In modern times, anything and everything can and will be monetized.
If a wrestler makes a witty statement, utters a unique word, or stumbles upon a catchy catchphrase, there’s a high probability that the word or phrase will be on a t-shirt and available for sale at your favorite wrestling website in a matter of days. While that’s great business for wrestlers and promotions, a certain charm is lost when a performer’s off-the-cuff statement becomes commercialized.
And that’s especially true when it comes to the heels.
In the good old days, a bad guy might appear wearing a t-shirt specifically designed to taunt an adversary and infuriate that foe’s fan base. In those days, there were no websites or catalogs where wrestling buffs could get their hands on said gear, nor was it available at the merchandise tables set up in the arena.
Instead, spectators angrily watched as their least-favorite stars paraded around the ring, flaunting their wiseass tee as it did what it was inspired to do: generate heat. There was even a slight resentment from those who supported the villains because there was one less way to revel in the bad guys’ delight.
Through the years, there have been several memorable shirts that were heel-exclusive, starting with Owen Hart.
In 1997, the King of Harts turned the wrestling world on its head when he showed up sporting an “Owen 3:16” t-shirt after (accidentally) injuring “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s neck at SummerSlam. A mocking spinoff of Austin’s iconic “Austin 3:16,” the back of Owen’s shirt read, “I just broke your neck,” which was a play on the meaning of Stone Cold’s scripture verse (“I just whipped your ass!”).
Today, several knock-offs of the taunting tee are available online, though WWE never issued an official version, making Owen’s truly one-of-a-kind. As for the feud between Austin and Owen, it was resolved months later at the 1997 Survivor Series, with Austin prevailing.
But some feuds last a lifetime, which was the case between Terry Funk and Dusty Rhodes.
Friends in real life, Funk and Rhodes warred on-screen with one another for over 30 years. During that time, Funk went to extremes to ridicule and bully Rhodes. That included sporting such fine apparel that read, “Dusty Sucks Eggs,” and a hilariously misspelled t-shirt that was supposed to refer to the American Dream as a weenie. Instead, it read, “Dusty Is A Fat Dog Wennie.”
While such clothing was meant to further angles and indirectly get under the fans’ skin by teasing their heroes, wrestlers like Dutch Mantell went right after the public. No statement was off limits or too lowbrow for “Dirty Dutch,” who said in a Facebook post:
“During my sweet time during interviews, I referred to wrestling fans as a subordinate class of inbred rednecks who married their cousins so the family birth line continued. A big confusion occurred when they got divorced, were they still related?”
That explains why there was a question mark on Mantell’s t-shirt that said, “YOU PEOPLE (?) MEAN NOTHING TO ME!”
But the all-time winner belongs to Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who popularized the devilish trend in 1977 after winning the Mid-Atlantic Championship from “Chief” Wahoo McDaniel. During the match, Valentine broke McDaniel’s leg, which led to Valentine’s victory. For the next several weeks, Valentine appeared in magazines and promos wearing the most infamous shirt in wrestling history, which simply stated, “I BROKE WAHOO’S LEG.”
The image of an evil Valentine wearing both the mean-spirited shirt and an adorable childlike grin has since become one of the most iconic images in wrestling history. While fans of that era were more apt to kill Valentine, today, everyone can support The Hammer and celebrate his magnificent achievement by picking up a replica shirt at Valentine’s official online store at ProWrestlingTees.com.
If you enjoyed this feature, check out the inaugural piece in the Real Heel Heat series about the stabbing of Ole Anderson here.