On any great television drama, a character can change their looks, and even their entire personality, throughout the course of the series. Sometimes, the more outlandish changes could happen within the same episode. In the world of professional wrestling, not unlike other great dramas, wrestlers will often play the same character for their entire career, which could last anywhere from a few years to a few decades.
Which means in order to be truly successful, you have to be willing to change with the times, or stay ahead of them. Use inspirations from movies and comic books, be completely outlandish, become grounded or change your hair color, but, most importantly, consistently get over with fans.
With this list, we're going to be look at the most important and drastic character changes in wrestling history. Had these changes not happened, we may never have had some of the most iconic storylines in wrestling history. Without further ado, here are the 15 most drastic character changes in wrestling histoy.
15 JBL (Rough and Tumble Texan to New York Tycoon)
He started as many big, tough Texans start out – a cowboy complete with a Stetson hat, chaps and a bullrope. Then, he teamed up with Barry Windham as the New Blackjacks. However, it was as one member of the Acolytes and then later the APA (Acolyte Protection Agency) where Bradshaw, along with Farooq, became known for his strong style. The APA is where Bradshaw would enjoy his greatest success, or so we thought.
Whether it was for his years of servitude or because Vince McMahon felt he was good enough to carry the gold, Bradshaw was given a world title run, but he had to change his character first. In a complete 180 turn, gone was the ornery Texan who loved to fight. In his place was a George Bush–loving, New York–living stock broker who gloated about his money and rode to the ring in a limousine decorated with Texas longhorns.
14 The Godfather (Supreme Fighting Machine to Pimp Daddy)
It was a strange trip for Charles Wright, as he went from being a “Supreme Fighting Machine,” to the fun loving “Conductor of the Hoooooh Train,” and we won’t even get into that Papa Shango business. After the witch doctor bit had run its course, Wright re–debuted as Kama, the Supreme Fighting Machine, an MMA inspired combatant. Obviously, since he had no real MMA training, the Fighting Machine gimmick had to change when the real shoot fighters, like Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock, showed up and Kama found himself as part of the Nation of Domination. His shoot fighting “prowess” would be de–emphasized, as commentators started to refer to him as the “Godfather” of the Nation. His most memorable gimmick started to be born when he morphed into the fun loving pimp version of the Godfather that we all know and love.
13 Vince McMahon (Wholesome Commentator to Evil Boss)
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the Attitude Era began. Most believe that WrestleMania XIV is where the era fully began, but there were glimpses of a new attitude taking form during 1997. Fans got a taste of what a villainous boss could be like when McMahon, the person, feeling he had no other choice, enacted the Montreal Screwjob. In the ensuing weeks, Vince McMahon would deliver the “Bret Screwed Bret” promo and declare “oh hell no!” when asked if he wanted to see Stone Cold Steve Austin as champion. For almost twenty years until that point, fans had only seen Vince as a happy–go–lucky commentator, trading barbs with Jesse Ventura and later, Jerry Lawler, but after Montreal, the genie was out of the bottle. If you didn’t know Vince owned the WWE, you did now. Rather than fight back the jeers of riotous crowds chanting “you screwed Bret,” McMahon embraced his heel side and became the biggest heel of the Attitude era. Who doesn’t hate their boss?
12 The Rock (Third Generation Superstar to First Rate Jerk)
He came in as the “Blue Chipper,” Rocky Maivia, with the fact that he was the first ever third generation wrestler being the guy’s biggest selling point. It was a big deal, as he came from the same blood as the Headshrinkers and Tony Atlas’ tag team partner, so he obviously had electrifying superstar written all over him, right? Sadly, the fans saw right through that and couldn’t care less that Maivia descended from wrestling royalty. Instead, he was pretty much booed right out of Madison Square Garden the day of his debut. Eventually, Maivia would embrace the fans hatred of him and join The Nation of Domination. It was now that fans started to buy into The Rock’s new attitude and started “singing along” with The Great One.
11 Kane (The Devil’s Favorite Demon to Corporate Kane)
To have a lengthy career as the same character, you need to learn how to adapt and update your character. Kane learned how to do this from his “brother,” The Undertaker, and has been all sorts of crazy over the years, on his way to becoming the Director of Operations he is today. First as an unstoppable monster with no conscience, Kane was a puppet used by Paul Bearer in his war with The Undertaker. Once The Deadman and Paul reunited and formed the Ministry of Darkness; The Big Red Machine was left out in the cold. His character changed slightly over the ensuing years, as at first he was given a voice box to talk (think Uncle Ned from South Park) and even teamed with X-Pac. His personality was given a chance to show through just a bit with each partner he was given, none more so than as part of Team Hell No with Daniel Bryan. Once Kane took off the mask (again), this time he became a kinder, gentler monster and began serving The Authority as Corporate Kane.
