Changing your gimmick is a risk in wrestling. Sometimes, it’s best when you’re little known or saddled with lackluster storylines. Kevin Nash definitely upgraded when he went from Oz to Diesel while Scott Hall was okay as the Diamond Studd but truly broke out as Razor Ramon. Too many guys have been saddled with poor gimmicks and have to try and redeem themselves. Some can be affected worse than others. Chavo Guerrero had the horrible Kerwin White act but it was short-lived and thus he had salvaged his career later. But others aren’t as good, hit by gimmick changes that ended up ruining them big time, from turned to jokes to no real success at all.
Yet sometimes the opposite happens. A guy gets a gimmick makeover that unlocks his true potential and makes him a fantastic star. It shows fans what works and brings amazing new life, reviving a career or launching it. It’s tricky to see how it all works but it’s notable how some guys are better served by a gimmick change than others are. Again, it depends on the worker as some guys are able to better hold a gimmick than others are to succeed or fail. There are slews of examples but many stand above the others, both good and bad. Here are 15 guys in wrestling who were either saved or destroyed by a gimmick change to showcase how such a shift can alter not just their careers but the entire business.
15 DESTROYED: The Butcher/Zodiac/Booty Man
A decent worker in various territories, Brutus Beefcake joined WWE in 1984 and got over as a cocky heel. He hit his height in 1985 as he and Greg Valentine joined up to be “The Dream Team” and win the tag team titles for a long run. After losing the belts, Beefcake turned face and became “The Barber,” over because of his friendship with Hulk Hogan. He was to get a shot as IC champion but a horrible parasailing accident cut that off. In 1994, Beefcake joined Hogan in WCW and then revealed himself to be the masked man attacking Hogan. This set up a horrible Starrcade main event as fans couldn’t accept this long-time midcarder competing for the WCW World title.
He then changed to the Zodiac with a painted face and slapping himself to fight Hogan longer. Then he was the Booty Man with fishnets over his buttocks and dancing around. None of this did anything to help him out as his career faltered and sunk badly. While the accident was a blow, these changes to his gimmick cut Beefcake’s time in the spotlight short.
14 SAVED: Ric Flair
Many not even know about this change but there’s no denying how well it saved a career. When Ric Flair started out, he talked a lot about being a huge fan of Dusty Rhodes and modeled himself after him. That included wanting to be “Rambling Ricky Rhodes”, a relative of Dusty’s (either cousin or younger brother) complete with a cowboy motif. Yes, it sounds crazy but photos exist showing Flair in that early get-up. Dusty himself said he was flattered but felt Flair was holding himself back trying to copy him too much. He encouraged Flair to try something else, something that was more like himself.
So, Flair took inspiration from Buddy Rogers and turned himself into the Nature Boy. If anything, Flair lived the act better than Rogers ever did, holding the NWA title, becoming one of the biggest stars imaginable and now a certifiable icon to millions. It’s remarkable to think what could have changed had Flair stuck to his older act and robbed us of his amazing work.
13 DESTROYED: Akeem
The One Man Gang had a damn good look when he started out. Over 400 pounds, he could take off the ropes and looked like a massive biker guy with a Mohawk and tough demeanor. It led to success in World Class and the UWF and promised more in WWE. He showed it well, promising a teaming with the Big Boss Man and a cool motif. So leave it to WWE to give him one of the dumbest ideas imaginable. In a video segment, Slick introduced OMG, now called “Akeem the African Dream,” in what amounted to a yellow muumuu, large hat and goofy dancing.
The idea of a white guy acting like some dancing “native African” must have sounded good to someone but Gang was the worst choice for it. They kept it up for years as a monster heel but the magic was gone. After he left, OMG bounced around but never attained any success as this change was one of the worst makeovers you could ask for.
12 SAVED: The Rock
It’s the makeover that changed not just WWE but Hollywood as well. When Rocky Maivia came out in 1996, he was a throwback to the smiling babyfaces of the 1980s, bright and high-flying. WWE pushed him hard, giving him the Intercontinental title and pushing him for more. But the fans turned on it big time, hating the way it was too bland and cookie cutter and soon chanted “Die Rocky Die” constantly.
An injury was a good thing, giving him some time to think his career over and seeing where he wanted to go. It led to his heel turn and he took on an arrogant persona that soon had him as 'The Rock', referring to himself in the third person. While meant as a heel, his mastery of the mic soon won over fans and thus made him the biggest star in the company. To this day, he commands pops no one else does and captivates millions. That includes on the big screen, a true Hollywood A-list star and thus this gimmick shifted so much for so many.
