Ever since Vincent K. McMahon assumed control of the World Wrestling Federation from his father in 1983, he had aspirations to lift the family business from smoke-filled arenas and expand the niche market of professional wrestling to transcend pop culture. This was evidenced early on with the inclusion of major celebrities as part of the WrestleMania events, and has continued now for more than three decades with wrestlers generating crossover appeal through their various television appearances, movie roles, recording contracts and more.
With the ascension of McMahon’s WWE to prime time television and the need to generate ratings, this has opened the door for cross-promotion and marketing. Celebrities and politicians have used the platform of the WWE Universe to promote their latest movie projects, serve as a guest general manager on RAW or to appear in vignette segments. For some, their ongoing involvement and connection to World Wrestling Entertainment has even led to their inclusion in the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame.
We wondered, with Hall of Fame inductees which include the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Tyson, Donald Trump and Mr. T among the eight celebrities enshrined in the Hall, what other Hollywood celebrities would be able to make a seamless transition from their Hollywood careers to a role in the WWE as an ongoing character – whether as a wrestler, referee, manager, or ringside commentator. The following is a list of the top fifteen celebrities that could readily make the switch and be adopted by the WWE Universe.
15. Christopher Meloni
As detective Elliot Stabler on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, television audiences got behind Meloni as a no-nonsense, gritty defender of justice and the innocent. He was passionate about his work, about the people he served and wasn’t afraid to bend and break the rules when necessary to see the scales of justice remain balanced. However, long term fans of Meloni’s career will also remember his captivating portrayal of a despicable villain on the opposite side of the law who was conniving and cunning when needed to serve his own needs or to punish others, both physically or psychologically.
14. Lucy Lawless
The closest that wrestling fans have come to seeing Xena, Warrior Princess between the ropes was former WWE Divas champion, “The Glamazon” Beth Phoenix. Certainly, Lawless’ devoted Xena fans would still flock to the arenas for the chance to see their scifi heroine do battle, but from the WWE management’s perspectives, she yet offers more. WWE Corporate would be impressed by Lawless’ crossover appeal as having appeared and excelled on Dancing with the Stars as a member of the roster that already brings mainstream media appeal. For many, we will remember Lucy’s more recent role as Lucretia on the series Spartacus, where her character has shown resilience and ruthlessness … and we wonder how she would wreak havoc on some of the fan favorites who might cross her path in the WWE locker room.
13. Vin Diesel
We’d be lying if we said that we don’t believe that the conversation has already happened on set of the Fast and Furious movies with co-star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. We are pretty certain that if Vin set his sights on a WWE contract that the path would be readily opened up before him. Vin’s leading roles in films such as XXX and the Fast and Furious series have cultivated a tough guy image. However, his role in The Pacifier is reminiscent of Mr. Nanny (Hulk Hogan), Knucklehead (Big Show) and The Tooth Fairy (Dwayne Johnson). Imagine the Rock and Vin as tag team partners at a pay per view somewhere in the near future.
12. Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson strikes us as a cerebral assassin. A tactician well versed in the art of war, but we have also seen him both take and dole out some serious punishment in many of his action movie roles. Neeson, while the sun may have set on the opportunity for him to compete between the ropes, seems to us as someone that could serve as a powerful motivator at ringside and on the microphone as a manager of vigilantes out to seek justice. His most famous movie quote, is easily adapted for a WWE broadcast “I don’t know who you are, but I will find you and I will…pin… you.”
11. L.L. Cool J
It surprises us that with all of the celebrities that have been sought out to make guest appearances and step through the ropes, that L.L. Cool J is not among them. The renowned vocalist who reminded us that ‘Mama said knock you out’ would seem to set a more imposing shadow than some of his peers in the rap community who have had an association with wrestling at its highest levels over the past few years. L.L. brings his fanbase from music which lends to his street cred, his audience from NCIS: Los Angeles that have seen him risk life and limb, and his latest television vehicle Lip Sync challenge – which would seem to open a whole new rolodex of contacts on call for the WWE for a variety of projects.
10. Lady Gaga
Maybe she was born a generation too late, but we can’t help but think that Lady Gaga and her publicity-grabbing outlandishness over the past decade would not have been a ready-made fit for the WWE during the Attitude Era. Lady Gaga could easily have been to Luna Vachon what Cyndi Lauper was to Wendi Richter in the 1980s. However, in more recent years, we have also seen Gaga test out her acting chops and also find her voice on some of the country’s most serious causes and topics. As the WWE is always hoping to soften their image, Gaga could be a great asset to the WWE as they strive to sanitize wrestling’s unwholesome image and track record.
