Kayfabe used to be one of the most important things in wrestling, with wrestlers refusing to break character no matter what the circumstance. Nowadays, kayfabe is pretty much dead, with wrestlers involved in reality shows that blur the lines between fact and fiction or the rise of social media allowing fans to see wrestlers real lives in more detail. This has made it nearly impossible for wrestling to be the way it once was. This is no longer a sense of secrecy or mystery as sworn enemies on screen can be seen having lunch together off camera all over their Instagram accounts.
However, some wrestlers, even in the modern era, stick to the old school idea of kayfabe and what it stands for, while others have blatantly gone completely against the grain, not caring in the slightest about how it impacts the industry. They are the new age that see wrestling as a job and can turn it off when they leave the ring to pursue their lives the way they want.
This list will look into eight wrestlers who would never break kayfabe, even in some of the most extreme moments, and seven who could care less about it and are happy to pull back the curtain, allowing the fans to take a look as they please.
15. Never Break Kayfabe: Cody Rhodes
Coming from an old school family with Dusty Rhodes (someone else who always protected kayfabe) as his father, perhaps Cody learned early on about the importance of keeping his character well respected, something that Goldust has also done well throughout the years. Cody is currently blossoming as one of the independent scenes biggest stars. On Ring Of Honor, he acts like he is the biggest deal in wrestling, something he carries with him wherever he goes. Try finding him without the official Ring of Honor around his finger or not dressed in the sharpest of suits, the man just oozes class that backs his character up. Even when he was Stardust, Cody made sure that the gimmick was taken seriously, showing up to interviews dressed as the character and answered in ways that only Stardust would, refusing to acknowledge that Cody even existed. That is dedication to your craft.
14. Never Break Kayfabe: Rey Mysterio
Wrestling heritage in Mexico is very different to that of America, with the luchador style being taken incredibly seriously with a wrestlers mask in particular being sacred. This is something that the master of the 619 has taken with him throughout his career, no matter where he wrestles. Mysterio has always worked with the mask, even during his WWE run, despite the fact he had countless matches with the mask on the line. Even on social media, Mysterio will don the mask for photos or cover his face if he doesn’t have it with him, showing tremendous dedication to protecting the heritage of his character and not wanting to break kayfabe. There are photos of him without the mask, but in the age of social media that is inevitable. It is a decision that has worked well for him as WWE has constantly tried to replace or recreate Mysterio with other masked wrestlers, yet it has never quite worked out, largely because of Mysterio’s hard work with kayfabe protecting his gimmick.
13. Could Care Less: Roman Reigns
Unlike Cody, Roman Reigns hasn’t quite taken the same approach to his character, which could be a reason (one of many at this point) as to why the vast majority of hardcore fans don’t like him. Reigns has broken kayfabe several times and been caught doing so in the process. When wrestling Kevin Owens, it is expected that he will make wise remarks. During one particular match, Reigns couldn’t hold it together, bursting out laughing in the ring despite the fact he was supposed to be in a submission move. The second major incident came on a WWE tour of Europe during Roman and Braun Strowman’s epic feud. The two men had taken the fight to each other, with Roman attempting to seriously harm Braun at one point, yet they were then snapped in Rome together as friends, with Titus O’Neil (very stupidly) deciding to post it on Instagram for the world to see.
12. Could Care Less: New Day
The popular trio simply loves breaking that fourth wall. So much so that it has actually become part of their character. In a weird way, they are protecting their own kayfabe by destroying WWE’s with their constant ‘in-jokes’ and winks to the hardcore wrestling fans.
However, they are also pointing things out that don’t need to be alluded to, damaging the business in the eyes of many old-school fans. During one promo, Kofi Kingston claimed that it was ‘him’ talking and not the ‘character’, yet aren’t they supposed to be the same thing on television? Big E has also been a culprit of this, telling fans that certain lines were written for him. Of course, Xavier Woods is perhaps the biggest offender with his Up Up Down Down video game channel on YouTube, which often pits heels and babyfaces together, showing just how well the locker room gets along, at least when there is a video game to be played.
11. Never Break Kayfabe: Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy’s ‘broken’ persona is one of the most ridiculous things in modern day wrestling, but it is proof that any gimmick can work if the person behind the character is fully committed. In the case of Broken Matt Hardy, the wrestling veteran was 100% dedicated to the character and that is the reason why it worked so well. Not only did it take over his social media, but Hardy would conduct interviews in his broken gimmick. He did a full episode on Talk is Jericho as Broken Matt Hardy. This shouldn’t have surprised fans though, as Hardy has always had his finger on the pulse when it comes to kayfabe. His feud with Edge over Lita was arguably the biggest high point of Matt’s solo career and was another example of him not breaking kayfabe, but taking all aspects of his life into his character work, something he is majorly underrated for.
10. Could Care Less: Rusev & Lana
Remember when this pair was the most dominant duo in WWE? Well, one kayfabe breaking moment was proved to be enough to derail their momentum and they haven’t recovered since. Entering a feud with Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae, where Lana was supposed to be involved in a relationship with Ziggler, the pair decided that would be the perfect time to share the news that they were engaged in real life, completely killing the storyline there and then.
Rusev still continues to post seemingly random comments, often leading to speculation about his departure from the company with him claiming to take time away, yet on SmackDown Live he is celebrating Rusev Day and trying to return to his once dominant self.
9. Never Break Kayfabe: JBL
For the majority of the people who never break kayfabe, it tends to be a positive element of their personal lives in the eyes of most fans. However for JBL, that might not be the case. His character, a confident, selfish, bully, who was proud of his wealth would command over the SmackDown roster, both in and out of the ring.
