The wrestling gimmick is a cruel mistress. It can create overnight sensations in some talent while burying others so deep the chance of recovery is impossible. Some wrestlers arrive to the big leagues only to be packaged with gimmicks so poor they find themselves instant, unmarketable dead weight who’re given a pink slip faster than you can say Gene Snitsky!
I’ve read many ‘worst gimmicks ever’ lists out there and disagree with plenty due to a lack of specificity and consideration of intent. Gillberg, for example, wasn’t a bad gimmick! He was a spoof who served his purpose. The Mountie and I.R.S. may seem awful on paper but Jacques Rougeau and Mike Rotunda made lemonade from their lemons, finding success. If a gimmick is quasi-lame yet serves its purpose, like say the Boogeyman, it doesn’t qualify as a bad gimmick and is not listed here.
For great gimmicks to be considered, we’re looking at more than mere extensions of real world counterparts. While Hulk Hogan is without question a gimmick, he’s also, well… Hulk Hogan. The same can be said for Ric Flair, HBK, Randy Savage and even The Rock. All great gimmicks, but all too close to the real thing.
For the sake of this list, we won’t consider one-offs like ‘Santina’ Marella or the Gobbledy Gooker and aren’t including stables or tag teams. Sorry Road Warriors fans! Perhaps a followup on the 10 Best and Worst Tag Team/Stable Gimmicks Ever should sequel this baby. Without further ado here are the 10 Worst and 10 Best Wrestling Gimmicks Ever…
20 Worst: Mantaur
Mike Halac is best known to WWE fans for his run (stumble?) in the mid 90’s as Mantaur - - half man, half beast and all suck! His theme music, a combination of mooing bulls and blowing winds, would play as he shuffled to the ring in a buffalo head poncho that clearly couldn’t be seen out of. It did anything but strike fear into his opponents’ hearts. Beneath the cheap headgear, the alleged four hundred pounder had horn-like face paint and wore a furry brown onesie.
Needless to say, Mantaur was a hot, hot mess. His claim to fame was in the 1995 Royal Rumble where he lasted a respectable 10 minutes before being eliminated by Lex Luger. Thankfully WWE would soon send this bad gimmick to the slaughterhouse!
Halac would have a short stint in ECW before returning briefly to WWE in 1997 as Tank, member of the Truth Commission - - a gimmick that also sucked!
19 Best: Muhammad Hassan
Wrestling has never shied away from real world tensions, in fact, it’s always been keen to exploit them. From Cold War heels like Nikita Koloff to Sgt. Slaughter’s betrayal during the Gulf War, the political climate has dictated the direction of many gimmicks.
Mark Copani debuted in 2004 as Muhammad Hassan, a Muslim Arab-American dealing with racism and prejudice in a post 9/11 world. He became the hottest heel in the company, backing the gimmick up with outstanding in-ring ability and mic skills, and shared the squared circle with the likes of the Undertaker, John Cena and Hulk Hogan.
It seemed like nothing could slow him down until a SmackDown spot involving masked terrorists occurred the same week as the 2005 London bombings. Hassan was written off TV following the Great American Bash and Copani was given his walking papers. He retired from wrestling shortly thereafter but will always be remembered for what would’ve been an amazing career.
18 Worst: The Shark
And now an excerpt from my fake biopic film script entitled “John Tenta: Between Earthquakes and Golga”…
INT. WCW HEADQUARTERS - ATLANTA - 1995
Eric Bischoff and Tony Schiavone sit across a desk from John Tenta.
BISCHOFF: We have to drop the Avalanche gimmick, John, Vince is threatening a lawsuit.
TENTA: Damn! Okay, I have a couple ideas—
BISCHOFF: You’re gonna be… the Shark!
Bischoff places a jagged teeth headband and fin wristband on the desk in front of Tenta.
BISCHOFF: You hold the fin above your head and the bottom teeth will be painted on your beard. Tony, get Turner on the phone and have him buy the rights to the theme from Jaws.
