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Wrestling-Themed TV Shows

With the new Netflix show GLOW already receiving GLOWing rave reviews, it’s safe to assume that pro wrestling fans have finally gotten a live-action TV show about wrestling that gets it right, and to top it off, actually holds some kind of artistic merit. But before you decide to binge on all 10 episodes of Netflix’s latest female empowering dramedy, please refer to this list of those wrestling shows (both animated and live action) that came before GLOW, and died a miserable cancellation, or are actually still airing. But mostly died a miserable cancellation.

Honorable Mention: Muscle Girl!
Do you ever watch Joshi wrestling and think those brutal kicks to the face could sure use a bit more of the drama that is present in most CW shows? Or maybe write fan fiction of the YA variety that centers around a Japanese female wrestling organization? If you answered no to both of those questions, then fair enough, those are particularly niche ideas. But if you’re curious enough, feel free to check out this show (which you can find on YouTube with English subtitles). It has a young female wrestler trying to keep her dead father’s female wrestling league afloat, a romance angle with a k-pop star, and a villain who really likes cosplaying as Michael Jackson from the “Smooth Criminal” video.

10. Los Luchadores
While continuously printing money to this day thanks to their multiple Power Rangers TV shows, Saban Entertainment has been trying to apply the same formula to different properties that were popular at one time, giving us shows, like the terrible and creepy Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. Seeing how popular pro wrestling was around the late 90’s, the rise of lucha libre cruiserweights, who already looked like bootleg Power Rangers, it only made sense to make actual Power Ranger luchadores. The bad thing is, Los Luchadores seemed to have a quarter of the budget of that terrible Ninja Turtle show. And the lucha costumes weren’t even based on the current crop of luchadores at the time. How did they not use Psicosis or Mosco de la Merced as inspiration? This show almost had the feel of The Tick live-action series that came out around the same time, but without the self awareness and clever writing. They did have a very Batmanuel-sounding lead character named Lobo Fuerte, played by an actor named Maximo Morrone, who I can assure you was definitely not from the land whence lucha libre was born. To round out the rest of the lucha trio, we have Turbine and Maria Valentine, whose sole purpose was to make Lobo seem more Mexican by comparison, I guess. Anyway, Los Luchadores arch-nemesis was a half-cyborg chihuahua, because Mexicans? Usually, the chihuahua had random cronies doing most of his bidding. Occasionally, we would get some wrestling matches involving the three luchadores, which helped solidify the fact that the creators had never seen any kind of wrestling before making this show, or while making it.

9. Rumble (Full review here)
It was just a weird show, during a weird time, when wrestling was at its worst, especially for the U.K. Long after their World of Sport heyday and years before the United Kingdom started a wrestling revolution that the WWE is now trying hard to capitalize on, came this weird show, set during one of the worst periods of time for wrestling in England. And the U.S., for that matter. Rumble told the story of brother and sister duo who were trying to launch their own wrestling promotion against… which was headed by Lord Byron, who also doubled as their champion. Typical promoter. Yet, because Lord Byron has the hots for NAME’S daughter, he was always willing to help them out in some way to keep them afloat. He was basically the Vince McMahon to their ECW. Occasionally, Lord Byron would remember he’s supposed to be a dick and wold try to keep them from succeeding, and doing dastardly things, like stealing the CHAMPIONSHIP BELT. With secondary wrestling characters like The Beefy Boys, and, to round out the rest of the cast, it’s worth watching, if anything to serve as a reminder that not everything that’s on British TV is deserving of critical praise.

8. Mongo Wrestling Alliance (Full review here)
It was like Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, if they had actually focused on the wrestling aspect of their lives, and if Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan were a lot more crass. This show had a lot potential, much like the Camp WWE show on the WWE Network. But, just like it, it failed. The show did a great job incorporating many of the tropes and stereotypes of professional wrestling and presenting it with that trademark Adult Swim humor that has produced great animated shows like The Venture Bros. and Rick and Morty. But Mongo Wrestling Alliance was more along the lines of Minoriteam. The show followed the exploits of the Kleberkuh wrestling family, including star of the show, Rusty Kleberkuh, and his rag tag group of wrestling stereotypes, like country bumpkin, Booter Lee Bogg, and urban wrestler, Black Stack Johnson, and their ongoing war with Jesse DuBose and his conglomerate of a wrestling federation. It was cool to see wrestling storylines and conventions play out outside the ring, as was often the case with this show, but it could’ve dug down a litter deeper, even if it would have gotten into niche territory. It is Adult Swim, after all. At least we got episodes involving mini La Parka-type wrestlers in Mexico, and a southern wrestling episode that seemed to pay homage to Papa Shango.

