Originality is one of the most important qualities a professional wrestler can have. The WWE Universe produces countless hours of TV each week, and there’s even more wrestling out there in the independent scene and around the globe, so it’s extremely important a wrestler somehow differentiate themselves from the thousands of others cluttering their field.
Unfortunately, not all wrestlers are as creative as others, and have thus resorted to mimicking, copying, or straight up stealing characters, gimmicks, and storylines used by other, more inventive talents who came before them. The surprising thing is that in rare instances, this practice actually works. Nine times out of ten, when a wrestler openly presents him or herself as an imitation of a bona fide legend, critics will deride them as being nowhere near as good as whoever it was that played the role first. That other 10%, however, wow critics and fans by proving that simply coming up with an idea doesn’t always mean an individual had it entirely right.
In fact, some of the absolute greatest gimmicks in wrestling history were created by barely tweaking other stars who already used basically the same character to achieve great fame. For both sides of the coin, keep reading to learn about 10 stolen gimmicks that were actually better than the original along with 10 that came off as pathetic knockoffs.
20 WORSE: “The Juice” Juventud Guerrera (Stolen From The Rock)
To kick off this half of the list on a more positive note, we’re starting with a gimmick that actually wasn’t terrible, but nonetheless was nowhere near as successful as the icon it was ripping off. Juventud Guerrera’s rapid transformation into a cocky, brash bully who called himself The Juice was pretty funny every step of the way. As far as anyone could tell, that was the point, with Juvi’s broken English making his attempts at mimicking The Great One regularly falling flat in comically awkward fashion. Of course, the downside is that one can only go so far on a gimmick that’s clearly an imitation of someone much more famous than they are, and Da Juice was never able to climb up the WCW roster the way The Rock had in WWE.
19 BETTER: Demolition (Stolen From The Road Warriors)
In contrast to a worse gimmick than the original that wasn’t necessarily, here’s a “better” gimmick than the original that didn’t exactly do anything at a higher level, yet their comparative success suggests history shined brighter on them, anyway. Enough being cryptic, as most wrestling fans already know the story of Demolition, so there’s no need to hide it. When Vince McMahon noticed The Road Warriors were one of the most popular tag teams of the 1980s, he tried to sign them, and when he couldn’t, he simply created his own in Ax and Smash. Inside the ring, the two teams were pretty much equals, which isn’t all that surprising, since dominating monsters can rarely differentiate from one another in the first place. When it comes to WWE Tag Team Championships, though, Demolition are the clear winners, long holding the record for the longest reign in company history until they were recently topped by The New Day.
18 WORSE: Every Doink the Clown After The Original
This next entry brings up a valid question about the nature of the word “stolen.” Technically speaking, though Matt Borne had no say in how the large number of wrestlers to portray Doink the Clown after him accepted the role, it wasn’t really his legal right to do so, anyway. From the beginning, Doink was a creation of Vince McMahon, and Borne simply the first man he hired to don the face paint. Once Borne started having personal issues, it was totally on the up and up for Vince to fire him and pick someone else to take his place and start clowning around. The catch, of course, is that even though the gimmick thefts were completely legitimate, absolutely none of the wrestlers to play Doink had any idea how to do so, with Borne the sole person able to figure it out. For this reason, Ray Apollo, Steve Lombardi, Steve Keirn, and anyone else to wear clown makeup in WWE looked like a fool for doing so.
17 BETTER: Samoa Joe (Stolen From Taz)
In all fairness to Samoa Joe, it has to be acknowledged that very few fans even noticed the similarities between his gimmick and that of Taz in ECW until the latter party started shouting "rip-off." Retrospectively, though, people did acknowledge they both came to the ring carrying towels, constantly appeared miserable, were slightly shorter than the average main eventer, and relied largely on a variety of suplexes to quickly break down their opponents. However, even in listing these connections, Taz was able to admit that Joe almost definitely would have become a huge success had he been the first Human Suplex Machine in the business. While Taz was only able to carve a small niche for himself in ECW before transitioning to commentary, Joe has conquered Ring of Honor, TNA, NXT, and is on his way to doing the same in the WWE Universe, all accomplishments Taz could only have dreamed of.
