Reinvention can be that thing that makes a wrestler successful. For some wrestlers, it is the best way to align their character with whom they really are. In the case of someone such as The Undertaker, who has been an integral figure to WWE for over 25 years, he has always managed to recreate himself. There was a time when The Undertaker was an American Bad A**, a version that didn't resemble the Dead Man character in the least.
But not many characters have the staying power that the Undertaker has. So what the wrestlers behind them needed to do was adjust, and change with the times. Some characters simply don't resonate with crowds right from the beginning, perhaps because they are considered cliché or campy. So what eventually emerges, and succeeds, is a character with depth, closer to the heart of the performer and better reflecting the people they are. Who made our list, whose careers were given new life after they underwent a character change? Here are sixteen gimmicks that saved a wrestlers career.
Did we miss anyone on the list? Feel free to share what you think and share.
15 "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (from Hulk Hogan)
He was a real American. He fought for the rights of every man. When Hogan dominated the 1980s, he encouraged fans to eat their vitamins and say their prayers. For a number of years, fans embraced that and followed the example he set for them. As times changed, so did fans' passion for Hogan and all things that were Hulkamania.
It would be difficult to overstate Hogan's value to WWE and WCW in the past. However, he was in need of change, and in 1996, the biggest face in wrestling history betrayed all that was scared to him and his fans, and became "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan. The birth of this character extended Hogan's career for another five years in WCW, and another year in WWE. While he did return to his old Hulkamania ways, it only worked because of nostalgic appreciation that followed his successful years as a heel.
14 Taz (from Tazmaniac)
He was the human suplex machine, an intense character that took ECW by storm. Taz broke bones and possibly necks as he tossed his opposition all over and even outside the ring. He was the ECW champion and faced some of the best in the company, leaving them laying. Admittedly when Taz left ECW and came to WWE, his impact and booking weren't quite the same. But while it would have been great to see the same Taz that earned so much popularity in ECW, his impact should not be dismissed. And his impact goes beyond being a commentator for WWE and TNA.
But when Taz came into ECW, he was known as the Tazmaniac. The character appeared to be nothing more than a caveman, with long hair, bare feet and wearing a loin cloth. After he became simply Taz, his career was reborn, leading him down the road to being the ECW champion.
13 Bray Wyatt (From Husky Harris)
As a third generation wrestler, Windham Rotunda has had a lot to live up to. The grandson of the late Blackjack Mulligan and son of Mike Rotunda, Windham first appeared on the WWE's main roster as Husky Harris. Harris was a member of the new Nexus, a faction that was led by CM Punk. The faction was met with mixed results, and Harris' most notable appearance was receiving lashes on his back from CM Punk.
When the faction dissolved, Harris quickly disappeared from the main roster and returned to NXT. With time away from the public eye, Rotunda quickly put Husky Harris to bed and re-emerged with a character that was reminiscent of Max Cady from the film 'Cape Fear.' Bray Wyatt was born. The character has without question had some of the most menacing and entrancing promos since his arrival. Without question, the Bray Wyatt character certainly breathed life into Rotunda's career.
12 Hardcore Holly (from Bob 'Sparkplug' Holly)
It's incredible how a change in era can completely make a difference to a wrestler's career. When Holly first came to WWE, he was booked as a two-sport athlete, a race car driver by day and a wrestler by night. He was dressed in the colours of a race track, with black and white checkers on his brightly coloured tights. During WWE's New Generation they created a number of characters tied to careers (garbagemen, plumbers, dentists, etc.) that didn't resonate with fans. They also didn't benefit the person portraying the character.
It wouldn't be until the WWE's Attitude era that he would embrace a completely different character, and show fans that it was either time to 'nut up, or shut up'. As Hardcore Holly, he captured multiple Hardcore and tag team championships, and proved that a career can have life if you live it hardcore!
11 Stone Cold Steve Austin (from The Ringmaster)
He was always considered a talented wrestler, but there was something missing that stopped him from being a main eventer. Steve Austin first began turning heads as part of WCW, when he had long blond hair and was called 'Stunning.' He had a certain flare about him, wearing long robes and being led to the ring by a valet. It wasn't anything fans had not seen before, though he had some mid-card success. Later, he was aligned with Brian Pillman in the Hollywood Blondes tag team, and enjoyed some success during their short time together. Still, he wasn't going all that far regardless of whom managed him (Paul Heyman) or who he competed against.
