If you’ve ever stayed up into the early hours of the morning to watch greased up men roll around the floor in their underwear, keeping deathly silent so as not to wake up anyone else in the house, you’re either a) reading this from a prison computer or b) a child of the 80s or 90s obsessed, like I was, with WWF wrestling. Assuming it’s the latter, you won’t need reminding that the wide-eyed ‘roid monsters like the ‘Ultimate Warrior’ and ‘Hulk Hogan’ were our idols, comic book heroes come to life, fighting for what was right, telling us to say our prayers and take our vitamins. But as well as the heroes that adorned school lunchboxes the world over, there was an underclass of downright strange characters, that you don’t have to be an old wrestling fan to appreciate the absurdity of. They tended to fit into the same few categories:
The Racial Stereotype
Apparently 2 out of 3 Americans don’t own a passport. Shocking, you may think, but why would you need to go abroad when the WWF brought the rest of the world to you? The 80s and 90s saw a whole roster of characters based on old episodes of ‘Mind Your Language’, from El Matador Tito Santana, to Akeem the African Dream, obviously overlooking how ridiculously offensive any of this was. Got a black man on the roster? Excellent, call him ‘Koko B Ware’, stick a parrot on his shoulder and get him dancing around the ring like a demented extra from Lionel Ritche’s ‘All Night Long’ video.
Another example, Yokozuna, a man apparently from ‘The Orient’ (although I’ve never seen him over Brisbane Road) was basically just a fat bloke with squinty eyes. He was in fact from Samoa, nowhere near Japan, but stick him in a nappy and get the commentators to throw a few Pearl Harbour jokes in and nobody will tell the difference. As well as creating a violent version of “It’s a Small World”, the WWF also gave current affairs lessons to Americans who struggled to concentrate during the news - the Gulf war was prime time for a conflict between the All American (yaaaay) Hulk Hogan and the vaguely middle eastern (boooo) Colonel Mustafa, with Hogan often putting his own political spin on backstage interviews (and this is a genuine quote), “IT’S GONNA BE JUST LIKE SUDAN HUSSEIN’S REIGN OVER KUWAIT, BROTHER......TEMPORARY!!”
The Occupational Wrestler
Unfortunately some wrestlers were paid so poorly that some of them had to hold down nine-to-fives in order to make ends meet. Although this may not sounds plausible at first, what with all the travelling and training they had to do, can you think of any other reason that a man would wrestle dressed in a shirt, tie and braces looking like he’d just got lost on his mid-morning Starbucks run? This is a reference to a real character, a taxman named IRS (see what they did there?), who apparently learned his fighting skills working in the notoriously violent local council offices. But he wasn’t the only example of this bizarre trend in character gimmicks.
We also had a dustman, a repo man (basically a traffic warden), a barber and best of all, a family dentist. I’m not sure what was more ridiculous, the fact that there was the equivalent of your nice respectable family practitioner going hammer and tongs with Hulk Hogan in a cage match, or the fact that the WWF expected people to even half believe that this sweating pillar of aggression held a medical certificate. Fate had the last laugh however, as ironically, most of them ended up in the dole queue. Some characters which never saw the light of day included ‘The Driving Instructor’, ‘The Dinnerlady’ and ‘The Toilet Attendant’, who sat in the corner of the ring spraying his opponents in the eyes with knock-off aftershave.
Macho Man Randy Savage
A character so strange he deserves a category of his own. With a name that sounds like some kind of aggressive sexual predator, and looking like he’d just had an epileptic fit in Liberace’s walk-in-wardrobe, Macho Man’s character was basically a space cowboy from the planet Rape. The best bits about him were the uncomfortably intense interviews he’d give, where the complete mentalist would twitch his way through a series of inexplicable growls, peering out from a pair of multicoloured wraparound sunglasses (probably to hide the fact that he’d just injected his eyeballs with steroids) while a nervous presenter feebly held out a trembling microphone. He marked his retirement a way all eccentric sportsmen should – he released a rap album.