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What's In A Name? 15 Fascinating Stories Behind Famous Wrestling Ring Names

Wrestling fans are a divided bunch. We can’t agree on who the best wrestler in the world is, we can’t agree on what the best match in the world is and we can’t agree on whether we actually like Vince McMahon or not. However, there is one thing that every wrestling fan hs in common; we’ve all fantasized over what our wrestling name would be. Come on, admit it, you’ve dedicated way too much of your time to coming up with coolest, most bad-ass wrestling name that you’d use if you ever plucked up the courage to step inside the ring. I’m currently debating between Johnny Avalon and Jeff Steelflex.

While it might seem like a trivial little detail that fans obsess over, the name of a wrestler is actually one of the most important parts of their character; with a good name, a wrestler can be presented as a badass and get over to a huge degree, but, with a stupid name, well, they end up as Bastion Booger. Okay, I know that his name wasn’t the only reason he sucked, but you know what I mean. Thankfully for these performers, something happened to them that inspired them to create some pretty memorable ring names. From chance meetings to their own heritage, these wrestlers go to prove that a great idea can come from literally anywhere. Shame Bastion Booger never figured that out.

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15 Finn Balor: The Irish Hero... Who Is Also The Demon King

via popculture.com

Because WWE really want us to know Finn Balor is Irish.

Finn Balor, formerly known as Prince Devitt in New Japan Pro Wrestling, is widely regarded as one of the most capable in-ring performers of this current generation. Alongside his technical ability, Balor’s accomplishments are also pretty extensive; he’s the longest-reigning NXT Champion of all time, was the first man to ever win the WWE Universal Championship and was the first ever leader of Bullet Club, one of the most popular factions in the world today. That last part is something WWE probably want left unsaid, though.

When Balor came to WWE in 2014, he was given a ring name that paid homage to his Irish heritage. The “Finn” part of his name comes from the legendary Irish folk hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill (or MacCool, as it is sometimes written), whilst the “Balor” part comes from the Irish for “Demon King”, which is also Balor’s nickname (when he’s covered in paint). Balor’s names serve as a nod to his country’s folklore and present Balor as a great warrior and supernatural force between the ropes. If only fellow Irish wrestlers Sheamus and Finlay had gotten this treatment.

14 Kevin Owens: Wearing His "Hart" On His Sleeve

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Lovers of kayfabe, beware; this story actually shows KO’s sensitive side.

Kevin Owens is undoubtedly one of the best talents in WWE right now. An incredible performer, – both in the ring and on the mic – Owens has done a lot in his relatively short time with the company, capturing the NXT, Intercontinental, United States and Universal Championships since his arrival in 2014. Add these to his memorable feuds with Sami Zayn, John Cena, Chris Jericho and Shane McMahon, and KO is well on his way to becoming one of the modern age’s most decorated performers. Shame he lost that match to Goldberg in 22 seconds, though.

On the independent circuit before joining WWE, Owens wrestled under his real name of Kevin Steen and achieved plenty of success with it. However, since WWE was at war with wrestler’s independent names when they signed him, The Prizefighter was forced to change his name to something else. Kevin decided to take inspiration from his son when drafting a new name and adopted his boy’s first name, Owen, as his new character’s last name. Owen Steen, who was born in 2007 to Kevin and his wife, Karina, is also named after someone else; the legendary Owen Hart, whom Owen’s father was a huge fan of. So Kevin Owens named himself after his son, whom he named after Owen Hart, all because WWE wouldn’t let him use his real name. Wrestling is really confusing sometimes.

13 Hulk Hogan: HULK SMASH

via thedailybeast.com

Surprisingly enough, Mr. and Mrs. Hogan did not name their baby boy “Hulk.” I know. Shocking.

What to write about this man. For many, Hulk Hogan is pro wrestling. The muscles, the red and yellow, the bandanas, the moustache, the indecipherable promos, Hogan is iconic in so many ways and is easily one of the most famous professional wrestler of all time. For well over a decade, he was the top man in WWE, main eventing countless big shows, holding the world title for years on end and selling enough merchandise to make an anti-capitalist explode literally with rage. Outside of the WWE, he was a founding member of the New World Order, a hugely influential wrestling stable, and has appeared in countless films, TV shows and other forms of media, making Hogan a cross-culture phenomenon. Then he blew it by saying some really racist and homophobic stuff in a leaked tape. Great.

