Professional wrestlers go through a lot of changes over the course of their careers. Some might never change their in-ring style, but can go from being jobbers to main event level talent simply by tweaking their personas, gimmicks or characters; whichever one prefers to call them. Many of these wrestlers had to go through some truly awful gimmicks to get to the top, or found themselves being repackaged to bad ones on the downslope of their fame. It seems as though every star on the roster had to start out with some pretty embarrassing gimmicks. This is a way to sort of "pay their dues" in the wrestling world.
Most of these wrestlers look back on some of these gimmicks and cringe. There are even bad gimmicks that main event stars look back on fondly. Booker T enjoyed his run as G.I. Bro as it was an homage to his father. John Cena only dropped his Professor of Thuganomics gimmick since the WWE was going to a more PG-friendly era. Hell, even Sting said that he loved Surfer Sting and would have brought him back.
Those stories are pretty rare, though. Today, we focus on some of the wrestlers that either have been or still are in the main event scene and look back at their old gimmicks that didn’t stick with fans. We’ll also hear what they had to say about those gimmicks in some pretty telling stories, a lot of which involve Vince McMahon.
15 Braun Strowman: A Rosebud
“The monster among men” had NFL aspirations early in life, but ended up becoming a professional strongman. In 2013, he started training with the WWE. He was cutting his teeth during dark matches under the name Braun Strowman, while also handling whatever gimmick he was given. One of those short lived gimmicks was part of Adam Rose’s posse known as the Rosebuds.
Adam Rose said that Strowman was actually the “Rosebud General, (because) he used to control the others and I still remember one day (he said) ‘Everyone listen up! This is about Mr. Rose, this is not about you!’” Apparently when Vince McMahon first saw him, he gave Triple H a bewildered look. Clearly a man of that size needed to be in the main event picture.
14 Enzo Amore: Himself
Many people would argue that there’s nobody that can cut a better promo these days than Enzo Amore. With all of his catchphrases, almost all of the members of the audience like to play along with him. Things weren’t like that to start with however. Amore didn’t have any professional wrestling experience before debuting with NXT. Upon his debut, Enzo had a completely different look and everything he said fell flat with the crowd.
People were just sort of shaking their heads, not thinking that he could ever be taken seriously. Soon into his career, Amore would be teamed up with Big Cass, giving him some legitimacy and the gimmick would eventually get over. As a solo competitor at first, he looked completely lost. His character hasn’t changed much, but some small changes have made him a huge star in the WWE.
13 Dean Ambrose: Johnny Moxley
Dean Ambrose is the lovable lunatic that’s billed in the WWE as being borderline psychotic with a sense of humour. What some might not know is that when he was coming up as a professional wrestler, there was nothing borderline about his lunacy. Back then, he was known as Johnny Moxley, and he had to grind his way through the hardcore match scene before dialling it back about 13 notches on the big stage.
Why would anyone suggest themselves to such torture like that? Regardless of the reason, it all worked out for Dean Ambrose. After joining The Shield he achieved superstardom. Although he is in a sort of limbo right now, fans still pop every time they hear his entrance music.
12 A.J. Styles: New Nature Boy
Many regard A.J. Styles as the best in the business today, especially after all of his work with the WWE, TNA, NJPW and pretty much everywhere else that you can imagine. People had always seen glimpses of greatness in “The face that runs the place.” So much so, in fact, that Styles was once given the gimmick as being “the New Nature Boy” by Ric Flair himself while with TNA.
The gimmick completely fell flat, and was easily the worst one that Styles ever had to take on. Styles has said the the gimmick really didn't fit his personality. While he of course had immense respect for Flair, he wasn't very fond of the gimmick. Luckily he was able to carve out his own path.
11 Seth Rollins: Devil
Far back in time, before he was the architect or the king slayer, Seth Rollins was still a nobody. Before his days in ROH as Tyler Black and an eventual member of The Shield, Rollins had to cut his teeth in the independent promotions. With that said, the gimmick shown above stands out as a very embarrassing one.
Looking more like a halloween costume than an actual wrestling gimmick, this was clearly early in his career. The fact that he could find any success after a gimmick like this is a testament to his incredible skill. He has definitely come a long way since then. Judging by his overall success, I think it is safe to say he exercised his "demons".
10 Alexa Bliss: Fairy Princess
Alexa Bliss has been one of the most dominant heels in the women’s division on Monday Night Raw, but played a much more light hearted character upon debuting in NXT. She’s short, she’s nice, she’s blonde and she’s pretty, so naturally she was given a “fairy princess” gimmick as a babyface. When she first came out, Bliss was dressed in all blue and started blowing pixie dust to unsuspecting and confused audience members.
Bliss had been described as a Tinkerbell-esque character, but it wasn’t getting over the way that she wanted it to. “I had to make a character change,” she said. “I wasn’t confident in myself about that at all.” To turn heel, Bliss copied what a misbehaving child did at an airport and started acting like the mean queens that she remembered from high school. The transition worked, and now she’s at the top of the division.
9 Bray Wyatt: Husky Harris
Bray Wyatt would eventually become a WWE Champion under his creepy yet charismatic gimmick. When he was coming up with NXT though, he was simply known as Husky Harris, a character that had pretty much no direction. Because wrestling fans (especially on the internet) don’t forget, Wyatt has had to deal with a lot of Husky Harris chants, with most of them coming early in his Wyatt gimmick.
