wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Who is the Best Wrestler From Each US State? (Part 2)

March 15, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Kurt Angle Pennsylvania

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

Hey, ya want a banner?

I’ve been told I should promote my Twitter account more. So, go follow me on Twitter.

This week, we’re going to pick up where we left off in the last installment of the column, when reader Kevster asked the following seemingly innocuous question:

Who would you consider the best wrestler from every state?

I decided that this was too big a question to tackle in just one column, so I split the country in half alphabetically and tackled the first 25 states in our last edition, which you can read here. Now we’re going to go ahead and do the last 25.

Also, for those who missed last week’s column or have forgotten, a simple reminder: When determining which state a wrestler hails from for purposes of this exercise, we are using the state of the wrestler’s legitimate birth, not where they lived most of their lives or where they were billed as hailing from.

Montana – Larry Tillman – Here’s the thing. I could only identify two wrestlers as having been born in Montana, and I had never heard of either one of them. Doing some research, it sounds like Larry Tillman had the more noteworthy career. He was the third man in history to hold the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title, doing so from January 10, 1946 to March 11, 1946. Later on, he became a promoter and ran NWA-affiliated shows in Calgary. Eventually he sold his territory to a young Stu Hart (which sounds like an oxymoron) who turned it into Stampede Wrestling.

Nebraska – Gorgeous George – This was probably one of the closest calls that I had to make in writing this column, as the legendary Gorgeous George originally hails from Butte, Nebraska while the iconic Sting comes to us from Omaha. After some internal debate, I ultimately landed on Gorgeous George, because, without George, there may never have been a Sting. Why do I say that? Because the Gorgeous one is commonly credited with introducing larger than life personae in to the world of professional wrestling, establishing a foundation in the 1940s that would be built upon to allow a bleached blond “surfer” Sting to rise to prominence in the 1980s.

Nevada – “Playboy” Buddy Rose – Though Las Vegas is a city that you would think would go hand-in-hand with the flashy, sometimes gaudy presentation of professional wrestling, you don’t have a ton of grappling history in the Silver State. That leaves a dearth of Nevadan wrestlers, and the best of the small batch is Buddy Rose, who is perhaps best known for his time in the Pacific Northwest and the AWA, in addition his infamous “blow away diet” when an enhancement talent in the WWF. Though Rose was largely a comedy act in the Fed, those who know him from earlier in his career are aware that he was a very solid in-ring performer, with surprising agility for his body type.

New Hampshire – Triple H – This is another small state with about half a dozen wrestlers originating there, but, even if the field was much larger, it would be difficult to argue giving this position to anybody other than Triple H. Though portrayed at different times during his career as a Frenchman and a Connecticut blue blood, HHH was actually born and raised in a different New England state, namely New Hampshire.

New Jersey – “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers – Many wrestlers popular in the 1980s and 1990s hailed from New Jersey, but, despite that fact, it’s Buddy Rogers – who wrestled from the late 1930s through the early 1970s – that holds on to be the greatest from his home state. Why? In addition to being a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion and the first-ever WWWF Champion (the precursor to the WWE Champion), he established the “Nature Boy” persona that has become a staple in professional wrestling, most closely associated with Ric Flair but also employed by others like Buddy Landel and Scoot Andrews.

New Mexico – Tex Riley – There have been several wrestlers to come out of New Mexico, but, with all due respect, none of them have been major stars. In fact, most of them are indy wrestlers who have been active on a low level over the course of the past twenty years or so. The New Mexican wrestler who gained the most notoriety outside of the southwest may have been Tex Riley, who made his debut in 1937 and kept wrestling throughout the 1960s. Riley worked for a variety of NWA-affiliated territories, including Jim Crockett Promotions and Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis territory. Though not a huge star in his own right, Riley had some brushes with greatness, including tag matches on his resume where he partnered with the likes of Freddie Blassie and Lou Thesz.

