In today’s world of professional wrestling, it isn’t uncommon to see your favorite WWE Superstars and Divas act like, well, themselves. The WWE Network has shows such as “Swerved” and “Unfiltered” that not only show different wrestlers using their real life personalities, but also gives fans full access of what many things look like backstage.
However, this athletic, fun, ridiculous and amazing business called wrestling, er, sports entertainment, wasn’t always this way.
Many years ago, pro wrestling was a proud industry; sure, the outcomes were predetermined and the matches themselves were choreographed, but no one in the business would tell you that. Quite simply, 'kayfabe' as smart fans know it, wasn’t only expected, it was something you had to do.
Once upon a time, face and heel wrestlers weren’t allowed to ride in the same cars together from town to town, stay in the same hotels or even eat in the same restaurant. Most importantly, here’s a note to all interviewers should’ve had back then; never ask a wrestler if wrestling is real (we’ll get to that a bit later).
Even when director Barry W. Blaustein approached WWE owner Vince McMahon and others about filming the lives of wrestlers in Beyond the Mat, the idea was originally shot down. Why? Because many current talents and former wrestlers that were employees at the time thought it was wrong to show not only the backstage area, but also wrestlers as regular people. However, the film crew eventually gave moviegoers a behind the scenes look at the world of wrestling – something that was taboo in 1999, yet would be normal in 2015.
With the Reality Era in full effect, it makes viewers appreciate moments on this list even more. Here are 15 times wrestlers refused to break kayfabe to the general public.
15 The Curious Case of Armand Hussian
We’ll start this list off with someone most wrestling fans probably have never heard of; Armand Hussian.
Hussian, who was active as both a face and heel wrestler and manager, portrayed a man of Muslim faith who graduated from Oxford University in Britain. Hussian was known to speak in a British accent, whether it was in front of the live crowd, in the locker room among his co-workers or during his time off.
It is even speculated that, while a car accident ended his career, Hussein told fellow wrestlers that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper injured him inside of the ring.
14 A Blinded Sandman Wasn’t Really Blind
During the infamous days of Extreme Championship Wrestling, the Sandman was known as the Hardcore Icon, as he chugged beers, smoked cigarettes and used an array of weapons to the delight of fans. While he didn’t look or act like the prototypical wrestler, the Sandman made sure to never break kayfabe.
During a 1994 “I Quit” match between the Sandman and Tommy Dreamer, a lit cigarette hit the Sandman’s eye, making him blind. With the ECW based out of Philadelphia and the Sandman living in the area, he decided to not leave the house during the entire month he was out, while having his wife answer the door at all times.
When Sandman came out to give his retirement speech, he ripped off his bandages and beat down Tommy Dreamer – to this excitement and shock of the live crowd.
13 The Ultimate Warrior, on More Than One Occasion
Whether it was his multi-colored face paint or insane promos that hardly made sense, the Ultimate Warrior was the first wrestler to rival Hulk Hogan’s fan reactions and popularity. While the Ultimate Warrior came across on WWE television as crazy, he also did so on other platforms.
Take his appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show for instance. One will never know why the producers chose Warrior of all people, but he made his presence known. Throughout the interview, he ran through the crowd as if he was entering the ring, breathed ridiculously heavy and rambled about God knows what to a confused, yet intrigued Hall.
Besides being in true character form on a talk show, Warrior went the distance in living his character… He legally changed his name to Warrior. Enough said.
12 The Wild Samoans Get Arrested
In Hogan’s autobiography, he detailed a story where a state trooper in New Jersey stopped him and the Wild Samoans. When Hogan reached in the glove compartment to pull out his license, a gun he purchased in Florida fell out. Because it is illegal to have an unregistered gun in New Jersey, all three men were subsequently put in handcuffs. Hogan claimed he pleaded with the Wild Samoans to tell the cop he wasn’t from the area and didn’t know the laws. They refused. Why, you ask?
