Professional wrestling is all about timing, and sometimes a performer just can’t seem to get it right when they have their chance, but that’s what’s beautiful about the world and wrestling. Almost everyone gets a second chance, so when that happens, you have to be ready to grab it with both hands, and that’s what the following 15 performers have done, although under a different guise. Whether it’s something simple like a name and look change, or a complete character overhaul, things in wrestling are very rarely predictable, so no one can truly know what will work at what won’t. But thankfully, each and every risk these performers took with their characters paid off.
Success is quite a hard thing to quantify, so saying that a gimmick "rejuvenated a wrestler's career" is an objective thing to say. But in terms of popularity and staying power, each and every person on this list definitely improved their career prospects following such a gimmick change.
15 15. Skip Sheffield Becomes Ryback
Ryback is a very divisive character, as some people believed he had the look and the popularity to become the company's next top star, while others thought he was just another typical muscle head who couldn’t work too well in comparison to the likes of CM Punk and Seth Rollins. But whichever way you look at it, Ryback was much better and a lot more interesting than Skip Sheffield. Not only is the name ridiculous, but the character was terrible too, and when the Nexus failed and broke up, the WWE had nothing to do with such a bland, boring character. As such, it was back to the drawing board for him. No matter how you feel about him, Ryback should have won the WWE Championship during his main event push of 2012-13, and since he did end up holding the prestigious Intercontinental title, it’s safe to say his career was definitely improved after he got rid of the stale Sheffield name.
14 14. Tyler Breeze & Fandango Become The Fashion Police
The Fashion Police, consisting of Tyler Breeze and Fandango, are without a doubt the best thing going on SmackDown at the moment, as the “Fashion Files” are one of the most entertaining and unique things the WWE have produced in years. It's now crazy to think that these two just 12 months ago were seen as nothing more than enhancement talent to the stars. They’ve yet to win the SmackDown Tag Team Championships (although it seems like only a matter of time), but from bottom feeders who got zero television time or character development, they have to be happy with the success that are experiencing now. Inside the ring, neither man is a slouch either, as they are both incredibly athletic, and if they can stay together and continue developing their characters for years to come, they could be seen as one of the best comedic tag teams in the WWE since Edge & Christian.
13 13. Matt Hardy Becomes "Broken"
From the late-'90s to 2015, Matt Hardy had a fairly impressive wrestling career, winning the WWE Tag Team, United States and ECW title, and was a part of the greatest tag team in WWE history, but he was always overshadowed by his brother Jeff due to his flashy, high-flying abilities inside the ring. As such, Matt decided that he would become the more popular brother through a unique character that catapulted him to the top of the entire wrestling world. It is wacky, unbelievable and downright stupid, but Matt Hardy took a risk, and when he became “Broken,” the entire wrestling world got behind him and his crazy antics, and the Broken storyline was the biggest thing that TNA has ever produced in its 15-year history. Since returning to the WWE, Matt has only been allowed to tease the actions that made him wrestling’s biggest commodity in 2016 from early-2017, but it’s safe to say, that for the first time in two decades, Matt is the more popular Hardy, and it’s all due to his Broken Brilliance.
12 12. Bob "Sparkplug" Holly Becomes Hardcore Holly
During the early-'90s, the WWE had an obsession with giving their performers characters of everyday employees, from a garbage collector to a hockey player, but the worst of all was Thurman "Sparky" Plugg, played by none other than Bob Holly. Thankfully, his talent shone through, and was able to survive the gimmicks which ruined the careers of so many. Becoming Hardcore Holly, he might not have had the success he would have liked in the WWE from this time all the way up to the late-2000s, but in comparison to a NASCAR driver with no prospects, he had a good career. Holly is still wrestling today, and will go down as one of the toughest wrestlers to ever enter a WWE ring, and surviving the terrible mid-'90s occupational gimmick era is a testament to how good he was and still is.
