Sometimes, all it takes for a struggling lower-card or midcard guy to get over is the right gimmick. While Hunter Hearst Helmsley was already on the way back up during the final months of his snob gimmick, it took a shortening of his ring name, and a shift to a more risqué, realistic persona to catapult him into the main event. When Steve Austin shed the Ringmaster gimmick and became Stone Cold, he was an instant superstar. Vanilla babyface Rocky Maivia becoming electrifying as The Rock, generic cowboy Bradshaw becoming a beer-drinking ass-kicker, and later on a JR Ewing-esque Texas millionaire as JBL, the list could go on and on here.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always turn out that way. Sometimes a midcarder could remain in the very same position, or worse, tumble further down the card after a gimmick change. This may be due to backstage politics, or a creative team simply not knowing how to properly book a given wrestler, but in any case, these mistakes do happen, and how.
For the purposes of this list, we shall be looking mainly at WWE, GFW (mostly during the TNA days), and WCW – major North American promotions past and present. And we shall also be limiting our choices to those whose repackaging did nothing good for their position on the card, up until the final days of their stint with the offending company. With that said, let's take a look at 20 failed repackagings who immediately bring to mind that old Elvis song from the early '60s – "Return to Sender."
21 Honorable Mentions: Saba Simba, The Dragon, Fake Diesel
Since there have been so many terrible repackagings through the years, our list ended up overflowing a bit, and that's why we've got a few honorable mentions to start things off.
Back in the early '90s, WWE brought back former World Tag Team champ Tony Atlas from homelessness and former Intercontinental champ Ricky Steamboat from WCW, but didn't book them under these familiar names. Instead, Atlas became Saba Simba, an awful stereotype of the average African tribesman, and Steamboat simply became his nickname – The Dragon – with little mention of his usual ring name. Both returns were abject failures, and two things best-forgotten about each man's legendary career.
Our final honorable mention goes to the Fake Diesel, which is what WWE booked Glenn "Kane" Jacobs as after his forgettable stint as evil dentist Isaac Yankem. It was an intelligence-insulting way for WWE to prove that they (and not Kevin Nash) owned the Diesel ring name, and it wasn't long before Fake Diesel and his fellow phony, Fake Razor Ramon, were written off TV. Fortunately, things have worked out more than a little well for Jacobs since shedding that awful gimmick.
Minor correction to my earlier piece on offensive WWE gimmicks – being just 8-9 years old at the time, I had completely forgotten that the One Man Gang wasn't too shabby in the ring. Sure, he wasn't THAT good, but he was at least a competent big man who fell down the card after his program jobbing for Hulk Hogan was done. And I still stand by what I said in that list – George Gray's repackaging from One Man Gang to Akeem, The African Dream was a travesty. And it was all kinds of racist to turn a big white biker into a guy who thinks he's "rediscovered his African roots."
Although Akeem was used more prominently under this new gimmick, usually teaming up with the Big Boss Man in what was an upper midcard role at best, that didn't change the fact that he was a joke character with limited upside. By 1990, Akeem was back to his late-period One Man Gang push, jobbing to the stars after losing his feud with the babyface Big Boss Man, and out of the WWE before the year ended.
19 Bastion Booger
Prior to joining WWE, the late Mike Shaw was "Born-Again Pakistani" Makhan Singh in Stampede Wrestling, and Norman the Lunatic and Trucker Norm in WCW. And when he arrived in WWE in 1993, he was the wrestling holy man Friar Ferguson. Unfortunately (or fortunately), complaints from religious officials forced WWE to can that gimmick almost immediately and repackage Shaw.
A couple months later, Shaw debuted his new look on WWE television, and what a look it was. Don't ask us about that costume either, and what may have inspired WWE to design such an abomination. Now calling himself Bastion Booger, Shaw's new gimmick was that of a gluttonous slob who entered the ring to the tune of burps and farts. Vince McMahon sure has the sense of humor of a fifth-grader, doesn't he?
The highlight of Booger's WWE run was a heel-vs-heel feud against Bam Bam Bigelow that left a lot of fans (this writer included) scratching their heads. All in all, it was a stinker of a run, pun intended, for this master of peculiar gimmicks.
