When you strip away all the oiled-up razzle-dazzle, professional wrestling is a pretty simple morality play.
Good guys versus bad guys. Babyfaces versus heels. Heroes versus villains.
At any given time, roughly 50 percent of wrestlers are pretending to be heroes, standing up against the tyranny of the dastardly (and vastly more interesting) villains.
Although the lines between good and evil have been blurred — first by the anti-hero “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and now by his heir apparent, CM Punk — the basic premise is the same.
So it’s refreshing when professional wrestlers — both babyfaces and heels — turn out to be heroic do-gooders away from the ring. Here are six instances, in no particular order, of wrestlers performing feats of heroism in the real world.
Chris Masters saves his mother from a burning house
Just two days ago, former WWE star Chris Masters — who portrayed a narcissistic bodybuilder dubbed “The Masterpiece” — came to his mother’s rescue after she was reportedly barricaded inside a burning house by a crazed man.
With some help from his improbably enormous biceps, Masters (real name Chris Mordetzky) ripped a tree from its roots and used it to smash through a window to reach his panicked mother.
In the end, the cops arrested the psycho and everybody escaped without injuries, aside from some scrapes on Masters’ always-flexing arm.
During his WWE heyday, Masters was known for his signature finisher — a full-nelson called the Masterlock, from which no man could escape. It seems that, along with applying unbreakable locks, Masters is quite adept at busting through real ones.
Naturally, the Internet memes started popping up immediately after the heroic rescue.
John Cena Sets Make-A-Wish Record
The so-called “Face of WWE” is a polarizing character. Hardcore wrestling fans in the 18-34 male demographic despise the grinning, wisecracking do-gooder and endlessly berate him in online forums. Kids, on the other hand, adore the the guy.
And by all accounts, John Cena is pretty amazing with kids. Regardless of what fans think of his onscreen character, no one can accuse Cena of skimping on charity work.
Last summer, Cena was honored for granting more Make-A-Wish requests to terminally ill children than any other celebrity on earth — a whopping 300 (a number he has far surpassed by now). It’s likely that many of the children Cena has met have since passed away. Thanks to him, they got to meet their hero before disease overcame them.
Daivari takes down a menace on a train
Never missing an opportunity to prey on public fears and paranoia, WWE introduced a pair of “Arab-American” characters in the wake of 9/11. One was Muhammad Hassan (in reality a mild-mannered Italian guy named Marc Copani), and the other was his motormouthed sidekick Daivari.
Hassan and Daivari were among the most hated wrestling heels of the past few decades, repeatedly interrupting other wrestlers to berate American audiences for their xenophobia and racism. It got so incendiary that the “Real American” Hulk Hogan himself eventually arrived to shut them up, and the dastardly duo were eventually canned for being too controversial for mainstream TV.
Last year, Daivari made headlines for a much more noble reason. While riding a light-rail train, he saw a drunken man berating other passengers and threatening violence. When the drunk dude became especially belligerent toward several passengers, hurling racial insults and death threats, Daivari decided to lay the smack down. With a rear-naked choke and leg scissors, the former heel restrained the drunk until the next stop, where he tossed him off the train. Thankfully, the whole thing was caught on camera.
Gregory Iron becomes the Handicapped Hero
Gregory Smith was born more than a month premature and weighed barely a pound. Doctors soon diagnosed him with cerebral palsy, which would severely limit his mobility and motor control on the right side of his body. He was bullied and beaten as a boy. His mother became addicted to drugs and and pawned family possessions to pay for her habit.
The deck has been severely stacked against Smith since the moment he was born. But he has learned to cope through a combination of wit, charm and physical training. And, with some encouragement from his grandmother, he became a professional wrestler.
He hasn’t yet made it to the big leagues. It’s unlikely that WWE will have a space for a wiry wrestler whose right hand is curled into a permanent claw. But Smith, under the ring name Gregory Iron, has caught the attention of fans and fellow wrestlers alike.
CM Punk, arguably the biggest star in WWE today, made a surprise appearance after one of Iron’s matches, grabbed the mic and said:
“You’re awesome! You overcome more than I ever have just waking up every morning. You didn’t let anybody tell you that you couldn’t do it … I saw something special watching you in this ring.”
A WWE career is not out of the question for the “Handicapped Hero.” He has certainly already proven that he doesn’t give up easily.
The video below won an Emmy for Best Single Sports Story, thanks largely to the inspirational impact of Iron’s story.
Daniel Bryan a role model? Yes!
In the WWE ring, Daniel Bryan is a conniving crybaby known for his monosyllabic hollers of “Yes!” or “No!”
On TV, he’s exactly the kind of person you wouldn’t want your son growing up to be like.
Outside of the ring, through, he’s an exemplary role model for kids. Whereas wrestlers during the 1980s boom were known for self-destructive excess — steroids, booze, pills and ballooned egos — present-day wrestling stars are generally a much tamer and healthier bunch.
Daniel Bryan is a poster boy for clean living and physical fitness. Like his buddy CM Punk, he doesn’t drink, smoke, or take drugs. Bryan’s a vegan, too. He tends not to use swear words. Care to guess how he spends his precious few days off from the wrestling circuit? Not by carousing and partying. He trains in grappling and MMA.
For a while there in the early 2000s, professional wrestlers were dying young at a shocking rate — their self-abusive lifestyles catching up with them after the spotlight faded.
Daniel Bryan, in contrast, will probably live to 120.
Oh, and he’s apparently super nice, too. Watch him tap out to his own submission hold applied by this young cancer patient.
DDP saves suffering pals from the brink
Diamond Dallas Page achieved huge success in World Championship Wrestling during the 1990s boom period, but has arguably made a bigger impact since retiring from the ring.
After his wrestling days drew to a close, he reinvented himself as a manly fitness guru — and masterful salesmen — with his DDP Yoga program.
Plenty of present-day wrestlers attest that DDP’s brand of stretching, strength-training and motivation have helped them extend their professional careers and overcome the inevitable aches and pains associated with their line of work.
But three clients in particular stand out. First was Arthur Boorman, whose transformation from an crippled war vet to hand-standing hero was chronicled in this video, which went viral and amassed more than 8 million viewers on YouTube:
Then DDP turned his attention to longtime pal Jake “The Snake” Roberts, whose descent into addiction and despair overshadowed his exceptional wrestling career.
By all accounts, Jake is now healthier than ever and completely sober. So DDP and The Snake have now set their sights on the former “Razor Ramon,” Scott Hall — perhaps the saddest case of a former wrestling star succumbing to his addictions.
It’s too early to know whether DDP and Roberts will be able to save the Hall from himself, but it looks as if they’re on the right track.