9. Mark Wahlberg
Music, acting and a track record as a franchisee tells us that Mark Wahlberg would be a great fit for the old school model of professional wrestling. Especially where your earning power is dictated by how many butts you can put in seats and how hard you’re willing to work. We couldn’t help but laugh during Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ when a theatre goer taunted John Cena as a Wahlberg lookalike. Similarly, while Cena has tried to bridge his athletic career into movies and music, Wahlberg could easier make the jump the other direction. Just as he has immersed himself into roles such as Boogie Nights, We Own the Night and The Departed, we are certain that Wahlberg would readily adapt to the WWE climate and connect with audiences.
8. Gerard Butler
There is a lot that Gerard Butler brings to the table in addition to his tall, dark and handsome charm and physical presence. First, his range of roles from villains in Law Abiding Citizen to warriors in 300 shows us that he could be a fit in either the heroes or the heel locker room. The ladies could fall in love with him for his sensitivity and attentiveness as they did with P.S. I Love You, or be reviled by his candor he showed in The Ugly Truth. We get the impression that when it comes to doing business, Butler is a ‘No Holds Barred’ kind of guy … a mercenary well suited for the dog eat dog climate of the WWE.
7. Sofia Vergara
While no doubt, there are countless fans around the world who would like to be witness to Sofia Vergara in a catfight should that ever erupt, we see Sofia as the muse that sets a chain of events in motion. Gladiators going to battle for the hand of the statuesque goddess, whose Latina accent and passion would find themselves at the heart of a compelling struggle. Vergara would be a hit with male audiences, and also score well for the WWE with their diverse audiences in the U.S. and around the world. Doubt her fit in the WWE culture? Think Debra McMichael and Sable, rolled into a spicy dish that has seldom seen the top of the marquee in the WWE.
6. Mickey Rourke
We might have overlooked Mickey Rourke despite his gritty roles in films such as Get Carter and Harley Davidson &The Marlboro Man. But let’s face it … ever since we saw Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson in The Wrestler, it is impossible for us to consider that any other Hollywood actor would have been able to pull off that role as a well as he did. In Rourke, fans can see a man who has battled his demons – one who was earmarked for the top of his profession, fell from grace and has had to claw his way back. Rourke’s life is even more compelling than even the most cleverly scripted WWE storyline.
5. Louis C.K.
While Jesse Ventura boasted a reputation for ‘telling it like it is’ in the 1980s while serving as a color commentator alongside Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon times, there has been no true replacement. Louis C.K. has been for our generation that candid voice that cuts through the nonsense and speaks plainly. Such was evidenced at this year’s Oscar Awards when he presented the award for the best documentary short, with a humorous yet honest assessment of where those independent producers stood among the field of their peers in the audience. On the microphone at ringside, or catching interviews back stage in the fashion that Gene Okerlund once did, Louis C.K. would make an immediate impact.
4. Stephen Merchant
The gangly arms and legs of Stephen Merchant do harken us back to the early 80s when comedian Andy Kaufman declared his intention to make the transition from acting and into the wild world of professional wrestling. However, we don’t see Merchant as the inter-gender wrestling champion of the world – but rather the sharp-tongued, over-zealous manager whose words sometimes land him in a level of calamity which is sure to delight audiences. Ever-evading his proper comeuppance, when finally our valiant hero got their hands on Merchant the manager? No doubt the fans would leave the arena in vicarious triumph.
3. Miley Cyrus
Fans of the sweet Hannah Montana have still not been able to adjust to the evolution that takes place when children grow up and need to find their place in adulthood. Cyrus shucked her wholesome image and has maintained her star status through audacious concert performances and unpredictable behavior that reminds us of the shock value of the vignettes we witnessed during the Attitude Era. Combine Miley’s ambition with Vince McMahon’s vision and we can see Miley becoming a veritable force in the WWE Women’s division.
2. Terry Crews
Without saying a word, Terry Crews strikes an imposing silhouette. Back in the territory days of wrestling there is no doubt that he would have been sought out by wrestling promoters at the conclusion of his football career and with his charisma would have launched a formidable ring career, similar to other pro gridders who successfully made the jump to the ring. Add to that, Terry’s over the top personality that has come across in his acting roles and endorsements and you have the whole package of athleticism, charisma and fan appeal upon which Hall of Fame careers are built.
1. Ryan Reynolds
That the movie Deadpool has eclipsed most every comic book movie-turned Hollywood blockbuster in its opening weekend this year tells us that Ryan Reynolds is a credible face to portray a superhero. Not all of his acting contemporaries have received the same ringing endorsement from ticket buyers. In Reynolds, you have an actor who can capture imaginations as a super hero, make the ladies swoon in situations such as The Proposal, and is comfortable when the situation calls for over the top calamity beyond one’s comfort zone such as The Change Up. Reynolds possesses the tools, the look and may still yet have the longevity ahead that would afford a solid run in the ranks of the WWE.