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Legends of Wrestling

by Legacy Staff

The world of professional wrestling is filled with larger-than-life characters. These men and women battle it out in the ring like real-life superheroes and villains. Although there is debate about whether these bouts are sporting events or scripted entertainment, it cannot be denied that the best professional wrestlers are tremendous athletes and performers. Take a look back at wrestling legends who have captured the imaginations of fans young and old.

“Mean Gene” Okerlund (1942 – 2019) 

Gene Okerlund (George Napolitano/MediaPunch /IPX)

“Mean Gene” Okerlund (1942 – 2019) was the face of professional wrestling for many years as the premier wrestling broadcaster. He played the perfect straight man while interviewing stars like Hulk Hogan.

Mean” Gene Okerlund’s obituary

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BIG VAN VADER (1955 – 2018) 

Big Van Vader (Twitter)

Born Leon White, BIG VAN VADER (1955 – 2018) was a legendary villain in the WWE and the WCW. He had memorable feuds with the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.

Big Van Vader’s Obituary


JOHNNY VALIANT (1946 – 2018)

Johnny Valiant (Facebook)

Hall of Fame wrestler JOHNNY VALIANT (1946 – 2018), aka “Luscious,” was a two-time world tag-team champion.

Johnny Valiant’s Obituary


BRUNO SAMMARTINO (1935 – 2018)

(Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage)

BRUNO SAMMARTINO (1935 – 2018) was professional wrestling’s “Living Legend” and one of its longest-reigning champions.

Bruno Sammartino’s Obituary


BOBBY HEENAN (1944 – 2017)

Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

With a career spanning more than four decades, BOBBY HEENAN (1944 – 2017) was the “THE BRAIN” behind some of the most prolific superstars in sports-entertainment history.

Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s Obituary


 IVAN KOLOFF (1942 – 2017)

Ivan Koloff (Photo by: George Napolitano/ MediaPunch/IPX)

Canadian wrestler IVAN KOLOFF (1942 – 2017) was known as the “Russian Bear.”

Ivan Koloff’s Obituary


GEORGE “THE ANIMAL” STEELE (1937 – 2017)

George “The Animal” Steele (Twitter/WWE)

WWE Hall of Fame wrestler GEORGE “THE ANIMAL” STEELE (1937 – 2017) gained fame in the 1980s for his eccentric look and wild antics.

George “The Animal” Steele’s Obituary


HARRY “MR. FUJI” FUJIWARA (1934 – 2016)

Harry “Mr. Fuji” Fujiwara (Getty Images/Focus on Sport)

In a league known for its over-the-top stunts and rivalries, HARRY “MR. FUJI” FUJIWARA (1934 – 2016) had a unique signature trick: throwing salt in the eyes of his opponents.

“Mr. Fuji’s” Obituary


CHYNA (1969 – 2016)

Joanie “Chyna” Laurer (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)

CHYNA (1969 – 2016) starred in the World Wrestling Federation in 1997, promoting herself as the Ninth Wonder of the World.

Chyna’s Obituary


AXL ROTTEN (1971 – 2016) 

Axl Rotten (Facebook)

AXL ROTTEN (1971 – 2016) took his name from rockers Axl Rose and Johnny Rotten and formed a tag team with partner Ian Rotten (John Williams). Calling themselves The Bad Breed, the duo were popular in the ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) in the 1990s.

Axl Rotten’s Obituary


 “ROWDY” RODDY PIPER (1954 – 2015) 

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper (Getty Images)

WWE Hall of Famer “ROWDY” RODDY PIPER (1954 – 2015) went on to become a movie star and podcast host.

Roddy Piper’s Obituary


DUSTY RHODES (1945 – 2015) 

Dusty Rhodes (Photo by Bob Levey/WireImage)

WWE Hall of Famer DUSTY RHODES (1945 – 2015) was a three-time NWA champion.

Dusty Rhodes Obituary


VERNE GAGNE

Verne Gagne (AP Photo)

VERNE GAGNE (1926 – 2015), left, was one of professional wrestling’s most celebrated performers and promoters.


