What’s wrestling without its larger than life characters? It’s the only medium outside of a comic book where clowns, space travelers, battling cats, and mythical man-beasts can all do battle in the name of good vs. evil. Sometimes those characters are so much more larger than life that they exist outside the parameters that govern the real world, and extend to the great beyond. Or somewhere great beyond adjacent. These paranormal grapplers may call upon the spirit of the dead, live off of human blood for sustenance, worship the devil himself, or just like Bray Wyatt showed us at Hell in a Cell, produce hologram images via possessed lanterns. And as cool or absurd as it might seem at first if it’s at least moderately successful, like all other wrestling gimmicks, it’ll certainly be done to death (Thank you, thank you).
Having mentioned Bray Wyatt, while his appearance is a slight nod towards Waylon Mercy’s character, who was in turn a rip-off of Max Cady from Cape Fear, what sets him apart from these guys is his cult-leader status. Being a supernatural wrestler doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a demon or a vampire, it could also mean you have strong ties to the dark arts.
Kevin Sullivan was one of the earliest wrestlers to rely on the occult as the foundation of a gimmick. Before Sullivan became another talking head on the WWE Network’s Monday Night War series, he was busy singing the praises of the devil himself. He’d come around with cloaked figures carrying snakes and add other wrestlers to his oddball stable, The Army of Darkness. Much like that particular era in time, and that style of wrestling in that geographical region, this gimmick was a lot more realistic and gritty than the rest of the ones you’ll see on here. Sullivan was less of a Universal monster and more of a psychotic killer. Never the most physically imposing guy, Sullivan stood out because he seemed mentally unstable. And sometimes being mentally unstable is a whole lot scarier than having big muscles.
Who would you be more afraid of? A guy called The Boogeyman that you’ve never seen, or someone like the very-real Charles Manson who can convince a group of people to commit murder? Sullivan’s the reason why Bray Wyatt’s character took off from the get-go. Hologram producing lantern aside, Wyatt is a throwback to that evil that seems all too real. The most dangerous kind.
Then there’s Papa Shango. Such a cartoonish representation of death and racism that even Disney based their evil villain in The Princess and The Frog on him. Despite there already being a Voodoo/Vodou practitioner going by the name of Rasta the Voodoo Mon on the independent scene, Papa Shango became the one true Voodoo wrestling master. He was WrestleCrap gold from the moment he debuted and was thrown into a high-profile feud with the returning Ultimate Warrior. Before The Undertaker was able to summon lightning bolts from the ceilings of arenas, Papa Shango was able to make Penzoil drip from people’s foreheads or their wrists after some joggling. Not to mention induce Saturday morning sickness on the likes of The Ultimate Warrior.
I’m surprised they didn’t let Shango experiment with Voodoo dolls. Talk about a missed merchandising opportunity. His feud with Warrior went nowhere fast as it didn’t take long for the WWE to realize how terrible the gimmick was and that they’d be better off putting all their supernatural eggs in The Undertaker basket. Many years would go by before we’d ever see Black Magic on another American wrestling TV show.
A new age Papa Shango of sorts. Only he wasn’t based on something religious or stereotypical. Although there has to be something said about a nightmarish character called The Boogeyman who just happened to be a black guy who carried a novelty-size Flava Flav clock. I guess it was okay since he was a good guy. Which was also kind of weird. Everyone knows a supernatural wrestler has to start off as a heel. Aside from the red mood lighting, there wasn’t much there in terms of scary supernatural wrestler.
Michael Cole and Tazz seemed more confused and disgusted than they were frightened of The Boogeyman when he debuted. He was basically the gross kid in elementary school who ate worms on a dare or just for fun, but with muscles and face paint. For a guy who adults hyped up about “coming to getcha” as a kid, he really was a letdown. Although a lot of WWE wrestlers seemed to be afraid of him every time they bumped into him backstage. The only thing The Boogeyman did for the supernatural gimmick was to make it even more of a joke. Which ultimately paid off a few days ago when WWE uploaded their Scare Tactics-inspired Scare Prank video in which The Boogeyman scared unsuspecting WWE employees. Probably because most of them are unfamiliar with him and WWE programming.
