Welcome to the first issue of the Squared Circle, the new Renegade Cinema professional wrestling column. Some may remember when Caliber was recapping the early WCW Monday Nitros on Sunday mornings, but he stepped down from that and this column will replace it. Unlike that column, most of the time this will just be a list form column, although I am considering revisiting the Monday Night Wars, so we shall see.
To kick things off, my name is Shawn S. Lealos, I am the owner and managing editor of Renegade Cinema, and I have been watching professional wrestling since the 1980s. As a result, when I go through these lists, I have a lot of knowledge and experience when it comes to watching pro wrestling, so these lists won’t be a look at the best WWE wrestlers working now. They will stretch back into the history of the industry.
To start off the first column, I am considering the recent push of Dean Ambrose and enjoying how he has become the new WWE antihero, something that hasn’t really existed since CM Punk left and as far back as Stone Cold Steve Austin before that. With that said, here is a look at the men I consider the Top 10 antiheroes in professional wrestling history.
10. Dean Ambrose
When his career is over and his story is written, Dean Ambrose might be towards the top of this list. For now, he is just getting started and has a lot to prove. He is easily the best antihero wrestling today.
9. Bruiser Brody
Let’s talk about antiheroes. Some people look at an antihero and just think that it means a face that fights authority. That is not what I consider an antihero. I think an antihero is a hero that is also a villain. Someone who fights for no one but himself and will battle the company’s faces just as much as he will battle their villains. Basically, his enemies are whoever is standing in his way. That defines the man known as Bruiser Brody. He was one of the meanest brawlers and tormented faces everywhere. He also battled villains all over the indies as well. He might be one of the original antiheroes.
ECW created a strange dynamic when it came to heroes and villains. Sure, there were some pure villains, like Shane Douglas and his Triple Threat or the Dudley Boyz. There were some pure heroes, like Tommy Dreamer. However, there more antiheroes in ECW than anywhere else in professional wrestling history. I’m sticking with Sandman, someone who smoked and drank beers all the way to the ring, cared about no one but himself and was one of the most popular wrestlers in ECW history.
7. The Road Warriors
When the Road Warriors were in the NWA, the minute that Black Sabbath’s Iron Man started playing, you knew someone was going to get crushed. When they went to the WWE, the minute that “OOOH, What a Rush” blurted out, you knew that someone was going to get crushed. While the Warriors were kind of neutered into the good guys in the WWE, they were just badass in the NWA. Sure, they fought on the side of good most of their career, but they were out for only two people – Hawk and Animal.
6. Samoa Joe
This spot goes to Samoa Joe when he first entered TNA Impact Wrestling. For fans who don’t remember, Joe showed up fresh from his long Ring of Honor world title reign and just tore up TNA, destroying everyone he stepped into the ring with. He started a fantastic feud with Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles for the X-Division title and used to carry a white towel that was covered with the blood of past opponents. The big thing here was that Daniels was the heel, Styles was the hero and Joe just didn’t care. Joe’s gonna’ kill you.
5. The Crow-version of Sting
By the end of the first stage nWo angle, Sting was clearly a face and the hero of WCW. However, for the year and a half that he just stood in the rafters, no one knew whose side he was going to take. Honestly, the WCW really played the suspense out well. If he just sat up there and did nothing, most fans would agree that he would come back as a hero. But then, he would randomly drop down and attack someone. When he dropped men like Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Rick Steiner, it was shocking to see him dropping faces and friends. Sting ended up being good, but for that year-plus, he was the best antihero going.
4. CM Punk
Before Dean Ambrose was labeled the next big antihero and compared to legends from the past, CM Punk earned that moniker. Punk was a hugely popular star, someone who was a bad guy, but the fans loved him anyway. When he fought John Cena, he was more popular than just about anyone in the WWE. When he dropped his infamous Pipe Bomb against the WWE, it made him even more popular. It seemed that everything that CM Punk did to become more of a villain made him more of an antihero to the dissatisfied masses. No one really did it better in the last decade.
3. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Head all the way back to the Mid South and you will see how dastardly Jake “The Snake” Roberts was. However, over his career there, he played on both sides of the fence, terrorizing faces and battling the villains as well. When he went to the WWE, he was a pure villain, carrying his snake Damien around to terrorize people once again. However, there was something about Jake that the fans loved. Yes, he was an evil man, but he fought for himself and the fans always seemed to respect the fact that he rarely sold out to anyone over his career.
2. Rowdy Roddy Piper
The original WWE antihero was the biggest heel the company had ever seen. Fans hated Rowdy Roddy Piper and wanted to see nothing more than Piper getting laid out. However, when you look at a man who never sold his soul and always marched to his own beat, there was no one better than Piper. By the time he became a hero in the WWE, he was really no different than he was when he was a villain. He kept the insults, continued to brawl and just focused his attention on the bad guys. Roddy Piper the face and Roddy Piper the heel was the exact same person – making him a perfect antihero.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
There can only be one. Jim Ross called Steve Austin the Rattlesnake because he would strike out and bite anyone. He would drop faces and heels alike with his Stunner and didn’t care what anyone thought. When the WWE tried to align him with Vince McMahon and Triple H later in his career, they ruined what made him special. What made Stone Cold Steve Austin one of the best WWE superstars of all time was his devil may care attitude and the fact that he was Stone Cold and no one else mattered. When you think professional wrestling antihero, Steve Austin is the first person you should ever think of.