These days, as wrestling fans, we have to go with the flow. Suspension of disbelief is less a suggestion and more 'the price of admission' if you plan on enjoying a match, because not all are perfect, and neither are some gimmicks, so it's nice when spots are performed well and story lines and gimmicks make sense.
Still, even for those of us who believed Doink was a real clown and Hulk Hogan was a nice guy, some backstories were too much to accept, and they offered nothing but confusion and frustration.
It makes less sense when you remember there's not a requirement to have some sort of origin story for every wrestler, especially in the days of "realism", and no backstory is better than a terrible one. Unfortunately, some characters didn't receive that memo.
There was also the rare stories that would immediately make us fans of certain wrestlers, because the gimmick was flat out great, or they knew how to work it, so here are 10 gimmicks with terrible backstories, and 5 with amazing ones.
15 Terrible - Kane
Kane is, always has been, and probably always will be one of the greatest things to come from the world of sports entertainment, and that's not being disputed here.
The not so great thing about Kane and his gimmick is his backstory, or, more accurately, backstories.
When he debuted at WWE's Bad Blood in 1997 there was something about the gimmick that seemed incredibly real, and incredibly terrifying. It probably had to do with the fact that he interrupted the Hell In A Cell match between the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels when he literally ripped the door off the hinges, entered the ring, then proceeded to piledrive the Undertaker.
Prior to this, Paul Bearer had been alluding to him, threatening Undertaker with his huge secret after the Undertaker burned Bearer with a fireball to the face.
After his debut, Paul Bearer revealed that the (mute) giant was none other than the Undertaker's half-brother who had been burned as a child in a house-fire that took the lives of their two parents, and it seemed heavily implied that Kane had intentionally set the fire and murdered his mother and father.
Later, we came to find out the Undertaker's secret was not just his half-brother, but that he had set the fire in an attempt to murder his family. Kane survived, but not without suffering scars over his entire body, leaving him a hideous beast who was forced to conceal his face and body from others.
Then, after months of feuding with the Undertaker, Triple H became embroiled with Kane, accusing him of loving a girl named Katie Vick a little too much. Triple H claimed that he had strong feelings for her which weren't reciprocated, so, when Katie Vick happened to die in an auto accident, Kane took advantage in the worst imaginable way by "loving" the corpse.
And, in yet another Shymalan twist of fate, around that time in the early 2000s, Kane began wearing more athletic gear, revealing no burn marks at all. He was then eventually unmasked after losing a match to Triple H, revealing the horrifying face we had dreaded since he entered the WWE! The face which had zero scarring.
To explain the lack of damage, the 'scars' were explained to be psychological, so when it came down to it, Kane's scarring was emotional, and he probably took up wrestling to talk things out with his brother.
We've all let the backstory thing slide since then and have just learned to appreciate the Big Red Machine and his many angles, because Kane is a legend no matter his history. Still, it would be nice to know if he was ever actually in that fire.
14 Terrible - Nailz
This one is here by default, because most people feel Nailz was a terrible gimmick. I don't necessarily agree.
Nailz was a prisoner who had been mistreated at the hands of the Big Boss Man (an actual ex-correctional officer), and that backstory, unlike a lot of the other ones that make up this list, actually makes sense.The late Boss Man was beloved in the WWE, but the way he beat already handcuffed jobbers lent some credibility to the idea. Nailz also spoke strangely, with a slowed down and distorted voice, which was allegedly a result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Boss Man, further adding credibility to his claims.
On top of a history based in some kind of logic (which was pretty unheard of for the organization in the 90s), Nailz had an intense and memorable debut when he came out at WWE Superstars of Wrestling after the Boss Man's victory over Dave Roulette, handcuffed the Big Boss Man using his own set of cuffs, and proceeded to brutalize the former prison guard in a brutal manner fans weren't used to seeing at that time.
The reason the gimmick didn't get bigger and better (and more brutal) was because the Big Boss Man took a hiatus due to injuries, so the feud was pretty much over as soon as it began. Plus, Wacholz got a little too into character and attacked Vince McMahon for not paying him enough for his match with Virgil at Summerslam that year, immediately getting fired and squashing any hopes for the storyline to ever become interesting.
