In the United States of America, one of the best things you can do is love your country more than anything, something that pro wrestling knows better than almost anyone else. Over the decades that pro wrestling has existed in the US, there have been a multitude of wrestlers who have used the country’s incredible devotion to patriotism to create legendary careers, whether attacking its values as a nefarious heel, or upholding all that the country holds dear as a beloved babyface. It’s a tried-and-true formula that wrestling will always go back to, and in a few cases, it has created some of the biggest stars that the business has ever seen.
10. The US Express
While they weren’t around for very long, the team of Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham was formed in order to feud with the team of Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Shiek, losing the WWE Tag Team Titles to the dastardly duo at the very first WrestleMania, before regaining them a few months later. Unfortunately, Windham left the team and went back to WCW, leading to an even shorter-lived team of Rotunda and Dan Spivey known as The American Express, which was far less successful. The original US Express is actually mostly notable for its two distinctive entrance themes. The first, “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen (please tell us you already knew that), has been widely misinterpreted over the years (including by WWE when choosing it for the Express’ theme) as a staunchly pro-America song, when it is actually a sobering piece on the disillusionment of veterans of the Vietnam War. The second theme used by the Express is Rick Derringer’s classic “Real American”, which was eventually re-assigned after Windham left the team, and became the theme most associated with WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan.
9. The Patriot
While he did have a largely successful career before appearing in WWE, The Patriot is almost certainly best remembered by wrestling fans for his brief feud against the anti-American WWE Champion Bret Hart in 1997, which featured him actually defeating Hart on Raw and earning a WWE Title shot on Pay Per View as a result. The Patriot was unsuccessful in dethroning Hart, but continued to feud with the rest of the Hart Foundation for several months, before suffering a triceps injury that would result in him disappearing from TV and never actually returning to WWE. Honestly, when looking for patriotic wrestlers, you don’t get any more generic than The Patriot, who really only got his spot against Hart due to his gimmick. These days, if he’d suffered a similar injury, WWE almost certainly would have just put someone else under the mask and carried on (as Sin Cara can attest). However, The Patriot also has a second claim to fame, as like the US Express, his WWE entrance music was eventually recycled and given to another All-American wrestler, Kurt Angle.
8. Jack Swagger
Of course, patriotism can have a dark side, which is best exemplified by Jack Swagger in all his forms. Originally debuting in WWE as “The All-American American”, Swagger wasn’t so much patriotic as he was arrogant, suggesting that his heritage and status as a collegiate All-American made him superior in every way. Later in his career, Swagger’s character would evolve into an even more jingoistic one, becoming, among several other less desirable characteristics, more vehemently anti-immigration, to the point of blatant racism, while claiming to be a “Real American”, alongside his manager Zeb Colter. The character’s extreme views were actually addressed by several high-profile political commentators, which led to WWE filming a video where Swagger and Colter “broke character” to explain that they were just actors playing a role on a TV show. Despite that, Swagger’s character did lead to some uncomfortable moments, such as crowds who would cheer the ostensibly heel Swagger during a highly politically charged era for the country, as well as several unfortunate implications when Swagger turned face as part of a feud with the Russian heel Rusev, but maintained many of the same distasteful character traits and motivations that he had as a heel.
7. Lex Luger
Speaking of wrestlers who completely changed themselves and became uber-Americans as a result, we have “Made in the USA” Lex Luger. Originally debuting in WWE under the heel gimmick of “The Narcissist”, Luger made a sudden and shocking face turn when WWE Champion Yokozuna mocked America with a ridiculous “Body Slam Challenge” on the deck of the USS Intrepid, challenging athletes from across America to try and slam the massive sumo wrestler. When all others had failed, Luger arrived on a helicopter and performed the feat with ease, kicking off the build towards a SummerSlam match between the now All-American Luger and the evil foreigner Yokozuna. And WWE went all out with trying to make the formerly detestable Luger into the second coming of Hulk Hogan, covering him in red, white in blue, making his entrance music a Sousa march, and sending him across country on a star-spangled bus called “The Lex Express” to visit and inspire Americans all over. Then they booked him to win the match by count-out, making him look like an idiot and a failure, and his WWE career went downhill from there, as he was eventually usurped for the position of the man to overcome Yokozuna by a Canadian wrestler, Bret Hart.
6. Sergeant Slaughter
For decades, Sergeant Slaughter has been the ultimate wrestling portrayal of the glory of the American armed forces. Sarge was so patriotic, that he signed a deal with Hasbro and got himself inserted into the actual G.I. Joe line of action figures, even appearing on the Saturday morning cartoon! In fact, that deal actually caused him some problems during his initial WWE run, as allegedly Vince McMahon wanted a cut of the money Slaughter was making, even thougH WWE had no involvement in it. This led to Slaughter leaving WWE for a time, and when he returned, it was as an evil turncoat who had embraced the ideals of Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War. It was largely seen as a bad idea, and Iraqi Sympathizer Slaughter as WWE Champion largely tanked WrestleMania VIII. Shortly afterwards, as tearful Sarge begged America to take him back, and resumed his role as the embodiment of the American military.
