Without the gimmicks and wild characters of wrestling, it would be a sport reserved for the serious and boring. If I wanted to watch two guys kick each others asses and look like average Joes doing it, I’d watch MMA. Instead, we turn to wrestling for a story; for good versus evil on hyper drive. For decades the oddballs, bad guys, supernatural, and sexy have seared into our minds some of the greatest characters ever to be created for television. Yes, there have been plenty of attempts to develop a persona that involves copious amounts of face and/or body makeup only to find that the wrestler’s in-ring moves or overall character rollout falls flat. That’s the business. Some will fail and some will succeed. That’s what makes the best that much better. It’s hella bold to create an alter ego that involves some degree of face or body paint, since it means having to perform as more than a normal person.
In preparation for the return of "Demon King" Finn Balor (fingers crossed that he WILL appear at Roadblock this month), we went to the store and bought a paycheck’s worth of body paint and scrolled through the look archive of the best and worst paint jobs in the history of wrestling. Although we had trouble pulling off most of the looks, the act of putting on the paint had the catharsis of suiting up for battle. Here’s a look at wrestling paint jobs that were larger than life, and the ones we wished we could forget.
16 Best: Eva Marie
The All Red Everything Diva took a break from her regular tanned and glammed gettup and went all white everything for this photo shoot, which aired on Total Divas on August 4, 2015. During a time when Eva Marie was getting a lot of crap for her wrestling skills (or lack thereof), The Red Queen started a mission to become the best Diva in the Women’s Division at WWE. Apart from undergoing a rigorous training routine coached by former WWE Cruiserweight Champion Brian Kendrick, Eva posed for this hauntingly beautiful photo shoot in which a pale Flame-Haired Femme Fatal rocks devilish red eyes and what looks like fake blood tears running down her face. This is just one of a dozen photo shoots that show why WWE is trying so damn hard to prime the wrestling late bloomer to take the role of Women’s Champion. I mean, she can even make white-pale skin and bleeding eyes look sexy. Somewhere deep down we wish Mark Carrano would make her adopt this otherworldly painted persona. It might give her more cred that a semi-okay wrestler whose trademark move is blowing kisses in the ring.
15 Worst: Melina
Although she didn’t wrestle painted, Diva Melina Perez took the opportunity to show off the bling of her Woman’s Champion belt in an all-gold bodypaint shoot that frankly didn’t hit the sweet spot. Done in 2007 by famous bodypaint artist Mark Greenawalt (yep, that’s a job), the photos feature an all gold Melina with fake barbwire wrapping around her torso. Gold glitter flames cover her boobs and hoohaa. One of the many problems of the look is that the gold paint comes across as a bile yellow, while the wig she opted for resembles a George Washington weave. The intent behind the photo is clear: Melina wanted to show the world that the former (and failed) beauty pageant girl had finally gotten to the top. And she had. Melina was a badass wrestling chick who could hang in the ring, which is probably why she was the first to hold both the Divas and Women’s status and nicknamed "The Most Dominant Diva in WWE." He was, metaphorically, golden. But this paint job put a rust on the Gorgeous Grappler.
14 Best: Damián 666
Lucha Libre wildcard Damián 666 won’t be a familiar name to the kiddies who are more familiar with face-painted stars like The Usos, but the Mexican hardcore wrestler deserves a call out on the list of best paint jobs because he instantly takes us back to the glory days of all-out, balls to the wall wrestling. Damián’s paint was just as chaotic as his wrestling, using a black base and white, red, or yellow zig-zags jutting down his face. And always, the numbers 666 scribbled on his forehead. It was like Sting’s makeup on PCP, and the look carried him from Jaman’s Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, mainstream WCW, and Mexico’s heritage circuit Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. His makeup also matched the savagery of his moves, with his go-to’s being a kneeling reverse piledriver (gah), inverted powerslams, gnarly drop kicks, and a crazy seated elevated cradle neckbreaker. More of a legend south of the border, we shed a little tear that we can’t buy a 666 mask at the local WWE event arena.
