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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Legends, not Icons"
November 5, 2005 by John Edwards


The term icon is thrown around quite liberally in professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair and Harley Race have all been referred to as an icon. Iım not disputing their contributions to the business, but the latter three should be called legends not icons. In my opinion the term icon should be reserved for those who have not only left their mark on the business, but changed professional wrestling. The following is a list of people who I feel have made some significant changes to the business. I may have missed a few, and if I have, please let me know. Also, these are not profiles. Please go to OWW"s profile section for a history on these wrestlers

Gorgeous George: Pro wrestlingıs first superstar. When pro wrestling first hit TV in the 1950s, the United States still had a very masculine feeling after the Second World War. So, out comes this guy... with blonde hair, wearing long robes and acting very feminine. People couldnıt stand him, and he became the first person who people paid their money to see get beaten up, and was one of the first "characters", in wrestling.

The Original Sheik: He was the first true heel in pro wrestling, as well as the first guy to use biting and foreign objects on a regular basis. He also protected his gimmick to the point that he never talked in public. I remember my dad telling me stories of watching the Sheik fighting "Whipper" Billy Watson at Maple Leaf Gardens. The Sheik was one of the first to ignite hatred among the wrestling fans.

Supestar Billy Graham: The pioneer of modern pro wrestling. As Triple H said at the 2004 Hall of Fame induction ceremony, "he was the first guy to realize it took more than just good matches to become a house hold name." Graham was jacked, good looking, and he could rap on the mic like nobody else. I still believe he is one of the top five talkers in wrestling history. He inspired a generation of wrestlers. Without Graham, there likely would be no Hulk Hogan, Scott Steiner, Buff Bagwell, Lex Luger or Triple H, just to mention a few. He was also one of the first guys to realize making your opponent look good was the entire key to professional wrestling.

Bill Watts: A little bit of an obscure one, but it has nothing to do with what he did inside the ring. Watts was the first promoter to have a black superstar as his main draw the Junkyard Dog in the Mid-South territory. Watts was also the first booker to have a black world champion (Ron Simmons), when he was booker in WCW. As a result, other promoters have followed suit.

Hulk Hogan: If you canıt understand this one, you shouldnıt be reading this website. He took wrestling to where it is today. He was the first wrestler to become a fixture in American pop culture.

Vince McMahon: An explanation shouldnıt be needed.

Michael P.S. Hayes: His contribution is small, but he and the Freebirds were the first performers to have their own personal theme music Badstreet USA. From then on, theme music became an important part of creating a successful character.

Paul Heyman: The mad scientist of pro wrestling. He practically founded the concept of promoting the positives and hiding the negatives. He used poor production value as a marketing technique. He was also the first promoter to truly incorporate the fans into his show. The things that Paul Heyman has given to the wrestling business are endless.

Sabu: One of the innovators of high flying moves. He used chairs, ropes and tables in ways, nobody had ever seen. He inspired a new generation of wrestlers the Hardy Boys, AJ Styles, etc, and an entirely new style of wrestling. He is the father of the X-Division.

Eric Bischoff: I feel compelled to put him on this list because of the nWo angle. It was very smart and made WCW a big player. However, the idea was actually created by Paul Heyman Dangerous Alliance but Bischoff took it to greater heights.

Steve Austin: One of the first wrestlers to wrestle as a heel and get over as a babyface. He changed wrestling from good guy versus bad guy, to anything goes. He was also one of the first people to make swearing popular in wrestling Iım not saying that is good or bad, Iım just telling you his contributions.

I have no doubt I will get people offering other names, but this list is not just based on in-ring performance, mic work, titles held or their reputation, itıs based on their contributions to the industry and how they changed it. Ric Flair is likely to come up. Ric Flair was a great in-ring performer and brilliant on the mic, but he was nothing special. By that I mean, he didnıt change anything - he wasnıt an innovator. If Ric Flair was never around, Iım sure there would have been someone else to fill that role.

by John Edwards (from Wasaga Beach .. (dramatic pause), Ontario Canada)..


