The 1980s was one of the most exciting eras in professional wrestling. The WWE, known then as the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF, drew in record numbers of fans of all ages and from all walks of life. What was it about this time period that made fans try to jump into the ring to help their favorite wrestlers? It's still an exciting sport, but there was something very special about the veteran stars of the 80s that established professional wrestling as an American favorite that worked the fans into an absolute frenzy. We saw skill, flash, great showmanship and everyone had their favorite good guy and bad guy. To take you back to those golden years, here are the top 20 WWE superstars of the 80s.
Randy Savage was an all-time favorite who made his debut as a professional wrestler in 1973. He was best known in the ring as "Macho Man" Randy Savage. He also went by Executioner; Destroyer; Mr. Madness The Big Geno; The Spider, and in his earlier days, Randy Poffo. Savage was born in November of 1952 in Columbus, Ohio as Randy Mario Poffo. He was trained by his father Angelo Poffo. He was involved in professional wrestling for a 32-year career until his retirement in 2005. He's still known as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, winning 30 championships and holding six World Championships during his time with the WCW and WWF. He was two-time winner of the WWF Championship. Randy also served as commentator for the sport when he was no longer wrestling in the ring. Savage passed away in May of 2011 at age 58, of cardiovascular disease. He was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015.
André the Giant
Andre the Giant is one of the most memorable of the pro wrestlers from the 80s because of his tremendous size. The French pro wrestler was also an actor and we remember him from both his magnificent performances in the ring as well as his role in the film "The Princess Bride." Andre went by other ring names including: Monster Roussimoff; Monster Eiffel Tower; Jean Ferre; Giant Machiine; Geant Ferre and earlier in his career, Andre Roussimoff. He was trained by Frank Valois. Andre made his pro wrestling debut in 1963. He truly was a giant among men, reaching a height of 7 feet 4 inches and weighing 520 pounds, He suffered from a medical condition called Gigantism that caused an excess of growth hormone to surge through his body, leading to serious health complications and a somewhat abnormal appearance. He was born in May of 1946 in Coulommiers, Seine-et-Marne, France as Andre Rene Roussimoff. He was a favorite in the ring and a one-time winner of the WWF championship in addition to multiple other matches and tag team events. Andre retired from the ring in 1992 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1993 as an inaugural inductee. Sadly, he passed away in January of 1993 at age 46, from heart failure.
Jimmy Snuka was one of the all-time favorite pro wrestlers from the 80s era. He introduced a signature move that gave him the nickname "the Superfly" in the ring. It was a flying maneuver that thrilled spectators and worked the crowd into a frenzy every time. He made his debut in pro wrestling in 1968 and used a variety of other ring names including: Great Snake; Big Snuka' Tami Snuka; Lani Kealoha and Jimmy Kealoha. He was born Jamees Wiley Smith in May of 1943 in Suva, Fiji. Snuka later went by the legal name James William Reiher. During the 80s, he worked as a semi-retired pro wrestler as well as some gigs as an actor. He was involved with the Legends program of the WWE and became the first champion of the ECW to hold the title of World Heavyweight Champion twice. He was an inductee into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996. Snuka retired in 2015 and was also arrested in December of 2015 on allegations that he murdered his former girlfriend. Right afterwards, his health began to decline and in 2016, he was diagnosed with dementia. The courts ruled him unfit to stand trial and on the third of January 2017, dismissed the charges. Jimmy passed away just 12 days after the ruling on January 15, 2017 at the age of 73 of Terminal Neurological Illness.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts made his debut as a pro wrestler in 1975 and used the ring names; The Texan; El Diablo; Jake Smith; Jake Roberts and Fred Platt. He was trained by his veteran pro wrestler Grizzly Smith, Buck Robley and Moose Morowski. Hewas born in Gainesville, Texas in May of 1955 with the name Aurelian Smith Jr. Roberts is best remembered for his magnificent appearances in the ring in the mid-eighties and early nineties with a resurgence in the mid to late 90s. He was a part of the National Wrestling Alliance in the early 80s. He's the wrestler who used extensive psychology lines to psyche out his opponents. He continued to make appearances in the ring through 2008. Roberts was known for his invention of the DDT which was a finishing move to bring his opponents down. He was also known for bringing his pet snakes into the ring with him, earning him the nickname of "The Snake." Roberts was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014. Struggles with drug and alcohol abuse threw him off track, but in 2012 he decided to do something about it. He moved in with Diamond Dallas Page, fellow pro wrestler for help in sorting out his life. He was the topic of a 1999 documentary film titled, "Beyond the Mat." Although he hasn't officially retired, we don't see much from him anymore.
