In the world of wrestling, one of the most important aspects of one's success is the character or gimmick one must portray. The gimmick itself is enough to make or break a career and has indeed broken its fair share or promising wrestling futures.
Sometimes a gimmick explodes and becomes a massive success with the audience despite initial concern or cringing from viewers. This of course can be attributed to whomever is working the gimmick, as it is truly the personality of the performer that makes his/her schtick work with the fans. An example of this being Damien Mizdow, who would've thought that could work?
Then we have the gimmicks that falter early on and never regain momentum or the gimmicks that outright fail. WCW may be responsible for two of the most infamous failed gimmicks in pro-wrestling history with The Yeti and The Shockmaster (If you are unfamiliar with these two gimmicks, please visit YouTube and enjoy a good laugh).
When we think of successful gimmicks, we obviously think of Hulk Hogan whose training, praying, and vitamin intake became the calling card of '80s wrestling. We think of The Ultimate Warrior and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who both rose to great heights during their lives. We also think of The Undertaker, whose gimmick may very well be the greatest gimmick of all time.
In this article, we will take a look at some of the gimmicks we would rather forget but can't help remember. However, we will also be looking at the success stories that came along following the extinction of said gimmicks. The ones who managed to find their way out and still make it to the tops of their profession. The ones who were lucky enough to shake off their association with their pitiful past gimmicks.
These are the top 10 wrestlers who managed to escape bad gimmicks and become superstars:
10 Dolph Ziggler
Where to begin our list? Well, let's start with a superstar from the modern era: Dolph Ziggler (real name: Nicholas Nemeth). From humble high school beginnings as an amateur wrestler to the current holder of the coveted Intercontinental Championship, Nemeth has worked for and earned the respect he receives from the WWE audience.
In 2004, Nemeth was signed by WWE and sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling – a developmental territory that has produced a large number of WWE superstars. Nemeth was first called up to the main roster as a sidekick/caddy to Chavo Guerrero, who at the time was working as Kerwin White – a lame golfer gimmick. However, following the death of his uncle Eddie, the character was dropped and Nemeth was sent back to OVW.
What came next for Nemeth? If you don't know then you should consider yourself lucky. The next gimmick for Nemeth was a male cheerleader in the faction known as the Spirit Squad. This group of five flamboyant male cheerleaders was doomed from the start. When the grown-up and slightly pathetic version of D-Generation X essentially buried the five young wrestlers, Nemeth was sent back to developmental once again.
Finally, in 2008, Nemeth made his official debut as the character we all know best, Dolph Ziggler.
9 John "Bradshaw" Layfield
You can currently hear John “Bradshaw” Layfield on a weekly basis as a color commentator along side Michael Cole and Jerry “The King” Lawler, but at one time, JBL was one of the baddest men to step foot into a WWE ring.
Layfield made his WWE debut in January 1996 under the ring name Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw and was managed by Uncle Zebekiah (real name: Dutch Mantel) who you may know as Zeb Colter. This gimmick portrayed Layfield as a tough, rugged, cowboy/mountain man-type who would “brand” his opponents in ink following a victory with the letters “JB.” Needless to say, this gimmick did not last very long.
The next step for Layfield was a tag team with his storyline cousin, Barry Windham, known as The New Blackjacks – a pairing that was short-lived due to the nagging injuries of Windham. Following the disbanding of The New Blackjacks, Layfield was seen sporadically on television wrestling under the name Blackjack Bradshaw.
Then came his first big break as he formed a partnership with a well-established superstar named Ron Simmons (Faarooq). The newly formed teamed were originally known as Hell's Henchmen before they became The Acolytes/Acolytes Protection Agency – a mean pair of brute superstars who were not afraid to impose their will on the locker room.
While Layfield found success as a tag-team wrestler, his biggest victory in WWE came in 2004 as JBL, when he captured the WWE Championship.
8 Scott Hall
It can be debated where Scott Hall found more success: in WWE as Razor Ramon or in WCW as a founding member of the nWo.
Of course, it wasn't always a cool path for Scott Hall as he too was once a victim of the bad gimmick. Hall began his wrestling career in the 1980s and worked for the likes of the NWA and AWA before making his way to WCW in 1991. There, he would be known as The Diamond Studd – a gimmick which mirrored that of Rick Rude, but not as well.
When his first stint in WCW flopped, Hall decided to sign with WWE where he then became Razor Ramon – eventually going on to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Hall remained with WWE until 1996 when he jumped ship to WCW during the Monday Night War.
This time around, Hall was billed as himself and helped form one of the most dominant factions in the history of professional wrestling.
