There is a misconception that wrestlers aren’t tough or real athletes because what they do in the ring is a performance and the outcomes of each and every match is predetermined. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Professional wrestlers put their bodies through sheer hell, and there’s no off-season like team sports or months between fights like in the UFC or boxing. Their bodies have very little time to recover.
Some wrestlers are on the road away from their families and traveling the world putting on televised shows for Smackdown and Raw, in addition to the non-televised house shows for over 300 days a year. When they aren’t in a match, they are in the gym and going from one hotel room to another in a different city on an almost daily basis.
The level of athleticism it takes to become a wrestler is incredibly under-appreciated, as is the amount of toughness each wrestler possesses. So, in reality, there aren’t really any soft wrestlers and most would mangle the average man in a real fight. However, there are those in the wrestling business that have a reputation for being some of the toughest individuals one could ever meet. Here is a list of 8 of the toughest wrestlers in pro wrestling history, and some that weren’t considered to be tough at all by their peers.
15 Tough: Brock Lesnar
Even if you aren’t a fan of pro wrestling, there’s a good chance you may have heard of Brock Lesnar, When he first emerged in the WWE and was announced as the “Next Big Thing” by his manager and friend Paul Heyman, even he couldn't have predicted that in 2015 an ESPN article declared Lesnar the most accomplished athlete in professional wrestling history.
The Former NCAA heavyweight champion is a five-time WWE champion, and former IWGP champion but perhaps his most impressive feat is winning the UFC heavyweight championship in 2008 against Randy Couture despite losing his first bout against Frank Mir in his debut match.
After annihilating Frank Mir in their second fight and successfully defending his belt against Shane Carwin, even though he was suffering from diverticulitis, Lesnar wasn’t quite the same and the disease worsened and he lost his prime fighting years to the illness. Since getting well again, Lesnar continued with the WWE on a part-time basis and is one of the company’s highest paid stars and biggest attractions. Lesnar also returned to the UFC for a one-off in a controversial fight against Mark Hunt. Whatever your opinion on Lesnar is, there’s no doubt that he’s one of the toughest men to ever enter a professional wrestling ring.
14 Soft: Lex Luger
While there’s no doubt that compared to the average man the 6'6" 275lb former American Football player would be too much for most, but according to several sources, he was never as tough as he appeared.
According to an extract from Live Journal, Luger lost a bar fight with the much smaller Ric Flair over a girl that was causing trouble. He was apparently terrified of Scott Steiner, but in fairness to Luger, most people were, and in one of the most infamous matches of all time he ran terrified from a steel cage match against Bruiser Brody because he thought Brody was going to hurt him in the ring.
13 Tough: Ken Shamrock
Long before Brock Lesnar bridged the gap between wrestling for sports entertainment to legitimate fighting in the Ultimate Fight Championships, Ken Shamrock, one of the most decorated and legendary mixed martial artists of all time, had successfully crossed over from the UFC to the WWE many years before. The UFC Hall of Famer made his debut in the WWE in 1997 as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.”
In addition to popularizing the ankle lock submission hold, and having solid and entertaining matches against the likes of The Rock and Owen Hart, Shamrock respected the wrestling business and never acted like he was above his co-workers. However, because of his legitimate martial arts record and background, he solidified himself as one of the real tough guys of the Attitude Era.
Shamrock proved this without even needing to raise a fist against two of the most notorious bullies in wrestling history, The Nasty Boys Jerry Saggs and Brian Knobbs. Before Shamrock made it to the WWE, there was an incident in a hotel room where the tag team blindsided him after a confrontation in a nightclub.
Of course, the pair bragged that they beat up the legendary UFC fighter until he caught up with them at an airport. Knobbs ran away at the sight of him and after a few choice words from Shamrock, the terrified Saggs threatened to get Shamrock arrested, losing a lot of credibility amongst his co-workers in the process.
12 Soft: Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan was arguably the man responsible for the WWE being the billion-dollar empire that it is today. In the 1980s and early 1990s he was the company’s main star, the superhero that body-slammed Andre The Giant, and overcame the odds against King Kong Bundy in a steel cage. He was even the man who helped WCW beat the WWE in the “Monday Night Wars” for the best ratings between WWE Raw and WCW Nitro.
However, as great as his characters were on screen and in the ring, he was known be something of a politician backstage, and on several occasions showed that he was nowhere near the indestructible superhero fans grew up loving.
One standout occasion was when Hulk was the headliner for the WWE back in the 80s. He was apparently terrified of Harley Race and ran away from an event that took place in Race's territory because he thought Race was going to hurt him. There are also stories that Hogan got slapped around by The Macho Man Randy Savage during their time as the Mega Powers and prior to WrestleMania IX, leaving him with a black eye.
11 Tough: Booker T
Booker T was orphaned at the age of 14 and raised by his older brother and former tag team partner of the Harlem Heat, Stevie Ray. Booker's troubled start in life led to him spending a year and a half in prison for armed robbery.
