There are many few people that still believe that professional wrestling is still real. Many of those people who still believe that it is real are younger people. Before the late 90s, many wrestlers were considered athletes. Many believed that wrestlers had the ability to fight in an actual fight. Unfortunately, with the coming years, this belief is no longer there. Although many fans including myself are amazed by level of talent shown every time we watch, it hurts the business knowing that very little of it is legit.
However, there are rare cases where a wrestler is actually tough. Wrestlers may earn a tough reputation in an array of ways. The most common way is fighting through an injury. In this case, some are more drastic than others. Another possible way a wrestler may earn a tough reputation is trying their hand at an actual combat sport.
Lastly, the third way to determine whether or not a wrestler is tough, is by stories by fellow wrestlers. Wrestlers often praise other wrestlers in shoot interviews. They usually tell stories about times wrestlers do something wild and crazy that requires an incredible amount toughness.
Here are wrestling's 15 toughest personalities
15 Hardcore Holly
Bob "Spark Plug" Holly was a very kid-friendly character in the middle of the 1990s. He eventually evolved for the better in Hardcore Holly. Holly is considered by many to be a very tough person and even at times a bully. According to him, the Kliq were bullying him and he stood up to them. They then stopped "picking" on him, although Kliq members Scott Hall and Kevin Nash deny adamantly. During the 2005 Royal Rumble, he, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero took stiff shots at newcomer Daniel Puder. Puder easily could have taken Holly out since he is trained in mixed martial arts. On an episode of the revived ECW, Holly had his back sliced open after a suplex through the table. Holly continued to go on with the match despite the gash on his back. These reasons easily make the case for Bob Holly's place on this list of tough wrestlers.
14 Shane McMahon
Although Shane McMahon was never officially trained as a wrestler, he was constantly an entertaining presence. Shane always understood how to present himself on television during his run in 1999 and 2000 that made him such an entertaining character. One reason fans enjoyed watching Shane was because of the things he was willing to do to make a match memorable. His match against Steve Blackman at SummerSlam 2000 was nothing to write home about. However, Shane falling off of the stage made that match memorable. Another instance occurred at King of the Ring 2001. At the pay-per-view, Shane faced Kurt Angle in a street fight. During the match, Angle attempted to many times to deliver a belly-to-belly suplex on Shane through glass. The main issue being that the glass refused to break. This led to Shane falling on his head repeatedly. Shane was able to finish the match in an incredible testament to his toughness.
13 Steve Williams
Dr. Death was an appropriate name for the man commonly as Steve Williams. Williams was an amateur wrestler at the University of Oklahoma. One would believe any wrestler who had collegiate experience has to be tough. Not only that, he wrestled stiff workers such as Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa. Although his WWE run was obviously not successful which was not his fault. He participated in the terrible Brawl for All tournament. The basis for his entry in the tournament was because of his toughness. Unfortunately for Williams, he tore his hamstring in middle of semi-final match-up against Bart Gunn. However, more impressively, he continued to fight despite tearing it, even though he got knocked out shortly after. Dr. Death would have one mixed martial arts fight in K-1 where he was defeated by knee strikes. Sadly, the world lost Steve Williams in 2009 after he lost his battle with throat cancer.
12 New Jack
New Jack may be the most controversial entry on this list. Beloved by many, hated by more, New Jack was a mainstay on the ECW roster from 1995 to 2001. He began to have a signature move of sorts where he would dive of balconies on to his opponents who were usually placed on tables. Another instance in which New Jack show incredible toughness was after The Danbury Fall. For those who don't know, The Danbury Fall was when New Jack wrestled Vic Grimes at ECW Living Dangerously 2000. New Jack and Vic Grimes had some miscommunication on top of the balcony they planned to jump off. When they fell off, Grimes' 315 pound body landed on top of New Jack's head. Many would expect New Jack to never wrestle again as he had brain damage and was blind in his right eye. But not only did he wrestle again, he would get revenge on Grimes by throwing him off a scaffold in XPW.
