As regular readers of “Heel Turns” know, the Greek god of wrestling is not a big fan of top 10 lists. It’s OK as a regular feature — as on PhillyPhanatics.com — but frequent visits to the “Top 5 this” or “Top 10 that” wells by columnists or so-called reporters is emblematic of lazy writing. (Most writers of these top 5/10 lists are looking up “emblematic” right now. At least that’s what they should be doing.)
But the preceding paragraph doesn’t mean it’s never OK to create a top 10 list. In honor of July 4th, this week Achilles Heel presents the top 10 patriotic wrestlers.
Here are a couple ground rules. This list includes patriotic wrestlers from the United States. Yes, I know Bret Hart is patriotic about Canada. I know Nikolai Volkoff and Yokozuna were patriotic toward Russian and Japan, respectively (although Volkoff isn’t really Russian and Yokozuna wasn’t really Japanese). So keep all your foreign heroes to yourself.
This list only refers to the wrestler’s in-ring persona. So Jesse Ventura’s military service or John Bradshaw Layfield’s patriotism, including coming up with the idea for WWE’s annual “Tribute to the Troops” program, won’t help them get on this list.
I also know that I’m going to leave off someone in some promotion who, at some time, draped himself in the American flag or wore red, white and blue trunks. Please accept my apologies in advance.
That’s enough of explanations and caveats. Let’s move on to Achilles Heel’s “Top 10 Patriotic Wrestlers.”
10. Corporal Kirchner This Sgt. Slaughter wanna-be never truly caught on. But he was patriotic while he lasted.
9. Brad Reinghans This former member of the U.S. Olympic team achieved his biggest stardom with the AWA. Although he didn’t generate rabid “U-S-A!” chants, as did wrestlers higher on this list, part of his wrestling persona was that he proudly represented the U.S. as an Olympian. (Interestingly, many former Olympians, such as Mark Henry, Ken Patera and, eventually, Kurt Angle achieved their greatest fame as heels rather than heroes.)
8. U.S. Express Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo teamed up in WWE (then known as the WWF) to form the U.S. Express, a patriotic tag team that traded the tag team championship back-and-forth with the anti-American team of Volkoff and the Iron Sheik before eventually losing the titles to The Dream Team (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake) at The Spectrum.
7. Lex Luger/Kurt Angle (tie) Despite what I wrote above about former Olympians, Angle has basically stayed with the red, white and blue singlet, a reminder of that moment when, with tears in his eyes, he celebrated his Olympic wrestling gold medal (1996 Olympics) while holding the American flag aloft. Luger was briefly a patriotic hero, slamming Yokozuna on the deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid on July 4, 1993, before crisscrossing the country in the “Lex Express” bus in a display of patriotism.
6. Bob Backlund Backlund represented humble “small town” patriotism, gallantly fighting off the monster foreign heels. When he returned more than a decade later as a borderline deranged wrestler, his character, “Mr. Backlund,” campaigned to be president of the United States. You can’t get much more patriotic than running for president.
5. John Cena Whether it’s his pre-match salute before he heads down the entrance ramp, the camouflage shorts he used to wear or his interaction with military personnel, Cena’s patriotism and appreciation for U.S. troops seems 100 percent genuine.
4. The Patriot Del Wilkes, under a mask, portrayed this wrestling version of Captain America.
3. Hulk Hogan/Mr. America When he became a fan favorite in the early 1980s, Hogan was transformed into an American hero. First, he vanquished the Iron Sheik, winning back the world championship. Then he started to use “Real American” as his theme song. When fending off the challenges of foreign heels, Hogan frequently waved the American flag. During his return to WWE in the 21st century, he also portrayed a barely-disguised masked character known as Mr. America.
2. Sgt. Slaughter The former marine drill sergeant would have been No. 1 on this list except that he turned his back on America and became wrestling’s hottest heel during the first Gulf War.
1. Hacksaw Jim Duggan I’m not exactly sure how big, goofy Duggan became the embodiment of the American spirit, but fans chanting “U-S-A!” became a part of practically every one of his matches. When he wrestled nefarious heels from around the world, the fans chanted “U-S-A!” When he battled Canadians, the fans chanted “U-S-A!” When he fought other U.S. wrestlers, for crying out loud, the fans still chanted “U-S-A!” Unlike Slaughter, he never turned his back on America.
That concludes this top 10 list. Don’t look for another one for a while.
