Wrestling Talent Who've Used The Internet To Elevate Themselves

Professional wrestling is an industry that thrives on talent being able to innovate and reinvent themselves whenever needed. No matter how much resistance they might end up receiving from the old guard, they still recognize that change is an absolute necessity. In recent years, many professional wrestlers in major companies and on the indie scene have recognized this trend. With the advent of the modern internet and the swath of social media platforms available, the business had been forever changed.

Nowadays, appealing to your fans across a wide variety of platforms is crucial, as is presenting something fresh and new. That could be a striking portfolio of well produced images and GIFs, or perhaps a series of visually intriguing character vignettes — the sky's the limit. Additionally, there's also the commitment to their respective persona outside of the ring. These are just a few prime examples of wrestling talents who've used the internet to elevate themselves.

Casanova Valentine

Pro wrestling is a job predicated on blood, sweat, and tears, and Casanova Valentine has certainly put an emphasis on the blood. The self-proclaimed Hipster Heartthrob was looking for a way to stand out and elevate himself, while also indulging in the things he loved. An artist at his core, Casanova opted to combine pro wrestling and his painting into a hybrid wrestling art show. However, this wrestling wasn't conventional even by hardcore wrestling standards, in that there was no ring to speak of. As elaborated on via a VICE mini-documentary, this gimmick allows for not only increased audience interaction, but heightened violence as well. This documentary would help Casanova expand his reach to more casual fans online, creating an influx of new supporters. 

It wasn't too long before more and more online fans were exposed to, not only the VICE documentary, but the eye catching GIFs and clips of his work he would share as well. Casanova has a definite understanding of how to make a wrestling event feel like a wild party, a tone that definitely extends to his social media presence. From his one of a kind promos to the custom artwork he'd often post to promote his shows online, the man is definitely a social media machine. The gimmick has definitely gained traction online, garnering increasingly bigger name competitors and increased attendance as well. By simply presenting his honest self online, blood and scars included, Casanova has definitely made a sizable connection with online wrestling fans, especially ones with a fondness for old school hardcore wrestling. 

Danhausen

For the longest time Donovan Danhausen, like many others, was working his way up through the independent wrestling scene. Danhausen saw fit to set himself apart from the pack with face and body paint, taking on the guise of a grindhouse tinted ghoul. He would produce several chilling and visually distinct vignettes for his personal YouTube channel, helping to establish his persona's lore. After a few years however, his in-ring persona would evolve into a far more jovial and comedic character. This new direction, described by Danhausen himself as "Conan O'Brien possessed by a demon," was just what his career needed. Danhausen's more comedic persona has done everything from interview segments to toy unboxing videos, all done without ever breaking character. He'd also started a feud with the Gunn Club before his arrival in AEW, comedically rechristening the duo as the Ass Boys. This running gag actually went a long way in getting them both over, showing Danhausen's legitimate ability to elevate talent other than himself with his web presence. 

Now describing himself as very nice and very evil, the quirky face painted ghoul quickly began raking in juggernaut merchandise sales and received higher profile bookings. Not only did he receive an ROH and later an AEW contract, but he became Pro Wrestling Tees highest seller of 2021. It's gotten harder and harder every year for pro wrestlers to stand out, but somehow Danhausen has found a way. From piles of fan art to countless social media users adding Hausen to their tags, the man's meteoric success is undeniable. 

Maxwell Jacob Friedman

Whether it was under the often-dim lights of independent wrestling or the grand stage of AEW, Maxwell Jacob Friedman has always had a stellar online presence. MJF's strength in-ring, as well as on social media, has always been his unflinching dedication to his heel persona. Whether it be during interviews with the likes of Alicia Atout or just responding to fans on Twitter, MJF is always on. One particularly noteworthy example of this habit kicked off during an AEW Meet & Greet that took place in Chicago. While taking a begrudging picture with a father and son, MJF saw fit to flip off the little boy!

Footage of this encounter gained so much traction online that even the likes of TMZ and the New York Post were commenting on it. When criticized for his behavior in front of the child, MJF fired back online with one comment, "F–k them kids... cry about it." Another glorious example of MJF's ability to draw ire from the online world came in the form of a heated interaction with actor Joe Manganiello over geek culture. It just shows how effective MJF was at getting under people's skin via the online world and subsequently using that tool to capitalize on it even further. Very few wrestlers in this day and age are able to draw ire the way MJF can and it's definitely paid off for him. MJF's future is definitely something to keep an eye on, with many fans waiting with bated breath for what he'll say next.

Matt Hardy

Matt and Jeff Hardy, The Hardy Boyz, have helped to elevate the art of professional wrestling both separately and as a tag team. For the longest time it seemed as though Jeff was the more lucrative singles act, garnering ample singles gold in WWE and TNA. But in a fitting twist of fate (see what we did there?), in the 2010s Matt would take the lead in overall popularity. This would arise from Matt simply throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what would stick, a model that definitely resonated with online fans. Not that Hardy hadn't previously shown a proclivity for self-engineered gimmicks, previously building a solid fandom in the 2000s with his V1 gimmick. 

