A good character can make or break a wrestler’s career. Having a gimmick that immediately clicks with the audience is extremely important to a wrestler getting over. Stone Cold Steve Austin worked because everyone could relate to the blue-collar working man who’s boss was out to get him. Hulk Hogan’s ultra patriotic hero was a beacon of hope that children could look up to and learn to train, take their vitamins, and say their prayers.
A bad gimmick, on the other hand, can ruin somebody’s reputation and even their career. There are a variety of reasons why a gimmick can be considered bad. They could be a far fetched character that is too unbelievable, like the three-quarter human one-quarter bull known as Mantuar. It could also be something overtly offensive or borderline racist, like the New Day’s original attempt as three choir-loving wrestlers who constantly smiled while shucking and jiving. Or it could simply be the wrong wrestler playing the character (see: anytime Randy Orton has been a good guy).
Here we have 20 wrestlers from the past and present who were at one point or another saddled with a terrible gimmick. Thankfully, most of the superstars on this list were eventually able to break away from the character and establish something new and much more successful before their reputations were irreversibly tarnished. But this is the internet, and we never forget the most ill-conceived roles these wrestlers have had to endear.
20 AJ Styles “Nature Boy”
Nowadays, it’s not unheard of to say that AJ Styles is the greatest professional wrestler gracing God’s Green Earth. Night after night, he puts on astounding matches with anybody they put in his way. Seriously, that dude was even able to get two solid matches out of Jinder Mahal. But let’s take look back to before Styles was living up to his “Phenomenal” nickname. Let’s look at a particular dark period in the career of the “Face that Runs the Place.” The year was 2010, TNA was trying desperately to get noticed and had hired the recently retired Ric Fliar. They thought it would be a great idea to pair up their biggest homegrown standout with the 16-time world champion. Wearing fancy robes and strutting his way to the ring, Styles began to dress and act like the Nature Boy. The biggest problem was their characters never matched. Styles didn’t excel as an ersatz Flair. He’s always been better as an incredible technician who gets the job done in the ring. Styles doesn’t “style” nor does he “profile.”
19 Kane “Christmas Creature”
Kane is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time. I like the guy so much that I was through the roof with excitement when he absolutely annihilated Finn Balor a few weeks ago. I would love for the Big Red Machine to get one final run on top as Universal Champion. Yeah, there’s something wrong with me. I understand that and I’m trying to do better. He’s seen his share of stinker gimmicks in his career, especially during his early years in the WWF when he portrayed both the deranged dentist Isaac Yankem, DDS and Fake Diesel. Since we all know about those, let’s examine a character not only worse, but one that’s seemingly been lost to the annals of time. It was December of 1992 and Kane was less than a year into the wrestling business when he debuted for the USWA as Christmas Creature, a festive yuletide monster. The Devil’s Favorite Demon was dressed as Lord Humungous meets Road Hog’s Rudolph skin from Overwatch. Before being fed to Jerry the King Lawler, the Creature debuted against Trey Keller in a squash match that showed Kane’s skills were even greener than his outfit.
18 John Cena “Juan Cena”
“Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if John Cena wrestled under a luchador mask and we called him ‘Juan Cena?’ Better try it out on a house show to make sure it works. Oh, it was garbage, unfunny, a vaguely racist? Let’s never mention it again.” That is how I like to believe the entire Juan Cena debacle went down. What makes this particularly bad is its relation to Cena’s storyline at the time. You see, Cena was embroiled in a lengthily feud with Wade Barrett and the Nexus that resulted in Cena being fired from the WWE. After John Cena gave farewell speech on Monday Night Raw, his Mexican cousin Juan wrestled at a house show later that week. Juan wore his American cousin’s wardrobe, albeit with an added purple and yellow luchador mask to really drive the point home. Realizing the gimmick was pointless and nowhere near as good as Dusty Rhode’s Midnight Rider, WWE abandoned the character, and good ol’ John Cena returned less than a week later, simultaneously destroying the character of Juan and the Nexus feud.
