The 1980s were instrumental in kickstarting the global sensation that we all now know and love as professional wrestling. An abundance of talent came through as the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment, became a national promotion in the United States of America and soared in popularity across the globe. Let’s take a look at five of the most popular wrestlers from the decade that saw the birth of WrestleMania.
Where else to start other than with arguably the most iconic wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan. Hogan signed for WWF in 1982, shortly after Vince McMahon purchased the company from his Father, and became the face of wrestling for the next decade. He won the World Championship on multiple occasions and headlined nine of the first ten WrestleMania’s. His persona as an All-American hero resonated with fans as ‘hulkamania’ swept the nation.
Andre the Giant
The influence that Andre the Giant has had on professional wrestling cannot be overstated. The ‘monster’ gimmick has been used over and over again within the company as a result of his success and popularity with stars such as The Big Show, Kane, Braun Strowman and The Great Khali owing their careers to the late, great Frenchman. He may have only won one world title during his time at WWF, defeating Hulk Hogan to do so, but he now has an annual match named after him at WrestleMania.
From the man who brought about the ‘monster’ gimmick to the man who paved the way for smaller, more intense, technically proficient wrestlers. Tiger Mask, real name Satoru Sayama, made his name in New Japan Wrestling but also performed at WWF events and actually won the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship. His classic matches with the Dynamite Kid have gone down in history and made cruiserweight wrestling what it is today.
Although Ric Flair didn’t sign with WWF until the early 90s, he was a hugely popular wrestler for other organisation in the 1980s, which ultimately convinced Vince McMahon to sign him. He was a superb heel, a villain in wrestling terms, in the sense that the fans loved to hate him. The nature boy had classic matches in the 80s under the National Wrestling Alliance promotion, most notably against the likes of Dusty Rhodes and Terry Funk. Flair went on to have an incredible career and still holds the record for the most world championships won by any wrestler. His legacy is now being continued by his daughter, Charlotte, in WWE.
It’s difficult to talk about Ric Flair without taking a deeper look at his archenemy, Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes was the perfect foil for Flair in the sense that he was the ultimate babyface for fans to get behind. He cut one of the most famous promos of all time in 1985 before pay per view event, Starrcade, making him one of the most loved wrestlers of all time. Rhodes sadly passed away in 2015 but his son, Cody Rhodes, is currently signed to All Elite Wrestling after spells in WWE.