Wrestling tells stories using a vast array of characters. They have had men and women who are big, small, painted or simply foreign! Often a character would draw heat because they were proudly waving their country’s flag and shoving it down the throats of fans from the United States. It was a tried and tested gimmick that the company used numerous times to great effect, whether it was the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Ludvig Borga or Rusev. All have been effective characters that dedicated their efforts to making their country look better than the USA. However, sometimes that person pretending to be foreign, such as Lana, aren’t actually from a different country.
While pretending to be from Russia, Japan, Iran, or India, there are a number of wrestlers who are from North America that have had to act as though they were from another country. These portrayals are often filled with stereotypes that are not only offensive, but don’t properly represent those countries in the right light. In fact, they misrepresent with characters that are not only offensive, but have on one occasion had the promotion encouraged to take a character off of television because of a backlash. While some may consider the portrayals comical, others have considered them insulting. Here are the 10 Wrestling Foreigners Who Weren’t Actually Foreign.
10. Boris Zhukov
During his time with the American Wrestling Association and the World Wrestling Federation, Zhukov was an active heel that rarely spoke. Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Zhukov competed for over 20 years under his Russian alias. Real name James Harrell, he certainly looked the part with a shaved head and a pronounced beard. In the WWF, he and Nikolai Volkoff formed the tag team The Bolsheviks, and after leaving the WWF he competed independently still under the Russian character. Ironically, after leaving the major promotions he competed as an American military sergeant known simply as Sgt. Jim Nelson, using his real first name.
9. Eddie Guerrero
He was always billed from El Paso, Texas, but fans would often be reminded of his Mexican lineage and the success of the Guerrero’s throughout professional wrestling history. When Eddie Guerrero first came into ECW, and later WCW, fans were told about his lucha libre style and the traditions that his family was synonymous with. Whether it was his brothers‘ Chavo and Hector, or his father Gory, the Guerreros popularity and success in Mexico helped make him a success. In fact, during his “Latino Heat” character run, there was definitely a play on his ethnicity, but did that honestly make him a foreigner? While we were reminded of his background he was undoubtedly born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and though it may be close to the United States/Mexican border, it is still the United States.
8. Rey Mysterio Jr
Who was that jumping from out of the sky? The answer was Rey Mysterio. Mysterio’s case is not unlike that of Eddie Guerrero, where his Mexican family lineage was more prominent even though he was from Chula Vista, California. During his early years in ECW and WCW, Rey’s character embraced the lucha libre qualities that have made that style of wrestling so popular. World Championship Wrestling was capitalizing on someone who could draw in second generation lucha libre fans with his high flying style, brightly coloured attire and size. He reflected the ‘every man’ because his smaller stature was easily relatable and told the story that, regardless of your size, you could still achieve success. Even though he was billed as being from San Diego, California, his latino heritage and persona was a primary focus for the companies that he competed in.
7. The Sultan
If you remember the Sultan, you will recall that he was a character that didn’t speak, but had an Arab gimmick. The story around him was that his tongue was cut out which was why he didn’t speak. He was managed by Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik, and his identity was largely kept a mystery as part of his face was covered by a mask and the top of his head was shaved. If we removed the mask, what we would have seen was Solofa Fatu Jr, known better as Rikishi. During the late 1990s, it was rare to know who was actually competing under a mask. The Sultan may have been billed as being from an Arab nation, but in fact that wasn’t the case at all. He wanted to make a difference, but having him pretend to be something he never was wasn’t the way to do it.
He was billed as a savage Samoan. He would either eat wild turkey carcass’ or raw fish. The character was a spin off what his relatives Afa and Sika, The Wild Samoans, used to do during their time in the ring. Often he and his partner Samu would growl as though they were more animal than human. In the case of Samu, he was actually born in Samoa, so to bill him from the island wasn’t a stretch. It was, however, a stretch to advertise Fatu as being from Samoa when in fact he was born in San Francisco, and resides in Poinciana, Florida. Whether he was under a mask as the Sultan or managed by Afa as one half of the Headshrinkers, Fatu was billed as a foreigner in a couple of instances during his career.
He was dubbed as the Samoan Bulldozer, but in actuality he was born and raised in the United States. The late Eddie Fatu, brother to Solafa Fatu who competed in the WWE as Rikishi, was covered in tattoos and promoted as a savage beast during one of his runs in the WWE. It was very different from his street gimmick character Jamal who was one half of the tag team, 3 Minute Warning. He was billed as being from the Isle of Samoa, though he was only of Samoan descent. The character was not unlike one that his brother Fatu had when he was one half of the Headshrinkers in the early 1990s. Many fans didn’t recognize that he formerly portrayed the character Jamal.
4. Krusher Khruschev
Barry Darsow was a man of many names while he competed in professional wrestling. You knew him as Smash from Demolition, the Repo Man and the Black Top Bully, but he was also a foreign character, when in actuality he never lived anywhere outside the United States. As Krusher Khruschev, Darsow was initially a Soviet sympathiser allied with Nikolai Volkoff . When he joined Jim Crockett’s NWA, he joined the Koloff’s and they became the NWA Six-Man Tag Team champions. For some time, he aided the Koloffs until Nikita turned his back on Krusher and Ivan, which led to a brief feud. He often wouldn’t speak so his lack of a Russian accent wasn’t exposed. With a shaved head, dressed in red with a hammer and sickle, Khruschev was fairly convincing in his role.
3. Nikita Koloff
Affectionately known as the Russian Nightmare, Koloff lived his character to a tee. One of the most interesting stories I had heard about Koloff was that he didn’t speak English for an entire year to immerse himself into the character. His notoriety was tied to the US-Russian tensions that existed in his era. While many felt the Cold War had ended, when it came to the southern United States and the NWA, this was a character that would certainly generate heat. What is remarkable about Koloff’s career was that he only competed professionally for eight years. He was initially advertised as being from Moscow however, after the fall of the Soviet Union he was billed from Lithuania to fall in line with real life events. Once known as Nelson Simpson, he legally changed his name to Nikita Koloff and now enjoys his retirement as a preacher for his ministry.
One of the more peculiar members of this list is someone who was of Samoan decent, was billed as being from Japan, but actually hailed from San Francisco. He didn’t speak except for one word, the name of his finishing move, the “banzai” drop. He would say it in such a perfect American accent because he actually was American! During his time in the WWF, Yokozuna was managed by former tag team champion Mr. Fuji, who brought a traditional Japanese look to his character. Yokozuna, real name Rodney Anoa’i, was not only not Japanese, but in fact part of the famed Anoa’i family, which boasts The Usos, Roman Reigns, The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika, who were both his uncles) and Umaga. Yokozuna was a former WWF Heavyweight and Tag Team Champion. Sadly, he passed away in 2000, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012 by his cousin Rikishi and second cousins The Usos.
1. Muhammad Hassan
One of the most controversial characters in the WWE was that of Muhammad Hassan. Hassan’s character was that of an Arab American in a post-911 United States. The character received a lot of criticism because of its stereotypical portrayal of an Arab character, when in fact he wasn’t Arab at all. Hassan was performed by Mark Copani of Syracuse, New York, who is actually, of Italian descent. Copani’s character was dropped because of a controversial terrorism storyline that was being perpetuated by the WWE. It came to a head after the bombings in London, England when the network airing the WWE programming was pressured to remove the character from television. On September 2005, Copani was released from his contract and decided to end his career following his release. While the character brought a lot of negative attention, it didn’t help that he wasn’t actually foreign either.