAGE

randy savage

In-ring: B
Mic skills: A
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 7 (6 World Championships)

The late Randy Savage was an established name in the business during the 1980’s and made a memorable comeback in 1995 when he signed for WCW. During that time, he became a main event star with feuds against the likes of Diamond Dallas Page and Hulk Hogan. WCW was heavy in big names at the time but Savage still managed to keep his reputation as a drawing card by becoming a four-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. However, one of the most memorable attributes was his ability to pump a crowd with his unique and dramatic voice.

 

6. SHAWN MICHAELS

HBK

In-ring: A
Mic skills: B
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 14 (3 World Championships)

There are few more glorious careers in professional wrestling than that of Shawn Michaels. The Heart-Break Kid has headlined five Wrestlemania’s and was the original leader of the famous D-Generation X. Michaels was also the first man to become a WWE Grand Slam Winner meaning he held all the significant gold in the company. As a main eventer, he had great feuds with Diesel, The Undertaker, Steve Austin, and most famously, Bret Hart. His participation in The Montreal Screwjob will always be one of the most talked about incidents in professional wrestling history.

 

5. THE ROCK

rock

In-ring: B
Mic skills: A
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 17 (10 World Championships)

The Rock took character to a new level in professional wrestling with his charisma and mic work when he became a leading star for WWE. Originally a face, The People’s Champion worked as a heel in the stables The Nation and The Corporation before turning face again. Vince McMahon reverted him back to a face as his popularity grew, and enabled him to become the leading star of the company at the absence of the injured Steve Austin. The Rock’s growing fan base in the late 1990’s was a key factor in WWE’s growing success over WCW and allowed him to go on and claim eight WWE Championships. No doubt, he would have been a contender to top this list but his career was shorter than most due to Hollywood commitments.

 

4. RIC FLAIR

flair

In-ring: C
Mic skills: A
Popularity: B
Total Championships: 30 (16 World Championships)

The Nature Boy has done it all. He holds the record for the most official reigns as World Champion at 16 and is one of the most vibrant characters to ever enter the squared circle. Much of his success took place in the 1980’s and early 1990’s but even in recent time Ric Flair has delivered, such as at 2008’s Wrestlemania 24 where he had a classic with Shawn Michaels that was voted Match of the Decade by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. The acknowledgement of Flair’s career is evident as he is the only man to have been inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame twice as a singles wrestler and member of The Four Horsemen. Woo!

 

3. THE UNDERTAKER

The Undertaker1

In-ring: B
Mic skills: C
Popularity: A
Total championships: 15 (7 World Championships)

Has there ever been a more legendary figure at Wrestlemania than The Undertaker? It would be hard to argue against it judging from his record. His undefeated streak at WWE’s signature pay-per-view, which is now 21-0, highlights a memorable career also known for two diverse gimmicks. The Undertaker has spent most of his career as “The Deadman” but towards the latter stages of WWE’s Attitude Era also appeared as “The American Bad Ass,” and under both, experienced success as one of wrestling’s most iconic names. Nowadays, he appears selectively on WWE television but in his prime, The Undertaker held the WWE Championship on four occasions and was a major part of the company with great ability for a big man.

 

2. HULK HOGAN

hulk

In-ring: C
Mic skills: A
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 13 (12 World Championships)

Although Hulk Hogan has been quite a cheesy character most recently as TNA general manager, there is no doubt that he had an amazing career as a wrestler and is an undisputed legend. His popularity from the 1980’s continued in the 1990’s when he famously jumped from WWE to WCW. In both companies, Hogan had great success as a main event competitor and overall has been a World Champion on 12 occasions. Hogan was also the focal point of possibly the most famous stable in history, the New World Order.

 

1. STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN

steve

In-ring: B
Mic skills: A
Popularity: A
Total Championships: 18 (6 World Championships)

Steve Austin gets the nod for his major role in WWE’s eventual victory over WCW in the Monday Night Wars. The Texas Rattlesnake won six WWE Championships in a career that included memorable rivalries with Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, The Rock, Triple H, and most famously, Vince McMahon. Austin delivered in the ring during some classic bouts but was also loved by the fans for his no nonsense approach that made him an unpredictable face character and arguably the most popular wrestler of all time. And that’s the bottom line!

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