Growing up, I liked my old-school wrestling on the real, or serious. I didn’t want "little people" wrestlers, valets in mixed tag matches or a host of other corny angles where someone gained superpowers. I wanted my old-school wrestling as close to life as it got. Besides, it was already a bunch of oiled up, scantily clad, muscle bound dudes grappling over gold and silver that was fashioned to leather straps.
Understandably, promoters and wrestlers alike had—and still have—to spice things up. As a result, a wrestler starting out or a veteran in need of change oftentimes adopted gimmicks. Gimmicks were in place to get and keep the fans’ attention. However, not all gimmicks are created the same. Some gimmicks that would appear outlandish would work quite well while some were absolutely horrible ideas.
The following gimmicks are some of the best and worst of the old-school wrestling era. There’ll be some that you recognize and a few that might take you by surprise. Although some of these are pretty terrible, much respect and thanks goes out to the performers who undertook these endeavors. Take note how many of the bad gimmicks were at or near the end of the old-school era.
20 BEST: Lord Humongous (CWA/Mid-South)
The movie Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior was influential in old-school wrestling lore. Just take a look at Hawk and Animal of the Road Warriors. In 1984, a promoter in the Continental Wresting Association—also known as the Mid-South area—packaged the Lord Humongous character from the movie as a wrestler. What was next, Robocop? Oh yeah, right—that eventually happened. Mid-South was a hotbed for offbeat gimmicks and this one was no exception. However, it worked because the mask was key in that several other wrestlers could portray the character—for years—if need be. One wrestler of note was Sid Viscous. Whoever the wrestler was, the character served as an unstoppable force by which to eventually springboard good guy wrestlers.
19 WORST: Repo Man (WWE)
I’ll say one thing for Barry Darsow, he’s committed! He was great as Krusher Kruschev, the American turned Russian sympathizer who teamed with Ivan and Nikita Koloff in the NWA. Likewise, he got props for being part of Demolition in WWE. However, his playing of the Repo Man in the early 1990s was a headscratcher. Really, a guy that repossess cars and appliances has a wrestling agenda? What was next, an I.R.S. tax collector turned wrestler? Oh damn, that was a gimmick, too! The Repo Man would play bit parts with Ted DiBiase until feuding with the “British Bulldog,” Davey Boy Smith. Thankfully for Darsow, he left the WWE and played even more eccentric characters. Yet, none were more eccentric than the Repo Man.
17 BEST: The New Breed (NWA)
Both Sean Royal and Chris Champion were entertaining as the New Breed! Don’t believe me, look up their matches and promos and try keeping a straight face! They claimed to be from the year 2002, when Dusty Rhodes was President. They hung out with Transformers, they were computer psychologists and they traveled space to get advice on how to beat opponents. Seems legit! Both Royal and Champion had the looks as well as skills being put into action against the likes of the Rock n’ Roll Express and the Midnight Express. However, a car accident would derail their rise to the top as Champion was out for a prolonged period of time while Royal competed individually.
14 WORST: Doink the Clown (WWE)
It’s hard to believe this fringe old-school era character idea was thought up by Road Warrior Hawk. What’s harder to believe is that Matt Borne—who cut his wrestling teeth with the likes of Buzz Sawyer, Ted DiBiase and the Von Erichs—went along with the idea in 1992. Borne, who had his own personal issues, deserves credit for the initial run as Doink against foes like Jerry Lawler, Marty Jannetty and Bret Hart. To be honest, Doink’s opponents deserve credit for agreeing to wrestle a clown. Doink would be played by several other wrestlers and for many years following Borne’s departure from the WWE in 1993.
