The WWE we know today is completely different from the WWE we once knew decades ago. No longer do wrestlers have to take "second jobs" as their gimmicks, as today's top stars essentially take aspects of their real-life personalities and turn the volume up to 11, making them seem more genuine than those old-time plumbers, taxmen, garbagemen, hockey enforcers, and men in turkey suits. WWE is keeping it real for today's fans who know and accept the fact that kayfabe, in its purest form, is deader than disco.
Then again, the WWE's present roster has a surprisingly large number of wrestlers whose real-life selves greatly differ from their in-ring selves. And it doesn't necessarily have to be an actual sweetheart playing the role of a vicious heel on TV, or a surly and/or aloof jerk being pushed as an on-air babyface, though this list has quite a few examples of these. So with that said, let's look at WWE's roster as of January 2018, and present to you 10 wrestlers whose on-air gimmicks are nothing but an act, and 5 others who are pretty much playing themselves on television.
15 The Shield (Unlike Their Gimmicks)
Now this is a bit of a tough entry to include, being that I've been a fan of The Shield since their late 2012 main roster debut, Roman Reigns eventually being force-fed to fans as a singles star notwithstanding. In their original run as a stable, The Shield was the epitome of a "cool heel" faction, and when they reunited late last year as babyfaces, fans were more than happy to welcome them back. Hell, even Reigns was getting legitimately cheered for the first time in what felt like forever.
Unfortunately, the Hounds of Justice haven't always been known for cordial behavior when it comes to fan interactions. Many fans have described either Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and/or Reigns as acting standoffish, aloof, or outright rude toward them, and there's also the matter of how Reigns often snarkily fires back at his many detractors, which is NOT what you want from your top babyface.
14 Nia Jax (Unlike Her Gimmick)
I am subjected to body shaming & it’s something I have accepted. It sucks when you get it in your own backyard around people you’re changing in front of and trust with your body. I am a HEALTHY bigger woman, I LOVE MY BODY. Body shaming is WRONG! pic.twitter.com/RDeCogjlg9— Nia Jax (@NiaJaxWWE) November 26, 2017
Although her ongoing storyline with Enzo Amore is somehow adding levity to her character, most fans still see Nia Jax as a humorless, taciturn monster heel who can dominate WWE's entire female roster with her size and strength. That's probably why it looks weird for someone who's "not like most girls" to suddenly show some romantic interest toward an annoying little troll who oftentimes deserves a good tongue-lashing from Kwik-e-Mart proprietor Apu from The Simpsons – "I can't believe you don't shut up!"
Jax may have stood out on the main roster for those quick-and-painless (well, not for her opponents) jobber squashes, but the woman who was once WWE's female version of Braun Strowman is also a gentle giant away from the ring. She's not shy about letting her hair down backstage, just like when she joined several other heels in a rendition of the "Tight Pants" dance, and is vocal regarding the matter of body positivity, as she recently opened up about being body-shamed in the WWE locker room.
13 Baron Corbin (Like His Gimmick)
They call him the Lone Wolf, and that's because Baron Corbin isn't the type to form alliances with anyone, not even his fellow heels. He's a brooding loner who doesn't say much, as he'd rather focus on kicking butt in the ring and letting his actions do the talking. In short, he's someone whom you wouldn't want to mess with, whether in the ring or on Twitter. Don't worry, we'll get to that last part in the next paragraph.
We're not sure where Baron Corbin ends and where Tom Pestock begins, because they appear to be very similar people. Indeed, it's hard to say if Corbin is really acting in character during his many Twitter feuds, and as far as the backstage goes, he appears to keep to himself a lot, rather than goof around with the rest of the boys when the cameras are off. We will say this, though – he does live up to his status as Revolver magazine's "Most Metal Athlete," as he's a true fan of heavy metal who, at one point, dated the similarly tattooed Maria Brink, lead singer of metalcore band In This Moment.
12 Dolph Ziggler (Unlike His Gimmick)
Right now, we're not even sure what gimmick Dolph Ziggler is supposed to be playing. His much-lambasted run of impersonating other wrestlers' entrances appears to be over, and he's been off television since his storyline walkout after winning the United States Championship. So let's just think of Ziggler's usual onscreen character instead – a talented, yet vain "Show-Off" who knows he's great in the ring, and knows he'll likely steal your girlfriend if you let him get too close to you.
Although Ziggler certainly wasn't portrayed as a "dumb blonde" onscreen, such characters aren't usually known for their brains. That's why it may surprise some that Dolph, aka Nick Nemeth in real life, is very outspoken on social media when talking about current events and politics. You may not always agree with his views on hot-button topics, but few current WWE Superstars are as smart and as eloquent as he is in real life.
11 Kane (Unlike His Gimmick)
Now how about the man who might end up becoming the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee? In a WWE career that's spanned almost 25 years, Glenn Jacobs has mostly played the role of Kane, the half-brother of The Undertaker, and a character who was initially presented as a mute burn victim with supernatural strength and resistance to pain. And while Kane evolved multiple times in the years that followed, to the point where he was part of a successful (if comedic) tag team with Daniel Bryan and a corporate heel shortly thereafter, the WWE Universe still knows him, by and large, as the Devil's Favorite Demon and the Big Red Machine.