TENTA: So… I’m… a shark?
SCHIAVONE: John, the debut of The Shark will be the most important night in the history of our sport.
TENTA: Guys, isn’t this kind of… stupid?
Bischoff and Schiavone stare at each other and break off into raucous laughter.
BISCHOFF: Oh, John, you slay me. It’s that kind of shark humor that makes you perfect for this.
TENTA: Well alright, I can paint shark teeth on my beard. It’s not like I have to shave half of it off and look like an idiot or anything!
Lightbulbs go on over Bischoff and Schiavone’s thick heads.
Rest in peace, John Tenta. You deserved much better.
17 Best: Mr. Perfect
Son of a wrestling legend, Curt Hennig was a WWE nice guy in the early 80s before going to the AWA and seeing success. Returning to WWE in 1988, Hennig branded himself Mr. Perfect. Wearing a multi-color singlet and carrying a towel, not much of an gimmicky ensemble, he built his character through his own natural charisma and unmatched in-ring capabilities.
Perfect was the ultimate heel, cocky and self-assured, appearing in vignettes where he’d bowl the perfect game or toss a hail mary football pass only to catch it himself. He infuriated fans by never flinching on his arrogance while displaying truly perfect feats in the ring.
Arguably the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, Perfect would go on to sputter around while trying to find his place in WCW and much later TNA, but the golden WWE years as this gimmick were everything he said it was, absolutely perfect.
16 Worst: Bastian Booger/Friar Ferguson
Mike Shaw was a decent big man wrestler who had some great gimmick successes. In the 80s he was mighty as Makhan Singh in Stampede Wrestling and later even WCW did him right as Norman the Lunatic, an insane asylum inmate who fought the likes of Sting and Ric Flair.
Shaw arrived in WWE in 1993 as Friar Ferguson, a mad, mute monk who squashed jobbers while wearing a clergy’s robe. When religious group’s complained, the Friar disappeared. Vince had a chance to do it right. He chose not to!
Enter Bastion Booger, possibly the worst named and dressed wrestler of all time. Booger’s gimmick was essentially that he was a fat guy. When Shaw no-showed the 1994 Royal Rumble, likely due to frustrations over how was being used, the kayfabe excuse was that he had indigestion from eating too much. Booger was soon flicked from WWE TV, but the damage was done, and we’ve all remembered Shaw for all the wrong reasons ever since.
15 Best: Kane
Kane has had some awful gimmicks over the years (more on that later) but Glenn Jacobs is living proof you can never give up. Once in a while a gimmick strikes a spark with fans and no gimmick’s spark has led to quite the inferno of success Kane has had.
During Paul Bearer’s 1997 heel run, he taunted The Undertaker with his biggest secret that as a boy he set fire to his house, killing his parents in the process. Only his little brother had survived! It was brilliant and wrestling fans couldn’t wait until the arrival of Kane at WWE’s first Hell in a Cell match. He tore the cell door off its hinges and attacked Taker before mounting a singles campaign that would soon see him become WWE Champion.
We’ve since had plenty of versions of Kane, some better than others, but there’s no denying the Big Red Machine is the type of gimmick wrestlers only dream of and has served Jacobs well for the past twenty years.
14 Worst: Kerwin White
Chavo Guerrero had more success than any of the WCW imports, save Booker T, during the WWE acquisition in 2001. Teaming him with his uncle Eddie as Los Guerreros was excellent and splitting them up with Chavo being the heel was genius. The sky should’ve been the limit.
Unfortunately Chavo fell victim to the brand split, something I’m afraid of happening again when it returns this year. Instead of pushing heel Chavo to the moon, WWE took this talented, third generation latino star and turned him into a white guy! Seriously!
