Who is the greatest wrestler to ever lace up a pair of boots? Certainly none of the following, whose in-ring trademarks included wrestling barefoot. Whether to portray a wrestler of a particular fighting style or cultural heritage, these are the performers who were shoeless stars in the ring. 

    Kevin Von Erich

    (Photo: WWE Network)

    The inspiration for this piece and featured character in the hit film The Iron Claw starring Zac Efron, Kevin Von Erich is the only surviving Von Erich brother. 

    Although never NWA World Heavyweight champion or WWF Intercontinental champion like younger brother Kerry, the oldest Von Erich brother in wrestling did stand out for his bootless gear.  

    “The Barefoot Boy” as his father Fritz’s World Class Championship Wrestling nicknamed him, has explained his reasoning to Chris Jericho. On Talk is Jericho, he commented: “I had so many knee surgeries before I even started wrestling…so I took ‘em off one time, Kerry used to do it too, and we loved it because you feel like you can fly taking that weight off your feet.” 

    As well as a legendary run with his brothers, Kevin had notable solo encounters with Ric Flair and a heated feud with upcoming Dark Side of the Ring star “Gentleman” Chris Adams

    Jimmy Snuka

    (Photo: WWF Old School)

    “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka was one of the most beloved stars of the early 1980s WWF. Never a world champion or even a mid-card titleholder, he became legendary for his breathtaking stunts like his famous cage splash onto Don Muraco in 1983. In his autobiography, Mick Foley later called seeing that moment live “a defining moment in my life.” 

    Born in Fiji, which used to be known as “the Cannibal Isles”, Snuka’s barefoot look reflected his wild character. This was further extenuated through his leopard skin gear, crazed eyes, and straggly hair (and occasional beard). 

    In his later years, Snuka did sometimes wear boots, as evidenced by his WrestleMania 7 encounter against The Undertaker.  

    An influential figure in early ECW, he would make sporadic WWE appearances afterwards. 

    In 2017, he died shortly after being ruled unfit to stand trial for the brutal murder of girlfriend Nancy Argentino in 1983 in which he was the only suspect. 


    (Photo: WWE)

    In fitting with his character as a Japanese sumo champion, the WWF’s Yokozuna wrestled without shoes. Like Pat Tanaka, Mr Fuji, and Tor Kamata before him, his barefoot look was supposed to hint at devious martial art skills. 

    Despite the limitations of the superheavyweight’s size, he was thrust into the main event scene after winning the 1993 Royal Rumble. During his WWF run from 1992-1996, he was a two-time WWF champion and a two-time WrestleMania main eventer. He feuded with some of the biggest stars in the industry, such as Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, and The Undertaker, all of whom he bested in Pay-Per-View encounters. 

    Slipping down the card, Yokozuna and the WWF butted heads over his weight, with his gargantuan size soon leading to a physical by the New York State Athletic Commission, which he failed, leading to his departure from the company. 

    During a tour of England, Yokozuna died aged 34. Tipping the scales at well over 700 pounds, he was purposefully trying to gain weight to become the heaviest wrestler of all time, talking of which… 

    Haystacks Calhoun

    (Photo: Amino Apps)

    For many years, Haystacks Calhoun had been credited with the mantle of heaviest wrestler in WWF history. 

    601 pounds of pure country boy, the Texas-born performer hammed up his simple, upbeat hillbilly gimmick, including going barefoot.  

    “Stacks” was a crossover star who shared the screen with Jayne Mansfield and Groucho Marx beyond his wrestling success. In the ring, he formed formidable tandems with stars such as Bruno Sammartino. Bobo Brazil, and Tony Garea – the latter of whom he won the WWF World Tag Team titles alongside in 1973. 

    Due to his tremendous weight and beloved persona, he became a headlining attraction, perhaps more for the visual of the mountain man rather than his wrestling ability.  

    Today he is a WWE Hall of Fame inductee, sitting in the hall’s Legacy wing, having wrestled for the company before it was the WWE, WWF, or even WWWF. 


    (Photo: BBC)

    “The Ugandan Giant” Kamala wrestled sans shoes as a part of his gimmick. He portrayed an untamed, savage headhunter character with face paint, spear, and tribal mask. 

    Despite his ‘undomesticated’ state, not knowing how to pin an opponent, he still had a memorable career, especially in the WWF. 

    In three different tenures with the company, he feuded with Andre The Giant, Hulk Hogan, and The Undertaker. With handler Kim Chee at his side and either Reverend Slick or Harvey Wippleman present too, Kamala was always an imposing and unpredictable threat to opponents, unleashing a flurry of chops before crushing them with his 400-pound frame. 

