From the tragic ending for one particular wrestling turtle to John Cena, Sheamus, Kevin Nash, and even Jim Cornette getting in on the act, here are seven times the wrestling world harnessed the turtle power of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Headlocks in a Halfshell: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Wrestling
Cowabunga, wrestling fans! Professional wrestling has often crossed over with the grinning green faces of the heroes in a half shell: Leonardo (he leads), Donatello (does machines), Raphael (cool but rude), and Michelangelo (party dude).
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series and its characters were created in 1983 by cartoonists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who released the first TMNT comic book in 1984. In just a few short years, turtle power would engulf the world.
Animated shows, live-action movies, toy lines, and even stadium tours were everywhere.
Wherever you went during this time, chances are you ran into the heroes in a half shell.
The four Renaissance-named ninjas may have started as a parody of the gritty superheroes of the day like Daredevil and talking animal comics like Howard, The Duck, but in turn, spawned many imitators.
The pro wrestling world would also often cross over with the heroes in a half shell. Here are five such examples!
1. Kowabunga the Karate Turtle!
The USWA had no shortages of wrestling rip-offs in the early ’90s. Primarily based on famous horror icons, the roster featured takes on Freddie Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Leatherface, Frankenstein’s monster, and many more.
That’s not to say they didn’t have some legally dubious characters for the kids.
Take Kowabunga the Karate Turtle!
Kowabunga was portrayed by Chris Champion, who would karate kick his way through competition dressed in a turtle costume.
He would continue successfully carrying the testudinal gimmick for the company for a year or so before Japan beckoned in 1991.
Here is where Champion took the look with him under the new name of Turtle Kamen.
While in FMW, he teamed up with his brother Mark Starr, Jimmy Backlund, Ricky Fuji, and Amigo Ultra. They took on stars like Eiji Ezak, Masashi Honda, and even kickboxer Katsuji Ueda.
It was a pretty darn good run for a turtle.
Sadly, Chris Champion suffered multiple strokes during his final days and passed away on August 22nd, 2018, aged 57.
2. Jim Cornette versus a Ninja Turtle?
Speaking of another Kowabunga gimmick, in Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1993, referee Mark Curtis (Brian Hildebrand) donned the shell a few times to wrestle against an unlikely opponent: Jim Cornette!
As a wrestling purist, Cornette being involved in a wrestling match like this might surprise some fans. But as he explained on his Drive-Thru podcast in 2017, it was for the kids.
“We would occasionally do this in the spot shows in the summertime when the kids were out of school because I only had to pay one extra guy, Brian Hildebrand, as I didn’t have to pay myself.
“We would have the manager Jim Cornette versus Kowabunga the Ninja Turtle for the kiddies.
“I loved working with Brian because he made me look good. He was a great worker. He was Dominic DeNucci’s best student, and that is taking into account Shane Douglas and Mick Foley.
“I think both of those guys would say, technically, Brian Hildebrand was a better worker than either one of them, and more exciting in his own way athletically. He was just too small.”
Cornette continued, “Brian was my top referee, but in the summertime, as something for the kids, the Ninja Turtle would beat up the fat, middle-aged manager, and the kids would get a tickle out of it.”
As for the full-body turtle suit, Cornette opened up about the hardship Hildrebrand would have to face while wearing it in the sweltering heat of the summer.
“One night, it was so impressively hot. I had no mask on or rubber foam around me, but I was about to die.
“[Before the match], Brian said, ‘F*** it, I can’t breathe!’
“I told him to take the headpiece off.
“He revealed [to the fans] that it was referee Mark Curtis, and we had the match.
“That was a mercy situation I did to prevent him from dying of heat stroke!”
Watch Jim Cornette versus Kowabunga the Ninja Turtle from Smoky Mountain Wrestling on August 19th, 1993:
3. The Toxic Turtles
Not to be outdone by those USWA upstarts, for one night only in 1993, the then WWF would create their turtle tag team.
The Toxic Turtles were portrayed by Duane “Gillberg” Gill and Barry “Not Jeff and Matt’s dad” Hardy.
Duane Gill spoke to WWE.com about his time under the half shell.
“I used to do anything I could to wrestle. I mean anything. I didn’t care. I had the outfits made because I was trying to find different ways to work more.
“[Barry Hardy and I competed as] The Executioners, and we also did Barry Hardy and Dwayne Gill, so we could work a whole bunch.”
“Then I said, ‘Let’s both get these outfits made, and maybe we’ll get a job like that.’
“We had moves and everything. The finishing move was called Shell Shock, where I did a flip and landed on the shell on top of him.
“If you saw the match, Barry got slammed, and he’s lying in the ring kicking his feet and his hands like he can’t get up because he’s on his shell. The guy’s yelling at the crowd, and I ran in and rolled him back over.”
And what did WWE’s answer to Splinter, Master McMahon, think about the proceedings?
“Oh yeah! The match went great! Vince was laughing his a** off. Everybody was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s killer, man. That’s awesome!’
“I honestly thought they were going to give us a job, but we never heard (back), so we figured copyright wiped it out.”
4. Kevin Nash as Super Shredder
When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze hit cinema screens in 1991, it was another hit for the Turtles franchise. But what were the titular oozes’ secrets?
