If you reflect upon the history of wrestling and try to recall characters that are intended to frighten or cause discomfort for the audience. The examples you will find are frequently rooted in fearsome creatures from other parts of popular culture.
Vampires, the macabre of wrestling. After all, the easiest way to elicit the designed response is to invoke concepts and archetypes. Ones that have been used in other media to foster fear in the fans.
And there is one particular creature that has been used in horror fiction for over two centuries. The nocturnal predator that survives on the blood of its prey, the vampire. When it comes to the monsters that have been staples of the horror genre, there have been few werewolf gimmicks in wrestling. But several times there have been vampires.
The first well-known wrestler to be given the name of ‘The Vampire’ was actually future Hall of Famer Fred Blassie. During the 1950s, the man who eventually was called ‘Classy’ was a villainous wrestler in the Atlanta territory.
He was not given the vampire nickname because he was presented as an actual blood drinker, or sported the attire and mannerisms associated with vampires like other wrestlers that will be discussed in this article. It was because of his propensity for biting his opponents in the ring.
So central was this vicious, illegal dental attack to his heel persona. He would pretend to sharpen his teeth during his interviews. So aghast were fans at ‘The Vampire’ tactics of Blassie, he was despised everywhere he went, in the U.S. and Japan, during the 50s and 60s.
He dispensed with the vampire gimmick once he retired from the ring and became a full-time manager. This is when he took on his Hollywood fashion plate, ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie persona.
Vampires – Vampiro
While there have been a few wrestlers who have been called a vampire, or vampiric, one man has borne such a name for three decades, and that is Vampiro. Canadian wrestler Ian Hodkinson first started wrestling in Mexico in 1991. Almost immediately after arriving, he was given the name ‘Vampiro Canadiense,’ or Canadian Vampire.
The name came about because of his unusual appearance, as the devout punk rock fan gave off a Gothic vibe due to his long black hair and tattoos. Initially, he was a villainous character that came to the ring with white face paint and attacked his opponents viciously.
However, his popularity with the audience grew rapidly. He soon became a fan favorite. While he never achieved the same level of success north of the border, he has forged a career as an in-ring performer, commentator, and booker that has lasted thirty years. Despite his name, he never had any overtly vampiric characteristics.
Though the face paint he has worn more often than not and his tendency to always wear black are clear nods to that nickname. Vampiro is still in the public eye to this day. A documentary about his life, ‘Nail in the Coffin: the Fall and Rise of Vampiro’ was just released in September 2020.
Creatures Of Folklore & The Ring
Vampires started as creatures from European folklore. Stories of corpses that would rise from the grave and drink the blood of the living were widespread during the 1700s. These creatures were believed to be not much more than ambulatory corpses that returned to their graves after feeding.
But when vampires entered into popular culture in the 19th century, almost from the beginning, they were portrayed in the manner with which we are accustomed today. A charming, charismatic being that gets its victims more through seduction than a brute, predatory attack.
In the earliest vampire stories, it was common for them to be part of the aristocracy. The first example being the story ‘The Vampyre’ by John Polidori, published in 1819. The vampire presented himself as an English Lord.
The most famous vampire character is of course Count Dracula, the central character of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel. The character has been the subject of countless (pardon the pun!) adaptations in film, television, stage, prose, and elsewhere.
The description of him in the novel, and more so the depiction of him from the earliest film adaptations, set the template for how we conceive of vampires. Dracula is a stylishly dressed, charming man of Eastern European nobility. Who observes all of the social niceties of an aristocrat. He has pale skin and jet-black hair.
The original novel had moderate success. But it is when it was adapted to the screen the vampire became a central archetype in horror stories. And the common visual conception of the vampire became entrenched.
Vampire Warrior, aka Gangrel
In wrestling, there have been a couple of characters that have invoked the popular conception of the vampire. The most well-known is David Heath, who wrestled on the independents using the name ‘Vampire Warrior,’. But he attained his greatest fame in the WWF in the late 1990s and early 2000s using the name Gangrel.
The name was taken from a role-playing game at the time, ‘Vampire: The Masquerade.’ Heath actually had two of his teeth turned into fangs, and as Gangrel, he entered the arena by rising from the stage bathed in red light (in what is still one of the best wrestling entrances ever).
Gangrel was clad in attire that referenced 19th-century European fashion. He carried a chalice of blood which he would drink and then spit out. Like many supernatural characters in wrestling, he could cause the lights to flicker and go out in the arena.
On many occasions, the aftermath of the lights going out would be that his opponents were left in the ring bathed in blood. He led a faction called The Brood. It included future Hall of Famers Edge and Christian. They were just starting their careers in the promotion. They too wore gothic attire.
The Brood also, for a short time, joined The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. After his departure from WWE in 2001, Heath continued to wrestle on the independent circuit. Sometimes he used the Gangrel name, and other times, reverting back to the Vampire Warrior appellation. He continues to make intermittent appearances at independent events and continues to work as a wrestling trainer.
Another wrestler who had success on the biggest stage using a vampire character was Kevin Fertig. Fertig established himself on the independent circuit portraying a sinister character. Although it wasn’t a vampire. Rather he used the name Seven, a reference to the 1995 film about a serial killer.
He eventually made his way to WWE. But the first character he portrayed on television, the religious zealot Mordecai, was only around for a few months. He was later released by the company.
But when WWE launched their revival of the ECW brand in 2006 and began broadcasting the program on the Sci-Fi channel. They sought to incorporate characters that fit within the channel’s theme. For instance, they briefly had a zombie. Fertig returned to the company and was renamed, Kevin Thorn.
He was portrayed as a vampire. He dressed in gothic-themed attire. Thorn had jet-black hair and black eye shadow. During his introductory vignettes, he would spit blood.
Thorn was originally supposed to be part of a faction with a returning Gangrel, but that never came to be. He was paired with Shelly Martinez, who went under the name Ariel.
They Only Come Out At Night
She dressed similarly to Thorn but was portrayed as a tarot reader rather than a vampire. Fertig remained with the company for two years this time. Though over time the vampiric aspects of his character were de-emphasized. After departing WWE in early 2009, he began making intermittent appearances on the independent circuit.
At the time, he was using the Kevin Thorn name and portraying a vampire character, and other times the Mordecai name. Just this month, Mordecai made an appearance at The Collective event. But Fertig is mostly retired from the ring today and works as another kind of bloodsucker, a real estate agent.
Vampires are as prevalent in popular culture today as they have ever been. Shelves in bookstores are filled with books and series centered around the creatures. And there are multiple television programs focused on them. Movies about vampire characters continue to be made.
But as time has gone on, vampires in fiction are not so much horrific characters as they have become romantic. Even tragic ones. Perhaps that is why it has been quite some time since wrestling has seen a fanged fiend in the ring. But you never know; one day, perhaps an unsuspecting grappler will become someone’s meal.