It should go without saying that the majority of WWE superstars aren’t all that much like the characters they portray when inside the ring because if they were, the industry would be pure chaos. These wrestlers all sign autographs for young fans and live everyday normal lives, two things that would be nigh impossible for, say, an undead zombie or a Cerebral Assassin. That’s not even mentioning the run-of-the-mill egomaniacal jerks populating the WWE Universe, all of whom drop the façade now and again and act like normal people whenever the time is right.
While the wrestlers themselves aren’t necessarily similar to the characters they play, this doesn’t quite mean their bizarre personalities could never exist outside of the squared circle at all. In fact, plenty of wrestlers have built their gimmicks around real live human beings, using their most famous characteristics or personality traits and adapting them for sports entertainment. Most of these figures come from popular culture, where people stand out for a unique fashion sense or outlandish behavior. Others are a bit more obscure, taking ideas from actual vicious criminals and barely watering them down into aggressive maniacs.
Ultimately, none of these wrestlers are all that much like the source material, as minor details change with every passing angle, match, or interview. That said, the reference points are definitely there, and enough of these superstars have spoken openly about their influences so audiences know for sure where the ideas came from. More than that, a few of them didn’t even try and hide it, acting more as flat out impersonators. Keep reading to learn about 15 professional wrestlers who based their personas on real people.
15 Kid Kash – Kid Rock
As famous as the man is to this day, Kid Rock was arguably at his peak in 1998, shortly after the release of his best-selling album, Devil Without a Cause. At the same time, wrestler David Cash had been struggling as one of the lowest profile wrestlers in ECW for nearly two years and knew a change was desperately needed. Every gimmick Cash had up to this point was a nod to his resemblances with other wrestlers, so it made perfect sense he would keep that trend going by trading up to the larger world of popular culture. There was no denying Cash looked as much or more like Kid Rock than he did Ricky Morton or Chris Jericho, and the iconic suit worn by Rock on his album cover looked pretty nice in a wrestling ring, too.
14 Aron Rex And Rock Star Stud – Liberace And Scott Thorson
When WWE suddenly released Damien Sandow from his contract in May of 2016, most wrestling fans were shocked and flabbergasted by the news. Sandow had been one of the most underutilized talents in recent wrestling history, and yet the decision to let him go altogether was nonetheless out of left field. The one bright side was that Sandow might get a chance to spread his wings and create a new character outside of the McMahon family engine. Oddly, his new persona pretty much just added to the confusion, as no one understood how the idea of a Liberace-based wrestler would even work. Named Aron Rex and taking Rockstar Spud as his Scott Thorson-inspired manager, the new persona found some success in Impact Wrestling, but it was mere months before both the company and wrestlers involved completely gave up on the idea.
13 Raven, The Jackal – David Koresh
Not to get over dramatic, but many wrestlers could be described as cults of personality in a manner of speaking, and some even proudly proclaim themselves as such in their theme music. While CM Punk was the first to boast such in song form, the idea of a villainous cult leader had been around in wrestling for quite some time, and a big part of the reason is that America was faced with a more than a few real deranged religious fanatics at the time. One of the men to brainwash the most followers was David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians cult that perished during a standoff with ATF agents near Waco, Texas. Koresh was known for his odd charisma and manipulative personality, qualities ECW and then WWE took in the characters of Raven and The Jackal, respectively. Both men were referred to as “the David Koresh of wrestling” by company commentators, and lo and behold, they would build cults of their own almost immediately upon arrival.
12 Waylon Mercy, Bray Wyatt – Charles Manson
Combining the creepiness of a cult leader with the viciousness of a killer, Charles Manson is one of the most infamous fugitives in American history. Along with his Manson Family, Charles orchestrated the murder of at least seven people and has since become famous for his legitimately insane and off-kilter behavior in interviews. Though Manson’s horrors can’t be denied, the man nonetheless had to be extremely charismatic to get so many people to do his bidding, and multiple wrestlers have used that same mixture of evil and manipulative brilliance to craft their characters. Bray Wyatt is probably the most blatant of these, with his Wyatt Family seemingly named after Manson’s cult. However, one can’t mention Wyatt without pointing out it was actually Dan Spivey who created the broad strokes of that character as Waylon Mercy, and he cited Manson as a direct influence.
