wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Wrestlers From Michigan

January 19, 2024 | Posted by Steve Cook
Rob Van Dam Impact Wrestling Image Credit: Impact Wrestling/Twitter

Michigan has been the main story of college football for several months now. There was a controversy over somebody associated with the University of Michigan program scouting teams and stealing plays. The team kept on winning and ended up winning the CFP Championship Game. Living in Northern Kentucky, I know plenty of people from Ohio that were morally offended by these things. They continued to be demoralized as Michigan continued winning.

The thing is, Michigan has been a fertile ground for professional wrestling. It was one of the best territories back in the day, and has produced some of the greatest wrestlers of all time. I’ve also been reading Brian Solomon’s biography on The Original Shiek recently, and that combined with Michigan’s dominance in college football leading to a national championship makes now the right time to rank the most magnificent wrestlers from and/or associated with the state of Michigan.

7. George Steele

Image Credit: WWE

Steele was working as a teacher in the suburbs of Detroit when he decided to wrestle on the side and make more money. He wrestled under a mask as The Student because he didn’t want to show his face on television. Steele would get into the WWWF and become one of Bruno Sammartino’s most fearsome opponents. His persona of “The Animal” got less intelligent over the years, but that ended up helping Steele become one of the most popular Superstars during WWF’s Rock n’ Wrestling era.

Steele faced Randy “Macho Man” Savage at WrestleMania 2, vying for the Intercontinental Championship & Miss Elizabeth’s affections. Steele was unsuccessful, but his feud with Savage & crush on Elizabeth served as one of the highlights of his career. Steele would be in Ricky Steamboat’s corner for Steamboat’s match with Savage at WrestleMania III. It was quite the homecoming for Steele, as the Pontiac Silverdome was filled to the rafters.

6. Motor City Machine Guns

Image Credit: Impact Wrestling

Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley both wear their heart on their sleeve, and they aren’t afraid to let you know where they come from. Sabin & Shelley both broke in during the early 2000s and worked most of the same places, including the promotion they’d become most associated with, TNA Wrestling. They were rivals early on in their careers, but would become tag team partners in Japan during 2006. It turned out that Sabin & Shelley were good enemies, but better friends. They became one of pro wrestling’s best tag teams during the 21st century, winning championships wherever they went and setting the standard for fast-paced tag team wrestling.

The Machine Guns also found success in their singles endeavors over the years, and are at the top of their game two decades after they started. Heading into the re-birth of TNA Wrestling, Shelley is the World Champion while Sabin is in his tenth reign as X Division Champion. The rare example of a tag team that can stay together while pursuing individual goals. Must be a Detroit thing.

5. Kevin Nash

Image Credit: WWE

Big Sexy had a bumpy road to the top of the wrestling business, but would become one of the top stars of the Monday Night War. As Diesel (an ode to his Motor City background), Nash held the WWF Championship from November 1994 to November 1995. He would move over to WCW in June 1996 and be a founding member of the New World Order, arguably wrestling’s most successful faction in history. He would return to WWE after WCW’s closure, and have stints with them & TNA Wrestling throughout the 2000s-10s.

Nash was never really known for his in-ring ability, so he wasn’t exactly a favorite of Internet fans of his time period. That didn’t much matter, as Nash’s size & charisma were more than enough to keep him on top of wrestling cards. Nash was widely considered one of the smartest men in wrestling, and used that intelligence to have a lengthy & prosperous career.

4. Rob Van Dam

Image Credit: WWE

Battle Creek, Michigan was largely known for being the home of Kellogg’s cereal. You’d see Battle Creek once a morning on boxes of Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Raisin Bran and your other breakfast favorites. Once the late 1990s rolled around, Battle Creek became known for a second thing: being the hometown of the Whole F’n Show, Rob Van Dam.

I always enjoyed RVD from the first time I saw him. He had an innate ability & creativity for moves that most people didn’t. RVD was all about doing crazy shit that people might not understand. He was one of ECW’s top stars during its later years, then moved over to the WWF and got more popular with those fans than anybody expected. Van Dam still pops up from time to time and never fails to get a reaction.

