Wrestling traditionalists have long complained that Vince McMahon’s brand of sports entertainment seems to place more focus on gimmicks than in-ring abilities. On the other hand, McMahon has made more money through wrestling than any other individual, so he’s must be doing something right, and promoting gimmicks is probably a big part of his success. Ideally, though, a wrestler needs more than a good gimmick to get ahead in the business. Outside of technical mat skills, they also need to be creative enough to turn their gimmicks into full-fleshed characters, and not every grappler has been able to quite pull this feat off.
The worst thing about bad wrestlers with good gimmicks is that there’s always a chance the gimmick alone will make them a minor star, at least of the flash-in-the-pan variety. However, the success absolutely never lasts, as the point always comes where they either need to wrestle a long match or cut an important promo, and being unable to do has been the death knell for some of the most creative characters in the WWE Universe. Of course, WWE wasn’t the only company to use brilliant ideas on middling talents, with WCW unexpectedly just as complicit on the major scale. That said, it can be easy to forget about them, so keep reading to learn about 15 great wrestling gimmicks wasted on awful wrestlers.
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16 The Bella Twins
The popularity and widespread mainstream success of Total Divas and the spin-off Total Bellas means we’ll probably receive a fair amount of criticism for this one, and yet we’re completely firm in saying neither Nikki nor Brie Bella deserve the spotlight their gimmick has afforded them. Honestly, it feels tenuous to even call it a gimmick, but nonetheless what we’re getting at is the ladies are only famous because they happen to be attractive female twins. Neither of them are anywhere near their contemporaries in the ring, and this fact only becomes more obvious as the women’s revolution rages on. Virtually every female grappler called up from NXT since the Twins started their reign of destructive has outclassed them in the ring, though only a select few are allowed to reach their level because they don’t happen to have a near-identical sibling. Of course, there’d be no resentment over it at all if the Bellas were better wrestlers, because let’s face it—twin magic is a brilliant heel tactic. Unless it becomes an act’s sole tactic, which it did with the Bellas.
15 The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Iaukea
In all fairness, few wrestlers had names that lent themselves to Prince puns as easily as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Iaukea. It was already there in his name, and WCW’s decision to rebrand an already forgotten cruiserweight two years into his abysmal run was completely understandable. Iaukea didn’t entirely suck in the role, although he was barely given any chance to shine. More importantly, he did still suck in the ring, so the fact he could affect some of His Royal Badness’s more popular mannerisms was far from enough to save it. Characters like The Honky Tonk Man and Johnny B. Badd unequivocally proved that impressions of musicians can make wrestlers huge stars, and now that the real deal has sadly passed away, there’s more potential in a Prince character than ever before. The trick to ensure things work better this time around would be to focus more on in-ring work and less on nominal puns. Then again, Patrick Clark hasn’t had much success with the idea yet, either.
14 The Maestro
Continuing the theme that sometimes all a gimmick requires is a love of a fringe interest, music being the most popular, The Maestro came to moderate fame in the dying days of WCW as wrestling’s highest profile classical enthusiast. On top of that, he was a lover, not a fighter, and made the conscious choice to pass on the fists, unless absolutely necessary. Heels are pretentious by definition, and what could be more pretentious for a wrestler than playing an ornate classical piano and calling sports entertainment barbaric? By sheer coincidence, Maestro was also the great-nephew of wrestling icon Gorgeous George, which may or may not have been the only reason he got hired. Original character and family history be damned, Maestro simply had none of his ancestor’s wrestling acumen, and faded away from the spotlight after a few months in WCW. The closest sports entertainment has come to a gentlemen of his caliber since then has been William Regal (who technically came before him, anyway).
13 Sable And Marc Mero
Especially in the time of a women’s revolution, there’s incredible potential in a female superstar eclipsing her romantic partner’s fame and forcing them both to adapt to her newfound popularity. The fact it happened to Sable and Marc Mero had little to do with the individuals themselves brought to the table, at least aside from Sable’s natural good looks. She was able to skyrocket herself to the top of the women’s division without ever even training to wrestling, learning as she went along so as not to waste the reactions crowds were giving her. While Sable’s biggest problem turned out to be her ego, it didn’t help that she was completely useless in the ring, as well. There was actually a clause in her contract saying she wouldn’t have to take bumps, making her probably the most literally untouchable champion of all time. This didn’t exactly endear her to her co-workers, and maybe it would have been more acceptable if she had the proper training or mic skills to deserve her place.
