Professional wrestling is capitalism at its finest. It is an art form as American as jazz, but is more importantly a business originating from old carnivals where carny wrestlers earned their keep by working marks out of their money. Take a moment to reflect upon all the revenue streams that WWE collects on: live events, television rights, advertising, pay-per-view, the WWE Network, magazine and web, in addition to the endless barrage of merchandising that ranges from t-shirts to action figures to video games to even talking-soap and pizza prints.
WWE does at least separate itself from legitimate sports in the sense that its playing field is void of advertisements. While the boards of a hockey rink are typically marked with advertising, and NASCAR vehicles are decked out with corporate logos, the WWE ring is essentially a blank canvas and the focus is always centered upon the superstars. However, there are plenty of cases in current wrestling and from the past in which product placement has trickled onto a wrestler’s tights, into ridiculous backstage segments, or onto the announcers’ table. In addition to a PPV being “brought to you by” a corporate sponsor, corporate sponsors will sometimes seamlessly work their way into the show itself. Thus, the following is a list of fifteen instances of subtle or not-so-subtle product placements in pro wrestling. Know that this list only concerns itself with third party sponsors, so concern yourself not with ICO-PRO and WWF Ice Cream Bars but do take pleasure in blockbuster movies and salty snacks.
15. WWE Raw and Kentucky Grilled Chicken
Advertisements for junk food always seem to make their way onto a pro wrestling show. In recent years, laughably bad backstage segments featuring hack comedy centered around Sonic and Twisted Tea have made their way to Raw. Most times, the junk food finds its way to the announce desk. Mountain Dew has been sitting in front of announcers most recently. However, the most ridiculous instance of announce table cuisine is by far KFC’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken. In 2009, buckets of grilled chicken sat in front of announcers for entire episodes of Raw, with announcers doing several spots for the product throughout the show. It is odd to think of Jerry Lawler being excited to eat cold chicken that has been sitting in front of him for three hours straight, but also disturbing when you take into account that he suffered a heart attack during a live episode of Raw in 2012, yet WWE still keeps placing junk food in front of the man.
14. Rick Steiner vs. Chucky from Child’s Play
Once upon a time on WCW Nitro, the “Dog-Faced Gremlin” Rick Steiner came to the ring to cut a promo alongside “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Standard pro wrestling bravado ensues until he is rudely interrupted by a video of Chucky, the doll from the horror franchise Child’s Play, who proceeded to insult and emasculate Steiner until Steiner challenged him to come to the ring. Unfortunately, Chucky never accepted and fans never saw a match between a doll and Rick Steiner, but this goes down as one of the most bizarre product placements for a movie in pro wrestling history. While this segment is somewhat entertaining, WCW could never ever top a prior movie character tie-in that will be mentioned much higher on this list.
13. Larry Zbyszko, Morphoplex and TNA Wrestling
When TNA Wrestling first made its way onto Spike TV in 2005, Morphoplex certainly made a big presence in the Impact! Zone. Morphoplex, a bodybuilding supplement, not only had a large advertisement on the ring apron, but had an on air spokesman in the form of “Mr. Shea Stadium,” the “Living Legend” Larry Zbyszko, who at the time would have been in his mid-50’s and was never really known for his physique, often sported a Morphoplex polo during his on air time as TNA authority figure, and did endorsements for the supplement during shows claiming that Morphoplex was “better than steroids.” With such a ringing endorsement, it’s safe to assume that there’s no Wellness Policy in TNA.
12.WWF Raw, Jerry Lawler, Sunny & Karate Fighters
In 1997, a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots type action figure series named Karate Fighters made its way onto WWF programming. While one may find it insane to believe that WWF would advertise any action figures outside of their own, very similar brand of wrestling figures, a Karate Fighters tournament was held in the form of backstage segments on Raw, ending with WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler versus Hall of Famer and recent Vivid Video star Sunny, going head to head. Sunny came out on top in a controversial finish, and Karate Fighters Champion became another accomplishment Sunny could add to her very well-rounded resume.
11. Arik Cannon, Official Pabst Blue Ribbon Wrestler
Arik Cannon is an American independent pro wrestler from the Mid-West who has wrestled in many promotions all over the world for almost fifteen years. He is also legitimately sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon, and that is pretty cool. Sporting the PBR logo on his gear, and often seen with a can of the nectar in his hand, Cannon continues his journey on the independent scene while he simultaneously spreads awareness of Billy Carter’s secret favorite beer.
10. CM Punk & Colt Cabana’s official merchandise
Phil ‘CM Punk’ Brooks (still, MMA 0-0, UFC 0-0) was at one time the hottest superstar in WWE. He made waves with his “Pipe Bomb” promo in 2011 and went on to have one of the longest heavyweight title reigns in the modern era of WWE. During the epic 2011 “Pipe Bomb,” Punk broke the third wall by staring into the camera, giving a smile and wave and saying, “Hey, Colt Cabana, how you doing?” Punk and Colt are long time best friends and Punk often gave subtle shout-outs to Colt on television by wearing his merch. Colt, who had a short run with WWE as Scotty Goldman, independently built an empire for himself through his podcast, t-shirts, comedy, and other wrestling ventures. It certainly helped that Punk wore his stuff on television, as one can be sure that he sold a few more “I ‘Star of David’ Colt” shirts because of it.
9. The Kiss Demon
In 1999, while Eric Bischoff was negotiating a deal to have a live performance by KISS on WCW Nitro, it was somehow successfully negotiated that as part of the deal wrestler Dale Torborg dawn the gimmick of The Kiss Demon, a wrestler that embodied Gene Simmons’ demon persona and had a permanent spot on the WCW roster. The gimmick ultimately came across as lame, even though as part of the deal, The Kiss Demon would wrestle only in main events, which was worked around by having the ring announcer announce every Demon match as a “Special Main Event”. The gimmick eventually ended after Eric Bischoff took a hiatus from the company, and Torborg now works away from wrestling as the conditioning coordinator for the Chicago White Sox.
