In its own weird way, professional wrestling is often a reflection of modern times, and that reflection often includes some hints of popular culture. It’s great when wrestling can resonate with the crowd on a more current and personal level, but unfortunately, not all wrestlers are particularly adept at incorporating popular culture into their original and unique gimmicks. To combat this, they cut out the middleman, and outright rip-off the most successful movies, TV shows, and even video games of the day.
It’s fair to ask what exactly qualifies a rip-off, versus what qualifies as a parody or tribute, and the answer is usually the level of originality involved in the imitation. Some of these rip-offs admittedly managed to be quite creative and take the stolen ideas to new and dazzling heights, but the fact remains the basic idea was still stolen from pop culture. Wrestlers big and small have been guilty of this, and it’s brought wrestlers both incredible success and quick, merciful failure. Music generally serves more as an influence than a direct source, so gimmicks based on singers and bands were exempt, but any visual media was kept well in mind when creating this list. Keep reading and learn which 15 wrestlers blatantly ripped off pop culture with their gimmicks.
15. Sting Ripped Off The Crow and The Dark Knight Returns
Arguably the biggest story in wrestling throughout the year 1997 was the gradual evolution from happy-go-lucky surfer Sting into the dark and mysterious figure that would become known as “Crow” Sting. Although never officially called such on television, the reason the darker version of Sting is known as The Crow is the fact it was a clear rip off of the popular comic book and subsequent film starring Brandon Lee, The Crow. Like Sting, the film Crow is a superhero inspired by darkness and vengeance to paint his face white and conquer the forces of evil. According to Scott Hall, Sting came up with the gimmick after Hall suggested he watch the movie. Years later in TNA, Sting would take to comic book films to inspire his character once again, creating a much less fondly remembered facsimile of Heath Ledger’s version of The Joker.
14. Razor Ramon Ripped Off Scarface
Scott Hall is an incredibly talented wrestler, and that’s why the Razor Ramon character quickly went from a mere imitation into a lasting Hall of Fame-worthy character of its own. However, as Hall himself will admit, his first true success as a wrestler started when he sat in Vince McMahon’s office and did an impression of Tony Montana. Despite the fact this happened in the early 90s, somehow McMahon was one of the few people on Earth who had never seen Scarface, and he was completely blown away by the idea of an outrageously cool Cuban dripping with machismo. While Hall definitely made the gimmick his own, it’s worth noting the fake Cuban accent followed Hall throughout a great deal of his career, although it slowly died off as he grew more popular under his own name.
13. Waylon Mercy Ripped Off Cape Fear
Dan Spivey is an unfairly forgotten name in wrestling history, despite the fact he had a pretty significant look and career. Early on, he teamed with Scott Hall, Sid Vicious, and the man who would become known as The Undertaker. As his former partners all started to achieve extreme solo success, Spivey re-entered WWE with a new, high-concept, unique gimmick. Spivey would be kind and gentlemanly, soft-spoken and looking like a picture of relaxation with his flashy Hawaiian shirts, but the second the bell rang he became a vicious, violent killer. The idea of Southern hospitality offered with the warning “lives will be in his hands” made him a creepy highlight of his few months in the company, but unfortunately injuries caused him to retire shortly after the character debuted. Spivey admitted the character was directly lifted from the 1991 remake of Cape Fear, and elements of the character live on in Bray Wyatt to this day.
12. Glacier Ripped Off Mortal Kombat
The initial vignettes for Blood Runs Cold had wrestling and video game fans alike intrigued and dripping with anticipation for the Mortal Kombat inspired gimmick to hit WCW. The videos made reference of some foreign “realm” where specially trained warriors prepared to do the ultimate battle, and the star of these videos looked a whole lot like popular the Kombatant Sub-Zero. When Glacier debuted, the similarities only seemed to grow, with his primary opponents Wrath and Mortis looking like they came out of a video game, as well. Although Eric Bischoff’s initial idea was said to be completely serious, the gimmick quickly turned into a joke, and was “sold” to Kaz Hayashi.
