A majority of the performers currently working underneath the World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella use gimmicks, or made-up, names for their characters and personas. This is nothing new, as the company, as well as promotions such as World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and other organizations, have used this practice for years and even decades. Attaching gimmick names to stars allows a promotion such as the WWE to trademark those names as it pertains to the selling of merchandise. In most cases, it also prevents those wrestlers from utilizing those gimmicks outside of the WWE. Those who don’t follow the wrestling business may see this as the WWE being petty or silly, but a company worth a fortune taking steps to look out for number one is a necessary evil.
As weird as gimmick names used by current WWE stars may appear or sound to those of us who actively follow the product in 2018, some of their older characters and personas were downright bizarre and, in some instances, even comical. A few of the wrestlers who are currently allowed to use either their real names or versions of them weren’t always so lucky back in the day. In fact, the man who is unquestionably the biggest WWE star of the 2000s once had a ridiculous gimmick name that, more likely than not, never would’ve gotten over among casual or diehard fans. It’s a good thing those within the company realized this reality, because so much in wrestling and other aspects of the entertainment industry would be different today had that not occurred.
15 Nia Jax: Zada
For whatever reason, the WWE is nothing if not repetitive and a company that goes back to ideas from the past. Nia Jax is the gimmick name of Savelina Fanene, the current Raw wrestler who is a cousin of all-time legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Before she ever debuted on national television, she worked as Lena and, later, as Zada while in the developmental system.
In August 2017, she stated during an episode of the Talk is Jericho podcast that Triple H was the one who wasn’t fond of the Zada name, and, thus, she eventually landed on Nia Jax. What is humorous about this is that the promotion has a different performer, Julia Ho, using the Zada nickname in developmental as of early 2018. We’ll see how long she keeps the gimmick name.
14 Jeff Hardy: Wildo Jinx
Those familiar with the wrestling career of Jeff Hardy likely know about several of his gimmick names. Willow, Itchweeed, Brother Nero and his “Charismatic Enigma” nickname may quickly come to mind. Back when he and brother Matt Hardy were trying to get a break in the old World Wrestling Federation, they performed as two masked jobbers, or enhancement talents, who took bumps for supposed stars on television matches.
Jeff went as Wildo Jinx, which may have been a version of his original Willow character that he used in the OMEGA promotion created by he and Matt. We’re glad Wildo didn’t have a long shelf-life in the WWE, as Jeff Hardy and Team Xtreme ultimately became Superstars worthy of winning tag-team titles and singles gold in multiple promotions.
13 Chris Jericho: Super Liger
Chris Jericho is, without a doubt, one of the greatest overall performers of the past several decades and a man who won numerous championships and other personal awards wrestling in WCW, the WWE and overseas. That fact helps make his failures as the Super Liger gimmick so funny.
As the story goes, Jericho was asked to wrestle in New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1997 as Super Liger to feud with legendary competitor Jushin Thunder Liger. Jericho experienced so many difficulties working as that character and in the outfit he wore during the persona’s debut that the crowd in the arena actually laughed at mistakes he made in the ring. That gimmick, fortunately, was dropped after that night, and we can now drink in the greatness of Jericho as we know it today.
12 Johnny Gargano: Cedrick Von Haussen
Sometimes, “wacky” is the best way to describe certain pro wrestling gimmicks. Roughly a decade before Johnny Gargano became one of the top babyfaces in NXT and also a tag-team champion on that brand, he wrestled as Cedrick Von Haussen on an episode of SmackDown versus Montel Vontavious Porter; MVP.
As you can probably guess without watching this quick match, things went poorly for young Von Haussen on that forgettable evening. Gargano’s story is inspiring for multiple reasons, as it wasn’t until June 2015 when he was given a real opportunity to wrestle as his true self in NXT. Now, he is involved in multiple entertaining storylines in NXT, and it’s only a matter of time before he is called up to the main roster and, potentially, competing on a WrestleMania card.
11 Finn Balor: Pegasus Kid II
Before wrestling fans who follow overseas promotions recognized this talented individual as Fergal Devitt, Prince Devitt or Finn Balor, he performed as Pegasus Kid II. This tidbit, on its own, wouldn’t be all that big of a deal, except that the original Pegasus Kid was Chris Benoit. Benoit got that gimmick over because of his tremendous in-ring abilities, but it’s highly likely, if not guaranteed, that you’ll never hear Balor talk about this aspect of his wrestling career on WWE programming because of obvious and heartbreaking reasons.
Balor did well to find fame utilizing other gimmicks in Japan before being noticed by the WWE, and he went on to become the first ever Universal Champion before an unfortunate and unlucky injury quickly ended his reign. We have high hopes for Balor Club in 2018.
10 Matt Hardy: High Voltage
Just as with his brother, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy has gone through multiple gimmicks and characters since the early days of his wrestling career. While his BROKEN/WOKEN persona may be the most unique we’ve seen, his High Voltage gimmick is one straight out of the 1990s — or maybe, more accurately, the 1980s — and one that wouldn’t fly in any wrestling promotion today.
When you see the video of High Voltage cutting a high-energy promo, you can see small glimpses of the man who became a Tag Team Champion and a singles star in multiple promotions. It’s too bad High Voltage never had a chance to work high-flying matches in the WWE back in the early 1990s, but we guess everything worked out rather well for the WOKEN one.
9 Luke Gallows: The Freakin’ Deacon
Those of you who think the worst gimmicks used by the current WWE star known as Luke Gallows were Festus and the Fake Kane may want to go back and examine his Freakin’ Deacon character from the developmental territory Deep South Wrestling.
