Every successful Professional Wrestler (or Sports Entertainer, as WWE demands we call them) needs a gimmick. Some aspect of their character that elicits a response from the audience; whether that response is awe of the supernatural, as with The Undertaker, or electrifying excitement, as with The Rock, or cringe-inducing shock, as with Mick Foley. In the past and still today, there has been a stubborn insistence among purists that kayfabe must not be broken. That wrestling should always take itself seriously and never wander into the realm of absurdity. Sometimes, however, a performer comes along who pulls back the curtain and reminds us that, above all, wrestling should be fun.
5. Maxwell Jacob Friedman “MJF” – All Elite Wrestling
MJF makes this list, not for being absurd, but for being a classic, old school heel. His promos are some of the best in business and he’s only 24 years old. His most recent being short videos updating the fans on his recovery from a career-threatening hangnail injury. Watching MJF make his walk down to the ring is a masterclass in crowd work, interacting effortlessly with front row attendees; tearing up signs, getting cheek kisses from women while making their husbands/boyfriends kiss his ring. His slogan is, “I’m better than you, and you know it.” He is a complete asshole in the best way possible. MJF’s only flaw is being such an entertaining heel, that he often gets more cheers than the babyface he’s wrestling. I’m excited to see where his career goes and everyone here at “The Colloquial” wishes him a speedy recovery.
4. Lucha Underground
The next entry on this list isn’t an individual wrestler, but an entire promotion. Lucha Underground began airing in 2014 on the El Rey network. It’s half wrestling show and half tv drama series. Robert Rodriguez (yes, THAT Robert Rodriguez) is an executive producer and his fingerprints can be found everywhere. Characters and storylines are fleshed out in cinematic fashion and embedded with supernatural and science fiction elements. The promotion’s mixture of high-flying lucha libre and hard-hitting violence will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s also one of the few places to find real and believable intergender matches. It’s gritty, exciting, and will make a fan out of even the most hardline wrestling critics.
3. “Freshly Squeezed” Orange Cassidy – All Elite Wrestling
Orange Cassidy earns a spot on this list for being the most self-aware wrestler I’ve ever seen. It’s as if his whole gimmick is a deliberate, pie-in-the-face response to every person who says wrestling is fake. That’s not to say he tries to make every move look real, it’s just the opposite. “The King of Sloth Style” wrestles mostly with his hands in his pockets and throws punches and kicks with impactless lethargic energy. His walk down to the ring includes limp-wristed fist bumps to the fans and a half-assed thumbs up as his only in-ring pose. His ring attire is completely inappropriate for the setting, sporting jeans, a faded denim jacket, and aviators that impressively stay in place during top-rope dives. The audience eats all this up, making some of the loudest crowd reactions seen in any promotion.
2. “The King of Sleaze” Joey Ryan – Impact Wrestling
Joey Ryan couldn’t have a more appropriate moniker. His in-ring antics are so gross that it’s hard to believe other wrestlers go along with it. He’s hairy, oiled up, and keeps a lollipop tucked into the front of his sweaty tights when he’s not sucking on it in overtly sexual ways or using it as a weapon, shoving it in his opponent’s mouths. His balls are also made of steel, causing major damage to anyone who dares hit him with a below-the-belt cheap shot. He’s been known to perform a kind of reverse atomic drop, deliberately dropping his crotch onto an opponent’s knee, practically shattering their patella. His finishing maneuver is called the YouPorn Plex, where he miraculously performs a judo flip with his penis. It’s utterly bonkers and pops me every time I see it.
1. Broken Matt Hardy – All Elite Wrestling
Matt Hardy has come a long way from the days of teaming with his brother Jeff in the 90s for WWE. Since then he has left to wrestle in several independent promotions, but it was 2016 in Impact Wrestling where he cemented his legacy by creating the insane “Broken Universe.” Matt Hardy has become the living vessel of a deity who goes by many names, currently Damascus. He declares his enemies to be obsolete and sentences them to, “DELETION!” His promos detail his adventures throughout history clashing with real figures and fictional cosmic and supernatural forces. His vignettes, filmed at the Hardy Compound, sometimes feature historical figures, as in the time he consulted with a giraffe he claimed to be George Washington. Everything about his character, from his ring attire to his nonsensical, overly dramatic accent, demands the viewer’s attention. What’s most impressive is that even though he’s in the twilight of his in-ring career, Matt Hardy continues to expand his popularity by being the most creative wrestler in the world.