A black Johnny Storm, a white Tiger Lily, a black Heimdall. Everyone’s all up in arms about racebending – the act of casting an actor of one race to play a character of another.
But while people write laborious thinkpieces on whether Iron Fist should be played by an Asian guy or not, the world of professional wrestling has been racebending for decades.
It’s practically nothing to see a guy come out with a gimmick that’s a racial caricature of a race not his own. Hell, back in the 1980s, Rowdy Roddy Piper wore half-black-face during a feud with Bad News Brown. It was a different time. For better or for worse, professional wrestling does this stuff absolutely all the time, so we’ve collected our ten favorite examples, in no particular order, below.
Did we miss any good ones? Tell us your favorites in the comments below!
Although we would have preferred he be inducted as Scott Hall, we’re stoked that Razor Ramon is now officially a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Thing is, despite oozing all that machismo, Razor Ramon is about as Cuban as Al Pacino.
That’s right, WWE took a big, hunky white dude, shaved his sweet mustache, gave him a greasy curl stuck to his forehead, and a couple classic intro packages later, they had themselves a Cuban. Seeing as his accent wasn’t any more ridiculous than Al Pacino’s, we’re totally fine with it.
Camacho used to be the lowrider bike enthusiast pal of Hunico – until Hunico got promoted to Sin Cara, that is. These days, Camacho is still wrestling for WWE, with occasional appearances on NXT, and still portraying a West Coast latino gimmick…despite the fact that he’s actually Tongan.
But Camacho isn’t just Tongan, he’s SUPER Tongan, as he’s the son of one of the most famous Tongan wrestlers ever: Haku, aka Meng. That’s right, the son of legendary badass Haku, who is said to have ripped a man’s eye out in a fight and be one of the only two men feared by Andre the Giant, now gets to wrestle dressed like an extra from a Cypress Hill video.
Continuing our run of dudes pretending to be Mexican, how could we forget about indy legend El Generico? Before he was going toe-to-toe with Cesaro on NXT as Sami Zayn, he was going toe-to-toe with Claudio Castagnoli on the indies as El Generico, the generic luchador.
But despite his broken English and tales of Mexican orphans, El Generico was actually a Canadian of Syrian descent. Count yourself lucky that he isn’t working a Sheik gimmick in NXT.
For most wrestling fans, Gorilla Monsoon is best remembered as the legendary WWE announcer who sat ringside during the promotion’s 80s golden age, alongside other legends like Jesse Ventura and Bobby Heenan. But before Gino Marella called the action outside the ring, the Italian-American was an in-ring competitor himself, portraying a savage Manchurian giant.
Billed at 6’5”, hulking and hairy, he was said to have been born on a farm in Manchuria, eventually joining up with gypsies and wrestling bears before coming to the United States to kick ass and take names. He even once hit his signature Airplane Spin on none other than Muhammad Ali.
Originally billed as the Russian Nightmare (the villainous counterpart to Dusty Rhodes’ American Dream), Nikita Koloff was a massive star in Jim Crocket Promotions – the forerunner to WCW. But the massive kayfabe nephew of Canadian fake Russian Ivan Koloff (a runner-up on this list), was actually a big beefy Minnesota boy.
In fact, Nikita, real name Nelson Scott Simpson, actually went to high school with a number of other future former wrestlers, including Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, John Nord and Barry Darsow. Though he was green when he started in JCP, Nikita improved quickly, and was extremely committed to his villainous Russian gimmick, refusing to break character and even learning some of the language.
Chief Jay Strongbow
The northern counterpart to Wahoo McDaniel (in our opinion the superior American Indian wrestler), Chief Jay Strongbow wore a big headdress, used moves like the Tomahawk Chop and Indian deathlock, and even did a war dance when cheered by his fans.
But unlike the legit Choctaw-Chickasaw McDaniel, Strongbow was an Italian, wrestling under his real name of Joe Scarpa throughout Georgia and Florida during the 50s and 60s. But not being an actual American Indian didn’t prevent him from passing the American Indian gimmick torch to Tatanka, who inducted Strongbow into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994.
Yokozuna was absolutely awesome and we won’t tolerate any dissent on that matter. He was ginormous, filling the role of the humongo-fat-man wrestler perfectly (speaking of which, we desperately miss humongo-fat-man wrestlers), but also possessed incredible agility, which meant that his matches were way better than you might expect of someone his size.
But despite his Japanese manager Mr. Fuji, the Japanese flags or all the associated Sumo gimmicks, Yokozuna wasn’t from the Land of the Rising Sun…he was Samoan. In fact, like seemingly every Samoan to ever wrestle in WWE, Yokozuna was related to the Wild Samoans Afa and Sika, who were his uncles, which means he was also kin to The Rock, Rikishi, The Usos, Umaga and of course, Roman Reigns.
Akeem the African Dream
Where do we even start with Akeem? Though he achieved fame in the dying days of the territory era and WWE as the One Man Gang, the very white George Gray would become infamous through his portrayal of Akeem the African Dream.
Draped in a daishiki, billed from Deepest, Darkest Africa, and introduced with packages that are, let’s say, not quite racially sensitive, Akeem is a bizarre relic of late 80s wrestling. That said, the whole gimmick is best understood in its appropriate context: A big rib on WCW booker and star Dusty Rhodes, who was known as the American Dream and had a tendency to bust out the jive talk now and again.
American wrestling fans, if they’ve heard of Kendo Nagasaki, might well associate the name with an actual Japanese guy, Kazuo Sakurada, who toured the states in the early 80s, hitting territories like the AWA, FCW, WWC and others.
The original Kendo Nagasaki, however, in all his wonky samurai glory, debuted way back in 1964. What really catapulted Nagasaki into the British consciousness though were his appearances on World of Sport during the 1970s, where we was unmasked numerous times, revealing himself as…a white British dude.
So, most people know that Hulk Hogan isn’t the guy’s actual birth name, that would be Terry Bollea – that’s right, an Italian last name, pointing to the Hulkster’s mixed Italian, French and Panamanian background. But still, what’s the big deal?
Well, for that, you have to look back to the early 1980s. While he’d been going by Hulk since wrestling in Memphis during the late 70s, the Hogan surname didn’t come about until The Immortal One traveled north to New York and Vincent McMahon Sr.’s WWF.
The WWF was, at the time, a very racially-minded promotion, with heroes and villains assigned ethnicities that would rile up and/or generate support from the many distinct ethnic groups that inhabited NYC and went to shows at Madison Square Garden. Probably reasoning that top star Bruno Sammartino was already filling the Italian quota, Vince’s dad decided that Hulk would become an Irishman named Hogan. He even wanted Hulk to dye his flaxen locks red, but Hulkster declined, on account of his hair already starting to fall out.
Aubrey Sitterson is the host of the World’s Smartest Rasslin Talk Show, STRAIGHT SHOOT. Follow him on Twitter (@aubreysitterson) for more, and check out the most recent episode of STRAIGHT SHOOT below: