Originality is hard to come by in wrestling. The wrestling business has been around for several decades and the juggernaut company in the middle of the entire thing, WWE, has been around ever since 1952. Just about any and all gimmicks that we can think of right now have been done many times over by different wrestlers over the years and across numerous wrestling promotions. It’s rare that we find a wrestler who has a truly original gimmick that does not take influence or inspiration from any other entity. When all inspiration is lost, wrestlers often look towards what is popular in pop culture to find their gimmick and there is perhaps nothing more popular in pop culture than music.
Music is something everybody is familiar with and everybody indulges. If we were to track what people gravitate towards in the music world, there is a good chance that it might work in the wrestling world as well. This is why we have seen a strong handful of wrestling gimmicks that take inspiration from not only music, but musicians directly. Though, there is a much, much smaller handful of musician ripoff gimmicks in wrestling that actually work given how many end up being flops. Here are just some examples.
15. John Morrison – Jim Morrison
Shortly after winning the vacant ECW Championship at Vengeance: Night of Champions, the once flamboyant and boisterous Johnny Nitro appeared on the go-home episode of ECW right before the Great American Bash with a completely new image. Now with a more stoic and enigmatic persona, Nitro’s whole new presence echoed something similar to The Doors’ lead singer, Jim Morrison. In fact, to add icing to the cake, Nitro changed his name to John Morrison and even quoted some lines from The Doors songs on occasion.
He wound up dropping the accent after a couple years, but for the beginning of his rechristened run, John Morrison’s character was essentially a Jim Morrison impression. He remains out of the WWE nowadays, but a return seems likely as he recently expressed his interest in making one more run, likely without the Jim Morrison impersonation.
14. Bray Wyatt – Charles Manson
Okay, this one is kind of cheating, if only for the fact that Charles Manson is better known as being something a little more horrifying than just a musician. Regardless, the fact remains that Charles Manson was a musician and recorded some songs. In addition to being a high profile cult leader, Manson had a studio album titled Lie: The Love and Terror Cult which featured such grimly titled tracks as “Garbage Dump” and “Sick City.” He also produced an album with his “family” called The Family Jams.
While Bray Wyatt never produced an album with his family–though his soulful voice could be heard whenever he sang “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands”–Wyatt’s gimmick is still clearly influenced by Charles Manson’s presence as a cult leader.
13. Goldust – Prince
Yes, even Goldust found himself ripping off The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Appropriately enough, it was during his run as The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust. The Prince allusions in his gimmick did not last long, but most memorably during this run, Goldust painted “FU” across his face, which paralleled a stunt that the actual Prince did in real life where he wrote “Slave” on his face to send a message to a record label he was having a contractual dispute with.
This led to Prince changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Meanwhile, Goldust’s stunt didn’t lead to much, nor did his Prince inspired gimmick as he was back to being regular old Goldust within a year’s time. Prince’s impact has been quite profound in the wrestling industry as you can see.
12. The KISS Demon – KISS
In 1999, WCW’s Eric Bischoff struck a deal with KISS that they could produce a KISS inspired wrestler in exchange for KISS to perform on an episode of Nitro. Lo and behold, KISS performed and around the same time, the KISS Demon debuted on the August 23rd edition on Nitro during the $500,000 KISS performance.
Not only did the acquisition cost WCW tons of money right from its inception, the KISS segment proved to be one of the lowest rated segments in WCW history. As such, Bischoff lost his backstage position as head booker. To make Bischoff’s vision look bad, WCW execs sought out to make The Kiss Demon look like a jobber with a pathetic losing streak right up until the wrestler’s contract ran out.
11. George Ringo – The Beatles
One of the more blatant and outlandish wrestling related ripoffs of musicians comes in the form of George Ringo, “The Wrestling Beatle.” Played by a man named Bob Sabre, the idea came from Dick the Bruiser. Dick did not necessarily intend to use this gimmick to capitalize on the success of The Beatles nor was the gimmick ever meant to get over. In fact, it was intended to be as terrible as it looked. He was merely meant to be enhancement talent for the AWA, not taking too much shine away from his opponent and getting the crap getting out of him to make his opponent look good.
In the sense of everything that a jobber is supposed to be, the gimmick was a success, oddly enough. As far as getting over with the fans, not so much.
10. Kid Kash – Kid Rock
Originally wrestling under the name David Tyler Morton Jericho, this guy’s original 1996 run of ECW was a flop and was hardly there long enough for a cup of coffee. However, when he returned in 1999, he struck gold when he was repackaged under the name Kid Kash for the fact that ECW officials thought that he bore an uncanny resemblance to Kid Rock.
From there, Kid Kash came to the ring in outfits and crazy hats that were similar to the kind worn by Kid Rock. There wasn’t much to his gimmick other than simply looking like Kid Rock, but the role caught on to fans in attendance enough that it led to Kid Kash winning the ECW Television Championship and on occasion challenged for the ECW Heavyweight Championship.
9. Van Hammer – Van Halen
Few fans these days recall the wrestler known as Van Hammer, but those that do remember him for being a blatant ripoff of the musician known as Eddie Van Halen. The wrestler made it clear whenever he stepped on stage just how influenced his gimmick was to the rock legend.
Like Van Halen, Van Hammer had long blond hair, often walked on stage shirtless, and carried his very own V-shaped guitar. Under the “Heavy Metal” nickname in 1991, Van Hammer actually found a surprising amount of success. He had a lengthy undefeated streak for quite some time that included a non-title win over then-WCW Television Champion, Arn Anderson. However, this success never amounted to any gold of his own and the closest to a major accolade to his name was receiving the Most Embarrassing Wrestler Award from The Wrestling Observer.
