Wrestling gimmicks are the bread and butter of the wrestling industry. While the wrestling itself has been given more attention in favor of sports entertainment nowadays, gimmicks are just as vital to the success of a superstar, especially in the WWE. There are several great wrestlers in this business, but not nearly enough great characters. The wrestling is obviously what draws us in, but the characters are what make us stick around. Characters are able to captivate and engross us in ways that make us actually care who wins or loses at the end of a riveting match. A wrestler’s ability to connect to their audience and convey powerful emotions through their character can make or break their wrestling career. It is essential not only for a wrestler to have a good gimmick, but a gimmick that fits them.
Much like with acting, just because someone is giving a good role does not mean they are capable of giving it the good performance it deserves. If a gimmick doesn’t fit a wrestler or if it’s a gimmick that the wrestler does not like playing, the audience can always tell. When they do notice, it prevents the audience from getting immersed in the product and as a result, they cannot connect with the wrestler at the center of that gimmick. When that happens, the wrestler’s career is just as good as dead. Sometimes, when a gimmick is still in early development, WWE has their wrestlers test it out or they decide which wrestlers would be better suited for which gimmicks. If it is determined that a wrestler is ill-fitted for a certain gimmick, that gimmick either gets passed on to someone else or scrapped all together. In some cases, some wrestlers missed out on some truly star-making gimmicks and in other cases, some future legends dodged massive bullets on gimmicks that would have surely been their career downfall. Here are some gimmicks (good and bad) that were originally intended for other wrestlers.
15. Edge – Val Venis
If you thought that Val Venis sounded like too obvious of a name even for an adult star, get a load of Edge’s pre-WWE name: Sexton Hardcastle. Yeah. Sexton Hardcastle. Let that one sink in for a bit. The name might be why Edge was an early contender to be picked to play the Val Venis character before it went to Sean Morley. Considering what we would later get from Edge with his Rated R gimmick, he surely would have played the adult star gimmick role to a tee, but there’s no guarantee that he would’ve ever reach the main event status he actually achieved in real life. He especially wouldn’t have done so with a name like Sexton Hardcastle.
As for Venis, he played the role perfectly and proved to be a competent midcard star. All in all, it worked out for the best for everyone involved. In addition to this, as Edge explained on an episode of Talk is Jericho, Vince Russo originally pitched for Edge and Venis to work together as a new Midnight Express. The idea would’ve called for the two to don adult-esque names of Adorable Adam and Sensual Sean, two names that sound equally worse than Sexton Hardcastle.
14. Bret Hart – Cowboy Sam Houston
One of the most impressive things about Bret Hart is to know just how over he was at the peak of his career without having much of a gimmick. While his character was in many ways an exaggerated version of his real life personality, he never embodied the kind of carny, outlandish personas that ran rampant through the New Generation Era. With that said, he most nearly did. According to the Hitman himself in his 2007 book, My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, upon entering the WWE for the first time, he was pitched to start off his career as a singles star donning a cowboy gimmick. Hart refused stating that “if you called yourself a cowboy, you’d better be one.” Hart understood how fans could see passed a gimmick if it isn’t true to the wrestler portraying it and if that is the case, then a wrestler’s career won’t last long. However, WWE was still keen on introducing a cowboy onto their television screens and passed it on to Sam Houston, who accepted. For those who never heard of Sam Houston, let’s just say that the real-life half-brother of Jake “The Snake” Roberts was not a real life cowboy and his WWE career didn’t last long.
13. Brodus Clay – Mark Henry’s Hall of Pain
Most viewers at home found it jarring to see Brodus Clay transition from a mammoth-sized monster to a shucking, jiving Funkasaurus in seemingly the blink of an eye. Clay actually hoped of continuing his monster run. In fact, Clay had planned for himself to don a gimmick that would later be passed over to Mark Henry. In 2011, Clay was gone for three months to shoot a movie for WWE Studios called No One Lives. When filming wrapped up, he asked WWE’s creative team what they had planned for his in-ring return and apparently, they had zilch for the 400-pounder. To compensate, they asked Clay if he had any ideas for himself. One of those ideas that Clay pitched involved him going on a complete warpath through the WWE roster, inducting each of his victims into his “House of Pain.” WWE Creative loved it and began airing vignettes teasing Clay’s in-ring return. For some reason, Clay’s return got pushed back for months until he returned in January 2012 as The Funkasaurus. In between that time frame, conveniently, Mark Henry was repackaged under a new “Hall of Pain” gimmick.
