Back in wrestling’s carney days, promoters had to draw heat on the heels at first glance. Most wrestlers were unknown to the majority of the fans until they walked through the curtain, so there were very few ways to draw a strong reaction. Hated foreign nationalities, prissy appearances, and general sneering were popular methods, but the emcee’s announcement of the wrestler’s hometown was one of the most subtle and effective ways to create an impression out of nothing.
Today, national promotions offer endless opportunities for wrestlers to develop detailed personalities. While the importance of simplistic symbolism is not predominant as it once was, it still has an essential place in wrestling’s tradition and its present.
The ability to “hook” fans on a straightforward explanation of a wrestler’s perspective and motivation is a crucial way to get a foot in the door. Even if the blunt force of the Terrible Turks has given way to a more nuanced view of character development, the hometown is still part of every wrestling persona. Today, I will take a look at some of the most interesting billed “hometowns” of wrestlers in WWE, TNA, and ROH and what those hometowns mean about their characters.
The Undertaker- Death Valley
Undertaker is iconic in innumerable ways. He is unique on the current WWE roster because he comes from an entirely different era. His gimmick hometown seems less awkward when you consider that some of his early feuds were with Parts Unknown’s Ultimate Warrior, and Sycho Sid, hailing from “Wherever he damn well pleases.” Today, it’s so well-known that Undertaker is from Texas that WWE even acknowledges his roots in Houston from time to time.
It doesn’t matter- Undertaker is the last wrestler who is an altogether different entity from Mark Callaway, the man who plays him. Callaway is from Houston, Texas. Undertaker is from Death Valley. Not California, just Death Valley. The desert, the buzzards, the wooden shacks with caskets inside- they’re all part of pro wrestling’s last real gimmick, and they’re summed up by his hometown.
Rusev- Moscow, Russia
Almost every wrestling fan has commented on how awkward it is for the “Bulgarian Brute” to take on the role of the pro-Russian, anti-American, international instigator. In the proud wrestling tradition of “close enough,” xenophobia is xenophobia, and Rusev works as a Russian. Whether he’s “now residing in” Russia, “soon to relocate to” the United States (like the Fabulous Rougeaus), or simply a French “sympathizer” a la Rob Conway, what really matters is the utterance of the location. Maybe it doesn’t matter that Rusev isn’t from Russia. Maybe the fact that he chose Russia is even worse. If there is one feature of the kayfabe hometown that has stayed strong throughout history, it’s that the name of any threatening foreign place will draw heat automatically.
The Miz- Hollywood, California
In the proud traditions of arrogant heels- from “The Toast of the Coast” Gorgeous George to Jesse Ventura calling Los Angeles “his town”-, Miz embraced Hollywood as part of his A-List gimmick. In his case, the fact that he is billed from Hollywood is less important than the fact that he changed his kayfabe hometown from Cleveland to Hollywood concurrent with the release of The Marine 4. Although he had a highly successful heel run earlier in his career, this move symbolized that he was about to become more arrogant than ever before. He has taken advantage of the opportunity and rejuvenated his career in the process.
Kofi Kingston- Ghana, West Africa
Kingston’s history with kayfabe hometowns is an ignominious one. He was originally billed from Kingston, Jamaica and the gimmick was incorporated into his whole persona, from his ring gear to his entrance music. He conspicuously dropped the Jamaican accent about a year into his run on the WWE main roster- the right move even though it was intensely awkward. While the Jamaican music and ring gear persisted, Kingston became a native of his true home of Ghana. Still, the fact that he is billed from a country and a part of a continent rather than a city or state differentiates him from almost everyone else in every major wrestling promotion in North America. Of all of the missteps in the promotion of Kingston through the years, the hometown is not the most egregious, but it might be one of the most obvious.