18 Natalya (Flatulence/Great Khali's Girlfriend)
Nowadays, Natalya is often booked as that wily female veteran who always falls short of winning a title belt. We'll see if that changes against SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi at SummerSlam, but even if she loses, she can take solace in the fact that she isn't farting up a storm, or dancing to the ring as a clumsy giant's pretend girlfriend.
The years 2012 and 2013 weren't kind to the daughter of Jim Neidhart (who also appears in this list for his own failed repackaging), as she started 2012 with a flatulence gimmick. It was infantile Vince McMahon humor at its worst, as Nattie turned off EVERYBODY with her smelly farts – Aksana, Teddy Long, Eve Torres, Hornswoggle, referees, Tyson Kidd.
Speaking of Kidd, everyone knew that he'd been dating Natalya since their teens when WWE again tried to repackage the Anvil's daughter, this time having her in a stable with storyline boyfriend The Great Khali (!!!) and former flatulence victim Hornswoggle. It was a goofy comedy faction that wasted Nattie's talents, but her prominent role on Total Divas did convince WWE to eventually drop that gimmick, and have Nattie instead manage her longtime beau/future husband, and return to a more serious, realistic role as a wrestler.
17 Adam Rose
During his time in NXT, South African wrestler Ray Leppan had a pretty solid gimmick as Leo Kruger. But when that mercenary gimmick began to lose steam with the crowds at Full Sail, Leppan was forced to reinvent himself, going from vicious hunter to kooky party animal a la Russell Brand. Enter Adam Rose, the epitome of said party lifestyle, complete with a massive entourage of "Rosebuds," including the future Braun Strowman, as seen in the above photo. (Yup, that's him with the "Country Strong" tattoo.)
Although the new Rose character was a decent hit on NXT, it was pretty much dead on arrival when he was called up to the main roster. Probably the only thing he had going for him was his catchy ring theme, but when fans got over that like they got over Fandango's "Cha-Cha-La-La," Rose was shuffled down the card as a jobber, with his final WWE days seeing him as a member of the all-star jobber faction The Social Outcasts. Rose left WWE last year as part of the company's zero-tolerance stand on domestic violence, and he's since said he wants to make 2017 his last year as a wrestler.
16 "Make A Difference" Fatu/The Sultan
The Headshrinkers were essentially WWE's New Generation answer to The Wild Samoans, and with original Wild Samoan Afa as their manager, they were your stereotypical old-school Samoan savages, eating raw fish and speaking no English. By 1995, however, The Headshrinkers had run their course, and it was time for Fatu to get repackaged as a tough ghetto kid from the Bay Area, who wanted to "Make a Difference" by helping his community stay away from gangs and crime.
Since we wouldn't want this list not to come with any redemption stories, we've got one for you here. After Fatu, well, failed to make a difference, he put on a LOT of weight and became The Sultan, with the unlikely duo of onetime bitter rivals Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik as his initial managers. Then he put on even more weight, yet finally found a gimmick that worked for him, as the fun-loving, stinkface-launching, hip-hop dancing Rikishi. Just don't bring up that time when he "did it for The Rock."
15 Man Mountain Rock
This list doesn't exclusively include wrestlers who were repackaged within the same company, but also some whose gimmicks were revamped upon joining a new one. Take the example of Maxx Payne, who, unlike WCW colleague "Heavy Metal" Van Hammer, could actually play the guitar. Darryl Peterson's dual ability to wrestle and shred on the axe made his Maxx Payne gimmick believable. But when WWE signed him in 1995, they took away everything that was cool about Payne, and replaced it with stone-age Vince McMahon's cartoonish ideas of what a hard-rockin' wrestling guitarist should be.
To be fair, there were hints of a promising feud against "Mr." Bob Backlund, who, of course, was made to hate Man Mountain Rock's loud guitar playing due to its appeal to the youth. But the tie-dye attire and WWF logo-shaped guitar made it impossible for anyone with a Nirvana or Pearl Jam CD or cassette (hey, it was the '90s!) to take him seriously, and he was sacked in 1995 due to substance abuse issues. You probably know him now as the wrestler who sued Rockstar Games for naming one of their video games, and its titular character, Max Payne.
