Highlander follows a group of sword-fighting immortals in a fantasy setting. Although it may seem unlikely, there are five unexpected ties that binds Highlander with professional wrestling! From Hulk Hogan to a particular tag team from Scotland, wrestling has shared some surprising history with the Highlander film and television franchise.
The Highlander-Pro Wrestling Connection
Like pro wrestling, Highlander films lean towards spectacle. Characters battle each other to the death via spectacular sword fights; blades spark and flash whenever they clash for no particular reason.
The only way to kill an immortal is by cutting off their head; they then absorb their fallen opponent’s power with an event called The Quickening, which is a lot of pyro and lightning. It’s like when a wrestler points to the WrestleMania sign at the end of the Royal Rumble.
The immortals live by a prophecy that there can be only one in the end! Again, a lot like the Royal Rumble.
1. Wrestling Connection in the Very First Scene of Highlander (1986)
The original Highlander movie, starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, was released in 1986, and in the very first scene, we have our initial wrestling connection.
The famous opening shot pans around Madison Square Garden, where a match occurs, before settling on Connor Macleod (Lambert), the movie’s main protagonist and titular “Highlander.”
Interestingly, Connor was supposed to be at another sporting event.
"The initial scene was originally an ice hockey game, and the ice hockey sticks being raised in the fight reminded Macloud of the battle of King Gussie in the 1540s," remembers co-scriptwriter Peter Bellwood in the Making Of Highlander DVD Documentary.
"We wanted to shoot a hockey game, and the producers went to the national hockey league, and they refused to let us do it!"
Highlander at a Wrestling Match
Instead, Australian director Russell Mulcahy settled for pro wrestling and a six-man tag match between Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell, and The Tonga Kid taking on The Fabulous Freebirds, who at the time consisted of the original line-up of Michael P.S Hayes, Terry "Bam Bam” Gordy, and Buddy Roberts.
Highlander was filmed in the mid-’80s, and seeing as this match took place at Madison Square Garden and how most of the wrestlers involved had done some business for McMahon during this era, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a WWE (then WWF) event.
However, the footage was actually taken from an AWA show shot in New Jersey at the Brendan Byrne/Meadowlands Arena, filling in as the world’s most famous arena.
2. Hulk Hogan as Highlander Lead?
Of course, someone you WOULD see in Madison Square Garden at the time was one Hulk Hogan, who, as a guest on the Howard Stern Show in 2011, made a bold claim that he was approached to play the lead in Highlander—a claim he reiterated on Twitter when he said, “Yes, turned down lead part in Highlander.”
An important fact of life is to take everything the Hulkster says with a pinch of salt.
In the same Stern interview, Hogan said he was up for the lead in Oscar-nominated film The Wrestler, a claim shut down by film director Darren Aronofsky, and that I’m sure an Associate Producer on the film, Pro Wrestling Stories’ own Evan Ginzburg, can comment on.
Evan added, “I can attest that I never heard Hogan’s name come up in our seven years of working on The Wrestler.”
3. Enter Roddy Piper
That said, there is one H. Hogan that got a mention in the franchise. The character is Harry Hogan, the trainer of the villainous Anthony Gallen. Harry’s name is almost certainly a nod to Hulk, as Gallen himself was portrayed by one of his greatest foes, Rowdy Roddy Piper!
Highlander: The Series follows the adventures of Connor’s cousin, Duncan, and it’s here where Roddy Piper guest starred as the villain for the episode “Epitaph For Tommy."
"I love Roddy,” remembers the show’s star, Adrian Paul, fondly on his YouTube Channel.
"Roddy was a character. He had a great voice and was larger than life, and when he was doing a fight, he was doing a fight."
Roddy’s Part Was Dangerous to Film
Most early episodes of Highlander: The Series have the same setup. We are introduced to the baddie of the week, a few historical flashbacks to establish the relationship between Duncan and said heel, then a big old sword fight at the end.
The episode featuring Roddy Piper is no exception, but the end battle may have been a little more dangerous to film than most! At least, according to Adrian Paul.