11 Tammy Fytch – Hillary Clinton
Before we go into the specifics of this one, take a moment to remember that the Hillary Clinton of 1992 was a whole lot different than the 2016 Presidential candidate we’re more familiar with today. Sure, Clinton was still smart, politically minded, and ready to make a difference in her own way, but her husband, Bill, was still very much the big show in the eyes of the public. More relevantly, both Clintons weren’t particularly popular in certain parts of the American south, with Hillary’s liberal ideas on what women can accomplish upsetting some older, more traditional males. What this all means is that future WWE Hall of Famer Sunny’s idea to base her initial Smokey Mountain Wrestling character on Clinton was absolute genius, giving her huge heat on arrival simply by saying her idol’s name.
10 “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – Richard Kuklinski
Vicious, methodical, always ready to strike, and willing to do anything it takes to get away from the scene unscathed no matter who got hurt in the process, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had arguably the greatest and most fitting nickname in WWE history. All of those descriptions also fit frighteningly well with contract killer Richard Kuklinski, known as “The Iceman” by the police who tracked him down and the subsequent media coverage that told his story. Truth be told, Austin doesn’t have very much in common with Kuklinski, in particular, yet the Stone Cold Truth is that he happened to be watching a documentary about the killer when devising his now legendary character. In theory, the same ideas could have sprung up while watching any true crime series about violent killers, yet the world may have been deprived an amazing nom de guerre had things gone any differently, so let’s not second guess this one.
9 John Morrison – Jim Morrison
Even the most diehard fans of John Hennigan probably have trouble keeping up with some of his ring names, considering how often WWE and other organizations keep changing it. First up, he used his real name when winning Tough Enough III, followed by a revamp as Johnny Blaze, then Johnny Spade, and finally Johnny Nitro. The last one stuck for a few years until Nitro started getting a serious push as a main eventer and developed an egomaniac rock star persona to go with it. No matter what he was called, female wrestling fans flocked to Hennigan’s natural good looks, which reminded many audiences of the legendary Doors singer Jim Morrison. Since he was already taking on a more musical persona, it was a perfect fit for Hennigan to take one last name change and settle on John Morrison.
8 The Governor – Sarah Palin
The world of politics has more in common with professional wrestling than most people in Washington want to believe. This fact has been true long before a WWE Hall of Famer lived in the White House, and it was hardly new information some ten years ago either when former WCW wrestler Daffney debuted a new persona in Total Nonstop Action called The Governor. Clearly based on former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Daffney dropped all of the crazy shrieking she was once known for in favor of a folksy accent and sharp fashion sense. It just so happened this Governor also could see Russia from her backyard, which reveals the biggest flaw in the gimmick in that all the good jokes about Palin had already been made and TNA was basically stealing them. Actually, that wasn’t the worst part—the true nadir is that the character served no purpose whatsoever.
7 Oklahoma – Jim Ross
In an attempt at defending himself from the many criticisms lobbied against him, Vince Russo often likes to point to his originality and creativity in wrestling as justification for his career. Unfortunately, some of his most unique ideas were also his worse, like basing wrestlers in WCW on the real-life personalities of people in WWE. His first mistake in this regard was whom he chose for the role, using fellow writer Ed Ferrara to imitate legendary announcer Jim Ross. It would have been bad enough if Ferrara’s Oklahoma character was a manager, but things got even worse when he started getting in the ring, even winning the once prestigious WCW Cruiserweight Championship. The absolute bottom of the idea was how Ferrara played it, focusing entirely on Jim Ross’s cerebral palsy, using the man's real-life medical condition as a source of “humor.”
