The WWE Universe is a very forgiving group. If they accept you and respect you, there is no limit to what you can get away with. As long as you can provide entertainment when it counts, then chances are most fans will stand behind you until the end. The key word there is entertainment. If you aren’t entertaining, that same group of forgiving people will tear you apart, whether it’s during a show, on Twitter or the darkest parts of the IWC.
The ultimate leap of faith for a wrestler to take with fans is when they reemerge as a new character after portraying another. It’s different when you just drop a first name (we’re looking at you Cesaro), as compared to when you change your name altogether. Many times a new name signifies a new personality for the WWE Universe to adapt to, and sometimes it just doesn’t work. Other times it works so well, that we don’t even acknowledge the former personas of our favorites in the ring. That is why today we are going to look at name changes, specifically eight that worked, and eight that didn’t.
As always feel free to let us know what you think in the comments section.
16. Bombed: D-Von Dudley Becomes Reverend D-Von
Wrestling is subjective and depending on where you are, wrestling people won’t appreciate your schtick in the business. One tag team that remains a connective thread through all different genres and subgenres of wrestling is The Dudley Boyz. As one of the most decorated tag teams in wrestling history, D-Von and Bubba Ray have traveled the world winning gold in nearly every promotion. In 2002 The Dudley Boyz were split up with each member going to a separate brand; D-Von was sent to SmackDown.
Almost immediately D-Von expanded his catchphrase “Testify” into a full blown gimmick turning into Reverend D-von, and serving as Vince McMahon’s spiritual advisor. The gimmick was mildly successful and even featured Rev. D-Von pinning Triple H during a main event on SmackDown. Overall though the character didn’t have sticking power, and fizzled out only a few months after getting started.
15. Success: Issac Yankem Becomes Kane
A seven-foot dentist? Yeah, welcome back to the days of cartoony gimmicks, and every wrestler having a job. Glenn Jacobs’ job was to be a freaky looking dentist when he debuted on RAW in June of 1995. As Yankem, Jacobs enjoyed some main event success, working a major program with Bret Hart. Soon after his initial push however, Jacobs was demoted to jobber status until his brief run as fake Diesel.
In 1997 Jacobs was cast as Kane, the storyline brother of The Undertaker, and in the process cemented himself as one of the foundations of the Attitude Era. Kane’s epic entrance along with his ability to stand nose-to-nose with The Undertaker made him an instant fan favorite. Though his character has gone through a few changes, Kane is still featured on WWE television; talk about lasting power.
14. Bombed: Los Matadores Become The Shining Stars
Can going from one gimmick that bombed, to another gimmick that is bombing be considered a step up? I hope so, otherwise The Shining Stars wouldn’t be showing up on this list. Wrestling as Los Matadores from 2013 until 2016, Epico and Primo saw moderate success along with their mascot El Torito. The team, who under their former names were WWE Tag Team Champions, rarely won matches, instead serving as second fiddle to El Torito.
With their popularity declining, the WWE decided to revamp their characters in 2016 and revert the men back into their original names, but with a twist. Instead of worrying about winning matches the duo seemed more focused on selling Puerto Rican timeshares to other wrestlers. While the gimmick is still in development, it doesn’t look as if The Shining Stars will be shining too much longer.
13. Success: Husky Harris Becomes Bray Wyatt
A third generation superstar, Bray Wyatt has etched himself into the history books of the WWE by creating a character that is surrounded by mystery. Though he recently found himself as a champion (tag team) for the first time in his main roster career, Wyatt didn’t always have such high prospects in the WWE. Showing up initially as Husky Harris during the second season of NXT, The Eater of Worlds was forgettable at best.
Lasting a mere year on the main roster as part of The Nexus, Wyatt returned to the main roster after completely reinventing himself in 2012. The use of a “family”, great vignettes, and one of the best entrances since The Undertaker has made sure that Wyatt is here to stay.
12. Bombed: Cody Rhodes Becomes Stardust
You can’t say that Cody Rhodes didn’t try to get Stardust to work. I mean if you look at his work from the middle of 2014 until his departure from the company, nobody could say that Rhodes wasn’t all in on his character. The guy would stay completely dressed for press events and wouldn’t ever break character when giving interviews. Stardust even enjoyed a run as a Tag Team Champion, but it wasn’t enough to keep Rhodes happy with the WWE, as he left in the summer of 2016.