When he came to WWE, he was dubbed The Ringmaster and managed by Ted DiBiase. Once again, he wasn't going anywhere, until he dropped his alliance with DiBiase, shaved his head and embraced his 'Stone Cold' nature. The rest, as they say, is history. How successful would Austin have been had he not had the chance to become 'Stone Cold'? Thankfully we will never know.
10 Diesel (Oz)
At the height of his career, Kevin Nash was a world champion. By holding the title in both WCW and WWE, he managed to do what very few can claim to have ever achieved. While he competed under his real name in WCW, he first earned his popularity as Diesel.
In saying that, however, his potential for success was in question during the earlier part of his career, as his initial run in WCW saw him draped in a gown, hat and green makeup. He was a living breathing wizard! The character was inspired by the film 'The Wizard of Oz,' and he was simply referred to as Oz.
Thankfully, time passed and with that came new opportunities. Nash became Diesel, a nearly seven foot monster with swagger and anger. The character was often referred to as Big Daddy Cool, and he certainly proved that as he captured the WWE championship.
9 The Godfather (from Kama Mustafa)
WWE Hall of Famer Charles Wright underwent a few different characters during his time with the promotion. When he first joined the company in the early 1990s he was a witch doctor called Papa Shango. The dark and mysterious Shango had a very limited shelf life and was only able to go so far. From there Wright became Kama, the supreme fighting machine. It was a character designed to take advantage of the surging popularity of mixed martial arts and UFC.
After that, Kama became Kama Mustafa, a member of the Nation of Domination. Once the Nation dissolved, Wright became a character that was unlike any other. He became The Godfather, a pimp that was accompanied to the ring by a bevy of beauties who he called his 'hos'. It was this character that proved to be the defining one of his career, and the name under which he was inducted into the WWE Hall of fame. It was a character that unquestionably saved his career.
8 Rikishi (from The Sultan)
When Solofa Fatu Jr., better known to WWE fans as Hall of Famer Rikishi, found his groove it gave his career life. But before that, when he first appeared to fans, he was a savage known as Fatu that would take incredible amounts of abuse to his head without displaying any semblance of pain. As Fatu he was also one half of The Headshrinkers tag team.
He then underwent a complete transformation, becoming The Sultan. As this character, his face was largely covered up his name and attire suggested he was Middle Eastern, and he was managed by former WWE champions Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik. He didn't speak because his managers claimed his tongue was cut out. But it was when he was repackaged as Rikishi that he had the opportunity to have his personality truly shine through.
7 The Rock (from Rocky Maivia)
When The Rock first came into WWE, there wasn't anything that made him appear all that different from any other wrestler at the time. He was introduced as Rocky Maivia, a third generation athlete that was the grandson of 'High Chief' Peter Maivia, and the son of Rocky 'Soulman' Johnson. He clearly had a lot to live up to. But after having his wholesome babyface character rejected by fans, and being subject to 'Die Rocky Die' and 'Rocky Sucks' chants, Maivia completely reinvented himself.
He allowed his natural charm and charisma to emerge, and became a supremely confident, even arrogant, character called The Rock, who disparaged his opponents while referring to himself in the third person. The Rock became one of the biggest names in wrestling history, and achieved all that he possibly could, capturing multiple titles and wrestling in numerous main events. One has to wonder what may have been had The Rock simply remained Rocky Maivia.
6 7 & 6. New Age Outlaws (from The Roadie and Rockabilly)
It's incredible how a singles wrestler can toil, searching for direction and a sense of purpose. This was the case with Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. Both men's careers began one way, but ultimately ended up very different. They both came into WWE with characters completely unlike what they would become. Gunn was one half of the Smoking Gunns, who were a successful tag team. As a singles wrestler he was Rockabilly, and was managed by the Honky Tonk Man. But that character fell flat. Road Dogg debuted as The Roadie, Jeff Jarrett's...roadie. That character also didn't have much of a shelf life and needed reinvention.
