I started watching wrestling in the late 70s. Every Saturday morning after cartoons I would go back and forth between matches on the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) program and World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), out of Texas. Though I enjoyed the WWF programming at this time, rarely would you see a main event match. These shows would set up feuds and matches that would come to an arena near you. On the other hand, WCCW often showed main event matches and were often more realistic and at times, featured blood.
I watched wrestling right up until the Attitude Era of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) came to an end. At this time, their leading competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) had closed down and Vince McMahon hand picked what out of work wrestlers he wanted to add to his roster. He also bought out Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and though promoted it as a separate entity for awhile, eventually phased it out.
Then tragedy struck in June of 2007. One of my favorite wrestlers, Chris Benoit was dead from suicide. Before he killed himself though he also killed his wife and seven-year-old son. Over the years many theories were presented as to what may have caused this, From alcohol abuse, steroid abuse or even being hit over the head with steel folding chairs too many times. This event affected me; so much so that I could no longer watch professional wrestling any longer and haven’t since. Sports entertainment was no longer entertaining. This was despite many years of great memories of going to see the live events with my father or having friends over to drink a lot of beer with the monthly pay-per-views.
There are many types of wrestlers. Some are technical, some are brawlers and some are just outright violent. The technical wrestlers are fun because of what they are able to do, physically, live in front of a crowd. Their moves feature a lot of precision and trust from the opponent that they are not going to hurt them. The brawlers rely a lot on fists and kicking and are my least favorite of types. There is little technical skill and there is little development that can happen with their character if every match is like a bar fight. The violent characters tend to be a combination of the other two. They can possess technical skill but will also not hesitate to smash someone over the head with a chair or throw their opponent through a table.
Professional wrestling came to my mind today and I was thinking about the wrestlers I grew up with and my thoughts often went to the bizarre characters. Ones that wore makeup, were supernatural or just violent to the extreme. I decided to relive these memories with my readers, showcasing some of my favorites from years gone past.
KAMALA THE UGANDAN GIANT
Kamala (real name James Arthur Harris) wrestled from 1978 until 2010 and weighed 380 pounds and stood six foot seven. The character was portrayed as a fearsome and simple-minded Ugandan who wrestled barefoot and wore war paint and a loin cloth. When he came to the ring he would wear an African mask and carry a spear and a shield. He was often led by his handler, Kim Chee, who was the only one that could control him. His backstory was that he was a former bodyguard of deposed President of Uganda Idi Amin. He died in August of 2020 from cardiac arrest due to complications stemming from diabetes and COVID-19.
GEORGE “THE ANIMAL” STEEL
When I first started watching WWF wrestling, George “The Animal” Steel was a weekly treat on their televised shows and I saw him many times live. Known for his extremely hairy body, green tongue and his love of eating turnbuckle pads, he was someone that caught everybody’s attention. His real name was William James Myers and he wrestled from 1967 until around 2000. He started wrestling to supplement his income from being a school teacher. Though I always thought his green tongue was achieved by apple favored Jolly Ranchers, it was in fact done with green Clorets breath mints. He died at the age of 79 on February 17, 2017, of kidney failure.
THE WILD SAMOANS, AFA & SIKA
The Wild Samoans, Afa and Sika, were one of my favorite tag teams from the late 70s into the 80s. Managed by Captain Lou Albano, they rarely spoke in interviews, instead grunting in a primitive dialect that only their manager seemed to understand. Completing their “wild man” image, the duo engaged in outrageous behavior such as nose picking, biting opponents, and eating raw fish during interviews. During their careers they held 21 tag team championships around the world. Afa made his debut in 1971 and retired in 1994. Siki started his career in 1973 and retired in 1988.
JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS
Jake “The Snake” Roberts, real name Aurelian Smith Jr., is best known for his time in the WWF and WWE. He was great at giving intense and cerebral promos. His dark charisma and extensive use of psychology in his matches made him a force to be reckoned with. He often would come to the ring with a snake, usually a large python, that always scare his opponents. He made his debut in 1975 and retired in 2015. One of his best-known feuds with with Randy “Macho Man” Savage when Savage was bit by a real cobra at the end of the match. During an October 21 taping for WWF Superstars of Wrestling, Roberts goaded Savage into the ring and brutally attacked him, eventually tying Savage into the ropes and got the king cobra to bite his arm; the snake was de-venomized and, according to Roberts’ DVD Pick Your Poison, he had trouble getting the cobra to release his bite. According to Roberts, on the day the angle was shot, he had to let the cobra bite him on his leg at Savage’s request to convince him that the snake had been de-venomized and Savage would regularly check on Roberts to make sure he had no side effects from the bite. The segment went on longer than planned, and Savage’s blood was clearly visible as it dripped from the puncture wounds.
Gangrel, real name David William Heath, made his debut as a vampire character in 1998 as a part of a team called The Brood (with Edge and Christian), ten years after his professional wrestling career began. He sports fangs, actually dental implants, and his entrance saw him rising from a ring of fire on stage, followed by a slow walk to the ring set to a sinister instrumental music theme. In my opinion, this theme is one of the best that the WWF ever created. Once there he would drink from a goblet of blood and spit it into the air. The Brood became known for their “blood baths”, which involved the lights going out for a moment, and when they came back on, the targeted wrestler was covered in blood.
Charles Wright played many characters over the years, including The Godfather, Kama Mustaffa and Papa Shango. Though the Papa Shango gimmick was said to be the worst gimmick ever created, I actually enjoyed it. Like with Gangrel, his entrance music is really well done. Shango, a voodoo practitioner, made his debut on February 8, 1992. The character carried a skull to the ring billowing smoke and could control arena lights, allowing for strange goings-on in the ring, and later could cast spells to cause opponents pain and to make them vomit from afar. A year later the character was gone.
ABDULLAH THE BUTCHER
Never in the history of professional wrestling has there been a character like Abdullah the Butcher, real name Lawrence Robert Shreve. His career featured some of the most violent and bloody matches ever seen and his feud with Bruiser Brody is a classic of classics. One of Shreve’s trademarks is a series of divot-like scars on his head that he has due to excessive use of blading (the use of a razor blade to cut yourself to bleed) during his career. The scars are so deep that, according to Mick Foley, Shreve is able to put gambling chips into them and they will stand up. He made his debut in 1958 and retired in 2012. His favorite weapon was a fork that he would use to cut open his opponent’s head, oftentimes within a minute of two of the match beginning. I saw Abdullah and Bruiser Brody have a match in the 1980s and even before the two wrestlers made it to the ring, they were covered head to toe in each others blood.
Though I didn’t see Bruiser Brody wrestle very often, the one time I did in person, against Abdullah the Butcher, it left a lasting impression that I clearly remember to this day. His real name was Frank Donald Goodish and he began his career in 1973 and it ended in 1988 after getting stabbed to death in the shower after a match in Puerto Rico. He had gotten a bad reputation for not selling to other wrestlers (in other words making anything they did look real). Wrestling relies on both people working together to make everything look as real, and safe, as possible.
Mick Foley played many characters over the years including Mankind, Dude Love and his most famous persona, Cactus Jack. Since I was mostly watching WWF programming early on, I rarely saw Cactus Jack but was certainly aware of his reputation from wrestling magazines. Every picture I would see of him had him bloodied and he was known for his violent matches, including those with barbed wire. His career began in 1983 and he entered the WWF in 1996. Since Vince McMahon was not a fan of the Cactus Jack character, he created his own with Mankind. This gimmick was perhaps his most famous personality: Mankind was a mentally deranged miscreant who constantly squealed (even throughout his matches), shrieked “Mommy!”, spoke to a rat named George, enjoyed pain, physically abused himself (such as by pulling out his hair) and wore a mask; Mankind’s finishing move was the Mandible Claw, nerve hold, which involved sticking his ring and middle fingers in his opponent’s mouth. His feud with The Undertaker is one of the biggest in history and their first Hell In TA Cell match, in 1998, became one of the most notable matches in wrestling history.
