11 “Foreign” Pro Wrestlers Who Weren’t Really Foreign

Professional wrestling is a microcosm for the world at large — a stripped-down pantomime of violence that plays upon our most basic fears, biases and desires.

Also, it’s oversized men in spandex pretending to fight.

But on a more philosophical level, wrestling taps into our most primal instincts for battle by delivering an us-versus-them morality play that mirrors our innate lust for warfare.

That’s why some of the greatest “heels” in wrestling history have been the dastardly foreigners who threaten our American way of life. They represent an attack on our liberties, and must eventually be squashed by a heroic American babyface.

Of course, finding an actual evil foreigner is a little trickier than just hiring an ethnically ambiguous American to play the part. Here are 11 of wrestling’s most notorious “foreigners,” the most exotic of whom actually hailed from the strange and distant land of Canada.

Abdullah the Butcher

Photo via onlinworldofwrestling.com

Photo via onlinworldofwrestling.com

Alleged Birthplace: Sudan (hence the catchy nickname, The Madman of Sudan)

Actual Birthplace: Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Real name: Larry Shreeve

Bio: Abdullah the Butcher is one of world’s most notorious “hardcore” performers, drawing (and spilling) blood in practically every match he has wrestled over the past five decades or so. His thirst for blood developed not in a depraved corner of Sudan, but instead in the dull city of Windsor on the Canadian border, which Michael Moore used as a backdrop in Bowling For Columbine to demonstrate how friendly Canadians are.

Kamala

Alleged Birthplace: Uganda

Actual Birthplace: Senatobia, Mississippi

Real name: Jim Harris

Bio: Billed as hailing from the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa, Kamala actually grew up as the son of furniture store owners in small town Mississippi. After he retired from full-time wrestling, he released an album of himself singing soul music (quite terribly). Sadly, he has recently had one of his legs amputated, and possibly both, due to complications from diabetes.

Skandor Akbar

Photo via Oklafan.com

Photo via Oklafan.com

Alleged Birthplace: Somewhere in the Middle East (which was specific enough for most fans to hate him)

Actual Birthplace: Vernon, Texas

Real name: Jimmy Wehba

Bio: Although of Middle Eastern descent, Akbar was born and raised in ‘Murica. But he was a wrestler and manager back in the pre-Internet days, when fans weren’t quite as savvy, so he was an enormous heel in various wrestling territories throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. He died three years ago, not too far from his birthplace, deep in the heart of Texas.

The Ultimate Warrior, The Missing Link, Papa Shango

Photo via wwe.com

Photo via wwe.com

Alleged Birthplace: Parts Unknown

Actual Birthplace: Respectively: Crawfordsville, Indiana; Kitchener, Ontario, Canada; Las Vegas, Nevada

Real names: Jim Hellwig, Dewey Robertson, Charles Wright

Bios: Although these men were said to have originated from Parts Unknown, their origins are quite well known to anyone who actually bothered to look them up. The Ultimate Warrior was a huge star but a certifiable nutcase who legally changed his name to Warrior and became notorious for ultra-conservative rants. The Missing Link became a chronic pot smoker and steroid abuser who emerged from his mental fog long enough to write a book called Bang Your Head before he passed away. Papa Shango morphed into several other wrestling characters (including a pimp called The Godfather) before retiring from wrestling to manage a Vegas strip club.

The Sheik

Photo via wrestlingmueum.com

Photo via wrestlingmueum.com

Alleged Birthplace: Syria

Actual Birthplace: Lansing, Michigan

Real name: Ed Farhat

Bio: The Sheik was one of the greatest bad guys of his era, which preceded wrestling’s huge explosion in popularity in the early 1980s. He was a master of using the concealed “foreign object” (often a pencil), which he used to tear at his opponents’ foreheads. He continued to wrestle into his geriatric years in Japan, often performing violent “deathmatches” with his nephew, Sabu, before his death in 2003.

