When you hear the legendary wrestlers that have worked most closely with Vince McMahon talk about the chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, often the words “genius” and “visionary” are thrown into the mix. Certainly, Vince’s vision to capitalize on the emergence of cable television in the mid-80s changed the landscape of professional wrestling and has grown the industry to unforeseen heights in popular culture. However, that’s not to say that there weren’t some moments along the way when perhaps some of the talent under his charge may have not felt as strongly about his creative ingenuity.
From the absurd to the laughably horrible, not every WWE debut is one that a wrestler can proudly hang his career on. Sure, for many getting to the WWE and appearing between the ropes of the world’s largest wrestling company is the goal. However, with that goal is often attached an opportunity at fame and not infamy. The following list is a selection of 20 wrestlers whose first character assignments in the WWE fell short of the mark. In most cases, the talent of the men behind the characters allowed them to ride it out and wait for a better role ... and some went on to become the biggest names in the sport. That most certainly would not have occurred had they still be saddled with these names.
20 2 Cold Scorpio - Flash Funk
When 2 Cold Scorpio made his final appearance in Extreme Championship Wrestling before heading off to join the WWE in 1996, he was met with a chant from the Philadelphia fans of “you sold out!” When they saw what Vince did with his character a few months later, the fans may have felt vindicated. Billed as Flash Funk, his ability in the ring was over-shadowed by his ridiculous apparel – dolled up like a 1970s pimp and accompanied by a pair of ladies.
For the wrestler that already had national visibility from a run in World Championship Wrestling as well as ECW, the character was a step backward.
19 Road Dogg - The Roadie
When Brian Armstrong first appeared on WWE television in the early 90s as a manager/corner man for Jeff Jarrett, many may have believed that he was there simply because of the strong relationship between Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler’s territory that was serving as a breeding ground for up and coming talent. Certainly, this early role didn’t give us a hint of what was to come for the future member of the New Age Outlaws and stable member of Degeneration X.
18 Typhoon - Big Steel Man
Fred Ottman was the brother in law of Dusty Rhodes and that may have contributed to his entrance into the world of wrestling. On the Florida independents he had been billed as the Big Steel Man, and he actually made his first appearances in the WWE in 1989 by that name. But a change was needed to create a star in the WWE’s gimmick-laden environment and months later, he was re-introduced as Tugboat Thomas. Tugboat was given the rub as being identified as a friend and ally of franchise player Hulk Hogan.
17 Savio Vega - Kwang the Ninja
Puerto Rico is a wrestling territory that holds a dubious reputation for being one of the most violent wrestling environments in the world. Bloody battles are a staple of the action that fans have come to appreciate and one of the most celebrated and scarred stars of the 1980s was undoubtedly TNT. When the man who would become known as Savio Vega was signed to the WWE in 1995, someone thought it would be a good idea to cover up his scarred visage with a mask and make him into a ninja – a generic undercard character at best. When the fans failed to respond, the mask was discarded and Savio Vega was created.
16 Viscera - Mabel
When you stand 6’9” and weigh 450 pounds, chances are you could get away with being called Sue and never have to face the laments that Johnny Cash talks about in his legendary song Life Ain’t Easy. Still, when the Harlem Knights were scouted to leave Jerry Lawler’s circuit in Tennessee for a run in the WWE, they became Men on a Mission; Mo, Oscar and Mabel.
15 The Rock - Rocky Maivia
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson continues to see his star rise beyond the world of wrestling and entertainment after being named People's 2016 Sexiest Man Alive and recent identification as the highest paid actor in Hollywood today. However, had he not been recruited by Jim Ross in 1996 with such a lofty starting salary, we wonder if the WWE would have allowed the opportunity for him to fulfill his potential.
14 Justin Credible - Aldo Montoya
Introduced to fans as the “Portuguese Manowar” Aldo Montoya, it’s hard to determine what about this character we hated more. First, you have the realization that a manowar is a jellyfish – not exactly a creature from the deep that inspires admiration or fear. Second, was Montoya's bright yellow mask that strongly resembled a jock strap obscuring his face. The kid had talent though, and after exile to Extreme Championship Wrestling ,where he saw success in tag team and singles action under the name Justin Credible, he returned to the WWE in 2002 as part of the ECW contingent.
13 Mike Shaw - Friar Ferguson
If your only awareness of the career of Michigan’s Mike Shaw is through his work in the WWE, then you are missing out on what was a surprisingly successful career with lengthy stays in a number of territories. Wrestling at different times as Klondike Mike, Makhan Singh and Norman the Lunatic, Mike Shaw had made a living between the ropes for 13 years before being recruited by the WWE in 1993 and being cast as Friar Ferguson.
12 Droz - Puke
Not every talent is really something that will make you money on a national scale. However, when former NFL player Darren Drozdov arrived at the doors of Titan Towers in Connecticut with a special talent, his introductory interview with Vince McMahon was caught on video as part of a documentary. McMahon had learned that Drozdov had the ability to regurgitate upon command and enthusiastically pursued that as a direction for an “innovative” character the likes of which had never been seen before in the WWE.
11 Ron Simmons - Faarooq Asaad
Given Jim Ross’ propensity to acknowledge a wrestler’s past and their accomplishments outside the world of wrestling, it’s somewhat astonishing that Ron Simmons' was ignored. Simmons - a celebrated college football player and the first black WCW World Heavyweight Champion - was assigned a character that was far removed from his reality. Described kindly by Mick Foley as “a black Spartacus”, Simmons’ WWE debut wearing a cartoonish baby blue gladiator armor, complete with a blue leather helmet did not come across as imposing or threatening.
