clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Hip-Hop Guide to Pro Wrestling

The definitive list of the WWE counterparts to all of your favorite rappers

Harrison Freeman

International Latin trap superstar Bad Bunny will make history this Saturday when he takes the stage at Night 1 of WrestleMania 37 in a match against reality TV star and two-time WWE Champion Mike Mizanin, better known as “the Miz.” He could become the only human to know what it feels like to both win a Grammy and compete in a match at WWE’s biggest stage. Only time will tell if history will remember Bad Bunny as this generation’s Bo Jackson. Celebrities, and even rappers, stepping inside the squared circle isn’t new, especially when it comes to major WWE pay-per-view events like WrestleMania, but something about Bad Bunny’s first WWE appearance at the Royal Rumble in January felt different.

[Hits bong.]

My theory is that when Bad Bunny danced around Booker T while performing his hit song “Booker T,” he formed a wormhole between the pro wrestling and the hip-hop universes. Depending on how the culmination of his story line with the Miz goes at WrestleMania, we could be getting a real-life Def Jam: Fight for NY and SmackDown vs. Raw crossover. The stars seem to be aligning for it.

Back in January, Snoop Dogg’s right foot sent out a distress signal when he literally splashed onto the scene of AEW, WWE’s latest competition. And internet rap revolutionary Soulja Boy and 14-time WWE champion Randy Orton have been engaging in Twitter guerrilla warfare that would make sense only if it resulted in Vince McMahon writing the check for the dream match (that no one asked for) between the two. Cardi B also exchanged some spicy tweets with WWE’s Lacey Evans, and Bow Wow is apparently being trained by WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi to step between the ropes.

With hip-hop and professional wrestling housing so many wild personalities, the possibilities of potential rap-wrestling crossover stars are endless. Both hip-hop and pro wrestling are traditionally male-dominated art forms with storytelling that often walks the line between reality and fiction. Sure, the outcome of a match is predetermined and the superstars who step into that ring aren’t actually trying to hurt each other, but you can’t possibly watch the Undertaker throw Mick Foley off of the Hell in a Cell and tell me the pain Foley felt as he crashed into that announcer’s table was fake. And while many rappers are really ’bout that life, there is nothing more fake than Drake’s accents when he raps, or the rented luxury cars many rappers pass off as their own in their music videos,or Rick Ross’s origins as a crime boss before he was exposed as a former correctional officer.

During this rap-filled WrestleMania season, a series of questions has continued to plague my mind: Because rap and pro wrestling are so similar, which rappers would pair best with pro wrestling’s biggest names? Who are the pro-wrestler equivalents of the rappers dominating the music charts? Who would these rappers be in an alternate universe where they chose a career of wearing tights, mean-mugging opponents, and putting their bodies through tables? Here are some of my theories.

John Cena Is Drake

Whether you’re a lifelong hip-hop head or the type to let the radio control your rap dosage, you’re likely to have heard Aubrey Graham at least once. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid hearing him rap and sing, you’ve likely at least seen a meme of the man dancing from the “Hotline Bling” music video. Jabs aimed at his history as a child actor couldn’t stop Drake from taking off as a rapper, ghostwriting claims across the Twittersphere couldn’t slow him down, and Pusha T’s deadbeat-dad lyrics certainly didn’t end Drake’s reign on the charts either. Whether you love him or hate him, Drake is both unstoppable and unavoidable.

From 2005, when John Cena won his first WWE championship at WrestleMania 21, to 2017, when he won his 16th world championship, it was pretty hard to turn on WWE television and not see John Cena. The man was booked like he was damn near a demigod. WWE Hall of Famers? Beat ’em. The biggest, baddest monsters created in Vince McMahon’s lab? Beat ’em. Your favorite up-and-coming superstar? John Cena probably beat them.

Being the white-meat babyface front-runner isn’t always met with universal approval; Cena and Drake are testaments to this. But regardless of the reactions they elicit, both men are guaranteed draws in their field and they have a level of success that few of their peers can measure up against. For better or worse, they became the measuring stick of success in the 2010s and have cemented their place in pop culture beyond the hip-hop and wrestling spheres.

