Uncover the strange combination of zombies and wrestling with this deep dive into the surprising times these worlds collided!
Zombies vs. Wrestlers in Pop Culture and Beyond
Zombies have been a massive part of popular culture for many years and for many reasons. When they first lumbered onto our screens, they were mainly a supernatural force, the undead rising from graves and attacking the living.
In more recent decades, their origins tend to be more based on science, with their bloodlust infecting others with whatever cruel disease that has spread throughout their body.
Zombies can be used to scare an unstoppable dead force, as seen in movies like Night Of The Living Dead and games such as Resident Evil.
They can also be used to question society’s values and humanity in TV shows such as Walking Dead.
They can also be really, really funny.
There’s just something about seeing someone who can’t be hurt because, well, they’re already dead! It is the perfect formula for a bit of slapstick, as proven by movies such as Shaun Of The Dead and Zombieland, or games such as Dead Rising.
It’s this third point that makes them almost perfect for the wrestling ring.
Is the Undertaker a zombie? He is "The Dead Man," but he doesn’t really go around craving human flesh.
Is Abadon a zombie? If so, she seems to have developed excellent skills when it comes to social media and self-marketing!
The living dead we are talking about today is unquestionably zombies. As it is the season (at the time of this writing), we are examining four times the world of professional wrestling clashed with the undead masses.
Let’s dive in…
The ECW Zombie!
You know the story. WWE brought back ECW for a One Night Stand in 2005.
The following year saw a second One Night Stand event, and while it felt more akin to the current WWE format than the original hardcore promotion, it still felt that the ECW spirit was alive and ready to return as a third brand for WWE.
Then the debut episode of ECW’s new weekly show happened.
During the premier edition on the Sci-Fi network, a zombie made his way down to the ring, groaned a couple of times, and then was beaten up by a kendo stick-swinging Sandman.
The crowd was dead for this segment, and not in a George A. Romero way. Everyone who paid witness saw it as a sad sign that this new ECW was not the ECW of old.
Wrestler Tim Arson got the role of The Zombie.
"The original idea for a martian was SyFy’s," Arson said in a 2014 interview about that fateful night on June 13th, 2006. "[Wrestler Chad Collyer] took off after the dress rehearsal.
"After the other guys who tried out went to hit the showers, Big Vito and I asked [Chad] if I should go shower up. He had heard that the martian took off, and so he told me to stay put.
"So I sat on a crate right in the middle of the backstage area when Tommy Dreamer, who was facing me, and Paul Heyman to my back, in a panic said to Tommy, ‘Tommy! What are we going to do? The network wants a Zombie now! Who the hell can we get to do that?’"
Arson continued, "Tommy looked and said, ‘How about Tim Arson?’
"Paul replied, ‘Who?’
"I got off the crate and walked over, and Paul pulled me aside and said, ‘Okay, kid, give me your best Zombie!’
"So I did my grumble, ‘Rarrrr!’
"Paul then said, ‘C’mon, I know you got a better Zombie than that!’
"So at the top of my lungs, I screamed and grabbed the double breasts of his suit and said, ‘AHHHWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRRR!!!! RAAAAIINNNNNZZZZ!!!!!!’
"His last words were, ‘Make it look good!’ and off I went to makeup at 6:35 p.m. for a 7:15 p.m. starting time.
"The Zombie gimmick ‘job’ was a favor back to Sandman for flying me home after the first stint in Puerto Rico when there was a discrepancy in pay, and I said ‘F*** this,’ so Sandman paid for my ticket home. I just asked and delivered!"
Sadly, Tim Arson passed away back in 2015. However, it seemed he had no regrets about The Zombie and would occasionally bust out the gimmick at North American indie shows before his passing.
The Film Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies
Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies is a "Sports Action Horror" film directed by Cody Knotts, featuring many wrestling superstars, including Shane Douglas, Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, and the king of B-movie action, Roddy Piper.
The plot sees Douglas accidentally kill his friend Billy with a piledriver. In retaliation, Billy’s brother summons an ancient demon, and his zombie army attacks "The Franchise" and his buddies. A fair gesture and one I’m sure we can all relate to.
