Pro wrestling has been a part of pop culture since the early 20th century. Long before the first Hulkamaniacs said their prayers and took their vitamins, kids like Robert Zimmerman (Bob Dylan) and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) mimicked the swagger of Gorgeous George. Others saw pro wrestling as part of a broader patchwork of American entertainment. That's why The Three Stooges made Curly a pro wrestler in their 1935 short "Restless Knights," and that's why Herman Munster becomes The Masked Marvel, a giant, yet friendly heel in the "Herman the Great" episode of The Munsters. Even during the age when journalist Westbrook Pegler asked "Are Wrestlers People?" audiences lovingly embraced pro wrestling as part of their weekly routines.
This history aside, pro wrestling companies have always had an inferiority complex about their own product's ability to fit within broader popular culture. As such, many promoters have lifted plots and characters directly from Hollywood, TV, and comic books in order to not only appeal to wider audiences, but to also highlight the fact that their industry is distantly related to the more "respectable" arts. On a less theoretical level, gimmicks borrowed from pop culture are easy to produce and have a built-in popularity. Some wrestlers have made the gimmicks their own, thus obscuring any non-wrestling origins. Others are blatant ripoffs, but both showcase why pro wrestling is so great.
15 Nightmare Freddy
The Memphis territory has always been a land of comic book characters and larger-than-life heels. Jerry "The King" Lawler, the undisputed ruler of Memphis wrestling, is a noted fan of both the funny books and horror movies. It should be no surprise then that while working in Memphis, wrestler Doug Gilbert donned a cheap Halloween mask and started wrestling in a stripped sweater. Although called Nightmare Freddy, Gilbert's character was clearly a rip-off of Robert Englund's portrayal of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Gilbert even came to the ring sporting Krueger's trademark brown felt hat and razor-fingered gloves.
During his time with the Continental Wrestling Association, Gilbert, as Nightmare Freddy, portrayed a babyface who usually got big pops whenever he wrestled. Also, just in case anyone in the audience didn't get the clear connection to Wes Craven's fictional dream killer, Nightmare Freddy's theme music, "Do the Freddy," came directly from a 1987 novelty record featuring Englund and the Elm Street Group.
After his brief run in Memphis, Gilbert took the Nightmare Freddy gimmick to Japan. In both the IWA and W*ING organizations, Nightmare Freddy participated in hardcore matches with the likes of Jason the Terrible (Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th) and Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
14 Lord Humongous
Once again we go to Memphis. In the CWA, wrestler Mike Stark donned a hockey mask and started wearing lots of black leather. Alongside Jimmy Hart, Stark underwent a radical transformation in order to become Lord Humongous, the Warrior of the Wasteland. As Lord Humongous, Stark feuded with Lawler, a chubby babyface who had a thing for battling outlandish villains like the self-appointed Ayatollah of Rock n' Rolla (sorry Chris Jericho, but Lord Humongous was first). After his storyline with Lawler, Stark transitioned to feuding with Sid Vicious, who, coincidentally, would later portray Lord Humongous in Memphis and elsewhere in the South.
Still a staple of independent wrestling in the South, the character Lord Humongous comes from the 1981 film Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. As you can probably guess already, other pro wrestlers have taken inspiration from this particular movie.
13 The Road Warriors
When they first debuted in Georgia Championship Wrestling, The Road Warriors dressed like Rob Halford, the leader singer of the British heavy metal band Judas Priest. When they ditched the leather daddy look, Hawk and Animal began wearing garish face paint, black tights, and spikes. This look was much more in keeping with the duo's namesake--the aforementioned film set in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Indeed, Hawk and Animal look like any one of Lord Humongous's goons in Mad Max 2, although few of those desert pirates were as yoked as Hawk and Animal.
Besides Mad Max 2, The Road Warriors also borrowed their stable name, The Legion of Doom, from the fraternity of super villains in the Super Friends cartoon. The crowds in Georgia, the Mid-Atlantic, and Minneapolis probably knew all of this, and they probably surmised the fact that The Road Warriors were designed to be heels, but they didn't care. It's called a "Road Warriors pop" for a reason.
12 The Blade Runners
For a brief moment between 1985 and 1986, two of pro wrestling's biggest stars were part of a mildly successful tag team whose gimmick was pinched from a certain 1982 sci-fi film. Before they became The Ultimate Warrior and Sting, Jim Hellwig and Steve Borden were known as Rock and Sting, aka The Blade Runners. Inspired by the film Blade Runner, The Blade Runners tapped into punk rock, New Wave, and the burgeoning Goth subculture to create a futuristic look that included black eye paint, black mouthguards, and plain black tights. Also, at a time when Hulk Hogan was inspiring other pro wrestlers to get back into weight room, The Blade Runners had the biggest pythons of them all.
In truth, there's not much connecting The Blade Runners to Blade Runner. Unless it's supposed to be implied that Rock and Sting were bloodthirsty replicants, then their tag team name was just that--a name.
