The art of the gimmick can make or break the career of a professional wrestler. Gimmicks have become less important over the years, but they certainly still play a part in today’s business. Prior eras would see gimmicks become the most important aspect of a performer. It didn’t matter if a wrestler was talented, had great matches or delivered epic promos as much as it did he or she had a great gimmick. The gimmick is essentially the persona a wrestler adopts with more elements explaining the character behind them. Each wrestler dreamed of getting the right gimmick in a thriving promotion. This typically led to success and the potential of becoming a top star.
The Undertaker is considered the best wild gimmick that somehow worked and connected with the audience. It was a combination of smart booking and a talented performer finding a way to make fans believe in him. Steve Austin playing the anti-authority rebel in the '90s and Hulk Hogan being the face of patriotism in the '80s each showed how gimmicks in the right era could draw massive money. We will look at some of the wrestlers that weren’t as lucky. Many talented wrestlers had a chance to make an impact on the industry, but they were held back by poor ideas. These are twenty great wrestlers that were stuck with bad gimmicks and paid for it.
Eugene is remembered as an embarrassment when looking back at his run in WWE. Eugene would not be allowed on WWE television today due to the insensitive nature of the gimmick. WWE decided to make Nick Dinsmore play the mentally challenged kayfabe nephew of Eric Bischoff that tried to live his dream in pro wrestling.
Most of the heels ridiculed Eugene and it led to segments that are hard to watch today. A forgotten aspect of this is that Dinsmore was considered a great wrestler in developmental. The in-ring work of Dinsmore was impressive, but he had to hide that all when playing the Eugene gimmick.
Fandango is still on the WWE roster, but it has become obvious he will never get elevated above comedic lower card act. The potential for Fandango was quite high when known as Johnny Curtis in the original stages of NXT. A change led to him becoming Fandango and having his first match at WrestleMania XXIX against Chris Jericho.
Fandango showed some potential, but the gimmick had no chance to thrive in the long term. He fell off the map within a few months and has been struggling to find relevance ever since. His tag team with Tyler Breeze as Breezango/ The Fashion Police will likely be his ceiling for the rest of his WWE career.
18 The Spirit Squad
The Spirit Squad is remembered as an enhancement act due to all the instances where they were embarrassed on-screen. WWE surprisingly had high hopes for all five members of the male cheerleading faction. Each member was specifically selected due to having a high upside.
Kenny Doane, Mike Mondo, and Dolph Ziggler stood out as the three that WWE most believed in. Ziggler is the only one from the Spirit Squad that was able to rebound from the flop. WWE gave them no chance to succeed and went for the cheap writing strategy of embarrassing them at the hands of D-Generation X.
17 The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Iaukea
Vince Russo joining WCW as the lead member of the creative team led to many awful gimmicks coming to fruition. The writing style of Russo called for many silly gimmicks rather than playing to the strengths of the wrestlers. One wrestler to get stuck with a bad gimmick was Prince Iaukea.
WCW used Prince Iaukea for a few years as a former Cruiserweight Champion and Television Champion. Russo wanted him to play a gimmick based on the legendary musician Prince. The name change saw him become The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Iaukea after Prince adopted a similar change. It came off as embarrassing and likely played a role in Iaukea never getting a chance in WWE.
16 Perry Saturn
Many wrestling fans forget that Perry Saturn joined WWE in dramatic fashion. The other three members of the Radicalz are remembered more fondly, but Saturn was another relevant wrestler making the jump from WCW to WWE.
Things looked good early for Saturn as he paired up with popular manager Terri Runnels. Unfortunately, his poor decision to physically destroy a local wrestler in a dark match due to a botch would ruin his career. WWE decided to punish Saturn by having him get the gimmick of falling in love with a mop. Saturn fell off the map and became a forgotten man in wrestling.
15 Chavo Guerrero
Chavo Guerrero is respected for being an incredibly talented in-ring performer throughout his career. Runs in WWE, WCW, Impact Wrestling, and other promotions have seen him put together a great reputation. Chavo even trains the actresses of the hit Netflix show GLOW on how to wrestle for the series and even had a guest role in the show's Season 2 finale.