Tommy Jones wrote:
Great... Just great.You've managed to successfully argue that Hogan is a legend and icon ( a retarded parrot could do that) and that Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels gave no true contribution to the "changing" of wrestling. Does it look as smart to you now that someone else is saying it"What cosmic bunny hole did you fall in when developing the theory behind Sabu being more creative than Michaels" And here's the thing kid's,I know most of you gain popularity points by bashing Shawn , but to deny that he's solely responsible for the adult oriented market , that once infiltrated saved the wwe's ass , is completely pathetic. The guy invented the breaking fabe moment. And in terms of gripping , what will happen next compelling wrestling ,Sabu has never told a story in the ring like Michaels. Is it amazing to see Sabu in action ...yes. Does it tell a continuing story with every breath... no. Michaels can sell a sleeper hold in the way Sabu needs a "flying " chair shot. And before you mouth off about that remember , even when all the guys in the back hated the guy he was still considered the best worker in the business among with only Bret Hart. This is the problem guy. This is why stigma sticks. Shawn will never get the credit for CREATING the attitude era because hot shot lists that don't know their shit . He was doing it before it was an era.Take the inside joke from the back.Put it in the front.He started that so now he can make your little list.By the way Bischoff got the idea of the outsiders from Orndorf.That lead to THE nWo. Bischoff had nothing to do with it.Why did we think those guys we're cool. What was that walk they did and the thing with their hands when they said "too sweet" and that chop thing and... oh shit that's right. Shawn Michaels.Damn he's good. As far as what you said regarding Flair" It's the saddest piece of shit I've ever read in a "wrestling" site. I won't vouchee for Flair... He's Ric fucking Flair.Go back to the drawing board on this whole "things I'll say to look like an ass hole " thing that your doing.Pencil's down class...your dismissed.
Gus.D wrote:
Great job on recognizing the real heroes of wrestling. In my opinion, your missing a few guys.....

Mick Foley:all three faces of Foley provided great entertainment for us fans. Great performer, great person.

Kurt Angle: he sacrificed his career for wrestling and the fans. One hell of a wrestler.

The Undertaker: Personally one of my favorites. Best match was vs. Mankind HIAC [the infamous one]

Randy Orton- my favorite, over and above matches. Can't wait for a dvd about this guy.
Edward Armstrong wrote:
You have a list of Icons that includes Sabu, Bischoff, Micheal Hayes, Bill Watts, but Flair is not included. Ric Flair didn't change anything" I beg to differ. Without Flair, WCW or the NWA folds in the early eighties, not the early years of the new millenium. Keeping wrestling alive on the southern east coast might be considered an innovation by some. Bill Watts kept Mid-South profitable by bringing in Ric Flair from time to time to wrestle his black champions. When Flair came to town, tickets were hard to find. Also, Sabu is a great talent, but his style could be found in Japan long before he was seen in ECW. OK, maybe they didn't use the chair as often, but I don't think using a chair in a creative way should award you a spot above Ric Flair on any list. Sorry, I think you are one of those Flair haters that is willing to forget all of his contributions from the past because you don't like the fact that they give the old man too much time on RAW. Sorry, but I'll take an old Flair over a young Cena any day.

If it wasn't for Flair and some other guys like Sting, the WWE probably wouldn't ever hold a live show outside the northeast anyway. Many fans from my area grew up on Flair and the people chasing him for the title. Hogan was just some over tanned idiot who was boring in the ring to us. Without Flair, I wouldn't be writing this email.
Tony Bruce wrote:
Mr Edward how you can not name shawn michaels under your definition of an icon is rather absurd, the original founder of DX which basically ushered in the Attitude era, and WWE have never managed to top that era since.
Jeremy Waltz wrote:
Great article. Here are some others that should recieve consideration. Antonio Inoki brought some legitimacy to wrestling by kicking Muhammad Ali's ass and he founded NJPW. Giant Baba's impact is very similar to Vince McMahon. In Mexico Santo is the most popular wrestler ever and the greatest lucha libre wrestler. Stu Hart bought aspects of shoot fighting to pro wrestling. He also invented alot of submissions in use today. And no list would be complete without Lou Thesz.
David Cohen wrote:
In regards to Mr. Edwards article; I would tend to agree with his list, with one suggested addition. Antonio Rocca turned wrestling from a static struggle between powerhouses into a high-flying dance-like spectacle. Without Rocca there would have been no Jimmy Snuka or Mil Mascaras, to name a few. He deserves the title of "icon."
C. M. Latsha wrote:
I won't argue that Harley Race and Shawn Michaels aren't icons. I know blessed little about Race, and Michaels hasn't changed the way people look at wrestling.

