Gimmicks are, arguably, the most important tool in a wrestler's arsenal. A good gimmick can be the difference between being just a wrestler or being an icon. As great as Ric Flair was in the ring, would he have been as remembered and beloved without the Nature Boy gimmick? What about "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, or The Undertaker. Some wrestlers, like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, succeeded purely on gimmick alone, using their bombastic characters to mask their flaws between the ropes.
It's 2017, and gimmicks are still alive and well in wrestling. Although there are plenty of wrestlers whose gimmicks basically amount to "Guy Who Does All That Wrestling Stuff", there are also plenty of wrestlers making their mark with their character work. Some are reinventing old favorites, some are coming up with new, exciting, intriguing characters, and some, in the case of "Broken" Matt Hardy, are pushing the limits of creativity past anything we've ever seen before in this business. Unfortunately, not all gimmicks are created equal and some go well past "banal" into the territory of absolute awfulness (AKA, the Mausoleum That WCW Built and Died In). So, without further ado, this list will tribute the best and worst gimmicks in professional wrestling today, those weird, wild, and sometimes ridiculous personalities that draw us to this sport and occasionally make us ask ourselves, "Why does Vince McMahon hate Primo and Epico so much?"
Honorable Mentions: Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Los Ingobernables de Japon, Bullet Club, The New Day.
15 Best - The Undertaker
Quite possibly the best, most endearing character in wrestling history, The Undertaker deserves a spot on this list, despite the fact that nowadays, he's a level five part timer, usually only showing up a handful of times per year. If nothing else, his placement on this list is a testament to his character's longevity and his commitment to the act. Think about it: for the better part of 27 years (Forget about American Badass 'Taker, because no gimmick should feature that much Limp Bizkit), an undead voodoo priest with an assortment of magical super powers and an army of indy wrestlers dressed as druids has been professional wrestling's most beloved character. The Undertaker is so iconic, it's actually slightly jarring to imagine him living a normal life outside of wrestling as Mark Calaway. To wrestling fans, he's just The Undertaker. No performer has ever perfected their gimmick the way Mark Calaway has The Undertaker and no performer has ever excelled so much with such a goofy, whacky, certifiably insane gimmick. The Undertaker is one of a kind and an absolute treasure of this industry. Long live The Undertaker.
14 Worst - Alicia Fox
While many of the women on WWE's roster are standout in-ring performers, asides from a few notable cases, such as Charlotte and Alexa Bliss, many of them are still developing their characters and mic skills. While most of their gimmicks are okay or, at best, inoffensively banal, a few are just really bad. The worst may be Alicia Fox. If you've watched RAW or 205 Live (It's actually quite good!) lately, you've probably noticed that Fox's entire gimmick seems to be Noam Dar's, formerly Cedric Alexander's, shrieking girlfriend. She doesn't wrestle, she doesn't really talk, she just kind of exists as an unnecessary prop in the Cruiserweight division. It's cringe worthy, perplexing, and no one benefits from it. There are only four women actively competing on the RAW roster, so it's mind boggling that the WWE would be wasting Fox on something that no one enjoys. They could be using her to spice up the increasingly stagnant RAW Women's division, not taking part in a useless storyline that people wanted to see less of when they asked for women's wrestling to be taken more seriously.
13 Best - Kazuchika Okada
Sound The New Japan alarm (If you're wondering, that alarm sounds like a very loud, pained grunt of a man getting stiff kicked in the chest by another man)! Although New Japan puts less emphasis on gimmicks than American wrestling promotions, there are still a few notable characters. The best of them is Kazuchicka Okada's Rainmaker gimmick. As the Rainmaker, Okada believes he's above New Japan and he only wrestles for the money. He doesn't care about the fans or the promotion. Also, he occasionally rains money down from the ceiling. It's a remarkably simple gimmick that's amplified by Okada's natural charisma and in-ring acumen. Like The Rock or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Okada was initially disliked as a face, so he turned heel to use the crowd's disdain for him to his advantage (*Cough* Roman Reigns *Cough*). As a result of utilizing his character work and natural talents, he went from being cast out of New Japan on a learning excursion to being one of the most successful wrestlers in the promotion's history. That all started when he invented the Rainmaker. That's a damn effective gimmick.
