Pro Wrestling has a proud tradition of using angles and story lines to comment on the world around us. A lot of times it’s subtle – not a word usually associated with pro wrestling, I know – such as the way the NWO and the Attitude Era resonated with the population at the time. When wrestling taps into the public consciousness in this way, it makes for some seriously compelling storytelling and social commentary.
There are also the not-so-subtle times wrestling has used real world events – such as when Sgt. Slaughter became an Iraqi sympathizer during the first Gulf War. It’s clearly obvious, but it’s to be expected and, when done right, can be incredibly entertaining.
Sigh… Then there’s the times when something is popular in the world of entertainment and wrestling companies look at it and shout “GOLDMINE!” and basically rip it off and turn it into an angle. It rarely ends well and basically embarrasses everybody involved. These are 15 of those times.
In 1990, movie fanatics were giddy with anticipation for the release of RoboCop 2. The original film was a surprise hit and the upcoming sequel was loaded with talent. Not only was The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner behind the camera, but the screenplay was written by legendary comic book writer Frank Miller.
Well, World Championship Wrestling knew a good thing when they saw it – or so you’d think – and decided to work with Orion Pictures on a cross promotion with the film and their upcoming PPV, Capitol Combat. What followed was ridiculousness to the extreme; the Four Horsemen had locked Sting in a cage (because of course they did), only to have RoboCop show up, take six and a half hours to actually get to the cage, and rip the door off to rescue the Stinger.
Also, the movie was terrible.
Just for the record, you’re gonna see a lot of WCW on this list.
Poor Brad Armstrong. The late member of the legendary wrestling family was saddled with a number of embarrassing gimmicks – including the masked Fantasia/Badstreet that hung out with the Fabulous Freebirds in 1991 all the way to “Buzzkill”, the parody of his brother Brian’s Road Dogg gimmick in WWE.
Worst of them all, however, may have been Arachnaman. Also in 1991, Armstrong began popping up on WCW TV in a yellow and purple Spider-Man outfit, shooting Silly String out of his wrists. Apparently, WCW felt that changing the colors of the costume would keep Marvel Comics from suing them. They were wrong.
13. The Juicer
The life story of Eddie Guererro’s former tag partner, Art Barr, could fill an entire article by itself. For now, I want to just focus on the character he played while he was in WCW, The Juicer.
In 1988, Barr began wrestling as “Beetlejuice” in Pacific Northwest Wrestling. Jim Herd hired him on in 1990 as a kid friendly babyface who came to the ring with a gaggle of children, threw baby powder and (once again) Silly String at his opponents and was generally… a lot of fun, actually. WCW renamed him The Juicer to avoid getting sued but, sadly, Barr’s legal history caught up with him and that was the end of that.
12. “That ’70s Guy”
Hey! What do you do with a giant of a man who moves like a cruiserweight and a genuine badass? Well, if you’re WCW and the guy in question is Mike Awesome, you turn him into “That 70’s Guy” and give him a van and bell bottom pants and humiliate him in front of the entire world.
Yes, That 70’s Show was an entertaining television program. “That 70’s Guy” was a stupid ass gimmick.
11. The Honky Tonk Man
This is almost an unfair entry because the Honky Tonk Man gimmick actually turned out to be pretty classic. Still, it was a clear ripoff of Elvis, thus its place here. While the man born Roy Farris eventually became the longest reigning WWE Intercontinental Champion in history as a legendary bad guy, it didn’t start out that way. In fact, Honky’s “Elvis impersonator” schtick was supposed to make him a babyface. That clearly didn’t work.
10. John Morrison
He started out as part of MNM, a fairly successful tag team alongside Joey Mercury and Melina, but Johnny Nitro eventually broke out on his own.
So, Johnny Nitro – now known as Johnny Mundo in Lucha Underground – sort of resembled Jim Morrison from The Doors. So, WWE ran with that, renamed him John Morrison and that was more or less his gimmick until they realized the man born John Hennigan was actually really good at parkour and ran with that instead.
9. Blood Runs Cold
Hi! We’re WCW! Even though we have a pretty good thing going with this whole nWo thing, we’re going to ignore that and create a secondary storyline that makes no sense -based on a video game that not too many people were still playing in 1996 (that game was Mortal Kombat, in case you needed that spelled out for you).
WCW introduced Glacier (aka Mortal Kombat’s Sub-Zero), Mortis (aka Mortal Kombat’s Reptile) and Wrath (aka… um… crap, I don’t even know anymore). The point is, it was stupid, no one liked it and it’s part of the reason we’re not watching WCW Nitro every week to this day.
8. Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz
In 1994 – have you noticed how a lot of this stuff happened in the 1990s? Just checking – baseball players went on strike for… whatever reason baseball players go on strike for. In his infinite wisdom, Vince McMahon dressed up Steve “Brooklyn Brawler” Lombardi as one of the Baseball Furies from The Warriors and had him wander the crowd at WWE TV tapings, holding a sign that said “I’m On Strike!”
David Heath had a pretty good thing going on in the indies as Vampire Warrior (three guesses what he was supposed to be). When WWE brought him in, however, they changed his name to “Gangrel”. If that sounds familiar to the 1998 version of you, it’s because the 1998 version of you played the Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game back then. “Gangrel” is the name of one of the vampire clans in the game, and WWE thought it worked so well for Heath’s character that they licensed the name from the game’s owner, White Wolf, for him to use.
Heath’s run in WWE wasn’t a total bust. While he wasn’t the success as some of the other stars of the Attitude Era, he was teamed with others who were. Both Edge & Christian and The Hardys were teamed with Heath in two different versions of the Brood.
