Pro wrestlers are an odd bunch. Unlike performers in other industries, wrestlers are far more likely to adopt the personalities and behaviours of the characters they play. Sometimes this is because their character is loosely based on their own personality. Other times the performers simply lose themselves in the character even when the cameras aren't rolling. It would be kind of fun to be an over-the-top wrestling character, so it's hard to blame them in that regard.
Wrestlers will often refer to each other by their in-ring names even when they are backstage. It is doubtful the same type of behaviour occurs on movie sets, or backstage on broadway. But wrestling blurs the lines between fiction and reality so often that many popular stars have grown unable to tell the difference. As a result, they morph into a version of their character, and sometimes their character morphs into a version of them.
Then there are the more grounded performers who are able to keep everything in perspective. No matter how outlandish their on-screen persona becomes, these performers are able to remember that it is all a show.
Here are 8 wrestlers who lived their gimmick, and 7 who are nothing like it in real life.
15 Lived the Gimmick: Ric Flair
Ric Flair's on-screen character once famously said he has "spent more money on spilt liquor in bars from one side of this world to the other" than some people make it a year. According to the Ric himself, his real story was not far from what he portrayed on television.
Arguably the greatest professional wrestler of all time, Flair has said that during the prime of his career he spent every dollar he made on living the "Ric Flair lifestyle". He has also said he wouldn't trade those times for anything. He really was the rolex-wearing, diamond ring wearing, kiss stealing, wheelin' dealin', limousine ridin', jet flying, son of a gun!
The now defunct website, Grantland, once published an article referring to Ric Flair as "The Wrestler in real life", referring to the Mickey Rourke movie about a washed up and broke pro-wrestler. And while Flair's lavish lifestyle prevented him from saving for a comfortable retirement, he still makes good money on appearances to this day. For a guy with several ex-wives, he has never appeared to be hard on his luck financially. Flair may have lived the gimmick, but evidently he was always able to afford it.
14 Nothing Like It: Mick Foley
The Mick Foley you see on television today is most likely pretty close to the real guy. When Foley was an active wrestler, however, it was a different story.
Before his initial retirement in early 1999, Foley had only ever wrestled one match under the name "Mick Foley". He had wrestled as Jack Foley, Cactus Jack, Cactus Jack Manson, Mankind, and Dude Love, but only by his real name once. That time was a match against Terry Funk in 1998 on Monday Night Raw.
Every incarnation of Mick Foley before then was completely unlike the real guy. Cactus Jack was a sadistic madman, but the real Foley is a kind and lovable guy. Dude Love is an ego-maniac who has enjoys the company of many women, but the real Foley is a family man with 4 kids. And Mankind was a dark and depraved individual, whereas the real guy spends his time on charitable projects and making reality TV shows with his kids. When he was on-screen though, Foley was so good that he made you believe he really was those characters.
13 Lived the Gimmick: The Ultimate Warrior
The life and career of James Hellwig, aka The Ultimate Warrior, was mind-blowing on a few levels. In the 1980s his character got over with fans in a way that only one other wrestler, Hulk Hogan, had ever done in Vince Jr.s WWE. Fans were drawn to Warrior's high intensity and larger than life persona. While the real guy didn't wear face paint, he is said to have been just as intense.
Hellwig would legally change his name to "Warrior" after leaving the WWE, in an effort to protect his legal ability to market himself as his character. Even though he was no longer an active wrestler, Warrior's life outside of wrestling also involved many, long, rambling promos. Inexplicably, Warrior somehow found himself giving talks on University campuses as part of a college lecture series in 2006. Not much information is available regarding the topics his lectures were to cover, but reports are they involved lots of intense, but ultimately nonsensical rambling - just like his promos! Warrior also landed in trouble with many activist groups at the time for reportedly making homophobic and racist comments.
12 Nothing Like It: Sting
Steve Borden is anything but the comic book character he played on television for so many years.
He is actively involved in religion, has 3 children and was recently married for a second time.
