Ringside Remembrances — Best Costumes
Jay Shannon draws upon five decades as a devout wrestling fan to look at the past, present and future of professional wrestling.
“May you live all the days of your life” — Jonathan Swift
Happy Halloween, everyone. If you saw my Indy Buzz recap of PWD Primetime, you would have seen me in my favorite Halloween costume — Paul Bearer. Over the years, wrestlers have had their images reproduced for little kids to wear on All Hallows Eve. In fact, pro wrestler turned actor, Tor Johnson, holds the record for the highest selling Halloween mask of all time. It was for the blank-staring character he played in the cult classic, “Plan Nine From Outer Space”. In the early 80s, wrestler Duke Myers even donned that same mask and an eyepatch to serve as Andy Kaufman’s protector during his brief wrestling run in Memphis. For this special edition of Ringside Remembrances, I wanted to look at some of the best “costumes” in wrestling.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage:
When Savage debuted in the then-WWF in 1985, Creative wanted to make him larger than life. They gave him wild, colorful robes with matching headbands. As time passed, Randy adjusted to fringed jackets with matching cowboy hats. No matter what Savage wore, they were always excessively colorful. To top off the look, Savage always wore sunglasses that coordinated with his outer gear. Savage’s in-ring attire was rather simple, trunks and boots, but the outer garments were often imitated by others, including Halloween kids.
Honky Tonk Man:
For most people when you talk about a guy from Tennessee wearing a rhinestone-covered jumpsuit, they think of the King of Rock and Roll. For wrestling fans, they immediately recall the longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion of all time…The Honky Tonk Man. Wayne Ferris is the real-life cousin of Jerry “The King” Lawler and both worked in the Memphis area. When the WWF began their expansion in the mid-80s, Wayne was brought in as an Elvis Impersonator. He took the role and made it his own. He went from a mere gimmick to a legit top star in the Hulkamania era of wrestling. He is still in high demand on the indy circuit.
When Hawk and Animal first showed up on WTBS-Atlanta, in 1983, they wore basic biker gear. The facepaint was along the lines of the Native American warriors of a century before. Over time, the facepaint morphed into the classic designs. Eventually, a fan of the Road Warriors came up with the spike-laced shoulderpads that became their trademark. Those shoulderpads are still in high demand for Halloween costumes.
The Fabulous Freebirds:
Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy and Buddy Roberts were very proud of their southern heritage. For their outerwear, Michael wore a full-length wrestling robe. Buddy Roberts wore a varsity-style full jacket. Terry Gordy sported a sleeveless vest. The one thing all three garments had in common was the Confederate Flag that emblazoned the back. Oddly enough, when WWE release the action figures as a collective unit, they replaced the “Rebel Flag” with simple red ring wear. The idea, at the time, was not to offend with what many consider an objectionable symbol. Personally, I have the same “Rebel Flag” that I’ve had since high school, tacked to my office wall.
“Nature Boy” Ric Flair:
Bleached blonde hair and some of the flashiest full length robes, ever. Those are the trademarks of Ric Flair. Beginning around 1982, Flair began to regularly wear the outrageous costumes. Each robe costs thousands of dollars to make and Flair still wears them to perfection. Perhaps his most spectacular robe was the blue and white outfit he wore to Wrestlemania XXIV. He passed the tradition, briefly, to A.J. Styles when Flair first entered TNA. Styles ended his wearing of the robes when he split from Flair. Flair still wears those robes better than just about anyone in the business.
The classic look was so simple. A black duster jacket and hat over a black shirt and pants. Over time, he added the mortician gloves to augment the look. He also sported a striped tie (often black and purple). The look would modify over the next few years. He took a side trip away from the “Deadman” look when he adopted a biker gimmick from 2000 to 2003. When he returned at Wrestlemania XX, Undertaker had re-embraced his classic look, slightly modified. That look (duster jacket, hat and MMA gloves) is the one he has continued to use to this day.
