The Greatest Pro Wrestlers of The 1970’s
The 1970s were a different era. The Cold War raged, and hippie movements were in full swing. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll was the essence of Americana. Professional wrestling, on the other hand, was much the same as it is now – a choreographed performance presented as an athletic contest. Kayfabe ruled, no doubt about it, but most wrestlers were legitimately tough guys.
Deciding the greatness of an athlete is hard. Even with plenty of data, stats, and records, there’s still debate. Where do you even start when it comes to pro wrestlers? The records don’t mean much when it’s predetermined, right? So, then, what – a box office draw? Although that’s one way to rank the greats, there’s a better system used among wrestling fans.
Pro wrestlers are ranked on an individual’s “Mount Rushmore,” a list of who they believe are wrestling’s four most influential figures. Even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson came out with his own variation. His choices are people from the 1980’s and onward, when wrestling went national. He’s not alone in leaving out past decades, either.
Why are the 70s so overlooked? The answer is simple: there wasn’t enough press to popularize an individual wrester in multiple regions. A person from New York grew up idolizing Bruno Sammartino, while someone from Texas might have preferred one of the Funk brothers.
Even though pro wrestlers haven’t always received national acclaim, there were a few top guys from the era who were legitimate superstars in their own right. To outright rank the greatest wrestlers would do a disservice to the era itself, but there are some guys who certainly gained notoriety outside of their home territory. Here are ten of the greatest wrestlers of the 1970s…
Any list of the greatest performers to have come along prior to the modern era has to begin with this man. Bruno Sammartino was the superstar of Vince McMahon Sr.’s WWWF territory. While not the most technical, the most charismatic, or the most flamboyant, he was the man long before Becky Lynch came around. He held the territory’s world title for almost eight years in the sixties and for another four in the seventies.
Harley Race was one tough son of a gun, and everyone knew it. His presence alone was enough to instill fear and awe into a crowd, and his legendary battles with Dusty Rhodes are a key part of pro wrestling’s lore. The fact that he was an eight-time (or seven, depending on who you ask) NWA World Champion is a great representation of just how respected he was in the business.
Mentioning one without the other feels weird, so it needs to be said that Dusty Rhodes was another superstar of the era. This plumber’s son didn’t look anything like the wrestlers of today. He was a working-class hero. The legendary “Hard Times” promo he cut served as an inspiration for decades to aspiring professional wrestlers. He managed to beat the 1970s territorial system by working everywhere he could. The real proof of his greatness? He was popular and loved no matter where he went.
Antonio Inoki went almost unnoticed by American audiences because he was based in Japan. He was the father of New Japan Pro Wrestling and, although WWE doesn’t recognize his reign, he beat the WWF champion, Bob Buckland. His stardom was so huge that he was able to book a match against Muhammed Ali in what some consider an early mixed martial arts contest.
Terry Funk is a familiar name to most modern fans. He owes his fame to a crazy run in the 90s in ECW and WWF, where translated his brawling style into a then-current hardcore style. However, his accomplishments in the 70s should not be overlooked either. He was one of the greatest NWA Heavyweight champions of all time.
Dory Funk Jr.
Terry’s brother, Dory Funk Jr., is less known but probably has bigger accomplishments. In the early 70s, he held the NWA World title for four years, before losing it to Harley Race. With his brother, he held multiple tag team championships across the world. Unlike his brother, he is regarded as a master technician and is credited with the innovation of the Cloverleaf hold.
Mil Mascaras is one of the best-known luchadors from Mexico. He was able to have legendary runs in the United States and in Japan. This international popularity led to battles with his rivals El Santo and Blue Demon, which are legendary in their respective home countries. He’s considered one of the most influential wrestlers of all time and has even appeared on Mexico’s postage stamps.
The Sheik is considered one of the innovators of the hardcore style. He perfected the “evil foreigner” gimmick and often teamed with Abdullah the Butcher. Their matches against the Funks were looked upon as utter madness. He was absolutely one of the best heels of the period and rightfully earned himself an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Ernie “The Big Cat” Ladd
“The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd was a trailblazer in professional wrestling. He was a 6’9” former football player in an era where most of his fellow wrestlers were shorter – and lighter. With his frame, he was one of the few people who could measure up to Andre the Giant. He held several regional titles and challenged a few top guys around the country, but he never won a major organization’s top title.
Nick Bockwinkel was a star in Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion in the northern territories. While Verne undoubtedly ran the show, Nick remained on top for a long time and held the promotion’s world title for almost five years. He was an incredible technical wrestler and a master of in-ring psychology, while his even-toned, articulate promos separated him from the pack.