Professional wrestlers are some of the toughest athletes in the world, but unfortunately, they never seem to get the credit that they truly deserve. WWE superstars work year-round, so unlike other organized sports, they don’t have an offseason. These wrestlers often rely on their mental and physical toughness to get through a match. It’s blatantly clear that any individual able to sustain a career in the professional wrestling industry needs to have an extraordinary pain threshold and an innate toughness.
There are some individuals that not only have these attributes, but they also exude them. Regardless of the scenario, professional wrestlers are legitimately some of the toughest athletes in the world. This only features the guys you wouldn’t want to cross on the street. So while WWE stars like Mick Foley have an insane threshold for pain, he’s about the nicest guy in wrestling history. These are the toughest wrestlers of all time, that should scare you because they don’t just look the part.
Updated on August 12, 2021, by Shawn S. Lealos: When it comes to wrestling resolve, it isn’t always about what a fan sees on TV. WWE, AEW, and NJPW present men touted as the toughest wrestlers in the world, but just because someone looks like a worldbeater in the ring doesn’t always mean it translates over to the real world. With that said, there are plenty of wrestlers — both old school and new — who practice what they preach in real life, showing that they are exactly what the company they work for portrays them to be. These wrestlers proved through hardships, heroic actions, and fights outside the ring that no one can ever question their toughness in wrestling and the real world.
15 Chris Masters
At first glance, it may come as a surprise to see Chris Masters called one of the toughest wrestlers ever, but it’s definitely for a good reason. After a crazed neighbor held his mother inside her home against her will, the former WWE Superstar came to the rescue in a heroic fashion.
“The Masterpiece” used his pure unadulterated strength to uproot a tree and use it as a battering ram, coming to the rescue after the neighbor set the house on fire to keep police from entering the residence. Masters smashed the tree through a window, saved his mother, and led her to safety.
14 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock is clearly one of the toughest athletes ever to lace up his boots and enter the squared circle. “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was just that in the WWE. He is one of the biggest stars in the history of MMA, headlining over 15 events in the UFC and Pride over the course of his career.
Ken Shamrock was the first UFC Superfight Champion, defeating Dan Severn at UFC 6. The UFC renamed the title the UFC Heavyweight Championship when introducing weight categories. He definitely brought legitimacy with him to the WWE.
13 Arn Anderson
Fans widely considered Arn Anderson one of the toughest professional wrestlers ever to lace up a pair of wrestling boots. He was also tough in real life, as proven by a locker room fight with Sid Vicious. On October 27, 1993, during a WCW tour of the United Kingdom, Arn and Sid got into one of the most insane brawls in wrestling history.
It started as an argument that eventually escalated to a point in which Sid grabbed a pair of scissors and reportedly stabbed Anderson 20 times. Although both parties lost a lot of blood, it served as a testament to Arn Anderson’s believability as a legitimate tough guy.
12 Bam Bam Bigelow
Based solely on his physical appearance, “The Beast From The East” always exuded toughness. In 2000, he took that toughness to the real world. Bam Bam Bigelow dashed into a burning house and rescued three children that were trapped inside. He reportedly suffered burns on over 40 percent of his body.
Bigelow reportedly spent weeks in hospital, and the injuries forced him out of wrestling forever. In a tragic turn of events, Bam Bam Bigelow died in 2007 at the relatively young age of 45.
11 Steve Blackman
In May 1989, Steve Blackman was days away from beginning his career with WWE. A week later, he was in sub-Saharan Africa, on the brink of death, dealing with dysentery and malaria. He spent the next six years recovering and training until he eventually made his way to the WWE in 1997.
After enjoying success in WWE and finally stepping away from the squared circle, “The Lethal Weapon” opened his own MMA School and began working as a Bounty Hunter.
10 Akira Hokuto
Akira Hokuto is the only woman to make this list, but she is definitely one of the toughest wrestlers of all time. In 1987, Akira Hokuto won AJW’s top tag team belt with Yumiko Hotta. Twelve days later, the duo lost the titles to the Red Typhoons (Kazue Nagahori and Yumi Ogura) in a two out of three falls match. During the finish of the first fall, Hokuto took a tombstone piledriver off the second rope and broke her neck.
