Cosplay is one of the biggest movements that is currently sweeping the nation. As an amalgamation between costume wearing and performance art, cosplay has taken center stage to represent all mediums in the ever-expanding world of pop culture. What started off as merely a hobby for a niche audience has turned into a global phenomenon. Cosplay is even bleeding its way into the wrestling world. It makes sense. After all, wrestling in itself is a modern performance art and it seems to go rather hand in hand with cosplay.
In many ways, cosplay has always been a part of wrestling in some shape or form. One of the staples of pro wrestling has been the scenario where wrestlers have mimicked each other’s style and clothing in an attempt to goad each other during their feud. Another instance that is considered cosplay are wrestlers over the years who have been slapped with copycat gimmick where all of their matches involve them dressing up as another character. If that character is a wrestler, then they’d wrestle in their style. If not, then the copycat wrestler may just spend the whole match looking like your favorite celebrity or historical figure. Wrestlers don’t just stop at cosplaying in the ring. Many wrestlers love to cosplay outside of the ring. So the next time you go to your local cosplay convention, be sure to keep an eye out for your favorite wrestler dressed up as your favorite character.
The fact that cosplay happens to be a prevalent force in the wrestling world really shows a testament as to how popular cosplay has become and how the movement has wedged its way into mainstream media. For anyone curious as to which of their favorite wrestlers may be cosplayers or if someone would like more specifics as to which moments in wrestling could be considered as cosplay, then read further down.
15. Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon
Originally conceived as a failed experiment drenched in copyright driven vanity, Fake Razor Ramon and Fake Diesel essentially divulged into full blown cosplay in terms of storyline. Despite the company departures of both of the original wrestlers who played these characters, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, Vince McMahon truly believed that he could continue to pass off these characters on the basis that WWE still owned the name brand and intellectual property. He thought that he could switch out Hall and Nash to be played by new wrestlers—Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs—in the same manner that James Bond gets a new actor every other year and the crowd would be none the wiser. Except they hated it and shat all over it. In fact, Bognar and Jacobs were such poor stand-ins that most viewers would rather tune into WCW to watch the real deal duo in action. It got so bad that WWE started drawing attention to the fact that these stand-ins were imposters, basically insinuating that they let two randos dress up in costume and impersonate two WCW performers. The whole thing was a flop that ruined Bognar’s career before he had a proper chance to come into his own as a wrestler. No idea what happened to that Glenn guy. No way he could’ve been capable of carrying a red hot push.
14. DX (Nation of Domination)
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Nation of Domination would wholeheartedly disagree considering the public lambasting they suffered at the hands of DX. Back in 1998 on the July 13th episode of Raw, DX decided to add fire to the fury between them and their rivals, The Nation of Domination, by impersonating them in the ring. Triple H came out dressed up as The Rock, Billy Gunn was Kama Mustafa, Road Dogg was D-Lo (or for this segment, B-Lo) Brown, Jason Sensation was Owen Hart, and X-Pac was Mark Henry. While the over the top nature of the segment drew hilarious cheers and laughs from the crowd, it also drew some ire and controversy for the DX members coming out to the ring in black face.
13. DX (McMahons)
They cosplayed so nice, they did it twice. Almost 10 years after mimicking the Nation of Domination, DX took a bigger step in the direction of the boss, Vince McMahon, and his son Shane. On the June 26th, 2006 episode of Monday Night Raw, the audience expected The McMahons to rant about DX’s incessant pranks ever since the pair reunited two weeks prior. Instead, the crowd howled in laughter to see Triple H come out to the ring dressed as his father-in-law. The Game even went as far as to exaggerate The Chairman’s signature strut and straggly voice while belaboring Vince’s love for Dicks (like Cheney, Ebersol, and Clark). Then, out came Shawn Michaels who, decked out in Shane McMahon’s get-up, danced around the ring to the point of exhaustive passing out. The real McMahons had had enough when they finally arrived to the ring—accompanied by their dastardly henchmen, The Spirit Squad—to confront DX, but before they could, DX dropped a sheet of feces onto the villains before they could hit the ring.
12. Edge and Randy Orton
Perhaps turnabout is fair play. As often as DX mimicked other wrestlers, the tables turned in 2006 when the Rated R Superstar, Edge, and the Master of the RKO, Randy Orton, impersonated the degenerates themselves. After forming Rated RKO the week prior, the young upstarts decided to kick-off their feud with the veterans by attempting to denigrate the degenerates. On the October 16th, 2006 episode of Raw, Rated RKO came to the ring impersonating DX. Edge playing Triple H, equipped with a prosthetic nose to match The Game’s much ridiculed nose, while Orton played Shawn Michaels, emphasizing the Heartbreak Kid’s back problems while donning HBK’s bad wig and signature crop top. To highlight how childish the antics of DX were, Rated RKO parodied the duo’s signature “SUCK IT” phrase by declaring a very different two words for DX: “YOU SUCK!” This led to a match between Rated RKO and DX at Cyber Sunday which the former won. The two tag teams continued to feud all until January 2007 when Trips injured his quad.
