Wrestling has been proven to be a very odd business. So often, things that look great and sound terrific flop while dumb stuff works out. In so many ways, it’s a bit of chance, figuring out which gimmicks or characters can click and which won’t. Promoters try over and over to give guys stuff that just doesn’t work out and often hurts them. Other times, guys can manage to make even stupid ideas work well. Look at The Undertaker. He was given as dumb a gimmick as possible but it turned out to be an incredibly successful one. Sometimes, it just needs the right guy to make it work.
Sometimes, guys come up with ideas on their own that end up far better than anything the promoters could have come up with. An old mantra is the best wrestling personas are just the real guy taken to the tenth level and so many times, they’re able to prove that. It’s what has led to major mega-stars taking off and especially in the Attitude Era. But other guys are able to work with great ideas as well to boost themselves up more. Here are 15 times wrestlers came up with stuff on their own that elevated them to a new level and proved how the real workers can do a lot better than the top brass in working things out.
15 The Hollywood Blondes - Gimmick
Over the years, Steve Austin and Brian Pillman would achieve greater fame for ideas they came up with that appear later on this list. In 1993, both were faltering in WCW as each had a great singles style but just didn’t seem that important to the higher-ups. They were put together as a tag team and basically told to just do anything they wanted. They came up with an old-school idea of a pair of heels who were wildly arrogant, calling themselves The Hollywood Blondes.
14 Raven - Gimmick
13 Triple H & Shawn Michaels - Chyna
In early 1997, Hunter Hearst-Helmlsey (still the “Greenwich snob”) was IC champion and being pushed a bit more as a heel. Vince McMahon wanted him to have a bodyguard with the beefy Mr. Hughes in the role. However, Hunter wasn’t sure as that idea had been done to death already. He and Shawn Michaels were hanging at a hotel after a show when up came Joanie Laurer, talking about wanting to break into the business. Seeing tape of her work and seeing this impressive woman in person, Shawn and Hunter were instantly sold on the idea of a female bodyguard. Vince was unsure but they pressed that it could work and so “Chyna” debuted shaking Marlena like a rag doll.
12 The Road Warriors - Their Look
11 Scott Hall - Razor Ramon
10 Zack Ryder - Long Island Iced Z
Zack Ryder’s rise and fall is annoying to many in and out of WWE. After all the talk Vince McMahon made on “grabbing the brass ring,” once one guy actually tried, he had the legs cut out from under him. Ryder had been a good talent but was floundering way too much in the lower rungs of the company. So he started doing a series of videos of himself as “Long Island Iced Z” that soon took off with fans. Ryder added to it by declaring himself the “Internet Wrestling Champion,” complete with a title belt. Soon, fans were going crazy for him, Ryder taking off huge and WWE had to listen and give him a run as US champion.
9 Santino - The Cobra
Santino Marella had started off as a babyface, a “fan” who won the Intercontinental title on a fluke. Fans disliked that so he was shifted to become an arrogant heel and playing up his actions as an Italian buffoon. While at a bar in Japan, Santino got to talking to a guy who showed him a move called the Cobra. Santino then showed it off to John Cena, who just burst out laughing at how dumb it looked. Rather than be annoyed, Santino realized this would be great for the crowds. Sure enough, the Cobra caught on with fans enjoying the set-up and how (at first) it almost never worked.
8 Goldberg - Who’s Next
7 Blue World Order
Joey Styles once summed up “if any gimmick never deserved to make a dime and made a boatload of cash, this is it.” Stevie Richards, the Blue Meanie and Nova had been doing an act in ECW of mocking various music acts and other wrestling tag teams. A suggestion from Bubba Ray Dudley led to them doing a mocking of the New World Order. They came out in blue shirts with Richards doing a Kevin Nash riff, Nova dressed like Hulk Hogan, with Meanie as “Da Blue Guy” and doing major speeches on “We’re taking over!”
6 Serious Jericho
Chris Jericho showed he could shift up with his own ideas in WCW, moving from a clean-cut babyface to an obnoxious heel with ease. He came up with a great storyline mocking Goldberg only to have WCW drop the ball with it. In WWE, Jericho came up with so much of his Y2J act with killer promos and persona to get himself over as a huge star. When he returned in 2007, Jericho realized the act was a bit stale so smartly shifted it up.
5 Mick Foley - Three Faces of Foley
The reason Mick Foley is so popular with so many fans is how much he loves wrestling and brought himself into it. He came up with Cactus Jack, a wildman from New Mexico who got into some truly brutal and bloody wars in WCW and Japan. While Mankind was pushed by WWE, Foley still brought up his past, including his old character of Dude Love. Eventually, he managed to get Love into WWE and began rising high with his great element of fun in the part.
4 John Cena - Doctor of Thuganomics
3 Brian Pillman - The Loose Cannon
Arn Anderson perhaps summed up Brian Pillman best: “He was either the craziest smart man I ever knew or the smartest crazy man I ever knew.” Pillman had been regarded as a great worker but also an odd guy behind the scenes, prone to fights and known for his partying ways. By 1996, Pillman was sinking a bit in the limelight of WCW despite being a member of the Four Horsemen and wanted to flex himself. He thus began acting even crazier, including assaulting Bobby Heenan without warning (causing Heenan to drop the f-bomb on live TV) and then calling Kevin Sullivan “booker man” on the mic before a match.
2 Steve Austin - Stone Cold
Steve Austin always had what it took to be a superstar. He showed it in WCW and should have gotten more of a push except for the bad backstage politics pushing him down. He later spiked in ECW with killer promos which got him to WWE. However, he was saddled with the bad gimmick of “The Ringmaster” and Ted DiBiase as a manager to neuter him. Austin chafed under it and was grateful for DiBiase leaving for WCW. Inspired by a documentary on serial killers, Austin shaved his head and came up with the concept of a cold-blooded character.
1 Jake Roberts - DDT
Jake himself reflects on how it was pure luck that caused him to basically invent one of the most famous finishers in wrestling history. Originally, the clean-cut guy used a knee-lift as a finisher, set as a knock-out move but not that really effective to look back on. One night, Jake was wrestling the Grappler and got him into a front face lock. They were supposed to break free but the Grappler tripped and thus knocked Jake back, the Grappler falling on his face. Jake immediately sat up to show he hadn’t bungled the move but the Grappler heard the gasp of shock from the crowd and wisely stayed down. Afterward, he told Roberts “you’ve got something” and Jake realized he was right. Thus, the DDT was born and while it’s been duplicated countless times, few have made it look so effective as Roberts, who made it a devastating move, dropping a guy on his head. If you could trademark a move, Roberts would be a rich man and this simple fall is what gave the Snake so much of his fame.
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