Characters have always been welcome in professional wrestling, and in the WWE Universe, they often ran the show. Important as it is for sports entertainers to be able to perform in the ring, having a bombastic personality or unique characterization can set a decent talent on the fast track for success. Of course, not every wrestler is capable of playing the gimmick given to them, and some gimmicks just plain suck no matter who takes the role.
That said, the wrestler using a gimmick is equally responsible to its failure as Vince McMahon or whoever came up with it. With another wrestler playing the role, even characters seen as the worst of all time might have been acceptable, or even good. Granted, it’s not like any of them were going to win the WWE Championship, but a United States title or two shouldn’t have been out of the question based on a silly character alone.
Unfortunately, each of these characters was such a huge bomb they can never be tried again, but that will never stop fans from playing the age old game of what if? There are too many variables to truly know the answers, yet it doesn’t hurt to play around with history and think about some of these unfairly maligned failures might have gone a whole lot differently. To join us in this practice of speculating wildly, keep reading to learn about 15 failed WWE gimmicks that could have worked with another wrestler.
15. Gangrel, A Lost Boy Hits The Ring
Truth be told, the Gangrel gimmick is one of the more memorable of the Attitude Era, with many fans forever unable to forget his fiery entrance from beneath the ramp. The sharp teeth and goblet of blood painted a picture of viciousness as well, and it can’t be ignored that outside of the WWE Universe, vampires are an extremely well-liked element of popular culture. However, Gangrel’s ceiling was a European Championship match where he came up short, with his underlings Edge and Christian stealing the vast majority of his spotlight. Well, maybe stealing isn’t the right word, as they almost certainly deserved it more. Dedication to his character notwithstanding, Gangrel just wasn’t that great in the ring, and he was absolutely atrocious on the microphone. Unable to back up his look with power or charisma, Gangrel always faded away soon after WWE gave him a shot.
14. “Diamond” Dallas Page, Motivational Speaker
In a manner of speaking, every entry on this list is intended to suggest a failed gimmick isn’t a bad thing; it’s a good thing. Included in the evidence was a wrestler who constantly asked fans to look on the bright side of life, former WCW Champion “Diamond” Dallas Page. It’s important to bring up that designation, too, because it was the whole problem with DDP playing the role. Formerly one of the competition’s biggest stars, WWE never treated DDP with the respect he deserved, and the silly motivational speaker gimmick was just the tip of the iceberg. Through repeat embarrassments during the Invasion, DDP had already been turned into a total joke, destining whatever character he was given for failure before it even started. Taking away the character that made him a star further ruined things, but what he used to replace it could have definitely worked on a newcomer without his legacy.
13. Dean Malenko, Suave, Smooth Ladies Man
Let’s take a second and make it clear that just because a wrestler couldn’t make a certain gimmick work doesn’t mean they were bad at their job. In this case, one of the best technical wrestlers of his era was simply given a character he could never play, ruining the years of hard work he had put in up to that point. When wrestling for WCW, Dean Malenko was a multiple time Cruiserweight and United States Champion, and things continued going smoothly for him after jumping to WWE with the Radicalz. Things quickly went south, though, surprisingly not until after Malenko won the Light Heavyweight title he would hold nearly year. Unfortunately, halfway into the reign, WWE decided to make Malenko a suave womanizer, constantly arm-in-arm with a half dozen gorgeous ladies. It had worked in the past with Rick Rude, Ric Flair, and countless others, and it will surely work again, but it just did not fit Malenko at all.
12. CJ Parker, Angry Hippie Eco Warrior
Uniquely twisting the idea of this list, CJ Parker is the one wrestler who might be able to bring back his own failed gimmick and make it work. When Parker was in NXT, he was inexperienced and uncoordinated in the ring, and his onscreen presence likewise needed lots of work. The idea of a Earth loving hippie mad at the world for disrespecting and polluting the environment was basically a greener version of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Messiah, and easily could have made people hate him with the right charisma, but the young grappler just didn’t have it. Nowadays, Parker is tearing it up for New Japan Pro Wrestling and American independents as Juice Robinson, having finally found his footing in the ring and as a character. He doesn’t necessarily need to go for the throwback and try again, but someone else could, using modern society’s carelessness towards nature against them and quickly becoming a hated star.
