The 25 Wildest Ring Animals
December 5, 2012
“Lionhearts,” Tiger Jacksons and Bearcat Wrights, oh my: WWE.com has stumbled into the zoological sub genre of sports-entertainment. ( PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)
Dating back to the squared circle's “pioneer era” and the likes of “Russian Lion” Georg Hackenschmidt, extending all the way through to present day, Superstars have repeatedly turned to beasts of the wild for inspiration in devising new methods of intimidation.
Competitors grouped within the squared circle’s loosely defined “animal kingdom” come in all shapes, sizes and species. Included in the bunch have been World Champions, immensely influential personalities and even a few Weekly World News–worthy discoveries. (Whatever he lacked in in-ring accolades, The Wolfman more than made up for in uniqueness.)
Much to The Miz’s chagrin (and Paul Heyman’s probable delight), you won’t find any walruses on this list, though there are weasels, birds, canines and even a dragon or two. Once you’re through with this beastly list of 25 wild ring animal types (after all, some species are only observed in pairs), vote for the ring “roar-ior” you believe is the wildest. ( VOTE)
The otherworldly Dungeon of Doom boasted a truly bizarre cast, but none of the stable’s freakish evildoers terrified galeophobes more than The Shark. As The Shark, 500-pound former WWE Title contender John “Earthquake” Tenta went the distance in trying to convince opponents he wasn’t above chomping off their limbs. With shark teeth painted dutifully on his cheeks and the words “Shark Attack” scrawled on his tights, there would be absolutely no confusing in which marine creature Tenta found inspiration. ( WATCH SHARK VS. SCOTT NORTON)
Like most Dungeon of Doomers, however, Shark had trouble keeping his head above water in the crowded ocean known as mid-’90s WCW. After suffering the embarrassment of having half of his head shaved on national TV, Tenta began distancing himself from the “Shark” moniker in an attempt to become a more serious threat. In an interview on Monday Nitro, Tenta famously declared, “I’m not The Shark. I’m not a fish. I’m not an avalanche. [Another of Tenta’s personas.] “I’m a man.”
His admission made it safe to go back in the water of sports-entertainment.
The Red Rooster
You’ve got to hand it to Terry Taylor: Even in his darkest hour, the man had a cock-a-doodle can-do attitude. With a herky-jerky gate and a searing-red mohawk jutting from the middle of his parted, blond hair, Taylor made a startling transformation in the late 1980s from a technically gifted, if plain-looking, competitor into a human rooster. The metamorphosis had many a WWE fan asking, “What the cluck?” ( WATCH RED ROOSTER)
But for the marginal population of the WWE Universe that supported WWE’s top fowl Superstar, Taylor bestowed the nickname “Rooster Boosters,” and he thanked them gladly in interviews while promising to “claw” his way to the top of WWE. Taylor will forever be considered a talented ring general, but as The Red Rooster, let’s not mince birds: He never made it out of the henhouse.
From his innovative, crowd-pleasing in-ring style to his endlessly marketable, manga-based persona, there was nothing about the original Tiger Mask that didn’t revolutionize the mat game in the 1980s. The first man to don the fur-framed, tiger-striped mask was Satoru Sayama, a fierce 160-pound competitor whose home base was New Japan Pro Wrestling. His rivalry with Dynamite Kid redefined the parameters of sports-entertainment, and Sayama was the only Superstar to have held the WWE and NWA junior heavyweight titles simultaneously. ( WATCH TIGER MASK VS. MR. SAITO)
Since Sayama, three other competitors have carried on the Tiger Mask tradition (including the late, great Mitsuharu Misawa). But the original Tiger Mask’s influence in the animal kingdom extends beyond the streak of tiger protégés. With all due respect to Blue Panther, who knows if we’d ever see feline highfliers such as Black Tiger, Cheetah Kid and Battle Kat (yes, Battle Kat) had Tiger Mask’s huge cult of personality not enveloped the wrestling world in the ’80s?
In the ring, he went by the name Bull Curry, but opponents who suffered Fred Koury’s wrath had no qualms comparing him to other beasts of the wild, too.
