2015 wasn’t the greatest year for wrestling legends in terms of breaking news stories. Two of the sport’s greatest entertainers, Dusty Rhodes and Roddy Piper, passed away. Jimmy Snuka was arrested and charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter of his then-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, 32 years after the fact. And, even though former Hulkmaniacs thought it impossible, Hulk Hogan was able to further desecrate his legacy and contribution to professional wrestling by adding to his already long list of personal failures and embarrassments his dropping of the n-word. Multiple times. Seriously, you would’ve thought it was one of the Hulkamania commandments after “take your vitamins.”
Thankfully, AiPT! focuses mostly on pop culture. And luckily, 2015 was a good year for pro wrestling within the canon of pop culture.
Aside from WWE’s yearly 2K game, there wasn’t much movement on original fictitious wrestlers in video games this year. I’m not really a big gamer, and unless a cool enough original wrestling video game character surfaces on the SquaredCircle subreddit, chances are I’m not going to know about it. Still, the best I could come up with was the Armstrongs, Tina and Bass, still showing up in the latest offering from the Dead or Alive game “Last Round,” as well as “La Mariposa” Lisa Hamilton, who manages to out-sexy Sexy Star in terms of provocative luchadora gear.
5 Star Wrestling seemed to be the type of game Fire Pro and No Mercy fans had long been anticipating, but unfortunately it didn’t live up to the hype and was only released for the Playstation Network. The best marriage of pop culture and pro wrestling in the world of gaming came from the mobile game, 80s Mania Wrestling, a booking simulation in which you run an old school 80s wrestling promotion complete with 80s wrestlers based on 80s characters from the world of 80s pop culture. It’s pretty rad.
The closest thing to a brand new wrestling character being introduced in a non-wrestling fighting game was Pikachu Libre in Pokken Tournament. Earlier in the year, my brother went to Japan and even though there was an entire store he passed by that sold only Tiger Mask stuff, he came back with this. I had no idea why they happened to sell a plush Pikachu dressed as a luchador until Pokken Tournament was released and put things in perspective. Still can’t believe he didn’t bring me back one goddamn Tiger Mask souvenir, though.
Bane was originally introduced to Batman fans in 1993, but that didn’t stop the team behind the Batman ’66 comic to create a new introduction for Bane within the campy universe based on the old Batman series starring Adam West. In this version, Bane’s luchador roots actually play a major role in the storyline. He actually wrestles Batman inside the squared circle and performs a backbreaker that unfortunately doesn’t break Batman’s back. Proving that Bane is a true professional inside the ring, making sure to protect his opponent. But the best part of this particular issue were the cameos by legendary tecnicos El Santo and Mil Mascaras. Now all I want is a comic book series featuring El Santo and Batman fighting crime together.
The Muscle Temple Kickstarter was a big deal considering the number of talented artists involved in the project, like Madeleine Flores, David Smith, Rosemary Travale, and Zac Gorman, to name a few. It’s a 60-page comic anthology featuring what else… pro wrestling. Even pro wrestlers themselves tweeted out their excitement over the project, like Xavier Woods. Others got involved in the pledge tiers. $550 to get superkicked by the Young Bucks? And you still get a wrestling comic anthology on top of it. What else can you ask for? Check out some previews on the Muscle Temple Tumblr page.
Fans of Box Brown’s Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, or just Andre the Giant in general, got another awesome graphic novel based on the life of Andre the Giant in Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven. While Box Brown’s book was based on past interviews with other people and wrestlers, this book focuses on Andre’s early life all the way to his death. it’s also supposed to be a much more personal and emotional journey through Andre’s perspective and not through the eyes of others.
Finally, there’s Ringside, a comic book series published by Image. To my knowledge, it’s the first original wrestling comic title that’s been put out by a high profile publisher—at least one that you can actually find in comic book shops and not just in digital release. I don’t think that’s happened since WWE and WCW’s separate comic book releases. And unlike the WWE/WCW fluff, Ringside is pretty damn gritty, concerning itself with rugged legend, The Minotaur, who has some questionable dealings outside the ring. Of course, you still get the actual wrestling stuff, including a pair of active wrestlers who might or might not find themselves in some trouble as well, thanks to their connection to the former Minotaur.
If the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling movement taught us anything, it’s that musicians love wrestling. I guess. But not all wrestlers love musicians. And I’m not talking about Kevin Owens powerbombing Machine Gun Kelly on Raw, which was awesome. I’m talking about Barry Horowitz taking umbrage with Action Bronson referencing him and using his likeness in the aptly titled “Barry Horowitz” video. However, Horowitz was smart to maintain his grudge via print form because I think we all know who’d win that fight.
Unlike Horowitz, old school wrestler Chavo Guerrero A.K.A. Chavo Classic, had no issues with The Mountain Goats using him for their inspiration for “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”, the main single off their wrestling-themed album, Beat the Champ. In fact, he even made an appearance in the music video, in which he almost kills himself attempting a moonsault. By the way, Beat the Champ is a great album. If you really love wrestling you’ll buy it.
Meek Mill sampled The Undertaker’s theme song to diss Drake on “Wanna Know,” but also got into some beef with the WWE in the process because of them being sticklers about intellectual property. To add insult to injury, Bret Hart even chimed in via Instagram to back fellow Canadian Drake in the feud.
B-Boy and a few other So-Cal indy wrestlers went to the extreme in the music video for Wavves’ “Way Too Much”. If you missed Darius Rucker impersonating Dusty Rhodes, yes, the front man for Hootie & the Blowfish, there’s also that. With NXT touring along with music festivals, it was only a matter of time before some musician, who has never wrestled or believably win a fight against a wrestler, would get the upper hand on an actual professional wrestler: Enter Slipknot’s Corey Taylor slapping the shit out of Baron Corbin and getting away with it at the Aftershock Festival.
But the biggest news in relation to wrestling and music happened a few days before 2015 ended, when Motörhead’s Lemmy passed away at 70 years old. And if you were like me, you probably didn’t even know who they were until they started showing up on WWE TV. Lemmy had a pretty close relationship with the WWE or, more accurately, with Triple H, having performed numerous entrance themes and live renditions of those themes for Triple H.
Wrestling was pretty heavily featured on television shows in 2015. Like, almost Attitude Era levels of mainstream TV exposure. TNA’s Robbie E. and Brooke Tessmacher competed as a team on CBS’ The Amazing Race. In that one season, Tessmacher and Robbie E. probably had more people watch them than during their entire run on any of the networks that have aired TNA’s Impact Wrestling. The reality show Wrestling with Death, which showcased the only other family of morticians/wrestlers not named Undertaker, Kane, or Paul Bearer, proved to be as disappointing as you’d expect. Demonstrating that he was more of a pop culture icon than Hulk Hogan will ever be, Roddy Piper showed up on another CBS reality show, Undercover Boss, to hock Rowdy Roddy Piper’s … All Out of Bubblegum soda by Rocket Fizz. How Roddy Piper got bubblegum soda to taste like bubblegum despite being out of bubblegum is anybody’s guess.
On Comedy Central’s Why? With Hannibal Buress, host Hannibal Buress revoked Hulk Hogan’s brother card. And rightfully so. Also on Comedy Central, @midnight favorite, hilarious comedian, Undateable star, and wrestling’s all-time celebrity goodwill ambassador, Ron Funches, promoted his love of wrestling every chance he got, from shouting out The Young Bucks after superkicking a child to dressing up as Ric Flair for the Halloween episode of @midnight. Oh, and in true wrestling nerd fashion, he unveiled his wrestling name during Conan on TBS. Wrestling hilarity still ensued, even in the absence of Ron Funches, when Fox’s Animation Domination High-Def premiered the animated music video “Dead Wrestler Beach”. And before you get all sad, know that with references to Camp Cornette, The Von Erichs and Freebirds, and Los Gringos Locos doing Frog Splashes, this video was made with love.
Conan on TBS wasn’t the only late night show to feature wrestling in some way. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore went a step further and actually did a two-part expose on racism in wrestling. Not only did they uncover that “indeed, wrestling is racist as fuck,” but they also got one of wrestling’s most famous stereotypically black characters, Virgil, to defend wrestling’s racism and also give pointers on how to be portray a racially insensitive wrestling character. And Tommy Dreamer also showed up to prove he was cool with racism in wrestling, but not as cool as he was about boning six chicks at once. On the other end of the spectrum, Jimmy Fallon’s approach to presenting wrestling on The Tonight Show was much like Fallon himself: fun loving and void of any controversy or insight. He also had on one of WWE’s biggest superstars, The Undertaker, along with one of their most recently future-endeavored ones, Brad Maddox dressed up as a turkey. It was apparently Maddox’s last-ditch effort at a gimmick change.