11 The Boogeyman
No, not that Boogeyman. Before Marty Wright started portraying an escaped lunatic who believed that he was the real Boogeyman of Ohio Valley Wrestling, and still more years before Wright's Boogeyman became the comedy-horror staple of mid-2000s WWE, "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert occasionally wrestled as The Boogeyman in Japan. Most of these matches were for the W*ING organization, a blood and guts company that liked to hire either outright monsters or human heels who were monstrous (see: Kevin Sullivan). The Boogeyman wrestled Doug Gilbert quite a lot, even including a few matches where Gilbert portrayed Nightmare Freddy.
Like his brother's famous gimmick, Eddie Gilbert's run as The Boogeyman owed a lot to a popular horror movie character. In this instance the character was Michael Myers, the central antagonist in the Halloween movie franchise. As would be expected, Gilbert, as The Boogeyman, wrestled in blue coveralls and that iconic William Shatner mask with no eyebrows.
Sting is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers ever. Whether in bright colors or simple black and white, Sting has been the consistent franchise player in the NWA, WCW, and TNA. That being said, many of Sting's gimmicks over the years have been unceremoniously stolen from the movies.
First and foremost, during the halcyon days of WCW in 1996 and 1997, Sting cultivated a new gimmick as a silent loner who liked to perch himself up in the rafters. This version of Sting, dressed all in black and wearing a simple black-and-white face paint combination that is similar to the corpse paint aesthetic of Norwegian black metal, has come be colloquially known as "Crow Sting." This is because the gimmick was obviously inspired by the comic book series The Crow, which in turn became a popular film in 1994.
Over a decade later, while wrestling in TNA, Sting tapped into another film character in order to reinvent himself. During his feud with Mr. Anderson (that would be Mr. Kennedy to WWE fans), Sting started acting a little funny. His make-up became more chaotic, while his usually stable voice became higher and more...crazy. This version of Sting, often called "Joker Sting," was more or less a carbon copy of Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight.
9 Mr. JL
Jerry Lynn was one of the workers who made the original ECW so special. A wrestler's wrestler who could execute entertaining matches without ever taking a single bump, Lynn is often seen as an under appreciated hero. When he wrestled for WCW between 1995 and 1997, Lynn was really under appreciated. He was also under a mask.
During his tenure in WCW, Lynn wrestled as Mr. JL, an incredibly lazy gimmick that tried to cash-in on the popularity of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. According to Lynn himself, Mr. JL's costume tried to reference not only the Power Rangers, but also other Japanese television programs like Mobile Suit Gundam. The whole gimmick stank to high heaven, and Lynn certainly did not benefit from it whatsoever. The only memorable thing about Lynn's run as Mr. JL is that he was Big Bubba's opponent during the match when commentator Dusty Rhodes freaked out about a bicycle.
8 The Juicer
Only serious wrestling fans know the name Art Barr. Before his untimely death in 1994 at the age of 28, Barr was an accomplished grappler who had enjoyed success in the Pacific Northwest and Mexico. While wrestling for EMLL and AAA, Barr not only wore a mask as the American Love Machine, but he also tagged with Eddie Guerrero as part of Los Gringos Locos. In AAA, Guerrero and Barr made themselves into one of Mexico's biggest attractions. More importantly, it was Barr who first developed the frog splash maneuver. Every time Guerrero performed the move after 1994, it was in tribute to Barr.
Prior to his breakout success, Barr was a journeyman wrestler who had famously avoided a sexual assault charge in Oregon in 1989. This would haunt Barr, for whenever Barr wrestled as The Juicer, many people in the crowd would chant "Rapist." That aside, The Juicer, who first appeared in WCW in 1990, was a version of Beetlejuice, a character that Barr had started portraying in Portland during the late 1980s. Barr's Beetlejuice was of course taken directly from Tim Burton's film Beetlejuice. Roddy Piper made this very clear when he christened Barr as Beetlejuice.
Mercifully, Arachnaman didn't last past 1991. An objectively awful gimmick, Arachnaman put Brad Armstrong, a member of the legendary Armstrong wrestling family, in a mask and full body suit. Worse still, Arachnaman was billed from some place called Web City. To drive the point home even further, Arachnaman hopped on top of the ropes and shot silly string from his hands.
While Arachnaman's colors were purple and yellow instead of red and blue, he was still a blatant copyright infringement. For some unknown reason, Jim Herd and the rest of WCW's top management thought that they could get away with remaking Spider-Man without Marvel's consent. Thankfully, the threat of a lawsuit got WCW to kill Arachnaman before he could do anymore damage.
6 Tiger Mask
Like Lord Humongous, many wrestlers have performed as Tiger Mask. Also, while Lord Humongous is a staple of Southern (especially Memphis) wrestling, Tiger Mask is synonymous with New Japan Pro Wrestling. The first Tiger Mask, portrayed by Satoru Sayama, had classic contests against men like the Dynamite Kid, Bret Hart, and Mark Rocco, alias the Black Tiger. As Tiger Mask, Sayama did much to revolutionize Light Heavyweight wrestling. This revolution is still quite evident in the modern WWE Cruiserweight Division.