Thankfully, Booker T found his real calling in life as a professional wrestler, but his street smarts and toughness never left him. This was most apparent when he got into a fight with the former wrestler and Guardians of the Galaxy star Batista. Witnesses to the fight said that Booker easily got the upper hand on the then 320lb wrestler.
Another incident where Booker stood his ground was in a confrontation with the massive former professional bodybuilder and convicted killer, Craig Titus. Titus and Booker got into an argument about not putting away their weights in Gold’s Gym. Titus threw a punch at Booker and he barely flinched and the two brawled before the fight was broken up by other wrestling co-workers.
10 Soft: Tazz
In ECW, Tazz was one of the top main event wrestlers in the company, and even though he was a particularly short wrestler at just 5'9" he got over this with a gimmick that made him look like an unstoppable shoot fighter that looked like he belonged in the mixed martial arts world rather than the professional wrestling ring.
However, despite his convincing fighting persona and look, Tazz wasn’t exactly the legitimate tough guy that he portrayed in his character or believed himself to be. In an incident where he tried belittling and threatening Rob Van Dam (behind his back) over the course of a year, the usually very calm and chilled out RVD finally had enough and confronted Tazz. He gave him a quick jab to the face, and Tazz backed down and talked his way out of the fight, losing his "backstage tough guy" creditability in the process.
9 Tough: Scott Steiner
In his prime, Big Poppa Pump Scott Steiner was one of the most innovative and powerful men in the wrestling industry. The former amateur grappler and inventor of the Frankensteiner was suplexing his opponents out of their boots long before Brock Lesnar welcomed the likes of Roman Reigns and Bill Goldberg to Suplex City.
Steiner was also legitimately one of the most feared and unpredictable men backstage with the likes of Lex Luger, Bill Watts, Kevin Nash and Terry Taylor all petrified of him. The 7 foot tall 300lb Kevin Nash, in particular, was easily beaten after throwing a punch at Steiner after a disagreement in the parking lot.
Diamond Dallas Page was also beaten in two backstage brawls with Steiner – and nearly lost an eye – after Steiner ran Page's then-wife Kimberly out of the building because she told officials about finding cocaine in the locker room area and after Steiner insulted them both in an unrehearsed promo on an episode of Nitro.
8 Soft: Shawn Michaels
There’s very little doubt that Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest performers in wrestling history. In addition, as a heel, he also made a career of playing the sneaky but cowardly villain that would hide behind his partners like Kevin Nash (as Diesel) or Triple H in D-Generation X.
The truth is that prior to finding God, Michaels was just as manipulative and cowardly in real life as he was in character. He was notorious for refusing to lose matches, burying other wrestlers like Big Van Vader and most notably Bret Hart in one of wrestling history’s most infamous real-life feuds and what became known as the “Montreal Screwjob."
Before that infamous moment, Hart, who was annoyed with Michaels’ attitude beat up and ripped out some Michaels’ hair, and instead of retaliating in kind, he complained to Vince McMahon and threatened to leave due to “unsafe working conditions."
Another infamous incident was when Shawn was beaten up by several marines in a bar, but rumor has it that he was actually beaten up by 9 female soldiers because he annoyed them by being obnoxious and making advances towards one of them. Whatever the truth of the situation is, Michaels would never be considered a tough guy.
7 Tough: William Regal
British wrestler William Regal is known as one of the most technical wrestlers to have ever laced up a pair of boots. He’s also one of the most legitimately tough guys in the wrestling industry. Starting his career at the age of fifteen at the Horseshoe Showbar at Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, he would challenge members of the public to genuine shoot fights for prize money, where he’d defeat them with submission holds and boxing.
There was a notable moment where he was meant to be easily squashed by WCW’s rising star Goldberg on an episode of Nitro. Instead, Regal had the big man at his mercy for the majority of the match. He seemed like he was trying to make the match look more competitive but there were times where the inexperienced wrestler looked confused and even weak as Regal stretched and maneuvered Goldberg all over the ring at will.
Another story regarding Regal was that he confronted the Big Show because the 7 feet tall 500lb giant was unhappy about doing the job for the 5'5" 185lb Rey Mysterio. Yet despite the size difference, those who know Regal believe he would have walked away from the encounter the winner.
6 Soft: Sheamus
At 6'4" inches and 264lb, a guy as big as Sheamus would be expected to be as tough as he is large. However, if his past confrontations with other wrestlers are anything to go by, he doesn’t seem to be particularly tough at all. Although Sheamus seems to be far more humble now, in the past he was said to have had a something of a prima donna attitude when he first arrived on the WWE developmental scene back in 2006.
