The first job of any professional wrestler is to be over with the fans. Whether it's a heel or face character, any given wrestler's goal should be to garner some kind of consistent attention from the promotion's fanbase. Obviously, this works on various levels; it's going to be different for a main event star than it would be for a mid-carder, but in principle, both of them are seeking the same thing. However, what happens if a wrestler isn't drawing interest from the crowd? Oftentimes, it means alterations to their character are in order.
While we've certainly seen name changes that have worked out for the better in the history of the wrestling business, we've also seen plenty that have fallen flat. It's one of the more popular ways to shake up a character, and give them new life. While it's often perceived that a name change for a wrestler will be a breath of fresh air, that's not always how it turns out, and it can often have the opposite effect on a career. Here are some notable examples of that.
Ranked below are 20 wrestlers who changed their name and then fell off the map.
20 Chris Harris - "Braden Walker"
He was on an upward trajectory during his time in TNA as a member of America's Most Wanted, but Harris' ascension was halted when he got to WWE in 2008, and was given the truly awful Braden Walker gimmick. It was a goofy attempt at a mid-card character, and they stuck him on the ECW show. This permanently stalled any hope of additional progress in the WWE ranks, and Harris was released from his contract that same year.
The blueprint was already there for WWE to have success with Harris, but they chose to ignore his past success with TNA, and give him a gimmick that was 180 degrees from his old character. Since being in WWE, Harris' career hasn't rebounded, and he was never able to recover.
19 Ahmed Johnson - "Big T"
In the WWE world, Johnson has become almost a cult-like figure, and is considered a staple of the company during the shift to the Attitude Era. From his run as Intercontinental Champion, to his feud and brief alliance with The Nation Of Domination, Johnson was an integral part of WWE storylines, and while not a main event star, he was still reliable and entertaining.
When he made the switch to WCW in 1999, they lumped him with Stevie Ray to form Harlem Heat 2000, switching his name to Big T, after original member Booker T left the tag team. It was another poor decision from WCW management in an era that featured it seemingly every week. Johnson never fit in the promotion, and he retired soon after departing in 2000.
18 Billy Gunn - "Kip James"
One of the most consistent members of the WWE roster from the early-90s, through the Attitude Era and into the mid-2000s, when Gunn finally left the promotion, it was as if he almost didn't know what to do next. As was a popular decision at the time, he joined TNA, where he reunited with Road Dogg (now named B.G. James), and renamed himself Kip James.
The pair formed a tag team with each other as they had done in WWE, and called themselves The James Gang. After years of notoriety as The New Age Outlaws, the team was a stale derivative off a better product. It felt silly calling Gunn by the name of Kip, and the whole thing just didn't work. Gunn occasionally works Indy shows today, but thankfully goes under his original name when he does.
17 Alex Wright - "Berlyn"
Once an up-and-coming cruiserweight in WCW, Wright was a staple of the mid-card up until the late-90s. That is, until he changed his name to Berlyn in 1999, which ended up being another ill-advised management decision from WCW. This was mainly due to the fact that it was a ridiculous shift in demeanor for someone who had advocated disco dancing amidst all of his high-flying cruiserweight maneuvers in the ring.
Wright may have never been a top-flight star, and his dancing gimmick was admittedly a little bit goofy, but he had also managed to establish it as his calling card, and had some relative success with it. The idea to change his name and character so drastically was random and foolish. As a result, Wright never regained prominence, and retired from active wrestling soon after.
16 Barry Darsow - "Repo Man"
Darsow made his name as Smash, one-half of the legendary tag team Demolition, and they remained a top tandem in WWE for roughly five years in the late-80s and early-90s. After the team disbanded, Darsow reaped one of the worst gimmicks of the era from the creative team, as Repo Man, which he debuted with in 1992.
It was name and character very much of the time period, and one of the shining beacons of wrestlecrap as we know it today. Darsow was still a decent wrestler, but it was impossible to care about that when he was portraying such a ridiculous character. It was par for the course during this era of WWE, but it was cringeworthy all the same. Darsow never attained the same level of success that he had while in Demolition.
15 1-2-3 Kid - "Syxx"
For some reason, Sean Waltman never really caught on in WCW, where he was dubbed Syxx, and debuted in 1996. He was fresh off of his initial WWE run as the 1-2-3 Kid, and he turned out to be far more over with their fans. It made sense for him to join the nWo, because of his obvious association with the Kliq, including Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, but it never ended up working out.
As Syxx, he was always a peripheral member of the nWo, and could never break through to any real stardom on his own. After several years of toiling in WCW, he finally returned to his old stomping grounds, and launched the very successful X-Pac gimmick, which he used for years after. X-Pac in WCW just never got any traction, and the idea fell off quickly.