5. Dusty Rhodes
The man known as “The American Dream”, Dusty Rhodes was the representation of the blue collar workers that were the backbone of America, during a time of financial crisis for the nation. His inspirational speeches about the plight of the common man resonated with the majority of American wrestling fans, especially during his battles with the symbol of the wealthy elite, Ric Flair. Dusty’s story of rising up through the ranks of pro wrestling despite not having a look generally associated with heroic characters was inspiring to many people, and gave him a massive fan following for many years. At one point, Dusty even formed a “Superpowers” tag team with the Russian Nikita Koloff, who had turned face out of respect for his nemesis Magnum TA, who was grievously injured in an automobile accident, and their combined might ran roughshod over the tag team division at a time when Cold War hysteria was still prevalent in America.
4. Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Another wrestler who embraced the hard-working ideals of the American public was Jim Duggan, who spent most of his career waving an American flag, along with his trusty 2×4. We’re still not entirely sure what the chunk of wood had to do with being a proud American, but somehow Duggan made it work, becoming one of wrestling’s most beloved characters during the 80’s and early 90’s, which persisted even through his retirement, as he still makes occasional appearances on WWE television, flag in hand. While some might suggest that Duggan was simply leeching from the All-American persona of Hulk Hogan, who was dominating the business at the same time, Duggan representing a more down-to-earth version of patriotism, with less of the flash and style of Hulkamania, and more of a simple, blue collar attitude that relied on always fighting to the end, and persevering through sheer determination.
3. John Cena
Shortly after filming The Marine, John Cena started adapting a more militaristic style to his character, and became a vocal spokesperson for supporting America’s soldiers. Of course, these days Cena is pretty much the spokesperson for every cause in WWE, but his patriotic turn was the first real departure from his original rapper gimmick, making him far more clean cut and family-friendly, as opposed to his edgy, adult-oriented appeal. Over the years, Cena has, of course, been one of WWE’s most obvious symbols of patriotism, especially in his lengthy feud against Russian supporter Rusev, which very nearly degenerated into something straight out of the Cold War. However, while Cena is certainly an American hero, and has spoken endlessly about “the troops”, he’s never truly gone ridiculously over the top into a stereotypical “patriotic wrestler”, wrapping himself in the Stars and Stripes and telling people to “love it or leave it”, as has been seen in more directly patriotic gimmicks on this list.
2. Hulk Hogan
From the moment he defeated the dastardly Iron Shiek for the WWE Title, Hulk Hogan was as much a symbol of America as baseball, the military, and Mom’s apple pie. Coming to the ring to the strains of “Real American”, often bedecked in some form of the American flag, Hogan was an icon for patriotism during a turbulent time for the country, caught between the end of the Cold War and the ongoing troubles in the Middle East. Hogan’s patriotism reached an admittedly silly peak during his feud with Sergeant Slaughter in the shadow of the (incredibly brief) first Gulf War, and in the years that followed, Hogan’s character would move away from the American ideal, and into that of an egotistical Hollywood star, as America itself grew fairly disillusioned with its heroes. When Hogan returned to WWE after a decade working in WCW, he almost immediately resumed his patriotic persona, which the fans enjoyed from a nostalgic perspective, and at one point, even competed under a mask as the mysterious “Mr. America” (it’s a long and ridiculous story that you can read more about here). So, what possible American patriot could possible top a man who literally claimed to be the living representation of America?
1. Kurt Angle
Oh, it’s true, it’s damn true. A legitimate NCAA wrestling champion and the only Olympic gold medalist in pro wrestling history, Kurt Angle has been all about America from the very beginning. He was introduced to the world as an American Olympic hero (which the IOC reportedly wasn’t thrilled with, but they’ve got their own problems these days), and despite the fact that the crowd turned on him, he maintained his dedication to his American values of intensity, integrity, and intelligence, which he believed made him superior to any other athlete on the planet. From his theme song to his wrestling attire, Angle has always been closely associated with the red, white, and blue of his country, and due to his incredible wrestling skill and natural charisma, he eventually managed to turn fan opinions around to his side, making him the American hero that he’d always purported to be. Angle’s patriotism reached its peak in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, when he was held up as a symbol for the dedication and perseverance of the American spirit, even winning the WWE Championship only weeks after the incident, giving the American people something to cheer about. Of course, he went back to being an arrogant heel shortly afterwards, because let’s face it, it’s what he’s best at, but whether a good guy or a bad guy, nobody can ever doubt Kurt Angle’s close ties to the USA, which have persisted throughout his entire career.