For the most part, present-day WWE is a gimmick-free zone. The characters of most WWE Superstars are amplified, fictionalized versions of their real-life personas, and that’s what led Triple H to once call the WWE’s current product “The Reality Era.” Today’s fans are more sophisticated than the ones from decades ago, and these days, you wouldn’t be as likely to see dentists, plumbers, taxmen, and myriad others take second jobs in the squared circle to put food on the table.
Even then, WWE has launched some gimmicky characters this decade, and some have done well enough in their roles. Take the above-mentioned taxman’s real-life son Bray Wyatt, for example. Even if he can’t catch a break on pay-per-views, he’s had some success as a creepy cult leader, and it still isn’t too late for his current gimmick to have some sort of satisfying payoff. Fandango, Tyler Breeze, and Wyatt’s real-life brother Bo Dallas have also performed well with their gimmicks in lower-card roles. And as he has yet to re-debut on SmackDown, the jury’s still out on Curt Hawkins’ new “Chuck Norris Facts” gimmick.
Unfortunately, for each unusual new-school gimmick that does well, there are about two others that don’t. Here’s our list of the top 15 WWE gimmicks from 2010 to the present that went down like the proverbial fart in church.
15 MOJO RAWLEY
Mojo Rawley makes this list despite only debuting on the main roster after the July 2016 brand split, and it’s solely because he’s the same amped-up screamer he was on NXT. No character tweaks, just a raving, screaming lunatic with limitless energy and a limited moveset. And while that may sound pretty close to what The Ultimate Warrior was all about, Warrior had great charisma, and his word salad promos were somehow entertaining. Rawley, on the other hand, won’t shut up about staying hyped, which does get old quickly.
Interestingly, Rawley could potentially make this gimmick better if he’d keep it while being turned heel, but for the meantime, he’s the annoying one in The Hype Bros, where he teams with Zack Ryder on SmackDown.
14 DARREN YOUNG (BOB BACKLUND’S PROTÉGÉ)
How do you “make Darren Young great again”? Why, team him up with a WWE legend who got over most in the 1990s as a deranged old-timer! It was a good idea in theory, as Young had seemingly vanished from WWE programming, but still had enough upside for the company to keep him off their 2016 "spring cleaning" list of releases. Bob Backlund was one of the more memorable heels of the ‘90s, and having him reprise his crazy grandpa role as a babyface had potential to be just as entertaining as it was two decades ago. Sounds like a potentially good match, but it isn't.
What happened next was a series of Young/Backlund vignettes that quickly grew tiresome, zero chemistry between both men, and a confusing, heatless feud with Titus O’Neil that didn’t have much buildup to begin with.
13 SKIP SHEFFIELD
For several months from 2009 to 2010, Ryback Allen Reeves (his legal name as of earlier this month) wasn’t The Big Guy, and he wasn’t the closest thing to Goldberg since Bill Goldberg himself, albeit with more losses. Back then, he was the Corn-Fed Meathead, Skip Sheffield. Yup yup yup, what it do!
Despite already being Ryback in FCW, Reeves shifted to a cowboy gimmick as Skip Sheffield in late-2009, and used that gimmick when he was part of NXT’s first batch of rookies a few months later. He spoke in a fake Texan accent, had the dopey catchphrase we mentioned above, and when he and his fellow rookies turned heel and became The Nexus upon their WWE debut, he was just a face in the crowd.
A serious ankle injury suffered in August 2010 put an end to the Skip Sheffield character, and when Reeves returned to WWE in April 2012, he had finally found his niche in the company as the jobber-butt-kicking, name-taking Ryback.
Granted, she already had the “bad dancer” gimmick on NXT, and got over with the fans while holding the NXT Women’s Championship at one point. But when Emma debuted the gimmick on the main roster while teaming with Santino Marella, she mostly got crickets. It was simply one of those gimmicks that don’t translate well when carried over to the main roster, and when her storyline boyfriend Santino Marella retired from in-ring competition in April 2014, Emma was left without any direction, trading wins and losses while still doing those awkward dance moves.
On the plus side, Emma returning to NXT in 2015 proved to be the pick-me-up her career needed, and when the Aussie wrestler came back to WWE programming earlier this year, she showed much more promise with a new “mean girl” heel gimmick.
