Wrestling is an incredibly unique form of sports-entertainment in many ways. It’s a very interactive event to watch, as the spectators play a big role in a wrestler's promo, match, and even their development. Wrestlers must “get over” with the fans if they have any hope of achieving fame and fortune. Fans choose their favorites, and identify with the wildly different personalities. Just as there are different varieties of wrestler, there are many types of fan. Some love the big men while others favor the crafty technician. Some respond to the generic good guy, while others find it nauseating.
If a wrestler can’t win the cheers of the fans, then a strong reaction of hate is far better than no reaction at all. Before The Rock became the international superstar he is today, he experienced more than his fair share of boos and chants of “Rocky sucks!”, and this was when he was designated a good guy! Wrestling fans of the last 15 years are so wise to the industry that they will most often reject anything they feel is being forced down their throats. Their acceptance of a wrestler is not only heard in their chants, but worn on their chest. Take a look around the wrestling venue and see the huge amount of wrestling merchandise worn by the thousands in attendance. This merchandise is very important to the individual wrestler, not only giving them additional income, but visibly proving their worth to the company. This extra income from merchandise is so important to wrestlers because the biggest payday comes from performing in the main event. Only the chosen few will reach that height however, while most will forever be relegated to mid-card status. A great shirt can put a lot more food on the table.
Since Greg Valentine's "I broke Wahoo's leg" shirt in the 80's, we've had three decades of creative torso toppers. Here are the 15 coolest wrestling shirts.
16 Honorable Mention: WWF Panda Chair Shot
Growing up a wrestling fan, I came across many misleading “WWF” ads. My excitement at anything wrestling related was soon followed by the crushing disappointment that I was reading something about animals. The story goes that in 1994, Vince McMahon reached a settlement in court that the initials “WWF” belonged to the World Wildlife Fund. McMahon, perhaps building for his “evil boss” character he would soon become famous for, ignored the agreement, and went right on using “WWF” like it was going out of style. Turns out it eventually did.
In 2002, a court ruled that the wrestling company was in breach of said agreement, thus was born the WWE. McMahon handled this transition smoothly, as ever since the WCW became a serious competitor, McMahon had been adamant that he wasn’t in the “wrasslin” business, but in the “entertainment” business.
Now about this shirt. Pandas may be cute as heck, munching away on their bamboo, but they do have the power to rip you to shreds. That’s why this works. While a panda would much rather prefer to sit on the proverbial chair, he has no problem laying the smackdown on a jabroni. While some of the shirts on this list may seem a bit dorky to wrestling outsiders, this one will always be cool.
15 Cactus Jack: WANTED DEAD
What shirt better suits the Hardcore Legend Mick Foley than, WANTED DEAD. Many debate over which of Mike Foley's personas was the best (granted, not many would argue Dude Love) but one thing you can't debate is this was the best of Mick Foley's shirts. Mick Foley doesn't seem to change his clothes all that often, but that's easy to forgive when you have a shirt this cool.
This extreme persona of Mick Foley is perfectly encapsulated in this shirt.
14 John Cena’s 8-bit video game shirt
Cena is a polarizing figure to say the least. The Hulk Hogan of his generation. He is loved by the kids and despised by the smarks. But like it or not, he has been the number one babyface of the WWE for a decade. Vince McMahon himself has said that no one has worked harder to grab the "brass ring”, and that he sees a lack of ambition in the current crop of wrestlers compared to years prior. Cena is bursting with ambition. He has appeared in nine films, six television series, and recorded a hip-hop album. It’s no wonder that one of his t-shirts would make this list.
The funniest thing about this shirt, is that the internet crowd who despise him are the most likely to recognize the 8-bit graphic style inspired by the nintendo game “Pro Wrestling”. A clever marketing move, by a successful business man.
13 Andre the Giant’s big red hand
Andre the Giant was known as a wonderful, passionate man. His larger than life spirit was felt by everyone around him. Known to be a leader in the dressing room, he kept the others in line. One famous story involved Bam Bam Bigelow, then in his early years with the company. Bam Bam had been given a strong push and was earning bigger than usual money for a wrestler of his short tenure. He had been rubbing the other wrestlers the wrong way with his cocky attitude, bragging to the others about the money he was making.
