Few wrestling fans live out their childhood dreams of becoming a WWE title-holder. Bad Bunny, a lifelong devotee, got his chance in January at the 2021 Royal Rumble. When fame-hungry heels The Miz and John Morrison courted Bunny backstage with a deal to join the WWE, the musician promptly rejected their offer in what seemed like a one-off appearance but turned into a full-fledged feud: Miz and Morrison versus Bunny and Puerto Rican wrestler Damian Priest. Bunny’s performance—which included a tricky body-flip move called the Canadian Destroyer—made it clear he’d trained hard for a slug match most expected to be a stunt.
Musicians rarely give their bodies to professional wrestling as literally as Bad Bunny, but there’s a long history of artists showing up in the ring, starting with the first professional wrestling boom in the 1980s. Since the sport’s early, closed-circuit television days, celebrity cameos have been crucial, from well-known pop stars dabbling in the pro leagues to acclaimed indie artists working smaller promotions. It’s well-known that Muhammad Ali was the guest referee at WrestleMania I in 1985, but less-remembered is that Liberace served as timekeeper. The two figures stood as perfect metaphors for pro wrestling: forceful athleticism mixed with glittering camp.
As WWE grew increasingly in-your-face in the 1990s, it turned to hip-hop, rap-rock, and nu-metal. During pro wrestling’s peak, WWE and its rival WCW released compilations that included wrestling-inspired bars like Ruff Ryders’ “Pay Per View” (where Jadakiss packs in the name-drops like “Come through like Sting, all black with a bat/Then I drop you like Goldberg right on your back”), or Method Man narrating a day in the life of The Rock on “Know Your Role.” When WWE rebranded into a more family-friendly format in the 2010s, the organization pivoted to pop, welcoming global stars like Flo Rida and Pitbull.
Plenty of wrestlers have musical personas: Guitar-playing gimmicks like Elvis impersonator Honky Tonk Man and grungy loner Elias, in-ring rappers like John Cena and R-Truth, or the self-styled “Ayatollah of Rock n’ Rolla” Chris Jericho, who takes an occasional sabbatical from breaking the walls down to tour with his band Fozzy. Where wrestling and music have intersected most, though, is entrance themes. The organization used to spend serious money soliciting original entrance music from major artists: Three 6 Mafia hyped up the crowd for strongman Mark Henry; P.O.D. performed “Booyaka 619” for boundary-breaking Latino luchador Rey Mysterio; Motorhead brought “The Game,” their theme for Triple H, to countless WWE events over the years. Some musicians, however, have gone further than this, whether it be investing in promotions, acting as in-ring managers, or getting on the mat themselves, Bad Bunny-style.
Cyndi Lauper jumpstarts the Rock ’n’ Wrestling Connection
Some of MTV’s most successful early programming was not music television at all. As part of the Rock ’n’ Wrestling Connection, the channel became the first to air a wrestling match live on cable—all thanks to Cyndi Lauper. After the budding star met wrestling vet “Captain” Lou Albano on a plane, he was immortalized as her grumpy dad in the 1983 video for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” From there, Lauper started appearing at WWF (now WWE) matches, often feuding with Albano in storylines, and ultimately bringing more mainstream attention to pro wrestling. She settled into the in-ring role of “manager” for Wendi Richter, who was poised to become a women’s wrestling crossover star, and occasionally Hulk Hogan. When Richter was stripped of her championship title controversially, in 1985, Lauper infamously intervened and attacked competitor The Fabulous Moolah with her purse—the singer’s go-to move.
Rick Rubin backs Smoky Mountain Wrestling
Hip-hop and wrestling have mingled since at least 1989’s WrestleMania V, when Run-D.M.C performed their original “WrestleMania Rap.” As for Def Jam co-founder and producer Rick Rubin, the life-long wrestling fanatic took his love to the next level in the early ’90s by getting involved with an up-start federation. Home to future superstars like Chris Jericho and Kane, Smoky Mountain Wrestling attempted to offer an old-fashioned alternative to WWF and WCW, with more blood and guts and clear-cut good guys and bad guys. According to Smoky Mountain founder Jim Cornette, Rubin hated flying so much that he only watched the matches in person once when he came to Tennessee to cut the first American Recordings album with Johnny Cash. Rubin did, however, contribute the occasional creative idea, as Cornette put it: “In one of my late-night phone calls with Rubin, he said, ‘I think we ought to have a mummy. The Mummy was cool.’ I said, “I loved The Mummy, too. In 1974, The Mummy was fantastic, but I was 12, and times have changed.’ But Rick wanted a mummy. ‘Just give it a try,’ he said. He was paying. What was I gonna do?”