8. Triple H’s Terminator Genysis Entrance at WrestleMania 31
Triple H always books himself to have the “coolest” entrance at WrestleMania. He generally comes to the ring at the special event dressed like Conan the Barbarian, often to a Metallica tune that WWE spares no expense to pay the rights for. Last year’s WrestleMania saw perhaps the most novel entrance from Triple H as it was Terminator themed in order to promote the latest film in the franchise, Terminator Genysis. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself made an on-screen appearance as Triple H stood mighty on the stage holding the heads of decapitated Terminator robot skulls. It is also worth noting that he looked like a futuristic robot version of Conan the Barbarian.
7. Ric Flair & The Marriott
Ric Flair, arguably the greatest promo of all time, often boasted on the microphone about how he and his Horsemen comrades would party all night long. There were many instances where Ric Flair would invite all the ladies in the audience to his hotel room, which was somehow always specifically at the Marriott. Now, this may be a coincidence, this may just be the Nature Boy’s preference of lodging, but one may find it peculiar how Ric Flair regularly mentioned the Marriott on camera when he could have mentioned any other hotel chain. Everybody knew that the Nature Boy partied on the top floor of your local Marriott, and that if you were a lady between the ages of 18 and 28 that you were certainly invited over for a drink. “WOOOOOO!!!”
6. Stone Cold Steve Austin & the Coors Light beer truck
Raw certainly had many memorable segments during 1999, one of the most memorable being when top babyface, global icon and national treasure Stone Cold Steve Austin drove to the ring in a beer truck to hose down The Rock, Vince and Shane McMahon with copious amounts of Coors Light. While this may also be coincidence, while Coors might have been the only beer allowed in the arena, the Coors Light logo had a very visible presence during a very memorable segment. Stone Cold was the hottest wrestler on the planet, spraying down heels with beer as cold as the Rockies, an opportunity for advertising that any beer company would have killed for at the time.
5. Joey Ryan and YouP***
In late 2005, independent wrestling sensation Joey Ryan went viral on the internet when a video surfaced of him wrestling in Japan, using his privates to suplex his opponent. While the move was polarizing, making a total mockery of any legitimacy as a real sport that wrestling may have had left, adult website YouP*** enjoyed the video so much that they now sponsor Joey Ryan an official wrestler, paying him to trademark the move as the “YouP*** Plex.” Now, wherever Ryan wrestlers, when he executes the signature move, announcers must call it that name. Finally, wrestling and adult entertainment have reached a partnership that does not involve their prime wrestling vixens fornicating on camera.
4. X-Pac & Hansen’s Energy Drink
Here is some product placement that took the more traditional route. In 1999, before the peak of the energy drink craze, high-energy cruiserweight wrestler X-Pac could be seen carrying a Hansen’s Energy Drink on the way to the ring during many episodes of Raw. At the time X-Pac was a cool, young, rebellious leader of D-Generation X who was popular with the kids. Since X-Pac was successful at getting a whole generation of 10-year-olds to tell their teachers to “Suck it,” it is plausible that he also got a few kids hooked on energy drinks for life.
3. WCW & SURGE
Surge is a terrible Mountain Dew rip-off that had a large sponsorship deal with WCW toward the end of the promotion’s run. At the time, WCW had a collector’s series of Surge cans with different wrestlers featured on individual collector’s cans. Also, if you watched Nitro at the time, Surge was all over the show. Surge displays were in backstage segments, wrestlers wore Surge t-shirts, and giant plastic Surge containers somehow made their way into many hardcore title matches. While current WWE may have Mountain Dew sitting on the announce desk, nobody on the roster is selling a devastating attack by a giant, plastic Mountain Dew bottle.
2. Robocop saves Sting at WCW Capital Combat: The Return of Robocop
In 1990, WCW held a special event sponsored by the movie Robocop 2 in Washington, DC aptly named WCW Capital Combat: The Return of Robocop. During the event, the dastardly Four Horsemen locked Sting inside of a cage that was ringside for an earlier match. Luckily, ROBOCOP made his way to ringside to rescue Sting. Not even the enforcer Arn Anderson could match the strength of Robocop, who ensured the safety of our hero Sting. Coincidentally, we recently saw Triple H perform his Terminator entrance for his match versus Sting at last year’s WrestleMania. However, at any point during that match did the actual Terminator come to the ring to help Triple H? No. Actual real life Robocop came into the real life world of pro wrestling to save Sting, in what has to be the most memorable movie promotion in a wrestling event.
1. Slim Jim & Macho Man Randy Savage
As if any other product placement could take #1 on this list. One of wrestling’s greatest of all time Macho Man Randy Savage was well known for his endorsements of Slim Jim, America’s favourite gas station meat stick. Not only was the Macho Man star of many Slim Jim commercials that were nothing short of mind blowing, he sometimes wore Slim Jim themed ring gear, and even gave away an actual Slim Jim monster truck to a lucky contest winner on WCW Halloween Havoc 1996. Macho Man made Slim Jim, without question, the most memorable corporate sponsor in wrestling history. The relationship between the two was so important in fact that Lanny Poffo, Savage’s brother, claims that rift created between McMahon and Savage when Savage left WWF for WCW was largely due to Savage taking his Slim Jim sponsorship with him to the rival company. Randy Savage was money for Slim Jim, and many people to this day cannot disassociate these meat sticks with the Macho Man.