2016: The Year of Wrestling in Pop Culture

Supernatural-UpsetHarleyThe year’s wrapping up, and in the world of professional wrestling, journalists, fans, bloggers, etc., will be declaring their wrestlers and matches of the year. However, here at Cheap Pop Culture, I’d rather give you a breakdown of all the times pro wrestling reared its red-headed step child head in the world of pop culture. So enjoy the second annual of The Year of Wrestling in Pop Culture.

This year, wrestling on TV wasn’t mostly regulated to late-night talk show or reality shows. The CW show, Supernatural, actually had a wrestling episode that featured the man everyone loves to hate again, The Miz. Not only was he portraying a wrestler, but an up and coming indie wrestler, no less! I think we can agree that this star-making cameo is what probably helped Miz regain some of that confidence he used to have. It’s hard to call yourself an A-lister when you’re making terrible WWE-produced films. At least people watch Supernatural.

img_6789And those who do might also watch Grimm, given its own supernatural-like premise. Apparently, shows about demons and the dead really love incorporating wrestling. I guess this explains why The Undertaker’s gimmick has been able to withstand over 25 years. He’s the walking venn-diagram of this niche group of fans. Anyway, Grimm did its own wrestling themed episode with a lucha twist. It featured Chavo Guerrero as masked luchador El Mayordomo, which translated means The Butler, even though he was dressed as a luchador who should’ve gone by The Gigolo in Spanish. El Gigolo? His rival, El Tigre Feroz, was given a mask made of the skin of some demon-type guy who can transform into a grey tiger. Well, his face at least could. It was a pretty inventive take on lucha lore and instantly became my favorite supernatural-themed TV wrestling episode. And there’s a lot of them to choose from.

One of Seth MacFarlane’s multiple side hustles, American Dad, had a B-story about wrestling that featured an homage to that infamous Attitude Era moment in which Steve Austin attacked Mr. McMahon in a hospital. And that wasn’t the only animated show on Fox to feature pro wrestling. Even though it lasted but a few fleeting seconds, Bob’s Burgers gave us the gift of Norwegian Steven and his dastardly finisher, The Reverse Norwegian Stink Hold. And, while we’re still on the subject of animation, Tiger Mask made its return. Not only as a brand new anime entitled Tiger Mask W, but also briefly as a real-life professional wrestler, thanks to Kota Ibushi. He’s making his real-life return at Wrestle Kingdom 11 against Tiger the Dark, in his real-life debut. The anime also features New Japan Pro Wrestling stars Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okad as themselves.

img_6816As always, there was news of a potential live-action wrestling show making the rounds. Unlike say, the pilot script for Main Event starring Johnny B. Badd, this show might actually have some steam behind it considering it would be a sitcom with The Rock Dwayne Johnson and Will Ferrell developing it together. Then again, I had high hopes for the 80’s wrestling drama that NBC had commissioned a pilot for from The Rock and Jerry Bruckheimer, and that didn’t exactly pan out in their favor. But that was in 2011, and The Rock wasn’t the world’s highest paid actor, like he is now. So maybe The Rock will finally… get to make a damn show about wrestling.

The one thing The Rock/Ferrell wrestling project might have going for it, is the fact that Netflix is already making their own show about pro wrestling. Specifically, women’s wrestling. Before the WWE Network came along, Netflix was a pretty good provider of WWE programming, plus they’ve had a pretty good track record of making other non-WWE wrestling documentaries available to stream. Despite them being pretty secretive when it comes to how many subscribers are streaming what shows, wrestling must do well since they decided to produce GLOW, a show based on the 80’s wrestling league, Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It also doesn’t hurt that the series is being created by Jenji Kohan, the woman who brought us Orange is the New Black. Throughout the year, news dropped of Alison Brie being a part of the show, as well as everyone’s favorite podcast curmudgeon, Marc Maron. With Netflix footing the bill, providing the platform, and Kohan behind the scenes, this has the potential to be the best TV show about wrestling that’s ever been made. Maybe. Rumble will be tough to beat.