While not a specific wrestler in particular, Hoodslam is a wrestling organization dedicated to cosplay wrestling. After hitting the indie scene in 2010, Hoodslam seeks to incorporate cosplay and costumes from pop culture (primarily video games) into the world of wrestling. The execution has led to some bizarre and graphic imagery. To some extent, this is very much a NSFW wrestling company due to the fact that the stories, matches, and moments within the company tend to follow some suggestive themes directed towards an adult audience. That may sound like an odd combination for some, but for others (especially those tired of watching the PG-oriented modern WWE product) Hoodslam is a much needed breath of fresh air for the wrestling community worth the price of admission.
10. Jay Lethal
Before he rebranded himself as Ring of Honor’s longest reigning Television Champion and the company’s 4th longest reigning World Champion, Jay Lethal was still trying to find his footing in TNA. Back when he was a rookie in the company, he struggled to find a character of his own that would match his phenomenal in-ring ability. With help from Kevin Nash and his Paparazzi Productions crew, he promised to help Lethal find himself as a character. After being wowed by Lethal’s spot-on Macho Man Randy Savage impression, Nash re-introduced Lethal to the Impact Zone on April 5th, 2007 under his new pseudonym of Black Machismo. Lethal had a costume and accent heavily inspired by Savage, came out to a remix of Savage’s Pomp and Circumstance theme, and incorporated much of Savage’s move-set into his own. The Black Machismo gimmick was an instant hit for Lethal and was a major reason for Lethal’s early career success. The gimmick helped Lethal become a 6-time X Division Champion.
Sting made a career out of cosplaying as movie characters played by dead people. It’s a move that many have called out as exploitative, but love it or hate it, it’s been working for him considering how much crowds ate up these gimmicks. When he first entered the business, Sting was just a surfer dude with face paint, but after about a decade in that role, he grew stale. Around the time the nWo came to WCW in 1996, Sting changed his character. After taking a suggestion from Scott Hall, the once vibrant colored Sting started wearing black and white while transitioning Brandon Lee’s character from The Crow into wrestling. The gimmick change helped provide longevity for Sting and remained a mainstay of his character for almost 20 years. Except from 2011-12 when he started playing up a look and character similar to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker in The Dark Knight.
Ladybeard is perhaps the most underseen and unknown name on this list, but he also might have the most impressive pedigree to his name. In addition to being a wrestler and cosplayer in and out of the ring, Ladybeard is also a heavy metal singer, movie reviewer, and pin-up model. In regards to cosplaying, Ladybeard thinks that the practice goes hand in hand with his love of cross-dressing. As he told GirlsWalker, he noticed at a young age that a guy dressing up in girl’s clothing can get a lot of shocking, positive attention. He realized this after wearing his sister’s school uniform back when he was 14. Now, he uses cross-dressing as a means to breakthrough into the wrestling industry.
7. Charlie Haas
Before more infamous and modern copycat characters grew to prominence in WWE (ala Damien Sandow), Charlie Haas was pulling it off in 2008. Though he started off his WWE career as an all-American athlete, his run in 2008 saw him play a slew of impressions of different wrestlers. Oddly enough, the gimmick saw Haas at the height of his popularity as a singles star. He impersonated several wrestlers, including John Cena, JBL, Carlito, Bret Hart, and even commentator Jim Ross. Perhaps everyone’s favorite impersonation that Haas ever gave was when he came to the ring dressed as then-Women’s Champion, Beth Phoenix. That brand of cosplay earned Haas a WWE Slammy Award in 2008. Though, to be fair, Haas was nominated in every category for that award.
6. Curtis Axel
On his way to the ring at the 2015 Royal Rumble, Curtis Axel was taken out of the match before he even entered the ring by Erick Rowan. Instead of moving on from failing to win or enter that year’s Rumble, Curtis Axel immediately declared himself the winner of the match because he was never eliminated. Months had passed and he was still claiming he had spent the longest time in the Rumble ever, was technically still in the match, and campaigned for a main event match against then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania (or as his personal hashtag called it, #Axelmania). He never got Lesnar in the ring or his Mania main event, but he did form a modern Mega Powers team with Damien Sandow in May 2015. With Axel donning his own Hulk Hogan attire, the two formed the Meta Powers and had a decent run in the tag division. Unfortunately, when the real Hogan got fired from WWE for his controversial remarks made in his sex tape, WWE wanted to erase everything Hogan-related from their program, including Axel’s new gimmick. The Meta Powers angle was quickly nixed and Axel was back in his unimportant jobber role with little to no tv time.
