Wrestling is a combat sport involving all kinds of grappling, clinching, fighting, throws, takedowns and pins. The sport can be downright violent at times and we love it. It is a physical feat of strength, testing the bounds of at least two men (and sometimes women) against one another. The styles have varied over time, beginning nearly 15,000 years ago as depicted through cave drawings in France.
Over the course of time, the sport which features two gladiators battling against one other, has become a venue of great entertainment. In 1972, Vince McMahon created the World Wrestling Entertainment and rolled out a roster for WWF Championship Wrestling. It aired on television from 1972-1986 and spawned many memorable moments and men who rose to stardom. Icons were created from the events and fans were drawn to the glitz and violence.
After the WWF, the television shows changed names, but the players remained similar. Additional wrestling organizations have risen and the content helps sell out arenas all across the United States. Wrestlers have used their success from inside the ring and have found varying levels of personal success outside the four corners. Those who are lucky to have been labeled stars have used their notoriety to make more money beyond their wrestling careers. This success has led to other entertainment opportunities in television, books and movies. Some have even blazed a trail into other greater endeavors. This is the list of the 12 greatest wrestling stories who succeeded inside and outside the ring.
12. Randy Savage – Slim Jim
Born Randy Mario Poffo, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was one of the most recognizable wrestling figures of his era. He first started as a baseball player, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals out of high school. He played in the minor leagues but injuries and time weren’t on his side. In 1973, Savage broke into the wrestling business. Once Savage signed with Vince McMahon in 1985, he exploded into the mainstream.
Although Savage wouldn’t appear as a mainstay in feature films or movies, he did make numerous small appearances. It would be on the small screen promoting Slim Jim in which Savage will forever be remembered by millions upon millions of consumers with the catch phrase, “Snap into a Slim Jim!” It would be a commercial and endorsement that lasted many years. His face appeared everywhere from wrestling to being Slim Jim’s face of the brand. Rest in peace “Macho Man.”
11. Steve Austin – B-Movie King
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin was born Steven James Anderson. Austin worked his way up through the wrestling circuits in the 1990s and into the early 2000s. When all was said and done, Austin amassed 21 championships and was the premiere box office draw of his time. Former WWE executive Jim Ross declared Austin: “Nobody touches Austin…no one generated more cast in the length of their WWE career.” Austin has starred in numerous “B-list” action movies as well as producing numerous films. He has made many television appearances and moved into developing more shows as a producer. He has moved from the mat to a successful career as an entrepreneur in the entertainment biz.
10. John Cena – Granting Wishes
Cena started training to become a professional wrestler back in 1999 at Ultimate Pro Wrestling in California. The very promotable Cena found himself wrestling and rising through the ranks, gaining crowd support through the early 2000s. Cena worked his way up to gain championships in the wrestling ring while outside he gained notoriety with television, commercial and film appearances. Cena even released a rap album which hit number 15 on the charts. Clearly a promotable brand, Cena has been a wrestling staple as he continues to thrive outside the ring. In addition to his success, Cena has granted over 500 wishes for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the most in the company’s history. Cena, you are a true champion. Well done, sir.
9. Mick Foley – Author
Mick Foley was a true character inside the wrestling ring. Foley’s love for wrestling began in high school where he wrestled side by side with actor Kevin James. As he rode up the ranks as “Cactus Jack” and “Mankind,” Foley made his imprint on wrestling all over the world. He tried to retire multiple times, but was drawn back to the ring. Outside the ring, Foley is a successful author, publishing numerous fiction books as well as his own memoirs. He has also made numerous appearances on many television shows. Foley is a great entertainer and truly talented in numerous ways beyond the ring.
8. Kevin Nash – Magic Nash
In 1990, Nash debuted in the WCW as “Steel.” He made up half of the tag team known as Master Blasters. From there he wrestled for various companies, jumping back and forth searching for his success. He found a few small roles in the entertainment industry, appearing in movies and television. In 2012, a couple of high profile movies raised his persona away from the ring when he appeared in Rock of Ages and Magic Mike. Magic Mike was a larger role where he played the stripper “Tarzan,” which he reprises in 2015 in Magic Mike XXL. Nash also appeared with Keanu Reeves in John Wick. Nash seems on the cusp of bigger roles and bigger success.