 MAE YOUNG (1923 – 2014)

Mae Young (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

In a career that spanned eight decades, MAE YOUNG (1923 – 2014) was a pioneer for female wrestlers, first as a role model and later as a coach and trainer for younger wrestlers.

Mae Young’s Obituary


THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1959 – 2014)

Ultimate Warrior (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)

THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1959 – 2014), who legally changed his name from James Hellwig in 1993, was a champion in the early 1990s along with fellow legends Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. Known for his strength, intensity and distinctive face paint, Warrior was inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame just days before his death.

Ultimate Warrior’s Obituary


William Moody (1954 – 2013)

William Moody (AP Photo)

William Moody (1954 – 2013) was better known to pro wrestling fans as PAUL BEARER, the pasty-faced, urn-carrying manager for performers The Undertaker and Kane.

William Moody’s Obituary


“MACHO MAN” RANDY SAVAGE (1952 – 2011) 

Randy “Macho Man” Savage (Vince Bucci/Getty Images)

“MACHO MAN” RANDY SAVAGE (1952 – 2011) helped define wrestling in the 1980s and early 1990s with his outrageous costumes and “Oooh yeah!” catchphrase.

More “Macho Man”


CAPTAIN LOU ALBANO (1933 – 2009)

Cyndi Lauper and Lou Albano (Photo by Ann Clifford/DMI/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

CAPTAIN LOU ALBANO (1933 – 2009), seen here goofing around with singer Cyndi Lauper in the 1980s, went from wrestling to acting. He portrayed Lauper’s father in music videos and later played video game icon Mario in “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!”

More Lou Albano


WALTER “KILLER” KOWALSKI (1928 – 2008)

Walter “Killer” Kowalski (AP Photo/Jon Chase, File)

Notorious “heel” WALTER “KILLER” KOWALSKI (1928 – 2008) opened a wrestling school after his retirement and trained well-known wrestlers from Triple H to Chyna. Here he demonstrates a “claw” hold on his nephew’s face.

Killer Kowalski’s Obituary


THE FABULOUS MOOLAH  (1923 – 2007)

The Fabulous Moolah (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

More Fabulous Moolah


EDDIE GUERRERO (1967 – 2005)

Eddie Guerrero (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

EDDIE GUERRERO (1967 – 2005), aka the “Latino Heat,” headlocks his opponent, Kurt Angle, during Wrestle Mania XX in 2004. Guerrero won 23 titles during his career using his “Frog splash” finishing move and catchphrase “Lie! Cheat! Steal!”

Eddie Guerrero’s Obituary


“MR. PERFECT” CURT HENNIG (1958 – 2003)

“Mr Perfect” Curt Hennig (Adam Pretty/ALLSPORT)

A champion in multiple promotions during the 1990s, “MR. PERFECT” CURT HENNIG (1958 – 2003) was regarded as one of the best all-round competitors and one of the greatest in-ring performers of all time. Here he is seen wrestling Dennis Rodman, aka “Bad Boy,” in 2000.

Curt Henning’s Obituary


ROAD WARRIOR HAWK (1957 – 2003)

Road Warrior Hawk (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

Michael James Hegstrand aka ROAD WARRIOR HAWK (1957 – 2003) is best remembered as one-half of the tag team known as the Road Warriors (WCW) or the Legion of Doom (WWF). Here Hawk has “Nature Boy” Ric Flair on the ropes in 1988.

Road Warrior’s Obituary


“CLASSY” FREDDIE BLASSIE (1918 – 2003)

Freddie Blassie (AP Photo/KCK)

“CLASSY” FREDDIE BLASSIE (1918 – 2003), the “Fashion Plate of Professional Wrestling,” transitioned to management after retiring from the ring. He is pictured here with Muhammad Ali before Ali’s boxer vs. wrestler match in 1976.

