Controversial Wrestling Storylines
In pro wrestling, there have always been storylines that struck a nerve with fans. Some have brought joy, such as Macho Man and Elizabeth’s legendary wedding in the ring, or Hulk Hogan picking up Andre the Giant to body slam him at WrestleMania III. Some moments have ignited anger, such as the ‘’crucifixion” of Sandman in ECW or Hulk Hogan turning on WCW to join in NWO in 1997. Whether you love or hate these moments, they are certainly moments that you will never forget.
Wrestling has never been afraid to bring up controversial topics going on in pop culture or even politics. This year, the main controversial storyline in WWE has been centered around Russian wrestler, Rusev. He is accompanied by a sultry manager named Lana, who is essentially Rusev’s mouthpiece. Their gimmick focuses on Rusev’s brute strength and love for his homeland. Before every match, they pay homage to their beloved leader Vladimir Putin. As they do this, a picture of Putin appears on the titantron. The fans boo loudly and Lana laughs at the distress of the audience.
Rusev’s current feud is with an Oklahoma born wrestler, Jack Swagger, accompanied by a manager Zeb Coulter, who wears a door-handle-like mustache and hates illegal immigrants. This feud is reminiscent to the 80s propaganda films like Rocky IV where the two superpowers collide. Controversial statements have been thrown out on both sides.
Lana has condemned America for being so arrogant to think that they are the superpowers in the world. She finds it hypocritical that America criticizes Russia for trying to take back Crimea, but Obama just sent more troops to Iraq in the past few months.
After those comments were made, there were reports of this storyline being scrapped because it was getting too controversial. I would hate for this storyline to be taken off of TV because it truly is an amazing storyline. This storyline is doing the job of showing what a good guy (baby face) and bad guy (heel) role is supposed to be in the squared circle. I don’t feel that either manager has said anything that has crossed any lines that would result in the fans protesting the storyline. Fans since the beginning of time have enjoyed feuds between wrestlers of different cultural backgrounds. It helps fans relate to a particular wrestler and take a side.
For example, many Canadian fans related to Bret Hart in the feuds that he had with Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels in 1997. The Canadian fans preferred the respectful, standup, family guy that Bret was. They didn’t want to take the side of a brash, loud, abrasive wrestler like Stone Cold, nor the attitude of an overly sexual, morally corrupt, boy toy like Shawn Michaels. There were American fans that didn’t like the preachy promos of Bret and felt that Stone Cold represented the everyday American male who just wanted to be true to his nature and not answer to anyone.
These controversial storylines have helped to established several careers in the past, such as wrestler Sgt. Slaughter. When he turned on the American public and joined Freddie Blassie and the Iron Sheik, it caused uproar. Sgt. Slaughter pledged his allegiance to Saddam Hussein during desert storm and became a bonafide bad guy. The fans booed, spit at him and sent death threats to his home. You can’t get better heat than that.
To play devil’s advocate for a second, there are storylines that go too far to be controversial and need to get scraped immediately, like the storyline with Muhammad Hassan in 2004. The storyline was that of an Arab-American wrestler who didn’t want to have any prejudice against him by fans because of actions of terrorists on 9/11.
The storyline was getting over fine until a controversial moment halted its progress. On an episode of Smack down, Hassan began to pray on the ramp, summoning five masked men who were dressed in black shirts, ski masks and camo pants to the ring. Armed with clubs and piano wire, they beat and choked out the Undertaker. This episode was taped three days before the London bombings took place. It was aired after the bombings.
The angle elicited national attention and wasn’t shown in Australian and European broadcasts. Following that event, Muhammad Hassan was released from the company and retired from wrestling shortly after. Due to incidents like this, there needs to be a line on what storylines are done in wrestling. The goal should always be to entertain, not to disturb or truly offend. The fans should love to hate the bad guy, not want to start a riot at a wrestling event. As wrestling continues to fill the airwaves, there will continue to be controversial angles. Let’s hope the angles will entertain for years to come.