17 Barry Windham “The Stalker”
Barry Windham has had a storied career as a professional wrestler. The 6-foot-4, 275 pounder from Sweetwater, Texas is a former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Television Champion, two-time WWF World Tag Team Champion, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a member of the legendary Four Horsemen. He was one of the best all around wrestlers of the late 80s and early 90s. One story I’m sure he would love to never be told again, would be the time he was known simply as “The Stalker.” Dressing in camouflage with the faceprint to match and billed from simply “The Environment,” Windham would cut promos in the wild that made Skinner seem threatening. The gimmick was a dud, and left the big man mostly unnoticed. In the end, Windham failed to reclaim any semblance of his former glory. Maybe the camo worked a little too well.
16 Jim Neidhart “Who”
To say Vince McMahon’s sense of humor is dated would be an overstatement. The billionaire still believes Daffy Duck’s catchphrase “suffering succotash” is not only topical, but humorous as well. It should come to no surprise that, during the 90s Vince was on a big Abbott and Costello kick. Based on the idea of, “wouldn’t it be hilarious if we were able to do ‘Who’s on First’ during a wrestling match,” that character “Who” was born. The wrestler given the opportunity to portray such a groundbreaking character? Jim Neidhart, of course. The Anvil exchanged his classic black and pink singlet for some very yellow briefs and a generic luchador mask. The matches, which were usually squashes in his opponents favor, were only designed so that McMahon and Jerry Lawler could stumble their way through the 50-plus-year-old comedy routine. And stumble they did. The duo could hardly keep their composure while calling Who’s matches. Who’s matches? Exactly. Woof. Jobbing is easy, comedy is hard.
15 Alicia Fox “Homewrecking Wedding Planner”
Alicia Fox is one of the longest tenured women on WWE’s roster. Her career has surprisingly spanned nearly a decade. Her character has seen a lot of tweaks during her time on the main roster, most of them would be considered more bland than anything else. We would have to say it was her first gimmick that is particularly embarrassing. She first debuted as Vickie Guerrero and Edge’s wedding planner when the power couple was about to tie the knot. During the ceremony (because these things NEVER end well), Triple H had revealed that Edge was cheating on his Fiancé with Foxy. The thing that makes this iteration of Alicia’s character lame is that she was merely used as a plot device and not an actual character with depth. It wasn’t until she began having on camera meltdowns, destroying everything in her path following a loss that she began to click with the audience.
14 Luke Gallows “The Freakin’ Deacon”
I was originally intending to use tis entry to talk about the one match Luke Gallows had as the abysmal Fake Kane. The character had one truly terrible match against the real Kane and even managed to beat the Big Red Monster before the entire plot was abandoned the following evening. However, there is another, maybe even stranger character that Gallows had portrayed. Back when he was just starting out wrestling in WWE developmental system, Deep South Wrestling, Luke Gallows was known as The Freakin’ Deacon. If you thought his match as Kane was bad, imagine him with one less year of training under his belt. The character was a stark, raving lunatic who wore too much mascara, had an over-the-top horseshoe hair cut, wore tattered clothes, and carried around a spider named Willow to the ring with him. The Deacon seemed like he could have been the long lost son of Damien Demento, which is not a comparison anyone should strive for.
13 Raven “Johnny Polo”
Scott Levy has always has a great mind for the wrestling business. His stint in ECW as Raven can be considered a work of genius, which makes sense considering the jort-wearing grappler is a card carrying member of Mensa. His rivalries with Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman in the land of extreme are legendary not only for their violence, but their storytelling as well. The nihilistic, Poe-quoting, Sandman-reading (the graphic novel, not the wrestler) character came out of necessity. You see, before Levy was Raven, he was a manager in WWF known as Johnny Polo. He always had dreams of breaking out and getting recognized on a higher level, and even briefly won the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship. However, by the time he was signed to the WWF, they had no interest in him as a wrestler. He was saddled with a terrible gimmick that saw him carrying a polo mallet to the ring and dressing like a 1990s preppy fever dream. The wrestlers he managed didn’t elevate him to the upper echelon either, as the best he could get to join him were Adam Bomb and The Quebecers. Eventually, the itch to get between the ropes became too great and he would “nevermore” strictly be a manager.