Sure, it's weird that a guy who had been released from prison was still wearing his prison jumpsuit to wrestle, but isn't it equally as weird that the Boss Man was still walking around wearing his old work uniform? My point exactly.
13 Amazing - T.J. Perkins
This situation is actually terrible according to other wrestlers. No, T.J. Perkins is not a gimmick, but his road to superstardom has not been easy.
According to Perkins, he spent much of his time on the way up being evicted, relying on food stamps, struggling, and even living out of his car at some points.
Where this becomes a 'bad' backstory is when you realize other wrestlers have gone through situations as terrible, if not worse, than T.J.'s, so they feel he shouldn't talk about his struggle as if his is the only one. It seems, there's a sort of unspoken agreement to never tell anyone on the outside just how hard it is to become a professional wrestler.
The reason they're wrong, and his backstory is amazing, is because knowing just how hard it is for these men and women who put their lives on the line with no promise of ever achieving glory is exactly the kind of stuff that turns casual fans into those who truly admire and support these athletes. And, unlike most backstories in the world of wrestling, it's entirely true.
Practically every celebrity that struggled likes to let everyone know just how hard it was, and nobody gives them a hard time, so T.J. Perkins gets a pass, and respect for being honest about his story and either inspiring the next generation or letting those who aren't completely dedicated know wrestling is not their ticket to fame.
12 Terrible - Hornswoggle
If the WWE has taught us anything, it's that they just don't care about being politically correct unless there's money to be lost. At this point, I'm pretty certain Vince busts out the "It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission" philosophy on a regular basis.
What else could have given him the bright idea of turning a little person into the most obvious and offensive of all gimmicks for little people; a leprechaun?
When Hornsoggle debuted, he was referred to as the Little Bastard and got teamed up with Finlay, an Irish brawler. Like Dink the Clown, Doink the Clown's sidekick, Little Bastard would hide underneath the ring to attack Finlay's opponents when they least expected it.
After a year of performing as the Little Bastard, Dylan Postl was renamed Hornswoggle, which should have immediately alerted fans to the fact that this gimmick wasn't going to get much better. Hornswoggle is a verb, meaning to get the better of someone through deception and cheating, so there was plenty of hiding under the ring to rethink life choices for Hornswoggle to look forward to.
Fortunately, it turns out Hornswoggle wouldn't have to hide, because he was actually the son of none other than Vince McMahon, as was revealed on Monday Night Raw on September 10, 2008.
Yes, this took place in 2008.
McMahon began matching his "son" up with much larger opponents in the spirit of something only he would ever refer to as "tough love".
Less than 6 months later, it turned out Finlay was Hornswoggle's father, and he came full circle, keeping the name Hornswoggle, but forever existing as a true, little bastard of World Wrestling Entertainment.
11 Terrible - The Christmas Creature
Before he was burned in a fire set by his brother Undertaker, Glenn Jacobs was busy kicking tail as, of all things, a giant, christmas tree, creature, or tree. It's not really clear.
The Christmas Creature debuted in 1992, for the sole purpose of destroying Jerry "The King" Lawler and Santa. So, the creature was basically a Christmas tree that hated Christmas. To be fair, if you saw all your friends getting chopped down and decorated, you'd probably be a little upset too.
Who knows, maybe the true origin of the confusing Kane saga is that someone was lazy and left The Christmas Creature up until it dried out and went up in flames, much like the gimmick did with fans.
10 Amazing - Daniel Bryan
In another one for the "that guy refused to quit" column, we have Bryan Danielson. Seriously, if you didn't know, Daniel Bryan's actual name is Bryan Danielson.
Now that that's settled in, let's look at what makes Daniel Bryan's backstory so special.
After 18 months, Daniel Bryan was close to being called up to the main roster, but was instead released from his contract with the WWE. While he would continue working as enhancement talent for what then became the WWE, Bryan split his time between wrestling in Japan and wrestling in the independent Ring of Honor promotion, the latter of which he helped build.
From 2004 and on, Bryan wrestled primarily in ROH, where he found success and won several championships, but he still worked the independent circuits in the United States and abroad. All in all, from the period of 2000-2009, Bryan wrestled for a total of 11 promotions before finally being called back to the WWE in August of 2009.
