The 30 Best Old-School Wrestlers of the 1980s, Ranked

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Jeff Goode/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Quick! When you think of pro wrestling in the 1980s, who comes to mind? Certainly, the drug-fueled charms of the salacious and ostentatious Ric Flair are indelibly imbued into our collective memories. Can’t you almost hear the raspy, strained shouts of "Macho Man" Randy Savage? And of course, the omnipresence of Hulk Hogan’s red and yellow logo will forever be etched into wrestling history.

But the thing about nostalgia is that it tends to whitewash some of the darker parts of history in favor of a rose-tinted rearview. Times have changed and it’s increasingly difficult to view grapplers like The Ultimate Warrior without considering his appalling and bigoted worldviews. Even still, the in-ring exploits of him and other legends that may be deemed controversial must still be acknowledged thanks to their unforgettable runs on top.

Although the world of '80s pro wrestling was filled with neon tiger stripes and cocaine dreams, that decade was also a time of immense athleticism, over-the-top characters, and intrepid innovation in the art of combat sports. With that in mind, we’ve created an alternate pantheon of iconic wrestling legends and lesser-known heroes who many would consider underappreciated compared to the more ubiquitous and deeply obvious wrestling celebrities of that decade. Our rubric is based on cultural pervasiveness, global influence, and pure in-ring skill.

RELATED: The 24 Best '90s Wrestlers, Ranked

30. Mountain Fiji

Amazon Prime Video

Wrestled for: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Avalanche (Running Body Splash)

Although in the year 2020 fans are more likely familiar with Machu Picchu, the GLOW character she inspired, Mountain Fiji was widely considered the heart and soul of the imminently campy Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling TV series that went on to garner a cult following. Her sweetness and indomitable spirit were documented in the GLOW documentary. Just try not to cry while watching it!

29. The Jumping Bomb Angels

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Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Double Dropkick

Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki were key figures in the Japanese women’s tag scene during the ’80s and even had success as a duo in the WWF. They often provided an excellent foil to the overpowered Crush Gals throughout their influential run.

28. Wendi Richter

wendi richter

Wrestled for: World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation, Stampede Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling, American Wrestling Association

  • Finishing Move: Sitout DDT

The history of women’s wrestling may have taken an entirely different direction had Wendi not been bamboozled by Vince McMahon and The Fabulous Moolah during the infamous “Rock N Wrestling connection” moment. Richter attempted to bring legitimacy to women’s wrestling and was actually rather successful, but the world (or, actually, maybe just Vince) simply wasn’t ready for what she had to offer. Nonetheless, Richter won championships around the globe before her retirement in 2005.

27. Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake

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Wrestled for: Mid-South Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Sleeper Hold

Often seen brandishing a castrating pair of garden shears, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake’s libidinous persona was displayed in his eccentric outfits. Eventually, the character morphed into a deranged barber who cut the hair of his opponents following his decisive victories. Beefcake held nine titles throughout his career and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019.

26. The Iron Sheik

Iron Sheik bio

Wrestled for: World Wrestling Federation, Jim Crockett Promotions, Mid-South Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Georgia Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, American Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Council, World Championship Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Camel Clutch

Although perhaps better known these days for his bombastic and foul-mouthed Twitter rampages, The Iron Sheik was a key heel throughout the ’80s. His IRL truculent personality and tendency towards bridge-burning made him an unlikely favorite in the industry — and although he was likely portrayed as a villain (along with his partner Nikolai Volkoff) due to xenophobia within the USA, he certainly lived up to his dastardly, devil-may-care reputation out of the ring. RIP, BUBBA!

25. Jim " The Anvil" Niedhart

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Wrestled for: Stampede Wrestling, Catch Wrestling Association, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling, Continental Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Anvil Flattener (Front Powerslam), Anvilizer

These days, Jim Niedhart's legacy is carried on through current WWE superstar Natalya, but her father — frequently known as "The Anvil" — had cemented his heroic status long before she began fighting. A key member of The Hart Foundation tag team alongside Bret "Hitman" Hart, Niedhart ran roughshod through the WWF with his pink-clad partner throughout the 1980s.

24. Adrian Adonis

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Boris Spremo/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Wrestled for: American Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Federation, New Japan Pro Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Sleeper Hold

An early example of the queer-coded villain in the wrestling world, Adrian Adonis was a grotesque caricature of gay culture — but a compelling personality nonetheless. Of course, this shaved, corpulent, and effeminate fighter in a nude diaper was a villain, but his bizarre characterizations made him quite unique in a sea of hyper-machismo.

