Former WWE writer Dan Madigan once pitched for Heidenreich to be Nazi soldier, frozen during World War 2 and thawed out, tasked to wrestle in the WWE for some strange reason.
It certainly wasn’t the only time that ridiculous gimmicks had been suggested by writers (and some of them even made it to TV, including some horrendously racist and sexist characters becoming part of the WWE roster), but it was the one time that Vince McMahon found it too much to bear.
Once the Heidenreich Nazi gimmick was suggested, Vince McMahon simply walked out of the room in silence, firing Madigan later that year.
WWE Was No Stranger To On The Nose, Offensive Gimmicks
WWE has not been known for the subtlety of their gimmicks over the years. They have rarely tried to hide the ridiculousness of their characters over the years, often beating the fans over the head with repeated phrases and soundbites, so that you aren’t for a second confused about what you’re seeing.
“Why Yes, Seth Rollins in pretty FREAKIN, you’re right!”, “Oh my, now I understand how Roman Reigns is the powerhouse of the Shield” and “This wrestler must be a good guy – JBL keeps seeing how he likes to have fun!” are all things that the most dim WWE fans have said, after repeatedly being bored into their skull by irritating commentary over the years.
However, sometimes even Vince McMahon thinks that some gimmicks are too “on the nose”, and maybe go slightly too far. This is the same man who saw nothing wrong with saying the “n-word” on TV, booked a terrorist angle on the day of the London bombings, and featured whatever the hell the “Mexi-cools” were meant to be for years on his TV show.
That’s how you know that some things are just bad. And when one writer tried to pitch a Nazi solider gimmick for former WWE Superstar Heidenreich, McMahon’s silence was absolutely deafening – with that writer not lasting long in the company.
Writer Dan Madigan pitched Vince McMahon the idea that John Heidenreich, a blonde-haired giant who was a controversial figure in the WWE’s in the mid 2000s, could be an SS officer, frozen during World War II and thawed in 2004, brought back to life to wrestle for the WWE – with Paul Heyman (who is Jewish) brought in as his manager.
Heyman’s mother was a Holocaust survivor, so having him manager a literal Nazi would have been in the poorest taste the WWE may ever have done. Thank God Vince McMahon wasn’t in the mood that day to listen to the ridiculous suggestion – on another day, Baron Von Bava would have been WWE Champion and considered a legend in the WWE.
Heidenreich’s Nazi Soldier Gimmick
Former WWE writer Dan Madigan revealed the truth behind him pitching the idea of John Heidenreich portraying a Nazi character in the WWE, and the backlash he received from Vince McMahon.
This pitch, which occurred in the WWE boardroom in front of a host of other writers, including Vince and Stephanie McMahon, ended up with Madigan goose stepping around the office, singing Deutchland Uber Alles – much to the shock and surprise of Vince McMahon, who simply picked up his coat, took one last look at Madigan, and walked out the room.
In an interview with Cheap Heat, Dan Magidan revealed all about his pitch to Vince McMahon about Heidenreich’s Nazi gimmick in the WWE.
“We were like, ‘I still want to go,’ going back to pushing the envelope, pushing the envelope. In my head, I go, wrestling is a story – it’s good guy versus a bad guy, heel versus babyface. And you know, you have the ultimate good guys, like the heroes in the white hats.”
“You get the ultimate bad guys – the fascists, the Nazis. I mean, really, who is going to defend the Nazis? Let’s make them the bad guys, the ultimate heels.”
“But not just any Nazi, let’s make him a frozen Nazi because frozen Nazis are much better than thought-out Nazis. I watched all these horror films growing up, like ‘The Frozen Dead’ with Dana Andrews, ‘Shock Waves’ with Peter Cushing.”
“So the idea of a frozen Nazi coming back from the dead makes perfect sense in wrestling, right? Why doesn’t it work? So I said, ‘How about this, Vince? We have this scenario in 1945, at the end of the war, in the French Alps or Italian Alps or wherever you want.”
“There’s a cave with some Nazi scientists because, you know, they’re all nefarious. They make the prototype, and there’s one frozen Nazi, this uber-Nazi called Baron Von Bava. They freeze him and forget about him for 50 years.”