Well over a decade before NJPW decided to debut their own Tiger Mask, manga writer Ikki Kajiwara and artist Naoki Tsuji created a fictional heel wrestler named Tiger Mask. In the story, Naoto Date is the villainous Tiger Mask, an acrobatic wrestler who made a name for himself in America as a vicious rule breaker. Then, when Date returns to Japan, he becomes a face in order to help the kids at his old orphanage to become better people. In the manga series, real-life grapplers like Jack Brisco Karl Gotch, and "Baron" Mikel Scicluna are mentioned. This would be the first time that a manga series would inspire a pro wrestler, but it was certainly not the last time.
5 Jushin Thunder Liger
Like Tiger Mask, Jushin Thunder Liger's gimmick comes from the world of manga. In the late 1980s, manga artist and writer Go Nagai created Jushin Liger, a superhero story that became a very popular anime series on television. Nagai's Liger is a holy warrior dedicated to killing off the Dragonite demons. While the pro wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger may look slightly demonic, he's clearly imitating the style and mannerisms of Nagai's hero.
To solidify these connections even further, Liger (the wrestler) frequently comes to the ring with the song "Ikari no Jushin" blaring all around him. This song was the opening theme for the show Jushin Liger at the time when Keiichi Yamada was becoming Jushin Thunder Liger. As hard as it may be to believe now, NJPW was once considered a slightly cartoonish company, especially when one considers what AJPW looked like in 1989-1990. Jushin Thunder Liger certainly contributed to this silliness, and yet he quickly established himself as one of the greatest in-ring performers ever.
4 Michael Wallstreet
Before 1990, Mike Rotunda was part of the awesome heel stable known as The Varsity Club. During that run, Rotunda tapped into his amateur wrestling background in order to play the classic jock archetype. Then, late in 1990, Rotunda claimed that he had legally changed his name to Michael Wallstreet thanks to a large inheritance. Wallstreet traded in Rotunda's wrestling singlet for a corporate suit and a boardroom. Also, along with his valet Alexandra York (played by Terri Runnels, better known as Marlena), Wallstreet began cutting promos about the importance of money and how he refused to give money to charities. In a sense, Wallstreet bragged about how "Greed is good."
Wallstreet is pretty much Gordon Gekko in wrestling boots. Just like the character protrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1987 film Wall Street, Rotunda's gimmick was every bit the coldhearted, conniving, and rapacious capitalist. For WCW's mostly blue collar fans, Wallstreet probably seemed like the embodiment of pure evil.
3 Bray Wyatt
Before Bray Wyatt, Dan Spivey portrayed Waylon Mercy. Spivey's soft-talking Southerner didn't make too much of a splash in 1995, but as it turns out, the Waylon Mercy character struck a chord with Windham Rotunda, aka Bray Wyatt.
Both characters have a single point of origin in Robert De Niro's portrayal of Max Cady in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. Unlike Robert Mitchum's original performance, De Niro made Cady into a native of the Louisiana bayous. Furthermore, De Niro's Cady is a sociopathic killer with a religious mania. Clearly, such character traits bled over into the creation of Bray Wyatt, a Southerner prone to cutting cryptic promos swimming with religious allegory. However, the Wyatt Family concept has no antecedent in Cape Fear. Indeed, the only other reference that the wrestling stable makes is Erick Rowan's sheep mask, which is similar to a mask worn by one of the hired killers in the 2011 slasher film You're Next.
Glacier got pushed to the moon by WCW in 1996, but the gimmick failed miserably. It was too corny for a WCW crowd then in the midst of the WCW versus nWo storyline. Even more importantly, for all of his sweet pyrotechnics and falling fake snow, Glacier underwhelmed in the ring.
With his quasi-karate kicks and tai chi-esque movements, the bookers designed Glacier as a master of the martial arts. The bookers also wanted people to think of Glacier as a Mortal Kombat character come to life. Glacier is really just a watered down version of Sub-Zero, arguably the most popular character in the history of the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Glacier was not alone during his brief run in WCW, either. Mortis (Chris Kanyon) and Wrath (Bryan Clark) were also part of WCW's lame attempt to siphon money off of the surging popularity of Mortal Kombat. It didn't work.
1 Razor Ramon
The "Bad Guy" has never fooled anyone over the age of ten. Although Scott Hall played an early version of Razor Ramon in WCW known as The Diamond Studd, it wasn't until he put on a fake Hispanic accent that Hall really became the character. Each one of Ramon's vignettes drove the plain fact home again and again--Razor Ramon equaled Tony Montana.
Although it doesn't exactly hold up today, the 1983 film Scarface (which was itself a remake of a 1932 film) has remained extremely popular among a wide array of viewers. Hall has confessed in numerous interviews that he is a Scarface "mark," and as such he decided to ape the mannerisms and even some of the verbiage of Al Pacino's character. Hall 's decision proved to be a brilliant one, as many today think of Ramon as only a wrestling gimmick and not as a Hollywood rip-off.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!