Animals have been a part of professional wrestling since the beginning. They infuse a unique element that has helped many performers stand out and get over with the audience over the years. Here is a shocking look into the real-life, tragic stories of many of our favorite wrestling animals.
What Happened to Wrestling Animals Once Cameras Stopped Rolling?
We start today’s installment by taking a look at Frankie, Koko B. Ware’s beloved bird. Why did he start using him as part of his act, and what tragedy eventually befell the iconic bird?
1. Koko B. Ware and the Tragedy That Befell His Iconic Bird, Frankie
In an interview with the now-defunct Everywhere Legends Video, Koko B. Ware opened up about his bird, Frankie.
"It started as my late wife’s idea; God bless her. She really helped me get the idea of the ‘Birdman.’ As a matter of fact, I was the ‘Bird-man’ before I got the bird. I had birds on my tights.
"We were sitting at home, and we were watching the movie Purple Rain with Morris Day and The Time, and they were on the stage doing this bird dance, and my wife was a dance teacher, and she just got up and said, ‘You could do this dance really easy. Everybody can do this bird dance.’
"So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take it to the ring.’ And it took off.
"One day, she went to a pet store, and she saw that blue and gold Macaw, and she had this Polaroid camera, and she took a picture of it. She came back home, and she said, ‘This is what you need to help you get on top.’
"I asked her what she meant by getting ‘on top,’ and she said, ‘If you wanna be where Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper are, you need this. Put it in your pocket.’
"And you know, it was strange.
"When Vince McMahon was going around the territories and pulling out all the best talent that he could out of every small territory there was, I just happened to be down in Louisiana, and after that, he just called me and said, ‘We want you in the WWE. We definitely got to have you. You’re talented, and you’re good. We need you.’
"When I went to New York, I met with Vince, and at the end of the conversation, I was walking away, getting ready to leave, and out of the blue, he said, ‘Is there anything else that you would like to add to your gimmick?’
"I said, ‘Oh yeah…’, reached in my pocket, ‘I would love to have…THIS!’"
"I don’t know where I’d be today without Frankie.
"We went all over the world. When I come to all these places to wrestle, you know, America, Canada, Japan, China, Russia, Austria, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, all these places I go to wrestle, when I couldn’t take my bird it was just hard for me to function. We got along great.
"I had him for 15 years. I lost him in a house fire [in 2001]. It was hard, very hard.
"I was at church, and somebody came running up to me and said, ‘Koko, you gotta go home, your house is on fire…’
"I got there, and it was a disaster.
"A neighbor who I had never met before, who lived down the street, was in the backyard on his knees crying.
"‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t save your child…’
"He had heard a voice inside the burning house. It was saying, ‘Let me out! Let me out!’
"He thought it was one of my kids. It was Frankie, trapped in his cage.
"I loved Frankie. To this day, his spirit is still with me.
"God bless you, Frankie."
We feel your pain, Koko. What a horrible way for Frankie to go out. There were other feathered wrestling animals to make it onto the grand stage. Believe it or not, the Undertaker had a bird of his own, which escorted him to the ring at WrestleMania 9.
2. The Undertaker and his Vulture
WrestleMania 9 stands out for many reasons: Togas, Vegas, Caesar’s Palace, giants wearing suits with airbrushed muscles and added-on hair, plus the controversy revolving around a black-eyed returning Hogan winning the belt off Bret Hart via Yokozuna. Many consider this a forgetful WrestleMania, but we love it for nostalgic reasons, anyway!
One moment that stands out for us was the Undertaker’s entrance.
Over the years, the Undertaker has been known for his leisurely-paced yet ominous entrances to the ring, but on this particular day, the Undertaker made a rare daylight appearance.
Being rolled out to the ring via a chariot alongside an urn-clenching Paul Bearer with smoke billowing out all around him, a chilling image unveiled before our eyes.
What added to it was that he was accompanied by a wrestling animal from the dark side, a vulture. Hailing as the ‘Demon from Death Valley,’ the aforementioned bird was quite a fitting counterpart to the already haunting Undertaker.
While this was the only time the Undertaker came to the ring with the bird, its frightful legacy lives on!
WATCH: The Undertaker and his bone-chilling WrestleMania 9 entrance with a vulture
Wrestling animals come in all shapes and sizes, but everyone loves a dog. Next, we take a look at Matilda, the British Bulldogs’ furry counterpart, and the cruel and unfortunate treatment she experienced outside of the ring.
3. Matilda The British Bulldog
The British Bulldogs Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid are hailed as one of the best tag teams of all time.
Over the years, folklore has followed their name due to their wrestling prowess in the ring and hijinks outside of it.
In 1986, they debuted fan-favorite sidekick, a British Bulldog by the name of Matilda. She quickly captured the hearts of fans around the world as she accompanied Davey Boy and Dynamite Kid to the ring for all of their matches.
