Sometimes you never get a second chance to make a first impression. In the world of professional wrestling, that can be very true. There’s also a handful of performers who have bucked that trend and re-invented themselves to ensure their wrestling characters stay fresh and their professional careers stay profitable.
Sometimes, it isn’t about the look or the character, but more about a person’s behavior. Bad choices, immature behavior and personal demons can lead to consequences that cost you a job, the adoration of the fans and the ability to continue on in an industry that you love.
As a professional wrestler or WWE performer, how do you know when it’s time to make a change? Are you getting booed when you should be getting cheered? Are you not selling merchandise? Are you struggling to get put on television and pay per views by management? Are you spinning your wheels and losing to opponent after opponent? And, when you make that change, how do you know which direction to go? Your next character could be a smashing success and it could be a bigger flop than the first one.
The next 15 wrestling Superstars either saw the writing on the wall or made choices that had amazing consequences. Eight of them made choices that benefited them in hugely positive ways. Their careers took off and they became Superstars. The other seven? They were not so lucky.
15. Great Career Move: Jake Roberts Accidentally Invents the DDT
Jake Roberts is a fantastic story teller. It’s one of the things that made him so popular as a WWE Superstar. One of this best stories is in how his finisher, the DDT, was accidentally created. In a match with an unknown grappler, both fell after screwing up a move set. Jake fell backward and the grappler, stuck in Jake’s arms, fell flat on his face. The crowd was stunned and the grappler realized it so he stayed down pretending to be knocked out cold. Jake got up since both wrestlers couldn’t look hurt, realized he’d invented his finisher and the DDT became the standard bearer for all finishing moves going forward. Inventing the DDT will go down as one of Jake Robert’s great legacies.
14. Backfired: Jeff Jarrett Holds Up McMahon
Jeff Jarrett was leaving the WWE. Fine. The WWE screwed up and forgot to take the Intercontinental Title off of Jarrett before his contract expired. Fine. When the WWE asked Jarrett to wrestle one more match to drop the title, allegedly, Jarrett said fine… as long as you pay me another $300,000.
The WWE said fine, but they didn’t really mean it. There are different sides to this story, but one has to think that after all the returns, Jarrett not being one of them has to mean something. McMahon and the WWE have held this alleged incident against Jarrett for years and this short-sighted maneuver on Jarrett’s part earned him a quick payday, but it appears he’ll never be invited back to the WWE. Instead, he’ll have to try and make a name for himself starting new wrestling promotions and working with Impact Wrestling. Probably not the wisest long-term decision ever made.
13. Great Career Move: Pat Patterson Creates The Royal Rumble
Pat Patterson’s first great career move was becoming one of the closest friends Vince McMahon will ever have. It helps to ensure that the boss is your buddy if you want to maintain job security. That said, Patterson is a smart guy. Outside of being a booker for the company (he has been for many years), Patterson was the first ever Intercontinental Champion and came up with the concept for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. That alone will probably secure his employment until he chooses to leave or retire from the business.
The Royal Rumble is one of the WWE’s most anticipated events of the year. It’s full of surprises and debuts and overall is considered the kickoff to WrestleMania. In fact, some fans enjoy the Rumble more than they do any other show due to its unpredictability.
12. Backfired: Bret Hart Refused To Drop The WWE Championship In Montreal
The Montreal Screwjob is not news to anyone who calls themselves a loyal wrestling fan. Bret Hart was ripped off of the WWE Title at Survivor Series by Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon after he refused to drop the belt to Shawn in Canada. Bret made the career choice to stick to his guns and almost everyone felt sympathy for Bret at how it all unfolded. While he went on to sign with WCW for a ludicrous amount of money, he was sort of pushed out the door.
If only Bret had the foresight to renegotiate his contract with the WWE, he would have spared himself what he calls the worst time in his wrestling career. The WCW had no idea what to do with Bret and not longer after he made the switch, he received an errant kick from Goldberg giving him a concussion which basically ended his wrestling career. Bret’s selfishness for one night literally began the spiral that was the way he exited the industry.
