Professional wrestling is a comedic business, intentionally and unintentionally, in many ways. Why, as an example, would anybody in his right mind find it wise to take a leap off of the top rope in order to inflict damage on an opponent? One would think that boxers and mixed martial arts fighters would have begun utilizing such methods if they were actually successful. While completely unnecessary in a world where pro wrestling matches are in fact real, such aerial moves make for entertaining in-ring action, and those in attendance leave their feet in anticipation whenever a wrestler heads to the top rope.
Aerial performers who perform flips or other similar attacks do more than simply please adoring crowds and television viewers. They also take massive risks whenever they leap off of or over the top rope. The wrong type of landing, even by an inch, can put one or more of the wrestlers involved in the match in serious danger, to the point that lives could legitimately be put at risk. The outcomes of the matches are staged and the dialogue that occurs during pro wrestling contests is downright brutal at times, but there is no question that the so-called “sports entertainers” are all tremendous athletes.
World Wrestling Entertainment has vanquished all of their rivals (TNA Wrestling doesn’t count, as it still exists and it is not at all a rival of WWE), and thus this list will feature wrestlers who have performed inside of WWE/WWF, World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. In fact, the individual who is atop this list featured in all three of those companies, making his name in two of them and then becoming a World Heavyweight Champion in the other. That last company underutilized the wrestler at times, however, and he may never again work in the ring for that organization.
20. Mike Awesome
The list begins with several unconventional high flyers who, in reality, never should have taken to the air during matches. Awesome was listed at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds during his wrestling career, and yet he looked like a cruiserweight when he hopped up to the top rope with ease or sprinted before soaring over the top rope and onto an opponent. Despite having all of the physical tools to be a superstar in North America, Awesome never made it big in either World Championship Wrestling or World Wrestling Entertainment. He was found dead in February of 2007 at the age of 42 years old.
Whether he was executing his “Old-School” tightrope jaunt before smashing a first down onto a foe or flying over the top rope and onto the floor, Undertaker has, throughout his career, flashed exceptional athleticism and agility for a man his size. ‘Taker was also responsible for one of the scariest moments you’ll ever witness during a pro wrestling contest. He was preparing to leap onto the floor to splash onto Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25, but the Deadman failed to get enough lift. He crashed nearly head-first onto the hard floor, and those in attendance and watching on TV were convinced Undertaker was seriously injured. He thankfully won’t again be attempting such a risky move.
18. Big Show
The time of the modern-day giant of pro wrestling taking to the air has wisely come to an end at this stage of his career. Back in his early days however, the World Championship Wrestling Giant was regarded as arguably the best athlete in the company, and he executed a perfect missile dropkick off of the top rope on multiple occasions. There is even a myth/legend that Big Show was able to pull off a great-looking and safe moonsault without much effort. Not too surprisingly, his peers were not at all keen on being on the receiving end of that move.
17. Brock Lesnar
Lesnar connecting on a shooting star press is no myth or tall-tale. It was one of his finishing moves during his developmental days, never badly botching it a single time; that is, of course, until WrestleMania XIX rolled around. Lesnar was going for a flashy finish with his match-up against Kurt Angle, but Angle was positioned too far for Lesnar to get enough rotation on the move. The result was Lesnar jamming his head and neck as he crashed into the ground, and while he did suffer a concussion, Lesnar was fortunate to not have broken his neck. He understandably removed that move from his arsenal following that evening.
16. Big Van Vader
Vader is often referred to as the greatest big-man in the history of professional wrestling, in part because of his athleticism and for his ability to take to the air during matches. His Vadersault (moonsault) was equally beautiful as it was terrifying to behold, as a man carrying that much weight probably should not be executing a back-flip onto an opponent that he could not see as he left his feet. Vader, to his credit, used the move throughout his storied career, and the current wrestling world could use a similar large athlete to break what has become a cookie-cutter mold for sports entertainers.
