Wrestling at its very core is an entertainment show; this means it has both heroes and villains and over the past few years, WWE has showcased many different wrestling styles.
Whilst many fans of the product are impressed by the high flying superstars, it is the brawlers who have caught the eye of the WWE Universe over the past few decades.
Brawlers are the superstars who don’t look like they are aware of what they are doing in the ring. They seem as if they go into a fight without it being choreographed and pre-determined and proceed to throw everything at their opponent in a crazy and unplanned manner. Brawlers rarely ever capture the headlines because of their wrestling style; it is usually their smash mouth style that gains results and pushes them towards the heights of the company. In WWE’s current era, the likes of Sheamus and Dean Ambrose are flying the flag for the brawlers in the company and showing that it isn’t a style that will ever be phased out, regardless of how many new stars come through the company from NXT.
Over the past few decades, fans have enjoyed the creativity of many WWE brawlers with some of them going on to win the biggest prize in wrestling, which proves that even though brawlers don’t have an attractive looking style, it somehow manages to get results.
The following list looks at 15 of the greatest brawlers in WWE history and how they gained their name and style:
15. The Road Warriors
Tag teams like the Dudleys, the APA and current day members of the Bullet Club Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson owe a debt of gratitude to the Legion of Doom members Hawk and Animal for being a pioneers known for their brute force and excruciatingly painful-looking offense. The Road Warriors were that tag team of the 80s and early 90s, annihilating the competition with their brutal beat downs and back-breaking manoeuvres. The Road Warriors captured tag team championships in virtually every big time wrestling promotion in the 80s, be it in the AWA, NWA, Japanese promotions and finally the WWE.
Look no further than their devastating tag team finisher, the famous Doomsday Device, where Animal hoists up the unfortunate opponent onto his shoulders, only to be sent careening to the mat from a vicious clothesline by Road Warrior Hawk. These two were tough as nails and showed it every night from the moment the PA System played “OHHHH WHAT A RUSH!”
14. Fit Finlay
The intro of his entrance theme said it all, “My name is Finlay, and I LOVE TO FIGHT!” Finlay was a fiery Irishman that was all business in the ring. His stocky broad frame and rugged looks definitely made him look the part of a knuckle-cracking brawler. Finlay was innovative in his brawling, using parts of the ring, such as the ring apron, to unleash terrible punishment on the poor sap he was facing.
That’s not to say that he wasn’t a solid mat technician because he certainly was and has taken fellow mat technicians like Chris Benoit and William Regal to school in the ring with his technique. And if the brute force of his fists and feet weren’t enough to take you out, he could always pull out his trusty shillelagh to crack you over the skull with. Sounds pleasant, doesn’t it?
13. Dean Ambrose
The former member of The Shield has become one of the most entertaining wrestlers on WWE’s current main roster, not to mention the new WWE World Heavyweight champion. Ambrose doesn’t follow an official style of wrestling and often looks like he is just fighting like a normal person in the street. One could bet that if he was to be asked what his favorite wrestling move would be, The Lunatic Fringe would probably respond, “the one where I tackle the guy and start punching him.”
Ambrose is also one of WWE’s best talents on the mic and along with his crazy off-the-wall gimmick, it seems that Ambrose has captured the imagination of the WWE Universe over the past few years and his unique style has seen him already capture other titles like the Intercontinental and United States championships in his short career. Ambrose’s specialty seems to be any match that isn’t a traditional singles match, as he has won ladder matches, hardcore matches and even an Asylum Match.
Sheamus started his career on the ECW brand and it’s little surprising as to why. Sheamus has made his money with his brawling technique, battering opponents with his stiff style and his punishing Brogue Kick, which looks like it can take a superstar’s head clean off. The Irish brawler and former WWE World Heavyweight Champion has found his feet in WWE over the past few years, with him finally reaching the heights of the company in 2015 when he became the World Heavyweight champion for the first time since the title was unified. While also a powerhouse in the ring,
Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the match and even though he lost the title, he went on to become a member of The League of Nations who were a dominant group in WWE for a few months. Sheamus has had a wildly successful career despite the fact that he hardly has a specific wrestling type.