Andre dealt with this in a way only he could. He arranged for a match with Bam Bam and proceeded to teach him a lesson in the ring. Wrestling was definitely “real” for that match. Andre used his unstoppable strength and size to toss the large Bam Bam around like a child. Andre was an extremely talented wrestler who could make life either painless or very painful in the ring. The wrestlers he didn’t like, usually ended up being branded with a large red hand slap on the chest.
12 The Rock: JUST BRING IT
The Rock and Hulk Hogan may not wrestle similar styles, but they were definitely similar in the way that they transcended their sports, making a name in Hollywood after dominating the WWE. A huge part of The Rock's success are his incredible skills with a microphone. He’s one of the greatest promo men of all time, creating numerous catch-phrases to connect with the crowds, allowing them to interact like never before. This connection obviously spawned many successful shirts, adorned with his most famous lines. While many of his slogans could have made it to this list, this one seems to resonate the most with the Rock-loving shirt-wearing millions... and millions out there. I personally would go for another, but “it doesn’t matter” what I think.
11 WCW MONDAY JERICHO
Jericho was and still is a brilliant wrestling mind. He was always ahead of the game in WCW, but perhaps a bit too clever for the company, as they never fully realized his potential. Moving to the WWE gave him his big break and allowed him to become the superstar he was born to be.
Jericho is one of the highest earning wrestlers in the world today, due to his speaking ability and humor. This genius was on early display when Jericho created the shirt “WCW Monday Jericho”. Even if WCW didn’t know it at the time, for many of the fans, Jericho and the overlooked wrestlers like him were the true stars of the show. This shirt had a lasting effect. Jericho’s first words when he jumped ship to the WWE were the similar “Welcome, to Raw, is, Jericho”.
10 Hulk Hogan’s Red and Yellow
Hulk Hogan was arguably the most popular wrestler of all time, but he didn’t use too many wrestling moves. Besides the big boot and leg drop, his most iconic “moves” were cupping his ear, and tearing this shirt off. Hogan got the idea for the name “Hulk” after appearing on a talk show with Lou Ferrigno, who was the original Incredible Hulk. Ferrigno was a rather large body builder himself, but the talk show host remarked at how much bigger Hogan was, thus Hulk Hogan was born.
Hogan was a genius to take the name as well as imitate the way Bruce Banner’s shirt would rip off when he “hulked up”. It was a winning combination as the yellow and red Hulkamania shirts have stuck with the Hulkster for over 30 years, whether Hulkamania or Hulk Rules was the shirt's slogan.
9 Eddie Guerrero: Scarface
If you're of a certain age, you've most likely been in a room with a Scarface poster on the wall. The ultra badass that Pacino played resonated like a religious figure for many. The late Eddie Guerrero had a great T-shirt inspired by that poster, titled “latino heat". Guerrero is a WWE legend, one of the greatest wrestlers in WCW’s heyday, and a gigantic poach for Vince McMahon. Guerrero is sadly no longer with us, but his fans can at least own a tribute to his amazing legacy.
8 EAT SLEEP CONQUER REPEAT
Wrestling is all about suspension of disbelief. Brock Lesnar however, is easily believable as a monstrous physical specimen who could rip you to shreds. He actually went ahead and proved he could “really fight", by becoming UFC Heavyweight Champion. Lesnar’s incredible accomplishments and insane work ethic are perfectly epitomized on his t-shirt slogan: “Eat Sleep Conquer Repeat”. Brock shocked the wrestling world when he broke WWE legend The Undertaker's undefeated WrestleMania streak. The necessary update was made to: “Eat Sleep Break the Streak”. This shirt is strong and intimidating, just like the man who inspired it.
7 D-GENERATION X
In the hottest era of wrestling, the Monday night wars were revolutionizing the game. Stables like nWo and DX were incredibly popular. Their anti-establishment philosophy resonated with the people as wrestling tore down the old guard, and created a brave new world. DX was a large part of the WWE at this time, featuring important players like WWE icon Shawn Michaels and the guy who would eventually marry the Boss’s daughter. DX pulled many stunts, including a takeover of Raw, as well as an “invasion” of WCW. When they showed up on WCW property armed with fake machine guns and army gear, they also had this shirt on. A badass shirt from a badass stable.
6 I'M A PAUL HEYMAN GUY
Paul Heyman is one of the biggest personalities in wrestling. His ability to talk and play the villain has secured his spot in WWE history. Heyman gave wrestling fans an alternative to the mainstream. While WWE and WCW were at their peak, Heyman was a mouthpiece for the upstart ECW. His professional skills helped give credibility to the upstart company.
