The Top 10 Towels in Wrestling

Statto turns his galaxy brain to the question that has been plaguing the greatest minds for generations: who has the best towel in the history of wrestling?  Look, lockdown does things to people, okay?

10. Ricky Ortiz

Okay, so my brain contains next to no knowledge about Ricky Ortiz.  I know he was in WWE’s much-maligned ECW reboot after they stopped paying lip service to hardcore nostalgia and instead began to use it as a vehicle to debut developmental guys, but that’s about it.  I think Layla was his valet?  Maybe?  Or it might have been Kelly Kelly.

I’ve never seen a match of his.  I’d probably struggle to pick him out of a lineup.  All I know is that the sole defining trait Ricky Ortiz possessed was that he’d come to the ring waving an item known as a rally towel.  (I understand this is some sort of thing American sports fans use to cheer their team on, their terrace culture being much more benign than the UK’s, which mostly consists of singing obscene songs about opposition players being coked-up philanderers to the tune of one of John Philip Sousa’s more obscure marches.)  When you’re so unmemorable that literally the only thing anybody can recall about you is the piece of fabric you came to the ring with?  That’s enough for 10th place, baby!

9. Katsuyori Shibata

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If this were a list of my all-time modern NJPW faves, or “most disappointing MMA careers”, or “guys who look way sexier with some product in their hair”, then Katsuyori Shibata would be number 1, no question.  He’s someone I rooted for to reach the top of the company from the very moment I first watched him in the ring, and the fact he had to retire due to a neurological issue suffered during his last – and possibly greatest – match, right at the point where it seemed like he had done so, was desperately sad.  Unfortunately I can’t place him that high here, mainly due to the fact I had to be reminded of the existence of Shibata’s wonderfully minimalistic officially licensed “The Wrestler” towel.  Which shouldn’t have been the case, as the first time he came to the UK to work RevPro, I was very intent on buying one, only to find that he’d already sold out, having done the usual thing Japanese wrestlers do on their first sojourn to these shores and grossly underestimated the number of fans he had who wanted to buy his merch.  (Either that or I balked at the price, I’m not sure – another Shibata-shaped aporia in my memory!)  So yeah, one wrestler I forgot had a towel, and one about whom I forgot everything other than the fact he had a towel.  Good start to the countdown imo.

8. Chad Gable

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I almost put Daniel Bryan on this list, as there was a period of time circa 2013 when he came to the ring with a branded “YES!” towel, but it never felt like an extension of his character so much as a marketing opportunity.  (It is, however, the only towel on this list that I actually own – if you’re wanting a brief product review, it’s moderately absorbent but pretty small, so really best used as a bathmat rather than something to unmoisten your gooch.)  So, too, did I consider Bryan’s one-time heated rival John Cena, who had his own line of garishly coloured towels bearing the slogan “Never Give Up”, which he would unfurl and display directly at the camera during his entrance with all the salesman subtlety of Billy Mays telling you that you can enjoy the new JML Classic Pen Set for 50% off if you call within the next fifteen minutes.

However, there is only room for one functionally identical WWE-produced towel on this list, and it is my immense pleasure to award my number 8 spot to Shorty G himself, 2012 Olympian (and therefore, presumably, Lib Dem sporting icon) Chad Gable.  His iconic “Ready, Willing and Gable” towel was not only a practical piece of bathroom gear but a storytelling tool, used in a series of offbeat stoner-comedy-esque backstage segments in which he used the aforementioned slogan to cajole fellow amateur grappler Jason Jordan into taking him on as his new tag partner, blissfully unaware why Jordan might not be into the idea of releasing merch that only had Gable’s name on it.  The team’s precise vibe was that of an NCAA wrestler who trains really hard and does all the right things teaming with a guy who spends all his time smoking weed and not going to practice but who somehow always places higher in the tournaments, and it was exceptionally good, as were their matches together.  Man, I really miss American Alpha.  And Jason Jordan in general.  I hope his father Kurt is looking after him during his long convalescence.

7. John Bradshaw Layfield

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JBL might be an inveterate prick and mostly a pretty average in-ring performer, but his heel run on top of Smackdown was full of pitch-perfect character work that drew on his real-life status as big-shot Wall Street financial expert and, with his so-called “Cabinet” of Orlando Jordan, the Basham Brothers and Jillian Hall, mixed in more than a pinch of his fellow Texan, the then-President George W. Bush (thus proving, like the Right to Censor’s sendup of conservative evangelical moral crusaders, that Vince McMahon’s political stances revolve less around ideology than whatever will create heat and money).  The former Bradshaw’s entrance attire of tracksuit top and towel around the neck did a lot to transform his image from hard as nails barroom brawler to “soft lad you could definitely take in a fight if it wasn’t for his mates running interference,” and contributed towards making him the ideal chickenshit champion for a young John Cena to overcome and establish himself as a major player for decades to come.  Put it this way, if you can imagine a hedge fund manager wearing an ensemble to their Friday night twenty-minute workout before hitting the showers, heading out into town and hoovering up enough coke to add another wing to El Chapo’s mansion, it’s a douchebag look par excellence, my friend.

