What makes pro wrestling such a captivating form of art are the characters. While some may enjoy the athletic competition in the ring between skilled performers who have painstakingly studied the craft, it’s the flashy personalities and larger than life egos that keep people tuned in and wanting to put money down to watch an anticipated showdown. Wrestling in a nutshell is storytelling at its most fundamental. You have a good guy you want to see succeed and you have bad guy who you despise and want to see his face get kicked in.
For generations, pro wrestling has churned out personalities that fans can either get behind or rail against. Usually these characters were overly simplified. In the olden days you had the good ol’ American boy who “fought for the rights of every man” as the heroic babyfaces like Hulk Hogan or Bob Backland and on the opposing side you had an evil foreigner or aristocrat that looked down on society like the Iron Sheik, Nick Bockwinkel and the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase. Characters like these worked during their times so of course wrestling promotions would try to rehash the characters in later years to see if success could be repeated. Some of the superstars that we know and love seem quite, shall we say, familiar.
Gimmicks in wrestling have long been recycled, modified and influenced by past gimmicks. Borrowing or being influenced from the past can be okay but it’s another thing if a character is a blatant knockoff. The following list covers 15 gimmicks that lacked originality in that it basically stole the elements of a previous persona and usually performed a mediocre and watered down portrayal. The list excludes parodies which were meant to mock and make fun of a wrestler and mainly covers those gimmicks which were passed off in a manner that was to be taken seriously.
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15 Chris Masters Copies The “Narcissist” Lex Luger
Chris Masters arrived on the scene in WWE in the mid 2000s as a young upstart on the RAW brand. He was a chiseled stud and dubbed “The Masterpiece” and had a gaudy entrance where he drew attention to his physique by posing pretentiously in front of sparkling pyro. While the character of a hard-bodied Adonis character that was full of himself was a staple in the world of wrestling, this gimmick in particular felt like deja vu. That’s because it was basically lifted from Lex Luger’s old gimmick in the 90’s.
Before Lex Luger was the total package or trying (poorly) to be the second coming of Hulk Hogan in the mid 90’s, Luger debuted in the WWE as “The Narcissist” Lex Luger, a bodybuilding fanatic who loved his body so much that his entrance consisted of him posing in front of mirrors to admire his bulging muscles. While Masters was able to get more longevity out of the gimmick, particularly with his “Masterlock” challenge, the gimmick of loving ones own musculature doesn’t have a very high ceiling in the WWE.
14 Rusev Improves Upon The Gimmick Of Vladimir Kozlov
Every once in a while the WWE feels the need to have a foreign anti-American brute on the roster, usually from somewhere in Europe. In early 2008, Vladimir Kozlov would debut in the WWE as a dominating Russian fighter and would barrel through the roster much like Bulgarian Alexander Rusev would do years later. Kozlov wouldn’t do much talking, and when he did he was very short and to the point.
Rusev would debut in the WWE in 2014 in basically the same fashion except with the lovely Lana by his side to manage the beast. Rusev in his short career has attained much more accolades than Kozlov has done and has shown that he is a lot more talented than Kozlov, in the ring and on the mic. Rusev was able to take this generic character and make it much more, putting his own unique spin on it and showing that he was not content being just “another Kozlov”. His alliance with now wife Lana also adds an interesting dynamic to the character. The potential for Rusev to be a big star for years to come is quite high, much higher than Kozlov’s ever was.
13 Bray Wyatt Is The Second Coming Of Waylon Mercy
Bray Wyatt is one of the most unique original characters of the New Era. The spooky entrance, the head scratching creepy promos, his Hawaiian shirts and the vignettes in woodsy areas is all captivating stuff. Wait a minute, did I say unique and original? That isn’t necessarily true as the Wyatt character had been done before, in the mid 90’s no less.
Waylon Mercy was a wrestler that debuted after several vignettes which showed him in the southern backwoods talking about his eventual arrival. He had a sinister demeanor to him covered by southern charm. It was an interesting, mysterious character much like Wyatt is today but albeit short-lived as performer Dan Spivey was put on the shelf due to injuries and the character never again saw the light of day.