Doink, The Clown:
White face, green hair and a maniacal laugh. No it’s not Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or even Cesar Romero. It’s Matt Borne (among others) as the Clown Prince of Wrestling, Doink. Doink came out in bright pants and shirts during the decade or so that he wrestled in the WWF/WWE. There have been at least five men who have embraced their inner clownness. Doink went back and forth between heel and face during his runs. Various version of Doink have also surfaced on the indy circuit, over the years.
A full half-century before Ric Flair dyed his hair and wore elegant ring robes, George Wagner began the tradition. He was instantly hated in most parts of the country for his look and attitude. He pitched “Georgie Pins” to the crowd. Wrestlers from Hulk Hogan to Jesse “The Body” Ventura to Ric Flair have all imitated the great champion from the dawn of televised wrestling. Several wrestlers, both male and female, have adopted the Gorgeous George name but none were as spectacular as the original.
Bret “The Hitman” Hart:
At the top of Most Prized Collectibles in wrestling are the wrap-around shades that Bret Hart has given out to fans for years. I even know a couple of established pro wrestlers who would give their eye teeth for an actual pair of the shades. Combine those shades with the pink and black ring gear and you have a certified Legend. Bret (and the WWF) built an entire marketing juggernaut out of a simple pair of sunglasses.
A lot of wrestlers have worn the color red and some have worn yellow. Put red and yellow together and it can only mean…The Hulkster. Hogan wore several different colors, early on, but eventually settled on the crimson and canary. With his tearaway “Hulkamania” shirt and simple trunks and boots, Hogan kick-started the merchandising boom that wrestling enjoys today. As Hogan aged, he traded in the yellow trunks for a tie-dye pair of red and yellow pants. He did switch to black and silver during his “Hollywood” days but he will always be associated with the red and yellow.
The Ugandian Giant proved that it doesn’t require a huge amount of gear to have a memorable costume. Kamala came out barefoot with a leopard or tiger print wrap over black trunks. His chest was painted with two stars. He also had a crescent moon sketched onto his over-sized tummy. He often wore a ceremonial African mask (especially in the WWF) and carried a spear. Botswana Beast tried to follow in Kamala’s footsteps, but no one could match the savage from Uganda.
Scott Levy went through several gimmicks during his early career. He was a surfer (Scotty Flamingo) and a snooty rich kid (Johnny Polo). The “Grunge” movement, popularized by the Seattle rock band, Nirvana, spawned Scott’s Raven character. It takes a special person to take a look a decade past when the fad faded. Raven sported shredded jeans shorts and a leather jacket. He was the inspiration for more than a dozen other wrestlers that have followed him into the business.
Dustin Runnels/Rhodes entered the business under a huge shadow, his father, Dusty Rhodes. Dustin joined his father in the WWF in 1990 to feud with Ted DiBiase, Sr. and Virgil. The man who was trained by the legendary Skandor Akbar reached mid-card level in the WWF before jumping back to WCW. In WCW, Dustin star began to shine. In 1995, he decided to return to the WWF but under a completely different persona. Joined by his then-wife Terri aka Marlena, Dustin switched to a grappler of questionable orientation. He set aside the cowboy boots and western vest for a long blond wig, gold and black bodysuit and a Flair-like golden robe. His mind games served him well for some time as he threw people off their game with his bizarre antics. He basically reversed the colors when he arrived in TNA as Black Reign. Eventually, he would return to the WWE to present a more toned down version of his former persona. The gold bodysuit and facepaint are still there but the sexual twist on his personality is long since buried.
After his debut as part of Powerteam USA, the man now known as Warrior worked for Jerry Jarrett and Bill Watts as 1/2 of the Blade Runners with Steve “Flash/Sting” Borden. He would then move to World Class to become the Dingo Warrior. As part of the WWE Expansion, he was brought in as The Ultimate Warrior. The name was originally used by “Bad News” Allen/Brown in Stampede but he ok’d the use of it for the WWF’s newest star. Once he entered the WWF, Warrior donned the facepaint that made a modified “W” on his face. He also had the symbol often on his chest. He wore wrist bands and tassel-like strands from his upper arm bands and on his boots. He went back and forth between brightly-colored trunks and universals. The look was copied by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of little kids in the late 80s-early 90s. The WWF even release an Ultimate Warrior mask during Warrior’s run in WWE.