This was it, right? Of course not.
It didn't turn out as planned, and less than a year later Bryan was released from the promotion, again, and told he would never return to the WWE (as part of a storyline).
Once again, it was back to the independent circuit for Bryan where he would wrestle for Chikara, Westside Xtreme Wrestling, the International Wrestling Association, Evolve, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, NWA, Heartland Wrestling Association, Insanity Pro Wrestling, Squared Circle Wrestling, New York Wrestling Connection, Dragon Gate USA, and Northeast Wrestling. All in the year 2010.
Eventually, Daniel Bryan returned to the WWE and finally, after 10 long years, achieved the dream he set out to achieve. He would then go on to become World Heavyweight Champion.
Daniel Bryan is beloved by fans because he succeeded when everything and everyone told him he shouldn't have, and it's impossible not to root for the guy who just won't quit fighting.
9 Terrible - Phantasio
What do you get when you cross Crow Sting with that annoying kid in school who forces everyone to watch his subpar magic tricks? Why, you get Phantasio, of course.
Phantasio, real name Harry Del Rios, earned a developmental deal with the WWE and took the time to work on his Spellbinder gimmick, which transitioned into Phantasio. According to Del Rios, the magical theme was his area of expertise, as he had been an amateur magician growing up, so he literally was that annoying kid shoving his deck in everyone's face, and he wasn't done inflicting pain.
Del Rios spent a year doing just that in the WWE, with his magical wrestling act only making it to television a grand, whopping total of one times! A match in which he took off a mask to reveal a painted on mask, did the never-ending ribbon thing for some bizarre reason, and blew smoke out of his... hat. If you really think about it, maybe he was a brilliant magician. He did manage to disappear from television for that entire year other than that one match, after all.
8 Terrible - Mantaur
There are certain gimmicks that seem like no brainers. A guy who was a correctional officer, who has decided to hand out justice in the ring? Yeah, the Big Boss Man makes sense. An ass kicking, beer chugging, country boy by the name of Stone Cold? Of course we want to see that.
A half-man, half-bull creature of myth known as the minotaur? Hell yes? Right?
Mike Halac debuted in (what was then) the World Wrestling Federation as Mantaur, inspired by the mythical creature of Greek origin, the minotaur. Unlike most minotaurs, Mantaur was all bull up top, and all man down below, to the disappointment of women everywhere. Even more disappointing was the fact that Halac didn't even bother wrestling in the bull costume. It's safe to assume this was because it would be almost impossible to wrestle in a giant, stiff, bull's head, but Halac should have considered that fact before coming up with this strange creature. We all know real minotaurs can't just take off the bull half, so I think he should have committed and kept it on at all times. Every luchador knows the mask stays on.
Even weirder, he didn't hail from Crete, Greece, like you'd expect of a Greek mythical creature, but from Crete, South Africa. That's just downright confusing.
I think this gimmick could have been popular, had Halac worked it right. Maybe, if he wore pants with some fur instead of the singlet, and been less overt with his gimmick and more subtle and creepy like all of the great 'weird' gimmicks (think Mankind when first introduced, or the Wyatt cult) it wouldn't have been such an immediate "this is stupid" reaction, and fans would have given it time to grow on them.
It also didn't help Halac that The Kliq, Scott Hall in particular, weren't in his corner, so his chances of success were already bad without the gimmick.
7 Amazing - The Brood
Before Twilight went and ruined everything, Gangrel, Christian, and Edge made vampires awesome by debuting as the stable known simply as The Brood. When they were introduced in the 90s during the Attitude Era, they flaunted their literal fangs and left many fans wondering if they were just strange men with interesting dental choices, or if they were actually something much darker.
Gangrel had been previously known as the Vampire Warrior, but he was given a new vampire gimmick once he entered the WWE, based on the roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade.
Gangrel was pretty terrifying on his own, but he somehow convinced Christian to join him in his feud with Edge, Christian's own brother. Over time, the two wrestling vampires would convince Edge to join them, and the three men formed the stable known as The Brood.
