Wrestling is an old business and thus repeating stuff is inevitable. From angles to characters, wrestling has done a lot of “reruns” over the years. You couldn’t throw a stone in the 1980s without seeing a tag team emulating the Road Warriors. Too many times has the “evil foreign heel” been used and multiple guys openly copying another. Sometimes, it’s meant to be blatant (Jay Lethal’s Randy Savage act in TNA) and other times it just comes off as a copy. But a few times, an odd thing happens as the “rip-off” ends up doing things far better than the original ever did. It’s rare but mix the right guys with the right angle and a gimmick take-off can really work.
Of course, the failures are more notable, the guys who tried to succeed with another gimmick and couldn’t. But if a gimmick clicks, it can make a wrestler's entire career. It’s tricky as with so much else in wrestling but if a guy can make a gimmick work, it’s sensational. But if he can’t, it’s just a lame bit that ruins the original material in a way. Here are 8 guys whose gimmick rip-offs were bad but seven who made them better and how tricky wrestling can be.
15 RUINED: Lex Luger (Hulk Hogan)
It’s not his own fault but it still has to be counted. When Hulk Hogan left WWE in a huff in 1993, Vince McMahon was naturally upset. He thus decided that he didn’t need Hogan, he could make anyone a red-white-and-blue star. He turned to Lex Luger, a man long noted as “the next Hogan” by people and was pushed as the Narcissist. Luger body-slammed Yokozuna at a special 4th of July challenge and soon boosted to the main event. Vince then put him out on the “Lex Express” pushing Luger as a patriotic guy kissing babies and meeting young fans.
Luger was at his best showing his cocky manner, a good heel but even as a face, could be arrogant. Having him be this humble American hero didn’t fit him at all and it showed. He failed to win the belt after all that build and various pushes afterward didn’t work out either. Luger accepted a lower pay cut from WCW as far better than anything WWE gave him.
14 BETTER: Zack Ryder (Robbie E)
It could have been a total disaster. When Zack Ryder debuted, he was a good worker with talent but long ignored. So he decided to remake himself on an act obviously based on the Jersey Shore TV show. Robbie E had been trying it in TNA but it came off more annoying than really successful. It could have been a mess, lame jokes and clichés mocking New Jersey totally. But Ryder used his real roots to push the “Long Island Z” videos and break out a bit more. Soon, the fans were responding and Ryder was a top act in the company. WWE had to pay attention by giving him a run as U.S. champion but sadly cut the legs out from under him with a bad burial job. It’s a damn shame given that Ryder was amazing taking what could have been a joke gimmick and turning it into something huge.
13 RUINED: Sting as the Joker
Sting was great from the start with his face paint and wild style to become WCW’s main star. In 1996, he changed his image to one inspired by “The Crow” and became more popular than ever. His brooding face, darker colors and striking without warning put him on the fast track to major success and he kept with it for years. But in 2011, Sting decided to do another twist but not as successful. He started acting up like Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker from “the Dark Knight” messing up his makeup and acting crazy. He would do wild laughs and freak people out while wearing red suits and such.
It had promise but it just didn’t work, Sting just going over the top so it wasn’t that intimidating and just annoying at times. He kept going before revealing it was “mind games” which was an okay conclusion but still showed Sting shouldn’t have to rely on comic book movies to take off on.
12 BETTER: Hulk Hogan (Superstar Billy Graham)
Terry Boulder had the promise early on as a big strong man but still needed to connect. He found his way thanks to Superstar Billy Graham. When Graham burst on the scene, he was like nothing ever before: A huge, jacked-up man with skills in loud outfits and his promos completely wild. Graham changed the game majorly and his reign as WWE Champion was big business. Hogan has openly admitted that he took off a ton from Graham, from the bright outfits to the wild promos and cited the Superstar as a key influence. Hogan added in his own natural charisma and power and soon had “Hulkamania” running wild.
On DVDs, Graham noted how Hogan took from him but actually enjoyed the act and how Hogan put a spin on it. Hogan himself states that Graham was his major inspiration and made himself the biggest star in the business and thus terrific in so many ways.
