Wrestling is a derivative industry, and has been for some time now. Fans constantly see similarities in the storylines, characters and angles, yet are willing to continue to consume the product if they are executed well enough. It’s an entertainment-based business after all, and most people don’t care if their entertainment is based off of a past idea, so long as they feel they’re getting their money’s worth. Just like most anything else in the industry, wrestling gimmicks have been slightly altered and reused for decades now, and it’s yielded both memorable and terrible results over the years.
Some of these ripoffs are obvious, and others are more cleverly concealed, but either way, they are all based on a gimmick of the past. Whether it made or broke the career of the wrestler in question, it’s something that will always be a part of the business. Let’s take a look at some of the best and worst gimmicks that have been poached from other wrestlers over the years. The outcomes vary from disasters to massive successes, so let’s see which ones prevailed and why.
Ranked below are 10 stolen wrestling gimmicks that totally failed, and 10 that surprisingly worked.
20. Failed: Cody Rhodes (Stolen From Goldust)
The connection between Rhodes and Goldust is obvious enough, but there’s still no reason why he should have been placed with such a comedic and laughable gimmick this early in his career. Indeed, Stardust could have been a career-killer for Rhodes, although thankfully that didn’t turn out to be the case.
What did end up happening, was prompting Rhodes to request his release from WWE in 2015. It’s not difficult to see why. A second-rate Goldust wasn’t going to elevate his career beyond it’s current standing, and it was embarrassing to boot for someone who was an overall talented in-ring wrestler. Better days were ahead for Rhodes as he’s gotten his footing back on the Indy circuit and in Japan.
19. Worked: Samoa Joe (Stolen From Taz)
While not an obvious ripoff, the similarities in the two characters are striking once you put it together. Both wrestlers have similarly bulky physiques, have a similar in-ring style, place a lot of their demeanor on the intense side of the aisle, and utilize towels in their ring entrances. Placed side by side, there’s a lot in common to notice between them.
Taz was one of the foremost stars of the original ECW, while Joe has gone on to succeed all over the world in a bevy of promotions. Both are some of the best wrestlers of their time, and both have been similarly undervalued during their time in WWE. All in all, this was a borrowing of character that wasn’t so obvious as to invalidate Joe from the beginning.
18. Failed: The Mexicools (Stolen From The Filthy Animals)
In one of the most ill-fated attempts at a gimmick in the last 20 years for WWE, the Mexicools was a horrible idea from the beginning. It was made worse by the fact that each of the three members in the stable–Super Crazy, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera–were all talented in-ring wrestlers. Unfortunately, they were made to look like a joke by portraying every stereotype of Mexican-Americans, and turning them into a mid-card comedy act.
The Filthy Animals did this kind of thing far better in WCW, and while that stable wasn’t booked correctly at times either, at least they were able to avoid the pitfalls of being labeled a joke inherently. The Mexicools experiment didn’t last long, and thankfully the idea was scrapped after a few years.
17. Worked: Val Venis (Stolen From Rick Rude)
Venis was able to parlay his adult film entertainer gimmick into a WWE career that actually included some notable title wins, including a run with the Intercontinental belt on numerous occasions. It would have been very easy for him not to elevate the gimmick, and simply play the comedy role, but he instead was able to see some level of success, even though many others wouldn’t have in the same situation.
The character was heavily borrowed from the one that Rude played for his entire career, with the emphasis on raunch and sex appeal first and foremost. Rude may have had more career success overall between his time in WCW and WWE, but Venis was able to play a significant role for WWE in their most popular era, which has to count for something.
16. Failed: The Ascension (Stolen From The Road Warriors)
The trick with being derivative in wrestling to conceal the influences just enough so that it isn’t an outright copy of a past gimmick. This is something that wasn’t applied to The Ascension when they got to the main roster. They essentially took the look from The Road Warriors wholesale, and basically altered minute details of it, but the end result ended up looking like the exact same ring attire and mannerisms.
It was a bad idea from the start. To copy the most influential tag team in wrestling history isn’t going to go over well from the start, but to use the same color scheme and demeanor was only going to make it worse. WWE also did a horrible job of selling the idea, and basically buried the push on their own. Whatever they were trying to accomplish with The Ascension, it failed miserably.
15. Worked: Jay Lethal (Stolen From Randy Savage)
This idea could have easily fallen flat on its face, but somehow, the natural charisma of Lethal made this “Macho Man” impersonation a rousing success, and elevated his career almost overnight. It became one of the biggest topics in the wrestling world, and it helped garner a new following for Lethal, and served as a springboard for the rest of his career thereafter.
Of cours, nobody could possibly play the “Macho Man” character in its full scope like Savage could, but Lethal’s version of it was done with enough tongue-in-cheek bravado, that you couldn’t help but love it. It was actually one of the better ideas TNA had around that time in the mid-2000s, and it gave Lethal a new spark to his career.