The NWO Is Griselda

“I’m impactin’ the culture like Eric Bischoff.”

No other rappers on this list gift-wrapped their pro wrestling comparison quite like Conway the Machine did on “George Bondo.” Much like Eric Bischoff and the revolutionary group New World Order on WWE’s rival company WCW in the ’90s, indie hip-hop collective-slach-record-label Griselda is providing an alternative to the hip-hop music that dominates the charts today. The NWO brought reality into pro wrestling storytelling when former WWE stars Razor Ramon and Diesel showed up on WCW programming presented as “invaders” sporting their real names, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash; the “invasion” created ripple effects that impact wrestling to this day.

When I saw Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine dripping in designer on The Tonight Show, it also felt like an invasion of sorts. Even with the recent increase in rap acts performing on the show, hearing some Buffalo boom-bap beat rappers without a radio single spitting about crack drying on The Tonight Show just didn’t seem that conceivable to me. Griselda, now backed by Roc Nation management and Shady Records distribution, is making rappity rapping over cold-ass beats feel relevant again in an era dominated by auto-tuned crooning over 808 drums and trap high-hat patterns.

As NWO went on, the group grew in their number of members to the point that WCW had a NWO pay-per-view in 1997. Unfortunately, with that expansion, the stable grew more stale. With Griselda adding Armani Caesar and Boldy James to the mix just last year alongside the already formidable Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine, it seems like the rap collective is on a similar trajectory. Hopefully if Griselda’s expansion continues, it doesn’t stifle music quality or entertainment value.

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin Is Tupac

These are two beautifully bald-headed heavyweights whom the world of WWE and hip-hop revolved around in the ’90s. The Michael Jordans of their art forms. They both favored vests, reached their pinnacles after debilitating injuries, and have an affinity for alcohol—everyone knows Stone Cold’s love for a brewski in the ring after a match, but can we talk about how many times Tupac rhymed Hennessy with enemies?

Brock Lesnar Is Eminem

Brock Lesnar and Eminem are true behemoths of their art form. Both men had unprecedented rookie years filled with dominance at the highest level. Eminem’s shock value and crass, hyperviolent lyrics paired with astonishing technical ability took the world by storm. His debut album under Interscope, The Slim Shady LP, sold nearly 300,000 copies in its first week before eventually going quadruple platinum and taking home multiple Grammys. Brock Lesnar came in for his WWE debut like a hurricane, annihilating opponents in his first month ahead of his debut match, when he continuously powerbombed Jeff Hardy like he was a 5-pound medicine ball until the referee called the match. Within five months, Lesnar was WWE champion and undoubtedly one of the most unstoppable forces the pro wrestling world had ever seen.

Both men received a major boost from having a legendary veteran over their shoulder (Dr. Dre and Paul Heyman), but it was their own freak-of-nature-like qualities that granted them longevity. Despite groans from the public that they’ve outstayed their welcome, it’s box office when Brock steps in the ring and when Eminem puts out an album, and both are still arguably two of the biggest draws in their industry.

Randy Orton Is J. Cole

At the age of 24, Randy Orton set the record for the youngest WWE heavyweight champion ever, and followed it up with 13 more reigns in the past 16 years. J.Cole went double platinum with no features on multiple occasions with his five no. 1 albums. In all technical terms, Orton and Cole are considered “good to great” at their craft, yet there is something that holds them back from being placed in the GOAT discussion.

They’re boring.

Of all the things to rap about, J.Cole has managed to dedicate five-minute songs to both folding clothes and doing taxes. Super-relatable topics, but not the most gripping material to hear someone rap about. And while in theory, being the “Apex Predator” within the squared circle sounds like an interesting gimmick, sleepwalking through headlocks and methodically stomping on your opponent’s appendages as the audience sits on their hands waiting for the RKO is far from scintillating.

