A good gimmick is hard to find. It’s hard for a wrestler to make it far without a great gimmick. Imagine where wrestlers like The Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and Stone Cold Steve Austin would have ended up if they didn’t find the perfect character. At the same time, nothing kills a career faster than a bad gimmick. While just about every wrestler has had to suffer through a bad gimmick or two throughout their career, even the best in-ring workers have had a hard time making a name for themselves without a good gimmick to play.
That’s why the indies are so great. The indie circuit allows wrestlers to try out a variety of gimmicks without having to be forever associated with one character. Because most indie shows aren’t televised or recorded in any way, a wrestler can try out a new character every night if they want to. Of course, just because a famous wrestler worked a variety of weird gimmicks during their young days when hardly anyone was paying attention doesn’t mean that the gimmicks are lost to history. It just means that these WWE stars probably wish everyone would forget about them. These are the top 15 gimmicks you didn’t know these WWE stars used on the indies.
15. Kassius Ohno – Wife Beater
Kassius Ohno made quite a name for himself on the indie circuit as Chris Hero. While Hero played up his superheroic athleticism, he wasn’t actually trying to pretend to be a wrestling superhero. It was just a really great name and a way better gimmick than the one Ohno used in his early days. As a young wrestler just trying to make it in the business, Ohno often wore a simple white tank top to the ring that’s commonly referred to as a wife beater.
A promoter apparently saw his look and decided that Ohno should be an actual wife beater. So, Ohno began playing up how he abuses women in order to get heat with crowds. It’s one of those gimmicks that you’ll only find in the indies or in the Attitude Era.
14. JBL – American Vampire
Before John Bradshaw Layfield was a noted backstage bully, before he was a long reigning millionaire champion, before he was a professional bodyguard for other wrestlers, and before he was a WWE wrestler at all, JBL was just another indie performer trying to find work. Layfield’s career started in a fairly normal way. As a member of the Global Wrestling Federation, Layfield worked a fairly standard cowboy gimmick that he’d carry throughout much of his career. Once Layfield started working the international circuit, however, promoters had other ideas for him. When JBL went to Mexico, for instance, a booker took one look at him and decided he’d make a great vampire. So, JBL began wrestling as Vampiro Americano alongside the much more famous Mexican wrestler known as Vampiro. We’d love to see him revive this gimmick one day.
13. Neville – A Wrestling Jungle Man
Right from the start, bookers everywhere knew that Adrian Neville was something special. He hadn’t quite filled out yet and was still working on his promo skills, but the kid who would grow up to become the man that gravity forgot was obviously a supremely talented in-ring worker. As Pac, Neville tore up the indie scene and put on match of the year worth contests against guys like Sami Zayn, Nigel McGuinness, and Davey Richards. Of course, he didn’t always work the indies as Pac. For a brief time, Neville wrestled in Italy as Jungle Pac. Who is Jungle Pac? Well, apparently, he was a wrestler from the jungle. Jungle Pac even came to the ring wearing a loincloth over his trunks. The gimmick never made it out of Italy.
12. Luke Harper – Cruiserweight
Luke Harper is probably the most underutilized piece of talent on the WWE roster. It’s fair to say that if Harper was wrestling for WWE during the ‘80s, Vince McMahon would have found a way to turn his incredible in-ring skills, unique look, and above-average promo abilities and turn him into a monster heel. Now, Harper is lucky to get to work the occasional main event match. As an indie wrestler named Brodie Lee, Harper was treated like a future star. Well…mostly. Before he adopted the Brodie Lee trucker gimmick, Harper worked the indies under the “Right Stuff” gimmick. What was the “Right Stuff” gimmick? According to Harper, it mostly consisted of him acting like the world’s biggest cruiserweight and attempting to display his surprising athleticism.