New York – “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer – I was able to find record of over 100 professional wrestlers being born in New York. Having sorted through all of them, including names like Chris Jericho, Lex Luger, and Gorilla Monsoon, Dick Beyer comes to the top of my list. After being a high level football player and amateur wrestler for Syracuse University, Beyer donned a mask and became a professional wrestler under the name the Destroyer. He almost immediately became a major star in the Los Angeles territory and parlayed that into a run in All Japan Pro Wrestling, where he became a crossover success with a role on a late night comedy show similar to Saturday Night Live. He also became an AWA World Heavyweight Champion, though in that territory he was known as Dr. X as opposed to the Destroyer.

North Carolina – The Hardy Boys – Though wrestlers like Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat are closely associated with North Carolina, neither one of them was actually born in that state, creating an opening for Matt and Jeff Hardy to take the top spot in this category. Originally seen as nothing more than a high flying pretty boy tag team, both Hardys have established that they have a fair amount of staying power in the wrestling world and are now both bona fide legends, an excellent run from a couple of guys who started out as fans having matches in a ring set up in their backyard before getting booked as WWF enhancement talent before they were of legal age to do so.

North Dakota – Red Bastein – From my research, Bastein may be the only wrestler of any note born in North Dakota. However, he made enough of a name for himself in the industry that he could have beaten out most other competitors had they existed. Bastien was a territorial star beginning in the 1950s and continuing through the late 1970s, having a career that saw him capture championship gold in the United States, Australia, and Japan. He also contributed to wrestling behind the scenes, acting as a booker and a trainer at various points, in addition to serving as president of wrestling’s most prominent fraternal organization, the Cauliflower Alley Club, for several years in the 2000s.

Ohio – “Macho Man” Randy Savage – Somebody reading this column probably thought that I was going to list the Miz here, and I feel very sad for that person. Though usually billed from Sarasota, Florida during his career, Savage was actually born in Columbus, Ohio in 1952, which was a hub of one of the territories where his father, Angelo Poffo, was wrestling at the time. Though the family eventually relocated to suburban Chicago, which is where Savage graduated from high school, his earliest days were in Ohio, and he remains the most recognizable and talented professional wrestler to emerge from that state. In fact, one commenter on last week’s column reported that there was once a push to erect a statue of the Macho Man, even though he spent very little of his life there.

Oklahoma – Jack Brisco – Though not a heavily populated state, Oklahoma really punches above its weight class when it comes to producing professional wrestlers, as it’s given us Mae Young, Bill Watts, Bill Goldberg, and Danny Hodge (who, as of the time I’m writing this column, just passed within the last week). However, Jack Brisco emerges among them all as the best of the lot. Brisco is of course best known as being the NWA World Heavyweight Champion from 1973 to 1975 in addition to forming one hell of a tag team with his brother Jerry and owning a piece of the old Georgia Championship Wrestling territory. Though a case could be made for several other Okies, in my estimation it’s Jack who is really the best of the lot.

Oregon – Art Barr – Choosing the best wrestler from Oregon was really a two-man race between Sandy Barr and his son Art. Ultimately, though Sandy had the much longer career and also gave back to the industry by promoting shows in the Pacific Northwest (and reportedly being a good payout guy when there weren’t many of those in the industry), I decided to go with Art because, despite his only working at a high level for four or five years, he became more noteworthy on a national and international basis than his dear old dad. Though he did have a run in WCW as the Juicer, his best performances came as a jingoistic American rudo in Mexico’s AAA promotion, where he was a heavy influence on the career of his tag team partner Eddy Guerrero.

Pennsylvania – Kurt Angle – Oh, it’s true. It’s damn true. The Olympic gold medalist and former WWE Champion was born in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania in Allegheny County, though he was regularly billed from Pittsburgh. There is not an insubstantial number of professional wrestlers from Pennsylvania, but with Angle being one of the greatest U.S. in-ring performers of all time, he shoots straight up to the top of the list. Of course, there’s a bit of irony here, as Pennsylvania and more specifically Philadelphia are also closely associated with ECW, the promotion that almost pissed Kurt off to the point that he quit the pro wrestling business before he even got involved in it.

