Imagine being told you get to earn a big job on television wrestling for one of the biggest promotions not only in the United States, but one with an audience that spans the entire globe. That means performing in arenas in front of thousands of people and being seen by millions through television. It might seem like a dream come true for those who have put in the time training to become a professional wrestler.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of great wrestlers in the industry’s history with some of the worst characters imaginable. In a world where it seems like some people only get one chance to impress the crowds, it’s amazing that some of the best wrestlers have had gimmicks that might have killed just about anyone else’s careers.
On the other side of the coin, there have been some amazing ideas from wrestling’s creative minds that have gone to the wrong man. It would have been a great gimmick, but lost momentum because the wrestler to whom it was assigned simply could not execute it in the way the creative minds envisioned.
The following is not only a list of terrible wrestlers who were given great creative gimmicks, but also list of great wrestlers who were able to somehow get passed having an extremely awful character concept.
8. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Waylon Mercy
Many of today’s fans look at someone like Bray Wyatt as a unique character, but there was another wrestler from the early 1990s who had a very similar gimmick that definitely caught some attention. Dan Spivey was packaged as Waylon Mercy and debuted in a match against a very young Jeff Hardy. Here was a man who showed Southern charm and was shaking hands with fans, the referee and even the opponent.
He had an island-themed shirt and spoke very eloquently. But Mercy had some weird tattoos that included what looked like a dagger on his forehead. Once the bell rang, he dropped that gentleman-demeanor and became a vicious wrestler in the ring. The face he made putting his opponents in a sleeper hold made you think he was a psychopath. While his run in the World Wrestling Federation was brief, it did inspire Wyatt’s character that has found some success in today’s World Wrestling Entertainment.
8. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Spirit Squad’s Nicky
Dolph Ziggler is known for being a show-stealer in the WWE and has put on a number of great matches in the past few years. Back in the days when his long bleached blonde hair was trimmed down to short spikes, Ziggler was known as the emphatic Nicky of the five-man faction known as the Spirit Squad. These five WWE superstars were dressed as male cheerleaders and definitely got over as heels that won the World Tag Team Championships.
There was no denying that some of the Spirit Squad members were talented – like Ziggler and Kenny Dykstra. But the group would quickly be sent back to developmental with Ziggler being the only member of the group to still be employed with the WWE today. At least today’s Ziggler is enjoying his current character. Even the brief run as Colonel Sanders for WWE’s KFC skit was better than just being Nicky.
7. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – The Boogeyman
When developing a monster character in wrestling, it’s all about the hype. There was some interest when we started getting vignettes for someone calling himself The Boogeyman back in 2005. Martin Wright was given a very different look where his face was painted red and black with a staff, donned some furs that he wore to the ring and smashed a clock over his head. Let’s add to the fact that he convulsed as if he was possessed by a demon and ate worms in the middle of the ring.
In terms of entertainment value of segments in and out of the ring, Wright did a great job as The Boogeyman. When it came to competing in wrestling matches, The Boogeyman was very limited and didn’t have the best skills. Eventually, he was released from the WWE, though he would still make a living with the character on the independent scene. He also signed a WWE Legends contract last year.
7. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – I.R.S.
Mike Rotunda had some success in his first run with the WWE in the mid-1980s as he won the WWE World Tag Team Championships with his brother-in-law, Barry Windham. He would spend his wrestling career jumping between the WWE, the American Wrestling Association and the National Wrestling Alliance before having a third run in the WWE that started in 1991 as Irwin R. Schyster – a.k.a. I.R.S. The character felt like it was developed as a joke in an episode of The Simpsons where wrestling was something Homer watched on TV.
Then again, what type of job field would have real-life equivalents to heels in wrestling? Tax collectors, of course! I.R.S. would eventually form a tag team with another money-hungry heel in the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase – winning the WWE Tag Team Championship on three separate occasions. While it was a terrible gimmick, Rotunda made it work for him to be moderately successful as a mid-card talent.
6. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Ted DiBiase Jr.
Speaking of Ted DiBiase, he had a pretty successful run for someone who never “officially” won a World Heavyweight Championship during his time with the WWE. His son had a lot of promise considering that he debuted as a second generation superstar who had the money left to him so that he could get a good start to a WWE career. However, it felt like he wasn’t able to live up to the in-ring prowess that his father had before him.
