There is an oft-repeated adage in wrestling, that the point isn’t to fight, the point is to grab a limb and tell a story. Wrestling without a storyline is an exhibition; it’s Olympic wrestling. Wrestling with a storyline is professional wrestling, and a fertile ground for athletes to realize their dreams as actors. The wrestlers keep the storyline “real” through a force of will called kayfabe, and if you don’t stick to the script, you can ruin an entire match. As an aside to that, kayfabe also means that any biographical detail about a wrestler must not be considered facts — even birthplaces and real names have been known to be concealed, all to protect the business and the illusion of wrestling constancy.
Some of these wrestlers may be more familiar than others, but they’ve all successfully made the transition outside of the ring ropes into the larger world of acting; they’re all telling their stories on bigger platforms, and almost all of them have shown an affinity for comic book adaptations. Maybe there’s something about grown men fighting in spandex that appeals to a wrestler, after all. Some of these wrestler/actors are ones you may know, but click through, and let us surprise you!
The Demon Kane was a masked half-demon psycopath born in the flames of a catastrophic house fire at his family’s funeral home when he was a child; the fire was started by his half-brother, The Undertaker, and Kane was on a quest for revenge. Unmasked, Kane made an appearance in the sixth season of Smallville as one of the “Zoners” (prisoners escaped from the Phantom Zone) that Clark was tracking down; he played Titan, a behemoth obsessed with combat and victory in the ring.
Using a bone spear that came out of his forearm, as well as his brute strength, Titan was almost able to defeat Clark — almost. Glenn Jacobs, the man who plays Kane on TV, is actually an Allstate agent from Tennessee and is currently running for mayor of Knox County.
14. ROWDY RODDY PIPER
One of the most naturally theatrical people on this list, Rowdy Roddy Piper (born Roderick George Toombs) was one of the longest-working wrestlers ever, and was acknowledged by his peers as a master of the craft. From his humble roots as the host of Piper’s Pit a talk show hosted during WWF programming that was really an excuse to shoot promos and destroy a set, Piper came to mainstream renown after his role as John Nada in They Live, who famously came to kick ass and chew bubblegum, while bemoaning his lack of bubblegum.
Piper also appeared periodically on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as punchy ex-wrestler Da’ Maniac, as well as appearing as Bolphunga, the alien bounty hunter who learns the hard way why Mogo doesn’t socialize in Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.
Stephen Farrelly has been a mainstay in professional wrestling for the past decade, but he has only recently begun to branch out into more substantive acting roles. Most recently, he lent his voice and motion capture (and briefly his real body) to the part of Rocksteady the criminal-turned-rhinoceros in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.
This list has quite a few wrestlers whose film gigs amount to not much more than a smattering of cameos, but Farrelly gets dedicated supporting actor screentime in TMNT; Rocksteady and Bebop’s quest to recover the pieces of Krang’s infernal device for Shredder form the backbone of the plot that the turtles have to stop to save the world. Since then, Sheamus has been back in the ring as one half of “The Bar” with Cesaro (“They don’t just set the bar… they are the bar”), tearing up the WWE Tag Team Division.
12. CODY RHODES
Born Cody Garrett Runnels, Cody Rhodes is a scion of the Rhodes wrestling family, including father Dusty Rhodes (The American Dream) and Cody’s brother Dustin Rhodes (Golddust). Some wrestlers are born actors and some have acting thrust upon them; Rhodes was the latter. Noted WWE fan Stephen Amell, star of the CW’s Arrow began taking jabs at Rhodes on social media that eventually escalated to Amell and Rhodes feuding and participating in a tag match at SummerSlam in 2015, which Amell and his partner, Aaron Neville, won.
In the spirit of fair play, Amell invited Rhodes to appear on Arrow in the fifth season, as a drug dealer named Derek Sampson, who became a metahuman who couldn’t feel pain. As a wink and nod to Rhodes’ WWE career, his drug of choice was named “Stardust,” after his WWE in-ring gimmick.