While Hogan is, all in all, a pretty awful person, he at least has an interesting story behind his ring name. The surname “Hogan” comes from Vince McMahon Sr. (the father of the current WWE chairman) who wanted The Hulkster to portray an Irish character during his first run with the company. Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) is definitely the weirdest looking leprechaun I’ve ever seen. As for the “Hulk” part of the name, well, that’s a properly good tale. Whilst wrestling for the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, Tennessee, Hogan appeared on a local talk show. Another guest on the show was actor, Lou Ferrigno, best known for playing superhero The Incredible Hulk on TV. See where this is going? The host of the show remarked how Hogan actually made “The Hulk” look small. To capitalise on this publicity, Hogan began wrestling as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder and the rest, as they say, is history. Good thing Hogan wasn’t sitting next to Jaleel White on that talk show, otherwise we might be talking about “Urkel Hogan” right now.

12 Alexa Bliss: The Southern Belle

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Is Alexa Bliss the perfect woman... yes, yes she is.

Alexa Bliss has done loads since she made her main roster debut in the summer of 2016. She’s been SmackDown and Raw Women’s Champion twice (each), which also makes her the only woman thus far to have held both titles and Bliss also got the opportunity to walk into WrestleMania 33 as women’s champion, something only a handful of performers have gotten to do in their time. For someone who spent a large portion of their time in NXT as a valet, Bliss has come on leaps and bounds in the ring and is one of the women’s division’s most valuable performers.

Before she became the “Goddess of WWE,” Bliss had a short-lived run as a Southern girl character, where she was paired with none other than Scott Dawson. During this time, Alexa would put on a very heavy Southern accent, which affected how she said certain words. One of these words was “bless”, which she would say often as part of a catchphrase. When Alexa said “bless”, it came out sounding like “bliss”, something officials picked up on. When she began appearing regularly on WWE TV in 2014, this had been combined with her real-life first name, giving birth to Alexa Bliss. Not sure what happened to that Dawson guy, though. I guess he ditched the Southern gimmick and faded away. Shame...

11 CM Punk: A Chick Magnet?

via onlineworldofwrestling.com

At least now the smarks will know where the name they keep chanting comes from.

CM Punk is one of the most memorable WWE wrestlers of the past ten years, which is ironic, but WWE are dead set on making sure you don’t remember him. After winning the WWE Championship and holding onto it for a whopping 434 days (the sixth longest of all time), Punk fell out of favour with the company after he walked out of an episode of Raw in 2014 and never came back. Punk was unhappy with the way he was treated in the company; he claimed he wasn’t treated like the star he was and also had gripes with WWE’s medical staff over an apparently-undiagnosed staph infection. This threw the company’s creative plans and Punk’s subsequent trashing of WWE in interviews after he left hasn’t just burned the two’s bridges, it’s nuked them. Still, the fans still think he’ll come back, because apparently that’s the solution to all of WWE’s problems. Oh, the IWC.

What the initials “CM” stand for has become somewhat of a joke in the wrestling community. The original meaning of the letters can be traced back to Punk’s earliest days in the business and a match for a backyard wrestling federation. In this particular fed, there was a wrestler called CM Venom, with the CM standing for “Chick Magnet”. At one particular show, Venom’s planned tag team partner failed to show up, so Punk was thrown into a team with him. To keep with the theme, Punk took on the initials “CM” and the team was named “The Chick Magnets.” So, there you have, CM Punk got his name because some guy didn’t show up when he was supposed to. Now that is irony.

10 1o. Rikishi/Yokozuna: A Bunch Of Sumo Wrestlers

via wikipedia.org/youtube.com
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I’m clumping these two together by topics, not because I think they’re the same person. I know they’re not.

Rikishi and Yokozuna are two larger-than-life WWE characters who left an impressive mark on the minds and hearts of fans. Yokozuna was portrayed as a sumo-type character from Japan (despite being Samoan) who had memorable rivalries with Hulk Hogan, Lex Luger and Bret Hart in the 1990s and even won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania IX. Not that that’s a show to be proud of being on. As for Rikishi, he actually worked a number of gimmicks before settling on the jolly dancing fat man who entertained fans through his partnership with Too Cool, his funky dance moves and plethora of “stink faces”. Oh, and he once ran over Steve Austin. All fun and games.

I’ve put these two together, not just because of their family connection (the two are cousins and both members of the famous Anoa’i family of Samoan wrestlers), but because their given names actually mean very similar things. In Japanese, “rikishi” is the word for a professional sumo wrestler and is made up of two Japanese characters meaning “strength/power” and “gentleman/samurai.” “Yokozuna” is also a word meaning a sumo wrestler, but it a specific type of sumo, one who occupies the highest rank in the sport. So, WWE named two fat men with non-American heritage after two words both meaning sumo wrestler. Real original, Vince, real original.

