For the most part, pro wrestling exists in its own bubble. It’s content to entertain its fans, saving up all its mainstream energy for WrestleMania season (this year’s version is happening on Sunday), the one time of year when non-fans come out of the woodwork, pretend they’ve paid even a sliver of attention since last year’s ‘Mania, and openly root for the guy from GI Joe to beat the tar out of Fred’s father. Then the show will end, and the mainstream will move on to baseball, having had their annual fill of oily guys in tights pretending to cripple one another.
Usually, this arrangement works. But sometimes, wrestling gets a bug up its butt, and decides to take the real world by storm. But it’s gotta be on their terms because, even when courting the masses, pro wrestling makes no fucking sense.
Usually, their attempts to court the mainstream fail miserably. Other times, they fail miserably AND hilariously. Such as …
6. Fake Wrestling Storylines + Real Football People (Who Gave Zero Shits) = The XFL
You’ve probably heard about the XFL, Vince McMahon’s monstrously failed attempt at creating a smash mouth football league. But what perhaps you didn’t know is WHY the league failed. You know, other than silly rule changes, the very thought that they could compete with the NFL, and the vast majority of the players turning out to be really crappy at the whole football thing.
No, what really killed the XFL was its attempt to be exactly like the WWF. Players had weird personas (we’re still unsure what He Hate Me was, or why He Hated Him) the teams had stereotypically macho nicknames like the Maniax and the Demons, and the women were hyped as being X-rated without any decent payoff whatsoever (unless you count Rodney Dangerfield in a towel as “payoff.”)
You also had silly storylines. Perhaps you’re wondering: how exactly can a real sport, with real outcomes, and real athletes (kind of,) incorporate storylines? The answer: do it without consulting the non-wrestling people first, and pray they play along. Spoiler alert: they most certainly did not.
The ultimate example of this was when the XFL attempted an announcer/coach feud, without notifying the coach. Rusty Tillman, coach of the NY/NJ Hitmen, is a longtime football pro, who just wanted to lead his team to a 4-6 record in peace.
But announcer Jesse Ventura (yes, THAT one) had other plans. Ventura was critical of Tillman’s conservative coaching style, calling him “Gutless Rusty” time and again, because he wasn’t paid enough to come up with a decent insult. Ventura would even come down and confront Gutless Rusty, face-to-face, inevitably leading to a steel cage match at the Survivor Series.
At least it would have, if Vince McMahon’s twisted little mind had its way. In reality, Tillman completely ignored Ventura, focusing on coaching his team the way he saw fit. This, for the record, makes Tillman 100 times smarter than any wrestler who has blindly accepted a challenge, only to get beat down with a dozen or so chairs mere seconds later.
5. Freakish Muscles + The Discount Rack At Party City = The World Bodybuilding Federation
For the most part, bodybuilding’s a fairly dry sport. Gain a crapload of muscle, strip down to your skivvies, and pose until the music stops. Seriously, did we miss any important details? Besides needles, of course; they’re pretty much implied in the “gain a crapload of muscle” part.
Well, the good ‘ol WWF felt they knew what the sport needed: costumes. Lots and lots of costumes. Their newly-formed World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) featured 13 muscleheads, with most of them adopting an outlandish character. One guy was the Phantom Of The Opera. Another guy was Jack from “Jack And the Beanstalk.” Another was a spaceman. However, unlike wrestling, these guys couldn’t actually do anything with their character. They just stood there and posed in their silly little Halloween costumes, counting down the minutes until the show was over.
This was designed, in all seriousness, to make us care about bodybuilding. In their minds, the only thing standing between a 45-inch neck and mega-stardom was donning the hood of a medieval Executioner, while carrying around an axe during each posedowns. Though it might have been sound strategy; if we were in the middle of a contest, and our opponent showed up with a friggin’ axe, we’d let him win.
Clearly, turning otherwise-respectable steroid monsters into costumed freaks didn’t succeed as the WWF had hoped. The WBF lasted a year before disappearing so completely, it’s nigh-impossible to find footage of anything they did.
