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.
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.
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.
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.
12 The Rock: JUST BRING IT
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.
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.
9 Eddie Guerrero: Scarface
8 EAT SLEEP CONQUER REPEAT
7 D-GENERATION X
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.
5 CM Punk: BEST IN THE WORLD
4 E-C- F'N W
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.
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.
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.
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