Patriotism in wrestling goes back further than any of us can remember. Some of the biggest and most powerful superstars have used their nation’s flag in order to garner a response from the crowd. Some stars have used patriotism to rival their opponent’s campaign, but many have built their entire career and character by their country.
There were even some cases where superstars who were from one country were billed as being from somewhere else. Canadian, Roddy Piper was a man from Scotland, Fritz Von Eric was no German, and Nikita Koloff (Scott Simpson) who used a fake Russian accent throughout his entire wrestling career and even went as far as legally changing his name to that of his character’s in 1988, was from Minnesota.
In this edition of Coliseum Corner we will look at seven patriots in wrestling whose famous moments and matches were captured on WWF Coliseum Home Video.
United States of America – Hacksaw Jim Duggan, UK Rampage 1993
Jim Duggan’s brash and bold character certainly made fans take notice. His catchphrase “Hooooo” had fans chanting along with him. Ever present was his 2×4 as he carried the American Flag wherever he wrestled. One of his most famous ways of livening up the crowd was to quieten the crowd by lowering his hands and shushing them. He’d then scream U-S-A and the arena would echo his words with and almighty chant in support.
From Sheffield, England, Hacksaw was in the main event against ‘the Narcissist’ Lex Luger. In front of an all British crowd, he carried the American flag to the ring and did his trademark USA chant and unusually got a foreign crowd to chant USA as loud as his fellow Americans. He was just that popular.
Russia/Soviet Union – Nikolai Volkoff, WrestleMania I
Before the Russian Federation was the Soviet Union (The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR), a communist state with Moscow as its capital. The Soviet Union is probably remembered for its dictator Joseph Stalin during and after World War II and his repression on Communist Party members and political paranoia. The effectiveness of a Soviet heel in wrestling was due to the friction between The Soviet Union and USA in real life.
Nikolai Volkoff, a native of Russia, entered the World Wrestling Federation in 1984 and formed a partnership with a fellow “Anti-American”, The Iron Sheik. Before each of his matches, Volkoff would sing the Soviet National Anthem to a chorus of boos from the live audience. At WrestleMania I he teamed with the Iron Sheik where they defeated the U.S Express for the WWF Tag Team Championships. A crowning moment in his career, the match is remembered as the legacy of WrestleMania continues. Volkoff managed to sing his National Anthem to the dismay of a New York crowd, with a victory for the Soviet Union and be one up against the USA.
Iran – Iron Sheik, Grand Slams
Such an antagonist was the Iron Sheik, he would go on a tirade about how America was no good. “Iran Number 1” was his quote. These days he is beloved by fans with his outlandish remarks and crazy speeches. He still talks about his victory for the WWF Championship against ‘the All American’ Bob Backlund.
The Sheik carried the Iranian flag and wore boots that curled up at the ends. On Grand Slams, the championship match is featured where The Shiek takes the title at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 1983.
Iraq – Sgt Slaughter, Royal Rumble 1991
August 2 1990. The Gulf War was declared as Iraq had invaded Kuwait. The United States had previously disapproved of Iraq’s torturous actions and had made it clear that they would invade if necessary. President Saddam Hussein had expressed that they didn’t see America as enemies but could harm them if they chose to take action. Saddam, one of the most notorious dictators, was seen on Iraqi television speaking to foreign hostages, even asking a British boy if he was getting his milk. Propaganda played a part, like in any war. If the western world were using any underhanded tactics, we wouldn’t have seen them. However, it is true that we did see such horrific acts from the Iraqi side.
As ever, the World Wrestling Federation incorporated reality into their storylines. Only six years before his return to the WWF, Sgt Slaughter was an American hero. He was loved by the fans almost as much as Hulk Hogan. Slaughter even had his own G.I Joe action figure. In 1990 he made his return. At first Slaughter set his sights on Nikolai Volkoff who was now waving the American flag. Before long, Slaughter had turned into an Iraqi sympathiser and verbally attacked the United States. Sarge even appointed General Adnan as his manager who strikingly resembled Saddam Hussein.
Although Slaughter defeated the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF title at the Royal Rumble, it was his promo before the match that sparked his patriotism for Iraq. Slaughter wore an Arabic headdress, carried the Iraqi flag and spewed such hatred for his own country. This was all during the Gulf War which led to him and Vince McMahon receiving death threats. In reality Slaughter was very uncomfortable playing this part and refused to burn the US flag when asked. By the time WrestleMania came round the war had ended, but it was alive and well in the WWF.
