The landscape of professional wrestling is filled with decades upon decades of great characters and amazing moments. But it is also wrought with a number of gimmicks that fell flat with the fans or were just plain stupid. To this day, it is nowhere an exact science to figure out what makes a Stone Cold Steve Austin work and a Roman Reigns flop.
It's astounding to think of the number of gimmicks that came and went, despite how ridiculous they were at the time, which are still thought of with a sense of nostalgia and some level of adoratiom. What if we aren't looking back in misplaced fondness, what if we're just looking back at what might have been? What if the stars on this list somehow found a way to make their gimmicks work better than they did?
Whether it was bad booking, bad writing, or the wrong character fit for a wrestler, all of these gimmicks had something to them and could have grown legs had they been given an opportunity to shine. The following gimmicks all could have been something had the right stars aligned, but sadly they didn't.
20 Papa Shango
The Godfather (Charles Wright) might be the newest addition to the Hall of Fame, but one his earliest characters was more or less DOA. As Papa Shango, Wright was supposed to be a fearsome Voodoo priest who would supposedly cast spells on his opponents and strike fear into the hearts and souls of everyone in the WWE. While dark and evil gimmicks usually got over easily in the 90s, for some reason Shango wasn't well received. Couple that with a botched WrestleMania VIII run–in along with a feud with The Ultimate Warrior that went nowhere and you have a great idea for a gimmick that never gained traction.
19 The Goon
Who doesn't love a good a hockey fight? That was the entire basis of the Goon character – a crazed ex–hockey player who was booted from hockey leagues and now exacts his vengeance about being exiled by bashing the heck out of his opponents in the ring. That could have been a good idea in theory, but this gimmick was bestowed upon the wrong wrestler. Wild Bill Irwin, a member of the old World Class roster, was always more of a cowboy than a broad street bully and the character never lived up to its full potential.
Look, we're not trying to condone this offensive gimmick, but had they removed that tasteless twist, this is a character that could've worked. Firstly, Nick Dinsmore was a very accomplished hand with an interesting look. The guy wasn't going to win any points in the looks department. Secondly, one of his abilities was that he knew everyone's move sets. Essentially the Shang Tsung of the WWE, Eugene could've been more if he was just billed as a super fan who could use wrestler's own moves against them.
17 Max Moon
It's time to go back to the future with the savior of the future, Max Moon! In 1992, the WWE had a coup of a signing when the brought in rising Mexican star, Konnan. But instead of capitalizing on the future legend’s then-rising popularity, he was given a gimmick Vince McMahon had a lot of money invested in. With a futuristic look paired with Konnan’s lucha skill set, the gimmick could have been something memorable in the 90s but Konnan's reported bad attitude backstage, along with his rising star in Mexico, saw Konnan leave the company and the gimmick was then bestowed upon the capable but not charismatic Paul Diamond. The gimmick was dropped shortly thereafter.
16 The Spirit Squad
Back in 2005, WWE had an idea to bring up developmental guys as one big annoying but capable heel group–Kenny, Johnny, Mitch, Nicky, and Mikey–The Spirit Squad. Brought in fairly hot, they won the tag team titles and used The Freebird Rule to defend them. They also were disciples of Vince McMahon and used as his lackeys in his feud with DX. Afterwards, they should have stayed a group and dropped some of the male cheerleader bits to light the tag team scene ablaze with all kinds of different tag team combinations. Think of New Day, but with five members instead of three. However, instead of reigniting the tag team division, they were treated as a joke and all five were shipped back to OVW. Nowadays, only Nicky is still with the company as The Showoff, Dolph Ziggler.
15 The Boogeyman
Like many darker gimmicks (Undertaker, Raven, etc), The Boogeyman instantly captivated fans. But unlike the classic demonic characters of yesteryear, The Boogeyman was never taken terribly seriously. Instead of being fearsome and frightening –Vince saw more of a comedy character. A guy who would eat worms, bite off fake birthmarks, and parade around the ring with a mini–Boogey. While the bit never took off the way it could have, the man behind the face paint must’ve done something right, as he’s currently signed to a legends contract.
