10 Best TV Commercials Starring Wrestlers

In many ways, having professional wrestlers as the pitchmen in television commercials represents the ultimate win-win situation. After all, these larger-than-life personalities have a devoted fan base that spans generations, and their ability to demand attention –- serious or otherwise –- can result in memorable viewing.

But while wrestling has been part of the television programming slate since the medium first invaded American living rooms in the late 1940s, it wasn't until the late 1980s when WWF's musclebound vaudeville went mainstream that wrestlers were given any consideration for starring in commercials. 

In compiling this slate of the 10 best commercials starring wrestlers, judgment criteria include original concept, entertainment value, proper use of the wrestling talent and whether the commercial addresses its mission of selling a specific product.

As a result, there are some honorable mentions that didn't quite make the grade. For example, a 1997 Pizza Outlet commercial featured Kurt Angle who did very little except watch a pair of animated sliced peppers wrestle each other on top of a pizza pie — the animation was clever, but Angle was a dud. Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter turned up in a 2014 Radio Shack ad that riffed on the 1980s, but both were lost in a flood of celebrities and references harvested from the Reagan era.

As for the commercials that manage to check all of the criteria boxes, here are the 10 best for your viewing pleasure. 

King Kong Bundy and friends for ESPN SportsCenter

In 1995, ESPN began to incorporate coverage of wrestling matches into its "SportsCenter" programming. To highlight the addition of this weekly feature, the cable network brought in King Kong Bundy, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer for a 30-second commercial.

The spot finds the angry wrestlers storming through the ESPN offices to discover why they are not getting more coverage on the air. Bundy pushes one man aside, chokes another, then goes into the face of sportscaster Gary Miller and yells about the absence of his highlights from the broadcast.

Miller finds himself pinned down by Diesel on a photocopier machine while Shawn Michaels looks on menacingly -– Miller tries to calm his hefty captors by stating how "those Greco-Roman wrestling guys –- they're a bunch of sissies." The commercial ends with "SportsCenter" host Dan Patrick being cornered by the glaring wrestlers while trying to claim that if he was in charge the program would run the wrestling highlights every night.

If there was one flaw in this commercial, it would be allowing Bundy to be the only wrestler with dialogue. Still, the joy of having a furious Bundy venting his outrage compensated for the silence of his menacing comrades. And the unapologetically visceral antagonism on display stands in marked contrast to a significantly less explosive 2019 "SportsCenter" commercial where Becky Lynch blows her top at a barista in the "ESPN Café," only to meekly regain her composure when she realizes she was overreacting to a benign request for her name to go on a coffee cup.

Chris Jericho for Taco Bell

Not many commercials with wrestlers have the stars playing against type. Right Guard once amusingly brought out Hulk Hogan for a spot where he assumed the persona of a sensitive artist painting a seascape. But Taco Bell went one step further by having a wrestler not only play against type in a mild-manner presentation, but also to spoof a specific genre of commercials.

In 2000, Chris Jericho appeared in a Taco Bell commercial for Canadian television that offered a deviously funny riff on the pleading sincerity that burdens many advertisements for charitable organizations.

In this commercial, Jericho wears a knit sweater-jacket and a tie and speaks in serious, thoughtful tones while clasping his hands. He alerts the viewers about the "epidemic that is affecting thousands of young Canadians -– a condition that scientists are calling 'The Munchies.'" He then modestly introduces himself as "World Wrestling Federation superstar Chris Jericho" while the bottom of the screen has the pop-up description "Chris Jericho: Superstar." He calls on viewers to "make a donation of only $3.99" to get three Taco Supremes and a soft drink.

The commercial ends with a teenager joining Jericho on screen, with the wrestler acknowledging the youth while stating, "We can help young people, like Todd, fight the munchies." Jericho and Todd give each other a high five.

Bret Hart for Humpty's

The year 1997 was a tumultuous one for Bret Hart. Wrestling fans will recall 1997 for the now-infamous Montreal Screwjob match that ended his WWF career, as well for being the where he began his association with WCW. But how many people recall 1997 for being the year when Hart went to battle against a giant egg in a TV commercial?

The egg in question was Humpty, the cartoonish mascot of the Canadian restaurant chain Humpty's. But rather than wrestle the egg, Hart found himself displaying his culinary and comic skills instead.

The commercial opens with Hart alone in a ring while the arena audience chants "Hitman." He suspiciously views his opponent Humpty (played by a man in an egg costume –- and, yes, it is as silly as it sounds), who makes a wrestling-worthy entrance complete with pyrotechnics and sirens. Hart and Humpty meet with a table of groceries separating them, while the referee for the match orders a clean fight that is "going to be a real ding-dong dandy."

Hart is suddenly in an apron over a grill trying (and failing) to make a proper eggs and hash brown breakfast. He flips an egg that got stuck on the grill and it goes airborne before landing on the face of a spectator. Humpty, however, has created a clean, delicious-looking four-egg omelet with hash browns and a pineapple slice. The off-screen announcer goes for the obvious in noting how "egg-cellent" the meal is.