Master P and the No Limit Soldiers
In the late ’90s, Master P’s No Limit Records was briefly involved with WCW, as part of the rap label’s expansion into movies, merchandise, and even crime novels. It was viewed as a mutually beneficial agreement: WCW wanted to reach a more diverse audience, while Master P looked to boost the career of his cousin, the wrestler Swoll. Working under the name No Limit Soldiers, Master P assembled a stable of wrestlers—which included superstars like Konnan and a young Rey Mysterio—and began a feud with legend Curt Hennig, who in turn launched a rival, country-music-themed stable. Given their distinctive camo uniforms and boastful personas, No Limit seemed like a natural fit for the pro wrestling world, but Master P was more dedicated to his career on the basketball court than in the ring. His time with WCW was, to say the least, limited. No Limit’s influence on wrestling extended beyond WCW, though: When hyper-violent hero New Jack—one of the first wrestlers to really embrace hip-hop—was immortalized as an action figure, the toymakers gave him a No Limit Soldiers shirt.
Snoop Dogg is everywhere
Snoop Dogg is among a handful of musicians who’ve been inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame—he even remixed Stone Cold Steve Austin’s glass-shattering theme on 2000’s “Hell Yeah.” In 2008, Snoop served as master of ceremonies for WrestleMania XXIV’s Playboy “Bunnymania Lumberjill” Match; as the Playboy sponsorship implies, women’s matches during this era were extremely sexualized and objectifying, and the match ended with Snoop kissing the winner and escorting two wrestlers out of the ring to presumably have a threesome. Thankfully, the rapper’s relationship with women wrestlers has improved over the years. His cousin Sasha Banks is one of the company’s top stars and a key pioneer in WWE’s transition from the hyper-sexualized, reality TV-style “Divas” to a legitimately respected Women’s Division. Snoop helped Sasha develop her brash, shit-talking “Boss” persona and cut a verse for her entrance theme, which he performed live at WrestleMania. He’s also scuffled in the ring a few times, taking down Chavo Guerrera on Monday Night Raw, and most recently doing an awkward “Frog Splash” off the top rope on AEW.
Insane Clown Posse launches Juggalo Championship Wrestling
No rappers are more devoted to pro wrestling than the immortal jokers of Insane Clown Posse. The group started in low-budget backyard matches as teens before brief stints in ECW, WCW, and even WWE, where they performed for a few months in-ring and recorded theme music for the freakshow-themed stable The Oddities. After parting ways with the big leagues, ICP formed their indie promotion, Juggalo Championship Wrestling, known initially as Juggalo Championshit Wrestling. Though they’ve long been a musical punchline, ICP is taken relatively seriously in the world of indie wrestling. JCP has a crass sense of humor: Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope once went up against a tag team named “Kid Cock” and “Feminem.” But it’s become respected both as an incubator for new talent and a reliable employer of veterans like Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts at the Gathering of the Juggalos’ annual “BloodyMania.”
Billy Corgan feuds with TNA Wrestling, buys the NWA
With its sharper edge, hardcore styles, and brutal combat, “indie” wrestling—which exploded in the 2000s and 2010s—naturally gravitated toward more alternative kinds of music than the WWE. The most infamous alt-rock figure in wrestling circles is Billy Corgan, who was for a strange and brief period in the mid-2010s the frontman for both the Smashing Pumpkins and TNA Wrestling. Corgan was involved in creative development and even appeared in the ring as a snotty suit, until he began a public feud with the company over non-payment. In 2017, he went his own way when he purchased the name rights to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a long-running network of independent wrestling promotions. But Corgan’s relaunched NWA has struggled: Vice President David Lagana resigned last year after sexual assault allegations against him resurfaced, and the company just recently began promoting new shows for the first time since COVID hit.
Indie wrestling and “indie” rap: Open Mike Eagle, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal & JPEGMAFIA
Rap and wrestling’s latest wave is filled with diehard fans. AEW star Darby Allin, who takes his name from Darby Crash of the Germs and GG Allin, has a punk aesthetic paired with an indie rap sound. He was recently caught skating into arenas and teaming up with the iconic Sting (note: not the Police frontman) to an original theme by emo rapper Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. He’s forged friendships with musicians like JPEGMAFIA, who cut a promo for his pal: watch as Peggy taunts Allin’s opponent and then rolls a body bag down a hill. And when it comes to wrestling, Open Mike Eagle is like the indie Bad Bunny, linking up with hardcore legend Mick Foley for a 2018 match. Given the many wrestling references in his lyrics and his work as a comedian, it’s not surprising that the rapper would fully commit to the bit.