Hogan is an icon for the same reason Vince is: all-consuming media exposure. Their iconic status is unquestionable, but to leave Flair off the list of icons is a huge mistake. Flair is an icon in spite of his lack of all-consuming media exposure.

Flair is iconic for several reasons:

1. His ability to sway the fans to the way he wants. He was one of a very few to use the same personaility and be totally over as both a heel and a face.

2. He made an impact even when he wasn't part of his promotion. His exit from WCW in the early 1990s ruined Lex Luger's world championship reign.

3. His sheer number of reigns shows different promotions' willingness to depend on him as championship. NWA, WWF, WCW all had him as their World Champ multiple times

4. His interest for the betterment of wrestling: is there anyone better at putting over other than Flair" Sting, (almost) Luger, Hogan, Bret Hart, Orton: that just scratches the surface of those Ric Flair catapulted into greater glory. Hogan didn't put anyone over until the Rock. Flair loved wrestling, and made others better; Hogan realized that his rep was tarnished since no one thought he'd put anyone over, so he started years and years after he should have.

5. Flair was a true performer, and a great worker. I don't use the word "worker" interchangeably with "wrestler." When I say worker, I mean he gave his all in everything he did. Bischoff knew he could never ask Flair to simply lay down like he asked Nash to do.

6. Flair built one of the durable stables of all time: the four horsemen. He put hard workers like Arn Anderson, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko into the group. As strong as the nWo was, it will never eclipse the horsemen for durability.

7. Flair put on a show in his days in Crockett. He was performed at a high level in WWF and in WCW, and he is one of the most over wrestlers into his fifties now in the WWE. For all of the talk of wanting young wrestlers, very few complain at Flair's weekly Raw appearances. No one complained that Flair held the tag titles with Batista. I have heard very few complain at Flair holding the I-C title. Hogan only comes in now for a short-term (and even then, he demanded to win the match with Michaels), Flair performs and entertains to a level that Hogan couldn't since 1991.

Flair is a true icon. The only reason that he hasn't been placed in the WWE hall of fame is that he is still a regular. To deny his place as an icon is a slap in the face of wrestling. His unselfishness, his leadership, his ability to perform consistently at a high level for decades, and his love by all those that see him makes him the stand with Sammartino, Gorgeous George and above Hogan.
Cam M. wrote:
So Ric Flair is not an icon, but Micheal Hayes is. An Icon by definition has reached the pinnalce as an enduring symbol and object of overwhelming devotion. So not The Rock, who monetarily speaking is the biggest crossover star of all time. And not Jesse Ventura who's wrestling noteriety took him all the way to the Minessota governor's mansion. Theme music or not, Micheal Hayes is not an icon. A lower tier Legend perhaps, but no Icon.
NamaewaJieshii wrote:
I have to say that you missed the Undertaker. I'm not talking about today's Undertaker or 1996's Undertaker; I'm talking about the debuting Undertaker. He made an art of speaking few words, being a giant, being athletic, and wearing an all-body outfit while also having a deep character.

There was/is so much to the Undertaker's character that you could jump into it and never touch the bottom. He was the first character to have given us a "mystical" character that very few would want to get inside the head of.