But, much to Vince McMahon’s chagrin, it’s out there. The picture above is of one such gorgeous costume, and now we present “Major Guns” Eddie Robinson, who will do nothing but make you hate Rambo, the military, and anything camo-colored. You’ve been warned.
4. Collegiate Wrestling + Everything That Makes A KISS Concert Pure Cheese = Real Pro Wrestling
No sport has a bigger amateur – professional contrast than wrestling. If you do it unpaid, you’re probably wearing a solid-color singlet, along with an earmuff containing only one muff (if you’re fancy), while rolling around on top of a gym mat with another, similarly-dressed athlete.
But you don’t get paid for that crap. Only the best of the best, who have excelled time and again at catch-as-catch-can grappling, can hope for a profitable future of dressing as a cowboy and hitting people with branding irons when the referee isn’t looking.
Well, back in 2004, a group calling themselves Real Pro Wrestling decided to do something about that. They felt that you could do the amateur style of wrestling, and actually get cash money for it. In short, it was actual professional wrestling, with nary a comical nut shot in sight.
Of course, they had to get people’s attention somehow. And while they didn’t resort to cheesy costumes and asinine storylines, they sure as Hell borrowed everything else from the cheesy land of pro graps. “WWE has fancy light shows? We’ll give ’em fancy light shows too! The Rock wears next-to-nothing in the ring? So won’t our guys; all singlets go straight in the trash! Hardbodies lathered in baby oil? You bet your ass we got that! Wrestling fans love them some chunky, downtuned butt rock? That’s all we’ll play, baby!”
And no, we’re not making any of that up: Real Pro Wrestling’s hype video contains everything we just mocked, and more. The grapplers were split up into teams, with the most stereotypical pro rasslin’ names imaginable, like the New York Outrage or the California Claw. And if that’s not enough, they also featured “background stories” on the wrestlers, so you got to know them. In short, characters. Sure, they weren’t completely outrageous – one guy liked to fish, which was basically his whole story – but they were still characters.
Real Pro Wrestling folded after a mere two years; maybe that fisherman guy should’ve bitten the head off a live trout in front of everyone. That might’ve bumped the ratings a tad.
3. Double Dragon + Vince McMahon’s Daughter = WWF Betrayal
Obviously, there have been tons upon tons of pro wrestling video games. But they tend to focus, you know, on wrestling. But remember; wrestlers aren’t just athletes, they’re SUPERSTARS. They can do anything! This apparently includes roaming the streets of some nameless town, beating up random hoodlums while rescuing billionaire damsels-in-distress.
Naturally, this previously-unknown side gig got a video game. WWF Betrayal, for the Game Boy Color, tells the story of Vince McMahon’s precious daughter Stephanie, who has been kidnapped by evil shadowy forces. If you can find her and bring her back, Vince will give you a title match.
You could play as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, or the Undertaker; in short, the people who get title shots anyhow, regardless of Steph’s safety. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to play as some no-name undercard schmuck who’s never on TV? For someone like that, saving the boss’s daughter might literally be the only path to gold. Main eventers? All they have to do is say they want a shot, and they get one, no super-secret rescue mission required.
The game itself was a generic Double Dragon-style beat ’em up, where you walk around and beat up a town full of people who want you dead. The bosses are the three wrestlers you didn’t pick because, in a Hitchcockian-level plot twist, they’re behind the kidnapping. And in a DOUBLE plot twist, there never WAS a kidnapping. Vince, Stephanie, and the other wrestlers were in cahoots all along, plotting to keep the title away from you. Beat up the final wrestler on top of a roof and you not only win the game, but the Championship too. Just like Bruno Sammartino did.
Oh, and in the complete opposite of a plot twist, the game bombed and nobody bothered with anything resembling a sequel. Guess you can only fake your daughter’s kidnapping once, before people start to catch on.
