The top 10 WWF wrestlers of the 1980s
I knew it was fake.
I mean, my parents straight-up told me.
But I still begged for the pay-per-views, lived and died with every moment as my favorite wrestler seemed to be finished, then back, then finished again and finally winning with a surprise reversal that went into their finishing move.
I remember the Royal Rumbles, the Wrestlemanias, even the Summer Slams.
Building a list of the best pro wrestlers from the ’80s would be like trying to pick out your favorite ant — there’s just so damn many of them, and they were all equally awesome in so many ways.
Even by adding the qualifier of keeping it to only WWF wrestlers, building a list of only 10 has been stressful, nearly impossible — pretty much the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
But, it had to be done. Someone had to take the bold move of ranking pro wrestlers from the 1980s — don’t bother Googling it, just go ahead and assume we are the only ones who are bold enough to do take on this Herculean task.
Some of your favorite wrestlers won’t make this list. Some will. But what’s most important is that this list is 100% founded on science, and even if you disagree, you’re wrong. And if someone else were to take a stab at it, they would also be wrong.
Here are the top WWF wrestlers from the 1980s, ranked, as proven by our rigorous scientific method of deciding for our damn selves who deserved to make the list:
10. The Bushwhackers
These guys started wrestling in 1966. Let that sink in for a while.
But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they found their true calling: running around the ring licking each other’s heads — not to mention licking opponents, fans, and pretty much whatever else was around.
The Bushwackers are the only tag team making this list, and for good reason: Even though they only wrestled in the WWF for a couple of years in the ’80s, their popularity skyrocketed them as fan favorites almost immediately.
Within a matter of days they were gifted a big match with The Bolsheviks, and a match at Wrestlemania V that same year.
Maybe it was the comedic quality to their act, the licking, or just the fact that New Zealanders are naturally likeable. Whatever the reason, fans loved them as dearly as any of the more serious, ostensibly bigger names in the ring at the same time.
WWF ultimately more or less forced them into retirement, despite the fact that they were quite popular with fans well into the mid-90s. Presumably today they’re simply doing a walkabout somewhere in the bush.
9. The Iron Sheik
The WWF of the 1980s only worked because of heels. And the Iron Sheik paved the way for every heel that followed.
Here was a man who fully embraced his role embodying every single deep-seated fear Americans had of Iran in the ’80s.
In an organization that blatantly played up stereotypes, the Iron Sheik still somehow stood apart from all the others.
And let’s not forget, he held the WWF World Heavyweight Championship for a good year in the early ’80s.
He retained the belt until he was scheduled for a rematch with Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden in 1984. At the last minute, Backlund was replaced by some guy named Hulk Hogan. Hogan beat the Sheik, finishing the job with his trademark leg drop.
This is generally considered the beginning of Hulkamania, and the moment that Hogan’s career took off, simultaneously ushering in the Golden Era of the WWF.
Without Iron Sheik, that moment never happens.
8. Hacksaw Jim Duggan
He was a perennial undercard, yet fans loved him. That may have had something to do with his extremely vague patriotism, or the fact that he always had a piece of wood in his hands.
It’s hard to go wrong with a flag and a 2×4.
Although he never held a major title, he embodied all the things that were truly glorious about the WWF in the ’80s: great hair, a hatred for commies, and love for wood.
7. Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake
It’s hard not to empathize with a character who starts out as a male stripper and then goes on to become a hairstylist. I mean, we’ve all been there.
Was there really anything more ’80s than cutting your defeated opponent’s long, feathered locks from their head after a match?
It’s actually a wonder no one was decapitated by those shears.
Brutus never had a chance at becoming a serious hero like some of the other wrestlers on this list, but that was what made the WWF so awesome in the ’80s — dudes like Beefcake, who were just totally off the wall and ridiculous. The WWE has struggled to recapture these kinds of characters ever since.
6. The Macho Man Randy Savage
It’s a phrase that has become part of our cultural lexicon, and yes, Randy Savage said it before Slim Jims were ever a thing.
Whether it was his tumultuous relationship with Miss Elizabeth or his ability to go toe-to-toe with literally every other major star of the era, Macho Man seemingly could do it all. And his beard was killer.
