WWE is the biggest wrestling promotion in the world, and with the possible exception of the Monday Night War period, that has been the case for over 30 years. As such, it’s little surprise that other companies would borrow concepts from, be influenced by, or downright rip off WWE. Sometimes it’s a style of programming and sometimes it’s a storyline. Sometimes it’s a particular wrestler or faction’s gimmick. In any event, in a business that tends to see a lot of ideas recycled, it’s not uncommon to trace back a less established promotion’s concepts to WWE origins.
Interestingly, there are those cases when another company might legitimately improve upon the original. For example, consider an idea that WWE pretty clearly stole from WCW. In 1990s WCW, Chris Jericho worked an angle that saw him claim repeated victory over Goldberg by default, because Goldberg didn’t respond to his challenges. It all culminated in Goldberg finally giving The Lionheart his comeuppance with a big spear. Years later, The Miz would reprise Jericho’s role in WWE, while John Cena played Goldberg. In bettering upon the original, Cena would have actual matches with Miz to blow off their issue, and Miz arguably became a bigger star based on those efforts.
Still, for all the times a company has improved upon a WWE idea, there are other times they’ve fallen far short, either because they didn’t have as strong talents available, or because the efforts to follow WWE’s creative lead wound up clunky or unpredictable. This article looks at eight ripoffs of WWE that worked, and seven that were just pathetic
15 Worked: Lucha Underground’s Aztec Warfare
Lucha Underground has been a critical success, and that’s based largely on the innovative concepts, characters, and ring work the promotion has put forward. One of the most successful annual traditions has been Aztec Warfare. It’s a match that crowned the original Lucha Underground Champion. It’s also a match in which reigning champs were forced to defend their titles in the years to follow, each time resulting in the belt changing hands. On top of all of that, it’s a match that strongly resembles the Royal Rumble.
Aztec Warfare does have some differences. First and foremost, eliminations occur by pinfall or submission rather than throwing someone over the top rope. Additionally, there are standard timed intervals for entry, but rather what’s described as a purposefully random period between entrants, built to add to the chaos. (In reality, this is probably more of a contrivance of storytelling and only having a one hour TV show to squeeze in the match.)
Year after year, Aztec Warfare has been a good to great match—particularly in its second edition that saw the debut of Rey Mysterio and The Monster Matanza Cueto. It holds up particularly well in comparison to the Royal Rumble matches of recent years, which have by and large been duds (at least relative to the match’s heyday).
14 Pathetic: AJ Styles As CM Punk
TNA underwent a bit of an identity crisis in 2013. The Aces & Eights Storyline felt a lot like a New World Order retread early on, with AJ Styles cast as 1996-1997 Sting—the guy whose teammates hadn’t trusted him and had since gone off on his own, separate from both the heel stable and his usual allies. Things took a turn, however, when Styles’s contract was legitimately up, and TNA decided to recast him more like 2011 CM Punk.
In 2011, when Punk was frustrated with his creative direction and WWE’s corporate politics, he looked set to leave. WWE aimed to squeeze one last big buy rate out of him. They booked him as a challenger to the WWE Championship in his hometown of Chicago at the Money in the Bank. In the build, Punk cut the now legendary Pipe Bomb worked shoot promo that went over bigger than anyone could have expected. WWE built a more elaborate worked shoot program, influenced by the previous Summer of Punk angle in ROH, and told a compelling story.
So, in 2013 TNA, Styles similarly teased leaving the company after butting heads with Dixie Carter in a management role. The whole situation came across as awkward and confusing, besides which the rip off of Punk was painfully obvious. Mercifully, Styles actually would end up leaving the company at the end of this angle, and would soar to new heights with New Japan and then WWE in the years to follow.
13 Worked: WCW Monday Nitro
In 1993, WWE launched Monday Night Raw, a hot new prime time show that featured more compelling matches than the show traditionally had, and that aired live on alternating weeks. While WWE on the whole was in a bit of a lull, the show itself felt cutting edge for its time.
Two and a half years later, WCW debuted Monday Nitro. Say “Night Raw” and “Nitro” next to each other, and you’ll see that they sound awfully similar. It seems as though it’s no coincidence that Nitro aired on the same night and often directly opposite Raw, sounded alike, and in some respects looked alike for aiming to capture a similar cool aesthetic. While often aired live, Nitro made a point of doing it every single week.
In the long term, WCW would lose the Monday Night War, but Nitro enjoyed many successes along the way, including actually beating Raw in the ratings for over a year and a half straight at one point. Raw would ultimately pull ahead, but particularly in the show’s prime, Nitro was a rip off that arguably worked better than the original.
12 Pathetic: Eric Young As Daniel Bryan
WWE captured lightning in a bottle from 2013 into 2014 with Daniel Bryan. He was an unlikely megastar, but his tremendous in ring talent, magnetic personality, and infections “Yes!” chat won over fans in droves. Were it not for his head injuries, you have to assume he’d remain an upper card to main event level star to this day, and conceivably would have even steered WWE to postpone elevating Roman Reigns to his top spot.