In this case, being a copycat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bray Wyatt, who was previous the failed Husky Harris, has taken the gimmick and made it his own and added elements that far surpass what Waylon Mercy was. Wyatt even revealed that Waylon Mercy himself gave Wyatt his blessing to do the character and develop him in NXT. The Bray Wyatt character in his current incarnation has a higher ceiling than Waylon Mercy could’ve ever dreamed of. While it remains to be seen how far Wyatt will go in the WWE, this knock off is one that actually deserves a thumbs up.
12 Damien Sandow Rips-Off The Genius
Damien Sandow arrived to the WWE in 2012 as the “Intellectual Savior of the Masses”. He was a condescending, snobbish heel who spoke with an expanded vocabulary and looked down upon the WWE universe for what he deemed their low IQ. He came to the ring to the tune of choir music and dressed in a robe and had a nicely groomed beard. His wrestling style, while graceful, seemed a bit flamboyant.
Sound familiar? That’s because it was done before in nearly the same way in the late 80’s by Lanny Poffo, under the moniker The Genius. The younger brother of Randy Savage, Lanny Poffo dressed in an academic cap and gown and played a highly intelligent snobbish heel who wrote elaborate poems that insulted the crowd and his opponents. As the Genius, he wrestled rather effeminately to gain heat, much like Sandow. Unfortunately for both gimmicks, neither was given enough time and attention to really gain momentum.
11 Abyss: A Mish-Mash Of Mankind And Kane
One of the longest running characters from TNA is “The Monster” known as Abyss. The deranged masked figure has been both a loved face and a feared and hated villain during his time in TNA and has been a part of memorable feuds with Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles and RVD. If a WWE fan were to watch Abyss they usually would quickly draw a comparison to two wrestlers in particular that Abyss is a little more than inspired from, Mankind and Kane.
Abyss’s character back story as a man with a psychopathic sadist that exhibits childlike behavior at times and his fondness of barbed wire and thumbtacks hearkens in a way to Kane and Mankind’s WWE characters. Abyss has added enough elements to the character to make it his own and the memorable matches he’s had have earned him a reputation as a solid ring worker.
10 Carlito Channels Razor Ramon
The character of Razor Ramon wasn’t exactly original. Scott Hall basically was doing his best Tony Montana impression from the movie Scarface when he pitched the character to Vince McMahon and with that, the Bad Guy was born. Razor Ramon was an accented Puerto Rican character with a bad attitude and a penchant for chewing toothpicks and tossing them in people’s face. Razor’s gimmick caught on with fans who thought he was the coolest thing ever.
A decade later, the WWE debuted Carlito Caribbean Cool, another Puerto Rican character with a bad attitude who instead of chewing on toothpicks and flicking them towards his opponents faces, had a fondness of biting into apples and spitting them at people. While Carlito was successful he didn’t reach the heights that Razor Ramon did in his time with WWE. Carlito was memorable however and taught us that spitting apples in the face of uncool people is the right way to deal with them.
9 Alberto Del Rio Is The Latino JBL
When the beer swilling and cigar smoking APA member Bradshaw turned into the “wrestling god” known as JBL, he solidified himself as a main eventer with his persona. He was a Texas millionaire and dressed in fine tailored suits, arrived to the arena in a limo and had a bevy of servants doing his bidding. After he retired and made his way to the announcers booth, it seemed that the WWE was missing that rich snobby aristocrat character, so they created another in the form of Alberto Del Rio.
Alberto Del Rio’s character initially in the WWE was the Latino version of John Bradshaw Layfield. He had the servants, the fancy cars that he rolled up in when arriving to the arena to compete and the pompous theme music just like JBL was known for. It was so obvious that he was a copycat that WWE acknowledged it in the form of Christian, who was feuding Del Rio at the time, who called him “Juan Bradshaw Layfield”. Alberto Del Rio may have done away with a lot of the elements of the gimmick nowadays, but the level of stealing from JBL’s successful character was evident early on.