Foley received numerous injuries and took two dangerous and highly influential bumps; the first being tossed off the top of the 16-foot high Cell by The Undertaker, crashing through the wooden Spanish announcer’s table and landing on the arena’s concrete floor. Barely five minutes after the first bump Foley, with a separated shoulder climbed back up to the top of the Cell after Terry Funk and others tried to stop him, and the second bump, which was an unplanned botch, The Undertaker choke-slammed Foley, and the fenced panel Foley landed on broke and gave way, and Foley then plunged 13 feet through the Cell and landed on the ring mat. Mankind lost the match to conclude their storyline.
Mankind lost the WWF Championship to The Rock in an “I Quit” at Royal Rumble at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California near Los Angeles, in what is regarded as one of the company’s most brutal matches. During the match, Foley took several violent and dangerous bumps from The Rock all over the arena, including repeated steel chair shots to the head and a fall from the stands onto solid electrical objects, which sparked upon impact. Although steel chair shots to the head were commonplace in the Attitude Era, the most a wrestler would take in a single ten-minute match was two, or sometimes three, with their hands in front of their head to ease the blow and lessen a chance of a concussion.
However, Foley had taken eleven in the span of two and a half minutes, all unprotected, because he had been handcuffed just before The Rock began his repeated onslaught. Foley was originally supposed to take five chair shots to the head with the final match-ending shot being two-thirds up the entrance ramp; but, after the fifth shot, Foley was still at ringside and, even after Foley signaled to The Rock to hit him in the back, The Rock decided to keep to the match’s brutal tone based on Foley’s previous on-the-fly calling of similar shots on the spot, and he hit Foley six more times in the head until they got to the two-thirds mark. This match is featured in Barry Blaustein’s documentary Beyond the Mat, which shows the impact the match had on Foley, his family and even the rest of the audience at ringside, and at one point Foley’s five-year-old daughter Noelle cried and screamed in horror, believing her father was dying as The Rock pummeled Foley with repeated chair shots.
The match at this point had become so brutal that it got to a point where furious people sitting in the front of the audience shouted at the referee and The Rock to stop the match, showing signs of disapproval at The Rock. The match ended after Mankind lost consciousness, and The Rock’s allies played a recording of Mankind saying “I Quit” from an earlier interview he did with Shane McMahon.
The Undertaker, real name Mark William Calaway, is probably one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, and my favorite. Though he started his wrestling career in 1987, it wasn’t until 1990 that The Undertaker was born. From the first sound of the gong for his entrance music, you knew you were about to witness something great. The longest-tenured wrestler in company history at 30 years, The Undertaker was one of the most prominent figures of the Attitude Era, a boom period in the company’s business in the latter 1990s. His character transitioned into a biker in the early 2000s, before returning to a refined version of his previous gimmick in 2004.
There were different eras for The Undertaker, The first, The Deadman era, ran from 1994 until 1996. The second, the Lord of Darkness era, ran from 1996 until 1998. Next was the Ministry of Darkness era which ran from 1998 until 1999. From there was the American Bad Ass era that ran from 2000 until 2001. The Big Evil era started in 2001 and ran until 2003. From 2004 until 2007 was the Return of the Deadman era. Over the year, up until today, he has feuded and beat all of the top talent.
The original Deadman character depicted him as a Western mortician dressed in a trench coat, gray-striped tie and gray-ringed, black Stetson hat with gray gloves and boot spats. He was portrayed as impervious to pain, something accomplished by Calaway not selling his opponents’ attacks. He was managed by Paul Bearer, who used an urn to give Undertaker supernatural powers. During his early years, he used the rendition of the Funeral March by Frédéric Chopin as his entrance theme. WWF composer Jim Johnson changed the Chopin march to create a new theme, the Graveyard Symphony. There will never be another Undertaker.
I hope you enjoyed my coverage of some of the most bizarre wrestling characters ever to enter the squared circle. If you have your own favorite bizarre wrestling character not covered, please feel free to leave a comment below.