12 Savio Vega “Kwang”
Wrestlers that spit mist are dope. Plain and simple. The Great Muta, Great Kabuki, Bushi, and Tajiri are all examples of how awesome the deadly art of the poison Asian mist is. What isn’t dope, is when the move is given to a Puerto Rican man posing as an Asian martial artist. But that’s how WWF audiences got their first glimpse at the man who would become Savio Vega. Given Harvey Wippleman (the poor man’s Jim Cornette) as a manager, Kwang squashed jobbers with embarrassingly terrible karate moves and a super kick that would fail to impress James Ellsworth. The strangest thing about Kwang is that, despite his short tenure, he made it onto the roster for WWF’s Raw video game. Sure, he was a hidden character for the oddly specific Sega 32x version, and his moves were just cobbled together from other superstars, but he made it into the game nonetheless. Legends like the Dynamite Kid, Paul Orndorff, and Bob Backlund have never been featured in WWE video games, but friggin’ Kwang, the overweight Puerto Rican ninja made the cut.
11 Tony Atlas “Saba Simba”
Tony Atlas has had a tremendous career as a professional wrestler. Along with being a WWE Hall of Famer, he and Rocky Johnson were the first even African Americans to hold the WWF Tag Team Championships. He was a respected worker in the ring, and had an incredible physique that lived up to his name. Unfortunately, Atlas had many issues with drugs that lead to his eventual release. He was given a second shot in the WWF in the early 90s. However, he was repackaged with the painfully racist gimmick of Saba Simba, a Ugandan warrior complete with headdress and spear. Granted, according to Atlas, the paychecks he received upon his return to the company were crucial in helping the former Tag Team Champion get his life back together. At the time, he was battling his addiction, and had been homeless for a period of time. Sure, we’re thankful that Tony was able to straighten himself out, but it didn’t have to be under the extremely racist and uncomfortable guise of Saba Simba.
10 Balls Mahoney “Xanta Klaus”
I’ve already talked about Kane’s atrocious run as Christmas Creature, but let’s take a look at another festive fighter; Xanta Klaus. Xanta was part of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation, proving that even saints have a price. The polar (nailed the pun) opposite of Kris Kringle, Xanta wore black and red, hailed from the (wait for it) South Pole, and instead of giving presents to the good girls and boys, he beat up Savio Vega. You know, opposites! I’m pretty sure he would have said “Oh, oh, oh” instead of “Ho, ho, ho” if the character ever got a chance to speak. The character was only around for a few appearances in December of 1995, which is probably the best thing about the character, as it would have been really off to see Xanta wrestling at SummerSlam. Unless that’s EXACTLY what the opposite of Santa should be doing. Thankfully, Xanta would have a much better career in ECW as the hardcore, chair-swinging freak Balls Mahoney.
9 Eric Young “Super Eric”
For over a decade, Eric Young was a mainstay in TNA, debuting for the company in 2004 and wrestling for them until 2016. During his time there, he had won every championship imaginable including the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, Global Championship, X Division Championship, and World Tag Team Championship. He even won some unimaginable titles like the World Beer Drinking Championship and was the only man to win the Knockouts Tag Team Championship. To accomplish all of these things for a company as scatterbrained as TNA means you have to be able to roll with the punches and constantly adapt. Eric Young may have been too willing to adapt. Whether it be a man scared of his own pyro, a wannabe Daniel Bryan, or the worst NWO member, Young was never afraid to reinvent himself. The worst of these characters would have to be his Hurricane rip-off known as Super Eric. Often filling in for his alter ego during matches, Super Eric would march to the ring in a supercharged manner and Hulk up all over his opponents. It was an extremely corny character that never clicked with TNA’s mindset of the time. Thankfully, Young has managed to get out of the TNA black hole and has made an “impact” in NXT.