16 WORSE: “Black Machismo” Jay Lethal (Stolen From Randy Savage)
With all due respect to Jay Lethal, a pretty decent wrestler in his own right, absolutely no one could ever actually pull off an imitation of the iconic “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Oh, sure, they can do the voice, twirl around in circles and give fans a hearty “Ooohhhh yeah!”—which wrestling fan hasn’t tried that one in a mirror once or twice? However, to actually encapsulate everything that Savage possessed is a borderline impossible feat for any pro wrestler, as he truly was one of the greatest, most charismatic, and most unique performers in history. This isn’t to say that Lethal’s blatant imitation, a persona he called Black Machismo, wasn’t an entire bomb. Fans who witnessed the gimmick in TNA generally found it to be funny, especially when old friends of Savage were in on the joke. That said, a joke is all it was, and Lethal’s silly character would never be truly iconic like the one he was tributing.
15 BETTER: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (Stolen From Bad News Brown)
Believe it or not, the most successful and popular character of the Attitude Era actually first cropped up in the WWE Universe a solid 10 years before “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was playing the role. Granted, no one was calling Bad News Brown “stone cold,” but his entire gimmick hinged on the fact he didn’t trust anybody, was always ready for a fight, and had no true allies—all traits that were absolutely integral to Steve Austin’s later dominance over the wrestling world. Aside from the fact the times had completely a-changed between Brown’s departure and Austin’s arrival, there was also the issue that Brown was never all that great on the microphone. In contrast, Austin was arguably the best mic worker of his era, and took the basic characteristics invented in Brown’s gimmick and turned them into stuff of legends.
14 WORSE: Jack Swagger (Stolen From Kurt Angle)
It would be a bit of a stretch to claim that any “All-American athlete” style gimmick is a rip- off of another, especially considering most wrestlers boasting of this status, including Jack Swagger, can back it up with legitimate sports credentials. Swagger in particular was indeed a world-class collegiate wrestler, albeit it not quite Olympic level like Kurt Angle, a wrestler he would later go on to emulate. In addition to gold medals, one thing Swagger lacks that Angle has is charisma, the ability to convincingly portray emotions to an audience in his interviews or during his matches. While WWE tried their damndest to get past this past by pushing Swagger to become World Champion anyway, virtually no one accepted him in the role, leading to a spectacular fall from grace after the company came to their senses.
13 BETTER: Damien Sandow (Stolen From The Genius)
All of the gimmicks on this list take bits and pieces from earlier wrestlers, yet only one was so brazenly as to use a synonym in his very name. One man’s Intellectual Savior for the Masses is another man’s Genius, and although Damien Sandow wasn’t much for rhyming poetry, everything else about his brainy brawler shtick came off twice as convincing as when Lanny Poffo played a similarly learned role back in the 1980s. Of course, part of the issue here is that Poffo’s Genius character was always presented as a total joke, while Sandow actually had some opportunities for advancement. In contrast to Sandow’s long stint in the WWE main event scene, Tag Team Championship run with The Miz and time as the Money in the Bank contract holder, The Genius was a part-time manager who never came close to winning any gold. Then again, The Genius did once defeat Hulk Hogan, so maybe he was the smarter of the two after all.
12 WORSE: Ryback (Stolen From Goldberg)
Blatant though it was that some of the other items on this list were pathetic knockoffs, only one was so obvious that even casual fans mocked the performer by chanting for the person they were clearly emulating. While WWE repeatedly tried pushing “Feed Me More” as the phrase du jour for audiences to chant whenever Ryback was in the ring, most preferred to instead chant for Goldberg in the same way they had when Da Man experienced his epic 173-0 winning streak in WCW. This is because Ryback and Goldberg were virtually identical in character, motivation, and look; intense, bald-headed, gold-obsessed perfectionists who loved ripping their opponents to bits one by one. Unfortunately for Ryback, the one thing Goldberg had that he didn’t was magnetic charisma that made fans actually support his quest to dominate the wrestling universe.
11 BETTER: Eugene (Stolen From Evad Sullivan)
Only in professional wrestling could a top level storyline offend absolutely every single person to hear about it fail to be enough for promoters to realize they probably shouldn’t try it again. Another thing exclusive to the world of sports entertainment is the fact this practice could actually pay off, like it did when a Very Special Wrestler named Eugene popped up in WWE. Offensive in every sense of the word, Eugene’s gimmick suggested he was mentally challenged, always overexcited to meet his fellow wrestlers and rarely capable of understanding the weight of situations he found himself getting into. Amazingly, though, Eugene actually became pretty popular when his condition led to him mimicking other wrestlers and earning applause for it. That certainly wasn’t the case in mid ‘90s WCW when Kevin Sullivan’s mentally challenged, dyslexic brother Dave "Evad" Sullivan appeared and become the world’s biggest Hulkamaniac, as back then, Turner executives and select fans were luckily able to recognize it for the offensive mess it was.