The vampire schtick could have been terrible, but The Brood made it work, from the blood-filled chalice all the way down to their signature Bloodbath, in which their opponent would end up covered in, well, blood. And, if nothing else, this gave us Edge and Christian, one of the best tag teams in WWE history.
6 Terrible - Isaac Yankem
Poor Kane. At this point, it seems like I'm picking on Glenn Jacobs, but I'm not, I promise. Okay, maybe a little bit, but it's not his fault.
Sometimes, in the wrestling world, it's hard not to suspect some gimmicks are chosen using a dart board with random words and gimmicks, and a stack of shuffled wrestler headshots. In the case of Isaac Yankem, Vince, or one of his minions, probably landed on 'scary' and 'dentist' and thought the idea was the most brilliant thing ever. They then passed it off to the up-and-coming Glenn Jacobs.
Isaac Yankem was bad from the start, and his actual gimmick was actually given some forethought by the WWE creatives, down to the bad teeth (because a dentist with bad teeth is brilliant, of course), and the punny last name, Yankem, as in, "Yank 'em out so I can pass out from the pain and be done with this gimmick."
He was also Jerry Lawler's evil dentist, which makes you wonder how Lawler would ever trust a dentist with three teeth (unfortunately, there were no Yelp reviews in those days), and, why he would bring his dentist in to help him get over on the Hart family.
To be fair, there may be some reason in this gimmick. There's a chance it was a ripoff of the horror movie, Dr. Giggles, about a sadistic dentist, which may or may not have given this author nightmares for weeks.
5 Terrible - Bastion Booger
Mike Shaw wasn't a guy that got a lot of breaks in wrestling, apparently. He made his debut in the WWE in April of 1993 as the "mad monk", Friar Ferguson. The gimmick was, mostly, bad, but some people seemed to enjoy the goofy, brutal monk who would, according to the WWE's Encyclopedia, spend "staggering amounts of money at the buffet line."
Unfortunately, those people didn't include the Catholic Church of New York, who were offended by the gluttonous character who they felt portrayed a negative image of the religion. As a Robin Hood fan myself, I'd say Friar Tuck had a case for defamation as well.
So, Friar Ferguson disappeared from the World Wrestling Federation and Mike Shaw resurfaced a new man, weeks later, as the disgusting, unhygienic, hunchbacked, ogre-like Bastion Booger. His costume, which had previously been a robe covering his entire body, was now little more than straps crossing over his wide shoulders and under his ample chest. The bottom part of his singlet wasn't much better, but it was enough to prevent any serious wardrobe mishaps. It was basically lingerie, if lingerie was made of nightmares.
Mike Shaw reportedly hated the costume, and so did we. Bastion Booger was more infamous than popular, and his backstory was as confusing and gross as the singlet he wore. He was meant to be a creature from the sewers, complete with a mask, horns on his head, spikes all over, and other various deformities.
Apparently in Mr. McMahon's eyes, Shaw didn't need the enhancements to make him gross. At a time where political correctness was non-existent, Shaw was hairy, overweight, and oddly shaped enough that Vince figured he could throw him to the fans, as is, and that's just what he did.
Where the original concept was at least something, with more than zero effort applied, Bastion Booger was nothing other than a fat, gross guy who referred to his nose as a "snack dispenser" and who would take breaks during his matches to grab pizza. The gimmick was disgusting and never accomplished much aside from one of the worst finishers in wrestling, known as "A trip to the Batcave", where Booger just did a little wiggle dance, sat on his opponent's face and, well, that's it. At least the Stink Face had a run up.
4 Amazing - Raven
Raven's kayfabe story is that of a rich kid, spoiled, college kid who graduated and went on to wrestle for the WWE before eventually ending up in their back office as, well, an office employee, who then moved to a new organization and adopted a grunge look, a new name, and, a cult following.
The real Raven's story, Scott Levy, isn't much different. He was a rich kid who went to a great college, and joined the WWE as a wrestler before being relegated to out-of-the-ring duties in the back office. He left the WWE and entered the ECW as Raven, building a cult following outside of kayfabe as well.