12 Worst - Darren Young
To be fair, this entry almost belonged to Titus O'Neil, but Darren Young gets the push because after months of the WWE promoting his "Make Darren Young Great Again" gimmick, he hasn't appeared on TV in months. At least Titus gets TV time, lousy as it may be. To put it gently, Darren Young's reinvention was a maelstrom of bad ideas. His vignettes with Bob Backlund were slightly funny, but everything else was bad. His matches were okay, but Backlund's presence in all of them detracted from Young's talents in the ring. They only escalated Backlund's involvement, leading to a nonsensical car crash of a title match against The Miz. After that, he feuded with Titus O'Neil for no discernible reason, then faded into obscurity. Why did any of this happen? Did Vince just really want to lampoon Donald Trump's campaign slogan and drew names out of a hat to decide who would get the gimmick? Darren Young is a talented guy and the Prime Time Players were a great tag team. Why does the WWE keep breaking Darren and Titus up and making them feud badly? There are no good answers, but one definitive truth: Darren Young has not been made great again.
11 Best - Shinsuke Nakamura
Charisma is hit or miss in wrestling. Some wrestlers have charisma, but no mic skills, and some have good mic skills, but not enough charisma to make the fans care when they talk. However, in all of professional wrestling, there's one man with so much charisma that it makes up for his limited English language skills: Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura is overflowing with charisma that fans seemingly automatically get behind him. Every time he's on TV, it seems like a big moment. He has an electricity around him that's simply indescribable. Like Okada, his King of Strong Style gimmick is simple, but made infinitely cooler by of the man wielding it. Everything from his moveset to his entrance to his attire define who he is and what he's about: he is the king of smashing people's faces in. His ridiculously flamboyant mannerisms mask his status as a world class ass kicker. His stomps and kicks and knees look like they break bones every time he throws one. He's like a savage combination of Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson. Nakamura is the perfect example of how even a simple gimmick can be made iconic through sheer force of charisma.
10 Worst - Mojo Rawley
This entry may seem a little mean. Mojo Rawley genuinely seems like a very nice guy, he's clearly working hard on improving in the ring and on the mic, and despite his flaws, he gets a good reaction from the fans. However, none of that does anything to detract from the fact that his gimmick isn't very good. His entire character seems to be "Guy Who GETS AND/OR STAYS HYPE AND ALSO WHOO PARTY!" and it started out fun, but has become grating, to say the least. He hasn't made a single character development since joining the main roster this past summer and his entire reason for being called up seems to have been that he's large and muscly and he had been in NXT far too long. They tried to cover up his deficiencies by teaming him with Zack Ryder, the king of missed booking opportunities, and making him a walking hot tag machine. That works for a little while, but then Ryder got injured and now Mojo is on his own-jo again (Does that work? Meh). He's edited himself slightly by dressing in darker colors and speaking slower, but he's essentially the same character he was in NXT, and that just isn't working.
9 Best - Pentagon Jr.
That's right, we're bringing Lucha Underground to this party. While many would argue that the face of Lucha Underground for its first three seasons has been Prince Puma, the most interesting story being told throughout is that of Pentagon Jr. (Or Pentagon Dark or Penta el Zero M). He started out as a pretty standard luchador, albeit one who loved telling people about his utter lack of fear. However, as the show progressed, Pentagon transformed into an arm breaking psychopath who hurt people to gather sacrifices for his "master", who (SPOILER ALERT!) turned out to be LU announcer Vampiro. From that point, he annihilated Vampiro in a hardcore match, broke some more, higher profile arms, failed to win the title, got his back broken, got tortured by Vampiro, and beat Vampiro with a baseball bat, among other things. The thing that's amazing about Pentagon is that even though he's a violent lunatic, fans have witnessed his stunning evolution first hand, they've seen all that he's gone through, and they desperately want to see him succeed. He's become one of wrestling's most endearing characters through the power of storytelling and a catchphrase.