I also say Mankind (1996's version) and Jake the Snake (in his prime) should also be added. While the Mankind character where he was able to get inside your head never stayed around too long, it was stil something new of a concept to have. A wrestler, careless of his own body and will do anything to destroy his opponent. Tag that with his two-theme combo of before & after, he was something special. I can't say much for Jake Roberts, because I wasn't around in his prime. All I know is that the man was creepy and sat the stage for psychology (not ring psychology) for wrestlers like Undertaker, Mankind, Sting, Vampiro, Gangrel, and other "dark/creepy/mystical" characters.
David Shidler wrote:
What about Bret Hart" The man who proved that not only "big guys" weren't the only ones who could wear the belt. The Hitman drew fans for years. He never backed down from anyone, and people paid to see it. He was fearless on LIVE PPV in 1997 in Motreal, by turning the gimmics of Triple H and Steve Austin into a reality. He undoubtedly should be named an Icon for his constant striving and pioneering in the wrestling industry.
dave k wrote:
awesome article,maybe snuka and brody should have been included. all that you named are appropriate.
Joe Poulton wrote:
Randy Macho Man Savage was a heel to come over as a baby face years before Steve Austin.
statpride25 wrote:
There are some glaring omissions from your list, as well as from the rebuttals. Here are some names that must be mentioned as icons:

1) Andre the Giant - The best and most beloved big man ever

2) The Fabulous Moolah - The pioneer of Women's wrestling.

3) Bruno Sammartino - The longest tenured WWE champ

4) Randy Savage - The most underrated superstar of all time. This guy, hands down, was part of the best match at WrestleManias 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. History beckons the Macho Man, yeah!

5) Kurt Angle - This guy made the perfect jump from real life wrestling to sports entertainment. He's great on the mic, and phenomenal in the ring. Had he been a bust, Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin may never have gotten a chance in WWE.
Godfrey Gauci wrote:
I'm sorry but I believe that you have missed conceived ideas, about what a legend or an icon is. Firstly to have Michael Hayes and Sabu in the list is a joke. Like a few people who have replied have said, these guys were great performers but they were not Icons.

Your list has obvious holes in it, I will add who I think and why:

Jake Roberts: If you need a reason go hire Beyond the Mat! Ric Flair: Without him we wouldn't have heels that got cheered Undertaker: He has more cross over fans than anyone else, check out the goth culture that adore him. The Rock: The first and only wrestler to really cross over into acting and make it. Sting: Allowed good guys to hide their faces and be unknown Sgt Slaughter: How many of us always wanted to be in G.I. Joe cause of him" Andre the Giant: More people knew of him than any other athlete when he was wrestling. Bret Hart: The first complete package with talent, mic skills, looks, everything. The Funk family: Without these guys wrestling probably wouldn't even be here. Chief Jay Strongbow: Nuff said!

There are probably many others, but it all depends on what you believe. I'm sure there are a whole bunch of Thugs out there who think Cena is an icon and believe that having one millions high spots in an X match makes it awesome. Bring back the 80's and the 90's!!!
Jeff C wrote:
Why" - Becouse his appeal is one-dimentional. He is, by all measures nothing more than a glorified cartoon charector. - His matches have been the same........for years. - He begs for pops. - He has fouled too many careers - he really believes his work - he is the reason I am embarressed to say I am a fan
Michael Sears wrote:
Here's an ultimate list. Enough said: (Note: These aren't in any sort of ranked order, just as how they came to mind. Also I didn't include promoters ( i,e. Vince and Heyman), only wrestlers)