Plus, just feast your eyes at how big and floofy this towel looks, all tucked in there between fabric and skin.  I’d happily take that thicc boi on a transatlantic flight, pop it behind my neck and sleep more soundly than Rishi Sunak when he thinks about the COVID death toll.  I bet it could soak up all the water in the Dead Sea and still have room for more absorption.  Tanks on Juan Sheet’s lawn.  Of all the towels on this list, it’s definitely the one that would work best as an actual towel.

6. William Regal

From a towel made for pure functionality to one that famously didn’t do its job.  Let me take you on a trip back to WWE No Mercy 2006 and a series of backstage segments involving UK legend William Regal and cross-dressing hardman Big Vito, culminating in a shower encounter in which Regal fled wearing nothing but a gradually descending towel, exposing his bare buttocks to PPV customers across the world (which was planned), and also his penis (which very much was not).  WWE swiftly issued an apology to anybody “offended by the William Regal locker room incident”, and yet didn’t see fit to put out a similar mea culpa for booking Mr. Kennedy to beat the Undertaker earlier in the show, which tells you something about the company’s priorities.  Intriguingly, the official statement on the WWE website also contained the sentence, “Nudity of any kind, even in a live television environment, is offensive to our audience and to the reputation of our company”, which suggests that Vince McMahon believes his promotion’s fans are a legion of Tobias Funke-style never-nudes.

I love William Regal so much.  I can’t think of another wrestler so widely respected amongst his peers and fans alike.  The curious thing about him is that for all his undeniable technical chops you can probably count the number of truly outstanding Regal matches in WWE on one hand: people are far more likely to know him for the facility at verbal and physical comedy he displayed in a number of classic backstage segments.  A natural clown who is more than willing to look like an absolute wally in the name of making people laugh, Regal has clearly studied the arts of vaudeville and slapstick very closely (this is a man who, if you ask him to tell you his greatest influence, will say not a World of Sport great like Mick McManus or Johnny Saint or Terry Rudge, but the comedian Les Dawson).  That his commitment to his character led him to go commando for a stupid skit when he could very easily have worn pants to guard against any unintentional flashing is only to be applauded in my book.

5. Tazz

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4. Minoru Suzuki

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3. Samoa Joe

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I’ve grouped these three fellas together as the prime exemplars of the towel style that you probably associate more with wrestling than any other: draped over the head or shoulders of an extremely tough human being who either has legit shootfighting experience or really wants you to think they do.  The kind of fit that you only have to look at and suddenly “Mama Said Knock You Out” starts playing in your head.  You know the one.

It’s pretty hard to separate the three men listed above, but separate them we must, so I’ve put Tazz in the lowest position, mostly on account of how ragged his towel always looked.  It might have been in keeping with his no-frills persona, but you wouldn’t want to dry your taint with it.  Egyptian cotton it most certainly wasn’t.  And just imagine the fluids and vapours and general unpleasantnesses that must have seeped into it over years amongst the grimy denizens of the ECW Arena.  A ball rash waiting to happen.

Next comes Minoru Suzuki: the “murder grandpa” as he is called by people who also think modern-day Simpsons is just as good as the 90s episodes if you actually care to watch it.  I was sorely tempted to place him top of this list purely on account of this now-legendary gif of a young Suzuki removing his towel to reveal a devastatingly handsome visage that must come as quite a shock to those more familiar with his look after having his face pounded in 49 mostly real MMA fights, but he has sadly forgone any head covering in recent years.  I can only hypothesise that this is because his haircut has reached such a quantum level of silliness that he must show it off to the world at all times.  And you know what?  Fair play.  It really is ridiculous.

Finally, we have the Samoan Submission Machine himself, Samoa Joe (not to be confused with Roman Reigns, who is a Samoan Joe).  His habitual plain white towel isn’t interesting to look at like those of Tazz or Gable, nor is it as thick and downright voluptuous as JBL’s.  But do me a favour for a second.  Close your eyes and picture Samoa Joe clomping to the ring while his Godzilla music plays.  He’s wearing a towel, isn’t he?  Now picture him in the ring clapping the STF on folks or twatting them in the face with a gamengiri.  Somehow, it’s still around his shoulders.  That, for me, is the mark of an iconic wrestling towel: one that is so bound up with a wrestler’s look that they’d look naked without it (not in the Regal sense, behave).

