Wrestling is a crazy business, and a lot of talented performers don’t make it in the industry because they can’t find a successful or entertaining character that is both engaging and talented inside the ring, and sometimes, all it takes is one moment to stumble onto the thing that will make them most successful. Sometimes, this reinvention can be from a simple interaction with the crowd, or it can be a measured change and improvement in a holistic character, but either way, wrestling is very opportunistic, and some capitalize on this, others don’t. Today, we are going to look at the times that characters cashed in on reinvention, as well as some wrestlers that were struggling to find success, but couldn’t change their character or persona enough to succeed in the ring.
15. Successful: Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is one of the most unique and interesting characters in the WWE today, and after you see where he came from, his transformation becomes even more impressive. As a third generation star, he was always going to be successful in the wrestling industry, but when he appeared on the NXT rookie search as Husky Harris, his chances at success looked minimal at best. After a brief and forgettable run on the main roster, he went back to the drawing board, and then reappeared on the NXT we know today as Bray Wyatt. He has now gone on to become the WWE Champion, and it’s safe to say that this is one of the best and most promising reinventions in WWE history.
14. Failed: Fandango
Johnny Curtis competed on the rookie search/game show version of NXT, and the character had limitations as a comedic heel, but after a brief run on the WWE main roster, he was sent back down to developmental, as the company saw no future in the character. After weeks of vignettes, we saw the finished product in the form of ballroom dancer Fandango, and with his first feud on the main roster, he defeated Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, and it looked like the company was all in on him. Everything has been downhill since there, as he was demoted to jobber on RAW before being united with Tyler Breeze to form a team on SmackDown. Unfortunately they have been treated terribly and Fandango’s push is no better, as it seems that it’s only a matter of time until he is released from the company.
13. Successful: EC3
Derrick Bateman in WWE looked like he had quite a bit of potential as both an athlete and a comedy character, but the company didn’t see it, and after a run in NXT and a brief run on the main roster, he was released. He appeared months later as Dixie Carter’s spoiled nephew, Ethan Carter III, and he went on to become the main event star that Impact Wrestling deserved. Since then, he’s become renowned around the world as a major star. His reinvention is less from a character perspective than it was just getting the chance to show what he’s worth, but it has to be considered nonetheless, as he went from forgettable curtain-jerker in WWE to a World Champion on Impact who dethroned Kurt Angle and became a huge main event star.
12. Failed: Se7en
The Goldust character in WWE has always been a unique one, and in the ’90s, the flamboyant character broke ground and made him one of the most talked-about wrestlers in history. Unfortunately, the character ran its course and Dustin Rhodes joined his father in WCW, where things took a very sharp turn for the worse. The company started airing vignettes of a mysterious character known as “Se7en,” and these videos involved him staring at sleeping children through a window. Even for a wrestling character, it was completely ridiculous. When he finally appeared on Nitro, he came to the ring while levitating, but that didn’t last long, as he cut a scathing worked-shoot promo on the creation of the character and WCW as a whole. Goldust returned to WWE and achieved success as a midcarder, but for a moment in the ’90s, Dustin Rhodes’ wrestling character took quite the free-fall.
11. Successful: The Godfather
We will discuss later who is the master of reinvention, but when it comes to the performer that has had the most characters on WWE television, it has to be the recent WWE Hall of Fame inductee Charles Wright. The man was once Papa Shango, who was a terrible voodoo-type performer, and also competed as Ted DiBiase’s protege Kama, then as Nation of Domination member Kama Mustafa. Wright then changed with the times in the Attitude Era and became the Godfather, one of the most memorable and entertaining characters of that entire era, up there with Stone Cold and the Rock (in terms of fan support, not success or ability). The Godfather was famous for coming to the ring with his “Hos,” and the fans got completely behind him for it. Although he didn’t have an immense amount of success with Championships in the WWE, you have to consider it quite a successful reinvention nonetheless.
10. Failed: Marc Mero
In the early days of WCW, Johnny B. Badd was a fantastic performer, and it looked like he was on his way to superstardom, but when he objected to a feud with Kimberly Page, he left the company and immediately signed with the then-WWF. Unfortunately for him, WCW had acquired the rights to the Johnny B. Badd, and instead he went to the WWE under his real name, Marc Mero, with his real-life wife Sable by his side. He went on to moderate success with the company, but due to her flat-out sex appeal standing out in Vince McMahon’s company, Sable became the true superstar of the duo. While it may not have been his choice, the reinvention of Marc Mero failed, and someone who looked poised to be a World Champion floundered in the midcard until he left the wrestling business.
9. Successful: Kane
The Kane character defined the Attitude Era for some fans, and the iconic moment that he debuted in the Hell in a Cell to face his storyline brother the Undertaker will be remembered forever. This debut was so good in fact, that it made fans completely forget about the plethora of horrible personas that Glenn Jacobs had to go through in the mid-’90s before settling on the Monster Kane. He debuted as evil dentist Isaac Yankem, DDS in 1995 where most performers had day job-type characters, then became the fake Diesel, and thankfully he didn’t let that discourage him, as it was another two to three years before he was given his still-going Kane character. Kane hasn’t held as many World Championships as many feel he should, but the character is absolutely legendary, and he had the best debut in WWE history, making the reinvention a definite success.
