To make it to the top of professional wrestling, you need to have more than razor sharp in-ring and microphone skills. You also need to have an interesting and relatable character as well. Without this, the fans just don’t engage with the performer and could care less what happens to them in their matches. It’s why Vince McMahon likes to call his business Sports Entertainment, and not just sport.
This isn’t fully down to the superstar. Often, they’ll have to rely on the creative team to come up with a gimmick that gets over with the fans. It’s the superstars who pair a winning gimmick with top-quality wrestling skills who go from respectable workers to fan favourite. However, it’s not always simple to find a brilliant gimmick. It’s an art, rather than a science. Some gimmicks which sound like surefire winners end up bombing with the WWE Universe, while other ridiculous-sounding ideas drive the fans wild.
Some of the WWE’s best workers have been saddled with gimmicks which looked bizarre on paper, yet somehow made them work, propelling themselves to superstardom in the process. Meanwhile, other fantastic gimmicks have been afforded to average wrestlers, getting them over with the fans, only for their popularity to plummet as soon as the theme is canned.
Here, we list 8 top-class wrestlers who made turned terrible gimmicks into gold, plus 7 run-of-the-mill performers who needed a great gimmick to get over with the fans.
15 Succeeded: Goldust
How is this character still going!? A drag green who painted his face, wore wigs and was obsessed with everything gold. He would confuse and anger his opponents using flirtatious mind games, suggestive mannerisms and excessive affection. Goldust debuted in 1995 and somehow remains a popular member of the WWE roster today.
In an era of heavy and rock-oriented themes, Goldust's was not terrible... just very different. A lot of fans were genuinely bewildered by this character, and many thought it was a passing phase. Regardless, Goldust made it work. While he may not have had the most success he is definitely widely respected for his longevity and may very well be in the WWE Hall of Fame one day.
14 Needed To Survive: Triple H
Triple H could have fallen into the terrible theme category when he was wrestling under the ring name "Hunter Hearst Helmsley", as his theme sounded more like a lullaby than a wrestler's theme. He played the aristocrat character very well, and it led to him eventually becoming "The Game".
The Game is of course one of the coolest themes ever in WWE. It is for this exact reason that Triple H needs it to survive. We've all seen that Triple H is no longer the wrestler he once was, as his matches are now much slower and he can't move as much as he used to. Fans aren't running to see him in a PPV, but his theme will always get a huge pop from the crowd. It always helps that Motorhead was kind enough to record it!
13 Succeeded: The Undertaker
Mark Calaway became such a part of the WWE furniture that we can take for granted how bizarre that the gimmick of his character The Undertaker really is. A pure evil undead voodoo zombie priest who can teleport, project his voice, and control lightning. When he first appeared in the WWE, he would carry his opponents backstage in body bags and his theme was actually written by Chopin! Chopin in a wrestling ring? How could that ever work?!
It’s the most bizarre and terrifying gimmick of all time, but on paper it should have been too far-fetched to work for the best part of three decades. Mark Calaway’s commitment to the role (he rarely if ever broke kayfabe) is what makes The Deadman arguably the best character in WWE history despite a slow and drawn out theme. It has now become the most popular of all time as fans go nuts every time they hear the bell toll.
12 Needed To Survive: Marc Mero & Sable
Marc Mero made a promising start to life in the WWE, after debuting by rescuing his wife Sable from the clutches of Triple H. Sable would begin accompanying Mero to the ring and the pair became a popular babyface duo. However, it would soon become apparent that Sable was a great deal more loved by the fans than he was.
After six months away from the ring rehabilitating from an ACL injury, Mero returned to WWE and would express kayfabe jealousy towards Sable for how popular she had become in his absence. Who can blame the fans? Hearing that big cat roar with Sable looking the way she did must have awoken some animalistic tendencies in the male fanbase. Without the theme, she may have just been another pretty face in WWE.
11 Succeeded: Eugene
Nick Dinsmore debuted on Raw in 2004, as Eugene the mentally-challenged nephew of Eric Bischoff. Dinsmore actually came up with the gimmick himself, rather than the WWE creative team, who can normally thanked for these controversial off-the-wall characters. In spite of his simple and overly excitable demeanour, Eugene got big responses from the crowd. His theme seemed to be a parody of the Rocky theme, but fans took to the character and he actually enjoyed a pretty good run considering what he had to work with.
Not bad for a character whose gimmick essentially made fun of mental illness. Sure, the fans eventually grew tired of Eugene’s character and turned on him, but to make a gimmick like this last for almost three years deserves some recognition. At least they didn't make his theme belittling, which would have just been more insulting than the gimmick.
10 Needed To Survive: The Dudley Boyz
Characterized by their unorthodox ring attire, rowdy behaviour and usage of tables in their matches, The Dudley Boyz grew to become one of the most popular tag teams. They were split apart during the first Raw/Smackdown draft in 2002, with Bubba Ray going to Raw and D-Von moving to Smackdown. In order to get him over as a singles competitor, D-Von converted to ‘Reverend D-Von’, a priest who served as Mr McMahon’s spiritual advisor and delivered sermons before matches.
They were eventually reunited, but left WWE. Upon their return, their signature pyro entrance and music hit and the fans were ecstatic. Never mind that their best days were far behind them, that nostalgic sound coupled with a "GET THE TABLES!" was enough to put them back into our hearts. Their theme is definitely not terrible, but it helped them to get back over with the fans in their return.
9 Succeeded: The Hurricane
Goofy comic-book superhero knock-off gimmicks have been attempted and failed many times in the WWE. But, there was something about Gregory Helms’ transformation into ‘The Hurricane’ that WWE fans couldn’t get enough of. Despite a theme that sounded like it was ripped from an early 90's video game coupled with his clear joke of a gimmick, Hurricane proved all the critics wrong.