11 11. Isaac Yankem Becomes Kane
To this day, The Big Red Machine, Kane had the most memorable debut in WWE history, interrupting a Hell in a Cell match featuring the Deadman, his "brother" The Undertaker, and from that point, he was incredibly over with the fans as a breathtaking monster, the likes of which we had never seen before. However, this wasn’t the first time we’d seen Glenn Jacobs in the WWE, as he played evil dentist Isaac Yankem, D.D.S years earlier, and as we mentioned before with Hardcore Holly, he was lucky to survive the idiotic gimmick years of the early-mid '90s in the WWE. The Kane character has undergone many changes since his debut, even falling so far as to becoming a corporate stooge between 2013-2014, but that doesn’t change the fact that he will always be remembered as one of the top big men in the industry's history, something which never would have happened as the ridiculous and hideous Isaac Yankem.
10 10. The Tazmaniac Becomes Taz
When we look back on the history of ECW, there is so many positives, from the performers, the fanbase to even the matches (if you’re into the over the top hardcore style), and one of the most successful characters the promotion ever featured was the “Human Suplex Machine” Taz. However, it wasn’t like that when he came into the Philly based promotion. Before transforming into one of the most dangerous men in the wrestling industry, Taz was known as ‘The Tazmaniac," nothing more than a generic caveman character, which no doubt would have flopped in the serious, extreme ECW. “Beat me if you can, survive if I let you” became one of the most recognizable phrases in wrestling, which is a testament to how great this character became.
9 9. Nicky From The Spirit Squad Becomes Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler may be seen as nothing more than a stepping stone in today’s SmackDown Live midcard scene, but at one point, he was the hottest star the company had. As we know, the WWE had/has no interest in pushing him, but no matter how he turns out, the character is much better than the one we saw him debut as, and that was Nicky of The Spirit Squad. The gimmick of five male cheerleaders together was likely never going to succeed, but they were a part of the main scene on RAW for their entire run, until McMahon realized how poor it was. They were all sent back to developmental, with no one succeeding as well as Ziggler did. He has won the Intercontinental, Tag Team and World Championships throughout his tenure as The Show-off, and will eventually go down as one of the most talented in-ring performers of this entire generation.
8 8. Derrick Bateman Becomes ECIII
Whether you like to admit it or not, the WWE usually has a good eye for talent, but there have been many missed opportunities to make stars over the past decade. None of those are bigger than the man once known as Derrick Bateman, who went to TNA and rejuvenated his entire career as Dixie Carter’s spoiled nephew, Ethan Carter III. He went from being a skinny, comedic undercarder coming from the game show version of NXT to a jacked, serious main event star, and he played the role to absolute perfection, which makes you how WWE missed such potential. It’s unlikely that you’ll see EC3 back in the WWE anytime soon, as it looks like the new Impact Wrestling will want to build around him as a main event player, and while it won’t give him the same success and worldwide notoriety as it would being in Vince McMahon's company, he is allowed to be himself and show what he is made of.
7 7. Hulk Hogan Goes “Hollywood”
Even to this day after being blacklisted from the WWE, Hulk Hogan remains the biggest name in professional wrestling history, as he taught kids world wide throughout the '80s to “Eat their vitamins and say their prayers,” and was responsible for the WWE and WrestleMania becoming the world wide phenomenons, but he hasn’t always been the real American he portrayed during his WWE days. Come 1996, the Hogan schtick had become a little bit stale in WCW, but no one quite expected what came next, and that was the heel turn that rocked the entire wrestling world, one that worked brilliantly. Technically, this did rejuvenate Hogan’s career, as it took him to new heights, but regardless of whether he is the Real American or Hollywood Hogan donning the nWo black and white, he will always have a place as one of the most popular stars in the industry.