The first incident occurred when Sheamus shared a room with Ted Dibiase Jr. and Yoshi Tatsu in Florida. Apparently, Sheamus continually used their protein blenders without washing them afterward. So when confronted, Sheamus attacked the much smaller Yoshi Tatsu and started throwing punches until Tatsu beat the big Irish man up until he was crying for mercy.
The second incident happened over an argument with Sin Cara about who should be using the stretching mat. According to witnesses, Sheamus felt he should be using it since he was in the main event and even threw the first punch. Cara swept the leg and beat Sheamus up in front of the whole locker room.
5 Tough: Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho was a wrestler that was frequently told that he was too small to be considered to be main event material. This was never more apparent than when he was kept in the Cruiser Weight division in WCW and consistently ignored by those in upper management.
Yet despite this, the charismatic and talented Jericho was massively popular with wrestling fans and his improvised mic work was being compared to the likes of The Rock in the WWE, who, unlike Jericho, was being pushed to the moon and was the company's biggest star at the time next to Stone Cold Steve Austin.
However, despite WCW officials holding Jericho back, he decided to take matters into his own hands and started calling out Bill Goldberg, who in turn wanted nothing to do with him because, in his opinion, Jericho was too small to be in the main event.
Jericho’s baiting and calling out of the company’s number one guy would lead to a confrontation between the two men, and after Goldberg grabbed him by the throat and hair, the smaller Canadian managed to get Goldberg into a front headlock and nearly choked the 6'4" 285lb monster out before getting pulled apart by onlookers.
4 Soft: John Bradshaw Layfield
John Bradshaw Layfield has played many roles in the WWE prior to the J.R. Ewing knockoff businessman gimmick that he became known for. JBL often played the role of a big rough and violent Texan. Before finding success as a singles wrestler he made his name in teams like The New Blackjacks and the APA.
Throughout his career, though, JBL became known as a bully backstage, picking on ring announcers, commentators, and young wrestlers. Unfortunately for him, just like all bullies, JBL was nowhere near as tough as he pretended to be.
There have been several wrestlers that got their own back on JBL for his actions but it was a 150lb commentator Joey Styles that truly gave JBL what he deserved. After hazing Styles, calling him names and throwing a drink over him on a Tribute to the Troops tour, Styles finally had enough and knocked out the big Texan with one punch, proving that in the end, bullies always get what they deserve. Styles earned the respect of the wrestlers backstage, and Vince McMahon himself, and he now runs the WWE online service. Meanwhile, JBL was apparently silent for the remainder of the tour.
3 Tough: Shinsuke Nakamura
After earning his stripes in NXT, and New Japan Professional Wrestling, the charismatic and mesmerizing Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the fastest rising stars in WWE today. Nakamura has captured the NXT championship twice, the IWGP World Championship three times, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship five times, and is a New Japan cup tournament winner.
What some fans may find surprising about The King of Strong Style is that while he was wrestling, Nakamura also fought as a mixed martial artist. He fought four times, only losing once due to a lack of experience against one of the legendary Gracies in Japan.
In addition, Nakamura trained with Brock Lesnar and was impressive enough that he was offered a chance to fight for the UFC in 2005. Although he still trains in Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Nakamura has no desire to return to combat sports. Either way, there’s no denying that despite his flamboyance, The King of Strong Style more than lives up to his nickname.
2 Soft: The Ultimate Warrior
When a man is confident enough to legally change his name to Warrior, one would expect him to be as tough as his onscreen persona from the late 1980s and 1990s. If nothing else, when the late Jim Hellwig changed his name, it confirmed what other wrestlers used to say about the man himself. He seemed to believe in his own hype.
Whatever you may feel about the Ultimate Warrior, he was one of the most memorable and colorful characters in what many deem to be the golden era of pro-wrestling and his self-belief is likely what made his character so endearing to the fans at the time.
However, there were times where other wrestlers needed to knock some reality into the Warrior in both matches and backstage. During his feud with Andre the Giant – whose health was declining rapidly at that point – Andre was getting fed up with how hard Warrior was coming at him with the running clotheslines. As a result of his ignorance, the Warrior found himself running into one of Andre’s massive fists and nearly knocked himself out in the process. He never ran at Andre with full speed again and treated the legendary giant with the respect he deserved.
1 Tough: Haku
There are a lot of seriously tough men that have performed in professional wrestling, but there is one man who is considered the most terrifying above all others, and that is Haku, who also happens to be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s uncle.
When notoriously hard men like Rick and Scott Steiner, Perry Saturn, The Barbarian and others all admit to fearing the man, then Haku has to be one tough guy. There are stories of him getting involved in altercations where he left several men seriously injured after removing teeth, and even biting them.
Haku infamously took on seven police officers after a bar fight got out of control, even after they used mace and tasered him. There are other stories of him throwing basketball players through a second story window in Tokyo, Japan.
Yet, despite all these stories of how tough he is, every single wrestler maintains that Haku is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, who happily put over many main event stars, but he's never someone you would want to cross.