Before I start, I want to take a quick shout-out to a friend of mine whose blog was the inspiration for this post. She covers various contemporary topics in the world of fashion and offers tips that will help elevate your look. If you are interested in immersing yourself in an bountiful ocean of fashion knowledge, I highly recommend you stop by Charisa Explains It All on WordPress. That being said, it is my pleasure to jump headfirst into a topic that blends the world of fashion and professional wrestling into one neat package: ring attire. A wrestler’s attire is very much important in capturing the essence of the performer who wears it and helps bump them from being a one-dimensional in-ring performer to a larger-than-life personality. In the rich history of professional wrestling, there have been a litany of impressive wardrobes that elevated their wearers to the forefront of pop culture, but today, only 20 will be inducted in “The Ripper’s wRestling Review Hall of Fame.”
20. The Honky Tonk Man
Our list of great wrestling costumes begins with Elvis impersonator and self-professed “greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time,” The Honky Tonk Man. Back in the mid-to-late ’80s, fans were “all shook up” when HTM would roll into arenas in a pink Cadillac alongside “Colonel” Jimmy Hart. Even though Honky Tonk received as bad a reception as Harum Scarum, he has to be considered today as one of the best at embracing his role as a cocky, conniving and deceptive villain that did anything and everything necessary to win. His rockabilly-inspired velour suits combined with his tights often imprinted with titles of Elvis singles all helped HTM play his villainous role to a hilt and made the experience of when he finally lost the IC Title to The Ultimate Warrior that much more cathartic.
19. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
Hailing from Robbinsdale, MN, Curt Hennig’s wrestling ability was so crisp and fluid that he could have worn footie pajamas and still would have electrified audiences. At a time in the business where just about everybody had over-the-top, colorful costumes, Mr. Perfect stood out just by wearing a brightly-colored amateur wrestling singlet that varied over the years between one and two tones. It was without a doubt the Perfect wardrobe for the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame inductee and those of you who have a gripe about Mr. Perfect being inducted for his simplistic attire, chew on this little morsel from YouTube user Dr. Ether.
18. “The Model” Rick Martel
One of the most underrated talents in the last 30 years of professional wrestling has to be Canadian grappler Rick Martel. At first glance, Martel’s pink trunks, movie-star good looks and sports coat fashioned into a scarf makes him look more like a member of an elite country club, but his resume as a WWF World Tag Team Champion and AWA World Heavyweight Champion suggests otherwise. Add a propensity for blinding opponents with his own fragrance he dubbed “Arrogance” with his sharp technical skill and the end result is a cocky yet credible competitor whose antics may stick in the craw of opponents and audience members but will ascend him up the rankings.
17. Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow had a fiery intensity that stood out in his 21-year career, whether it was in gritty feuds with names like Bret Hart, “Nasty Boy” Brian Knobbs, Shane Douglas, Tazz or even NFL legend Lawrence Taylor or even through his attire. The acrobatic superheavyweight was noted for his suit emblazoned with a multitude of flames and a vermillion logo on the front that represented his initials. Heck, “The Beast From The East” even had flames tattooed over a large portion of his head. To further cement his relationship with fire, Bigelow rescued three children from a burning house in his New Jersey neighborhood. With a 400-pound frame accompanied by an awe-inspiring moveset normally associated with a cruiserweight wrestler, Bam Bam was one of the greatest big men competitors of all time and his attire was the perfect embodiment of his fiery determination. Anybody who was crazy enough to antagonize him ultimately got burned in the end.
16. The Big Boss Man
One person you definitely did not want to cross paths with whenever you are touring Cobb County, GA, is the burly behemoth known as The Big Boss Man. A former corrections officer down that way, he was infamous for introducing WWF opponents to his unique brand of justice, whether it was putting them down with his spinning side slam or introducing them to the business end of his trusted nightstick. His blue buttoned shirt, complete with badges and nametag, was also instrumental in defining his role as the wrestling law enforcer. Worn by someone else, the costume would have fallen flat, but the way that Boss Man came out toting his nightstick with a set of sunglasses on helped make his character and his uniform that much more appealing. Of all of the wrestling gimmicks centered around occupations, Big Boss Man was truly a gem to look back on. Hats off to the tailor who gave Boss Man his signature threads in the late ’80s to early ’90s for creating one of the most distinguishable occupation-based costumes in wrestling history!
