”Taking inspiration” from film, music, and even video games.
For a form of entertainment that usually revolves around two men grappling in their underwear, wrestling really does have a close relationship with t-shirts. Who could forget such classics as Mick Foley’s ‘WANTED’ tee, CM Punk’s ‘Best In The World’ design, and (of course) the nWo’s now-iconic logo.
The WWE has never been shy of ”borrowing” certain elements of pop culture when crafting storylines or characters, and this sensitivity to the mainstream naturally extends to ring attire. Merchandise sales are a crucial part of the promotion’s income, and t-shirts remain the bread and butter of merch.
Occasionally, the influence of a certain t-shirt is slightly too obvious. Close associations with the industries of music, film, and even other wrestling promotions have resulted in some of the most recognisable (even iconic) t-shirts in WWE history.
7. Eddie Guerrero Goes Cuban
One of the most beloved anti-heroes of all time – not the most physically impressive, but one who rose to the top via a mixture of bravery, underhandedness, and more than a touch of crazy. And that’s just Eddie Guerrero.
No other WWE superstar in history would be more worthy of pulling on a t-shirt aping the legendary poster of Scarface, Al Pacino’s beloved gangster romp. The movie’s influence is shamelessly apparent; everything from the black and white split background to the contrasting red font screams ‘Scarface’, creating an association which perfectly suited Eddie’s loveable rouge act.
Another crucial point in the t-shirt’s favour is that it looks incredibly, incredibly cool. Wrestling tees often overcomplicate things, with various spiralling designs and huge, screaming slogans plastered all over the place. Guerrero’s most famous shirt is simple, bold, and ties him perfectly to an appropriate fictional legend.
6. Putting The ‘Punk’ In CM Punk
CM Punk has never been shy to incorporate his other passions into his ring attire. His heel run as WWE Champion saw him often don a plain (but eye catching) ‘Gracie Jiu-Jitsu’ hoodie, while his now-legendary Money In The Bank 2011 entrance saw the debut of a t-shirt based on the Chicago state flag. However, Punk’s most blatant rip-off came during his time as leader of the Straight Edge Society.
As his ring name suggests, Punk is heavily into rock music – particularly that of the fast, aggressive, three-chord variety. What better way to pay homage to the genre than wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a slightly altered Ramones logo. The New York foursome popularised punk in the late 1970s, and are responsible for one of the most iconic tees of all time.
Punk’s take on the classic Ramones logo retains most of the original’s key features; it has the circle, the eagle, and the encircling words. The Straight Edge Superstar’s personality is allowed to shine through slightly, the lightning bolts and central X-shape adding a dash of originality to an otherwise faithful recreation of a classic.
5. Old School Heeling
Staying momentarily with CM Punk, the Chicago native has never been shy about showing off his knowledge (and love) of old school wrestling. His occasional stints at the announce table were riddled with insider references to old wrestlers, and after Randy Savage’s death, he even began to incorporate a flying elbow into his moveset.
Never shy to take a leaf from an old heel’s playbook, Punk payed homage to Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine by copying his devastatingly simple t-shirt design during a feud with the Big Show. After breaking the leg of 1970s babyface Wahoo McDaniel, Valentine let the Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling crowd know exactly how much sympathy he felt – none.
There’s not a lot to say about Punk’s 21st century equivalent; it’s pretty much identical. The font may be bolder and slightly more pleasing on the eye, but the message is the same: ”I know what a horrible thing I’ve done, and I’m damn proud of it”.
4. John Cena Goes Retro, Pt. I
As proven by our last entry, inspiration for WWE t-shirts doesn’t necessarily have to stem from pop culture. Sometimes wrestling history is recycled too, although this particular example is sure to sit uncomfortable with a sizeable chunk of the WWE’s current audience.
If any current superstar was to use the logo of Verne Gagne’s beloved, now-defunct AMA promotion, it would surely be one with a keen grasp of classic, old-school wrestling. A figure such as Daniel Bryan or Tyson Kidd would have been perfect for the design, but the WWE instead opted for John Cena.
Never the most fundamentally-solid in-ring performer, Cena was nevertheless given a tweaked version of the old American Wrestling Association logo for his bi-annual attire change. The three words of the promotion’s name are changed to reflect Cena’s ”Hustle, Loyalty, Respect” mantra, and the generic central figures become John himself, slapping the STF on a hapless foe. Otherwise, however, the design remains exactly the same.
3. John Cena Goes Retro, Pt. II
Rumour has it that Cena is a big fan of gaming, a story which this t-shirt would surely back up. This retro, Nintendo-inspired effort stems from the pixellated world of the old NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console, and does a good job of aping the company’s distinctive, bright visual style.
Even the font beneath the main image is reminiscent of Nintendo’s old school box art, while the ‘Sports Entertainment System’ pun is a clear nod to the tee’s old-school influences.
The main image could easily be likened to a specific NES game – the beloved ‘Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!’ – although similarities between Cena and Little Mac are decidedly thin on the ground. One is a dominant, musclebound, 15-time World Champion; the other was more likely to have gamers hurling their controller at the wall in rage, such was the game’s notorious difficulty.
2. John Morrison, Rider On The Storm
The entire character of John Morrison was a direct rip-off of legendary Doors frontman Jim Morrison, so it only makes sense that this influence extended to ring attire as well. The former Johnny Nitro began wore this fetching number to the ring on several occasions,
In fairness, Nitro really did resemble Morrison to a degree, a similarity emphasised by these tees. Both demonstrate their respective figure’s flowing brown locks and love of big sunglasses. Strangely, the WWE version actually pays greater tribute to the psychedelia of The Doors, an effect achieved by the use of stars, triangles, and generally abstract shapes.
In contrast, the actual Doors shirt looks more like a classic wrestling tee, with a big, bold image dominating the front.
1. A Hot Rod Classic
‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper’s legacy will live on in many ways, including the small matter of one of wrestling’s most iconic t-shirts. The ‘Hotrod’ shirt was an utter classic, and can now be viewed as a throwback to the bright, colourful days of the 1980s – in more ways than one.
The titular hero of 1980 sci-fi classic Flash Gordon wore a strikingly similar t-shirt in the movie, one sharing the bright white body, crew neck, and distinctive red trim of Piper’s later WWF attire. The one crucial difference was, of course, the slogan.
Both are bold and exciting, showing their figures to be larger-than-life characters. Roddy’s is (fittingly) a touch more jagged and dangerous looking, emphasising the volatile nature of his gimmick. An iconic shrit for an iconic wrestler, one which also remains a faithful reminder of its time period.