12. Several Wrestlers – Million Dollar Man
One of the earliest pet project ideas that Vince McMahon had in WWE was that of The Million Dollar Man. Everything from the concept of a rich heel wrestler to the priceless “Everybody’s got a price for The Million Dollar Man” was McMahon’s idea. At the time, he thought he came up with the best idea for a wrestling character. He considered it a gimmick that he would use if he himself ever decided to become a wrestler. He thought the gimmick was so special that he scoured the wrestling world looking for the perfect person for the world. In his search, McMahon considered several future Hall of Famers to play The Million Dollar Man. This included Nick Bockwinkel, Tully Blanchard, and even Ric Flair. Eventually, his search brought him to Ted DiBiase, who at the time was a young upstart gaining notoriety in AJPW, NWA, and MSW. When he approached DiBiase, he told DiBiase he could only tell DiBiase about the proposed gimmick if DiBiase signed a WWE contract because McMahon wanted to avoid giving away a great idea to someone who walked away from the offer. After doing some hard thinking, DiBiase was intrigued enough that he agreed to sign with WWE. He then went on to become one of biggest heels of the company as The Million Dollar Man.
11. Rob Van Dam – Glacier
During the mid-late-’90s, Rob Van Dam was undoubtedly one of the hottest acts in professional wrestling and most certainly one of the more exciting wrestlers of the time. The overwhelming response to his work made RVD a wrestler in high demand from just about any and all wrestling companies looking to snatch him away from ECW. RVD revealed in a 1997 interview with RF Video that when he was still in ECW as the company’s Television Championship, WCW were more than interested in RVD the wrestler, but they had no interest in RVD the character. Instead, they approached Van Dam with an offer to wrestler under the guise of a Mortal Kombat-esque character named Glacier. When Van Dam told WCW execs he had no interest in playing Glacier, they offered to make a whole team of Mortal Kombat-esque characters to allow RVD to play one of them. Still, RVD declined and Glacier wound up being played by Ray Lloyd.
10. Adam Bomb – The Ringmaster
One of the reasons that Stone Cold Steve Austin was such a huge success early into his WWE career was because he was given such a horrible gimmick as The Ringmaster. He knew the gimmick was doomed from the start and it inspired him to grow out of that gimmick, and prove to WWE top brass that he was better than just a Ringmaster. It’s hard to imagine if Austin would have been motivated the same way if he didn’t start out under The Ringmaster gimmick, which nearly happened. Former professional wrestler Bryan Clark revealed on a 2013 episode of WGD Weekly with Steve and the Scum that he had been pitched two gimmicks upon first entering WWE in 1993. One of those gimmicks was Adam Bomb, the gimmick of a nuclear meltdown survivor, and the other was The Ringmaster, the Million Dollar Man’s generic underling. Clark found the Adam Bomb character more appealing and after debuting in the role, he actually found a decent amount of success as a midcarder until his 1995 departure from the company. The Ringmaster gimmick went to Austin, which he hated so much that he decided to warp it into his liking, becoming a Stone Cold megastar in the process.
9. Crush – Lex Luger’s USA Push
One of the most infamously hackneyed attempts on WWE’s behalf to push a top babyface was the Lex Luger experiment. One of the reasons why the Lex Express failed is because Luger spent months as a midcard heel dubbed The Narcissist until he suddenly catapulted to the main event in a single moment by body slamming Yokozuna; it felt rushed and unnatural. Apparently, one of the reasons it felt so rushed and unnatural is because original plans with Crush in the role had to be changed at the last minute. A longstanding rumor has been that Vince McMahon originally pegged Crush to surpass Hulk Hogan as the new face of the company following Hogan’s departure. This would make sense because in time leading up to Luger slamming Yokozuna, Crush was feuding with Yokozuna already. In fact, Crush was the first to lift Yokozuna off his feet, but was unable to slam him down. It would also make sense to push an already babyface Crush as the top babyface opposed to a previously heel Luger with an out-of-nowhere turn. What might’ve changed plans was the fact that Crush went down with a back injury and since Luger had the body type that Vince loved, he was slotted to replace Crush.
