Long before I started watching wrestling in the mid-’90s, it was synonymous with metal. Whether it was dude’s with long hair who were evident fans of the genre, the theme rockin’ theme music they used or performances by bands at the shows, metal and wrestling have always been bedfellows that go together like spaghetti and meatballs, Beavis and Butthead and Nicki Minaj and terrible music. Given the long-standing relationship between each medium, we here at Heavy Blog thought it would be fun to examine their similarities and the components which connect them to establish why it is they’ve remained so interconnected throughout the years. Now, without further ado, LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!
Like metal, wrestling has always lived in the fringes of mainstream pop culture. Even the most popular metal bands aren’t necessarily what you hear on the radio and some people will view you you as an alternative sort if they see you rocking a Metallica t-shirt. How many times have you told a normal person that you’re a Slipknot fan and they look at you like you’re a weird loser? Then, a few years later, you bump into them at a concert because really it’s okay to like Slipknot in normal circles. Wrestling is like that; if you tell people you’re a fan then they might call you an overgrown child, but it’s highly likely they’ll be posting how they’re watching Wrestlemania live on Facebook a few months later, or how their childhood was destroyed when they discovered Hulk Hogan is a racist with saggy balls and a sex tape. The point I’m trying to make is that both metal and wrestling are widely beloved by the masses, yet they still feel like niche subcultures to a degree. On Monday night’s, WWE’s flagship show Raw is usually the highest-rated show on cable, and metal bands have packed stadiums since the genre’s inception.
The first notable connection between wrestling and metal is the element of pantomime. Now understand this: I’m only talking about the metal band’s who have gimmicks or embrace theatrics. Take KISS for example; four grown men that paint their faces. This element of metal isn’t any different to wrestlers that dress up in costumes and paint their faces as well. In fact, speaking of KISS, there was even a wrestler based on their likeness in the late ‘90s and early 2000s in WCW. He even entered the stage in a sarcophagus as “God of Thunder’’ blared from the speakers. The best part is that through WCW’s agreement with KISS to use the character, he was contractually obligated to appear in some PPV main events. Unfortunately, the character went over about as well as “I Was Made for Loving You’’ (before we all acknowledged that it’s a great song). As much as we all love KISS, it’s worth remembering that that back then, the world of pro wrestling fandom didn’t exactly concerned about a character based on a band who weren’t experiencing the height of their career popularity any more, ya know? Still, when I was 11-years-old it was the coolest thing in the world and I’ll always love The Demon.
The pantomime element goes much further than The Demon, however, and the direct connection to metal isn’t always directly connected, though in a lot of instances some elements serve as a bridge, so to speak. An example would be a wrestler like Gangrel, who was a vampire whose name was stolen from a role-playing fantasy board game and whose gimmick was inspired by The Lost Boys. He entered the ring carrying a cup of blood and spit it out. In fact, he was so serious about the gimmick that he had legitimate fangs carved into his teeth. It is often the case that die-hard fans of wrestling listen to metal and watch horror movies – which are another popular facet of pop culture outwith the perceived norm. Horror has informed wrestling since its earliest days, with gimmicks based on everything from mummies to Satanic priests. While not directly metal, you could say that it’s mixed in the same cauldron. I’m sure I don’t speak for myself when I say that
Speaking of WCW during the late ‘90s, did you know that The Misfits appeared as goons for the spooky Vampiro and even had some matches? Much like KISS, The Misfits weren’t exactly at the forefront of metal discourse at the time, but their inclusion in the product was fun and a treat for fans. The best part is that they didn’t feel out of place at all. During this period, WCW also brought in hip hop group No Limit Soldiers to feud with a stable of wrestlers who loved country and western music, which extends this argument to note the fact that wrestling is an amalgamation of all sorts of things. Additionally, the Insane Clown Posse wrestled in the major American wrestling promotions during the ‘90s as well, while simultaneously owning their own which is still in business to this day. That’s right, folks: in addition to proving that two men can raise a family, Insane Clown Posse are also astute businessmen. Let that sink in.
To name every character in wrestling inspired by wrestling would take years. It’s the same with theme music, as countless are infused with metal elements. But, while on the subject of theme music, WWE used to have their own record label which released a metal album by Neurotica before ceasing to exist shortly after, burning away as quickly as their football league, the XFL. Furthermore, several metal artists were invited to remix superstar theme tunes for an album called Forcible Entry. Highlights included Finger Eleven, Powerman 5000 and Dope. I know you’re rushing to iTunes right now to look for that.
Wrestler’s portraying metallic characters tend to be fans of the genre themselves. One wrestler in particular even formed his own successful band – Chris Jericho. You’ve probably heard his band Fozzy. Jeff Hardy also makes his own alternative metal music from time to time. On the flipside, metal musicians often appear at wrestling shows to perform and have even showed up in video games. Ozzy Osbourne, for example, played at Wrestlemania II in 1986 and subsequent events have hosted performances from other artists, ranging from Drowning Pool to Limp Bizkit. In recent years, in a bid to be hip, WWE have had Flo Rida instead. Fred Durst was also a playable character in one of the Smackdown video games.
Outside of mainstream US wrestling, the influence of metal is visible in the global market. Independent promotion PWG recently named one of their events Lemmy in honour of the great man. Meanwhile, south of the border, there’s a popular luchadore who goes by the name Heavy Metal. That said, if you traverse the globe, you’ll find the aforementioned elements everywhere in wrestling – from characters, music, the pantomime theatrics and more. Overall, wrestling is an industry that’s effectively a smorgasbord of all pop culture, and a huge part of that is metal. And throughout the years, the rebellious nature of metal has translated well to wrestling as, like our beloved genre, it aims to project an image of breaking the rules in its own right. Both are mainstream, but not acknowledged alongside safe and respectable art forms. And that’s what makes them so wonderful.