10 The New Age Outlaws (Obscurity to Legendary)
One was a tag team specialist, who along with Bart Gunn became a three time champion. The other, a son of “Bullet” Bob Armstrong, regulated to Jeff Jarrett’s roadie. Clearly, both Billy Gunn and Brian James were heading towards the chopping block when a funny thing happened – James, then known as “the Real Double J,” convinced Billy Gunn, then the Honky Tonk Man’s protégé known as Rockabilly, to turn on his mentor and to become a tag team. They were rechristened the New Age Outlaws–the Road Dogg Jesse James and Bad Ass Billy Gun. The change worked as the Outlaws were so over with the fans as “cool” heels that they were asked to join D-Generation X. The rest is wrestling history, as the Outlaws ascended to the top of the card, winning six world tag team titles and being remembered for being the premier tag team of the Attitude Era.
9 Lex Luger (Narcissist to American Hero)
As with many stars of WCW, the Total Package Lex Luger didn’t have much of a character except what was seen on the surface – the guy was built like a real Adonis (not Adrian). Once he came to the WWE, his character was still about being built like a brickhouse, but given a ton of WWE flair (no pun intended). Debuting at the 1993 Royal Rumble in a ceremony presented by Bobby Heenan, he was given the star treatment and the character of a complete egoist, solely in love with himself and the mirror that housed his reflection. All that changed several months later on July 4th, aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid. Athletes from all walks of life had arrived to try and body slam then–WWE Champion, the 600 lb. Yokozuna. Just when it looked like America would be humiliated on its birthday, a helicopter arrived housing the Narcissist, decked out in red, white, and blue. Apparently, Luger did love something more than himself: his country. Lex would body slam the mighty Hall of Famer and head on an All–American cross country bus tour, campaigning to get himself a title shot. Just try and get the cheesy “I’ll Be Your Hero” out of your head.
8 Goldust (The Bizarre One to the Artist Formerly Known as Goldust)
As if Dustin Runnels wasn’t strange enough, returning to the WWE under what would become his most famous gimmick;,the androgynous Goldust would taunt his opponents by groping them or undulating on top of them. It garnered him the nickname, “the bizarre one.” He would eventually give an interview, alongside his wife Terri (Marlena), where he would break up with her in the shoot–style interview. Marlena was gone, but so was Goldust, who would become the Artist Formerly Known as Goldust. Now accompanied to the ring by the equally bizarre Luna Vachon, ‘Dust would come to the ring dressed as either someone from pop culture or his opponent – DustyDust, VaderDust, Marilyn MansonDust, and most memorably HunterDust.
7 Cody Rhodes (Wrestling Legacy to the 5th Dimension)
Those Rhodes Boys are at it again! When Cody Rhodes debuted, unlike his older brother Dustin, it was made public immediately that he was the son of the American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. It was part of his gimmick. Along with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, the sons of Bob Orton and the Million Dollar Man respectively, the group formed the faction known as Legacy. Rhodes would float around during this part of his career, trying to find something to catch on. First there was “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, a beautiful wrestler not unlike Tyler Breeze in NXT or the Model Rick Martel. However, it was teaming with Goldust that would eventually bring about the greatest character in Cody’s career to date–the even more bizarre than Goldust, Stardust. Constantly searching for the Cosmic Key and now adopting Mr. Sinister’s cape, Stardust is poised to become the best ‘Dust of all. Just don’t call him Cody!
6 Triple H (Connecticut Blue Blood to D-Generate)
He might be known as the Cerebral Assassin now, but it took a long time to live down the especially bad gimmick WCW gave Triple H. He started as Terra Ryzing, the gimmick that his trainer, Killer Kowalski bestowed upon him. WCW took that, and made it the backstory of a guy named Jean–Paul Levesque (Ryzing was what the schoolchildren he bullied nicknamed him). Vince McMahon finally got his hands on the Kliq’s favorite WCW wrestler and what amazing gimmick did he give him to get him? Well, instead of being the French a–hole he was in WCW, HHH became a Connecticut a–hole. Luckily, having a friendship with Shawn Michaels and poor ratings allowed Hunter and HBK to finally convince Vince that the pair should be a faction and the anti–authority stable of D-generation X was born.
