Craig Wilson, Brian Damage & Jamie Lithgow
One of the most often repeated gimmicks in wrestling history is that of the foreign heel. Whether it is playing up on current tensions between countries or even conflicts ongoing at the time, it’s been used to varying degrees of success to get heels over with the US crowd. In this latest Top Five the team list their favourite foreign heel gimmicks.
Although an all-American hero in the 80s, my first exposure of Slaughter was in the early 90s as he returned with his Iraqi sympathiser gimmick. Certainly controversial considering the conflicts that America was involved in at the time and performed by a guy past his best, still, it’s my first proper exposure to a foreign heel and given the angle portrayed, it made for a memorable one.
4. Fritz Von Erich
Fritz portrayed a Nazi character which was always going to generate heat in the 50s and 60s although would really on generate off the scale controversy in this day and age. Factor in his introduction of the very foreign feeling move of the Claw, then you have a very good early foreign heel.
3. The Iron Sheik
Whether it was winning the tag gold with Nikolai Volkoff or defeating Bob Backlund to win the WWF title, The Iron Sheik was a classic foreign heel. The heat that “Iran Number 1” before spitting after saying USA drew certainly helped.
I’m on record elsewhere on this blog that one of my favourite angles in WWE history was USA vs. Canada in 1997 with the heel Canadians – except when in Canada that is – led by Bret Hart who had been one of the biggest baby faces in the WWE until this point. What a smoking hot angle this was.
1. Nikita Koloff
It’s difficult not to have anything other than admiration for Nelson Scott Simpson, who portrayed Koloff who stuck so rigidly to the character that he never spoke or made public appearances in order to protect the gimmick. Although criticism have been levelled at his in-ring work, particularly early on, the “Russian Nightmare” would prove to be the perfect foil for ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes.
5. Muhammad Hassan
Sure, the gimmick didn’t last all that long…but man…did it ever generate heat for the short time it was around. It came at a time when there was a lot of fear and hatred towards Arabs and Muslims stemming from the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The gimmick was so hot at one point…the networks refused to air the character anymore…forcing the WWE to scrap it.
Whether he was a singles star winning the WWF title from Bob Backlund or in a tag team with Nikolai Volkoff and winning tag team gold…the Iron Sheik was a classic foreign heel that everybody loved to hate.
3. Col Debeers
Hailing from South Africa…Debeers portrayed an extremely racist wrestler who actually refused to wrestle certain wrestlers because of their ethnicity and/or color. Something very taboo nowadays and still something very controversial back then.
The prototypical hated heel from Soviet Russia. The man who ended the over 7 year WWF title reign of Bruno Sammartino and had fans in attendance crying because of it. Koloff also traveled to the NWA territories with great success introducing the wrestling world to family members and other “Russians” like Nikita Koloff and Krusher Kruschev.
1. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart
His gimmick in his final months before the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’ was a stroke of genius. Dreaded Canadian heel that put down the U.S. at every American city he was in…but quickly turned Canadian hero when the WWF traveled north of the border.
5. Sgt. Slaughter
Okay, so he’s American, but I’m Scottish so he’s foreign to me. That said, in 1990/91 he could probably be considered an outsider in America too. This guy was such a heel that he made me almost cheer for Hulk Hogan… almost.
4. William Regal
William/Steven Regal was not a typical America bashing heel – save for his brief run in The Un-Americans – but there’s not too many other wrestlers who have used their nationality as the core of their gimmick yet stayed fresh and relevant for over 20 years. That is testament to the man’s talent… and the benefit of not repeatedly seeking cheap heat by bashing America.
This guy was the monster heel from my childhood. Granted he had Mr Fuji as a manager, but Yoko made a refreshing change from the typical sneaky, mist-spitting Japanese heels I was used to… probably because he was Samoan.
This character was even better than WWE knew, but as a result a line was crossed and it was rightly written off TV. More people hold prejudices than will admit to, hence why Hassan – along with Daivari – gained so much heat. If we lived in a society free from prejudice then Muhammed Hassan would have been a mediocre, mid-card heel, yet at times this guy’s heat was nuclear… I wonder why?
1. Bret Hart (and The Hart Foundation)
For me, Bret Hart in 1997 was the daddy of foreign heels. Nine times out of ten a foreign heel in wrestling is usually only aimed at gaining a reaction from American fans. Given that most WWE shows are performed for American crowds, this makes sense. However, the genius with Hart (and The Hart Foundation) was that non-American fans were also involved by cheering them as babyfaces. I still cannot answer a question posed in Wrestling With Shadows; were The Hart Foundation the heels, or was it the American wrestling fans? To this day, the main event of In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede is one of my all-time favourite matches.
All previous Top Five pieces can be read here.