TNA seemed invested in capitalizing on Bryan’s aesthetic, and so they pushed Eric Young to the top. Young shared Bryan’s standing as a veteran and highly skilled worker. He grew a big beard to sort of look like Bryan, too, and TNA was off to the races. Of course, Young wasn’t a match for Bryan as an all around performer, and the attempt to get him over at the same level quickly came across as painfully transparent and awkward. Soon enough, Young would be shuffled back down the card.
11 Worked: The Monster Maniacs
The late 1980s saw the formation of one of pro wrestling’s most iconic super teams—Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage as The Mega Powers. They combined Hogan’s larger than life personality and physique with Savage’s intensity and off the charts ring work to form an irresistible pair. Together, the two forged a sensational team, and one that was made all the more compelling for suspicions they might combust at any moment and start feuding with each other (which they finally did in the build to WrestleMania V).
When WCW got a hold of both Hogan and Savage, they didn’t hesitate to pair them up again and work a very similar dynamic, initially under the moniker The Monster Maniacs. With the added benefit of their well established history from WWE, WCW constantly played with the idea of whether they could really trust each other. Interestingly, in this case, it would be Hogan who first turned heel on Savage to form the nWo. The two would team up again, each a part of the nWo a while later, before Savage split off to form the nWo Wolfpac. In each iteration, the model succeeded, maybe not to the extent of the original, but a comparable degree, if based less on Hogan and Savage’s talents as they got older than the fact that WWE had established them as icons in the wrestling business.
10 Pathetic: Asya
Chyna was one of the most memorable acts from WWE’s Attitude Era. The female bodybuilder turned wrestler was legitimately big and powerful enough to hold her own opposite male performers. So, she was booked as the only woman to ever win the Intercontinental Championship, and first woman to enter the Royal Rumble. While her actual skills weren’t necessarily that polished (Chris Jericho, in particular, has been openly critical of them) she nonetheless got over as a popular star.
WCW tried to capitalize on Chyna’s dynamics with a comparable character of their own. Who’s bigger than Chyna? Why Asya, of course! Their own female bodybuilder debuted on the scene, but was quickly exposed for lacking Chyna’s charisma and athleticism. Perhaps all the more importantly, WCW didn’t have WWE’s booking chops at the time and struggled to compensate for her limitations. The result was an act that never really went anywhere.
9 Worked: Feast Or Fired
In 2005, WWE debuted the Money in the Bank concept, which saw the company stage an annual-ish ladder match with a briefcase at stake, allowing the victor to cash-in for a world title shot whenever he so chose. The concept quickly became part of the fabric of WWE, based in no small part on the successful execution featuring Edge and Rob Van Dam in those first two years.
TNA would respond by introducing Feast or Fired, its own object on a pole match, with a briefcase suspended from four different corners of the ring. The pole was one difference; the other was the contents of the briefcases, with one world title shot, one X-Division Championship shot, one tag title shot, and one set of pink slips—costing its “winner” his TNA contract.
While the extra title shots and the gimmick that one briefcase would get someone fired were a bit convoluted, they did add a certain sense of mystery and intrigue to the proceedings that largely fit TNA’s aesthetic. While Feast or Fired never quite caught on like Money in the Bank, it was a reasonably successful gimmick that led to some interesting situations over the past decade.
8 Pathetic: VKM
In 2010, TNA, under the influence of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff in leadership roles, aimed to rekindle the Monday Night War by positioning Impact directly opposite Monday Night Raw. This vision included introducing a number of new arrivals and rebranded acts, including WWE’s former New Age Outlaws as the Voodoo Kin Mafia. That the initials matched Vincent Kennedy McMahon’s was no coincidence. That they used a worked shoot style and took aim at Triple H, in particular, made it clear that the entire ambition of the gimmick was to rip off, parody, and poke fun at WWE.
Unfortunately, VKM was well past its prime. While they were solid workers and in terrific shape for their age, they were by no means an elite tandem. Rather than coming across as cutting edge, they largely seemed like bitter old men taking aim at a former employer who didn’t want them anymore. The effect was largely pathetic and didn’t end up going anywhere of note.
7 Worked: Dixie Carter Parrots Stephanie McMahon
Dixie Carter didn’t exactly work her way up in the wrestling business. On the contrary, her father invested in TNA early on, and Carter was deposited in a real life leadership role. One could argue that Stephanie McMahon’s path wasn’t so different, as she rose to the top of WWE in no small part based on her father owning the company.
By contrast, however, Stephanie has worked in wrestling under Vince’s tutelage. While both her backstage work and her work in front of the cameras has its detractors, she is generally considered to have at least a decent mind for the business, a strong work ethic, and to have grown better at most aspects of what she does.
At the least, Stephanie’s background makes her a logical enough figure to play a heel authority figure on WWE TV. When Dixie Carter started copying her act as a heel authority figure all her own—and when WWE’s Authority was at its peak--it felt a bit derivative. Against the odds, however, Carter would wind up proving herself. That her heel work culminated in Bully Ray powerbombing her through a table in front of a rabid audience demonstrated that she had legitimately drawn heat. Moreover, it demonstrated that, not unlike Stephanie, Carter was willing to put her body on the line, and take a major hit to entertain the audience.
