After I’d graduated from college, I returned to New York City. I’d frequently hang out with my cousin on Friday nights. There were a few bars in the neighborhood that had been in the rotation; each different in what they offered. One place had Karaoke. Another had live music. Most of the time, we would end the evening at a place with a huge selection of beers on tap. Often the conversations would focus on boxing since we would watch Friday Night Fights on this final bar’s television. Typically, we didn’t speak about professional wrestling, although one evening I did watch the final broadcast of World Championship Wrestling with him before it was acquired by The World Wrestling Federation in 2001.  

The other day while reminiscing about these occasions, I thought if The ZA, my cousin, (Not his given name, of course, but a nickname. Instead of being the RZA, or The GZA, he was simply The ZA), and I were to revisit these types of conversations and put together a list of the toughest wrestlers of all time, who would make the cut?  

It would be tempting to have someone like Brock Lesnar on the list, due to his size, wrestling, MMA background, and the fact he’d battled through diverticulitis for about a year before it was even diagnosed. However, there needed to be certain criteria in place; martial arts training or size discrepancies might skew the list. It wasn’t supposed to be a list of who possessed the most skill. In this case, it was going to be durability and awe. People like Ken Shamrock, while certainly worthy of the list, would be ruled out. 

Steve Blackman was an interesting choice, who’d I’d heard from a lot of wrestlers should be near the top of said list. In the end, I could see The ZA agreeing Blackman should be added, but again with his training, Blackman would have to have an asterisk. This is probably where The ZA and I would get sidetracked during our listmaking concerning the asterisk and discuss why there had been a Congressional investigation into steroid abuse in baseball and nothing when it came to steroid abuse in football. It’s all about statistics. Odds were, when they were kids, everyone in Congress collected baseball cards. Those records are holy to them. 

It’s crazy to think about a three hundred and fifty-pound lineman able to bench press a Buick and also run the forty-yard dash in five seconds, and no one cares if he’s juicing. Next up for consideration would be Harley Race and Meng. The only two people Andre the Giant feared.

In reading about Meng, I discovered he once fought police officers and neither the nightstick nor pepper spray had any effect on him. On another occasion, after he’d been insulted at a bar, he plucked the man’s tooth from his head using his finger and thumb; just reached over after hearing too many insults and performed some impromptu dentistry. 

The final selections would include The Dynamite Kid and Ravishing Rick Rude. 

When wrestling was still territorial, and The Macho Man Randy Savage had been the champion, he would occasionally go out to bars in areas controlled by other promotional companies. If he had been taken out by a wrestler who wasn’t’ affiliated with the WWF, it would immediately catapult that wrestler into the spotlight. Savage had a bullseye on his back. Therefore, The Macho Man would often travel with unofficial bodyguards. He’d ask Rick Rude and The Dynamite Kid to accompany him. According to history, no one ever attempted anything with Savage while those two had been with him. Rick Rude’s tenure as a bouncer and an arm-wrestling champion was impressive; it had been rumored he could knock you out by slapping you. There were bound to be people I had forgotten or whose deeds had either never been recorded or had been lost to history. Perhaps one day, there would be a Thunderdome-style time travel tournament in which we could legitimately decide who the toughest wrestler of all time was. Until that day, though, I would have to keep the list in the realm of hypotheticals.

Andrew Davie received an MFA in creative writing from Adelphi University. He taught English in Macau on a Fulbright Grant. In June of 2018, he survived a ruptured brain aneurysm and subarachnoid hemorrhage. His other work can be found in links on his website:

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