On July 4, 2023, veteran wrestler Wayne Keown, best known to fans as “Dirty” Dutch Mantell, took to Twitter to protest WWE’s alleged appropriation of his nickname. It seems that following the recent Money in the Bank Premium Live Event, WWE has bestowed the moniker “Dirty” on Dominik Mysterio and has started referring to him as such in-universe on RAW and on WWE roster page.

Mr. Keown is not pleased. He tweets regularly under the handle Dr.Dutch@DirtyDMantell, where he often promotes his own podcast. Recently, he fired off tweets accusing WWE of stealing his nickname, as follows:


@WWE just blatantly ripped off my DIRTY name by now calling Dominick Misterio, Dirty Dominick? That doesn’t even sound right. There’s only one DIRTYMAN and it’s Dirty Dutch Mantell. Thanks WWE for being so original. Bastages. @WSI_YouTube

The name “Dirty Dutch” is legendary. @WWEjust like a thief in the night decided to bestow the Dirty moniker on Dominick Misterio. If they really wanted to be original, they would have called him Sucio which is Spanish for Dirty. Thanks @TripleH @VinceMcMahon@WSI_YouTube

I follow Mr. Keown’s wrestling Twitter account. I often strongly disagree with his political views, but I’ve long since learned to separate wrestling as art from its artists. Less charitably, I see many of those views as the product of too many unprotected chair shots to the head.

When it comes to wrestling though, the man knows his stuff. Mr. Keown was a strong in-ring performer who had lengthy runs in the territories as a face and a heel, including featured turns in Memphis, Florida and especially Puerto Rico. He has great promo skills and a knack for storytelling which has kept him employed across multiple wrestling companies for decades.

As a booker he has worked for Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council (WWC) and International Wrestling Association (IWA), as well as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF).

Like many, he has a fondness for old-school characters and booking and his influence on today’s product shouldn’t be underestimated. Mr. Keown is credited as an influence over stars including the Blade Runners (better known today as Sting and The Ultimate Warrior), The Undertaker and Kane. Mr. Keown is also the man who named Stone Cold “Steve Austin” in order to avoid confusion between Austin (whose legal name was Steve Williams) and established wrestler “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. The man knows, and has been part of, enough wrestling history that he deserves to be acknowledged.

Which is why I find his outrage a bit confusing.

Unless it’s a work.

For starters, the man we know as “Dirty” Dutch Mantell is not the first to claim ownership of any part of his ring name. Wayne Keown started wrestling in 1972 under the last name “Cowan”. He would only become “Dirty” Dutch Mantell (his last name is variously spelled with one or two ‘L’s. I’m sticking with two for ease of reference, since that’s what’s on his Twitter account) in 1980.

A 2004 mug shot of "Dirty" Dick Slater after another brush with the law.

A 2004 mug shot of “Dirty” Dick Slater after another brush with the law.

Before that, there had been a host of “Dirty” wrestlers, including Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch and Dick Slater. Ric Flair was “the dirtiest player in the game” and Tony Anthony was a “Dirty White Boy”. British Columbia’s All-Star Wrestling was home to “Dirty” Dan Denton and “Dirty” Dan Collins revitalized a former acrobatic babyface in the UK.

Mr. Keown wasn’t even the first “Dutch Mantell”. That was the heel Alfred Albert Joe de Re la Gardiur, who was born in Luxembourg in 1881 and started wrestling in the 1920s. Today he is perhaps best known for training Roy Welch. OG Dutch Mantel (using a single “L”)  died in 1941. His namesake is better known today, but Mr. Keown’s claims of originality may be slightly exaggerated. (Then there’s the Lusk brothers, who wrestled as Ken Mantell and Johnny Mantell.)