14 Brodus Clay (Funkasaurus)
If you remember the reality/game show version of NXT, you still have a pretty good idea of what George Murdoch's Brodus Clay character was supposed to be – a big, menacing thug not unlike his current GFW gimmick of Tyrus. After changing Pros from Chris Masters to Alberto Del Rio, he became the latter's bodyguard, and he would also dominate in several jobber squashes on Superstars after splitting with Del Rio. Then came vignettes promising Clay's return to the ring, as the 375-pounder was hyped up as an unstoppable beast.
Instead of returning as an even more vicious version of the monster heel he originally was, Brodus Clay returned as the Funkasaurus, who was essentially a taller, bulkier version of Flash Funk with Ernest "The Cat" Miller's old ring music. Hell, he even literally "called" his "mama," though Clay's kayfabe mom thankfully lasted shorter than Shelton Benjamin's. The Funkasaurus was little more than a one-note joke, and by the time he turned heel late in 2013, it was way too little, and way too late for this comedy jobber to the stars.
13 Orlando Jordan (Bisexual)
As part of JBL's Cabinet, Orlando Jordan might not be too familiar to newer fans, though he is, at least, not as obscure as Amy Weber as far as the evil Texas millionaire's old stable is concerned. He was a solid hand who didn't get past the midcard during his time with WWE. And while his real-life bisexuality had nothing to do with his departure from the company, it did have something to do with his persona in TNA, as the Vince Russo-led creative team took the most tasteless stereotypes of the bi lifestyle and had Jordan play them out on Impact television.
As part of his new TNA gimmick, Jordan would be accompanied in the ring by a female (Santana Garrett, who's now part of WWE's Mae Young Classic) and a male partner, and would get all pervy on his male opponents, not the least of these being Rob Terry. It was a classic example of pro wrestling not being able to get LGBT culture, and it didn't help Jordan in any way have a better run in TNA than he did in WWE.
12 Charlie Haas (Impersonator)
His old World's Greatest Tag Team partner Shelton Benjamin may have narrowly missed this list for his "momma" storyline, but there's no exempting Charlie Haas from a list like this. As you'll find out, this list is chock full of impersonator gimmicks, and while Haas' RAW repackaging was one of the better such gimmicks, there's no denying that he was put in a no-win situation, where nobody could take him seriously as a technically-gifted midcard talent.
Once again, it was a blast to see "Stone Cold Steve Haastin," "CHL" (JBL), "The Great Char-li" (Great Khali), "Haas Hogan," and especially "Glamahaas" (Beth Phoenix), as well as Haas' brilliant parody of Mr. Perfect's sports vignettes. But like Damien Sandow many years later, Haas' new gimmick was a way for WWE to have him pop the audience, before losing shamefully in just a couple of minutes. He was drafted to SmackDown in 2009, where he had a brief reunion with Benjamin, only for Shelton to head to ECW and Haas to get released early in 2010, never recovering from his run as an impersonator.
11 The Repo Man
Barry Darsow probably regrets that day when he traded the facepaint he wore as Demolition Smash for a Lone Ranger mask. Then again, he was all for the repackaging as Repo Man back in 1991, as he came up with the idea, and probably knew he had to do something to remain employed, now that Demolition was disbanded. Yes, that's right – Darsow did once have a day job as a repo man, and that's what inspired him to take on this eventual joke of an occupational gimmick.
The Repo Man gimmick lasted till early-1993, when he lost a feud with Randy Savage, one that started when Repo Man repossessed the Macho Man's hat. Oh, what a sad time it was to be a wrestling fan back then. But that wasn't Darsow's only bad gimmick post-Demolition, as multiple WCW runs saw him compete as the Blacktop Bully, and later on under his real name, albeit as an evil golfer.
10 Daffney (The Governor)
During Daffney's heyday in WCW as a dark, gothic character, Paige was only about 7-8 years old, Nikki Cross about 10-11, and Rosemary in her mid-teens. Although she was part of some truly horrible latter-day WCW storylines, she clearly had potential, and was well ahead of the curve as she played a rather unusual role at the time for a women's wrestler.