Bret Hart made his pro wrestling debut in 1978 and used the ring names Bret Hart and Buddy Hart. He also earned the names "Hit Man," "The Best There Is," and "The Excellence of Execution." He is the son of Stu Hart, a wrestling patriarch who also trained him for his career in the sport. Bret was born in July of 1957 with the name Bret Sergeant Hart in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. From the 70s throughout recent years, Hart earned a total of 32 championship titles with an impressive five- decade long career with the WCW, WWF and WWE. He held the WCW World Heavyweight Championship twice and held an impressive reign of 654 days as champion. In 2006 he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Hart retired from full time professional wrestling in 2000. In addition to his wrestling career, he also tried his hand at acting.
Roddy Piper made his debut in the pro wrestling ring in 1969 going by the ring names: Rowdy Roddy Piper; Piper Machine and The Masked Canadian. He was trained by Stu Hart, Tony Condello, Leo Garibaldi and Gene LeBell. He was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada in April of 1954 as Roderick George Toombs. He's best known for his work with the WWE with the Legends campaign, and in the 1980s with the then WWF. Roddy was born Canadian, but the WWF billed him as coming out of Glasgow, Scotland. In 2005, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the greatest pro wrestlers of all time. Roddy officially retired from the ring in 2014. In addition to his wrestling career, Roddy was also a film actor and the host of a podcast. He appeared as a wrestler in an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," with Danny DeVito. He left himself open for occasional television and film appearances as well as for promotional spots for the WWE. He passed away in July of 2015 at the age of 61 in Los Angeles, California.
Curt Hennig made his professional wresting debut in 1980 using the ring names: Curt Hennig and Mr. Perfect. He was trained by Verne Gagne and Larry Hennig. He was born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota in March of 1958 as Curtis Michael Hennig. He earned the nickname "Mr. Perfect" because as a wrestler, there was a period of time when he just couldn't be beat. He is remembered for the two-year winning streak when he competed heavily and remained undefeated from 1988 through 1990. His wrestling career was cut short by bulged discs and other serious back injuries which prevented him from continuing in the physical sport, so he became a color commentator for the World Wrestling Federation. Hennig won multiple championships and titles during his time in the ring. He died in February of 2003 at the age of 44 from acute drug intoxication in Tampa, Florida. In 2007, Hennig was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Rick Rude is another popular pro wrestler from the 80s who made his ring debut in 1982 under the ring names: The WCW Phantom; Ricky Rood and Rick rude. He earned the nickname of Ravishing Rick Rude because he was considered a sexy personality by many female fans. He was trained by Eddie Sharkey. He was born in St. Peter, Minnesota in December of 1958 as Richard Erwin Rood. He wrestled for the WWF/WWE from 1982 to 1994 winning multiple titles and thrilling fans until he was forced to retire in 1994 due to injuries that he sustained in the ring. He came back for one final match in 1997. Rick passed away in Alpharetta, Georgia in April of 1999, at the age of 40, from heart failure. In April of 2017, he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Hulk Hogan is one of the most well-known names in WWE wrestling. He made his ring debut in 1977 and rose to prominence in wrestling during the 1980s as: Hulk Hogan; Terry Boulder; The Super Destroyer; Sterling Golden; Mr. America; Hulk Machine and as Hollywood Hogan. He was trained by Hiro Matsuda. Hulk Hogan was born in Augusta, Georgia in August of 1953 as Terry Gene Bollea. He's a retired pro wrestler and prior to that, in 1976, a musician and from 1982 to currently, an actor who is known for the TV series "Hogan Knows Best," along with multiple film and television appearances. In the 80s, he was a villainous character in the ring as well as an all-American. He could pull off both roles with ease. During his time with the WWF, he won multiple matches and lead his tag team to multiple victories. He retired from wrestling in 2015 and continues his career as an actor as well as remaining a successful entrepreneur. Hogan, who appeared with Sly Stallone in a film of the "Rocky" franchise was honored in 2005 with his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame which was awarded by none other than Stallone himself.