Japan – Yokozuna, King of the Ring 1993
Yokozuna was part of the infamous Samoan Anoa’I family who still have some of its members in WWE today. However, with his Sumo attire and hair style the behemoth Yoko looked the part as a Japanese Grand Champion. His manager Mr. Fuji carried the Japanese flag and did the talking on his champion’s behalf, with Yokozuna yelling “Banzai!” at the conclusion of each interview. Roots of this rivalry went back to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941, during World War II. This was another way to antagonise Americans.
Due to Yoko’s size, he reached immediate stardom by winning the Royal Rumble only three months after his debut. Just over two months later he won the World Wrestling Federation Championship at WrestleMania IX before losing it two minutes later to Hulk Hogan. At King of the Ring in June of 1993, Yokozuna received his rematch from Hogan. All around the ring were Japanese photographers (kayfabe). Many fans expected Hulk to win the match but a mysterious photographer (Harvey Wippleman disguised) jumped onto the ring apron.
The Hulkser approached the camera man who took a picture and the camera exploded into Hogan’s face! That gave Yoko all the leverage he needed to take down Hulk Hogan. After his win he added insult to injury, somewhat putting an end to Hulkamania on WWF television. Bobby Heenan on commentary exclaimed that Yokozuna would be taking the belt back to Japan. Mr. Fuji and the new Champion were interviewed shortly after while they celebrated. Fuji threw his Japanese patriotism at the fans but America would live to fight another day.
United Kingdom – Davey Boy Smith, World Tour 92
It’s not unusual to see a wrestler from the United Kingdom in the WWE. In the eighties and nineties there were the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid). After their departure in 1988, Davey Boy returned alone as The British Bulldog. Unlike the Russian characters and Middle Eastern heels, it was okay that Smith wore the Union Jack colours and flag. He was extremely popular in America and super-over in the UK.
On the Coliseum Video release World Tour 92, a special profile featured two of the Bulldogs matches (against I.R.S and Earthquake) as well as an interview piece where Smith visited his old school and family home. Davey Boy Smith’s most famous match was his Intercontinental Championship victory over Bret Hart in the main event of SummerSlam 92 at Wembley Stadium.
The Bulldog, although clad in patriotic British attire, respected the country he wrestled in… well, until some years later anyway.
Canada – Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, Canadian Stampede
So successful were the Hart Family, that many credit Stu Hart for their wrestling training. Bret Hart, the star of the family, was revered by fans all over the world. Between 1993 and 1995, he was the most popular star in the WWF. He was the ultimate fan favourite who stood up for what was right. In 1996, things began to change. Bad guys were becoming all the more popular and the good guys were being booed. His nemesis Stone Cold Steve Austin was a hated heel that cheated his way to victory and made derogatory remarks to fans and superstars. He was controversial and brash, yet fans started to like him.
Bret started being booed and he finally snapped, declaring war on the fans of the United States. He made it clear that he still respected his fans all over the world but had no love for Americans. This had never been done before. He reunited with his estranged brother Owen and brothers-in-law Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith, then add in Brian Pillman and you had the anti-American Hart Foundation. Bret started waving the Canadian flag at live events thus starting a war with his neighbouring country. On RAW in the US he’d be booed out of the building, then the following week in Canada he’d be the hero.
At Canadian Stampede, the Hart Foundation returned home to Calgary to face five American WWF Superstars. The Canadian fans were in full support of the Foundation and didn’t disappoint when Owen Hart pinned Stone Cold for the win. The entire Hart Family entered the ring afterwards to celebrate. Three faces present were Harry Smith, Natalya and Tyson Kidd. There had been Canadian patriots before, but none with the same impact of Bret Hart.
WWE host around 95% of their events in the United States. So any superstar who opposes America will be heel. Those who respect are accepted. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book for a wrestler to gain heat or popularity. Even American patriots who disapprove of their own countrymen are bad news (see Zeb Colter). Patriotism means war. People care about where they are from, so it makes perfect sense to apply also to the wrestling business. It’s made the WWE/F millions and you can expect it to always play its part.
Until next time folks, over and out!