The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
This has been a difficult week for everyone, not just the wrestling industry. This week, I wanted to write something very positive that hopefully people will enjoy. So I decided to create a list of 20 wrestlers who just had top-shelf charisma. This is not a list of the most charismatic wrestlers of all-time, and if I didn’t mention someone it doesn’t mean I think they aren’t/weren’t super charismatic, I just picked 20 guys I wanted to talk about.
The following list is not in any particular order so it is not a ranking. I tried to only talk about wrestlers who have retired, with a few exceptions. I also only ranked wrestlers who mainly wrestled after 1960, because although I would love to tell everyone about how great Lord Lansdowne was, nobody reading this ever saw him wrestle.
Without further ado:
Probably the wrestler who got the most out of his charisma. Rhodes was a tubby bowl of gelatin during the steroid era of wrestling, but none of that mattered once Rhodes got in front of a live audience. Whether it was his loud, sermon-like promos or his fiery comebacks, Rhodes was a major draw for more than a decade all over the country, representing the common man in battles against the powerful. Whenever I hear the word “charisma” the first person I think of is Dusty.
The Rock is the most successful wrestler of all-time, parlaying his success in wrestling into a massive movie career that made him one of the most recognizable people in the world. While appearing in action movies is quite different from pro wrestling, what made The Rock great inside the ring is the same as what makes him great on the silver screen; his star presence, physical charisma and comedic timing are all top of the line. The Rock’s creativity and unique delivery on promos have been endlessly imitated but never duplicated.
The master antagonist of professional wrestling, Piper mastered an unhinged promo style that captivated audiences and turned him into a wrestling legend. His reputation as a wild, dangerous brawler belied the fact that he was a smaller man tasked with looking like a credible threat against giants like Hulk Hogan. Piper certainly wasn’t the biggest guy in the fight, or the toughest, but his aura of being the craziest was always presented as his advantage.
Still going strong at age 49 after 30 years in the business. Jericho’s best asset has been his willingness to try different things and seemingly get anything over. Whether it was a fictional list, a bottle of champagne, a WCW truck driver; Jericho could take anything and get the crowd to react to it. Nobody in wrestling has coined more catchphrases and few have been as confident that anything they do will succeed.
The driving force behind NJPW’s business turnaround in the late 2000s, Tanahashi stands unmatched as the face of the company, even as other names are pushed as bigger and better. Tanahashi got the most of the simplest things and his success entertaining audiences after shows by playing air guitar is reminiscent of Hogan flexing his muscles after big wins in the 1980s. His selling and ability to connect with the audience arguably made him the best babyface performer of the past 15 years.
What is there to say about Hogan that hasn’t already been said? Hogan wasn’t the dramatic speaker on the microphone that some other great talkers were, but Hogan’s intensity and ability to cut perfect 20 second promos to hype up his matches were paramount to his success. Hogan would mention his opponent, talk about his biceps, put over the Hulkamaniacs and then hit the ring. The rest of it was gravy.
If you don’t know Onita, he is like The Sandman crossed with Hulk Hogan. Onita was the picture-perfect DIY wrestler, a former junior heavyweight who struck out on his own, forming the little company that could, FMW, and built around his boundless, black leather jacket, cigarette smoking charisma. His entrance alone for his stadium match against Riki Choshu in 2000 is enough to land him here.
Austin always had great charisma, even if a lot of it was being unrealized in WCW. Austin had an ability to just snap in the ring, completely losing control of his temper and just going haywire on whatever hapless stooge was forced to take his beating. He had an extra gear that not too many other guys have been able to tap into.
Superstar Billy Graham
Graham was like a prototype of Hogan; a massive bodybuilder with incredible energy and charisma while talking. Graham was a natural on the microphone and his battles with Dusty Rhodes in the 1970s were like Superman and Batman teaming up. If it wasn’t for injuries and a disagreement with Vincent J. McMahon about whether or not to turn him babyface, he could have drawn for a lot longer than he did.