She wrestled the second and third falls, holding her head in place with her hands. Then in 1990, during a Grand Prix match against Manami Toyota, Hokuto performed a plancha and crashed her knee into the ringside metal barrier. She tore open her knee, no longer able to walk. She tied a bandage around her leg, pulled herself back into the ring, and attempted to continue the match.
Before Big Van Vader found success in the United States in both WCW and WWE, he made his name in Japan. In 1990, Vader stepped into the ring to take on Stan Hansen for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. At the beginning of the match, Stan Hansen swung his cowbell around before the match started and bashed Vader in the face by accident, breaking his nose.
This resulted in an extremely stiff match between the two. After exchanging a couple of punches, Hansen accidentally poked Vader’s eye, causing it to pop out of the socket. The superheavyweight showed his true toughness by pushing the eye back into the socket and continuing the match.
8 Harley Race
There’s a reason Andre the Giant only feared two men. Harley Race might be the toughest man ever to put on wrestling trunks. On Christmas night in 1961, Race and his wife Vivian were driving to visit his parents when their car collided with a tractor-trailer along the highway. His wife died instantly and doctors said Race would never wrestle again.
The accident shattered one of his forearms and damaged his right leg so badly that doctors contemplated amputation. Harley Race showed his true strength, determination, and overall toughness by making his triumphant return to the ring two years later. On a side note: Harley Race also overcame polio as a child.
7 Kazushi Sakuraba
Kazushi Sakuraba is arguably one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time and still wrestles fairly often in NJPW. He beat Royler Gracie by technical submission when he broke his arm with a Kimura Lock, the first time a Gracie has lost in decades.
Royce Gracie came out of retirement to face Sakuraba and “avenge” his brother in a fight with special rules. In the actual fight, Sakuraba dominated Royce for 90 minutes until Royce’s corner eventually threw in the towel. He then faced Renzo Gracie, breaking his arm before they even hit the mat.
6 Kurt Angle
Most fans consider Kurt Angle as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He won a Gold Medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics “with a broken freakin’ neck.” He won a Gold Medal with a broken neck.
He dominated the competition in every organization he’s ever competed in and won countless championships in them as well, but he proved his overall toughness back in 1996. Since that time, it’s always been clear, Kurt Angle is legitimately one of the toughest wrestlers of all time.
5 Bad News Barrett
While living in Liverpool in his early 20s, Wade Barrett became a bare-knuckle boxing champion, fighting in various locations throughout Europe. He competed in a match dubbed by the bare-knuckle underworld as The Battle of Buda, in which he defeated a reputable opponent for a big cash prize.
Afterward, while walking through an alleyway in search of a taxi, someone stabbed Barrett with an eight-inch blade, attempting to steal the money. He refused to elaborate on the incident for legal reasons, but the assailant incurred serious injuries, and Barrett escaped with the cash despite significant blood loss, proving his toughness.
4 Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn is one of the most underrated professional wrestlers in the history of wrestling. In 2004, still wrestling after being released from WWE, Saturn showed true toughness and heroism outside of the ring. While driving his girlfriend to work, He saw two guys attacking a woman. Saturn immediately ran over to come to the woman’s rescue.
Although he fought with the men and saved the girl, it wasn’t all good news. During the struggle, they shot Saturn twice. When the police arrived and tried to get Saturn to go into the ambulance, he claimed he did not know that they had shot him, thinking he was punched twice.
Sabu is certainly one of the toughest wrestlers of all time, and the “Homicidal, Suicidal, Genocidal Maniac” has the scars to prove it. After suffering an injury, he would regularly use super glue to help remedy the situation. One of Sabu's most infamous matches was the No-Rope Barbed-Wire match with Terry Funk at ECW Born To Be Wired.
In one of the most memorable moments, Sabu attempted a corner splash on Funk and ended up violently colliding into the wire, which tore open his bicep. He taped up the gash and continued the match. Because of his toughness, extreme style, and lack of regard for his own well-being, Sabu stands the test of time as one of the toughest wrestlers in history.
2 Brock Lesnar
Prior to his start with the WWE, Brock Lesnar was an accomplished amateur wrestler, winning the 2000 NCAA Division I Heavyweight Wrestling Championship. He finished his amateur career with a record of 106–5 overall in four years of college. After making his professional wrestling debut, Brock Lesnar dominated all the competition, eventually winning the Undisputed WWE Championship.