The main reason Stardust could be considered a flop is that Rhodes is absolutely on fire on the independent scene right now. His matches with Kurt Angle and Chris Hero show how much more Rhodes was capable of, the problem was that he wasn’t given the opportunities to do it, especially as Stardust.
11. Success: Jamal Becomes Umaga
As a member of 3-Minute Warning, Jamal was more akin to a thug than a traditional Samoan professional wrestler. That’s not a shot at him either, as his gimmick was to act as a hired enforcer for Eric Bischoff in 2002. He and his brother Rosey enjoyed a year-long run as a tag team before Jamal was released in 2003. Upon his return in 2005 Jamal was repackaged as Umaga and became known as The Samoan Bulldozer, smashing through his opponents for months. At the height of his run, Umaga was able to pose an actual threat to WWE Champion John Cena, a feat that only a few people have achieved in the past decade.
Who knows what Umaga could have done in the WWE if he would have stayed with the company in 2009, instead of refusing to enter rehab and as a result being fired from the company.
10. Bombed: Chavo Guerrero Becomes Kerwin White
Chavo Guerrero achieved some minor success in WWE, but his run was always one step forward, two steps back. Well, this name change put him about 10 steps back, as Chavo was changed to Kerwin White.
Chavo denounced his Mexican heritage on-screen, saying he wanted to live out the American Dream and had the catchphrase, “If it’s not White, it’s not right!” Wow, just how on earth did this gimmick escape creative meetings?
White toiled away in the lower midcard, as people didn’t know whether to be offended by the gimmick or just laugh it off.
Sadly, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo’s uncle passed away in late 2005 and the gimmick was immediately scrapped. You have to wonder how much longer the WWE would have gone with the gimmick if Guerrero was still alive.
9. Success: Spirit Squad Member Nicky Becomes Dolph Ziggler
The Spirt Squad was horrible. There are few things that could be considered redeemable about the group of cheerleaders who dominated the WWE main event scene in 2006. In fact, the only positive thing that came out of The Spirt Squad was their member Nicky; you may know him better as Dolph Ziggler. Given a true fresh start after a year back in developmental, Ziggler reemerged as a new talent rather than a former Spirt Squad member.
The former Intercontinental Champion has enjoyed a nice long career with his current gimmick, pushing 10 years as The Show Off. Ziggler was 1/5 of a Tag Team Champion with the Spirit Squad, but since leaving that nonsense behind has become the 22nd Triple Crown Champion in WWE history.
8. Bombed: Spirit Squad Member Kenny Becomes Kenny Dykstra
I guess since we just mentioned how horrible The Spirt Squad was, we should mention Bizzaro Ziggler – Kenny Dykstra. Like Dolph, Kenny started as a member of the five-person tag team but was always considered the de-facto leader of the group. After the group was killed off, Kenny was the only member to continue on the WWE main roster repackaged as Kenny Dykstra. The former WWE Tag Team Champion lasted just over a year with a WWE contract, but much of that time was spent off screen.
Dykstra made his triumphant return to the WWE in 2016, attacking former partner Dolph Ziggler and beginning another run in the company. Who knows, maybe he can prove me wrong and light the world on fire this time.
7. Success: Bradshaw Becomes JBL
Even though JBL was shoved down the throats of fans during his run as the WWE Champion, his transition from Bradshaw was successful. Sure he was hated, and nobody could figure out why he was getting such a strong push out of nowhere, but it worked. Maybe his success could be attributed to the fact that there really wasn’t anyone else around at the time, as most of the Attitude Era roster was gone by the height of his success in 2004. JBL went on to have some classics with Batista, Eddie Guerrero and famously Rey Mysterio.
Since retiring from in-ring competition, JBL still uses the gimmick that won him the WWE Championship, and his stint as Bradshaw is only mentioned when Ron Simmons comes back for a rare appearance.
6. Bombed: Mosh Becomes Beaver Cleavage
As one half of The Headbangers, Mosh seemed like a perfect fit for the WWE in the mid to late 90s. He along with tag team partner Thrasher served as tweeners who were punk rock personified, as the duo wore flannel skirts, black face paint and sports bras over top of their shirts. When Thrasher became injured in 1999, Mosh broke off on his own adopting the name Beaver Cleavage.
