Depending on what it is that you want to see from a professional wrestling organization, the 1980s contained some of the best or some of the worst wrestlers in the history of the business. The World Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, featured babyface and heel characters that were ripped from comic books and/or from older television shows. Organizations such as the National Wrestling Alliance and its branches, one of which eventually became World Championship Wrestling, showed more of a sports-based product, one that still had its fair share of silly characters played by wrestlers who could not work all that well in the ring.
Even if you were entertained during this era of pro wrestling, an intelligent fan would, upon looking back, have to admit that the wrestlers mentioned in this piece would not be considered to be the best workers of their day. Some, to their credit, did manage to find great success, fame and fortune during the 1990s and the “Monday Night Wars” that featured the WWF and WCW fighting it out for ratings supremacy and, we would learn, for survival. Others, however, faded away from national companies, either because of their ages or because they were no longer deemed worthy of spots on shows such as Raw and Nitro.
20. Adrian Adonis
Adrian Adonis was a talented performer who was, in some ways, ahead of his time. Adonis’ flamboyant personality made him an entertaining fixture on television programs, and he could produce solid matches. Adonis makes this list, though, as he let himself go and gained a ton of weight during the second half of the 80s. He reportedly tipped the scales at around 350 pounds while with the WWF. While Adonis was still agile enough for a man of that size, he likely could have been a good worker with the company through the end of the 80s if he had only made different choices.
The next three are probably going to fire up some classic wrestling fans, but those fans will all have to get over it. Long before he was close to becoming the “Franchise” and the face of WCW, Sting was a smiling babyface who looked like a combination of a bodybuilder and a California surfer. While he undeniably had promise early on in his career, it was working with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair that helped Sting take the next step and become a true star. Without that program with Flair, it is possible that Sting never would have made it in WCW or in the business.
18. Ultimate Warrior
Ultimate Warrior may very well be the most energetic performer in the history of the WWF/WWE. With that now out of the way, we are not going to pretend that he was a good pro wrestler in the 80s or at any other time of his career just because he tragically passed away days after he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. While he should be praised for getting over in the WWF as a babyface, Warrior was bad both in the ring and on the microphone, and that he was pushed instead of Rick Rude is another reminder that life is not fair.
17. Andre the Giant
We are not, when mentioning Andre the Giant as one of the worst wrestlers of the 80s, referencing the legend of the industry who was able to draw crowds to arenas. Even before Andre faced off with Hulk Hogan for that iconic WrestleMania III encounter, it was clear to all watching that the Giant was having trouble moving in the ring. It was, in fact, sad watching Andre during the final years of his career. The matches were terrible, and he was barely able to do much of anything other than walk and maybe chop an opponent. It’s a shame that some fans grew up seeing only that Andre.
16. Junkyard Dog
It does have to be said that Junkyard Dog did well to get over with fans as a babyface worker. If only JYD would have put in the work to improve in the ring. His personality made him a favorite among younger audiences, and his popularity allowed him to find work in companies such as the WWF and WCW. There were, however, good reasons that Junkyard Dog was largely limited to punches and powerslams during his matches. Anybody who tries to convince you that Hulk Hogan could not work during the 80s should be directed to some JYD matches from the time.
15. The Ding-Dongs
It is, in some ways, nothing short of a miracle that WCW managed to make it through 1989 and the mid 90s before Eric Bischoff and company presented Nitro and the New World Order storyline that would change the face of North American pro wrestling. The Ding-Dongs were a WCW tag team that wore orange jumpsuits and that had bells taped to their legs, and the idea, apparently, was that younger audiences would want to cheer for this act. The idea was awful, and so were the wrestlers. This gimmick didn’t get over with fans, and it wasn’t long before it was removed from TV and from the company. Just another banner moment for WCW.
14. Mike Von Erich
It has been well documented over the years that, unlike other members of his wrestling family, Mike Von Erich did not want to be an in-ring worker. He was interested in the business, however, and Mike was eventually thrust into a wrestling career even though he was not a naturally gifted athlete. Von Erich was not very good in the ring, and he was even worse on the microphone. Von Erich’s wrestling career ended early because of injuries, and he struggled with the pressure that came with being part of his famous family. Mike took his own life in April 1987.
13. Big John Studd
Even as a little kid, it would have been easy to have been a little confused about the Big John Studd character. Studd was absolutely bigger than some of the smaller jobbers one would see on weekend television, but he also was not, in storyline, nearly as big as wrestlers such as Andre the Giant. Casual fans probably remember Studd for his feud with Andre, a feud that does not live up three decades after it first occurred in the WWF. Studd was a fine “Hoss” for his time, but that is more a reflection on pro wrestling in the 80s. We wouldn’t recommend going back and watching any of his matches.
It is with some sorrow that we feel the need to include the Warlord in a list of the worst wrestlers of the 80s. Warlord did, after all, give us a tremendous comedic moment when he was eliminated from the 1989 Royal Rumble after technically being in the event for all of two seconds. It was the quickest elimination from any Royal Rumble at the time, and Warlord held that honor for over a decade. That will remain Warlord’s lasting legacy as a worker in the WWF, which tells you all that you need to know about the gimmick and also about his abilities as a worker.
