Your image is important, not only to you but also to the surrounding people. As much as you might say you don’t care about your image, deep down you do. Your image determines what people think of you. However, your image doesn’t just stop with you. The job you get depends on your image and then your image is a direct look on the company you work for. Companies have a certain look they want you to follow.
The same thing goes with sports, or sports entertainment. We see it with the New York Yankees and how their players aren’t allowed to have facial hair. The same thing goes with the WWE. Your image and the way you present yourself as a superstar determines if the WWE universe will accept you. If they believe in your gimmick and your image they will accept you.
However, the creative group and Vince McMahon didn’t always hit the nail on the head with some of the characters they tried to create. As a fan you have seen such horrible characters that would come and go faster than a bullet out of a shotgun. The good thing about the sports entertainment business is if something fails you have the pleasure of starting over. If a superstar disappears for a little you usually see them come back with either an update in their character or a different character altogether.
There have been characters that went from being a complete bust and disappearing then coming back as a different character and would end up getting over with the crowd. Here are the top 15 best gimmick changes in wrestling history.
16 Papa Shango - The Godfather
Let's all jump aboard the HO Train… wait a second wrong character. Or is it? Papa Shango was the first of a few characters played by Charles Wright. However, none of them had success with the WWE Universe. That was until they came up with a character that defined the Attitude Era.
Wright came back into WWE as the Godfather, aka a pimp who also wrestled and while making his way to the ring he would be followed by his “hoes”. The Godfather is a one time Intercontinental Champion and a one time Tag Team Champion and has been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
15 Nicky, A Spirit Squad Member - Dolph Ziggler
Oh the Spirit Squad, who could forget them. Cheerleaders that had a feud with DX, while DX was feuding with Shane and Vince McMahon. In 2006 the group was split up after they lost a five-on-three handicap match to HHH, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. The same night DX placed the group in a crate stamped “OVW, Louisville Kentucky”, a reference to the developmental territory from which the Squad came from.
Nicky, of the Spirit Squad was played by Nicholas Nemeth, now known as Dolph Ziggler. Since the character change he has become a fan favorite, a two-time Heavyweight Championship, a four-time Intercontinental Champion, one-time USA Champion and a one-time World Tag Team Champion along with a Money in the Bank winner.
14 Bob "Spark Plug" Holly - Hardcore Holly
Bob “Spark Plug” Holly, a Nascar driver turned wrestler. Sounds like a good gimmick right? Wrong! For a majority of his rookie debut Spark Plug was a wrestler who got his ass handed to him every fight. After the Nascar scheme failed they tried to repackage him as Bombastic Bob, which also was a failure.
He returned as Hardcore Holly, a jobber in a group with AL Snow. However, when he left the jobber group he became a prime wrestler in the hardcore division. So much that he has won the Hardcore Championship six times, while also being 3-time Tag Team Champion.
12 Jamal - Umaga
Oh Jamal, part of the Three Minute Warning. A group that dressed like Samoan gangster and liked to beat up on lesbians. However, the team was not successful and Jamal got fired after his involvement in a bar fight. Eddie Fatu’s new character Umaga debuted in 2006, a savage Samoan who for the remainder of the year went un-pinned and un-submitted.
Umaga took part of the Battle of the Billionaires at WrestleMania 23, losing to Bobby Lashley causing Vince McMahon to get his head shaved by Donald Trump. Umaga was released from WWE in 2009 after violating WWE’s Wellness policy and refusing to go to rehab. Fatu would pass away in December of 2009 due to a heart attack.
11 Husky Harris - Bray Wyatt
Husky Harris, a member of the Nexus faction, was played by Windham Rotunda, who has gone through three different character names before finding the right fit with Bray Wyatt, the leader of the Wyatt family. The leader of the family claims to be the new face of fear, and the promos he cuts, well they point towards that direction.
Since the sinister family debuted on WWE television they have targeted many superstars and factions. This being The Undertaker, John Cena, Daniel Bryan and even The Shield. Bray Wyatt is a fan favorite and someone the WWE creative team should think about pushing. It is “what’s best for business”.
10 Dustin Rhodes - Goldust
With a last name like Rhodes wrestling is in your DNA. However, for Dustin it wasn’t an easy start. He was a wrestler for WCW that had no fan support and was just blah. Rhodes was fired from WCW in 1995 after he was accused of “blading” in a king of the road match. Yet, six months later he would debut in WWE looking a little more golden.
Goldust, the new character, seemed to hit it off. With his flamboyant ways the fans seemed to adapt to the character. Goldust has provided plenty of laughs to the WWE universe since the start and continues to do so.
9 Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw - JBL
The self-made millionaire had plenty of image changes during his career. The soon to be WWE Hall of Famer. Debuting in 1995, Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, then moving on to an even worse gimmick as Blackjack Bradshaw, then another rebrand saw him as Bradshaw, a member of the famous APA with WWE legend Faarooq and to top it off he then finally became JBL a Wall street millionaire.