15. Shane McMahon
It was rarely pretty when the son of the World Wrestling Entertainment chairman would take to the air during matches. In fact, there were times when you were certain that McMahon was putting his life on the line, and his daredevil style and willingness to sacrifice his body for crowds earns him a place here. An underrated athlete, McMahon, just like the next wrestler featured in this piece, had the ability to deliver a corner-to-corner dropkick from off of the top rope. He was also capable of delivering a textbook shooting star press. It was McMahon’s aerial abilities that made him a viable competitor and not just a gimmick who was in the ring because of his last name.
14. Rob Van Dam
“Nobody gets higher than Rob Van Dam” makes for a humorous punchline, but it was also an accurate statement (in multiple ways) during RVD’s best years in the business. Van Dam’s Five-Star Frog Splash, which would see the former Extreme Championship Wrestling legend soar to unimaginable heights, was an awe-inspiring move to see in person. He would outdo that finisher by debuting the Van Terminator, a corner-to-corner missile dropkick that included Van Dam traveling in midair across the length of the ring. Van Dam was, athletically speaking, unmatched during his ECW run, and World Wrestling Entertainment named him the greatest wrestler in the history of ECW.
13. Jimmy Snuka
“Superfly,” as he has been known over the decades, was a tame aerial artist when compared with those who pull off 450-splashes and shooting star press finishers. Snuka was also, for a generation of fans, an innovator, the wrestler who introduced his unique style of work to an adoring audience. His most famous moment came at Madison Square Garden in 1983 when he delivered his Superfly Splash off of a steel cage onto Don Muraco. That moment is replayed on WWE television to this day, and multiple wrestlers, including Mick Foley, cite that splash for being their motivation to actively pursue a career in the business.
12. Randy Savage
The “Macho Man” didn’t perform flips or other dangerous and thrilling maneuvers during his career. He didn’t have to. Did you ever, during your youth, raise your arms upward over your head and point to the heavens to mimic what Savage would do before delivering his famous elbow drop off of the top rope? You certainly were not alone. CM Punk, who walked away from World Wrestling Entertainment to join the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2014, paid such tributes to Savage while on WWE television. Savage’s contributions to the business alone make the soon-to-be Hall of Famer an all-time great aerial wrestler.
11. Ricky Steamboat
“The Dragon” is similar to Savage and Snuka in that all three worked a safer style than some of the more modern wrestlers who are featured in this piece. Steamboat’s resume and the fact that he is a member of four different Hall of Fame classes all speak to why he deserves to be spotlighted here. Wrestling Observer founder and chief editor Dave Meltzer, well respected for his vast pro wrestling knowledge, awarded three matches involving Steamboat and Ric Flair with five-star ratings, Meltzer’s highest rating for a contest. That feud involving Steamboat and the Nature Boy was pro wrestling at its finest.
10. Jeff Hardy
Critics will hit out at this decision and refer to Hardy as being a “spot monkey” and nothing more. Hardy, like the previously mentioned McMahon, has defied both gravity and logic during his career, taking the type of risks that many of his peers would quickly and happily shy away from. The enigmatic one has also been his own worst enemy via the actions he has taken in and outside of the ring, having multiple run-ins with the law regarding his battles with drug addiction. At 37 years of age, one has to imagine that the days of Hardy taking to the skies to deliver his swanton bomb are close to an end.
9. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid is often underrated for his aerial abilities. Michaels was not as flashy as some, but he was more than willing to go to the top rope for the big-time match. Mr. WrestleMania put on shows time and time again at the top pay-per-view on the wrestling calendar, and you wouldn’t have known during the second half of his career that he had been sidelined for several years due to a serious back injury. Some have even suggested that Michaels had a better top-rope elbow drop than “Macho Man” Randy Savage, even though HBK did not use that as his regular finisher.
8. Brian Pillman
Before he was known as the “Loose Cannon” for the promos that he would cut while on camera, Pillman was “Flyin’ Brian,” one of the top aerial wrestlers in World Championship Wrestling. Pillman was a crisp and clean worker, and his small stature when compared with other heavyweights made him an entertaining in-ring underdog. The graduate of the Stu Hart Dungeon was taken from us far too soon, as he was found dead of a heart attack in a hotel room in 1997. It was later learned that Pillman was suffering from an undetected heart condition. Pillman was 35 years old at the time of his passing.