Netflix also debuted two series that featured wrestling. The show that most people probably wanted to be added to Netflix in its original form, not as a reboot, Fuller House, and sketch comedy series, The Characters. Fuller House contained the episode “The Legend of El Explosivo” which featured DJ and one of her sons taking on Los Pollo Locos from the Lucha VaVoom shows. The Characters, in which different comedians had a whole episode to themselves to do as they wanted, gave us a parody of the infamous Jumpin’ Jeff Farmer interview, courtesy of Tim Robinson.

img_6814Aside from producing Spanish versions of Comedy Central’s Drunk History (which I didn’t know was a thing and now have to watch), the Latino equivalent of Netflix (I guess), Blim, went ahead and produced their own original series based on the life of Blue Demon Sr., titled Blue Demon: El Hombre Detrás de la Máscara. I haven’t gotten around to watching it, but you can bet my Holiday vacation will be spent binge-watching the hell out of it before my free trial expires.

img_6810On the late night front, Chris Jericho was the latest wrestler to wonder why the hell he decided to do the The Eric Andre Show. John Cena was on Jimmy Fallon to promote his reality show, American Grit, by playing a game of Sticky Balls, which is exactly what it sounds like. Lovable Brit, James Corden a.k.a. Smithy, had his parents attend a live taping of Raw while in England for a segment on The Late Late Show. And it went as adorably as you’d imagine it could possibly go with an older couple with British accents. Day time talk shows even got in on the wrestling fun. For example, on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the first presidential debate was re-imagined as a WWE main event, splicing real WWE footage of Donald Trump, and superimposing Hillary Clinton’s head on Charlotte Flair’s body, which made all the sense in the world. There’s also an Anderson Cooper/Rock cameo.

img_6626Unlike The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the WWE wisely refrained from having any kind of political involvement on their shows, given the fact that Vince and Linda McMahon did contribute millions of dollars to Donald Trump’s campaign, which eventually led to Linda being picked to head the Small Business Administration, but other TV shows were quick to employ wrestling tropes to point out the absurdity of this past election year. It makes sense when you consider that our President Elect is a WWE Hall of Famer, and actually has more experience being a wrestling performer than being in political office.

img_6620On Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, Colin Jost accurately pointed out that Hillary Clinton needed to stop celebrating that she had won the first debate, liking her to a wrestler who thinks she has won the match, only to not see her opponent gain an assist from outside interference. A few weeks later on Weekend Update, when referencing a hypothetical war with Russia, Michael Che pointed out that he didn’t want liberals fighting that war, he wanted somebody that “dresses like John Cena, listens to Nickelback, and has never met an Asian.” Fair enough. Sadly, this didn’t play out in a sketch in December when John Cena actually ended up hosting Saturday Night Live. But he did have a pretty decent opening monologue that was heavy on the wrestling references, including Bobby Moynihan once again assuming the role of a professional wrestler, only this time he was the less intimidating, Roddy Piper-inspired, The Waddler. RIP The Trashyard Mutt.

The only real movie of note that featured pro wrestling and was actually released in 2016 was The Masked Saint. The movie played up its Christian theme thanks to the simple, yet “passé”, wrestling storytelling of good versus evil. It also featured Roddy Piper in one of his last movie roles, playing the type of person he probably despised the most, a wrestling promoter.

masked-saintIf you happened to watch the September 20th episode of of SmackDown Live, you might recall David Otunga referencing a conversation he had with Rikishi regarding the Uso’s recent heel turn on the set of a movie. You might recall it because he brought it up several times throughout the damn match and never once actually explained what Rikishi’s thoughts were on his sons turning bad. If you were wondering what movie they were on the set of, like I was, Pro Wrestling Sheet reported it to be another Netflix/Adam Sandler why collaboration that features Terry Crews as a wrestler. This bit a news also made the rounds of the wrestling news sites because Shad Gaspard, recent real life crime fighter, was the one training Crews for the role.

img_6638In more news regarding wrestling-related movies that were being filmed in 2016, but not released, Signature Move was highlighted on NBC news, and for good reason when you read the synopsis: Zaynab, a thirty-something Pakistani, Muslim, lesbian in Chicago takes care of her sweet and TV-obsessed mother. As Zaynab falls for Alma, a bold and very bright Mexican woman, she searches for her identity in life, love and wrestling. There are so many questions it’s hard not to be intrigued. Is Alma an indy luchadora? Is Zaynab a rookie wrestler? How TV-obsessed is Zaynab’s mother? Definitely looking forward to this release in 2017.