While Arrow‘s Stephen Amell entered a feud against Stardust, Stardust never made a cameo as a non-DC Universe villain on said show. So, that’s about as much as I’m going to talk about that. Plus, it didn’t bring as much mainstream media coverage as Jon Stewart’s involvement with the WWE. Much like Jon Stewart’s wrestling fan cred, wrestling references on The Daily Show were slowly rising throughout the last year and a half. With his disbelief in the Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak coming to an end, to a short segment devoted to WWE’s Lana claiming America was blaming Russia for “current events” shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Stewart proved to be a true celebrity wrestling fan, even going so far as to not get involved with the product and appearing somewhat uncomfortable while shown in the front row of a WWE event. But then in 2015, something happened.
With his upcoming departure from The Daily Show looming, Stewart said to hell with integrity and decided to get involved with the WWE in a major way. First, Seth Rollins taunted Stewart on his own show. Then, Stewart defended himself against Rollins on Raw and kicked him square in the nads. Then, despite being rivals, Rollins presented Stewart with his own WWE Championship title, complete with custom made Daily Show side plates. Weird, right? Then, Jon Stewart showed up at SummerSlam and helped Seth Rollins win and cost John Cena his chance at winning the WWE World Title for a 16th time. Why? Because Stewart, like most hardcore wrestling fans, didn’t want Cena to tie Ric Flair’s 16-time world title record. And most of the crowd on Raw agreed and even thanked him. So what did John Cena do? He gave America’s most trusted and respected newsman an Attitude Adjustment for his troubles.
There was also news of Fox doing a wrestling drama, but news about television networks ordering pilots of wrestling shows happen as often as Chris Jericho returning to the WWE.
WWE heavily promoted the hell out of Terminator Genisys, including making it the theme of Triple H’s entrance at WrestleMania, and adding different Terminators as playable characters in WWE 2K16, but the WWE, or wrestling itself, was in no way represented in the movie. It seems like WWE is looking to remedy that in 2016, having announced in October that Josh “Olaf” Gad, of all people, is co-writing the biopic of Gorgeous George for WWE Studios. Here’s hoping WWE casts Simon Gotch in the role of Lou Thesz.
WWE did put out another wrestling-themed animated movie: The Flintstones & WWE: Stone Age Smackdown, continuing to prove WWE’s relevancy when it comes to knowing what their PG-targeted audience is into. Looking forward to the SpongeBob SquarePants & WWE: Bash at the Beach animated movie 30 years from now. WWE’s animated venture wasn’t the only family-friendly wrestling-themed movie to come out in 2015, though: for those of you who ever wondered what an Air Bud movie set in the world of pro wrestling would look like no longer had to suffer thanks to the release of Russell Madness, a film that was clearly supposed to be called Russell Mania. The actual wrestler role in this movie belonged to John Hennigan A.K.A. John Morrison A.K.A. Johnny Mundo. Sadly, Lucha Underground was not involved in the production of it.
Rounding out the rest of the film genres, in drama, Bleak Street told the sad tale of two Mexican mini luchadores meeting their fates at the hands of two mature hookers. It’s in black and white, foreign, and was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, clearly beating out Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler as the most indie art-house wrestling film ever. In comedy, and I use the term comedy very loosely, NXT head coach, Jason Albert A.K.A. Matthew Bloom, for some reason starred in Dog Wedding. On the plus side, Albert didn’t stray too far from his bread and butter as he portrayed an actual wrestler who falls for an uptight German businesswoman. Hilarity comes to a screeching halt. Actually, I don’t know I haven’t watched it yet, but based on the trailer… Woof!
The documentary The Resurrection of Jake the Snake also premiered this year and somehow managed not to become a 90-minute infomercial for DDP Yoga. This movie was the spiritual sequel to Beyond the Mat that most wrestling die-hards needed and were hoping for. John Cena shocked everyone with his scene-stealing cameo in Amy Schumer’s hilarious Trainwreck. Even though he wasn’t portraying himself, or even a wrestler, it was pretty obvious that his role was loosely based on Dolph Ziggler. It’s just a shame Ziggler wasn’t tapped to reprise his own role. Cena also threw in a Koko B. Ware reference so that counts.
Here’s hoping pro wrestling doesn’t suffer a shoulder injury and continues being featured in pop culture content in 2016!