11. Tommy Dreamer
Wherever Tommy Dreamer is, a kendo stick is not much further away. Dreamer was considered to have been one of the ECW original greats, and someone who would have gladly given up his blood for the cause and lived to entertain. He fought his way to the top in ECW and even had a successful career in WWE where he proved his style was a unique but interesting one. His whopping 14 Hardcore championship title reigns during the 24/7 rule days did not just happen by accident.
Tommy, however, was certainly more known for taking punishment, rather than dishing it out. Dreamer was the kind of person who was often knocked down, but he always got back up because he had the heart of a lion. The innovator of violence had an unbreakable spirit throughout his days between the ropes and it showed.
“What time is it?!?!” Whenever this big bohemoth came down to the ring, it was definitely Vader Time, and he let his opponents know it every night. Physically imposing while at the same time being athletically gifted and agile, Vader earned a reputation as a feared superstar in the squared circle because of his stiffness and tough as nails style of combat.
Vader was a powerhouse who started out terrorizing opponents in Japan before hitting the American wrestling scene in the 90s in WCW. Vader would gain notoriety and make the jump to the WWE where he brought his brutal style to a global audience. Vader’s hands were lethal weapons in the ring and when he got someone trapped in a corner, it was all over. Few could get Vader off his feet, and usually that person would be himself when he’d ascend the top rope to bring his 400 pound frame down on you with his Vader bomb, or his even more impressive Vadersault.
9. Rowdy Roddy Piper
They didn’t call him “Rowdy” for nothing. Roddy Piper may be the biggest trash talker in the history of the WWE, but he certainly backed up all that bark with one hell of a bite. Though the late Hall of Famer is beloved now, early on in his career he was universally hated for his dastardly actions and his dirty fighting tactics, which he would use even as a babyface.
No one can forget his signature eye poke that he would pull out of nowhere, his wild out of control flurry of rights and lefts, and his signature sleeper hold that have knocked out his enemies. Piper has been a part of some bloody classics such as a Dog Collar Match with Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in the AWA, but notably his shining moment that let the world know just how tough Piper was happened at WrestleMania 12. Piper fought Goldust in a Hollywood Back Lot Brawl, in which he was relentless.
8. John Bradshaw Layfield
JBL proclaimed himself during his long WWE Championship run on the SmackDown brand as a “Wrestling God” but what would’ve been more fitting would have been a “brawling god.” Whether it was his time in the APA, as Justin “Hawk” Bradsha or as a member of the Blackjacks, JBL’s forte included a hard-hitting stiff brawling repertoire.
If you don’t believe JBL belongs on this list just ask former Attitude Era team Public Enemy, who felt the wrath of JBL’s stiff blows in 1999 or Blue Meanie who had his face bloodied up by the repeated wallops, courtesy of Bradshaw. JBL would most likely take offense that he’s not number one on this list, so here’s hoping he doesn’t read this.
7. Triple H
The King of Kings and the self proclaimed measuring stick of the WWE is still one of the biggest stars in the company, even since he took over as the Chief Operating Officer. Triple H climbed through WWE as a technical wrestler like many others, but it was always obvious that there was something special about Hunter.
He was nicknamed the “Cerebral Assassin” for a reason and that was largely due to his methodical brawling style and ruthless beatdowns he would dish out to anyone who dared get in his way. His style is somewhat chaotic, but it has become accepted by many in the WWE Universe, and it has led him to 14 World championship reigns over his lengthy career. The Game will always push himself in matches that force him to battle those stronger than him, and he always pulls it off. Anyone who would disagree with his placement on this list should watch out for any oncoming sledgehammers.
6. Dusty Rhodes
The late great American Dream Dusty Rhodes had a wrestling nation behind him as he climbed through the ranks of WWE to become one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE at the peak of both the 1970s and 80s. In career retrospectives, one would see some of the classic yet bloody battles he had with the likes of Ric Flair and Harley Race.