14 The Ringmaster
A master technician who is ice cold in the ring and precise with his precision to attack parts of the body and dismantle his opponents – doesn't that sound like Dean Malenko? But alas, the WWE would be without The Man of 1000 Holds for a few more years. We all know that the future Stone Cold Steve Austin wasn't cut out for this type of character, but it was a perfect fit for a guy like Malenko. Luckily, Malenko was still several years away from making his WWE debut, which meant the gimmick would go to Austin who would eventually convince the higher ups that he was suited for something different. Thank God they listened.
13 The American Males
If there was ever a gimmick tailor made for a WWE audience, it was The American Males. Marcus Alexander Bagwell and Scotty Riggs were two pretty boys that were evocative of early nineties teen idols Jason Priestly and Luke Perry, had the babyface love given to other pretty boy teams like The Rockers and had the chiseled look that Vince McMahon loves. Sadly for the Males, they were part of WCW, which meant they would be going nowhere fast.
12 The Blue Blazer
Before you go and think–“wait a minute, Owen Hart was one of the greatest,” it’s the Blue Blazer gimmick that he started with that should have gone down as legendary, revolutionary, and years ahead of its time. Watch Owen in his early Stampede days and you’ll understand the full scope of how little he was allowed to flourish in his early days in the WWE. His match with Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania V could have been one of the greatest matches in history, considering what Owen was capable of. For whatever reason, The Blazer was limited to basics, when instead he could have been showcased as the precursor to the Cruiserweight and lucha libre explosion.
In 2004, vignettes started airing on Smackdown for a religious zealot named Mordecai, who was seeking to rid the WWE from any and all kinds of sinners. Dressed in all white, it seemed as if he would an analog to The Undertaker and that a gritty evil vs. evil program between the two loomed on the horizon. But after a few brief showings and his first loss at the hands of Rey Mysterio, Mordecai was sent back down to developmental. Some fans felt that he should have been given some more time to grow since the character was a good idea, but the brass felt differently and had soured on him.
10 Jeff Jarrett ("Ain't I Great?")
Double J started with a poor country singer gimmick and when that fizzled out (as it should have), he was repackaged slightly and paired with Jim Cornette during the short-lived NWA invasion. He got a little rougher, a little tougher and showed how great he could be. Even though he was an underrated Attitude Era star, Jarrett's new character was not edgy enough and he wasn't able to crack the glass ceiling. But for those of us with WWE Network access, we can relive the Attitude Era moments of Jeff Jarrett and see how underrated he was at the time, just saddled with silly gimmicks and his own ego.
Similar to Rhe Blue Blazer, the WWE had a real shot at having a legitimate Cruiserweight division and had all of the stalwart WCW Cruiserweights at their employ. Sadly they weren't used correctly, as Juventud, Pyscosis, and Super Crazy were a walking stereotype complete with their own lawnmower. The trio would complain about the lack of real Cruisers and had some fan support, based entirely on their talents. Unfortunately, backstage drama led to Juvi's release and the other two were split up shortly after. The group might have gone far had Juvi - the group's star - not gotten himself future endeavored and had WWE not made their gimmick overly offensive.
8 Kevin Thorn
Kevin Fertig makes the list again. After Mordecai didn't work out so well, he had head back down to developmental. A few years later, he would reemerge in the WWE's ECW as the vampire, Kevin Thorn. Perhaps under another wrestler's care, the gimmick could have worked in a different era, as he looked cool and was seconded by the zombie-hot Ariel, but fans in 2006 weren't looking for outlandish characters. Couple that with the fact that Gangrel already tried to get the vampire bit over a few years prior and this gimmick was over before it started.