Fast forward to 2008, when Daffney debuted in TNA as Awesome Kong's $25,000 Challenge opponent, then disappeared from TV after losing. What do the Einsteins at TNA do when Daffney's all ready to return? Why, they had her dress up and act like then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and call herself just that – The Governor! It was truly a waste of Daffney's talent, and after she lost her feud with The Beautiful People, she was back to her usual gimmick. Unfortunately, success was still limited, as Daffney was mostly asked to put over younger wrestlers until she left TNA early in 2011.
9 Vladimir Kozlov (Santino's Partner)
When he first joined WWE in 2008, Vladimir Kozlov was booked to be an unstoppable force, someone so badass he didn't need an entrance theme. He squashed a mix of local talents and lower-carders, before ultimately demanding better competition, and fighting for the WWE Championship. If that sounds similar to the case of a certain Monster among Men called Braun Strowman, that's because it is. But unlike Strowman, who improved by leaps and bounds when given a chance, Kozlov remained stagnant in every area, and did little to deserve his brief time as a championship contender.
Two years later, the monstrous Russian was repackaged as a comedy babyface alongside Santino Marella, and while Santino was brilliant as always in his comedy role, Kozlov showed no such aptitude, winning one Tag Team Championship with Marella, but not getting anywhere near a major singles title. As such, he's someone WWE might not want you to remember when talking about the earliest days of the PG Era.
Who? You mean the English rock legends who talked about their generation and won't get fooled again? Or maybe you mean the World Health Organization. No on both counts – "Who" was WWE's way of repackaging Jim Neidhart in the New Generation Era, probably as punishment for his battles at the time with personal demons, and his reputation as an unprofessional worker behind the scenes. Wearing a mask and getting a mere sliver of a lower-card push, Who was also an excuse for Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler to recreate Abbott and Costello's antiquated "Who's on first?" routine for a mid-'90s audience whose Baby Boomer parents probably were too young to get the reference.
Neidhart's run as Who was thankfully a very short one, and by 1997, he was back in WWE's good graces for the meantime, as he was brought back as one-fifth of brother-in-law Bret Hart's rebooted, heel version of The Hart Foundation.
7 Tank Abbott (3 Count Bodyguard/Groupie)
David "Tank" Abbott was a mainstay of early UFC events, but unlike Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn, he wasn't as talented in the octagon, or as capable of making his MMA skills translate to the squared circle. Nonetheless, Vince Russo was so sold in Abbott's potential to dominate during his WCW reign of terror, that he suggested putting him over as WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Russo's colleagues were so disgusted with this idea that they fired him as head booker...until his unwelcome return a few months later.
As bad as it was to think of Abbott holding WCW's top belt, an even more shameful fate would befall him in mid-2000, as he aligned himself with kayfabe boy band/faction 3 Count, serving as their bodyguard and "biggest fan," and even dancing with, AND singing with them! Think Brock Lesnar's mariachi dance and a male version of Jillian Hall's gimmick put in a blender, and you'll get an idea of how bad Tank was in this role. As a result, Abbott's run with 3 Count is often considered one of the worst things about the final year or so in WCW history.
6 Mike Awesome (Fat Chick Thriller/That '70s Guy)
Certainly, there was nothing wrong with the late Mike Awesome as he was – the former ECW World Champion had the look, the athleticism, the skills, all the tools needed to be a success at the next level. But after an initially promising debut in 2000, Awesome was bizarrely repackaged as a chubby chaser. From the "Career Killer" to the "Fat Chick Thriller." Wonder what Mike did to piss Russo off? (The answer: Be related, albeit distantly, to Hulk Hogan, whom Russo passionately hated at that time.)
But hold on...it gets worse. In a move that even Ashton Kutcher's dimwitted That '70s Show character Kelso wouldn't have approved after sitting in "The Circle," Russo then had Awesome wearing leisure suits and hosting a segment called "The Lava Lamp Lounge," as he was now "That '70s Guy," Mike Awesome. It didn't do him any favors, and by the time he was back to killing careers in WCW's final months, it was too little, too late.
5 Reverend D-Von
You know him as the guy who gets the tables, and the guy who yells "TESTIFY!" But when D-Von Dudley was separated from Bubba Ray in the 2002 inaugural brand split, D-Von headed to SmackDown as Mr. McMahon's "spiritual advisor," as his one-word catchphrase took on a whole new, literal meaning. The kayfabe reverend even had a musclebound protege with him, a Deacon named Batista who held the collection plate and interfered during Reverend D-Von's matches.