7. Nikki
Taking the “fat guy married to a hot woman” dynamic to even more absurd lengths, Nikki was a show about a Vegas showgirl, Nikki Cox, who convinces some schlub to drop out of college and pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. The end result was working for a small-time Vegas wrestling promotion as The Crybaby. Which is probably the worst gimmick for any fictional pro wrestler on any TV show, movie, comic book, or cartoon featuring pro wrestling. At least they didn’t go the “Baby Huey” Bull Dempsey route with it, or else it would’ve made this show even harder to watch. Nikki was another desperate attempt to capitalize on the second golden age of pro wrestling, thanks to the WWF Attitude Era and WCW/nWo. Naturally, the show started around the time that same popularity was waning down. But it definitely served as an awesome time capsule of how terrible the early 2000’s were. On the plus side, the show did feature cameos from WCW wrestlers Kevin Nash and Randy Savage. Also, search for the Randy Savage episode, it’s probably the best one of the entire series and another example of why Savage was always better than Hulk Hogan, even in acting. Not because Savage was a better actor, but because he wasn’t afraid to make himself look vulnerable, despite being one of the biggest wrestling stars of all time.

6. Mucha Lucha
This was a lighthearted cartoon that highlighted the colorful world of lucha libre. The show followed a trio, naturally, of young up and coming wrestlers, Ricochet, Buena Girl, and The Flea. In this make-believe lucha Mexican town (world?), aspiring luchadores start training early. Elementary school is replaced by wrestling school, and most of life’s problems can be sorted out in the ring, so long as there’s a lesson to be learned from it in the end. Most episodes consisted of two mini episodes, but there was one particular half-hour long episode that was dedicated to the old El Santo vs. b-movies from the 60’s and 70’s. Only, instead of El Santo, Blue Demon was the real-life luchador who made a cameo and helped the tiny luchadores fend off a bunch of vampires. The series lasted three seasons and even landed a toy deal with Jakks Pacific, but that still didn’t make it popular enough to have actual real-life luchadores dressing up as the show’s characters, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bootleg luchadores.

5. Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy
Most of us who grew up in the 80’s were familiar with Kinnikuman in the States thanks to their little figurines that Mattel renamed as Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere, or M.U.S.C.L.E. Granted, our knowledge of them was limited to the figures, seeing as the old anime show was too violent to get the pass from U.S. censors. Years later, however, we’d get this updated version that aired Saturday mornings on Fox. From their nWo inspired super group dMb, to the move that Samoa Joe owes his career to, The Muscle Butt Buster, this version also seems to be the more popular one among wrestling and anime nerds. The updated Kinnikuman anime focused on the son of King Muscle, Kid Muscle, and the newest generation of M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestlers. A lot of the old tropes from the older version were also recycled for this show. In particular, the main character (Kid Muscle) being a whiny wuss who’s afraid to throw down, and who farts. A lot. Sure, he somehow finds his “fighting spirit” and ends up kicking other wrestlers’ asses, but it takes a while to get to that level. In between getting there, there’s just a lot of really annoying screaming coming from Kid Muscle. I could go more into it, but the entire premise of the show is described during the opening theme, which I suggest you listen to/watch.

4. Blue Demon
With 50-plus episodes having already aired on Univision, and still airing. This show is already the longest running live-action show about professional wrestling. Or, in this case, lucha libre. Someone at Univision was apparently inspired by Lucha Underground and decided that the time had come for a novela based on a luchador, and one of the most famous ones at that. Granted, the show is about 99% bullshit, and that’s according to the adopted son of the legend himself, Blue Demon Jr., but this site doesn’t concern itself with historical accuracy. After all, the main premise of Cheap Pop Culture is to highlight the fictional world of professional wrestling. So what, if this show, for whatever reason, decided to change legendary luchador Black Shadow’s name to the evil fart sounding, Black Wind? And that the guy playing Blue Demon can barely fill out the tights and mask, and instead looks like an adolescent Blue Demon Jr. playing dress up in his father’s wrestling gear? Blue Demon looks better than your typical spanish-language novela and it clearly shows. Of course, there’s still a lot of the overacting and melodrama that’s associated with it, that you can’t help but wait for the Jane the Virgin Latin Lothario voice over to kick in. But this period piece set in the 1940’s is still worth watching to see the rise of one of the most iconic luchadores in Mexican history, who apparently was an underground street fighter and was constantly at odds with a local mobster, even if it’s slow moving, and there’s no version available with English subtitles.