2. Viva Variety + Meatheads Trying To Tell Jokes = Tuesday Night Titans
The 1960’s and ’70s had a slew of variety shows dominating the airwaves. It was an easy way to put on a show: a little singing, a little dancing, some joke-telling, maybe a skit or two, one right after the other. Short attention spans the world over were enthralled.
A lot of people have compared wrestling to a variety show, what with the backstage skits, countless theme songs masquerading as musical numbers, bad attempts at comedy, and the occasional dancing break. But they’re always anchored by the one constant they’re forced to include: wrestling matches. The bell rings, and the jokes stop, the singing and dancing fades away, and you’re left with nothing but athletics and action. What nerve.
Well, back in the ’80s, the WWF attempted to steer around those pesky matches by producing Tuesday Night Titans, a talk/variety show hosted by Vince McMahon. And, while it featured wrestlers, there were no matches whatsoever. All you got was the window dressing that makes pro wrestling as beloved as it is. Or hated, depending on who you talk to.
Andre The Giant impersonated a fish. Kamala ate a live chicken, even though his character was cannibalistic. Mr. Fuji and Don Muraco acted out a Miami Vice parody, with just as many mangled lines as you might expect. A wedding turned into a food fight. A masked wrestler attempted stand-up comedy. Everybody watching suffered horrible depression.
Also Nikolai Volkoff, an evil Russian, received an hour-long “This Is Your Life” celebration. Now, fans of ’90s wrestling might remember a “This Is Your Life” skit with The Rock and Mick Foley. Well, picture that, only less funny, three times as long, and centered around a guy who barely spoke English. In a not-at-all-related story, Tuesday Night Titans was cancelled after two years, proving that wrestling fans prefer at least some wrestling action sprinkled on top of their batshit insanity.
1. Politics + Masks And Spandex = C-SPANAMANIA BROTHER
Yes, politics count as entertainment. Ever hear a politician try to tell a joke? It’s hilarious.
For the most part though, politicians are bland, suit-wearing bureaucrats who never want to say the wrong thing, out of fear of losing votes. This is, as you might have gathered, the complete opposite of a loud, boisterous pro wrestler. Occasionally, one of them decides to run for office and, naturally, they stay completely in character when doing so. This goes double if they win.
Probably the two most blatant examples are The Great Sasuke and Jesse Ventura. Sasuke is a legendary masked Japanese wrestler and promoter. In 2003, he won a seat in the Iwate Prefectural Assembly, which we’re assuming is somewhere below Emperor, but slightly above Head Guy Who Washes All the Dirty Sumo Diapers.
As a politician, his first course of action was to openly refuse to remove his mask, citing tradition and identity and being brutally, painfully ugly underneath. If that’s not enough, he also refused to stop wrestling. Yes, he came right out and said that he was going to balance his political life with his wrestling one, leading some critics to conclude that he only became a politician to boost sagging attendance at shows that he ran. We’re not sure if it worked; Sasuke left politics after just four years, and was recently arrested for assault and battery on a train. While still wearing his mask. But he’s still wrestling, so maybe he knew what he was doing after all.
Then there’s Jesse Ventura. Perhaps you remember his election to the Governorship of Minnesota in 1998, because Minnesotans had nothing better to do that day then vote for the guy from Predator who owned more feather boas than he did pairs of underwear.
Perhaps you forgot that, for four years, Jesse The Body was Jesse The Body In A Suit. He was the same loud, obnoxious, weird-chinned tough-guy that he was in the wrestling arena, only with a tad more emphasis on fiscal conservatism.
And, like Sasuke, he had a side job. While Governor, Ventura refereed a WWF Title match at SummerSlam, and served as color commentator for the XFL. Yes, remember earlier, when Ventura was bullying Rusty Tillman for being a “gutless” coach? He was Governor when he did that. He claims he didn’t seek a second term because of attacks on his family, though it’s more likely that he knew he would’ve lost to a dead rodent if he even bothered to run. Unless, of course, Minnesotans were bored again that day.
[Editor’s note: Yes, we know it’s WWE now. But it was WWF back when they did most of this crazy stuff]