Yokozuna

Photo via wwe.com

Photo via wwe.com

Alleged Birthplace: Japan (or Polynesia, sometimes)

Actual Birthplace: San Francisco

Real name: Rodney Anoa’i

Bio: Although he portrayed a massive sumo wrestler and waved a Japanese flag, Yokozuna never actually competed in sumo wrestling. He just happened to have Asian features and an enormous ass, which was close enough by WWF standards. Despite his enormous girth, he was actually one of the best “big men” in wrestling, and could move with surprising agility. As part of the Anoa’i family, he was related to literally dozens of wrestlers, past and present, including The Rock. He couldn’t speak a word of Japanese, though, so wrestling fans never heard him say more than grunts of “oosh” and “hai!”¬† He died in 2000, and was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last year.

Akeem

Photo via kayfabenews.com

Photo via kayfabenews.com

Alleged Birthplace: “Deepest, Darkest Africa”

Actual Birthplace: Spartanburg, South Carolina

Real name: George Gray

Bio: Akeem remains one of the most puzzling gimmicks in wrestling history, and perhaps the most racist. Despite clearly being a white man — who previously portrayed a biker named the One Man Gang — Gray was re-christened “Akeem: The African Dream,” and managed by the jive-talking Slick. Akeem typically spoke with a stereotypical black accent and mockingly danced to African tribal music. It made no sense.

Santino Marella

Photo via wwe.com

Photo via wwe.com

Alleged Birthplace: Calabria, Italy

Actual Birthplace: Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

Real name: Anthony Carelli

Bio: Santino had one of the greatest debut in wrestling history, having been pulled from the audience at a show in Milan (although he was clearly a plant) to challenge Umaga for the WWE Intercontinental Championship, which he won. The “Milan Miracle” gave him a huge boost of momentum, but eventually his gifts for physical and verbal comedy shone through. He almost never wins matches, but crowds love him because he’s hilarious.

Muhammad Hassan

marc copani

Photo via wwe.com

Alleged Birthplace: This one’s interesting. The Arab-American character was born and raised in the United States, but felt unfairly profiled because of his race after 9/11. It was actually an ingenious idea for a wrestling heel — the American who feels persecuted by xenophobic and racist countrymen. As the character progressed, though, it was implied that he had ties to terrorist groups in the Middle East

Actual Birthplace: Syracuse, New York

Real name: Marc Copani

Bio: Perhaps the most incendiary heel of the past decade — the Arab-American who represented Islamaphobia in a post-9/11 world was actually an Italian guy. He just happened to have the dark complexion (and muscular physique) WWE bigwigs were looking for. It worked. He became one of the most hated wrestlers in ages, routinely getting death threats, until he was finally fired because his schtick was too controversial for the network. He went into a kind of self-imposed exile for a while, cutting his ties to the wrestling biz, before returning to college to study — of all things — American history.

Who did we leave out? Comment below.

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4 Responses to 11 “Foreign” Pro Wrestlers Who Weren’t Really Foreign

  1. Ivan Koloff (Ontario, Canada)
    Boris Zhukov (Virginia, USA)
    Nikita Koloff (Minnesota, USA)
    Mr Fuji (Hawaii, USA)

  2. The character of Akeem was created to mock “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, who spoke very similar to “The African Dream.” Dusty was the main writer/booker for the NWA/WCW, which was WWF/E’s main competition at the time. A few years later, Dusty would have a falling out with WCW, and actually go to work for the WWF, who gave him a silly gimmick wearing polka dot outfits, and an African American manager named Sapphire.

    Another note is that “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase’s bodyguard Virgil was Also a jab at Rhodes, as Dusty’s real first name is Virgil. Point is, Vince McMahon can be a VERY petty person.

  3. Chief Walksalot says:

    Ivan Putski >> Joe Bednarski, lives in Austin, Tx
    Fritz von Erich >> leader of the Von Erichs, real name Adkisson, from Denton Tx

  4. Christopher Madill says:

    Rowdy Roddy Piper. Supposed to be from Scotland, actually from Canada. “I came to kick a++ and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of gum.”