Either constantly constipated, or just hopped on caffeine (yeah, we’ll pretend it was just caffeine), Savage always seemed like he was just barely containing his excitement.
He was a monster of the ’80s wrestling world, and is only placed this low on the list because of those that simply had to be placed ahead of him.
5. Ric Flair
EDITOR’S NOTE: It was recently pointed out (thanks Internet!) that Ric Flair actually never made it to the WWF in the 90s proper. We’re happy to replace him, but ya’ll need to tell us with whom.
The Nature Boy goes on every list of pro wrestlers of any kind anywhere from any decade (yes, even decades from previous centuries).
He embodies all that pro wrestling and the WWF of the ’80s were about. Hell, he made it what it is today, and he’s STILL DOING IT. It’s stupidly ridiculous.
And while his WWF tenure was short (about a year and a half), he made history at the Royal Rumble and stole the show at Wrestlemania VIII.
His impact was felt across the WWF, and clearly shaped it even when he wasn’t there.
4. Rowdy Roddy Piper
I still tear up a little bit every time his name comes up. Maybe because he didn’t go out due to mistreating his body to high hell and back, was married to his wife for 33 years up until his death, or because he just seemed like a genuinely cool dude in an industry full of a-holes.
He is the man, plain and simple. Not to mention, one hell of an actor.
And he owned (not literally) the WWF in the 1980s, doing everything from hosting his own segments to managing to a crazy storyline involving Hulk Hogan and Cyndi Lauper.
3. Andre the Giant
A giant in and out of the ring, there really was no bigger figure in wrestling in the 1980s on multiple levels.
I once saw him in person, unable to wrestle but affecting a live match nonetheless, and his size and general demeanor were stunning, even many rows back.
This was a man who went undefeated for nearly 15 years straight and only stopped wrestling due to the health effects of his enormous size. And let’s not forget his fan-favorite character in 1987’s The Princess Bride.
There’s not much else to say about the Giant that hasn’t been said before, but it certainly bears repeating that he was clearly one of the top WWF wrestlers of all time.
2. The Ultimate Warrior
If I’m going with my heart, the Ultimate Warrior would easily be no. 1 on every pro wrestler list ever.
He was my hero. I wanted to paint my face like him. I imitated his moves in the mirror. I rooted for him against everyone else.
I’m not even 100% sure why. I just knew was a warrior. The most ultimate of warriors. And he looked cool.
And he was amazing in the ring.
But, I really can’t put him on top of this list. Damn, he was fantastic, but he came on the scene near the end of the ’80s, and essentially became the heir apparent to Hogan’s major matches as the decades changed.
Yet another pro wrestler from the ’80s that passed away far too early due to the way he treated his body, as well as someone who went a bit mental later in life, Warrior nonetheless holds a special place in WWF fans’ hearts. He was a master at drawing energy from the crowd.
But, there was simply no WWF wrestler that dominated the 1980s more than …
1. Hulk Hogan
You know the lyrics. Go ahead, sing ’em.
While it’s still unclear how rocking a skullet (mullet + balding/skull) and dropping leg drops helped to fight for the rights of every man, hell, that’s what Hulkster did.
What’s even more impressive is that he dominated the WWF even before his starring role in Thunder in Paradise.
He had been wrestling for years before that aforementioned match of destiny with the Iron Sheik that finally put everything together for Hogan. And from there, it was sheer madness. Hulkamania didn’t just take over the WWF, it took over the country, and eventually the world.
In the 1980s he was the most requested celebrity for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, had his own cartoon, appeared on numerous late-night talk shows, co-hosted Saturday Night Live and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, among other super-80s things.
And why not? His gimmick of wearing down only to be brought back by cheers from the audience, holding his hand to his ear to get just that much more strength, until, finally, it exploded into a finishing leg drop on his opponent, was simply infectious. How could you not be, at the very least, entertained by it all?
Despite the fact that the Hulkster suffered many embarrassing personal revelations later in life, he still holds a place in the ’80s echelon of worldwide icons than few can match.
There you have it, the top 10 WWF wrestlers from the ’80s, in perfect order, with no possible way to disagree.
Oh, and just one honorable mention to a man who would have made the list had he been a wrestler: “Mean” Gene Okerlund, the man who propped up every single wrestler in the ’80s, and multiple other eras.
Big ups, Gene.