Since the gimmick wrestler arrived with Gorgeous George in the 1950’s, professional wrestling has had a love affair with the patriotic gimmick. Whether it’s Canadian patriots like Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart to villainous patriots like The Iron Sheik, nationalist pride in one’s homeland has long been used in the narrative of good vs. evil. But none has been used as much as that of the All-American, the “Born in the USA” proud and strong, whose rally cries are the collective masses chanting “USA! USA! USA!”. In honour of America’s birthday today, the 4th of July, here’s a look at 20 of the most patriotic All-American wrestlers of all time.
#20 STARS N’ STRIPES
Prior to his joining the WWF, The Patriot was a regular with WCW and in the mid 90’s teamed up with a pre-Buff Marcus Bagwell in the patriotic tag team, Stars N’ Stripes. They lasted about a year, feuding with Pretty Wonderful (Paul Orndorff & Paul Roma) and Harlem Heat, winning the WCW World Tag Team titles twice, before the Patriot left WCW in 1995.
#19 VETERANS OF WAR
One of the easiest ways wrestling has created patriotism in characters has been the militarized characters and Global Force Wrestling (formerly TNA) recently joined the fray with a new unit called the Veterans of War. Featuring former TNA star Krimson as Mayweather and former ROH star Jax Dane as Wilcox, the VOW are two former US military determined to show American guts and determination in the ring (Mayweather indeed served two tours of Iraq with the 101st Airborne).
#18 KEN PATERA
A US Olympic team member at the 1972 Munich games in weightlifting, much like Kurt Angle decades later, Ken Patera was brought into the world of professional wrestling and pushed as an American hero who represented his country in the Olympics. Unlike Angle, Patera failed to win a medal at his games, although he was quite decorated in the Pan American Games, World Weightlifting Championships and US Championships. He competed for the AWA, NWA and WWF, where he was an Intercontinental Champion.
#17 THE US EXPRESS
The tag team of Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda became the flag bearing patriot team The US Express when they joined the WWF in 1984, complete with using Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as their entrance theme. Managed by Captain Lou Albano, they captured the WWF World Tag Team titles twice. Rick Derringer wrote the song “Real American” for the US Express, but by the time the song was completed in 1986, Windham left the company and the song went instead to Hulk Hogan.
#16 ‘MR USA’ TONY ATLAS
A three time Mr. USA weightlifting champion (hence his nickname), Atlas carried that nickname to the wrestling world in 1974. He was a frequent tag team partner with Rocky Johnson in the Soul Patrol, winning the WWF World Tag Team titles. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
#15 CORPORAL KIRCHNER
In the 80’s, Vietnam war movies were all the rage and few movie characters were as big as Rambo. The WWF decided to update the Sgt. Slaughter gimmick with a more Rambo-esque version, and Corporal Kirchner was the answer. A former Airborne vet and proud American, Kirchner lasted just over a year in the WWF before being released. He would go on to work with Stampede Wrestling and in Japan after, but never achieved much more than his time in the WWF.
#14 THE PATRIOT
Del Wilkes debuted in the AWA in 1988, but it wasn’t until 1991 that he became his most famous gimmick, the masked nationalist, The Patriot. After a stint with All-Japan in 1993, he headed to WCW, where he formed Stars N’ Stripes with Marcus ‘Buff’ Bagwell, but he only last a year and left in 1996 and went back to Japan. He headed to the WWF where he was the first wrestler to feud with Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart when Hart turned heel and anti-American in 1997. Midway through the feud, Wilkes torn a bicep and was out of action for months. He was released in early 1998 and subsequently retired.
Most people forget that Madusa is more than just a play on the Greek mythos character Medusa and that it’s actually a short form of ‘Made in the USA’. She debuted in 1984 with the AWA and in 1989, left Minnesota for All-Japan. When she returned in 1991, she headed to WCW. After only a couple years, she left to WWF and became Alundra Blayze, becoming one of the most popular WWE Women’s Champions of all-time. She infamously left WWF and returned to WCW in 1995, dropping the WWF Women’s title in the trash and returning to her Madusa character.
