Over the years, successful pro wrestling promoters have been able to draw big money by capitalizing on controversy. The easiest way for promoters to cash in on controversy is to invent a gimmick for the right wrestler that flies in the face of society’s norms. By striking a nerve in the general public, a controversial gimmick can draw mainstream media attention that can boost ratings, sell tickets, and possibly even recruit new fans. However, a controversial gimmick that goes too far can sometimes have a negative backlash, which can hurt the financial bottom line of a pro wrestling organization.
The typical response by a promoter is to “kill” the character, which in some cases can kill the career of the wrestler asked to portray the controversial character. Other controversial pro wrestling gimmicks have been created and used by the wrestlers themselves. These are wrestlers that may have been toiling in obscurity before cashing in on some lightning in a bottle. Because, make no mistake, there is a prevalent common dominator among most controversial pro wrestling gimmicks. They tend to have a much shorter shelf life than less complicated gimmicks that deal in basic good guys and bad guys. There are a number of reasons for a quicker burn out rate for controversial pro wrestling gimmicks. With that said, let’s take a look at the top 15 most controversial pro wrestling gimmicks.
15 "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase
The Million Dollar Man persona was a creation of WWE owner Vince McMahon. The story was that McMahon wanted a character in his likeness. McMahon chose ring veteran Ted Dibiase to become The Million Dollar Man in 1987. What made him so controversial was that he felt that anyone and anything was for sale. His infamous line was “Everyone has a price for The Million Dollar Man.” He was also a morally bankrupt character with a loyal bodyguard named Virgil whom he mistreated and humiliated regularly. Dibiase once purchased Hercules from Bobby the Brain Heenan to be his personal “slave.” Even back in the 1980s, making light of slavery in any way was sure to raise some eyebrows. And, there was also the infamous basketball segment involving a young child that had fans wanting to wait around after the show to “have a few words” with The Million Dollar Man. This segment was one of many in which Dibiase paid people to do humiliating things such as kissing his feet or getting down on all fours and barking like a dog. These angles among others established The Million Dollar Man as one of the top heels and most controversial characters in pro wrestling history.
Super Crazy, Psicosis, and Juventud Guerrera were talented luchadores all under WWE contract in 2005. Their individual accomplishments in the world of pro wrestling and lucha libre should have spoke for itself even in WWE. They were all successful in other promotions such as ECW, WCW, and AAA in Mexico. What did WWE decide to do with these internationally renowned luchadores? They formed a lawn mower riding, coverall wearing faction called the Mexicools. This disturbing gimmick totally overshadowed the combined talents of the group. Despite Guerrera capturing the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, the Mexicools were relegated to a mid card comedy act. They were featured in angles and segments involving Mexican stereotypes such as laziness and only being able to take jobs with menial tasks. The Mexicools gimmick was both controversial and tasteless.
Meat was a character portrayed by second generation WWE Superstar Shawn Stasiak in WWE in 1999. Meat was a sex slave for the Pretty Mean Sisters (PMS) faction, which consisted of Terri Runnels, Jacqueline, and Ryan Shamrock. This was another example of a character that could only exist in the unique time period of WWE’s Attitude Era. Meat wore ring trunks that resembled underwear apparently to please the members of PMS. He was also required by PMS to perform his “manly duties” often and even before matches. WWE commentators would take notice of his lack of energy in the ring and would inform the viewing audience that he was being “worn out” by PMS. Surprisingly, the Meat character only had a brief WWE run despite being a perfect fit for the Attitude Era.
12 The Final Solution
What’s in a name? Well, everything if the company you are wrestling for has just named your character The Final Solution. That’s exactly what happened to Robert “Jeep” Swenson when he joined WCW in 1996. Jeep Swenson was known by most pro wrestling fans for his stint in World Class Championship Wrestling in the late 1980s. Comic fans also know him for his portrayal of Batman villain Bane in Batman & Robin (1997). Swenson was brought to WCW to play a monster heel named The Final Solution as part of the Alliance To End Hulkamania faction. However, there was one gigantic problem with the name chosen for Swenson. The Final Solution was also the name given to Adolph Hitler’s plan to exterminate Jewish people during World War II. After complaints, WCW quickly and wisely changed Swenson’s ring name to The Ultimate Solution.