6 6. Kama Mustafa Becomes The Godfather
Charles Wright was recently inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame after donning many personas throughout his tenure with the company, including the poorly-received Papa Shango and "Supreme Fighting Machine" Kama, but the one that got him over with fans, and made him one of the most popular stars throughout the entire Attitude Era was that of The Godfather. While the character had a limited potential from an in-ring stand point, he was immensely popular due to the over the top nature of the Attitude Era, as well as the posse of "hos" that would accompany him to the ring. It’s unlikely that the character would have survived in any other era, but it’s often said that performers in wrestling are at their best when their characters are an extension of themselves, and this rang true with Wright, and led him to all his successes.
5 5. Oz Becomes Diesel
Diesel, or Kevin Nash, is one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history, as he served as a key member of both WWE and WCW from the '90s and early-2000s. While his most memorable role is without a doubt as a part of The Outsiders and the nWo for WCW, he had a great run in WWE beforehand as Diesel. He served as the bodyguard for the emerging star that was Shawn Michaels, and even had a run as the WWE Champion (despite being one of the lowest drawing champ in recent memory). Nash has been highly criticized for his role in the “MSG incident” which all but killed kayfabe, but beyond that, had a quite successful run as a performer, and after struggling as Oz and Vinnie Vegas, he found his place with Diesel, and that shot him to wrestling superstardom.
4 4. Rocky Maivia Becomes The Rock
The Rock is easily the biggest name from the WWE to make it outside the wrestling industry, and with a movie career matched by few in terms of revenue generated; he is one of, if not the biggest name in the world (especially with the announcement he will attempt to run for President in 2020), but there was a point in young Rocky Maivia’s career where he was the most hated man in the WWE (and not in a good, true heel heat way). Debuting as a plucky, white meat baby face, the crowds quickly turned on him, with chants of “Die Rocky Die” bellowing throughout arenas across the world, but he managed to turn it all around. He used the heat and his unmatched charisma to become the top heel in the world under the guise of "The Rock," and the character shot him to the unmatched stardom that we see him enjoy even today, 20 years later.
3 3. Husky Harris Becomes Bray Wyatt
It’s been talked about at length, but it’s hard to see WWE’s game show version of NXT as anything but a failure. While it made for terrible television, it gave us the likes of Daniel Bryan and Wade Barrett, who went on to be staples for the main roster for years, but one that never managed to make an impact on the main roster was Husky Harris. Dubbed “The Army tank with a Ferrari engine,” Harris never managed to get over, and then we saw the third-generation wrestler show up in NXT’s new program as Bray Wyatt, and the creepy cult leader character has catapulted him all the way to the WWE Championship. Sure, he may be booked horribly time and time again, but considering where Wyatt came from, the character has to be seen as a great success.
2 2. The New Day, From Gospel To Booty O's
When the trio of Xavier Woods, Big E Langston and Kofi Kingston came together, the majority of fans looked upon the idea with the typical WWE racism, but through their real life friendship and chemistry, the three have managed to turn a failing trio of bland babyfaces into a merchandise machine for the company, with no intentions of stopping anytime soon. Big E looked like he'd become a star no matter what, as he has the look, in ring ability and charisma to make him a main event player, but Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were both struggling to find their spot on the card, and this group gave them a chance to be themselves. From heels to the most liked trio in the company, it has been an interesting ride for the New Day, and while fans feared they were becoming stale, they have now joined the SmackDown tag team division, and no doubt have a lot of new tricks up their sleeves.
1 1. The Ringmaster Becomes "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
Steve Austin has had a long, storied career in the wrestling industry, going from “Stunning” Steve Austin to The Hollywood Blondes to the worst of all, The Ringmaster upon his arrival in the WWE. For someone so talented, it was only a matter of time until he broke out, and that’s when the magical King of the Ring event happened. From that point, Austin channeled his real life personality and became the badass, beer drinking anti-hero that the fans were begging for at the time, and across from Vince McMahon, Austin became the biggest and most popular figure in wrestling, even taking over the mainstream. He main evented several WrestleManias, and to this day remains the most popular wrestler the WWE has ever seen. It’s quite safe to say that none of that would have even come close to reality if he had remained under the guise of The Ringmaster.
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