More Freddie Blassie


DAVEY BOY SMITH (1962 – 2002)

Davey Boy Smith (Photo by Tim Roney/Getty Images)

DAVEY BOY SMITH (1962 – 2002) first achieved success as a member of “The British Bulldogs” tag team before becoming a headline solo wrestler. He was the only wrestler to hold the title of WWF European Champion and was particularly popular in his native U.K


RAVISHING RICK RUDE (1958 – 1999)

Ravishing Rick Rude (Photo By Russell Turiak/Getty Images)

With a physique the WWE called the greatest in pro wrestling history, RAVISHING RICK RUDE (1958 – 1999) dubbed himself the “Sexiest Man Alive” and gave “Rude Awakening” kisses to lucky female fans. A villain in the ring, Richard E. Rood was anything but in real life.


OWEN HART (1965 – 1999) 

Owen Hart (AP Photo/Robert Clark, file)

OWEN HART (1965 – 1999) applies a choke hold to his brother BRET HART during WrestleMania X in 1994. Five years later, Owen would fall to his death after an equipment malfunction during a pay-per-view event.


GORILLA MONSOON (1937 – 1999)

Gorilla Monsoon (Wikipedia Commons/Steve Cook)

As GORILLA MONSOON (1937 – 1999), Gino Marella was a popular super-heavyweight main eventer. He is probably best remembered by television audiences as the good guy or “face” of the commentary team with “heel” Jesse “The Body” Ventura and later Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.


JUNKYARD DOG (1952 – 1998)

“Junk Yard Dog” (AP Photo/HO)

As JUNKYARD DOG (1952 – 1998), Sylvester Ritter was the first black wrestler to be made the top star of his promotion. During his heyday in the early 1980s, he headlined events that sold out the Louisiana Superdome and other major venues. He died in a car crash driving home from his daughter Latoya’s high school graduation. Sadly, Latoya died suddenly in 2011.

Junkyard Dog’s Obituary


BIG JOHN STUDD (1948 – 1995) 

Big John Studd (AP Photo/Charlie Bennett)

BIG JOHN STUDD (1948 – 1995) and another wrestler sandwich football player William “The Refrigerator” Perry in 1986. Studd was a famed “monster heel” who would bring a stretcher to the ring so his opponent could be carried away after his beating.

Big John Studd’s Obituary


ANDRE THE GIANT (1948 – 1993)

Andre the Giant (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

ANDRE THE GIANT (1948 – 1993) faces off with Hulk Hogan before their bout in 1988. Though a legend of wrestling, he is perhaps best remembered as Fezzik, the lovable giant in “The Princess Bride.”

More Andre the Giant


“NATURE BOY” BUDDY ROGERS  (1921 – 1992)

“Nature Boy” Buddy Rodgers (AP Photo)

“NATURE BOY” BUDDY ROGERS (1921 – 1992) flies through the air at BILLY DARNELL (1926 – 2007) in a match from 1950. Rogers inspired a generation of wrestlers with his cocky, strutting “Nature Boy” style.


GORGEOUS GEORGE WAGNER (1915 – 1963)

Gorgeous George (AP Photo/EF)

A flamboyant self-promoter, GORGEOUS GEORGE WAGNER (1915 – 1963) once told Muhammad Ali, “A lot of people will pay to see someone shut your mouth. So keep on bragging, keep on sassing and always be outrageous.”

More Gorgeous George


GEORG HACKENSCHMIDT (1877 – 1968) 

Georg Hackenschmidt (Wikimedia Commons)

GEORG HACKENSCHMIDT (1877 – 1968) was the early 20th century’s most famous wrestler. A well-educated man, after retiring from the ring he wrote books about physical culture, training, and even philosophy.


FRANK GOTCH (1878 – 1917)

Frank Gotch (Wikimedia Commons)

Born and trained in the wrestling hotbed of Iowa, FRANK GOTCH (1878 – 1917) was America’s answer to Georg Hackenschmidt. Nearly 30,000 people came to see Gotch win his final match at the new Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1911.

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