To give them some credit, both Randy Orton and J.Cole have seemingly begun to shake off the boring label in the past few years. J.Cole’s 2018 run of guest verses from Royce Da 5′9″’s “Boblo Boat” to 21 Savage’s “A Lot” and his lead in the ultimate rap camp that led to Dreamville’s collaborative album Revenge of the Dreamers III are quite frankly some of the most exciting moments we’ve gotten from J.Cole in years. And Orton’s return to the “Legend Killer’’ gimmick has produced some of his most recent noteworthy material. Plus he literally lit a man on fire to close out 2020.

Mark Henry Is Rick Ross

Let’s start with the obvious first. Rick Ross and Mark Henry just LOOK alike. Even Mark Henry agrees.

Beyond the surface level, Mark Henry and Rick Ross hold a similar, er, weight in their respective worlds. They’ve performed consistently through such a long stretch of time to the point that they’re almost undervalued.

Would you put Mark Henry or Rick Ross in your all-time top five? Maybe not, but their legacies are too impressive to ignore. Ross has five no. 1 albums, and Mark Henry’s ECW championship reign and “Hall of Pain” run at the world heavyweight championship are nothing to sneeze at. Now we just need someone to pull a Pusha T and out Rick Ross as a deadbeat dad hiding his mutant hand child.

Shawn Michaels Is Lil Wayne

Weezy F Baby and the Heartbreak Kid each have a list of complimentary nicknames, but more importantly, they are similar because they were both simply unfuckwithable at their peaks, and left such an impact that you can spot their figurative children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren just about anytime you tune into SmackDown or turn on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist.

Their shared late-stage balding just happens to be an unfortunate coincidence.

The Undertaker Is Jay-Z

Both these legends have résumés that make them arguably the greatest of all time, and labeling either as anything less than top five is just flat-out incorrect. Their longevity is unmatched: Undertaker made his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series and his farewell at Survivor Series 2020; Hov’s debut album Reasonable Doubt turns 25 this year, and the end of his rap career is still out of sight. Sure, both icons definitely slowed down in quantity of work later in their careers, but they didn’t stifle quality. Just look at 4:44 and Watch the Throne, or Undertaker’s late WrestleMania matches with Shawn Michaels and Triple H as evidence. It’s hard to find any pairing on this list more revered. Rappers like Jim Jones, The Game, and Mobb Deep have all taken aim at Jay-Z’s throne, but none succeeded, just like no one has challenged the Undertaker’s 21 consecutive WrestleMania victories.

The Rock Is Will Smith

The Rock and Will Smith aren’t on this list for what they did as wrestlers or rappers, but because they became even bigger megastars after their careers as wrestlers and rappers. There isn’t a more recognizable pairing on this list, nor is there a match with a higher approval rating among grandmas.

The Hardy Boys Are Rae Sremmurd

Think about it—Jeff Hardy may not always win the matches he’s in, and he isn’t always in the world title picture, but he provides the moment of the night that you’ll never forget. One of my first introductions to pro wrestling was watching the 2000 Royal Rumble on DVD at a friend’s house, and while I couldn’t tell you who won that match, I can tell you who jumped off the balcony to Swanton Bomb D-Von Dudley through a table.

I’m not saying Swae Lee is likely to dive off a ladder onto a rapper he is beefing with (I mean, I wouldn’t put it past him), but like Jeff Hardy, anytime he is on a song, he is capable of providing the one part of the song that stays with you forever. When Swae Lee uses his boyish, borderline-angelic auto-tuned voice on the hook of a song, it sticks to my brain for days, whether I like it or not, like gum on the bottom of a shoe. “No Flex Zone” rattled in my mind all summer in 2014, and the hook on “Black Beatles” was so sticky it fueled a “challenge” so large that even a presidential candidate partook in it. But above all of Swae Lee’s unforgettable hooks (pun intended), “Powerglide” will live in my head rent free for eternity because of the time in college a drunk girl took the aux cord hostage at a party and played the five-minute-plus song five times in a row.