11 West Hollywood Blondes
The West Hollywood Blondes were a controversial tag team in WCW. Lenny Lane and Lodi formed this tag team in 1999 and the premise was that they were ambiguously gay. They wore pink ring gear with glitter and brought blow pops with them to the ring. The tag team was starting to get over with fans when they were pulled from television. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) made a complaint to WCW and threatened to organize protests. The organization felt the gimmick used homophobic stereotypes that encouraged violence against gay and lesbian people. The West Hollywood Blondes were briefly repackaged as Standards and Practices managed by Miss Hancock. Ironically, WWE’s Billy and Chuck angle would also receive attention from GLAAD in 2001. The relationship between WWE and GLAAD started out well but ended on a sour note when the Billy and Chuck wedding didn’t go as GLAAD had anticipated.
10 Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt. Slaughter for the most part wasn’t a very controversial character. A former drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina that used his military experience and toughness to battle foes in the ring was a solid gimmick but hardly controversial. However, a slight wrinkle to this persona occurred briefly in WWE during the early 1990s. It would be a wrinkle that would put the Slaughter character in the conversation of most controversial pro wrestling gimmicks. After a stint with the AWA, Slaughter returned to WWE in 1990 and was asked to be a heel for the first time in many years. The difference this time was that Slaughter would be an anti-American heel and Iraqi sympathizer. WWE looked to capitalize on media coverage of the turmoil in the Middle East and controversial Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Slaughter took on General Adnan and eventually Col. Mustafa aka The Iron Sheik as allies and together they were called The Triangle of Terror. Eventually, Slaughter lost his feud with Hulk Hogan and was allowed to return to his more familiar role as a baby face defender of the red,white, and blue.
9 The Godfather
The Godfather was a WWE character during the Attitude Era and was portrayed by Charles Wright aka Kama Mustafa and Papa Shango. The Godfather was a pimp whose famous line was “pimpin’ aint easy.” Not controversial enough? The Godfather also had a “hoe train” that he would offer up to opponents in return for a forfeit. On top of that, The Godfather was a baby face and one of the most popular wrestlers of WWE’s Attitude Era. Only during WWE’s Attitude Era could wrestling fans tune in each and every week to keep up with the heroic exploits of this friendly neighborhood pimp. However, this controversial character would finally have to change his ways due to a changing WWE landscape that included the need to become mainstream and family friendly once again. The Godfather character was watered down and at one point even briefly became the ultra conservative Goodfather as a part of the Right To Censor faction.
8 Val Venis
WWE’s Attitude Era produced a great deal of controversial characters and angles. One of the most controversial had to be the in your face, porn star Val Venis. Venis was international pro wrestler Sean Morley who wrestled under a number of different gimmicks before being signed to WWE to portray a pro wrestling porn star. Venis was introduced to WWE fans through several vignettes loaded with sexual innuendos and one even featured adult film star Jenna Jameson. He was a big hit with fans during the over the top Attitude Era. Venis was known to feud with others over women. One infamous angle featured the members of Kaientai ganging up on Venis and attempting to cut off his manhood with a sword. This was retribution for an affair Venis had with the wife of one of the Kaientai members. He coveted the wives and girlfriends of other WWE Superstars throughout the Attitude Era. As this infamous era in WWE winded down, the character began to be watered down and eventually went through several metamorphoses including joining the ultra conservative Right To Censor faction and later becoming authority figure Chief Morley.
7 "Prince of Darkness" Kevin Sullivan
Satan worship was a very hot topic on the news and also in entertainment for a number of years. The early 1980s seemed to have been peak years for Satan worship in the media. The news often made it the top story especially when they covered serial killers such as The Night Stalker who admitted to being a follower of Satan. Rock n Roll acts such as Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kiss all had to fight off rumors of their involvement in Satan worship. Kevin Sullivan then decided to jump on the bandwagon and take advantage of the public’s fascination and fear of the Devil. Sullivan became a Satan worshipping character with cult followers called his Army of Darkness that included the Fallen Angel aka Woman, Mark Lewin, and Bob Roop among others. He debuted this character while he was wrestling in Florida, which is part of an unofficial region called “The Bible Belt”. A Satanic wrestler in a Bible Belt state was sure to stir up some controversy, scare a few people, and sell some tickets. Sullivan’s devil worshipping persona ended when he signed with WCW in the late 1980s. He continued on as an evil heel that had a way of controlling others in stables such as The Varsity Club and Dungeon of Doom.