The Freakin’ Deacon gimmick involved the wrestler carrying a pet spider to the ring and, in some cases, allowing that spider to crawl on opponents. There was once even a feud over the kidnapping of that spider because of course there was in Deep South in 2006. Gallows proved to be too talented to be kept down by these horrible gimmicks, but he ultimately had to perform overseas and become a member of Bullet Club before the WWE would allow him to work as a serious wrestler.
8 Seth Rollins: Taj the Destroyer
Depending on your age and how much you followed promotions such as Ring of Honor in the 2000s, it’s possible you were first introduced to Seth Rollins as Tyler Black. Before he won championships using that character, he spent some time as Gixx and as Taj the Destroyer, per David Bixenspan.
For reasons we can only begin to imagine, Taj the Destroyer never became a Superstar on the independent scene in the early 2000s. Tyler Black, though, built an impressive resume en route to winning the ROH World Championship, and some out there may even suggest that Seth Rollins is a better gimmick name of the two. We are keeping our fingers crossed that Rollins’ tag-team partners will stop getting injured sooner rather than later. It almost feels as if the poor guy has a black cloud hovering over him.
7 Kane: Christmas Creature
The truth of the matter is that we could create an entire piece on the awful gimmick names used by Glenn Jacobs, better known as Kane, during his pro wrestling career. We’ll focus on the Christmas Creature gimmick that Kane used in the United States Wrestling Association, as it certainly sticks out among the group.
As best we can tell, the Christmas Creature was some sort of demented mix of a large man and a Christmas tree that had gone terribly wrong. Even for the early 1990s, or 1980s or 1970s, for that matter, this was an awful idea that went nowhere in any significant promotion. Making matters worse, Kane admitted that his mother created the costume. Yes, the Kane persona has been involved in terrible storylines, but trust us when we say things were worse back in the day.
6 A.J. Styles: Mr. Olympia
A.J. Styles may very well be the best wrestler signed by the WWE today, and his talent, athletic gifts and ability to produce five-star matches may allow you to forget that he has been performing for no fewer than two decades. Before he was phenomenal, winning titles in Impact Wrestling and leading Bullet Club overseas, Styles wrestled underneath a mask as Mr. Olympia all the way back in 1998.
While Olympia managed to win gold for a small promotion in Georgia, Styles quickly became a darling among fans looking for an alternative to the WWE in the early 2000s. Now, in 2018, Styles is the “Face that runs the place” on the SmackDown brand and a man set to work a highlight-reel match with Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34.
5 Tye Dillinger: Stan
We wanted to add this one to the list because some of you may have missed Tye Dillinger’s actual WWE television debut. At the 2006 Cyber Sunday show, “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels wanted to prove that he knew how to be controversial, so he delivered his Sweet Chin Music finisher to some behind-the-scenes character named Stan.
It’s been over 11 years since that fateful night, but those with a keen eye can tell Stan is none other than the “Perfect 10” who got over in NXT and is now on the SmackDown roster. Never give up on your dreams, kids, as Dillinger was never supposed to be even a main character in NXT when he was presented with his current gimmick. If nothing else, he should be number 10 in every Royal Rumble for the next decade.
4 Ruby Riott: Heidi the Riveter
The retro-style promotion Olde Wrestling may not be for everybody — or for anybody reading this piece, for that matter — but those who have seen videos from that organization may recognize Ruby Riott performing in matches from several years ago. Riott used the gimmick name Heidi the Riveter, an obvious play on the Rosie icon from the days of World War II, in that company.
Heidi the Riveter and, more notably, Heidi Lovelace, built a noteworthy reputation in several independent organizations before the WWE brought her to their Performance Center in 2016. The rest, as they say, is history, as Riott is now the leader of a women’s trio featured on the SmackDown roster. She may be in for a push on the main roster following the conclusion of the WrestleMania season.
3 Cesaro: A Very Mysterious Ice Cream
As long as you can appreciate the CHIKARA promotion for what it is and not go into it thinking you’re watching serious strong-style Japanese performances, it can be a lot of fun. Well before he was part of The Bar on the Raw brand, Cesaro spent some time in CHIKARA as A Very Mysterious Ice Cream and a member of the team Los Ice Creams.
We could try to put this idea into words, but it’s better if you just Google matches involving the Ice Creams, sit back and enjoy. We do have to admit that the thought of Los Ice Creams slamming any opponent onto a pile of sprinkles sounds painful. Laugh all you want, but sprinkles are not soft. A bump onto soft-serve ice cream would be cold, but at least it wouldn’t leave a mark.
2 Roman Reigns: Leakee
WWE fans who boo Roman Reigns out of arenas and who no longer want to see him pushed as the company’s ideal babyface may wish that this gimmick name was never changed. Before Reigns became the muscle of The Shield and a multi-time champion, he worked in Florida Championship Wrestling as Leakee.
This name was horrible in FCW, and fans in the WWE quickly would’ve turned on it had somebody not realized Reigns couldn’t possible work as a serious heel using it. For better or for worse, Roman Reigns became the man he is on editions of Raw and Pay-Per-View events today, and fans may want to embrace the idea of the Big Dog going over Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 34. Remember that we are just serving as the messenger here.
1 John Cena: The Prototype
Imagine a different timeline where John Cena -- the Doctor of Thuganomics, the leader of the CeNation and an entertainment superstar featured in movies in 2018 . -- was introduced to fans on SmackDown as The Prototype. Needless to say, a lot could be different today. Cena’s look and his tremendous charisma may have allowed him to eventually get over, but nobody should forget how lackluster a wrestler he was during the early stint of his WWE career.
He needed something special and different to get over, and the rapper gimmick was perfect for his character and also for his wrestling persona. Had Cena not become the face of SmackDown and, in time, the WWE, who knows where the company and North American pro wrestling, as a whole, would be in February 2018? Thankfully, Prototype is now nothing but a memory.