11. The Right to Censor, Ultra Conservative PTC Clones
Quite frankly, for as much as the gimmick should have worked during the Attitude Era, the Right to Censor might not quite apply to the modern wrestling product. Linda McMahon’s political aspirations almost entirely wiped WWE of the adult scenarios the RTC rallied against, so reviving a similarly minded group today is pointless. However, given to different wrestlers, it could have nonetheless been a much bigger deal in retrospect. Not that some of the members weren’t fitting—the redemption of Val Venis and the Goodfather made sense, and Ivory was great on the microphone, as usual. However, putting perennial jobber/ECW joke Steven Richards at the helm made the whole group feel like jobbers by association from day one. With a more respected superstar leading the charge, they easily could have been some of the most hated wrestlers of their era, rallying against everything Attitude Era fans loved most.
10. Mordecai, The Would-Be Light To The Undertaker’s Darkness
Sometimes even the most obvious sure things don’t quite work out. Shortly after Kevin Fertig originally explained his Mordecai gimmick to Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis, the latter ran out of the executive office to tell the wrestler he just made a million dollars. Immediately, plans were in order for Mordecai, a religious zealot dressed all in white, to challenge The Undertaker, wrestling’s face of evil for several decades. Despite the terms “religious” and “evil” in that sentence, Mordecai would be the bad guy, and Undertaker the hero, making it a uniquely “sports entertainment” affair. It all came crashing down when Fertig was arrested for his involvement in a bar fight and McMahon lost all faith in him, not giving him a second chance for years. By then, Mordecai was gone and a less interesting vampire character named Kevin Thorn had taken its place, which was a shame, because the godly character still could have worked.
9. Dean Douglas, An ECW Champion Going To School
Apologies if this list is starting to feel like school work, but that’s bound to happen whenever people discuss Dean Douglas, the studious character portrayed by former ECW Champion Shane Douglas during his brief stint in the WWE Universe. Presenting himself as a dedicated student of the game with more knowledge on the subject of wrestling than any other, Douglas was at once well fit for the character and totally the wrong guy for the role. He had the right background and skills to make it work, but he was already well known for his antics in ECW as a self-obsessed jerk with no respect for history. Not only was this character more unique, but Douglas happened to be better at it than he was as the teacher, assuring fans would always prefer him in the original role. That said, any other wrestler studying the game until they became a master could easily be a huge heel.
8. Nailz, An Ex-Con Out For Revenge
Given how many WWE superstars past and present have wound up in prison for committing horrible acts, it’s understandable that Vince McMahon wouldn’t want to remind fans about this by creating a new ex-con character. That said, it wasn’t that bad an idea back when had the nerve to try, which he actually did twice. In his defense, prisoners are naturally feared, presumed to be vicious and powerful, and are known to let power go to their heads, all qualities shared by most wrestlers in the main event. Attempt number one was Nailz, who was simply a terrible wrestler with an even worse personality backstage. Because of this, the fact his background terrified fans was irrelevant, and he faded away in shot order. Next up was real life jailbird Crush, who earned more mockery than reverence for his time in the yard. Of course, the mere fact it didn’t work with these two weak, middling at best performers doesn’t mean it couldn’t work in the right hands.
7. Michael Cole, An Announcer Who Hates Wrestlers So Much He Becomes One
As a wrestler, announcer, and wrestling executive, Michael Cole has been harshly criticized from the day he made his WWE debut. That was bound to happen with whoever replaced the legendary Jim Ross, yet Cole got it especially bad for being unable to fake enthusiasm, let alone show actual enthusiasm when something excited happened in the ring. Despite this, Vince McMahon seems to love the guy, promoting him to a role as the Voice of WWE, a highly respected producer, and the lead announcer on Raw and most Pay-Per-Views. Not only that, but WWE decided to let Cole get in the ring a handful of times to feud Jerry Lawler and enter the Royal Rumble, both ideas that failed spectacularly the second they started. In fact, Cole had been on a long downward slide since turning heel, mocking and insulting every wrestler in the company. Now, had the rude announcer secretly been a great wrestler all along, a readymade talent with great heat would have been born. Cole sucked at wrestling even worse than announcing, though, so it was just a bad joke that pissed off fans without any upside.