Hart tells his opponent, "You know, Humpty, maybe we should be a tag team." The referee yells at the duo "You're outta here!" and they exit amid the spectators' chants of "Humpty."

Hart goes through the commercial in a stoic, deadpan demeanor which makes the bizarre nature of the concept even funnier.

Triple H for YJ Stinger

In 2003, Triple H appeared in a pair of commercials for the YJ Stinger energy drink. One commercial was a straightforward, hard-core wrestling-focused spot with Triple H going through a punishing workout and showing off the muscular results of his labors, which he credits to having YJ Stinger as his fuel. The other advertisement was a bit more complex.

That second ad finds three young men watching a wrestling match on television. One gets up and taunts Triple H's scowling visage on the screen by yelling "Hey, Triple H, I've got your game right here" –- at which point he gulps a mouthful of YJ Stinger and spits it at the television. But his projectile spit turns into killer bees who begin to chase him. The young man gets on a skateboard and exits his building, not realizing that Triple H (in sunglasses) is standing outside with three hot blondes. The bees chase the youth into traffic, where he ditches his skateboard and runs down the street and into an alley –- and right into Triple H (still with his three hot blondes). The wrestler clotheslines the youth, who falls unconscious to the ground.

After this brief bit of violence, Triple H and his luscious groupies stand in a slightly gloating manner over the unmoving body of the wrestler's would-be heckler. Whatever sympathy one could possibly have for the fallen bigmouth is erased when Triple H then holds a can of YJ Stinger at the camera and angrily declares, "If you wanna play the game, you gotta feel the sting."

Mankind for Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Ravioli

In the early 2000s, WWF signed a deal for a series of commercials hawking the Chef Boyardee line of canned meals. Unlike other commercial campaigns that assigned one wrestler to a product promotion, multiple wrestlers were used in this campaign.

The commercials varied in style -– one found The Rock posing amid bikini-clad admirers while a rapper sang out the praise to the brand. Other commercials found Big Show coping with the challenges of his oversized strength –- pulling a door off a taxi, collapsing a chair –- while extolling Chef Boyardee's Overstuffed Sausage Ravioli, Booker T recalling his (alleged) childhood where his love for this brand inspired his future wrestling moves, Mick Foley riding a motorcycle to a roadside diner to enjoy his favorite meal and Kane channeling his inner Julia Child to make himself a Chef Boyardee lunch.

But the most creatively silly spot took place amid the wildlife of Africa populated by the herbivore (depicted as a giraffe), the carnivore (depicted as a lion) and the "Boyardee-avore" (depicted by the masked Mankind). The latter creature sits beneath a tree and surrounds himself with cans of Overstuffed Ravioli while his white shirt is stained with the food's tomato sauce –- it would seem Mankind eschewed utensils and consumed the contents with his hands. The viewer also finds Mankind raising a cane in one hand and a ravioli can in another against a dramatic sunset while bellowing, "Mmmm, beefy."

And, yes, the wrestler goes for the obvious pun in the wrap-up by declaring it to be "the perfect ravioli for all Mankind."

Paul Orndorff for Hulkamania Workout Set

In 1985, Hulk Hogan saw his stardom ascend quickly as "Hulkamania" captured the fancy of the mainstream public. To capitalize on the newfound popularity of WWF's brand of wrestling, a product called Hulkamania Workout Set was put together.

The ad spot featured a young boy in his bedroom admiring wall-sized posters of Hogan and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff while exclaiming, "Hey, how can I get muscles like you guys?" All of a sudden, Orndorff comes crashing through the wall and starts flexing his muscles before giving the boy his answer: "You can start by getting in shape with the Hulkamania Workout Set."

Orndorff pulls out the boxed product and opens it for the boy. "It's got everything you need," Orndorff says. "A wristband, a jump rope for warming up, a hand-gripper for power, dumbbells for strength, an exercise poster and even Hulk's own workout tape." 

The commercial ends with Orndorff asking the boy if he's in shape yet and the child responds by emulating Hogan's shirt ripping shtick, which generates an unbelieving "Whoa!" from the wrestler.

Of course, the obvious question would have to be: Why was Orndorff promoting the Hulkamania Workout Set instead of the Hulkster himself? But despite the rivalry that Hogan and Orndorff displayed against each other in the ring, on the small screen Orndorff was a good-natured and charismatic spokesman for the product and its namesake. 

Hulk Hogan for Hostamania

In 2013, Hulk Hogan teamed with Tech Assets, Inc. to launch a web hosting business called Hostamania. To get the business into public view, they decided to create an over-the-top commercial that parodied a then-popular campaign for GoDaddy (the new company's chief rival) featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The commercial opened with Hulk Hogan in civilian clothing drawing in crayons on an illustration of himself. A laptop in front of him is open to the Hostamania.com page, and a message flashing "200,000,000 Orders" comes on screen. Hogan turns around and finds an obnoxious looking man upside down eating a crayon. Hogan walks off-screen returns in the wrestling regalia while riding on a wrecking ball — a nod to Miley Cyrus' hit song and video of the era. Hogan kicks the upside down man in the face and he lands unconscious on the ground. Hogan then spins on the wrecking ball, but his pants have curiously vanished, and his lower half is only sporting a thong.  Hogan spanks his bare behind, smiles at the camera and says, "Brother!"

