Ring names are quite important in wrestling. No one cared much for Terry Boulder, Rocky Maivia or Randy Poffo but becoming Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Randy Savage sure helped. Many a great worker has been saddled with a horrible name and dumb character. Chris Harris was a real talent but WWE’s “Branden Walker” name was a key reason behind his failed run. Too many guys have been saddled with a bad name from the start and it gets worse as it goes along. Some are lucky enough to hit the jackpot early on but too often, workers have to go through some names before changing over.
That’s not to mention the names that could have been. It’s legendary how Vince McMahon and WWE creative have come up with slews of ideas that border on the utterly insane and never came to be. Thankfully, the majority of them were passed over and that includes names. It’s not just WWE, as WCW could have some dumb ideas too (yes, even dumber than what got on screen) but WWE is more infamous in creating names that would have killed careers early. Here are 15 of the worst names ever pitched to wrestlers and show how, as bad as what we see on TV, it could always be a lot worse.
Let’s face it: Big Van Vader is one of the coolest wrestling names you can think of. It rolls off the tongue, sounds terrific and adds true menace to a guy. Vader used it to become a star in Japan and then totally dominate in WCW as champion. A huge guy, he could take to the ropes and his stiff style added to his appeal. When he was signed to WWE in 1996, it seemed logical they would push him the same way with the same name. Instead, Vince McMahon wanted to have Vader called “Mastodon.” Supposedly, Vince wanted WWE to have his own stamp on it, not happy pushing a former WCW star like this and the fact Vader’s name was how fans knew him best didn’t seem to enter his mind. Vader refused but Vince insisted on calling him “the mastodon” on commentary constantly. It was an early sign of how poorly Vader’s WWE stint went and cited McMahon’s issues with WCW stars.
14 Cain The Undertaker
Reportedly, the original idea for the giant egg to open at the 1990 Survivor Series was The Undertaker. That was dropped for the Gobbeldy-Gooker and that's a good thing as Taker’s debut was amazing. When Mark Callous signed with WWE, there was a lot of talk on him with various ideas on the character. One was to have him be “Cain The Undertaker” with the idea of him being named after the biblical Cain and hinted at more of his supernatural powers.
It went almost all the way to the show before it was decided that simply “The Undertaker” sounded better. It did work out quite well and someone in creative must have had a long memory to realize how you could rework the name for “Kane” and thus created another classic character by using the Kane name, for The Undertaker's half-brother.
13 Mason The Mutilator
Mick Foley loved to talk about this in his first book. He’d worked with WWE years before as Jack Foley before making his name as Cactus Jack in WCW and ECW. Hired on by WWE, he wanted more than anything to make it and was willing to put up with a lot. However, the first character plans gave him the nickname of Mason The Mutilator. Foley, in what he called one of the greatest acting jobs of his career, told Vince McMahon the name “sounded good” but he wanted to think it over.
He worked with them to drop the chains, pitch some ideas and eventually they settled onto Mankind. His feud with The Undertaker put him over fast and Foley was soon pushed hard. He added on with Dude Love, Cactus Jack and finally, wrestled as himself to become a huge star and showcase how the right talents can overcome bad initial ideas.
12 David Diggler
Nick Nemeth is a showcase of a guy who can survive some bad ideas to be a great star. He started off as a solid star in OVW and it looked like he was ready for a rise on the main brand. However, he was first stuck being the caddy for Chavo Guerrero during his ill-conceived “Kerwin White” persona. Then, he was part of The Spirit Squad as Nicky and despite holding the tag titles, the group looked like idiots. After training in OVW, he was given another chance with the name of David Diggler. Perhaps thinking it was a bit too close to a porn star, Nemeth decided to play with it and suggested Dolph Ziggler. It worked out as he became one of WWE’s biggest stars.
Adam Copeland always wanted to be a WWE star and followed wrestling regularly. He got his start in WCW as “Damon Striker” for some jobs and training led to him getting attention from WWE. Their original idea was him as a deaf-mute and thankfully someone realized how charismatic Edge was to shoot that down fast. He was teamed with The Brood and soon teamed up with Christian to form one of the best tag teams around. They also had ideas for names such as Riot and Rage which sounded more like something out of a “Mortal Kombat” game (only can only imagine the duo with “R&R”). Edge ended up becoming a massive star in his own right although it's interesting to think how the Rated-R Superstar almost got another “R” to add to that name.
10 The Mighty Neville
Adrian Neville has showcased some fantastic work on the indies and was very popular in Japan under names like Pac and showcasing himself well. Signed to NXT, Neville was been great, holding both the tag teams and NXT titles and had good backing by fans. That’s impressive given the incredibly dumb idea WWE had for him in 2014. Thinking they needed to “spice him up,” WWE wanted him to become “The Mighty Neville,” a full-fledged super-hero character based off of Mighty Mouse. They even wanted him to sing the old theme song and do some flying around with his cape. Thankfully it was dropped when the company decided to make NXT more “realistic” and another suggestion (Ripley Bishop) was also ignored so Neville was able to avoid one mighty bad name.
9 Baron von Bava
You have to feel a bit for Jon Heidenreich, who was a decent worker who just had a terrible reputation for bad gimmicks. When he came to WWE, there was the brief idea of him being controlled by an entity called “Little Johnny” and it could be a split personality but never came off. Then there was his poetry reading and stalking Michael Cole followed by the ill-conceived “New Legion of Doom.” But, amazingly, it could have been even worse as the original pitch for him by writer Dan Madigan was Baron von Bava, an honest to God Nazi frozen since 1945 and thawed out by Jewish manager Paul Heyman. He would even come out in a uniform with swastikas and goose-step around the ring. According to reports, when Madigan pitched it, Vince McMahon just stared with his mouth agape and Madigan was soon fired. Yes, there are limits even Vince McMahon won’t cross.
