Every parent dreams of the day their child wrestles at his or her first WrestleMania. Well, maybe not, but isn’t inconceivable that someone out there might at least think about it. Unfortunately, not all wrestlers even have parents in the first place, at least not two traditional birth parents. Lucky for them, most were able to find someone to love and take care of them, either through legal adoption or by someone marrying their single parent.
Interestingly, wrestlers themselves adopted most of the wrestlers we’re about to outline. This isn’t intentional, rather evidence of an odd trend that getting adopted by a wrestler can often lead to a career in the sport in one way or another. In other cases, wrestling brought the family together in the first place and once even caused someone on the list to break away from his adopted stepparent and start living with his birth father once again.
Adoptive parents can be just as loving as birth parents, so there’s no reason to believe these wrestlers were shortchanged in life at least once they found their new guardians. Some of them didn’t even have it particularly tough before they did their new home, though a few indeed suffered some pretty hard times before finding a family and place to call home. Keep reading to learn about how those families were formed with our list of 9 wrestlers you never knew were adopted and 6 who adopted children of their own.
15 WAS ADOPTED: Ken Shamrock
It makes a tragic sort of sense that the path towards a reputation as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” began with a childhood spent either living in cars or juvenile halls. Ken Kilpatrick had a mother, but she and his stepfather never paid any attention to him or his brothers until Ken’s constant run ins with the law got him kicked out of the house entirely at 13. He was placed in several foster homes, the last of which was Bob Shamrock’s Boys’ Home. Ken started to turn his life around at this time with Bob as his mentor and soon Shamrock legally adopted him as his son. Now known as Ken Shamrock, the former street fighter never lost his interest in pugilism, turning into one of the true legends of UFC and enjoying a moderately successful run near the top of WWE during the Attitude Era.
14 ADOPTED A CHILD: "Rugged" Ronnie Garvin
Roger Barnes started wrestling under his real name in 1962, soon taking the name Ronnie Garvin thanks to a kayfabe brotherhood with tag team partner Terry Joyal, better known as Terry Garvin. Joyal has mostly been erased from history thanks to his involvement in the 1992 WWE sex abuse scandal and his relationship with Ronnie wasn’t real either way. Ron’s biggest success came in 1987 when he defeated Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship. He also had a second fake brother in Jimmy Garvin, though Jimmy and Ronnie actually were related in that Ronnie married Jimmy’s mother. You might think things were a little awkward around the Garvin home, especially since Ron was only slightly over seven years Jimmy’s senior, but they’ve always seemed to get along fine. So strong was their relationship the Garvins were able to keep teaming in matches until they both retired in the 1990s.
13 WAS ADOPTED: "Gorgeous" Jimmy Garvin
Following in stepfather Ron’s footsteps when he was only 16, “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin started wrestling in 1968. He teamed with Ron on and off for several years, only to shine even brighter as a solo act with the aide of his real life wife, Precious. Both Ron and Precious were integral to Jimmy’s biggest angle, when he assisted his fake brother/real stepfather in feuding with Ric Flair, who was also interested in Precious’s affections. Jimmy’s career took a second life when he and Ronnie split on screen, then teaming up with Michael P.S. Hayes as the latest incarnation of The Fabulous Freebirds. Garvin and Hayes version of the Freebirds won the WCW Tag Team Championships twice and later earned them both inductions into the WWE Hall of Fame. Their careers in the ring long over, Jimmy and Precious now have two adult daughters of their own.
12 ADOPTED A CHILD: “Iron” Mike DiBiase
Old school in every sense of the word, “Iron” Mike DiBiase got his start as an amateur wrestler during his time in the Navy, where he became the 1946 AAU wrestling champion. He kept wrestling after he enrolled at the University of Nebraska, though he would perform disappointingly in two NCAA tournaments. He went pro in 1950, winning dozens of regional championships in the solo and tag divisions. Though not much footage of his work remains, his list of tag team championship partners like Bob Orton, Freddie Blassie, Karl Gotch, and Fritz Von Erich make the high caliber of company he kept especially clear. DiBiase married female wrestler Helen Hild in 1958, also adopting her son, Ted Willis, and giving the boy his name. The DiBiase’s were sadly only able to spend 11 years together prior to Mike’s sudden and unexpected death, dying in the ring due to a massive heart attack during a match against Man Mountain Mike.