The character was a play on Leave it to Beaver, except littered with sexual innuendos and a sexy valet named Mrs. Cleavage. The gimmick may have been a means to an end to get Mosh to become Chaz via a worked shoot promo, but Chaz wasn’t any better than Beaver Cleavage. It was perhaps the shortest lived gimmick in WWE history.
5. Success: Mankind/Cactus Jack/Dude Love Becomes Mick Foley
This is the only case of someone actually becoming better after dropping all gimmicks. Mick Foley enjoyed mid-card success all over the world before debuting in the WWE as Mankind in 1996. As Mankind, Foley would have some classics with The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. He would go on to have an incredible feud with Triple H as Cactus Jack, and a decent run as Dude Love. But no creation of Foley enjoyed more success than…well… Mick Foley.
Think about it, you never saw any “Mankind is God” signs in the crowd, but you could guarantee a “Foley is God” sign every week on RAW. Perhaps it was the fact that as Mick Foley, he took a little piece of all of his previous characters to create an amalgam that was greater than all of the others on their own.
4. Bombed: Michael McGillicutty Becomes Curtis Axel
Much like some others on the list, Curtis Axel went from a name that bombed, to another one that did. While Joe Hennig’s current name is better than that of Michael McGillicutty (a real tongue twister) it’s still a mystery as to why the WWE hasn’t just let him take the name of Hennig.
After a run with The Nexus and a reign as a tag team champion, McGillicutty went nowhere fast, and was repackaged as Curtis Axel, a name that provided a twist on his father Curt’s name and his grandfather’s name of “The Axe”. Although Axel got Paul Heyman as a manager and a reign as IC Champion, not much changed about his character.
The only steam Axel has ever gotten was when he began calling himself “Axelmania” as a parody of Hulkamania.
3. Success: Rocky Maivia Becomes The Rock
Before becoming one of the biggest names in Hollywood, The Rock was one of the biggest names in wrestling. Beginning his career has Flex Kavana in USWA, it didn’t take long before Dwayne Johnson jumped into the big leagues of the WWE. When he did show up on WWE programming it wasn’t as Kavana, but rather as Rocky Maivia. The name was given as a tribute to Johnson’s father and grandfather; Rocky Johnson and Peter Maivia respectively. Though he started out as fan favorite, the crowds grew tired of Maivia, and started changing things like “Die, Rocky, Die”. Sensing the hate, the WWE dropped the end of his first name and his last name altogether to create The Rock. Despite how similar the two names are, the characters couldn’t have been farther apart, and The Rock would go on to be one of the greatest Superstars in wrestling history.
2. Bombed: Albert Becomes Tensai
When an entire arena is screaming “ALLLLLLLL-BEEEERRRRRTTT” during your debut, chances are your new gimmick might not get over. Despite publicly denying a return to the WWE in 2012, Matt Bloom did in fact show up on the post-WrestleMania episode of RAW as Lord Tensai. Imagine the shock of the fans who immediately recognized this Tensai fella as our old pal A-Train from the Attitude Era days. Needless to say the WWE took notice that the fans didn’t buy into the name change, and before a year back with the company, the former star of Japan was being called Fat Albert on WWE programming.
Rather than accept the fact that his Tensai character was ruined, the WWE decided to turn Bloom into a comedy act…and nobody was laughing.
1. Success: The Ringmaster Becomes Stone Cold
At this point don’t we all know the Stone Cold story? “Stunning” Steve Austin built quite a reputation for himself in WCW wrestling the likes of Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. Austin became known as a in-ring mechanic, but after a triceps injury in 1995 he was let go from WCW. While recovering from his injury, Austin was hired by ECW to film promos where he would fire shots on WCW and WWE. After getting hired by the WWE in 1996 Vince McMahon would change Austin’s name (despite the reputation he had built) to The Ringmaster. The Ringmaster didn’t talk and was escorted out by Ted DiBiase, effectively ruining any chance that Austin had of getting the gimmick over.
Austin eventually asked for a change, and was granted it in the form of Stone Cold Steve Austin. If you need me to explain anything further about Stone Cold, then you probably clicked on the wrong article.