Overrun with larger-than-life personalities, professional wrestling is a job that is not for the faint of heart. Defined by a relentless schedule, stunted family lives and a work environment that’s conducive to egomania, it takes a concoction of grit, determination and sheer lunacy to spend your life in the squared circle. Consequently, the real people that climb between those ropes often lead lives that are tailormade for the silver screen. In recent weeks, it was revealed that Hulk Hogan’s life was set to be adapted into a major motion picture starring none other than Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame.
Once portrayed as pillar of integrity and morality, the decision to transform Hulk- real name Terry Bollea’s- journey into a film was met with a decidedly mixed response after his well-documented racism scandal. Filled with triumph, toil and tribulations, these 10 wrestling icons have stories that would need no embellishment to become Hollywood blockbusters or enthralling indie dramas.
Ric Flair at the Sydney Airport, ahead of the Australian Hulkamania tour, 2009 - Brendon Thorne/Getty Images
For anyone unacquainted with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, his ESPN 30 for 30 documentary must’ve made for beguiling viewing. Affectionately dubbed “The Dirtiest Player In The Game,” the 16-time world champion personified “living the gimmick” and left a sizable influence on hip-hop culture along the way. Beyond the veneer of the limousine ridin’, jet flyin’ Slic Ric, Richard Morgan Fleihr’s day-to-day to life proved every bit as captivating but far less idyllic. Believed to have been born Fred Philips, Ric was adopted under dubious circumstances but had a fairly normal childhood. After contemplating throwing in the towel after two days, a young Flair persevered with his wrestling training and the decision led to him surviving a plane crash, being struck by lightning, becoming a renowned “party animal” and allegedly sleeping with over 10,000 women in his life. Plagued by alcoholism, divorces, self-doubt and incessant in-fighting with fellow wrestlers including Bret Hart, Mick Foley and Hulk Hogan-- not to mention the untimely death of his son Reed Flair from an overdose-- the dichotomy between Naitch and the man beneath the robes is a script waiting to be penned.
Vince McMahon in the ring during WWE Monday Night Raw show, 2009 - Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Although it’d be easy to assume that WWE owner Vince McMahon has always led a charmed life, the reality is starkly different. Raised in a South Carolina trailer park, Vinnie Lupton grew up “dirt poor” and wouldn’t meet his biological father until he was a teenager. Shaped by an abusive household, his rough-and-tumble upbringing would go on to mold the man that once expressed regret over his step-dad dying “before I could kill him.” Despite Vince McMahon Senior’s reservations, Vince eventually got involved in the wrestling business and gradually worked his way up the ladder. Once the company came into his possession, the fiercely ambitious Vince threw out the rulebook that his father and the National Wrestling Alliance adhered to and embarked on an aggressive expansion campaign. The death knell for countless rivals, this brazen ruthlessness set the precedent for Vince’s life ever since. From battling the FBI in a high-profile steroid trial to overcoming the odds to put the Ted Turner-backed WCW out of business, the idiosyncratic man that hates sneezing and tried to parlay his daughter’s first pregnancy into an on-screen incest storyline is a shoo-in for dramatization.
The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik backstage at Power 96.1's Jingle Ball 2013 - Ben Rose/Getty Images
Revered as one of the greatest heels of the 80s, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as The Iron Sheik, is a true one-of-a-kind. A former Iranian soldier and Greco-Roman wrestler, Vaziri moved to the United States after fearing he’d be assassinated and became a coach for the US Olympic wrestling team. Within a few years, Vaziri would become The Iron Sheik and prey on the xenophobia of middle America to become a major draw for the WWF. As prolific as he was in the ring, the lines between the curled-booted antagonist and the real man were beginning to blur. Urged by his wife to “leave The Iron Sheik Character out back,” the formerly devout Muslim’s life in wrestling led to a lifetime of substance abuse issues that resulted in busts for cocaine and crack. Then in 2003, his life would be turned upside down when his eldest daughter Marissa was murdered by her boyfriend. At the trial, Vaziri entered the courtroom with a razor blade tucked in his cheek but was stopped from gaining retribution by his family’s pleas. After decades of hardship, “Sheiky Baby” has finally turned his life around and is living his life to the fullest.