Tamina Snuka- The Pacific Islands
Tamina’s billed hometown (which is her actual hometown, or region, as it may be) serves as a reminder of her heritage. Tamina’s “hook” is that she is the daughter of Superfly Jimmy Snuka, who was also billed as hailing from The Pacific Islands. The automatic association with her famous father is a clever use of a small part of her gimmick.
Tyler Breeze- Seasonal Residence in Milan, Italy, Campo Grande, Brazil, Santorini, Greece, etc.
The idea of posh seasonal residences fits Breeze’s arrogant playboy persona. Some might not know that Breeze’s globe-trotting is borrowed from the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. Back in the ‘80s, Dibiase drew heat for his elitism by splitting his year between Palm Beach, Florida, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, Bel Air, California, and Netherlands, Antilles. Breeze’s updated seasonal residences similarly portray him as out-of-touch and self-absorbed. An added bonus for this gimmick is that it periodically changes, which forces fans to pay attention to the otherwise rote introductions. The seasonal residence is a distant cousin to the party animal residences, such as that of TNA’s DJ Z (Ibiza) and Robbie E (Seaside Heights, New Jersey).
Charlotte- The Queen City
Much like Tamina Snuka, a big part of Charlotte’s gimmick is her father. Since Ric Flair is so much more famous than Jimmy Snuka, that heritage becomes even more meaningful. It took me an embarrassingly long time to understand that Charlotte’s ring name was chosen purely as an homage to her father’s billed hometown, but when I did, it made all kinds of sense. “The Queen City” is the nickname for Charlotte, NC, so in one sense, Charlotte is actually named after her billed home town.
Abyss- Parts Unknown
In the proud lineage of the Ultimate Warrior, Giant Gonzalez, the Missing Link, Demolition, Papa Shango, Doink the Clown, and many others, Abyss comes to us from Parts Unknown. I assume that there was a time at which the public consciousness was more innocent and less cynical, which would mean that “Parts Unknown” might sound vaguely frightening. For as long as I have followed wrestling, it has been impossible to refer to “Parts Unknown” without the tongue inserted firmly in cheek. That wink and nudge fits perfectly with the Abyss persona, which is equal parts monster and self-parody.
Homicide- Bed-Stuy Do or Die, Brooklyn, NY
Although many hometown gimmicks are used to get heat on heels, it is also possible to get a cheap pop from other hometown fans. Homicide identifies with the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn and borrows the moniker bestowed by fellow resident Notorious B.I.G. Since TNA frequently records its shows in New York, it makes sense for Homicide to relate to the local fans and get some automatic fan support. Similarly, Homicide’s colleague Velvet Sky bills herself from “The Big Apple” to encompass the entire metropolis.
Madison Rayne- Seattle, Washington
As a resident of Seattle, I always took some pride in Rayne’s shared hometown. That is, until I discovered that she was born and raised in Ohio and continues to live in Ohio. In fact, there is no available evidence to suggest that she has ever so much as visited Seattle. As far as I can tell, she adopted the hometown just to reinforce the ring name “Rayne.” That’s commitment. Odd, misguided commitment, but commitment nonetheless.
Romantic Touch- Lover’s Township, New Jersey
When Rhett Titus was forced to leave ROH, an eerily similar wrestler in a mask started to appear. With his sexy saxophone entrance music, his rose prop, and his made-up hometown, Romantic Touch is a true throwback gimmick. Part of me wonders whether he chose the semi-believable town name just to force people to find out if there is a real town called “Lover’s Township” in New Jersey. I can tell you that there is not. I can also tell you that one of the top Google links for the search term redirects to Rhett Titus’s Wikipedia page. The masked alter ego gimmick is almost as storied as the kayfabe hometown, but that’s another article for another day.
Honorable Mention: MisChif- The Edge of the Netherworld. Zack Ryder- Long Island, NY. Stardust- Stars of the Milky Way. Ryback- Sin City. Wyatt Family- Snakebight, Florida (an actual town with a population of zero). Samoa Joe- The Isle of Samoa.