The timing of the new League of Nations faction in the WWE makes sense. With terror overseas and at home coupled with anti-immigrant fever boiling hot as shown in the rising poll numbers of WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump (yes, for real), it is safe to say that Americans feel unsafe. Scared, angry, and looking for a scapegoat: enter the immigrant. One man’s xenophobia is another man’s box office attraction, albeit with a catch in the modern and global WWE. As Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer, noted, “one of the problems with the foreign menace thing is that you really don't want a Middle Eastern foreign menace when you're running shows in the Middle East,” So while the League of Nations might be a short term heel solution, there’s a long time history of bad guys from outside the U.S. borders.
As professional wrestling offers people a cathartic release for that anger, the “foreign menace” character gives fans somebody on their screen to hate. Even in the early days when pro wrestling was pitched as sports there were still foreign menaces such as “The Terrible Turk” Ali Baba. Part of the appeal of the epic Frank Gotch v George Hackenschmidt matches no doubt spun off the America vs Europe angle. After World War II and the explosion of wrestling on TV, came the onslaughts of foreign menaces, namely past enemies The German Hans Schmidt (really a Canadian) and the Japanese Mr. Moto (a Hawaiian). And lots and lots of Russians.
The book The Heels by Greg Oliver and Steven Johnson lists the top twenty heel wrestlers. That select group consists of six foreign menaces: The Sheik (#3), Mad Dog Vachon (#4), Killer Kowalski (#9), Abdullah the Butcher (#12), Boris Malenko (#15) and Hans Schmidt (#16). Roddy Piper lands at #20 but the foreign menace never was his main heel sthtick. There’s a whole chapter labeled “The Foreigners” filled with three heels who really should have made that top twenty: Ivan Koloff, Fritz Von Erich, and Baron Von Raschke. A staple of the old WWWF promotion pitted “good” immigrant Bruno Sammartino against “foreign menace.” Bruno drew huge gates against the likes of Waldo Von Erich, Toru Tanaka, Spiros Arion, Hans Mortier, and Gorilla Monsoon (then from Mongolia not New Jersey). So what makes a good foreign menace? It is not enough to be "foreign" but to be actively Anti-American. Edge, Chris Jericho, and even Christian never had that as a major part of their heel heat most of the time. That’s the key: does the “foreign-ness” draw heat and maybe with that, ratings / box office.
Of the heels listed by Oliver and Johnson, only two worked in the “modern” WWE era (The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff) so who are the other top heels in WWE history?
14 The Great Khali
13 Fit Finlay
12 Jacques Rougeau
10 Antonio Cesaro
9 T8. Lance Storm
8 T8. Eddie Guerrero
6 Nikolai Volkoff
3 The Iron Sheik
1 Bret Hart
What Bret Hart lacked in size, he made up for in a big mouth during his memorable 1997 heel run leading the New Hart Foundation. With almost shoot like interviews ripping on Americans Hart, once the most popular wrestler turned the US crowd against him, in particular those in in the Steel City. That’s where he famously said, “If you were going to give the United States of America an enema, you’d stick the hose right here in Pittsburgh.” But as hated as Bret was in the US, he was loved in Canada in one of the stranger (and more successful) angles in history. Greet heel in ring work coupled with a monster mouth made Bret Hart, if only for six months, the best foreign menace there was, and maybe ever will be.
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