“Never in all my travels have I ever seen such an ape as Bull Curry,” Louis Tillet told Wrestling Revue in 1963 following a match with the “Wild Bull.” “Science should bottle him in alcohol because he is the missing link.”
Curry kept a maniacal appearance: His crazed eyes darted around constantly, and just a couple inches northward was a unibrow so dense it looked like a giant caterpillar had scaled Curry’s person before exhaustedly collapsing on his forehead and calling it quits. Every bit as frightful as his aesthetic was his ruthless ring style. Among the first wrestlers to bring his fights into the stands, Curry was a predecessor to any Superstar who was ever labeled “hardcore.” In Texas, his untamable antics necessitated the creation of the Brass Knux Title — an unorthodox championship earmarked for brawlers in much the same way WWE introduced the Hardcore Championship for theMick Foley’s of the world.
But what about the “Bull” moniker, you’re wondering? Legend has it, while performing his day job of a policeman in Hartford, Conn., Curry once wrestled a loose steer to the ground, earning a newspaper headline “Wild Bull Tames Runaway Steer.” Inside or outside the ring, Curry was a feisty individual who never backed down.
Koko B. Ware
More than his picturesque dropkick (a Dolph Ziggler-caliber attack called the “Bird Buster”), his 2009 induction into the WWE Hall of Fame class or his trendsetting “High Energy” team with Owen Hart, “Birdman” Koko B. Ware might be best remembered for his pet macaw, Frankie. The colorful creature, an import from Brazil, often accompanied Ware to ringside, where he perched patiently as his master did away with opposition inside the ring. ( WATCH KOKO B. WARE VS. NIKOLAI VOLKOFF)
The influence of Ware’s feathered friend even extended to his own offense: “The Birdman’s ring style swings with stunning aerial tactics and hawk-like speed,” a WWE trading card printed many moons ago described. Though never a titleholder in WWE, Ware was always a popular and formidable flier. ( SEE PHOTOS)
In the early days of the WWE Championship some 50 years ago, the first severe test of Bruno Sammartino’s then-nascent title reign came in the form of Gorilla Monsoon. Introduced by manager Bobby Davis, the 400-plus-pounder was allegedly found in Manchuria swimming amid icebergs in a frozen-over river. Davis embellished further: Monsoon, who appeared to speak not a lick of English, wrestled bears in his homeland before up and leaving to compete stateside in WWE. (He also had a stopover in Japan, where he was dubbed “The White Elephant” during a tour in 1963.)
The towering specimen grunted his way past overmatched foes, often offing them two at a time, before meeting Sammartino. Monsoon never won the WWE Championship gold, but he will always be remembered as one of Sammartino’s fiercest — and wildest — nemeses. ( WATCH GORILLA MONSOON VS. MUHAMMAD ALI)
By the 1970s, Monsoon’s Manchurian origins had been plainly dispelled. Not only was the giant a native English speaker, but he was a verbose baritone and a man of letters. Having graduated from Ithaca College with degrees in physical education and physiotherapy, Monsoon put his education to use as a WWE color commentator, dissecting maneuvers and their intended effects with doctoral precision. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994 and the following year, he was named WWE President, a title he held until August 1997.
If not for the 15-year gap between his death and her birth, you could almost imagine Jimi Hendrix thinking of a Florida-born Diva named Alicia while penning the deeply powerful lyrics to “Foxy Lady.”
But don't let her bubbly personality or gorgeous smile fool you: Inside the ring, Fox is a wild animal. The hard-hitting, scissor-kicking Diva is a former Divas Title holder and a perennial threat in the division. Also known to make a fashion statement, the fantastic Ms. Fox has taken to wearing fox-like headdresses — complete with “ears” — made of faux pelts. Just how far away are we from witnessing Fox eclipse other women who’ve found inspiration in the animal kingdom, such as Beth Phoenix, The Kat and The Spider Lady?