It should be noted that while Mr. Keown faults WWE for allegedly stealing his nickname, he never performed there as “Dirty” Dutch Mantell. Mr. Keown had two WWF/E runs. His first, from 1995 to 1996 was undistinguished. Rechristened “Uncle Zebekiah” (they would drop the “Uncle” later) he was positioned as a ‘mountain man’-a deranged, heel version of the Hillbilly characters that invaded the WWF as Hulkamania grew. Mr. Keown managed Ron and Don Harris, a pair of giant identical twins who worked a gimmick somewhere between Bruiser Brody and Hillbilly Jim as the Blu Brothers (they would later become bikers as Skull and 8 Ball when Crush defected from the Nation of Domination and flirted with White Supremacist organized crime in-character, but that’s a story for another day). So far as our story goes today, the Blu Brothers were released in late 1995. By January 1996, Mr. Keown as Zebekiah returned to manage Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw until Mr. Keown’s own release in December 1996.

Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter at Fan Axxess during WrestleMania 30 weekend in New Orleans. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea, www.mikemastrandrea.com

Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter at Fan Axxess during WrestleMania 30 weekend in New Orleans. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea, www.mikemastrandrea.com

Mr. Keown’s second WWE run, some 20 years later, would be more fruitful. Uncle Zebekiah became Zeb Colter, manager of a reinvigorated alt-right Jack Swagger. Colter and Swagger took advantage of the US Tea Party movement’s patriotic self-parody, tweaking the idea of the xenophobic, borderline racist heel. They were so good at it that life imitated wrestling; right-wing commentators like Glenn Beck claimed that Swagger and Colter’s characters were a mockery of the Tea Party movement (not that they needed the help). The gimmick eventually cooled off, in part due to Swagger’s arrest for marijuana possession shortly before he was scheduled to win a world title. Swagger would eventually be turned face and following an injury angle Colter would return aligned with Alberto del Rio as something called “MexAmerica”. I presume this wasn’t Mr. Keown booking himself.

All of which is to say that while Wayne Keown has had an enviable career, more fans probably know him by his WWE aliases than as “Dirty” Dutch. I imagine WWE renamed him to better suit the characters they wanted him to play: Zebekiah sounds more ‘woodsy’ than Dutch, and ‘Colter’ is borrowed from a certain loathsome political commentator. WWE has also long had a policy of renaming talent in order to protect its intellectual property interests, which is admittedly honored in its breach.

Mr. Keown may well feel protective of his ring name, but no part of it belonged to him first. Most of the ‘dirty’ wrestlers I named above also had greater success with different nicknames and de Re la Gardiur was long dead by the time Mr. Keown took on the mantle of Mantell. But as a successful booker you’d think he would know that wrestling has a habit of recycling ideas good and bad, names included. Or, as I would put it in my own line of work, “there is no such thing as property in a good idea.”

Kayfabe aside, it surprises me that a retired wrestler would take issue with nickname appropriation — especially a nickname as generic as ‘Dirty’, although two former world champions have set this dubious precedent.

I’ve written before about how wrestlers change names when moving from place to place. Even before pro wrestling became a big enough business for intellectual property to become a real concern, a name change allowed for character development or experimentation, especially where a wrestler could work as a good guy in one town and a bad guy in another. Changing names allows one to inhabit new personas and to shed negative associations. Johnny Rodz was a long-term enhancement talent in WWWF but Java Ruuk was a main eventer in California. Sometimes a gimmick change demands a new name. Jim Nelson and Barry Darsow and Nelson Scott Simpson are fine all-American kids. Boris Zhukov and Krusher Kruschev and Nikita Koloff are emissaries of the Evil Empire.

Mr. Keown himself worked under multiple names until — and after — Dirty Dutch stuck (with one or two Ls). I’ve mentioned his WWE names, but according to Wikipedia he also worked as Chris Gallagher, Texas Dirt and Wayne Cowen. New names have done wonders for current Mayor of Knox County Glenn Jacobs, who is best known as Kane but also worked as Isaac Yankem, DDS and the fake Diesel in WWE, and before that under names including Bruiser Mastino, the Christmas Creature, Doomsday and Unabomb.

