Vince McMahon has always claimed that a wrestler makes their own fortunes. While his talks about the legendary “brass ring” have become something of a running joke, there is an element of truth to that statement. Throughout history, there have been many cases of wrestlers finding a way to turn a bad hand into a big score. Even still, most wrestling fans know that a wrestler’s success sometimes has quite a bit to do with the gimmick they are given. The right gimmick given to the right wrestler is historically the most common source of success in wrestling.
Unfortunately, things rarely play out so smoothly. The history of wrestling is filled with truly incredible wrestlers who have had to suffer through the worst gimmicks imaginable. On the other side of the coin, you have a gimmick that should have very well been a wrestlers path to stardom were it not for the fact that it was given to a performer that never had the chance to be anything more than a historical footnote. In a perfect world, these roles and their performers would have been switched. In this one, we got eight terrible gimmicks given to great wrestlers and seven great gimmicks given to terrible wrestlers.
15 Terrible Gimmick: Dean Malenko - A Low Budget James Bond
The question “Who at WWE hated Dean Malenko so badly that they decided to go out of their way to end his career” may never receive a proper answer, but we’re betting it was Vince McMahon. Regardless, Malenko entered WWE as one of the most respected and capable in-ring workers in wrestling. WWE treated him as such for a time, but apparently became bored by his personality. Rather than just focus on his in-ring abilities, they decided to repackage him as a ladies man who sometimes came across as a low-rent James Bond. Even when Malenko wasn’t doing awful things like stalking Lita, this gimmick just came across as someone’s attempt to embarrass Malenko into leaving the company. In any case, it certainly ruined his in-ring career.
14 Great Gimmick: Eva Marie - The Wrestler Who is Too Good To Be a Wrestler
This gimmick is bit of conundrum. On the one hand, it was basically tailor-made for Eva Marie. When Eva Marie got sent down to NXT to actually learn how to wrestle, she was dismayed to learn how little fans liked her. Soon, however, she embraced a heel persona built around the idea that WWE could pick her to win at any time despite the fact she couldn’t actually wrestle. Later one, Eva Marie kept finding excuses to actually wrestle in big matches. It was brilliant stuff, but it was all ruined by the simple fact that Eva Marie didn’t want to be a professional wrestler.
Even before Marie’s suspension, she kept publicly talking about how she wanted to leave WWE. That’s a shame, because this gimmick could have been money if it was given to someone that cared.
13 Terrible Gimmick: Chavo Guerrero Jr. - A Mexican Wrestler Who Believes He’s A White Eliteist
Oh boy. Well, you have to give Chavo Guerrero credit for being a company man. While it was clear that WWE was never quite as high on Chavo as they were on Eddie Guerrero, Chavo at least got to enjoy a very respectable tag team run alongside his uncle followed by some decent singles matches. Then came Kerwin White. To this day, nobody has the slightest clue why anyone in WWE thought it was a good idea to have a celebrated Mexican wrestler dye his hair blonde, dress like a preppy upper-class citizen, and start insulting members of every other race because he now believed that he was actually white. What’s really sad is that it took Eddie Guerrero’s death for WWE to end this gimmick.
12 Great Gimmick: Papa Shango - The Wrestling Voodoo Doctor
To be fair, classifying Papa Shango as “great” requires you to stretch the meaning of that word just a tad. In today’s WWE, a voodoo doctor capable of using dark magic to control the will of other wrestlers would stick out like a sore thumb. In the cartoon world of the Hulk Hogan era, however, it just worked. Papa Shango sometimes came across as an absolutely ridiculous character, but there was a real presence to him that was bolstered by a few genuinely disturbing storylines. By all accounts, Papa Shango was supposed to receive a pretty big push. Unfortunately, the man who portrayed him - Charles Wright - just wasn’t ready for the big time. After blowing the ending to WrestleMania by missing his cue, Shango was demoted and eventually scrapped altogether.