8. Failed: Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze was stuck in WWE developmental for a long time before he stumbled onto the male model character Tyler Breeze, and in the small, intimate confines of NXT at Full Sail Arena, it looked like he had struck gold. He was even afforded the opportunity to wrestle the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger in his lone WWE appearance, and although he never held the NXT title, fans and his peers alike were excited when he was called up to the main roster. He has since floundered, and it looks like the WWE are going to mess up a chance at a major midcard star, as he is stuck in a nothing tag team of “fashion police.” Like his partner Fandango, don’t be surprised if he isn’t on the WWE’s payroll by the end of 2017.
7. Successful: Umaga
The late Umaga may have been seen as a racially insensitive character at the time, but there really is no comparing the success that the Umaga character had in comparison to Eddie Fatu’s first character, Jamal of Three Minute Warning. Sure, the character had severe limitations, but throughout his run he was one of the top two heels on Monday Night RAW, and even had the honor of representing Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 23 in the “Battle of the Billionaires.” He didn’t have an illustrious resume when it came to winning Championships in the WWE, but from 2006-2008, Umaga was one of the best heels the WWE had, and he was involved in many entertaining feuds.
6. Failed: The Great Khali
Let’s start with this: The Great Khali never should have been a wrestler in WWE for as long as he was, if not at all, but due to Vince McMahon’s love of big men, he remained an active performer for years. He debuted as a monster and completely manhandled The Undertaker, but like they always do in the WWE, the “foreign monster heel” shtick grew old quickly, and in order to get good return for his investment, Vince McMahon had to keep him around. Enter the WWE’s answer to the Kiss-Cam, as the company thought it was a good idea to rename him the “Punjabi Playboy” and have him kiss all the lovely women in the division, and you have a recipe for cringeworthy disaster. Unfortunately this character died a very slow, painful death, as he stuck around for years until he was eventually released to little to no fanfare.
5. Successful: Chris Jericho
Ever since the early ’90s, Chris Jericho has been a stand out performer, but he has never been considered a megastar, but after his current return that began in 2016, Jericho truly has to be considered one of the best wrestlers of all time, and the absolute master of reinvention. From Lionheart in ECW to the original List in WCW to the first ever Undisputed Champion and now his revamped list, Jericho has always been able to keep up with the times and improve the ways to show off his amazing charisma. His abilities in the ring may have slowed down tremendously with age, but his entertainment value is still as high as ever, and he will sorely be missed by the fans when he leaves again after WrestleMania 33.
4. Failed: Sheamus
Sheamus debuted in WWE’s version of ECW a long time ago, and despite turning babyface after a long heel run, his character and look never changed, and he became incredibly stale and boring to the fans. Returning after injury in 2014, Sheamus decided to make a change to his look which didn’t go as planned, as it has spawned the “You look stupid” chants which have followed him ever since. It wasn’t a complete character reinvention, but after everything about him stayed so bland and boring for years, it was a change that fans could latch onto, but not in a good way. Since then, he has done little of note outside an idiotically predictable WWE Championship run, meaning his reinvention has completely failed, making him more just a victim of fan chants than a viable character that fans can invest in.
3. Successful: Steve Austin
Stunning Steve Austin was a great performer in WCW, and after a pit stop in Paul Heyman’s ECW, it looked like Austin was headed for superstardom in WWE. Unfortunately, he was foolishly introduced as Ted DiBiase’s new protege, The Ringmaster. The character was not taken to by the fans at all, and Austin found himself at an impasse, and with a decision to focus on his real life persona. At King of the Ring 1996, a superstar was born. “Austin 3:16 says ‘I just whipped your ass'” became the most memorable promo in WWE history, and thus, the greatest anti-hero in WWE history came to be. The next seven years speak for themselves. From a struggling Ringmaster to one of the greatest WWE stasr of all time, no one reinvented themselves so simply and so effectively than Stone Cold Steve Austin.
2. Failed: Adam Rose
It’s no secret that in the smaller and more interactive environment at Full Sail Arena, gimmicks in NXT tend to get over more frequently than on the main roster, and nowhere is that more relevant than the time Leo Kruger turned into Adam Rose. The South African hunter turned into a party boy, the fans lapped it up when he entered the ring surrounded by his Rosebuds, and it seemed like something that could work on the main roster. It didn’t, and he was recently released after a domestic violence arrest. This reinvention may have been forced upon him by staff at the performance center, but the Leo Kruger character looked like something that would work very well. Instead, he reinvented himself into Adam Rose, and the company never saw him as anything more than a jobber from that point forward.
1. Successful: Broken Matt and Brother Nero
The Hardy Boyz were huge stars in the WWE, as they shot to fame during the Attitude Era with their death-defying ladder match antics, but after a decade with the company, both of them left, and found themselves in what was then called TNA. This has been a typical move for former WWE employees over the past number of years, but usually it’s not a successful move, as Impact Wrestling’s audience and product quality has been dropping over the past couple of years. Then, on one episode of Impact, Matt Hardy changed the wrestling landscape when he declared himself “Broken,” and entered into a feud with Jeff, now known as “Brother Nero,” that culminated with the polarizing Final Deletion. Matt put countless time and dedication into the character, and it became the best thing in professional wrestling in 2016. The Hardy Boyz, who were almost considered has-beens, have now again become the talk of the wrestling world thanks to Matt’s “Broken Universe.”
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