11 Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig may be the greatest wrestler in the history of professional wrestling to never win a world title. And that is one of professional wrestling's biggest travesties. Hennig was perfect at everything he did regarding to wrestling. He could cut a great promo, was fantastic in the ring, and even was great on commentary. An instance of his supreme toughness was showed at SummerSlam 1991. Hennig faced Bret Hart in a singles classic for the Intercontinental Championship. The match was phenomenal and one more aspect of it makes it even more incredible. Hennig wrestled the match with broken tailbone and bulging discs. In fact, it was said that Hennig was retiring from in-ring competition but only came out of retirement to drop the title. Also, it is believed that Hennig got the better of Brock Lesnar in a grappling match on a plane in the infamous "Plane Ride from Hell."
10 John Bradshaw Layfield
John Bradshaw Layfield, much like Hardcore Holly, has been accused of bullying people. But unlike Holly, JBL's list is a lot longer. Loads of wrestlers have flat out said themselves that JBL harassed and bullied them. One wrestler included on JBL's bully list is Hall of Famer Edge. According to rumors, JBL soaped up Edge in the shower and Edge didn't respond back. It takes real courage and fortitude to do that...for whatever reason he may want to. JBL also participated in the aforementioned Brawl for All Tournament. On his way to the finals, JBL defeated Henry Godwinn, Marc Mero, and Droz. Unfortunately for Bradshaw, he lost in the finals of the tournament to Bart Gunn of all people. It may have worked out better for him as Bart Gunn was off TV until WrestleMania and was knocked out by Butterbean. Meanwhile, Bradshaw formed the popular tag team known as the Acolytes.
9 John Cena
John Cena's toughness is truly underrated in WWE. He has undergone several injuries in WWE and doesn't receive the credit he deserves for the performer he is. I cringe all the time when fans chant "you can't wrestle at him" because that is far from the truth. With as much as Cena has worked before the last two years, he has had to have wrestled hurt on numerous occasions. An early example would be on an episode of Raw. He face Mr. Kennedy and off a hip toss, Cena tore his pectoral muscle. However, Cena continued the match and had to have surgery that same week. Another more popular and recent instance occurred just last year. In a Raw match, Cena faced Seth Rollins and after a knee to the face, Cena's nose was disfigured and gushing blood. In true Cena fashion, he continued the match and defeated Seth Rollins to continue his hold on the United States Championship.
8 Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels is the greatest in-ring performer in the history of wrestling. He was fully capable of doing it all night in and night out. Unfortunately, prior to his return in 2002, he was not being the best performer he could be. One of his main hindrances was his drug addiction. Luckily he turn his life over to God and converted to Christianity. His other unfortunate hindrance hampered him heavily and even led to his original retirement. At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in 1998, he faced The Undertaker in a Casket Match. During the match, Taker back dropped Michaels over the top rope and his lower back hit the side of the casket. Michaels was diagnosed with two herniated discs and one disc was completely crushed. Michaels finished the match, and got to WrestleMania 15 where he dropped the title to Steve Austin. Shawn Michaels wrestled a match with an injury that put him out for four years. If that's not toughness I don't know what is.
7 The Undertaker
The Undertaker's addition on this list should come to no surprise. For one, he already looks the part of being a supreme tough guy. But over the course of his 26-year WWE career, Undertaker has underwent several injuries that any other man would struggle to come back from. Undertaker wrestled in a Phantom of the Opera mask when he broke his face. In the infamous Hell in a Cell match against Mick Foley at King of the Ring 1998, Taker wrestled that match with a broken ankle. Therefore he had to climb and climb down the cell with an injured ankle. At the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in 2010, Taker's ring pyro got to close to him and lit him on fire. During the match he had to water himself down while he was in the pod. When Taker's streak ended in the match with Brock Lesnar, he had a concussion for most of the match and collapsed as soon as reached backstage.
6 Triple H
The man accredited with the creation of NXT has been in many wars in his career. However, many fans only talk about the fact that he has "held guys down" or he's "buried his opponents." Although, there are some instances in which this may be true, Triple H has earned that right in this business. He has put his body through hell in this business. At Survivor Series 2002, Raw held the first Elimination Chamber. Rob Van Dam jumped off top from a pod for his signature the Five Star Frog Splash and his knee landed in Triple H's throat and crushed his windpipe. Triple H continued the match even after you can clearly see him writhe in pain. Triple H has also continued wrestling matches after he's torn his quad. After the first time it happened, he let Chris Jericho put him in the Walls of Jericho, a move sure to put even more strain on the turn quad.