11 WAS ADOPTED: “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
Not dissuaded by his adoptive stepfather’s death, Ted DiBiase stepped into the ring for the first time in 1975, six years after his father passed. As we already mentioned, DiBiase’s birth mother Helen Hild was also a wrestler and a regular rival of legends like The Fabulous Moolah and Mildred Burke.
DiBiase stood out as a masterful ring technician through performances in the NWA and at Mid-South Wrestling, etching his place in history when he made WWE re-debut in the late ‘80s as “The Million Dollar Man.” DiBiase had always been a great heel and this persona sent him over the top, making him a bigger star than either of his parents had even been. He later had three children of his own, all who later became wrestlers—Ted, Jr., Brett, and Mike II, named after his grandfather.
10 ADOPTED A CHILD: Meng
Arguably the toughest wrestler ever to life, Tonga Fifita doesn’t seem like he could be a loving family figure whether you call him Haku, King Tonga, Meng, or any other name. He started his career in sumo, transitioning to pro wrestling in the late ‘70s and getting signed by WWE in 1986. Haku gradually worked his way into the main event as the tag team partner of Andre The Giant, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships under the name The Colossal Connection. Next came a run in WCW as Meng, jumping in and out of the upper midcard and rarely winning matches, but never losing his violent edge. He calmed down at home in order to raise a family, though, having two birth children and two adopted sons. Of his natural children, he fathered one wrestler who calls himself Camacho and one of his adopted sons decided to enter the business, as well.
9 WAS ADOPTED: Tama Tonga
Haku and his wife Apilate adopted Taula Fifita when they were so young the two boys bonded and fit in perfectly with their birth children, son Tevita and daughter Vika. Apilate in particular was always especially close with their father, who inspired him to start a wrestling career of his own. Apilate occasionally even took his father’s name in the ring, competing as King Tonga, Jr., though far and away his greatest successes have come under the name Tama Tonga, also no doubt honoring his father’s former tag team partner in The Islanders. Though he achieved minor success in Mexico, Tonga’s star truly started to shine in 2013 when he joined Prince Devitt, Bad Luck Fale, and Karl Anderson in creating the Bullet Club. Tonga has remained in the group ever since as one of it’s backbone members and was eventually joined by stepbrother Tevita as Tanga Roa.
8 ADOPTED A CHILD: Gorilla Monsoon
Presiding over the pandemonium of Hulkamania and the rest of the rock and wrestling connection from his slot at the announce booth, Gorilla Monsoon became one of the most legendary figures in WWE history simply by keeping a cool head while the crowd went wild. Before starting his landmark run as an announcer, Monsoon was also a feared and dominating competitor in his own right, using his monstrous size to strike fear into foes and fans alike. Though he never won the gold, Monsoon feuded Bruno Sammartino over the WWE Championship for years and at least managed some success in the tag division with equally legendary partners like Killer Kowalski and Bill Watts. Monsoon’s real contributions came backstage, where he was a trusted aide of both Vince McMahon’s Jr. and Sr., extolling grandfatherly advice to virtually every wrestler that walked through the WWE doors. He also had two daughters and adopted one son, Joey Marella.
7 WAS ADOPTED: Joey Marella
Like most second-generation employees of any business, Joey Marella can attribute his long career as one of the top referees in WWE to his adoptive father, Gorilla Monsoon. Despite his famous father’s reputation, Joey still had to work his way to the top, at first only occasionally getting hired when the company came to his native New Jersey, and merely helping set up the ring when he did so. Gradually, however, Marella made it clear he was serious about a career in the wrestling business, though he had nothing close Gorilla’s massive frame (not that he necessarily would have, being adopted and all). He may not have been big enough to become a star athlete, but Marella’s passion still made him one of the most high profile referees of his era, officiating classics like the main event of WrestleMania III. Tragically, Joey died in 1994 after a terrible car accident also involving manager Harvey Wippleman.
6 ADOPTED A CHILD: Rufus R. Jones
Proving that his middle initial “R.” stood for “guts,” Rufus R. Jones was one of the most popular forgotten performers of his era. While future wrestlers like Ernie Ladd and Jerry Lawler would declare themselves kings, Rufus wore a crown that was handed to him by a crowd of fans, literally making him the first people’s champion we’re aware of. Through his bombastic and energetic persona as "The Freight Train,” Jones won countless of NWA titles throughout the southern United States, including runs as the Heavyweight Champion of the Mid-Atlantic, Central States, and Alabama territories. He also formed a moderately successful tag team with the questionably named Burrhead Jones. Jones and his wife had three daughters, and adopted one son, though his wife would later frame the story to make it seem like their son basically adopted them by constantly trying to visit one of his favorite wrestlers.