As we obviously know, Glenn Jacobs does not spontaneously trigger pyro by raising his hands, and his campaign platform does not include tax exemptions for sadistic dentists and Kevin Nash impersonators. He's as smart and mild-mannered away from the ring as he's ominous on camera (corporate shenanigans aside), though only time will tell if he can make the transition from wrestling to politics like Jesse Ventura did about two decades ago.
10 The New Day (Like Their Gimmicks)
So we figured that if we've got one three-man stable whose alleged actions away from the ring are nothing like their onscreen gimmicks, we might as well include a three-man stable playing amped-up versions of their real-life personas. Originally presented as a trio of overly optimistic, gospel-inspired wrestlers (and nearly presented as the next Nation of Domination), The New Day was hugely unpopular with fans, before they tapped into the unexpected hatred and let their goofy, oftentimes geeky personalities shine through, first as heels who'd expertly troll audiences and rivals alike, then as babyfaces who (Who? Who? Who? Who?), in their second face run, were genuinely loved by the WWE Universe.
Looking at The New Day and their love of injecting myriad pop culture references into their promos, it's clear to see that WWE made the right decision to let these three real-life buddies be themselves – a trio of lifelong wrestling fans with a passion for video games, anime, other things pop culture-related, and making sure you ain't booty.
9 Triple H (Unlike His Gimmick)
Up to this day, smart fans give Triple H a lot of heat for the imaginary shovel he has in one hand as he paces around in the graveyard of promising wrestlers' dead-and-buried pushes. Even if he only changes from a business suit to wrestling trunks a few select times per year, usually at big pay-per-views, these fans see The Game as poison for young wrestlers hoping to make their way up the WWE pecking order. But if you stop for a moment and think of the big picture, you'll realize that the King of Kings cares for the "commoners" of the WWE Universe, which is more than what most can say about his father-in-law.
Need proof? Obviously, you can mention the time Trips broke character to comfort a young fan who had gotten too worked up over his heelish actions as co-leader of The Authority. There's also his commitment to NXT, as he shows a genuine desire to ensure NXT's top stars, who are often beloved by the fans, live up to their potential on the main roster. Too bad that's something he and Vince McMahon often disagree on.
8 Goldust (Unlike His Gimmick)
You better believe it – Goldust will be turning 49 this April and he's still under contract with the WWE, and had inexplicably teamed with Cedric Alexander in what was supposed to be a cruiserweight match. (Uh, Goldie, the name of the show is 205 Live, not 250 Live.) Despite toning down the androgynous elements of his original character through the many years he's played it, Goldust is still WWE's "Bizarre One," and is still the most, let's just say, flamboyant male wrestler in the company, though the Velveteen Dream will probably have something to say about that once he hits the main roster.
It's a good thing that the real-life Dustin Runnels doesn't seem homophobic in any way – he has, for one, fully accepted his transgender stepdaughter and expressed rage when she was attacked by three men in 2016. But he's also been known to shove his Christian beliefs down people's throats via social media, which isn't something you'd expect from someone who's usually a babyface, much less a "bizarre" babyface at that.
7 Bayley (Like Her Gimmick)
Although they're as dissimilar as you can get in terms of gimmick and appearance, Bayley was arguably WWE's female equivalent of Bray Wyatt in 2017 – starting out strong with a brief championship run, before getting buried in bad booking to the point where fans began to turn on her. It's such a pity, really – not only is the Hugger a very talented individual in the ring, she's also WWE's most kid-friendly female character, who was, at one point, well-loved by children and adult fans alike. Here's hoping WWE gives her a chance to turn things around in 2018.
Unlike many a wholesome babyface who doesn't act the part away from the ring, Bayley is just as squeaky-clean as her in-ring persona suggests. Although the geniuses (roll eyes) at WWE creative have tried to use it against her, she's gone from WWE fan in childhood to living the dream, though as we mentioned above, that dream was oftentimes a nightmare in 2017, what with the "This is Your Life" segment and the kendo-stick-on-a-pole match against Alexa Bliss, among other indignities.
6 Kevin Owens (Unlike His Gimmick)
As far as WWE's male roster is concerned, there probably isn't a better old-school heel out there than Kevin Owens. His belligerent behavior isn't just limited to his actions in the ring, as he's also been known to have in-character Twitter beefs with unreasonable fans...before blocking them. He also had a very public social media spat with the mother of a young fan whom he insulted for wearing a Roman Reigns t-shirt. All those actions were part of Kevin Owens, the character. But what about Kevin Steen, the man behind the character?
Despite his reputation as a vicious on-air heel and social media snarker while in character, KO is arguably one of WWE's top family men. He's a devoted husband and loving father, and he isn't shy about posting photos of his wife and children on social media, and showing how much he loves and cares for them. Now that's something you don't expect from someone who's been a bad guy on TV for his entire WWE run thus far.