Rhode Island – Gary Albright – I almost trolled everybody by listing little person wrestler Fuzzy Cupid here, but, in all reality, Gary Albright should get the nod. After being born in Rhode Island, Albright moved to Montana before his high school years and was a standout amateur wrestler there, eventually turning pro with the Hart family’s Stampede group. However, he would really make his name in Japan, initially with the shoot-style UWFi group and later with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Unfortunately, he never got a break in the U.S., because, even though he made connections in wrestling in this country (including marrying into the Anoa’i family), he passed away unexpectedly in 2000 at the age of 36.

South Carolina – Paul Wight – Well, it’s the Big Show . . . or at least it was until a couple of weeks ago. What’s interesting here is that, despite Jim Crockett Promotions being associated heavily with the Carolinas, none of its major stars seemed to come from South Cackalacky. With JCP not being a factor, this was largely a two-man race between relatively modern stars, with Orangeburg, SC’s Shelton Benjamin also getting heavy consideration. However, Big Show surpasses him as a multiple-time heavyweight champion in two different major promotions. Plus, to the best of my knowledge, Shelton has never had his own family sitcom on Netflix, despite the fact that WWE tried to turn his wrestling career into a family sitcom when they briefly introduced his “mama” as a character. Though he’s resided in Florida for many years, Show was born in Aiken, South Carolina where he played basketball and football in high school.

South Dakota – Brock Lesnar – He is heavily associated with Minnesota because of his time attending college there and currently resides north of the border in Saskatchewan, Canada, but former WWE and UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar was born a farm boy in the tiny town of Webster, South Dakota. Interestingly, the two people who were Lesnar’s competition for this spot have shoot backgrounds of their own. One is former UFC and current WWE star Shayna Baszler, who hails from Sioux Falls, and the other is 1910s/1920s pro wrestling star Earl Caddock, who, before turning pro, was an AAU amateur wrestling champion in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions.

Tennessee – Ric Flair – You had to know that Ric Flair was going to be the answer when we came to whatever state he originally hails from . . . but, wait a minute, Ric Flair is from Tennessee? He is, if we go strictly on the rule that I established at the outset, which is that we’re basing this on the states in which wrestlers were born. Though he spent most of his childhood in Minnesota and is most closely associated with North Carolina, Flair was adopted out of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in 1949 under an odd set of circumstances that result in his true birth name not even being known. We’re pretty sure it’s Fred, though.

Texas – Stone Cold Steve Austin – Austin is one of the few wrestlers who, at least during the height of his popularity, was billed as hailing from his legitimate birthplace, the southeastern Texas city of Victoria. As perhaps the most recognizable professional wrestler of the last twenty-five years not named Rocky, he was a shoo-in for this spot, though he was not without competition, given that Austin, Texas is the birthplace of former NWA World Heavyweight Champion Dusty Rhodes and Houston can claim Mark “The Undertaker” Callaway as its own.

Utah – Don Leo Jonathan – Debuting in 1949, Jonathan hailed from Hurricane, Utah and standing at 6’6”, his nickname was “The Mormon Giant.” His impressive stature and athleticism made him a star in territories across North America, as he challenged for the NWA World Heavyweight Title in St. Louis, Chicago, Toledo, Los Angeles, Montreal, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Dallas, Toronto, Detroit, Portland, and Winnipeg in addition to getting a run against Bruno Sammartino in a series of WWWF Title matches in 1974 and holding the top local championships in the Los Angeles, Montreal, and Indianapolis territories. Also, due to his size, he was a frequent opponent of Andre the Giant in the 1970s, which at that point got you just as much exposure as a world heavyweight title match.

