85. DEAN MALENKO
Real Name – Dean Simon
Aliases – The Iceman; The Man of 1,000 Holds; The Shooter
Debuted – 1979
Titles Held – WCW United States; WCW World Tag Team; WWF Light Heavyweight; ECW Tag Team; ECW TV; WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team; ICWA Junior Heavyweight
Other Accomplishments – credited with invention of Crippler Crossface, Jackhammer and 3-D moves; Simon Dean name and gimmick based on Malenko; came #1 in the PWI 500 in 1997
Dean Malenko, for his low placement on this list, very well might be the best pure wrestler out of the entire 100. Four inches shorter than me at 5’6″, weighing in at 206 pounds, Dean Malenko overcame his size issues by being one of the three most technically proficient wrestlers in the world. With his “1,000 Holds”, especially the Texas Cloverleaf, Malenko would generally have the match of the night with a wrestler in his weight class and could hang with those far bigger than him without looking out of place.
After a decade of wrestling with his brother Joe in Japan, he rose to prominence on a national level first in ECW forming the first Triple Threat with Chris Benoit and Shane Douglas. After winning the tag titles with Chris defeating the Tazmaniac and Sabu, Malenko went on to have a series of classic matches with his Eddie Guerrero over the TV title. His friendship with these two men would in a way define his career, as he traveled with them practically at the same time to all three major wrestling organizations in the United States. In all three his best matches came either against these men or teaming with these men.
He debuted on WCW PPV teaming with Christ Benoit in 1995 at Halloween Havoc against Steven Regal and Bobby Eaton. He won his first Cruiserweight title in May of 1996 defeating Sinijiro Otani. He begun a feud with Rey Mysterio Jr. resulting in some amazing matches. Before dropping the title to Rey, Dean had an amazing match with Chris Benoit at WCW’s Hog Wild PPV at Sturgis in front of possibly the worst wrestling crowd ever. The match was a technical masterpiece going into double overtime, the crowd booing with each overtime announced.
Malenko had amazing matches over the next year with Rey Mysterio, Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero, Syxx and Jeff Jarrett among others. I’m not going to claim that his feuds were legendary in any sense, it can be difficult to remember how Jeff Jarrett turned on him during an elimination tag match versus Steve McMicheal and Chris Benoit, but his matches more than made up for the sometimes poor, sometimes random booking.
The angle Malenko will probably be best remembered for (by me anyway) is his feud with Chris Jericho where Jericho declared himself “The Man of 1,004 Holds”, most of them the armbar. In my opinion this would be the peak in the careers of Chris Jericho and Dean Malenko. While Jericho would go on to higher profile feuds and world title contention, he would never be as entertaining as when he was ripping on Malenko. Malenko was a part of Ric Flair’s legendary 4 Horsemen and Shane Douglas’ quickly forgotten The Revolution. When Kevin Sullivan was put in charge of the booking Malenko, Benoit and Guerrero all jumped to WWE with their friend Perry Saturn and his mop, Moppy the mop.
Dean Malenko had some fun matches in the WWE, most notably the 5 man tag match with the Radicalz and DX versus Too Cool, The Rock and Mick Foley. I remember his interactions with Rikishi being hilarious. He won the WWE’s Light Heavyweight title a few times but his big feud was with the Hardy Boyz as he fell in love with Lita. He was portraying the fictional character “Double Ho Seven” at the time. The feud ended with him being pinned by Lita. Retirement was right around the corner.
Dean Malenko is a backstage agent for the WWE today. Despite the loss of his two best friends in the business Malenko is still teaching and planning out matches as only one of the greatest wrestling minds in the business can. At the age of 47 does he have a few matches left in him? I doubt it.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.