Over time, he went from having a high-profile match involving Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXVI to barely making the show the very next year. The younger DiBiase was very bland in the ring and even a chance to be the second-coming of The Million Dollar Man – complete with the Million Dollar Championship and Virgil as his sidekick – wasn’t enough to keep him relevant in the WWE. Eventually, he chose to leave the WWE in 2013 out of frustration.
6. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Kerwin White
Racial tensions have been a touchy subject lately, and there’s a good chance that the Kerwin White character would never work in today’s WWE – for obvious reasons. Heck, it really didn’t work in WWE back in 2007. Chavo Guerrero made the decision that he needed to make a change to find true success in WWE and that it was because of his race. In a move that might have signaled a mid-life crisis, Guerrero colored his hair blonde, dressed as a country club member and came to the ring with a personalized golf cart.
As White, Guerrero was portraying a middle-class American that took shots at the Hispanic community. This character thankfully went away as he went back to his namesake to bring honor to the family after his uncle Eddie suddenly passed away. It’s hard to believe that anyone in the creative team would have thought someone with the tagline, “If it’s not white, it’s not right,” was a good idea. Then again, WWE’s creative team has had its share of poor decisions.
5. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Gangrel
Many wrestling fans may not know the name of David Heath, but they are very likely aware of the character he portrayed named Gangrel. After years spent in the WWE, Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling, he would return to the WWE because some of the writers wanted him to do a vampire character. It was something different that did catch eyes as he emerged from a ring of fire and would carry a goblet of what looked to be blood. It was a brooding and evil character that would earn him a good winning streak after debuting in 1998.
While Gangrel was responsible for bringing us the team of Edge and Christian, the vampire wasn’t really the best athlete in the ring and would quickly fall down the card before going to the independent circuit. He is still wrestling as the Vampire Warrior but has fallen considerably in his physical shape.
5. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Stardust
Cody Rhodes was a talented wrestler in his own right, and is the youngest son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. He was one of the best singles superstars from the last decade who would win the Intercontinental Championship and bring back the classic white belt. But in 2014, Rhodes made a change to his persona and adopted something that felt like a rip-off of his brother’s character, Goldust.
Stardust looked like a copycat, but Cody Rhodes would explain that the name Stardust had a tie to his father. The run as Stardust had potential to be memorable with a brother-vs-brother match-up between Stardust and Goldust. But the payoff felt underwhelming and the character just began to feel bland over time.
He wanted to make a change but the WWE wanted to continue the Stardust persona. This led to the younger Rhodes requesting his release and is now set to make a big impact on the independent wrestling circuit.
4. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Sin Cara
The idea of bringing one of the biggest superstars from Mexico to the WWE could have been a great concept. It was especially exciting to see this high-flyer bring his unique style to the United States with vignettes helping boost the excitement within the WWE Universe. Unfortunately, he was known for making mistakes in front of the live audience and on television. Even his debut on WWE Raw in 2011 saw him jump into the ring over the top rope and being tripped up.
After a first entrance that reminded many of the failed Shockmaster debut from the early 1990s, the former Mistico would have a hard time adjusting to WWE and had several botches and injuries. Eventually, he would be released from the WWE and return to Mexico.
The replacement for the Sin Cara character hasn’t done much better unfortunately, with a bad aftertaste left behind by the initial Sin Cara.
4. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Steel, Oz, Vinnie Vegas (Tie)
Kevin Nash is arguably one of the better big men in wrestling, known best for his time in the 1990s as Diesel in WWE and under his real name Kevin Nash in WCW. But his initial characters on television were not that great. His first character was Steel of Master Blasters in Jim Crockett Promotions in late 1990 – where he had his hair cut into a Mohawk that was colored orange. But that’s not the only bad gimmick Nash had early in his wrestling career.
Months later, he was repackaged as Oz, a character for which he was dressed like a giant wizard and donned a fake grey beard who defeated local jobbers. This character failed and he lost a number of matches before the WCW writers transformed him into Vinnie Vegas. Vegas was more of a mobster gimmick with a fake New Jersey accent, but just fell flat among the wrestling fans. Nash eventually would leave WCW and make the jump to WWE, after three years of terrible creative direction.
3. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Papa Shango
When looking back at how the WWE roster looked in the early 1990s, there were a lot of colorful characters with gimmicks that probably would be laughed at by today’s wrestling fans. However, Papa Shango was an interesting character that could have really had a better run. Charles Wright had commented that he was actually very interested in the voodoo culture after reading several books and buying his props from a specialty store.
