Saying pro wrestling is stupid is kinda’ like saying water is wet. Of course pro wrestling is stupid, and that’s what makes it so great. In a world chock full of pretense, phoniness and brass-balled lies, the wacky world of make-belief fisticuffs is the only industry I can think of that that actually relishes its own absurdity.
For years, I’ve referred to professional wrestling as “the theatre of the proletariat,” and that’s not just me being pretentious. Pretty much everything you get out of opera – the melodrama, the foppish costumes, the clumsy acting, the glitz, the glamour, the over-the-top entrances, the goofy violence – you likewise get from wrestling, only with the added bonus of sometimes receiving play-by-play from a barbecue sauce-hawking cowboy with cerebral palsy.
Pro wrestling, being the great unacknowledged satire of society it is, has trotted out more than a few “creepy” grapplers over the years – those being, gimmicks designed to inspire supernatural fear and dread in the hearts of spectators and fellow wrestlers alike (you know, just like Shakespeare sought to do with Macbeth, only with WAY more mullets in the crowd.)
While these attempts to spook the living daylights of the televised audiences haven’t always been successful, they are very rarely uninteresting, and with Halloween right around the corner, I figured it was worth our collective time to revisit some of the more memorable monsters, maniacs and maulers to step between the ropes over the years…
10. The Leprechaun!
In 1996, WCW was at a real crossroads. Having just begun its N.W.O. saga (an angle so hot it almost put WWF out of business), World Championship Wrestling was left with the remnants of many an abandoned storyline, including totally-out-of-place gimmick ‘rasslers with names like Glacier, Road Block and Disco Inferno. Enter The Leprechaun, a diminutive (but by no means a real midget) grappler who hung out with Kevin Sullivan’s creepy/stupid Dungeon of Doom stable alongside Haku and Earthquake pretending to be a shark. A rather spastic individual, The Leprechaun primarily spent his matches running around the ring and slobbering like a werewolf, with an in-ring technique that can only be described as “what the hell am I looking at?” Unsurprisingly, the character didn’t stick around for long, and after just a few matches, the Leprechaun was banished to the Island of Misfit Gimmicks (where he was no doubt welcomed with open arms by the likes of the Ding Dongs and Arachnaman.)
Now even though Mexico signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, something tells me our buddies south of the border still need a little help figuring out this whole “intellectual copyright” stuff. For example, even though I am pretty sure the character Chucky from the Child’s Play films is trademark-protected, those wacky and whimsical lucha libre organizations nonetheless felt it was A-OK to grab a random midget, sock a Hot Topics plastic mask over his head and literally market him as Chucky in professional wrestling contests. Now the idea of having a little luchador modeled after a psycho killer doll is in and of itself pretty amazing, but really, it’s the fact that the gimmick has been going strong – across several lucha libre promotions – for nearly two decades that makes my head want to explode. Oh, and the only thing weirder than the fact that Chucky is usually presented as a good guy, who does battle with full-sized professional wrestlers? The fact that he sometimes has breakdancing battles with miniature yetis to old Michael Jackson songs.
08. Prince Kharis!
Ya’ll are familiar with Jim Cornette, right? Well, back in the 1990s, he had his own Tennessee-based ‘rasslin promotion called – rather fittingly – Smoky Mountain Wrestling. Unless you lived in parts of the country where civil rights didn’t come along until 1980 at the earliest, you probably never caught much of the promotion on TV. Thankfully, as a denizen of Appalachia, I was fortunate enough to be in SMW’s broadcast range, and in case you were wondering what sort of good old fashioned, southern-style wrestling awesomeness you were missing? Well, among other things you never had the privilege of witnessing, your poor bastards never got to see James Mitchell managing a nearly seven foot tall dude wearing a suit made out of toilet paper who claimed to be a 3,500 year-old mummy. You really should’ve seen the promos for this guy – during one vignette, his manager “cut off” one of the wrestler’s fingers, and table salt – I mean, ancient sands – poured all over the mat. Which, naturally, begs the question – how exactly did an Egyptian zombie learn how to do a crossface chickenwing submission hold, anyway?
07. Evil Dead!
The fact that the Insane Clown Posse, a musical act routinely cited as the worst in the history of recorded sound by a litany of publications, have their own wrestling promotion is wacky enough, but just wait until you get an up-close look at one of their top draws – Evil Dead. His gimmick? Well, basically, he’s a hobo resurrected from the dead who, for whatever reason, spends his zombified evenings wrestling – in front of literally dozens of people, some of whom may have even paid money to be in the audience – very overweight and very over the hill grapplers who desperately and direly need the cash. By the way, this wasn’t some one-off curtain jerker, neither – indeed, the character was pushed as the promotion’s long-term champion.
6. Nightmare Freddie!
Hey, remember earlier when we were talking about how the Meskins weren’t too keen on intellectual property laws? Well, regional promotions in Knoxville, Tenn. circa 1988 seemingly had even less concern about trademark violations, as apparent by the existence of “Nightmare Freddie.” A star in the Continental Wrestling Federation, this lawsuit-baiting imitation of the iconic Elm Street antagonist was actually portrayed by Doug Gilbert, a long-time Southern circuit ‘rasslin staple who is probably most famous in Internet circles for that one time he went on live TV and said Jerry Lawler was a child rapist and insinuated the owner of Power Pro Wrestling smoked crack. Believe it or not, the “Freddie” gimmick actually had a pretty long shelf-life; indeed, so popular the character, Gilbert wound up taking the gimmick to Japan, where – among other spectacles – he once tag teamed with a dude dressed up like (who else?) Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series.
