Every excerpt I have ever read about the life of Tony Halme, professional wrestling’s Ludvig Borga, seemed so outrageous they couldn’t possibly be true.
Each story led me down a rabbit hole of crazy information that has since led to this piece. I found Halme truly lived the "foreign heel" gimmick in his surreal, shocking life; he was openly racist and homophobic and even had a Nazi tattoo.
Yet, despite being an overtly bigoted man with deplorable views, he kept surfacing in public worlds of celebrity: he was a pro wrestler, boxer, UFC fighter, actor, writer, and musician before getting elected to parliament in Finland.
Before he was even a year into his political term, he overdosed on amphetamines and alcohol, shot an illegal firearm in his apartment during an argument with his wife, and went into a 3-week coma where he possibly suffered brain damage. As unbelievable as it all seems, it was all actually real.
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Ludvig Borga – The Ballad of The Hellraiser From Helsinki
We briefly knew him as Ludvig Borga, but the name inked on his birth certificate and engraved on his headstone is Tony Halme. Born in Finland, Halme was a man of extremes. Blessed with great physical strength and a menacing charisma, he excelled in arenas of violence. But, it was normal, everyday life he found impossible to navigate. He was a racist, a homophobe, and an obstacle to his own success. His greatest foes were his many addictions, mental illnesses, deplorable views, and bottomless rage. Ultimately that rage would turn inward and end his life. But before that terrible event, Halme achieved a curious degree of celebrity under varied pursuits. By turns, he was a professional wrestler, boxer, mixed martial artist, actor, musician, writer, and politician, though his true calling was to be the always brazen and outrageous Tony Halme.
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Tony Halme, The Wrestler Known as Ludvig Borga
What do we remember from the brief time Tony Halme graced WWF rings? Christened Ludvig Borga, Halme played a Finnish anti-American heel that terrorized a talent-deficient WWF roster back in 1993. Cutting spiteful promos decrying American’s urban centers’ decrepit state, Ludvig Borga was a foil to patriotism. Naturally, he feuded with super patriot Lex Luger and proud Native American Tatanka, even ending the latter’s unbeaten streak. But a shocking revelation proved Halme wasn’t merely just playing an evil foreigner; he was living the gimmick to a grotesque degree:
"[Halme] was wearing boots that were low-cut, and he had a very diminutive SS tattoo," Jim Ross recalled on his podcast Grilling JR. "It wasn’t huge. But it was there. It was very uncomfortable. And he was uncomfortable and untalented. But he had a million-dollar look. He looked like a Ferrari with a four-cylinder motor. When he left, nobody shed any tears."
Notably, being a real-life Neo-Nazi wasn’t enough for Halme to get immediately fired from the WWF; rather, the promotion would cover the tattoo with tape and have Ludvig Borga wear larger boots. After working less than a year, Halme would leave the WWF due to, as the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Nov. 7, 2011) reports, a severely broken ankle.
Though early in his career, Halme had already amassed a litany of injuries that, as he said, fortified a growing drug dependency: "I didn’t survive those gigs without painkillers. In the morning, I took a jar of ephedrine in order to wake up, [took ephedrine again] with painkillers before the match, and [took ephedrine again and painkillers again] to be able to drive or sleep."
Pro wrestling is always the devil’s bargain: a pound of flesh for the bright lights of fame. Halme’s career was precisely that exchange: the injuries and drugs were the prices Halme paid to have pro wrestling pluck him out of obscurity. When Halme arrived in Los Angeles in the 1980s, he was another anonymous immigrant with a dream. Early on, he perceived jobs are always available for, as he described, a "big and ugly man," so he dedicated himself to becoming just that: big and ugly. Becoming a fixture at the famed Venice Beach Gold’s Gym, Halme began cycling anabolic steroids and growth hormone to enhance his 6’3" frame and grew to 310 pounds. The world of celebrity loomed closer as Halme began to pay the bills serving as a bodyguard for famous musical acts, including Cheap Trick and Gene Simmons of KISS. But, it was infamous cocaine and hooker aficionado Herb Abrams, promoter of the UWF, who spotted Halme and introduced him to pro wrestling rings. Halme was packaged as "The Viking" and had his first pro wrestling matches in California in the fall of 1990. Though his work was stiff and unwatchable, his brute size was perfect for what audiences wanted at the time. His professional wrestling career had begun.
