Antonio Cesaro & the 7 Best Foreign-Born Heels in WWE History
Antonio Cesaro is the latest in the great tradition of foreign-born heels, but he doesn't rank among the best ever in the category, at least not yet.
Cesaro's wrestling ability is on an elite level and he seems to be growing more comfortable in dredging up hatred from fans. He doesn't have the advantage men from the Middle East or men pretending to be from Russia had in that there is built-in tension between America and these countries.
Most fans are likely ambivalent toward Switzerland, but Cesaro is doing a good job using European stereotypes to draw heat. Carrying around a man purse is a nice detail, for example.
Antonio Cesaro has only just begun, though.
WWE clearly believes in him as it's given him the United States title and let him wrestle the company's top names early on. He'll likely get a number of opportunities to become one of WWE's most hated men.
Cesaro appears to be a natural in the ring and is improving in other aspects at a rapid rate.
While Cesaro develops, while he masters the craft of villainy, he'd be wise to study the work of the men above him on this list. These foreign-born wrestlers are judged here based on their impact as a heel, their prominence in that position, the amount of hatred they created and the awards they piled up on the way.
7. Ivan Koloff
Ivan Koloff is actually Canadian, but was wisely billed as "The Russian Bear" during a time when U.S. and Soviet relations were tense.
In many ways, it seems as if Antonio Cesaro is paying tribute to Koloff the way he bashes American wrestlers and claims his own superiority.
Koloff drew the fans' ire by doing things like slapping Pat Patterson during an interview and insulting the crowd in his Russian accent.
He had a long feud with Bruno Sammartino and actually won the WWE title from the seemingly unbeatable Italian Stallion in 1971. What better way to gain notoriety than to end a beloved icon's title reign?
Ivan Koloff earned fourth-place in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler award voting in 1979.
6. Bret Hart
A gutsy, heroic character for much of his career, Bret Hart's eventual turn to the dark side was immensely powerful.
Before Steve Austin made a living on stunning Vince McMahon, Bret pushed the WWE authority figure down and delivered a powerful promo teeming with frustration. This was the start of Bret's transformation from the revered to the despised, at least in the United States.
Throughout his heel run, Bret was still popular with Canadian fans, but he masterfully drew out boos from American crowds.
The Hitman was at his best in terms of mic work as a heel. He came off as intense, authentic and emotional.
The turn as the newly vicious, anti-American bad guy earned him the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler award in 1997. He also placed fourth in the voting the previous year.
5. Iron Sheik
After his tag partner, Nikolai Volkoff sang the Russian national anthem, The Iron Sheik would grab the mic and say, "Russia, number one. Iran, number one. America..." and then proceed to spit.
The Iron Sheik made the most of his Persian heritage, using it to make him one of WWE's best villains ever.
Had Sheik not been caught with cocaine while driving with storyline rival Hacksaw Jim Duggan in 1987, he might have made even more of an impact on the company.
Duggan told PWTorch.com's Wade Keller (via WrestlingInc.com) that he thinks he would have been world champ had the incident not happened.
If Duggan was on his way to a world title reign, imagine how much a more-talented Sheik could have accomplished with WWE, how much more hated he could have become.
4. Andre the Giant
Andre the Giant began his WWE career as a beloved babyface.
In 1987 though, he changed sides, setting up the ultimate rivalry in Hulk Hogan vs. Andre. Andre famously ripped a cross from off Hogan's neck during a Piper's Pit segment.
The Frenchman became the merciless obstacle that Hogan had to overcome.
He was involved in the infamous twin referee match in 1988, where he defeated Hogan for the WWE title and tried to sell it to Ted DiBiase. Andre spent much of the late '80s as WWE's resident monster, the French giant with few morals.
Andre was the runner-up for the 1987 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler award. The following year, he won the award, capping a short span of dominance as WWE's top villain.
3. Killer Kowalski
When David Letterman introduced Killer Kowalski on his show in 1982, he called Kowalski "one of the meanest men to ever step into a wrestling ring."
A minute into the interview and it was clear that Kowalski was a charming, intelligent man in real life.
His act in the ring was a great departure from that. He was an intimidating, scowling monster who towered over many opponents.
Kowalski told Wrestling Revue in 1961 (via Slam! Sports) of just how far fans took their hatred of his persona. He said, "Everywhere I go they throw chairs, newspapers, cigar butts, fruit and anything else they can grab."
This fervent response is a part of why Kowalski earns such a high ranking. The heat heels got back then was far more visceral. Fans genuinely hated wrestling's villains.
The Polish-Canadian wrestler spent much of his career outside the WWE, but made an impact during his time with the company. He won both the World and United States tag titles, partnering with menacing giants Big John Studd and Gorilla Monsoon.
Kowalski also challenged Bruno Sammartino for the WWE title, playing the villainous foil to the heroic Sammartino.
How does a wrestler hope to create real heat in an era where fans know so much about the business' inner workings?
Stealing Matt Hardy's real-life girlfriend is a great start.
Matt Hardy talked to IGN.com about his legitimate beef with Edge. Hardy said, "As a human being, I think he's despicable."
Edge also exquisitely utilized the feelings created by watching a villain win unfairly.
He attacked Kofi Kingston to steal his spot in the Elimination Chamber. He used his relationship with Vickie Guerrero to gain unfair advantages. His La Familia interfered on his behalf and Vickie abused her power.
Edge made it easy to forget that we were watching a show, frustrating, irritating and riling up fans in the process.
This is how he became WWE's most hated man. This is why he won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler award in 2006 and was the runner-up in 2005.
1. Roddy Piper
In the tradition of Hannibal Lecter, Roddy Piper was an engrossingly charismatic villain.
Although he wore a kilt to emphasize his Scottish roots, Piper was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. The kilt became an easy target for Piper's foes to pick on, the faces gaining favor with the fans in the process.
WWE's most compelling loose cannon made a name for himself on his Piper's Pit segment. It was on this groundbreaking show that Piper cracked Jimmy Snuka over the head with a coconut and mocked Bruno Sammartino.
Piper won consecutive Pro Wrestling Illustrated Most Hated Wrestler awards in 1984 and 1985. The Hot Rod won the Wrestling Observer Best Heel award in those years as well.
Piper's villainous opus came in the buildup to the first-ever WrestleMania. It was his feud with Hulk Hogan that fueled much of the momentum of that WrestleMania main event.
Hogan couldn't have been the hero he was without a villain like Piper to conquer.