The Top 20 Babyfaces of All-Time
Originally published on March 31, 2004
Written by Darby Gatorade
Note about photo: The von Erich family…. left to right: Kerry, David, Mike, Chris (with belt), Kevin, and Fritz.
The von Erich Family: Fritz von Erich was a major heel in the 60s & 70s as a typical Nazi sympathizer, which was easy heat back then. Once Fritz settled in Texas he and his wife started having kids, a whole crop of boys who would grow up to be the State’s most popular wrestlers. Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike and Chris von Erich were adored by all the fans that came to see them at the famed Sportatorium for events promoted by their father with World Class Championship Wrestling. With every huge babyface, you need a heel (or heels) to go up against them. For the von Erichs, this was the Fabulous Freebirds, who came from Georgia; and you bet your ass they used that to get under the Texas-fans skin.
The von Erich dynasty met an unfortunate conclusion as four of the five brothers committed suicide. The pressures of headlining a major territory and being in the spotlight had a sad effect on the von Erichs. Kevin, the only surviving member, is out of the business but does rare appearances as fan festivals and reunions. Dispite their personal problems, the von Erichs were an amazing force in professional wrestling for a long time.
RockNRoll Express: Ricky Morton & Robert Gibson were natural tag team partners. They worked well, and they worked well together. They had a great look (for the 80s) and had the perfect style that got fans up on their feet screaming their heads off. The RnRs did a great job bringing females to wrestling shows as well, and those female weren’t shy about letting their feelings be known when the heel of the week was beating down on their RnR hero. Morton & Gibson were tremendous fan favourites and have been broken up by several promoters over the years, but they still team occasionally on the Indy circuit for a great nostalgia pop!
Jerry Lawler: Most fans know Jerry Lawler is the puppy-infatuated cowardly heel he’s played (loosely) over the years in the WWE. But hardcore fans know that Jerry Lawler definitely had his day in the spotlight back when Memphis was the hotbed of the wrestling world. And Jerry Lawler was on top for just about the entire time. Just about every wrestler, from Hulk Hogan, to Kamala, to Austin Idol, to Randy Savage, to Hillbilly Jim, to Jeff Jarrett, and the list goes on and on, came through Memphis to run a program with “the King”.
The most famous angle that went down in Memphis was one that just might have catapulted Memphis in front of WWF at the time was when Hollywood Comedian/Actor Andy Kaufman started appearing at CWA Memphis events insulting the fans as well as the wrestlers. Jerry Lawler stepped up to defend his people and it resulted in some of the best mainstream publicity the industry has ever seen, including a staged confrontation on the David Letterman show where Kaufman threw coffee on Lawler. Needless to say, when all the talking was done, they finally had the much-anticipated match and Lawler dropped Kaufman right on his head with a pile-driver and blew the roof off of the building. It was an insane and historic moment.
Hulk Hogan: This was a safe choice for this list, Hulk Hogan ruled the 80s. The only reason I put Jerry Lawler ahead of the Hulkster is because fans CHOSE to cheer for Lawler in Memphis; whereas in the WWF, fans were basically told to cheer for Hogan. Which isn’t a bad thing, Vince McMahon made a lot of money telling the fans what they liked. But Hulk Hogan came along and had the perfect amount of charisma to become the most popular wrestler ever.
Stone Cold Steve Austin: It’s hard to include any of today’s wrestlers in this list cause just about everybody has spent equal time as a babyface and a heel. Steve Austin is no-doubt, the most popular wrestler of all time and has a bond with the audience never before seen in wrestling. Even as a heel, Steve Austin seems to get catchphrases over every time he opens his mouth — WHAT? — and still gets the biggest pop of the night, a full year after he wrestled his last match at Wrestlemania 19.
Mr. Wrestling I & II: Legends on Georgia-wrestling circuit. Imagine the credentials a wrestler must have to be given the name Mr. Wrestling. Well both Tim Woods & Johnny Walker had the skills to respectfully work under those names. Mr Wrestling II came along a bit later and because equally popular as the first, but when they teamed up to take on the Andersons, or any other time for that matter, the audience always made a ton of noise and got seriously emotionally involved in their matches.
Bruno Sammartino: Bruno headlined the hottest wrestling city for nearly a decade and put more buts in seats at MSG than probably any wrestler to ever step foot in a ring. Bruno Sammartino represented New Yorkers to the fullest; Promoter Vince McMahon Sr. recognised that New York was a melting pot of various ethnicities and decided to push minorities to the top of his card, something that really hasn’t been done to that point. He had Bruno (Italian), Pedro Morales (Puerto Rican), Ivan Putski (Polish), Andre (French), Ivan Koloff (Russian), Peter Maivia (Samoan), Jay Strongbow (Indian) and so on. Bruno was unquestionably the “chosen one” of the era and took on numerous heels over the years in classic battles and brutal cage matches that always had the fans, no matter where he wrestled, begging for more.
Dino Bravo: Just like Lawler, fans didn’t really have a chance to experience the “babyface” side of Dino Bravo. Between his stints with Vince Sr. & Vince Jr., Dino had a successful run as a cult favourite in Montreal. He became so popular that years later, while wrestling in the WWF, he was booked to wrestle WWF Champion Hulk Hogan IN Montreal, and they rearranged the card because they thought the crowd would riot when Dino did the job. Of course that is just speculation and urban legend but that was the level of popularity Dino Bravo had in Montreal.
Dick The Bruiser & Crusher Lisowski: If you think Stone Cold’s gimmick is cool, then you’d love Dick the Bruiser. He was the original beer swilling foul-mouthed equal opportunity ass-kicker in wrestling. He also ran his own promotion in Indiana and was always around to maintain his place as a crowd favourite everywhere he went.