12 The West Texas Rednecks
Before we go too far into our breakdown of the West Texas Rednecks were no good, let’s acknowledge that there was a time when two of the group’s members were pretty darn great. The issue was that Curt Hennig and Barry Windham were both far enough into their careers and drug habits that they couldn’t quite deliver in the ring anymore, and tertiary members like Kendall Windham, Bobby Duncum, Jr. and Curly Sue didn’t exactly bring anything to the table. Hennig was still delivering great promos, and the country songs he and his group sang were both hilarious and incredibly popular with the Southern WCW crowd, but without someone to back it up in the ring, there wasn’t much the Rednecks could accomplish. They did twice briefly hold the WCW Tag Team Championships (represented by Barry Windham teaming with Hennig and brother Kendall), yet they also broke up only a few months after arrival. Younger or more capable wrestlers probably would have rode the popularity to much greater success.
10 P.N. News
On the surface, there was nothing about the P.N. News gimmick that made it particularly special. However, the fact that one of wrestling’s most popular figures essentially started out the same way implies there’s definitely loads of potential in a wrestling rapper. The main thing deterring News from greatness wasn’t even his lack of ability in the ring, but rather his complete absence of flow on the microphone. It didn’t matter how News wrestled, because he couldn’t rap at all, and since rapped his way to the ring, that was a much more pressing issue. He even managed to get pretty darn popular during a feud against Steve Austin, though Austin was obviously doing all the heavy lifting once the bell rang. Only a few years later, WWE would introduce a rapper who actually had a mild understanding of the genre with Oscar, and then about a decade after that, they added wrestling skills to the mix and lucked out in creating John Cena. We’re not saying P.N. News could main event WrestleMania, but obviously some other rapper could, and did.
America has gone through it’s fair share of vampire crazes, and Gangrel managed to popular right before the latest one completely blew up, so we can only imagine how successful he could have been coming along a few years later. That said, Gangrel never would’ve become a World Champion or anything, because David Heath, the man behind the character, has simply never been that great in the ring. Sure, he lives the character and will have life on the independent scene forever, but that’s nothing compared to what could happen if a vampire actually knew how to rock a microphone. Gangrel’s one shot at giving a live promo during an April 1999 Raw was so staggered and embarrassing Edge had to step in and save him. He wasn’t fast enough, though, because Gangrel was able to spit out some absolutely insane nonsense during his short time in the sun, and the Vampire Warrior’s career never quite recovered the huge faux pas.
8 “Devil’s Advocate” Sean O’Haire
The WCW Power Plant is one of the most infamous training grounds in wrestling history, largely due to a dearth of success stories and an overwhelming number of outright failures and embarrassing near misses like Sean O’Haire. Physically imposing and able to move like a cruiserweight, O’Haire was the most impressive member of the Natural Born Thrillers upon arrival. He looked even better in vignettes aired upon his WWE re-debut, where he tried to convince fans and other wrestlers to do sinful and dangerous acts. WWE had apparently seen so much potential in the role they immediately paired him with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and yet for some reason his character faded away as soon as Piper left him. Though calm, cool, and collected on video, O’Haire apparently couldn’t perform in front of a live crowd, and for some reason he grew clumsy in the ring as his nerves about the camera grew stronger. But, hey—we’re not telling you anything that you didn’t already know.
7 Eva Marie
Paradoxically, Eva Marie has somehow cultivated a gimmick where her defining quality is the crowd hating the fact she can’t wrestle. The more she tried to better herself, the louder the boos became, starting a vicious cycle where it’s probably in Eva’s best interest to continue being horrible in the ring. Fans resent the fact WWE has been pushing her due to her knockout good looks and the fact she was cast as a character on Total Divas first and became a wrestler second. With all of this in mind, if Eva Marie suddenly wrestled a classic match at WrestleMania, fans would probably realize it had been worth it all along. The thing is, we’re pretty confident this is never going to happen for her, let alone will she ever start wrestling in matches that are so much as above average. The boos will keep getting louder and louder, but there’s no payoff unless she can wow us in the ring at some point down the line—something fans would probably know about beforehand due to indie matches, hence why the whole thing is kind of a paradox.
6 Stephanie McMahon’s Boyfriend, Test
In the span of about a year, Test went from the latest and least descriptive in a long line of midcard bodyguards to one of the top faces in the WWE Universe back to a nobody wrestling opening matches the fans couldn’t care less about. What the heck happened? The meteoric rise is pretty easy to explain: Test started dating the recently introduced daughter of Vince McMahon, Stephanie. Cute and innocent to an extent modern day fans might not even recognize her, anybody who could make Stephanie fall in love would instantly become a huge hit with fans. That absolutely happened with Andrew Martin, who blew the roof off the joint at SummerSlam 1999 when he won Shane Mcmahon’s blessing by defeating him in a cage match. The downside was that Test had little in the way of individual personality, and his in-ring work never rose above that midcard bodyguard archetype. The second Stephanie left Test for Triple H, they buried him into oblivion, and without anything else to distinguish himself he never recovered his lost potential.