11. Great Career Move: The Rock Refers To Himself In The Third Person
The Rock was having trouble getting over with the WWE Universe when he was first introduced as Rocky Maivia. It wasn’t until he decided to ditch the wholesome third-generation gimmick and take a few communication classes that he realized there was another side to his character that could resonate with fans.
From that confidence spawned “The Rock” and he began to refer to himself in the third person, coming up with the wackiest catch phrases ever known to the wrestling industry. Some phrases he even stole from terms that were used behind the scenes but fans knew nothing about. His cocky attitude and confidence on a mic won the crowd over and he became one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time. One simple change in perspective and he became a star.
10. Backfired: Bart Gunn Wins Brawl For All
To say Bart Gunn actually won Brawl For All isn’t entirely true. Butterbean wiped the floor with him at WrestleMania in the finals. But, Gunn did go through the entire WWE locker room’s toughest guys only to be quickly fired when the finals didn’t go his way. It’s not like this one is Bart Gunn’s fault either. If you put me in a contest where I had to legitimately fight someone else, I’m going to try and win. I’d rather not have my head knocked off. It’s just too bad that Gunn didn’t see that the end result of simply being in the contest was going to spell the end of his WWE career. Pretty much everyone in that contest should have seen what a bad idea it was. They didn’t and a lot of wrestling contracts were quickly ended because of it.
9. Great Career Move: Vince McMahon Creates “Mr. McMahon” Character
Perhaps it was Vince’s divine plan all along or perhaps the character presented itself by accident, but McMahon’s ability to recognize a situation and twist it to his benefit made him millions of dollars and kept his company afloat.
When Bret Hart departed for WCW and the Montreal Screwjob happened, Vince became a fall guy. Rolling with the punches (literally), Vince decided to present himself as not just an announcer, but the owner of the WWE and he took to the television and told the world “Bret screwed Bret.” Vince knew fans would hate him for it, but from that arose a bitter nemesis to Stone Cold Steve Austin. That rivalry literally saved the WWE. Vince and Austin went on to do huge business together and the company rebounded off the ratings, eventually taking down WCW and buying them out.
8. Backfired : Bam Bam Bigelow Loses to Lawrence Taylor
At WrestleMania XI, Bam Bam Bigelow decided to be a team player and he lost clean to football legend Lawrence Taylor. It was one of the first times that a wrestler was asked to look weak for a non-wrestler and the match was not a very good one. It was way better than it should have been, but it still wasn’t good. Short-term, Bigelow probably got some decent money. Long-term, it hurt his standing as one of the WWE’s tough guys. He didn’t last long after that.
Sometimes you have to step back and look at a situation and realize that you can’t come out of this without looking bad. Once you look bad to the WWE, they have next to no time for you. That’s what happened with Bam Bam Bigelow.
7. Great Career Move: John Cena Starts Rapping
When John Cena first debuted in the WWE, he looked like a million bucks, but fans weren’t really into his clean-cut, “prototype” gimmick. On a Halloween special on SmackDown, Cena came out dressed like Vanilla Ice and started rapping (it was a silent passion of his that few knew about). People quickly realized how good at the art he was and he started using it all the time in a slightly less goofy costume.
One character change with potentially his job on the line and he became a megastar. He made another bold choice later in his career by ditching the rapper gimmick and becoming a role model character for kids (like a walking billboard). It didn’t keep the edgier fans on his side, but the kids love him and he’s made boatloads of cash from that decision.
6. Backfired: Robbie McAllister Shows Up in TNA Audience
There’s one thing to purposely stand up for something and then there’s what Robbie McAllister did. McAllister was fired from the WWE and removed from the WrestleMania 24 card because he wasn’t smart enough to realize that going to the competitions show and sitting in the audience during a tv taping was stupid.