11. JOHN CENA
The babyface to end all babyfaces at the WWE, John Cena can do no wrong; he’s an affable, well-spoken man outside of the ring, which has translated into a string of successful film appearances for the many-times-over WWE Champ. While he has taken obvious roles, such as leads in the WWE-produced Twelve Rounds and The Marine, Cena has recently made his mark by playing against type.
He appears as a supporting actor in Sisters, as well as playing potentially-gay boyfriend Steven opposite Amy Schumer in 2015’s Trainwreck, as well as voicing The Hulk in the Marvel mobile game, Avengers Academy. Since this year’s “No Mercy” pay-per-view, there has been widespread speculation that Cena will retire from the ring to focus on his part in his fianceé Nikki Bella’s show, Total Bellas, and his own burgeoning career as an actor and PR man for the WWE.
10. TRIPLE H
Triple H, or Hunter Hearst Helmsley, or Paul Levesque (his real name), is a legitimate member of modern wrestling aristocracy — his father-in-law is Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWE, and Triple H himself is the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative for WWE. But you may know him from his star turn as a little vampire named Jarko Grimwood, one of the bodyguards working for Parker Posey’s Danica Talos, a vampire working on a cure for the negative effects of vampirism.
For most of the film, Triple H just carries around Talos’ small dog (everybody loves a big guy with a small dog), but he does have a truly exceptional fight with Ryan Reynolds towards the end. Grimwood is finally done in by a vampire-killing grenade Reynolds punches onto his fang, and since then, Triple H has focused more on the business end of his wrestling career.
9. TYLER MANE
Born and raised in Saskatoon, Sasketchewan, Tyler Mane trained in the proud tradition of Canadian professional wrestling, alongside Stu Hart, and also with Mando Guerrero, the brother of Eddie Guerrero. Mane broke into professional wrestling as “Skywalker Nitron,” and soon became a fixture on WCW programming before retiring in 1996. Shortly after hanging up his boots for the last time, Mane was cast as Sabretooth in 2000’s X-Men and its concurrent video game.
He went on to play several Greek strongmen, including Antaeus in 2005’s Hercules miniseries and Ajax in Troy. He has also since become a favorite of writer/director Rob Zombie, appearing as stunted serial killer Michael Myers in 2007’s remake of Halloween and its 2009 sequel. Mane most recently appeared as the Minotaur in the television series The Librarians.
8. TOM “TINY” LISTER
Like many a wrestler before and since, Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr. originally had his sights set on a career in professional sports; it was a blown shot at the United States Football League that led Lister to acting, with his first major film role as Deebo, the neighborhood bully in Friday. Oddly, his acting career led to his wrestling career–he appeared in the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred, and appeared on WWF as “Zeus” to challenge Hogan’s supremacy.
Lister has gone on to appear in character roles over the last two decades, including President Lindberg in The Fifth Element, and Winston in Jackie Brown. He memorably played a convict on one of the ferries in the third act of The Dark Knight, a moral counterpoint to a panicked businessman, and one of the character moment highlights of the entire movie.
7. DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON
Easily the most recognizable face on this list, Dwayne Johnson has basically crossed the aisle at this point and become an actor who used to be a wrestler, rather than a wrestler who is an occasional actor. Johnson’s first major role was the antagonist, the Scorpion King, in The Mummy Returns, which led to a spin-off movie, and the offers just haven’t stopped. He appeared in Doom as the Sarge and as Roadblock in GI Joe: Retaliation. He recently filmed a cameo as one of the legions of adoring fans in 2015’s Jem and the Holograms.
Johnson has quite the slate of upcoming pictures, and seems to revel in playing comic book strongmen, with announced roles in Doc Savage and Black Adam as the title characters, and he will be playing Jack Burton in a remake of Big Trouble in Little China.
6. KEVIN NASH
Kevin Nash is one of those rare jewels of a professional wrestler, one who is largely famous on the strength of their given name. Nash wrestled for pretty much every major company, bouncing from WCW to WWF to WCW again and back to WWF/E then to TNA then back to the WWE. But you may know him best as the Super Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, the towering, mutated behemoth that the Turtles had to bring down to usher in a golden age of Ninja Rap.