15. Kamala The Ugandan Giant
In 1974, James Harris, a wrestler from Senatobia, MS, debuted in the Southern wrestling scene. After developing his style in the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, TN, he would later find what would turn out to be one of the most unique gimmicks in wrestling history: Kamala. Hailing from the African country of Uganda, Kamala was a headhunter whose appetite ranged from live chickens to human flesh. It has been said that at one point, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin had “The Ugandan Giant” on his payroll as a bodyguard. Just by looking at Kamala, it is safe to say that Amin did not have to worry about too many assailants. In terms of presentation, Kamala’s attire consisted of symmetrical white face paint and body paint that often came in the form of two white six-pointed stars on his chest and a yellow crescent moon on his stomach. He also was distinguished by his choice in undergarments: a leopard-printed loincloth. Clocking in at six-foot-seven and weighing 380 pounds, the barefoot Kamala looked very much like a wild savage and succeeds in presenting a daunting challenge for opponents with weak constitutions.
14. The Berzerker
Back in the days of Vikings, there were a group of these Germanic warriors that were recorded in Old Norse literature for their reputation to battle in an uncontrollable trance-like fury. These barbarians were named Berserkers. Now that that little history lesson is over, I hope that acts as a suitable preface for this character. Meet The Berzerker, a wrestler from Minnesota who was famous for defeating his opponents by brutalizing them to the point where he would throw them out of the ring and they would be unable to make it back in by the count of 10. With unique mannerisms such as shouting “huss” over and over again as well as licking the back of his hands, Berzerker would never be mistaken for being a Rhodes scholar. However, something has to be said about his unique ring attire. The Berzerker came to arenas in a tunic and horned helmet while brandishing a sword and shield. Perhaps the most innovative of his articles of clothing are his white fur-covered boots, a precursor to what the fashion world would see with Jersey Shore starlet Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi.
13. The One Man Gang
Before making headway in the World Wrestling Federation, The One Man Gang built a reputation in territories like Mid-South Wrestling and World Class Championship Wrestling for laying out opponents with his 747 Splash and dominating the territories’ top stars. The name was apropos considering that when you say him, you would say, “O.M.G.” Easy to see why considering that the 400-pound Gang came shambling down to the ring wearing black full-bodied wrestling gear complimented by skulls and crossbones located around the upper part of his arms. To further accent his street toughness, OMG had a ripped denim jacket, a skull-designed bandana over his forehead, a grizzly-looking beard and mohawk, a set of biker boots and even some chains. If judging wrestling attire was based solely on how intimidating the attire made the wearer look, then there would be no question that the One Man Gang had one of the finest get-ups in wrestling history. Although far from an artistic masterpiece, Gang’s attire succeeds in getting the message across that nobody should mess with him whether you see him in the streets of Chicago or in the wrestling rings nationwide.
14. Jushin “Thunder” Liger
A one-two punch into both the realm of professional wrestling and the realm of Japanese manga, the anime-inspired gimmick of Jushin “Thunder” Liger is complemented by his superhero-esque body suit and a demonic-looking horned mask designed to mirror the heroes depicted in tokusatsu and anime programs. Perhaps the only thing that could have been considered as animated as his attire has to be the repertoire he employed between the late ’80s and the late ’90s. Even when he switched to a ground attack style of wrestling in his later years, the sight of Jushin “Thunder” Liger in a wrestling ring is proof that the marriage of anime and pro wrestling was a successful one.