If you drink it as Shredder does towards the end of the movie, it turns you into Big Daddy Cool himself, Kevin Nash!
Speaking on the Jim Ross Report in 2020, Nash remembered those days fondly.
“It was my first movie. It’s an industry that’s really changed. Back then, I think I worked a total of six days on set. Every day, you’re on set, and you get to watch. Basically, you get to learn how they put together motion pictures.”
But it wasn’t all work on set. The cast and crew knew how to get down, especially when Vanilla Ice was in town!
“I remember Vanilla Ice was on set. He came to do this Ninja Rap thing, and the day we shot that, it was his birthday, so we had this big party for Robbie (Ice’s real name).”
To this day, Nash remains thankful to the world’s most awesome fighting team for getting his career started in Hollywood.
“It was one of those things that got me into the Screen Actors Guild, and I’ve pretty much kept my SAG insurance since ’91.”
Since then, Kevin Nash has gone on to have a successful acting career, appearing in franchises such as The Punisher, John Wick, and Magic Mike.
5. Sheamus in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Two more characters set to appear in Secret Of The Ooze were fan-favorite henchmen BeeBop and Rocksteady.
But Turtle creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were not in favor of the pig and rhino punks being used, so two new characters were created instead in the form of Tokka and Rahzar.
Beebop and Rocksteady would have to wait 25 years for their live-action debut in the Michael Bay-produced Out Of The Shadows.
WWE superstar Sheamus would soon later be cast in the role of Rocksteady.
Sheamus spoke to WWE.com about how the casting came about.
“I ended up getting a call from WWE letting me know about the auditions.
“I didn’t hear anything for a while, and I just thought, ‘It’s such a massive role, I’ll be amazed if I get it,’ but I had to give it a go.
He continued, “My expectations weren’t too high, but I eventually met with one of the producers, talked about my desire for the role and the plan around it, and then I was offered the role.”
Of course, like most fellas between the ages of 35 and 45, Sheamus was a big fan as a kid.
“It was definitely popular — it was massive. There were t-shirts everywhere, toys everywhere — if you were out on the playground and didn’t know about the Ninja Turtles, you must have lived under a rock!”
And who was his favorite growing up?
“My favorite Turtle was Michelangelo, but I really did love Bebop and Rocksteady. I know how that sounds, and people will say, ‘Oh, that’s just because you’re playing Rocksteady,’ but they were great!
“They would come on the screen, and you knew something was going to happen. There was going to be some kind of chaos or mayhem, or a great fight scene with the Turtles was coming. You also knew they were going to cause Shredder some kind of headache. It was just fun every time they appeared, and they always provided great comic relief.”
Of course, one superstar excited about Sheamus’s role was avid toy collector and huge Turtles fan Matt Cardona.
“He’s been great and very supportive. He’s really the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He’s always texting me pictures of the latest action figures or the latest trailers; he’s been very happy for me.”
Cardona even has a giant Leonardo statue in his office that he uses to taunt his opponents, like in this August 2021 tweet aimed at Nick Gage:
So Cardona must have been super excited in November 2016 when WWE released their Turtle cross-over figures, featuring the boys dressed as their favorite WWE superstars.
Sadly, there were no figures of WWE Superstars dressed up as their favorite Turtle. However, we reckon an orange domino mask-clad Brock Lesnar whirling nunchucks over his head would have sold like hotcakes.
Fingers crossed, we get a Gill/Hardy Toxic Turtles action figure double pack one day. Or perhaps John Cena as Leonardo.
6. John Cena As Baron Draxum
In 2018 The Turtles were rebooted again in a prequel cartoon show, Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In a bold move, instead of the usual protagonist Shredder, the heroes must face a new big bad, evil mutant alchemist Baron Draxum, voiced by the one and only John Cena!
Speaking to E! Online in 2018, Cena explained why the role was a dream come true.
“I’ve been saying this consistently because I think it’s awesome, but usually, the older you get, the farther away you drift from that connection with youth.
“It’s like older people usually say, ‘Back in my day…’ but this is one of those instances where back in my day, I watched exactly the same thing that kids are watching these days, so you can have that fun experience and talk to kids about who your favorite Ninja Turtle is and what they think of the show,” he said.
“It’s really, really fun selfishly to be part of that because I grew up with it.”
At the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards 2018, Cena let the world know who his favorite Turtle was by dressing up as Leonardo himself!
Taking up hosting duties for the annual children’s event for a second time, Cena revealed on the red carpet he wasn’t just a fan of the clan leader but of all Leonardos in general.
If that wasn’t evidence enough, check out what Turtle they gave him in the figure collection
Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. Turtle Power.
7. Ninja Turtles in Lucha Libre
And how can we forget the many Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles iterations found in Lucha Libre over the years?
Below, you’ll find a ring full of wrestling ninja turtles (Tortugas Ninja vs Tortuguillos Karatekas vs ¿TORTUGAS MUTANTES?) taking care of business in the Estrellas Del Ring (Stars of the Ring) promotion in Mexico in 2015:
And here’s a .gif of wrestling turtle action, for good measure. Watch for the self-hip toss!
Wrestling is a strange and beautiful sport.
The TMNT-Wrestling Connection rages on…
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