11. Mike Awesome Ripped Off That 70s Show
Mike Awesome was one of the biggest, baddest champions in ECW history, and WCW stole him away from that company at his absolute peak. Awesome was ECW World Champion, and although not quite undefeated, he had very few big time losses on record, and easily could’ve come into WCW as that same monster and became a new level of superstar. Instead, they had him talk about how much he loved “fat chicks,” started wearing disco inspired clothing, and called himself That 70s Guy. The idea was apparently to siphon the success of That 70’s Show, but Awesome wasn’t exactly a guy known for his charisma, and even if he were this would’ve been a terrible way for him to show it. The gimmick is seen as prime evidence Vince Russo was immediately in over his head when he began writing for WCW.
10. The Road Warriors Ripped Off Mad Max: The Road Warrior
There’s really no denying The Road Warriors ripped off the second film of the original Mad Max trilogy—it’s where they got both their name and their look. In fact, Demolition, a tag team regularly said to be a rip off of the Road Warriors, also clearly got their real inspiration from the villains in the film. Demolition dressed like the character Lord Humongous, which in turn was the name of a character Sid Vicious played early in his career. Clearly, wrestlers love Mad Max. Plenty of teams have imitated the Road Warriors tag team since their inception; even teams like The Ascension could be said to ultimately have gotten their inspiration from the 1980s Mel Gibson films. It was certainly a much better place to pull stories from than the real lives of the superstars, which only ever ended in tragedy.
9. Beetlejuice Ripped Off Beetlejuice
The name Art Barr is usually fondly remembered in wrestling circles, but unfortunately a great deal of controversy lies just beneath the surface of the talented young wrestler’s short life. Barr’s legacy was found in Mexico and teaming with Eddie Guerrero, but at the start of his career he was a solo act blatantly inspired by the title character in the film Beetlejuice. The gimmick was given to Barr by none other than Roddy Piper, and saw Barr sing himself down the ring and generally act like the suave ghost from the Netherworld. Around this same time, Barr also plead guilty to sexually abusing a 19-year-old girl. Amazingly, this didn’t prevent him from getting hired by WCW, who merely made him tweak the name from Beetlejuice to The Juicer. The fact the gimmick was still family friendly greatly upset victim’s rights groups, and Barr was fired from WCW after only a few months. He passed away in 1994.
8. Beaver Cleavage Ripped Off Leave It To Beaver
The one thing you can hope about a pop culture rip-off is that it will be somewhat current or timely, so fans will be able to latch onto it and understand what’s being referenced. For a crash course in why this is important, look no further than the sad, tragic tale of Beaver Cleavage. After the breakup of the Headbangers, Mosh was saddled with a bizarre and horrible gimmick where he imitated the 1950s family sitcom Leave it to Beaver. The show was intensely outdated, and WWE’s only attempt at a modern spin on the story was to insinuate he had a romantic relationship with his “mother”/girlfriend, Marianna. It was quickly dropped and segued into an arguably worse gimmick, where Marianna lied about the renamed Chaz physically abusing her. Marianna died as a result of breast cancer and Chaz/Beaver was back to Headbanging only a few years later.
7. Aces & Eights Ripped Off Sons of Anarchy
Aces & Eights was a seemingly endless and ever-growing stable in Total Nonstop Action, with a vague implied theme that they were members of a biker gang. Many fans assumed that, especially considering the fact this felt only tangentially related to the actual actions of the group, TNA was simply trying to rip off the popular FX show Sons of Anarchy. Wrestling and motorcycles don’t have a lot to do with one another, but plenty of wrestlers have ridden motorcycles to the ring before Aces & Eights, so some would argue it wasn’t an out-and-out rip-off so much as a timely reference point. However, the fact fans also noticed Aces & Eights entrance music sounded a lot like the Sons of Anarchy theme song tips it a bit further into the rip-off category.