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat never needed a larger-than-life persona or elaborate ring gear to connect with the WWE Universe; his world-renowned skill and resilience were more than enough to create an emotional bond with WWE fans. So when “The Dragon” moniker attached itself to Steamboat and, later on, when the skilled Superstar even donned over-the-top Dragon head-gear and began “breathing” fire, such quirks really only served to make a cool guy even cooler. ( WATCH)
The WWE Hall of Famer had most of the sports-entertainment world at the word “hello.” His knife-edge chops and deep armdrags were second-to-none, and his stealthy movement in the ring really did conjure up thoughts of mythical flying dragons. Steamboat could always be counted on to deliver a memorable performance in the ring. But bringing live komodo dragons ringside and spitting alcohol at lit torches while standing atop the turnbuckle? Those were just the icing on top.
An indirect predecessor to Jacob Black, The Wolfman was a rabidly pacing, pelt-wearing savage who hailed from the “Wilds of Canada” and terrorized fan favorites in the 1970s and early ’80s. With a long, unwieldy beard hanging from his face, it was sometimes hard to pinpoint where The Wolfman’s fur-fashioned headdress ended and the person began. ( WATCH THE WOLFMAN VS. TONY GAREA)
Often led to the ring in chains by manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie, The Wolfman had no problem resorting to devious tactics that at times warranted use of WWE’s giant red X — a rudimentary television graphic that was used sparingly and intended to protect viewers from seeing action deemed disturbing or too “out of control.” The Wolfman’s win-loss record wasn’t anything to howl about, but he surely cut an imposing figure.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
In dissecting the more animalistic tendencies of Jake “The Snake” Roberts, you could mention his humiliating habit of draping his 10-foot pet python, Damien, over beaten opponents. Or you could bring up the time Roberts forced a king cobra to sink its fangs into the bicep of Randy Savage while “Macho Man’s” arms were trapped in the ropes. ( WATCH)
But Roberts’ connection with the slithery reptile world goes beyond those examples. His very presence in the ring was comparable to that of a snake preying on a four-legged appetizer. Roberts would slyly creep around the ring, waiting patiently to find a suitable moment to pounce on opponents. Once that instant came, Roberts spared no extra motion going into attack mode. Like a serpent’s bite, Roberts’ preferred deathblow, the DDT, came and went in the bat of an eyelash.
The British Bulldogs
At their peak, former World Tag Team Champions The British Bulldogs had something for everyone: Davey Boy Smith brought otherworldly strength to the equation, Dynamite Kid provided an intensity that bordered on scary and Matilda — well, she drooled a lot. The red-eyed, saggy-faced, brown-and-white mascot of The Bulldogs was, appropriately enough, an actual bulldog. ( WATCH THE BRITISH BULLDOGS VS. THE FABULOUS ROUGEAUS)
A cuddly, albeit knackered-looking attraction, Matilda provided a stark contrast to the snap suplexes and sharp elbows Davey Boy and Dynamite dished out in the ring. The British Bulldogs were stubborn, fast-moving competitors, and they pounced on foes without hesitation. Adding to their immense appeal was The Bulldogs’ aresenal of double-team maneuvers — several of which had never been executed before Davey Boy and Dynamite linked up. ( SEE PHOTOS)
Jim Croce may have considered “Bad” Leroy Brown to be meaner than a junkyard dog, but inside the squared circle, few Superstars could begin to rival the toughness or the popularity of Sylvester “Junkyard Dog” Ritter. WWE fans went berserk whenever JYD’s entrance theme, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” sounded over the P.A. system, and the paroxysms of support didn’t die down until long after the Dog delivered the “Thump” — his name for the powerslam — to his opponent. ( WATCH JYD VS. RANDY SAVAGE)
JYD had all the bite of a typical junkyard canine but a fraction of the coldness. Instead, JYD is considered one of the friendliest and most beloved competitors of all time. When it came time for fighting, however, the Dog was not one to tuck his tail. If the action spilled to the canvas, he’d drop down on all-fours and begin headbutting his opposition. (During one such encounter with Pete Doherty, color commentator Mr. McMahon couldn’t help but compare JYD to a big bull mastiff.) Not letting the canine characteristics end there, JYD even wore a dog collar (attached to a steel chain) around his sizable neck that could later be inscribed with the logo of the WWE Hall of Fame.