9 Umaga: The End Is Here

via nydailynews.com

Turns out WWE love to name Samoan wrestlers after foreign words.

Umaga (brother of fellow entry on this list, Rikishi) went through numerous gimmicks in the WWE. He began as Jamal, a member of Three Minute Warning, a tag team of two big dudes who would beat people up when they took up too much time on Raw. He was repackaged as Umaga, a seemingly-unstoppable Samoan savage who could put opponents down for three with just a strike from his thumb. Umaga’s career was going pretty well, that was, until he was struck down with a serious illness; Cenaitis, a strange disease that is only contracted once you enter a feud with John Cena and lose every single match. No one has ever recovered.

The word “umaga” comes from the traditional Samoan tattooing process and it’s a part that is not for the faint of heart. “Umaga,” meaning “the end,” is the part of the process that involved the abdomen and naval area of the body and, apparently, it’s the part that hurts the most. This is obviously in reference to Umaga’s Samoan heritage and the huge tattoo on his stomach that read “Samoa,” but it might also be because “umaga” is a really badass sounding word and the character, at his peak, was a bona fide ass-kicker. Whilst the Samoan references were about as subtle as a monkey wrench to the side of the head, Umaga was still a great character. Now, let’s try and move away from the racially contentious characters, shall we?

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8 Chris Jericho: Heavy Metal Roots

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Jericho didn’t immediately decide on this name. I’ve heard he had multiple options; a List if you will...

Chris Jericho is one of the best ever and that is a fact. A revolutionary cruiserweight performer in WCW, Jericho made the jump to WWE in 1999 and continued to put on incredible performances in match with the likes of Kurt Angle, The Rock and Shawn Michaels over the next 18 years. Jericho also proved himself to be a master chameleon; adapting and changing his character over and over again to remain relevant in whichever period he was wrestling. The mark of a truly brilliant artist, in any genre, is to change with the changing times and make yourself stand out and Y2J definitely managed to do that, which, in my eyes, makes him one of the true greats of pro wrestling.

As anyone who follows the man outside of wrestling will know, Jericho is a huge fan of rock and metal music. He’s even the frontman of his own metal band, Fozzy, which is part of the reason why he’s rarely on WWE TV for more than a year at a time anymore. Jericho’s love for this genre of music is even present in his ring name, which he took from the name of an album by German metal band, Helloween. The album, which was called Walls of Jericho, also lent its name to Jericho’s finishing submission hold, so Jericho really must have been a fan of German metal bands. But, let’s be fair, who isn’t. My grandma can’t get enough.

7 William Regal: Stolen From "Mr. Electricity"?

via wwe.com

Can we just agree that William Regal is an absolute pro before we get started? Yeah? Thanks.

Although many modern fans will know William Regal solely for his role as NXT General Manager, his long and storied career goes back way, way before the yellow brand was even a glint in Triple H’s eye. Working his way from the independent scenes of his native England to WCW in the '90s before finally arriving in the WWE in 2001. Since then, he’s been a wrestler, a general manager, a commissioner, a colour commentator, a backstage agent, a talent scout and he probably worked on catering one week because someone was sick, that’s how much of asset Regal is to the WWE. Though never a world champion, Regal is, without a doubt, a world class performer and his place in the WWE Hall of Fame is all but assured.

You might think that, considering his early character in WCW was that of an English aristocrat, that the surname “Regal” was simply given to old Bill to help drive that point home. Actually, the name was chosen by William himself and it was a name that he didn’t technically have the rights to. Regal got his name after reading an article in an American wrestling magazine about the American Wrestling Association’s “Mr. Electricity” Steve Regal. Regal, who used to go by the name “Steven”, flat-out stole his wrestling name from another performer and then went on to have way, way more success than “Mr. Electricity” could ever hope to achieve. Whilst I should probably reprimand Regal for stealing the name, I’m sure it wasn’t done with any malice or bad intentions, so we’ll let Will off, just this once. Besides, people steal other wrestler’s names all the time. Randy Savage had a female valet called “Gorgeous George” in WCW. If you wanna get angry at something, get angry at that.

6 Roddy Piper: Error By The Ring Announcer

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This one is hilarious.