Johnny Elite at AEW Dark on Friday, May 27, 2022 at Michelob Ultra Arena at the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas. Photo by Ben Lypka

Johnny Elite at AEW Dark on Friday, May 27, 2022 at Michelob Ultra Arena at the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas. Photo by Ben Lypka

For some easily recognizable wrestlers, name changes become an inside joke for the audience. The aforementioned Mr. Darsow was the Blacktop Bully, Krusher Kruschev, Repo Man, Demolition Smash, Mr. Hole-in-One and Stewart Payne (I still love that one). The late John Tenta was Earthquake Evans before he debuted on WWE TV as the Canadian Earthquake, which was shortened to Earthquake, then Avalanche and the Shark in WCW before switching to his own name; then the masked Oddity Golga back in WWE. Edward Leslie has no fewer than 18 aliases listed on Wikipedia. Heck, the current Johnny TV has made shifting monikers part of his gimmick. John Hennigan has appeared under names including John Hennigan, John Morrison, Johnny Blaze, Johnny Caballero, Johnny Elite, Johnny Fusion, Johnny Hardy, Johnny Impact, Johnny Mundo, Johnny Nitro, Johnny Onyx, Johnny Spade, Johnny Bravo and Johnny Superstar.

With the constant need for reinvention, it’s no surprise that pro wrestling often looks to its past for ideas. A cursory search of the internet reveals plenty of listicles showing wrestlers who shared nicknames, especially as they bleed into gimmicks.

I’ll go for the low-hanging fruit first. Dwayne Johnson stands on the boulders of a series of Rocks, including Ole Anderson (Alan “The Rock” Rogowski) in the 1960s, the Ultimate Warrior (who wrestled under the mononym “Rock” alongside the man who would eventually be named Sting in the Bladerunners tag team), and Don Muraco, who took on the nickname during his late WWF stint as a fan favorite guided by Superstar Graham.

Ric Flair may be the “Nature Boy” we all know and love, but he lifted the name from inaugural WWWF champion Buddy Rogers, himself an all-time great. Rogers took inspiration from a popular Nat King Cole song (which itself is well worth a listen). In Flair’s heyday he shared the name with lesser “Nature Boy” Buddy Landel, a talented performer who never reached his potential due to some serious substance abuse issues. Landel, Rogers and Flair all teased programs against each other at various points in their careers in a bid to settle who had the best claim to the name. Flair beat Rogers on occasion. A program between Flair and Landel was teased by the NWA, but Landel missed a TV taping that would have established the angle and wound up getting fired. Landel and Rogers were set to have a match when the latter was in his 70s, but unfortunately that was scuttled by the older Nature Boy’s ill health and eventual passing.

Becky Lynch as The Man. SlamWrestling file photo

Becky Lynch as The Man. SlamWrestling file photo

Despite Flair’s appropriation of another wrestler’s nickname, he would turn around and sue WWE in 2019 at the height of Becky Lynch’s main event run, arguing that she stole “The Man” from him. The independent scene has seen plenty of Nature Boys; presumably none of whom have deep enough pockets to warrant pursuing, among them “Nature Boy” Paul Lee, who flaunts the gimmick from beached hair to sequined robes, and “Black Nature Boy” Scoot Andrews, who was a fixture in Florida, and popped up in the short-lived WXO promotion and anywhere else a local was needed.

Although one would be hard-pressed to describe a “Nature Boy” in the real world, pro wrestling has long used performers’ alleged attractiveness (or at least their vanity) to help build heat. George was Gorgeous (as would be a series of imitators, and Randy Savage’s then-girlfriend). Harley Race was handsome (and so was Jimmy Valiant). Bam Bam Bigelow did not trade on conventional attractiveness but drew his nickname from a brutal ring style and Barney Rubble’s super strong adoptive son. So did Terry “Bamm Bamm” Gordy. Unlike the various Nature Boys, the Bam Bams did meet in the ring on several occasions.