13 BEST: The Mighty Wilbur (NWA)
Mighty Wilbur was an empathetic character to say the least. Wearing overalls and a white t-shirt, he was a lumbering country boy character somewhat similar to WWE’s Hillbilly Jim and Haystacks Calhoun of yesteryear. He gained fan adoration with his unconventional association with and eventual turn on the abusive Paul Jones and his army. The Mighty Wilbur would shake hands with both referees and opponents before matches while smiling nonstop during bouts. How do you hate on someone like that? He would often team with “Hands of Stone” Ronnie Garvin against Arn Anderson and Barry Windham of the Four Horsemen. Feuding with any member of The Four Horsemen is saying something!
12 WORST: Lazertron (NWA)
A promotion wouldn’t base a wrestler on the game of Lazer Tag, would it? Yes, it happened—in the NWA during the mid-1980s. The masked wrestler Lazertron actually wore the Star Sensor and an ensemble that closely resembled the Lazer Tag Game Kit one could buy at K-Mart during the time. What made things more bizarre was that Lazertron won a title, teamed with Jimmy “Boogie Woogie Man” Valiant and appeared at special events like the Jim Crocket Sr. Memorial Cup. This was a testament to the wrestling skills of Hector Guerrero, the man who portrayed the maligned character. Unfortunately, this isn’t the last time you’ll hear about Guerrero and bad gimmicks.
10 BEST: Bruiser Brody (Everywhere)
Bruiser Brody was the stuff of nightmares throughout the 1980s in various territories. He was like the big guy you see raging through stalled city traffic while high on bath salts. Roll the windows up, that’ll keep us safe! That’s exactly how fans felt when Brody took on the likes of Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala, Stan Hansen, the Freebirds and the Von Erichs. It didn’t matter where fans sat. Everyone in the arena had the potential for blood, chairs, flailing bodies and barricades to come flying at them as the action often spilled into the stands. That’s why Brody’s gimmick worked. Everyone wanted to see an absolute mad-man go on a tear against everybody.
9 WORST: Gobbledy Gooker (WWE)
Hector Guerrero must have pissed people off, lost several side bets or was promised front office jobs during his storied career. Or simply, he was just a great guy willing to take one or two for the team in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. It seems his athleticism and talents were taken for granted when he portrayed the WWE’s Gobbledy Gooker—a wrestler wearing a turkey costume. Please take a few seconds to let that soak in. Now let the fact that he “hatched” from a large egg rankle in your mind as well. Suffice to say, this gimmick was not well received and was scrapped only to be used for later gimmick events such as the WWE’s Gimmick Battle Royal during WrestleMania X-Seven.
8 BEST: Kamala, The Ugandan Headhunter (Everywhere)
New wrestler in town plus Mid-South equals gimmick. There’s a trend here! Nonetheless, this gimmick worked well for James Harris who portrayed the big Ugandan savage during the 1980s and 1990s. Legend has it that wrestlers Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett used a National Geographic Magazine as inspiration for the gimmick. Harris wore a leopard printed loincloth and tribal paint while acting as an out-of-control savage. As a result, Kamala would go on to tour several territories doing battle with Andre the Giant, the Freebirds, Magnum T.A. and Hulk Hogan. As seen with previous entries, a believable, large, out of control beast of a man is great for propping up the good guys.
7 WORST: Max Moon (WWE)
A victim of the old-school era’s conclusion and the beginning of wrestling’s dark ages, Max Moon was a cross between a Mortal Kombat character, a Power Ranger and a Lucha Libre wrestler. The man that portrayed the character, Paul Diamond, was very versatile working with both power and high flying wrestlers before adopting the Moon persona. Max Moon experienced lukewarm receptions with feuds against—check it out—the Repo Man, Terry Taylor and even “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels! However, even in the early-1990s the gimmick of a wrestler from outer space who shoots confetti out of his rocket arms was pretty cheesy.
