Wrestling is as much about image as it is about ability. Showmanship often takes precedence over pure skill, and wrestlers try to entertain with outrageous personas and gimmicks instead of athletic prowess.
Over the years, wrestlers have donned colorful costumes and makeup in hopes of standing out from the crowd, and forging their own sense of individuality in the business.
Makeup is more than just a mask; it’s an expression of identity. Whereas one can simply put on a mask with no effort, applying makeup or face paint requires artistic skill and imagination. Even if the wrestler doesn’t apply his or her own makeup, he or she still needs that creative spark to give birth to the original design in the first place.
A certain makeup design may act as homage to a wrestler’s ethnic or ancestral roots. Other times, it acts as a cloak of secrecy. Oftentimes, makeup and face paint add an aura of intimidation meant to rattle opponents. Any way you look at it, makeup adds that (literal) extra layer to a wrestler that sparks intrigue into his or her character.
This practice can backfire, as fans find certain costumes or makeup designs offensive, hackneyed, or downright boring. This list takes a look at some of the better-known (and lesser-known) wrestlers behind the makeup.
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15 Damian 666
"Damian 666" is one of the many ring names of longtime Mexican luchador, Leonardo Carrera Gomez. The Tijuana, Mexico native spent more than ten years in the wrestling business under various personas and promotions before finally making his WCW debut in 1996. He worked as “Damian” and “Galaxy,” both masked characters with similar guises.
Gomez’s signature makeup consisted of one solid color foundation with streaks of bright, contrasting colors popping out against the backdrop. Gomez often had the number “666” written on his forehead to complete the look.
Yet, in this picture, Gomez looks unrecognizable. His thick mustache sits perfectly above a friendly smirk, and his scowl has all but disappeared.
After just three years under WCW, and without much in-ring success, Gomez left the brand and co-founded the wrestling team “Mexico’s Most Wanted” along with fellow luchador, Halloween. They toured with several promotions in North America in the early 2000s before forming a new super group, “La Familia De Tijuana” in 2012.
14 The Great Kabuki
Akihisa Mera originally made his debut in the Japanese Wrestling Association as a teenager in 1964. He wrestled worldwide during the 1970s, including a run with Texas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. It was with WCCW that Mera debuted his “Great Kabuki” character and makeup in 1981.
The design consisted of a five-point star-like shape separating his face into two factions. Black makeup occupied the top half of his face, while white foundation surrounded his nose and mouth. Green was incorporated on occasion. Mera utilized the illegal “Asian Mist” tactic of spraying colored liquid into his opponents’ faces. Mera won the WCCW Television Champion in 1983 as "The Great Kabuki" character.
Mera retired the Kabuki persona in the late 1980s, and eventually retired from professional wrestling in 1998.
Years later, Mera was spotted hanging out backstage at the 2012 World Underground Wrestling (WUW) Awards. From this screenshot, Mera looks comfortable in a white track jacket. speaking in his native tongue as he happily (albeit a bit lazily) peers into the camera.
Harry Del Rios (better known by his WWE ring names “Spellbinder” and “Phantasio”) spent the first years of his professional wrestling career with the United States Wrestling Association (USWA) in the early 1990s.
Rios debuted in WWE in a May 1993 dark match on “Monday Night RAW” but didn’t get another shot until 1995, when he made his one and only televised appearance on a July episode of WWE’s “Wrestling Challenge.” It was during this match that Rios unveiled his “Phantasio” character.
After leaving WWE in 1997, Rios attempted two short-lived comebacks with TNA and Memphis Wrestling in the early 2000s.
In this picture, Rios sports some makeup around the eyes and lipstick around the lips. However, he is without the whiteface foundation and bold black accents above and below and eyes that made his clown-like “Phantasio” makeup stand out.
12 Papa Shango
Charles Wright went by many ring names during his decade-long career in WWF/WWE, including “Kama,” and “The Godfather.” Wright was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame under the latter moniker, but it was his makeup as “Papa Shango” that garnered the most discussion amongst WWE fans.
The gimmick, which Wright debuted in 1992, packaged him as a skull-painted voodoo man who cast spells to control his opponents. Fans lambasted Papa Shango, and voted the character the “Worst Gimmick” and “Most Embarrassing Wrestler” in the “Wrestler Observer” newsletter that year.
It’s no secret that Wright was better known for his pimp-inspired “Godfather” character. He is pictured here at the WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2016. Ironically, Wright embraced the Godfather gimmick so much that he managed a strip club in Las Vegas.