His name was Kerwin White. He wore khakis and sweaters, died his hair white-blonde and carried golf clubs. He even used the catchphrase “if it’s not white, it’s not right”. The sad thing is you can’t even say 'thankfully' when talking about them dropping the gimmick because it only happened due to Eddie’s tragic death. Chavo’s push after Kerwin White was also for some reason taken away and he soon quit the company.
13 Best: Raven
As Scotty Flamingo in WCW, Scott Levy only got as far as the Light Heavyweight Championship and as Johnny Polo in WWE, he was barely more than a manager for The Quebecers. Arriving in ECW in 1995, however, Levy stood at the forefront of a wrestling revolution as Raven.
Raven was unlike anything ever seen before, wearing jean shorts and a leather jacket with his unkempt hair. Frightening on the mic while sadistic in and out of the ring, Raven was a new breed of heel and had great feuds with the Sandman and Tommy Dreamer.
Accepted by the big two as ECW’s influence grew larger, Levy took Raven to WCW where he introduced a new flock of followers and paved the way for breakout careers like Billy Kidman. He fizzled once again in WWE, who just didn’t seem to get the gimmick or let Raven fly, but in the grand scheme of things he helped change the course of the business and cannot be ignored.
12 Worst: Naked Mideon
Who would’ve thought that when Dennis Knight was playing Henry Godwinn’s dimwitted cousin Phineus things would end up getting worse! After the Godwinns became Southern Justice and Mark Canterbury had to retire due to injury, Knight had mild success as Mideon, a brainwashed disciple in the Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness. After the Ministry disbanded, it seemed like WWE didn’t know what to do with him. Seeing what they chose, I’m confidant they still didn’t!
Knight arrived back on the scene in 2000 as not just Mideon, but Naked Mideon. Wearing nothing more than a thong and a fanny pack, Knight would run naked through the arena and into the ring during matches before engaging in a horrific dance routine and exiting. Naked Mideon would ultimately challenge William Regal for the European Championship at No Mercy, but sure enough, the routine grew stale and Knight streaked out of the WWE in 2001.
11 Best: Gorgeous George
George Wagner wasn’t a big draw starting out in the golden age of wrestling, so he decided to transform its very landscape. In 1941, George died his hair platinum blonde and wore "georgie" pins that he would hand out to fans. He sprayed the ring down with Chanel No. 5 before he would wrestle and entered arenas on a trail of rose petals beneath a purple spotlight. He would cheat to win, act overtly effeminate and flamboyant and evoke near riots while mocking fans, all the while staring at his reflection in a mirror. George Wagner became Gorgeous George, the first true wrestling gimmick the sport ever knew.
He was the first wrestler to wear a costume, use catchphrases and have entrance music, coming out to Pomp and Circumstance long before the Macho Man ever did. Without Gorgeous George it’s arguable sports entertainment itself as we know it might never have existed. It all started with a gimmick and that gimmick was Gorgeous George.
10 Worst: Mike Awesome (WCW Edition)
Mike Alfonso made a a name for himself during the 90s in Japan before arriving to ECW in 1998 as Mike Awesome. He not only captured the ECW Title, but his feud with Masato Tanaka became the stuff of legends. During this time he was indeed awesome.
When Mike jumped ship to WCW during the ECW exile years, WCW initially used him much like ECW had, but for some reason he was repackaged with not one, but two awful gimmicks that were anything but his namesake.
As the Fat Chick Thriller, Mike was a chubby chaser escorted to the ring by heavy set women. When it didn’t work (no kidding!) and WCW had a chance to go back to basics, they opted instead to bill him as That '70s Guy, a parody of the TV series That '70s Show. It was a horrific bell bottomed, feather haired affair that was thankfully short lived, just not short enough.
9 Best: The Iron Sheik
WWE Hall of Famer the Iron Sheik based his gimmick after the original Sheik and became the man who ended the six year WWE Championship run of Bob Backlund. With his adorned headpiece, signature mustache, toe-curled boots and instant heat during the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Sheik became one of the most hated men in wrestling.