Even in an era of seemingly constant high profile jumps between companies, no wrestler in WCW was more hyped upon arrival than Glacier, the leader (?) of Blood Runs Cold. That question mark might make it look like we don’t know what we’re saying, though the reality is more typical WCW weirdness, as Glacier never quite became of anything despite literally months of vignettes heralding his arrival. Once the hype was over, Glacier had an undeniably unique look (in wrestling, that is—it was ripped straight from Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat) and an off-kilter move set to match it. His entrance was pretty spectacular as well, with snow falling from the rafters as a blue laser shined throughout the arena. All the smoke and mirrors were hiding the fact he simply wasn’t that great a wrestler, so-called “unique” offense be damned. With someone else in the role, the video game allusions and hype machine could have made Glacier an absolute star.
4 Ernest “The Cat” Miller
Somebody call my momma. Nicknamed “The Cat,” Ernest Miller’s gimmick is a little bit difficult to describe, the best we can offer being a mix between Muhammad Ali and James Brown. Funky like a money and ready to brag about it, Miller also had legitimate credentials in kickboxing and karate, though neither helped him out in the ring. When it came to wrestling, Miller was slow and uncoordinated, relying almost entirely on kicks and headlocks that made his matches a drag to watch. Despite this, he remained fun to watch in backstage segments and whenever he got on the microphone, enough so to get the real James Brown to dance with him at SuperBrawl 2000. WWE clearly thought the gimmick deserved a second chance when they dropped the karate element and tried to reuse Miller’s personality and dance music on Brodus Clay, though yet again they picked a performer who wasn’t quite good enough to live up to his gimmick.
3 Road Warrior-in-Training Heidenreich
Oh, it was anything but a rush. Wrestling fans tend to go 50/50 when it comes to blatant rip-offs of historical gimmicks, especially when the original wrestler involved has passed away. The one thing that can save it from feeling exploitive is an actual link to the past, as was the case when Road Warrior Animal wanted a new partner to honor his fallen friend Road Warrior Hawk. Unfortunately, Animal was a little bit too old for the idea to work, and Heidenreich was absolutely the wrong guy to take Hawk’s place. About a decade earlier in Japan, the exact opposite scenario proved it could when Kensuke Sasaki took Animal's place as Power Warrior with Hawk when the erstwhile Warrior was sidelined with an injury. Nowadays, it could work again, with a tag team star from 10 years ago looking for a new partner—maybe Joey Mercury wants a new M to N his M? Or maybe 10 years from now, Xavier Woods wants a New New Day to dance with and teach trombone to. Either way, they can’t wait so long to revive the team. And no Heidenreichs. Ever.
2 Waylon Mercy
Lives were suppose to be in his hands, you know what I mean? Throughout the late months of 1995, vignettes introduced a character performed by Dan Spivey to the WWE Universe named Waylon Mercy. Heavily and directly inspired by the 1991 remake of Cape Feare, Mercy was a soft-spoken Southern gentlemen who became a madman the second the bell rang, choking the life out of his opponents. Unlike most others on this list, Spivey isn’t entirely at fault for the character failing, as the bigger issue was his advanced age when he took the role. Already in his early 40s, Spivey’s run as Waylon Mercy was instantly hindered by injuries so severe they forced him into retirement. However, his cadence and relaxed style of dress long lingered in fans minds, and later on WWE proved just how much potential the gimmick had by using elements of it in creating Bray Wyatt.
1 Doink The Clown
Once again some clarification is in order before we go any further. The tricky thing about Doink The Clown has always been that there were more than one of them. The original, Matt Borne, was both an incredibly talented wrestler and brilliant at playing the gimmick of an unhinged clown. The second, Steve Keirn, wasn’t too bad either, and more importantly he also understood the gimmick. The rest of them, not so much. Ray Apollo in particular basically killed the clown by turning him face and adding dozens of mini-Doinks to the picture. Of course, Vince McMahon telling him to do it obviously didn’t help, but in Borne or Keirn’s hands the idea may well have been saved. Because Apollo’s matches were outrageously boring and Doink lost his edge, the exact opposite happened, and the new Doink was so heavily maligned the efforts of the earlier wrestlers have almost been entirely forgotten.
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