7 Rico Constantino
Since wrestling's earliest days, there have been characters like Rico Constantino, the tough, albeit slightly feminine or androgynous acting wrestler. Names like Goldust, Gorgeous George, and Adrian Street come to mind. At first, Rico was pushed hard in this vein. Sadly, after the disaster known as Billy and Chuck, he briefly managed 3 Minute Warning and teamed up with Charlie Haas. Constantino, who was a legit tough guy, was left in the cold. He became a victim of "creative has nothing for you" and WWE going PG.
6 Waylon Mercy
We are down to the part of the list that could be totally interchangeable with one another. Each gimmick from this point could have easily been the number one entry on this list. First up, Waylon Mercy. In an effort to create their own character, Vince McMahon took a pretty decent mid-carder, Dangerous Danny Spivey, and bestowed on him the character of Waylon Mercy. Part Max Cady (from Cape Fear), part Spivey and totally frightening, Spivey had to retire due to injuries and wasn't able to see how far the gimmick could have gone, though it wasn't fully getting over at the time. Unlike the rest of the magnificent seven here, there is proof Mercy was way ahead of his time and could have gotten over. Look no further than Bray Wyatt, the spiritual successor to the gimmick.
5 The Hurricane
Speaking of gimmicks being ahead of their time - stand back! There's a Hurricane coming through. Gregory Shane Helms became a comical sensation as the WWE's resident superhero debuting the gimmick in 2001, several years before the big superhero flick boom. In theory, the company could have treated a guy with Helms' skill set a little more seriously and push him towards the upper midcard. With the new craze of superheroes, they could've marketed this like crazy to today's kids and made big money through merchandise. Chalk this one up to timing.
4 Doink the Clown
Although performing at the very first WrestleMania, it would be years later until Matt Osborne would find his niche as the evil clown, Doink. An accomplished wrestler, Osborne was able to have great matches with anyone (Bret Hart at SummerSlam 92, Crush at WrestleMania IX come to mind), but when coupled with the gimmick, he took off. Being over as a heel, the powers that be decided to try Doink being a face. But despite its carny roots, wrestling is no place for good-hearted do-gooder clowns and Borne, along with the gimmick, were quickly shooed out of the company.
The award for the longest-running preview of a gimmick goes to Glacier. The infamous Blood Runs Cold vignettes starting airing in mid-1996, but then the nWo came and the Mortal Kombat inspired character went on the back burner for almost a year and a half. One would think with the money spent on the creation and execution of the character, that WCW wouldn't just abandon the idea so fast. But after debuting Mortis and Wrath to feud with the guy, it was clear that WCW had no idea what to do with a character that was meant for a lot more, while the nWo had overtaken everything in the company. At the time, this kind of chracter could'e done much more... instead of just feuding with similar looking guys.
2 Alex Riley
The WWE dropped the ball big time with The Varsity Villain, Alex Riley. When he eventually turned on The Miz, the crowd popped huge and he rode the wave for a few weeks before falling victim to creative, which has happened to a lot of guys over the years. Riley was different though, as he was part of a hot act and angle and his face turn actually meant something. Instead of seeing how far it could go, the brass would start jobbing Riley out. He would eventually settle in as an analyst for NXT and a good one at that. Wanting to get back in the ring, he began a campaign to do just that, but with all of the talent already in NXT, Riley often gets lost in the shuffle.
1 Damien Sandow / Mizdow
While The Intellectual Man gimmick could have gotten over like gangbusters if Vince allowed it to blossom, Damien Sandow was saddled with the thankless job of being Miz's stunt–double. But Sandow being the performer he is, got the bit over big time and in the process made the once relevant Miz mean something again. In both iterations of his character, the crowds were behind Sandow. Sadly, WWE booking doesn’t seem to know how to capitalize on him. He was hot when he cashed in Money in the Bank on John Cena, but instead of seeing how far Sandow could go, he lost and became a joke. After breaking from Miz, Mizdow would become Macho Mandow, but the guy is far more talented than a comedy act.
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