6 Pathetic: TNA’s Full Metal Mayhem
The Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, or TLC, Match went from a novelty match to fit the Hardy Boyz vs. Dudely Boyz vs. Edge and Christian feud. The matches—in particular their WrestleMania X-Seven showdown—were enough of a success to spur on a whole genre. Edge would facilitate the transition of the match to the main event scene, working TLC matches with Ric Flair and The Undertaker. Eventually, the concept got an annual PPV dedicated to it, and more and more headlining acts took a stab at this match type.
TNA recognized a good idea and opted to coopt it for themselves. Without infringing on intellectual property rights, they needed to tweak it and came up with Full Metal Mayhem. It was pretty transparent what was happening. Without WWE’s slightly more conservative aesthetic toward booking, these matches tended to veer more into indie-style hardcore mayhem. That’s not to say they were bad, but they were a lackluster knockoff of the original.
5 Worked: Lucha Underground’s Grave Consequences Match
When The Undertaker started to get over with WWE audiences, the company introduced first Body Bag Matches, then Casket Matches, for which the main objective was for the winner to enclose the loser in one of these implements of death. It was a fun enough gimmick, but befitting WWE’s style of the time in also being largely cartoonish. Given The Undertaker’s longevity, Casket Matches carried forward, even getting a WrestleMania match in 2006 with The Deadman pitted against Mark Henry.
While these matches weren’t necessarily bad, the action felt largely contrived and boring for focusing on guys trying to put each other in the coffin over and over again.
Lucha Underground borrowed the concept, booking Grave Consequences, and later Graver Consequences, Matches. These matches were anything but boring, but rather centered on violence and truly bloodying and beating a man until he was ready to be entombed. With their willingness to take violence to extremes, and to use caskets almost like tables, as bases to land offense, Lucha Underground arrived at a legitimately special match type, better than WWE’s original.
4 Pathetic: Vince Russo Booking
In the late 1990s, Vince Russo was largely cited as a key creative contributor for WWE. Even his harshest critics will generally concede that his willingness to think outside the box, and meticulous attention to everyone on the roster having something to do were good for the company in its day. It’s the prevailing theory that Russo was a prolific idea generator, and needed Vince McMahon to parse the good from the bad—throwing out more than he kept—and taking the cream of the crop for some legitimately innovative angles.
WCW hired Russo away in the late stages of the Monday Night War, and he was largely exposed for how many poor ideas he had. Still, WCW leaned heavily on his expertise. Later, TNA would do the same. The results weren’t pretty in either case, as Russo’s contributions weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
3 Worked: The Long And Winding Road For Abyss
Abyss has been a TNA mainstay since the very early days of the company. There’s an able worker beneath the mask, but many wrestling fans tend to notice that he resembles some more iconic stars. His mask, and particularly his original ring gear resembled that of Mick Foley when he portrayed Mankind. His monstrous ring style, elaborate back story that includes James Mitchell maybe being his father, and wild swings in personality all seem to mirror WWE’s Kane (and, to a lesser extent, The Undertaker).
While no one could really argue that Abyss has been more successful than these WWE influences, he’s nonetheless that rare example of a largely ripped off character who has had staying power and has by and large succeeded. While WWE hasn’t confirmed, Abyss has even gone so far as to claim that WWE once recruited him, but he decided to stay loyal to the company that gave him his big break.
2 Pathetic: American Made Hulk Hogan
After spending nearly a decade as WWE’s defining star, Hulk Hogan defected to the competition, signing with WCW. WCW quickly adopted many of the standard pieces of Hogan’s identity, including the red and yellow attire, and booking him to beat back of a series of monster heels and friends who betrayed him. The icing on the cake may well have been his theme music.
The Hulkster couldn’t use the “Real American” theme that had become synonymous with him in WWE. WCW’s clumsy attempt at a parallel song—“American Made”—was emblematic of everything they tried to do with Hogan. It was all similar to his WWE run, but not quite as good, with The Hulkster older and the old stories played out. Fortunately, things would take a turn for the better when Hogan made a shocking heel turn in 1996 to launch the New World Order.
1 Worked: The Gift Of The Gods Championship
WWE Money in the Bank has become a quintessential part of the company’s booking over the last decade. It’s a way of elevating talent to the main event level, and a way of working around an injured champion in times of need. TNA embraced an analogous concept in the Feast or Fired gimmick. Lucha Underground made its own spin on it in the Gift of the Gods Championship.
The idea of the Gift of the Gods is that, on a recurring basis, seven Aztec medallions are gifted to seven different competitors, usually based on winning matches. The medallion holders earn the right to compete in a seven-way match, the winner of which wins the championship. That championship can be cashed in with a week’s notice for a shot at the Lucha Underground Championship.
The structure of the championship causes a logical reason to book competitive matches for the medallions and for the Gift of the Gods title more than once a season. From there, the one week’s notice for the cash in engenders some of the excitement of Money in the Bank, without the surefire sense the challenger will win (or career destruction of he fails). It has been used to exciting effect again and again in Lucha Underground programming, making the ripped off concept very successful.