5. Damien Sandow
The way that Damien Sandow managed to pull off his impersonation, it was the very definition of turning chicken shit into chicken salad. After failing to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase against John Cena’s World Heavyweight Championship, Sandow went on a losing streak that saw him jobbing every week. Somewhere along the way, he was given an impersonation gimmick. He came out to the ring dressed up as everyone from acclaimed names in the wrestling industry (Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, etc) to celebrities (LeBron James, Lance Stephenson, etc) to historical figures (Davy Crockett, Abe Lincoln) and even pop culture characters (i.e. Magneto). Sandow finally struck gold when he was paired with The Miz as his stunt double. The act got over so huge that the two won the Tag Team Championships at Survivor Series 2014. When that pairing ended, Sandow played the Macho Mandow to Curtis Axel’s Hogan-esque persona as The Meta Powers. Unfortunately, when Hogan got fired by WWE, that ruined things for Sandow as well. For the majority of his WWE career, Sandow was seldom used until his 2016 release.
4. Alexa Bliss
When NXT alumni, Alexa Bliss, was finally called up to the main roster as a result of this summer’s WWE Draft, she struggled to capture the audience’s attention during her early beginnings on Smackdown. It’s hard to not get overshadowed when you’re a newbie entering a division headlined by the likes of Becky Lynch and Natalya. When it came time for her first big pay-per-view Women’s Championship match at Backlash, she made sure that all eyes were on her by coming to Backlash in a costume inspired by Harley Quinn in what was at the time a recent blockbuster hit, Suicide Squad. Cosplay isn’t a new thing for Bliss as when she managed Blake & Murphy down in NXT, they together came to the ring dressed as Freddy Krueger and Iron Man. While she didn’t win her Backlash match, she did win over the crowd and the attention that she demanded from them. It all paid off a couple months later when Bliss won the Women’s Championship away from Becky Lynch at TLC.
3. Leva Bates (NXT’s Blue Pants)
Before dazzling NXT crowds with bright blue pants and a Price is Right-esque theme song, Leva Bates became a familiar face on the indy scene for the cosplay she would use for all of her matches. For every match she wrestles on the independent circuit, she introduces a different pop culture character for each match. We’ve seen Bates don costumes for characters like Ash from Pokemon, Chucky from Child’s Play, Rogue from X-Men, Spider-Man, The Bride from Kill Bill, Harley Quinn, and several other characters. Most recently, she has been seen coming down to the ring playing characters like Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars film and even Negan of Walking Dead fame. In NXT, all she needed was a pair of blue pants to capture the hearts of millions around the world. Although she would be released from WWE in 2015, allegedly because WWE officials deemed her unappreciative of her spot and having a bad attitude. If she ever were to make a WWE return, surely she would love to integrate some of her love for cosplay into her character this time around.
2. Xavier Woods
As a self-professed comic book and gaming nerd, Xavier Woods is a very avid cosplayer. Being he’s such a big fan of comic books, movies, tv shows, and especially video games, it is only natural that he enjoys dressing up like them as well. He has frequented several conventions as familiar characters like Jem from Jem and the Holograms, Cyclops from X-Men, Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and a wide range of beloved video game characters. Xavier Woods has even found a way to integrate cosplay into his line of professional wrestling work. He did so on the biggest stage possible, WrestleMania 32, when he and his New Day buddies emerged from a giant box of cereal dressed as Super Saiyans from the hit anime show, Dragon Ball Z. Even though the team lost their match at Mania, they certainly made a memorable impression thanks to their entrance. With WrestleMania 33 approaching, maybe we’ll see another cosplay inspired entrance from The New Day.
1. Finn Balor
While all WWE Universe fans are familiar with Finn Balor’s facepaint, his pre-WWE career proves that Balor is no stranger to facepaint. While he’s solely stuck to his Irish Demon King persona while he’s been in WWE, it was a completely different story for Balor prior to joining WWE. Back when he was still a young boy wrestling mainly for NJPW under the name Prince Devitt, he found inspiration for his facepaint mainly from comic book characters. A quick YouTube search of the man’s independent work will show you how he took inspiration for his costumes from the likes of Spider-Man, Venom, Bane, and The Joker. He even donned costumes inspired by Freddy Krueger, Spawn, Darth Maul, and The Punisher. While Balor’s facepaint in WWE has remained mostly consistent, he vowed on the indies that he would always switch up his facepaint attire. That mentality gave us a plethora of cosplay gems.