8 Worst - Bone Soldier
Some more New Japan stuff here and this time, it's an entry dedicated to the company's very worst gimmick. That's not hyperbole, either: Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter named Bone Soldier as the worst gimmick in all of wrestling in 2016. For many, the transformation of Captain New Japan, already a dumb gimmick in itself, into Bone Soldier was the exact moment Bullet Club jumped the shark. Bullet Club has been criticized recently for having too many members, even drawing dreaded nWo comparisons, and Bone Soldier is a perfect example of that. He turned to the dark side and joined Bullet Club, who he had been feuding with, for seemingly no reason. His entire gimmick is "Guy Who Wears a Skull Mask" and nothing else. The English language announcers for Wrestle Kingdom 11 audibly made fun of him. Worst of all, he's not even a good wrestler, in reality or kayfabe. His performance in NJPW's G1 Tag League tournament, where he and partner Bad Luck Fale won zero matches, was so dire that Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega dubbed him an "Intergalactic Disaster." That is a blistering, but well deserved, summation of the futility of Bone Soldier.
7 Best - Marty Scurll
Possibly no other wrestler on this list has seen the benefits of having a great gimmick more than "The Villain" Marty Scurll. His detestable, umbrella wielding character has become one of the most well received gimmicks on the independent scene in years, setting him apart from the many cookie cutter wrestlers that permeate the top of the industry. Recently, he's been on an absolute tear through promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Ring of Honor, and Progress, winning, among other things, the ROH World Television Championship, which he currently holds, and PWG's Battle of Los Angeles. He's risen to the top of the indies with his eccentric character work and a great, unique look to match. He dresses like a Dragon Ball Z fusion of Conor McGregor and a James Bond villain. His motives are straight and to the point: he wants to fight, he wants to destroy people, he wants to make all that money, and he'll do whatever he can to meet those goals. His M.O. is simple, but his dedication to the character and his eccentric look have garnered him some much deserved mainstream attention in an industry defined by great characters and eccentricity.
6 Worst - Curt Hawkins
What the Hell is Curt Hawkins supposed to be? Everything about his latest WWE run is confusing and irritating and low key depressing, but mostly, there are so many questions. Why did the WWE air so many vignettes for Hawkins if they were just going to make him a jobber? Why did his vignettes rip off old Chuck Norris jokes literally word for word? Why does he have a cane? Why did he show us his butt that one time? Nothing about this situation makes sense, but here we are, anyway. On Smackdown, nonetheless, a show that does many things right. Hawkins' character has never been fleshed out, because he never gets time on TV to talk or actually wrestle or establish himself as a person we should care about at all, but the best way to describe it may be like this: he's like if Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka took a bunch of mescaline and decided he wanted to be a bad wrestler. It's all bad and all dumb and no one cares, which is a shame, because Curt Hawkins is a good wrestler and could be a good addition to Smackdown's tag team or midcard division, but as it stands, nothing good will ever happen to him, or anyone, with this character.
5 Best - The Miz
So, here we are: it's 2017 and The Miz may be the best heel in all of professional wrestling. Better than Marty Scurll, better than Kevin Owens, even better than Roman Reigns (Jokes! Ha! Kind of, but not really!). The Miz is an absolute master of drawing the ire of WWE fans: he's one of the best mic workers in the company and his character work is almost second to none. He's adapted every aspect of his character to piss people off. His douchey hair, that ridiculous hooded sweater-robe thing he wears to the ring, his insistence that being the star of Santa's Little Helper makes him an A-List Hollywood star, it's all so painfully grating that you can't help but hate him, even though you respect him. His current feud with John Cena has seen him do some of his best, most biting promo work, but his ongoing feud with Daniel Bryan has elevated him to an entirely new level of despicable. By targeting one of the most beloved figures in the WWE, mocking him for not being able to wrestle and stealing his signature moves, The Miz has moved into the God Tier of wrestling heels, in a genuine way that so many others fail to reach these days.
