A jazz musician told me a great solo is about tension and release. In wrestling it’s the same. You build the tension with promos and smart booking, building the fan interest, and then release it at the PPV, hopefully making everyone rich and delivering a great show.
There are stories of promoters doing almost anything to build interest for their event. A popular way to get attention and bring in new fans is by using celebrities. If wrestling is a foreign world, a familiar famous face is very attractive. If a potential customer has never seen wrestling, but they watch Jersey Shore religiously, there's a chance they’ll check out Snooki's match at WrestleMania, as much as the traditional fan may detest it.
A wide variety of celebrities are brought in. Actors, boxers, football players, and they all bring a different skill set. There can be cringe worthy moments if the celebrity strays too far away from their comfort zone, and also a great novelty factor when they pull off a few moves. Actors, singers, and comedians have spent their professional lives thinking on their feet and reacting, so they can usually sell pretty well and tell a story. They can milk a crowd. The sports guys can get around pretty well, dish out some offense, but can look even worse acting than the wrestlers do.
What makes the biggest difference is respect. If the celebrity respects wrestling and realizes they are an outsider, it generally goes pretty well. If they look at wrestling as a joke and take themselves too seriously, it’s bound to fail.
If you got into wrestling because your favorite celebrity made an appearance, please let us know in the comments below! But for now, enjoy the top 10 celebrity wrestling matches! This list will only feature matches where a celebrity was an active participant in the match, so Tyson as an enforcer or Pete Rose as a ring announcer won't be included.
10 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki
Jim Ross actually took a loan out on his home to invest in the closed circuit license for this card. It was a massive, WrestleMania-type event before WrestleMania had happened. The problem was the timing. This was before cable, and the country as a whole was still unfamiliar with wrestlers from different territories. The only truly recognizable competitors were Muhammad Ali, in his bout with Japanese legend Antonio Inoki, and Andre the Giant. The match makes this list as it was an important landmark, using celebrity/athlete crossover to generate massive interest. The match itself however was awful. It resembled a MMA match in that Inoki spent the majority of his time on the ground kicking at Ali’s leg, and Ali only threw a handful of punches throughout the match. The crowd chanted “money back” and tossed garbage into the ring and all over the venue.
Even worse, Jim Ross lost money on the investment, and had to take out another loan to secure his house.
9 WrestleMania II Battle Royal
This match was technically a co-main event of WrestleMania II, headlining the Chicago card. This battle royal mixed wrestlers with NFL players, most notbaly WWE hall of famer William "The Refrigerator" Perry. It was smart of Vince McMahon and the WWE to sprinkle in just a few players, while having solid workers like Bret Hart and Andre the Giant to carry the match.
While the three-card event was confusing and clustered, the event was still getting a feel of itself and this match was another crucial part of perfecting the balance between celebrities and wrestlers.
8 Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper, Boxing match
Piper spent several weeks training heavily as a boxer, complete with 5 AM runs, puking his guts out. As the match drew closer, he suggested they do it as a real boxing match. McMahon wanted T to get a clean win instead, and was worried if Piper could be trusted. This resulted in Piper’s hands being taped into fists underneath his gloves in order to limit his options (I don’t understand the logic either). A spot was set up where T would deliver a big punch, sending the Hot Rod out to the ring. Unfortunately, T ended up missing but Piper still sold it and dove out anyways. On his way out he quickly remembered his hands were taped and took a rough fall to concrete. This is where it gets interesting. Piper, livid at the circumstances, clumsily picked up his corner stool and forcefully hurled it at T. After they exchange some punches, he bodyslammed T for the DQ loss.
Should have just let them shoot.
7 Karl Malone & DDP vs. Hollywood Hogan & Dennis Rodman, Bash at the Beach (1998)
DDP speaks very highly of Karl Malone, who spent three weeks at the WCW power plant taking a crash course in wrestling. Malone said he didn’t want the same role as Mike Tyson, and wanted to be a genuine part of the action; he wanted to learn and to work. Basketball players have spent their whole lives learning to be mobile despite their lanky frames, and Malone looked pretty good in the ring. In fact the amount of ground he can cover with his long legs is downright scary. The Mailman was classy in the NBA, and didn’t disappoint in the ring. The feud also made for perfect timing, as Malone's Jazz and Rodman's Bulls had just competed against each other in the NBA Finals.