You see, back in their day, the Wild Samoans never spoke. Besides the occasional grunting, the tag team went about their business tearing their opponents apart, while Captain Lou Albano did all of their talking. Instead of simply telling the cops that Hogan didn’t know the laws of the state, they decided to stay in character and be placed into custody – for something they weren’t even a part of.
11 Dusty Rhodes With His Kids
To the displeasure of many, Dusty Rhodes turned his back on his deep-rooted WCW allies, joining forces with the nWo. One person who was more pissed than anyone else? His son, Cody Rhodes.
In the nWo: The Revolution documentary, the younger Rhodes told a story about watching his father beat down Rey Mysterio, one of his favorite wrestlers. You would think when Dusty saw his upset son asking him why he hurt Mysterio, he would say because it’s a part of the storyline. Instead, Dusty told Cody that it was what he had to do as a part of the nWo. However, Dusty was forced by his wife to tell his son the truth.
You know it’s real when your wife needs to tell you to break character…at home…for his son.
10 The Family Tradition Lives On
As said in the last slide, Cody Rhodes was victim to his father never breaking kayfabe. However, in 2015, it was his turn to do so during podcast interviews during WrestleMania 31 weekend.
While other wrestlers showed up to the early morning interviews in relaxed clothes and WrestleMania t-shirts, it was Rhodes, while portraying his Stardust gimmick, dressed in full face paint and trademark body suit.
During the Sam Roberts Show interview, Stardust strayed away from anything and everything asked of him, as he instead ranted and rambled about anything that had nothing to do with the questions asked.
Like father like son.
9 Freddie Blassie: A True Professional
Whether it was during his career as a wrestler, or his later job as a manager, “Classy” Freddie Blassie was always seen as one of the most vicious, loathed and greatest heels of all time. This was evident in many ways. While in the wrestling business, Blassie was known to cause several riots, while being stabbed multiple times, had acid thrown at his face and even being nearly blinded in a fan incident.
Even during his time on talk shows, Blassie came off as a grumpy old man, while making fun at both the audience and the hosts. Sure, Blassie could’ve simply told the fans that was he was doing was all an act for the show, but no; Blassie was a true professional.
8 A Book of Lies by Bruno Sammartino
When you think of Bruno Sammartino, it could be argued that he is the most popular, most decorated and biggest draw in the history of professional wrestling. And just like every other wrestler in his time, he made sure that everyone knew wrestling was legitimate.
Look no further than an autobiography on his life. Throughout the book, he maintained the thought that no matches were predetermined, while also saying blading (the act of cutting yourself to bleed) was out of the realm of possibility because fans would see you cut yourself.
If Sammartino’s book came out in the '70s or '80s, it would have been a best seller. Unfortunately, it was published in the 1990s – a time when fans knew every ruse that the wrestling industry had to offer.
7 Wait, Nikita Koloff’s Real Name is Scott Simpson?
When Scott Simpson was chosen to be a big time heel, the character the company chose for him was that of a strong willed Russian named Nikita Koloff. While he wasn’t very experienced inside of the squared circle, he knew he had to make up for it in some way. That was when Simpson decided to take his gimmick head on and take lessons in speaking Russian.
During his time as a wrestler, he made sure to never utter words in English, instead having a translator with him at all times – just so fans believed he was actually from Russia. His character and language didn’t stop when he retired in 1992. Simpson supposedly spoke in Russian up to two years after retirement, while having his birthplace as Lithuania on his child’s birth certificate.
6 That's Mr. Animal Steele To You
If you see any old wrestling highlights, the overweight and hairy man that usually had turnbuckle stuffing all over his mouth and body was known as George “The Animal” Steele. However, when Steele wasn’t wrestling in New York, he had a separate life – his real life.
Back home in Michigan, Steele went by James Myers, while trading in his wrestling trunks for a whistle, as he was a physical education teacher. That’s right; a man that was on the Madison Square Garden marquee doubled as an educator. That would never fly today, as the Internet simply ruins everything. However, with wrestling territories being regional back in the day, Steele, or Myers, was able to live his double life for 20 years.