Jesse “The Body” Ventura
Jesse Ventura accepts the Frank Gotch Award at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum, 2003 - David Greedy/Getty Images
To say that Jesse “The Body” Ventura has lived a varied life would be an understatement. Born in Minnesota to Slovakian parents, Jesse would first evade his hometown as a Navy Seal and served In the Underwater Demolition Team during the Vietnam War. Towards the conclusion of his military obligations, the 6ft 4in Jesse became Sergeant-At-Arms of The Mongols Motorcycle Club. Referred to as “Superman” by his one-percenter brothers, Ventura would spend a brief period as a bodyguard for The Rolling Stones before venturing into wrestling. A flamboyant, self-centred heel that gained the ire of the crowd, his career was cut short by blood clots in his lungs; allegedly sparked by exposure to Agent Orange during ‘Nam, but he found a new home at the commentary table alongside the iconic Gorilla Monsoon.
In the years after he left the sport, Jesse would become Governor of Minnesota and has regularly contemplated running for president as a Green Party Candidate or alongside Howard Stern. Over the course of this decade, Jesse has become a notorious conspiracy theorist and even won a $1.8 million settlement from Chris Kyle of American Sniper fame after his death.
The Rock posing in the ring, 2000 - Getty Images
Whilst there’s many chapters yet to be written, the story of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnston is pre-designated for a big screen adaptation. A third-generation wrestler, Johnson’s early life of petty crime in a “theft ring” led to him infamously having a grand total of “seven bucks in his pocket” in 1995. Three years on, he’d capture his first WWF Championship and the stage was set for this former pro-football hopeful to become one of the biggest box office draws of all time and a transcendent star that is an inspiration for fans the world over.
Brock Lesner (UFC Heavyweight Champion) and Paul Heyman attend the UFC 111 party, 2010 - Jamie McCarthy/WireImage/Getty Images
While WCW and WWE ruled the airwaves, Paul Heyman's Extreme Championship Wrestling prodded at the boundaries of taste and fans’ bloodlust with a revolutionary product. Cited as a massive inspiration behind WWF’s “attitude era,” the renegade promotion shook the industry to its core and provided a counter-culture alternative to the juvenile of the mainstream. Held at a bingo hall in Philadelphia, the mastermind behind it all was none other than Paul Heyman. Praised for his intellect and reviled for his deceptiveness, Heyman had his finger on the pulse and took a mom and pop operation into the mainstream with a mixture of blood, guts and sex appeal.
Depending on who you ask, Paul Heyman is either a genius or a master manipulator that drove ECW to its death through complete mismanagement. Beset by constant lawsuits, bounced checks and cavalier drug abuse-- the legendary Sandman once died from an overdose and was revived to go out for his match-- the rise and fall of ECW is a tale of hedonism and underhandedness that would neatly fit into Scorsese’s wheelhouse. Known to inspire cult-like devotion in his employees, the perfect perspective to view it from would be through the eyes of its polarising architect.
Ronda Rousey celebrates her UFC Bantamweight Title, 2013 - Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The term “trailblazer” can get recklessly thrown around these days but it’s a descriptor that “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey has earned. Born in Riverside, CA, the young Rousey followed in the footsteps of her mom AnnMaria by studying the martial art of judo. While her forebearer won the World Judo Championship 1984, Ronda would exceed this lofty standard by netting a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Little did we know, this disregard for any preconceived boundaries would go on to define The Rowdy One’s every move. Born with apraxia and left without fatherly guidance from 8 years old after his tragic suicide, Ronda was a fighter by nature and overcame the odds to bring female mixed martial arts to the forefront. Prior to her arrival, UFC president Dana White was adamant that there’d never be women in the UFC. Yet two years after her debut, he was wrapping the inaugural Women’s Bantamweight championship around her waist. Rivaled only by Conor McGregor in terms of cultural relevance, Ronda would become a phenom in MMA but was derailed by two crushing KO losses. After battling depression and suicidal thoughts, Ronda would emerge a woman anew and assert her dominance all over again in sports-entertainment. Even if she retires after this Wrestlemania, her life is already enthralling enough to craft an inspiring tale from.