The countless stories of Bradshaw’s bullying are well known at this point and sadly are not a one-off occurrence. It appears that he took his on-screen character a little too seriously and allowed himself to become blind to his actions. Despite that, the fact JBL would appear on the news in conversations about Wall Street and money made his character that much more legitimate and allowed him to become one of the best heels in WWE history, regardless of his actions to some of his peers.
8. Could Care Less: Young Bucks
Everything about the Young Bucks totally shatters kayfabe, from their move-set to the way they sell merchandise openly mocking wrestling to their YouTube channel, these brothers have made a living out of giving kayfabe a giant superkick. This is one example where most fans don’t argue or complain about it either because the way Young Bucks are doing it is totally fresh and unique and is certainly working for them.
However, it can’t be denied that it is tearing kayfabe apart, naming moves after Dave Meltzer, and even ‘killing’ Adam Cole’s character before he moved to NXT. The pair are constantly trying to find new ways to make a name for themselves and if it’s at the expense of kayfabe then it doesn’t matter to them.
7. Could Care Less: The Bella Twins
While there are many women on the cast of Total Divas, Nikki and Brie Bella are the stars of the show, resulting in a spin-off solely about their own family (Total Bellas) being created. These shows have exposed the business and those that work in it to a degree that most never expected to happen. With it being a reality show, all talent involved use their real names, instantly killing their characters integrity and faces and heels openly act as friends, no matter what the story going on in the ring is.
Of course, there are positives to this show and in this day and age it can’t be a major surprise that it exists. The decision is ultimately down to the WWE higher ups, not the talent involved. But the Bella’s have since gone on to create their own YouTube channel, showing that they have no issue in destroying what little is actually left of kayfabe.
6. Never Break Kayfabe: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens has become one of WWE’s top heels ever since he debuted in NXT and there is a clear reason for that, the dedication to his character and not breaking kayfabe. Whether he is at ringside face to face with a fan or he is dealing with an internet troll, KO is always equipped with a pun to silence his haters. It doesn’t matter if they are a dedicated, hardcore wrestling fan, a fellow wrestler, or even a child, Owens will stick to his character and be as brutal as he sees fit.
Fans might point to the fact Owens talks about his family, posting images of himself in Disney or inside a zoo, but he has made It crystal clear during his WWE run that he is doing everything he does for his family and therefore these posts only strengthen his character further.
5. Never Break Kayfabe: Ric Flair
The Nature Boy lived out his character in real life better than any other wrestler in history. Wheeling and dealing, jet flying, living the high life, Ric Flair truly took his character to heart. Whether it was the women, the money, or simply his iconic status, wherever he walked (or strutted), Flair did it in style.
There is a reason people are currently so interested in Conor McGregor, because the way he is in a press conference is really him, an idea he took from Flair. Even recently, shortly after surviving a near-death experience, what was Flair doing? He wasn’t letting the illness get him down. He was using it to sell a brand-new t-shirt, wooing in the hospital and quickly getting himself back to his usual self.
4. Could Care Less: The Kliq
Arguably the moment that started the gradual death of kayfabe, TheKilq’s famous curtain call was a day that changed the industry in a big way, whether that was for a positive or a negative depends on how you look at it. Each member has been known to break kayfabe on several occasions in their solo careers, but this moment at Madison Square Gardens shocked the business to its core, both in the eyes of the fans and the talent.
Deciding to embrace in a hug at the end of their match, despite the fact they were locked in a feud and were supposed to dislike each other, the four men decided to pull back the curtain and give the fans a peek at the reality of wrestling and the fact heels and babyfaces actually got along, and wrestling hasn’t looked back since.
3. Never Break Kayfabe: Mr. Wrestling
There is a reason a lot of old school wrestlers complain about the fact kayfabe is a dying art and the story of Mr.Wrestling not breaking kayfabe is perhaps the greatest of all time. Mr. Wrestling was, unfortunately, part of a plane crash in 1975, on a plane that was full of NWA’s top heels.
Mr. Wrestling happened to be the only babyface on the plane and as Ric Flair talks about in his book, To Be The Man, the masked wrestler didn’t reveal his full identity to the medical personnel who helped them. Instead, he claimed he was a promoter, in order to make sure that fans didn’t find out he was onboard the plane, keeping kayfabe very much alive. Despite the fact he had just survived a plane crash, a near-death experience, the first thing he thought about was the integrity of his character. This is something that you would never see today.
2. Could Care Less: Daniel Puder
You can certainly be forgiven if you have never actually heard of Daniel Puder, especially if you are a younger viewer, but one of the major reasons for that is his complete disregard for kayfabe. Puder was part of the 2004 Tough Enough series and during one challenge the contestants were challenged in the ring by Olympic Gold medalist Kurt Angle. As part of the storyline, Puder was the man to step up and instead of taking the comfortable defeat that was scripted, for obvious reasons, he decided to enter a shoot match and locked an arm submission on the WWE Hall of Famer. After struggling to escape the hold, Angle rushed a quick victory and even though Puder actually won the competition, his WWE career never amounted to anything.
1. Never Break Kayfabe: The Undertaker
There is a reason why The Undertaker is the most respected man in wrestling, both by his peers, the fans, and his boss. The gimmick itself could easily have been a complete disaster and the reason that it worked was Undertaker’s sheer dedication to his own privacy, not allowing the character to be exposed.
In this age of social media, you would be hard-pressed to see a wrestler, not on Twitter, yet search for Mark Calloway and you will come up emptyhanded. Apart from the occasional Instagram photo by his wife, Michelle McCool (which has only been in his later years), there is very little of him on the internet. Even finding interviews of him out of character is a very rare thing.
The Undertaker persona was just built up so well and with his old school attitude and that has gained him the ultimate respect as the true locker room leader. In this modern era, fans will likely never see someone with a character this mystic protect kayfabe to the level of The Undertaker.
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