The most important aspect to a successful wrestling career—apart from being a good wrestler, of course—is the wrestler's character potential. In WWE especially, character is one of the most important aspects to the wrestler's success. If they fail to deliver as a character or even basic mic skills, their career in the big leagues will be done. As important gimmicks are in the wrestling world, sometimes wrestlers with certain gimmicks fail before they even have a chance to succeed. Some worker's careers flop before their Not because of the workers themselves, but because the gimmick reeked of bad taste.
There is a common ideology in wrestling that no matter how bad a gimmick is, that gimmick should be able to get over if the wrestler is talented enough to get over despite their unfortunate gimmick. This is often supported by the fact that Dusty Rhodes got over while wearing polka dots, Daniel Bryan got over as a yes-chanting nerdy vegan, and The Undertaker got over as a dead zombie. However, some gimmicks just cannot get over no matter how talented the superstar is. This was common in WCW with guys like Mike Awesome flopping because they were saddled with some stupid gimmick like 70's era ladies man. Some gimmicks will always make a wrestler look bad no matter how good that wrestler is. This is common in WWE and has led to several talented wrestlers having disappointing WWE careers because they failed to get over with bad gimmicks. Here are some examples.
A motivational speaker gimmick is hard to get over, but Diamond Dallas Page tried his damndest to do just that. In WCW, DDP oozed charisma just by being DDP. Then, when he finally joined WWE during the 2001 Invasion angle, he had to tone himself down dramatically while playing the miscast role of the man who had been stalking Undertaker's wife, Sara, at the time. Once the dust from that angle had settled, DDP was repackaged as a motivational speaker who smiled awkwardly, was overly optimistic, and capped everything off with his catchphrase, "That's not a bad thing. It's a good thing!" To give credit where credit is due, DDP was clearly trying his hardest to make the gimmick work and it did get him a WrestleMania win against Christian, but it never led to any long-term success. It wasn't long after donning the gimmick that DDP left the company and, eventually, retired. WCW fans were disappointed with seeing what DDP had been reduced to on WWE soil and new fans just thought that the character was lame. WWE have been trying to reproduce the gimmick with Bo Dallas for the past few years, but seeing as he's received even less entertaining results, Dallas has just been a comedy jobber.
These two are lumped together for this entry because they essentially had the same gimmick and that same gimmick is what led to the downfall of their respective careers. That gimmick being of a copycat character who copied other gimmicks and dressing up like them. Haas started the trend some time in 2008. We saw him portray characters like CBL (JBL), Beth Phoenix (Glamahaas), etc. Years later, Damien Sandow picked up the gimmick, copying everyone from celebrities (Buzz Aldrin, Lebron James, etc) to WWE alumni (Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, etc). In all honesty, in terms of getting someone over, a copycat gimmick isn't a terrible way to do just that. The problem lies in the wrestler not moving on into their own character after getting over as a character. Sandow struck gold with his Mizdow gimmick and was getting the loudest pops of the night at one point. If he moved on from that program post-Mania 31 and found a new gimmick that had potential, Sandow would have succeeded on the roster. Instead, he continued copying different personas, most notably as Macho Mandow. That's what makes a copycat gimmick awful. By failing to capitalize on the cheers that a copycat garners as a copycat by then transitioning them into a better character with at least upper-card potential, Sandow and Haas' popularity dissipated and were released.
When Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit, and Eddie Guerrero all arrived to WWE together, their pedigree from WCW made people predict that all four were destined for the main event scene. While that did eventually become true for future WWE World Champions Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, there was uncertainty for the less charismatic members of the team, Saturn and Malenko. In Malenko's case at least, he was talented enough in the ring that he was able to succeed early on without a character, but the character was still a blank that needed to be filled out eventually. It came in 2001 after Malenko accepted one of The Godfather's hos on an episode of Smackdown. From there, Malenko adopted a strange ladies man gimmick where he dubbed himself "Double Ho Seven." Needless to say, the gimmick didn't get over even if it could have, Malenko didn't have enough charisma to make the character work. Malenko quietly disappeared from television afterwards in favor of a backstage role in the company.
Prior to joining the WWE roster in 1991, Steve Keirn found much success in numerous wrestling territories. Most notably under the NWA banner. He is a former 12 time NWA Florida Team Champion and NWA Mid-American Champion. He is best known for his remarkable tag team alongside Stan Lane where they called themselves The Fabulous Ones. When he finally made his way on down to the WWE, he was stuck with an unflattering gimmick of a nasty, tobacco spitting alligator hunter named Skinner. He even walked around with an alligator claw. WWE tried hard to get Skinner over (gave him an undefeated streak, an Intercontinental Championship match against Bret Hart at Tuesday in Texas) but fans weren't buying this schtick. After being defeated by Owen Hart in 1 minute and 11 seconds at WrestleMania IX, the Skinner character never appeared on WWE television again. Just like that, Keirn's potential as a WWE superstar was wasted.