23. Junkyard Dog

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Wrestled for: Mid South Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation, National Wrestling Alliance, World Championship Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Thump (Standing Scoop Powerslam or Front Powerslam)

Entering the ring to Queen’s infectious anthem, “Another One Bites The Dust,” Junkyard Dog was a paradigm of pure power. Although he was often relegated to WWF’s midcard, he garnered immense popularity as a working man’s hero.

22. "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase


Wrestled for: National Wrestling Alliance, Mid-South Wrestling/Universal Wrestling Federation, All Japan Pro Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Million Dollar Dream

DiBiase ran rampant in NWA, NJPW, and WWF throughout the ’80s and proved to be a paragon of in-ring excellence in each federation. Known for his signature evil laugh, “The Million Dollar Man” bragged about — you guessed it — his extraordinary wealth while trouncing opponents around the world.

21. Jake “The Snake” Roberts

Jake The Snake Roberts bio

Wrestled for: Georgia Championship Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: DDT

Listen to the pops that erupted across live audiences whenever this man landed a devastating DDT on his latest foe and proceeded to lay a weighty snake across their unconscious body! Jake "The Snake" Roberts and his masterful approach to promos (where he didn't have to raise his voice that much to get his point across) enraptured wrestling fans during his runs in Mid-South Wrestling, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, and Georgia Championship Wrestling. Once he made his way to the WWF, Jake's legend grew to epic proportions as he brought his sinister brand of sports entertainment to a larger audience.

20. "Ravishing" Rick Rude

Ravishing Rick Rude bio

Wrestled for: Championship Wrestling from Florida, World Class Championship Wrestling, Jim Crockett Promotions, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Moves: DDT, Canadian Backbreaker Rack, Rude Awakening (Neckbreaker)

With the sex appeal of a Chippendale performer, this “Ravishing” in-ring athlete was a WWF/WCW legend before career-ending injuries forced him to stop performing in 1997. The prototypical arrogant pretty boy, Rude was known for insulting the mostly male crowds before enticing women with promises of sexual promiscuity. 

19. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper

roddy pipper bio

Wrestled for: National Wrestling Alliance, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Sleeper Hold

One of wrestling’s breakout stars, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper became a bonafide pop-cultural icon with numerous appearances on television sitcoms and cartoons. Amassing 34 total championship wins in his career, Piper’s legacy now lives on in Ronda Rousey, whom he gifted the “Rowdy” moniker. Respected and influential wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer went as far as calling him "one of the key figures in the growth of WWF.”

18. Curt Hennig

mrperfect bio

Wrestled for: American Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Federation, Pacific Northwest Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Perfect-Plex (Fisherman Suplex)

Named one of the top five WWF Intercontinental Champions of all time, Curt Hennig AKA "Mr. Perfect" exemplified the widely reviled heel archetype throughout the decade. His over-the-top video packages established him as a kind of miraculous meta-human that, despite or because of their inherent campiness, catalyzed his global superstardom. In the book WCW: The Ultimate Guide, respected wrestling journalist Dave Scherer described Hennig as "one of the best all-around competitors this business has ever produced.”

17. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat

ricky steamboat bio

Wrestled for: Jim Crockett Promotions, World Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Diving Crossbody

Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009, Ricky Steamboat’s fights against “Macho Man” Randy Savage (1987) and Ric Flair (1989) were both awarded Match of the Year by Pro-Wrestling Illustrated and the Wrestling Observer. Known for his unexpected grace in the ring, Steamboat was also a proficient tag team wrestler alongside his partner Jay Youngblood.

16. Dump Matsumoto

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Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Lariat

The main rival of the Crush Gals, Matsumoto’s ghastly look complimented her domineering in-ring presence. Her matches with her aforementioned nemeses were attended by sold-out crowds in Japan and bolstered the reputation of Japanese women’s wrestling worldwide. Although she was far more active in All Japan Women’s Wrestling, she made brief appearances in the WWF in 1986.

15. Tiger Mask I

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Wrestled for: New Japan Pro-Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation, Universal Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Tiger Suplex

Played by Satoru Sayama, whom Bret Hart once called “the Bruce Lee of professional wrestling,” Tiger Mask I was both a real-life wrestling character and the star of a popular Japanese cartoon. Although the conceit might seem silly, Sayama had the skill to back up the story: his match at NJPW Sumo Hall Show in 1983 (against Dynamite Kid Thomas Billington) was the first fight Meltzer ever granted a five-star rating.