11 Terrible Gimmick: Mike Awesome - The Fat Chick Thrilla
The term “Hottest Free Agent in Wrestling” gets thrown around by WWE so much these days that it basically doesn’t mean anything. However, for a time, Mike Awesome was legitimately the hottest free agent in wrestling. Not only was Awesome built like the kind of wrestler that WCW and WWE turned into stars, he was actually capable of putting on great matches. When WCW signed him, everyone was certain he was going to be a main eventer. Instead, he became a guy who really liked heavy women. Awesome claimed that Russo felt Awesome was too closely related to Hulk Hogan - he was related to him through Hogan’s nephew - and gave him a series of bad gimmicks because of it. None were quite as bad as “The Fat Chick Thrilla,” though, which doomed Awesome’s career.
10 Great Gimmick: Muhammad Hassan - The Proud Arab-American Wrestler (Who Everyone Still Boos)
The idea of introducing a Muslim wrestling character in WWE post-9/11 could have been an outright disaster from the start. It’s easy to imagine the most stereotypical Middle-Eastern wrestler you can imagine making threats towards other wrestlers and the audience. At first, that wasn’t what Muhammad Hassan was. He was a professional wrestler who begged for audiences to not judge him based on his beliefs and heritage. When audiences chose to boo him anyway, they made him one of the most believable heels in WWE history. Sadly, WWE eventually turned Hassan into the character everyone feared he would become when they ran an infamous angle involving an in-ring terrorist attack. Even then, Hassan wasn’t a talented enough overall performer to really maximize the potential of this gimmick.
9 Terrible Gimmick: Paul Burchill - The Pirate Who Vince McMahon Thought Didn’t Act Enough Like A Pirate
Was Paul Burchill ever going to become a great wrestler? That’s up for debate. Burchill had skills, but we wouldn’t fault you for thinking there were limits to how far he could go. Even still, Burchill showed quite a bit of promise in his early days when the young wrestler got the chance to display his athleticism. Then he became a pirate. Actually, this is quite a funny story. Apparently, Vince McMahon really wanted to have a wrestling pirate on the roster. Interestingly, he had no idea that Pirates of the Caribbean had become a box office hit. In fact, he was very upset that Burchill acted more like Johnny Depp and less like the pirates in films from the ‘30s. Regardless, the gimmick was a disaster.
8 Great Gimmick: Gangrel - A Cult Leading Vampire
This one is worthy of a little debate. A wrestling vampire sounds like the dumbest thing ever. That’s probably because it might just be the dumbest thing ever. However, you have to remember that Gangrel debuted during the attitude era. In the attitude era, Gangrel was afforded all the fake blood, fire, and eerie music that you need to really make such a Gothic character work. The production values behind the Gangrel character - and his brood - were phenomenal. Presentation wise, this is one of WWE’s most eye-catching creations. The problem was that the wrestler who portrayed Gangrel - David William Heath - was by no means an exciting wrestler. He played the character well enough, but Gangrel’s entertainment value dropped drastically whenever he entered the ring.
7 Terrible Gimmick: Kevin Nash - The Actual Wizard of Oz
Hey, Triple H wasn’t the only Kliq member to endure some bad WWE booking. Before Kevin Nash signed a big money contract with WCW and helped revolutionize the business with the nWo angle and before he was Diesel, Nash was a low-card WCW jobber. Initially, Nash worked in WCW as Steel, a member of the Master Blaster tag team. It wasn’t a great gimmick, but it was money compared to what came next. WCW decided to give Nash a push, but they wanted to push him as Oz. Now, so far as anyone could tell, Oz was a wrestling wizard who seemed to be the fictional Wizard of Oz. Whether he believed he was a wizard or not, Oz was an indescribably awful gimmick that failed miserably.
6 Great Gimmick: Mordecai - The Self-Righteous Priest
The Undertaker is perhaps the ultimate professional wrestling gimmick. On paper, it’s a gimmick doomed to fail. Remember that the earliest version of The Undertaker was essentially a wrestling zombie impervious to pain. Of course, the brilliant work of Mark Calaway made the gimmick better than it had any right to be. Some years after The Undertaker debuted, WWE decided to craft a character designed for the specific purpose of feuding with The Undertaker. This character, Mordecai, was a “bastion of good” who fought against all sin. The dynamic was fascinating. The “dark and evil” Undertaker vs. the “virtuous” Mordecai, but with the fans cheering for the evil demon instead of the savior. It would have been a brilliant feud were it not for the fact that Kevin Fertig decided to get into a bar fight that forced Vince McMahon to take him off television for a time.