10 Umaga - Jamal of 3-Minute Warning
The pairing of Rosey and Jamal as 3-Minute Warning in the WWE looked like an urban American adaptation of a concept that had been done and re-done dozens of times before. On paper, there wasn’t really a lot to distinguish this punishing Samoan duo from the Wild Samoans – Afa & Sika, The Islanders – Haku & Tama, or The Headshrinkers. However, this disappointing 2002 launch of his career didn’t close the door on a future opportunity.
9 Raven - Johnny Polo
In some cases, the WWE likes to draw on a wrestler’s real life to develop a character that they think will be a fit. Such was the case with Ray Traylor, who had spent some time working as a corrections officer in Georgia, inspiring his portrayal of the Big Boss Man. In the case of Johnny Polo, perhaps the WWE’s perception of him was accurate – a spoiled rich kid from an affluent family that probably hasn’t faced the need to pursue a real job a day in his life. It wasn’t a far stretch from the gimmick he’d had in WCW as Scotty Flamingo.
8 Luke Gallows - Festus
Debuting in 2007 alongside Jesse, there was a bit of the character of Festus that seemed to be a throwback to Mick Foley’s portrayal of Mankind a decade earlier. Seemingly drawing inspiration from George and Lenny from the novel Of Mice and Men, Festus was portrayed as a gentle giant that would be transformed through a Pavlovian instinct every time that he heard a ring bell into a raging beast. It was awful. Fortunately, when the vision for the character failed to connect with audiences, a new direction was proposed and he was re-introduced as Luke Gallows to be part of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society.
7 Al Snow - Avatar
Before antagonizing audiences with the query “What does everybody want?” Al Snow was a talented wrestler that hadn’t found the hook to propel him to stardom. In his early days, he had even forced himself to learn an Aussie accent to create a re-boot of the Fabulous Kangaroos tag team on the independents. Arriving in the WWE, he was assigned a costume that was akin to that worn by Japan’s Hayabusa and sent to the ring as Avatar. Ugh!
He did get to shuck the mask to become a member of the New Rockers with Marty Jannetty – but as hapless rocker wannabe Leif Cassidy, the writing was on the wall that this wasn’t going anywhere either. However, a re-invention in ECW as a mentally unbalanced grappler who took advice from a mannequin head proved to be the winning ticket. When Snow returned to the WWE, his fate was greatly improved – even though his run would include an association with a stable known as the J.O.B. Squad.
6 Undertaker With Brother Love
It has been 26 years since we were first introduced to the Undertaker as a mystery partner on Ted DiBiase’s Survivor Series squad in 1990, and the success of the character over the past quarter century has eclipsed everyone’s expectations. We wonder, though, how the longevity would have been affected had the WWE stuck with its original decision to have the Deadman accompanied to the ring by Brother Love, a crimson-faced televangelist that spewed an insincere “I love you” in extreme close up to television cameras.
5 William Regal - “A Real Man’s Man”
We can certainly appreciate that professional wrestling has coasted for far too long on the cookie cutter stereo-types of nationalities around the world. We have been exposed to syrupy English Lords, sneaky Japanese villains, goose-stepping Germans and Russian Bolsheviks for decades. So when the WWE acquired the services of Lord Steven Regal from WCW and were looking to unveil him to audiences, they may have over-reached. Cast as “the real man’s man”, Regal headed down the aisle in a plaid flannel shirt and jean shorts. Playing a blue collar stiff was such a radical departure from how he was known to American audiences, the character became an instant flop.
4 Kane - Isaac Yankem, DDS
It’s comedic to consider just how the conversation must have gone to introduce Glenn Jacobs to the WWE fan base, as the 6’10”, 300 pounder had done well on the independents in Tennessee and Puerto Rico and was ready to ascend to the top of the industry. The conversation must have went something like this, “So, we’ve got this guy ... he’s a monster. What should we do with him? Aha ... let’s make him a dentist!” When Isaac Yankem DDS debuted, as an ally to Jerry Lawler in his feud with Bret Hart, many fans groaned at the thought of a hulking caricature like Giant Gonzales being unleashed upon us again.
3 Bray Wyatt - Husky Harris
There were a number of family legacies represented in the WWE developmental system when Windham Rotunda was trying to open doors for himself as a third generation wrestler in the company. Before making his television debut, a few different names had been tried including Duke Rotundo and Axel Mulligan, casting a nod to his sports entertainment bloodline. Fans were first introduced to him nationally as Husky Harris – a member of the Nexus faction that created an instant stir in the ranks of the company. But there was something about the name that didn’t ring out as a headliner. Even after a WWE Tag Team Title reign with Michael McGillicutty, Harris was sent for re-development.
2 Stone Cold - The Ringmaster
On some level, we can somewhat understand where the WWE may have been headed when they initially sent Steve Austin to the ring in a plain pair of trunks with one of the mat game’s greatest all-time technicians, Ted DiBiase as his manager. On his ring prowess, Austin was a master of the ring ... however something got lost in translation. For many, the only ringmaster they know wears a top hat and tails, standing at centre ring at the circus.
1 Bob Holly - Thurman “Sparky” Plugg
By his own admission, Bob Holly admits to being embarrassed whenever he would be clearing security in an airport and the subject of his occupation came up when he first arrived in the WWE. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to identify to someone who is maybe not even a wrestling fan that your name is Sparky Plugg? It sounds too outrageous to be true. On this one, Vince McMahon can point to the fact that Bob Holly’s debut occurred when his attentions were focused on a steroid trial that threatened to change the course of history.
Upon Vince’s return to the daily operations of his wrestling enterprise, mercifully, Thurman got a new name ... Bob “Spark Plug” Holly. Forget the physical attributes that Holly brought to the table, or his ability between the ropes – Thurman Plugg wasn’t a name that would strike the fear into the hearts of any foe between the ropes.
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