8 Perry Saturn “Moppy”
There are times when a bad gimmick is given to a wrestler with pure intentions. Sometimes creative and the wrestler believe in a character and do everything they can in hopes that it will catch on. Other times, wrestlers are given awful gimmicks as punishments that are meant to embarrass them on television. Perry Saturn’s infatuation with a cleaning utensil falls into the latter category. After utterly battering perennial jobber Mike Bell on an episode of Metal (seriously, the clip is tough to watch), the former Radicalz member was punished by creative when they had him fall in love with a mop. Surprisingly, in a turn of events that nobody had predicted, the romance between Saturn and Moppy got over with the crowd. This caused creative to panic and use Raven to recreate the infamous wood chipper scene from Fargo. Saturn would go on to defeat Raven, but the angle was dropped faster than Mike Bell being tossed out of the ring. It just proves if creative doesn’t want you to succeed, no matter how much the crowd is enjoying it, they can pull the plug at any second.
7 Dolph Ziggler “Caddy”
Nobody ever dreams of playing second fiddle to Chavo Guerrero. Well, maybe Bam Neely, but that’s besides the point. What I’m saying is that Dolph Ziggler was always better than accompanying Chavo to the ring. Everybody remembers the Spirit Squad, but a few of you out there in Internetland might recall that “male cheerleader” wasn’t the Showoff’s first on-screen profession. No, before he was “Riff Ram Bazoo-ing” with Johnny, Kenny, Mikey, and Mitch, Nicky was acting as a caddy for Chavo Guerrero, then known as Kerwin White. He would accompany White to the ring and offer up the perfect club for the match (I guess). The duo were mainly resigned to Sunday Night Heat, where they would occasionally team up. Just as the gimmick was taking off, Chavo’s uncle Eddie died and he was back to representing the Guerrero legacy. Ziggler, who was still three years away from stealing the show, would be sent back to developmental.
6 William Regal “Real Man’s Man”
Currently, William Regal is known as the tough, but fair General Manager for NXT. He’s a rare authority figure who doesn’t talk down to every person he comes in contact with and treats wrestlers with dignity and respect. Before that, he was one of the greatest technical wrestlers to ever set foot in the squared circle. He played up his British roots as a snobby and ruthless heel to perfection. Then, there was his first stint in the WWF where he wore a construction hat and jorts, hand squeezed orange juice, and shaved outdoors. Vince McMahon must have thought it was the funniest thing in the world to make a sophisticated Brit dressed in plaid and feign a ruggedness that the former Blue Blood seemingly lacked.
Oh no, was this entire gimmick a clever nod at the classic Monty Python Lumberjack Song? Was it way smarter than I ever gave it credit for? Do I love this now? No. Stay strong Kerstetter. The Real Man’s Man is, was, and forever will be total garbage.
5 Brutus Beefcake “Ed Boulder”
It’s no surprise that Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake and Hulk Hogan were best friends. Throughout the 80s and 90s, it seemed like no matter where the Hulkster wrestled, Brutus was not far behind. We could fill an entire list of the embarrassing, stupid, pointless, gimmicks Beefcake has gone by over the years (The Booty Man, Zodiac, and The Man With No Name, just to name a few), but we’re going to go with one that is seldom talked about. That would be Ed Boulder. In the late 70s, Hogan was looking for a way to get noticed in the business and thought a tag team was the way to go. He adopted the monicker Terry Boulder and got his friend Ed Lesies to dye his hair the same peroxide blonde and become Ed Boulder. Thus, the Boulder Brothers were born. Even back then, it was clear to see Hogan had the look, the talent, and charisma that his “brother” lacked. This wouldn’t be the last time Beefcake and Hogan shared a last name. After Terry Boulder changed his name to the now iconic Hulk Hogan, Ed would follow suit and become Dizzy Hogan, desperately riding those red and yellow coattails all the way to the midcard.