The incident involved TV cameras catching Robbie in the crowd during a broadcast of TNA Impact. It’s probably page one of the don’t do manual, but Robbie did it and it resulted in him being relieved of his WrestleMania duties a forfeiting the large WrestleMania bonus that goes with appearing on the card. He then toiled around the independent scene for years, making rings and hanging posters for not much money. He’s stated it was a blessing in disguise because he was unhappy in the WWE, but everyone knows that’s a cover.
5. Great Career Move: Zack Ryder Goes Viral
Zack Ryder found some success in the WWE riding shotgun with Edge. Still, as a singles competitor he never really found his groove. It wasn’t until he decided to post videos of himself on social media as Long Island Iced Z and made up a title called the Internet Championship. His vignettes were hilarious and the WWE couldn’t ignore his viral success any longer. He got put back on television and because Ryder showed how much the internet can do for business, the WWE made a major push toward marketing via social media. They are now one of the most well-known brands on the internet with literally millions and millions of followers. They owe some of that success to Zack Ryder who I;m sure will be thought of fondly inside the WWE.
4. Backfired: Buff Bagwell Debuts Invasion In Unfit Condition
Buff Bagwell was a good mid card talent in WCW. He wasn’t on the highest level, but he’d gained a lot of popularity with the fans. When WCW was purchased by the WWE, Vince McMahon was working hard to make an invasion of WCW look credible on WWE programming. One way to take the WCW seriously was to put two of their best competitors in the main event of Raw for the WCW Title and show these guys could hang with the best. Booker T was ready to go, but Bagwell wasn’t.
Bagwell was wrestling with some outside personal demons and was known to be both arrogant and lazy. He was in no shape to be wrestling that night and while Booker T tried his best to make the situation work, the match was a disaster. The WCW in WWE angle failed and Bagwell was fired. He literally threw away a golden opportunity and to this day, the Invasion angle is still viewed as a “what could have been” time in WWE history.
3. Great Career Move: Chris Jericho Creates “The List”
Chris Jericho will undoubtedly enter the WWE Hall of Fame based on his distinguished career as a wrestler well before that last year came and went. But, 2016 and 2017 may go down as some of Jericho’s most entertaining work and it’s all because of one little prop.
Every time Jericho got mad at someone, he needed a way to make a note of it. He started writing it down and it became a thing. In fact, it became such a thing that it made Jericho one of the most popular Superstars of the past two years. Jericho had made returns to the WWE before, but they were never quite this successful. He was able to parlay one small gag into a huge event at every show. If you made Jericho’s list, you were doing something right as a performer.
2. Backfired: Jake the Snake Quits the WWE
Near the end of Jake Roberts’ first run with the WWE, he thought he was promised a writing gig. It turns out that it wasn’t what he thought it was and as a result, decided he was leaving. He worked out a lucrative deal with WCW and handed in his notice. After losing to the Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII, Jake was done. He packed his bags for WCW, got there and was dumbfounded to find out the deal he was offered was no longer being offered.
Apparently, between Jake quitting and traveling, the WCW underwent a management change. They looked at his deal and decided it was ridiculous and reneged. Jake had no choice but to take it having burned his bridge with the WWE. His career was never the same and he eventually sunk into a deep battle with personal demons that he still fights today.
1. Great Career Move: Steve Austin Goes “Stone Cold”
Easily making the top of our list is Steve Austin. Austin was released from WCW in 1995, he made his way to ECW where Paul Heyman allowed him to open up and vent his frustrations to an audience that loved bashing the bigger companies. Austin was eventually brought into the WWE, but he wasn’t given a character he could sink his teeth into. As The Ringmaster, he was Ted Dibiase’s henchman and didn’t say much if anything at all. The character wasn’t going anywhere.
After about six months, Austin decided to approach Vince McMahon about a change and about separating from Dibiase. His desire was for his character to be more a representation of himself, just with the volume turned up. He couldn’t do that as the Ringmaster. At King of the Ring in 1996, Austin defeated Jake Roberts and made one of the most iconic speeches in WWE history. Austin 3:16 was born and the Stone Cold character became one of the most popular of all time. Today he’s still the most profitable WWE Superstar to ever be employed by the company.
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