14. Lioness Asuka

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Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling

  • Finishing Moves: K Driller (Reverse Piledriver), LSD II (Leg Hook Sitout Suplex Slam), LSD III (Cut-Throat Leg Hook Sitout Suplex Slam), Towerhacker Bomb (Backbreaker Rack Dropped Into a Sitout Powerbomb)

As a member of the notorious Crush Gals tag team, Lioness Asuka helped to propel women’s wrestling to global popularity. In fact, it was the Crush Gals that catalyzed All Japan Pro Wrestling’s international following. It’s no surprise that The Crush Gals are often considered the greatest women’s tag team of all time considering the duo’s perfectly honed and incredibly powerful movesets.

13. Mil Máscaras

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Wrestled for: World Wrestling Council

  • Finishing Moves: Diving Crossbody, Flying Cross Chop

A symbol of the spirit of Lucha Libre, Mil Máscaras is one of the few masked fighters ever inducted into WWE’s heralded Hall of Fame. Both flashy and furious, Mil Máscaras is considered one of Mexican wrestling’s first international stars. Introducing acrobatic aerial attacks to Japanese audiences, Máscaras is considered an innovator of high-risk antics like the ever-popular tope suicida. As much a wrestler as a cultural ambassador, Máscaras starred in over 20 films. And although his identity is now known worldwide, he’s one of the few masked wrestlers to have never revealed his face to the public.

12. Bull Nakano


Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling

  • Finishing Moves: Diving Guillotine Leg Drop, Poseidon

One of wrestling’s premiere villainesses, Bull Nakano’s striking punk rock-influenced look would enrapture audiences around the world, as did her absolute physical domination in the ring. Although she was often teaming with her mentor, Dump Matsumoto, she also held the All Japan Pro Wrestling women’s title for three years starting in 1985 — she was only 16 years old at the time. Her garish fashion statements have since inspired a new generation of sartorial outsiders.

11. Jaguar Yokota

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Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Double Arm Piledriver

Jaguar Yokota for a time was considered the best wrestler in the world, period. Although wrestling back then was strictly segregated by gender, Yokota’s unquestioned skill level was often thought of as far surpassing that of her male counterparts. Starting her career at the age of 15, it wouldn’t take her too long to start snatching titles. However, in 1985 she was forced to vacate her championship due to an injury, which prompted an early retirement in 1986 at the age of 24.

10. Chigusa Nagayo

Wikimedia Commons

Wrestled for: All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling

  • Finishing Moves: Scorpion Hold, Super Freak (Spinning Sitdown Powerbomb), Running Three (Thunder Fire Power Bomb)

As one-half of the Crush Gals, Chigusa Nagayo was a key player in the rising popularity of Japanese women’s wrestling in the 1980s and quickly became an international icon. Her appearance as a heart-hardened sensei in the 2000 documentary Gaea Girls showed how she viewed wrestling not as an art form or a sport but as a kind of sacred pursuit. Meltzer has previously described her as “the most popular women’s wrestler of all time.”

9. Bret "Hitman" Hart

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Wrestled for: Stampede Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Sharpshooter

While other '80s wrestlers are known as much for their bombastic personalities as for their actual fighting ability, it’s the latter quality that continues to endear industry insiders to Bret "Hitman" Hart. It’s almost impossible to overstate the precision and crispness of Hart’s immense technical in-ring abilities and his resilience in the face of some very real tragedies is beyond admirable. For a time, Hart was considered the most famous person in Canada and is quite often regarded as the greatest wrestler of all time.

8. The Ultmate Warrior

Ultimate Warrior bio

Wrestled for: Continental Wrestling Association, Universal Wrestling Federation, World Class Championship Wrestling, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Moves: Gorilla Press Drop Into Running Splash

While he may not have been the most technically sound wrestler, The Ultimate Warrior's intensity and brute strength managed to capture the imagination of young wrestling fans far and wide. His iconic entrance, which saw the Warrior jet down to the ring and pump himself up by swinging the ring ropes, always elicited a lively response from the crowd. When it came time to do some damage, Warrior tended to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. While fans may have never understood a word of his loud rambling promos, they were still glued to the screen just to watch them unfold. The face paint, the arm tassels, the chest pounding, and the Gorilla Press Slam into the Running Splash are all tied to this hyperactive superstar.

7. Nick Bockwinkel

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Wrestled for: American Wrestling Association

  • Finishing Moves: Piledriver, Sleeper Hold

Intergrity. Intelligence. Pure Class. Those qualities and more make up the framework of one of the most respected wrestling champions of the '80s, Nick Bockwinkel. As a megastar competing for the American Wrestling Association, Nick certified himself as your champion's favorite champion - with Bobby Heenan by his side, Nick regularly delivered promos with the sort of vocabulary that mystified viewers and exposed them to words they may have never heard before until then. As the AWA Champion, Nick represented the brand proudly and packed in sold-out crowds as he locked horns with Hulk Hogan, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Rick Martel, and many more legends of that era. Nick is the embodiment of a highly respectable champion who has inspired the likes of modern-day greats such as Nick Aldis and Chris Jericho during his late 2000s run.