Larry Zbyszko, circa 1977, before he became "The New Living Legend." Photo by John Arezzi

Larry Zbyszko, circa 1977, before he became “The New Living Legend.” Photo by John Arezzi

I don’t care how casual a fan you are. If your fandom predates Rock ’n’ Wrestling you know Bruno Sammartino as “The Living Legend.” This nickname became the focal point of Sammartino’s feud with his young protégé, Larry Zbyszko. After attacking Bruno with a chair, Larry would start calling himself “The New Living Legend” as a form of disrespect to Bruno. Despite Larry’s leaving the WWWF shortly after the feud ended, he has kept the nickname ever since, apart from a brief stint as the “Cruncher” with the Dangerous Alliance in WCW. In 2001, Zbyszko sued Chris Jericho over Jericho’s attempt to brand himself as a “Larger than Life Living Legend”; WWE had even produced merchandise, but quickly dropped the character shift and nickname even though Zbyszko allegedly had no legal claim to the moniker. Zbyszko and Jericho would feud off and on in various media for years after, including Jericho asking “What kind of name is Zbyszko anyway?” I’ll get to that later.

Some shared nicknames become historic footnotes.

  • The late Butch Reed was variously known as “Hacksaw” in a prelude to a feud with Jim Duggan in Mid South Wrestling, and as “The Natural” during his mid-1980s WWE run anticipated Dustin Rhodes’ first nickname.
  • Bruiser Brody tore up the territories, but in St. Louis where he was particularly loved and feared he went by “King Kong” Brody so as not to create confusion with popular Mid-Western star (and sometime member of the NWA office) Dick “The Bruiser” Afflis. That was fine, except for when Angelo “King Kong” Mosca invaded the Khorassan Ballroom where St. Louis wrestling was taped. At least he didn’t meet up with King Kong Bundy… and all three men predated an apparent legal threat over the rights to the Giant Ape’s name. Fun fact: Mattel recently released a Legends King Kong Bundy action figure. The figure and its tiny T-shirt read only “Bundy”, presumably because if any rights to King Kong were held, they have surely lapsed. In any case, neither Brody nor Bundy nor Mosca were the first to seize on the resemblance between pro wrestlers and movie monsters. Abe “King Kong” Kashey wrestled and had an acting career long before The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, to be clear).
  • Ray “The Crippler” Stevens had an exceptional career in the 1970s and 1980s, and is perhaps unfairly ignored today. He was a singles star in the AWA and in San Francisco and had strong tag team runs alongside Pat Patterson and Nick Bockwinkel. His name would be borrowed to some notice by Portland mainstay Rip “The Crippler” Oliver, and more infamously by Chris Benoit.
  • We all know Bret Hart as the “Excellence of Execution” but that name was first given to “Cowboy” Bob Orton.

Speaking of Cowboys, I’m leaving them out of this discussion, along with Kings since they owe more to one’s choice of gimmick and hat in creating a persona, not just a name.

Nicknames aside, plenty of wrestlers have adopted previous performers’ ring names. Like Mr. Keown, Adolfo Bresciano was not the first Dino Bravo. He took that name from a wrestler from the 1960s who toured with a pre-DeNucci Dominic as the Bravo Brothers. Phil LaFon wrestled as Dan Kroffat — taking the name from a British Columbia wrestler (it was the original Kroffat who invented the ladder match). The Nikolai Volkoff who terrorized our eardrums in the 1980s with his rendition of the Soviet National Anthem wasn’t the first to go by that name. A fellow Croatian-born wrestler, Steve Gobb (born Gobrokovich) originated the Russian strongman character as Nicoli Volkoff in the 1960s. Even the late Iron Sheik has acknowledged that his name and much of his character were patterned after Edward Farhat’s Sheik. With the 1980s wrestling boom, Farhat would call himself “The Original Sheik” to further distinguish the two.