6 Colonel Robert Parker – Colonel Tom Parker
Fear not, Elvis Presley fans who feel left out by The Honky Tonk Man’s absence on this list (he’s more an impersonation of impersonators than an out-and-out imitation), for The King’s infamous manager has also been parodied by the wrestling world. Prior to joining WCW, Robert Fuller was an accomplished wrestler and manager in a number of southern territories and decided on a gimmick change when transitioning into the mainstream. Because he also chose to become a full-time manager at that point, it made perfect sense for Fuller to take from one of the most famous managers in pop culture, Colonel Tom Parker. Similar to Col. Tom, the newly named Colonel Robert Parker was equally manipulative of his own talent as he was the institution they worked for, but his Studd Stable never seemed to care, simply happy about the title shots he was getting them.
5 Clarence Mason – Johnnie Cochran
If it pleases the court, the first lawyer to find prominence in the WWE Universe had a whole bunch of influences, some real and some fictional. In a manner of speaking, one could say Clarence Mason’s character was based on his own life, as he went through law school before he ever picked up a wrestling microphone. More important than that, however, is the fact Mason arrived in WWE at a time America was obsessed with the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, and The Juice’s lawyer Johnnie Cochran was constantly in the news for his unique legal tactics. Vince McMahon saw the potential for a crossover, and the Mason character evolved from a mere lawyer to a very specifically Cochran-esque lawyer, using the famous legal eagle’s vocal mannerisms and personality as the basis for his attitude.
4 Van Hammer – Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth
Quite frankly, it’s hard to tell if WCW was going for an Eddie Van Halen vibe or more of a David Lee Roth concept when they created the Van Hammer gimmick. On the one hand, it could just be an amalgam of the two key figures in the legendary heavy metal band Van Halen, and yet knowing WCW, there’s at least a small chance no one in the company knew the difference. Either way, it’s clear that Van Hammer was based on someone in Van Halen, taking the guitarist’s instrument and naming convention along with the singer’s bombastic energy. At least that would have been the idea if Hammer was any good in the ring, as his poor wrestling skills never got him too far up the card, making more specific characterization irrelevant and unnecessary.
3 Johnny B. Badd – Little Richard
Far be it from us to judge wrestlers for getting ideas from strange places, but we have to admit Dusty Rhodes’s decision to base the Johnny B. Badd character on rock-and-roll singer Little Richard seems a little weird even almost 30 years later. That said, Badd’s portrayer, Marc Mero, was somehow talented enough to make it work, using feathery pink boas, loud squealing, and the flair that made the “Tutti Frutti” singer famous to do the same for himself. It didn’t hurt that Badd was also naturally gifted in the ring, fast turning from a virtually untrained newbie into one of the most exciting people in WCW. With all that said, the Little Richard allusion got especially confusing as time went on, and Badd gradually transitioned away from the pomp and circumstance to a persona more like his real one as a former boxer.
2 Pogo The Clown – John Wayne Gacy
Anyone reading this list wondering who Pogo The Clown is, take some solace in the fact you may not be alone, as the hardcore independent wrestler probably has the lowest profile of the superstars on this list. This isn’t to say Pogo is a complete unknown; he’s spent a solid two decades in the industry, including a lengthy stint in the short-lived ECW knockoff Xtreme Pro Wrestling. Chances are, the main reason the makeup-wearing maniac never quite made it to the mainstream has to do with where he got his name, which was the same place he got his character—prolific serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Granted, a few other items on this very list prove horrible people can make for brilliant gimmicks, but it could easily be argued Pogo’s complete lack of pretense takes this one a little too far.
1 Patrick Clark, Prince Iaukea, TAFKA Goldust – Prince
One of the most outlandish, bizarre, and unique human beings ever to live, not to mention dance, Prince was a music icon that popular culture had never seen before. His Royal Badness was one of a kind in every way, from his music, to his style, to the very way he walked, and with that in mind, there’s no wonder at least three wrestlers have looked to the man for inspiration in the ring. First up, there was The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust, who used the other artist’s exile from Warner Bros. as the basis for denouncing his original WWE gimmick. About a year later, WCW did something similar, turning a former Television Champion into The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Iaukea with the addition of a swagged out purple suit and a sexy lady from Paisley Park. Most recently, there was Patrick Clark, an NXT wrestler who’s lack of success might prove gimmicks based on Prince died along with him.