Being a “heel” (villain) in pro-wrestling requires a specific mix of qualities. First, they must let the audience know, through their words, that whatever town or opponent that they are currently facing is inferior to them, and they must be effective at it. Second, they must wrestle in a way that indicates their unpleasant personality. This can mean a variety of things, from cheating to the way they take punches. And third, they have to have that certain, special “it” factor.
Enter Ludvig Borga, born in Finland as Tony Halme, who only lasted in the World Wrestling Federation for about six months. However, in those six months, he managed to make his stamp as a pro-wrestling bad guy that will last forever. As infamous as this choice may seem, I believe Ludvig Borga to be the greatest heel of all time. While I won’t say that he oozed talent or charisma, I will say that he definitely oozed something.
1) Ludvig’s Speaking Ability
When you’re a foreign wrestler in the late 80’s and early 90’s, all you really needed to master when it came to the English language was some version of “Die America!” Audiences would hear you and immediately recognize that by talking about the beloved United States, you were, by default, talking about them. To pro-wrestling fans, America is this one large mass of people with a certain pre-determined number of accents (ghetto-sounding, redneck-sounding.) If your accent falls outside of the approved criteria, fuck you.
Ludvig spoke well enough English that he didn’t need a manager to translate for him or deliver his hate speeches while Ludvig folded his arms in the background. Take a look at this promo where he “exposes” the underbelly of America by visiting a polluted stream. Armed with a sleeveless denim shirt and denim shorts, he shows his mastery of a single metaphor and the word “stink.” It’s a common staple of the “evil” foreign wrestler to say that, while America says it’s all about “milk and honey” and freedom, it’s really just about dead fish and old tires. No one did that better than Ludvig.
99% of Ludvig’s promos were about hating America. Regardless of who he faced, Ludvig would twist the subject around so that his opponent was America’s placeholder. It’s this dedication to completely misconstruing someone’s gimmick that unnerved and annoyed audiences. Ludvig couldn’t use a toilet without comparing America to a sewer.
2) Ludvig’s Wrestling Ability
To say that Ludvig’s repertoire of wrestling moves and holds was limited would be showing oversight to the fact that Ludvig didn’t really need an outstanding skill set in order to pummel his foes. Ludvig wrestled like he was trying to tender a slab of beef. He didn’t so much punch as flail in the direction of unrecognizable sweat. There is no better example of this than in some of Ludvig’s matches with jobbers (unknown pro-wrestlers used to enhance the image of well-known talent.) Everyone Ludvig faced handled his attacks in the exact same way: as if they had suddenly been stricken with a heart attack. And this was perfect, because Ludvig handled every strike, slam and submission hold that he took in the exact same way as well.
According to his Wikipedia profile, Borga was taught by wrestling legend Verne Gagne. Sadly, I’m not certain that Gagne got to the part where you learned how to “sell,” which is pro-wrestling jargon for how you’re supposed to react to getting beaten up. It’s not that Borga really needed to be aware of making another opponent look good anyway. Every match with Ludvig Borga was a voice lesson on how to grunt in pain. It wasn’t even fair how unstoppable Borga looked in the ring. Some piñatas have put up a better defense than half of Ludvig’s “dinners.”
And even though he was painted as an impossible-to-defeat monster, Ludvig didn’t always need to resort to creating an offense so impenetrable that his appearances on Monday Night RAW were often considered the expiration date for fun itself. Ludvig wasn’t above the classic art of cheating. And Ludvig cheated with as much subtlety as he could muster. This meant being extra careful when it came to not getting caught.
Tatanka, a Native-American stereotype, had been on a two year winning streak at the point of his encounter with Ludvig. People liked Tatanka. He had terrible, terrible matches but he won a lot, so according to pro-wrestling logic, that means there must be something good about him. At this point, Ludvig seemed incapable of losing. It’s not that it wasn’t possible. It just didn’t seem like Ludvig knew how to lose. Every time Ludvig hit the mat, his immediate response was standing right back up, which made Ludvig look immune to pain but made all other wrestlers look like shit. Ludvig never seemed to tire in his matches. He didn’t treat the sport as a metaphorical sprint or marathon, but more like an obstacle course, where side-stepping wasn’t an option.
The match against Tatanka went as you’d expect. Tatanka tried repeatedly to counter Ludvig and build up steam against him, but Ludvig was entirely oblivious to simple wrestling techniques and instead of raising the emotional stakes of the match, he simply stood around and waited for Tatanka to stand perfect-for-punching still. There was never a time when you felt like Tatanka might get lucky and win, which made it odd when Mr. Fuji, de facto manager of powerful wrestlers with accents at the time, came down to the ring to distract Tatanka and the referee. Ludvig didn’t need any help, but he wasn’t willing to turn down a perfectly good opportunity to needlessly hit Tatanka with a chair.
He struck Tatanka across the back with it, and rather than do what most wrestlers would do, which is throw the chair haphazardly away, he took precious, careful time to hide the chair behind another chair. Even a man as simply destructive as Ludvig knew the importance of camouflage.
3) Ludvig’s “It” Factor
If you haven’t noticed, Ludvig’s costume is exactly what was needed to create to disconnect between himself and the audience. Considering that his body type meant that his appearance was that of shoving a milk carton into a box of cords and latex, it was hard to ignore him. It didn’t matter that he was pounding underdog Marty Jannetty at one of the biggest pay per view events of the year. What mattered was that he was wearing suspenders with the flag of Finland on them when he did it. Even if you didn’t know the nation he was representing, there was something inherently wrong with it when it came through the American flag adorned entrance way.
Oh, Ludvig. You are sorely missed.