6. Harley Race

Harley Race bio

Wrestled for: American Wrestling Association, National Wrestling Alliance, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Texas Piledriver

One of the few men to have been inducted into five separate wrestling Hall of Fames, Harley Race is studied to this day as a technical master — so much so that he was often announced as the "The Greatest Wrestler on God's Green Earth." For a while Race was a record holder as far as World Heavyweight Title reigns went until he was bested by Ric Flair. Flair had nothing but praise for Race upon his death in 2019: “Without Harley Race, there was no Ric Flair. I tried my hardest every day to live up to his standard in the ring,” he said.

5. Dusty Rhodes

Dusty Rhodes bio

Wrestled for: National Wrestling Alliance, Jim Crockett Promotions, Professional Wrestling Federation, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Bionic Elbow

Despite his goofy yellow polka dots, there’s something sort of poetic about Dusty “The American Dream” Rhodes’ rise to fame. Poised as an everyman, Dusty managed to wrack up title wins across divisions and federations. His later years were spent training the up-and-coming legendary children of NXT — and his own biological children, Cody and Goldust, remain in the top tier of wrestling’s biggest stars to this day. In an homage to Dusty on the WWE Network, Vince McMahon claimed that no wrestler "personified the essence of charisma quite like Dusty Rhodes.” His legendary runs across the many territories of the National Wrestling Alliance and Jim Crockett Promotions are proof of that celebratory statement.

4. "Macho Man" Randy Savage

Randy Savage bio

Wrestled for: Continental Wrestling Association, World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Move: Flying Elbow Drop

When "The Madness" took over, it was infectious and had a way of making everyone watching the "Macho Man" lose their damn minds! Randy Savage's deep, gravelly voice matched up so well with his over-the-top proclamations whenever "Mean" Gene Okerlund put a mic in front of his face. Thankfully, Randy backed up his big mouth whenever he entered the squared circle - his shocking levels of agility, wildman approach to assaulting his foes, and awe-inspiring flying elbow drop will always be the stuff of legend. When it comes to '80s WWF wrestlers who had young fans everywhere mimicking their look and promo delivery, look no further than this man. Every wrestling fan young and old must sit down and watch the pure perfection that is Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat from WrestleMania III.

3. Andre The Giant

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Wrestled for: World Wide Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Federation

  • Finishing Moves: Sitdown Splash, Double Underhook Suplex

Even an alternative canon of pro wrestling would have to include Andre The Giant. It would be beyond cliche to call Andre "larger than life" but it’s an appropriate descriptor considering his largesse both in and out of the ring. A movie star, a pop hero, and a gentle soul — Andre’s kindness is often remembered as fondly as his physical domination. In retrospect, it’s actually shocking that he only had one heavyweight title run during his stint in WWF. The "Eight Wonder of the World" is none other than this wrestling behemoth that left everyone's jaws on the floor every time he sauntered down to the ring.

2. "Nature Boy" Ric Flair

Ric Flair bio

Wrestled for: Jim Crockett Promotions, World Championship Wrestling

  • Finishing Move: Figure-Four Leglock

"Diamonds are forever...and so is Ric Flair." Truer words have never been spoken! The face of the National Wrestling Alliance and Jim Crockett Promotions as the blond-haired dynamo known the world over, Flair personified the antithesis of WWF's cartoony presentation at the time. Flamboyant, cocky, and the epitome of dirty when it came time to handle business in the ring, the "Nature Boy" inspired a generation of wrestlers to follow in his wake and mimic the iconic attributes most associated with him. Flair's legendary matches and feuds with the likes of Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, and many more 80s greats point to a career that's pure class.

1. Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan Bio

Wrestled for: World Wrestling Federation, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, American Wrestling Association

  • Finishers: Leg Drop, Axe Bomber

Say what you want about the actual man behind the red and yellow gimmick himself - it's impossible to deny the cultural impact Hulk Hogan had on not only the wrestling business itself but mainstream pop culture as a whole. His early run in the American Wrestling Association gave everyone a sneak peek at the monumental run he'd go on to have under Vince McMahon's WWF banner. After beating The Iron Shiek for the company's biggest price, Hogan went on to become the face of professional wrestling for fans far and wide. "Hulkamania," the big Leg Drop, the ripping of the T-shirt, the flexing of the 20-inch pythons, and the standard promos telling kids to "say their prayers and eat their vitamins" defined the golden era of 80s professional wrestling.

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