“Then they throw him out, and he comes into SmackDown because that’s where Nazis go – SmackDown. That’s the whole gimmick – a frozen Nazi.’ And I thought in my head, as I explained to Vince, ‘This is a good idea. This can’t go wrong.’ I’m thinking, ‘Nazi villain,’ because they had many Nazi characters as villains in the ’50s and ’60s in wrestling.”
“So, when did all of a sudden we can’t offend the Nazis? I mean, what are they off-limits now? So, I said, ‘You know what’s really going to win this over? You know how Vince is really going to say that’s a great idea, Dan? If Dan gets up and marches around the room, goose-stepping like this, singing Deutchland Uber Alles because I just want to get the point home.’ I said, ‘Vince, picture this,’ and I start doing my best SS goose step, and picture this walk.”
“Looking back in hindsight, I shouldn’t have gotten out of that chair, and I remember Vince trying to look at me. At that moment, you look just before the train hits the car – it’s a moment of abject fear. He’s like, his eyes are open, his mouth started to open like a gate, and he’s like…”
“He didn’t say anything. He just got up, went to get his briefcase and his jacket, and he turned to the door. He stopped, he came back, looked back in the room at me, opened the door, and walked out. He never said a word. Never said a word. And Ed Koskey goes through that’s a first in company history.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please give a H/T to Atletifo for the transcription.
WWE’s Worst Gimmicks Ever
WWE Has a history of having some of the worst, most horrific gimmicks of all time. Racism, sexism and whatever Eugene was, have unfortunately filled the halls of WWE history over the years, with the offensive stereotypes persisting to this day.
Here are just some of the most offensive and degrading gimmicks the WWE have ever come up with – thankfully, fans never got to see Heidenreich being thawed out of telly, and goose-stepping around the ring with the son of a holocaust survivor by his side – if they had gone through with it, there’d be no doubt that he’d be top of this list.
Saba Simba (Tony Atlas)
Renowned foot enthusiast Tony Atlas became the first individual that Vince McMahon subjected to a racially insensitive portrayal. Recent fans may best recall his stint as Mark Henry’s manager during his ECW Championship run, but Tony Atlas enjoyed considerable stardom in his prime.
Atlas served as a trailblazer for African-American professional wrestlers. In 1981, alongside his partner Rocky Johnson (father of The Rock), they defeated the Wild Samoans, marking the first time African-Americans had clinched championship titles in the company’s history. This achievement catapulted Atlas to a household name.
Following this success, he ventured through WCW, AWA, and made a return to the WWF before rejoining Vince McMahon in 1990. Unfortunately, it was during this 1990 comeback that racial insensitivity marred his portrayal. He wasn’t reintroduced as Tony Atlas but rather as Saba Simba, an African warrior who entered the ring in a manner that many found distasteful and degrading.
Vince McMahon attempted to promote the new persona through commentary, while “Rowdy” Roddy Piper vehemently criticized it. McMahon argued that Atlas was simply celebrating his African heritage, while Piper contended that Atlas was a legitimate athlete, and the entire depiction was humiliating.
Hirohito (Kenzo Suzuki)
Japanese wrestlers have historically faced challenges in WWE. It remains uncertain whether these challenges are linked to any prejudices held by Vince McMahon. Nevertheless, the sole Japanese wrestler to claim the WWE Championship was Yokozuna, who wasn’t even Japanese but rather a Samoan portraying the character.
Kenzo Suzuki, a Japanese wrestler, encountered difficulties during his WWE tenure. He struggled to establish a strong rapport with the audience and achieved just a single championship victory in his WWE career. He and Renee Dupree secured the WWE Tag Team Championships, but that’s not the controversial gimmick he was initially assigned by WWE.
Before his debut in 2004, a Raw vignette introduced a new character named Hirohito. This character was portrayed as the grandson of Emperor Hirohito, who had ruled Japan from 1926 to 1989. Kenzo Suzuki portrayed Hirohito, who expressed anger towards America for the events of World War II and vowed to seek revenge by defeating top wrestlers on Monday Night Raw.
Fortunately, WWE recognized the inappropriateness of this racially insensitive gimmick and promptly abandoned it. Kenzo Suzuki and his wife/valet conveyed their concerns to Vince McMahon and WWE regarding the offensive nature of the gimmick, leading to its immediate discontinuation. Kenzo Suzuki then made his WWE debut under his real name but achieved limited success before returning to Japan in 2006.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.