5 Alexa Bliss (Unlike Her Gimmick)
The WWE just wasn't all-in on pushing Emma as the quintessential "mean girl" heel. And while we can lament that all we want, now that Emma's been future endeavored, we can at least take solace in WWE doing the same to Alexa Bliss and helping her rise from brand draft afterthought to arguably the most successful female wrestler of 2017. She's a natural at drawing heel heat from audiences, and with some very obvious exceptions (see: "Bayley, This is Your Life"), her "mean girl" character is very effective and believable.
While Bliss is currently in a class of her own as a heel in WWE's women's divisions, her outside-the-ring persona as Lexi Kaufman is strikingly different. Not only does she have no problem acknowledging fans despite her villainous in-ring character; she has also been very open about her previous struggles with an eating disorder, as she hopes her eventual success story inspires other girls and women going through similar challenges.
4 John Cena (Like His Gimmick)
Call him out all you want for allegedly burying newer and/or younger talents such as The Nexus and Alex Riley. You can even make mention of his pre-Nikki Bella reputation as a player. Yes, this was a rather tough call to make, but we're going to list John Cena as one of the five wrestlers in this article whose offscreen character is close to the gimmick they play on television. Although many fans still dislike the fact that WWE keeps pushing him as a kid-friendly wrestler, you've got to think about all those Make-a-Wish kids he's visited, and how he seems to genuinely enjoy interacting with fans, even those who sing "John Cena sucks!" to the tune of his ring music.
Oh, and if you still insist on bringing up his old "player" reputation? We've got a couple names for you – Eve Torres and Zack Ryder. Yes, just like what supposedly happened with Mickie James and her eventual ex, Kenny Dykstra.
3 Bray Wyatt (Unlike His Gimmick)
Sure, he's had a terrible 2017 that saw him compete in some of the worst matches of the year (House of Horrors, anyone?), cut promos in drag as Sister Abigail, and bump his head on the glass ceiling time and time again. But there's still good reason to believe (not "Bo-lieve," like his jobber brother) in Bray Wyatt as an effective, certifiably insane, and creepy heel. It's obvious that he takes his unorthodox character very seriously, even if WWE doesn't.
Despite all the weirdness that serves as a trademark of the Bray Wyatt gimmick, the real-life Windham Rotunda is widely regarded as one of the friendliest, coolest WWE Superstars when it comes to fan interactions, and until last year's split from his wife Samantha, he was also regarded as a dedicated family man. And that brings us to another reason why Wyatt is so unlike his gimmick away from the ring – who would have imagined a bushy-bearded, tattooed guy like Bray would end up fooling around with a petite, pretty, and glamorous ring announcer like JoJo?
2 Braun Strowman (Unlike His Gimmick)
Given Vince McMahon's fondness for genetic freaks not named Scott Steiner (because we all know how his second WWE run turned out), it shouldn't be surprising that Braun Strowman was pushed to the moon in 2017. What's surprising is how well he was received by fans, to the point that he's now working as a babyface, albeit one who still enjoys flipping over vehicles, assaulting announcers in a fit of rage, and telling people he's not finished with them. He's a big, fearsome dude who truly deserves his moniker as the Monster Among Men.
Catch him outside the ring, however, and you'll see a different side of him, where he enjoys interacting with his fans and having some fun with the boys at a bar, at a rock concert, or while sightseeing in Europe, as Titus O'Neil had infamously documented several months ago. Aside from his official WWE social media accounts, Strowman also manages his own personal Instagram account, where he uses his real name of Adam Scherr and posts photos showing off said fan interactions and goofy moments with his WWE colleagues.
1 Enzo Amore (Like His Gimmick)
This guys philanthropy is inspiring, working towards modernizing the education system, putting coats on children's backs, & reinventing the business acumen of what it means to be a rapper ... It is so important for those who have a VOICE to understand the RESPONSIBILITY that comes a long with it & the OPPORTUNITY afforded to those that have that voice to try & make the 🌎a better place. I absolutely love this kids movement & his approach in making the world a better place through MUSIC. Keep the music coming! @chancetherapper keep the philanthropy coming! And maintain that vision: "Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are usually the ones that do." #ForTheYouth
2017 was the year when it became obvious to one and all that one Eric Arndt was pretty much the same as the character he plays on WWE television, Enzo Amore. And boy, did it annoy the hell out of his colleagues, from Roman Reigns to Corey Graves. We don't need to remind you about how he was such a lightning rod for controversy, with his loud boasts and complaints, his Instagram photo-ops with celebrities at Mayweather vs. McGregor (not to mention that photo of the expensive tickets he bought for that event), and allegations of cheating on then-girlfriend Liv Morgan. Indeed, this guy talks too much on and off-camera, and he's often gotten heat for it.
Seeing how unpopular he was backstage, WWE made the decision to turn Enzo heel, and damned if he hasn't done a great job acting like himself while playing the bad guy. Even with the questionable romance angle pairing him up with Nia Jax, there doesn't appear to be a thing halting his momentum as erstwhile WWE Cruiserweight Champion.