6. Sting’s “Joker” phase
When the NWO first arrived in 1996, one of the running angles revolved around whether or not Sting was secretly a member of the anti-WCW group. When Sting realized he couldn’t count on either the NWO or his former WCW buddies, he switched up his look, becoming a “dark avenger” designed specifically after Eric Draven in the movie The Crow. It totally reinvigorated his character and is still considered one of the best reinventions of a gimmick if wrestling history.
In 2011, Sting went the same route while working for TNA – this time co-opting Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker from The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, whereas “The Crow” version of Sting was a character that simply borrowed his look from the movie, “The Joker” Sting attempted to talk and act like the character Ledger was, essentially, ripping it off. Needless to say, this didn’t work.
5. Waylon Mercy
I didn’t want to put this entry on the list. Why? Because it was awesome. I’m including it because – and this is through no fault of either WWE or the man behind the character, Dan Spivey – it was such missed potential.
Spivey returned to WWE in 1995 as Waylon Mercy, a character based on Max Cady, the villain played by Robert De Niro in the Cape Fear remake. He wore Hawaiian shirts, had numerous tattoos and spoke in a calm and sinister manner (yes, I know this sounds familiar, I’m getting to that). Outside the ring, he acted like a total gentleman, shaking hands with everyone – even his opponent – then would snap once the bell ring, demolishing his opponent with wild eyed frenzy.
Unfortunately, injuries Spivey had accumulated over the years finally took their toll and he had to retire before the gimmick could get any real traction. However, if this gimmick sounds a lot like the one used by Bray Wyatt at the time, there’s a reason for that – Spivey gave it to him. During an episode of the Steve Austin Show podcast, Wyatt revealed that Spivey gave him permission to use it during a meeting between the two at the WWE Performance Center.
4. 3 Count
In 1999, boy bands were sort of the thing at the time. So, it’s not surprising that a “boy band” gimmick would eventually materialize. So, WCW decided to do just that, and teamed up Shane Helms, Shannon Moore and Evan Karagias as the wrestling boy band, 3 Count. The mastermind behind this was none other than Jimmy Hart who, along with being a legendary manager, was also a member of the 1960s one-hit-wonder band, The Gentrys.
While a great idea for a heel team on paper, this is late-era WCW we’re talking about. Pairing them up with a clumsy, goofy, white-guy-dancing Tank Abbott might sound good on paper until you remember that Tank Abbot was terrible at everything in WCW. Eventually, and mercifully, the team split with Abbott and then each other before any further damage could be done to their careers.
3. Cena and Rusev try to recreate Rocky IV
I could go on and on, listing the reasons this feud – which was clearly inspired by the Ivan Drago/Rocky Balboa rivalry in Rocky IV, was dumber than a bag of hair (not nearly “let Vince Russo book WCW” dumb, but close). But, my main reason is simple – it didn’t end when it should have.
If Rusev was Drago and Cena was supposed to be Rocky (aka the invincible Russian “super athlete” and the scrappy underdog fighting for AMERICA!), then it really should have ended at WrestleMania 31 with John Cena finally overcoming the odds and beating the monster once and for all. Just like a Rocky movie.
Rusev could have stayed off TV for a bit and maybe returned later on to seek his own revenge (Rocky IV, Part 2 anybody?). But, instead, they tried to shoehorn Rusev into Cena’s post Mania angles, sporadically facing him as he did his U.S. Title Open Challenge (which, to be fair, was awesome). This made Rusev look even weaker and killed any excitement over a rematch.
2. Perry Saturn and “Moppy”
I loved me some Saturn as a kid. As the “enforcer” of Raven’s Flock, this tattooed, hoodie-wearing badass seemed like he could destroy anyone just by looking at him. Even during his cross-dressing gimmick in WCW, he still came across as someone you simply do not mess with. Even when he left WCW for WWE and teamed with Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko as The Radicalz (this was 2000 – all teams were required to have a Z in their name), he still had that kick-ass reputation.
Then – much like Tom Hanks and his volleyball in Cast Away – Saturn began to hang out with and speak to an inanimate object. In this instance, it was a mop – creatively named “Moppy”. There are numerous theories as to why he was saddled with something so dumb, but it doesn’t change the fact that it was dumb.
And, before you ask how this was any different than Al Snow and “Head”, I already thought of that. One, Snow hadn’t gotten over until he got his mannequin head (and also pulled it off way better than Saturn did) – whereas Saturn already had a working gimmick (the aforementioned “guy you don’t f*&^ with”). Two, that just proves that no only was the gimmick dumb – it wasn’t even original.
T-1. Anything related to Total Divas/No Holds Barred
Total Divas on the E! network is the logical result of WWE’s obsession with cross-platform programming. After all, if pro wrestling can be described as “a male soap opera that pretends it’s real”, then the next obvious step is “an actual soap opera that pretends it’s real.” And, so, Total Divas carries on as if it’s the actual day to day life of WWE’s female on-air talent. Which, you know, is fine and it is what it is – and it’s successful, too. I’m not here to rag on Total Divas itself.
While WWE has every right to – and, all things considered, should – promote Total Divas on Raw, Smackdown, etc., the problem arises when they carry the interpersonal conflicts from Divas over to the wrestling product. Did Eva Marie say something snarky to Natalya at their hotel in Detroit? LET’S SETTLE IT IN THE RING! HA HA! No, don’t, that makes no sense.
This is sort of the modern day, TV equivalent of when No Holds Barred came out and then brought that film’s antagonist, Zeus, into WWE to face Hulk Hogan to get revenge for what happened in the movie.
Can you think of any other pop culture rip offs that wrestling has attempted? Let us know!
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