The Perry Saturn situation is an interesting one to think about. We all know the reason why WWE gave him the Moppy gimmick (long story shot, he basically bullied a jobber around in the middle of a match as a shoot), but when looking at what Moppy did for Perry Saturn's career, it isn't as simple as saying "it was a flop" or "it was a success." Yes, more than anything else, the gimmick was used to punish Saturn, but it did get him more over than Saturn would have gotten without the mop. Admittedly, while he was a talented wrestler, Saturn was a generic one. He was the most generic and uninteresting member of The Radicalz when they arrived to WWE. For better or worse, carrying a mop made Saturn memorable. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is debatable. What hurt Saturn more than anything was when the mop was taken away just as he was getting over. Then he was right back to falling into mediocrity.
Upon making his WWE debut in 2003 on the Smackdown brand, Matt Morgan had a look that screamed potential as a future World Champion. At a solid 7 feet tall and 330lbs, Morgan had the typical look that backstage brass normally get behind. Unfortunately, Morgan floated between the main roster and developmental for the next couple years because he lacked character. As we all know, when it comes to WWE, it doesn't matter how big a wrestler is. If they don't have a character, they won't succeed or get pushed far. Upon re-debuting in 2005 as a bodyguard for Carlito, Morgan's gimmick was that of a stuttering giant who got defensive over his speech impediment. Any skill that Morgan had in his arsenal and any threat that Morgan posed as an athlete was completely overshadowed by his gimmick. Crowds never took him seriously and he was considered a joke. For that reason, he was released the summer of 2005. Morgan wouldn't see his full potential realized until joining the TNA roster in 2007 and being promoted as a main eventer. Without a stutter, Morgan was allowed to wrestler as a self-proclaimed athletically jacked and genetically stacked superstar.
When he played the character of Smash from 1987 until 1991, Barry Darsow was one-half of the WWE's most dominant tag team at the time, Demolition. For years, Demolition ran rampant across the tag division and until recently were the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions ever thanks to a 16-month long reign. When it was decided that Demolition would break up so that Ax could take up a backstage role in the company and Smash could be pushed as a singles character. Although instead of Smash, Darsow would be re-dubbed with the Repo Man gimmick. In an era where wrestlers were notorious for taking up goofy and cartoony gimmicks, The Repo Man was one of the goofiest. His whole gimmick would call for Darsow to repossess and steal random items from his fellow superstars. The character placed Darsow in a jobber role for the rest of his career until he was released in 1993.
Paul Burchill didn't just have one bad gimmick that hurt his career, but he had two. The first came in 2006 after an unsuccessful tag team run with William Regal. After the two expressed to "network representative" Palmer Cannon that they no longer wanted to tag together, Burchill admitted that he would rather promote his family heritage in his character. By the way, Burchill came from a family of pirates. Burchil repackaged himself the following week with a pirate gimmick. As goofy of a concept that would be in 2006, the character was getting positive reactions. Oddly enough, just as the character was starting to get strong reactions, it was allegedly nixed by Vince McMahon for two reasons. One being that Vince found out that there was already an entire movie franchise about pirates called Pirates of the Caribbean and the other reason being that Vince didn't think the character would work if the character didn't think he was a real pirate. So he returned a year later with his sister, Katie Lee Burchill, with a new angle that hinted the two were involved in an incestual relationship. The gimmick never got off the ground and both himself and Burchill were released in 2010.
1 Terry Taylor
After showing remarkable skill in the ring as a former Heavyweight Champion for big league promotions like NWA and WCCW, Terry Taylor was offered a WWE contract in 1988 and subsequently accepted. Shortly after making his debut, Taylor was rebranded by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan with the infamous Red Rooster gimmick. His annoyingly white meat babyface attitude mixed with his ridiculous get-up (a rooster's comb hairstyle, a rooster strut, red tights, etc) made him out to be a joke from the start of his WWE career. It's a reason why his first WWE pay-per-view main event, Survivor Series, saw him the first man eliminated in the tag match. It's also why his first WWE run only lasted a couple years. He would make frequent attempts to return under different repackagings (including "Terrific" Taylor) but each gimmick was just worse than the last and his image as a wrestler was forever stained by The Red Rooster gimmick.
After joining the Raw roster in 2004 off the heels of a hot Tag Team Championship run on Smackdown as a part of Team Angle, Benjamin was put on another hot streak immediately after racking multiple wins against Triple H, which during his early 2000s Reign of Terror, was an even bigger deal than it sounds. The only hindrance to Benjamin in his years on Raw was his lack of mic skills and he didn't have a character. That could have easily been fixed by giving Benjamin a valet to speak through or better yet, a manager. It worked for Brock Lesnar when he was given Paul Heyman and it similarly would have worked in Benjamin's favor. However, Benjamin was given a valet instead, which wouldn't have been a problem if Benjamin's valet wasn't his Momma. In due time, Benjamin was made into a Momma's Boy character and was quickly de-pushed as his popularity deteriorated. He slumbered in the midcard until his 2009 release. While his recent return to WWE could bring Benjamin back to prominence, we will have to wait and see.