There’s a reason a Superstar as prolific and successful as Batista has only one, somewhat generic, entry in WWE’s glossary of nicknames. Batista was called “The Animal” not because he exhibited the traits of a single predator but, rather, because he embodied the primal instincts of many beasts. That much was evident watching him in action.
Batista didn’t so much clothesline opponents as lunge at them like a lion whose primary objective was to decapitate. When the six-time former World Champion decided to break out his spinebuster, the ensuing collision looked less like something out of Arn Anderson’s playbook and more like a ticked-off Kodiak trying to snap the back of its prey. With his rivals down and hurt, “The Animal” would stalk menacingly, like a jackal. And on the night Batista famously snapped on tag team partner and best friend Rey Mysterio, he came off as cold and uncaring as a lone wolf. ( WATCH)
Batista lived up to his animalistic reputation in every way.
Besides being one of wrestling’s most respected and exploitative strategists (a distinction that earned him the nickname “The Brain”), Bobby Heenan was often accused of being — how do we put this kindly —sneaky. Greg Gagne grew so tired of Heenan’s antics in the American Wrestling Association, he challenged “The Brain” to a series of matches in which the loser had to wear, you guessed it, a full-body weasel suit.
Evidently, Ultimate Warrior took notice of the goings-on in the Midwest. Years later, when he sought to quiet the opinionated Heenan in WWE, Warrior opted to fight the overmatched manager in a Loser Wears a Weasel Suit Match. He knocked “The Brain” unconscious and dressed him in the weasel suit, leading to Heenan’s horrific reaction upon waking. ( WATCH)
WWE fans, however, were delighted by the look of shock and awe on Heenan’s face, and they erupted into chants of “Wea-sel, wea-sel.” The chant proved so contagious and persistent that it followed Heenan all the way to WCW many years later when he became a color commentator at ringside.
John Cena’s Five Knuckle Shuffle garners cheers of “You can’t see me.” Ric Flair’s chops received a chorus of “Wooos.” But Rick Steiner’s “Steinerline” lariat? A bunch of barks.
This oddball punctuation to the elder Steiner brother’s collarbone-collapsing clothesline is due to his nickname “The Dog-Faced Gremlin” (which, in turn, could probably be traced back to Steiner’s distinct goatee).
Steiner made the most of the moniker. He’d wear a dog collar to the ring—a fine accoutrement that complemented his amateur-wrestling-style headgear. If he and brother Scott had a particularly successful flurry in tag team competition, Rick Steiner would take a celebratory jog around his brother, barking rambunctiously before hitting all fours under Scott, like an attack dog waiting to be let loose. ( WATCH STEINER BROS. VS. DOOM)
Oh, and Rick Steiner’s finisher of choice for most of his career? A bulldog off the top, of course.
Road Warriors Animal & Hawk
The Road Warriors hailed from the mean streets of Chicago, but they looked like grapplers lifted from the wild. One was named after a bird of prey and the other was rather generically thought to be animalistic, and together, they forged one of the most influential tandems in history. Though the beastlier aspects of Hawk and Animal’s personalities took a backseat to their “Mad Max”–inspired, post-apocalyptic appearance, The Road Warriors definitely warrant a spot on any list of the ring’s wildest animals. ()
When soaring through the air for Legion of Doom’s Doomsday Device, Road Warrior Hawk legitimately looked like a bird, talons-out, homing in on an afternoon snack. Animal, meanwhile, was a brutish beast with the strength of an ox. As a unit, The Road Warriors were untamed by any team in the AWA, WWE and beyond.