8. Shane Douglas – The Heartbreak Kid
As most of us know, Shane Douglas’ WWE turn as Dean Douglas was a pretty big flop that paled in comparison to the success he found in ECW. Believe it or not, Douglas might’ve had a better shot in WWE if original plans followed through on Douglas becoming The Heartbreak Kid. Apparently, when Vince McMahon first eyed Shane Douglas in 1991, he saw the kind of personality and look that was befitting of a dreamboat rock star, a la a Heartbreak Kid. McMahon was ready to strap a rocker level push on Douglas for the part, but before Douglas could debut in the role, he had to take some time off once his father grew deathly ill. Douglas even considered quitting the wrestling business altogether. He wouldn’t return to WWE until 1995 but in that timeframe, McMahon’s HBK gimmick idea was ready-made for Shawn Michaels once he was nearly christened as a singles star after kicking Marty Jannety to the curb. We can only wonder if The Heartbreak Kid Shane Douglas could’ve managed the same success as Hall of Famer, The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels.
7. Konnan – Max Moon
By 1992, Konnan was putting the wrestling world on notice when he became one of CMLL’s biggest stars. The success that Konnan flourished from in Mexico eventually garnered the attention of WWE, who made an offer to K-Dogg to join their roster. Konnan accepted and Vince McMahon gave the Lucha Libre prodigy the character of the Comet Kid, which looked like something along the lines of a blue spaceman. Anyway, he wrestled a small handful of dark matches as the character and started racking up wins. Suddenly, Konnan disappeared from WWE altogether. In addition to an attitude that gained him some heat from the boys in the locker room, Konnan had a dispute with Vince McMahon regarding his missing a few events here and there.
Granted, Konnan was still contracted to some Mexican promotions and was fulfilling his prior established appearance dates. But McMahon had become heavily invested in the Comet Kid character (creatively and financially) and didn’t want the wrestler playing him to stray away. Unfortunately, following some heated arguments, Konnan left the company. The Comet Kid character was then renamed Max Moon and given to Tom Boric (a.k.a. Paul Diamond), who previously played Kato in The Orient Express despite not being of Asian origin.
6. The Ultimate Warrior – Vader
Under the guise of Big Van Vader, then simply Vader in WWE, Leon White would quickly become world-renowned as one of the best, surprisingly agile big men that the industry would ever see. However, White would be the first to admit that he wasn’t even the first choice for the role. As White has explained in numerous interviews, there was a time when White was working as a rookie in Japan when Antonio Inoki created a unique mask that he planned to put a big man under to push them as the company’s new top monster. The man who they brought over to offer the Vader role to was none other than the Ultimate Warrior, then a rookie going by the name Dingo Warrior. Ultimately, before Warrior could accept, he wound up getting snatched up by the WWE to work for them. White recalls hearing that another contender for the role was Sid Vicious, but that was never confirmed. Once Warrior balked out of the offer, Leon found himself wrestling in NJPW under a black mask and his soon to be iconic name of Big Van Vader.
5. Elijah Burke – The Spirit Squad
Kenny! Johnny! Mitch! Nicky! Mikey! Elijah? Elijah Burke (better known now as Impact Wrestling’s color commentator, “The Pope” D’Angelo Dinero) explained on the Two Man Power Trip of Wrestling podcast that he was originally slotted to be one of the wrestlers in the Spirit Squad stable. Him and the rest of the group met with Vince McMahon and McMahon told them that while he knew this gimmick would be a hit, he would understand if anyone didn’t feel comfortable playing with. For anyone who didn’t think they were right for the role, they would just be sent back down to developmental (then OVW) until a new gimmick was proposed for them.
