Steve Eighinger

A look at some wrestling greats

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 8, 2019 12:01 am Updated: Nov. 8, 2019 12:03 am

Way back when I was in elementary school -- which, by the way, was not at the time of the Pilgrims -- my friends and I would often talk about our favorite TV shows.

Most of my buddies would argue about what was the best cartoon. If I remember correctly, Mighty Mouse was a big-time favorite. Not Mickey Mouse, who was a bit wimpy, even back then. Mighty Mouse was the anti-Mickey. Just imagine Mickey on steroids and with the ability to fly and pound the bad guys into submission.

Granted, Mighty Mouse was often mildly entertaining, but even at such a young and impressionable age I was fixated by something way above these cartoon heroes.

I loved professional wrestling, and this, remember, was in the days of small, black-and-white TV sets. And back then, the biggest stars of the squared circle rarely appeared on TV, other than to hype an upcoming match in some large arena in a nearby major city.

In the early 1960s and well into the late 1970s, the stars of pro wrestling were rarely shown on television. Instead, we saw a never-ending series of second-line talent in "studio" matches. The good stuff was saved for the live arena shows.

Still, I was fascinated by these bear-hugging behemoths, and probably until the time I was about 12 years old I was convinced these were real matches. I can remember being so upset when a referee would permit the bad guys to do things like gouge eyes or double team one of my heroes.

Obviously, pro wrestling has come a long way. Today's orchestrated TV spectacles are a far cry from the matches that hooked me as a child, but the bottom line, in most cases, is a square-off between good and supposed evil. That will never change.

Granted, I have not been a religious viewer of pro wrestling for about 10 years, but when I do catch a glimpse of today's maestros of mayhem, I can't help but think back to my favorite in-ring characters from years ago.

Here's my all-time top five pro wrestlers:

1. Bobo Brazil: His real name was Houston Harris, and he died at age 73 in 1998. He was one of the first major African-American talents who had a large fan following in the Midwest in the 1960s. Bobo was one of the "good guys" whose signature move was the coco-butt, a demoralizing head butt that would stagger an opponent into submission.

2. Bruno Sammartino: Another wrestler few ever got to see on TV because the matches of champions like himself were used to draw fans to the major arenas. Bruno died at age 83 in 2018. Many fans got to know him more as an analyst once pro wrestling became a major player on TV. He had two lengthy title reigns covering almost 15 years and was best known in the Northeast and Midwest.

3. Ric Flair: No one -- repeat, no one -- has ever styled and profiled like the Nature Boy, who spanned several different eras of pro wrestling. He was one of the first true TV stars of the sport. Ric was born to be in front of a microphone, and he truly enjoyed his longtime image as a heel. Flair's daughter, Charlotte, is now one of the top female attractions in the WWF.

4. Dusty Rhodes: "The American Dream" died at age 70 in 2015, but not before carving a legendary niche in pro wrestling. The possessor of the famed bionic elbow move, Rhodes was a genuine folk hero in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern regions of the nation.

5. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson: One writer noted the Rock's foray into motion pictures makes him the most transcendent professional wrestler of all time," and that's hard to argue. As popular as he was in the ring, Johnson's appeal in the overall spectrum of today's pop culture dwarfs anything he accomplished as a wrestler. His best move? "The People's Elbow," of course.

Honorable mention: Hulk Hogan, Randy "The Macho Man" Savage, Goldberg.