Looking back on his Husky Harris gimmick, Wyatt says that he’s happy that the change was made. He says that the character given to him did not represent him. He wanted to prove that he wasn't his father or his brother. In fact he wanted to prove he was unique. He did just that with the Bray Wyatt gimmick he has now.
8 Ryback: Skip Sheffield
Many forget that Ryback was a main event-level wrestler at one point. Well, like Bray Wyatt, Ryback was part of the NXT crew that got called up to the main event scene as a stable at the same time. He originally wanted to use the Ryback gimmick, but when practicing promos, he said it was the Undertaker himself that didn’t like the gimmick. Dusty Rhodes also suggested getting away from the gimmick, telling him to become a self-aware “stupid former football player.”
With that, Ryback became known as Skip Sheffield. “That’s kind of a stupid name,” Ryback said. “But you have this physical look that kind of says otherwise.” Eventually, Vince McMahon told him to drop the Skip Sheffield gimmick, and told him to go back to being himself.
7 Natalya: Farting Nattie
It shouldn’t be a surprise that a man like Vince McMahon loves potty humour. It often shows in some of the things that happen on WWE television. Natalya just happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. During one backstage promo, Natalya could be heard passing gas in what seemed like a mistake (at first) and McMahon took the ball and ran with it.
It went on that Natalya’s gimmick was that she would fart while preparing for a match, and even during a match to help her win. In 2014, Natalya said that the first fart really was an accident that turned into a storyline. “No matter what I’m given, I’m going to make it great. I’m going to pass gas, maybe I had too many protein bars that morning". You need to respect her commitment!
6 Triple H: Jean Paul Levesque
Whether you loved him or hated him (and still feel that way), Triple H is a surefire hall of famer. A figurehead of the company, Triple H certainly worked his way up the ladder from a young age.After a few months of the terribly named Terra Ryzing, Triple H got a call to do an interview, and was approached by Ric Flair.
He said that Flair wanted to repackage his character and wanted a French character named Jean Paul Levesque due to his last name. He was even told to cut a promo in French, but said that he wasn’t even aware of any French relatives even, so he had a French accent instead. “So I end up doing the worst Inspector Clouseau (impression),” Triple H said. Thankfully for Triple H, he’d find more success as the “Cerebral Assassin” and “The Game”.
5 Kane: Isaac Yankem DDS
Not many people could successfully portray a supposed demon straight from the depths of hell, but that’s something that Glenn Jacobs has been doing for more than two decades as Kane. As most fans know, Jacobs first portrayed a crazed dentists known as Isaac Yankem DDS. For the most part, Jacobs declined to talk about that gimmick, but has opened up in recent years.
He claimed it was a complete disaster, and no one really liked it. He also said that pretty much marked the end of cheesy characters in WWE (for the most part, anyway). In the end, Jacobs did say that the character gave him a chance to work with the legendary Jerry Lawler and got his foot in the door, so it could have been worse.
4 Batista: Deacon Batista
Now famous for being a Hollywood star thanks to his roles in films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Spectre”, Dave Bautista was the main event star simply known as Batista. However, if you go even further back from when he was called up from Ohio Valley Wrestling, he was known as Deacon Batista. As this character, Bautista would work with the Dudley Boyz, and he doesn’t remember that time too fondly.
He said that the gimmick could only happen in a profession like WWE. He did not enjoy being a prop as a security guard for a large money box. He also didn’t realize that WWE changed the spelling of his last name so that the promotion could hold the rights to the character.
3 Kevin Nash: Oz
Kevin Nash had some good runs in both the WCW as Diesel and under his usual Nash moniker. The former champion has gone through a lot of gimmicks, and it took a lot of time for any of them to land. The earlier parts of his career included some truly terrible gimmicks that seemed to serve little to no purpose whatsoever.
Dusty Rhodes was the one that came up with the Oz gimmick for Nash, who in recent years said that it was “ridiculous.” One thing that made Nash mad about the gimmick was that Oz was the name of the land, and that they weren’t naming him after the wizard. “To this day, I just think it was a rib,” he said. Nash wasn’t a fan of any of his older gimmicks, but was thankfully able to overcome.
2 Dolph Ziggler: Golf Caddy
While Dolph Ziggler has seen his main event status come and go over the years, all he has to know is that it could have been worse. Ziggler actually made his debut in 2005 as a golf caddy for Kerwin White, and was then brought up as Nicky, a male cheerleader in a stable known as The Spirit Squad.
Ziggler really didn’t want much to do with those gimmicks, but he was a young wrestler that was just trying to get his foot in the door. His is a perfect example of paying your dues in wrestling. His small part led to big opportunities, although he has struggled lately. Hopefully this US championship storyline leads somewhere big.
1 Roman Reigns: Leakee
The former football player had been tabbed for big things when signed up with WWE’s developmental territory in 2010. Back then, he was simply known as Leakee, even though he had the first name Roman that was hardly ever used. Originally, he wanted to simply be known as Roman, but when forced to give a last name he went with Raines. Corey Graves was the one who convinced him to switch to Reigns.
Back then, Leakee was just the generic Pacific Islander guy with long hair, a shoulder tattoo and black trunks, boots and elbow pads. As Leakee, Reigns would find some moderate success, but fans didn’t really believe he had star material. Then, of course, he was picked to be the third member of The Shield (instead of Chris Hero/Kassius Ohno) and the rest is history. Just think, if he had stuck with the Leakee gimmick, the guy with the ballistic vest that retired the Undertaker might have been Chris Hero.