X-RATED: TNA has come up with several good wrestling storylines for “Destination X,” its pay-per-view on July 8.
The first storyline, which I praised last week, is that Austin Aries has given up the X Division title in order to challenge World Heavyweight champion Bobby Roode for his title. TNA has also set up an X Division tournament to crown a new champion, with the final match being an Ultimate X match at Destination X to determine who will replace Aries as the X Division champion.
Kurt Angle will battle Samoa Joe in a match that’s part of the Bound for Glory Series, a tournament to become the No. 1 contender that adds meaning to otherwise run-of-the-mill matches. In other words, Bound for Glory gives fans a reason to care about matches they wouldn’t otherwise care about.
A.J. Styles vs. Christopher Daniels also could be a terrific match, but this angle is built around one of the poorer storyline around today. All I’ll say is that the storyline involves a paternity question regarding Styles. The less said about the storyline, the better.
EXTREME NIGHT: If you’re reading this Saturday afternoon, you still have time to get to Extreme Rising’s show tonight at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory. Jerry Lynn takes on Homicide in the main event. Other matches include Stevie Richards vs. Luke Hawx; the Ganstas vs. BLK Out; and the FBI (Full Blooded Italians) vs. The Dramatics.
Matt Hardy, Sandman and, yes, Sabu are also scheduled to appear. Sabu is being given a second chance with Extreme Rising after having to be removed from his hotel room on a stretcher and hospitalized before Extreme Reunion. The last show was sold out, but there are expected to be tickets available at the door tonight.
BEST IN THE RING: There weren’t any major Internet pay-per-view problems reported from Ring of Honor’s “Best in the World 2012: Hostage Crisis” on June 23 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York – unless you’re financially involved in Ring of Honor. It reportedly was easy for fans to get the Internet feed for free, which was only supposed to be available free for fans who had paid for the previous pay-per-view, which was plagued by all sorts of technical problems.
As for the wrestling, Kevin Steen successfully defended the Ring of Honor World Championship against former champion Davey Richards, who is taking a break from ring action. The All Night Express (Rhett Titus and Kenny King) captured the Ring of Honor tag team championship from Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin. Adam Cole won a hybrid rules match against Kyle O’Reilly, but lost a couple teeth and a whole lot of blood in the process. **SPOILER ALERT** At Friday’s TV tapings in Baltimore, Cole, who received the Achilles Heel stamp of approval in March, built upon that success by defeating Roderick Strong to become TV champion.
SUMMER CAMP: Ring of Honor will host a two-day seminar on Aug. 4-5 at its offices in Bristol (Bucks County). Interested wrestlers should go to the Ring of Honor Web site to find out how to sign up.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING? CHIKARA is off until July 28, but it returns that night in Portland, Maine, with an intriguing main event. Grand Champion Eddie Kingston put the title on the line against Sara Del Rey in a mixed gender championship match. Del Rey has frequently competed against men for CHIKARA.
Looking further down the line, five teams have already been announced for King of Trios in Easton on Sept. 14-16. The teams announced for the tournament are The Extreme Trio (Jerry Lynn, Too Cold Scorpio, Tommy Dreamer); F.I.S.T. (Chuck Taylor, Johnny Gargano, Icarus); The Batiri (Obariyon, Kobald, Kodama); The Spectral Envoy (Hallowicked, Frightmare, Ultramantis Black); and The Throwbacks (“Mr. Touchdown” Mark Angelosetti, Dasher Hatfield, Matt Classic).
MONEY IN THE BANK: The initial participants for WWE’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view on July 15 were announced this past week. To win the Money in the Bank match, a wrestler has to climb a ladder and take down the briefcase suspended from a hook above the ring. Inside the briefcase is a contract for a championship match, which the winner can use whenever he chooses.
The participants in the Money in the Bank match for a shot at the WWE Championship are John Cena, Big Show, Kane and Chris Jericho. That is a star-studded lineup, but one or two more wrestlers could be added to that match. The participants for the Money in the Bank match for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship were determined by qualifying matches on Smackdown. The participants are Christian, Santino Marella, Tensai, Damien Sandow and Tyson Kidd, who earned a spot in the match with an upset of Jack Swagger. I expect Cody Rhodes to find a way into this match as well.
Money in the Bank will also feature a WWE Championship match between C.M. Punk and challenger Daniel Bryan. A.J. will be the guest referee. I’ll have more on the TNA and WWE pay-per-views next week.