This one is a little more difficult than it seems, given the nature of this business. Wrestlers are supposed to beat up wrestlers, to cause them pain, secure the pinfall and walk out of the ring a winner.
Never has the belief in suspended animation been so real. Performers are bigger, stronger, faster and just plain better than they have ever been. Watching someone like Rey Mysterio get in the ring with a giant like Kevin Nash seems so unrealistic (it is) but you notice these wrestlers come back weekly to take another beating.
Ric Flair is credited with helping the careers of Lex Luger, Sting, to a degree Ricky Steamboat and a host of others. In his book, To Be the Man, Flair talks about how “green” Luger was when they first met and how he helped the “Total Package” learn how to sell matches. Despite the fact that Luger was stiff and raw, Flair has said on many occasions he never felt like the Luger’s inexperience would endanger him in a match.
That’s a lot of confidence for a man who broke his back in a plane crash and walked away to tell about it. Flair is also considered one of the safest wrestlers in the business because he knew how to take a fall and could help his opponent in the ring. There is a right way and a wrong way to sell a spot. Part of it is trusting the person in the ring or your “partner” to make sure there is balance in a match.
Ultimately, the best matches are smooth like ballet, where the give and take of each performer rolls out in each move – with safety being the most important part of its success. Here are the five safest wrestlers of all time.
1. Harley Race
The man who would hold the NWA World Title on eight occasions and would be the first-ever United States Heavyweight Champion was also one of the most rugged individuals to ever get in a ring.
Flair, Jack Brisco, and others had some of their best matches in their careers with Harley Race as their opponent. He was tough but also knew how to protect his foes and made everything look real. Fans who saw Race at the end of his career in the WWF did not have the chance to see him in all his glory. If you watch an old video, you see the care he put into each move.
2. Ric Flair
I mentioned his name before and I’ll reference him again. Ric Flair sold everything for everybody. There was never a wasted move. Flair also knew how to use the crowd to his advantage and could change the flow of a match based on fan reaction, which ultimately made him one of the greatest heels of all time.
There are many instances when Flair fought men twice his size and was still able to protect both of them in a ring. Some of his matches with Terry Funk and certainly Ricky Steamboat in the 1970s and 1980s were classics and told a story. He could make even the hardest move look effortless and made sure he and whoever was on the receiving end were safe.
3. Triple H
Trained by Killer Kowalski and later mentored by Flair. You cannot get much better than that in this business. Triple H has taken on the “Flair” role of sorts, mentoring the stars of NXT, showing them how to be solid stars and to protect the business with a new and exciting presence.
When the former WWE World Champion is in the ring, it’s not about scientific holds, drop kicks and toe holds. Triple H wants to hurt his opponent, to put them out of action. His time with the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Era proved he could take a beating and dish one out. Part of his shtick is the use of a sledgehammer and other objects to win, and in many instances, help an opponent get over.
If he is not calculated with every move, wrestlers are permanently hurt.