The character had a great run through the mid-card that led to him having a main event-type match with the Ultimate Warrior in 1992. However, Wright felt that the losses piling up from that feud extinguished the momentum he had built up. Regardless, Wright wasn’t the greatest in-ring performer and that had a little to do with it as well. After leaving the WWE shortly after the Papa Shango character was cut, he would return to the company as the Godfather character.
3. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Isaac Yankem
Kane has had one of the best runs in the WWE in terms of the number of years he has been a consistent member of the roster. However, his first stint with the WWF back in the early 1990s was not filled with hell fire and brimstone. Instead, it involved a dentist chair and Jerry “The King” Lawler – a combination that felt like it was drawn from a hat during an improv comedy show.
Yankem’s debut was back in 1995, when Lawler hired him to come in and take care of Bret Hart. That feud ended with the Yankem character quickly falling into the jobber status before being taken off of television in less than a year. The man behind the character was a decent giant in his own right, but Glenn Jacobs needed something a little more serious. Thankfully, he was booked into the masked Kane so no one would point out the failed Yankem experiment.
2. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Sean O’Haire
Every sport has a bust — someone who fails to meet the high expectations for how he’s going to perform on the big stage. In the case of Sean O’Haire in 2003, he had every opportunity to succeed but did not. He was given what could have been the best potential heel gimmick of the Ruthless Aggression era. It was gift-wrapped and handed off by the creative team, only to be fumbled away within a year.
O’Haire was promoted in vignettes as somewhat of a Devil’s advocate. He would encourage things like adultery, not going to church on Sunday, not paying taxes, etc. He also had the catchphrase, “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.” Fans were intrigued with what could be a great character. But the action in the ring was lackluster and not even the legendary “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was able to save his push from being cancelled. O’Haire struggled in wrestling after leaving the WWE and unfortunately passed away from an apparent suicide.
2. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – The Ringmaster
Before he was given the nickname “Stone Cold” and citing Austin 3:16 after defeating Jake “The Snake” Roberts at the 1996 King of the Ring, Steve Austin was first brought to the WWF as the Ringmaster. He would be appointed the new holder of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Championship for a brief period in late 1995. It was a very bland character, but it was better than how he was treated during his time with the WCW as “Stunning Steve.”
Even Austin knew the character was not going to go far and he was able to help develop a new character called “Stone Cold,” a nickname credited to drinking tea with his wife. “Stone Cold” was able to make fans forget about the Ringmaster character. The rest is history as Austin would win multiple WWE Championships and be considered one of the biggest and most popular stars of the company’s Attitude Era.
1. Terrible Wrestler/Great Gimmick – Mordecai
Kevin Thorn has had a number of different characters in his career with the WWE. Obviously, he wasn’t one of the most talented wrestlers in the ring and that’s why he was never able to make any of his gimmicks last long enough to be loved by the fans. One that really could have been the best was back in 2014 when he debuted as Mordecai – a Christian-themed character who came dressed completely in white with the mission to destroy those with sin.
The potential for a heel Mordecai to eventually declare war against The Undertaker would have been a great rivalry – maybe even resulting in a battle in a cathedral for a special vignette. Unfortunately, the wrestler chosen for the character wasn’t great in the ring and that was what eventually ruined the character. One could only hope the WWE could bring back the concept for another wrestler similar to how Bray Wyatt was inspired by Waylon Mercy.
1. Great Wrestler/Terrible Gimmick – Hunter Hearst Helmsley
When coming to the WWE back in 1995, Triple H was given a very gentleman-like gimmick, in which he dressed as a blue-blood from Connecticut. He was somewhat of a traditional heel who had the attitude of thinking he was better than everyone and the snobbishness definitely got the fans to root against him in the ring. However, Hunter Hearst Helmsley was a bit interesting considering the times he would bow in the middle of the ring.
Triple H made it work despite the character seeming limited. Thankfully, he would make a drastic change from gentleman to a member of D-Generation X with Shawn Michaels. Once he was able to drop the snooty gimmick, he was able to find true success that led to him winning 14 World Heavyweight Championships. Who would have thought back in 1995 that Hunter Hearst Helmsley would eventually be the man who would be Vince McMahon’s heir apparent?
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