Padraic Toolan, B. Dangerous and Brian Damage
The next category of the Ring the Damn Bell Olympics is the top three most influential wrestlers of all time. You can only pick one from a particular country. Remember Gold is first, Silver is second and Bronze is third.
This one is a lot of fun:
GOLD – Stone Cold Steve Austin, USA
Hulk Hogan shot wrestling into the spotlight, and Austin shot it into the stratosphere. I think we will see more Austin 3:16 shirts at wrestling events than any other shirts until the end of time.
SILVER – Bruno Sammartino, Italy
Terry Funk once said that Sammartino was “bigger than wrestling itself”. He was not wrong. We’ve talked about his accolades so often on here, and it can’t get too much more influential than a decade-long title run.
BRONZE – Rikidozan, Japan
Called The Father of Japanese wrestling, Lou Thesz even put him over for the NWA title in Japan. He trained Antonio Inoki and Giant Baba. The two biggest legends in Japanese wrestling history.
As for the most influential wrestler from each country and their importance on an international scale, my rankings are as follows:
GOLD: Hulk Hogan (USA)
Between 1984 and 2004, if you were in a crowd of people anywhere on the planet and the 6’8″, bronze-skinned Hogan was nearby, you’d know about it. People would flock to the former multi-time World Champion in a way that at the height of his popularity rivaled The Beatles or Michael Jackson.
SILVER: The Great Muta (Japan)
Muta was the first truly international star from Japan. In his home country you may argue that his popularity wasn’t quite that of Antonio Inoki or RIKIDOZAN, but across the planet he was second to none. In addition to his popularity and innovative style, he is a former IWGP, All-Japan Triple Crown, and NWA World’s Champion.
BRONZE: El Santo (Mexico)
When you watch Nacho Libre and you see the level of celebrity held by Rameses, that is a massive understatement of the type of popularity that El Santo had. This popularity didn’t fade until long after his retirement from the ring as he became an action movie star as the El Santo character and fought vampires, zombies, and even occasionally teamed-up with his rival, Blue Demon.
Gold – Hulk Hogan (USA)
Love him or hate him, Hulk Hogan is the gold standard (pun intended) for most influential wrestler not only in the United States…but perhaps worldwide. Many wrestlers entered the business because they grew up inspired by the Hulkster.
Silver – Keiji Mutoh/The Great Muta (Japan)
The man, the myth, the legend…the absolute GOAT in Puroresu (Japanese wrestling). While Rikidozan is considered the father of Japanese wrestling, the only reason I eliminated him is because he was Korean born. Otherwise, he would narrowly be my pick. The Great Muta is without question one of the most copied gimmicks and while the gimmick was not created by Mutoh…he certainly perfected it. He’s won all the major singles championships there is to win from all of Japan’s major promotions. A true icon.
Bronze – Bret Hart (Canada)
There have been many greats that have come from Canada…but none in my lifetime have measured up more influentially than the “Excellence of Execution.” Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart is truly a legend in Canada and has inspired many from that country and beyond to walk down the same path he did in pro wrestling.