Often I am asked who my favorite pro wrestlers are, which ones have had the biggest impact on my career and style, and who were my idols when I was growing up.  Hereforth, in this special theme blog for Christmas 2011, I offer my top picks to close off the year:

MY TOP 5 WESTERN  PRO WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME

Ric Flair – without doubt, the man who made an indelible impact on me when I was a kid and a youth.  When I first started my wrestling career back in 1994, as a rookie I tried to copy much of the pyschology of Flair in my own matches and mannerisms.  As time wore on, of course I developed my own, trademark image and style, but Slick Ric was the ultimate combo of mic skills, charisma, ring work and larger than life character to aspire to.  Very simply, for many of my generation, The Nature Boy was THE measuring stick which the business was graded by.

Dan Kroffat – I believe his real name is Phil Lafon, but Dan Kroffat was just an amazing talent in both Canada for Gino Brito’s International Wrestling out of Montreal in the 1980’s, as well as Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, where I believe he was called Phil LaFleur.  A lot of people think I “stole” my superkick from Shawn Michaels, which is not true.  I “borrowed” it from Kroffat, who used to superkick opponents while they were trapped in the ring corner.  Ouch!  Kroffat was one of the greatest, lesser-known talents in the history of the game.

Dick Murdoch – the best puncher that the wrestling industry has seen this side of Killer Karl Kox.  What an amazing talent Murdoch was, from being an ass-clown when he felt like it to wrestling amazing, technical classics like I saw him do against Barry Windham back in 1987 on Bill Watts’ UWF Wrestling show over 45-minutes on TV.  Dick Murdoch was definitely one of the greatest wrestlers never to hold the World Championship, and I borrowed his “cattle brander” knee-to-the-skull top rope bulldog for my own repertoire many years ago.

Tully Blanchard – never have I seen someone do so little and make it mean as much as Tully did in the ring.  Blanchard was the ultimate bad guy, like a mangy mongrel all over his opponents from bell to bell.  His natural cockiness made him easy for the masses to dislike, and he just had a way of carrying himself that I have seen few pro wrestlers master.  His “I Quit” cage match vs. Magnum TA from Starrcade ´85 will forever be remembered as one of the most legitimate outings there is to be seen in pro wrestling.  It’s a shame his career fell off the map in 1989 after being let go/leaving the WWF, after which, by all intents and purposes, he really should have carried on in the NWA as part of The Four Horsemen.

Bret Hart – I was brought up in the wrestling business in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which happens to be the home of the infamous Hart Family.  I never went out of my way to copy Bret Hart, but I did feel a certain affinity to the way that he orchestrated himself and worked in the ring.  You could call it a case of kindred spirits style-wise.  Bret Hart’s style was not a high-risk deal, and that said, he could be as believable as anyone without taking ridiculous chances with his health.  Bret Hart was smart about his piece of business, and it’s a damn shame that his career ended the way it did in the freak accident he had wrestling against Goldberg at WCW’s Starrcade ’99.

MY TOP 5  JAPANESE  PRO WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME

Keiji Mutoh – I have always liked Mutoh’s style a lot, and this past November in Tokyo, I was finally able to wrestle against him in All-Japan Pro Wrestling, which was a dream come true for me.  Mutoh has incredible ring presence, amazing psychology and impeccable timing.  Basically, the man has all the tools of the trade, and he has kept with the times in changing his gimmick and look to stay fresh, without compromising where he came from.  Just an amazing mind for the pro wrestling trade.

Hiroshi Hase – an amazing talent, and as complete of an all-around worker as there is to be had in the pro wrestling game.  As a booker, Hase was incredibly giving, which is more than can be said for most match bookers who double as wrestlers.  Hase had credibility, in everything that he did, and had so many show-stealing matches that anyone could easily lose count.  Hase could make anyone look good, and that in itself is a feat in our business.

Mitsuhara Misawa – the late, great Misawa certainly took too many risks and ended up paying for them with his health before his untimely death a couple of years back, but it was hard to beat Misawa at his prime.  The man mastered his craft and stayed on top as a main player for over 15 years, which is an amazing accomplishment any way you look at it.  Misawa also spearheaded All-Japan Wrestling in the 1990’s, post-Tsuruta, driving the company to great success before moving on with his own NOAH promotion, which seemingly was the #1 company in Japan for a spell before eternity called Misawa to the other side.

Riki Choshu – The last two picks in this short list are a bit of a toss-up.  I was going to pick NOAH’s KENTA, but he has not yet proven himself on the longevity level.  Anyone with under 10 years of experience really cannot be considered yet.  I was going to pick Antonio Inoki amongst the last two, but considering he was the promoter of New Japan, I felt perhaps he had a bit too much leverage in terms of a tilted playing field.  When I was a kid, I first saw Riki Choshu in a match on a VHS tape against legendary shooter Fujiwara.  The thing that struck me straight away about Choshu was the fact that he came off as a rebel, kind of a Japanese rock and roller, with his long hair and aggressive energy.  The more I saw of Choshu’s matches, the more I liked his work.  At his best, Choshu was hard to beat, and could really make the people believe in what he did.

Tatsumi Fujinami – I really struggled between Fujinami and Jumbo Tsuruta for the last pick.  Before moving up to the heavyweights, Fujinami was a damn fine junior heavyweight, and I still recall one of his stellar matches against the Dynamite Kid in Japan, which was one hell of a hard-hitting altercation.  Fujinami had that special something, an explosive dynamic about him, which made watching his matches truly enjoyable.  The fact that he still moves at a surprisingly good pace at his age today is a testament in and of itself, and I am amazed that his knees are still holding up sans kneepads after all these years!

BEST OF THE REST

There have been numerous other personas and key factors that have played a part in StarBuck becoming what I am today in the pro wrestling world and beyond.  Irish wrestler Dave “Fit” Finlay, whom I lost the SMASH Championship to back on November 24, 2011 is one of mat technicians that I highly respect.  British ring generals Mark Rocco, Dynamite Kid and Johnny Saint all rate highly in my book also.  North American top wrestling stars of the past like Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat and The Road Warriors all offered valuable learning material.  Comic book heroes from my youth like Conan The Barbarian and The Incredible Hulk, in addition to Godzilla, all left an indelible imprint on the formation of my psyche.  The action movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone did their part in impacting me in my youth, in addition to perhaps my favorite flick of all time, Mel Gibson’s Mad Max II: The Road Warrior.  Several top wrestlers of the past decade from Chris Benoit to Shawn Michaels to Triple H have all made a notable imprint, especially in terms of being able to draw from their ring psychology, pacing and idiosyncracies.

So all in all, there have been a whole slew of personas and greats that have really “lent” a hand in the formation of StarBuck as a professional wrestler.  Perhaps I’ll post a blog about which musical influences played the biggest impact on my rock frontman career over the past 12 years, but maybe you’ll have to wait for that one to start off 2012.

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