Gaming Meets Grappling: Classic Video Games Inspire Wrestlers’ Looks, Names, Moves

'I think wrestling just attracts a lot of nerds,' pro wrestler Jimmy Jacobs explains.

A few years ago, pro wrestler Jimmy Jacobs created a good finishing move designed to punctuate his matches. He would hold his opponent by the neck, do a sort-of backflip and land in a seated position.

It looked cool.

He just needed a name for it. He considered using an ’80s reference. Maybe name it after something from “He-Man”? Or “Thundercats”?

He got a better idea: “I named it the up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-select-start,” Jacobs told MTV News. “Everybody else just shortened it to ‘The Contra Code.’ And it stuck.”

Jacobs is just one of a crew of wrestlers across the country who have added some video game touches to their repertoire. You still won’t see John Cena do a “button-masher” or the Undertaker break out an “insert cartridge,” but in smaller leagues, the gaming influence is on the rise.

“I think wrestling just attracts a lot of nerds,” Jacobs said, explaining the gaming/grappling crossover. He made his move just to “give a shout-out to ‘Contra.’ ” He’s a big fan. “Me and my buddy used to play ‘Contra’ all the time. We even had almost a little shrine to ‘Contra’ in our basement. We had all the different ‘Contra’ games lined up. I was always player two, the red guy.” He even owned a “Super C” arcade machine.

Jacob’s matches for the Ring of Honor league are usually serious and often bloody. They get hard-core. So “Contra Code” isn’t just played for laughs. And when Pennsylvania’s Chikara Pro Wrestling grappler Gran Akuma (“Street Fighter” reference) crushes opponents with the “Yoshi Tonic” (“Mario” reference), it looks painful.

Chikara’s Player Uno, on the other hand, is probably trying for chuckles when he jumps on his prop turtle shell and kicks it into his enemies. He also does the M-Bison Stomp and the Bubble-Bobble-Buster. Michigan’s “Game Boy” Max Morrison attacks opponents with a genuine Nintendo Power Glove. (Both Morrison and Uno wear Nintendo-controller-themed trunks. Opponents can pause Uno if they press the start button near his knee.)

(Check out “Game Boy” Max Morrison and his tag team partner “Hype” Jimmy Shalwin in action.)

Ripped-from-the-joystick references are rampant in smaller wrestling leagues, as opposed to the national WWE promotion or the Spike-televised TNA. World Championship Wrestling used to have a group of wrestlers styled off “Mortal Kombat” characters, but that league — more famous for Sting, Ric Flair and the NWO — was bought by the WWE and shut down six years ago. The WWE may still create WWE video games with publisher THQ, but no video game touches can be seen in the ring.

“Today’s wrestling fans all play video games, they all watch podcasts, they’re Internet-savvy” Chikara co-founder Mike Quackenbush said. “That’s a whole part of the audience that a lot of companies don’t know how to engage and they don’t understand because they weren’t video game fans themselves.”

Quackenbush, however, is an avid fan of wrestling games. He imported a Super Famicom — the Japanese Super Nintendo — in the ’90s so he could play “Fire Pro Wrestling” games. “A lot of the guys are well-versed in that kind of stuff,” he said. So sometimes one of his guys will use a move that only comes from a game. “Every once and again, the bizarre blocking feature from [the Nintendo 64 game] ‘WWE No Mercy’ would show up when [our wrestler] would puff his chest out — very subtle things that unless you played the game, it didn’t make any sense to you,” Quackenbush said.

Some of the gaming stuff is obscure like that, but Quackenbush says other material has really clicked. “We had a rookie that started out with very generic wrestling gear that we called ‘Create a Wrestler,’ ” Quackenbush said, acknowledging the feature of the same name in most wrestling games. The company ran a contest and more than 100 fans submitted ideas for the rookie’s final name, his look (one suggestion: “a black Randy Savage”) and a set of moves. Chikara officials chose the suggestion “Moscow: The Communist Bovine.” That is not a video game reference.

The Chikara wrestlers are so into video games, Quackenbush said, that one of them who fancies himself an amateur programmer “worked day and night to create this loosely ‘Tetris’-y game with all the Chikara gang in it.” The game will be distributed to the fans and is likely to be the first video game created by a wrestler.

Video games aren’t just reference material and creative inspiration for wrestlers. They’re also the standard for an entire set of convoluted, acrobatic moves. Quackenbush said that over the last decade he’s seen a lot of young wrestlers try moves that he’s sure they’ve only seen successfully performed in games. “There was a generation of wrestlers that came into the business not long after I did, and whatever moves they would have [played or seen] in their video games they would try without any training or preparation — which can be dangerous — in the ring.”

Jacobs has seen the same thing. “We have a term in wrestling for moves that are cool and outlandish,” he said. “It’s almost like a joke between the guys. If you do something that looks ridiculous but it’s still kind of cool, it’s a ‘video game move.’ ” Jacobs said the Canadian Destroyer, a wild maneuver that involves one wrestler flipping himself and his partner through the air — from a standing position — is such a move. The move is regularly performed by TNA’s Petey Williams and is extremely popular among fans of that league.

Jacobs just returned to Ring of Honor last weekend after several weeks on the disabled list. He’s still using the “Contra Code,” though he’s focused on projecting an emo persona, not one of a gaming geek. Still, he’s had some ideas: “I wanted to figure out a move I could call the 007-373-5963, but I haven’t been able to figure out a move that’s called that yet.”

Catch that reference? That number is the code that skips players ahead to the final bout of “Mike Tyson’s Punchout.”

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