11 RUINED IT: Glacier (Sub-Zero)
Any fan watching “Nitro” in 1995 will remember the videos. They pushed an imposing figure with the idea of “blood runs cold” and something amazing. It was obvious from the start that Glacier was based on Sub-Zero from the smash hit “Mortal Kombat” games but it had serious promise. After some delays, he came out to cool lighting and “ice clouds”, looking impressive in his outfit and ready to take off. Then he started wrestling. And it was obvious he just wasn’t that good. His “kung-fu” moves looked like a lame Bruce Lee fan movie and just didn’t click at all. The idea of a video game character brought to life was a great one but Glacier’s matches were just as slow to watch as his namesake and made fans wish they’d just played the game instead.
10 BETTER: Damien Sandow (The Genius)
After years as a high-flyer, Lanny Poffo remade himself as “The Genius” in 1988. It gave him new life with his poems and showing off as a smart guy, managing Mr. Perfect and others. It was promising but his lack of real in-ring talent hurt his push more. However, the idea of a Brainiac heel was something to play with and finally Damien Sandow was able to use it. After a start as a rough guy, Sandow took off as the “Intellectual Savior of the Masses.” He was brilliant with the act, flaunting eloquent promos and backing it up in the ring with terrific work to be a top heel.
After a run with Cody Rhodes as The Rhodes Scholars, he and The Miz soon became a terrific team, as tag champs and balancing themselves well with The Miz’s arrogance alongside Sandow flaunting smart talk. It was really clicking and even led to his fun “stunt double” bit for The Miz that had promise.
But Sandow was looked down on by others in the company and released in 2016. A shame as the act was terrific and showed how smart Sandow got himself over.
9 RUINED: Asya (Chyna)
As the tide of the Monday Night War turned against them, WCW was desperate to do anything to stay on top. This included doing open carbon copies of stuff in WWE, somehow thinking fans would respond to a lame rip-off. Few were as openly blatant as Aysa. Christi Wolff was an imposing bodybuilder hired and pushed as a true copy of Chyna. Note the name as WCW’s typical logic told them making a bigger land-mass would make her a bigger deal. To no surprise, she failed to make an impact, lacking the charisma that made Chyna stand out and just coming off as a lame copy. She had runs with the Filthy Animals and Vampiro before leaving just before WCW went under. Wolf never made a big impact and while her name was bigger, she was forever in Chyna’s shadow.
8 BETTER: Bray Wyatt (Waylon Mercy)
In 1996, Dan Spivey came to WWE with an act truly ahead of its time. Based on “Cape Fear,” Waylon Mercy was a dark man with a cult-like vibe, a wicked style and looked imposing. It was really something else and could have gone further but Spivey succumbed to injuries so he didn’t last long. But that idea of a cult figure type remained and it finally came out in Bray Wyatt. He did so much better, his promos astounding to listen to and looked great leading his “family” against various faces. Wyatt soon had fans captivated with his work and even reigning as WWE champion. He managed to take Spivey’s old act and make it far better for a wider audience, given the chance to cut loose nicely.
7 RUINED IT: New Midnight Express
The Midnight Express were one of the greatest tag teams of all time. While Bobby Eaton and Dennis Condery were good, Eaton and Stan Lane were even better. Their feuds with the Rock n Roll Express and the Fantastics were magic and produced amazing bouts with the Express as multiple tag team champions. The key, of course, was Jim Cornette wielding his tennis racket and killer promos to get fans riled up. In 1998, WWE decided to revive the Express with Jim Cornette back as their manager and put Bob Holly and Bart Gunn together. Despite experience with other teams, they had no chemistry together and Cornette hated the entire thing. It was just a big rib by Vince to mock the NWA and Cornette wishes he hadn’t done it as there was just one Express fans wanted to remember.
6 BETTER: Rusev (Vladimir Kozlov)
When Vladimir Kozlov entered WWE, they naturally assumed they had the next big Russian heel. The concept has been a classic in wrestling since the 1950s, dying a bit when the Cold War ended but back in vogue. Kozlov looked imposing, tough and brutal with his cold stare. But it soon became clear he just wasn’t that good in the ring and the fans turned on him, leading to a lower run than expected. He was eventually made a goofy tag partner to Santino before released. Rusev, on the other hand, has a much better main event presence and far stronger and more imposing. He’s proven himself as U.S. Champion, a good worker and much better with promos to rise up.
