The world of professional wrestling can be wild on camera at times. But as any hardcore fan will tell you, the craziest stuff occurs backstage, after the show is over. From what happens when you tell a wrestler that the action is “fake” to the world heavyweight champion of alcohol consumption, here are 13 weird but true stories from pro wrestling’s past.
Haku Is Maybe the Baddest Man Alive: Tonga Fifita has variously been known as King Tonga, Haku and Meng in the squared circle. He’s also one of the baddest men ever to live, one of two men Andre the Giant said he was scared of. He once bit a man’s nose off in a bar for calling wrestling fake. In another real-life altercation, he broke a man’s bottom teeth out with two fingers. Don’t mess with Haku.
The Curse (and Redemption) of the Von Erichs: The Von Erichs are the First Family of Texas wrestling. Papa Fritz Von Erich had six boys. One died at the age of six by electrocution and drowning. Third son David was rising to the top when he died of acute enteritis while touring Japan. Three sons—Mike, Kerry and Chris—all died by their own hand. That leaves Kevin, who moved to Hawaii with his family and is somehow the least bitter person alive. See his 30 for 30 episode if you ever want inspiration.
Andre the Giant Checks Oil: "If you weren’t aware, “checking someone’s oil” refers to sticking your thumb up their butt mid-fight. Andre the Giant was keen on doing this to wrestlers he didn’t much care for. During Hulk Hogan’s first WWE run (his “heel” or bad guy run, not when Hulkamania was running wild, brother) Andre the Giant was allegedly unmerciful with the oil checks. Andre the Giant also has gigantic thumbs.
You Have To Be Tough To Be Tender: Back in the day, the two toughest guys in the locker room tended to be the champ and whoever was coming out in boas and eye shadow. Gorgeous George, Adrian Adonis (above) and Dustin “Goldust” Runnels all belong to a proud tradition of only letting legitimate ass kickers do the fey gimmick. Why? Because when five rednecks challenge your manhood in a bar after the show, you’d better be ready to throw down.
Ric Flair Survives a Plane Crash: “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was in a plane crash that killed the pilot, paralyzed Johnny Valentine and broke the back of Mr. Wrestling. Flair, who was 26 at the time, also broke his back in three places. Initially a power brawler, Flair had to modify his style to become the wheelin’, dealin’, jet-flyin’, kiss-stealin’ (woo!) son of a gun the world came to love and hate.
Vince Russo Unloads on the Hulkster: During the dying days of WCW, Hulk Hogan was one of the most hated men in the locker room. He had become very close with management and a lot of people resented it, chief among them former WWE booker (that’s wrestling talk for “writer”) Vince Russo. One night Russo was supposed to come out and cut a promo (talk trash) on Hogan. Things quickly spiraled out of control, with Russo venting his spleen. Hogan went home to pout and sued the company for defamation.
Bart Gunn Runs Down Dr. Death: In the mid-90s, when toughman competitions were popular and UFC was just getting going, the WWE decided to have their own version. Stories vary, but in one version, this was a “worked shoot” (a storyline that’s supposed to look legit, but is actually as scripted like everything else) to make “Dr. Death” Steve Williams look good. No one told Bart Gunn, who apparently had a wicked cross and plowed through everyone they put him against. He was punished with a match against Butterbean at Wrestlemania. No big deal for Gunn, who had a lucrative career in Japan, where Williams was something of a demigod.
Harley Race Pulls a Gun on Hulk Hogan: Wrestling used to be strictly regional. If you did business in Baltimore, you didn’t do business in Miami. So when Vince McMahon started taking the WWE national, he rustled a lot of feathers. The situation became critical in Kansas City, where promoter and legend Harley Race stormed the dressing room and clocked Hulk Hogan. Hogan said he was surprised Race didn’t have a gun, prompting the latter to produce a .38.
Andre the Giant Downs (Almost) 20 6-Packs in 6 Hours: Andre the Giant was in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1974 for being the world’s highest-paid athlete. He holds another record that’s not in there: the one for number of beers consumed in a single sitting. Guinness won’t recognize feats considered “dangerous,” and trying to top the 119 12-ounce bottles of beer Andre allegedly drank in six hours would probably kill just about anyone else.
Harley Race Takes on a Biker Gang: The only serious contender for baddest man to ever live other than Haku is Harley Race, the second man Andre the Giant feared. A certain notorious motorcycle club showed up to a Eugene, Oregon show to heckle Race. When it was over, they were still waiting for a piece of the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. He invited the biggest into the ring, broke his nose with a headbutt and choked him out. The rest of his club thought he was dead. In some versions of the story, the biker literally shit himself in the altercation.
The Undertaker Doles Out Justice: What do you do when you have a locker room full of giant tough guys with big egos known for constantly messing with each other? You start a court system. The wrestling court takes place backstage and hands out punishments, usually revocation of locker room privileges. The Undertaker was long the “judge” of WWE’s locker room court.
Nelson Scott Simpson Literally Turns Russian: Nikita Koloff (left) was one of a gaggle of not-actually-Russian guys who played on Cold War animosities in the 1980s. But whereas Barry “Krusher Kruschev” Darsow didn’t even bother faking a Russian accent on television, Koloff legally changed his name, learned Russian and refused to speak English anywhere for an entire year. He hired an interpreter to rent an apartment and had his birthplace listed as “Lithuania” on his child’s birth certificate.
El Santo Wears a Mask for 4 Decades: But you know who makes Koloff look like a total tourist? Mexican legend El Santo, who never appeared in public without his mask on for 42 years. If he went outside to grab the paper, he donned his mask. He even had a special chinless mask made to wear when he was eating out. He revealed himself once on Mexican television before he died. He was, of course, buried in his mask.