6 BEST: George the Animal Steele (WWE)
There’s great irony in a guy with a Master’s degree, who lettered numerous times for collegiate sport and taught school, portraying a mentally challenged wrestler who ate turnbuckle filling. That was George “The Animal Steele.” Jim Myers, who played Steele, wrestled as a “normal” masked grappler on the side from his teaching job for extra money in the 1960s and 1970s. When he joined the WWE he was asked the remove the mask and develop a Neanderthal-like heel persona at the behest of WWE great Bruno Sammartino. The rest is history as George Steele bit and kicked opponents while using the turnbuckle stuffing as a weapon well into the late 1980s, feuding with Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and Kamala.
5 WORST: Arachnaman (WCW)
Let’s give billionaire Ted Turner benefit of the doubt during the early 1990s. He wanted a masked wrestler dressed in yellow and a bluish-purple, with the yellow containing a web-like design. In addition, he wanted this wrestler to be high flying and able to shoot strands of webbing from his hands during entrances. Turner wanted this wrestler to be named “Arachnaman.” I know what you’re thinking, “Yellow and purple don’t go together.” Cut from the same technical and professional mold as Hector Guerrero, credit goes to Brad Armstrong who played and endured this brutal gimmick. To note, Arachnaman did have a World Television Title shot against then champion “Stunning” Steve Austin, so there’s some legitimacy. I was being facetious.
4 BEST: The Missing Link (Mid-South, WCCW, WWE)
Can you guess where The Missing Link gimmick originated? Yep, the Mid-South! Dewey Robertson, who played The Missing Link, started wrestling in the 1960s. He bounced from territory to territory eventually landing in the Mid-South during the early 1980’s. There, he adopted the green face paint, the chopped hair and the unhinged psyche. From the Mid-South he went to Texas feuding with the Von Erichs and The Freebirds until finally landing in the WWE in the mid-1980s. There he would tangle with George Steele, Tony Atlas and Paul Orndorf until his departure back to Texas and other independent areas. Again, big, lunatic wrestlers were—and still are—good-guy bait!
3 WORST: Zeus (WWE)
Checkout the movie No Holds Barred featuring Hulk Hogan for 1980s movie campiness. For further kookiness look no further than the movie’s spillover into the “real-life” wrestling world in the form of Zeus, the movie’s antagonist. Simply put, Zeus was brought into the WWE—out of the movie—to battle Hulk Hogan because of jealousy over the leading role. Huh? Wait, weren’t you just in a movie that’s scripted? And now you want to exact revenge for your movie loss and the role you played? See what I mean? Unstoppable force, yes, but credibility and costume design a big “No.” Zeus would team with “Macho Man” Randy Savage to take on Hulk Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake in a series of grudge matches that served to settled the score—whatever that was.
2 BEST: The Great Kabuki (Everywhere)
The Great Kabuki was by no means a novelty with regard to Asian wrestlers performing in the United States. Nor was he the most technical of his brethren. However, his presence and dress in Japanese Kabuki attire and face paint was downright intimidating. Moreover, he was the first wrestler to incorporate the “Asian Mist” tactic, the spitting of blinding mist into an opponent’s eyes. Combine the aforementioned with the management of “Playboy” Gary Hart and you have a great gimmick that was employable anywhere—and it was! The Great Kabuki traveled territories feuding with Jimmy Valiant, the Von Erichs, Bruiser Brody, the One Man Gang and even teamed with The Freebirds.
1 WORST: Ta Gar, Lord of the Volcano (USWA/Mid-South)
Damn, Jerry Lawler had it rough in the Mid-South! He had to fend off attacks by Terry Funk, “Superstar” Bill Dundee, “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, Randy Savage, and Ta-Gar. Ta-Gar? Oh wow, this guy took the cake! Ta Gar was a cross between Klytus from Flash Gordon and something out of Masters of the Universe. Not only did he wear a tin mask, he wore something that resembled a trash bag for a shirt and carried a shield that shot fire balls. Yes, fire balls. Not only did he shoot fire balls from his shield but from a gloved fist as well. This early 1990s gimmick might have been the proverbial nail in the old-school era coffin. It has to be seen to be believed.