It was during the Attitude Era where these two would come together to become 'The Road Dogg' Jesse James and the 'Bad A**' Billy Gunn, the New Age Outlaws. These two managed to create a tandem that was as cohesive in the ring as any unit during its period, and won multiple tag team championships.
5 Kane (from Isaac Yankem)
For over twenty years, Kane has, as they say, breathed 'hell, fire and brimstone.' He has faced multiple challenges, been a heel and a face multiple times, and captured world and tag team championships. The character has also undergone change and evolved with the times. But future success wasn't apparent early on in his career in WWE.
When Kane first arrived he was Jerry Lawler's dentist, Isaac Yankem DDS. The character was silly and many would laugh at the thought of a wrestling dentist. He then became the Fake Diesel, after Kevin Nash's departure. It wasn't until 1997 that Kane was born, as the half-brother of The Undertaker. After nearly twenty years, Kane still remains a prominent part of WWE programming. One has to question whether he would have survived professionally with the gimmicks he was saddled with early on in his career.
4 Ryback (from Skip Sheffield)
He used to ask us to feed him more, and when he was part of t WWE, Ryback was certainly given mounds of opponents to feast on. During his run he feuded with WWE World Heavyweight champion CM Punk, and, despite being unsuccessful in capturing the title, Ryback was built like a monster. It took the force of The Shield to beat him down. Later on, he was able to capture the Intercontinental championship.
So while it is easy to see that Ryback had his share of challenges and feuds, it wasn't always that way. He initially appeared as an onscreen character named Skip Sheffield, one of the members of the invading faction known as The Nexus. As the Nexus changed and evolved, the Sheffield character disappeared from television, only to remerge years later as The Big Guy.
3 Faarooq (from Faarooq Asad)
It is interesting what can be expressed with one word, and for Ron Simmons one word has said a lot. Early in his career, he was able to achieve a fair amount of success in WCW, including becoming the first African-American world champion. That is a feat that he will always be near and dear to his heart. However, Simmons departed WCW and joined WWE. There, he was given a centurion / gladiator look complete with helmet, and went under the name Faarooq Asad.
After the gimmick flopped, Simmons was reinvented as simply Faarooq, and led the faction known as the Nation of Domination. It wasn't, however, until Faarooq was paired with Bradshaw to became the Acolyte, later the APA, that he found a character for which he would forever be remembered. His no nonsense character, and his simple catchphrase saying the word 'DAMN' gave him a lot of staying power.
2 Dolph Ziggler (from Nicky of The Spirit Squad)
As the show off, Ziggler has evolved in the ring and on the microphone. What was first a brash character that simply believed he was great, with little in the way of staying power, grew into much more. Ziggler is a multi-time World and intercontinental champion. He has feuded with everyone from John Cena to The Miz, and everyone in between.
Over and above his storied feuds, the one constant about him is that he has entertained fans week in and week out. While Ziggler has unquestionably been able to capture fans' attention in recent years, he was once saddled with a character that was part of a faction that was a complete joke. Before there was Dolph Ziggler there was Nicky, one fifth of the cheerleading faction known as The Spirit Squad. It says a lot about Ziggler and his reinvented character that he is the only one of those five that proved to have staying power.
1 'Innovator of Violence' Tommy Dreamer (from Pretty Boy Tommy Dreamer)
We have primarily known Tommy Dreamer for many years as 'The Innovator of Violence.' As this character, he has had some of the most brutal and bloody matches of his entire career. Dreamer's feud with Raven early on showed just what he was willing to do to get the better of someone, as the two had countless brutal battles during a feud that was rooted in childhood hatred. After this battle, Dreamer faced the likes of Cactus Jack, The Sandman and Shane Douglas. In fact, there was never a fight that Dreamer would backdown from.
What is interesting is that before Dreamer was 'The Innovator of Violence,' he debuted in ECW as what could be described as a 'pretty boy'. It was a character that the ECW audience didn't very much care for, and not something Dreamer could sink his teeth into. But after enduring a brutal caning by The Sandman, he grew a thicker skin, and embraced brutality. He became the heartbeat of Extreme Championship Wrestling.