8. 3 Count – Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC
3 Count was a stable formed in WCW during 1999 and consisted of three talented staples of WCW’s Cruiserweight Division. They were Shane Helms, Shannon Moore, and Evan Karagias. The trio’s gimmick evoked the spirit of such pop boy bands that dominated the late 90s music scene like Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC. In fact, in their theme song (sung by 3 Count themselves), they name dropped both bands, therefore WCW wasn’t even hiding the fact they were ripping said bands off.
Still, the three made the gimmick work. Their run is highlighted by all three men winning the Hardcore Championship under the Freebird Rule and Helms and Moore winning a great Triangle Tag Team Ladder Match to open Starrcade 2000.
7. Johnny B. Badd – Little Richard
When people hear the name Johnny B. Badd, whether they’re a wrestling fan or not, most minds remember the song “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry, but in the wrestling world, Johnny B. Badd evoked the essence of a different musical performer in Little Richard.
Much like Little Richard, Johnny B. Badd was as flamboyant as they come. Often to add insult to injury, he even placed lipstick stickers on his opponents after pinning them. As a heel, Badd was pushed heavily enough with his undefeated streak and was so entertaining that he gained enough fan support to evolve into a full fledged babyface. It also led to him capturing the WCW Television Championship. Surprisingly enough, Marc Mero was talented enough in WCW to make the gimmick work.
6. Honky Tonk Man – Elvis
It can be argued that The Honky Tonk Man is the most successful wrestler to ever rip off the persona of a famous musician. From the hair-do to the sparkly get-up, there was no denying that Honky was meant to carry himself as a certain familiar face from Graceland.
Regardless, the gimmick did wonders for both the character and WWE itself as Honky was the kind of irritating heel who everybody tuned in to see get beat up for running his mouth every chance that he got. Honky ended up becoming the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion in the title’s history, a record which the man still holds to this very day. His run was halted as he jobbed in second to an up-and-comer at the time, some dude named Ultimate Warrior.
5. The Flying Elvis’ – Elvis
The Honky Tonk Man was certainly a gimmick of its era. Only in the 80s, where it was the norm for the wrestling world to be riddled with character gimmicks, could a gimmick blatantly ripping off Elvis could become as successful as it did.
Trying to duplicate that success nowadays would fail miserably and that is why Impact Wrestling’s The Flying Elvis’ flopped as badly as it did. By the mid-late 90s, fans wanting something more in their wrestling than characters as corny gimmicks became remnants of wrestling’s disregarded past. When Impact Wrestling was in its infancy in 2002, they apparently didn’t get the message as they tried to present The Flying Elvis’ (consisting of Jorge Estrada, Sonny Siaki, and Jimmy Yang) as a serious heel stable. They even appeared in the company’s first match, but their momentum soon died a slow death before they disbanded altogether.
4. The Velveteen Dream – Prince
Given just how charismatic and globally loved that the artist himself was, Prince seems to be a common influence for gimmicks in the history of wrestling, more common than any of us would think. The most recent addition to the list of Prince wrestling gimmicks is The Velveteen Dream.
After his run on Tough Enough, Patrick Clark garnered a WWE contract and after training for quite some time, he started using a Prince related gimmick, calling himself The Patrick Clark Experience. When it seemed like the gimmick was working for him, WWE decided to trademark him under the new name The Velveteen Dream where he fully embraces Prince’s mannerisms and lingo. For a little cherry on top, The Dream cleverly dubs his Elbow Drop finisher the “Purple Rainmaker”. Only time will tell how well his gimmick connects with audiences upon being called up to the main roster.
3. Nakamura – Michael Jackson
An interesting part of the new school mind set in the world of wrestling is taking inspiration from other forms outside of pro wrestling such as film and music. Kenny Omega himself made the claim that a big part of his character’s allure is all because of film. Omega is a big student of film and he uses the mannerisms to enhance his character distinctly from others. Nakamura took a similar page as he identifies his persona closely with Michael Jackson. Not only did Shinsuke admit Michael’s a huge inspiration but you can also see examples through his act. Whether it’s the mannerisms or similar red attire, it isn’t hard to spot the similarities.
Even wrestling pundit Dave Meltzer called it blatantly obvious claiming the WWE is taking things a step too far trying to make Nakamura the Michael Jackson of the WWE.
2. Michael Saxon – Michael Jackson
In the classic days of WWE, for whatever reason, Vince McMahon thought it would be a bright idea to bring a character onto his roster who blatantly ripped off Michael Jackson. Yet, he did not want this guy to be too similar to Michael Jackson as Vince often clarified on commentary that the man in the ring was Michael Saxon, not the man in the mirror Michael Jackson, man was wrestling in a weird place.
Though it was not necessary for Vince to point out the contrast as even though Saxon dressed like MJ, danced like MJ, and had hair like MJ, he was no MJ by any means. Not only was he a charisma-less jobber who gave us a terrible Michael Jackson impression, he was a terrible wrestler to boot.
1. John Cena – Vanilla Ice
Fans who love and praise John Cena’s old rapper gimmick tend to forget that the gimmick was legitimately a Vanilla Ice ripoff. By the fall of 2002, Cena had only recently turned heel and still lacked a real gimmick. The first time he showed any character was for the Halloween episode of SmackDown that year when he showed up dressed up as Vanilla Ice, even going as far as to freestyle.
The segment went over so well with backstage management that they convinced Cena to continue using the gimmick for the long haul. Starting the following week, Cena started acting like a rapper full time and began calling himself “The Doctor of Thugonomics”. Over the next couple years, Cena used the gimmick to launch himself into superstardom and eventually become the face of the WWE.
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