Gimmicks are as much a part of professional wrestling as are the actual performers, the matches that occur at events, promos and also television shows that air in North America and all around the world. Some of the most successful gimmicks in the history of pro wrestling helped certain individuals become worldwide icons known for being more than just in-ring competitors. Terry Bollea is the man who won titles in multiple wrestling promotions and who gained notoriety, both positive and negative, over the years for a variety of gigs and stories, but it’s Hulk Hogan and not Bollea who is recognized by the masses. For better or for worse, Bollea will always be the Hulkster in the eyes of millions of people who wouldn’t even consider themselves to be wrestling fans.
Hogan has played his character differently over the years, and, thus, we wouldn’t necessarily consider him to be high on either a list of wrestlers with the most gimmick changes or on one discussing wrestlers who have undergone the least amount of gimmick changes during their careers. In some instances, a wrestler either found or was given a single gimmick that changed that person’s life and allowed him to have a tremendous career for decades. Others, meanwhile, needed to go through multiple gimmicks in an attempt to find a long-term home with a promotion. It’s interesting that the type of wacky gimmicks that we saw in pro wrestling back in the 1980s and early 90s are, for a large part, gone these days. Perhaps the industry could use an updated version of The Undertaker or even Hulk Hogan.
15. Most: Billy Gunn
The wrestler known to most casual fans as Billy Gunn was never able to become a World Champion in the WWE or in Impact/Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, but Gunn did well to remain relevant in the business for decades while having all kinds of gimmicks.
He was a tag team specialist while in the Smoking Gunns, the New Age Outlaws, the James Gang/Voodoo Kin Mafia and, best of all, alongside Chuck Palumbo. As a solo wrestler, Gunn played the awful “Rockabilly” gimmick, and later he became “Mr. Ass” as part of D-Generation-X and alongside New Age Outlaws partner the “Road Dogg” Jesse James. Then, there was “The One” Billy Gunn and also his time as Kip James away from the WWE. In short, Gunn has had more gimmicks than the amount of shoes some people own.
14. Least: John Cena
Upon seeing John Cena mentioned among wrestlers with the least gimmicks, some may mention that he worked as “The Prototype,” as himself once he officially debuted in the WWE and later as a rapper and the “Doctor of Thuganomics.”
It’s fine to point that out, but all should remember that Cena and the WWE abandoned that gimmick, for the most part, all the way back in 2005 after he was drafted to the Raw brand during the original roster split. In fact, it was the elimination of that entertaining portion of his character that played a part in some fans turning on him and the birth of the “Lets Go Cena/Cena Sucks” chants that have been heard on shows for over a decade. Cena has been the company’s top babyface and top star for roughly 12 years, and he has done so while using the same gimmick.
13. Most: Brodus Clay
We had such high hopes that the WWE couldn’t waste the Brodus Clay gimmick. Clay was a huge monster, perfect to play the role of the muscle for a smaller heel, and he was impressive while working in NXT and on versions of WWE programming.
The company couldn’t help themselves, though, and the WWE turned him into the Funkasaurus, a dancing comedic figure that could’ve gotten over with fans had the promotion given him any real push. Instead, he was teamed up with Tensai for the Tons of Funk team, but Clay ultimately turned heel and then reverted back to a version of his old character before he and the company parted ways. Since that time, Clay has worked as Tyrus, a heel bodyguard and later as the “Fixer” for Impact Wrestling.
12. Least: Rey Mysterio Jr.
For the purposes of this portion of the piece, we’re going to ask that we all agree to forget when certain individuals writing for World Championship Wrestling found it wise to unmask Rey Mysterio Jr. and toss money into the figurative dumpster in the process.
Other than that massive mistake, Mysterio’s gimmick was largely the same in the original Extreme Championship Wrestling, the WWE and in other promotions. Mysterio perfected the art of working as an undersized babyface who wore a mask before, during and after matches, and his “Giant Killer” persona got over with younger and older fans. It’s easy to understand why Mysterio became so popular wherever he wrestled. Who, among us, hasn’t wanted to see a bully be on the receiving end of karma throughout our lives?
11. Most: JBL
Some readers out there may not have been paying attention to WWE programming in the 1990s when John Bradshaw Layfield played Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, a cowboy and gimmick that came about a decade too late.
Those who followed the product during the “Attitude Era” probably recall Bradshaw becoming one-half of the Acolytes with the Ministry of Darkness faction before he and Faarooq went off on their own to form the Acolytes Protection Agency. The best was only to come for Bradshaw, however, as he ultimately became the hated JBL character who struck it rich on the stock market. His best overall work in the company occurred during this gimmick, as he was a true heel who didn’t draw babyface pops from crowds unlike, for example, John Cena, who grew in popularity as a heel before the company turned him babyface.
10. Least: The Miz
Whether you love Miz, hate him or find yourself somewhere in the middle of such discussions, you have to praise the guy for finding a gimmick that has genuinely drawn attraction, most of which has been purposely negative, during his career.
Miz, of course, was a well-known reality television star before he ever wrestled a single WWE match, and his personal history and work in the entertainment industry has always been a part of his character. As if heel reality-star Miz wasn’t obnoxious enough, pairing him up with the beautiful Maryse, his actual wife, helped inject some life into the current version of his television persona. Some may find it hard to believe, but the Miz gimmick has been great for WWE television for roughly a decade. Hey, the guy did main-event a WrestleMania. Not many can say that.