8 The Great Khali Is Current Day Giant Gonzalez
Vince McMahon’s talks quite often when developing characters that they have to be larger than life. But more often than not, Vince McMahon just wants them large. From Andre the Giant of the golden era to the Big Show of the modern day, Vince McMahon always needs a giant on his roster to literally stand out from the pack.
In 1993, Giant Gonzalez made his debut in the WWE. Standing at a whopping 7 ft 7 inches, Gonzalez is the tallest wrestler to ever grace the WWE ring and was a scary sight to see as he went right after the Undertaker and quickly engaged into a feud with the Dead man. The Argentinean was a big menacing figure that didn’t speak and had pint-sized Harvey Whippleman as a mouthpiece. After the feud concluded there wasn’t really anything else the WWE had for him and he was let go.
Fast forward 13 years and WWE had another Giant on their hands in The Great Khali. Khali was Indian and also didn’t speak English and had a pint-sized manager who was his mouthpiece, Ranjin Singh. He also was brought in initially to feud with the Undertaker. How original. Unlike Gonzalez, Khali had a much longer and more successful career, capturing the World Heavyweight Championship at one point.
7 Booker T Rips Off The Rock
When counting his entire body of work and career, Booker T wasn’t a copycat of The Rock as he created a special unique persona of his own. I’m mostly talking about his time in the Main Event of WCW where he basically was trying to be WCW’s version of the Rock during the Monday Night Wars.
Booker T is known mostly as being a 5 time (5 time, 5 time, 5 time, 5 time) WCW champion but for most of his career in WCW, he was a mid-carder that was part of a tag team known as Harlem Heat with his brother, Stevie Ray. When Booker branched out on his own to pursue a singles career and began climbing up the ranks to the main event, he began adopting some familiar traits of a wrestler from rival promotion, WWE. And by adopting, I mean totally knocking off.
During Booker T’s main event babyface run, Booker would start donning sunglasses, expensive shirts and the same sideburns and hairstyle as the Rock. Booker would even start spouting catchphrases and adopted a finishing move called the Book End, which was basically the Rock Bottom. At one point, Booker T would even start referring himself in the third person as “The Book”. Looking back, it’s quite nauseating how much of a sad ripoff Booker T was during the dying years of WCW when WCW was just desperate to try anything that would stick even if it meant trying to make a carbon copy of the competition’s top star.
6 Brodus Clay Was A Reboot Of Flash Funk
In 2012, the near 400 pound behemoth Brodus Clay was going to be making his re-debut in the WWE after a short stint in NXT and as Alberto Del Rio’s imposing bodyguard. Vignettes showed that he was going to be a menacing monster but then suddenly without warning, WWE put the kibosh on the hype and decided to do away with the monster gimmick. Clay would be repackaged as the fun-loving and Funkasaurus. Brodus Clay would come down to the ring to funk music and be accompanied by Naomi and Cameron, his beautiful dancing funkadactyls.
As played out as it is to have a funk music loving wrestler in 2012, it was equally played out in the mid 90s as well when Flash Funk debuted in the WWE. Flash Funk was the gimmick that was ripped off and given to the Funkasaurus. Flash Funk came out to funky attire, funk music and a dancing duo known as the Funkettes. His run in WWE didn’t last long but Vince McMahon loved the gimmick and kept it in his back pocket and saw an opportune time to bring it back out 15 years later. Oh, Vince. Somebody call his mama.
5 Ezekiel Jackson: A Clone Of Ahmed Johnson
Take a big muscular and bald African-American man, throw some red wrestling tights on him, give him an ethnic or biblical sounding first name and then a strong stereotypical last name and what do you have? Well there are two answers that would be accepted as correct. You can either say Ahmed Johnson or Ezekiel Jackson and you’d be right on the money.
Ahmed Johnson was a pet project of the WWE in the mid to late 90s. An athletic and wide bodied football player turned wrestler, Johnson burst onto the scene in 1995 and had a rocket strapped to his back as he quickly became a major star of the promotion. Intense on the mic and a powerhouse in the ring, Ahmed was bit by the bad luck bug and hampered by injuries that cut his stint in the WWE short.