13 Worst: Doink the Clown
No, no, no, no, no. This is where bad gets even worse when it comes to paint jobs. The WWE is not for clowns, it is for characters, and Matt Osborne must have been super unoriginal if he had to turn to this persona when Vince McMahon came up to him and said, “tell me about your character.” Doink did do us the favor of using circus music during his entry, which would act as a type of alarm that signaled it was time to turn off the TV. But what’s truly tragic about this paint job is that Osborne was good in the ring. It was just impossible to watch him with the white clown makeup and drawn smile (spandex clown onesie included). Still, he got slated for matches against some of the greats like Jerry Lawler, and even beat Crush as WrestleMania IX. This was a particularly traumatic experience, where viewers were surprised by not one, but two Doinks. Then later in his career some stupid idiot would decide that there needed to be a miniature version of the clown, and hence the birth of Dink. Doink would eventually ditch the gimmick in exchange for a joker persona, but it didn’t happen soon enough.
12 Best: The Ultimate Warrior
Probably within the top five all-time best wrestlers on the planet, The Ultimate Warrior really slingshot to fame after taking a deal with WWE in 1987. Sure he became known for sprinting down the runway and into the ring, but the Warrior’s true calling card was the unique pattern in which he painted his face. The colors would change from pink to green to blue to orange, but the same pattern remained, covering his eyes and spiking down to the bottom of his long jawline. But it wasn’t just the paint; it was the blown out hair, the fringe, the short shorts (really, they were underwear), and over-exaggerated muscles. The paint just added a jolt of animation to the Warrior’s splashes and drops. He wouldn’t have been the great he was without the face paint. WWE even called him the most enigmatic man to every enter their ring. And it’s true. Nobody was like The Ultimate Warrior (who passed away in 2014 after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame). There was a point in time, after Jim Hellwig (real name) initially departed from WWE and legally changed his last name to Warrior, that the man and McMahon’s company has a legal dispute over the rights to The Ultimate Warriors image (face paint definitely included). The real Warrior won. Thank the Lord. Nobody can or should try to pull of his look, unless they’re doing it as an ode.
11 Worst: Jeff Hardy
The Anti-Christ of Professional Wrestling didn’t need makeup to be weird. That was the beauty of plan-old Jeff Hardy; that you couldn’t believe he was a normal human. Those eyes, the long black hair, falling from rafters in the arena. He was like an alien wearing the body suit of a man, and that was cool. Once he started painting his face I lost a lot of interest. First of all, the Art Deco pattern didn’t make any sense, second, it didn’t add any depth to his TNA character, and third, it changed constantly. The whole idea felt more like an act of boredom than a purposeful choice. It could have been that Jeff’s personal hobby of painting drove him to experiment with makeup in the ring, or that he didn’t feel it was enough to wear cut up arm bands and dye his hair rainbow colors. But that wouldn’t surprise us because nothing was enough for Jeff Hardy.
10 Best: The Boogeyman
You wanna talk about scary ass face paint, look no further than The Boogeyman. Signed to a legends contract with WWE in 2015 (meaning we can expect sporadic appearances from the nightmare character at any time), The Boogeyman first appeared on WWE in 2005. Once he came down the runway at SmackDown to slaughter Simon Dean, we caught a good look at the black-and-red face paint, crazy eyes, and missing teeth of the man who would become one of wrestling’s best-ever monsters, and we not so metaphorically wet our pants with fear. Oh, and if you’ve blocked out the memory we’ll remind you: in the ring he took out a handful of live worms and ate them. Yeah, we didn’t sleep that night. The way The Boogeyman moved his body and fully took on the monster gimmick was extraordinary and worked 100 percent. Not only was the overall look scary, but The Boogeyman’s promos and “one, two, Freddy's coming for you,” rhymes created a well-rounded character that fit a very specific peg the WWE was looking to fill. Fun fact: The Boogeyman met Donald Trump at WrestleMania 23 and the two got along pretty well, forming a bond over sandwiches.
9 Worst: Hulk Hogan
It wasn’t necessary body paint that made The Hulkster’s looks so iconic but it might as well have been since it seemed as if Mr. America had been dipped into a can of dark orange paint. His extreme tan became a staple to the overall look of the WWE Superstar. At first you think, it must be the fact that his trademark colors are yellow and orange, or it must be his bleach blonde hair that makes his skin so leathery. But I’m sorry, kids, Hulkamania is a place where the run always shines and the dress code is a thong. Why, we wondered, would anyone need to get that tan? Well, there are a couple theories. One, it was a part of his all-American image of the beach boy with golden locks and sun-kissed skin. Two, that WCW prompted him to maintain his tanned physique because it made his muscles look bigger, and helped market sun tan oil (which Hulk was encouraged to do in his weird WCW contract). Nobody in wrestling is this tan anymore, and there’s a reason; it looks ridiculous.