The epitome of the colorful 1980s WWF, Savage was as complete of a performer as wrestling has ever seen. A gifted worker, Savage was equally talented on the microphone and his increasingly zany outfits and appearance made him even more of an attraction. Hogan was the biggest star in the company, but in many ways Savage was the heart and soul of that record-setting period.
It might seem weird to see Nakamura here after so many listless years in WWE, but Nakamura in NJPW as the King of Strong Style had a tremendous amount of charisma. Nakamura was a cross between Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury, only if they had both trained extensively in jiu-jitsu, and could make something as simple as his walk to the ring entertaining.
Flair’s promos are legendary, whether he was displaying arrogance as the perennial NWA World Champion and the leader of the Four Horseman, or as sympathetic babyface as the old legend trying to eek out one last victory, Flair could get the emotions stirring in even the most jaded fan. Flair’s selling in the ring and his timing and understanding of when to get heat and when to have the babyface comeback were exquisite, and Flair always told a great (and often bloody) story in the ring during major matches.
The Man Who Made Milwaukee Famous, The Crusher was the people’s champion of the AWA, even if he historically is often in the shadow of Verne Gagne. A prototype of Steve Austin, The Crusher got over first as a beer drinking, arrogant bully heel, only for fans to eventually adopt him as the blue-collar hero they loved to cheer. The Crusher’s iconic promo style was built around his gravelly voice, the boasting of his 100 megaton biceps (just replace that with 24 inch pythons in a few decades) and his love of ice cold beer.
La Parka, later known as LA Park after he lost the rights to that ring name in Mexico, is maybe best known to American fans for his time in WCW. But the Chairman of the Board was a much bigger star in Mexico, with his wild, crazy brawling style turning him into the biggest box office attraction in Mexico during the late 2010s.
To many fans, Shawn Michaels is the greatest wrestler they have ever seen. Not only did Michaels have tremendous in-ring talent, his charisma and swagger, with various outfits and and pyrotechnics accompanying him to the ring, along with an iconic entrance song, made Michaels feel like a major star. In later years, he was a perfect sympathetic babyface thanks to his selling and fiery comebacks.
As an excellent in-ring performer, Kobashi didn’t necessarily need to have world class charisma to make it in pro wrestling. The fact that he did makes him one of the very best performers ever, who had a long career that battled serious illnesses and injuries along the way. Kobashi’s star presence in the ring and his ability to will the crowd into his comebacks was the key to his success in both AJPW and NOAH, and allowed him to remain a top performer even as his physical health declined.
Whether you like him or not, Cena is the biggest drawing card in wrestling over the past 20 years, and it is because he is incredibly charismatic. Cena’s command of the live audience, even hostile crowds, is unmatched and his ability to get people invested in what he has to say made him the most important individual wrestler in WWE over the last decade and a half. It isn’t surprising that like The Rock before him, Cena is finding success in Hollywood thanks to his charisma and camera presence.
Hayes wasn’t much of a worker, but the Fabulous Freebirds would have never flown if they didn’t have the charismatic man on the microphone. Looking the part of rock star (and living it) Hayes was the perfect person to lead the dastardly Freebirds in Texas against the classic, All-American Von Erich boys in what was one of the most successful angles in wrestling history.
Funk’s brother, Dory Funk Jr., was the classic, typical NWA Champion. The younger Funk though, was a wild child whose understanding of ring psychology was second to none, and his personality could change on a dime to suit whatever the crowd wanted to see. If they wanted to see a crazed heel, Funk gave it to them. If they wanted to see the classic, unbeatable champion, Funk could do that too. If they wanted to see a legendary old man with zero f**** to give, he’d do that as well.
Fans might have mixed feelings about Punk today, but there was a time where Punk was easily the best interview in the business, with a cerebral style that lent itself to honesty and passion in a wrestling environment that seemed devoid of both. Punk was mainly a heel in WWE, but his overwhelming charisma and mic skills turned him into one of the most memorable babyfaces of the past 20 years.