13. The Fabulous Freebirds
If any one wrestling group captured the essence of the 1980s through their attire, it had to be The Fabulous Freebirds. A rough and tumble trio hailing from Badstreet, U.S.A., competitors in World Class Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling faced the daunting task of facing the well-oiled machine comprised of the witty and fiery Michael “P.S.” Hayes, the cocky yet skilled Buddy “Jack” Roberts and the massive “Bam Bam” Terry Gordy. There are a number of reasons why The Fabulous Freebirds can be considered one of the most greatest tag teams in wrestling history. It could be the fact that they were among the first in the industry to incorporate rock-and-roll theme music into their entrances. It could be the fact that their own recorded song “Badstreet, U.S.A.” transcended pro wrestling and became as ingrained in the Dirty South as Lynard Skynard and Jack Daniels. It could be the fact that their cavalier attitude mixed with their flamboyant entrances and their 1980s hair band appearance all blended to create some of the first cool bad guys in pro wrestling history. Whatever the reason, The Fabulous Freebirds hold a warm place in my heart as the perfect blend of charisma, skill and muscle as well as being three unique personalities that beamed through the television sets. For anybody that is crazy enough to try to call them out on their turf in Badstreet, U.S.A., hopefully this YouTube video from user cKreepy Jones is sufficient evidence that The Fabulous Freebirds are not to be trifled with.
With adjectives such as homicidal, suicidal, genocidal and death-defying used to describe Sabu, it is safe to say that the man billed from Bombay, MI, is not famous for cracking jokes or being the sentimental type. For years, Sabu, the nephew of The Original Sheik, cut his teeth amongst other parts of his body in a myriad of brutal death matches overseas in Japan. When he came to the states and competed in Extreme Championship Wrestling, he earned a reputation for being willing to physically destroy himself just so he could inflict punishment on his adversaries. Perhaps the most grisly example of this trait was Sabu’s encounter with Terry Funk in a match where all the ring ropes were replaced with barbed wire. Even when Sabu suffered a deep 10-inch cut to one of his biceps, he merely took tape and used it to cover the wound just so he could continue beating up Funk. Aside from being famed for his brand of brutality, “The Modern Day Kamikaze” is easily distinguished by his brightly-colored parachute pants as well as a cotton headdress known as a ghutrah that is inspired by his Middle Eastern roots. Sabu was never known for being loquacious, but his attire speaks volumes. It tells his opponents that he is a man proud of his heritage, a man not afraid to fight and a man who is always ready to take a gamble.
11. The Brooklyn Brawler
What do the waistline of a Miss America pageant winner, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage and the allotted amount of characters in a Twitter message have in common? They are all bigger than the win-loss record of journeyman Steve Lombardi, known to WWF fans as The Brooklyn Brawler. Brawler was not the type of guy that you would see getting fitted in Giorgio Armani suits and Bruno Magli shoes. He was a rowdy street tough with a gruff voice and a taste in tattered Yankees shirts and ripped blue jeans. Since the late ’80s, wrestling fans were treated to the sight of the cigar-chomping Brawler spending more time laid out on his back than a client at a tanning booth. Not even Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, manager extraordinaire that elevated household names like Andre The Giant, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Mr. Perfect, could transform the Brawler from an unkempt street thug into a credible championship contender. Even though he would be dominated by the likes of The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker, Big Show and The Rock, the Brawler’s determination against physically and athletically superior opponents showcased a heart as big as the five boroughs of New York. He was not the fastest. He was not the strongest. He was not the biggest. He certainly was not the flashiest. However, just by looking at Brawler’s attire, you can see a man who still continues to scrape and fight for a victory even when being constantly subjected to hard times. If anything, The Brooklyn Brawler may be one of the toughest competitors in wrestling history.
10. Tiger Mask I
In 1981, the Japanese wrestling world was intertwined with the world of anime, a combination that would result in successful concepts like Jushin “Thunder” Liger who appeared earlier in our countdown and of course, Tiger Mask. Distinguished by his orange and black mask designed to resemble a tiger as well as colorful tights, typically royal blue, the original Tiger Mask’s journey from the two-dimensional realm of anime to the three-dimensional world of professional wrestling was made a successful one thanks in large part to Satoru Sayama, the man who was the first to don the whisker-clad mask. His five-star matches with The Dynamite Kid and Black Tiger were exhilarating contests that were trending long before the advent of social media. Today, Sayama has hung up the fabled feral feline face mask. In the years that followed, however, the legacy of Tiger Mask continued with names like the late Mitsuharu Misawa, Koji Kanemoto, Yoshihiro Yamazaki and Ikuhisa Minowa. Much credit has to be given to Sayama for being the one to start Tiger Mask’s storied legacy in professional wrestling and being able to turn a cartoon character into a larger-than-life personality that is still a celebrated pillar of professional wrestling.