When Mick Foley returned to the WWE in 1996, he adopted a new personality…Mankind. Initially, Mankind wore a dark brown shirt and stretch pants, along with the leather strips mask. As the character “matured”, he switched to a white dress shirt, untucked, the mask and regular wrestling tights. The original Mankind was a screaming lunatic that often yanked out his hair and showed off his partially amputated ear (lost in a match, in Germany, against Vader). WWF/E eventually toned down Mankind and made him a more likable character.
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat:
Steamboat is one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time. He never needed a cheesy outfit or gimmick to prove how great he is/was. WWF decided to give him a workable character/gimmick that would showcase his talent without turning him into too much of a cartoon character, at least at first. He was given the character of “The Dragon”. That worked off his Hawaiian/Japanese ancestry. Initially, Steamboat came out in a martial arts outfit. Later on, Steamboat came out in a top that looked like dragon wings and a matching headband. To extend the character, Steamboat was taught how to “blow fire”. He even brought a Komodo Dragon to the ring with him for his feud against Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Papa Shango/The Godfather:
Charles Wright has gone through several characters during his career. He is best known for two vastly different personas. He worked the territorial groups as The Soultaker, a character somewhat similar to The Undertaker. It was The Undertaker who suggested that the WWE bring Wright into the WWE. When he was brought into the WWF, Charles was given a voodoo priest-like character known as Papa Shango. He wore facepaint and a top hat, wore bones of an unnamed animal around his neck and carried a smoking skull. He would often gyrate and “cast spells” on his opponents. After Shango was phased out, Wright became Kama (Mustafa). The character was basically an MMA-type fighter that worked with the Nation of Domination and The Undertaker. From there, Wright took on his most popular character, The Godfather. The character was a thinly-veiled pimp with wild vests and matching hats. He traded in his skull for his “Ho’s” (a slang term for a woman of questionable virtue or a female who performs sexual services for a price). Wright went into semi-retirement in 2002 but does make occasional appearances.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper:
While he was born in Canada, Piper has embraced his Scottish heritage for almost all of his career. His outfit has remained pretty much the same: simple t-shirt with “Hot Rod” etched on it, red plaid kilt over basic blue trunks and simple boots. He often brandishes a set of bagpipes (which he can actually play). Piper whips off the kilt in stylish fashion as he prepares to do battle. While he is mostly retired, Piper has been known to step in the ring, if needed.
Scott Hall went through a few identities in his pre-WWF days. He was “Gator” Scott Hall in Florida and did a Magnum P.I. look as the tag partner of a young Curt Hennig when they won the AWA World tag titles in the 80s. When Hall entered the WWF, he modeled his character after the Al Pacino character in Scarface. He was suddenly of Cuban descent, hailing from Florida. He wore bright vests with matching trunks and boots. He also sported several chains and rings to become “The Bad Guy”. He was my first wife, Linda’s, favorite modern wrestler. The character came to a halt not long after Scott Hall jumped to WCW. WWF did try to use Rick Bognar to create a second Razor but it was rejected, dramatically, by the fans.
Mil Mascaras has always been known as “The Man of 1,000 Masks”. Rey probably has ten times that many. From his time in both WCW and WWE, I can’t remember him ever wearing the same mask, twice. The masks all have a cross from the nose up to the top of the mask and birds on the side. The most memorable of his outfits have come at Wrestlemania. He usually goes for a super-hero based character. He has done: Daredevil, Flash, Captain America and The Joker. His masks still remain among the top souvenirs purchased not only at WWE events but also at numerous indy shows around the country.
I’ve always loved Halloween. In college, I scared the bejesus out of small children at a health fair when I showed up as a zombie. As a child myself, I did the standard ghosts, pirates, cowboys and other assorted cartoon characters that were in fashion for that given year. As I rush through my late 40s, I’ve turned to more sedate characters. Paul Bearer has become a staple over the last couple of years. I want to send a most special thank you out to the man behind the character for giving me something so fun to portray, this time of year. This column is dedicated with all due respect to him.