Rhodes was known as The Common Man throughout his career and always stated that he was a plumber’s boy who was never destined to attract the heart of the nation the way he did. Rhodes was never the best or the biggest fighter in the match, but he had the heart of a champion and the fight of a pitbull. The charismatic Dusty will forever be known for his brawling signature finish of stiff jabs endin,g with a flamboyant and iconic Bionic Elbow to the top of the head.
5. Terry Funk
Terry Funk is one of the craziest superstars in WWE history. Much like his former tag team partner Mick Foley, Funk was an incredible competitor, but when he fought, it was like he was fighting with all he had. Also like Foley, Funk had an alter-ego of his own that brought out his wackiness even more – Chainsaw Charlie. As Chainsaw Charlie, Funk would wield a real chainsaw around the ring, scaring off his opponents who dared come near him.
Funk became known for his unique style, his ability to pull weapons into his matches in the easiest of ways and for the fact that he performed some of the craziest stunts that have ever been witnessed on national TV. Funk’s style became popular during his early years because fans were not used to seeing such craziness inside the ring, but it seems to have caught on over the last few decades.
There is a reason that The Undertaker is still performing at the highest level at his ripe age, and that is because he has kept in incredible shape throughout his career, and he has made a career out of being a heavy-hitting competitor. Undertaker’s style has always been a brawling style since day one and as the years went on he added even more brawling to his arsenal and even some MMA tricks up his sleeve like when he implemented the Hell’s Gate as a lethal submission finisher.
Undertaker has fought some of the greatest stars in wrestling throughout his 25 years in the business, and the length of his career has proved that you don’t have to be a pretty wrester; you just have to have a character that fans can relate to and the skills to pull it off.
3. Cactus Jack
Wielding barbed wire bats, bags full of thumbtacks and jumping off of high places doesn’t exactly scream technical wrestler. Cactus Jack, or Mick Foley, or whichever name he was known by, was always one of the scariest men in the ring. Foley couldn’t actually wrestle; he was just crazy enough to throw himself off, into and on top of things.
Foley threw everything at his opponents, but he never followed a traditional wrestling style – he just brawled himself through the match and hoped for the best. The hardcore legend has made a career out of being a complete lunatic and even though he didn’t win every fight he was in, he would literally give his entire body to try and become victorious. This self-sacrifice paid off as he became a multi-time WWE champion and earned his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steve Austin wasn’t always a brawler. In fact, early on in his career, he was quite an accomplished and seasoned technical wrestler. However, as the years went by and Austin, bitter from his lack of opportunities and recognition in the wrestling landscape, turned into a ruthless brawler capable of opening up a can of whoop-ass at any given moment. It was always Austin’s attitude that made him stand out above every other brawler out there, and the fact that he was dynamite on the mic. Austin’s gritty demeanor, trash talk and vulgarity was always backed up in the ring. He wasn’t afraid of stomping a mudhole in you and walking it dry.
Austin was the first real guy to rise against the machine and his feuds with Vince McMahon and The Rock have become legendary. It was never really about Austin’s style, it was just the fact that he wanted to hit someone and he always held himself with such confidence.
1. Brock Lesnar
The Beast Incarnate is an accomplished amateur wrestler who became a multiple-time NCAA champion, but while this made him an accomplished technical wrestler early on his career, it was his bully-like brawling style that made him reign supreme in both the WWE and MMA. Brock Lesnar is a human wrecking machine and he has become well known for taking his opponents to “suplex city” with his specialty German Suplex manoeuvre, which has destroyed many opponents throughout his career.
Brock’s successful crossover to the UFC as a former Heavyweight champion proves that he is not only one of the fiercest wrestlers in the history of the WWE, but he is also a man that can legitimately fight it out inside the Octagon. Brock is an incredible talent and even though a lot of the time he has Paul Heyman doing the talking for him, his actions speak much louder than words inside the Squared Circle.