9. “Superstar” Billy Graham
With a bodybuilder physique, taste in colorful attire, exceptional interview skills and a charisma that resonated with fans across the nation in spite of the fact that he was a dye-in-the-wool villain, “Superstar” Billy Graham was a trailblazer in the pro wrestling world. At a time when the landscape of professional wrestling was a bare bones, tough-as-nails combat sport, Graham provided a unique contrast with his Muhammad Ali-like interviews and an expansive array of outfits that encompass every color and pattern known to man. To all the critics who saw Graham as nothing more than a pretty boy, I offer this YouTube video from user TheCRAZYCAT68 as evidence that Graham could not only survive but thrive in intense match atmospheres.
Not only did his attire capture his colorful personality, but his signature goatee and thick pythons would be elements incorporated by names like Scott Steiner and Hulk Hogan. ‘Nuff said.
8. Captain Lou Albano
Perhaps the most prolific manager in wrestling history has to be Captain Lou Albano. Initially a tag team competitor who captured the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship alongside Tony Altimore in an obscure tandem known as The Sicilians, Albano eventually left active in-ring competition in favor of becoming a wrestling manager. In his 25 years as a wrestling manager, 15 different tag teams and four singles competitors were led to championship gold. His most famous conquest was leading Ivan Koloff to an unexpected world championship victory over Bruno Sammartino, effectively ending Sammartino’s near eight-year reign atop the WWWF. When he was not busy leading contenders like Don Muraco and The Wild Samoans to championship success, he helped bridge the divide between pro wrestling and pop culture with his involvement in several Cyndi Lauper music videos and being the voice of Super Mario. In addition to surrounding himself with gold, Albano was famous for his unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts, wild facial hair and a unique accessory: rubber bands. The result was a frenetic yet entertaining package that further provides credibility to Albano’s catchphrase: “Often imitated, never duplicated.”
7. Gorgeous George
Back when professional wrestling made the jump from a legitimate contact sport to the form of entertainment it is today, one wrestler would set the tone for what would be one of the most common tropes in the realm of pro wrestling: the arrogant heel. During the ’40s and ’50s, George Wagner turned the heads of audiences live in venues and watching on television with his exaggerated effeminate behavior and outrageous displays of unsportsmanlike behavior. At a time in the business where the focus was primarily on hard-nosed catch wrestling, the notion of an arrogant and deceptive competitor coming down to rings in robes lined with sequin and lace was just unheard of. Wagner did not mind the overwhelmingly negative reception audiences across the country gave him. In fact, “The Human Orchid” relished the fact that he was able to stick it to the audiences in any way possible, be it forcing the referee to spray his hands with disinfectant before allowing him to check George for foreign objects or securing the Boston version of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. In terms of contributing to the realm of wrestling attire, his stunning robes decked out in sequin and lace and his platinum blonde hair filled with gold-plated bobby pins made him a visual knockout. Elements of George’s flamboyancy would be picked up throughout the rest of the 20th century and well into the modern era of wrestling. In the end, his unique look and revolutionary approach to pro wrestling would set the template for loudmouthes, braggarts, self-promoters, gloryhounds and many other members of the rogues’ gallery of wrestling.
6. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
In addition to having four different houses that he could crash at depending on the season, a custom championship belt that today is worth somewhere in the $40,000 to $50,000 price range and a collection of over 30 titles, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase enjoys having one of the finest costumes in wrestling history. As the well-to-do DiBiase’s signature cackle blared through their speakers of whatever venue he was in, fans in attendance turned their heads at the sight of “The Million Dollar Man” walking to his matches dressed in a distinct black and gold tuxedo complete with dollar sign patterns. The suit made it loud and clear that DiBiase was all about the Benjamins and by the end of the night, he would be walking away with the winner’s share of the purse. It was also a very strategic facade that DiBiase employed: underneath the exterior of a rich and powerful gentleman who basked in all the benefits brought about by his enormous wealth lies a merciless brute who will physically dissect and torture his enemies until victory is his.
