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Thumbs up because you’re number one: An ode to wrestling’s foam fingers

Remembering that spongey accessory that said your wrestler was the best.

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Scrolling through the social media platform X, as regular readers know I’m prone to do, I came across a piece of wrestling merchandise that had my inner child screaming, “Ooh, I want one!”

Below is a picture of a foam hand celebrating the world premiere of the motion picture “The Iron Claw,” the story of wrestling’s Von Erich brothers. Like many from that era who grew up watching Kevin, Kerry, David, and the stars of World Class Championship Wrestling, I eagerly await the film’s release this December.

But seeing a foam finger, or foam hand in this case, immediately brought back a lifetime of memories for me as a sports enthusiast and rabid wrestling fanatic that I had long locked away in the closet of my mind.

Invented in the 1970s by a high school student named Steve Chmelar, the original prototype became a playful tool to mock rival schools during home games at Iowa’s Ottumwa High School. Over time, the trend caught on and became big business for sports teams, as these colorfully oversized index fingers were often seen at various sporting events for the next couple of decades.

The first time I got my hands on one was in the early 1980s during a trip to see the California Angels (now the Los Angeles Angels) with my father. I was immediately drawn to this ridiculously huge sponge-like finger proclaiming the Angels were the best. I hounded my old man until he finally caved in and happily gave me the finger (pun intended).

Later, when I became a wrestling fan, I saw the same lovable sports accessory popping up on WWE television in support of one of my favorite wrestlers at the time, Hulk Hogan. Like Hogan, this thing was enormous and loud, screaming Hulkamania in red lettering across a sun-yellow super index finger.

And I wanted one.


In 1991, I went to see Hogan wrestle live for the first time, where I procured a foam Hogan forefinger. While I only used it that night, I was happy to finally have one. Based on the popularity of Hogan’s distinctive piece of merch, WWE went on to produce different versions of the foam hand for stars like “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Undertaker, whose model was unique because it was a tombstone featuring the Dead Man’s likeness rather than an oversized human digit.

And that’s where the finger may have jumped the shark. Soon, this foam creation was no longer a finger. It was a cupped hand or a posed replica of a wrestler’s image. Soon, foam fingers were no longer appealing, and as I matured, I lost interest in the novelty.

However, I hadn’t matured that much when the foam wonder returned during the Attitude Era. The finger was back, better than ever, and with a slight redesign, courtesy of wrestling’s newest superstar, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.


Once again, the trend was back, and I had another finger in my possession, though it was the last I would own. As for WWE, they continued releasing foam fingers, most memorably for Daniel Bryan during the peak of the Yes Movement.

But seeing a foam claw paying homage to the Von Erich boys has me feeling nostalgic. I likely won’t go out of my way to get one, but if we cross paths, I’ll probably have to make the pitch of a lifetime to my wife on a nostalgic-inspired impulse buy that I’ll try to pass off as “home decor.”

What about you guys; what quirky wrestling memorabilia did you enjoy growing up as a fan? Is there anything you still have or wish you could get back, and if so, what is it? Share your nostalgia in the comments below.

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