Matt would build some steam with his underrated Big Money Matt millionaire gimmick, but eventually transformed himself once again. During a feud with Jeff, Matt would reemerge sporting a bizarre accent and more gothic guise — referring to Jeff as Brother Nero. From this emerged "The Final Deletion," the catalyst for Matt's eventual Broken Universe in which his entire family became involved. From Senor Benjamin to Vanguard One to dilapidated boats, the internet almost-immediately embraced Hardy and ascension to cloud cuckoo land. It would be via platforms like YouTube and Twitter where Matt showcased additional content to build out his self written lore and in-universe continuity. 

Cody Rhodes

The son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes has definitely gone above and beyond to carve out his own legacy within the business. First introduced on WWE TV as Dusty's son breaking into the business, Cody would toil in WWE's mid-card for quite some time. After receiving his long desired release, Cody (sans his last name) would venture off into the wild world of independent professional wrestling. From across the United States to the United Kingdom to Tokyo, Cody quickly became a force to be reckoned with. Finally free of WWE's standards and practices, Cody was finally able to cut loose and engage with his fan base unfiltered. His first major act following this major career move was to put pen to paper, scribing a list of opponents on the indies he was keen on facing. 

Eventually the self proclaimed American Nightmare bought his way into NJPW's top faction, Bullet Club — the first step of a sizable gambit. "Being the Elite," the Elite faction's popular YouTube series, gave Cody a solid venue to showcase his comedic timing and charisma. His affiliations with Bullet Club, more specifically The Young Bucks, would serve as the catalyst for 2019's All In. Spurred on by a tweet by Dave Meltzer, the trio's self-started indie event became the first non-WWE pro wrestling event to sell 10,000 tickets since 1993. The success of All In would serve as the spark in the powder keg of what would eventually become AEW where Cody served as an EVP. After an eventful run on Wednesday nights, Cody would depart the company he helped found, returning to WWE at WrestleMania 38. Whether you've cheered him at his best or booed him at his least-self aware, Cody has helped truly help redefine the modern landscape of pro wrestling.

Matt Cardona

If ever a professional wrestler built an impressive career off of defying expectation, it would most certainly be Matt Cardona. Originally a lower to mid-card enhancement and tag team talent, the former-Zack Ryder had mostly been toiling in the WWE mid-card since his arrival. However, things would change for Ryder when, unsatisfied with his role, he opted to take things into his own hands. From his frustrations, "Z! True Long Island Story" was born, a nifty YouTube series where Zack would show off his true personality and interests. Zack's homegrown web series was just the boost that the Long Island Iced Z needed, garnering a slew of new fans. From this would arise a long overdue title push for Ryder who won the United States championship from Dolph Ziggler in 2011.

Sadly WWE, in typical fashion, would stifle Ryder's natural momentum and send him back to mid-card purgatory. Following a few brief resurgences in momentum — a brief Intercontinental and Tag Team title run — Ryder received his release in 2020. Soon after arriving back on the independents Cardona, having ditched his former moniker, would set his sights on a new target. That target in question was the GCW champion Nick Gage whom Cardona defeated in controversial fashion to win the belt. From being pelted with White Claw cans to winning the NWA World Heavyweight title, it's certainly been an exciting new chapter for Matt Cardona.

Xavier Woods

From TNA to WWE, Austin Creed AKA Xavier Woods has always had a natural level of in-ring ability and charisma. Creed would take on the moniker of Consequence Creed, an Apollo Creed tinted babyface gimmick, while competing in TNA's X-Division. Following an enjoyable run with Jay Lethal as Lethal Consequences, Creed would migrate over to WWE's developmental system. This stint in the likes of FCW and NXT would eventually lead to Creed, now known as Xavier Woods, aligning himself with Kofi Kingston and Big E Langston. The alliance, after some esthetic tinkering, would blossom into The New Day which, after a bumpy start, eventually won over WWE fans.

The trio would put everything into the gimmick, breaking the richter scale in terms of charisma and natural likability. But while moving truckloads of merchandise with his buddies, Woods would strike gold in another venue. "Up Up Down Down," a video game centered channel run by Woods, quickly amassed a sizable following of online fans. The channel provided a platform for Creed to really connect not only with his fellow WWE brethren but with his loyal fanbase as well. Woods' side venture has not only resulted in over two million subscribers, but a slot on the newly rebooted G4 as well.

The Young Bucks

Unless you've been under a rock the last decade, it's been nearly impossible to avoid the industry-wide impact of The Young Bucks. Real life brothers Matt and Nick Jackson began making waves on the independents — most notably ROH, PWG and NJPW — In the early 2010s. The duo became best known for two things, that being an insanely acrobatic in-ring style and a proclivity for drawing ire online.