14. Failed: The Renegade (Stolen From The Ultimate Warrior)
A clear-cut wholesale ripoff of The Ultimate Warrior to be used in the then-Hulk Hogan-controlled version of WCW, Rick Wilson, aka The Renegade, never had a chance to succeed because the first anybody saw of him was a wholesale knockoff. He won the T.V. Title in WCW, but only because he was going to work an angle with Hogan. The whole idea was just absolutely horrible, and embodied the wrestle-crap that permeated throughout WCW at the time in 1995.
The Ultimate Warrior wasn’t a great wrestler, but to deny his influence and drawing-power would be ridiculous. The Renegade was a lightweight version of it, and after his initial debut, wasn’t of interest to anyone in the wrestling world at all. Sadly, he would commit suicide after being released from his WCW contract in 1999.
13. Worked: Damien Sandow (Stolen From The Genius)
Sandow never was able to achieve as much in WWE as many thought he should have, but his application of “The Genius” gimmick was well-timed and certainly entertaining. Of course, Lanny Poffo (brother of Randy Savage) portrayed it in the late-’80s for the company, but that isn’t a name that most younger fans are going to remember, as he never had a title run with the company (he was mostly a glorified jobber and manager), and his tenure was fairly short.
So while Sandow’s gimmick during the time in question was derivative to the max, it also wasn’t ripping off anything that was a significant storyline for a pronounced amount of time. Sandow was never really used properly in WWE, and he was a great overall talent, but this was at least a character that was unique for the company in the modern era.
12. Failed: The Smoking Gunns (Stolen From The Southern Boys)
Cowboy gimmicks have always been a staple wrestling gimmick, and there arguably have been more retreads of it in history than any other idea. Around the mid-’90s, The Southern Boys were a popular duo in WCW, and WWE tried to counter with the pairing of Billy and Bart Gunn as The Smoking Gunns. Obviously, the former would go on to greater success in The New Age Outlaws, while the latter is best known for getting knocked out by Butterbean at WrestleMania.
The Gunns won several Tag Titles in WWE, but it mostly came in a tag division that was limping into The Attitude Era. The gimmick was too derivative of every other face cowboys gimmick ever (The Southern Boys are just the most notable example), and both wrestlers (well, Billy at least) would be put to better use later on.
11. Worked: nWo (Stolen From New Japan)
The initial principle of the formation of the New World Order was that it was a separate entity from WCW, and that they were essentially invading the company. What kickstarted the most popular era for wresting in the history of the business, had actually already been down in NJPW, along with UWF, which was playing the invading promotion. It was done in 1995, about a year before the nWo kicked off in the United States.
Many believe that Eric Bischoff took direct influence from this for the idea of the nWo. It wouldn’t be surprising, given his awareness of Japanese wrestling. While the presentation of the nWo was certainly all its own, and the star-power of Hogan, Hall and Nash was far greater, the core idea around the storyline was already being put to use. Needless to say, this was an idea that was well worth implementing into the American wrestling scene.
10. Failed: Chris Masters (Stolen From Lex Luger)
Other than their haircuts, you couldn’t draw a more consistent parallel between Masters and early-era Luger. Ripped physiques, limited wrestling talent, and a smugness about them that carried them more than any other factor. Of course, both were pursued by WWE because of their look, and both were never able to carry the company in the way that was expected.
In fairness to Luger, he was definitively better than Masters, who couldn’t draw a dime, and hardly ever had a memorable angle attached to him in multiple stints with the company. He was never able to get over, and soon became more boring than anything else.
9. Worked: Demolition (Stolen From The Road Warriors)
The only Road Warriors ripoff to actually have legs of its own, the secret to Demolition’s success was changing the color scheme of the ring attire, and having enough of their own personality to cover up the fact that they were a direct offshoot. There was no hotter tag team in WWE in the late-’80s than Ax and Smash, and if needed they were able to carry the entire division.
Of course, it had a short shelf life compared to the original Road Warriors, and certainly diminished when the Road Warriors actually came over to WWE, but it’s hard to argue that this wasn’t a retread that was pulled off perfectly. Demolition were able to carve out a unique role for themselves, while simultaneously being inspired directly by The Road Warriors. One of the better WWE executions of the late-’80s.
8. Failed: The Headshrinkers (Stolen From The Wild Samoans)
Being real-life relatives of the Samoans gave the Headshrinkers an obvious tag team to model, and they did so full-out. They were pretty much an updated version of the former WWE Tag Champions, only much less effective in their delivery, and less influential. The Samoans were one of the teams that put WWE on the map in the early-80s, and were the most out of control tag team of their time.
In contrast, the Headshrinkers toiled away in a so-so (at best) tag division during the mid-’90s. They were raw in the ring, and the hallmarks of their act had already been done years before. There just wasn’t much intrigue surrounding them. Fortunately, Fatu would be put to better use later as Rikishi, but at the time he was just a garden-variety tag wrestler stuck on a boring team.