The Crusher was the long time partner of Dick the Bruiser, a tag team that was feared by every other tag team that worked on the same show as them. The Crusher had a rough “don’t mess with me” attitude that the fans just loved.
Dusty Rhodes: Anybody who has ever seen a Dusty Rhodes match, knows that Dusty has about as much charisma as any wrestler ever. I’m not sure Dusty would have gotten anywhere without his charisma and promo skills. Regardless, he DID have amazing charisma and was a cult favourite everywhere he went, especially Florida and the NWA. His time in the WWF was goofy, and the fans caught onto it, but only because they were told to cheer.
Andre The Giant: I’ll probably get yelled at for not putting Andre up higher. But he’s the safest choice on the entire list. With the exception of the last 3-4 years he wrestled in the WWF, Andre was a lifetime babyface and he didn’t even have to try. You had to love this man who dedicated his career to basically being a sideshow for spectators even though he hated every minute of it. Andre had a kind heart and was truly a great man and touched a lot of people during his years in wrestling, including fans and fellow wrestlers.
Tommy Rich: In many of the southern territories, Tommy Rich caught on like a Wildfire. Perhaps that is why they called him Tommy “Wildfire” Rich. Wrestling George’s television studio made Tommy Rich look so great because fans would scream and cheer and it would echo off the small facilities walls and be almost deafening. Tommy Rich’s popularity soared so high that he was pushed all the way to a brief NWA World Heavyweight title run by defeating Harley Race, but dropping it right back to him a few days later. Tommy Rich never could quite break lose of the southern territories and never made it big in northern regions of the wrestling map.
The Hart Brothers: In the same way that the von Erichs ruled Texas, the Harts ruled Western Canada. At least one Hart brother, or another, always dominated Stampede Wrestling’s circuit. The entire Hart Family is a very well known in the city of Calgary, and fans flocked to the Stampede Wrestling shows promoted by Stu Hart to watch the Hart brothers wrestle. The Harts grew up in Calgary and have a spiritual connection with the city and its people. It was always a rowdy crowd when any member of the Hart family had a big match against a top heel.
Ricky Steamboat: Looking back, I can’t recall Ricky Steamboat ever performing in the roll of a heel. That has to count for something. Because of his work ethic and attitude towards his matches, audiences have always respected the Dragon. The Dragon always respected his opponent, no matter how villainous they may be. Steamboat was a great performer and fans caught onto that and he became very popular.
Bob Armstrong: For the life of me, I don’t know why fans were so attracted to this guy. I have never found his matches entertaining in the least. I guess he can talk a bit but that southern drawl holds him back. Regardless of that, “The Bullet” remained a crowd favourite for years.
Whipper Watson: The Whip dominated wrestling in Toronto for many years. He was a favourite of audiences, to my knowledge, his entire career. I would compare his popularity in Canada, to that of Bruno Sammartino’s in the USA. My mothers memories of wrestling when she was a kid all start with the name “Whipper” Billy Watson.
Eddie Guerrero: All of the Guerreros have enjoyed time in the babyface roll over their careers, but I haven’t seen any wrestler as over as Eddie Guerrero is right now for a long, long time. Eddie’s personality is just magnetic and over the past few years, watching him grow as a wrestler has caught the fans attention and they are now addicted to him. His whole gimmick is entertaining, everything from his entrance, to his dancing around, to his exaggerated accent, to the clever ways he come up with to “cheat to win”. It’s official — fans adore Eddie Guerrero.
Austin Idol: Here’s a guy who was just as evil as a heel as he was loved as a babyface. Austin Idol spent time in many territories tearing up the roster no matter what attitude he had. When he was a babyface, though, the fans just loved his fun-loving confident attitude and his charismatic interviews knocking future opponents down verbally even before they had a chance to get in the ring.
Sting: Sting entered the wrestling business and quickly rose to the top. He had a unique quality about him that I personally cannot figure out. After a brief run as a “powerful” tag partner of The Ultimate Warrior, Sting showed up in the NWA with bleach blonde hair and his face painted, acting like some kind of rebel surfer dude. He didn’t carry a surfboard, WCW wasn’t around yet (ha ha joke). He was put in line for a feud with the “man” Ric Flair and his Four Horsemen. Sting later joined the Horsemen when the group turned babyface itself, but then they turned on Sting and re-ignited the feud, which would go on for over a decade. Sting’s charisma kept him in the limelight of wrestling for a long long time and also brought the fans to their feet.
Magnum TA: Just as Magnum’s career was getting ready to take off, it was cut short by an unfortunate car accident that ended his days as an active wrestler. Before that, however, all fans that went to see him loved Magnum and the fans were the ones elevating him to main event status. When Magnum returned, in a non-wrestling capacity, the fans fell even more in love with him because of his desire and strength to recover.
Jake Roberts: I’m not referring to his days in the WWF, but back before McMahon stole him from Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling promotion. Jake Roberts was WAY over with the fans and he took on some of the territories top heels, such as Lord Humongous and Dick Slater.
Well okay that’s a top 22, so sue me. I would like to encourage everybody to send in their additions to the list, keep your comments short and sweet please, don’t write a whole new column in response to this column. Thanks, I hope you enjoyed my trip through the land of babyface talent. In a week or so I will be doing a Top 20 Heels of All-Time column so keep your eyes peeled for that one. Until then, I’m Brad Dykens, and you’re obsessed.
Written by Darby Gatorade (March 31, 2004)