I can go on: Larry Whistler appropriated one of pro wrestling’s earliest pioneer’s name when he became Larry Zbyszko (yup, him again). Whistler allegedly trained under Bruno Sammartino in Pittsburgh. He debuted in the WWWF in 1973 under the ring name “Larry Zbyszko”, with his surname taken from 1920s Polish-American wrestling champion Stanislaus Zbyszko.

The trend continues today up and down the card: Intellectual Stuntman of the Masses, Damien Sandow drew his name from two sources: seminal New York wrestler/promoter Billy Sandow and bodybuilding pioneer Eugen Sandow (although Billy may have taken his name from Eugen). Impact’s Johnny Swinger had a brief WWE run as Johnny Parisi, although he claimed that 1970s star Tony Parisi was his uncle. WWE ‘honored’ legacy talent Gorilla Monsoon by naming a comedy wrestler Santino Marella. Mike Bucci wrestled as Nova in ECW, but in WWE was repackaged as evil fitness instructor Simon Dean, which is largely seen as a joke on Dean (Simon) Malenko. Similarly the late Tracey Smothers was named Freddie Joe Floyd during his WWE run, an amalgam of Jack (Freddie Joe) and Jerry (Floyd) Brisco’s real first names.

I think that part of what makes Mr. Keown’s tweets interesting is their timing. In the same week, Sgt. Slaughter took issue with Lacey Evans’ sexy drill sergeant character, which is ironic since Sarge himself has been accused of basing his career on stolen valor (I disagree with those claims; I draw a distinction between Slaughter playing a military man across multiple platforms, including a children’s cartoon series, and cases like Manny Fernandez, who has allegedly falsely claimed to be a Navy SEAL in real life; or Jesse “The Body” Ventura, whose own claims to have served with that unit have come under criticism. Bob Remus, who inhabits the Sgt. Slaughter persona, has generally been clear that Slaughter is a character).

Kevin Nash also saw fit to repeatedly criticize LA Knight for being a rip-off of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. On the surface, I don’t disagree with any of their claims, but it feels disingenuous to call out imitations in a business that is rooted in broad characterizations and basic tropes. Nash was literally replaced in the role of Diesel by a pre-Kane Glenn Jacobs. I would think that the fans’ rejection of that move would show Mr. Nash that it’s possible to succeed with an act that is influenced by wrestlers who came before, but much harder to make a lasting impression as an outright copy. Time will tell how far LA Knight goes with his act; at 40 years old there’s not much time to spare.

Rhea Ripley and Dominik Mysterio at the WWE Elimination Chamber show at Centre Bell in Montreal, Quebec, on Saturday, February 18, 2023. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, www.photography514.com

Rhea Ripley and Dominik Mysterio at the WWE Elimination Chamber show at Centre Bell in Montreal, Quebec, on Saturday, February 18, 2023. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, www.photography514.com

As to the newly “Dirty” Mysterio, as nicknames go, I kind of like it. Since turning heel and joining the Judgment Day stable, Dominik has portrayed an admirably sleazy, cowardly, cheating heel complete with mullet haircut, drawn-on face tattoo and wispy moustache. I think that the disparate talents who make up the Judgment Day work as a unit despite having little in common. Mysterio’s weird, vaguely kinky on-screen relationship with Rhea Ripley is a big part of what ties them together. Longtime fans are quick to compare this incarnation of Mysterio to the late Eddie Guerrero, and while I wouldn’t go that far I have grown to appreciate Dom’s work. He’s infinitely more entertaining than when he was brought in as Rey Mysterio’s super-bland nepo baby and has lately been rewarded with higher profile matches against stars like Cody Rhodes.

The whole package does in fact come across as ‘dirty’, so perhaps Mr. Keown should rest easy knowing that the gimmick, and the name fits.

TOP PHOTO: Dutch Mantell at the 80s Wrestling Con on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at the Mennen Sports Arena in Morristown, New Jersey. Photo by George Tahinos, georgetahinos.smugmug.com