Nash has gone on to play bit parts in a few movies, including turns in The Punisher (2004) and John Wick, as well as being featured as one of the gang of male strippers in Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL.
5. ROBERT MAILLET
One of the most under-the-radar successful actors on this list, Robert Maillet originally began his career under inauspicious circumstances, debuting on the WWF as The Cajun Giant. He eventually moved up the roster and became Kurrgan the Interrogator, before moving into semi-retirement in the mid-2000s.
His first film role was the Über Immortal in Frank Miller and Zack Snyder’s 300, netting an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight Scene; he has gone on to play a series of toughs and giants. Among his more recent parts, he was a lumbering bareknuckle boxer in Sherlock Holmes (who accidentally punched Robert Downey Jr. in the face for real — not kayfabe), and Lt. Aleksei Kaidonovsky, one of the Russian Jaeger pilots in Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. You can also spot him in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters as Polyphemus and TV series The Strain as The Master.
4. JEEP SWENSON
Born Robert Alexander Swenson Jr., “Jeep” Swenson was a moderately successful wrestler in the late 1980s and again in 1996, working with legendary manager Gary Hart and feuding with Hulk Hogan, but he is best known to audiences today as Bane in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. Swenson broke away from wrestling in 1989 to pursue an acting career, and had the usual string of wrestler luck finding roles as thugs, goons, and lackeys in action movies.
Swenson’s portrayal of Bane as a swaggering mountain of juiced-up dumb muscle did not go over particularly well with fans of the character as he had been introduced in the comics, but Swenson’s claim to fame was his biceps, supposedly the largest in the world, not his tactical genius. Tragically, Swenson passed in 1997, just months after the release of Batman and Robin and his 40th birthday.
3. MACHO MAN
One of the most acclaimed professional wrestlers of all time, Randy “Macho Man” Savage is still a household name six years after his untimely death at 58. His signature catchphrase of “Oooh yeah!,” his theatrical elbow drops, and his marriage to his manager Miss Elizabeth are testaments to his popular culture staying power.
Savage took a hiatus from wrestling in the early 2000s, and luckily, took some of that time to film a guest spot in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as Bonesaw McGraw, the wrestler that Peter Parker challenges just after gaining his spider powers. Macho Man’s acting career in general relied heavily on his wrestling background, but it didn’t make it any less fun to see him do a J-O-B to a teenager with the proportionate strength of a spider.
2. MILTON REID
Born to a Scottish Customs official and an Indian woman, Milton Reid was unfortunately sidelined during much of his acting career to parts with questionable and elastic ethnicities, playing the gamut from Japanese restaurant owners to someone in Captain Clegg whose name is just “Mulatto,” but his career was a long and fruitful one.
After wrestling in England as The Mighty Chang, Reid became known for playing bit henchman parts in James Bond movies, beginning with Dr. No and culminating in a rooftop fight scene with Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me. Reid also angled for the gig as Oddjob in Goldfinger and challenged Harold Sakata to a wrestling match for the part — since Reid had already been in a Bond movie, the role went to Sakata and unfortunately, the match never took place.
1. DAVE BAUTISTA
Dave Bautista came to prominence in the early 2000s as a wrestler (confusingly named “Batista,” presumably so it could be copyrighted), as a protege of Triple H in the heel stable, Evolution. Batista went on to several title reigns, and still remains the longest-reigning World Heavyweight Champion, with 282 days in his rule.
Bautista is almost a household name these days, with appearances in two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War), as well as Blade Runner 2049. Most of Bautista’s work in front of the camera has been in genre-specific pieces, such as The Man with the Iron Fists, Riddick, Kickboxer: Vengeance, and Spectre. Recently, he has also branched out into executive producing with the film Bushwick, in which he also starred.
Which of these wrestler appearances is the most shocking? Tell us in the comments!
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