In 2008, Ezekiel Jackson debuted in the WWE. He was also a big, bald African-American powerhouse that the WWE seemed very eager to push. His look, wrestling style and booking essentially made him Ahmed Johnson 2.0. While Ezekiel had a longer run than Ahmed in the WWE, he also was hampered by injuries and unceremoniously released.
4 WCW Knocks Off Chyna With Asya
The Monday Night Wars was a time of one-upmanship between the WCW and WWE. While battling for brand supremacy WCW and WWE both had elements the other didn’t have that made each company successful so each did their best to emulate various gimmicks and stunts to basically tell the viewing audience, “Hey, you like such-and-such? We have the same thing but better”. None was more blatant than when WCW yanked an imposing female bodybuilder from obscurity and placed her on the roster and gave her the name “Asya”.
Chyna was the tough as nails, ass-kicking female enforcer of DX and was an instrumental part of the WWE’s gradual success over WCW in the Monday Night Wars. WCW thought they could hire a strong looking woman to essentially play the same character as Chyna in WCW. Even her name is a direct reference to Chyna with the implication being that Asya is superior to Chyna since the continent of “Asia” is bigger than “China”. The idea was as terrible as it sounds and the short-lived character had an unmemorable stint of less than a year in the WCW before she was released.
3 The Powers Of Pain Copy The Road Warriors
Hawk and Animal were the successful badass tag team of the wrestling territory days in the 80s. So successful that they spawned not one, but two knockoff tag teams in the WWE. First came the Powers of Pain, the forgettable tag team of the late 80s. Named respectively as “The Warlord” and “Barbarian”, everything about the team mimicked what made the Road Warriors famous, big muscular bodies, wacky face pain and bizarre hairdos. They were essentially imposters because the WWE couldn’t land the Road Warriors at the time. The Powers of Pain had a short run in the WWE and were out of the company by the middle of 1990.
Is it any coincidence that by the time the WWE finally were able to snag the Road Warriors (renamed the Legion of Doom), the Powers of Pain were gone? Why keep the generic stuff around when you have the real deal name brand team?
2 Ric Flair Steals His From The 0riginal “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers
Ric Flair is regarded a legend in the wrestling industry. He is a crossover celebrity and coined in mainstream as the founder of “swag” through his infamous high living and “styling and profiling”. However it’s quite surprising to note that the “Nature Boy” gimmick isn’t a Flair original. Flair basically lifted his entire gimmick—from the bleach blond hair (Flairs hair is naturally dark brown) to the cocky grandiose behavior to even the figure four leglock—from the original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, a pioneer of the early days of American professional wrestling who competed between 1939 and 1982.
Ric Flair would take the gimmick and make it his own by making himself out to be a fast living playboy that belts out his signature “Woo!” but he has Buddy Rogers to thank, borrowing his persona to carve his name into the annals of wrestling history. To be the man, you gotta beat the man, or in this case, to be the man, you have to steal the gimmick from the man.
1 Renegade Arrives As A Poor Man’s Ultimate Warrior
There’s being inspired by a previous gimmick and then there’s ripping off a previous gimmick that is so blatant that passing it off with a straight face is just insulting to wrestling fans. That’s exactly what WCW did in 1995 when they introduced Renegade, who was such a deliberate knock off of The Ultimate Warrior that it’s nauseating.
At the time, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were in the middle of a feud with Vader and Ric Flair. In promos, Hogan began hyping what he declared to be an “Ultimate Surprise” at the upcoming PPV Uncensored where he was scheduled to face Vader and revealed a silhouette of a man with long hair and tassels. Renegade would debut wearing face paint and mimicking the mannerisms of the Ultimate Warrior in terms of his entrance, in-ring moves, promo work and music.
The gimmick didn’t last long as fans weren’t impressed with a poor man’s version of the Ultimate Warrior. Once the real Ultimate Warrior resurfaced to give magazine interviews criticizing Renegade, Renegade’s initial momentum took a free fall and he was relegated to being a jobber the rest of his career until his release.
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