On TV, she played a good distractor for her opponents, and in a storyline, she found herself being kidnapped in the middle of a feud against the Islanders, Haku, and Tama.
Off-screen, misfortune followed her as well. We ran a piece about Matilda and her owners in the past – the stories we shared were not pretty.
Before his untimely death, Roddy Piper had Jake "The Snake" Roberts for a two-part interview on his show, Piper’s Pit. Having seen their fair share of debauchery and insane adventures on the road over the years, they opened up about a few tales on the show, many revolving around The British Bulldogs and their poor dog, Matilda.
Here are select excerpts from that interview. Click here to read this interview in full.
JAKE ‘THE SNAKE’ ROBERTS:
"I have to tell you what I did to Matilda, dude. I did a bad thing to Matilda. Davey Boy was a dick, you know?"
"Yeah, so was the Dynamite Kid."
"Dynamite, he let Davey Boy stir him. Davey Boy was a s*** creator, and Dynamite was the hammer that just came in and f***ing ended it because Davey Boy wasn’t violent. This is the reason why Dynamite got cold-cocked. Davey Boy started his s*** and got going, and Dynamite would make the corner and get blasted."
"Davey Boy would go stir s***, then he would go tell Dynamite and would say, ‘Do you know what they said about you?’
He was a real badass piece of s***, man. So what happened was I walked into the locker room one night and caught Davey Boy, who did not smoke, getting lit cigarettes from Dynamite and throwing them inside the snake bag. So the snake would be pissed off and bite me. Real funny! "So I said, ‘Okay, motherf***ers…’
A couple of nights later, and I’m not the type of guy that would do revenge [laughs], but I did see a hungry dog! Do you know those hot dogs at a wrestling show? Not the best thing to feed an animal. Especially seven or eight of them with chili! It looked like chocolate to me, but it may have been Ex-Lax! I loaded that motherf***er up.
And then I timed this s***. They took it back to the hotel, and the dog was moaning like, ‘wooo-oo wooo-oo.’ She wanted to go outside, man! Do you think they wanted to take her outside? ‘F*** that f***ing dog!’ They’re going to the bar!
I go over to the room, and I go knock-knock-knock, and I hear the dog go, ‘ARR-ARR!! [splat]’ I hear her spray that s***. And I let her calm down. ‘ARR-ARR! [splat]’
Then I go back to the door and hammer on it again. ‘ARR-ARR-ARR! [splat] ooo-ooo-oooo-oooooo.’ She’s coating the whole room with s***!
I mean, I’m outside the door holding in laughter. I heard them come in about 2 o’clock. [In Davey Boy’s voice] ‘Fookin’ motherfookin’ dog, you fookin’ piece of s***!’
"They had no idea?"
"She had s*** all over the f***ing beds. They had no idea."
Jake Roberts and Roddy Piper would later go on to talk about how all the wrestlers would vengefully feed Matilda their leftovers, even implying that the Bulldogs and others would pump her with steroids.”
"So uh, Matilda… I know the animal lovers aren’t going to like this."
"Oh yeah, I feel bad about it, but not real bad."
"Now Matilda, every time all the guys would come… You know, every time I came from the restaurant, I would have half a piece of steak, and I would feed the dog."
[laughing] "I’m talking everybody would do that."
"The dog was 400 pounds, man!"
[laughing] "And it’s a bulldog with a belly…"
"With its belly hitting the ground, man! Don Muraco gets me, and we find out that [The British Bulldogs] are going to work a program with the Hart Foundation. And I don’t know how many shots that dog may have received for rabies or…."
[whistling to change the subject]
"Boosters, booster shots, yes! For the flu and- the dog could probably bench press around 550!"
[laughing] "Yeah, yeah!"
"So I’m with Muraco, and I’m going, ‘What are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Come here, come here. Watch the door.’ And he would sneak Jimmy Hart’s bullhorn. And he’d say, ‘Watch the door!’
So I’m in there with Matilda and Muraco, and I’m holding the door, and he would pull it to make it so the sound would go, ‘EEEEEEEEEEEEE!’ Every night for about two weeks.
Now, you know there’s something wrong when you’re in the ring with all the boys, and there’s Jimmy Hart. That dog comes in with its belly, like you said, dragging on the ground, and she sees that megaphone and sees him and… BITE!! Jimmy Hart spent the next six months…"
"Trying to save his life!"
Wrestling legend Tito Santana corroborates the above story.
In an interview on The Chris Gethard Show in 2014, he said, "I’m going to tell you a little scoop about Matilda. The British Bulldogs would shoot up Matilda with steroids, and they would turn the horn on in front of her face. That’s why whenever Jimmy Hart would get into the ring, Matilda would go right after him because she hated the horn!"