8 Best: The Road Warriors
The only tag team to grace our list, The Road Warriors muscle into the number four spot thanks to the aesthetic of their punk rock Mohawks, spider and blade-esk face paint, and skull encrusted armour. Hawk’s look was defined by one eye painted in an all-black shape that resembled a throwing star in motion. Meanwhile Animal sported both eyes painted and a spider emblem on his forehead. The Warriors’ look was a mix between Gwar and Mad Max, and their style of in-ring battery was just as savage. To quote Hawk, “Broken necks, splattered patellas, severed arteries: These are the things from which dreams are made of.” Often going back and forth between The Road Warriors and their pseudonym, Legion of Doom, the pair kept their trademark paint and costumes in both roles. The barbaric thing just worked (they could have called themselves The Fluffy Bunnies for all I care), and the tag team wrestled around the world in every major circuit from WCW, WWE, TNA, World Japan, New Japan Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, etc, etc. Case in point: the guys are legends and so is their face paint.
7 Worst: Papa Shango
The big bad voodoo daddy himself Papa Shango made a career off pretending to curse other wrestlers via black magic and dried chicken bones. Although his face paint was kind of cool, and looked great with the black top hat accessory, the gimmick was lame. In an effort to appear scary, the voodoo shtick came off as comical and even boring. That’s because we knew nothing physical was going to happen. Nobody was actually worried that Shango’s curses would work, although he did make The Ultimate Warrior bleed from the head, projectile vomit, and have one hell of a belly ache. All in all, it wasn’t as impressive when the pain was being done invisibly. It can be hard enough to believe that a knee drop is painful enough to make a wrestler spasm uncontrollably for thirty seconds, but at least you’re seeing two people interacting. You take away the physicality and turn it into “curses” and you’ve screwed the pooch royally. Papa Shango, you should have used your flaming skulls to hurl at The Ultimate Warrior because repeating his name in a Frankenstein voice didn’t quite get us there. Papa Shango quickly dwindled into obscurity after about two years, and we’re not too sad about it.
6 Best: Sting
There is no list about iconic face paint without Sting. Sure, Blade Runner Flash always wore some version of face and eye paint in the ring, but the WCW veteran adopted the iconic look after an avalanche of all-American good guys like Hulk Hogan turned heel in the early '90s, welcoming the age of Monday Nitro and the New World Order. Although Sting wasn’t a part of the nWo gang, he quickly changed his in-ring image from a flat-top blonde wearing neon spandex to a long-haired recluse in all-black. At first there was no face paint involved, but his buddy Scott Hall showed The Stinger the character from the movie The Crow, and something clicked. The white and black (and sometimes red) face paint was the cherry on top of the new character, completing his transformation. I wish there was a better way to say it, but the paint just made him look so freaking cool, especially when the camera did a surprise cut to The Vigilante lurking in the rafters. Fast forward to today and Sting remains one of, if not the, most iconic wrestler to paint his face.
5 Worst: Phantasio
We’ve checked off clowns and voodoo skeletons, and now it’s time to sully the name of anyone who tries to wear mime makeup into a wrestling ring. Phantasio is at the receiving end of this finger wag. In 1995 during a WWE match, this half-mime half-magician entered the archives of wrestling and somehow won the match against Tony DeVito by magically pulling out DeVito’s underwear. Cool? Then once the match was over he did the same trick on the referee. Then he did the best trick of all: vanishing from the roster. A couple years later he reappeared, this time as a tweaked version of the magician character, The Spellbinder, but once again he found that fans weren’t interested in the character. If you’re asking yourself why you’ve never heard of Phantasio before, it’s because the wrong face paint can be a career guillotine. An interview with WWE Magazine revealed that the wrestler was going for a hybrid between The Ultimate Warrior and Legion of Doom (both honorees on our Best Paint Jobs list).