Raven, the terrifying voice in wrestler Stevie Richards' head for weeks up to this point, was introduced by Richards in 1994 during a match against Tommy Dreamer, and that's when it became clear he had torn down every aspect of his previous, spoiled kid gimmick, pretty literally, choosing torn jeans, piercings, and t-shirts to his old, preppy look. He was now dark, evil, and somewhere in between a rockstar and a cult leader, complete with his own stable of followers known as Raven's Nest.
Raven immediately began feuding with Tommy Dreamer, which was technically a very old feud, since Raven and Tommy Dreamer had known one another from camp, where the rivalry began. Because of Raven's loner demeanor, he had trouble attracting any sort of attention, and Dreamer was popular with the guys and girls. The two had been friends, but they had a falling out as children over Dreamer's treatment of a girl named Beulah McMcGillicuty. This feud would be continued years later after both men came face-to-face, again, in the ECW.
This feud is widely recognized as one of the best feuds in wrestling history, with the complexities, nuances, and personal angle played out amazingly well.
3 Terrible - The Gobbledy Gooker
Some things are so bad they're good, like old, low-budget, horror flicks, and some things are so, so bad that they're just terrible and do nothing but make people feel a little dead inside.
Who knew a giant egg hatching in a wrestling ring would possibly have the latter effect? Probably everyone not named Vince McMahon, actually, but the idea was pitched and somehow, someway, it was greenlit.
The WWE spent weeks hyping a giant egg during their broadcasts, lugging it from arena to arena and building up the anticipation of fans throughout the universe. They promised to unveil the surprise during Survivor Series which landed on Thanksgiving of that year, and everyone just knew it was going to be something great, with announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund hoping for a playmate himself.
When the egg finally broke open, the crowd was stunned at the sight of a giant, turkey creature, and boos began pouring down immediately. The gimmick made no sense aside from it being a bird on Thanksgiving, and it did nothing but disappoint, no matter how badly Rowdy Piper and Okerlund tried selling it. There was no explanation, and all we know is the WWE hatched the bastard-child of big bird and The Red Rooster whose costume wouldn't have allowed him to wrestle even if he hadn't been booed out of the stadium.
According to Hector Guerrero, the talented and unlucky wrestler who had to play the Gobbledy Gooker, the gimmick was meant to become a sort of mascot for kids, and, yes, he'd eventually begin to wrestle, even though it was extremely difficult to actually see in the costume, which nobody thought was an important part of wrestling, apparently.
Somehow, the creative minds at the WWE also debuted a creature by the name of The Undertaker that night. Maybe there was true genius at work, and the Gobbledy Gooker was meant to be so terrible. That way, the world would be able to accept the deadman as being not as weird as that turkey thing, getting him over without anyone ever being the wiser.
2 Terrible - Deacon Batista
This is hands down my number one spot for worst idea ever.
Dave Batista debuted as the chain-wearing Deacon Batista, a villainous enforcer for the Reverend D-Von who just seemed genuinely angry, all of the time, for no reason at all. It turns out, he was supposed to have a very good, and very disturbing reason for his issues once it was revealed that he was the product of sexual assault. As far as backstories go, this is as terrible as they get. No, brother, we will not testify to that!
There are terrible backstories here, but it's impossible to top "Batista: child of sexual assault." For shame, WWE.
1 Amazing - Kurt Angle
This is one of the best backstories ever, and it's not even made up.
When Kurt Angle debuted, his gimmick immediately made us believe he was a legend, because, quite frankly, he actually was. Yes, he was a little, or a whole lot, annoying, with his three I's of Intensity, Integrity, and Intelligence, but he was also an amazing wrestler with the actual credentials to back it up.
Angle won numerous titles as an amateur wrestler, including a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1995 World Wrestling Championships as well as gold at the 1996 Summer Olympics. He is only one of four people to ever complete what is known as an amateur wrestling Grand Slam, which means the person was a champion in junior nationals, the NCAA, the World Championships, and they also scored a medal in the Olympics.
That's just insane.
Angle's backstory is amazing because, like him or not, he has accomplished the nearly-impossible, and it isn't often a wrestler can create a successful gimmick by just being who they are.
That's it for now. There are just too many bad (and great) backstories to cover in one article, so let us know who you think should have made the list!
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