Eventually the Superkick aficionados found themselves as a part of Bullet Club, a prominent NJPW faction, and as allies of Kenny Omega. Together with the self proclaimed Best Bout Machine, he trio traveled the world selling merchandise and breaking the Meltzer scale. A big part of the trio's appeal stemmed from their then-meteorically rising YouTube comedy vlog series "Being the Elite." It helped to showcase the trio's various indie appearances, their escapades in Japan and cameos from various indie peers — including their fellow Bullet Club colleagues. Along the way, the series became not only a key element of the Bucks' success but for the development of All Elite Wrestling as well. As Cody Rhodes once said, "One day they're printing t-shirts, the next they're printing money, "and it's hard to dispute that claim. Undeniably lucrative and occasionally controversial, The Young Bucks' Superkick Party has definitely turned the world of wrestling upside down.

EFFY

The LGBTQ presence within professional wrestling has been exploding the last few years, creating a slew of opportunities for countless new talents. One of whom has become an indie wrestling mainstay since his arrival in recent years is Taylor Gibson AKA EFFY. Following a life changing LSD infused trip (though he's since described himself as sober), Gibson had an epiphany to truly go for it and shoot for higher goals (via Business Insider). These higher goals were professional wrestling, an industry he immediately jumped into feet first — opting to break from the norm and do his own thing. Decked head to toe in a spiked neon jacket and fishnets, EFFY spoke out and spoke often about his honest feelings.

Putting his PR degree to good use, EFFY would turn the eyes on him into money with a slew of vibrant merchandise. From social media, where he's always a vocal presence, to his podcast "Weekend at EFFY's" to his weekly Twitch streams, the man has a diverse media presence. In terms of using the internet to elevate one's self, very few have covered the amount of ground in the time that EFFY has. From video content to Cameos to his hilarious live streams, the EFFY brand is just about anywhere you can point your eyeballs. Whether it's mixing it up in Game Changer Wrestling or hosting his own Big Gay Brunch events, EFFY's shown little sign of slowing down.

Kidd Bandit

As mentioned previously, the LGBTQ community has been flourishing within wrestling and another superb example of this is Kidd Bandit. Bandit, a trainee of the Nightmare Academy, has been turning heads on the indies for quite some time and for good reason. After debuting for the factory and subsequent appearances in GCW and on "AEW: Dark," Bandit had everyone talking. Helping their success is their presence on social media which is already filled to the brim with stellar content. Her web presence is a glorious cavalcade of anime inspired cosplays and highlight reels of his sensational in-ring work. There's also his Twitch channel which has allowed them to interact with their still-evolving fanbase and continue to establish the Kidd Bandit brand. Their brand truly has crossover appeal, tapping into fandoms not solely related to professional wrestling — most obviously the online anime community.

Much like EFFY, Bandit has become well known for their unfiltered candor regarding their views and opinions. They are not above standing up for themself against an unfortunately ever-growing siege of online trolls and homophobic commenters. Additionally, they've always been very honest about their upbringing and their own personal issues — noting how they've added to their journey thus far. This hybrid of visually diverse content mixed with a healthy dose of sobering honesty online makes for a truly engaging online persona. Bandit is unique, even amongst an increasingly diversifying independent wrestling scene, a true splash of color in an increasingly gray world.

The Miz & John Morrison

In the 2000s, WWE was a radically different beast, with wrestlers not doing much to color outside the lines. Social media wasn't a sizable presence within the business just yet, meaning wrestlers worked solely with what creative handed them. However, two talents who created a solid venue for their own organic personalities were The Miz and John Morrison. Not that both men hadn't seen prior success or wouldn't see more in their respective futures, but this run would prove especially entertaining. Released via the WWE website, "The Dirt Sheet" was a weekly gossip show hosted by Miz and Morrison in front of a green screen.

From putting over their tacky outfits to riffing on their fellow WWE stars, the duo really got to flex their comedic chops. There was a simplicity to "The Dirt Sheet" which, despite its low budget, really struck a chord with online fans. It gave both men a chance to imbue their gimmicks with their own unscripted personalities to maximum effect. From there the tandem of Miz and Morrison would only climb higher and higher in pro wrestling, both respectively and as a duo. The Miz would become the first ever two-time grand slam champion in WWE history and Morrison would become a fixture of the ever evolving indie scene.

Warhorse

Sometimes fans can create such a ruckus online that even the powers that be can no longer ignore it. With enough support on social media, wrestlers have been bestowed opportunities some could only dream of. There have been many examples of this, but one of the more recent saw internet darling Warhorse thrust into the spotlight. Ripped straight off on a 1980s heavy metal album cover, Warhorse's gimmick was anything but subtle. With a penchant for head banging and "ruling ass," his act was definitely turning some heads both inside and outside the ring. His social media presence has been heavily predicated on homegrown comedy promo videos, all done completely in character.

At the time of Warhorse's rising popularity, Cody Rhodes was routinely defending his TNT championship belt against a slew of young talents. This led fans to take to Twitter and publicly campaign for Warhorse to receive a shot at The American Nightmare. Finally, the powers that be would relent and allow Warhorse to face Cody one-on-one live on "Dynamite." While his appearance has yet to result in a formal contract with AEW, it was still a definite treat seeing him. Additionally, it just goes to show how powerful a well cultivated online presence can be for upward mobility in professional wrestling.

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