Pro wrestlers spend much of the year on the road, with a fortunate few performing in packed stadiums and arenas. Basically, they live a life similar to country stars, with greater risk of entering “Fist City.” There’s some mutual admiration, from country stars taking their families to WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) live events to the Rock’s endorsement of Cody Jinks. The following examples saw both worlds of touring entertainers overlap on screen, allowing real-life fans to inject a little country into their characters and work side-by-side with their honky-tonk heroes.
Willie Nelson Enters the Ring
WWE has always sought big names to bring global publicity and mainstream credibility to its product. Mix Willie Nelson’s crossover appeal with Vince McMahon’s apparent view that Kid Rock is still edgy to the kids, and you’ve got an ideal candidate for a recurring celebrity guest.
Nelson sang “America the Beautiful” at WrestleMania 7, a March 1991 event that played up post-Gulf War patriotism. One of the most instantly recognizable vocalists in all of pop culture did a fine job, singing in the middle of the ring and decked out in wrestling-themed garb. However, the real main event for WWE’s special guest happened away from the ring. After the Nasty Boys’ tag team title win on the show, the duo of Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags partied all night with Nelson. The Nasty Boys went as far as to gift Nelson one of their newly-won championship belts, forcing WWE to scramble for a replacement.
More recently, WWE Studios tapped Nelson to join Shawn Michaels, the best modern-day wrestler not named Ric Flair, for Pure Country: Pure Heart. It’s the third overall Pure Country film and the first to not star George Strait. Nothing will ever top the original film’s immensely awesome casting of John Doe from X as Straight’s drummer, but the Heart Break Kid and the Red-Headed Stranger do make for good riding partners.
The West Texas Rednecks Hate Rap
WCW (World Championship Wrestling) laid the blueprint for not thrilling fans with a celebrity guest. The textbook example of this came in the summer of 1999, when they paired rapper Master P with a ragtag group of wrestlers billed as the No Limit Soldiers. On an episode of Nitro, wrestler Curt Hennig tried gifting Master P’s cousin Slikk the Shocker a cowboy hat. P’s crew basically bullied Henning during the segment although they were supposed to be good guys, fueling a backlash against the rap-inspired stable.
Fans were further drawn to the charismatic Hennig and away from the No Limit Soldiers following the formation of the West Texas Rednecks. The stable consisted of Henning, Barry Windham, Kendall Windham and Bobby Duncum Jr. All four men joined together to eradicate rap music’s unwanted presence in WCW, as explained in hilarious novelty song “Rap is Crap.”
The song and its follow-up, “Good Ol’ Boys,” reflected Hennig’s real-life love of country music and karaoke singing.
Life Imitates Art for Jeff Jarrett
When future WCW and NWA heavyweight champion Jeff Jarrett first arrived in WWE in 1992, a lot of wrestlers had side jobs. The federation had an undertaker, prison guard, repo man and tax collector seeking an extra paycheck. Jarrett debuted as a struggling country singer who saw the bright lights of Monday Night Raw as a viable means to force Music Row to acknowledge his singing talents. That’s an illogical reason to risk life and limb in the ring, but at least they tried explaining why a wrestler saddled with a career-based gimmick needed to fight.
Fast forward a decade to TNA, a promotion founded by Jarrett and his father Jerry. One of the more memorable moments from the company’s first weekly pay-per-view in 2002 came when Jarett took a suplex from actual country singer and sports fanatic Toby Keith. It happened in Jarrett’s old character’s dream destination, Nashville. The grappler and his real-life country singer pal reportedly tried buying TNA in 2014, after Jarrett had left the company and formed Global Force Wrestling.
The Undertaker Breaks Character to Honor George Strait
On the surface, a big, surly Texan singing the praises of George Strait is hardly unusual. Like Memphis pro wrestling legend Jerry Lawler, Straight earned the moniker “king” after decades as a box office draw. Wrestlers loving country music without incorporating it into their in-ring personas shouldn’t raise an eyebrow, either. For example, one-man wrecking crew Brock Lesnar is capable of having a soft spot in his heart for a mere mortal, and he’s reserved that spot for Colter Wall.
What’s unusual is it’s the Undertaker, a legend who’s painstakingly protected his mystique in the social media age. In his first appearance since losing his presumed final match to presumed Florida Georgia line fan Roman Reigns at this year’s WrestleMania, ‘Taker isn’t exactly playing dead. Instead, fans finally meet the hard-nosed, Texas-bred outlaw behind a legendary character.