After leaving the WWE, he transitioned to UFC where he defeated Randy Couture in his second match for the UFC Heavyweight Championship by technical knockout. He is the only person to have won a WWE Championship, UFC Championship, and NCAA Wrestling Championship. Understandably, most consider Brock Lesnar the toughest man on the planet.
Haku is the toughest wrestler of all time. The stories about Haku are legendary. In his biography, Arn Anderson: 4 Ever, Anderson claims that there are three types of men in the world. There are tough men, there are wrestler-tough men, and then there’s Haku. He was in a completely different category than anyone else on the planet.
In a shoot interview, Bobby Heenan talked extensively about Haku and referred to him as the toughest man he’s ever met in his life. Heenan was also close friends with Andre the Giant and claimed that the only two men in the world that Andre feared were Haku and Harley Race.
NEXT: 15 Male WWE Wrestlers With The Most Championship Victories
Top 15 Legitimately Toughest Wrestlers Of All Time? ›
- 8 8. Harley Race.
- 7 7. Kazushi Sakuraba.
- 6 6. Kurt Angle.
- 5 5. Bad News Barrett.
- 4 4. Perry Saturn.
- 3 3. Sabu.
- 2 2. Brock Lesnar.
- 1 1. Haku.
The Nature Boy is ranked among his peers and journalists as the greatest professional wrestler of all time. He had a career that spanned 40 years. Flair is recognized by the WWE as a 16-time world champion, although the number of his world title reigns varies and claim to be ranging from 16 to 25.Can WWE wrestlers fight in real life? ›
#2 Goldberg and Chris Jericho
Goldberg has always been known to be one of the toughest guys to have wrestled for WWE. In 2003, his toughness was put to the test when he got into a real-life fight with Chris Jericho.
'This stone weighing 1,200kg was lifted by the Great Ghulam Mohammad, known as 'Gama Pehlwan', on December 23, 1902, at the age of 22, who lifted it up to his chest and walked around over a fair distance. In his life he remained undefeated and is acknowledged as the greatest wrestler ever born. 'Who has trained the most wrestlers? ›
- 8 Larry Sharpe.
- 7 Eddie Sharkey.
- 6 Afa Anoai.
- 5 Harley Race.
- 4 Dory Funk Jr.
- 3 Killer Kowalski.
- 2 Verne Gagne.
- 1 Stu Hart.
- Terry Funk. Despite all his gimmicks, few wrestlers have been as safe as Terry Funk. If you watch the end of the three-match trilogy between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat and see Terry Funk confront Flair for his shot at the title, you see how safe he is. ...
- Kane. Kane is regarded as the safest man on the WWE roster.
Shawn Michaels- The Heartbreak Kid has been around for many years now, and has seen and done it all in the WWE. He has won four World Titles, four Tag Titles, and three Intercontinental Titles.Who is the goat of wrestling? ›
With a wrestling career spanning almost five decades, Ric Flair has seen and done everything in the professional wrestling business. Over the years, he has clashed with some of the biggest stars in history, from Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes, and Sting, to Triple H, The Undertaker, and Randy Orton.Who wins WWE scripted? ›
It's no longer a secret that professional wrestling is scripted. While the action is genuine, the outcomes of the matches taking place are predetermined as per the storyline plans. But that does not mean that wins and losses don't matter.How much of WWE is scripted? ›
Although roughly 99.9 percent of the things that have happened in professional wrestling over the years have been carefully scripted and planned for, spontaneity is bound to creep in every once in a while. In fact, some of the most memorable moments in WWE history were unscripted.
Who is the real fighter in WWE? ›
The former WWE champion had a run as the UFC champion, earning the title just four fights into his career.
Bobby Heenan tore the lid off this dimension of Haku in a shoot interview in which he outright declared Haku the toughest man he'd ever met. He went on to include specific examples like breaking off someone's bottom teeth in a fight, and stating that even Andre the Giant was afraid of him.Is WWE a wrestling? ›
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., commonly shortened to its trade name WWE, is an American professional wrestling promotion.