10 WORSE: Asya (Stolen From Chyna)
Quite frankly, there really wasn’t all that much to Asya’s character aside from the fact she was blatantly based on the far more popular WWE icon Chyna. In fact, unless fans happened to be watching WCW during the brief time she was around managing Shane Douglas’s group The Revolution, there’s a good chance they don’t even know who Asya was at all. Not that there was anything to it beyond her name, of course—Asya, a big and strong woman, boasted she was bigger and stronger than Chyna, in the same way Asia was a bigger chunk of land than just China alone. Or something like that. Honestly, WCW didn’t put a whole lot of thought or effort into the ordeal, and unsurprisingly, Asya’s career in wrestling ended dead in its tracks when WCW realized this bizarre attempt at parody/theft/whatever was falling flat on its face.
9 BETTER: Sin Cara (Stolen From, Uh, Sin Cara)
Pay attention to this next one, because it’s going to get really confusing really fast. First things first, similar to the Doink the Clown scenario, it can’t really be said that Jorge Arias/Hunico was stealing the Sin Cara gimmick from Luis Urive/Mistico, as the character was always owned by their employers, WWE. That said, Mistico did indeed create the basic characteristics for the man behind the mask, as the original and sole wrestler to use the name for two full years. At that point, Hunico was introduced as a rival, “dark” Sin Cara, soon becoming the last Sin Cara standing when Mistico parted ways with WWE in 2013. Granted, the mere fact Hunico has since gone on to portray the role for twice as long as Mistico ever did doesn’t necessarily mean he’s doing it better, but it nonetheless does stand as proof of which wrestler WWE finds better suited to their needs. In this sense, Hunico is definitely the better Sin Cara, or he wouldn’t still be around to this day.
8 WORSE: Buzzkill (Stolen From Road Dogg)
Oh, you didn’t know WCW had an exact rip off of the Road Dogg during the Attitude Era? Well, hopefully, fans of the New Age Outlaws know what to do upon learning this information, although before anyone gets up in arms about it, let’s point out that there’s a good chance the D-O-Double G didn’t mind all that much. Sure, there was a slowly deteriorating wrestler from the 1980s copying his cool stoner shtick and making a mockery of it, but on the other hand, it was his own brother, Brad Armstrong. Granted, whether this makes it all okay or a whole lot worse is up for personal interpretation, yet the fact is Road Dogg didn’t seem to care all that much that his brother was being a total Buzzkill about his gimmick. He didn’t really have much reason to, either, as Brad’s take on the role was remarkably weak and he remained a complete jobber despite the character overhaul.
7 BETTER: The nWo (Stolen From New Japan Pro Wrestling)
The following announcement didn’t need to be paid for by the New World Order, because at this point, just about every wrestling fan acknowledges they completely changed the business during their reign of destruction over WCW. Slightly less common knowledge is that Eric Bischoff came up with the idea by watching a remarkably similar storyline in New Japan Pro Wrestling, featuring wrestlers from the rival Union of Wrestling Forces International invading the company and slowly “taking over” by trying to win all their top championships. While the UWFi invasion angle was successful in its own right, the nWo was the spark that briefly made WCW the top wrestling promotion in the world, briefly outranking even WWE Monday Night Raw in the ratings. The trick was mostly verisimilitude, as Japanese fans knew full well UWFi and NJPW executives were working together behind the scenes. However, the nWo mainstays were all former WWE superstars, a company that truly was at war with WCW, making them look like legitimate enemies trying to take down the company from the inside.
6 WORSE: Fake Diesel and Razor Ramon (Stolen From The Originals)
One last time, this list is going into the legal grey area that is Vince McMahon giving a gimmick he owns to a second party after the originator of the role no longer works for him. The difference between the fake versions of Diesel and Razor Ramon and Doink the Clown or Sin Cara was execution, as those latter gimmicks were able to keep going mostly because underneath a makeup or mask, it really didn’t matter who was playing them. Diesel and Razor Ramon were recognizable people with memorable faces, though, making it impossible for fans to pretend the new people playing the roles were the same as the originals. It didn’t help that Glenn Jacobs and Rick Bognar weren’t as good at them as Kevin Nash or Scott Hall were, though Jacobs at least would later go on to much bigger success as Kane.