5 Good Morning Kuwait Incident
With the WWE in the country of Kuwait for a string of shows, both The Undertaker and Vader were asked to represent the country on a live show, Good Morning Kuwait. Unfortunately for the talk show host, the interview didn’t go as planned. Remember how I said interviewers should never ask if wrestling is real in the opening paragraph? Here’s example number one.
While the Undertaker, albeit annoyed, answered the question in a (somewhat) tasteful matter, Vader didn’t follow his lead. Instead, Vader claimed he was insulted by the question, en route to flipping a table and grabbing the host by his tie.
What was later found out was that everyone was in on the segment, except the host, as the producer wanted a real reaction from him. I guess the producer also forgot to notify police, as Vader ended up spending the weekend in a Kuwait jail.
4 Live and Die by the Mask
Maybe Hulk Hogan can be a comparison to American culture, but to be frank, there has never been a wrestler in the world that has been an icon to their country the way El Santo was to Mexico. In what started out as just a wrestling character, El Santo was so beloved that he had his own comic book series, movie franchise and many other avenues of fame. Mexican wrestlers are known to have masks – El Santo notwithstanding. Because he was so popular country wide, he made the decision to never been seen without his signature mask.
Whether it was inside of an arena, on the set of his movies or randomly walking down the street, El Santo would wear the mask. It is said that he would even go as far as having his own entrance in Mexican airports so no one could see him remove his mask in customs.
However, after retiring from wrestling and movies, El Santo appeared on a Mexican television show and, although briefly, removed his mask. El Santo then passed away just days later – and of course, was buried in his mask.
3 “Is That Fake?!”
Here is example number two of why interviewers shouldn’t ask wrestlers if wrestling is fake. In a 20/20 report on professional wrestling, the goal was to expose the business as fake. While many former wrestlers and promoters told interviewer John Stossel about the predetermined outcomes and the truth behind wrestlers bleeding, “Dr. D” David Schultz wasn’t going to give in.
When Stossel first asked if wrestling was a tough business, Schultz went into promo mode, saying, “only the tough survive.” When Schultz asked if that was his only question, Stossel replied, “I’ll ask the standard question,” which was if wrestling was fake.
Schultz connected with an open hand slap, asking, “is that fake?” Once Stossel got back on his feet, Schultz dropped him again with another slap.
2 He Was “Mr. Wrestling” for a Reason
Back in 1975, there was an incident deemed “The Plane Crash That Changed Wrestling.” While it was taboo to have faces and heels ride together even in those days, “Mr. Wrestling” Tim Woods, along with Ric Flair and promoter Davey Crockett, among others, were aboard a plane that ran out of fuel and crashed.
Crockett left with minor injuries, while Woods and Flair broke their backs, along with other wrestlers who were severely injured. However, by the time police arrived, the only thing in Woods’ mind was that he couldn’t get caught in the same plane as heel wrestlers.
What he did after was quite astonishing. Not only did he give authorities his real name and called himself a promoter, Woods knew that if he didn’t wrestle, fans would realize he was a part of the crash. Two weeks later – with a broken back, no less – he participated in a wrestling match.
All to protect the business.
1 Lawler versus Kaufman
There really cant be list of wrestlers refusing to break kayfabe without the Jerry Lawler/Andy Kaufman incident on the David Letterman show as number one. At one point, the comedian Kaufman liked the idea of wrestling being staged, so he decided to wrestle actresses portrayed as random women, beat them and boast in a wild manner after the fact.
To add heat to the character, wrestling writer Bill Apter called on Jerry Lawler, one of wrestling’s hottest acts at the time, and was able to set up a match between the two, in which Lawler hit his signature piledriver, injuring Kaufman’s neck. When both men appeared on Letterman’s show, Kaufman was insisting how he thought his whole match with Lawler was a joke, while Lawler stayed in character and said that their feud was very real.
After Kaufman annoyed Lawler during the interview, Lawler turned and slapped the comedian, stunning the live audience and Letterman himself. The incident was even featured in the 1999 film “Man on the Moon.”
For years, both men acted as if the whole incident was real. Of course, they were just keeping up with wrestling spirit by making sure kayfabe was alive and well.