11 Lived the Gimmick: Scott Hall
It is not altogether clear if Scott Hall morphed into his wrestling persona, or if his wrestling persona morphed into the real Scott Hall. Both characters have gone through some tremendous challenges throughout their life however.
Unfortunately WCW blurred the line between fiction and reality rather harshly in Scott's case. After Hall had already spent time away from the ring to deal with drug and alcohol problems, WCW creative began including his real life problems into his on-screen stories.
Adopting the nickname "Last Call" Scott Hall in 1998, he would often appear to be intoxicated during his matches. During one match he would even take sips from a drink while holding his opponent in an abdominal stretch. During a later nWo reformation, Hall and Nash appeared drunk off cough syrup in the backstage area where they searched for Goldberg.
The real Scott Hall would have many more trips to rehab.
10 Nothing Like It: Kane
Glenn Jacobs was not badly burned as a child and left for dead by the Undertaker. Nor was he raised by Paul Bearer in secrecy. He is not the Undertaker's brother and he most likely would not set Jim Ross on fire unless severely provoked.
He's also not a former dentist for that matter.
He and his wife even own an Allstate branch. That's right, when Kane isn't setting fires, he is selling people insurance against them.
9 Lived the Gimmick Roddy Piper
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper was a Scottish bag-pipe player turned wrestler with a big mouth that often got him in trouble. Roderick Toombs, the guy who played Piper, was a Scottish-Canadian bag-pipe player turned wrestler with a big mouth that often got him in trouble.
Piper really was a bag-pipe player, which is how the gimmick all started. In the documentary "Born to Controversy: the Roddy Piper Story" he mentions he was a part of a Scottish bag-pipe troupe when he first began wrestling. When he started getting bookings, the band offered to play him down to the ring. Someone tacked the last name "Piper" on him and the gimmick was complete.
Just like what would often happen in WWE storylines, Piper's mouth would often get him in trouble off-screen. His 2003 return to WWE was ended after the company fired him for comments he made regarding the lifestyle of pro wrestlers in an HBO documentary.
8 Nothing Like It: Edge
Edge has always preferred that people call him Adam when the cameras aren't rolling. While this seems mighty reasonable of him, many wrestlers choose to be called and call others by their in-ring name, even off-screen.
Injuries would cut Edge's career short, and he ended up retiring at the age of 37. But when his life as Edge was over, he seemed to have no problems adjusting to only being Adam Copeland. Perhaps the transition was easier for him because he never forgot who he really was.
Outside of wrestling Copeland has kept busy with acting. He was on the show Haven for many years, and also has a role in the series The Flash. He can also be seen on the WWE Network on The Edge and Christian Show.
He recently married his longtime partner, Beth Phoenix.
7 Lived the Gimmick: Jake "The Snake" Roberts
The character of Jake "the Snake" Roberts was a dark, tortured and disturbed man who was perhaps too intelligent for his own good. Aurelian Smith Jr. (Jake's real name) was also a dark, tortured and intelligent man who is perhaps too intelligent for his own good.
Some of Jake Roberts' promos were absolute genius. They were completely unlike anything in wrestling at the time. While most wrestlers of that day were performing high energy promos in attempts to be the next Hulk Hogan or Ultimate Warrior, Jake gave soft-spoken but deeply disturbing interviews. Real interviews with the man during his darker times were often similar to his on-screen promos.
Recently a new and improved Roberts was featured in the documentary "Resurrection of Jake the Snake", which shows the DDP Yoga version of Jake. The new healthy Jake is different from the one featured in the 2005 documentary "Pick Your Poison" on Jake's life and struggles with his demons. That documentary showcases how similar Jake was to his on-screen character.
6 Nothing Like It: The Undertaker
It was Calaway himself who pushed for his biker gimmick in the early 2000s, feeling that the character was more true to life for him. Vince McMahon reportedly hated the gimmick change. Oddly enough, in storyline it would be Vince who would cause the demise of Biker-Taker and the resurrection of The Undertaker. At the 2003 Survivor Series, Biker-Taker lost a buried alive match to Vince. Taker wouldn't be seen on WWE programming again until the build up to WrestleMania XX, when he would adopt a hybrid biker/deadman version of his character.