6 Wife Beater
Before he was Kassius Ohno and Chris Hero, pro wrestler Chris Spradlin was The Wife Beater. According to Spradlin, the ring name was born due to his choice of ring attire, which was a “wife beater” tank top. The Wife Beater character was said to be a “tongue in cheek thing” that had absolutely nothing to do with domestic violence. However, that didn’t stop The Wife Beater from becoming the center of pro wrestling controversy. During Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast, Spradlin said a wrestling show that he wrestled on in 1999 was picketed by a women’s group. The story actually made it to network television on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. The Wife Beater controversy led to Spradlin’s most popular persona being created. He said indy promoters wouldn’t book him under The Wife Beater name so Chris Hero was born.
5 Joey Ryan
Joey Ryan has been a crowd pleaser for over ten years in a number of pro wrestling promotions such as Pro Wrestling Guerilla, the National Wrestling Alliance, TNA Wrestling, and Lucha Underground. Ryan’s sleazy, retro style character has been a big hit throughout the years but not very controversial until very recently. Ryan has added a weapon to his arsenal that has made him a top name in pro wrestling without the benefit of the WWE machine. Video of this weapon being used has gone viral and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News and Rolling Stone have picked up the story. During a pro wrestling event in Japan, Ryan used his private part to over power and toss his opponent to the mat. The self proclaimed “King of Dong Style” also used his bionic “special purpose” to flip over eleven opponents during a battle royal. As a result, the controversial superstar also landed an endorsement deal with YouPorn Sports.
4 Beaver Cleavage
Beaver Cleavage was a character that briefly caused some commotion in 1999 during WWE’s Attitude Era. The character was based on a perverse version of the old Leave It To Beaver television show. Beaver Cleavage was Chaz Warrington who is best known as Mosh; one half of The Headbangers tag team. Beaver Cleavage was a repulsive character whose valet was his mother, Mrs. Cleavage. They would actually make sexual innuendos towards each other. The jokes often centered on “mother’s milk”. The jokes were especially crude considering they were supposed to be mother and son. The gimmick was killed soon after it started when Warrington broke character during a worked shoot and assumed the ring name of Chaz. This vile character was the brainchild of Vince Russo and according to Jim Cornette ruined Warrington’s career.
The character of Goldust debuted in WWE in 1995. The controversial and very bizarre Goldust was wrestling veteran Dustin Rhodes. Goldust’s drag queen like appearance, implied sexual ambiguity, flirtatious behavior towards opponents, and sexual mannerisms made him an extremely controversial character. Goldust intimidated Razor Ramon, the “Bad Guy” known for his “machismo”, with his bizarre appearance and behaviors. In one odd display, Goldust unzipped his costume top to reveal a heart painted on his chest with “Razor” written in the middle. He also cut promos on Ramon in which he used suggestive language to imply a possible sexual relationship between the two. This was an edgy storyline that was starting to lead WWE down the path to the Attitude Era. Following the Attitude Era, Goldust was toned way down to fit in with a more family friendly product. Most recently Goldust formed a comedic and very family friendly tag team called Golden Truth with ring veteran R-Truth.
2 Col. DeBeers
Col. DeBeers was a racist character portrayed by Edward Wiskoski mainly in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) during the mid 1980s to the very early 1990s. Yes, you read that right; DeBeers was a racist character. The heel character was billed from South Africa and was based on the apartheid movement in South Africa. DeBeers had a very infamous feud with Jimmy Superfly Snuka in the AWA. DeBeers refused to wrestle Snuka on a number of occasions. The reason for refusing was because Snuka wasn’t white. DeBeers later briefly feuded with Iceman King Parsons in Herb Abram’s Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF) and again race was at the center of the feud. While in the UWF, he also took exception to his matches being officiated by African American referees. DeBeers is not only one of the most controversial, but one of the most despicable characters in pro wrestling history.
1 Muhammad Hassan
Muhammad Hassan could very well be the most controversial and complicated character in pro wrestling history. The Arab American character debuted in 2004 and was portrayed by, ironically, an American of Italian decent, Marc Copani. The Hassan character was frustrated by American paranoia and stereotypes towards Arab Americans stemming from the 9/11 attacks. With that said, the heel Hassan actually had some baby face ideology. This could have been done intentionally by WWE as a way to justify extremely controversial angles they planned for the character. Simply put, WWE had a top heel that could pray on the public’s focus on terrorism without actually being a terrorist character. However, WWE went too far and was forced to pull the plug on the character, which in turn ultimately marked the end of Marc Copani’s pro wrestling career. The infamous episode of SmackDown that ended Hassan’s run featured him “summoning” a group of men in ski masks to attack and choke out The Undertaker. The airing of the episode also coincided with a terrorist attack in London. Public backlash to the angle and pressure from the UPN network led to the disappearance of the character. Shortly after Copani was released by WWE.