Who were the greatest pro wrestlers of all time? There have been many wrestlers worthy of such an accolade, so we’ll narrow down the list. Consequently, in this article we’ll take a look at the greatest pro wrestlers from 1900-1960 who primarily performed in North America.
Greatest Pro Wrestlers
Verne Gagne – Gagne started as an amateur wrestler, winning two NCAA titles. He was also an alternate for the U.S. freestyle wrestling team at the 1948 Olympics. He turned pro in 1949 and embarked on a 32-year career with numerous World and Tag Team titles. However, his most significant impact may have been as the founder and promoter of the American Wrestling Association (AWA).
Gorgeous George – George Wagner was 14 when he began wrestling at carnivals in 1929. However, it wasn’t until 1941 that Wagner started his run as perhaps the most influential pro wrestler in history. At that time, Wagner became Gorgeous George, the flamboyant wrestler. George was perfect for the new medium of television and inspired today’s stars.
Frank Gotch – Gotch was the first American to win the world heavyweight freestyle championship and is credited with popularizing pro wrestling. He began in 1899 and retired in 1913, having held the (largely legit) World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship from 1908 to 1913. His battles with Georg Hackenschmidt were so famous that he was invited to meet President Teddy Roosevelt.
Georg Hackenschmidt – Born in 1878 in Estonia, bodybuilder Hackenschmidt first became the Russian wrestling champion in 1901. Eventually, he traveled the world, winning titles everywhere he went. In 1908, he came to America to face the top challenger for his title: Frank Gotch. Hackenschmidt lost his title and afterward accused Gotch of cheating. After losing the rematch with Gotch for the belt in 1911, Hackenschmidt’s injured knee forced him to retire.
Strangler Lewis – Born Robert Friedrich, the Strangler was a four-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion. Considered one of the most iconic sports stars of the 1920s, Lewis notably wrestled in over 6,000 matches and lost only 32. Later became Lou Thesz’s manager.
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Jim Londos – The Golden Greek was one of the most popular stars on the professional wrestling circuit in the 1930s and 1940s. Londos’ full career went from 1912-1959 and competed against several world champions including Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Dick Shikat, Ray Steele and Joe Stecher. Considered a national hero in his native Greece, one of his matches drew a crowd estimated at nearly 100,000 fans.
Buddy Rogers – Rogers (nee Herman Rohde Jr.) was the original “Nature Boy”. A blonde heel whose good looks and crippling finisher, the Figure-Four leg lock, were perfect for the dawn of the T.V. era. Ric Flair took his entire gimmick from Rogers, as well as Rogers’ promo style.
Joe Stecher – Stecher defeated the reigning American Heavyweight Champion, Charles Cutler to claim the title. At 22 years old, Stecher became the youngest world champion in history up to that point. Stecher’s matches with Strangler Lewis were legendary affairs, often lasting up to five hours!
Lou Thesz – Thesz was a three-time NWA World Champion and held the title for a combined 10+ years. The NWA considers him its longest-reigning champion, having held the belt for 2,300 days during his first title run. A feared “hooker” who could win any legit match in the ring.
Stanislaus Zbyszko – Zbysko, born Jan Stanisław Cyganiewicz, was a Polish-born strongman and pro wrestler. He fought from 1909-25, becoming a three-time World Heavyweight champion. Zbysko was involved in one of the most famous title double-crosses pro wrestling history, when he defeated Wayne Munn against the promoters’ wishes. He then took the belt to a rival promoter, where Zbysko dropped the belt to Joe Stecher (a new stablemate).
Early in this era, pro wrestlers were genuine tough guys who knew how to fight. While there were some other great stars in this era (Danny Hodge, Killer Kowalski, Mildred Burke), we were limited to just 10 names. Who would have made your top 10 list?
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