7. Andre The Giant – Fezzik
Andre The Giant was born Andre Roussimoff in Grenoble, France. He had Bulgarian and Polish ancestry and as a 12-year-old child, reached 6’3” and an astounding 240 pounds. Andre was a true giant at an early age. The large young man was taught to wrestle in Paris, France at the age of 17. In 1973, Andre The Giant appeared appeared in the World Wide Wrestling Federation, defeating Buddy Wolfe in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Andre was a larger-than-life figure and appeared on numerous popular television shows in the 1970s. He followed that up with an appearance in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Conan the Destroyer. It is the film Princess Bride (1987) that audiences will always remember Andre the Giant as Fezzik. He was a personality and a presence to behold.
6. Rowdy Roddy Piper – It’s Not A Skirt!
Piper was an amateur boxer and wrestler before committing to the latter. A talented young athlete, he won the Golden Gloves Boxing Championship and gained a black belt in Judo. By the age of 15, he made his professional wrestling debut in Winnipeg, Canada. Piper had some big moments with Vince McMahon in the early-mid 1980s as he was featured as a villain. With his memorable set of bag pipes and dressed in a kilt, Piper remained in the wrestling spotlight until his passing in 2015. Along the way he amassed many appearances in television shows and movies. Although he never had any big blockbuster films, Piper was an undeniable personality who electrified audiences each and every time he stepped inside the ring.
5. David Bautista
Bautista started off with body building early in his life; an activity he credits with saving his life. He moved on to professional wrestling, hitting the various circuits until he rose to greater fame. And greater fame would come. Bautista is currently blowing up, as his film schedule since 2011 has gone into overdrive. With the defining role of “Drax the Destroyer” in Guardians of the Galaxy, Bautista has become a force at the box office. He has a few larger roles arriving, with a potential return to the new Guardians flick if it is indeed in the works. Bautista has four feature films either in production or that are in pre-production which he carries significant roles in. Expect to see a lot more from Bautista outside the ring.
4. Antonio Inoki – Japanese Legend
Inoki is one of the most famous wrestlers in Japanese history. Certainly, many Americans may not be as aware of Inoki, but in Japan, he was a legend. He started wrestling way back in 1966 in Tokyo’s Pro Wrestling Circuit. By 1972, the big attraction founded his own wrestling promotion company called New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Inoki’s most infamous match was when he battled Muhammad Ali in the odd pairing of a boxer versus a wrestler. This is definitely seen as a precursor to UFC long before the UFC was even a thought. After his wrestling career, Inoki was elected to the House of Councillors of the National Diet of Japan. Inoki is a Japanese wrestling legend and extremely well-respected in and out of the ring. He also has a legendary chin. Check out the picture!
3. Jesse Ventura – Political Predator
Born James George Janos in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Ventura served in the United States Navy from December 1, 1969 to September 10, 1975. Ventura started wrestling in 1975 and never looked back. As Ventura’s fame grew in wrestling, his big personality appealed to the big screen with substantial roles in such films as Predator, The Running Man and Demolition Man. Ventura did something extraordinary in 1990, running for Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. He won, defeating the city’s 25-year incumbent mayor. Ventura wasn’t satisfied with just being mayor. He took on the governor’s mansion in Minnesota and won, running as a third party candidate. No matter what people think of Ventura, going from the ring to the governor’s mansion is pretty damn impressive.
2. Hulk Hogan – The Hulkster
Born Terry Gene Bollea, Hulk Hogan is the most recognizable wrestling figure ever. Hogan is a 12-time world champion in the ring and has brought with him a ton of success and personality while doing it. Hogan was the longest-reigning champion in the 1980s and holds two of the 10 longest title runs in WWF/E history. Hogan’s reign in the ring is nothing less than extraordinary. His personality and celebrity status stretched far beyond the ropes. Hogan has a long list of feature film and television appearances, some of which were starring roles and some of which were just small parts. Hogan and his family starred in the reality show Hogan Knows Best. Hulk Hogan is simply a legend and garners attention anywhere he goes.
1. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Baller
This is easily the number one most successful wrestler outside the ring today. Johnson has parlayed a wrestling career into a feature film and television career that has netted him millions upon millions of dollars. Johnson was a highly-regarded football player with the University of Miami before injuries sidetracked his career. He turned to wrestling and began training. He became “The Rock” and gained a championship belt in 2000. Around that time, Johnson began starring in feature films, and once his success on the big screen came into focus, it was movie-making time. Although Johnson appears sparingly on the wrestling circuit, he is a mega-film money-maker Furious 7 would attest. Johnson has also invaded the small screen, starring and producing the television series Ballers for HBO. Johnson’s movies have grossed billions worldwide and there is clearly no stopping him. He is our number one success story.