#12 JACK SWAGGER
Speaking of All-American, “The All-American” Jack Swagger was an All-American amateur wrestler with the University of Oklahoma in 2006, setting the school record for most pins, with 30 in a season. He signed with the WWE after college and spent two years in developmental, before debuting with WWECW, where he won the ECW Championship. He jumped to Smackdown and captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but after that, his stock began to diminish. Paired with Zeb Coulter, his “We The People” hit on a lot of patriots around the country, but still, his pushes stuttered and stopped. Swagger finally left the WWE this year.
#11 “AMERICAN BAD ASS” UNDERTAKER
For one brief year, from 2000 to 2001, The Undertaker took off his mortician-cum-goth-bondage gear and became the super popular “American Bad Ass”, your hard working, hard living, American hog riding biker who loved to come out and just kick people’s ass. You don’t get much more American than that.
When it comes to being a Real American, Tatanka took that angle “old school”. As in, he was true blood original indigenous American Indian. No colonists in this guy’s blood, he’s Lumbee Indian from North Carolina. He’s more American than everyone else on this list.
#9 LEX LUGER
While he was hardly a shining beacon of patriotic red, white or blue in his NWA/WCW tenure, his initial run with the WWE was patriotism to the capitalistic max. With his famed Lex Express bus and his striped speedo, Lex Luger was anointed the next great American hero after Hulk Hogan left for WCW. Unfortunately, Luger was a bust and ultimately went back to WCW.
#8 JOHN CENA
I’m sure most people would assume John Cena would rank higher, but outside of his participation in The Marine movies and his patriotic rants during his US title run of 2015, Cena is more of a champion of the oppressed everywhere, not just America. But there’s no denying that when America is a focal point, there are few who get as patriotically passionate as Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect.
The inspiration for the Liberty Belle character in the current Netflix fictionalized series based on the original GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling), Americana was the Wonder Woman women’s wrestling needed in the early 90’s.
#6 “THE AMERICAN DREAM” DUSTY RHODES
He wasn’t as pretty, or athletic, or as refined as all of the other World Champions, but no one encapsulated the American Dream like Dusty Rhodes. The son of a plumber was the undisputed champion of the downtrodden and the working class, making him America’s champion for most of the 1970’s.
#5 “HACKSAW” JIM DUGGAN
Although “USA! USA! USA!” is used for just about every patriotic American wrestler (or against any non-American wrestler), the chant is most famously known as the rallying cry of arguably wrestling’s most patriotic “tough guy”, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan. In recent years, Homeland Security wiped his record clean after he denounced his citizenship and joined Team Canada with Lance Storm in WCW.
#4 BRUNO SAMMARTINO
Gimmick wise, no one would ever assume that Bruno Sammartino would be on the list. But historically speaking, he was a turning point in wrestling booking. Bruno Sammartino worked because he represented a new class of America that was starting to boom in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The immigrants. Millions of European immigrants – including Italians like Sammartino’s own family – flooded America during and after the Second World War, and by the 1960’s, their kids had grown up in the USA. But most of the stars of the industry (and nearly all the Champions), were the typical All-American white boy or homegrown Americans. In Bruno Sammartino, immigrants in New York City – and eventually the rest of the United States – had found their Champion. He was an Italian immigrant that came to the US with nothing and worked his way up to the WWWF World Championship. His success was built on the backbone of the immigrants who saw him as a guiding light of what the American dream really stood for. It doesn’t get more American than that.
#3 KURT ANGLE
It’s true, it’s true. The WWE’s first Olympic Gold medalist, winning Gold for the US at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics in wrestling, has gone on to become one of the most successful pro wrestlers of all-time. And a staunchly patriotic American to boot.
#2 SGT. SLAUGHTER
During the 1970’s, no one fought to promote and defend America in pro wrestling like Sgt. Slaughter. The former Marine drill sergeant who mercilessly screamed his opponents down before beating them, Slaughter was a megastar in the wrestling world. In the 1980’s, his status as a Real American Hero was solidified when he became a toy and cartoon character in the popular series, G.I. Joe.
#1 HULK HOGAN
Seriously. No one else comes close to being the ultimate American hero than the ultimate American hero himself, Hulk Hogan. He said his prayers and took his vitamins all the way to the top of the WWF mountain, turning professional wrestling from a largely regionalized hobby into a global mainstream sports phenomena.
Main Photo: WWE