The soon to be Hall of Famer has been through a lot in his career, but there is no question asked that the last two characters were his most famous, yet oddly different, as he went from a beer drinking, cigar smoking bar brawlers to a Wall Street hero.
8 Blade Runner Flash - Sting
Steve Borden's career was just recognized with a WWE Hall of Fame induction, but it never would have happened as Blade Runner Flash. Following the group's split, Borden became Sting and the rest is history.
Sting retained his name, but certainly not his character in the period of 1996 to 1997. Sting had been known to be a colorful character, coming out with a surfer like look and bringing high energy. After Sting felt WCW had turned their backs on him, he disappeared and began appearing sporadically with a much darker character, similar to the "Crow" movie. The shift was a stroke of genius, as it breathed new life into Sting's career and further cemented him as WCW's top babyface.
7 Terry Boulder - Hulk Hogan
Somehow the immortal Terry Boulder doesn't sound quite as appealing as the immortal Hulk Hogan. That was the name Terry Bollea had at first though, alongside Ed Leslie and together they were known as the Boulder Brothers.
When Bollea was introduced to WWE owner Vince McMahon Sr., the elder McMahon wanted to give Bollea an Irish name, dubbing him Hogan. Hogan began his run as a heel but would become a mega babyface a few years later. He would be the biggest babyface of his generation.
6 Rice Lake - Ric Flair
Ric Flair was a very bulky wrestler when he first began his career and he was almost billed as Ricky Rhodes, Dusty's brother. Flair wanted to use the name, but Verne Gagne of the AWA convinced him it was a dumb idea.
Irregardless Flair still had the name of Rice Lake before adopting the Nature Boy persona that we have now associated mostly with him, even though Buddy Rogers was the original Nature Boy. Considering that Flair is widely viewed as the best of all time, it's clear it was a great change.
5 Dr. Isaac Yankem - Kane
Before WWE introduced the Big Red Machine, Undertaker's baby brother, who became an iconic character for the company, Glenn Jacobs had four different characters that did not get over. Starting with the Christmas Creature, Mike Unabomb, Isaac Yankem, DDS (a dentist) and finally, his last before becoming Kane, Fake Diesel.
After becoming Kane, the biggest thing people were wondering was who was the man behind the mask? It is safe to say it is a good thing they stuck with Kane and nothing else. Even if he did unmask and become all corporate for a while.
4 Terra Ryzing - Hunter Hearst Helmsley - Triple H
The Cerebral Assassin is one of the most decorated superstars in WWE history. However, before he became “The Game” he went through different characters. In WCW he was Terror Risin’ or Terra Ryzing. Then he debuted in the WWE as a pretty boy Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Following this stint HBK came along and HHH and HBK formed DX and bye-bye pretty boy, hello the badass we know today.
HHH is a 14 time WWE Champion, along with being an Intercontinental, European and tag team champion. Along with these features HHH is also married to Stephanie McMahon, and the two play the Authority figures on RAW.
3 Rocky Maivia - The Rock
The People’s Champion, The Jabroni Beating, Pie Eating, Trailblazing, Eyebrow Raising, talking is done, you’re out of your class, No Sleep Til’ Brooklyn The Rock whoops your ass. Before he was a fan favorite, The Rock went under the name Rocky Maivia, a second generation Samoan superstar using his dad’s first name and his grandpa's last. Yet, he was a Samoan that WWE tried to push and the fans weren’t having it. Sound familiar?
Rocky became a bad guy and it worked for him. The Rock embraced the boos he was getting and fed off of it. When they turned him back face, it was because he had won the crowd over. From there on, he became the People's Champion.
2 Texas Red - The Undertaker
The Deadman might be one of the best wrestlers WWE has ever had. Still wrestling in his 50s, he has been around for 25 years. Nonetheless, it wasn’t an easy start. Wrestling in WCCW as Texas Red, then a name change to The Master of Pain, followed by The Punisher, then Mean Mark Callous. Safe to say they struggled to get him over. That was until he came to WWE and became The Undertaker. His character to this day is loved by the WWE Universe and is still providing excellent memories for fans.
As a matter of fact, back in the day to test new talent out they would have to wrestle The Undertaker. Easy, right?
1 The Ringmaster - Stone Cold Steve Austin
The Rattlesnake wasn’t always the bald S.O.B. everyone loves today. It took him some character changes before he became the Boss Beating S.O.B. starting off as Stunning Steve Austin, Superstar Steve Austin, then in WWE he debuted as the Ringmaster. The Ringmaster was a gimmick hated by Austin. So after he won the 1996 King of The Ring he become the badass we love today with the Austin 3:16 gimmick.
There is no louder pop when Stone Cold makes an appearance on WWE television, as we saw when he returned at WrestleMania along with HBK and Mick Foley. Dallas was going crazy. It is safe to say Austin did right with the character change.