A wrestling character is often the most important aspect for a performer’s success. Fans can appreciate the in-ring work, charisma and hard work, but the ability to connect with the audience often comes from the character. Hulk Hogan was the patriotic all-American good guy preaching values and hard work to children of the 80s. Steve Austin found his success in the 90s as the anti-establishment badass that stood against the corporate man. John Cena’s transition into becoming a polarizing character featured something that WWE were able to get fans to both love and hate leading to conflict in the best of way.
The way a character acts is what gets the fans to react positively or negatively at the end of the day. Sadly, not all gimmicks are created equally and some are just horrible ideas. The Gobbledy Gooker, Papa Shango and Bastion Booger are just a few gimmicks that show just how terrible things can turn out. There have been some wrestlers that were talented and lucky enough to survive characters that looked awful on paper. We'll take a look at fifteen terrible gimmicks in wrestling that the performers somehow found a way to make work for the best.
17 Jinder Mahal
The recent push of Jinder Mahal saw him adopt the anti-American gimmick. It is 2017 and we should be above such outdated ideas of characters that were more relevant in the 1980s. Mahal however used the shock and resentment towards his shocking push to get under the skin of the fans by blasting America too. People were already upset about seeing the lifelong jobber get a title shot before their favorites. The addition of insulting the country got him more heat.
WWE was so impressed with the heel work of Mahal that they changed plans to make him the new WWE Champion defeating Randy Orton. Vince McMahon is said to be the biggest supporter of Jinder viewing him as someone the company can build around as a top villain. No one could have predicted this a few weeks ago but Mahal used the played out gimmick to his advantage.
16 Broken Hardys
A recent example of bizarre gimmicks looking horrible but working out for the best featured Matt and Jeff Hardy’s last year in TNA. Matt changed his look and spoke in a ridiculous accent claiming he was “broken” after Jeff injured him during a match. Fans mocked the new gimmick the first week of the inception showing Matt get the better of Jeff in a contract signing at his house.
Matt believed in it enough to keep it going and fans started to love it. Jeff would become “broken” as well after losing to Matt and the brothers found a great gimmick that would change their careers. The Broken Hardys had the hottest act in wrestling allowing them to return to WWE in a surprise at WrestleMania 33 to win the Raw Tag Team Championships. It proves making changes with a risky gimmick can work out even if it looks bad on paper.
Nick Dinsmore was regarded as one of the best in-ring performers in WWE developmental for quite some time. WWE decided to call him up with a gimmick that required he not know how to wrestle at all as Eugene. The character of Eugene was a mentally ill wrestling fan that was related to Eric Bischoff. All of the top heels would manipulate and ridicule Eugene with the faces standing up for him.
The character should have been a huge flop given the poor taste but it worked. Eugene was able to get sympathy from the crowd through the charming character work. Fans rallied behind him in feuds with top names like Triple H, Bischoff and Kurt Angle. The fact that he was able to get SummerSlam matches against Triple H and Angle in back-to-back years showed just how much Eugene overachieved with a character that had no right to succeed.
The original vignettes promoting the debut of the Mankind promo didn’t provide much hope. It looked like another over the top heel character that would be wacky enough to lose to The Undertaker a few times before disappearing like many others before him. Mick Foley instead decided to give his all to the Hannibal Lector type character of a deranged heel obsessed with passing along the pain he felt from his upbringing.
Mankind did have a long program with Undertaker but stood out on his own. Most other heels of similar ilk could not show their own worth, but Foley is a talent like very few. The character work and wrestling brilliance of Foley made Mankind a success. WWE eventually allowed him to portray other gimmicks like Dude Love and Cactus Jack but the legendary run would not have got that far if not for his brilliant work as Mankind.
12 Val Venis
The Attitude Era was home to many horrible ideas. One of the sillier gimmicks featured talented wrestler Val Venis playing an adult star. The character of Venis would hit on the female talent in WWE and eventually record adult parodies with them to start feuds with other guys on the roster. It was originally supposed to be like the Rick Rude ladies’ man character but WWE doubled down on the controversy by adding the adult element.
There were many foolish moments associated with Venis, but he managed to get it over to be a popular mid-carder during the hottest time period in WWE. Venis held down a job in WWE for many years thanks to his success with the character. There had to be changes eventually with the times changing and Val could not maintain his mid-card spot. The loss of the adult element actually hurt him with WWE going in a different direction.
Similar to The Undertaker, Kane had no business being such a successful character but the performer and the booking saved it. WWE tried to bring in many big men to feud with Undertaker and most flopped. Giant Gonzalez, The Great Khali and Kamala are just a few of the names to show just how difficult life can be when WWE wants you to be a genuine threat to Undertaker.
Kane had the perk of being the evil brother of Undertaker also having supernatural powers but with more of a horror twist. Fans were in awe of the presentation of Kane and he would go on to become a legend working the character for two decades. No one could have predicted the Michael Myers style character would have a Hall of Fame worthy run.
The hokey character of someone literally named I.R.S. talking down to fans about paying their taxes seems so cheesy on paper. Mike Rotunda had a respected career and managed to make the gimmick work as a hated heel. Fans booed I.R.S. every time he cut a promo wearing his shirt and tie demanding the fans pay their taxes in a timely fashion.
WWE paired I.R.S. with Ted DiBiase making them the perfect heel duo with the inception of the Money Inc. tag team and Million Dollar Corporation faction. I.R.S. became one of the more underrated heels in the company with the ability get boos with complete ease. WWE respected his work enough to keep him employed all these years later as a producer helping put together matches.