11. Kane – Christmas Creature
Those who have followed Glenn Jacobs since he joined WWE will know that he got off to a bit of a rocky start. Following a few dark matches as a wrestler named Mike Unabomb, Jacobs began his WWE career in earnest by playing Jerry Lawler’s personal dentist, Isaac Yankem. After that predictably fell apart, Jacobs transitioned into the role of fake Diesel. Eventually Jacobs became Kane and finally found a character that he could play for more than a few weeks.
Before all of that, though, Jacobs had it even worse on the indie scene where he played – amongst other awful characters – the Christmas Creature. The Christmas Creature was a giant wrestler dressed like a Christmas tree. That’s it. Hey, nobody said that these were great characters.
10.The Undertaker – Convicted Murderer Turned Professional Wrestler
Just to show you that kayfabe brothers always stick together, let’s look at how The Undertaker’s indie career was almost as awkward as Kane’s. The Undertaker has been working his dead man gimmick for so long that it’s easy to forget that he played other characters at some point in his career. He worked in World Class Championship Wrestling as Texas Red, wrestled in WCW as “Mean Mark” Callous; a dark metal character who was apparently into Ozzy Osbourne. Taker’s strangest pre-WWE gimmick would certainly have to be The Master of Pain. Apparently, The Master of Pain wasn’t just a master of pain, he was an ex-convict who had just spent five years in prison for killing two men. That questionable sentencing aside, it’s strange to think that there was a time when saying a wrestler is a convicted murderer was perfectly acceptable.
9. Matt Bloom – A Wrestler Named Baldo Who Wore an Obvious Toupee
These days, Matt Bloom is known as one of WWE’s most respected trainers. He’s become the face of the NXT Performance Center and one of the company’s most important assets in terms of developing new stars. Bloom’s WWE career wasn’t always so rosy, however. After a fairly successful run as A-Train, Bloom left WWE and returned as Tensai. WWE tried to get Bloom over as some kind of beast from the East, but nobody was really buying into it. Still, Tensai was a much better gimmick than the one Bloom played in the territories back in the late ‘90s. As a member of the NWA roster, Bloom played a character named Baldo. Baldo was a clearly bald wrestler who wore a bad toupee to the ring that he tried to keep on during his matches.
8. CM Punk – Chick Magnet
Early on in his career, CM Punk turned his straight edge lifestyle into a great wrestling gimmick. Initially, Punk tried to present himself as a morally upright babyface. Once he found out that his straight edge lifestyle bugged the hell out of the average wrestling fan, he quickly became a straight edge heel who insisted that he was better than everyone. This gimmick carried him to WWE superstardom.
Before any of that happened, though, CM Punk got his start in a backyard wrestling company called Lunatic Wrestling Federation. While there, he teamed with a wrestler named CM Venom, and the two were collectively known as the chick magnets. As the name suggests, Punk fancied himself as a young man the ladies couldn’t help but love. This seems to be the true origins of the “CM” part of CM Punk’s name, but Punk insists it doesn’t mean anything.
7. Booker T – G.I. Bro
Booker T’s childhood was pretty rough. His parents both died at a young age, and he turned to a life of crime in order to make a little extra money. After he got out of jail, his brother suggested that he try to become a professional wrestler. Eventually, Booker T and his brother teamed up and formed a slave tag team in WCW. WCW wisely rebooked them shortly after they debuted. While the slave gimmick was definitely a low point in Booker’s career, his brief stint as G.I. Bro wasn’t too far off. When Booker was still trying to make it as a singles wrestler, he made the rounds as an African American U.S. soldier named G.I. Bro. The gimmick was a play on Sgt. Slaughter’s anti-America storyline which WWE was running at the time.
6. Drew Gulak – Political Activist
Drew Gulak was certainly one of the breakout stars of the cruiserweight tournament. While most of the cruiserweights WWE brought in for the tournament were high-flyers, Gulak was more of a grounded power wrestler whose unique approach to the weight class helped him stand out amongst a talented pool of wrestlers. Recently, WWE wisely decided to capitalize on his unique abilities by having him call out other wrestlers for their risky styles. Believe it or not, this isn’t too far removed from a gimmick Gulak used in the indies. As a member of the CZW roster, Gulak played a political activist character who would often call out other wrestlers for their violent ways and non-PC statements. It was actually a pretty great gimmick that elevated Drew Gulak into the big time.
