The WWF may have been the most patriotic American institution during the '80s and '90s; it turned Hulk Hogan into one of the biggest symbols of patriotism in recent memory. But there's a fine line between patriotism and nationalism, which the WWF straddled for years.
By using jingoist superstars like Hogan and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, American wrestling took stereotypes from different countries and turned them into tangible, unforgettable characters. These characters were real-life representations of how America perceived other countries... and most of those characters were played by Americans.
The "foreign heels," as they are referred to in wrestling, are villainous characters or the "bad guys" in wrestling plots. They can exhibit unlikable personality traits specific to their background or behave immorally, but the point of their existence is to antagonize the "face" (the crowd favorite).
We've found a few of the most cringe-worthy foreign heels of the WWF/WWE during the '80s and '90s. Rest assured that the foreign heels haven't been worn down in the past two decades, either.
Shtick:The Iron Sheik was born in Tehran, Iran. When the Sheik was first starting out with the NWA, America was involved in the Persian Gulf War, so the Sheik made the perfect villain; Sheiky Baby played on the animosity that Americans harbored toward his country. Today Sheiky Baby (or someone who talks like him) maintains a hilariously off-color Twitter account.
Theme Song: Sheiky Baby's theme song was aptly called "Desert Threat," and he used three different versions throughout his career. You can watch his Titantron footage with the accompanying song.
Shtick:With his partner Dynamite Kid, the British Bulldog, or Davey Boy Smith, was originally half of the tag team The British Bulldogs, . He returned as a solo wrestler in the '90s but was soon released among allegations of steroid use. The Bulldog was a crowd favorite, not only in America but also in the U.K. He was part of the Hart family, as he married the daughter of his trainer Stu Hart. His 2002 death from a heart attack was thought to be related to anabolic steroids.
Theme Song: The Bulldog's theme song was strikingly (and mockingly) similar to "God Save the Queen," the National Anthem of Great Britain. It features majestic horns and a rolling drum beat characteristic of any traditional Brit anthem. His dreads weren't traditional by any standard.
Shtick:Just like Al Pacino, Razor Ramon totally desecrated all Cuban-Americans; and it was a blatant ripoff of Scarface. Vince McMahon and WWF exec Pat Patterson called Ramon a genius when he pitched them the idea of a Scarface character. Apparently, they had never seen the movie and thought the ideas were all original.
Theme Song: Ramon's theme song was "Bad Boy" and played on his bad-guy image, a direct play on the Scarface line "say goodnight to the bad guy." The clip even sounded like it could have come from the soundtrack, with screeching tires opening to a catchy synth line.
Shtick:The induction of Akeem was filmed as a vignette in an American neighborhood which his manager, Slick, referred to as "The Deepest Darkest Parts of Africa." Dancers in the background were performing a tribal ritual as Akeem mockingly danced along.
Theme Song:Akeem's theme was theme song was "Jive Soul Bro," originally performed by Slick. It was Slick who introduced Akeem's transformation when he decided to switch his persona. The 400-pound Caucasian wrestler was formerly known as the One Man Gang, but decided to embrace his "African roots."
Shtick::Nikolai Volkoff was another almost-believable foreign heel, and a proud supporter of the U.S.S.R. But he was actually Croatian, not Russian.
Theme Song: Volkoff's entrance music wasn't nearly as memorable as his rendition of the Soviet Union's national anthem. During the first WrestleMania, he teamed up with The Iron Sheik to become the Foreign Legion and won the tag-team title in 1985. Check out the crowd's reaction as he sings the Soviet Union's national anthem.
After Volkoff teamed up with another Russian wrestler, his popularity declined. To win back the crowd, he split up with his partner and began singing "The Star Spangled Banner" instead. It worked, and for the first time in his career he became a fan favorite.
Shtick:Yokozuna was not Japanese, nor did he have any experience in sumo wrestling; he was of Samoan descent and was born in San Francisco. Yokozuna fought some of the most patriotic characters in the WWF, including Randy Savage and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. While Yokozuna was a hated competitor, he beat both men and continued on to win a WWF championship. He passed away in 2000 from lung complications, at 580 pounds.
Theme Song: Yokozuna did not fit the part of a sumo wrestler, in our opinion. But his theme song fit Americans' idea of what a Japanese sumo song sounded like, and that's what mattered most. It was peaceful, with a Shakuhashi flute melody. Check out his entrance piecewhen he was up against Savage.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Shtick:This tag team from New Zealand was depicted as a comedy act, mocking the people from their native land. The duo originally hailed from New Zealand and got their start there, where they were known as the Kiwi Sheepherders. By the time they began their career with the WWF, however, they served only as comic relief.
Theme Song:Their theme music was a testament to the fact that these two were a couple of knuckleheads. It was the New Zealand equivalent of the theme song for The Beverly Hillbillies. They were commonly referred to as the Marching Morons and had a signature strut called the Bushwacker Walk.