There is one very embarrassing part of his career that almost ruined it. WWE had Chavo portray the Kerwin White gimmick. It was essentially Chavo denouncing his heritage and taking part in embarrassing segments. The gimmick had zero momentum and WWE dropped it following the heartbreaking news of Eddie Guerrero passing away.
14 Simon Dean
The memory of Simon Dean in WWE is often associated with negative feelings. No one really expected him to become a major Superstar or anything, but the wrestler behind the character was quite entertaining. Nova had success in ECW as one of the more exciting wrestlers towards the end.
WWE used him as the Simon Dean character, wanting to play up the parody of scamming weight-loss methods. The heel persona did get him boos, but no fan took him credibly. Dean was a poor gimmick that no wrestler could have been able to get any mileage of. ECW fans that witnessed Nova still want to forget Simon ever existed.
13 Katie Lea Burchill
The female performers in WWE have suffered the same fate as the men when it comes to poor creative choices. Katarina Waters has had a successful career in professional wrestling, but most of her biggest moments have come outside of WWE. The gimmick given to her in WWE was one-half of the Burchill siblings, Katie Lea.
Katie Lea united with her scripted brother Paul Burchill as both wrestlers tried to make an impact in WWE together. There were hints of a more controversial angle with the two teasing romantic tension. WWE quickly ended the angle before it got too late, but the gimmick still hurt Katie Lea. She never rebounded until finding success outside of WWE when joining Impact Wrestling.
12 Adam Bomb
Bryan Clark was a very underrated wrestler that did not get to show his potential in WWE. The size, strength, and agility of Clark could have been a help to almost any relevant wrestling character. WWE decided to introduce him to under the name and gimmick of Adam Bomb.
The implication was that Adam was the survivor of a nuclear meltdown accident. It led to a unique look and a bit too much of a gimmick to show his true skill. The run ended in failure and Clark found more success in WCW. Neither company ever used him to the best of his ability, but WWE did worse with the Adam Bomb gimmick.
The Samoan Dynasty in WWE has led to many incredible success stories. Roman Reigns has already accomplished more than most wrestlers in WWE history. The Rock is an iconic name. Nia Jax and The Usos are fixtures for WWE moving forward. One member of the family to never receive such an opportunity was Reigns' older brother, Rosey.
The tag team of Rosey and Jamal made up 3-Minute Warning, as both men showed great potential. Jamal would fulfill his potential by becoming the successful character Umaga. Things went the opposite route for Rosey as he played the Super Hero in Training. Rosey was a comedic sidekick for The Hurricane. They had some fun moments together, but the gimmick prevented him from finding relevant success in WWE.
10 Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page is rightfully in the WWE Hall of Fame, thanks to a legendary WCW career. The organic success of Page in WCW allowed him to reach the main event status later in his age than most other peers.
DDP was one of the few top stars from WCW to willingly turn down his prior contract money to work for WWE when the Invasion took place. WWE repaid him by having him play a terrible gimmick of a stalker. Page stalked Undertaker’s wife as his introduction to WWE before getting squashed by the legend. The gimmick ruined any chance of success in WWE.
9 Terry Taylor
Another example of a talented wrestler coming to WWE and receiving a horrible gimmick was Terry Taylor. The in-ring work of Taylor was impressive throughout his career. Many wrestling historians still name him among the most underrated wrestlers of his time.
WWE hired Taylor with a very corny idea in mind. Terry was tasked with the gimmick of playing The Red Rooster. The idea of playing a human version of a rooster is difficult enough in any profession. Wrestling fans reacting to your work every night makes it 100 times more difficult. Taylor’s reputation as a top talent essentially ended once The Red Rooster flopped so badly.
8 Lance Storm
The in-ring work of Lance Storm left him a legacy and a future in wrestling that no one could have predicted. Storm worked for WWE, WCW, and ECW with his serious persona and love for the technical wrestling style being his calling cards.
WWE decided to try to change things up for Storm. He was given the gimmick of a party animal trying to find excitement after Steve Austin called him out for being boring. Storm tried his hand at dancing, delivering ridiculous expressions and trying to excite the audience. It didn’t work, and Storm has even admitted he hated the angle. Luckily, his wrestling school's enduring success and his matches on the WWE Network has made fans realize how great Storm was.