    Wrestling in almost every major promotion active during his lifetime, he too had memorable stints in promotions such as the AWA, Mid-South, and WCW. Whilst never a top star, whenever he dipped into a promotion, he would always be a draw and obstacle for the top stars to try to conquer. 


    (Photo: Online World of Wrestling)

    You might have thought a foreign savage gimmick may have been both passe and tasteless but Umaga would do the very opposite. 

    Debuting with an impressive victory over Ric Flair, the 350-pound “Samona Bulldozer” racked up wins over other main eventers such as Kane, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels. This progressed him into the WWF title picture, where he battled John Cena. Despite suffering losses to Cena, it did not hinder his career too much. 

    At WrestleMania 23, he represented Vince McMahon as he fought against Bobby Lashley, managed by Donald Trump. Perhaps the most featured bout on the card, it helped make ‘Mania 23 the most bought WrestleMania of all time. A two-time Intercontinental champion, the face-painted warrior would leave the company in 2009. 

    Today, nephews The Usos and Solo Sikoa and cousin Roman Reigns keep The Anoa’i Family name at the forefront of professional wrestling.  

    Umaga is not the only islander to have such a gimmick… 


    (Photo: Bleacher Report)

    The Wild Samoans, The Headshrinkers, Peter Maivia…the list of barefoot Samoan islanders is as long as it is talented but one of the more commercially successful stars was Haku. 

    Starting out in The Islanders tag team, Haku established a long-running alliance with Bobby Heenan in the duo. In 1989, he teamed with Andre The Giant in The Colossal Connection to become World Tag Team champions, with Haku taking on the vast majority of work load due to “The Eighth Wonder of The World”’s declining health. By the early 1990s, he found himself yet another teammate, this time fellow Tongan The Barbarian, whom he also teamed with during his time in WCW. 

    On his own, Haku had a memorable solo run as King Haku. 

    Today, the Tonga-born striker is well-known to be the toughest man to ever enter a wrestling ring with legendary tales of his strength from biting off a man’s nose to being unfazed by a mace spray. 

    Matt Riddle

    (Photo: The People’s Wrestling Website)

    A more modern example, Matt Riddle’s barefoot appearance was due to his technical mastery of mixed martial arts. 

    A former UFC champion, the fighter made a name for himself on the independent circuit, including in Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Evolve. 2016’s Rookie of the Year, he signed with WWE in 2018. Whilst in NXT, his combination of grappling prowess and pot-smoking implications made him one of the most popular stars. 

    Amidst the pandemic, Riddle made his main roster debut. Within a year, he picked up the United States title belt, before going on to have a memorable comedy relationship with partner Randy Orton in RK-Bro. He also fought Seth Rollins in a memorable Fight Pit match, with the barefoot bruiser having competed in both bouts of the stipulation type. 

    Now in MLW and NJPW, he was fired from the WWE in 2023, having long been a PR headache for WWE, being accused of sexual assault, causing tension with Brock Lesnar, and testing positive for cocaine. 

    Antonino Rocca

    (Photo: Ring the Damn Bell!)

    A nimble high-flier, Antonino Rocca was a revolutionary of his time, floating around the ring with unprecedented grace. 

    Rocca was trained by the legendary Stanislaus Zbyszko and quickly found success. In the 1940s, Rocca was introduced to Toots Mondt in New York. From then, Rocca became a Madison Square Garden icon, dazzling audiences with his tremendous move-set, with the WWE calling him “the most dynamic performer the industry had seen to that point and a legitimate phenomenon.” 

    The biggest babyface of the era, Rocca formed a famous tag team with Miguel Perez, winning the NWA World Tag Team belts. He too formed a team with a young Bruno Sammartino, wrestling at MSG when a riot broke out after a match. 

    In his solo career, Rocca was the inaugural International champion, holding the belt for over four years. In 1963, he lost to Rodgers in a fictitious tournament match in Brazil when the WWWF were crowning their first world champion. 


    (Photo: Sky Sports)

    Originally billed as Russian, the Bulgarian brute trained in Muay Thai which has influenced his in-ring style, hence explaining his lack of footwear. 

    Despite – or maybe because of – the controversy and mainstream attention shone on Rusev because of his gimmick, he quickly climbed the ladder to become the United States champion.  

    In 2015, Rusev’s career was nearly derailed by a series of bad booking decisions.  

    Rusev would eventually put on boots, explaining that he wanted to protect his angle, having previously torn ligaments when taking a bump. 

    2017 saw Rusev catch fire through his grassroots Rusev Day gimmick alongside Aiden English, leading to his third US title win on December 25th. Soon enough, the WWE again lost interest as Rusev’s run started to tank yet again. 

    In 2020, Rusev jumped to AEW, now under the name Miro. Miro would win the TNT title belt in 2021, with his character becoming “The Redeemer”, an aggressive monster with a God complex.