6. Tiger Ali Singh, Wealthy Foreign Royalty
Considering how WWE loves looking to their own past for inspiration, it’s somewhat surprising there aren’t more combination gimmicks of their greatest hits. For example, Tiger Ali Singh, a mix between “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and every foreign heel the company ever introduced. Granted, in today’s society, WWE should probably give up on treating foreigners as bad guys just for being foreigners, but the situation changes if their feeling of superiority is based on wealth and fame rather than mere xenophobia. In some respects, Singh was able to make this a winning combination on the microphone, but there was a serious problem in that he was absolutely terrible in the ring. WWE tried transitioning him to a managerial role once that became clear, but he was already such a joke fans couldn’t respect the character on any level. With an entirely new performer, a rich foreigner could still get some attention.
5. Waylon Mercy, Know What I Mean?
No matter how hard some try to fight it, every wrestler has an expiration date. Unfortunately for Dan Spivey, his time as a performer came to an end just after he had started using a gimmick that could have finally made him a star. After years of competent work without much of a character, Spivey made a return to WWE in his mid 40’s as Waylon Mercy. Based on the movie Cape Feare, this new character was a calm Southern gentlemen who became a terrifying menace once the bell rang. It was unique, innovative, and an entirely new kind of intimidating, fast leading to critics claiming Mercy could be a huge star. However, Spivey’s advanced age and a career of knee problems meant he was forced into retirement mere months after making his debut. His look was too distinct to hand off the character to someone else, meaning his bad knees killed Waylon Mercy’s potential, as well.
4. Sean O’Haire, The Devil’s Advocate
In all fairness, this next entry probably isn’t telling anyone anything they don’t already know. Unlike some other gimmicks on this list, Sean O’Haire’s turn as a Devil’s Advocate shortly after the demise of WCW actually earned rave reviews from the very first vignette. Unfortunately, the character was nonetheless a major bomb that barely even appeared on television, entirely because it turned out O’Haire was the wrong person for the role. Calm, cool, and collected on video, whenever O’Haire tried to cut a promo in front of an audience, he would burst into laughter or fail to remember his lines. This made Vince McMahon and company give up on the evil instigator extremely quick, and it wasn’t like they could reuse their million dollar catchphrase on someone else. Had they given it to someone else in the first place, the gimmick easily could have shot to the top of the card as predicted.
3. The Brooklyn Brawler, Tough New York Street Fighter
Despite earning nearly global recognition as one of the most prolific and recognizable jobbers in wrestling history, little is ever said about The Brooklyn Brawler’s actual gimmick. This is probably because as an angry, bitter street fighter who worked his way up to WWE, there was really nothing wrong with the Brawler from a character perspective. Especially back when WWE was a company largely based in New York, it made perfect sense that an angry local with a chip on his shoulder and the typical New Yorker obsession with the Yankees would find his way into a wrestling ring. In contrast to most names on this list, Steve Lombardi wasn’t even that bad in the role, he was just destined to stay near the bottom of the card no matter what character he played. Give it to someone else and they might have had a decent midcard act, at least in the ‘80s.
2. Steven Regal, Real Man’s Man
He’s a man, all right. Having entered a profession where the whole point is to assert physical dominance over one’s opponents, it should go without saying that male wrestlers are hyper masculine and prone to violence. According to clichés, athletes aside, few professions are better suited for this sort of personality than lumberjacks, or any sort of general outdoorsmen. Therefore, it makes sense WWE would create a character that chops down trees during the day, sleeps in his log cabin at night, and rips lesser men apart in the ring. The only problem was that posh Englishman William Regal was almost without question the absolute worst option available to play this sort of role. What should have been a grizzled Greg Valentine type instead had a British accent and air of pretention, canceling out the entire point and making it a joke before he wrestled his first match.
1. Reverend D-Von, The Evil Preacher
Oh, testify, my brother. Before we get into this one at all, let’s point out that there are plenty of people out there who think Reverend D-Von, the character portrayed by the more soulful Dudley Boy after the team broke up, was pretty darn great. However, from the very beginning, it felt like D-Von wasn’t quite right for the role. On the one hand, he absolutely nailed it on the microphone, preaching to the audience about their lack of morality and passing around the collection plate, demanding money as a penance. Unfortunately, the fact he spent his whole career in the tag division up to that point made it hard for audiences to take D-Von seriously as a wrestler. From the beginning, it felt like the Reverend character was just a stopgap until WWE came to their senses and put the Dudleyz back together, which is exactly what it became. With a similar minded but new wrestler, though, it could have been a magnet for heat.
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