7 Shelton Benjamin
Shelton Benjamin is often discussed when mentioning the most underrated wrestlers in WWE history. The athletic ability and wrestling background of Benjamin made him a huge free agent signing. Many people in WWE viewed Benjamin as an equal or better than John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and Batista in developmental.
The biggest weakness for Benjamin was his lack of promo skills. WWE tried giving him a silly gimmick to develop more personality. Shelton’s “mother” showed up and started demanding more of him in the ring. It led to horrible comedic backstage segments that doomed Benjamin’s career. He did get re-signed and currently has a spot on the SmackDown roster. We can only hope Shelton’s mom doesn’t return too.
6 Mike Awesome
ECW is remembered for having a great influence on the wrestling industry in the '90s. Many of the stars went on to find success in bigger promotions, like Rob Van Dam and the Dudley Boyz. However, many more talented stars would struggle to get their respect.
Mike Awesome made a bold move ditching ECW during his reign as ECW Champion to sign a contract with WCW. The potential of Awesome saw him get introduced as a new star attacking Kevin Nash. That ended quickly as Vince Russo’s writing led to Awesome getting the gimmicks of That '70s Guy and The Fat Chick Thriller. Both characters ruined his career and he could never rebound to find relevance again.
5 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is currently one of the biggest stars in the wrestling world. The success of Rhodes in New Japan, Ring of Honor and his own venture for All In each proved that WWE missed the boat on him. Cody is even finding success in acting as part of the CW hit show Arrow.
WWE failed to get this level of success from Rhodes due to the horrible ideas towards the end of his run. Stardust was the gimmick given to Cody as he tried to become a newer version of his brother Goldust. It was so bad that Cody requested his release due to his realization his career was going nowhere. The move was genius, as Rhodes is now a massive name and will be a huge free agent come 2019.
Matt Bloom's current role as head Performance Center trainer has seen his transition into an important position in WWE. However, Bloom's run as a wrestler could have been a lot better than it was. Most of his best moments took place at Albert or A-Train in the early 2000s.
Some time away from WWE allowed him to become a huge star in New Japan as Giant Bernard. WWE was impressed enough to re-hire him under the new gimmick of Tensai. The character was meant to be a Japanese monster heel, but it came off as bad comedy. Tensai flopped and he played more bad characters before moving behind the scenes.
3 Flash Funk
2 Cold Scorpio was one of the most underrated wrestlers of the '90s. Separate stints in WWE, WCW, and ECW each showed different aspects of his work. Scorpio found his best success in ECW as one of the best in-ring performers for the smaller promotion.
WWE hired Scorpio away from ECW to become the new character of Flash Funk. The gimmick was reportedly inspired by singer Rick James. Funk wore a zoot suit, had his own personal dancers and delivered a choreographed routine before each match. Fans viewed it as a joke, and not even a switch back to 2 Cold Scorpio could save him, as he was placed in the all-star jobber stable, the J.O.B. Squad. WWE let Scorpio/Funk go and never brought him back.
One of the biggest recent instances of someone getting saddled with bad gimmicks in WWE is Emma. The talent of Emma was as strong as any other woman in the company. Emma and Paige had incredible matches in NXT that made the Women’s Evolution hit the infant stages of catching on.
Bad gimmicks doomed her once she joined the main roster. Emma would take part in various dances to try to get the audience on her side, as well as to confuse the opponent. Another horrible gimmick idea featured months of promos for Emma to become Emmalina, which was more fashion model than a wrestler. It did not work out, as the gimmick was dropped during her official re-debut.
1 Dean Malenko
Dean Malenko is revered as one of the greatest in-ring performers of the '90s. Malenko's work in WCW inspired many future stars like Daniel Bryan, Sasha Banks, and Xavier Woods to become wrestlers. Malenko lacked charisma, but he made up for it by always delivering a compelling match.
WWE's acquisition of Malenko led to a drastic change in his character after he debuted as one-fourth of the Radicalz. The serious and intense persona was dropped in favor of him being an arrogant ladies’ man. Malenko became obsessed with Lita, leading to a feud between them. The gimmick destroyed any chances of success, and he left WWE and retired shortly after. Malenko does have a sweet gig with WWE today as one of their backstage producers.