Despite what some may say, wrestling is art; a physical display of Good vs. Evil, Right vs. Wrong, Champion vs. Contender. The storylines can be over-the-top, or simple, yet visceral. Lovers scorned, a battle of wills, proving you’re the best, or a warring faction dominating a company; anything goes. Ubiquitous as it is, art often imitates life. We live in a world where most of us support dual identities — our real-world selves, and our digital counterparts; how we manage our identities online and through social media.
Over the past several years wrestlers, promoters, announcers, and the larger wrestling community at large have been using digital outlets for their unique purposes. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, podcasts, and the ever-pervasive YouTube can provide new avenues to reach your audience andtarget a specific demographic. With that in mind, here are the top 10 wrestlers owning the social media landscape.
The artist formerly known to fans as Neville is worthy of your following, in and out of the ring. After a prolonged hiatus from Twitter, PAC returned to pro wrestling in November. In the wee hours of the morning on November 7th, his tweets soon followed, “I’M BACK YA SHITS!!!”. Having returned to the indie scene, PAC was on the grind once again, using social media to promote his bookings and reach fans across the globe.
“Smarks” for independent wrestling were salivating at the thought of PAC letting loose in the ring once again. Suffice to say, it worked. Since debuting in Japan’s Dragon Gate, PAC has been on a winning streak across the best wrestling associations the east has to offer, namely OTT out of Ireland and RevPro in the UK. Dream matches continue to be booked, and fans couldn’t be happier. PAC vs. Will Ospreay for RevPro has sold out to the surprise of absolutely no one.
Self-promotion aside, PAC’s greatest gift to the Twitterverse is his ability to roast anyone and anything. A fan wishes him happy birthday? PAC rips him apart regardless of the well-wishes. The locales he frequents for his matches? Mocked before arriving, then torn to shreds on the way out. His recent success?All PAC, with no thanks to the fans or anyone else for that matter. What’s not to love?
9) Joey Ryan
In a new age of wrestling, remaining in character 24/7 is a thing of the past, a tradition left to the ways of old. But that doesn’t mean maintaining some consistency isn’t respected. Many of the wrestlers on this list made the cut for allowing their character to bleed through to their social media outlets, usually for “Heel” work. Joey Ryan the man is nothing like Joey Ryan, the wrestler. Ryan is surprisingly soft-spoken, respectable, and genuinely gregarious. Joey Ryan, the wrestler is what happens when cheap ’70s porn meets modern day wrestling.
Joey Ryan slips into the number 9 slot for shedding light on the life of a wrestler while simultaneously exuding filth; after all, this is the famous dick wrestler known the world over. What else do you expect when his Twitter bio reads as follows: “Famous Dick Wrestler. King of Dong Style. Bringing Sleazy Back”. Take a ride down the rabbit hole of his DM’s, and you will find an amalgam of candid behind the scenes photos combined with video of Dick Flips. If you haven’t had the privilege of witnessing a dick flip, you’re in for an oddly satisfying display of ironic wrestling. With over 100 thousand followers on both Twitter and Instagram, Ryan must be doing something right. Maybe it’s the baby oil?
8) Tama Tonga
Bullet Club O.G. is an NJPW voice for English speaking audiences, with curse words, fart jokes, and self-righteous back-patting thrown in for good measure. Bullet Club has lasted longer than many factions and manages to re-establish itself with each new leader that takes the reins. The recent split among the Elite and the Firing Squad — the O.G. faction of Bullet Club — has the left the stable seeking a new identity. “Switch Blade” Jay White is serving as a figure head leader, but the real power lies with long-standing member Tama Tonga, and he isn’t shy of reminding you of just that.
After the Firing Squad turned on the members of the Elite, Tonga has taken to social media to remind the world that Bullet Club remains strong, now and forever. He has taken shots at the Elite with colorful wording, claims to be on the lookout for the best recruits, but most importantly he appears unrestricted in posting clips of NJPW footage — footage of his faction destroying the competition, but NJPW footage nonetheless. An argument can be made that Tonga has yet to assume full leadership of the Club, but Tonga will quickly — and gladly — correct that statement, with a few F-bombs and some unique ways to describe your mother. If you want exciting content on your feed, add Tonga to the mix.
7) Joey Janella
The naysayers will tell you hardcore wrestling isn’t what it once was. Tell that to Joey Janela, the self-proclaimed “Bad Boy” of wrestling. Janela is best known for taking the bumps that most wrestlers wouldn’t even consider. Self-imposed bodily harm maybe his initial claim to fame, but Janela has grown into a man of many talents; his work as a promoter on the independent scene has improved exponentially, presenting a prolific future endeavor once he hangs up his trunks. That’s not saying he isn’t a respected promoter today. Joey Janela’s Spring Break was presented by Game Changer Wrestling (GCW) in 2017 over WrestleMania weekend and has social media buzzing. The show was an unequivocal success and fueled the outcry for more events: Joey Janela’s Lost in New York, Joey Janela’s L.A. Confidential, and more Spring Break outings (even in winter). Janela promotes all his work on social media via a Twitter account that is funny, informative and promotes not just himself, but his wrestling associates, providing insightful anecdotes to the fans along the way. A recent leg injury has not held Joey back; he used the injury in a joint venture with Joey Ryan to sell a new T-shirt featuring the “Broken Joeys.”