11 DESTROYED: Brodus Clay
This remains a major puzzle. In Deep South, then FCW/NXT, Tyrus looked like an intimidating figure, big and beefy and was getting over with his great look. WWE seemed ready to push him on as a monster worker, complete with videos threatening a new force ready to take folks down. But for some bizarre reason, it was changed. Instead of this monster, out came “The Funkasaurus.” Clay was now coming out with female dancers, doing a few minutes of wrestling and then just dancing like a goof. Sure, it was a fun visual but still baffling why WWE spent all the time building up a monster heel then turned him into a second-rate Rikishi.
He was in middling feuds, just used for dancing angles and was totally lost. He was sent back to NXT but the attempts to rebuild him were too little too late. Clay went to TNA but made little impact there before his release and has been drifting since. Maybe a monster Tyrus would have been good but changing him into a dancer ruined what could have been a promising star.
10 SAVED: Kane
Glenn Jacobs had been bouncing around the business for a while. With his tall form and good build, he had potential but could never quite pay it off. In WWE, he was saddled with the idea of “evil dentist” Isaac Yankem and then the fake Diesel. In 1997, when WWE decided to finally bring up the Undertaker’s brother, Kane, Jacobs was given the mask because he was tall enough. What no one expected was the man able to keep this act going for two decades and be among WWE’s biggest stars. At first silent, he managed to talk and was soon boosted up, even able to unmask but keep going.
He’s been smart, moving between heel and face, fighting The Undertaker or working with him and even “Corporate Kane” managed to work. It’s astounding how it’s led to huge success with various titles and made him a mega-star. Jacobs is now running for mayor of his hometown and using his fame. It's amazing how slapping on a mask was the gimmick that led to his name being well known.
9 DESTROYED: Shockmaster
It’s the moment that may very well sum up WCW as a whole. In 1993, the company was building up to War Games as Vader, Sid and Harlem Heat were to face Sting, Davey Boy Smith and Dustin Rhodes. On a “Flair For the Gold” segment, the faces talked about how they were going to “shock” the world with their partner and introduced The Shockmaster. Cue the fireworks and a guy in an open vest, jeans and a glitter-covered Stormtrooper helmet smashing through a wall…and falling flat on his face.
The helmet flew off to show he was Fred Ottman, last seen as Tugboat/Typhoon in WWE. Any potential for the act was destroyed in just three seconds, an incredible move even for WCW. Poor Ottoman suffered badly, the character redone to a tougher guy but that entrance guaranteed he could never be taken seriously by anyone. You have to feel for how the guy’s career sunk with one terrible fall.
8 SAVED: Broken Hardy
In terms of charisma, Matt was always behind Jeff Hardy. Jeff had his demons but was highly skilled and over with fans while Matt wasn’t as notable. He had success as a singles worker but seemed way too much in Jeff’s shadow. But in 2016, Matt took a chance one a new persona as “Broken Matt Hardy.” At first, it was just way too bizarre with his voice, his hair and wild mannerisms as well as the crazy videos of him and Jeff fighting at their home. But somehow, this connected with fans. It was just so wild and over the top you couldn’t help but watch it.
It also sparked Matt in the ring, looking better than he had in years and actually made TNA must-watch television. The Hardys were soon gaining gold and getting attention by going to other territories as the “DELETE!” chants echoed in arenas. The Hardys soon got a run in ROH with the titles and then a huge return to WWE. Thus, by making this change, Matt was able to rebuild himself hotter than ever before.
7 DESTROYED: Perry Saturn
This is a case where it’s really the guy’s own fault. Perry Saturn was an excellent worker in ECW and then WCW, showing himself well and rising up. He had some moments with the Radicals and while not as huge as the others, he was still a dependable guy as a tough man and could have risen more in the Hardcore division. In early 2001, Saturn was facing Mike Bell at a TV taping and the rookie Bell botched a few moves. This ticked Saturn off to attack him brutally, slamming him against the ring steps and post and around on the outside. Bell wasn’t badly injured but the front office was naturally furious.
So Saturn was punished by being given the gimmick of a blow to the head and falling in “love” with a mop. Yep, soon “Moppy” was being carried around by Saturn who would gush at it and even go wild when “she” was kidnapped. It was a terrible idea even worse on screen and pushed him down badly.