Bob Backlund is another popular pro wrestler from the80s that made his wrestling debut in 1973 under his real name and also as "Mr. Backlund." Bob was trained by Eddie Sharkey. He was born Robert Louis Baclund in August of 1949, in Princeton, Minnesota. His long career spanned a 30-year period. He began his career as an amateur wrestler during his attendance at North Dakota State University in the late 60s and early 70s. In 1973 he joined the WWF which later became the WWE and he earned the distinction of achieving the second longest title reign as WWF World Heavyweight Champion, bested only by Bruno Sammartino. In 2013, Backlund was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. After his retirement from WWE in 2011, he made a bid to run for a Congressional Seat for the state of Connecticut on the Republican ticket, but was defeated.
The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior made his debut in pro wrestling in the winter of 1985. He went by tfe ring names: The Ultimate Warrior; The Warrior; Jim Justice; Jim Hellwig, Dingo Warrior and Blade Runner Rock. He was trained by Bill Anderson, Rich Bassman and Red Bastien. The Warrior was born James Brian Hellwig in June of 1959, in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He joined the WWF in 1987 until 1991, then returned again in 1992, thrilling fans until 1996. He came back in 1998and participated in World Championship Wrestling. Throughout his career, he was WWF Intercontinental Champion twice and also won the WWF Championship after pinning Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. He officially retired in 1998, but came back for a final match in 2008 in Spain. After his retirement, be enjoyed a successful career as a public speaker. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April of 2014, and passed away just three days later at the age of 54, in Scottsdale, Arizona from Myocardial infarction.
Retired pro wrestler Harley Race made his debut in the ring in 1960 using the ring names: The King; Jack Long; Harley Race and The Great Mortimer. He was trained by Buddy Austin, Ray Hrstich; Stanislaus Zbyszko and Wladek Zbyszko. He was born in Quitman, Missouri in April of 1943 as Harley Leland Race. Race earned fame as a superstar wrestler with the WWF in the 1980s, holding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship titles a total of 8 times throughout his career. He retired from the ring in 1991, but continues on in the sport as a promoter and trainer for the organization. He is one of only a handful of men to be inducted into both the NWA Hall of Fame, the WWE Hall of Fame, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Ted DiBiase made his debut in the pro wrestling ring in 1975 under his real name, Ted DiBiase. He was trained by Terry Funk and Dory Funk Jr. Ted was born in Miami, Florida in January of 1954 as Theodore Marvin DiBiase. When he signed with the WWE Legends program, he was successful in achieving champion status in multiple campaigns and promotions. Throughout his wrestling career, he has held thirty titles. He retired from the ring in 1994. In 2010, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and in the ceremony, his sons, Ted Jr. and Brett performed the honors. In addition to his wrestling career, Ted DiBiase Sr. has served as manager for the organization as well as an ordained minister.
The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik became a pro wrestler in 1972 and used the ring names: Colonel Mustafa; The Iron Sheik; Great Hossein and Ali Vasari. He was trained by Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson. He was born in March of 1942 in Tehran, Iran and given the name Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri. He earned the distinction of winning the WWF Championship in 1983, ending the reign of Bob Backlund, but he would surrender the belt to Hulk Hogan just a month later. He was one of the best-known villains of the sport because he raved about the greatness of his native country while talking down the United States. This wrestler knew how to rile the crowds and make them all boo. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as one of the all-time greats in 2005. The Sheik retired from wrestling in 2010.