For many, their introduction to Joey Janela was his brutal brawl with Hangman Page during All In. To glean some insight into his past and future, I highly suggest Please Don’t Die, a short documentary that can be found on YouTube, covering Janela’s career up to the end of 2016. Most notable is Janela’s insights into the infamous roof bump that nearly cost him his thumb and possibly his life. Regardless of the medium, Janela remains a wrestler who connects with his fans and understands how to do so in the digital age.
6) Zack Ryder
A founding father of online fan interaction, Zack Ryder built a following via untraditional means before everyone and their mother hopped on the digital bandwagon. His digital presence garnered more flourish than his WWE work or lack thereof. Growing his following through his YouTube sensation Z! True Long Island Story, the account became a mouthpiece for Ryder’s frustrations over WWE creative’s snub of his character. He was being underutilized and projected as much. However, what began as an outlet to reach the fans and rise from the lower card became something different altogether…
His love of toys and the unsatiated hunt for the next find became the prominent focus of Zack’s channel. The perpetual cycle of buying, selling, and working on his collection is a new direction that serves Ryder well. His outlets have become an amalgam of toys, the business, and his adoration for everything Disney. It has transformed into a hodgepodge of pop culture fun worth your follow.
5) Chris Jericho
I struggle to think of any aspect of wrestling (and life for that matter) Chris Jericho has failed at. He strives to reach the fans and does so with aplomb. His Twitter and Instagram presence is commendable, enough so to inform fans of his work in NJPW and aid in filling an entire cruise ship with vacationing fans for the Jericho Cruise. However, where Jericho has indeed reached audiences is through the aptly titled Talk is Jericho Podcast. Had anyone told you how successful and prolific podcasts would be ten years ago, you wouldn’t have believed them. Cut to 2018 where everyone under the sun has a podcast covering nearly any subject you can imagine.
Chris Jericho wasn’t the first or the last, but he is among the best wrestlers to have a podcast. The subject matter reaches beyond the ropes and covers all areas of interest, including rock and roll and the supernatural, but yes, there is plenty of wrestling. Jericho even combined two of his ventures when he interviewed the Elite on the Jericho Cruise; it was here that Matt Jackson officially announced that the Elite would no longer be a part of Bullet Club. Early in 2018 Jericho shocked the world when he ventured to NJPW to face off against Kenny Omega. The match established Jericho’s new status as a man unrestricted by WWE; his guests over the past year have reflected as much, including many of indie wrestling’s finest. Unequivocally, Jericho is the very definition of reinvention; despite his age, he managed to remain relevant to the times and even remain ahead of the pack. For a man nearing 50, that is quite a feat.
4) Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch is on the cusp of superstardom, toying with thepossibilities of how high a female wrestler can reach. “The Man” has finally arrived. For the uninitiated, the term doesn’t refer to gender (not currently anyway). Rather, it’s a term used for the person holding up the company regarding popularity. Despite WWE’s best efforts to turn Becky heel, the fans have spoken. Her star has risen, and she is something of an anti-hero akin to the Stone Cold days from the Attitude Era. Becky has thrown herself head first into the character, both on television and her DM’s.
Gone are the days of Becky Lynch posing with her fellow Horsewomen for photo ops; bubbly smiles and the “we all love each other” vibes are in the rear view mirror. Becky has embraced the brutish no-nonsense gimmick, carrying the persona over to Twitter. She claps back at Ronda Rousey with biting retort, using the outlet to inform (and remind) the audience of her intent (or is it malintent?), and is willing to start feuds with any takers, man or woman. Recently, she’s been having a go with Chris Jericho of all people — she just refuses to back down. Granted, it may be a work on the part of both parties to maintain the illusion of hatred, but it works. Her status would inarguably be higher on this list if the man at the number three spot didn’t have a long-standing stranglehold on maintaining kayfabe and epitomizing what a true heel can be in 2018…
3) Tommaso Ciampa
Throughout this list you’ll notice a prevalent theme of kayfabe. In today’s world the proverbial cat is out of the bag: wrestling is pre-determined (Shocker!). However, there is a collective agreement to play into the ruse and enjoy the show. With so few professional wrestlers adhering to the custom, Ciampa is a breath of fresh air. During tapings, he mocks the fans and attacks his opponents both physically and mentally. Online, he is no different. Few heels draw so much ire from their respective audience, and Ciampa does so with ease. Ever since becoming the NXT Champion, the loathing has only grown. Every storybook contender for his throne has the backing of the fans, yet they have all failed. Throw in Ciampa mocking both the audience and his opponents through every outlet possible, and you have a new-age heel for fellow heel wrestlers to strive to become.