4 Worst - Breezango/The Fashion Police
Dear lord, what happened to Tyler Breeze? One of the best homegrown talents to ever come out of NXT, both in the ring and on the mic, Breeze has been relegated to bad feuds and horrible comedy angles since being called up to the main roster. And say what you want about Fandango, he beat Chris Jericho clean at WrestleMania. Chris Jericho! Both of these men are talented and should be doing more, but they're trapped in a horrible tag team they that can't escape. Breezango, or The Fashion Police, as they're now called, combine everything Vince McMahon loves: bad comedy, stupid tag team gimmicks, and emasculating talented smaller wrestlers. Whether they're getting burned by tanning beds or handing out fashion violation tickets to people, the duo can't seem to get any love from WWE Creative. They wouldn't even be a bad tag team together, if Creative didn't deem it necessary to make them act like buffoons constantly. Considering that there are only six active tag teams on Smackdown, relegating two talented wrestlers like Breeze and Fandango to jobber status is astonishingly idiotic, even for the WWE.
3 Best - "Broken" Matt Hardy
The fact that the "Broken" Matt Hardy gimmick didn't crash and burn immediately is a miracle; the fact that it went on to become a mind blowing success is one of the most improbable things to ever happen in professional wrestling. Seriously, did anyone even like this gimmick when it debuted? Everything about it seemed doomed to failure: it's intentionally goofy and campy, two things that modern wrestling fans recoil from in today's day and age. But Matt Hardy refused to let it fail. He poured his heart and soul into every little aspect of the gimmick, from his insane hair to his weird accent to all the side characters and subplots he introduced. He basically forced fans to fall in love with his Broken Universe and, amazingly, it worked! The Final Deletion was roughly nine months ago and all the initial derision has turned to cheers. WWE Fans are salivating at the idea of the Hardys coming back to the company and they'll be devastated if they don't bring the Broken Universe with them. "Broken" Matt Hardy has become an iconic character by forcing normally fickle fans into genuinely loving the absolute lunacy he created.
2 Worst - The Shining Stars
Before we start this entry, let's all admit something: Primo and Epico are talented performers who deserve much better than they've been handed by WWE Creative. Whether it's this or Los Matadores, they simply deserve better. This is not their fault. Okay? Alright. Here we go: The Shining Star are a very trash gimmick. Just garbage. It's so bad. It was bad when they debuted and their entire gimmick could be summed up with "They love Puerto Rico", but it's actually gotten worse. They're time share salesmen now! It's just so painfully bad that the crowd doesn't even boo, they just remain silent, feeling very sad inside. How did WWE Creative come up with a gimmick stupider than bull fighters for these two? Who did they hurt to deserve this awful treatment? Do they owe Vince McMahon money? Did they hit on Nikki Bella in front of John Cena and this is their punishment? What happened!? Primo and Epico are good wrestlers, they don't deserve this. No one deserves this. The Shining Stars gimmick can't even be salvaged now; it's too caustic. The WWE should just apologize to literally the entire world and put an end to this ASAP.
1 Best - Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt: the Eater of Worlds, the New Face of Fear, the Spooky Wooky King of Wrestling. No one in the wrestling today has a better gimmick than Bray Wyatt; his demented, quasi-supernatural cult leader is so captivating that it's impossible not to watch when he's onscreen. His charisma is out of this world, he's unparalleled on the mic, and he's one of the most dynamic ring workers in the entire company. Everything about Bray Wyatt works, even though it probably shouldn't. The sheer dedication put into the gimmick are what make it so appealing to the crowd, and it helps that Wyatt's so good at playing the role. Even though he's supposed to be a heel, the fans are in love with the character, singing along with him and lighting their phones up when he comes out. Even when he was losing seemingly every PPV match he had, the fans stuck by him, refusing to let the character fall, no matter how badly the WWE booked him or how many stupid magical tricks they worked into his character. When he won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber, the crowd was genuinely overjoyed, giving him one of the largest ovations since Daniel Bryan won the title at WrestleMania XXX. Bray Wyatt is capable of doing anything and everything in the wrestling business and if the WWE is smart, he'll be one of their top stars for the next decade or so. He's simply incapable of failing.
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