6 SAVED: Bray Wyatt
It’s absolutely hysterical seeing Husky Harris today. He had a…well, a husky build, beefy and not that notable with a very stupid haircut. He almost never talked and thus totally lost amid The Nexus. He was sent down to FCW for more training and while there, decided to remake himself. Embracing a unique idea, he came up with Bray Wyatt, a cultish leader of a backwoods group and suddenly he was taking off. His ring work improved quite nicely with his terrific skills and fine finisher. His promos were golden, the best around to captivate crowds and make him seem a serious deal. True, his win/loss record isn’t as good as it could be but Bray is still a hot act and even had a brief run as WWE Champion. It’s easily a gimmick change that saved him and gave WWE a major modern star as well as evolving a once bland worker into something magic.
5 DESTROYED: Mike Awesome
In ECW, Awesome lived up to his name, an absolutely fantastic performer who could be either a power monster or a high-flying technician. He could power bomb guys through tables or out-wrestle them. He was ECW champion when WCW signed him up. WCW had a super-hot act on their hands and yet they blew it worse than anyone could expect. Instead of having Awesome as the huge heel, they saddled him with a lame 70s lounge lizard act and gave him a stupid ongoing interview segment. It was absolutely horrible and crushed him right off the bat. A later shift to “The Fat Chick Thriller” didn’t do any better.
Paul Heyman must have been laughing hysterically to see how Awesome went from one of the hottest guys in wrestling to an utter joke in no time and it stands as one of the all-time greatest bunglings of a gimmick even by WCW’s lofty standards.
4 SAVED: Stone Cold
From his debut, Steve Austin had “future superstar” written all over him. He was talented in the ring and amazing on the mic, a killer heel and showed his stuff well. In WCW, he had runs as TV, US and tag team champion and promised for more before the coming of Hogan and a neck injury ruined it. He had a stint in ECW before being brought to WWE as “The Ringmaster” with Ted DiBiase as his manager. Austin hated it and wanted to do something off a 'cold-blooded killer' motif. He shaved his head and, inspired by his wife’s comment, the nickname of Stone Cold.
It still wasn’t enough until the King of the Ring and the Austin 3:16 speech that changed everything. It was a fantastic makeover, exactly what Austin needed to finally get over and be the mega-star fans had waited for. That it was his own idea just made it better and turned what could have been a failed WWE run into one of the most successful in history.
3 DESTROYED: Eugene
Before NXT, Ohio Valley Wrestling was WWE’s “farm group” and did a good job building up stars like Cena, Randy Orton, Batista and more. But too many suffered from gimmick changes when moving up to the main roster. No one was hit by that more than Nick Dinsmore. A great worker, he held the OVW title ten times, good on the mic and most thought WWE would give him a good run. Instead, he was saddled by the gimmick of Eugene, Eric Bischoff’s mentally slow nephew. At first, WWE seemed to get the idea with him a wrestling savant who could copy others. But that was dropped for goofy comedy, a bad feud with HHH, shaved bald and other antics. He had a brief run as tag team champion with William Regal but otherwise was just terrible and a total waste of his talents. Dinsmore never recovered and thus he stands as the biggest waste of an OVW talent ever for WWE.
2 SAVED: The New Day
In 2014, Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods were all lost. All three were talented, Kofi with multiple championships, Big E an impressive IC title run and more but also clearly nothing planned for them. Tossed together, they were just basically told to do whatever they wanted with their “gospel” act that got annoying. But then, the trio realized that they really did work well together in the ring. Kofi’s speed and high-flying, Big E’s strength and Woods’ skills made them a formidable team no matter how they mixed it up.
They soon became more loveable with their dancing, the trombone and such yet still delivered in the ring. The fans reacted, turning them from heels to faces and setting the record for the longest tag title reign of all time. They’re still together and doing fantastic as the hottest team around, a remarkable shift for three guys who looked done.
1 DESTROYED: The Red Rooster
According to popular legend, it was literally a flip of the coin between Terry Taylor and Curt Hennig over who would be given the “Mr. Perfect” gimmick. Taylor lost that in just about every way imaginable. A terrific star in the Mid-South/UWF area, Taylor was hired in 1988 with promises of more. Talented in the ring and on the mic, Taylor could have been a fine worker, even IC champion. Instead, he was made The Red Rooster. Coming out with a red streak in his hair, doing crappy “crowing” noises and getting Bobby Heenan as his manager wasn't enough to save him. He turned face but with no heat to him at all, he was just a filler worker. Taylor was never the same afterward, bad-mouthing the entire thing and how WWE turned him into a joke. It’s sad most know him by this rather than his great work outside WWE before he was ruined.