5 The Undertaker (Deadman to American Badass)
Since his debut at the 1990 Survivor Series, The Undertaker was the walking dead, before it was a cool TV Show. He’d feel no pain and he barely would be defeated. During the Attitude years, The Phenom got progressively more evil. He reunited with Paul Bearer, formed the Ministry of Darkness, crucified “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and tried to marry Stephanie McMahon. He aligned with Vince McMahon and tTe Corporate Ministry was born. Once the Ministry disbanded, an Unholy Alliance with the Big Show was born. Here, The Deadman would start to wear more biker clothing, but the true American Bad Ass was born after the Undertaker “quit” in September of 1999. In reality, he went to rehab a torn pectoral muscle. He returned at Judgement Day 2000, as the founding member of the Sons of Anarchy. Actually, he was just a biker who rode to the ring on a motorcycle. ‘Taker would revert back to the bit that made him famous four years later, but Biker Undertaker still remains the closest we’ve ever gotten to knowing the actual man behind the character.
4 Sting (Surfer to Crow)
He was the face of WCW–he was its franchise. He was the locker room leader who sat back and allowed Eric Bischoff to sign the likes of Hulk Hogan and Macho Man. Sting allowed all of it to happen. But he would not allow WCW or the fans to doubt The Stinger. During the build to Fall Brawl 1996, the nWo had convinced us all that Sting had joined their ranks. It sure seemed that way when “Sting” attacked his best friend Lex Luger. At the event, Sting tried to convince Luger it wasn’t him, but the Total Package didn’t believe his best friend. The fourth member of both the nWo and WCW teams was Sting and it now become apparent that the nWo Sting was an imposter. The real Sting demolished the nWo, flipped off Luger and left the ring for the nWo to win the match. The next night on Nitro, Sting with his back to the camera told us all to stick it. He would show up again a few months later, with ghost face paint and a black trench coat, which for the next year would become the Man Called Sting’s new look, reminiscent of James O’Barr’s the Crow – the avenger of WCW and eventual vigilante of the WWE.
3 Chris Jericho (Rock Star to Honest Man)
Long before he became a real rock star with his band Fozzy, Chris Jericho was the closest thing to a rock star that wrestling had ever seen. He’d party with the crowd; slap hands, kiss babies, and get the crowd cheering with a “come on baby!” cheer. For the better part of a decade, throughout Japan, Mexico, ECW, WCW, and then the WWE, the Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla was one of the most loved wrestlers in the world, even when they tried to make him a heel. So how do you go from being one of the most love to the most hated? Take the suits and the swagger of Nick Bockwinkel, disdain for fans who’d boo an honest man, and inspiration from the unstoppable Anton Chigurh from No County for Old Men, and you have Chris Jericho’s new gimmick. No matter how right the guy might have been in his beef with Shawn Michaels, who’s going to like or side with a self–righteous jerk in a suit? Actually, fans still love the gimmick. Jericho can make anything work, but it was still a drastic character change.
2 Mick Foley (The Three Faces of Foley)
Mick Foley was already a world renowned and respected hardcore brawler when he debuted on the Raw after WrestleMania XII, especially when as Cactus Jack. However, Vince McMahon loves taking established stars, slapping them with new gimmicks and seeing if they’ll still get over–thus Mankind was born. Mankind was able to get himself over as a fierce fighter to be feared, but it was the shoot–style interview with Jim Ross that started to humanize the character. The fans started to cheer for the mutilated freak and we learned about how Mick Foley really wanted to be a guy named Dude Love. In one of the most memorable moments in Foley’s career, all three of his characters would appear together on the Titantron at Madison Square Garden. Before a Falls–Count–Anywhere match the Dude was set to have with rival Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a special edition of the Love Shack aired where Dude Love bowed out of the match and thought Mankind would be able to handle things. But Mankind said there’s someone else who wants to hurt Helmsley even more than he did–Cactus Jack, to which the Dude proclaimed “somebody spank me, I thought he was dead!” Mrs. Foley’s baby boy had returned to the character he made famous and debuted at the world’s most famous arena.
1 Hulk Hogan (Childhood Hero to Hollywood Bad Guy)
Since January 23rd, 1984 Hulkamania had been running wild. Hulk Hogan was the reason so many of us watched wrestling. Hogan fans would eat up everything the blond behemoth said, as he beckoned Hulksters, big and small, to eat their vitamins, train, and say their prayers (believing in yourself would come in 1990). There was no wrong Hogan could do in those days. How on Earth do you go from being one of the most beloved icons in America to being the most hated man in wrestling?
Well, you go to WCW and side with an invading Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to form the New World Order. Gone was the trademark Hogan yellow and red, in its place the nWo’s black and white. He’d deliver the same style promo, but he wouldn't ask Hulkamaniacs to do anything except bow down to him and declare him the God of wrestling. The story is that if Hogan didn’t end up turning, it would have been Sting. However, we all know it needed to be Hogan and it should have been – WCW would have never gained the heights it did without the Immortal Icon.
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