The wrestlers that are blessed with athletic ability but lack mic-skills have found a career boost from becoming a “Paul Heyman Guy”. For the fans, it gives an identity to the alternative, a voice with an edge. If you love wrestling but hate the good-guys, you’re probably a Paul Heyman Guy.
5 CM Punk: BEST IN THE WORLD
CM Punk was a breath of fresh air for the WWE. He blurred the lines of reality with kayfabe in a way that was relevant with how educated the common wrestling fan had become. He had a unique style, mixing realistic strikes seamlessly with the dramatics of pro wrestling. His “best in the world” shirt with a fist over the Chicago flag was immensely popular. The limited-edition available at the Money in the Bank PPV sold out within 15 minutes and soon went for hundreds of dollars on ebay. After Punk’s departure from the WWE, fans showing up to televised events with a CM Punk shirt were asked to either turn it inside out or wear a replacement. CM Punk left a lasting impression, and he did it while wearing this shirt.
4 E-C- F'N W
While the Monday night wars between WWE and WCW were responsible for pushing wrestling further than it had ever reached, there was a third wrestling company that also had a significant role in this period. ECW had adopted the look of the first years of Raw, and was offering a product far more “raw” than the big two. Treating every match as a no-DQ, hardcore-rules affair. Blood, violence, tables, barbed wire, death defying stunts and alternate stars like Rob Van Dam helped push this era over the line. This wasn't just wrestling, it was F'N Wrestling!
3 Daniel Bryan’s YES!
One of the ways wrestlers can connect with fans is by keeping up with the times and resonating with real life right now. Daniel Bryan is relatable as he looks like he works at your local coffee shop or record store. He looks like someone you see in the park playing with their dog. He looks like that guy in your yoga class that's more flexible than you. He might even look just like you. His look, personality, and top-notch wrestling ability have seen his popularity skyrocket. When his trajectory seemed to be unstoppable, fans were understandably livid when he was denied a spot in the Royal Rumble. The fans let the WWE know their displeasure by showing their overwhelming support for Bryan. His trademark “YES!” chant is the loudest we’ve heard in a WWE arena for quite some time.
The overwhelming power of the WWE universe actually seemed to change his fate. A storyline was introduced in which Daniel Bryan and his fans occupied Raw, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. This eventually led to Bryan being included in the biggest match of the year, where he won the richest prize in the business at WrestleMania XXX! The little guy had won, the people were heard, and the word that was heard loudest was YES!
2 nWo: new World Order
WCW had many highs and lows, but none higher than the nWo era. It marked a massive change in wrestling. At the time, the WWE was in the tail end of the “new generation” era, and still featured a colorful cartoon look for its wrestlers and gimmicks. Conversely, the nWo featured two ex-WWE wrestlers who dropped gimmicks for their real names, and shocked the world with Hogan's biggest heel turn in the history of the business. It catapulted the WCW beyond the WWE for the first time, leading to an excellent head-to-head battle between the two companies. The popularity of the nWo prompted the WWE to evolve from the New Generation to the Attitude Era, embarking on wrestling’s most popular period ever.
This shirt was one of the two most iconic shirts of that time. Like CM Punk’s, it was also passively banned from some WWE tapings.
1 Austin 3:16
This and the nWo shirt were the two most popular shirts in the most popular time wrestling. If you were a fan back then there’s a good chance you have one of these bad boys. And that was the appeal, they were bad-ass. The biggest complaint of the PG era is that it lacks an edge. Steve Austin became the most popular “face” in all of wrestling not by copying Hulk Hogan, but by giving a unique anti-hero the fans hadn’t seen before. While early Hulkamaniacs were eating their vitamins and saying their prayers, Austin fans were swilling beer and reciting psalms about kicking ass. Austin’s biggest feud (with Mr. McMahon), was every fan's dream. Who hasn’t had a fantasy of kicking their boss’ ass? Austin did it, and he didn’t care about the consequences.
While he doesn’t work in the ring anymore, you can find him hosting a fantastic podcast. His fearless persona has survived as he asks the tough questions fans want answers to. If you want to see another episode of the Austin/McMahon rivalry, check out the rattlesnake interviewing McMahon for a modern-day 3:16 experience.