In the wacky world of professional wrestling, there’s a very, very thin line between stupid and brilliant. Very few gimmicks have straddled that line as delicately as Kamala, a veteran grappler who, at one point or another, has wrestled for every promotion known to man. Oft-billed as “The Ugandan Giant,” Kamala’s gimmick – and depending on your perspective, this might just be a wee bit racist – is that he’s a headhunter from Africa who speaks only in gibberish, and oh yeah, he’s canonically a cannibal, too. In reality, the man behind the Lucky Charms body paint is a former Mississippi truck driver named James Harris – who, after losing both his legs to diabetes, now makes a living selling homemade furniture on the Internet.
4. Big Van Vader!
Arguably the greatest monster heel of the 1990s, Big Van Vader was a nearly 400-pound ball of astonishingly flexible lard that – in addition to dropping some of the most hellacious powerbombs you’ll ever see in your life – also had the remarkable ability to do nearly picture-perfect moonsaults at the drop of a hat. Canonically a really rich dungeon keeper who lived in a cave in the Rocky Mountains (seriously), I’m not really sure what Vader was supposed to be. I mean, he did saunter out to the ring wearing some sort of futuristic cyborg mask, but for the most part, he was never explicitly referenced as anything other than a really, really tough fat dude. One of the most feared competitors in the heyday of WCW, pro wrestling lore has unfortunately given his legacy the short end of the stick; instead of kids these days knowing him as the dude who routinely beat up Sting, Cactus Jack and Lex Luger without even having to cheat, he’s more often recognized these days as Frankie Stecchino’s dad on Boy Meets World.
3. Papa Shango!
During that uneasy transitional period from Hulk Hogan to Stone Cold Steve Austin, the then-WWF went through a lot of awkward phases. Instead of emphasizing the sheer athleticism of its performers or focusing the product on grittier, more realistic storylines, the promotion was inundated with all sorts of kooky and outlandish gimmick wrestlers, running the gamut from evil accountants to midget clowns to America-hating environmentalist to something called a “Bastion Booger.” As weird as the characters may have been, none were as out there as Papa Shango, a wrestler touted as a real life voodoo priest with the ability to do all sorts of creepy supernatural shit – as in, making his opponent’s boots magically catch on fire and causing black ooze to suddenly pour out of the sleeves of the announce team. Alas, the character was not long for this world; after about a year or two, Papa Shango was scrapped and Charles Wright, the man portraying the character, was repackaged as an MMA-trained gang member … only to be rechristened a few years later as a wrestling pimp.
2. La Parka!
In Mexico, the Grim Reaper isn’t just the harvester of souls – he’s also one of the most beloved luchadors of all-time. Making his debut in 1992, the Skeletor-lookalike proved an immediate smash hit with the fans, and in 1996 he joined the roster of World Championship Wrestling. Nicknamed the “Chairman of the Board” because of his penchant for playing metal furniture like air guitars, the iconic wrestler was booked as a goofy self-parody once WCW’s creative department switched hands in the late 1990s. La Parka has more or less spent the rest of his career south of the border, spending the better part of a decade feuding with yet another wrestler using the skeleton gimmick and going by the name “La Parka” – trust me, it’s even more confusing if I get into the details. The gist of it? La Parka is still around, he’s still wrestling, he’s really, really fat now and sometimes, he even punches the living crap out of fans, because he’s La Parka, that’s why.
1. The Undertaker!
And who else could possibly take the number one slot? Since 1990, The Undertaker has been applying his creepy trade before an entire generation of pro wrestling fans, transitioning from a (kayfabe) actual zombie managed by a televangelist to a fan favorite good guy ghoul whose only friend in the world was a pasty-faced fat dude who carried his parents’ ashes with him everywhere he went like some sort of good luck charm.
Naturally, The Undertaker would become some sort of weirdo monster wrestling bug zapper, attracting every sort of freak, lunatic and wacko the WWF could dream up, including notable rivalries with a 600 pound sumo wrestler with a death phobia, a seven foot tall Argentinian wearing a bear costume with airbrushed muscles on it and even a time-displaced viking who literally tried to stab him to death on live television with a humongous sword. Oh, and at one point, he even wrestled a mirror image of himself … the less said about that, the better.
While the Taker mythos has been retconned several times over the years (at various points, the character has also been relaunched as a motorcycle riding vigilante and a wannabe Ultimate Fighter), he always reverts back to his dark, brooding and mysterious form, just in time to do battle with the long lost brother he kinda’ immolated in a mortuary fire, fist fight a 300 pound escaped mental patient in the boileroom of an NHL arena and – of course – form a Satanic cult alongside 500 pound African-American goths with Sisqo haircuts and some naked dude name Mideon. As ridiculous and absurd as the character may be in theory, there’s no denying that the execution of the gimmick has been one of the most successful in the history of the pseudo-sport.
Indeed, The Undertaker has become something transcendent from pro wrestling altogether, becoming a sort of proletariat folk hero probably as revered by Walmart America as Richard Petty and Burt Reynolds. To the uninitiated, The Undertaker might just be one of the stupidest things to ever hit the squared circle. But as evident by the millions of people worldwide who worship him with the same vim, vigor and vitality as the cheeseheads adore Brett Favre, he’s also unquestionably one of the greatest.