Had any less an athlete donned the scaly, reptilian outfit that completed the Ultimo Dragon package, the conceit for one of the world’s finest junior heavyweights could have easily fizzled right out the gate. Thankfully, the mysterious man who portrayed Ultimo Dragon was not only a top-notch fighter, but also one of the most dynamic forces in WCW’s legendary cruiserweight division — a once-proud unit of competitors responsible for inspiring an entire generation of future Superstars to trade video tapes and wax fanatic about obscure highfliers on the other side of the globe. ( WATCH ULTIMO DRAGON VS. EDDIE GUERRERO)
According to an August 1997 interview with then–WCW TV Champion Dragon, the Dragon motif was homage to his trainer. Ultimo Dragon was supposedly the last student of martial arts legend “The Dragon” Bruce Lee.
Regardless of the origins of his ring name, never in dispute was the way Ultimo Dragon’s talents eclipsed everything else about him, from the language barrier to the impossibly bizarre aesthetic. His kicks were wickedly sharp; his Asai moonsault (named after Dragon’s actual surname) was graceful, groundbreaking and, at times, gravity-defying; and his Dragon sleeper submission looked every bit as unenviable and inescapable as being stuck in the grill of an actual, fire-breathing dragon.
"Big Cat" Ernie Ladd
A four-time all-star in the American Football League, Ernie Ladd was known as the largest player in the professional game, but over the span of his more than two decades ruling sports-entertainment, Ernie Ladd was known best as “Big Cat.” Ladd, a member of the 1995 WWE Hall of Fame class, tore down racial barriers in an era struggling to distance itself from segregation, and his powerful oratory skills established “Big Cat” as one of the most fascinating interviews of his day.
Ladd is also noteworthy for being one of the squared circle’s first true giants — a matter that caused more than passing hostilities between “Big Cat” and a certain 8-foot Frenchman named Andre. ( WATCH) Ladd stood 6-foot-9 and his boots measured a staggering size 18 — that qualified him to be called “big.” As for the “cat” part of his moniker, Ladd didn’t take that part so literally. There was no hissing or purring when Ladd wrestled, and his plain trunks weren’t calico-patterned, but you did not want to get in the way of his swatting paw. ( SEE PHOTOS)
Remove the sweeter aspects of the pitbull breed (their affectionate leanings and sociability, for example), dial up the aggression and order a pair of leather-clad human counterparts, and you’ve got Pitbulls 1 & 2. Mainstays in the original ECW’s tag team division, The Pitbulls were a sneering, snorting duo of stocky powerhouses whose high-energy, “Thunder Kiss ’65”-backed entrance was amplified by their outlandish garb, dog collars and chains. ( WATCH THE PITBULLS VS. THE ELIMINATORS)
For a pair of dogs, it’s fitting the dog collar stipulations found their way into the team’s most highly acclaimed match. Facing Raven & Stevie Richards in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Double Dog Collar Match at Gangsta’s Paradise in September 1995, Pitbulls 1 & 2 won their only ECW Tag Team Championship in a dramatic 20-minute match that showed they had bite.
“The Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay
The Funkasaurus is as rare a creature as there could be. The only documented Funkasaurus in existence stands 6-foot-7 and weighs approximately 375 pounds. It exhibits signs of aggression, strength and great funk, and it’s usually flanked by two Funkadactyls.
Known alternatively as Brodus Clay, The Funkasaurus has a simple but effective process for dismantling prey: He simply tosses opponents overhead, and if they charge back, he fearlessly slams his skull into them. He always finishes them off with a high, leaping splash.
Underneath the good-natured groove, the deceptively quick-footed Clay houses a a vicious predator ready to mow down anything in its way.
The Fabulous Kangaroos
Packing a collective punch that even Hippety Hopper would approve of, the unit known as The Fabulous Kangaroos existed in various iterations for nearly 30 years. The original version consisted of Al Costello & Roy Heffernan, though Heffernan would later be replaced by Don Kent in the incarnation many have assigned “true Kangaroo” status to.
In their early days, The Kangaroos were among the very first duos to travel as a pair from territory to territory. They were starring attractions in whatever region they landed, and they helped establish credibility for the tag team form of competition more broadly. The Costello-Heffernan pairing fought in early versions of Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, Dory Funk’s Texas-based territory and, shortly after New York state lifted its ban on tag team matches in 1953, Vincent James McMahon’s Capitol Wrestling, a predecessor to WWE.