Once again, we've got a redemption story and a happy ending, because WWE realized how lost the Dudleyz looked on separate brands, and reunited D-Von with Bubba and Spike at the 2002 Survivor Series. Batista had turned on D-Von a few months prior, but this time, his repackaging was a complete success, as he joined the RAW brand and began his path toward success as one of the Ruthless Aggression Era's biggest names, with nary a mention of his past as a kayfabe deacon.
4 Kerwin White
Unlike his uncle Eddie, Chavo Guerrero never tasted the main event in the WWE, or even in WCW or TNA, where he worked before and after, respectively. He did, however, have a long and respectable midcard run in WWE, most prominently teaming with Eddie as one-half of Los Guerreros, but also having his share of embarrassing moments, such as his 11-second ECW Championship loss to Kane at WrestleMania XXIV. Then again, at least he wasn't doing that quick and ignominious job as Kerwin White.
Kerwin White was another one of WWE's worst attempts at launching a controversial gimmick, and it basically involved Chavo denying his Mexican heritage to become as white as a white man could be. That included acting racist toward a number of non-white wrestlers, as well as using the tasteless catchphrase, "If it isn't (Kerwin) White, it isn't right." The gimmick was axed following Eddie Guerrero's November 2005 death, and it's sad that that had to be the catalyst for WWE to make Chavo himself again.
3 The Red Rooster
Terry Taylor came into the WWE in 1988 with a lot of promise, and seemed to be on the right path when he turned on Sam Houston (Jake Roberts' half-brother) after the pair lost a match against, of all tag teams, the original Conquistadors. He then signed on as Bobby Heenan's latest protege – while joining the Brain's stable is usually a good sign that your career is headed in the right direction, it was the exact opposite in this case, as Taylor became The Red Rooster, a man who wore his hair like, and even acted like a rooster, clucking and walking just like one.
The purpose of this gimmick was for Heenan to prove that he could make anybody into a star, but it completely backfired, both in storyline and in real life. The Red Rooster was never more than a lower-card joke, and even as Taylor tried to move on in multiple companies, while working less ludicrous gimmicks, he couldn't quite shake off the infamy of being one of WWE's biggest joke characters of the time, and perhaps of all-time.
2 Damien Sandow (Impersonator)/Aron Rex (Liberace)
The "Intellectual Savior" gimmick was working, so what the hell were Vince McMahon and co. thinking when they decided to first make Damien Sandow a subtly more generic heel, then transform him into an impersonator who always loses? This onetime Mr. Money in the Bank was made to look like a chump from the moment he won the briefcase in 2013, and save for that part of his impersonator gimmick where he became Damien Mizdow, there was just no hope for him.
After splitting with The Miz, Sandow was back to looking like a total jabroni, and while there was never a time when his impersonations weren't fun to watch, WWE basically had him working that kiss-of-death gimmick until he wrapped up his run with the company as a generic jobber with no entrance, no gimmick, and no push whatsoever.
Sandow's run in TNA as Aron Rex, especially his last few months as a flamboyant Liberace-esque character, wasn't much better, and now that he's a free agent again, we wouldn't mind WWE giving him another shot. One thing, though – No. More. Impersonator. Gimmicks. Please.
1 Dean Douglas
Prior to rejoining WWE in 1995, Shane Douglas had two stints with the company, one using his real name of Troy Martin, the other using the Douglas ring name, but working as a colorless, short-lived babyface. He then became a huge star in ECW, thanks to his trashing of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt, and a memorably arrogant gimmick as "The Franchise." Then WWE decided to give him another try...and repackage him as a villainous college dean. Because every midcarder in that era, after all, had to have a day job.
The Dean Douglas gimmick was a poor fit for The Franchise from day one, and if you come to think of it, Anthony Scaramucci can consider himself lucky – his 10 days in the White House are much longer than Douglas' 11 minutes as Intercontinental Champion. Douglas, however, lasted longer in WWE than the Mooch did as Donald Trump's communications director; he stayed a few months before returning to ECW and making sure he wouldn't set foot in a WWE ring ever again.