Suicidal. Homicidal. Genocidal. Death-defying. This is how Extreme Championship Wrestling guru Paul Heyman advertised Sabu during the wrestler’s ECW days. It would turn out that Heyman actually undersold what Sabu would put his body through during matches. The scars on his body tell only a small amount of the injuries Sabu has picked up over the years due to moves such as the Arabian Facebuster, Arabian Skullcrusher and triple jump moonsault. While his style did not translate in World Wrestling Entertainment for multiple reasons, Sabu was the perfect star during the height of ECW, and he helped the promotion grow in popularity during the 1990s.
6. Ultimo Dragon
Dragon used lessons that he picked up from working in Japan and Mexico to develop into a unique worker capable of having aerial battles and chain-wrestling contests, and he is credited for developing several moves: The Asai (Dragon’s real-life last name) DDT, the Dragon Bomb, the Dragonsteiner and the Asai Moonsault. Dragon was so highly regarded in the 1990s that he possessed ten – yes, TEN – championships all at the same time. His greatest successes in the United States came when Dragon was in World Championship Wrestling, holding the WCW Cruiserweight Championship while feuding with Dean Malenko.
5. Eddie Guerrero
Guerrero went from being a World Championship Wrestling cruiserweight and afterthought to a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar and world champion, and his top victory came when he got his life in order following a drunk driving charge that got him released by WWE (then WWF) in November of 2001. Some have said that Guerrero had the greatest frog splash finisher in the history of pro wrestling, one much tighter than that executed by Rob Van Dam. The WWE Grand Slam Champion joined the long list of wrestlers who died far too young in November of 2005, taken from the world because of acute heart failure.
4. Dynamite Kid
Kid is, unfortunately, likely to be remembered more for his life after wrestling than for what he achieved inside of the ring. He often utilized the diving headbutt off the top rope that was invented by Harley Race during matches, and that, along with other damage that Kid took throughout his career, has left the former member of the British Bulldogs paralyzed. Some observers and former wrestlers would point to Kid, Chris Benoit and others as examples of why the diving headbutt should be outlawed by all promotions. It is a move that is simply not worth the risk knowing all that we now know.
3. 2 Cold Scorpio
Scorpio, who also went by the name of Flash Funk while with the World Wrestling Federation, was a wrestler before his time, an aerial performer in a class of his own and with an ability to feature in multiple promotions. The 450-splash. The corkscrew somersault leg drop. The moonsault leg drop. A good old-fashioned moonsault. The shooting star press. Scorpio could and did pull each of those moves off during matches, rarely displaying anything other than fine form while doing so. It is interesting to think of what Scorpio would have been in the modern-day World Wrestling Entertainment had he been born two decades later.
2. Jushin Liger
An international superstar who has been showcased in professional wrestling promotions located all over the world, Liger will be familiar to casual fans located in North America for his work in World Championship Wrestling. Among his numerous accomplishments during a career for the ages, Liger is credited for being the creator of the shooting star press. Liger is often regarded as the best overall aerial wrestler in all of pro wrestling for his multiple contributions to the industry. As it pertains to the WWE umbrella, however, he sits second behind a diminutive entertainer who has held the “Big Gold Belt” multiple times.
1. Rey Mysterio Jr.
Age and injuries had, to a point, caught up with Mysterio when he joined up with World Wrestling Entertainment following the demise of World Championship Wrestling, and thus those who only watched WWE/WWF during the Monday Night Wars missed the Lucha star when he was at his absolute best. WWE honored him during his run with the company with multiple championship reigns, although some would argue that the company failed to fully utilize Mysterio during that stage of his career. Now banged up and in the twilight of his wrestling days, it is rumored that Mysterio wants to end his wrestling career back where it started, in Mexico.