With Jeff Hardy and Swae Lee being the fan favorites of their duos, this leaves the older brother pairing of Matt Hardy and Slim Jxmmi. Now we just have to patiently wait for Slim Jxmmi to have his “Broken” Jxmmi solo phase of his career that reaches heights no one expected. I just hope it’s as outlandish as this.

The New Day Is Migos

Both trios have a tenacity to make white guys awkwardly attempt to dance. I still haven’t recovered from the onslaught of dab attempts from the paler population in 2015, and I wish I could unsee all the dads in the crowd getting funky the second that “FEEL THE POWEEEEER” hits on the New Day’s entrance theme.

Also, can’t forget that these two advertising gold mines had their own signature snack or cereal at one point.

Daniel Bryan Is Kendrick Lamar

No one on the planet would deny that these are the most technically gifted and thoughtful stars of the past decade in their respective fields. To this day, I feel exhausted just from listening to Kendrick rattle off mind-boggling internal rhymes with such control of his rapid-fire flow on “Rigamortis.” And that same level of exhaustion courses through my body just thinking about the high-velocity mat-based sequence of Bryan and Dolph Ziggler trading pinfall rollup combinations in their match at Bragging Rights in 2010.

Kendrick Lamar’s and Daniel Bryan’s work rate are almost unmatched, but what truly makes them mirror images is how they are both the ultimate underdogs and champions of the people. In good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick frames himself as the kid who survived the odds and temptations within Compton and now wears his city like Superman wears the S on his chest. He breathes life back into the words of fallen souls of his community on “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” With every album, Kendrick somehow makes it feel like he’s preaching for the people and not to them.

In the world of WWE, Daniel Bryan has also felt like a representative of the fans. They continued to push for him to eventually main event WrestleMania 30, even when it seemed the WWE authority figures had every intention to bury the undersized superstar just because he doesn’t have the exact look and physique Vince McMahon envisions for his headliners. Even when Bryan was real-life fired from the WWE in 2010, he was soon reinstated due to fan outcry.

Kendrick and Bryan are modern-day heroes of their art forms.

Roman Reigns Is Future

2014 was a pivotal year for Future. He released Honest, his most watered-down, ready-for-commercial-play release to date, straying from his hedonistic roots. His engagement with Ciara was called off. When Monster was released later that year, Future became the villain that the streets (and Twitter) needed. Before Monster, Future was undoubtedly a star, but songs like “Throw Away” and “Codeine Crazy” turned the man into a symbol of toxicity that will live on forever.

After years of WWE attempting to shove babyface Roman Reigns down the throats of fans only for the man to be drowned out in boos, 2020 was finally the year the company embraced Roman as the heel he clearly was all along. When he arrived in the ThunderDome moving like a mob boss and kicking dudes in the groin with the always-scheming Paul Heyman over his shoulder, he became the must-watch WWE wrestler on WWE. Whether he was wrestling or simply bad-mouthing an interviewer because he didn’t like her question, Roman has been the most entertaining part of SmackDown for more than six months now.

Future and Roman Reigns thrive off negativity at the highest level, and both ascended to legend status while embracing the villain role the industry needed them to be.

Chris Jericho Is Kanye West

Chris Jericho and Kanye have had so many distinct phases throughout their careers that it’s almost hard to take it all in. They reinvented their looks with every new turn and extended their primes by adding new layers to their artistry. Unfortunately it’s both Jericho’s and Kanye’s dad-bod MAGA phases that will likely stay in my memory the longest.

Trish Stratus Is Nicki Minaj

Trish Stratus and Nicki Minaj both put their respective women’s divisions on their backs for years ahead of the WWE women’s revolution and the women’s rap renaissance of the late 2010s. Trish’s seven women’s championships and Nicki’s two no. 1 albums speak for themselves. Nicki and Trish countered the hypersexualization of female performers in male-dominated spaces with classic performances like Nicki’s iconic feature on Kanye West’s “Monster” and Trish Stratus’s 2004 Raw main-event match against Lita.