Goldust was a game changer. There’s no doubt about it. Even now in 2014, almost 20 years later, Goldust is one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions with his brother Stardust. Along the way, however, Dustin Rhodes decided to switch things up when he jumped ship to WCW. Mostly because he didn’t own the rights to the Goldust character. So he resurfaced in WCW as one of The Strangers from the movie Dark City. I’m not sure how supernatural of a wrestler he was supposed to be since his character was ripped off from a Sci-Fi movie, but he did float to the ring in ghostly fashion. One of the reasons why we never found out what kind of gimmick this was is because Dustin dropped the gimmick during his debut. Apparently because he gave off a creepy child-abducting vibe.
Dustin Rhodes tried his hand once more at being somebody’s walking nightmare, by going as Black Reign. But was pretty much Goldust going through an emo phase and doing a bad Harvey Fierstein impression. He did manage to up the occult factor by teaming with TNA’s Rellik. Which is Killer spelled backwards, in case you didn’t catch that.
As far as gimmicky characters go, Rellik did look pretty damn cool. Kind of like WCW’s Mortis. Which made sense seeing as Rellik looked like he was the final boss in Mortal Kombat. What started off as a rip-off of the Great Muta’s look at the time resulted in little more than a cool Halloween costume. Really, that’s all there is to remember about Rellik. And that’s because this is probably the most that someone has ever written about him.
While mainstream television is currently successfully experimenting with genre-specific TV shows, the WWE, and wrestling in general, has been doing this since wrestling was a thing. Before The Walking Dead was such a major hit that it spawned a spin-off, walkers were slowly making their way down the aisle.
What’s there to say about that hasn’t already been said about a guy whose gimmick probably should’ve ended a year after his debut, when he was about to get his comeuppance at the hands of Hulk Hogan himself? And they went full Halloween with this guy too. From the body bags, caskets, urns, funeral parlors, manager named Paul Bearer, all these props pointed to WrestleCrap Hall of Fame. Instead, The Undertaker has evolved the gimmick and maintained its relevancy in the course of his 20-plus year career in the WWE that his loss at last year’s WrestleMania overshadowed the main event. And it’s not like he eased up on the supernatural stuff. It’s still very much a part of his character.
With the exception of the speed bump known as the American Bad Ass “Biker-taker”, the whole supernatural aura has always been the foundation of The Undertaker’s mystique. While at times some of that mystique strayed from creepy and veered towards over-the-top absurd, there are surprisingly a lot more highlights than low points for a guy who pretended to be a dead wrestler. It definitely helped that his presence was otherworldly at 6’10” and over 300 pounds, but the fact that he could back up those stats with amazing agility and an incredible work rate truly made him the complete supernatural package.
That’s why much like the gimmick, the legacy of The Undertaker will never die. Or, at the very least, rest in peace.
Another example of how The Undertaker’s gimmick is so powerful and long-lasting. What other wrestling gimmick has been able to create a spin-off gimmick that was just as successful as the original? Kane was almost like the Fake Undertaker in that he moved slowly and no-sold other wrestlers’ offense. And much like the Fake Undertaker, Kane seemed like he was meant to have a short-lived run, but has now competed in his 17th year. In a weird way, the introduction of “The Big Red Monster” humanized The Undertaker, and added another dimension to The Undertaker persona. Yet, they still found a way to maintain the supernatural tone through “Inferno” matches, and other “hellish” gimmick matches like the “Buried Alive” match
Just like his big brother, “The Devil’s Favorite Demon” maintained his relevancy by updating his gimmick and eventually unmasking. Until recently, Kane dropped the evil demon schtick altogether in order to move up the corporate ladder as part of The Authority and, more importantly, remain in the main event picture. Although, to be fair, he should’ve taken a cue from his big brother and go on a few hiatuses here and there. Whereas The Undertaker makes rare appearances in which he usually wins, Kane is on every Raw, Smackdown and Pay-Per-View always losing.
The Yeti, or The Ye-teh! as Tony Schiavone referred to him as, was a brand new low in the Hulk Hogan/Dungeon of Doom feud. For the uninitiated, The Dungeon of Doom was the PG-version of Kevin Sullivan’s Army of Darkness. So long was the cult-like Manson family and in its place was 80’s cartoon villainy. And The Yeti was the guy that was going to help Sullivan and crew finally bring down Hulkamania. All it did was further bring down professional wrestling as a whole. The Yeti’s biggest contribution to the wrestling world was the sight of the most awkward, three-way, homoerotic bear hug in the history of the business.
And also this was a goddamn wrestling mummy named The Yeti. The Yeti is supposed to be the Abominable Snowman!
While The Undertaker was supposed to be like a zombie, and The Yeti was apparently a mummified snowman, the ECW Zombie was, in fact, a straight-up zombie. A zombie who didn’t care much for brains and was still cognizant of being a professional wrestler. This was pretty much a throwaway character on a throwaway show. If anything cemented the doomed resurrection of ECW it was the appearance of this wrestler in the very first match on the very first episode. The zombie then proceeded to take an even bigger shit on the ECW brand, professional wrestling, and the supernatural gimmick by groaning into the mic. When interpreted, linguists have stated that the zombie was saying “fuck you, ECW”.
The most eerie thing about the zombie is that he looked like Terry Gordy.
I’m not sure what Dracula-type stuff Vampiro was all about during his time in Mexico other than wooing the ladies when not getting cockblocked by Konnan for appearances on Mexican telenovelas. Once he arrived in WCW though, things were a bit different. He took a cue from fellow vampire warriors and embraced the dark side of the Goth lifestyle. Although, I don’t think he ever committed 100%. Just listen to this promo he cuts on Sting. Does he really make you believe that he is going to “devour” Sting? I’m surprised he was able to keep from smirking through out the entire promo.
Instead of coming off creepy, Vampire seemed like he was trying to be a cool, hip version of The Undertaker. And man did he try. All The Undertaker tropes were in play during Vampiro’s one-and-only noteworthy feud in WCW. There were attacks in cemeteries, wrestlers being buried alive, “Human Torch” matches, and bloodbaths. It was painfully obvious that Vampiro was more into the look of the supernatural character than he was about becoming it.
Gangrel’s biggest contributions to wrestling are Edge and Christian and one of the top five coolest entrances ever. Aside from that, Gangrel stood out for being a vampire in an era when most gimmicks had taken on a more realistic trend. Even The Undertaker had taken a more realistic approach with the Ministry of Darkness as a cult. To his credit, he had been doing the gimmick for a while before he got the call up to the WWE. And to this day, he still does the gimmick. I’m sure the Twilight series only helped in bumping up his booking fee.
Unlike Vampiro, Gangrel was all in though. This guy not only plays the part, but he lives it. He even altered his real teeth to look like vampire fangs. Now, that’s commitment.
Kevin Thorn wasn’t just another Goth kid, he was one of those dudes that were way into the vampire subculture and fell in love with Ariel (a.k.a. Shelly Martinez) at one of those dimly-lit clubs with seizure-inducing strobe lights that plays Electro-Industrial music. Thorn seemed as if he took his look seriously, but not so much the supernatural lifestyle. There were no goblets or bloodbaths, just Ariel hanging off of the ropes like a bat. He did as much for the supernatural wrestler as he did for the resurrected ECW brand. The only good thing about the Kevin Thorn gimmick was bringing Shelly Martinez onto mainstream television.
All these characters serve as a sure-fire reminder to most wrestling purists that what we’re watching is still very much a spectacle. And as much as we hate to admit, are targeted towards a demographic we outgrew a long time ago. Still, wrestling wouldn’t be wrestling if not for some of these outcasts. And if you’re a real wrestling purist, you’ve come to accept that. For all intents and purposes, it’s still a carnival sideshow. A recyclable one at that. These gimmicks will never go away. Sooner or later, someone will take their place as the new Kane or Undertaker. And as we’ve recently seen, Bray Wyatt is starting to show signs of being the evolved modern take on the supernatural wrestler. He definitely has the mood lighting to pull it off.