5 BETTER: Hulk Hogan (Stolen From Superstar Billy Graham)
Call him the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour, or anything else of that nature, “Superstar” Billy Graham was arguably the most influential pro wrestler of the 1970s. While Graham only reigned as WWE Champion for nine months, that was long enough to make him the most dominant heel champion in the company for many decades, giving him plenty of time to change the face of wrestling with his tie-dyed, bombastic style. Hulk Hogan was far from the only future wrestler to take Graham’s larger than life persona and tweak it just a little bit to kick start his own legacy, but by creating Hulkamania out of the idea, he was definitely the most successful. Jesse “The Body” Venutra and “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner are two other wrestlers to take Graham’s ideas and update them for future generations, both arguably achieving greater success and notoriety than the original.
4 WORSE: The Renegade (Stolen From The Ultimate Warrior)
For the most part, while the wrestlers who stole their gimmicks from better superstars inevitably saw their careers suffer for what they had done, none of them necessarily lost any sleep over it, with one tragic exception. Some critics have even gone so far as to argue WCW played a role in Rick Wilson’s early death by offering him the role of The Renegade, a blatant rip-off of The Ultimate Warrior who briefly teamed up with Hulk Hogan and won the Television Championship. It wasn’t just that Renegade was a pretty crummy wrestler who didn’t deserve the spotlight, but fans were also disappointed because WCW basically promised the real Warrior was en route to the company only to deliver a pathetic imitation in his stead. This made fans resentful of Renegade no matter how hard he tried, getting him booed out of the building repeatedly until WCW fired him. Mere months later, he killed himself due to depression related to his release.
3 BETTER: Jerry “The King” Lawler (Stolen From “King” Bobby Shane)
Iconic thought Jerry Lawler’s turn as “The King of Professional Wrestling” has been over the forty-plus years he’s been using the gimmick, he was hardly the first wrestler to claim a royal lineage, nor would he be the last. That said, Lawler probably was the best performer to wear the crown, thanks to his incredible vocal charisma and fighting spirit inside the ring. This doesn’t change the fact Lawler didn’t come up with the gimmick himself, having designed his persona around another wrestler named “King” Bobby Shane. Not that it was straight up theft, though, as Shane had allegedly given Lawler permission to use the gimmick around the Memphis area while he was wrestling in Australia. Unfortunately, Shane died in a plane crash before he ever returned to the US, but there was as close to a plus side as possible in that this allowed Lawler to keep using the gimmick, and the rest, as they say, would be history.
2 WORSE: “The Nature Boy” Paul Lee (Stolen From Ric Flair)
With how unoriginal the independent wrestling scene is today, there’s a good chance every wrestler with bleach blonde hair and a robe has called himself “The Nature Boy” at one point or another. Aside from infinitely adaptable characters using masks or clown face paint, “The Nature Boy” is probably the most overused gimmick of all time, although there is nonetheless a pretty strong logic behind why this is. Simply put, a few “Nature Boys” have been incredible successful, mostly notably Ric Flair, who many name as one of if not the absolute greatest wrestler of all time. In stark contrast to this acclaim is a wrestler like “The Nature Boy” Paul Lee, a small-time name if there ever was one, who has never been able to find any noteworthy success outside of companies he himself owned and booked. Even so, because Flair is so hard up for cash these days, he’s actually agreed to make public appearances with the pale imitation Lee and officially endorse him as the modern day Nature Boy. With all due respect, Ric, we strongly disagree.
1 BETTER: “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair (Stolen From Buddy Rogers)
Speaking of the limousine riding, Learjet flying, kiss stealing, wheeling and dealing son of a gun who just so happens to be the greatest wrestler of all time, one aspect of Ric Flair’s legacy that sometimes gets left out of the picture is the fact he wasn’t even the first person to use “The Nature Boy” persona. As much as thirty years before Flair first stepped inside the ring, another “Nature Boy” by the name of Buddy Rogers was revolutionizing the idea of a wrestling heel, adding swagger, pomp, and circumstance to his braggadocios personality and earning the hatred of every wrestling fan in America by doing so. Rogers was absolutely iconic in his day, becoming the first wrestler to win the WWE Championship, shortly after he had already reigned as NWA Champion for the prior two years. That said, Flair’s legacy with 16+ World Championships across those two promotions and WCW tops even the iconic career of Buddy Rogers, something we can only sum up with a WOOOOO!
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