Soon after his debut with UWF, Halme would sign with New Japan Pro Wrestling. He would spend two and a half years in the promotion and experience his first major push: Halme ascended up the card by teaming with Scott Norton to become IWGP Tag Team Champions. But, in a pattern we would see over and over again with Halme, as soon as he experienced success, Halme’s belligerent personality introduced obstacles. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter (Nov. 7, 2011) reports Halme’s push ended when he sucker-punched and brutalized Norton in a very real street fight, knocking Norton unconscious. Anticipating the beginning of a violent, real-life feud, New Japan punished Halme by having him job out more and more. Disappointed with this turn in his career, Halme would leave the promotion in June of 1993 and go on his short-lived run with the aforementioned WWF.
Ludvig Borga – Life After the WWF
Though awash in injuries and addicted to pills, Halme’s professional wrestling career established his celebrity in his home country of Finland. Back home, he landed a spot on the Finnish version of American Gladiators, performing as "Viikinki" (which translates to "The Viking") from 1993 to 1995 (this article also details Halme throwing an attacking heckler 10-15 yards at a hockey game). He would even dabble in acting, appearing in Die Hard with a Vengeance, though his days in the United States were officially over.
"Fists giveth, and fists taketh away."
– Tony Halme
Not through with pro wrestling, Halme joined Europe’s Catch Wrestling Association in 1995. Halme even continued using the Ludvig Borga gimmick. But as per his pattern, Halme’s run would end dubiously. The Finnish newspaper City reported: "[Halme’s] career in wrestling ended when he was charged with drug importations, sales, and manufacturing. In his own words, [this was] completely unfounded. It was not until February 1997, when Halme had already begun his career as a boxer, that all charges were dropped."
Concurrently, he pursued professional boxing, becoming a 2-time Finnish Heavyweight Champion. Considering Halme was an established celebrity in Finland with presumed drawing power, the legitimacy of these fights is questionable. His lone appearance in the UFC was unquestionably a debacle.
"When I go [to the octagon], I go there to kill or be killed," Halme immortally stated before his fight at UFC 13 (his opponent–another curious historical footnote–was a debuting Randy Couture). "At first, I’ll try to hit him as hard as I can. If I miss that point, I’ll try to headbutt him. If I miss that point, I’ll rip his arms off and rip his legs off. I got balls of iron, and I go there to rip the head off or die trying."
According to Couture’s book Becoming the Natural: My Life In and Out of the Cage, while watching the pay-per-view with family, Couture’s mother found Halme’s words so disturbing she began to sob uncontrollably. Even more extreme, Halme’s interview caused Couture’s wife to vomit in a trash can.
In the bout, Halme would submit to Couture in less than a minute.
"God Forgives, I Do Not" – Tony Halme
Halme’s controversial 1998 biography, God Forgives, I Do Not, and its 2001 follow-up The Day of Judgment’ would announce his homophobia and racism to the world. In one especially horrible passage about his time in prison, he details saying the following to a black prisoner:
"Hey, monkey. Even if I am the fattest person in the world, I can always get skinny, but the skin does not turn white even when washed."
Disappointingly, these works seemed only further to foment his popularity among certain circles in Finland. He would pen three more books, land acting roles, and would begin a musical career. His single "Viikinki" (which translates to Viking) went gold in Finland, meaning it sold more than 5,000 copies; "Viikinki" would even reach number 2 on the singles charts in 1999. One of the lyrics of "Viikinki" proudly proclaims Halme’s homophobia: "‘Exit Only’ is tattooed onto my arse"; other news media would report Halme, indeed, had "Exit Only" tattooed on his buttocks.
Watch the Tony Halme music video, "Viikinki":
Politics and a Plunge into Darkness for Tony Halme
Tony Halme lassoed this horrible momentum and propelled his career towards a new arena: politics. Halme’s celebrity and unrepentant views would attract him to the far-right True Finns party. Under this party’s banner, Halme was elected to Finland’s Parliament in March of 2003. He captured 16,390 votes in the Helsinki constituency — a number Finnish media would describe as "staggering."
The day after his victory, he said in a radio interview: "If a lesbian can be elected president, then why can’t I be elected to parliament?" After immediate media backlash, Halme responded by saying he truly thought Finnish President Tarja Halonen–despite being married to First Gentleman of Finland Pentti Arajärvi–was a lesbian, so didn’t mean his comment as an insult.
"I got brain damage from cirrhosis of the liver."
Four months after being elected to Parliament, Halme’s life appeared ideal: he was enjoying political success, continued fame, and even contemplated a run for president. But the summer of 2003 would begin Halme’s inexorable plunge into darkness. It all began on the night of Thursday, Jul. 3, 2003, when Halme combined heavy drinking with taking massive quantities of amphetamines. He was suspected by on-lookers of driving drunk to his apartment in Helsinki. When he arrived home, he and his wife Katja began an argument that would last into the early morning. At 7:00 AM on Jul. 4, apartment residents heard the sound of a pistol firing in the Halmes’ apartment. Police would later confirm Tony had pulled the trigger; thankfully, no one was hit by the bullet. After the gunshot, Tony and Katja’s argument escalated, prompting the police to surround the couple’s apartment. Eventually, an ambulance would arrive at 10:00 AM and haul Tony away to a hospital.