Jim Duggan first made his appearance as a professional wrestler in 1979 using the ring names: King Duggan; Jim Dugan; Derek Wood; The Convict and Hacksaw Duggan. He was trained by Fritz Von Erich. Duggan was born James Edward Duggan Jr. in January of 1954 in Glens Falls, New York. His wrestling character became beloved by audiences for his great American patriot with a Hoooo battle cry and frequent cheers of U-S-A. He earned distinction by becoming the first winner of the 1998 Royal Rumble match. Throughout his career, he has won multiple championship titles. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011, with honors bestowed by Ted DeBiase, also known as "The Million Dollar Man."
Bob Orton, Jr.
Bob Orton started his professional wrestling career in 1972 using the ring names: The Invader; Bob Orton, Young Mr. Wrestling and Bob Orton Jr. He was also known as "Cowboy" He was trained by Hiro Matsuda, Eddie Graham and Jack Brisco, and Bob has trained his famous WWE star son, Randy Orton. Bob was born in November of 1950 in Kansas City, Kansas as Robert Keith Orton Jr. Orton was known as a real "heel" in the ring and was a personality that fans loved to hate, but he rose to tremendous heights of popularity. He wrestled for the WWF and also for other promotions in Japan, the US and other countries throughout the world. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
Tito Santana made his appearance in pro wrestling in 1976 as Tito Santana; Chico Santana; Tino Santana; Richard Blood; Merced Solis and as El Matador. He was trained by Bob Orton and Yasuhiro Kojima. He was born in May of 1953 in Mission, Texas as Merced Solis. He was a fan favorite because of his baby face that made him seem sweet and adorable when he wasn't tearing somebody up in the ring. he's won multiple championships and titles during his long career with the company. Santana is currently semi-retired and in 2004, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. His signature moves where the Knee lift, Running crossbody, Head scissors takedown and the Diving clothesline. He was also inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of fame in 2013.
The Junkyard dog made his first pro appearance in the ring in 1977 and used the names: Stagger Lee; Leroy Rochester, Big Daddy Ritter and Junkyard Dog. He was trained by Sonny King and the Hart family. He was born in December of 1952 in Wadesboro, North Carolina with the name Sylvester Ritter. He was best known for wearing his trademark dog collar and chain, and made a habit of coming ringside to "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen. He was a headliner that drew large crowds and there was no doubt that he was a superstar in the 80s. He won his share of titles and retired in 1993. Sylvester was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, posthumously. Ritter passed away in June of 1998, in Forest, Mississippi at the age of 45.
Ricky Steamboat made his debut in professional wrestling in 1974 using the ring names: Ricky Steamboat, Sam Steamboat; Richard Blood; The Dragon and Rick Blood. He was trained by Verne Gagne and The Iron Sheik. Ricky was born in February of 1953 in West Point, New York, Richard Henry Blood. He won multiple championship titles during his time with the WWF as well as the AWA, WCW and JCP. He was also the Mid Atlantic Heavyweight Champion twice. Steamboat retired from wrestling in the summer of 2010 after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame earlier in 2009. This was a nice way to end a successful career.
Greg Valentine was another pro wrestler who made big waves during the 80s. He was already a veteran, having made his debut as a pro in 1970. He was trained by Stu Hart and Ed Farhat. He went by the ring names: Johnny Valentine, Jr.; The Hammer; Johnny Fargo; Greg Valentine; Boxcar Willie; The Blue Knight and Baby Face Nelson. He was born Jonathan Anthony Wisniski in September of 1951, in Seattle, Washington. Valentine has had an amazing four-decade career in wrestling and he's held over forty championship titles. He was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2016 and into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. His father was professional wrestler Johnny Valentine.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker