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Hollywood’s Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame

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From The Rock to Wee Willie Davis, we take a look at the turnbuckle stars who made the transition to the big screen...

Some ringside regulars would be scandalized at the suggestion that every stomach-wrenching leg drop and backbreaking suplex is choreographed in advance. But no one would disagree that it takes a great performer to become a professional wrestling star. Here are some who have made the move from squared circle to big screen.

Wee Willie Davis

Born William Davis, 1906-1981

The multi-talented Davis wrestled professionally from 1930 to 1961, besides appearing in several dozen movies, including Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), Mighty Joe Young (1949), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950). He also won $16,000 on the TV quiz show The $64,000 Question. His category? Flowers.

Harold Sakata

Born Toshiyuki Sakata, 1920-1982

Hawaiian-born Sakata won silver for the U.S. in Olympic weightlifting, later turning to pro wrestling as Tosh Togo. He worked in a “brother” act with Great Togo (Kazuo George Okamura), Mas Togo (Masutatsu Oyama), and Ko Togo (Kokichi Endo). An acting career blossomed when he was cast as James Bond’s bowler-hurling adversary Oddjob in 1964’s Goldfinger. Numerous films give a nod to the character, such as Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, with its shoe-throwing villain Random Task, and Toy Story 2, in which Mr. Potato Head tosses his hat à la Oddjob.

The Zebra Kid

Born Lenny Montana, 1926-1992

According to legend, when New York crime boss Joe Colombo brokered a deal to keep Italian-Americans from protesting against production of The Godfather due to negative stereotyping, he included the stipulation that former pro wrestler Montana would get a part in the movie. His character, Luca Brasi, ended up sleeping with the fishes but Montana’s career continued for another decade, with appearances in such TV series as Kojak and Magnum, P.I., and films like Steve Martin’s The Jerk.

André the Giant

Born André René Roussimoff, 1946-1993

Under the moniker Giant Jean Ferré, the soft-spoken, seven-foot-four native of France was so beloved on Montreal’s pro wrestling circuit that he could transition between heel and hero from one bout to the next. Later he broke into WWF stardom, becoming the first inductee into the WWF (now WWE) Hall of Fame. He made many screen appearances, but his most lasting was as Fezzik, the sympathetic giant in The Princess Bride.

Mr. T

Born Laurence Tureaud, 1952

Hulk Hogan’s very first WrestleMania tag team partner has had a long and prolific acting career, in both live-action roles (like the brutal Clubber Lang in Rocky III) and voice acting (like policeman Earl Devereaux in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). But we pity the fool who doesn’t know his most iconic role as Bosco Baracus (nicknamed B.A. for “Bad Attitude”) in TV’s The A-Team.

Joshua Ben-Gurion The Israeli Commando

Born Scott L. Schwartz, 1959

Trained by the notorious “Killer” Kowalski, the “Ultimate Bad Guy” has made dozens of screen appearances, generally playing bouncers, bikers, or bodyguards. Fans best remember him as Bruiser, the bald and bearded heavy hired by George Clooney’s Danny Ocean to fake beating him up in Oceans Eleven; his role recurs in Oceans Twelve and Oceans Thirteen.

Batista, aka The Animal

Born David Michael Bautista Jr., 1969

This former WWE world heavyweight champ appeared in the direct-to-video action fantasy The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption and in the Vin Diesel sci-fi vehicle Riddick, but didn’t really score in theatres until 2014, with his portrayal of everybody’s favourite overly literal alien, Drax the Destroyer, in Guardians of the Galaxy. In 2017, he’s slated to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Blade Runner 2049, with Avengers: Infinity War to follow in 2018.

The Rock

Born Dwayne Douglas Johnson, 1972

Named 2016’s Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine, the former WWF/WWE champ has become synonymous with buff demigod roles. His breakout was 2001’s The Mummy Returns, as the Scorpion King, billed as The Rock. The following year, he switched from heel to hero in The Scorpion King’s title role. By 2008’s Get Smart, he had dropped his wrestling moniker, and Dwayne Johnson has made his mark in such actioners as The Fast & Furious franchise and family fare like Race to Witch Mountain. He’s been busier than ever lately as Maui in Disney’s Moana, as Spencer in the HBO series Ballers, and as rogue CIA agent Bob Stone in the action comedy Central Intelligence. He’s attached to several coming projects: Shazam!, Doc Savage, and the Jumanji remake.

Top Ten Honourable Mentions:

  • “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (The Expendables)
  • Hulk Hogan (Rocky III)
  • Jesse Ventura (Predator)
  • Tor Johnson (Plan 9 from Outer Space)
  • Nathan Jones (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • Tyler Mane (X-Men)
  • Kevin Nash (John Wick)
  • Bob “Sgt. Slaughter” Remus (G.I. Joe: The Movie)
  • “Macho Man” Randy Savage (Spider-Man)
  • George “The Animal” Steele (Ed Wood)

Sarah B. Hood is a Toronto writer and editor.