4 The Sandman “Surfer”
If you’ve ever wondered how hardcore wrestling icon The Sandman got his name, you’ve come to the right place. No, it’s not because he daily binge drinks enough Budweiser to knock himself out. You see, back in the day, ol’ Sandy fancied himself to be quite the surfer. A real sand man. Homeboy would wrestle in a bright orange and purple wetsuit and even carry a full-sized surf board to the ring, looking like the Dynamic Dudes’ aquatic neighbor. To really drive the point home, his theme song was “Surfin’ U.S.A.” by the Beach Boys, a far cry from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Eventually, at the suggestion of ECW owner Todd Gordon, Sandman would begin to act more like himself. He started chugging beers and chain smoking cigarettes on his way to the ring, developing one of the greatest entrances in the history of wrestling. I’m not sure his liver thanks him for the change, but ECW fans like myself sure do.
3 Bobby Roode “‘Total’ Lee Awesome”
Granted, this is more of an embarrassing name than it is embarrassing gimmick. But, oh god, it may be the worst wrestling name of all time. It’s a terrible pun. “Total” Lee Awesome. Its’ like he saw Justin Credible and said, “I can do worse than that.” Thankfully, he wouldn’t keep the name that would make a second grader creating a wrestler go, “try harder” much longer and would soon be known as Robert Roode. Which is is real name! Why wouldn’t he just use that in the first place? It’s a perfect wrestling name. It’d be like if my real name was Rodney Diesel but I went by “Very” Rad Ickle. Talk about a glorious upgrade. Oh, and to make things even better/worse, his debut match was against another wrestler with a punny name almost as bad as “Total” Lee Awesome. Pete Rock. Get it? Like peat rock? Ugh.
2 Natalya “Farting Nattie”
In the past, I have talked about Vince McMahon’s obsession with fart humor. Nothing seems to make the owner of the WWE laugher harder than a good old fashioned passing of gas. Outside of Bastion Booger, it is pretty surprising that there had never been a character who’s main trait was farting. Enter: Natalya. The Queen of Harts had already been on the main WWE roster for three years before she adopted the persona of gassy lady. This was after she had managed the Hart Dynasty to tag team gold and even won the Divas Championship herself. This was before the Women’s Revolution, when ringwork wasn’t a top priority when it came to ladies wrestling. For some reason, the company decided one of the best female wrestlers they have ever had was better off tooting backstage. Soon, Nattie would find herself teaming up with the Great Khali and Hornswoggle, forming some sort of Oddities Lite stable that didn’t do anybody any favors. Natalya’s career wouldn’t really recover until 2017 when she captured the Smackdown Women’s Championship, successfully leaving her past persona blowing in the wind.
1 Booker T “G.I. Bro”
Right before WCW’s demise, Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff promised to shine a light on wrestlers who had been overlooked. They saw Booker T as somebody who had the skills to become a main event player but was never given the ball. So what was their first plan for the former Harlem Heat member? Put him in a stable with fake military personal and give them punny names like Lieutenant Loco, Corporal Cajun, and (of course) General Hugh G. Rection. During this stint, Booker had the dishonor of being rebranding G.I. Bro. Interestingly enough, this wasn’t Booker’s first or last attempt in getting the character of G.I. Bro over. G.I. Bro was actually the very first character Booker portrayed in wrestling when he debuted for Ivan Putski’s Western Wrestling Alliance. He would go on to revive the character in 2015, but this time in comic book form! If you ever wanted to see what would happen if Booker T was a special forces agent be sure to check out the graphic novel that claims to have “Five times the action!”