14 Tony Atlas - "Saba Simba"
One of the most popular tag team wrestlers of his time, Atlas teamed with Rocky Johnson to win the WWE Tag Titles as The Soul Patrol in 1983. He was next in line for a singles push, in which he likely would have captured the Intercontinental Title, but issues with substance abuse came to the forefront, and he was released soon after.
He would return to WWE in the early-90s but in a horribly dated and offensive Saba Simba gimmick, which was a clear indication that WWE management didn't have much of a filter for their ideas at the time. It wouldn't last long, but it's aged absolutely horribly, and Atlas' career was essentially over by the end of his 2nd WWE run as a result. Just a terrible idea for a name change, and one that everyone would like to forget ever happened in the first place.
13 Road Dogg - "BG James"
After having a falling out with WWE in 2001, Road Dogg was a free agent and looking for new work. He had held the same gimmick for the vast majority of his time in WWE, as one half of the New Age Outlaws with Billy Gunn. When he signed with TNA however, he decided to change his moniker to B.G. James – his real name, as he was born Brian Girard James.
There's a distinct line in the sand in terms of quality from his time between the promotions. Before the name change, he was one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the business, and was consistently involved in entertaining feuds. In TNA, the booking around him was terrible, and the character just never worked. Road Dogg would return to WWE later on for some success, but just to rehash what he had done before as a nostalgia trip.
12 Chavo Guerrero - "Kerwin White"
WWE was rife with terrible gimmicks in the mid-2000s, but the Kerwin White debacle may just be the worst of the lot. Why on Earth they decided to plant a full-time comedy gimmick on a wrestler as good as Guerrero is a mystery, but they did. The premise was that he was denouncing his Latin-American heritage in favor of that of a middle-class, boring white male.
The wrestling was still at a high level, but the name and character were stupid. The idea was eventually scrapped all together after his uncle Eddie Guerrero suddenly passed away, and Chavo returned to using his original name, out of respect from WWE. Truly, one of the absolute worse decisions WWE made was ever giving him the gimmick change in the first place.
11 2 Cold Scorpio - "Flash Funk"
One of the best journeyman wrestlers of his era, Scorpio had already wrestled in WCW and ECW by the time he got to WWE in the late-'90s. For some reason, he was fitted with the ill-fated Flash Funk gimmick, which turned him into a comedy wrestler wholesale, and shattered any chance he may have had to land any type of gold with the promotion.
Scorpio was great in the ring, and having done quality work in ECW, could have been an asset to WWE during the burgeoning Attitude Era. Instead, they only used him as filler, and comedy fodder, which probably could have issued to a lesser talent. Scorpio may have been buried in WWE, but he would rebound a few years later, wrestling for Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan.
10 The Sandman - "Hardcore Hak"
Perhaps ECW's most loved character of all-time was completely buried when he got to WCW in the late-90s. Dubbed Hardcore Hak during his brief stint there in 1999, and fitted squarely into the company's hardcore division of the time. This made sense, but what made Sandman so great in ECW were the storylines that surrounded his hardcore wrestling. That was sorely lacking during his time in WCW.
It didn't last terribly long, and he was back in ECW by the year's end. Shortly after however, he would be reduced to working indy shows after the closing of ECW, and his career was clearly on the decline. Despite a brief run in WWE to cash in on the ECW resurgence in the mid-2000s, Sandman is mainly a novelty appearance on today's Indy scene, and little more.
9 Rikishi - "Junior Fatu"
Loyal to WWE for nearly his whole career, Rikishi held a variety of gimmicks and was a reliable talent for over a decade with the company. It didn't feel right to many when he signed with. TNA in 2007, and those beliefs were confirmed for the brief time that Rikishi was with them. Changing his name to Junior Fatu (like B.G. James, technically his real name, as he's Solofa Fatu Jr. in real life), his character in TNA never got off the ground, and he was there for less than a year.
As a result, his career was just about over by the time 2007 ended. Rikishi was his most popular gimmick, and had been for years, so such a distinctive wrestler sporting a new name didn't make any sense in this scenario. Another TNA failure, and one that never should have happened to begin with.
8 One Man Gang - "Akeem The African Dream"
While the One Man Gang gimmick was perfect for a super-heavyweight wrestler of the time, the transition to Akeem "The African Dream" didn't work out quite as well. The new name and gimmick was stupid and cringeworthy, even for the WWE characters that were abundant at the time in the late-'80s.
To make matters worse, he was shoehorned into an awkward tag team with The Big Bossman, which made no sense whatsoever. After leaving WWE, he went to try WCW on for size, but never got any traction there. Soon, he was relegated to the low-level indy scene. Unfortunately, Akeem was the last major character he would take on in his career, and it was truly one of the worst characters of the time.
