The art of the gimmick in professional wrestling makes it important for a wrestler to establish a character. Most successful characters have a hint of the performer’s genuine personality in the mix for better or worse. We all have positive and negative qualities. Face wrestlers have to find a way to make fans relate to them as people. Heels need to tap into a few genuine traits that can easily annoy others. Most wrestlers have to work for many years with different experiments before finding the right gimmick to succeed.
We'll take a look at some of the wrestlers currently on the WWE roster and their backstories. The majority of wrestlers on this list are successful performers that worked very hard to get to this point. One other thing that bonds them together is that they each have a chapter in their past wrestling life that is completely different from whom they are today. These old gimmicks were characters they experimented with before having to evolve into something better. All stories will be explained and give you a history lesson on past history for some of your favorites. These are fifteen gimmicks you most likely forgot these active WWE stars used to have.
15 Sami Zayn: El Generico
Sami Zayn has been in WWE for so long now that it is easy to forget his independent wrestling career. Fans have gotten to know Zayn in NXT and on the main roster due to it being the first time his face has been featured on a noteworthy wrestling show. Zayn does have many years of experience in Ring of Honor, PWG and traveling all over the world with his old gimmick of El Generico.
The tag team of Kevin Owens and El Generico achieved success in every promotion they worked for before splitting and starting an incredible rivalry. WWE signed Zayn first and decided he was better off without the mask. Most fans were shocked to see Generico finally unmasked, but now we are more surprised to remember that he spent most of his career under a mask.
14 Big Show: Andre The Giant's Son
The long career of the Big Show is winding down as he is clearly planning to retire soon. We have witnessed some of the worst booking in wrestling history when it comes to the Big Show. However, one specific gimmick stands out when thinking of the most forgettable terrible ideas. WCW signed Big Show with no experience and wanted to debut him in a feud with Hulk Hogan.
For some reason, WCW felt it was warranted to portray Big Show as the son of WWE icon Andre the Giant. The hope was that it would reach similar success to Andre vs. Hulk in WWE. Instead, it just hurt Big Show’s early career and made everyone look silly. Big Show eventually dropped the gimmick and WCW never acknowledged it after the original storyline ended.
13 Alexa Bliss: Fairy Princess
WWE fans have become used to Alexa Bliss being the top heel in the Women’s Division. Bliss has dominated the title picture on both Raw and SmackDown. The success for the young woman seems sudden, but it took her quite some time to establish this character. Bliss originally had a completely different gimmick in NXT as a face.
Alexa was a Fairy Princess of a character in NXT. Her entrance would see her throw glitter and she dressed in colorful outfits to fit the gimmick. This gimmick never got over and was wasting the talent of Bliss. A character change saw her turn heel and become the manager for the tag team of Blake and Murphy. Alexa benefited most from this as she started to evolve into the character that we know today.
12 Luke Gallows: Festus
One old gimmick that the wrestler wants everyone to forget about is Luke Gallows having to play Festus. Gallows is currently in a tag team with Karl Anderson as both former members of the Bullet Club decided to join WWE. Despite underwhelming in WWE, Gallows is still in a good spot making a living and playing a role he seems to enjoy.
The old character of Festus was the complete opposite as a horrible gimmick that failed him. Festus played a mentally challenged man that was unresponsive to anything until the bell would ring. The ringing of the bell turned him into a wrestler that could fight with anyone challenging him. Gallows has revealed in interviews that Vince McMahon forgot he used to play Festus and is hoping that remains to be true.
11 Xavier Woods: Apollo Creed Parody
The success of New Day has seen Xavier Woods’ stock skyrocket. Woods is a fixture on WWE television, a worldwide celebrity and becoming a major brand in the video game streaming world thanks to his UpUpDownDown YouTube channel. It took a lot of work and many character changes through the years before getting to play an extension of himself in New Day.
Woods actually worked for Impact Wrestling for a few years primarily in the X-Division and Tag Team Division as Consequences Creed. The gimmick saw him dress in red, white and blue wearing boxing gloves to play a parody of Rocky character Apollo Creed. There was some charm to it, but the character clearly was never going to get him out of the lower card scene. Woods ended up getting released from Impact before signing a developmental deal with WWE.
10 Becky Lynch: Jig dancer
Becky Lynch’s Irish roots were used for a very short term character she tried out in NXT. Everyone was trying to find a gimmick that got them over with the NXT fans in an effort to progress their career for a main roster call-up. Lynch is known for her charming personality these days, but she tried to embrace her Irish heritage for another gimmick.
The prior character of Becky saw her dress in green before dancing to the ring. Lynch’s entrance made her essentially an Irish jig dancer before her matches. Becky was too talented to be stuck in a gimmick like this and NXT management ended it quickly. Lynch experimented with different characters before finally getting over strongly when showing parts of her own personality.
9 Zack Ryder: Edgehead
The career of Zack Ryder has seen many twists and turns through the years. Ryder is currently struggling to find television time in a dead end tag team with Mojo Rawley. Most would agree that Ryder’s best time period was when he was the fictitious Internet Champion via his hilarious online sketch show. However, Ryder played a few characters before the internet era.
The first stint of success in WWE saw Ryder and former tag team partner Curt Hawkins work together as the Edgeheads. Both guys rocked haircuts similar to Edge and helped him retain a title by pretending to be him at the end of a match to cause confusion. Ryder and Hawks would serve as the henchmen for Edge known as the Edgeheads.