11. Ivan Putski
Those who listen to the “Review-a-Wai” podcasts offered by Live Audio Wrestling are probably familiar with the “Putski Award.” While that award was named in “honor” of the jacked physique had by Scott Putski, Ivan would also be a good candidate. Ivan, nicknamed “The Polish Hammer,” was a bodybuilder before wrestling in the 80s. His body, which was impressive at the time, was his best and probably his only positive attribute as it pertains to pro wrestling. In fact, Putski is routinely mentioned as one of the worst all-around workers of the decade. Putski is, however, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
10. Lex Luger
There is a legitimate argument to be made that Lex Luger has, over the years, received far too much criticism from fans. Luger was over as a babyface while working in WCW during the 1990s, and he was one of the only wrestlers to get a clean win over “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan during the New World Order storyline. Luger was not a finished product in the 80s, however, and it showed in his promos and in his clunky work in the ring. Luger struggled working as a babyface and as a heel early in his career, but his second stint in WCW was a success.
9. Uncle Elmer
We have to be honest and admit that we only remembered Uncle Elmer after going back and looking at older editions of the Wrestling Observer. Journalist Dave Meltzer did not have high praise for Elmer during his run in the WWF. In fact, Elmer was probably the worst member of the “Hillbillies” stable, which is quite the knock when you consider the other wrestlers who were in that group. Elmer’s massive size – he was said to be well over 400 pounds during his wrestling career – was about all that he had going for him, and his time on the national scene lasted only a couple of years.
8. Brooklyn Brawler
Any list of the worst wrestlers of the 80s has to include the Brooklyn Brawler. Whether he competed as Steve Lombardi (his real name), as the Brawler or as some other horrible character, the gimmick with Lombardi was that he was, in fact, a bad wrestler who couldn’t win any matches. Lombardi was a fine jobber to the stars, and there is something impressive about the fact that he was able to hang around and make a living in the business for as long he did. Not everybody can be a superstar and world champion, after all, but Lombardi was a mainstay on WWF programming for years.
7. Paul Roma
Wrestling fans are familiar with the terms “X-Pac Heat” and “Go-Away Heat.” A wrestler who has earned this reputation has become so stale or so missable that fans would rather head off to the restroom or change the channel than watch him wrestle. Paul Roma could be the perfect example for this in the 1980s. Roma, to his credit, had a great look, but that was about where his talents ended. Remember, though, that somebody actually thought it would be a good idea to put Roma in the Four Horsemen during the 1990s. Here is a spoiler alert: It didn’t end well.
6. Jim Powers
Jim Powers is a fascinating example when looking at the worst wrestlers of the 80s, as he seemingly failed to improve all that much after first arriving on the national scene. Powers, like Roma, had an ideal look for either a heel or a babyface, but he was beyond bland inside of the ring. Powers’ failure to be a singles star in either the WWF or WCW was not for a lack of effort from either company. You may even remember WCW once teasing that Powers could have some sort of feud with the New World Order. Fortunately for all of us, that didn’t happen.
5. One Man Gang
There is probably some diehard 1980s WWF fan out there who is appalled that somebody would dare include One Mang Gang, who later became Akeem in the 1980s, on such a list. Akeem playing “The African Dream” had its funny moments, and the big man did well to tell entertaining stories in the ring against smaller opponents such as Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. As a wrestler and also as a gimmick, One Man Gang was not only nothing special. He was downright bad, and he did not get better even though he was able to hang around throughout the middle of the 1990s.
4. King Kong Bundy
The truth of the matter is that you could put overweight wrestler “x” in this slot, and it would probably be fitting. That was the state of wrestling in the 1980s. It didn’t matter if you blew up during matches that lasted longer than a couple of minutes so long as you could look intimidating while wrestling against jobbers. The idea behind King Kong Bundy was simple enough: He was a big and mean heel who beat up undersized performers but who never won a championship against the likes of Hulk Hogan. It was simple and it worked for its time, but Bundy wouldn’t get any reaction from fans if he debuted today.
If there is one thing that history has taught us over the decades, it is that a pro wrestling organization getting involved with a movie is probably not a good idea. That was the case for WCW during the dying days of the company, and that same held true for the WWF in the late 1980s. The movie No Hold Barred may be a cult classic among some wrestling fans, but that does not change the fact that Zeus, played by Tom Lister, did not belong in the ring in front of any live audience let alone for a pay-per-view event such as SummerSlam.
It didn’t matter if you would have paired Hercules up with Slick, Bobby Heenan, Ted DiBiase or the New World Order. The results likely would have nevertheless been the same. Perhaps one of the more forgettable Saturday Night’s Main Event contests in history featured Hercules, who carried a long chain to the ring because, you see, he was actually Hercules in storyline, losing to WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. A muscle-head who was, at best, functional inside of the ring was not, in fact, champion material, and Hercules fortunately never received a run with any major belt during his stint with the WWF.
Sid was such an entertaining personality in the pro wrestling business during the 1990s; until, that is, he entered the ring to take part in an actual match. At the very least, Sid could cut menacing promos, some of which didn’t always make sense, and was able to play the role of the “psychotic” monster when feuding with the likes of Shawn Michaels in the 90s. In the 80s, however, Sid was nothing more than a big guy who was even worse in the ring than he was in the 90s. Go back and watch some of his older matches via the WWE Network if you don’t believe that is possible.