Vermont – Vivian Vachon –There are very few pro wrestlers from Vermont, so I’m giving this one to Vivian Vachon . . . and not just because I like alliteration. Though she was raised in Montreal with her wrestling brothers Maurice (Mad Dog) and Paul (Butcher), she was technically born on the U.S. side of the border. Vivian debuted in the late 1960s as part of the Fabulous Moolah’s troupe of female wrestlers, getting early experience in the WWWF in addition to working for Jim Crokcett Promotions and the AWA and traveling overseas for All Japan Women late in her career. However, she is best known for being the subject of the 1973 film The Wrestling Queen.

Virginia – Tony Atlas – After a career as a bodybuilder, Tony Atlas transitioned into professional wrestling in the mid-1970s, having his first matches in his home state of Virginia. Atlas became one of the biggest African American stars in the entire history of the game and, when he won the WWF Tag Team Titles with Rocky Johnson in 1983, was billed as one of the first two black men to ever hold a championship in the promotion . . . even though that wasn’t entirely true because Bobo Brazil was a multiple-time WWWF United States Champion in the 1960s and early 1970s. And, of course, his career had an unusual third act when he appeared on the WWE “reality” show Legends House where he was noteworthy for his foot fetish. I wish I was making that up.

Washington – Daniel Bryan – This one was close because, believe it or not, New Japan Pro Wrestling legend Masahiro Chono was technically born in Seattle, Washington even though he was raised primarily in Japan. In my mind, he’s a strong 1b to Daniel Bryan’s 1a, with Bryan being a native of the Washington city of Aberdeen. Bryan gets the nod over Chono in my book because, even though Chono was probably the bigger relative star in his home country, Bryan did, even though it was fleeting, sit atop the largest wrestling promotion in history for a period of time in addition to being perhaps the most critically acclaimed in-ring performer of the last twenty years. I also almost gave this spot to Bryan Alvarez, again just for the sake of trolling people.

West Virginia – Ray Stevens – Not to be confused with the singer who released novelty country western hits “The Steak” and “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival,” professional wrestler Ray Stevens was born in Point Pleasant, West Virginia in 1935 and went on to become one of the best in-ring performers of his era and had a legendary feud with Pepper Gomez in California before forming the tag team of the Blond Bombers with then up-and-comer Pat Patterson, which did very well in both San Francisco and the AWA. I would go as far as to say that Stevens is probably one of the more notable omissions from the WWE Hall of Fame, particularly given his connections to Patterson and the creation of the HOF’s “Legacy Wing,” where they sweep in a bunch of old timers without much fanfare each year.

Wisconsin – Ed “Strangler” Lewis – Hailing from the small central Wisconsin city of Nekoosa, Strangler Lewis was an iconic wrestling star of the first decades of the Twentieth Century, having several reigns with the version of the World Heavyweight Championship that was popularized in the George Hackenschmidt/Frank Gotch feud and ultimately had its lineage swept up into that of the NWA World Heavyweight Title. In addition to being a World Champion, Lewis was also a power broker outside of the ring, teaming with Billy Sandow and Toots Mondt to form the Gold Dust Trio, a group of promoters that revolutionized the industry. On top of that, Lewis was the trainer of Lou Thesz and Danny Hodge, the premier World Heavyweight Champion and World Junior Heavyweight Champion in the era that succeeded Lewis, meaning that he not only dominated his own era but also created the guys that would dominate the next.

Wyoming – Garett Bischoff – No, seriously. We’re ending this list with Garett Bischoff, Eric Bischoff’s kid who started as a TNA referee in 2010 before becoming an in-ring performer roughly a year later. We’re not doing this because I’m a huge Garet Bischoff fan. I don’t know how anybody could be, as his TNA run came to an end in 2013 and he’s really only worked on periodic under-the-radar indy shows since then. The reason Garett takes this last spot is that he is literally the ONLY pro wrestler born in Wyoming who I was able to find any record of.

Talk about anti-climatic.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.

article topics :

Ask 411 Wrestling, Ryan Byers