3. The Steiner Brothers

Image Credit: WWE

There’s a trend of tag teams being proud of their roots stemming from Michigan. It started with Rick & Scott Steiner, who proudly wore their U of M letter jackets to the ring for years. Rick & Scott both had stellar collegiate wrestling careers and transitioned to the pro ranks quite easily. Rick had plenty of success before his brother came along, but once Scott joined him they became one of the top tag teams in wrestling. Whether it was WCW, New Japan or WWF, they dominated. People wanted to break them up for years because that’s what people want to do to tag teams, but there was always reticence because…well, they were brothers. As much as brothers might take issue with each other, they rebel at the idea of a booker or anybody else breaking them up.

Once they broke up, Scott did become a singles star, as most people figured he would. Rick had his moments as well, but Scott took the opportunity to build his physique beyond ridiculousness, embrace his inner Superstar Billy Graham and become a tremendous personality. For whatever reason it never really worked during his WWE stint, but Scott’s WCW & TNA stints as a single were full of fantastic moments that had to be an editor’s nightmare. Big Poppa Pump was your hookup.

2. Bobo Brazil

Up until this point, all of the wrestlers mentioned were born in the state of Michigan. We make an exception for this man. Bobo was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but got moved around. He ended up in Benton Harbor, Michigan. That’s where he started his pro wrestling career, and that’s where he made his name. Bobo became one of the top stars in Michigan, and was able to go to other places and break color barriers wherever he went.

Politicians like to tell us about the good ol’ days and want to take us back to them. Those good ol’ days they rave about included black wrestlers not being allowed to wrestle white wrestlers, and the black fans being confined to the balcony. These are the things Bobo Brazil had to deal with in various territories. He was so popular that these color lines had to be broken. Not an easy life for him. He handled it with the same dignity Jackie Robinson handled being the first black MLB player. Bobo paved the way for so many people that probably don’t even know his name because wrestling sucks at honoring its history.

Honorable Mention: Bruiser Brody & Lou Thesz

Apparently Brody & Thesz were both born in Michigan. Wrestling fans would not know that. Not even old school wrestling fans. Neither Brody nor Thez were strong presences in Michigan for most of their careers. How am I supposed to rate either of them over Bobo Brazil, a true Michigan hero? Not gonna happen. Lou was a St. Louis boy & Brody was from New Mexico as far as most people knew.

Honorable Mention: Dan Severn

The Beast was probably the toughest person to ever come out of Michigan. He had more credentials than any person had at that point. Severn had a long reign as NWA World Champion to his name. The only problem was that Dan had zero charisma in spite of his wonderful mustache.

Honorable Mention: Sabu

Our favorite homicidal, genocidal, suicidal maniac was apparently born on Staten Island, New York. No wonder Sabu & Paul E. had such a connection. As much as I love Sabu and would love to include him on any list because he was one of my favorites back in the day, I think his lead-in here to the #1 is the best possible result.

1. The Sheik

Could there be any other man on top of this list? Of course, that was one of the main problems of the Detroit/Big Time Wrestling territory, the fact that The Noble Sheik never built anybody to be bigger than him. It was a tough thing to do! To be bigger than a guy that could throw fire, bleed buckets and have managers constantly assisting him…a tough thing to find.

We talk about how Sheik killed this territory, but who else could have built Detroit & Toronto to such a height? Sheik was by far the top heel in his day. Magazines loved showing bloody pictures of the Sheik or whoever his victim was. Maybe it wasn’t sustainable, but to this day my dad, who during my lifetime only popped for wrestling back in the late 1990s when everything was extreme & had some attitude, has fond memories of The Sheik and all the blood & fire he brought. Many people his age that grew up in the Midwest feel the same way.

Thanks for reading! Hit me up at [email protected] or on the social media with thoughts, comments or suggestions. Until next time, true believers!