5 Lived the Gimmick: Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels has played 3 different versions of himself during his career. All 3 versions also happened to synchronize with his own backstage reputation at the time.
In the 1980s Shawn Michaels and tag team partner Marty Jannetty, were named "the Rockers". They were a high-energy team that liked rock n roll and living fast. As luck may have it, that is exactly what the pair's reputation backstage was. They were fired from their first stint in WWE when Shawn reportedly smashed a bottle over his own head in a bar. Shawn would later say that he broke the glass, but not over his head.
In the 1990s, Shawn Michael's character was an arrogant, ego-driven degenerate who didn't care how many people he stepped over on his way to the top. His backstage reputation was that he was an arrogant, ego-driven degenerate who didn't care what wrestlers he had to bury on his way to the top.
When Shawn Michaels returned to the WWE in 2002, his character was of a man who had found religion and become humbled. He even tagged up with God to take on Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon on PPV once. In real life Shawn really had found religion and settled down.
4 Nothing Like It: Matt Hardy
But Matt is far from "Broken", as his character is. And while the character he plays is "exquisite", and speaks elegantly, Hardy himself is a grown-up backyard wrestler from North Carolina. This is probably the least "broken" Matt has ever been as well. He seems to have full creative control and gets to make hilarious movies from his house with his family and friends. Things seem to be going just fine for him.
3 Lived the Gimmick: Bret "Hitman" Hart
The biggest complaint regarding Bret Hart, is that he took the business too seriously. Considering the family he grew up in, and how Canada made him a national hero in the 90s, it is somewhat understandable that he has trouble telling truth from reality sometimes.
In a recent interview, Scott Hall recalled finding out that Bret kept replica title belts for each of his title reigns. Hall found that odd and asked Bret if "he knew they weren't real?".
Bret probably wouldn't have been as good if he didn't take wrestling as seriously as he did however. His in-ring work looked so crisp, but was also quite safe. Hart has often boasted about how he never injured an opponent, which is actually a far bigger accomplishment than any of those titles he won.
Complaining that Bret took the business too serious is sort of a harsh criticism. If any wrestler had grown up under the conditions Bret did, they likely would have taken the business just as seriously.
With that being said however, you never heard the same criticisms about Owen Hart.
2 Nothing Like It: Stephanie McMahon
Stephanie McMahon plays a female and younger version of her father on TV. In fact, she arguably plays the character better than Vince does. Aside from her first few appearances on WWE programming, she has predominantly been a heel as well. Her character is mean-spirited, vengeful, conniving and uncaring, but that is far from the real Stephanie McMahon.
In her various roles with the company, Stephanie has been the driving force behind many of WWE's charitable activities. Her work with Conor's Cure, the Susan G Komen Foundation, and Be A Star are all examples of what she does when cameras aren't rolling. She has also been an advocate for increasing the role women wrestlers play in WWE. Mick Foley even goes as far to say that Stephanie is a role model, and that is coming from a guy who is generally considered the nicest person in wrestling.
She may act a lot like her dad, but she isn't quite as ruthless as the character you see on TV.
1 Lived the Gimmick: CM Punk
CM Punk's character was a straight-edged wrestler who was into punk culture. Phil Brooks is a straight-edged wrestler who is into punk culture.
Now CM Punk is no longer a wrestler, but a rather inept mixed martial artist, one who arguably should not be fighting professionally. Punk jumped right into MMA and assumed he would be able to compete against the best. In the UFC, he insisted on being referred to as CM Punk (as opposed to Phil Brooks) and coming out to "Cult of Personality", his old WWE ring music.
There is a certain respect Punk's delusional belief in his ability garners. Getting inside the octagon is a brave thing to do no matter who you are. But Punk's insistence on being referred to by a fake wrestling name (that he received in a backyard wrestling federation) and coming out to the same ring music cements the idea that Punk really believes he is the character he performed as for so many years.
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