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@djmckennon

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Pro wrestling does not exist in a vacuum, but rather within the broader context of pop culture. From a traditionalist’s perspective, the stories come down to two performers who hate each other and want to fight to see who is the better man. Throw in a belt, or some other prize to chase, and you can add a layer to that story.

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As time has moved on, wrestling bookers, writers, and wrestlers themselves have grown more ambitious in trying to invent new spins on angles and gimmicks. One source of inspiration is other pop culture. There are time when that approach to wrestling has really worked. Steve Austin famously had the germ of an idea for his Stone Cold gimmick after watching a serial killer documentary. Chris Jericho attributes his slow talking, serious heel character from 2009 to the villain from No Country for Old Men. A part of what worked about these gimmicks was that the guys playing them didn’t just rip off an idea, but customized it to fit the wrestling business and their own talents as performers.

Not every attempt has been a success.

While, for as large of a company as it is, WWE tends to get the most flack for ripping off pop culture events, they’re certainly not the only promotion to ever wade into these uneven waters. This article takes a look at ripoffs from a variety of promotions in a variety of eras, stealing material from a wide variety of source material. Some have management to blame for coming up with, or at least approving the bad idea. Others come down to clunky execution from a wrestler. Regardless, the common thread is that these ripoffs were obvious and poorly done.

15. WWE STAGES ROSIE O’DONNELL VS. DONALD TRUMP

In 2007, Donald Trump hadn’t yet peaked as an on-air figure for WWE—he’d still team up with Bobby Lashley for WrestleMania 23 and “buy” Monday Night Raw in the years to follow—nor had he made it clear that he had any presidential ambitions. At that point, he was a celebrity in the limelight, and making headlines for clashing with celebrity rival Rosie O’Donnell.

WWE has a bad reputation for cashing in on whatever content it can, regardless of poor taste or questionable creative quality.

When the company decided to bring in impersonators to play Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump in a farce of a wrestling match on Monday Night Raw, it may have represented the lowest of the lows.

The match saw WWE not so subtly poke fun at O’Donnell’s weight by casting her avatar as a super heavyweight bully. Trump wasn’t above reproach either, as his signature hair became something like a Samoan wrestler’s skull—impervious to pain and deadly. The turning point of the match saw his hair cushion a turnbuckle blow, before he picked up the pin following a flying hair butt.

14. RODDY PIPER AND GOLDUST RECREATE THE OJ SIMPSON CAR CHASE

Going into WrestleMania 12, WWE was at a bit of a crossroads. Hulk Hogan’s run as the face of the company was increasingly in the rearview mirror, and attempts to push Lex Luger and Diesel as his successors had largely flopped. That night, WWE would crown Shawn Michaels as the man, settling for a top shelf worker rather than a super hero. In the upper mid card, the company began to show hints of the Attitude Era to come. Goldust was celebrating his androgyny and playing with the lines of sexuality, while Roddy Piper played crazed authority figure, out to put the strange superstar in his place.

Opinions vary about their Backlot Brawl at WrestleMania. The most generous reads praise the intensity of the brawling. Those feeling less charitable tend to fixate on the mid-match car chase—an absurdity clearly meant to play off of OJ Simpson fleeing police after allegedly committing murder. This was WWE trying to be topical and coming across as desperately trying to rope the pop culture world into their orbit.

13. TNA’S JERSEY SHORE TAG TEAM
For a brief period in the late 2000s, The Jersey Shore was the it reality show that everyone seemed to be talking about for its attractive and controversial young cast, and its embrace of low brow culture and questionable ethics. At the height of the show’s popularity, TNA wrestler Robbie E was assigned the ethos of the show as an identity. TNA wasn’t pulling any punches when they went so far as to actually label him and his entourage The Shore.

First, the team consisted of Robbie E and Cookie (the similarities to Snooki far from coincidental) and later he paired up with Rob Terry.

To be fair, Robbie E was actually a solid enough act in the X Division and tag team scene at the time, and there’s a fair enough argument that guest spots by actual Jersey Shore cast members to interact with him did create some buzz. Looking back now, though, the whole gimmick feels more than a little desperate, and the performers at hand probably deserved better.

12. BATISTA BECOMES KANYE AT THE 2009 SLAMMYS

One of the most talked about moments in pop culture in 2009 saw Kanye West storm the stage at the MTV Video Music Awards to interrupt Taylor Swift’s speech to accept the Best Female Video Award. It was a clash of two huge stars of the music industry, with a third—Beyonce—drawn in as West claimed she was the deserving recipient of the accolade Swift was given.