9 Honky Tonk Man
Honky Tonk Man was originally meant to be a fan favorite as an Elvis impersonator but ended up using it to become a great heel. The singing and dancing of Honky Tonk caused fans to boo him every week. WWE found success in this to make him one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all-time. Honky Tonk held the title for a record 64 weeks.
The moment of Ultimate Warrior ending his streak was huge at the time. HTM’s heel work as a successful gimmick played a big role in the momentum of Warrior growing. The gimmick worked enough for Honky Tonk Man to continue it for the rest of his career. HTM is still playing the character on the independent circuit today at the age of 64. This is a true inspiration story for all Elvis impersonators out there.
8 The Hurricane
One of the few stars to find success in WWE during the WCW Invasion angle was Shane Helms. The in-ring work of Helms was great but he took a huge chance with his character work that truly made the difference. Helms was a huge superhero fan and Steve Austin referenced it by making fun of his Green Lantern tattoo during a Raw segment.
This led to Helms becoming The Hurricane playing a comedic superhero. It got over huge thanks to the charm and humor of Helms in the role. The Hurricane found success for many years and sold impressive merchandise numbers thanks to the mask. Helms still does appearances at conventions and the occasional independent show with The Hurricane mask to the joy of his fans that still want to see it. The fact that this was originally inspired by a line meant to insult Helms is quite impressive.
7 King Booker
The “king” character in WWE has not worked well for many. Sheamus and Wade Barrett have discovered this in recent years as they looked like complete jokes dressing like kings after winning the King of the Ring tournament. Booker T was the last person to have such a gimmick work out in his favor. WWE went with the drastic change literally giving him the name “King Booker.”
Booker spoke in a ridiculous accent, started wearing the king outfit and had his own court with him. Wife Sharmell along with wrestlers Finlay and William Regal joined Booker to become a dominant faction on SmackDown. Booker took the outlandish gimmick to win his first World Championship in WWE. King Booker may have actually been his most successful stint in WWE despite the odds against him.
6 Ultimate Warrior
The gimmick of Ultimate Warrior is impossible to explain without watching him during his prime. Warrior was all intensity running to the ring to his great theme. The intense demeanor helped his incoherent promos even find charm. Fans absolutely loved Warrior and he was the first face to surpass Hulk Hogan. WWE having a face cleanly defeat Hogan was unheard of until Warrior did it.
No other wrestlers could have portrayed the superhero rocking the face paint and using his intensity to win matches with such efficiency like he did. The fact that Warrior wasn’t even a good wrestler in the ring makes it even more incredible to realize. James Hellwig literally changed his name to Warrior proving he truly lived the gimmick and that is perhaps the biggest reason it worked so well.
5 Razor Ramon
Every 90s wrestling fan has fond memories of Scott Hall’s WWE work as Razor Ramon. Very few people actually remember the original intent of the Razor character. Hall played a character similar to Al Pacino’s lead role as Tony Montana in Scarface. The white American Hall attempted to portray a Cuban character speaking with a horrible accent.
Hall however had the wrestling skills to make it work as a great heel. The in-ring work and presence played huge roles in the success of Ramon. WWE eventually decided to turn him heel and ditch the Scarface aspect of the character. It's often forgotten in the grand scheme of Hall’s career but the original inception of the gimmick would have led to failure for the majority of wrestlers to play it.
4 Rikishi and Too Cool
Rikishi, Grand Master Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty all found success together in the strangest of ways. All three struggled to stand out in WWE until brought together. The three unlikely friends joined together as a faction that bonded through the love of dancing. Grand Master Sexay and Scotty 2 Hotty achieved great popularity as the Too Cool and Rikishi was elevated to the lower tier main event picture.
Fans loved watching Rikishi dancing along with his two pals. The thought of one of the larger and physically imposing talents smacking his backside as part of a dance number just didn’t seem like it would connect on paper. It ended up taking Rikishi to the WWE Hall of Fame. The era of Too Cool provided the best time for each of the three wrestlers as beloved stars during the Attitude Era.
The character of Goldust was a huge success and is still going today. Dustin Rhodes started playing Goldust during the mid-90s but it wasn’t as great at the beginning. The original intent was meant to play off the homophobic tendencies of society at the time. Goldust would flirt and hit on the other male wrestlers as a heel basically portraying the gay community in a negative manner.
Rhodes was still doing great work with the character and received a break when WWE changed the approach of the character. Instead of sexually harassing Ahmed Johnson or Razor Ramon, Goldust now was flamboyant and mysterious. No one could really figure him out and his deeper promos added another dynamic. Goldust surprisingly is one of the greatest gimmicks in WWE history today looking back at it.
2 The Undertaker
The most obvious successful gimmick that should have been a failure is The Undertaker. A “dead man” character relying on the supernatural gimmick is not something that you would expect working out if you were told about it with no knowledge to the success. WWE gave Undertaker a big push with the outlandish character and it somehow worked to perfection.
Undertaker played the terrifying character as a heel and moved into the mysterious cool role as a face. The fan base fell in love with Undertaker leading to him becoming arguably the biggest legend in WWE history. Many of the character elements for the silly gimmick turned into important parts of his work such as the entrance, the lights going out for him to mysteriously appear at random times and add general intrigue behind his work. Undertaker recently allegedly retired at WrestleMania 33 and the wrestling world is still mourning over the iconic career ending.