Three different wrestling bio pics were also mentioned throughout the year in terms of being in the process of being made, or at least announced to start filming. The most notable one being Crossface, the movie about the life and death of Chris Benoit. The movie once again picked up some steam having announced Lexi Alexander as the person who would be directing it. And this wasn’t just reported by some dirt sheet wrestling site, but from Variety itself. Before they announced that bit of news, Variety also reported that producers had partnered with Lion Forge Comics, who put out the graphic novel Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven, to develop a movie based on Andre’s life. And, according to Wales Online, a feature film about the life of “Exotic” Adrian Street was in the works and slated to start filming in August 2017. Here’s hoping the soundtrack includes “Street Rap”.

img_6637In a movie that’s so Japanese that it could only come from Japan, Daikaiju Mono came out and was definitely not your typical wannabe Godzilla-type movie with a Godzilla-size monster. It also features Japanese wrestling stars Kota Ibushi and Minoru Suzuki as giant versions of themselves German suplexing this Godzilla-size monster. Now, all I want is for Kota Ibushi to do a run-in at an upcoming Kaiju Big Battel show.

After receiving pretty high praise for the indie release of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, a crime story set in the territory days of pro wrestling, Paul O’Brien has gotten himself a nice little publishing deal that has re-released his book starting with the first volume. The last two volumes are slated for a release in 2017. Even though its first issue was originally released in 2015, Ringside’s first volume, collecting the first six issues, was released in June 2016. It’s a slow moving story, but if we’ve learned anything from Jim Ross and Jim Cornette about pro wrestling in general, it’s that you have to slow down, dammit! Even when it comes to wrestling in comic books.

ringsidepanelKeeping with comic books, Michael Kingston unveiled the latest in his Headlocked series, the Last Territory Vol. 2. Proving once again to be the best and most realistic graphic novel about professional wrestling. He and artist/indie wrestler Michael Mulipola also had no problem successfully funding their decision to remaster the original issue, A Single Step. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have friends, like Samoa Joe, MVP, and The Young Bucks, to lend a hand in providing Kickstarter-exclusive stories and art. And if you want your realistic depictions of pro wrestling to have more of a Saturday morning cartoon vibe, then look no further than Jarrett Williams’ Super Pro K.O.: Gold for Glory, the third volume in the series.

While we still haven’t gotten that re-imagined next-gen version of the old Nintendo 64 WWE No Mercy video game, one indie video game developer tried with Saturday Knights, but fell considerably low from its Kickstarter goal. It’s a shame too, considering it would’ve had the Young Bucks and Willie Mack as playable characters. One indie wrestling video game that reached and even slightly surpassed its much more realistic goal was Chikara: Action Arcade Wrestling. It probably helped that the game had already been developed from a previous platform. The addition of the Chikara roster definitely makes it seem more fun, especially if you ever wanted to play as Dasher Hatfield and hit El Hijo del Ice Cream with a Hadouken.

In more mainstream video game coverage, the release of Street Fighter V gave us a Macho Man Randy Savage-inspired alternate costume for Zangief, and a luchador one for R. Mika. Borrowing a page from the Saints Row video game series, The Yakuza series released its sixth installment featuring a gang made up of wrestlers. Unlike Saints Row, the wrestlers are actual New Japan Pro Wrestling stars Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Kazuchika Okada, Satoshi Kojima, Tetsuya Naito, and Toru Yano.

In one of the greatest moments in the history of Google Doodle, Google decided to celebrate what would’ve been El Santo’s 99th birthday. Not only was the doodle itself pretty cool, but they also followed that up with various illustrations of the legendary luchador’s storied career, from his wrestling matches to classic B-movies. Even Blue Demon got in on the action.

During New York Comic Con, Playmates Toys revealed WWE-inspired Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. The turtle versions of WWE Superstars included John Cena, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Undertaker, and Sting. I was hoping for a Casey Jones one as well, to validate my use of him and his golf bag full of weapons during my early 90’s WWF Hasbro hardcore wrestling matches, but I guess this was strictly exclusive to the turtles. Who knows, maybe we’ll get Lita/April O’Neil and Triple H/Splinter mash-up action figures down the line.

img_68062016 was a pretty decent year for wrestling in pop culture. Although many of the more interesting developments, like Netflix’s GLOW, The Rock and Will Ferrell project, and the various bio pics announced to be heading towards production, makes it seem like 2017 will be an even better year for wrestling in pop culture. Unless all those projects fall by the wayside. At the very least, we’ll still have GLOW.


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