Not to miss a beat, WWE ripped off this real life event pretty directly at the end of the year 2009 Slammy Awards episode of Raw. Batista wore a pastel polo shirt with a popped collar and sun glasses, not so coincidentally looking a lot like West. He interrupted Maria Kanellis’s speech to accept the Diva of the Year award in favor of self promotion, suggesting he deserved an award for Screwjob of the Year being robbed in his world title match at the previous PPV.

11. JASON THE TERRIBLE LOOKS A LOT LIKE A MORE FAMOUS JASON

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Pro wrestling, particularly at the level of a company like WWE, has grown higher profile than it once was. The company has to be hyper conscious of intellectual property for fear of not only ridicule, but getting taken to court. Back in the 1980s and earlier, though, regional promotions felt a lot of leeway to steal source material from other places. Jason the Terrible from Stampede Wrestling is one of the more notorious examples.

Cashing in on the popular Friday the 13th horror movies featuring Jason Voorhees, Jason the Terrible was a big man clad in a hockey mask who terrorized faces like a young Owen Hart.

Karl Moffat, the man beneath the gimmick, may be best known for that character, but would spend around two decades bouncing around small promotions, assembling a respectable wrestling career under a variety of different names.

10. BROCK LESNAR VS. GOLDBERG FEELS A LOT LIKE ROCKY BALBOA

As 2016 wore on, more and more rumors surfaced that Goldberg might return to the WWE fold. First, there was his video game appearance in WWE 2K17. Then there was the promotion of that game, in particular featuring matchups between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, his last WWE rival from over a decade before, and the monster heel who seemed most apropos to match Goldberg against in a modern day dream match.

More than a few fans noticed a stark similarity in the initial build to Lesnar-Goldberg as it compared to the plot of Sylvester Stallone’s sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa. That film was all about Balboa as a long retired legend fighting in a video game with the modern day champ, and that fantasy fight setting them up to do battle for real. The similarities may have been largely happenstance, but the more fans thought about it, and particularly after Goldberg returned a conquering hero, the more it felt like a bit of a ripoff.

9. STING REBRANDS AS THE JOKER
Sting is one of the biggest legends in pro wrestling history. The funny thing about him is that you can take the early years of his career, particularly his so-called Surfer Sting era as a main eventer in WCW, and he’d have been a worthy Hall of Famer on that period alone. He then became far more iconic, however, in his Crow gimmick during the Monday Night War era as the chief opponent to Hollywood Hogan and the New World Order.

Sting’s work with TNA tends to get glossed over because WWE doesn’t very much acknowledge that company and doesn’t own any of its tape library.

It wasn’t just Sting’s talent that kept him relevant in TNA, but his adaptability as he became the godfather figure for the Main Event Mafia, and later settled into his Joker gimmick. While entertaining and fresh, the Joker phase hasn’t necessarily aged well. Looking back, it’s increasingly apparent that the Stinger was mostly copying Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight.

8. WWE BOOKS HILLARY CLINTON VS. BARACK OBAMA

WWE has often gone out of its way to overtly connecting itself to any political party, at least in the eyes of its fans, though there have been times when they’ve shown their hands as a right leaning organization. After all, Linda McMahon has engaged in multiple political campaigns as a Republican candidate. One of the more overtly conservative leaning segments saw the company stage a mock match between actors playing the parts of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as the real life politicians vied for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 presidential election campaign.

The match, such as it was, was a total farce, played for laughs with no tie ins to WWE stars or their storylines.

It came across as a particularly pathetic grab at mainstream media attention. Given how silly it was, that effort largely failed, and may explain why WWWE hasn’t meaningfully stepped into this territory since.

7. NIGHTMARE FREDDY COMES TO MEMPHIS
The Memphis wrestling territory as led by Jerry Lawler (both as a promoter and in ring talent) was known for being campy and playing to a low brow audience. The company demonstrated its boundless willingness to embrace the silly and absurd, while trying to cash in on larger pop culture trends, when it introduced the character Nightmare Freddy.

It’s possible that the promotion didn’t actually violate intellectual property laws, or that it was small time enough for no one to really care. Regardless, this particularly overt plagiarism of pop culture featured a guy who very, very closely resembled Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street horror movies. He also briefly used the gimmick working for some National Wrestling Alliance territories, but appropriately dropped it when he got his few opportunities at the national level, like a one off appearance at a Royal Rumble.

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6. GLACIER LOOKS A LOT LIKE SUB-ZERO

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In the mid 1990s, WCW began running promos for a character named Glacier. The timing for this new star felt off from the beginning. His vignettes were all campy and a little cartoonish at a time when the New World Order was taking hold and a rougher, more realistic edge was taking hold in the company. As a result, Glacier’s debut was pushed back and pushed back, because he no longer really fit the WCW landscape. When he finally did debut, he was the featured character his hype may have led fans he’d think to be, than mid-card sideshow.

