With Alexander Rusev making his second WWE wrestling debut, only this time on Raw, it only seemed fitting to take a look back at wrestlers who paved the way for him with their bare feet. Wrestlers who also just happened to be ethnic, and from some wild uncivilized place where shoes, and more importantly wrestling boots, are a luxury.
10. Saba Simba
In an era where over-the-top characters and gimmicks ran rampant in the WWE, it was only fitting to bring in Tony Atlas as something incredibly racist. After all, he is black, and black wrestlers – especially in the WWE – cannot exist alone on their athletic prowess. Or else they’ll end up like Shelton Benjamin, or at best, Kofi Kingston. No, Atlas was forced to pull an Akeem, and go back to his roots. Roots that extended far beyond Roanoke, Virginia and into the jungles of Africa. I’m just glad that whoever came up with this gimmick had only seen the TV mini-series Shaka Zulu, and not Roots.
9. Prince Iaukea
I’m not going to lie, 15-year-old me was a fan of his. Somehow, they made him seem like the younger, cooler, second-coming of Jimmy Snuka. Not only that, but he was beating dudes like William Regal, Rey Mysterio and Ultimo Dragon on a weekly basis while defending the WCW Television Title. According to Wikipedia he was trained by submission wrestlers, including Dean Malenko, so I guess there’s a reason why I bought into the hype. His TV title reign didn’t last long, but he did win the cruiserweight title, but that was after he was repackaged as The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Iaukea. Yeah, it was as bad as it sounds.
8. The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu)
Before Fatu found a pair of wrestling boots in San Francisco and decided to make a change, and before Samu disappeared into wrestling obscurity, they were The Headshrinkers. The updated version of the Wild Samoans. And appropriately enough they were managed by family member, and Wild Samoan, Afa. They existed during the time when the WWE tag team division was on a downward spiral, and even the Steiner Brothers weren’t able to save it. They got a run with the tag team belts because almost every team did at that time, except for the Bushwhackers. It was short, and soon after Samu left to go back to shrinking heads he was replaced by
The Barbarian Sione, who threw the team off course with his fancy wrestling boots. They were never the same.
Despite there being a slightly rotund, but equally tough, Samoan on the scene kicking wrestlers’ faces in named Joe, WWE decided to overlook the “out of shape” Joe in favor of another, slightly chubbier Samoan. One who would shed modern day advances such as shoes and kick pads, and keep it old school uncivilized with bare feet. He growled and snarled, and was led to the ring by his manager/mouthpiece Armando Estrada. Old school stereotypes notwithstanding, Umaga was pretty successful. He was built up then fed to John Cena, he captured the Intercontinental Title, and was the reason for Vince McMahon getting his hair shaved off at Wrestlemania 23.
The even more racist, evil precursor to Saba Simba. Back in 80’s pro wrestling, if you were evil and a foreigner, chances are you were going to embody all the shittiest stereotypes of an entire group of people. Kamala wasn’t just a stereotype of uncivilized savages, he was acknowledged as being a cannibal as well. Surprisingly, no backstage skits were ever filmed of him heating up a giant cauldron right before his matches, while chopping up carrots into it a la Bugs Bunny cartoons. Although, truth be told, it would probably be one of the coolest things ever to see on a wrestling broadcast. Eventually, Kamala turned good, and was even given a helping hand by former pimp turned minister Slick, in hopes of civilizing him. Which included learning how to bowl at the top of their list of priorities.
5. The Wild Samoans (Afa & Sika)
These Hall of Fame, former WWE Tag Team Champions, can probably be attributed to bringing in more wrestlers into the WWE than NXT. All thanks to their seed. Seriously, most of the Samoans in wrestling could be traced back to these two. While obviously portraying the stereotypical savage, they did enjoy some success as a top tag team. They even got some action figures made of them thanks to Jakks Pacific. And let us not forget about their feature film debut as Mr. Kim’s debt-collecting henchmen in 1986’s classic Body Slam. The Wild Samoans might not have been the first wrestlers to wrestle barefoot, but they were definitely trailblazers in the untamed savage gimmick.
4. Kevin Von Erich
The “Barefoot Boy” was the one Von Erich brother who, well, wrestled barefoot. Apparently, he started off in boots, but one time he couldn’t find them and after feeling how good the canvas felt on the bottom of his feet, he never wore them again. He was supposedly inspired Jimmy Snuka as well. As a Von Erich wrestling in WCCW, he enjoyed much success, as was expected, and was naturally a fan favorite. As a Von Erich, he’s also the only non-ethnic, “civilized”, wrestler to have wrestled barefoot, which would’ve probably brought about a white trash stigma, had this not been professional wrestling. Kevin is the sole survivor of the Von Erich clan which, in hindsight, could possibly be attributed to having wrestled barefoot. Who knows?
I was too young to appreciate Haku when I first saw him in the WWE, but once he became Meng in WCW it was on. After hearing stories of how Haku was probably the legit-toughest dude in any locker room, it made me appreciate him even more. For a while, WCW had him be the indestructible beast of a man he was in real life and feud with Sting over the U.S. Title. Perhaps, his best run. In the WWE, he had some decent moments here and there, including a stint with the rotating WWE King moniker/crown, that was brought to even higher levels of prestige and royalty once he lost it to Hacksaw Jim Duggan. But the highlight of his WWE run had to have been him tagging with Andre the Giant. I mean, who else can say they tagged with Andre the Giant and won the tag team titles with him?
While supposedly Japanese, Yokozuna was actually part of the large Samoan clique of wrestlers that were either actually related, or pretend related for the sake of Samoan wrestling heritage. So, it should’ve come to no surprise that he was comfortable wrestling barefoot. This dude was a behemoth, and the fact that he was in the 500 pound range and could do the things that he did made him all the more impressive. Plus, the guy holds the distinction of being the first Samoan/Japanese wrestler to win the WWF Title. And he did it twice, beating two of the biggest stars in professional wrestling: Bret Hart and Hulk Hogan. I used to cringe seeing him come down on opponents with the banzai drop, and not because I thought wrestling was “real”, but no matter how much Yokozuna tried to take care of his opponent, I’m pretty sure their sternum was going to be feeling the effects of the banzai drop for a few days.
1. Superfly Jimmy Snuka
The most famous of the barefooted wrestlers. And the only one to have been featured on a cartoon. From captivating a young Mick Foley and countless other wrestling fans with splashes off the top of steel cages, and taking coconuts to the dome like a champ, Jimmy Snuka was one of the more popular wrestlers in 1980s professional wrestling. He was pretty watered down by the time I started watching in 1989. But having seen his bloody brawls with Don Muraco, and him going bat-shit crazy on interviews when talking about Roddy Piper, it was clear why this guy was more appealing when he wasn’t restricted from tapping into that danger zone of instability that made him famous to a generation before my time.