8 Goldust: Black Reign
Most of the things to happen in Impact Wrestling are viewed as forgettable these days. Goldust’s time in TNA seems like a lifetime ago given all the changes that have happened. Impact hired Dustin Rhodes about a decade ago to play a completely different character. Rhodes rocked black and silver face paint to play the horror inspired character of Black Reign.
It was meant to be the opposite of Goldust and strike fear into his opponents as he did creepy things such as have a pet rat with him at all times. Dustin was still having drug issues and appeared to be well out of ring shape making Black Reign a regrettable time in his life. At least very few of us remember it today. Rhodes cleaned up his life and earned a spot back in WWE to give his career a happy ending.
7 Naomi: Funkadactyl
The women in WWE used to have a tougher time than the men when it came to finding a character that worked. WWE would give them extremely short segments which made it nearly impossible to establish strong characters or introduce new gimmicks. Naomi is someone that has been a part of the prior and current era as she now finally benefits from the change.
WWE didn’t always try to spotlight Naomi’s athleticism and in-ring skills. The prior gimmick saw her play a Funkadactyl along with former WWE talent Cameron. Both ladies would be the dancing cheerleaders of the Funkasaurus Brodus Clay. Naomi did very little aside from dance routines before and after matches. She is clearly happier today getting to showcase her talent in the ring.
6 Kofi Kingston: Jamaican Character
WWE will often play up a wrestler’s heritage when they come from another country. Jinder Mahal’s Indian roots essentially were the main reason for him becoming WWE Champion. All of the wrestlers from various places in the United Kingdom will have their backgrounds acknowledged. Kofi Kingston however was given an identity that he had no ties to.
The upbringing of Kingston saw him grow up in Boston and he was born in Ghana. Vince McMahon wanted a Jamaican character and decided Kofi was the right person for the job. Kingston debuted with vignettes of him at the beach. He would see him speak with a fake Jamaican accent for about a year before WWE decided to drop it. Kingston’s Ghana roots are now referenced with zero ties to the old Jamaican character.
5 Bray Wyatt: Husky Harris
One of the most impressive character changes in WWE history saw Bray Wyatt save his career. The old character of Husky Harris saw him playing a generic wrestler. No one took him seriously and the name Husky Harris instilled fear in zero fans. He realized this was going to sink his career, so he took the opportunity to go the NXT and start again from scratch.
The character of Bray Wyatt was his own idea with help from Triple H and other creative minds in NXT. Wyatt instantly became a success and was fast tracked to the main roster with the other members of The Wyatt Family. Fans were in awe of the unique Wyatt as he completely erased the failure of Husky Harris. Bray has fallen down a notch this year, but he still deserves credit for making fans forget about the old gimmick.
4 Mickie James: Trish Stratus' Stalker
WWE used Mickie James in a championship feud challenging Alexa Bliss over the past month. James’ legendary reputation of being an all-time great women’s wrestler was heavily acknowledged as she sought out to demand respect from the new star Bliss. Many fans of today’s product never watched or completely forgot about the success Mickie achieved early on in her WWE career back in 2006.
James debuted playing a friend of then top star Trish Stratus. The storyline saw her become a full-fledged stalker harassing and making life miserable for Stratus. Mickie’s character set her apart from the other ladies on the roster and it allowed her to showcase her in-ring ability. Despite being a weird character that would likely fail today, James’ old run as Trish’s stalker helped her become a star in the wrestling business.
3 TJ Perkins: Suicide
TJ Perkins is considered one of the most generic wrestlers in WWE today. Nothing stands out about Perkins and he is falling into the lower tier of the Cruiserweight Division. It has been a quick fall from grace after TJP won the Cruiserweight Classic to bring back the Cruiserweight Championship last year. Perkins is considered one of the youngest veterans in wrestling due to how long he has been around the block.
One of TJP’s former stints with Impact Wrestling saw him play the masked character Suicide. There was basically no character for Suicide aside from the fact that he wore a mask. It makes sense that a generic wrestler had a rare generic masked character. A few different wrestlers played the Suicide character through the years, but Perkins was the man unveiled when the character finally unmasked.
2 Dolph Ziggler: Caddy
Dolph Ziggler is a forgotten man these days, but he certainly deserves a lot of respect for overcoming some of the worst gimmicks imaginable. The prior run of Ziggler in the Spirit Squad over a decade ago is referenced every once in a while. Ziggler is the only one of the five members of the male cheerleading faction to have a thriving wrestling career, let alone remain with WWE.
However, the gimmick fans most forget about when it comes to the past Dolph is his time as a caddy. WWE gave Chavo Guerrero the horrible Kerwin White character as he pretended to ditch his Latino heritage in favor of a white person. Ziggler appeared as the caddy for Chavo since the latter would play up the fact that he loves golfing. Luckily for Dolph, he was able to turn it around and make fans forget about it.
1 A.J. Styles: Ric Flair's Protege
The long career of A.J. Styles has seen him take part in many regrettable Impact Wrestling storylines. Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff running the company and hiring Ric Flair led to one of the worst time periods for Styles. Considering A.J. was the face of TNA for many years, Hogan and Bischoff had to continue pushing him. They however decided he wouldn’t succeed as himself and made Flair his mentor.
That would have been in theory, but TNA went overboard by making Styles into mini-Flair. AJ added blonde highlights to his hair, started wearing fancy robes and would often have a plethora of ladies with him. Styles has admitted that he was completely uncomfortable with the gimmick despite loving Flair. It hurt his career quite a bit as things went downhill when this flopped. Things worked out in the end for A.J. as he is now the WWE Champion and a huge WWE star by being himself.