5 Terrible Gimmick: Konan - A Wrestling Robot Named Max Moon
It would be fascinating to climb into the head of Vince McMahon for just one day. The way his mind works is beyond the comprehension of just about everyone, including - sometimes especially including - wrestling fans. For instance, consider the time that he wanted to sign Konan so badly in the mid-’90s that he had a limo come and bring Konan to WWE’s offices. Why did he want Konan to sign so badly? Because he felt that this legitimately world famous wrestler - Konan was HUGE in Mexico - would be the perfect guy to play a wrestling robot named Max Moon. The Max Moon costume alone cost WWE around $13,000, and it still looked like a $10 Halloween costume. Konan barely got to work a match with the gimmick before WWE gave it to someone else.
4 Great Gimmick: Sean O'Haire - The Devil's Advocate
This is certainly one of the biggest “What if?” stories in the history of WWE gimmicks. In 2003, a series of promos starring WCW castaway Sean O’Haire began airing on WWE television. These promos featured O’Haire making very logical arguments in favor of doing things like not paying your taxes or cheating on your spouse. See, O’Haire was described as the “Devil’s advocate.” He played off the dark desires of other wrestlers - and the audience - and he did it well. So why didn’t the character last? That’s up for debate, but most people attribute it to the fact that O’Haire was a mediocre overall performer and didn’t have much pull backstage. The gimmick was quietly dropped and WWE has never found cause to revisit it.
3 Terrible Gimmick: Rey Mysterio - The Unmasked Luchador
Rey Mysterio is one of those guys who becomes easier to appreciate as time goes on. Mysterio was always a great wrestler, but he was so far ahead of his time in terms of high-flying abilities that we couldn’t really comprehend the things he did so effortlessly. Of course, Rey was also one of the first luchador-style wrestlers to really achieve breakout fame in the US. His mask and small stature made him a real-life superhero to kids everywhere. Naturally, WCW couldn’t have that. Believing that Rey’s character just wouldn’t work in the “gritty” WCW, the company decided to have Rey Mysterio drop the mask. All due respect to Mysterio, but the guy does not look like a pro wrestler with the mask off. Naturally, WWE sold thousands of Rey Mysterio masks when he left WCW.
2 Great Gimmick: Waylon Mercy - A Southern Psychopath
Vince McMahon’s late to the draw pop culture references are legendary. By all accounts, McMahon has absolutely no idea what is happening in the world of entertainment. He’s usually at least five to ten years behind the biggest movies, shows, and songs. Yet, in 1995, he Vince proved to be a little more on the ball when he greenlit a character named Waylon Mercy. Mercy was based on the villain from the 1991 film, Cape Fear. He was deliberate, realistic, and absolutely evil. He was everything the cartoony world of the WWE wasn’t at that time. Unfortunately, Spivey wasn’t the right guy to give it to. Sure, Spivey played the character well, but he only played him well for a few months before injuries forced him to retire. Fortunately, WWE revived this character years later in Bray Wyatt.
1 Terrible Gimmick: Diamond Dallas Page - Professional Stalker
Of all the guys WWE screwed over when they bought WCW - and that’s a big list - none got it worse than Diamond Dallas Page. While Page wasn’t really that big of a deal early into his WCW career - he was a serviceable heel/manager - Page managed to become a bonafide cultural sensation late in his WCW run. The Diamond Cutter and Page’s self-high five hand motion achieved mainstream popularity the likes of which few WCW wrestlers could lay claim to. He should have been one of WWE’s biggest acquisitions from the WCW deal. Instead, they had him stalk The Undertaker’s wife. If you’re looking for the logic behind this move, stop looking now. Vince was so determined at this time to make WCW’s stars look bad that he was willing to burn money opportunities if it meant making DDP look stupid.