Roddy Piper was one of the most famous and popular wrestlers of his era. With his trademark Scottish rage and hilarious antics, Piper entertained fans across the world, competed in great matches and even main evented the first ever WrestleMania. Piper also worked for the NWA and WCW and was a huge star there too, as well as appearing in numerous movies and TV shows, appealing to a non-wrestling audience. Quite simply, Piper was an entertainment icon. It’s a shame about Hell Comes To Frogtown, though. That movie was an absolute mess.

Piper’s famous ring name came from his first ever match in a major wrestling organisation. Piper stepped into a ring for the American Wrestling Association (AWA) against Larry “The Ax” Hennig (father of Mr. Perfect and grandfather of Curtis Axel) in 1973. During Piper’s entrance, his friends played the bagpipes, in an attempt to get over Piper’s Scottish heritage. The ring announcer, who had forgotten what Roddy’s last name was, saw this display and, in an attempt to cover up his mistake, announced him as “Roddy the piper”. The name stuck and one of the most famous ring names of all time was born, all thanks to a ring announcer’s error. Who’d have thunk, eh?

5 The Ultimate Warrior: One Warrior To Rule Them All

via WWE.com

He actually changed his real name to Warrior before he died. Man, was this guy in a bad place.

Jim Hellwig (or Warrior, if we’re going to get legal) was one of WWE’s biggest draws in the 1980s. One of the few other wrestlers who ever got to be “the top guy” an era dominated by Hulk Hogan, Warrior excited fans with his incredible look, high-energy performances and gripping promo style. He won the WWE Championship from Hogan at WrestleMania VI in a match still considered one of the most pivotal in wrestling history and also had memorable feuds with the likes of Randy Savage, Rick Rude and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Sadly, Warrior’s career has been marred by his turbulent personal life (not to mention his utterly abysmal run in WCW), but, objectively, he’s one of the biggest stars the business has ever known and deserves respect. Even if he did wear tassels.

There several stories regarding the creation of the name “The Ultimate Warrior.” When Warrior (remember, that was his real name, by law) signed with the WWE in 1987, he was known as “The Dingo Warrior” after a stint in a tag team known as The Blade Runners (alongside fellow Hall of Famer, Sting). Apparently, according to former WWE performer and backstage figure, Bruce Prichard, Vince McMahon didn’t understand the name (Vince, not understanding something, shocking) and also wanted to differentiate his new signing from the other “warriors” he had on his roster at the time (The Road Warriors, “The Modern Day Warrior” Kerry Von Erich etc). So, Vince decided that his new singing wouldn’t just be any old warrior, he would be the “Ultimate” Warrior and the name stuck. Another version of the story comes from the man himself, who said he came up with the name on a spur during an unscripted promo following a match. Normally, I’d be inclined to take the word of the person whose name the story is about, but, then again, this is The Warrior we’re talking about. I’m not sure it’s wise to trust anything that man ever said.

4 Damien Sandow: Paying Homage

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Oh, Damien, what could have been.

Damien Sandow could have been one of the biggest stars of this generation and that is no hyperbole. Whilst being fairly average in the ring, his character work was exceptional, even when those characters were, on paper, atrocious. The Intellectual Saviour of the Masses, The Miz’s stunt double, hell, even cosplaying as Randy Savage, Sandow made them all work and got over huge with the WWE audience to the point where, when he eliminated The Miz from the 2015 Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, it drew one of the biggest reactions that WrestleMania saw all night. And it was on the damn pre-show! Sadly, management never saw any potential in Sandow (despite it obviously being there) and he was released in 2016. But hey, Damien, if you’re reading this now, I could use a stunt double. Maybe we could come to an agreement.

Damien Sandow (real name Aaron Haddad) chose his ring name to pay homage to some of the earliest pioneers of pro wrestling. The “Sandow” part of his name is in reference to Billy Sandow, an early promoter and manager credited with helping to pioneer the creation of what we know today as pro wrestling, and also to Eugen Sandow, the father of modern body-building whose influences could also be felt in the early days of wrestling. As for the Damien part, I can only assume that Sandow was just a big fan of Jake Roberts' snake. Sandow’s choice of name shows a deep knowledge and passion for the wrestling business, something that came across in his entertaining performances in the WWE. Maybe if he’d chosen to name himself “Reigns” or “Cena” instead, he’d still be with the company. We’ll never know.

3 Hideo Itami: The Hero Of Pain

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You can pretty much use the same intro as the Damien Sandow paragraph for Hideo.