7 Kenny - "Kenny Dykstra"
Formerly known as Kenny from the Spirit Squad faction that popped up in WWE around 2005, Kenn Doane's shift to the Kenny Dykstra character was one of the worst transitions of the time. It was clear that he had some talent, but the name was admittedly based on that of the Mets and Phillies star outfielder from the '80s and '90s (Lenny Dykstra), and the whole thing just turned out to be too silly.
It was difficult for him to get over, and he never really did. Brief runs with promotions such as Dragon Gate USA followed, but nothing ever really came of it. This was a down period in WWE, and this is just one of the laundry list of failures that occurred for them around this time.
6 Hugh Morrus - "Hugh G. Rection"
If you want face-palm-worthy ring names from WCW circa-2000, then this one takes the cake. Bill DeMott, a.k.a. Hugh Morrus, was a solid in-ring worker for a heavyweight, and had a great amount of athletic ability for his size. To completely ruin any kind of progress his career may have sustained, WCW management changed his name to Hugh G. Rection, making him join the Misfits In Action stable.
To nobody's surprise, this was taken without an ounce of seriousness, and Morrus was viewed as a laughing stock for the rest of his time in WCW. Granted, the whole company had become a laughing stock, so it didn't exactly stick out like a sore thumb. Still, this was a terrible idea, and consistent with their WCW management was at near the end of the company's run.
5 John Tenta - "Shark"
He was one of WWE's most beloved heavyweights of the early-'90s as Earthquake, and really could have succeeded with WCW on a mid-card level had he been given a fair chance. Instead, he was given the Shark character, and placed in the Dungeon Of Doom stable, and not surprisingly, Tenta's career never recovered.
It was bad enough to see a super-heavyweight in the ring displaying shark-like mannerisms, but incorporated with the Dungeon Of Doom and the trainwreck of a storyline that was, he just had no chance. He would return to WWE later in the decade as a member of The Oddities, but not surprisingly, he was only used for comedic relief after the initial name chance.
4 Tito Santana - "El Matador"
A former Intercontinental Champion during the 80s, Santana is one of the most revered WWE stars of his era, which includes some of the all-time greats. By 1991, however, he was clearly out of his prime, and had to begin to think about an exit strategy from WWE. He was given a bullfighting gimmick, and changed his moniker to El Matador for the final two years of his WWE run, which at this point had spanned over a decade.
This name change wasn't so much bad, as it indicated that Santana was on his way out of the company, and would really never be a major force for a notable promotion ever again. There were no serious missteps, just the fact that he would assume a reduced role in everything he did thereafter.
3 Terry Taylor - "The Red Rooster"
Taylor was a successful talent in the South during the NWA days, also spending time in WCCW and UWF. He was a charismatic face who could work a crowd, and was actually probably one of the up-and-coming stars of the time period. A transition to WWE in 1988, however, signaled the end of his run as a serious contender.
Management decided to change Taylor's name and gimmick to The Red Rooster, a dyed-in-the-wool comedy character who had no chance of climbing up the ladder to earn any kind of a title shot. It was a failed effort, and it was the beginning of the end for Taylor's career in the ring. He would later earn backstage jobs from WCW and WWE, so it wasn't all terrible, but he should have gotten a better chance in WWE as a wrestler.
2 Cody Rhodes - "Stardust"
One way to bury a promising young star is to make him dress up as a variant of a ridiculous character that was last prominent over a decade ago, and make it even more ridiculous. Despite having an Intercontinental Title already to his name, WWE management just didn't seem to know what to do with Rhodes. It all culminated with the appearance of the Stardust character, which pretty much signaled the end of his time with the company.
While Rhodes is surviving on the scene, working for NJPW right now (a smart move to go international after such a bad gimmick in WWE), he still does have a long way to go to get himself back on the trajectory he was on before the Stardust gimmick change. He may be able to turn it around, but if he fails to do so, we'll all know the reason why.
1 Brutus Beefcake - "The Zodiac, Man With No Name, Booty Man, etc"
Although he's widely laughed at today as one of Hulk Hogan's lackeys, there was a time when Ed Leslie was actually somewhat important to the WWE roster, as a member of The Dream Team with Greg Valentine. He captured a tag title, and was a solid member of the mid-card for several years after.
It was a switch to WCW where the legend of how cringeworthy Leslie's career could be, actually began. He accumulated name changes seemingly every year, all of them terrible. The Zodiac, Man With No Name and Booty Man were some of the worst examples of a wresting creative team just throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. Not surprisingly, Leslie was never really taken seriously again, and his career is pretty much viewed as a laughing stock now. He was the bearer of the some of the worst names and gimmicks ever applied to a wrestler.