2. Val Venis

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Before he reinvented himself as a marijuana advocate called “Kaptain Kannabis” and then ironically, with his avowed belief in QAnon and non-existent US election fraud, providing a prime example of why you maybe shouldn’t get too into pot, Sean Morley wrestled under a number of gimmicks: Chief Morley, Glamour Boy Sean, Too Hip, El Steele (under which he won the CMLL Heavyweight Championship) and, erm, Sean Morley, whose clean pinfall victory over Christopher Daniels at TNA Genesis 2010 suggests that perhaps Kaptain Kannabis had been hawking his wares at the booking meeting.  However, by far his most famous role is that of Val Venis, the adult movie star turned grappler who was a mainstay of the Attitude Era, the bestest period in the history of wrestling which is definitely going to come back and propel the business to new heights if you let John Cena say “fuck” on network TV.

While the gimmick was “of its time”, to say the least, you can’t deny that Mr. Morley committed to it, almost as hard as he now commits to the idea that a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles are secretly running the world from a local branch of Pizza Express.  From his raunchy porno sax theme to slathering his body in enough baby oil to drown an elephant, everything about Val Venis screamed, to slightly misquote Alan Partridge, “this is a sex person, Lynn”.  And central to his entrance – probably more central than for anyone in this top ten – was his towel, which he would tease and tease and tease taking off until finally he revealed…well, his underwear-covered lower body that was wearing just as much clothing as any other wrestler on the roster.  Nevertheless, it seemed to drive the ladies in the crowd wild.  Maybe, just as the Victorians were far more interested in sex and sexuality than we give them credit for, the 90s were actually much more reserved and innocent than you’d imagine.  This might well explain the apparent elision of pornography and striptease (when was the last time you saw a towel while browsing PornHub or XHamster or any other similar website I have never visited?)  Or it might just be one solitary individual’s doing.  It isn’t outside the realms of probability that Vince McMahon – the man who created Dude Love, a hippie who loved disco music – thinks grumble flick actors and Chippendales performers are the same thing.

1. Mr. Perfect

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This will probably be a controversial pick for the greatest towel of all time.  Mr. Perfect is undoubtedly the ne plus ultra of varsity athlete gimmicks, and we had Shorty G at number 8, but it’s not as though towels are something you particularly associate with him.  To which I say: go back and watch his entrances.  Like Bad Wolf, the towel is always there in the background or sitting just in the corner of your eye.  Your brain might not have processed it, but your soul did.

Yes, you might argue still further, but it’s just a bog-standard towel.  It pales in comparison to Perfect’s neon-hued singlets, voluminous hair and madcap rubber-band bumping.  But I’m simply not having it.  Look, the towel itself is, at the end of the day, not the central issue.  It’s what you do with it.  Nigel Kennedy could make a £50 My First Violin sing like an angel, but give me a rare Stradivarius and I wouldn’t know which end to blow into.  Mr. Perfect wins for the sheer variety of towel tricks that appeared in gif form when I made the Twitter thread asking my followers who they thought was the best towel-wielder in the history of wrestling.  Throwing it in an opponent’s face, tossing it behind his back, nonchalantly chucking it up in the air mid-entrance: there was no end to the ways in which he could make his chosen instrument fit the day’s prevailing vibe.  In this sense, Mr. Perfect’s vast arsenal of towel-based exploits perfectly mirrored the prodigious real-life ability of Curt Hennig, a stupendously talented multi-sport athlete who excelled at every athletic endeavour he put his mind (and body) to.  There’s a reason WWF chose him for those classic vignettes where he’d sink a putt from the edge of the green, bowl a perfect game or make a wild trick shot on the pool table.  He really was Mr. Perfect, and for that reason he’s the perfect person to top this list.  Congratulations to Curt Hennig, King of the Towels.

Author: Statto

George Thompson, known to his friends as Statto, is one-third of the team that makes up The Puro Pourri Podcast. Following an initial grappling obsession, which ran between 2001 and 2005, he spent large amounts of his time at university distracting himself from work with wrestling, and a smaller number of hours coming up with excuses to discuss the sport in an academic context. He is currently halfway through a novel set in the world of Japanese wrestling after the Second World War, entitled "The Rise and Fall of Rikidōzan", and hopes to finish it sometime in 2017. His man-crush on Katsuyori Shibata continues unabated.

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