The Hurricane was one of the most endearing characters of the Ruthless Aggression era. His short feud with The Rock provided some of the most entertaining backstage skits of this period, and he even picked up a victory over The Great One during this time. Helms rid himself of the superhero gimmick in 2006 during a feud with his tag-team partner Rosey in a move which turned him heel, but his new character didn’t prove anywhere near as popular or entertaining.
8 Needed To Survive: Perry Saturn And Moppy
Perry Saturn was a fantastic well-respected worker, especially during his time with The Radicalz in WCW. However, during the beginning of his stint in the WWE, he struggled to make an impact. That was until the introduction of “Moppy” - a mop that he was infatuated with. This gimmick was originally intended as a punishment, after Saturn legitimately beat the heck out of jobber Mike Bell in an actual match.
In a bizarre turn of events, this was actually the most popular gimmick that Saturn got involved with in WWE. His theme was actually pretty cool, but ironically the crowd was more interested in seeing him come out with the mop than they were for Saturn! Saturn has admitted that he hated the mop at first, but he grew to love it and wanted to keep it for longer.
7 Succeeded: Damien Mizdow
Damien Sandow was given a recycled gimmick as an intellectually superior character, and his theme made no bones about how full of himself he was. To think of the word Hallelujah being used for Damien Sandow is a major stretch. While the theme was decently catchy, he should have disappeared a long time ago.
Instead, Sandow owned every gimmick he had, and overcame his lacklustre music. Whether it was the saviour of the unwashed masses, his ability to get into any costume to make fun of his opponents, or his work as a stunt double for The Miz, Sandow has become a fondly remembered character in WWE. He is now focused on other opportunities outside of wrestling.
6 Needed To Survive: Bella Twins
It’s impossible to argue against the popularity of the Bella Twins. The unbridled of success of ‘Total Divas’ and its spin-off show ‘Total Bellas’ is evidence of that. The question is: would have they have been afforded so much air-time, both inside the ring and on these reality shows, had they not been drop dead gorgeous twins? There are plenty of female superstars with much better in-ring ability who would be desperate for the exposure that the Bella Twins have received in recent years. Instead, it was given to Brie and Nikki.
The way they come down to the ring plays a big part in this. "You can look but you can't touch" says it all, and Nikki Bella's signature twirl in the ring gets every fan firmly on their side, regardless of how good their opponent is. It's tough to find a more fitting theme in WWE.
5 Succeeded: Mankind
Mick Foley managed to get a multitude of colourful characters over during his time in WWE, but none as bizarre as Mankind. Mankind was a raving loony who pulled out his own hair and carried around a disgusting smelly sock puppet, which he would force in an opponent’s mouth in a submission hold. Sure, it’s funny but it’s hardly your stereotypical world champion gimmick.
The fact that this deranged character became popular enough to life the WWF Championship is testament to Mick Foley’s skills on the mic and in the ring. While his theme was a little on the boring side compared to The Rock or Stone Cold, it fit Mankind's bizarre character perfectly and made fans believe all the more that he really was insane!
4 Needed To Survive: Billy Gunn
D-Generation X are arguably one of the most iconic stables in WWE history. It did wonders for the careers of Billy Gunn and his tag team partner Road Dogg. Performing as ‘The New Age Outlaws’ they won the WWF Tag Team titles multiple times. In the early 2000s, Gunn originally tried to focus on a singles career with a ‘The One’ Billy Gunn gimmick before teaming with Chuck Palumbo.
Billy eventually returned to his "Mr @$$" gimmick, but never gained the popularity that he enjoyed during his DX days. He was released by the WWE in 2004. We can't help but believe though that the "Mr @$$" theme will be the most remembered for it's absurdity, and may have actually inadvertently made Billy Gunn an immortal in WWE.
3 Succeeded: Al Snow
Another from the locker of mental illness gimmicks that really shouldn’t have been as popular as they were. Al Snow carried around a severed mannequin head. He talked to the head and often used it was a weapon in Hardcore matches. Indeed, it was a successful accomplice during Al’s multiple reigns as Hardcore champion. On various occasions, it appeared he was in love with ‘Head’.
His theme played on the innuendo implied by the word "Head". It was incredibly crass and totally goofy, but fans would cheer out in response as his theme screamed "What does everybody want? What does everybody need?". Again, this gimmick should have flopped terribly but instead is still being remembered!
2 Needed To Survive: Eva Marie
Ok, so she didn't necessarily survive. However her theme, which called her everything from bewithching to beguiling, did say you would be captivated by Ms. All Red Everything. And let's be real, if it wasn't for her signature red hair she may have even got a second look in WWE.
Eva Marie’s somewhat primitive move-set resulted in her developing an unspoken gimmick where the fans hated her wrestling. Many believed that she being pushed only because of her looks and her starring role in Total Divas. Had she not had the red hair, with her lack of ability she may have been forced into an announcer role or released much earlier than she was. She has managed to turn her WWE career into a modelling/acting career, so at least she survived in a different way.
1 Succeeded: Kane
The brother of ‘The Undertaker’ who survived a blaze which left him physically and mentally scarred with horrific burns on his face. It also supposedly gave him mystical demon powers, such as making flames burst out of the ring.
Kane was supposed to be a short-lived character for a storyline run with The Undertaker, and despite an uninspired theme his pyro and stone-faced character had fans wanting more and more of Kane. The WWE kept him around and he has become one of the most iconic characters in the company's history. Not bad for a character who was supposed to be a one-and-done. Kane will definitely be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame upon his retirement.