If there was one lesson for pro wrestlers to take from all this: DO NOT TAKE WRESTLING ANIMALS ON THE ROAD!
We now move on to take a look at how Ricky Steamboat combated the psychological effects of Jake Roberts’ reptilian counterpart.
4. Ricky Steamboat and His Dragon
In 1986, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat entered a feud with the red-hot heel Jake Roberts.
The rivalry started incredibly, and Roberts got much heat after legitimately knocking out Steamboat with his trademark DDT on the concrete floor.
With Steamboat lying lifeless on the floor, Roberts put his snake Damien on top of him. Roberts even went as far as to put the snake in Steamboat’s mouth.
Both men were initially against the idea of doing this, in fear that if the DDT onto the exposed concrete didn’t seriously hurt Steamboat, the snake would.
As you could probably guess, their fear came to fruition, and Steamboat was rendered unconscious after suffering a concussion. He was out for a short period of time after this.
The setup was perfect for the babyface to get his retribution on the heel. Unfortunately, the writers got ahold of this. The feud soon revolved around wrestling animals, with Steamboat introducing a "Komodo dragon" as his "pet" to combat the psychological effects of Roberts’s reptilian counterpart had on most adversaries.
In a 1999 interview with solie.org, Steamboat opened up about his ‘Dragon’ versus Jake Roberts’ snake:
"At one time, I had South American Kamen, which is a crocodile, and at other times I had a monitor lizard – my ‘dragon.’
"The things weighed about 50 pounds, they had their mouths taped shut, and the tape was painted the same color as the skin, so you couldn’t really pick it up on TV… But I had nothing to do with it – they had handlers and trainers that would [look after them].
"Jake would carry the snake everywhere he went.
"We were the main event on a show on the USA network where it was Roberts and his snake, and the snake was in his corner, and I had my dragon in my corner, and the winner of the match would be, you know like – Roberts…every time he’d beat somebody he’d put that snake on them…
"The twist of this whole thing was that [if] I beat Roberts, I’m putting the dragon on him. Well, just because of that little mystique there, we drew some hellacious ratings on that particular show…"
Some people believe that Ricky Steamboat was so talented that he didn’t need wrestling animals to help his career.
While the Komodo Dragon may not have done much for him, it certainly led to tense moments in the ring, with the two men tangling up with their animals in the mix. It certainly made for good television, and many fans can remember watching with mouth’s agape, not knowing whether or not these wrestling animals would really attack!
This leads us naturally to the most-known of all wrestling animals, Jake "The Snake" Roberts’ use of snakes throughout his career. What many people may not realize is that Roberts had a fear of them!
5. Jake Roberts and His Snakes
Jake Roberts made a name for himself by bringing snakes along with him to the ring.
In his first pay-per-view appearance with the then-WWF at WrestleMania 2, he memorably made his opponent George Wells foam from the mouth when he wrapped his snake Damien around Well’s head.
This snake gimmick was a huge success, and Roberts used reptilian counterparts as part of his wrestling persona from then on out. Oddly enough, Jake wasn’t even fond of snakes!
How did this unlikely bond with snakes come to be? On the Jake The Snake Roberts: Pick Your Poison DVD, Jake Roberts explains:
“I hated the sons of b****es. I’m terrified of them!
“But in Mid-South, I came up with the idea to use one. I thought, ‘Jake ‘The Snake’? It kind of fits. (laughs)
“Then Bill Watts was quick to tell me that ‘this isn’t a circus.’
“‘We’re not going to have any circus clowns or circus geeks carrying snakes!’
“Gee, he was so right. What a stupid idea… (laughs)
“They [WWF] had come back with it. They said, ‘Have you thought about this before?’
“Next thing you know, I’ve got a snake.
“There was a guy in Stamford, Connecticut named Albert that supplied all the snakes.
“What a miserable job that was, carrying my wrestling gear and clothes — and a 100-pound snake in a box! Walking around with 150 pounds of gear, that’s not healthy to do, really. Really, really brutal, man. It really tore my ass up.
“Back then, we’d go on the road for a month to six weeks at a time.
“You wake up in a hotel room at 5 AM — there are no bellmen at the Red Roof Inn. You’ve got to do it yourself.
“Then you get your rental car, and you’ve got to turn that back in. So, you’ve got to take all that s*** back out and put it on the bus to the airport.
“Then, when you get there, you’ve got to carry it all the way over to the skycaps — IF they are available because a lot of airports didn’t have skycaps.
“I wasn’t all jacked up and juiced up.
“The one time I did go up – to about 275 pounds – it was after my neck surgery. I got juiced and jacked because I was trying to get myself over the neck surgery.
“I went in after the neck surgery to see Vince, and he goes, ‘That’s not what we want.’
“I said, ‘What are you talking about? This is not what you want?’ Because I had really put on a lot of beef on my upper body.
