The Wrestling Genius: The Mount Rushmore of Wrestling Part Two
If I just go by your emails then last week’s column was well received by most of you. A few of you were confused by my non-wrestler Mount Rushmore and thought that was my Mount Rushmore plus Ric Flair. Let me reiterate before I go on, with all four of my Mount Rushmore columns (this being number 2) I’ll have a different sub-mount Rushmore. This time I picked pre-modern era Mount Rushmore.
But first I’d like to comment on something that happened last Monday; namely the big announcement that HHH will take on the Undertaker. Now this isn’t a surprise, what is the surprise is that it’ll take place inside Hell in a Cell. This will be a real Hell in a Cell match. Not the watered down version we get at the pay per view that dons the same name. This will be vicious, this will be brutal, and like Undertaker said it’ll be the apocalypse. The end of an era of wrestling so many of us grew up on. A bloody era that is now long gone in the WWE, and has been replaced by a safer more health conscious era. I was convinced that Punk and Jericho would steal the show, but now I think that’ll be impossible. The Undertaker and HHH will go to war inside that cell; both knowing there is a very good chance it’ll be their last match. Two men long past their primes who will lay it all on the line for us; two men, the last of a dying breed of bruisers that’ll never be seen in the WWE again. Not because this new era couldn’t handle it but because the WWE is becoming safer. Ultimately this may be the last truly brutal match we’ll ever see in the WWE. I can’t wait to see it happen.
Okay here it is my pre-modern era wrestling Mount Rushmore.
Bruno Sammartino: One cannot underestimate how much Bruno meant to WWWF and just how big of a star he was. You think Cena looks unbeatable now go back and watch Bruno. Bruno holds and will forever hold the record for days as WWE champion. In his two reigns as champion he held the title for a total of 11 years. Bruno was a great mat wrestler and a bruiser. He was everything you wanted in a pre-1980 wrestler. Very little personality but could put on a really good technical match with anyone who got in the ring with him. You can’t understate how big of a star he was in New York. There was a time when he was as a big star as Joe Namath.
Lou Thesz: Lou created some of the most iconic moves in wrestling history, German suplex, the STF, and the power bomb just to name a few. He held the NWA title longer than anyone else in the titles iconic history at just over ten total years. He was a lot like Bruno, not a lot of personality but for six decades he put on technical masterpieces. Lou has been called the greatest hold for hold; throw for throw technical wrestler to ever enter the squared circle. He influenced countless wrestlers and lived on in the ring when Stone Cold brought back the Lou Thesz press as part of his move set.
Verne Gagne: Gagne was by far the best behind the scenes personality of this pre-modern era group. He knew who to talk to and who to push away at the right times. Gagne was a talented in ring performer who went on to help create and shape the iconic AWA. Gagne was influential in so many careers that it’s impossible to keep him off the list. The argument against Gagne however was the only reason he had the most days as a world champion in wrestling history is because he booked himself as champion. He’s the only one on the list who got to book himself as champion and he did it…a lot. However, he was a huge draw and a talented wrestler so I couldn’t keep him off the list of pre-modern era stars. He is still a big name in the Midwest, especially Minnesota and North Dakota.
Buddy Rogers: Buddy was ahead of being ahead of his time. When Lou Thesz, Gagne, and Bruno wore their hair short and cared more about their in ring product than their personas; Buddy Rogers wanted to be both a great wrestler and a great villain. He had bleached blond hair that he wore longer than most and slicked it back. He pranced like a ballerina and talked a big game, two things that made him instantly hated by all men and loved by crowds of women. No one in the pre-modern era was hated like Buddy was hated. Buddy was the first ever WWWF champion and held 10 world titles in his illustrious career.
Our second entrant, the first to join Ric Flair on the monument will be a man who lacked the same in ring skill as Flair but doubled down on the persona. No one has had a bigger impact in wrestling than this man. There was no bigger star in the 80’s and most of the 90’s than this man. No one sold more shirts or faced bigger names on bigger stages than this man; ladies and gentleman (cue Real American entrance music) the one the only Hulk Hogan.
Say what you want about his in ring skill, or lack thereof. Hogan made modern wrestling what it is. His merchandise sold better than anyone before him. He was the biggest cross over star in wrestling history. He was on The Tonight Show, in commercials, movies, and TV shows. He was Vince’s way into mainstream America and was the biggest reason the WWF became a national company. Hogan understood the business better than anyone before him and probably better than anyone ever will. He knew how to make every back room deal and knew just who the next big star to challenge him was. He also knew enough that he had the sway to build that person and then crush them at their apex. Now that isn’t exactly being a team player but it made him the most recognizable wrestler in the world. It helped him grow his brand, something no other wrestler ever had. Hulkamania was and still is a bankable brand. Hulkamania was T-shirts, bandanas, hats, and on and on.
He was king of the mega matches in the 80’s and 90’s. He fought Andre the Giant in front of the largest crowd in WWE history. He battled and teamed with fellow merchandising machine Macho Man Randy Savage. While Flair honed his craft and put on 60 minute wars, Hogan was plotting his next huge pay day with the next big star. Hogan and Ultimate Warrior were never going to put on a technical masterpiece, but it will still be one of the most talked about matches in wrestling history. Hogan has kept himself viable by picking his opponents carefully the past decade and a half. His matches against The Rock and Shawn Michaels again weren’t technical marvels but few wrestling fans will forget them. Especially the electricity in the air when Hogan and The Rock traded cheers and jeers. “Let’s go Rocky, Lets go Hogan” was the first time a crowd was that split down the middle like that in WWE history.
Ultimately there were way better wrestlers than Hulk Hogan, but very few knew how to play the game like him. He sold kids on vitamins, America, and hard work. “Remember train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, be true to yourself, be true to your country, and be a real American.” What kid didn’t get behind that message? He was superman come to life and the world ate it up. He beat foreigners that threatened the American way, or at least in the 80’s we thought they were. He was the best politician in wrestling history and made the WWE the biggest company in the 80s and for part of the 90s he did the same for WCW. We congratulate Hulk Hogan on his entrance into the Mount Rushmore of Wrestling.
Who’s next on the Mount Rushmore of wrestling? Check out the next column to find out. Also give me your thoughts on who should be on the Canadian Mount Rushmore of wrestling. You can do so by emailing @firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot me a tweet @jaredgebhardt. Until next time remember you are only as good as your last match.