"I remember him (Roddy) saying to Bob Anderson (fencer and the shows fight choreographer), ‘If I fight Adrian and it kind of feels like it’s a real fight, then that’s what you do. You take it to the edge, as far as you can without injuring the actual opponent.’"
Worrying Sword of Choice for Roddy
Roddy Piper’s sword of choice in the episode as Anthony Gallen was a "Garcia de Paredes," a two-handed blade that made the show’s lead actor, Adrian Paul, somewhat nervous when held in the mits of the Rowdy one.
"I told Bobby, ‘I kinda feel weird about this particular blade because he’s really swinging and his blade is bigger and heavier,’ and Bob said, ‘Ah, don’t worry Adrian, you’ll be fine,’ and as I went to parry it, it just snapped my sword in half!”
"I’m sad [Roddy]’s not here anymore. I really liked the man; he was a pleasure working with."
4. The Highlanders Tag Team
The Highlander film and TV franchise clearly influenced Scotland’s own Rory and Roby McAllister.
Appearing in WWE on RAW from 2006-2008, the Tartan-clad duo looked and dressed the part of WWE’s The Highlanders. While not climbing to the top of the tag team heap, they had a solid run, and at one point, they were number one contenders to champs, The Spirit Squad.
They ultimately returned to the indies before wrapping up their careers.
5. Edge Looks The Part
Roddy Piper isn’t the only wrestling great to appear in the franchise. Adam Copeland, Edge himself, is briefly showcased in Highlander: Endgame as a no-good highwayman who stops a carriage in 1712 in Kildare, Ireland.
It isn’t long until the heroic MacLeod cousins arrive to save the day!
Swordplay ensues (of course), and it ends with Copeland grabbing a massive boulder (no steel chairs in those days) with the intent on bludgeoning Connor, but Duncan makes the hot tag and whips his sword towards Adam’s crotch area, catching him between a rock and a sharp place.
The scene ends with the capper line, "Looks like you lost your edge, lad!”
Highlander Stars on WWE SmackDown
Despite being in the film for under five minutes, WWE hyped Edge’s appearance by booking Adrian Paul, Christopher Lambert, and co-star Lisa Barbuscia for the August 10th edition of SmackDown in 2000.
Edge and Christian are backstage, with Christian freaking out about their match with the Dudleys for their tag-team titles later that evening. Edge seems pretty cool, wearing big sunglasses and happy that he will be joined by his Highlander co-stars this evening.
On cue, the trio arrives, but they seem more intent on meeting The Rock than listening about Edge and Christian’s ladder match victory at WrestleMania 16 for the 5000th time.
Gangrel Shows Up
Later, Christian still wears down the actors with his dull tales when Gangrel turns up!
Edge tries to shoo his former faction leader away, but Paul, Lambert, and Barbuscia are huge fans, sharing mutual interests like Frisbee. So they walk off with the vampire, leaving Edge and Christian perplexed.
Highlander Cast at WWE Ringside
Finally, it’s match time. Before the Dudleys enter, Edge and Christian treat the fans to a five-second posedown, previewing what it will be like when Edge wins the Oscar for the actor who “reeks of the awesomeness” thanks to his scene-stealing performance in the movie.
The Endgame cast cheers from ringside, but those cheers soon become boos.
After walloping Bubba with a chair, Edge gets himself and Christian disqualified. The Hardys run in for the save, and both teams beat down the tag team champs using tables and ladders, setting the stage for the first TLC match at SummerSlam later in the month.
The segments were brief, as was Edge’s role in the movie, but noteworthy enough for Entertainment Tonight to run a small feature.
Legacy of Highlander and Wrestling
Highlander and professional wrestling have had quite a storied history together. Sadly, though, there have been no new entries in the franchise for almost two decades.
But when the inevitable reboot, re-launch, or legacy sequel does occur, we know just the man for the job. And there can be only one!
Yes, Drew McIntyre would more than fit in the Highlander universe.
May the Highlander-pro wrestling mash-up continue!
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