11 Finn Balor
By the time the Irish-born Finn Balor made his debut for “RAW” in July 2016, he was already a veteran of several independent wrestling promotions, and the longest-tenured champion in NXT History.
Balor built a persona as ‘Prince Devitt” with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in the mid-2000’s. He debuted his colorful war paint makeup upon his NXT debut in 2014. The bright, contrasting colors intimidated opponents and enthralled fans.
Balor sported the look at SummerSlam 2016, where he defeated Seth Rollins to win the inaugural WWE Universal Title.
However, Balor wrestled sans-makeup on several occasions. In the picture above, Balor maintains his ferocity, even without his unique face paint. You can be sure that when Balor makes his first WWE appearance in 2017, that the Demon King will be on full display.
Ian Richard Hodgkinson, also known by his in-ring moniker “Vampiro,” spent several years wrestling in Mexico before a three-year run in WCW from 1998-2001. While Vampiro never enjoyed massive success on the big stage, his WCW career wasn’t without fanfare. He formed the short-lived, but popular stable, “The Dead Pool” along with Insane Clown Posse and Raven, which feuded with the likes of Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio Jr.
Vampiro also captured his one and only WCW Tag Team Title (along with The Great Muta) in August 2000. The reign lasted one day, as Mysterio and Juventud Guerrera defeated Vampiro and Muta the following night.
Vampiro’s skull-inspired makeup was striking in its simplicity.
Consisting of a monochromatic white with grey accents, the makeup is reminiscent of Michael Myers of “Halloween” fame.
With or without his face paint, Hodgkinson harbored an intimidating look.
Many wrestlers have assumed personas inconsistent with their national and ethnic origins (anyone remember Muhammad Hassan?)
However, one wrestler who stayed true to his ethnic roots in WWE was Christopher Chavis aka “Tatanka.” Chavis used his Native American heritage to his advantage during three separate stints with WWE from the early 1990s to the mid 2000s. Tatanka quickly became a fan favorite, won a 40-man battle royal in 1992, and even got a title shot for the WWE Intercontinental Championship against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania IX in 1993.
Chavis left WWE in 1996, shortly after losing his final televised match to Bret Hart. He wrestled on independent circuits and made sporadic returns to WWE in the mid 2000s. He signed a Legends contract in November 2015. He is pictured here with WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper in January 2002, without his trademark Native face paint and costume.
8 Doink The Clown
Okay, this one was fairly obvious. When Matt Osborne debuted as “Doink The Clown” in 1993, it would’ve been odd if he didn’t wear makeup. Osborne was already an established wrestler, but reached a new audience with his clown character. As Doink, Osborne feuded with stars such as Randy Savage and Jerry Lawler. He would pull “clownish” pranks on them for his own entertainment, and quickly garnered a villainous reputation. Although Osborne left WWE in late 1993, WWE continued to use the Doink character until 1997.
Several other wrestlers used the Doink gimmick after Osborne’s departure, including Steve Lombardi, Jeff Jarrett, and Chris Jericho.
Osborne wrestled under his original Matt Borne ring name for the remainder of his career, which consisted of various stints with independent circuits and a failed run in ECW. He is pictured here in the ring.
Sadly, Osborne died of an accidental drug overdose in 2013.
7 Demolition (Ax & Smash)
The Demolition Tag Team was most prominent in the late 1980s and early 1990s, where they won three WWE Tag Team Championships. Demolition’s main members, Ax and Smash, wore distinctive outfits, sported red and silver face paint, and enjoyed the longest reign as WWF Tag Team Champions (478 days).
Ax and Smash suffered a debilitating defeat to Hart Foundation at SummerSlam 1990, and never regained their footing. Unfortunately, after the arrival of the Legion of Doom, Demolition’s popularity began to wane, and they were out of WWF by the mid 1990’s.
Demolition reunited on several occasions for appearances at conventions and fan events. Bill Eadie (Ax, left) and Barry Darsow (Smash, right) are pictured here at a 2007 “Meet The Legends” event at the Ciociaro Club in Windsor, Ontario.
6 Bull Nakano
Bull Nakano was known mostly in WWE as one of Alundra Blayze's challengers for the WWE Women's Championship, but she actually carved out a good career for herself in her native Japan. When the WWE essentially retired its women's division following Alundra's departure, Nakano went to WCW as well. Eventually, Nakano retired from pro wrestling in 1997. She has since produced some of her own wrestling events.
Here we see Nakano without her face paint and to be frank, she's still looking very good. She's now 48 and has been retired as an active wrestler for quite a while. She looks like she can still go in the ring. Could we see a Nakano/Asuka match in NXT? Who knows, but we do know it looks like Nakano hasn't aged a day.