4 Best: Sable
When we’re talking iconic wrestling moments that really defined our adolescence, none stands out so clear as the image of Sable unveiling her version of a bikini— two black painted hand prints covering her bare naked girls. It was awesome, and from that moment until forever we’ll never be able to think of finger painting in the same way. The whole scene came about after Sable started beef with Jacqueline, who had become Marc Mero’s new manager. Jacqueline was in the crosshairs of a nasty feud between Marc and Sable, after Mr. Marvelous distracted Sable at the Unforgiven pay-per-view in April ’98, ruining her chance for the Evening Gown match win. Sable and Jacqueline came head to head in an nontraditional, but totally memorable way; a bikini competition. Undressing for a packed crowd of Attitude-Era fans, we can’t imagine how many boners were produced from the strategic use of less than a pint of body paint. Sable of course won the competition after the audience went ballistic. The Boss McMahon took away her win the next night since paint doesn’t technically qualify as a bikini.
3 Worst: The Blue Meanie
If you’re costume idea is based off a character from the animated Yellow Submarine film, you should stop. Just stop. Unfortunately, Brian Heffron was not here to heed this advice back in the mid-90s when he revamped the little blue villain look from the musical cartoon from the '60s, and thought it was okay to take this character into the ECW ring. The lame attempt at face paint resulted in a pair of smudged and messy black goggles, while the rest of his costume consisted of a high-cut blue shirt that showed all 300-plus pounds of his belly. Lazily applied blue hair dye was added to his beard to complete the utterly disgraceful look. The Blue Meanie’s career became an even greater thorn in the side of wrestling when he became Da Blue Guy in the nWo parody bWo. Then Blue Boy after losing about 100 pounds, and then Bluedust. Within his 10-year career nobody had the heart to tell the Meanie that it wasn’t working. I really shouldn’t even be validating his face paint with an entry in this article, but it’s that bad.
2 Best: Finn Balor/Demon King
No, we won’t be calling out Finn Balor’s former persona of Anti Venom Prince Devitt, but his current "Demon King." Why? Because he’s just about the only man who can pull of a speedo, full torso, and face paint while killing it in the ring. Everything from the all-fours slither out of the curtain to his Diving Double Foot Stomps and high-speed energy in the ring makes for one badass wrestler. Although his Irish birth certificate will say the name Fergal Devitt, it wasn’t until the age of 33 that the "Demon King" was born. While at NXT Devitt developed the Finn Balor persona (Balor being a word from Irish mythology describing a supernatural monster with a giant eye on its forehead). Once this demon creature broke through the rings of Monday Night Raw in the Spring of 2016, WWE fans were hooked. Painted with a huge pair of sharp teeth over his jaw and sternum, fire coming up his legs, a dragon-like eye cover his entire back, and cryptic lettering across his shoulders, the "Demon King" (Finn Balor’s alter ego of sorts) looks like nothing we have seen before. And that, friends, is exactly what we need right now. Using the painted character as an alternate persona for Finn is also genius, since it gives leeway for face and heel turns unlike other monster creatures that can only summon pure evil. We predict this paint job is here to stay.
1 Worst: Goldust
In Goldust’s WWE debut the spawn of Dusty Rhodes wore a Barbie doll wig and painted his face gold with black makeup around his eyes and mouth. It was uncomfortable. Little did we know that "The Bizarre One" would get even creepier with his face paint, as he eventually adopted a Star Wars villain-type design over his entire (bald) head. Weird is fine. Weird is good. But this paint, along with the pleather bodysuit, and body undulations made our skin crawl. We’re putting him as the number one worst paint job, but the truth is, when you get this bad it has the circular effect of being really good. Goldust broke barriers. The androgynous character was actually a concept thought up by Vince McMahon, and Dustin Runnels took on the challenge because he wanted to make a name from himself that didn’t piggyback on his daddy’s acclaim. Runnels said it took him about eight months to develop the character, and once he dove fully into "The Prince of Perversion" the crowd went mad. “I didn’t want to do any of the gay stuff,” Runnels said in an interview about the character, but all it took was rubbing up against a few wrestlers and Goldust was a legend. The costume and paint itself also almost never happened (the character was almost a pharaoh or rock star). Vince even wanted him to wear actual makeup like blush, but Runnels was always a huge fan of face paint, so he pulled the aesthetic that way. So we cheated a little here. Goldust was the absolute worst because he made so many fans feel so strongly toward the heel character. And that is exactly what wrestling characters need to do.