While the Arab American gimmick of Muhammad Hassan gimmick did ruin the career of the Italian American Marc Copani, Hassan may not have been an awful character. Yes, it was an ill-timed means of exploitation during a climate that was still coming to grips with the September 11th attacks, but it worked in making Copani an absolute heat magnet. Without even opening his mouth, he would get the loudest boos of the night on a weekly basis. It also helped that Copani excelled in the role and happened to be an excellent wrestler in the ring. It helped him land prestigious spots in segments with legends like Hulk Hogan and Undertaker in his rookie year on the main roster. Unfortunately, it was his terrorist angle against The Undertaker during the July 7th, 2005 bombings that put the brakes on his WWE push. After gaining a week's worth of controversy, Hassan was written off television at the Great American Bash pay-per-view and then released. Copani hasn't wrestled since.
During his initial run with the WWE in the late 80s, Tony Atlas achieved much success in his run. While tag-teaming with Rocky Johnson, the two became the WWE's very first African American team to win the Tag Team Titles and in solo action, Atlas was the first man to press slam and pin Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately, after getting caught up with a drug addiction and missing dates, Atlas was pushed significantly down the card until he left the company. When he returned in 1990, his character was repackaged as a warrior from the Ugandan tribe called Saba Simba. The character has been best described as "unpopular at best, racist at worst." While Atlas has credited the character with saving his life because he was homeless when he received the opportunity call from Vince McMahon, the character didn't receive any popularity to give Atlas any longevity and was gone from the company shortly after debuting. On the plus side, Atlas was able to reinvent himself years later as a manager in 2008 and joined the Hall of Fame class of 2006 a couple years prior.
Carrying an impressive wrestling ability that lived up to the legacy of his last name, Cody Rhodes had a lot of potential. With all of the gimmicks he's been handed over the years (Dashing, Undashing, etc.), Rhodes always managed to make the character he was given work and he looked like a star in the making with each gimmick. However, one gimmick that Rhodes could not make into a star was, ironically, Stardust. A knock-off of his brother's infamous Stardust gimmick, Stardust always looked like a gimmick with a short shelf life. While Rhodes was able to make Stardust entertaining in its early inception, Stardust always looked like a character that was only created to lead to an inevitable feud with Goldust. Except, a year and a half after the two had their match at Fast Lane, Stardust was still going and the character wasn't going strong. Either the character wore thin after his feud with Goldust or Cody wasn't allowed to innovate it. Seeing the writing on the wall for both the character he played and his WWE career, Cody Rhodes asked for his release papers in 2016. Since then, he reinvented himself on the indie scene and has been having Match of the Year candidates across several promotions. If Stardust didn't stunt his career, he could still be having those types of matches in WWE.
Drew McIntyre arguably had a more promising future than anyone else on this list. While everyone on this list is a standout athlete in their own right, McIntyre's 2009 debut saw him being introduced by none other than Mr. McMahon, who hailed McIntyre as The Chosen One of WWE. Naturally, this set a world of expectations on McIntyre's shoulders for his future and at first, he lived up to them by quickly snagging the Intercontinental Championship. Sadly, McIntyre fell out of WWE's good graces after he was involved in a real life domestic abuse with his then-wife, Taryn Terrell. McIntyre's mega-push ended immediately after and McIntyre was put on a losing streak on television. Then, in 2012, he was burdened with joining 3MB—the modern equivalent to the JOB Squad—with a new rockstar gimmick. After taking part in numerous cringe-worthy segments and suffering embarrassing defeats to the likes of the 4ft tall El Torito, McIntyre was released in 2014. Though he found a career resurgence on the independent scene and in TNA, his 3MB stint seems to have put a definitive nail in the coffin for McIntyre's WWE career.
While still in developmental during the late 90s and early 2000s, Nick Dinsmore proved to be one of the more exceptional young talents that the OVW roster had to offer. During his time there, his skill made him a record 10-time OVW Tag Team Champion (with Rob Conway as his partner) and a record 10-time OVW Heavyweight Champion. Thanks to the talent he exuded in the ring, it was inevitable that Dinsmore would head up to the main roster and get people talking. That day came on April 5th, 2004 when Dinsmore made his Raw debut. That day, he definitely got people talking, but it wasn't exactly high praise. People spoke more out of pure bafflement to see Dinsmore saddled with the character of Eric Bischoff's "special" nephew, Eugene. As Eugene, Dinsmore's talents were hidden behind a literal handicap and none of the WWE Universe were allowed to see the skills that Dinsmore showed in OVW. While Eugene did win the Tag Team Championship with William Regal and receive some marquee matches with the likes of Triple H, the Eugene character always had a glass ceiling and so did Dinsmore's career. He was released from the main roster within 3 years.
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