Diamond Dallas Page poses at 2015 Sundance Film Festival, 2015 - Larry Busacca/Getty Images
Despite first entering the squared circle at the age of 35, Diamond Dallas Page-- commonly known as DDP-- has left an indelible imprint on the wrestling world in several different ways. Although he’s an accomplished worker and former WCW World Heavyweight Champion in his own right, his in-ring prowess has been dwarfed by the positive impact he’s made since leaving its confines. Following his departure from competition, he transplanted the skills he’d learned during rehab for spinal disc ruptures and crafted a revolutionary yoga program. A ritual that “he wouldn’t be caught dead” doing in his earlier life, his unique approach has bettered lives the world over and even helped him pull two of wrestling’s most wayward souls-- Jake “The Snake Roberts” and Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall-- back from the brink of drug-addled self-destruction. As the icing on the cake, DDP took his rightful place in WWE’s Hall Of Fame as part of the class of 2017 by his long-time confidant Eric Bischoff.
Chyna at WWF Smackdown, 1999 - Getty Images
Affectionately known as “The Ninth Wonder Of The World," Joanie “Chyna” Laurer laid the foundation for WWE’s “women’s revolution” long before it was a catchy marketing slogan. Forced to dwell in an abusive, alcohol-soaked environment as a youth, the New Yorker found solace in the iron playground of her local gym. Through hard work and commitment, Joanie fought through the stigma of being the only female member to build a statuesque frame that could invoke envy from many male counterparts. Once she headed off to college, Laurer became fluent in Spanish, German and French and would take these skills to the Peace Corps in order to teach third world kids how to read.
Standing at 6 foot, she soon parlayed her distinct look into a wrestling career and became one of the WWF’s top attractions as a Women’s Champion and inter-gender competitor. Capable of hanging with the best of them, she remains the only woman to hold the WWF’s Intercontinental Champion and made history as the first female competitor to enter the Royal Rumble. Hailed as a worldwide attraction, she parted ways with the company in 2001 after her then-boyfriend Triple H had an affair with Stephanie McMahon. Riddled by demons and substance issues, her fame was only equaled by her deep-seated personal woes. Not content to fade away, Chyna reinvented herself as an adult performer and claimed to have “regained control of her life” but would sadly die at the age of 48 from an accidental overdose. Despite her untimely death, her legacy as a pioneer is indisputable and this was solidified by the news that WWE will induct her into The Hall Of Fame alongside her former D-Generation X stablemates.
Kurt Angle at the free-style wrestling competition during the Summer Olympics, 1996 - Getty Images
Where many wrestlers’ lives follow a bittersweet “rise and fall” narrative, Kurt Angle is a man that cast off all adversity and re-emerged from the ashes with a newfound lust for life. After the death of his father in a freak crane accident, a teenage Angle says he “vowed right then are there to become a champion, whatever it took.” Hailed as a prodigious athlete from a young age, Kurt’s long-term goal would come to fruition at the 1996 Olympic Games. Once a trainee at the infamous Foxcatcher Farms, the Pennsylvanian wrestler captured an Olympic gold medal in Atlanta with a broken neck. A testament to Kurt’s resolve, this momentous victory would leave him in severe pain that would eventually lead to an addiction to prescription painkillers. Three years on, he’d become a major player in the WWF but his battle with intoxicants was only beginning. Hailed as one of the greatest to ever grace the ring, it’s remarkable to look back at matches from the height of his addiction and see how fluid his work remained. Arguably the best athlete in wrestling history, a string of DUIs left him on the brink of losing it all until he was finally persuaded to go into rehab. Granted a second chance, he returned to the WWE in 2017 after years of estrangement and is back in the shape of his life.