6. Zack Ryder Ripped Off Jersey Shore
In all fairness, Zack Ryder claims he invented his gimmick before the MTV reality show Jersey Shore hit the airwaves, and the story seems to check out. However, Ryder also claims he came up with the gimmick by going to the beaches of Long Island and fist pumping his heart out with his actual bros, so call it co-opting a movement if not outright thievery. Ryder has called the cast members of TV’s Jersey Shore “posers,” implying Ryder saw himself as the more accurate representation of the Long Island party scene, but there’s really no denying the popularity of the show helped people understand what he was doing with his gimmick. WWE certainly was aware of the show, as Ryder never received any kind of a push until people started making the connection.
5. The Blue Meanie and Stevie Richards Ripped Off The Blair Witch Project
Not very much is known about WWE’s extremely short lived “Blonde Bitch Project” angle, but something should be extremely clear from the title alone. What fans saw was relegated to a few vignettes featuring Stevie Richards and The Blue Meanie investigating “the blonde bitch”—often rumored to be Sable—only to discover no information. Nor did they really present any old information. It seriously only lasted a few weeks before everyone realized how obvious a rip-off it was, and the entire thing was dropped. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see Meanie on this list, though, considering where his entire gimmick comes from…
4. The Blue Meanie Ripped Off Yellow Submarine
The Blue Meanie was never exactly a top draw in any promotion he wrestled for, but he was a funny enough distraction that the initial character was considered one of the better gimmicks invented by Raven and given to his friends. This is a strange distinction, as arguably even more so than at least two-thirds of this list, the Blue Meanie is a very direct rip-off of the 1968 Beatles’ cartoon film Yellow Submarine. The blue meanies in that film are an entire race of villainous creatures who only take “no” for an answer, and of course, they really hate the Beatles. We know that wrestling’s Meanie was more of a KISS fan, so he might have agreed with them on that one. In defense of the Meanie, while his original character and name was pulled directly from the film, he always managed to inject actual humor into his appearances, and became far more than a mere rip-off.
3. Tiger Mask Ripped Off Tiger Mask
Tiger Mask presents dicey legal territory when it comes to a rip-off. There’s no question the famous Japanese gimmick was directly taken from a manga series that had been popular decades earlier, but it’s also been claimed that New Japan Pro Wrestling was given permission from the creators of the character to do so. As such, Tiger Mask is a rip-off, but it was a legal rip-off, and at least five wrestlers have been given approval to steal the gimmick. The Tiger Mask of the comics was already a superhero who wrestled, so very little needed be done to tweak the character for the ring. One thing kept in common over the several Tiger Masks, however, is that they all have been extremely talented wrestlers, so fans of the manga have never exactly had anything to complain about.
2. Arachnaman Ripped Off Spider-Man
As Tiger Mask and certain other examples have proven, the idea of a wrestling superhero can work like gangbusters when reasonably applied to wrestling. Even if only tangentially applied to wrestling it could work, insofar as kids might enjoy it, but if the creativity level is particularly low, accusations of plagiarism could ruin the gimmick out of the gate. That’s exactly what happened when WCW attempted to co-opt Spider-Man with “Arachnaman,” a rip-off so blatant the only real difference was that Arachnaman was purple and yellow, while Spider-Man was red and blue. The gimmick was given to the incredibly talented Brad Armstrong, but it was taken away from him shortly thereafter, when Marvel Comics unpredictably threatened legal action. Armstrong never quite recovered, although he did go on to win the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship under his own name.
1. Paul Burchill Ripped Off Pirates of the Caribbean
There has been a popular rumor surrounding Paul Burchill’s short-lived but briefly popular Pirate character he portrayed throughout 2006. There’s no denying the gimmick was heavily influenced by the popular Pirates of Caribbean film series starring Johnny Depp, but the question arises in whether or not Vince McMahon was aware of the rip-off. The popular rumor says Vince had never seen the films and didn’t understand the gimmick, so he forced Burchill to repackage himself into a new character. Burchill himself claims the gimmick was Vince’s idea, and he was more than happy for the chance to play it. Whether or not that’s the case, eventually Vince decided a pirate should be a uniformly bad person and not a babyface like Burchill was playing the role, proving that even if Vince had heard of the films, he didn’t actually take the time to watch them or understand their appeal.