1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steve Austin is, financially speaking, the biggest WWE superstar of all time. He was a bigger star than John cena, The Undertaker, The Rock and Hulk Hogan. Austin’s influence on pro wrestling can be seen not only in WWE’s financial success but also in how it influenced storylines and characters for years to come.
Steve Austin proved that realistic characters based on a wrestler’s own personality were much more relatable and interesting than over-the-top cartoon characters. Austin’s promos, rivalries, storylines and matches all had a personal edge to them because the narratives of these segments blurred the lines between scripted and reality.
Even if more and more fans knew that wrestling was scripted, that didn’t stop them from investing in Austin’s character and stories emotionally. Austin was the greatest anti-authority anti-hero character in wrestling history. His war with Vince McMahon and his various stooges and servants was instrumental in WWE defeating WCW in the Monday Night Wars and turning WWE into a pop culture phenomenon.
The fact that WWE was at its peak in popularity when Austin was on top, and that their creative department have tried several times to recreate the dynamic between evil authority figure and anti-authority hero to try and replicate Austin’s success, tells you exactly how big of a star Austin really was.
2. The Undertaker
In terms of respect, reverence and longevity, no single WWE superstar can hold a candle to The Undertaker. In an industry that’s full of jealousy, politics and personal rivalries, ‘Taker is probably the only Superstar who the locker room respected and had no bad words to say about him. Everyone from WWE’s biggest superstars to outsiders coming to WWE for a short spell have praised The Undertaker in some way or another.
This praise comes from ‘Taker’s importance to wrestling history and his loyalty to the WWE. He’s still considered the longest-tenured wrestler in WWE history, and has done everything possible at that company. He stayed loyal to WWE, even as so many others came and went.
His legendary WrestleMania streak was so grandiose of an accomplishment that it was praised by many non-wrestling publications over the years, even though they knew that it was all scripted.
The Undertaker character was the only one that has managed to withstand the test of time and still stay popular. Though ‘Taker’s gimmick changed here and there over the decades, the core concept stayed more or less the same. After all, how many wrestlers can make an arena full of people lose their minds with the sound of a gong? None.
Everything about The Undertaker makes him a legendary figure in wrestling history: his gimmick, matches, entrance, rivalries, streak, and contributions to wrestling history have all been so profound that if WWE were to host his own retirement PPV, it would sell out like WrestleMania does. That many people would want to see the Undertaker retire formally.
4. Hulk Hogan
For many people unfamiliar with wrestling in its current form, Hulk Hogan is wrestling. He was the wrestler that, together with Vince McMahon’s revolutionary ideas, brought WWE out of the territorial system and into the forefront of pop culture.
Hogan was a symbol of the 1980s, and his image was everywhere. Sure, he wasn’t the best grappler, but that didn’t matter as much at that time. His charisma was off the charts, and he was a master of controlling the audience in front of him. People simply loved to see him, no matter what he was doing.
Hogan was the first WWE superstar to become a truly global draw. His involvement in the early days of WrestleMania helped propel WWE into its first golden age of success and popularity, a period that wouldn’t be replicated until the late 1990s.
Hogan was also instrumental in the evolution of the Monday Night Wars, as well. When he turned heel for the first time in years and helped create the New World Order, which shocked the wrestling world, bringing newfound interest to WWE’s archrival WCW. This, in turn, compelled WWE to go with grittier and more realistic characters, which led to one of the most interesting periods in wrestling history.
5. The Rock
The Rock was the most charismatic wrestler of all time. Everything he did had the audience cheering for him so wildly and loudly that at times you couldn’t hear him speaking into a microphone. The audience loved him that much.
The Rock was outstanding with the mic, the likes of which WWE hasn’t managed to find since. He found immense success as a heel, and over time his promo style became so incredibly popular that the audience simply could not boo him no matter what he said. On one occasion, The Rock was in Toronto and the audience kept cheering him, but the intent was for him to get booed.
So Rocky did what he did best: come up with excellent lines to change the crowd’s actions. He made so many classic insults and clever one-liners that the audience was booing him loudly in under ten minutes. He was, quite simply, a master.
Although The Rock’s wrestling career was relatively short, it was a critical part of their boom period. Rocky’s matches, rivalries and promos are still remembered today with fond nostalgia. Anytime The Rock spoke, he got people to laugh, and his entrance theme got the crowd to their feet in an instant.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has since found immense success as an actor, proving that his charisma could translate into other mediums as well. He is, indeed, one of the greatest Superstars of all time, and is a man worthy of all the success that he has received.
7. ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage
It has been almost thirty years since the ‘Macho Man’ reached his peak in popularity in WWE, and he’s still considered one of the greatest superstars of all time. Macho Man was considered one of the most ‘complete’ performers ever, possessing outstanding physical qualities, the look and personality of a larger-than-life wrestler, excellent grappling skills and a unique and memorable voice.
Macho Man took part in some of the greatest matches in WWE history, such as his famous battle with Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat. His non-wrestling segments were just as memorable, including his on-screen relationship with his then-manager Miss Elizabeth. Macho Man was one of those wrestlers that one could definitely describe as ‘immortal’.
After all, many wrestlers, from CM Punk to Bayley to even Shawn Michaels, have all paid tribute to him through the continued use of the Diving Elbow Drop. But no matter how much they tried, none of them could ever match the Macho Man in terms of charisma
8. Shawn Michaels
It isn’t hard to see why “HBK” Shawn Michaels is still one of the most loved wrestlers; HBK was an outstanding wrestler in many different ways.
He was an excellent grappler, knew how to sell dramatically, had an excellent understanding of ring psychology, and had a natural mind for wrestling. Despite several backstage problems over the years, Michaels was instrumental in changing WWE’s presentation and storylines, ushering in the Attitude Era.
Indeed, there was something about his training and background that made his rivalries and matches feel so much bigger. He seemed to add an extra layer of personal desire into each match, making you, the viewer, want to see him succeed as much as possible.
There’s no doubt that WWE would’ve been a vastly different (read: less successful) place if Shawn Michaels never came along and wowed audiences with his abilities.
10. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
Bret Hart was one of the best technical wrestlers of all time. Trained by his legendary father Stu Hart, Bret was a catalyst to several changes in WWE, many of which are still felt to this day. When WWE was in major peril during the early and mid-1990s, Hart was one of the main stars to step up and carry the promotion during that dark period.
He was the exact opposite of the kinds of wrestlers WWE had pushed before him; he was a smaller yet a technically-superior grappler, while his predecessors were mostly giants with big muscles that couldn’t put on as good a match as Bret could. Because of this, the attitude of WWE fans began to shift away from the immobile muscular giants and more towards these smaller technicians, which changed WWE forever.
Bret himself also took part in several masterpiece wrestling matches against such opponents as his brother Owen, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels, just to name a few.
11. John Cena
John Cena is WWE’s biggest success story of the past fifteen years. First debuting in 2002, Cena is the perfect example of what WWE wants out of their top Superstars. He’s ridiculously strong, has the perfect look, is unfailingly loyal to the company, and does whatever he’s told, even if it goes against his own personal interests.
It’s because of these attributes that WWE has pushed Cena to the moon and back over the years, and this push culminated in a record-tying 16 world title reigns. More recently, John Cena has become an elder statesman for WWE, promoting the company in non-wrestling ventures and spending less time in the world title scene.
Even though he’s spending less and less time in WWE, he’s still WWE’s most popular star in terms of merchandise.
The reason Cena doesn’t rank higher, however, is that his rise to superstardom came at a time when WWE’s overall popularity declined. His overtly-childish gimmick and at times terrible comedy promos caused many casual fans and older diehard fans to turn away, which only exasperated WWE’s trouble when it came to staying popular and relevant.
13. Triple H
Triple H is one of the biggest WWE superstars of all time. A master heel, Triple H’s impact on WWE has been enormous. He was one of the founding fathers of D-Generation X and helped mastermind the series of events that would lead to the Attitude Era.
He was an expert in ring psychology, owing to his training by the legendary Killer Kowalski. Because of both his in-ring skills and his backstage dalliances, Triple H became one of the top heels in wrestling history. With so many people convinced that his main event push took place solely because of his relationship with the boss’s daughter, he became someone people simply loved to hate.
That aside, Triple H had the look, the drawing power, and the reputation to keep WWE relevant long after the Attitude Era ended. There’s no doubt that Triple H would’ve become a multi-time world champion even if he hadn’t married Stephanie McMahon. He was, and still is, that… damn… good.
14. André the Giant
When it comes to being ‘larger than life’ it didn’t get any larger than André.
“The Eight Wonder of the World” was simply gigantic, towering over even the biggest wrestlers of his time. He was both a relic of wrestling origins when the performers were abnormally large humans as well as a modern Superstar due to his unique stature.
André was arguably the first wrestler to become a ‘Superstar’. All he needed to do was arrive and audiences were drawn to his gigantic appeal. He didn’t have that much charisma or promo skills, but he didn’t need either of those things. He became a legendary figure and drew audiences to events due to his natural size alone.
Few other wrestlers, if any, could say that about their careers.