7. Worked: Tajiri (Stolen From Mr. Fuji)
Some younger fans may not realize that before he became a manager, Mr. Fuji was one of the most accomplished tag wrestlers in the world. Years later, Tajiri would borrow many aspects from his original act. The green mist was equivalent to the salt-to-the-eyes, both based their offense on quick strikes, particularly kicks, and both portrayed a traditional Japanese image.
Tajiri overcame the odds to become an unlikely fan-favorite in the 2000s. He was a unique departure from most of the rest of the roster at the time, and the contrast worked quite well. His character certainly had his own unique spin on it, but he took enough from the Fuji character of the ’70s and ’80s to pay clear homage to it along the way.
6. Failed: Ahmed Johnson (Stolen From Bad News Brown)
The similarities between Johnson and Brown were obvious. Both African-American wrestlers were portrayed as loners who didn’t want to form alliances with anyone, regardless of whether they were a heel or a face. Both had a similar in-ring style, and demeanor in promos. It’s not as obvious at the time it happened, but in retrospect there was clearly a connection there.
Additionally, both also received glimpses of a major push, but it never ended up materializing. Johnson had won stint with the Intercontinental Title, but beyond that, the hardware between the two was lacking. There were plans for Johnson to become a top-flight star with the company, but he was never able to get over.
5. Worked: Hulk Hogan (Stolen From “Superstar” Billy Graham)
One of the two most notorious wholesale ripoffs of characters in wrestling history, this one paid huge dividends for Vince McMahon. As we all know, “Hulkamania” pretty much jumpstarted WWE into being an international phenomenon, and Hogan’s ability to portray such a character proved to be invaluable. He was a limited talent all things considered, but what he could do, he was able to execute very well.
Graham himself was a main-event star in the ’70s, but the appeal of WWE at the time was far more narrow than it would be roughly a decade later. Still, he laid the blueprint for success that Hogan would eventually copy, and for that he earned his place as an all-time great.
4. Failed: Mordecai (Stolen From Gangrel)
WWE tried to elevate Kevin Fertig (aka Mordecai/Kevin Thorn) so many times, and he consistently proved just how much of a mediocre talent that he was. To those reading between the lines, the Mordecai gimmick was heavily based on Gangrel from the late-’90s. With vampiric and gothic imagery at the forefront, it was a step or two away from being a complete ripoff of it.
The only problem was that Mordecai didn’t have The Brood backing him, nor did he have the talent that even Gangrel did during that time. It was clear that WWE wanted to make this a major push, but it just wasn’t getting over, and the gimmick lasted less than a year in total. Fertig would go on to vary his vampire gimmick over the next several years, but it never amounted into the success that management was looking for.
3. Worked: Rusev (Stolen From Nikolai Volkoff)
Rusev is by far the most “throwback” type character on the main roster at the moment, and he’s poached most of his character from the likes of Volkoff, and other heel-characters from the ’80s. It’s a tried-and-true formula, and WWE was extremely smart to bring it back in an era where it isn’t the norm. It presents a very nice contrast to the rest of the roster, and doesn’t come off like total shlock.
While Rusev has fluctuated over the years in terms of his importance to the company, he’s still been involved in numerous successful title runs and angles, so overall his time with the company has been a success. WWE may have borrowed from the past heavily on this one, but the timing of it was perfect.
2. Failed: Ryback (Stolen From Goldberg)
While it can pay huge dividends in the right situation, the “unstoppable monster” gimmick is only going to work with somebody that can pull it off effortlessly, and Ryback simply wasn’t that guy. He’s probably the worst Intercontinental Champion in recent WWE history, and just about everything was borrowed from Goldberg’s WCW character; the “more machine than man” display, the winning streak, the electrifying entrance.
The only difference was that there was none of the magic captured in Ryback’s WWE version of it. Some of that of course had to do with the fact that professional wrestling was at its apex when Goldberg made his debut, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that Ryback simply isn’t very good or convincing at what he does. And that’s been proven on the indy scene after his departure from WWE.
1. Worked: Ric Flair (Stolen From Buddy Rodgers)
The most well-executed stolen gimmick of all-time goes to Flair, who took the entire base of the Rodgers character, right down to “The Nature Boy” nickname. Of course, in the regional days of wrestling, which Rodgers participated in, not everyone was aware of him, so it made the taking of his gimmick less conspicuous than it would be otherwise.
But Flair put it to good use, and eventually he instituted his own character on top of the base character, making it better than it ever could have been in the hands of someone else. The catchphrases, hallmark moves, demeanor and attitude was a perfect mix of the character that Rodgers portrayed, and Flair’s own ingenuity on top of it.
It paid off, seeing Flair become one of the top draws in the history of the business. It was proof-positive that applying another wrestler’s gimmick can pay off mightily if it’s done correctly, with just enough well-placed originality.
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