5. The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal)
Oh, what a rush! If there was a tag team that would fit Captain Lou Albano’s catchphrase “often imitated, never duplicated,” it would have to be The Road Warriors. Bursting onto the scene in the early ’80s, Joseph Laurinaitis (Animal) and Michael Hegstrand (Hawk) made the metamorphosis from two bouncers at a Minneapolis dive bar to two dominant marauders reminiscent of those depicted in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. With distinct face paint designs, spiked shoulder pads and unique takes on the mohawk hairstyle, Animal and Hawk succeeded in intimidating anybody that had the misfortune of having to wrestle them. Their annihilation of other tag teams between North America and Japan combined with a desire to buck tradition made The Road Warriors a popular tag team with both critics and fans. At a time where pro wrestling was at the cusp of pop culture, the unique look that The Road Warriors possessed helped elevate the territory they wrestled in to unbelievable heights.
4. Hulk Hogan
In January 1984, the wrestling world ushered in a new era when Hulk Hogan upended The Iron Sheik for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. As Hogan celebrated his title victory in the ring, commentator Gorilla Monsoon summed up the moment with these words: “Hulkamania is here!” The very colors that he wore that night, red kneepads and yellow trunks and boots, would become as associated with the Hulkster as his demandments to the younger audience members to say their prayers, drink their milk and eat their vitamins as well as his “Real American” theme song. Those two colors, as simplistic as they were, complemented Hogan and have come to be a symbol of when the wrestling business emerged from the wilderness that was the territory format to a streamlined product with better production values and a warm place in the heart of popular culture.
3. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
To anyone who believes that pink is a sissy color that has no place in the big and masculine world of professional wrestling, I offer Bret “The Hitman” Hart as evidence supporting the color. Nicknamed “The Pink and Black Attack,” Hart’s crisp technical skills, unrivaled determination and passion for the wrestling business were so amazing that in time, pink was not seen as this wimpy color, but actually as a symbol of toughness. His neon pink, white and black tights, often paired with an in-ring jacket that is reminiscent of the attire worn by The Beatles during their Sgt. Pepper days, was not only visually appealing but also a combination that oozes a level of ’90s era cool that nobody in his generation could rival.
2. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Ooohhh, yeahhhh! Few wrestlers could pull off an diverse range of wardrobes and make them a reflection of his personality. Judging by the fact that he was able to pull off a bright pink set of wrestling trunks, an array of Technicolor robes and fringe jackets comprised of multiple neon colors, “Macho Man” Randy Savage was in fact one of those wrestlers. Early in his career, Savage was distinguished by bright capes and robes punctuated by colorful trunks decked out in stars and his name in block letters. When the Macho Man entered the later part of his wrestling career, the trunks disappeared in favor of jackets and tights made up of garish combinations of colors and patterns. Although the sight of some of Macho Man’s wardrobes would make a fashionista plotz, wrestling fans can appreciate that his choices in wardrobe perfectly captured both the showmanship and the unpredictability that Randy Savage was famous for.
And now, the number one costume in the Ripper’s wRestling Review Hall of Fame is………….
1. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
It is only natural that the man who “styled and profiled” since the 1970s would find his way at the top of this last. Although his in-ring attire was a set of trunks and wrestling boots, the wardrobes he wore before the bell rang were nothing short of breathtaking. Channeling the flamboyancy of predecessors like “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers and Gorgeous George, Flair strutted down to rings wearing only the finest custom made suits or the finest custom made robes. His taste in the best suits and robes that money could buy fit his character well and made him very versatile. Whether he played the role of the hero who conducted himself like a gentleman at business meetings abroad representing his company or the role as the arrogant braggart who had no time for anyone or anything except beautiful women and life in the fast lane, Naitch’s attire fit the situations well and made him larger than life as a result.
Well, that does it for Ripper’s Top 20 wRestling Costumes! Thank you for joining me on this journey chronicling the very finest in in-ring attire.
See you next time!