Among wrestling fans, the most common argument to have is, “who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of wrestlers?”
Austin, Rock, Flair, Hogan, ‘Taker, Sammartino, Cena, Michaels – the list goes on and on. The next most popular discussion among sports entertainment enthusiasts surrounds fantasy booking a dream match between a pair of all-time greats: Austin vs. Hogan, Undertaker vs. Sting, Michaels vs. Styles. Dream matches, all to never have eyes laid upon them.
With the Survivor Series just around the corner, let’s dive into that very same exercise, but apply it to the November tradition. Let’s name the greatest five-on-five men’s teams of all-time.
Rules: This will be your typical babyface vs. heel matchup. You’re not going to see the Iron Sheik and Hulk Hogan on the same team. We’re also going to restrict the wrestler options to WWE and WCW from the mid 1980’s onwards, therefore you will not have the heel team captained by Gorgeous George.
The Good Guys
Captain: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Teammates: The Rock, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, Hulk Hogan
Surprise run-in: Sting
The Bad Guys
Captain: Ric Flair
Teammates: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Triple H, Ted DiBiase, Hollywood Hulk Hogan
Surprise run-in: Vince McMahon
Okay let’s start with the obvious: the captains.
Stone Cold Steve Austin is the most popular wrestler of all-time, and I will not be having any further conversation with anyone who wants to think otherwise. He was the hottest draw during the biggest money-making period in the history of sports entertainment. End of discussion.
Ric Flair was the dirtiest player in the game. He was always the ultimate antagonist to whomever was the ultimate underdog, whether it be Dusty Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat or Sting. The Nature Boy proved that to be the man you had to beat the man, and that’s why he’s the captain of the heel team.
If Austin is choice 1-A for captain, then The Rock would be 1-B. The People’s Champ was neck-and-neck with Austin in terms of popularity during the attitude era. The Rock cut scathing, quick-witted, hilarious promos, and could then always follow it up with a badass performance in the ring. The best thing about Rock being on the babyface team is that he would be going mano-a-mano with Roddy Piper on the mic. Imagine both guys in their prime fighting it out on the stick, and then brawling in the ring.
Shawn Michaels was a tough choice to put on the babyface side. Some of his greatest work came as a heel, starting of course with the barbershop window. However, Michaels’ work following his 2002 comeback was almost exclusively as a babyface. The Heartbreak Kid is, arguably, the greatest in-ring performer to ever grace the squared circle, which therefore makes it tough to cheer against him.
That same feeling can’t be shared with Michaels’ D-Generation X running buddy, Triple H. Hunter was on top of the WWE for what felt like over a decade, starting in the early 2000’s. Fans grew very weary of Triple H title reigns, despite HHH’s memorable feuds with the likes of Mick Foley and The Rock. With The Game on top, fans were desperate to see someone topple him, and that makes him perfect for this heel team.
Speaking of extremely long periods spent on top in one role, inside the wrestling business… is there anyone more perfect for this babyface team than John Cena? Love him or hate him, and there are lot of people that fall into the latter, the 16-time world champ has been respectfully loyal to the hustle that is needed when representing a pure babyface. Cena always remained true to his values and never wavered in his pursuit of winning with a sense of pride.
Meanwhile, there was absolutely pride in winning with dignity when it came to Ted DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man was the blueprint for what a stereotypical heel should be in the late 1980’s. He “bought” the WWE Championship, at one point. This man stopped at nothing to win because, after all, everybody’s got a price.
Now, we come to the part that maybe made you look twice. Hulk Hogan is on both teams. That is not a mistake. The Hulkster of the 1980’s was the truest form of a babyface that the wrestling business had seen, and maybe will ever see. The all-American, say your prayers, eat your vitamins good guy, then became the most perfect set up for the greatest heel turn the business had ever seen, and maybe will ever see.
When Hollywood Hulk Hogan was born in 1996, he transformed into the ultimate bad guy He held that spot for a number of years inside the NWO, which in itself was cool, but was still able to draw heat due to the disdain fans had for Hogan, be it kayfabe or not. Red-and-Yellow Hogan vs. Hollywood Hogan is the ultimate good guy vs. the ultimate bad guy.
But wait, there’s more. No big-time wrestling match is complete without some sort of interference from the back at some point. So, of course, I’ve fantasy booked a couple of run-ins for each squad. I went a little off the board for the babyface team, as Sting isn’t generally considered one of the greatest faces of all-time, but that’s not entirely why he’s on this team.
When Sting changed into “Crow Swing” in late 1996, he made a habit of hanging out in the rafters until finally appearing at the end of an episode of WCW Nitro, and taking out the NWO with a baseball bat. The crowd would go absolutely bonkers when the Stinger would drop into the ring. That’s why he’s here.
On the other side, there is an argument to made surrounding Vince McMahon actually being the greatest heel of all-time, playing the ultimate antagonist to Steve Austin’s protagonist. Vinny Mac gets the run-in role in this match due to the fact that he’s not actually a wrestler, and is therefore better left to drop in, and just the screw someone out of win. After all, The Chairman is pretty familiar with a screwjob at Survivor Series.
Catch Survivor Series live on the WWE Network Sunday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. ET, and be sure to follow along with Sportsnet’s live blog coverage during the event.