Ciampa’s Twitter empowers the character and promotes events within the NXT Universe. If a fan tweets at him with praise, he shuts down the compliment and reacts with hate. When there is an NXT Championship match ahead, the preceding weeks are filled with tirades and personal attacks towards anyone willing to listen. All this would be mouth service if Ciampa didn’t have the capability to back it up in the ring. There is a paradox in Ciampa — I never genuinely perceived him as one of the great wrestlers of the modern generation, yet somehow, he continues to put out high-quality matches time and time again. I have yet to be disappointed.
Recently, Ciampa has been pulling for Jonny Gargano’s turn. The lengthy storyline has yet to run its full course. The current state of Gargano vs. Ciampa has seen Jonny become the very thing he hates, a reflection of Ciampa. I have no doubt in my mind that there’s plenty more to come, but in the meantime, the twisted relationship between the men continues to fester on television and in Ciampa’s tweets subtly. Here’s to rooting for the nasty.
2) The Elite
Granted, listing an entire stable of wrestlers is a bit of a cheat, but come on, this is Bulle… er… I mean The Elite we are talking about here. While creating this list, I struggled with the placement of wrestlers. Ciampa, Creed, The Elite, and Becky Lynch all could easily have made the number one spot. The Elite reached their current place for two reasons: remaining connected to the fans, and the media barrage that culminated in history; ALL IN.
ALL IN paid off on The Elite’s narratives that built steam over the past few years. The Elite’s YouTube Channel “Being the Elite” approaches storytelling from a unique perspective. Typical wrestling plots take place in and around the ring or at best in the arena. The Elite takes the stories to the group’s hotels, across the city of Tokyo, and even T.G.I. Fridays. Yet, in the end, the climax of all these intricate stories will take in the ring, where it belongs. Recently, across all channels (YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram) the crew has been foreshadowing what happens on January 1st when their contracts with their respective promotions expire.
Like all entertainment, the product would be nothing without the fans. The men and women who dedicate their time, attention, and money to the product. The support of the fans doesn’t go unnoticed by The Elite. The Young Bucks stay connected with their audience through Instagram, but primarily Twitter. The reach out to thank them, upload pictures of signings, and somehow always find time to appreciate it when the audience tweets their gratitude to the Bucks. Cody is no slouch either — one example comes to mind. A fan tweeted his dilemma: he has had cancer, and the cost of treatment was depleting his funds. Cody offered to fly the fan out to an event, covering the cost of the trip and the event. It speaks volumes when any entertainer can truly value the people who make their jobs worthwhile.
1) Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods, known online as Austin Creed, barely tops the Elite in this list because of the sheer number his YouTube channel, Up Up Down Down, continues to produce. If you haven’t had the privilege to tune in to his videos, do yourself a favor and watch some. Unlike Becky Lynch and Tommaso Ciampa, however, Creed represents himself as the person, not the gimmick. His personality shines, and the same goes for his guests. The channel is a who’s who of the WWE Universe joining Creed as they play games together (cooperatively and competitively) while being interviewed by Creed or engaged in heated competition. Either way, the best of everyone’s personalities are exhibited.
The blend of gaming and WWE Superstars is a potent combination. But that’s the best part of the show, Creed bringing in his superstar friends for a fun engagement. The shows vary enough to warrant continued watching. The Miz has lost some of his titles (replicas of past title wins) to Creed over Street Fighter on Monday. Seth Rollins, the Ascension, and Aiden English battle it out in a brawler — chock full of trash talk and rage on Tuesday. Then Stephanie McMahon may have a laid-back interview discussing her philanthropy on Wednesday (*side note: she isn’t the troll she appears to be on TV.)
Most notable is the sheer numbers of followers the channel has accrued. As of this writing, UpUpDownDown is edging closer to 2 million subscribers and a whopping 1,903 videos, with no end in sight. Creed has become a bonafide YouTube sensation. He has found a means to expand the WWE Universe and build himself a fruitful new venture. Over Survivor Series weekend, the channel held the League of Legends challenge. Members of WWE main roster were pitted against NXT Superstars in a League of Legends tournament. The channel has been so successful that WWE has joined the fray and worked with Creed to promote the UpUpDownDown; a testament to how far Creed’s presence has reached.
There you have it; 10 wrestlers owning the social media landscape. However, bear in mind that each new day brings new wrestlers jumping into the digital world, and long-standing users upping their game. Let us know who you think has excellent social media presence and deserves to make a list.