For sheer weirdness, this commercial takes the proverbial cake; viewing it today without having advance knowledge of the GoDaddy-Van Damme commercials being parodied, it could be mistaken as a standalone work of avant-garde imagery. And this life-action production was much more cartoonish than the rather tame animated commercial produced to promote Hostamania. But clever advertising wasn't enough to bring business to Hostamania, and the venture no longer exists.

Macho Man Randy Savage for Slim Jim

Whatever mayhem "Macho Man" Randy Savage created in the ring, it paled to the happy wreckage he rained on the participants in the series of commercials he did for the Slim Jim brand of dried meat sticks.

Actually, Savage was not the initial choice for this 1990s campaign — the advertising agency behind the brand tried to lure outrageous stand-up comedian Sam Kinison into their campaign. But Kinison's lawyers recommended that he turn down the deal (it is not clear why they were opposed), so the agency arranged a deal with WWF to have the Ultimate Warrior as the spokesperson. Eventually, that role fell to Savage.

Savage, whose wrestling career was mostly over by the time he shot his first commercial, didn't require Ultimate Warrior's overpowering presence to get his marketing message across. In his commercials, his mere arrival electrified monotonous settings (a dull light bulb store, a dusty library, a hokey school dance) and shocked the dull youths in these dismal environments into a new sense of energy and purpose. Even better, Savage's distinctive gravelly voice was the perfect tonal clarion in encouraging his followers to "snap into a Slim Jim." In one commercial, Savage's bites into a Slim Jim bar unleashes the full fury of nature with lightning, tornados, and a cattle stampede.

After he passed away in 2011 the brand showed its fidelity to the Macho Man by creating Savage Sticks in his honor.  

Kerry Von Erich for His 900-Number Line

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, 900-number lines became popular with consumers looking for a psychic reading, adult entertainment, or chats with celebrities. It didn't matter that these lines had considerably higher costs per minute than the typical telephone call, and incessant telephone advertising for these lines helped keep their phones ringing. 

Professional wrestling latched into the latter category, and WWF stars including Hulk Hogan, Captain Lou Albano, and "Mean" Gene Okerlund had their own 900-number lines. Over in the territories, Kerry Von Erich had his own 900-number line and his own television commercial to promote it. Von Erich was no stranger to TV commercials — he co-starred with his brothers Kevin and Mike in a series of mild-mannered advertisements for the Texas-based Pizza Inn restaurant chain – but in the commercial for this 900-number line he was actively promoting himself instead of a product or a service.

"I'm Kerry Von Erich, and as you know, I don't have time to stop and talk to people at the Sportatorium," he says in his commercial, referencing the Dallas-based arena where he was active during the 1980s. Von Erich notes that the 900-number line is now active, and he invites his fans to call in for a direct conversation. "You can ask me anything," he says before leaning slightly forward to the camera, grinning slightly and adding in a somewhat lascivious tone, "I mean anything you want to ask me."

Callers to the hotline were charged 95 cents per minute. It is unclear how long the Von Erich 900-number line was active or whether the callers were his younger fans or the mature individuals ready to ask him (ahem) "anything." And despite the dubious nature of the 900-number set-up, Von Erich's charisma and sense of ease shines through in this unlikely commercial, which makes it a shame that he didn't get the opportunity to promote more prestigious consumer brands.

Sting for Sprite

In 1999, Sting was a top name in WCW when he was tapped to star in a commercial for the Sprite soft drink brand. The commercial brilliantly captured the essence of professional wrestling's insouciance, cartoonish violence and unapologetic embrace of good-humored bad taste.

The commercial starts with a small boy answering the doorbell of his home, where he finds Sting standing with a black baseball bat. "Timmy, I'm from the Dream Come True Fantasy Contest," Sting says to the awe-struck boy. "You ready to wrestle?"

Timmy is ecstatic and alerts his mother and father that "it's really him." The parents quickly and happily clear the furniture aside in their living room, but just before the match begins Timmy pauses to take a gulp from a Sprite bottle on a table. Timmy announces that he's ready and Sting quickly grabs him, hoists him high before crashing on the floor, then lifts him again and throws him into the next room while the sound of breaking furniture can be heard off-screen.

"It looks so real," says Timmy's beaming mother while his father captures the action on a video camera as Sting runs Timmy headfirst across the fireplace mantle, knocking a number of knick-knacks into ruin. Sting is then shown jumping from the top of a staircase onto an off-screen Timmy below. The screen then goes black and flashes the unlikely slogan "Don't count on Sprite to do anything but quench your thirst." At the end, a somewhat bedraggled Timmy is heard saying, "You want to go two out of three?"

Clearly, Timmy is living the dream of most little boys in the late 1990s, and the parental approval of the rough house play coupled with Timmy's eagerness to do it again captures the family entertainment aspect of professional wrestling. Yes, it is noisy and a tad destructive, but it is all in good fun — and even the Sprite brand gets in on the vibe with a self-parody wink in acknowledging it offers no special powers beyond being happy beverage distraction.

Comments