Hideo Itami had potential to be one of the biggest stars in the WWE when he signed for the company in 2014. One of the biggest stars in Japan’s Pro Wrestling Noah promotion, Itami (or KENTA, as he was known in his native land) wowed audiences with his impressive offence and captivating performances and WWE were hoping he would repeat this when they brought him to their developmental brand. Whilst he did show signs of that incredible talent, Itami was plagued by injuries; it seemed like, just as he was beginning to gain moment, Hideo would get hurt and miss months of action at a time, putting him right back to square one. Now seemingly an afterthought on NXT, Itami could still turn things around, but I think the time for him to be in the spotlight has, sadly, been and gone.

Itami’s NXT name is also a nod to his heritage. The name means “Hero of Pain” in Japanese and is a nod to Itami’s conquering face character that he adopted when he was brought into NXT, as well as the fact that this is a man who could hurt you a lot if he so wished. The name is sort of defunct now he’s a heel, but “Hero of Pain” is still a pretty cool name to have, even if a lot of non-Japanese speakers have no idea that’s what it means. Oh well, at least they didn’t call him “Kung Fu Naki” and dress him up in a karate robe like they did with another Japanese wrestler. Seriously, WWE, do the words “cultural sensitivity” mean nothing to you?

2 The Rock: It's All About Family

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Because no one was going to cheer for him if he went by the name “Dwayne”.

The Rock is probably the most successful wrestler of all time and that has absolutely nothing to do with his wrestling career. After beginning as a bland, boring babyface who got booed way more than he got cheered (sound familiar, Roman?), Rock drastically changed his character and became a cool, cocky heel that proved to be so popular, he became one of the biggest stars of WWE’s Attitude Era. After retiring from full-time wrestling, The Rock then went onto conquer Hollywood as a big-screen actor, starring in movies such as The Scorpion King, Tooth Fairy and the Fast and Furious franchise. From a hated babyface to the highest-paid actor in the world, Dwayne Johnson’s story is absolutely incredible. I’d say they should make a movie about it, but, honestly, who are they going to get to play The Rock? Good luck finding someone else that jacked.

The name we’re looking at in this segment isn’t the one that earned Dwayne his most success, but rather than name that came before it. Before it was shortened to just “The Rock,” Johnson wrestled under the name “Rocky Maivia”. This is a nod to Johnson’s status as WWE’s first ever third generation wrestler; the “Rocky” part was taken from his father, “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson, who became one half of the first black WWE Tag Team Champions in 1983, and the “Maivia” part came from his grandfather, “High Chief” Peter Maivia, a famous wrestler and one of the figureheads of the Anoa’i wrestling family. Both of these men are WWE Hall of Famers and legends in their own right, so it’s easy to see why The Rock wanted to honour them with his ring name. It’s just a little awkward that that ring name is the one that got him booed out of the building when he used it.

1 “Stone Cold” Steve Austin: Fancy A Cup Of Tea?

via foxsports.com

The most badass wrestler in history got him name from a relaxing beverage. Couldn’t make this stuff up.

Steve Austin is the reason we’re all watching WWE today and that isn’t even an understatement. If Austin hadn’t captured the attention of wrestling fans in the late 1990s with his no-nonsense, ass-kicking, boss-Stunnering anti-hero character, then WCW would have walked all over the WWE and Vince McMahon would be a name forgotten to the depths of wrestling history. Austin connected with WWE fans in a way that no one else had before and was the perfect horse to which the company could hitch their bloody, profanity-strewn wagon in the Attitude Era. Bret Hart, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Undertaker, Mankind, Austin’s matches and feuds are now legendary and his place in the WWE Hall of Fame has been earned ten thousand times earlier.

So, where Austin come up with the name “Stone Cold” from? Was it whilst on a hunting trip? Was it from an ice cold can of beer? Was it thought up whilst he was wrestling bears topless in the woods one day? Actually, it comes from something a lot less masculine; a cup of tea. Austin tells the story that, one day, he was sat at home trying desperately to think up a new name. He was so lost in his thoughts, that he’d forgotten all about a cup of tea that his then-wife, Jeannie, had made for him. Not wanting her labours to go to waste, Jeannie told Steve to drink the tea before it went “Stone Cold”. A lightbulb went off in Austin’s head and one of the most famous wrestling monikers of all time was born. So, next time someone offers to make you a cup of tea, you’d better not turn it down; you might be turning down the biggest money-making idea you’ll ever have. Unless they put the milk in before the teabag, then you should always refuse. It’s just unnatural.

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