CM Punk Is Joe Budden

Not every pairing on this list is a perfect puzzle-piece fit. CM Punk has always prided himself on his straight-edge lifestyle, and Joe Budden has always been open about his history of addiction and recovery. And while his 2003 hit single “Pump It Up” garnered Budden a Grammy nomination, he was never really a mainstream rap superstar. CM Punk was a white-hot mainstream superstar in 2011 after his iconic “pipe bomb” promo aimed at John Cena and Vince McMahon.

But what Budden and Punk do share in common is their antiestablishment mindset. The pipe bomb promo—in which CM Punk threatened to walk away from the WWE and take their world championship with him—was only a precursor to what would occur in 2014 when he left the company behind (and pro wrestling as whole) after years of fighting through injuries with the hopes of main-eventing WrestleMania. Joe Budden can relate; he struggled with Def Jam after his debut album flopped, which led to him beefing with Jay-Z, the label president at the time, and he was eventually dropped from the label.

Just like Budden turned into a world-class podcaster, Punk is currently an MMA commentator for CFFC.

Sasha Banks Is Beyoncé

Yeah, yeah, I know. Beyoncé technically isn’t a rapper, but we all heard her wash Jay-Z on DJ Khaled’s “Top Off” and slide on Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” like she’s been rapping for decades.

Now for the second elephant in the room. Comparing literally any other human who’s breathing to Queen Bey is social media destruction if the Beyhive finds out. But Sasha Banks is just that amazing at what she does. Maybe this is just me simping, but there have been plenty of extended periods when she felt like the biggest star, male or female, on WWE television. She was named 2020 Wrestler of the Year and profiled by GQ this week for a reason.

Just watch as she makes her cousin, SNOOP DOGG, feel like an afterthought the second she walks through that backstage curtain. You can teach someone how to wrestle or even cut a promo on the mic, but you can’t teach someone how to radiate big boss energy every time they step on camera.

Banks made her acting debut on The Mandalorian last year, and WWE might just be on borrowed time with her before she makes her way to Hollywood.

The Fiend Is Mario Judah

Sting Is MF DOOM

Both are undeniable icons of their art form because of their commitment to being real-life comic book characters. Like MF DOOM, Sting rocked a plethora of personas through the years—surfer dude Sting, “The Crow” Sting, Wolfpack red, and who can forget the “Joker” Sting on TNA, who beat Joaquin Phoenix to his costume by about eight years.

Edge and Christian Are Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt

OK, OK—Odd Future doesn’t exactly have the longevity of the Edge and Christan unit. But both pairings of friends put their names on the map in the most extreme of ways. Odd Future makes shock-value raps and disturbing music videos; Edge and Christian debuted as members of the vampire cult The Brood and built their fan base off high-risk ladder matches that could take years off their lives. Along with this shared knack for shock is their shared comedic timing, as displayed in Odd Future’s Loiter Squad and Edge and Christian’s famous five-second poses for the benefit of those with flash photography.

Even after these duos split off onto their solo journeys, the paths are similar in a way. Tyler and Edge blossomed into mainstream superstars with the accolades to back it up, and now resemble almost nothing of their early stable days. For Earl and Christian, their acclaim feels closer to the shadows with their cult-like fan bases filled with die-hards. Christian may not have a WrestleMania main event on his résumé, but he had powerhouse matches like his No Holds Barred match with Randy Orton at SummerSlam 2011 for the world heavyweight title, or his dozens of TNA matches. And Earl might not have that no. 1 single, but he rapped some of the most potent verses of the past decade, and his rap ability has a timeless feel.

Bianca Belair Is Flo Milli

With this pair’s blend of skill, style, and charisma, their mainstream potential has no ceiling. Next year at this time we might be talking about Bianca Belair and Flo Milli as the biggest women in wrestling and rap—or the plain-old biggest stars, period.

Triple H Is Dr. Dre

Weren’t afraid to cross the line and breed controversy when working in one of the most iconic groups of all time. ✅

Stopped working full time as artists and became big suits in their industry. ✅

Got their start wearing a blouse. ✅