I’ve been watching professional wrestling (or wrasslin’ as my grandpa called it) since I was old enough to understand what was happening on TV. In many ways, I think the “sport” may have had a hand in preparing me for heavy metal when I got older. If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities between the worlds of wrestling and heavy metal. Both are rife with drama, theatricallity, posturing, machismo and the desire to create a world and persona outside the doldrums of our everyday existences. There are also visual similarities; hell, sometimes it’s even difficult to tell the wrestlers apart from the metal musicians…
See what I mean? But while some wrestlers look like metal musicians (and vice versa), some of them actually look like a heavy metal album cover come to life. Check out the get-up Big Van Vader (aka Leon White) used to wear to the ring in the picture below. The man looks like a Chris Moyen or Sickness 666 illustration come to life. Not only did Vader look like the harbinger of the apocalypse with this thing on, but jets of smoke shot out of it, and this, combined with his bad attitude, brutally stiff wrestling style and ability to perform a moonsault off the top rope while tipping the scales at around four hundred pounds, all conspired to blow my young mind when he made his debut for the WCW during the early nineties as an unstoppable heel (bad guy) feuding with top babyfaces (good guys) such as Sting, Nikita Koloff (whom he legitimately forced into retirement) and Ron Simmons.
Not only are there visual similarities, but there have long been even more palpable ties between wrestling and metal. From Alice Cooper accompanying Jake “The Snake” Roberts to the ring for his match with the Honky Tonk Man at Wrestlemania III back in 1987, to Motörhead writing and performing Triple H’s entrance theme “The Game” at Wrestlemania 21, the two have crossed paths on numerous occasions. Fans of Japanese hardcore wrestling (sometimes called “garbage wrestling”) might recall that Mick Foley (aka Cactus Jack) was often accompanied to the ring by the strains of Megadeth’s “The Mechanix.” Numerous ECW wrestlers such as The Sandman, Ron Van Dam and Tommy Dreamer used metal songs for their entrance music. The WWF (now the WWE) has always had an in-house composer and in their heyday often enlisted the likes of Rick Derringer to perform original songs created specifically for their wrestlers. Take a listen to my personal favorite below, the theme song for Demolition. It should be noted that Demolition were wearing masks, face-paint and spikes long before it became “kvlt.” To this day they hold the WWF record for longest tag team title reign.
Besides Demolition, The Roadwarriors and Vader, who all looked metal as fuck but didn’t actively claim to be metalheads, there were wrestlers who did build their personas or “gimmicks” around metal; you had WCW’s “Heavy Metal” Van Hammer, who claimed to be a guitarist (in actuality he was an ex-Navy man from Maryland), as well as the WWF’s Headbangers, a tag team that consisted of Mosh and Thrasher, who for some reason wore skirts (kilts?) as part of their ring gear. Raven, a wrestler with a misanthropic demeanor and grunge-inspired wardrobe, often wore metal shirts, with a particular penchant for Nevormore (naturally). Dale Torborg, who had previously wrestled under a baseball player gimmick (as the MVP), became the KISS Demon in 1999, wearing a ring gear replica of Gene Simmons’ iconic demon costume and makeup, and entered the ring from a coffin with KISS’ “God of Thunder” for accompaniment. Unfortunately, the best thing about Torborg’s run as the KISS Demon was his entrance, and the character quickly fizzled out. Oddly enough, Torborg is now a conditioning coordinator for the Chicago White Sox.
Wrestlers in the mainstream companies might have used heavy metal to help build their gimmicks, but hardcore wrestlers embodied the brutality of extreme metal with their actual wrestling style. Of course, hardcore wrestling can be traced back to legends such as Bruiser Brody and Stan “the Lariat” Hansen, but the style reached its pinnacle in ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) and Japanese promotions such as FMW, which were specifically geared towards anything goes mayhem that often involved “foreign objects” such as tables, chairs, thumbtacks, barbwire and broken glass, with the referree’s only real purpose being to count the pinfall or call for the bell after a submission, since there were no “rules” to enforce. Everyone knows that wrestling is “fake,” but take a look at the match below from IWA Japan’s 1995 King of the Deathmatch Tournament between the aforementioned Cactus Jack and Terry Funk, a legend who began his wrestling career in 1965 and has appeared in every major promotion in both America and Japan. I assure you that the blood pouring out of these two is very, very real. This match is so gnarly, it could be the subject of an Autopsy song.
A lot of what I’ve written here is in the past tense; any longtime fan who’s kept up with wrestling over the past few years will tell you it’s in the shitter. WWE has gone PG, turning their back on the fans that rallied around them during the “Attitude Era” to help them win their ratings battle against WCW. With the notable exception of CM Punk and a handful of others, the bulk of WWE’s wrestlers are painfully vanilla; the arts of creating a character, storytelling and ring psychology have all but been purged from the WWE style of wresting, which is characterized by short, slow-paced matches. TNA began as a fresh alternative to WWE, but has gradually declined over the years to the point where it’s virtually unwatchable, in spite of having a roster loaded with talent, and ROH, while high on technically sound wrestlers with tons of athletic ability, is painfully low on wrestlers that can cut a compelling promo or create an interesting persona for themselves. Yes, in much the same way that the majority of heavy metal has become watered down and safe over the years, so too has professional wrestling. That’s another similarity between wrestling and metal; they both go through periods of greatness and shittiness with little to no middle ground. Metal certainly seems to be seeing an upswing this year; here’s to hoping the same happens for professional wrestling.
I would try to sum this thing up with some pseudo-intellectual bullshit about the uncanny connections between my love of heavy metal and my love of pro wrestling, but instead I’d rather just leave you with a few words from the one of the greatest of all time, too hot to handle, too cold to hold, the tower of power too sweet to be sour, the dearly departed “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The beat goes on…