7 Kevin Nash
Another founding member of the legendary nWo comes in next on our list with Kevin Nash. Much like his friend Scott Hall, the greater success of Kevin Nash can be debated. While with WWE, Nash known as Diesel was the longest reigning WWE Champion of the '90s. While with WCW, Nash became a five-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
However, it was WCW who were responsible for a number of bad Kevin Nash gimmicks beginning with Steel – a man who sported an orange mohawk hairdo. Followed by Oz – a character based on The Wizard of Oz. Then of course came Vinnie Vegas – a wisecracking mobster-type character. There is no need to elaborate in great depth as to why these gimmicks did not work (you can surely figure that out for yourself). Thankfully for Nash, he was soon contacted by WWE and signed at the request of Shawn Michales.
Dave Bautista (Batista) made his WWE debut in 2002 and while most will remember him from his time in Evolution along with Triple H, Ric Flair, and Randy Orton, there is a bad gimmick that comes before any of this success.
Following the brand extension in 2002, the longtime tag-team of The Dudley Boyz were forced to part ways when Buh Buh Ray Dudley was drafted to Raw and D-Von Dudley to SmackDown. While on SmackDown, D-Von adopted a new character known as Reverend D-Von and would introduce the audience to his personal enforcer, Deacon Batista.
The Deacon gimmick would eventually fizzle and Batista would switch brands, aligning himself with Ric Flair and soon after becoming a member of the great Evolution.
Batista would go on to become a six-time world champion in WWE.
5 John Cena
John Cena, the biggest star of the past decade, has also been subjugated to the bad gimmick world. Before the “Doctor of Thuganomics” was allowed to be himself, Cena was not quite as fashion-forward or hip as he is now.
When John Cena made his WWE debut in 2002 in a losing effort against Kurt Angle, it was clear that the WWE were intending on investing a lot into the young superstar. However, it wasn't very clear as to who John Cena really was at the time. In OVW, Cena was known as “Mr. P” and “The Prototype.”
When he first arrived on the scene, while receiving initial fan support, there was something off about his character. The tight ring gear made Cena look goofy and all-around he was lacking personality. Until finally, Cena was let loose and allowed to be the rapper that made him famous.
One must wonder, how would things have turned out if WWE kept John Cena in that tight ring gear?
Glenn Jacobs, better known as Kane has been employed by the WWE since 1995 where he first appeared as Isaac Yankeem, the private dentist of Jerry Lawler. This was a still a few years before the Attitude Era when WWE was running low on good ideas.
When the dentist gimmick faded, Jacobs' next role in the company was as the fake “Diesel,” following the departure of Kevin Nash to WCW in 1996. This was a weird role for Jacobs as fans were well aware that Kevin Nash had left WWE but they went with it anyway until, naturally, it ran its course.
The next step for Jacobs was a big one. The role of Kane which he still portrays today would be the breakthrough Jacobs sorely needed. Making his debut during the inaugural Hell in a Cell match and aiding Shawn Michales in victory over his on-screen half-brother, The Undertaker.
3 Triple H
Paul Levesque currently serves as a high-end executive for the WWE where he is a part of the day-to-day operations of the company, a long road traveled from his days in WCW as Terror Ryzing and Jean-Paul Levesque, a play on his surname and its French origins.
When Levesque made his debut in WWE, his gimmick remained close to the highbrow French character he was playing in WCW, only this time around Levesque was perceived as a Connecticut Blueblood, known as Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
The eventual shift of character to a more realistic approach, the changing of Hunter Heart Helmsley to Triple H, and the formation of D-Generation X would soon catapult Levesque into superstardom, as Triple H would go on to become one of the greatest WWE wrestlers of all time.
2 The Rock
“Rocky sucks! Rocky sucks! Rocky sucks! … This was the chant that echoed throughout arenas when a young Dwayne Johnson, the third generation superstar, made his WWE debut as the charismatic Rocky Maivia, despite the fact that Johnson was pushed heavily as a face character by WWE.
The gimmick just didn't work for Johnson. In fact, there were times when the chants of “Rocky sucks!” became “die, Rocky, die!” Wrestling fans were harsh in the '90s. The reinvention of Johnson's gimmick came when he joined The Nation of Domination and began referring to himself simply as “The Rock.”
It was then when Johnson could flourish as a WWE performer. Initially working as a heel, The Rock would eventually become one of the most beloved superstars on the roster, a longtime crowd favorite, and an innovator of sports entertainment.
Dwayne Johnson is now a mega Hollywood movie star thanks to his exposure in popular culture during a time when wrestling was the coolest thing around.
1 "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is arguably the greatest WWE superstar of all time. “The Texas Rattlesnake” redefined what it meant to be a superstar in the late '90s when the wholesomeness of red and yellow became boring and a new wave of black t-shirts, middle fingers, and beer cans were all the rage.
Austin played a detrimental role in the demise of WCW during the Monday Night War, a company where he once worked as a “Hollywood Blonde” back before the signature bald head and was fired over the phone by his one-time boss Eric Bischoff.
When Austin first arrived in WWE, he was managed by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and was known as The Ringmaster, a gimmick Austin found to be weak and with good reason. Thus, the gimmick was soon dropped and out of the ashes was born, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
The most popular and controversial superstar in WWE history managed to emerge from a bad gimmick.
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