When wrestlers develop a gimmick, it’s hard to figure out what will catch white-hot heat. Like anything else in the entertainment world, it’s equal parts creativity, buzz, and what he promoter likes. Not to mention what the fans are into. Imagine if the fans were really into The Ringmaster? Austin would’ve turned the dial up on that character and we might not have ever met the Texas Rattlesnake. The fans demanded a different character. The same with Rocky Mavia and Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
Wrestlers work on their characters as much as any actor works on their roles - if not more. Actors and actresses move on from role to role. Once they found a gimmick that works, wrestlers stick with it for their entire career. When wrestlers get over with their gimmicks, usually the WWE comes calling. They’re of course the biggest game in town and most wrestlers would love the chance to show off their stuff for the WWE. Every so often though, what worked in the territories doesn’t work up North. Here are 10 Gimmicks That Worked Outside WWE (But Failed In The Company).
Scott Levy, the person, by all accounts is one of the smartest guys in the business during the nineties. Anyone who goes from smarmy brat manager, Johnny Polo to the dreary and grungy Raven. At one point, he was engaged in two feuds with Tommy Dreamer and the Sandman respectively.
Like a lot of guys that came out of ECW, no other promoter understood how to use Raven. Eric Bischoff flat out has admitted over the years that he didn’t “get it.” Considering what little was done with him in WWE (being a 97-time Hardcore Champion doesn’t count), neither did Vince McMahon.
9 The Sandman
There are two wrestlers in the last thirty years or so that 95% percent if not more of their mystique and aura came from their ring entrance. The first was Goldberg. But perhaps even more than watching Big Bill walk through some sparklers, it was the Sandman’s gimmick that relied on his entrance.
But there was no way, especially post-Attitude Era that WWE was going to pay for the rights to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” or allow the guy to spend an hour and half walking to the ring while pouring beer down fan’s gullets.
8 The Public Enemy
Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock were able to get the party started in ECW. They actually had one so massive that the ring collapsed. Under the tutelage of Paul Heyman, the Public Enemy thrived in ECW. But as the story goes, once they got to WWE, they had no interest in getting their butts kicked.
They once tried to tell Farooq and Bradshaw they were changing the finish. The APA completely annihilated Rock and Grunge for their transgression and thanks to their poor attitude, were never heard in the WWE again.
7 The Road Warriors
The Legion Of Doom inspired fear in just about every team they ever faced in the NWA. But by the time they made it up North, the Demolition was already the premier badass team in the WWE.
Hawk and Animal weren’t quite over the hill when they got to the WWE in the early nineties, but they weren’t treated with any sort of respect, either (they had a dummy with them). When they returned a few years later, they were a much tamer team in the middle of the Attitude Era, and partnerships with Droz and Sunny didn’t help their cause either.
6 The nWo
The New World Order’s core nucleus of Hogan, Hall, and Nash finally reunited in a WWE ring at No Way Out in 2002. After so many year away, it was nice to see the reunion of the original three in a WWE ring.
After being away so long, WWE fans were nostalgic for some Hulkamania. Then Hall’s personal demons surfaced, Nash’s quad popped. The original three nWo members were done before they could get any real traction going.
5 Scott Steiner
When Big Poppa Pump’s theme music rang throughout Madison Square Garden at the 2002 Survivor Series, fans went bananas. But that initial welcoming pop quickly turned to “get off of my TV” heat for Freakzilla.
He was quickly paired up with Triple H, but it became apparent that Scott Steiner’s body was so racked with injury, that he wasn’t ready for that kind of spot.
4 Broken Matt
TNA has always been on its last legs and something has always come around to give the promotion a jolt. Whether it was AJ Styles or Hulk Hogan or Aces and Eights, something always came along to jolt the company. But when Matt Hardy became Broken, it didn’t just jolt TNA, it became the talk of the entire industry.
Fans were more than ready to see the Broken Hardys on the WWE stage. But it took almost a year of legal wrangling to get it done. Unfortunately by then, fans only got one “Woken” match.
The Empress Of Tomorrow debuted in NXT. She took the black and yellow brand by storm and is still their longest reigning champion at over 500 days. She debuted on the main roster and took her undefeated streak all the way to WrestleMania 34.
Then she met the Queen. The long-awaited match between Charlotte and Asuka was everything it could have been. But the Empress lost, and the magic was gone that moment.
2 Johnny B. Badd
When Marc Mero worked in WCW as Johnny B. Badd, he was largely responsible for opening a lot of shows and he largely succeeded. The gimmick of a flamboyant and glitzy wrestler is what Vince McMahon wanted.
But it also wasn’t a gimmick that Mero owned. The guy was kind of dead in the water, even before he signed. Couple that with Vince and JR thinking they should have signed Sable instead and Mero was doomed from the start.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
At height of his popularity, the King Of Strong Style brought new eyes to New Japan. In 2016, he signed with WWE and headed to NXT. The NXT universe in Dallas we’re ready for his debut. Fans all over the world sing the guy’s theme song - and at that point it didn’t have any words!
Once on the main roster, the same thing happened to Nakamura that happened to a lot of other top NXT stars. He got lost in the shuffle. Despite giving runs with AJ Styles and with various titles, there is still something that feels left out about the Artist.