Though Costello and partners had no trouble inciting riots wherever they went, the animalistic tie-ins mostly began and ended with the Kangaroo moniker, which itself was really owed to the first team’s Australian origin. Heffernan was a former “Mr. Australia” bodybuilding competition winner, and Costello was Italian-born but trained Down Under. Instead of sporting ring gear with pouches over their midsections, Costello and Heffernan wore championship gold, winning the WWE United States Tag Team Titles on three occasions in 1960.
George "The Animal" Steele
Before Batista and before The Road Warriors, there was just one “Animal” and his name was George Steele. Bald, green-tongued and fully ensconced by thick upper body hair that it looked like a grisly Christmas sweater was keeping him warm, Steele’s mere existence long baffled zoologists and members of the WWE Universe alike. ( WATCH "THE ANIMAL" VS. KAMALA)
Steele would “grunt and groan like a rhinoceros in heat” retired referee Al Vass once told journalists George Napolitano and Bert Randolph Sugar. He likened the experience of officiating a match featuring “The Animal” to “being trapped in a cage with a rabid St. Bernard.”
Guttural war cries and an unorthodox appearance weren’t the only things to set Steele apart. From an in-ring perspective, opponents never knew what to expect from the madman. “The Animal” was just as likely to perform a flying hammerlock as he was to gnaw a turnbuckle. (Indeed, the corner padding turned into a favorite mid-match treat for Steele, not unlike a dog biscuit to a mutt.)
Birds of a feather flock together, the saying goes, so it only makes sense Raven surrounded himself with likeminded plaid-clad, greasy-haired slackers when he showed up in WCW in 1997. As the leader/prophet behind the aptly named Flock, Raven was the lead bird in a flight pattern that included the towering, 7-foot-2 Ron Reis; a young, perpetually itchy Kidman; and a disgruntled, hoodie-adorned Saturn. (WATCH RAVEN VS. SATURN)
Disheveled and grungy, but also unexpectedly articulate, Raven was a brooding character who had a habit of stewing in the corner before matches and airing his grievances over the house microphone. More times than not, his monologues would end with his paraphrasing Edgar Allan Poe’s famed “Raven” poem, signing off with the kicker, “Quote the raven nevermore.”
Much in the vein of the carrion-chewing bird for which he’s named, Raven gave off an aura of distrustfulness, doom and despair.
The Killer Bees
Africanized honey bees have rarely, if ever, been witnessed performing a misdirect during combat, but if you’re talking about WWE’s Killer Bees tag team from the 1980s, they most definitely were “switcheroo” perpetrators of the highest degree.
It’s a kind of trick many teams have performed, but none more confusingly than the duo of Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair. Though they didn’t look much alike physically, Brunzell and Blair — who wore matching black-and-yellow striped trunks — insisted on tricking opponents (and, often, WWE officials) into believing the illegal member of the team was actually the legal participant. Brunzell and Blair were aided in the scheme by masks (again, with a black-and-yellow, striped motif). ( WATCH THE KILLER BEES VS. THE HART FOUNDATION)
Here’s the bizarre part: Instead of beginning the matches with the masks on, Brunzell and Blair often only put on the masks during the match and moments before their mid-bout swap. It was that type of elaborate strategizing that always left the WWE Universe buzzing whenever the Bees were in the ring.
It wasn’t the imposing 6-foot-4 frame or more than 400 pounds of body mass that made Moose Cholak an especially frightful sight. The moose head and rack of moose antlers sitting atop his person caused Cholak to stand out from the rest.
If you thought Mantaur and The Wolfman had the market cornered on larger-than-life, animal-influenced headpieces, think again. For much of his more than 30-year career — an illustrious span that covered an estimated 8,000 matches — the big Chicagoan came to the ring wearing a moose getup some estimates suggest added more than 100 pounds of weight. The antlers were supposedly the brainchild of Windy City–area promoter Fred Kohler, but the identity of the person who decided Cholak ought to be billed from the fictional hometown of “Mooseville, Maine,” remains unknown.