8 Lloyd Boner
Bryan Danielson was already a pretty nifty name and the “American Dragon” had established himself as one of ROH’s biggest stars. When he came to NXT, there was concern about shifting him around and several new ideas pitched to him in order to make him more of a “main event” draw for WWE. Among them were Lloyd Boner and you can basically just make up all the bad jokes from here. One announcement under that name and the fans would be laughing and it's astounding to think of commentators using it. The very idea of a terrible nickname for moves like “the bone drop” or such is appalling. Amazingly, Bryan himself came up with “Buddy Peacock” which sounds even dumber. Thankfully, that was dropped for “Daniel Bryan," which ended up being a great thing.
7 Sherman Dupont Helmsley
When you start as “Terra Ryzing,” you can really only go up from there. Paul Levesque had the talent to be a star early but was saddled with aristocratic characters in WCW like Jean-Paul Levesque, a supposed “Frenchman.” He had potential and Ric Flair liked him but he felt he was going nowhere so signed with WWE. As it happened, Vince McMahon wanted someone to parody the “Greenwich snobs” McMahon hated and thought Paul would be the best guy.
The first name they came up with was Sherman Dupont Helmsley. However, it just didn’t seem to work right and it was felt some alliteration might be better so they changed it to Hunter Hearst Helmsley. It ended up working out well and that's a good thing as SDH just doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as Triple H does.
Jim Herd wasn’t a bad guy, really, but his tenure as head of WCW is slammed a lot. With genius ideas like the Ding Dongs and not realizing the potential the company had, it’s no wonder folks think he was an idiot. The biggest issue was his treatment of Ric Flair as Herd wanted to push him out, not grasping how Flair was so widely admired and respected in the business. But Herd thought Flair was a relic of the ‘80s and had to change. That included pitching the idea of Flair cutting his hair, having an earring and being a Roman general type called Spartacus. Everyone in the company slammed it as stupid and argued Flair didn't need to change at all. Kevin Sullivan famously said “why don’t you go down to Yankee Stadium and change Babe Ruth’s number?” It led to Flair’s firing that would end Herd's tenure and showed why his stint at WCW is so easy for fans to mock.
5 Shrug Shadow
Scott Hall always had the ingredients to be a star but never the right character and attitude to make it work. That changed in WCW as he slicked back his hair, chewed a toothpick and had a cool finisher. It got attention but the politics of the company pushed him out. Travelling to WWE, Hall pitched the addition of a “Cuban” accent and wanted something “sharp” for his name (despite how WWE briefly considered using him as a military soldier type). At first, he got some bad ones, including “Shrug Shadow,” which someone somehow thought was a cool drug-dealer type of name.
Thankfully, Hall decided “Razor Ramon” sounded much better and used it to become one of the company’s biggest stars. It's amazing how close “The Bad Guy” came to just sounding really bad.
One would think WWE would recognize you don’t mess with success. By 2005, CM Punk had become renowned as a fantastic worker in ROH as their champion. He pulled off classic matches with Samoa Joe and others. Amazing on the mic as well, he should have been set to carry that to WWE. But their first idea was to have this man known for great promos presented as a deaf mute. That didn’t work out so they then thought about having him in The Spirit Squad, that pack of male cheerleader heels as “Punky.” Thankfully, Punk immediately put his foot down about not wanting that so they let him continue with his real name and his rise to fame. Another example of how WWE often refuses to see that messing with what works rarely ends well.
One has to wonder if WWE even has a “cultural sensitivity” meter. Kenzo Suzuki had been a major star in Japan and promised to take off even bigger once he signed with WWE. The company had given him the idea of an anti-American person which could be rough. But then came his ring name; Hirohito. The idea was that he would actually be the grandson of Japan’s emperor during World War II. Needless to say, WWII is a tricky subject with the Japanese and the idea of a heel being named after a figure who still inspired some reverence did not go over well with their fans.
Worried about ticking off a huge fanbase, WWE changed the name to his real one and he had some mild success as a tag team champion. It just shows once more how tone-deaf the company can be with cultures.
2 The Posse
Even for WCW, this was one of the craziest ideas ever. The Ebony Experience had been a good team in Smokey Mountain and had promise when signed by the company. Leave it to WCW to come up with the idea of having Kole and Kane come out, managed by Robert Parker, a “Colonel” dressed like a plantation owner who had “won” them in a card game. The two black men would come out in convict gear and even wearing chains. Incredibly, they actually tried this at a show but the crowd reaction was so intensely hateful that WCW never aired it.
They quickly renamed the guys Booker T and Stevie Ray and as Harlem Heat, would become one of WCW’s most successful teams with Booker later becoming a major singles star. Even by WCW’s standards, this was one truly stunningly bad idea.
1 Chilly McFreeze
Steve Austin had stardom written over him as soon as he debuted in 1990. He was great in the ring and a skilled promo guy, who was a top notch heel. As “Stunning” Steve Austin in WCW, he reigned as TV, US and tag team champion and seemed poised for more when he joined WWE. He was saddled with the idea of “The Ringmaster” and Ted DiBiase as a manager but broke off on his own. He shaved his head and wanted a name leaning toward a “cold” motif of some sort. He went to creative for suggestions but their best was “Chilly McFreeze,” which sounds more like a 1960s Batman villain than an imposing heel. It was a bad idea and Austin hated it and didn’t like the others such as Ice Dagger and Otto von Ruthless.
By sheer chance, an innocent comment by his wife led to him adopting “Stone Cold” and the rest is history. A good thing he avoided what could have been a terrible name that would have killed his star fast.