5. Cesaro – Swiss Investment Banker
WWE still doesn’t know what to do with Cesaro. Cesaro is a freakishly athletic guy who speaks several languages, always puts on good matches, and has a great look. So why is that WWE can’t seem to find a character that really works for him? Truth be told, Cesaro’s career is filled with instances of promoters not knowing how to really build a character that suits him. He started out with a Japanese dojo gimmick that went nowhere and was quickly booked as a Swedish investment banker. It was a very odd gimmick. His character was kind of a play on the Million Dollar Man/I.R.S. gimmick, but oddly enough, the fact that Cesaro apparently made millions from investment banking rarely came into play during his later years in Ring of Honor and other indie companies.
4. Big Cass – A Cowboy
Some will tell you that Big Cass wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for Enzo Amore. There’s some truth to that statement. Before he teamed with Enzo Amore, Big Cass struggled to really find his place on the FCW/NXT roster. Even when he was struggling, though, fans recognized that he had potential to be a main event star if for no other reason than he was incredibly tall and incredibly tall wrestlers typically do quite well in Vince McMahon’s WWE. Actually, Big Cass’s height has always been one of his greatest assets.
When he worked for World of Unpredictable Wrestling, Big Cass wrestled as a cowboy named “Big” Bill Young. In case you are wondering, he still spoke in his Queens accent and clearly didn’t care he was supposed to be playing a cowboy.
3. Luke Gallows – The Freakin Deacon
Luke Gallows got his big break in WWE by playing a memorable character named Festus who is most generously described as a mentally deficient southern boy. Eventually, he teamed with CM Punk and became a slightly more respectable power wrestler. Of course, it wasn’t until he went to Japan that Gallows career really became interesting. While Gallows has come a long way from his Festus days, he’s really come a long way since The Freakin Deacon. The Freakin Deacon is a hard character to describe. He was kind of a horror movie character who wore face paint, acted crazy, and spoke to his pet spider. The spider soon became the crux of the entire gimmick and was the reason that Gallows – sorry, the Deacon – kept brawling with other wrestlers. For some reason, everyone wanted that spider.
2. Bray Wyatt – A Horror Movie Character Named Axel Mulligan
Indies is a bit of a stretch here, but Wyatt did play this gimmick during FCW’s territorial days. Actually, Axel Mulligan could be considered the prelude to Bray Wyatt. After Husky Harris got kicked in the head by Randy Orton and subsequently kicked out of WWE, he re-appeared in FCW as a character named Axel Mulligan. If you don’t remember this part of Wyatt’s career, that’s probably because WWE made the wise decision to never actually feature Mulligan on FCW television. That probably has something to do with the fact that Axel Mulligan was essentially a horror movie character. He wore a creepy hockey mask and acted like he was the son of Jason Vorhees and the wrestler Raven. As bad as the gimmick was, it did allow Harris to transition to the Wyatt gimmick. 1. Randy Savage – Spider-Man
1. Randy Savage – A Man-Spider
It’s hard to really describe Macho Man as a gimmick. The character was really born from Randy Savage’s natural mannerisms and promo style. Over the years, he just found new ways to develop the Macho Man personality. Whatever it was about the Macho Man gimmick, it helped elevate turned Randy Savage into a household name. It even landed him a role in 2002’s Spider-Man. Of course, that film wasn’t Randy Savage’s first experience with a wrestling man spider. When Savage first started wrestling, he had to conceal his identity since wrestling violated his baseball contract. So, one of Savage’s first gimmicks saw him take to the ring as a character named The Spider who was basically a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man. It’s funny how the world works.
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