Welcome to the third installment of our recurring feature, where we will attempt to identify the very best professional wrestler ever to come out of every state in the union. (And the District of Columbia as well; why the hell not?) As you’ll soon see, some of these decisions will be clear no-brainers, while others will be much more difficult. By the time we get to the end of the road, you’ll be seeing just how difficult it is to declare one pro wrestler the ultimate representative for a given birth state.
There’s a lot of criteria, as you can imagine, that goes into determining what constitutes the “best” wrestler from each state. It’s about popularity, notoriety, the performer’s place in wrestling history, and of course, all of the intangibles. Ultimately, “best” is a subjective opinion in most cases, but we attempted to look at every wrestler’s career as a whole.
I’m still only on Florida. Every time I start work on one of these, I think I’m going to wake up and be done with this assignment and I will have skipped Florida. When I was home after my first installment of this series, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be 45 states more to go …
I’ve been dreading Florida, so I decided to get tough. With one very important exception, I drew a hard line and only included wrestlers actually born in Florida. Otherwise, it would have been nigh impossible to keep it to just one wrestler, and even then I had to do eight honorable mentions and limit this entire entry to just the state of Florida.
Let’s just get it over with. Everyone gets everything they want. I wanted to write this series for UPROXX, and for my sins they gave it to me.
40. FLORIDA – Roman Reigns
You know it. I know it. Accept it.
The Big Dog is going to rule this yard for the next decade and more. A three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman is already written in pen for WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship and it’s barely November. You also know he’s walking away with the strap. It’s why the Shield reunion is happening right now and we all know it. It’s to get us to like him again before he adds “Beast Slayer” to his resume and gets a new shirt at concessions.
Our Handsome Prince is the future and when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be in every WWE video package right next to Rock, Austin, HBK and all the others until the End of Days (Sorry, Barry Corbin. You are no Roman Reigns). The Network will have a retrospective of The Guy’s career every five years. He retired The Undertaker. He semi-retired John F’ing Cena. They are preparing us for this.
Personally, I welcome our new Samoan overlord. Eventually, he will be so integral to the business that he’s going to be able to say “no” to every sufferin’ succotash promo and every lame backstage segment. He’s going to be in some classic match/angle with someone we either want (Samoa Joe, Finn Bálor, AJ Styles) or in some classic match/angle with someone we really didn’t expect (Dolph Ziggler, Matt Hardy, Kenny Omega) and we’re all going to lose our minds, fall in love with him again, take our medicine and get well.
That’s what you do with medicine. You force it down people’s throats because it’s good for them, but it doesn’t taste very good. The Shield reunion is just the spoonful of sugar. Enjoy this Triple Threat match between the boys from so long ago, it was still FCW and not NXT. You’re going to be seeing that entrance in video packages 30 years from now and you damn well know it.
We’ve talked about the future of wrestling in Roman Reigns. These are the folks from Florida who helped build that future.
Not William Regal. Not Lord Steven Regal. Steve Regal.
Steve Regal would be on this list for no other reason than teaming up with Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin, beating the Road Warriors for the AWA Tag Team Championship with interference from The Freebirds and then dropping the titles to Curt Hennig and Scott Hall in the same calendar year. Everyone in that last sentence is in the WWE Hall of Fame except for Steve Regal. That’s a crazy amount of rub.
That’s Mean Gene Okerlund up there introducing Regal as the former World Heavyweight Champion from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and discussing his Mork From Ork suspenders. Homeboy is rocking a half Ric Flair/half Gallagher gimmick and pulling it off. I need a 30 for 30 documentary just on these two men’s sartorial choices.
A wrestler’s wrestler, “Mr. Electricity” was just born in the wrong time as his career was stalled by not being six foot five inches and filled with needle holes. He wrestled for a decade on the indies and is the kind of guy that Jim Cornette would build a company around today if he had the chance.
When you are the first black man to win a singles title in the WWF, and you were part of the feud that led to the emergence of the Rock, you get a mention. Ahmed could have been one of the biggest stars in WWE history but he was like a candle made from a stick of dynamite: burns bright, burns real fast and leaves everyone with a lot of injuries.
On the other hand, Buzz Sawyer was just an asshole and if there is a future series called “Midcard Backstage Assholes”, Ol’ Bruce here would be No. 1 with a bullet. Bullying jobbers, showing up late/drunk, failing drug tests and ripping off a young Undertaker is a great way to not be remembered fondly.
Credit where credit is due though, he was a massively good heel (shocker), won a ton of gold and was in the first ever match to feature an enclosed cage which served as the inspiration for Hell in a Cell.
On a list like this, when “Dirty” Dick Slater’s other nickname is “Mr. Florida,” he gets a mention. Slater was trained by Eddie Graham, Bill Watts, Jack Brisco and Kojima, which is a hell of an education.
Slater wrestled everywhere, won every piece of hardware in Championship Wrestling From Florida, was in the first Starrcade ever and got shot (accidentally) by Wahoo McDaniel, then showed up in the ring 3 weeks later. Oh, and Andre The Giant was there.
Hell, anyone that was tough enough and/or crazy enough for Buzz Sawyer to look up to deserves to be on this list.
Mr.Wonderful Paul Orndorff
Ah, finally, a little class and sophistication. If you need me to list off Mr. Wonderful’s accomplishments, you may be in the wrong place.
God, I wish that was two hours long. The hair. The swagger. The perfect theme song. The way Precious sprays the referee, indicating he smells bad. All of it.
I am an unabashed fan of Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin in every possible permutation, but nothing beats Face Turn Jimmy Garvin. The video below features all the hallmarks of what makes wrestling great and simultaneously one of the greatest fluid masters in the history of cinema, and I will fist fight anyone who says otherwise.
How great is that? How perfect is that storytelling? Oh, my god, what I wouldn’t do to have ten percent of that on Raw. Jimmy Garvin is a Hall of Famer in the WWE and in my heart forever.
If you grew up in the South in the ’80s and didn’t have a Rock ‘n’ Roll Express T-shirt, you’re a goddamn liar and you know it.
Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson vs. The Midnight Express WAS tag team wrestling. Every single tag match you have ever seen since features at least one thing those two teams either invented or perfected. Robert Gibson is literally the hot tag in human form.
The video below shows just how over they were and features one of the few times that Robert selling allowed Ricky to get the pin.
The exception to the rule, Eddie Graham was born in Chattanooga, TN but was the promoter for Championship Wrestling from Florida in the 1970s, as well as becoming NWA President in 1976.
Eddie Graham had a hand in promoting a litany of some of the greatest stars to ever lace them up: Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Magnum TA, Superstar Billy Graham, Ron Bass, Ray Stevens, Kevin Sullivan, the list goes on and on. Eddie Graham is as synonymous with Florida wrestling as anyone can be. Graham tragically took his own life in 1985 after a series of personal and professional setbacks, but here is a video of him doing what’s best for business and getting involved on camera, selling for the heel and trying to get one of the Killer Bees over.
RIP, Eddie Graham. You helped make Florida one of the greatest states in professional wrestling history.