3. Learning the Ropes
Granted, this show is pretty bad. But, like great 80’s nostalgia bad. Much like Nikki was a perfect encapsulation of the late 90’s cultural landscape and professional wrestling, Learning the Ropes did the same for the mid-80’s. It’s also hard as hell to find on any kind of video format. Luckily, I’ve been able to see two full episodes online, and a few clips on YouTube here and there, but trust me, if a DVD set existed of this, it’d already be sitting on my shelf collecting dust. The premise of a school teacher/vice principal masquerading as a heel pro wrestler (Masked Maniac) by night, while raising two kids on his own is the most 80’s sitcom premise ever. The use of actual NWA wrestlers makes it even better. There’s an episode where the Masked Maniac’s kid forms a rock band with Ricky freakin’ Morton of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. Another where The Road Warriors crash a house party, and Jimmy Garvin is put on the shelf after a botched move. Sadly, even with NFL star, Lyle Alzado, at top billing, the show didn’t make it past season one. Maybe it was for the best, as Lyle Alzado’s body/wrestling double, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, suffered a couple of serious injuries doing the show.

2. Wanna Be The Strongest in the World (Full review here)
Aside from some random brief nudity, this show has done what WWE still struggles with to this day, producing compelling storylines for female wrestlers. Seriously, if this show wasn’t specifically aimed at horny teenage boys, it could serve as an empowering show for female wrestlers and, more importantly, female wrestling fans. The story of Sakura Hagiwara is a fish out of water one, in which a young pop star is humiliated during a wrestling exhibition match on TV and decides to pursue puroresu to prove herself worthy. From the training, to the harassment from other wrestlers, the hazing, the multiple losses, to getting better in the ring, to finally winning, makes it one of the best pro wrestling narratives ever told in any of the entertainment mediums. The wrestling is also a lot more realistic than what you’ll see in the Ultimate Muscle series, or even Tiger Mask W. And honestly, I would rank it number one because of that. But, because whenever one of the wrestlers is put in a submission, or slammed on the mat, the fact that the animators decide to show us how it impacts that wrestler’s crotch and/or breasts makes it really creepy, so the best I can do is rank it number two. Still, if you can get past the objectification, it’s worth watching.

1. Tiger Mask W
With a sweet intro song inspired by the original theme, references to the original show, and several New Japan Pro Wrestling stars making animated cameos, it’s kind of hard not to list this show as number one. Much like the Ultimate Muscle show, I’m once again going with the more recent version of a preexisting anime, and not just because it’s more accessible, but because it really is the better show. Again, much like Ultimate Muscle, many of the characters are based on old ones, but that’s a given when it comes to producing an updated version of a preexisting property with a built-in audience. However, this time around we get two Tiger Masks. One, the actual Tiger Mask, and the other, Tiger the Dark, who’s more of a dark Tiger Mask clone than a Black Tiger one, hence, the name. Both have one goal in mind, to avenge Daisuke Fujii, their mentor, and in Tiger the Dark’s case, his father, after a new Yellow Devil permanently put Fujii on the shelf. They go about it their own separate ways, continuing their training, and adopting their new personas without realizing who the other is. There are a lot of nods and references to the real world of wrestling, like the threat of the WWE-inspired Global Wrestling Monopoly to NJPW, a very cool homage to Kikutaro, and like I mentioned earlier, the addition of NJPW’s wrestlers, like Hiroshi Tanahashi’s major role in the show, whether it be helping Tiger Mask develop a new finisher, or taking a fictional NJPW young boy under his wing. And even though seeing animated versions of NJPW wrestlers, from Kazuchika Okada to Bad Luck Fale, is a pretty cool deal, one of the best things the show has given us is real-life versions of the show’s fictional wrestlers.

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