A part of what made Glacier so distinctive, was that his character blatantly ripped off Sub-Zero from the fighting video game Mortal Kombat.

WCW stayed the course, booking some of his more memorable early angles against Mortis and Wrath, who were dressed and booked like they were from Glacier’s same parallel universe. Finally, WCW cut its losses by degrees, booking Glacier as a jobber before totally repackaging him in a heel coach gimmick.

5. ACES AND EIGHTS HAVE BEEN TUNING IN TO SONS OF ANARCHY

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TNA is notorious for booking its main event scene around heel super stables, featuring big heel stars banding together to wreak havoc in the style of the New World Order or D-Generaiton X. Some of these groups have enjoyed reasonable success, and Aces and Eights surely wasn’t the worst of them. Still, their biker themed gimmick felt a little forced, especially as the members were revealed and none of them had been known by that sort of gimmick previously.

To be fair, Aces and Eights was successful at creating intrigue and serving as a vehicle to get Bully Ray over at the main event level. The commitment to the biker shtick never felt natural, though, and fans of the show Sons of Anarchy recognized it as a pretty overt attempt to capitalize on that show’s following. Even the stable’s theme music closely matched the music that played during recaps for the television show, and the more fans realized it, the harder it was to attribute any sort of cool factor to the wrestling faction.

4. PAUL BURCHILL LOOKS SUSPICIOUSLY LIKE JACK SPARROW

Paul Burchill was a talented in ring worker with reasonable talking skills and charisma. It’s unfortunate that all just about any wrestling fans remember him for now is a pirate gimmick.

Playing a pirate may have worked in some promotions during some eras—even in the WWE in the early to mid 1990s when there were a lot of outlandish characters and occupational gimmicks.

In late 2000s WWE, a pirate stood out and came across as a total anachronism designed for no greater objective than to cash in on the popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean films of the day.

According to some, Vince McMahon wasn’t even aware of the movies, and really wanted the gimmick to be serious, and struggled to wrap his head around fans cheering him for being loopy and loosely matching the film’s Jack Sparrow. Regardless, the character never went anywhere and is remembered as a bit of an embarrassment for everyone involved.

3. BILL CLINTON IN THE CROWD FOR WRESTLEMANIA X

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A sitting president has never made it to attend WrestleMania live, but for those who didn’t watch WrestleMania X so carefully, it’s possible you’d think that Bill Clinton really was there.

For this show, a Clinton impersonator sat in the stands, and WWE cut to him for reactions and brief interview more than once throughout the night, offering no indication it wasn’t really the president here in attendance.

The whole thing was pretty campy, and it has never been entirely clear if WWE plotted these cutaways for comic relief, or if they were an effort to genuinely convince a subset of fans that Clinton had really come to WrestleMania, and thus offer the company extra legitimacy. The general consensus seems to be that it was a particularly obtuse attempt at, one way or another, using a pop culture reference to WWE’s benefit.

2. WCW ISN’T VERY SUBTLE WITH ARACHNAMAN

Despite Brad Armstrong having the near universal support of the wrestling community as a genuinely talented professional wrestler, and great wrestling mind, the guy never really got much of a chance to get over with any national wrestling promotion. In WCW, he was subject to a number of gimmick changes before ultimately circling back around to his original self. Among the worst of these gimmicks was Arachnaman.

While his masked costume was cast in yellow and purple, it otherwise looked an awful lot like Spider-Man.

WCW was never all that subtle about equating him to the Marvel super hero. As such, this was a time when the original source did intervene, with Marvel reported threatening legal action over their intellectual property, and then causing WCW to pull the plug on Arachnaman after just a few short months.

1. RAZOR RAMON IS SCARFACE

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The 1983 film Scarface offered a well received depiction of Cuban gangsters. When Scott Hall signed with WCW, he pitched more than one potential gimmick for himself, and among the bundle was Razor Ramon—a Cuban-American tough guy who looked and talked a lot like someone out of the movie. In more recent years, since retiring, Hall has claimed he pitched the idea as a joke, and furthermore that Vince McMahon seemed not to know of the movie or connect the dots about what they were ripping off.

So, Razor Ramon took off, and may well be the most successful mainstream wrestling gimmick to have been so directly ripped off from pop culture. Ramon would thrive in the WWE upper midcard for four years, and even when Hall defected to WCW and started working under his legal name, he maintained many of the signature mannerisms that had made the Ramon character such a success.

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