11 TYLER REKS AND CURT HAWKINS (MALE STRIPPERS)
Curt Hawkins may or may not have a bad gimmick upon his WWE return, as we pointed out above. But back in 2012, during his first run with the company, Hawkins was part of one of the quickest bad gimmicks ever. With SmackDown general manager Booker T asking Hawkins and Tyler Reks to “step it up” if they want more exposure, the two lower-carders were repackaged as male strippers on the August 17, 2012 episode of SmackDown, in an obvious parody of the film Magic Mike.
The gimmick lasted all of one episode, as Reks announced his retirement from wrestling just a few days later. But it probably wouldn’t have lasted long anyway, as neither of these guys were Channing Tatum.
10 VLADIMIR KOZLOV (COMEDY BABYFACE)
While he was quite a polarizing character, there were several moments in Santino Marella’s career when he was genuinely hilarious. His onetime tag team partner Vladimir Kozlov, on the other hand, looked like a fish out of water when playing a “funny foreigner” role.
Originally booked as an unstoppable monster heel, Kozlov’s size was the only thing he had going for him. He had no charisma, no promo skills, couldn’t sell if his life depended on it, and was generally sloppy in the ring. And given those first two limitations, it still boggles the mind why WWE paired him with Marella in 2010, and even made them WWE Tag Team Champions for some time. As Santino’s sidekick, Kozlov was unfunny and wooden, and it was almost always Santino carrying the team, may it be in promo segments or in the ring. Few missed Kozlov when WWE wished him the best in his future endeavors in the summer of 2011.
9 BRAD MADDOX
There are good authority figures, and there are bad authority figures. Brad Maddox, quite simply, was probably the worst authority figure in recent WWE history.
In order to be effective, authority figures need good charisma and mic skills. Maddox had neither, and that was especially telling on him as the heel general manager of RAW from 2013 to 2014. He looked awkward and in over his head in his role as GM, and it was a mercy-killing of sorts when he was fired from his storyline job for disobeying Triple H’s orders.
After getting sacked as GM, Maddox mainly worked dark matches as a wrestler, more often than not doing the job to lower-card talent. He was legitimately fired by WWE in November 2015 for using profanity in a dark match promo.
8 JOHNNY CURTIS
You’re probably more than familiar with how Johnny Curtis re-debuted as Fandango. But in 2011, he won the fourth season of NXT when it was still a rookie search, not a developmental company. As Season 4 champ, he was supposed to team with mentor R-Truth to challenge for the World Tag Team titles, but with R-Truth having turned heel, Curtis was left with nothing but a crappy gimmick.
Curtis became the guy who took everything literally, spilling milk on himself while crying, cutting a promo with a (nacho) chip on his shoulder, telling a bottle of mustard that it didn’t make the cut, and so on. As he cut these bizarre backstage segments, he continually teased his eventual SmackDown debut, and when that debut finally came weeks later, he lost in under a minute to Mark Henry. He was immediately sent back down to NXT (the TV show, then the promotion) before his return as Fandango.
7 (LORD) TENSAI
We don’t know what WWE Creative was smoking in 2012 when they repackaged the returning Matt Bloom, f.k.a. Prince Albert/Hip Hop Hippo, as the Japanese monster heel Lord Tensai. It was preposterous to think fans would buy into a burly, bald-headed white man with distinctive facial hair as a terrifying newcomer from Japan, especially since he was such a familiar midcarder in the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. Not surprisingly, fans reacted to Tensai’s matches by jeering the name “ALBERT!” whenever he’d unleash some offense on an opponent.
Soon after he picked up surprising wins over John Cena and CM Punk, the “Lord” was gone from Tensai’s ring name, and so was his manager Sakamoto. With all that went his push, as he became a running joke due to the very obvious facts that he wasn’t Japanese, and that he used to be known as Albert.
It may sound like cheating, but Bloom will appear once again on this list, this time as part of a tag team.
6 ADAM ROSE
Adam Rose may have had the Rosebuds, but his main roster push was a lemon.
While slightly gimmicky, Ray Leppan’s Leo Kruger character was well-received in NXT, but his Adam Rose character on the main roster was just impossible to appreciate on an extended basis. Was he a parody of rave culture, a Russell Brand knockoff, or a future lower midcarder destined to flop? As it turns out, he was all of the above when he debuted on Monday Night Raw in 2014.
Rose got the requisite squash victories in his first few weeks in WWE and had a really catchy ring theme, but fans grew tired of him quickly. As he began losing far more often than he won, he’d tweak his character repeatedly, with none of his gimmick tweaks getting any payoff. In his last few months with the company, he was still counting the lights as part of the all-star jobber stable The Social Outcasts.
