Professional wrestling personas are by nature meant to be over-the-top caricatures, meant to play off of real-life people, professions and politics in order to entertain fans. Some of them are sheer genius, such as the many “Evil Russian” characters that became villains during the Cold War, or authority-be-damned anti-hero types like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin that enthralled the wrestling faithful during the ‘90s. Others met with considerably less success, such as T.L. Hopper (a wrestling plumber) or Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz (a baseball player turned wrestler). Yet there is a third category–character personas that should have been terrible, yet actually worked, often in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way. Here are ten of our favorite Pro Wrestling Characters:
10. Moose Cholak
We’re going old school, back to the 1950s in fact, for the #10 entry. Edward Cholak was a legitimate tough guy who played football at Wisconsin, served during the Korean Conflict and was a former Navy boxing and wrestling champion. He also has the honor of being one of the first truly over-the-top characters, and his gimmick makes me wish I was alike to see him in action. Cholak not only donned the nickname of “Moose” when he wrestled, but also wore a giant moose head to the ring and would bellow out a loud mooing noise when he reached the ring apron.
9. Isaac Yankem, D.D.S.
Okay, so perhaps this one wasn’t all that successful with fans, but the evil wrestling dentist (portrayed by the guy who is currently playing Kane in the WWE) was a brilliant gimmick, if you think about it. Nobody likes going to the dentist, getting shot full of Novocain, having to get teeth pulled or undergoing a root canal. So, to me at least, a sadistic dentist who enjoys making his patients suffer seems like the stuff of nightmares. It makes me shutter just thinking about it, and apparently I’m not alone, as the 1996 horror movie The Dentist starring Corbin Bernsen would attest to. Sadly (or mercifully, depending upon which camp you fall in), the Isaac Yankem gimmick was fairly short lived.
8. The Mountie
Jacques Rougeau got his start in the WWF as a member of a tag-team with his brother Raymond, and as the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, they actually got a fair amount of heat pretending to be “All-American Boys” despite their French-Canadian heritage. However, Raymond would retire in 1990, and soon afterwards, Jacques would be repackaged as The Mountie, a corrupt member of the Canadian law-enforcement agency who would torture his opponents with a shock stick. As The Mountie, Rougeau would actually have a brief reign as Intercontinental Champion, but what made this gimmick truly great was his brilliantly cheesy theme song: “I’m the Mountie! I’m handsome, brave, and strong! I’m the Mountie! And I enforce the law! You can try to run, but you can never hide, because The Mountie always gets his man!”
7. Repo Man
Barry Darsow took on many different roles during his career. Some were truly good, such as his runs as Krusher Khruschev and Smash of the tag team Demolition. Some were terrible, such as his short-lived golfer gimmick, “Hole in One” Barry Darsow. However, it is his time as the “Repo Man” that qualifies Darsow for our list. On paper, Repo Man was a terrible idea. He was supposed to be a heel or “bad guy” character, but who would boo a character whose job it was to reclaim leased vehicles that hadn’t been paid for? But Darsow made it work. He had an outfit covered in question marks and wore a thin black mask, drawing comparisons to the Riddler as portrayed by Frank Gorshin in the old Batman TV series. Moreover, he walked around hunched over and was sneaky, playing the character more like a thief than an actual repo agent. Thanks largely to Darsow’s portrayal, what could have been written off as just another failed character actually wound up being somewhat entertaining.
6. Gorgeous George
Another old-school gimmick that that helped pave the way for the outrageous characters of the 1980s and 1990s, George Wagner was one of the first pro wrestling performers known better for the entertainment value of their characters than for their actual in-ring prowess. As “Gorgeous George” Wagner died his hair platinum blonde, sprayed perfume around the ring and would force the referees to have their hands disinfected before letting them check him for foreign objects. Wagner was true pioneer when it comes to character development in the business–so much so that his first televised match was once named one of the Top 100 TV moments by Entertainment Weekly.
George Gray started wrestling in 1977 at the age of 17, and one of his original gimmicks was that of a Chicago-born street fighter named the One Man Gang. He was billed as a tough guy, and was a former UWF Heavyweight Champion under that persona. In 1987, he joined the World Wrestling Federation, where he initially continued wrestling as the One Man Gang. However, in an absolutely bizarre move, his character was changed to that of the jive-talking, tribal-dancing “Akeem the African Dream”. Akeem definitely falls in the so-bad-its-good category, as watching this very large, very Caucasian man wearing an ugly yellow outfit, dancing and looking tragically unhip is impossible to watch without busting out in laughter. Despite the silliness of the whole thing, Akeem was actually involved in some pretty big angles during his time with the company, including a program that involved Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage and another which saw him pin a young Shawn Michaels.
4. Honky Tonk Man
Wrestling legend says that the WWF initially envisioned this Elvis impersonator gimmick to be a “face” or a heroic character, but that it tested so poorly among focus groups that they decided to have him become a villain instead. Played by Wayne Ferris, the Honky Tonk Man combined elements of the Elvis persona along with that of a country and western style singer. He was cocky, he cheated, he even used a finishing move named the “Shake, Rattle & Roll”, and people loved to hate him. Ferris became a fairly big star in the late 80s and early 90s, and to this day is the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWF history (one year, two months and 27 days).
3. Brother Love
A more obscure figure from the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brother Love wasn’t actually a wrestler. Rather, he hosted an interview segment on WWF television, and was an over-the-top televangelist type heel with a red-face and an irritating catchphrase (“I… loooooooooove… yooooooooou…”). While Brother Love never stepped into the ring, his segments would be used to launch feuds on a regular basis, and for a short time he actually served as the manager of The Undertaker. Believe it or not, the man behind this unique and somewhat controversial character, Bruce Pritchard, was actually a longtime WWF front office employee.
2. Doink the Clown
The character of Doink the Clown is unique among the other entries on this list in that it was played by multiple different wrestlers, and worked both as a good guy and as a villain. Most wrestling fans tend to prefer Doink when he was an evil clown, playing dangerous pranks on his heroic opponents, whereas the fan favorite version introduced a pint-sized sidekick named Dink and was more involved with slapstick style humor. He had a well known (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler, culminating in a Survivor Series match between Doink and three dwarf sidekicks against Lawler and three of his own, all dressed like kings. In the end, all the midgets turned on Lawler and chased him around until he wound up getting hit with a pie in the face. Whether he was evil and sadistic or slapstick and funny, Doink was a unique and ultimately unforgettable character.
1. Irwin R. Schyster
Mike Rotunda’s portrayal as an evil former tax collector tops our list of the best cheesy pro wrestling characters of all time. On paper, its one of those roles that sounds destined for failure. Take a guy who is well known to wrestling fans (Rotunda had formerly wrestled under his own name in the WWF and WCW, and won tag team championships as a member of the U.S. Express and the Varsity Club), put him in dress clothing and a tie, and saddle him with a gimmick based solely on people’s distaste for the Internal Revenue Service. Yet, Rotunda ran with it and turned his I.R.S. character into a top-notch heel, working crowds into a frenzy with his pro-taxes spiel and showcasing his natural athletic talent despite the limitations of his costume. As IRS, Rotunda won the tag-team titles three times with his Money, Inc. partner “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and challenged the likes of Razor Ramon and The Undertaker as a singles wrestler before an injury forced him out of action and for the most part signaled the end of the character in 1995.