5 Hawk and Animal (The Road Warriors)
The Road Warriors, also known as Legion of Doom, was a tag team composed of Michael "Hawk" Hegstrand and Joseph "Animal" Laurinaitis. The 2011 WWE Hall of Fame Inductees enjoyed two stints in WWE, and notably feuded with Vince McMahon during their second run with the brand in the late 1990s. Hawk even went as far as to say, “I’ll do some horrible things to his grave. He’s the most evil person I have ever met in my life."
All bad blood aside, The Road Warriors were known for their intimidating demeanor and signature face paint. This picture shows Hawk and Animal without their trademark spiral-style face paint, but still looking as imposing as ever. Hawk (left) and Animal (right) both sport tightly groomed handlebar moustaches that rival Hulk Hogan’s classic look.
Sadly, Hawk passed away in his sleep in 2003. He was just 46 years old. Animal returned to WWE in 2005 after a two-year hiatus, and teamed up with Jon Heidenreich to form the new Legion of Doom team.
4 The Ultimate Warrior
Much like The Road Warriors, The Ultimate Warrior wrestled in WWE on two separate occasions. Warrior, born James Hellwig, enjoyed his greatest success in WWE during his first run with the brand from 1987-1991. He was a two-time WWE Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion and one-time WWE Champion. Hellwig captured the latter championship after defeating Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI in 1990.
Hellwig was so associated with The Ultimate Warrior makeup, costume, and gimmick, that he even changed his legal name to “Warrior.”
Hellwig poses here next to a portrait of himself in his “Warrior” getup and persona. Hellwig became a motivational speaker and blogger after his retirement from professional wrestling in 1998. His views were controversial and often contained strong, polarizing opinions on wrestling stars, famous celebrities, world leaders, and religious figures.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 5, 2014, just three days before his untimely death from a heart attack at age 54.
Cody Runnels’ elder half-brother, Dustin, forged a more memorable tenure in WWE. He is instantly recognizable for his striking gold-on-black makeup and flamboyant costumes, which conceal a secretive identity. Rhodes captured 20 championships between the WWE and WCW, including two United States Heavyweight Championships (WCW), and three Intercontinental Championships (WWF/WWE).
Goldust bounced in and out of WWE for several years, but notably returned to the promotion in 2013 to wrestle with his aforementioned half-brother, Cody.
Goldust teamed up with R-Truth in 2016 to form the tag team “The Golden Truth.” Both wrestle under the “RAW” brand.
Rhodes is pictured above without face paint. Yet, his shaved blond hair shows he never truly sheds all of the “gold” from his look. Only one wrestler had a more iconic makeup design. Read on to find out who…
2 The Boogeyman
The Boogeyman didn't have a terribly illustrious career in WWE, and was better known for his outrageous makeup and costume than he was for his wrestling prowess. However, Boogeyman (born Martin Wright) spent short stints in SmackDown! and ECW in the 2000's, before signing a legends contract with WWE in 2015.
Wright's makeup is a tribal paint / cartoon-style amalgam reminiscent of Native wardrobes. The black-on-red face paint conjures up images of the underworld as well. Wright’s ritual of eating worms during his in-ring appearances…well, I’m not sure what to say about that.
However, this photo, taken backstage at a December 2014 “RAW” Event in Minnesota, doesn’t do his evil image any favors. It shows the 6-foot-2 Wright with a warm smile, embracing fellow WWE wrestler Natalya Neidhart.
Sting may have retired from professional wrestling this past April, but his trademark black-and-white makeup will remain a part of wrestling lore for years to come. Sting (born Steve Borden) had a highly respectable career in WCW and TNA. In fact, Borden stayed in WCW for the entirety of its 14-year existence, and won 15 total championships with the promotion, including six World Heavyweight Titles.
Bolstered by his in-ring success, Sting became the most recognizable face in WCW history. However, he didn’t don his all-black wardrobe until 1996. He had already been wrestling under the promotion for seven years, sporting colorful “surfer-themed” face paint, and a blond flattop haircut. However, in 1996, he (literally) darkened his image, donning black clothing and spandex and growing his hair out.
Given the mystique of Sting during those days in WCW, fans longed to catch a glimpse of the wrestler sans makeup.
This photo gives a look at a smiling Sting without his gimmick. Oftentimes, when the wrestler unmasked, he still gave off an air of mystery with his dark sunglasses and serious demeanor. This photo shows another side to the WCW legend.
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