“He said, ‘You know; if we wanted Hogan to carry a snake, we’d have Hogan carry a snake. We don’t want you looking like that. We want you to be very sensuous, very sexual, smooth. Be different…’
“Well, ain’t that a b****.
“He told me that he didn’t want to hear about me being in the gym. So, I went home and sat by the pool for a month, snorted cocaine, and drank! (laughs) So, there you go…
“Then I got the cobra. I loved that thing. Oh, I loved him. He only weighed about 15 pounds. And it got a lot more respect! (laughs)”
While Jake Roberts grew to love his snakes, other wrestlers didn’t share the same fondness towards them.
Randy Savage and Jake Roberts Tell the Story of the Infamous Snake Bite Angle
Many classic Jake Roberts snake moments come to mind, but one of our favorites was the legendary snake bite angle with "Macho Man" Randy Savage that aired on WWF Superstars of Wrestling on November 23rd, 1991.
Here is what the two had to say about this incident in the Jake The Snake Roberts: Pick Your Poison DVD:
"Savage came up to me before and said [Macho Man voice], ‘Your cobra’s gonna bite me – Okay, you got that? But here’s the f***-enn problem, yeah… there’s a lot of people around here that’d like to TAKE the Macho Man OUT – you know what I’m sayin’? And you might be one of them…’
I said, ‘What are you talking about?’
He said, ‘I want to f***-enn know… if the thing’s got the f***-enn’ gimmicks out…’
‘Randy, it’s not poisonous…’
‘Uh-huh! Good – you say so…’
‘Then you don’t miiind if it bites you FIRST…’
He takes me to the locker room. I sit there, put it up to my leg, right? It chews on my leg. Then, it released.
He says, ‘O-k…just sit down right there, Snake Man, right there, yeah… don’t move…’
Thirty minutes later, [jumps in close] ‘How you doing, Snake Man-? That botherin’ ya..?’
LANNY POFFO (Randy’s brother):
"We were driving to Indianapolis, and I was in the backseat, pretending to be asleep when Randy and Elizabeth started fighting.
Elizabeth didn’t want Randy to get bitten by the cobra that night at the Market Square Arena. And Randy said the snake was de-venomized — Jake had told him so — and he was going to let the snake bite him because it was good business."
"The snake was supposed to be de-venomized. But when the python bit me, oh my god… (laughs) It wouldn’t let go…"
"I’m trying [to pull it off] — I’m trying! And the snake’s just gnawing on his arm. It’s going on for like a minute now, you know? Over a minute…
Finally – whew – I got him off.
There’s something about any animal that’s chewing on your arm… it kinda bothers you…" (laughs)
"My arm blew up like a balloon for days. About five days later, they had to rush me to the hospital with a 104-degree fever…
It’s unbelievable to walk into the hospital and tell the doctor I had a snake bite.
Finally, the fever went down. They gave me antibiotics, and luckily the snake WAS de-venomized, but twelve days later, the snake died.
He was de-venomized, but maybe I wasn’t! (laughs) Jake told me: ‘You killed my snake, dude…’
Our feud generated a lot of interest after that angle, even though they couldn’t show it on national TV. It was too graphic. They could only show it with a big X over the screen…"
‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase Chimes in With His Thoughts on the Snakes of Jake Roberts
Also on the Pick Your Poison DVD, the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase shared his thoughts on Jake Robert’s snakes:
"I have never loved snakes… and I didn’t like Jake’s snake either! (laughs)
"They would bring him a snake at the beginning of a tour, and he would be responsible for that snake until the end of that tour. Then the snake guy would come back and get the snake, and Jake would go home.
"He’d have to take that snake to his hotel room every night. He’d put it in the bathtub and run water, keep it moist, or whatever. And the snake got out of his hotel room; I don’t know how many times. Can you imagine – sleeping in a hotel room, and you gotta get up in the morning and think, ‘I wonder where the snake is…’
"And you know, the snake would be under the bed, coiled up in the bedsprings (laughs), and you know, he was bit a few times…
"I know it was a real burden for him at times to haul that snake everywhere.
"The scariest one he had was the cobra.
"This cobra is chewing on Savage’s arm. And I thought, ‘You know what? There is not enough money to make me do that! (laughs)
"No… not for me!"
Relive the Infamous Snake Bite Angle Between Randy Savage and Jake Roberts In Full Below:
Honorable wrestling animals not included in this piece: Fifi the Poodle, The Boogeyman’s worms, Torrie Wilson’s pup Chloe, Bad News Brown’s sewer rats, Al Snow’s edible dog Pepper, Henry O. Godwinn’s hogs, and El Torito.
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- Wildmen of Wrestling | 12 Outrageous Heels Who Pioneered Hardcore
Some quotes used in this article were compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at Wrestling’s Glory Days Facebook page.
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