After leaving the World Title picture, he teamed with fellow foreign heel Nikolai Volkoff. The duo became the first to win gold at a WrestleMania, defeating the U.S. Express for the Tag Team Titles at the inaugural event in 1985.
In recent years, the Sheik has become an internet celebrity, trash talking wrestlers and ranting in classic Sheik style online. Perhaps he bends our own rule of hitting too close to the real thing because the Iron Sheik definitely lives his gimmick, but I think however it’s more accurate to say that it’s his gimmick that lives him.
8 Worst: Everything Glenn Jacobs Did Before Kane
If patience is a virtue, Glenn Jacobs is the most virtuous wrestler of all time! Prior to Kane his road to stardom was riddled with bad gimmicks. He was Doomsday in the USWA, riding the publicity coattails of the DC Comic villain who killed Superman. Then there was the Christmas Creature, a literal walking Christmas tree. How sad is it Balls Mahoney’s Xanta Claus isn’t the worst Christmas themed gimmick!?
In WWE he was Mike Unabomb, a reference to unabomber Ted Kaczynski, before being repackaged as Jerry Lawler’s dentist, Isaac Yankem. A dentist with terrible teeth. Hilarious, no? No!
Isaac was terrible, despite a decent feud with Bret Hart, and faded away only to return as Fake Diesel along with Rick Bognar’s Fake Razor Ramon. Both would be repackaged and Jacobs finally got the good end of the stick as Kane. Jacobs’ history of bad gimmicks almost seems worse than being burned as a child in a fire started by The Undertaker. Almost!
7 Best: Mankind
Mick Foley is without question one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. A multiple WWE Champion and Hall of Famer, Mrs. Foley’s baby boy could hit this list three times over, with Cactus Jack and even Dude Love, but it’s as Mankind he is recognized here.
Mankind is one of the few times WWE got it right, though truth be told, the gimmick’s success was almost completely through Foley’s doing. Leaving Cactus Jack behind in WCW and ECW, he became the deranged, mask-wearing psychopath whose matches with the Undertaker are nothing short of legendary.
If this gimmick had been given to anyone else in the world, it would’ve failed, but the look, in-ring presence and unparalleled promo work of Foley could not be denied. Even when Mankind became more of a comedy routine with Mr. Socko and the Rock n’ Sock Connection, this gimmick thrived and should no doubt be included on any list of the all time greats.
6 Worst: Beaver Cleavage
The Attitude Era was a special time in WWE history when mid-carders got their shot at main event status and gimmicks like pimps and a porn stars became fan favorites. I remember nearly everyone on the card being over in an era where WWE seemingly could do no wrong. Then I remember Beaver Cleavage!
Chaz Warrington found success as Mosh during the Headbangers years until WWE must’ve thought the fun-loving duo wasn’t edgy enough. For seemingly no good reason, Chaz appeared in black and white vignettes as a Leave it to Beaver parody with his busty “mother” Mrs. Cleavage. They would trade unfunny barbs about breast milk, Beaver getting sloppy and other unfunny innuendos until he finally debuted shortly after to little fanfare.
Thankfully someone had the decency to stop this train wreck not long after it began, and in fine fashion too. They voiced the fans’ frustrations in a worked shoot where Chaz called the character out for its lameness and he was soon repackaged.
5 Best: Goldust
Like Mankind, if Goldust were given to anyone other than Dustin Runnels, it likely would’ve become a big, forgettable mess. When Dustin returned to WWE after being fired from WCW in 1995, the easy route was to continue billing him as the son of Dusty Rhodes. WWE went in a different direction, a very different direction.
If Gorgeous George made fans and other wrestlers feel uneasy, the bizarre Goldust took things to 11 on a scale to 10! He wore wigs and makeup over lavish robes as glitter fell from the rafters when he’d enter the arena. His speculative sexuality was constant as Goldust would rub himself during breathy promos and play mind games with opponents.