5 Steve Austin
Steve Austin's gimmick was being the toughest S.O.B in the world but in reality, he actually was. Steve Austin's toughness was displayed on television for over two years. At SummerSlam 1997, Austin faced Owen Hart in match for the Intercontinental Championship and endured a botched tombstone piledriver. Steve Austin did not get surgery on the injured neck until 1999. Austin wrestling almost every night with severe neck injuries is absolutely insane. Another instance where Austin's toughness was put on display was at WrestleMania 19. Austin was training for his third and final encounter with The Rock. While training, Austin suffered severe dizziness and collapsed. He was then rushed to the hospital and pumped with IV. Austin went against the orders of the doctors and went through with the match. Unfortunately, this would turn out to be Steve Austin's last match, as his injuries had caught up with him.
4 Mick Foley
Mick Foley's toughness was put on display from his time in WCW, ECW, and WWE. The crowd fell in love with Mick Foley's willingness to put his body though anything for the sake of a good match. Mick wrestled with bad knees for most of his career. He continued a match with most of his ear ripped out - against Vader nonetheless. At Royal Rumble 1999, Foley took many unprotected chair shots to the head from The Rock while his children were in attendance. The most notable and famous moment occurred at King of the Ring 1998 when Foley was thrown off the Hell in a Cell twice. (Not to mention the popular yet gruesome image of Foley smiling with his tooth in his nose.) Foley magically completed the match and even took a chokeslam onto thumbtacks for the finish. Luckily, because of injuries, Foley learned to change his style and somewhat became a normal wrestler.
3 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers ever, as well as one of the toughest. As he was very proud to say, he won an Olympic Gold Medal with broken neck. However, that was not the only time he has wrestled with a neck injury. At WrestleMania 19, he took on Brock Lesnar, a man who works a stiffer style. He was injured leading up into the match and he was just there to drop the title to Lesnar. After the match, Kurt Angle had surgery to fix the neck issues and was out for a mere three months. In a true testament to his toughness, Angle feuded with Jeff Jarrett in TNA. The feud involved Kurt Angle's ex-wife Karen Angle who married Jeff Jarrett. The feud brought up a lot of unnecessary personal quarrels between the two. For Kurt Angle to do this shows his mental toughness and willingness to be a team player.
2 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is the only wrestler to have a successful mixed martial arts career, in the UFC no less. Lesnar's record of 6 wins and 3 losses may look bad, but look at his victories. Lesnar defeated Randy Couture, Frank Mir, and Mark Hunt. Those are three of the best to ever do it. He is also a former UFC World Heavyweight Champion. That championship has been held by greats such as Mark Coleman, Bas Rutten, Andrei Arlovski, and Frank Mir. For Lesnar to be on that that list as a person who got in to mixed martial arts late is very impressive. His last two losses were to two of the hardest hitters ever - those being Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez. So without thinking, Lesnar is obviously tough and his mixed martial arts career showed it. Brock Lesnar takes a lot of flack for "not caring about the business" but when he was in the UFC, he defended professional wrestling all the time.
Haku is often a forgotten talent by many wrestling fans. Many forget that he is one of the early holders of the King of the Ring crown. He and Andre the Giant held the WWE Tag Team Champions for a short period of time in 1990. He went to WCW and held the Tag Titles over there as well. But what Haku is most known for among his peers and other various wrestling personalities is his toughness. Here are several quotes from several wrestlers.
"One of the toughest men in the world" - The Rock
"Bar none, the toughest wrestler I ever faced was Meng" - Arn Anderson
"Brock is tough but Meng is crazy tough!" - Rikishi
These are just some of the examples wrestlers saying that Meng is the toughest in the business. (There's also that infamous story about him taking on six cops, and popping someone's eyeball out with his finger, too.) In an almost every shoot interview, the first name that jumps in the mind of many wrestlers is Meng.