The only man to balk out of the opportunity was Burke, as he told McMahon that he didn’t want to take part in a role if he didn’t think he could live up to the Chairman’s expectations. As McMahon promised, when the five chosen members of the Spirit Squad debuted on Raw, Burke was called back down to OVW, but by the end of the year, Burke himself was called up to ECW under the gimmick of MMA cornerman to MMA fighter Sylvester Terkay before branching away from Terkay as leader of The New Breed.
4. Mark Jindrak – Evolution’s Muscle
This might fall under more of a role than a gimmick, but in either case, it certainly would have made some major changes to WWE history if Mark Jindrak was used as the muscle of Evolution instead of Batista. As many saw in the Triple H documentary, Thy Kingdom Come, Mark Jindrak was originally supposed to be the big man behind Evolution. There was even test footage filmed of Jindrak walking alongside Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Triple H; all four men looking stylin’ and profilin’. Well, at least everyone except Jindrak were. Something about Jindrak’s presence just didn’t fit with the rest of the group and everyone could tell early on. When it was determined that Jindrak couldn’t hang with the rest of the stable, all eyes turned to one Dave Batista, who was busy on SmackDown as Reverend D-Von’s Deacon Batista. In the blink of an eye, Batista was traded over to RAW and immediately associated with Flair, Orton, and Trips. Batista proved to be a better fit for the group and an all around more successful superstar whereas Jindrak would fade into obscurity within a couple years.
3. Terry Taylor – Mr. Perfect
The respective gimmicks of Red Rooster and Mr. Perfect are on such different wavelengths of quality that it isn’t even funny. Red Rooster is notorious for being a ridiculous gimmick that diminished the career of a great talent while the Mr. Perfect gimmick was as mesmerizing as Curt Hennig’s in-ring skill. If things turned out a little differently, Terry Taylor could have found himself wearing one of WWE’s best gimmicks instead of one the worst. At least that’s been the popular rumor going around for decades now. Another rumor is that Taylor was considered for the role until Hennig impressed officials in a house show match against Taylor, but nothing has been confirmed or denied.
Per the popular rumor, WWE decided to repackage the babyface Scary Terry into a new heel persona and pitched Taylor the gimmick of Mr. Perfect. For whatever reason, Taylor declined, which might explain why The Red Rooster has long been considered as a rib, a little payback on Vince McMahon’s behalf against someone who said no to him. Hennig was given the runner-up offer and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. The Berserker – The Undertaker
While not many people can recall the ill-fated career of John Nord as The Berserker, he is most infamous for trying to kill The Undertaker on national television by stabbing him with a sword. Yes, you read that right; look it up. Funnily enough, the roles of both men could have easily been reversed. At a time when The Undertaker character was still in its most early stages of development as a mere concept, WWE execs were scratching their heads in trying to figure out which wrestler would be the perfect fit for the role. One of those contenders in the running was John Nord. Ironically enough, a certain plucky red-headed giant on the come-up was considered to play a Viking, ala Berserker. In due time, WWE decided it would be best to switch things around. Mark Calaway became The Deadman while Nord became the Norse Viking with a one-word catchphrase – “HUSS!”
As for Calaway, the man behind the Deadman’s cowl, he should be grateful himself for acquiring The Undertaker gimmick as what was originally in the cards for him fit more within the lines of career suicide than even a Viking character. Yes, Calaway’s original gimmick would’ve been a true turkey… pun intended.
1. The Undertaker – Gobbledygooker
Yep, the man who would go on to hold an unparalleled WrestleMania winning streak was almost a bona fide turkey. When Mark Calaway first entered WWE’s doors, company execs were keen on putting the man on television in some capacity, but had no idea how to use him nor what his gimmick should be. There were an array of gimmicks that Calaway was considered to play. Again, one of those gimmicks was that of a Viking, but another was to put him in a turkey suit for the role of Gobbledygooker. Thankfully, WWE eventually came to their senses just in the knick of time. The Gobbledygooker wound up being played by Hector Guerrero and Calaway was given The Undertaker gimmick. Both characters would debut on WWE television at Survivor Series 1990, but it should be a no-brainer trying to figure out which of the two debuts have been more well celebrated.