Many contend he deserves a bigger run than he’s gotten and while he’s really Bulgarian, he pushes the “Russian heel” thing quite well. Rusev is great, far better than Kozlov would be and shows still life in an old concept.
5 RUINED IT: Prince Iaukea (Prince)
Twice WCW tried to turn this guy into a cop and it was bad both times. First, when Rocky Maivia surprisingly won the IC title in early 1997, WCW decided to copy it by having low-level Prince Iaukea upset William Regal for the TV title. It didn’t last long, the guy a bit too small and not as great as expected in the ring so his run was short-lived. In 1999, WCW tried again, this time pushing him as “The Artist” based on how music star Prince was going around with no name at the time. Sadly, Iaukea just didn’t have the ability to pull the act off, his promos not great and acting up like Prince a total joke.
It’s a shame as the guy was a good Cruiserweight and could have done better on his own but WCW’s insistence on him copying the gimmicks of others marred an otherwise good career.
4 BETTER: Demolition
Some may argue this but it really does stand out. When Demolition appeared in 1987, they were instantly dismissed as just another rip-off of the Road Warriors. They had leather outfits with studs, face makeup, masks and a rough style. However, after that rough start, Ax and Smash soon started to click in the ring. If anything, they were actually better than The Road Warriors in the ring, better conditioned and harder workers. Capturing the tag team titles, they would hold it for over a year, the longest reign at the time. Turning face was natural as they were over and continued to dominate at arguably the best time ever for tag teams in WWE.
Adding Crush gave new life before their split and coming up short to the LOD in matches. But Demolition should be remembered as one “rip-off” that managed to beat the originals in several ways.
3 RUINED IT: Renegade
One of the single worst moves of WCW ever (which is saying a lot). In 1995, Hulk Hogan made buzz of “the Ultimate Surprise” for WCW Uncensored. Fans naturally jumped to the idea that The Ultimate Warrior was coming to WCW, complete with images of a man dressed like him. But instead was Richard Wilson, a rookie dressed like the Warrior, the makeup, the tassels and more. However, he had no chance, fans turning on him as such a blatant rip-off and a lame one at that.
He was actually worse in the ring than Warrior and WCW kept pushing him, even as a TV champion but fans didn’t buy it. He was soon losing and eventually dropped and Wilson’s life fell apart, ending in a suicide. So it’s terrible in so many ways with Renegade a tragic addition to WCW’s litany of bad stuff.
2 BETTER: Ric Flair (Buddy Rogers
Buddy Rogers was one of the greatest heels of all time. Every heel since him has emulated his look, his arrogance, his promos (“to a nicer guy it couldn’t happen!”) and his amazing skill. The original “Nature Boy” was a true star as wrestling evolved to TV. But no one has replicated him and done him better like Ric Flair. A fan of Rogers, Flair emulated his style and added in even more skill with promos that blew fans away. In his prime, Flair was a genius working sixty-minute matches, holding the NWA title and either as a face or a heel, had crowds in the palm of his hand. He was tremendous and even faced Rogers in some matches, which Flair won as Rogers felt fine passing the torch to him. Flair set a new standard, even more than Rogers did so most consider him the true “Nature Boy” and still a model for wrestlers since.
1 RUINED IT: "Nature Boy" AJ Styles
Some guys can pull off a Flair impression. AJ Styles is not one of those guys. He’s already great simply as himself, not needing an extra gimmick. But in 2011, the geniuses at TNA decided to have Styles replicate Flair as TNA champion. This included going around in robes and arrogant style, the strutting and the figure four as a finisher. It was totally unsuited as promos have never been Styles’ strength and thus trying to replicate Flair’s one of a kind talk is impossible. It just hurt him, not helped by how he was little more than a pawn as TNA was pushing Flair vs Hogan as the true rivalry despite how both were so beyond their best years. Styles soon dropped the act which fans enjoyed and showed he was better himself than trying to duplicate Flair.