While hospitalized, Halme slipped into a coma that would last three weeks. Halme’s election manager Veikko Vallin would speculate the lack of oxygen from the amphetamine and alcohol overdose caused permanent brain damage in Halme; Vallin said Halme was never the same afterward.
The police investigated the incident, finding "an unmarked Parabellum military pistol, ammunition and thousands of pills and vials of drugs, including anabolic steroids" in Halme’s apartment, according to the Associated Press ("Lawmaker sentenced for gun and drug violations," 1/29/2004). Halme would be charged with six different crimes, including drunk driving, the illegal possession of imported drugs, amphetamine usage, and owning an unlicensed pistol; all but the drunk driving charge would stick. Halme faced a four-month prison sentence. Parliament discussed ousting him but opted not due to the lengthy procedural process. Halme’s subsequent legal appeals failed to overturn the sentence.
For a politician whose messaging focused on strengthening law and order and demanding tighter controls on drugs, Halme especially looked like a hypocrite. Strangely, despite his four-month prison sentence, Halme was still elected to Helsinki Council in the fall of 2004. Katja would be granted a divorce in 2005 (she would later write a tell-all biography, which detailed a time when Tony threatened her with an ax). When not in prison, Halme fuelled further controversy by beating up a guy at a hamburger stand (charges were not filed) and drawing a parliamentary reprimand by declaring, during a parliamentary speech: "every single pedophile should get their nuts cut off, get punched in the ass with a pin, and thrown into a dungeon for the rest of their life."
In February of 2006, Halme would face a new charge of drunk driving. He was admitted into a psychiatric ward in order to seek treatment for his addictions. He would remain in treatment for three months. After his treatment ended, he would get convicted for the earlier drunk driving episode and sentenced to 80 days in prison. In court, he proclaimed he had neurological problems stemming from his 2003 incident; he said he commonly seemed drunk and now had obstructed speech. At the end of 2006, Halme would officially declare he would not seek reelection to Parliament. In 2007, he would be granted a disability pension, which caused bad blood between him and other members of parliament. After a few filing snafus, he would resign from the Helsinki Council due to illness as well.
His political career over, but now collecting a nice pension check, Halme had all the free time in the world. He spent it by falling over in a sauna and needing 20 stitches in his nose, falling over again and crushing his face in Thailand, and dating erotic dancer Johanna Tukiainen (Tukiainen rose to prominence in Finland via a sexting scandal with Finland’s Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva; Tukiainen sold screenshots of the sexting to a Finnish magazine).
The Death of Wrestling’s Ludvig Borga
In October of 2009, Halme was again charged with drunk driving. He was drug tested, and the results came back positive for cocaine and amphetamines. The police searched his house and found an illegal Luger pistol along with one hundred 9-mm rounds of ammunition.
"When there are no good things to remember, it’s better to let all the shit be."
After this latest charge, Halme’s tell-all interview with Finnish magazine hymy! was published. In it, he detailed his brain damage and stated he had trouble speaking and walking and even needed sticky notes to help him remember to do household chores.
"Alcohol makes me feel good," Halme would opine, despite his suffering from liver cirrhosis. "Drugs, on the other hand, momentarily help with depression, which is why they are so dangerous."
Halme would never make it to court for this latest charge.
On Jan. 8, 2010, Tony Halme raised a gun to his temple, squeezed the trigger, and ended one of the most unusual lives ever associated with the squared circle. Two days would pass before his body was discovered. Upon hearing the news, Halme’s ex-wife Katja wondered if something was wrong with her when she didn’t mourn.
Though it’s human nature to feel uneasy about passing judgment upon the dead, the story of Halme’s extreme life invites moral scrutiny from us all. And, in reading the closing words to Halme’s book Judgment Day, Halme clearly understood what his brazenness invited:
"For me, the circle is closed. I’ve come home, and here I will stay. I am willing to put everything in the game. Every day is a day of judgment. When the gong rings for the last time, it is futile to request a revision."
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles which delve further into the "underside of the ring":
- Dino Bravo | His Shocking Death and Why He Was Murdered by the Mob
- Rikidozan – The Life and Murder of The Father of Puroresu
- Bruiser Bedlam – The Insane Crime Life of Wrestling’s Ion Croitoru
- Michel Martel | The Tragic In-Ring Death of the Forgotten Martel Brother
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