1 Ric Flair, 2 Hulk Hogan, 3 Andre the Giant, 4 Superstar Billy Graham, 5 Lou Thesz, 6 Antonio Inoki, 7 Mick Foley, 8 Bret Hart, 9 Shawn Michaels, 10 Steve Austin, 11 The Rock, 12 Kurt Angle, 13 Danny Hodge, 14 El Santo, 15 Bruiser Body, 16 Ed "Strangler" Lewis, 17 Frank Gotch, 18 Harley Race, 19 Shohei "Giant" Baba, 20 Bruno Sammartino, 21 The Sheik, 22 Ray Stevens, 23 Roddy Piper, 24 Sting, 25 The Undertaker, 26 Rikidozan, 27 Dynamite Kid, 28 Ricky Steamboat, 29 Pedro Morales, 30 Wahoo McDaniel
LORRAINE KENNEDY wrote:
Shawn Michaels is an icon, and so is bret hart, for 1 simple reason. Montreal 1997. The screw job is the most famous controversial moment in the history of pro wrestling and has changed the buisness. 8 years on it is still one of the most talked about things. You want changing the buisness, then both of those are icons. Kurt Angle is an icon because he legitimised the sport, he lead the way for amateur wrestlers to enter, and create spots for Shelton Benjamin etc....It could be said Dan Severn is an icon, being the only original pro wrestler to become UFC Champion, and giving pro wrestlers some respect.. Undertaker is an icon as he has been responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the history of the buisness. The Hell In The Cell's (i still insist the HBK Cell match was the best ever, as being the first, you didnt have a clue what to expect, where as the Foley one, u had an idea that 1 of them was coming off). ...The Rock is an icon because he is arguably the best known wrestler ever (i reckon now more people know him than Hogan).. Warrior is an icon because he showed that even the worst wrestler can main event a WrestleMania.. Triple H is an icon, because he proved that to be a success, marry the bosses daughter.. Ric Flair is an icon cos he proved that pensioners can wrestle.. Scotty too hotty is an icon, cos he proved that u need a stupid gimmick move to get over. On your theroy, any wrestler that changes the buisness is an icon. Most of these are not.
Robbie Hall wrote:
i agree with your list, but not to include ric flair is a travesity. if anyone deserves to be on that list that would be ric flair. wrestling would not be what it is today without ric flair. wcw wouldn't have survived the 90's without ric flair. and i'm saying this not particularly being a ric flair fan. but i respect what he is and has accomplished. i also agree that bret hart, sting and andre the giant should be on the list as well, but above all ric flair should be there.
Alyssa wrote:
How can you not list Shawn Michaels on that list" He was in the first ever ladder match (in WWE), first ever hell in the cell/cage match. I just don't understand it. You said that it was someone who left their mark and changed professional wrestling. Don't you think he changed professional wrestling"
Sam King wrote:
I agree with David Shidler. Bret Hart is definately an icon. He was one of the first to to break from tag team to single competitor. He only ever missed to scheduled events and they were for good reason. this sets a real example to wrestling fans and wrestlers. Dont tell me that that isn't worthy of him being an icon. He also recreated the Hart foundation in 1997 and although he was a heel he was still very popular. He is also one of the creaters of technical wrestling and had many original moves in his arsenal. He won many title using all original wrestling moves and executed them to perfection with the exeption of the sharpshooter. He is a true icon in my opinion and many others.

I also think the Rock should be in the list. No one can use the mic like he can and only Hulk Hogan has carried the fans as much as the Rock. He is recognised by many who are not wrestling fans and only a few like Hogan, Michaels and Austin are as recognised as he is. The Rock was also an entertainer outside the ring and done loads to promote the WWE. Hitman and the Rock should definately be named among the list.
Mitch wrote:
I enjoyed all the comments submitted but I must add, as a long long time fan, the two guys who rank at the top of my list are the recently deceased Crusher and the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. Nobody has ever been better with the mic and better at getting some laughs from the fans than these two guys. They got me hooked on wrestling at a young age and i am still watching and enjoying it.
John B. wrote:
C.M. Latsha points out that Hogan never put anyone over until the Rock. You forget about Hogan utting over the Ultimate Warrior about 12 years before he put over the Rock. Besides, I don't consider him losing to the Rock putting the Rock over. The Rock was already a stud in modern day wrestling anyway. He didn't need anyone to put him over. Hogan put over the Undertaker and Bill Goldberg while they were still up and coming, and he put Sting over numerous times. Although this really has nothing to do with the original article, I felt I had to stand up for Hogan, as the claim by Latsha is not true.
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