9. Most: Charles Wright
Charles Wright deserves of ton of credit for suffering through multiple ridiculous and terrible gimmicks before finally landing one that allowed him to become a fan-favorite in the WWE. Most notoriously, Wright was Papa Shango, the voodoo specialist who cast spells and once made the Ultimate Warrior “vomit” because of course he did. Kama, the “Supreme Fighting Machine” was a little less awful but still not all that great, and even the early versions of The Godfather were rather forgettable until he became associated with, um, ladies.
If you’re anything like us, you’d rather forget that time he portrayed “Goodfather” as a member of the faction Right to Censor. All of us should just be thankful Wright was able to be the Godfather during the early days of the Attitude Era, as that character definitely wouldn’t fly today.
8. Least: Bret Hart
One of the best things about the Bret “Hitman” Hart gimmick is that it was almost always believable. You trusted the babyface Hart would do the right thing for his friends and family, wouldn’t take shortcuts during matches and could topple evil heels. Even if you didn’t like everything he said while he was a heel, particularly during the Hart Foundation’s feud with American fans and American wrestlers, you honestly believed Hart felt he had been cheated, that he disliked the United States and that he believed he was “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.”
It’s astonishing, two decades after that Hart Foundation storyline, some still don’t rate Hart as a solid promo guy capable of selling tickets and Pay-Per-View buys with his work on the microphone.
7. Most: John Tenta
“I am not a fish!” John Tenta famously yelled during a promo on WCW Monday Nitro as he, essentially, declared that he was finished playing gimmicks such as the Shark, the Avalanche, Earthquake or any other similar roles based upon his massive frame/and or his associations with certain heel groups.
Some things are easier to quit than others, though, as Tenta eventually made a return to the WWE in the late 1990s, where he played Golga as part of the Oddities. Maybe the biggest shame about the gimmicks portrayed by Tenta is that they sometimes overshadowed the fact that he was a solid worker for somebody of his size. This was a time when large men feuded with babyfaces such as Hulk Hogan, though, so it’s understandable he found homes in organizations due to these gimmicks.
6. Least: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar has had multiple nicknames throughout his tenure in the WWE. He has been “The Next Big Thing,” “The Beast Incarnate” and, who can forget, “The One in ’21-1.’”
Nevertheless, Lesnar’s gimmick has always remained the same since he first officially debuted on an edition of Raw in that it’s been based on reality. Lesnar is a proven real athlete who was a dominant amateur wrestler, a character larger than just about every opponent and, in recent years, a proven mixed martial arts specialist who won the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Heavyweight Title after he left the WWE and pro wrestling for a time. In a way, Lesnar serves as a reminder that some of the best gimmicks in pro wrestling can involve somebody being himself or herself while on camera.
5. Most: Big Show
Some may point out that Big Show has retained the same gimmick once WCW abandoned the storyline that he was the son of Andre The Giant. That’s fair, but what all should remember is that Big Show has changed from heel to babyface and later back to heel seemingly a historic amount of times.
There are actually Internet pages dedicated to this phenomenon, which is why we had to mention Show among the wrestlers with the most gimmick changes. According to an interview that he gave in March 2017, Show claims he intends to retire in February 2018 once his current WWE contract expires. We can all only imagine how many times he may make the switch from heel to babyface between this coming summer and the following winter.
4. Least: Marty Jannetty
Here is a person you may not immediately think of regarding wrestling gimmicks, and that actually plays a part in why he checks in on the list here. Marty Jannetty was, for the most part, always Marty Jannetty. When he was a member of the Rockers tag team, Jannetty seemed to be little more than a version of himself.
The break-up of Jannetty and Shawn Michaels did not lead to Jannetty becoming a solo star, although some alleged personal demons did sink Jannetty before he was capable of potentially evolving into a main-eventer. Jannetty never became a real mainstay in ECW or WCW after initial stints in the WWE, and one has to wonder if a massive gimmick change in the mid-1990s could have done him some good.
3. Most: Mick Foley
Passionate WWE fans could probably tell you that Mick Foley has played Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack and, of course, Mick Foley during his time with the organization. You may have forgotten, or not even realized, those characters had different gimmicks on their own.
Mankind went from being a freak to a beloved babyface who was merely trying to make it in the business and live out his dream. Cactus Jack played an anti-hardcore character in both the original ECW and in the WWE at different times. “Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy” was even an authority figure in multiple promotions. The icon of the industry sacrificed his body, and possibly years of his life, for the wrestling industry, and he did so while portraying a variety of characters and gimmicks, some of which could have failed had they not been played by such a talented person.
2. Least: Mr. McMahon
Regardless of what you think of the gimmick, nobody can deny the Mr. McMahon character is one of the most important in the history of the WWE, as it helped the company defeat WCW and win the “Monday Night Wars.”
McMahon, the character, has been a heel and a babyface at different times over the past two decades, but the majority of his gimmick has remained the same since he first played a heel feuding with the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and even later, Roman Reigns. Everything from his strut to his outrageous suits to yelling “You’re Fired!” has helped make the gimmick legendary and one worthy of a spot in any wrestling Hall of Fame. The WWE and the wrestling world, in general, will be worse off when the Mr. McMahon character is gone, for good.
1. Most: Kane
We can’t blame you if you’re struggling to recall all of the characters played by the man who eventually became Kane. You may have first seen Kane in the WWE as Dr. Isaac Yankem, an evil heel dentist. He played the “fake Diesel” as part of a horrible storyline involving announcer Jim Ross. Even the Kane gimmick has undergone a wide variety of tweaks and changes over the years. He was a monster deformed because of a fire, and he later became an unmasked psychopath.
Last, but not least, was the “Director of Operations” gimmick he played as a member of The Authority. Glenn Jacobs is now running for political office, and it’s possible that real-life gimmick will be the last we see from him.
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