Luscious Johnny Valiant—a storied wrestler and manager of champions—once told me about an early-’60s wrestler who worked a horror-movie gimmick.
“The Mummy” came out wrapped in thick white bandages. No small feat—back then the local wrestling promotion didn’t have a production team or a wardrobe department to help him get into costume, and he would frequently become unraveled in the heat of a match. Also you can bet it was pretty fucking hot and uncomfortable rolling around in an outfit that made him look like a human tampon the second his opponent’s blood got on it.
Valiant, though, was most impressed by a bit of old-school carny stagecraft: Before he made his entrance to the ring, The Mummy covered his chest with baby powder. Once in front of the crowd, as he reeled back to give his best back-from-the-grave growl, he would punch his chest and put a giant cloud of ancient tomb dust in the air, iron-clad proof that he was a legit Egyptian mummy, freshly risen from the depths of the pyramids. An archaeological wonder turned professional wrestler!
I don’t know if Ric Flair, generally considered to be the greatest professional wrestler, ever saw the Mummy work. But years later, he gave his blessing to another wrestler who works a beyond-the-grave angle: He called The Undertaker “the best gimmick of all time.”
The “dead man walking” concept might seem prima facie absurd, but in professional wrestling, it matters little. Wrestling is the least self-conscious of sports. It doesn’t care what you think. [...]