5 TONS OF FUNK
As promised, we’ve got more Matt Bloom for you right here, and we’ll be taking you to early-2013, when Tensai was firmly entrenched as a jobber to the stars. By this time, Tensai had become a foil for comedy characters, such as Santino Marella, who’d refer to him as Fat Albert. And when the similarly beefy Brodus Clay challenged him to a dance-off on the January 28, 2013 RAW, the results of the RAW Roulette stipulated that Tensai dance while wearing lingerie. Close to four years later, that’s something I still cannot un-see.
Somehow, that set Tensai’s face turn in motion, as he subsequently joined forces with Clay to form the tag team Tons of Funk. And like Clay’s “Funkasaurus” gimmick, Tensai’s Tons of Funk persona Sweet T got old quickly, same with the tag team itself. Big, fearsome-looking dudes who can’t really dance? It was done before, back when Tensai/Sweet T was the Hip Hop Hippo. And this wasn’t quite as good or original.
4 THE ASCENSION
Back in the day, the WWF had its share of tough-looking, face-painted tag teams, such as Demolition, The Powers of Pain, and of course, The Road Warriors/Legion of Doom. Many years following their heyday, a similar tag team arrived in NXT, and they were called The Ascension.
While The Ascension were a big enough deal in NXT to hold the company's tag team belts for almost a year, they were almost immediately doomed to failure on the main roster. As they ran through teams of local jobbers in early-2015, they frequently compared themselves to the aforementioned face-painted tag teams, while JBL buried them on commentary, despite being the heel commentator. It wasn’t long before they became the lowest in the heel tag team pecking order, that is, until The Vaudevillains accidentally injured Enzo Amore and watched their push vanish into thin air.
3 LOS MATADORES
We could go on about why rebranding Puerto Ricans Primo and Epico as Mexican bullfighting duo Los Matadores in 2013 was a bad idea. But the reasons can be summarized in one quick sentence – wrestling fans weren’t born yesterday.
Although Los Matadores’ mascot El Torito was lots of fun to watch, especially for younger fans and JBL, it was soon evident that the little person in the bull costume was the only good thing about the team. The Los Matadores gimmick? That was bull from the first day it was debuted, and after two years of floundering in the tag division, Primo and Epico got repackaged under their original ring names. They're now (slightly) more effective as the smarmy timeshare salesmen known as The Shining Stars.
2 NATALYA (FLATULENCE)
In early-2012, the technically-gifted Natalya was still teamed with the physically dominating Beth Phoenix in The Divas of Doom, a two-woman juggernaut in what was then known as the Divas Division. But for some inexplicable reason, this pedigreed wrestler (daughter to Jim Neidhart, niece to Bret Hart) was given a flatulence gimmick, while still teaming up with Phoenix. Let that sink in for a moment – a flatulence gimmick. A gimmick where her stinky farts did a number on everyone she came in contact with – Phoenix, real-life boyfriend/future husband Tyson Kidd, Hornswoggle, Teddy Long, Aksana, and even referees.
Thankfully, this gimmick was quietly dropped as The Divas of Doom began showing dissension, and after a brief spell in NXT, Nattie turned face and began a storyline relationship with The Great Khali, which didn’t always make for good television, but had enough entertaining moments to keep it off this list.
1 MICHAEL COLE (HEEL ANNOUNCER/SPOKESMAN FOR ANONYMOUS RAW GM)
I’ll have to fess up here – I did like Michael Cole’s heel turn at first, and he was surprisingly good at being despicable when he and Daniel Bryan feuded in the first season of NXT in 2010. What I didn’t like, and what a lot of fans also felt strongly against, was the Michael Cole who feuded with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, got into a RAP BATTLE (of all things) with Good Ol’ J.R. during their feud, interrupted and disparaged Divas matches, had a personal booth called the Cole Mine, and made the phrases “May I have your attention, please?” and “And I quote” an ubiquitous part of WWE programming.
At all those points, it appeared as if Cole was telling WWE fans around the world about his unexpected heel status, with all the subtlety of an anvil to the head. As the man who spoke on behalf of the Anonymous RAW General Manager, he was annoying and grating, and not in a good way at all. In smark parlance, Maggle had nuclear “X-Pac Heat,” or the kind of heat where the fans don’t hate you because you’re a bad guy, but rather because your character/gimmick sucks something fierce.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!