"The best thing about Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies is it knows exactly what it is," Roddy Piper told 605magazine in 2014. "It doesn’t try to do anything other than deliver on its title! Holy baby Jesus, I don’t know that you can get a better title for any movie as descriptive as Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies. It really says what it is, doesn’t it?
"With They Live, you don’t really know what’s going on."
Piper continued, "A series called Legends’ House starts April 17th [2014 — available to watch on the WWE Network]. In it is a guy named Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
"I have a really hard time living with people or being around people. It’s my nature, but he got me through that darn Legends’ House, and so, all of a sudden, he told me he’s going to be in this Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies.
"Then Kurt Angle calls me. Then Matt Hardy. Then Shane Douglas. Huh? It’s sort of like, ‘No, I can’t come to the frat house!’
"Eventually, I come to look at it, and I realize it’s a comedy. It turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s exactly what it is. Eat cookies and drink milk and sit back and watch a lot of guys have some fun."
Fun is exactly what the movie is, especially if you’re a pro wrestling fan. You can do a lot worse if you fancy having a laugh at the comedy violence this spooky season (or any time of year, really).
However, one unfortunate member of the cast didn’t have the best time, thanks to a confused Hot Rod.
"I almost killed one of the zombies!" admitted Piper.
"When the zombies first come in the kitchen, some of them were just beginning wrestlers. They were wonderful. They were respectful.
"This kid came in with mummy bandages on his head, gauze, and stuff. There was a take, and I saw a pot there, so I plunked him on the head with a pot. He went on a stainless steel sink like you’d see in jail. He went down.
"The pot was hitting the sink, and it was making such good noises that I just clubbed him to ‘death.’
"It turned out it wasn’t hitting the sink. It was hitting his head. We had to call the ambulance to take the poor kid to the hospital! That was only the first scene…"
WWE Zombie Photo Shoots And Action Figures
Every couple of years, someone at WWE HQ likes to get creative and photoshop pictures of superstars as zombies. That’s about it. You can find one of the said galleries from 2017 here.
And if photos of your favorite superstars as decaying corpses aren’t enough for you, then why not buy one of Mattel’s WWE Zombie action figures! Perfect for the little ones!
The Miz vs Damian Priest
At WrestleMania Backlash in May of 2021, The Miz took on Damian Preist in a Lumberjack match. Unknown to the competitors, the lumberjacks were not other WWE Superstars but actual real-life zombies!
At least the commentators and the wrestlers sold it as such.
We got to see John Morrison do some parkour skills against the undead, which admittedly was kind of cool before he fell victim to the horde. Then the zombies ganged up on The Miz, leaving nothing in the ring after the attack, seemingly devouring him.
The weirdest part is as Miz was out with the first legit severe injury of his career, the next night on Raw, Morrison kept up with the pretenses of him being eaten alive.
So, are zombies real in the WWE Universe? Did Netflix send them as part of an Army Of The Dead promotional package alongside posters and t-shirts? Where are these zombies now?
(In kayfabe, I mean, before anyone gets wise and says, "Probably training at the WWE Performance Center!")
It was a confusing stretch of reality that would probably go down a storm on the independent scene. Still, on mainstream television, wrestling typically has a backup of explaining supernatural shenanigans as "MIND GAMES!"
It left a sour taste in a lot of fans’ mouths.
However, Miz defended the match when speaking to Forbes.
"So, a lot of people would be like, ‘What is this? Oh, my God!’" The Miz began. "I’m the type of person that goes, ‘This allows my creative juices to do whatever the hell we kind of want. So let’s make a movie out of it. Let’s make a meal out of it.’
"I mean, there was a part in that match where Damian and I worked together to beat up all the zombies. And some people gave us flack for going outside the box.
"The problem with, I feel like, today’s world is that it’s so easy to just literally go on the Internet and just critique and say, ‘This is terrible. This is horrible.’ With my storyline with Bad Bunny, nobody wanted to see it up until they wanted to see it at WrestleMania, you know? So nobody wants to let things develop and things get fun."
So, wresting and zombies. Although it seems like a dream matchup on paper, it might be something best left to the silver screen rather than the actual confines of the ring!
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