6 DX vs. Mike Tyson and Chris Jericho
Another celebrity match booked properly, with the professionals handling the work and giving said celebrity the necessary hot spot. Back on a 2010 episode of RAW, Chris Jericho informed DX that he had the answer for them, having attained the services of a former D-X ally turned adversary Mike Tyson.
The twist (somewhat expected) came when Tyson turned on the heel Jericho and knocked him out. Predictable, but still entertaining nonetheless.
5 Snooki, John Morrison and Trish Stratus vs. LayCool and Dolph Ziggler
Probably the shortest match John Morrison and Dolph Ziggler have ever been involved in. Snooki started off with huge slap to Ziggler while Trish proved she still had it, pulling some entertaining spots using her flexibility and athleticism. The boys barely had enough time to fit in one flip spot to the outside before the finish. The crowd had yet to see what Snooki was bringing to the table. She received the hot tag to a heavy chorus of boos, which she egged on like a pro. She then blew everyone away with a gymnast set of flips into a corner splash, then followed that up with a RVD type somersault splash for the win. The crowd was left in shock after Snooki delivered a surprising WrestleMania moment.
4 Floyd Mayweather vs. The Big Show
Floyd Mayweather was a wrestling fan and legitimately happy to be taking part. He’s credited with accepting that he was an outsider and going out of his way to learn, and most of all listen. Proving the drawing power of celebrities, a pre-WrestleMania segment in which Mayweather threw a very real punch stormed the headlines. Mayweather clocked Big Show in the nose, leaving the giant bloodied and bruised, absolute gold in Vince McMahon’s eyes. The match itself actually came off very well. It was a great throwback to the early Andre the Giant bouts. The Big Show always looks huge, but to see him against an average sized man was quite the spectacle. The crowd was fantastic, cheering wildly anytime the Show stepped on the tiny boxer. An entertaining throwback of a WrestleMania match.
3 Bam Bam Bigelow vs. LT
LT is one of the best celebrity workers out of them all. He took some bumps and pulled off a match that was at least if not more entertaining than most of the WrestleMania XI card. LT respected wrestling, was obviously a great athlete, and brought his professional work ethic and willingness to learn to the ring with him. Bam Bam, an underrated worker, admirably held the whole thing together. Aesthetically, it sticks out like crazy among the other WrestleMania main events, but to be fair, so did the entire event. Undertaker versus King Kong Bundy? The Blu Brothers? Not to mention the only match Bret Hart admits was a disaster, his “I Quit” bout with Bob Backlund.
2 The Rock vs. John Cena, WrestleMania XXVIII
You might think we're cheating by throwing The Rock on here, but The Great One is more actor/celebrity than he is a pro wrestler right now.
The Rock just brings it. The star power, mainstream appeal, and the wrestling, all rolled into one. He’s the only celebrity guest star that can reliably provide excellent ring work with anyone.
But he did more than just provide a huge draw and a great match. He helped John Cena.
Jim Ross had a fantastic rant about today’s superstars being stuck in their comfort zone. The WWE is the only real game in town so too many keep quiet to protect their career. It’s the reason why CM Punk was so successful and why Cena is so divisive. When The Rock came back and started a promo war on TV and over social media, it brought a new element out of Cena. Seeing him cut a more vicious and personal promo was a welcome change to his usual much tamer shtick.
The Rock may get criticism for being a part-time player, but in the logic of Anchorman: 30% of the time, he's there 100% of the time.
1 Hulk Hogan and Mr T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, WrestleMania
It wasn’t the first time celebrities were involved with wrestling, but it was the first time it was part of such a widespread mainstream event. WrestleMania was the first attempt to bridge the gap, and Mr. T, one of the most recognizable television stars of the time was a large part of that. This match featured a bonus celebrity with Muhammad Ali serving as an outside official.
The WWE wisely kept Ali to the outside and had an experienced worker in Pat Patterson calling it in the ring. That’s the secret to the success of this match; the celebrity involvement was very controlled. Three wrestlers to one Mr. T meant the professionals could have a semblance of a main event match and give T some hot spots to get the crowd going. Although Mr. T is said to have been hard to work with for these events, he managed to pull off a few wrestling moves and give the crowd something to cheer for. The crowd was hot and the match had the loose feel of a wild brawl. It wasn't polished, but it put butts in the seats and set the stage for years to come.
While the match is nowhere near the quality of Cena/Rock, the historical significance of this match gives it the no.1 spot.