Over the years Dustin may have dabbled in other gimmicks both in and out of the WWE, even trying to recreate the Goldust magic in lame versions like Seven, but he always went back to basics and continues to portray Goldust today over 20 years later, even kickstarting his brother Cody's run as Stardust.
4 Worst: The Shockmaster
Fred Ottman is no stranger to bad gimmicks. He was Tugboat, Hulk Hogan’s sailor buddy, years before getting it sort of right as Typhoon, one half of the Natural Disasters. Like many WWE Superstars in the 90s, Ottman jumped ship to WCW and was set for an instant push.
Ottman was introduced as the Shockmaster, mystery partner for Sting’s War Games squad at the upcoming Fall Brawl. He crashed through a wall and fell flat on his face, sending his silver and purple painted Stormtrooper helmet (yes, you read that right) flying. It became one of the biggest goofs in wrestling history.
WCW could’ve ignored the incident and pushed Shockmaster as intended, but instead decided to use it. Shockmaster was billed as a clumsy oaf. When that didn’t take they reintroduced him as Super Shockmaster, nephew of the klutzy original, but the fans wouldn’t have it. Ottman was sent packing, leaving behind a legacy that was a far cry from what WCW intended the Shockmaster to be.
3 Best: The Million Dollar Man
Don’t lie, you just heard the laughter of the Million Dollar Man in your head! Ted DiBiase worked his way through the territories during the 70’s and 80’s, though never really had a gimmick until 1987 upon returning to WWE as one of the most iconic characters of all time.
As the Million Dollar Man, wearing tacky, glittery suits and accompanied by his bodyguard Virgil, DiBiase delivered some of the greatest matches and promos ever seen. He had instant heat anywhere he went and would prove equally (un)popular out of the ring by humiliating fans from the audience who would fail at tasks for money.
DiBiase never won the WWE Title but was one of the few guys in the company who didn’t need gold in order to get over. In fact, he solved that problem himself by introducing his own title, the Million Dollar Championship. Everybody’s got a price, and the Million Dollar Man proved it en route to becoming a legend.
2 Worst: Arachnaman
Brad Armstrong was the quintessential journeyman wrestler. He became a WCW mainstay in the late 80s but, for whatever reason, being from a legendary wrestling family and a great in-ring talent just wasn’t enough for a gimmick. He had a slew of bad ones over the years from Fantasia, to B.A., all the way to Buzzkill, a spoof of brother Road Dogg’s WWE gimmick. Of all his dreadful personas, none was worse than Arachnaman.
Arachnaman was a parody of Spider-Man, hence the reason he was taken off TV because Marvel Comics clearly threatened to sue. He debuted in 1991, firing uneventful, confetti “webbing” into the crowd before putting them to sleep with his match. The worst part about Arachnaman, surpassing the terrible name and hunched Spidey-like posturing, was his yellow and purple outfit. Nerds aren’t known to get into fights, but I'll say this… if I wore that outfit to Comic Con, I’d get my ass kicked faster than you can say Greedo shot first!
1 Best: The Undertaker
Was there ever any doubt?
The Undertaker transcends what a wrestling gimmick is, what it can be and what it should be. From his earliest iteration as the slow walking dead man from Death Valley, to the tear dropped face of the phenom, to the evil leader of the Ministry of Darkness, to the Harley riding American badass and all the way back again to the redefined classic who graces WWE so sporadically today, nobody does it better and no man holds a candle to the Undertaker.
Without the dead man there would be no Kane, no Hell in a Cell, no Paul Bearer or casket matches. I’ve been to WrestleMania. I’ve heard the toll of the bell, the lights go out and watched Taker enter the arena. What commentators say to put it over isn’t a lie. It’s a feeling that is truly unparalleled. The Undertaker is without question the greatest wrestling gimmick of all time. After a legacy that has spawned nearly three decades, it’s tough to argue there will ever be a better gimmick.