While football focuses its attention tonight on the return of the Europe League, this evening also sees a most unusual event in Munich, as former Germany international goalkeeper Tim Wiese makes his WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) debut. Wiese, who once saved a penalty from Gareth Bale in the UEFA Champions League (pictured), will be part of a special six-man tag team match, held in front of 15,000 screaming fans at the city’s Olympiahalle.
For decades, the Sky schedules have seen professional wrestling programming sit side-by-side with the broadcaster’s coverage of Premier League football. On the surface, these may seem two distinct worlds. However, from the former Football League goalkeeper who set his sights on grappling stardom to the Premier League stars that found themselves in WWE disputes, the soccer and sports entertainment might be more closely-connected than first thought. As Wiese prepares for his big debut, the Kitbag.com blog is pleased two present ten previous instances when the lines between football and professional wrestling became tangled.
While American wrestling is still to provide Europe with a crossover footballing star, Wiese is the latest of a select handful of players to have opted to cross the pond and try their luck in WWE’s wild west. After dabbling with the round ball on the books of former Welsh Premier League side Porthmadog, behemoth Barri Griffiths would swap British shores for Monday Night Raw, becoming Mason Ryan in 2010 and taking out marquee WWE name John Cena on his debut appearance. Meanwhile, former Crewe, Port Vale and Burton goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson would also make the hop across the Atlantic, competing on a UK tour for WWE’s NXT brand under the persona of musclebound rookie Hugo Knox. Tomlinson’s foray in the world of showbiz slams came to a halt this year, yet at 6 ft 4 and 20+ stone of trash-talking attitude, fellow shotstopper Wiese appearnces more than equipped to take WWE by storm.
When the wacky world of WWE gets a little too out of hand, who exactly do you call upon? At previous events, the answer has ranged from action movie hero Chuck Norris to heavyweight boxing legend Mike Tyson. However, during a trip to the United Kingdom in 1998, former Leeds, Chelsea, Wimbledon and, bizarrely, Wales hardman Vinnie Jones would be the man recruited, serving as a special enforcer for at the Capital Carnage supercard. In a comedic twist for the London Arena crowd, the rebellious Jones would soon be relieved of his duties, even handed a symbolic red card for his trouble. Nevertheless, the 1988 FA Cup winner would return at the death to have the last laugh, helping favourite Steve Austin to a successful title defence. The duo would later reunite on the silver screen in 2007’s The Condemned.
Miz vs White
Gatecrashing the organised chaos of the Sky studios, former WWE Champion Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin made for an animated guest of Sky Sports News HQ in 2012, the former reality TV star showing up to promote that year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view event. Giving the heavyweight don of Deadline Day a lot more than he bargained for, Mizanin even got a hold of presenter White to demonstrate his trademark finishing move, the so-called ‘Skull Crushing Finale’; though thankfully White would escape unscathed to complete his yellow-tied duties.
From Gazza’s leg break heartbreak in the 1991 FA Cup Final to Stuart Pearce’s spot-kick redemption at Euro ’96, the 1990s provided a parade of memorable moments on the Wembley Stadium turf. However, as the game underwent one of the biggest transitions in its history, the 90s also saw WWE invade the home of English football for one of its biggest ever pay-per-view events. For one summer’s evening in 1992, the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal were replaced by teams with names like the Legion of Doom and Bushwhackers, while, top of the bill, Leeds’ own ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith pinned champion Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart in front of a record attendance of more than 80,000. Though the football season would later dish up an FA Cup Final settled at in the dying embers of extra-time, the spectacle of Hart vs Smith would sit comfortably alongside some of the stadium’s most dramatic sporting theatre.
Cup Final Day
Back in the times when TV wrestling was distinctly British in its presentation, televised grappling would provide a prominent portion of the schedule on all but one FA Cup Final Saturday. Traditionally the biggest day of the football and wrestling calendars alike, bouts were broadcast on an annual basis between 1961 and 1987; with names such as Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki and Adrian Street all adding their own unique colour to the afternoon’s events. Notably, the clash between perceived rivals Mick McManus and Jackie Pallo on the day of the 1963 FA Cup Final (Manchester United vs Leicester City) is said to be the most-viewed wrestling match in UK television history. However, with British wrestling tumbling off the TV schedules as the 80s drew towards its close, the showmanship of the squared circle was one tradition that would not make it to the Premier League era.
McMahon to Newcastle
In 2014, billionaire WWE owner Vince McMahon would be linked with a sensational takeover of ailing Newcastle United; a story that came out of nowhere to set social media ablaze. With the former Titan Sports tycoon having already included a bodybuilding division, NASCAR project and upstart American football league (the ill-fated XFL) as part of his sprawling empire, it seemed that the hugely-popular chaos of the English Premier League could actually be a feasible next step. Sadly the story would ultimately fizzle out, although whether McMahon’s interest in the Tyneside institution had been scuppered by the potential colour clash between Newcastle’s home shirts and those of his hapless referees remains unknown.
The Special One
During WWE’s biannual jaunts to the United Kingdom, a number of football’s most famous faces have found their way to ringside, with perhaps none more famous than current Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho. At the tail end of his initial stint with Chelsea, Mourinho attended a televised event at Earls Court in April 2007, where he soon found himself targeted by WWE power-broker Shane McMahon. Shrugging off McMahon’s verbal barbs, cool-headed Mourinho could perhaps consider a career in the footsteps of managerial masters Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and ‘The Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart, should his Old Trafford stint end in disaster. If nothing else, ‘The Special One’ already has his nickname. Meanwhile, despite being an ocean from the action for most of the calendar year, a number of top WWE performers are known to be ardent followers of English football, with former World champion Sheamus a long-time Liverpool fan, inspired by the Irish contingent at Anfield in the 1980s.
Do the Fandango
Weeks after his introduction to WWE, flamboyant newcomer ‘Fandango’ (Johnny Curtis) proved an unexpected hit with crowds during WrestleMania season, as raucous European fans at a live Raw broadcast from New Jersey turned his instrumental entrance theme into an improbable terrace-style chant. The subsequent sing-along craze saw Fandango’s tune rocket up the iTunes charts, with UK fans even tweeting their respective football clubs to play the unlikely anthem at matches. While Rangers were among the clubs to get involved, Everton announced on their Twitter account that they would not be taking part, kicking off the most unlikely feud between a Premier League mainstay and flamenco-dancing grappler. However, the transatlantic tussle would conclude on friendly terms, as the Toffees played the track before a game at Goodison – winning a flamboyant new fan in the process. In 2014, Fandango even made a visit to Everton, where he was presented with his own jersey, before touring the historic ground with club legend Graeme Stuart. All’s well that ends well, eh?
Rooney vs Barrett
Top of the table in our rundown of wrestling crossovers, social media was stunned last November when Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney locked horns with loudmouth brawler Wade Barrett, a staunch Preston North End fan and multi-time WWE Intercontinental Champion. While Rooney’s retribution to Barrett’s war of words was well-received by fans at Manchester Arena, former United captain Roy Keane was less than impressed, calling the incident “nonsense” during coverage of United’s Champions League match with PSV Eindhoven later in the month. However, the England captain’s slapping of the one-time King of the Ring did make a positive impact with the bookies; with Paddy Power installing Rooney as a 150-1 outsider to win the impending Royal Rumble match – and, with it, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. A future direction for the multi-time Premier League champion?! If Wiese succeeds in WWE, who knows who else might follow in his footsteps… AC
- Penalty by Matthew Childs, Action Images
- Training by Peter Cziborra, Action Images
- Goalkeeping by Tony O’ Brien, Action Images