5 WAS ADOPTED: Slick
The only wrestler smooth enough to earn a PhD in style, the future Reverend Slick made his wrestling debut by managing a variety of charges against his adoptive father Rufus R. Jones in Kansas. Slick and his top client Butch Reed then ventured to WWE, where Slick almost instantly became one of the top managers in the company by purchasing “Classy” Freddie Blassie’s clients. Slick lead his wrestlers against high profile feuds with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, but his career admittedly fizzled out pretty quickly after The Mega Powers conquered his Twin Towers, Akeem and Big Boss Man. Slick took a few years off wrestling and returned with his Reverend persona, referencing his real life second career as a preacher. Though memorable for all the wrong reasons, Reverend Slick’s partnership with Kamala didn’t set the world on fire, either, and he left the business without making quite the same impact as his father, albeit probably in front of a much larger audience.
4 ADOPTED A CHILD: Blue Demon
Considered one of the three preeminent legends of lucha libre alongside Míl Mascaras and El Santo (picture with Demon above), Blue Demon started his career in 1948 as a rudo, teaming with The Black Shadow's Los Hermanos Shadow. Four years later, El Santo defeated and unmasked Black Shadow and convinced Blue Demon to turn técnico, also triggering one of the most epic and long-lasting feuds in Mexican wrestling history. In one of their many battles, Demon defeated Santo for the NWA World Welterweight Championship and allegedly their real life relationship was always icy, at best. Santo’s unique legend still allowed Blue Demon to co-star in a number of films, eventually branching off into a number of films without Santo where Demon took the lead. The nature of lucha libre and masked wrestling means little about Blue Demon’s life was public knowledge, but one thing we know for sure is that he adopted at least one son, Blue Demon Jr.
3 WAS ADOPTED: Blue Demon Jr.
Much like his adoptive father, the majority of Blue Demon Jr.’s personal life remains a mystery to fans, with even his true name escaping public knowledge. This isn’t particularly uncommon in Mexican wrestling, nor is his use of the family name—one of his first tag team partners was likewise the son of Black Shadow, an early partner of the elder Demon. While he didn’t match his father’s regional fame, Blue Demon Jr. arguably achieved more around the world, becoming the first Mexican wrestler to win the NWA World Championship in 2008. In doing so, he also officially had the long lasting and outdated ruling that masked wrestlers couldn’t hold the title overruled once and for all. More recently, he appeared in the first season of Lucha Underground to spread his familial legacy to an entirely new audience.
2 WAS ADOPTED: Ric Flair
The name Fred Phillips doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the limousine ridin’, leer-jet flyin’, wheelin’ and dealin’ kiss stealin’ son of a gun like Ric Flair—even if you spell it Fliehr. The circumstance behind Fred becoming The Nature Boy is actually somewhat tragic, as Flair himself stated in his autobiography he believes there’s a good chance his birth mother was lied to and tricked into believing he was dead, a common tactic of Georgia Tann’s highly controversial Tennessee Children’s Home Society, accused of kidnapping thousands of children in the 1940s. As horrible as the full story there is, Flair took it all as a blessing wrapped in a curse, because the parents he wound up with gave him all the love, affection, and money that a kid could ever want. Flair bounced back from his anonymous birth to become one of the biggest names in wrestling history and chances are if you’re reading this list we don’t need to explain how.
1 WAS ADOPTED: Vince McMahon
The biggest name in pro wrestling and the man who made sure the top company in the industry was a family business, Vince McMahon was only adopted in a technical sense. Both of his birth parents would become a big part of his life, though his father was completely absent during his childhood, having walked out on Vicky Askew and her infant child in favor of his second wife, Juanita. Vince, Jr. was thus raised Vinnie Lupton until he met Vince, Sr. at the age of 12. Until then, he suffered the horrible treatment of a stepfather named Leo, who Vince later claimed physically abused both him and his mother. Given the abuse, it’s no surprise Vince ran into the arms of his birth father when they finally met. In a later interview with Playboy, Vince claimed it was “unfortunate” his stepfather died of natural causes, admitting he would’ve enjoyed killing him.