Wrestling is all about evolution (no Triple H, not your faction). It’s needed to keep things going and promoters are often on the hunt for new and fresh talent to liven up a card. So for many wrestlers, keeping yourself on top means having to shift up the act a bit. Sometimes it can be subtle, a turn to heel or face or a new finisher, just enough to stay strong and keep on top. But some guys go the other route. They do a massive transformation that’s meant to give them new life and push them once more. Sometimes it works, sometimes however…it doesn’t.
It’s a risk to be sure and many a worker are afraid of taking it as are the promoters. No one likes to mess with something that seems to work and thus changing an act can be tricky. Hulk Hogan wasn’t sure of his heel turn in 1996 but did huge with it even if he didn’t change too much while Flair has always stuck with pretty much the same character. Other times, it can be a guy desperate for a makeover and while it can work and push them more, it can also backfire and leave them worse off. Here are fifteen wrestlers who made drastic changes to their looks and how some ended up better than others.
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15 Molly Holly
Arguably the most underrated Diva of her time, Holly had a brief stint in WCW before joining WWE as Lady Ophelia. She debuted as Molly, a “Cousin” of the Hollys with long blond hair and showing off her body in various tight outfits. She would turn on Crash to become “Mighty Molly,” now dressed in a superhero outfit with cape and tiara and wrestle alongside Hurricane Helms.
In 2002, she made the huge shift in appearance as she dyed her hair dark brown and took on a more prudish and judgmental character. She kept up her great ring work so it got over and while she may not have been the knockout of the other Divas, more than held her own in feuds with Trish Stratus and others. Another shift was in 2004 when she lost a Mania battle to Victoria and was shaved bald. Holly actually worked it pretty well with a variety of wigs. She left not long afterward, a shame as she was a great highlight to things and showed how being more herself was better than any of the wild characters she was given (not to mention much better brunette than blonde).
14 Hardcore Holly
WWE themselves don’t hold back today in how “Sparky Plugg” was one of the more ridiculous characters of the already ridiculous mid-‘90s. A supposed race car driver, he came down with long hair and tights covered in race decals and even “sponsor” labels. A good worker but the character was just a total joke and not well received. He followed it up with brief stints in a New Midnight Express and the JOB Squad before hitting on posing as Bob Holly.
Now boasting a short buzz cut and better shorts, he held the Hardcore championship and soon began impressing with his ability to handle these wild matches. He would be beaten out in that championship by his “cousin” Crash but Holly kept at it, even with injuries and won wide respect for the famous ECW match where he received a horrible gash across the back but kept working. He may not have become the mega star as promised but Holly did rise a lot better from his start and proving himself as truly hardcore as fitting his shift in looks.
13 Steve Austin
It’s not as huge as others but still notable. From his debut in 1990, Austin was noted as a superstar in the making, skilled in the ring, great on the mic and a cocky persona to win fans over. His success in WCW was great as he was known for his great hair, long at first but cut shorter, adding to his demeanor. He had it short when he debuted in WWF as the Ringmaster which went nowhere and when he began his new push, the first thing he did was shave his head bald. It seems simple but it instantly made Austin stand out more, look a terrific bad-ass and instantly rising as a heel. It fit his “Stone Cold” nickname and led to his rise as the biggest star around, showing how just a subtle change can mean so much.
12 The Rock
It’s a change that helped turn all of wrestling around. When Rocky Maivia debuted in 1996, he was pushed as a “blue chipper,” a classic babyface with short curly hair, bright shorts and a weird mesh top, doing an air-based attack. He was smiling, did fun promos, talked of his legacy and the fans hated his guts for it. It took an injury and a heel turn to shift things up, the Rock emerging with his arrogant attitude and suddenly, fans went for him in droves. It was just amazing to see it all happen and still astonishing that by being more himself, the Rock achieved his greatest success and how a simple but effective appearance shift can do wonders.
This is more of a true physical change than others. When Chyna debuted in 1997, she really was impressive, a female powerhouse easily tossing about guys bigger than her, really an Amazon type. Flat-chested with a rough face, she caught on as the silent type who was HHH’s muscle, soon a major part of DX and getting over well.
With the fame, came changes as Chyna began a series of plastic surgeries that enhanced her chest and made her more attractive. This coincided with her rise as a singles star, a shot in Playboy and talking more. It robbed her of some of the aura that made her popular and also led to her ego issues that would drive her out of wrestling and affect her personal life. A shame that her desire to become more “likeable” ruined the real heat Chyna had.
10 Mick Foley
Foley is a master when it comes to transformations, starting from a so-so worker to the wild and crazy Cactus Jack that got him over in WCW and ECW. When he started in WWE as Mankind, he got over immediately over the Undertaker and taking off with fans with his wild style. Adding the fun Dude Love was crazy but Foley made it work thanks to how he threw himself so much into the act and obviously having a good time. “The Three Faces of Foley” would be a regular thing for a while as he’d bounce between them for sensational matches that made him a star. That’s not including his run as Commissioner that had a shorter haircut but still funny style to make being an authority figure actually work out. It’s all because of how Foley loves wrestling and performing and that zeal is what made fans accept so many shifts for a great time and a huge star.
Scott Levy started off as one of the goofiest guys you can imagine, “Scotty Flamingo,” dressed in wildly garish colored tights, sunglasses and a “surfer dude” image. In WWF, he became Johnny Polo, a prep school type with a cane and panama hat and just a manager. In ECW, he hit upon the fantastic character of Raven, a moody type in dark clothing and jacket, long hair and eye makeup, doing promos of deep thought and inner darkness. It took off majorly, a great change for him and made him an instant icon of the company. He’s gone on to fame at various other companies like TNA and shows how touching your darker side can end with a much brighter time in wrestling.
8 Scott Hall
Scott Hall always had the good build and skills to be a star but just seemed to lack something. He rose in the ‘80s with a handsome build, full head of hair and thick mustache, holding the AWA tag titles but was soon lost despite his promise. In 1991, he came out in WCW as the Diamond Studd, slicked back hair, toothpick and a new swagger and looked a lot better, so much so that fans didn’t even realize who he was at first.
It was in WWE that he added a “Cuban” accent, gold chains, the Razor’s Edge and as Razor Ramon became one of the biggest stars of that era. He was amazing in the role, winning multiple IC titles, pushed hard and when he debuted in WCW, it was a massive deal that shifted all of wrestling. It took a few alterations but thanks to a good makeover, Scott Hall finally reached the big time and, personal demons notwithstanding, proved he could hang there.
7 Rey Mysterio
It’s not something Rey likes to remember well. In 1999, WCW was hurting against WWE and beginning a “throw anything at the wall and see what sticks” policy of programs. This sadly led to a downturn for the cruiserweights that had boosted the company with Eric Bischoff having the bizarre idea that masked wrestlers weren’t “marketable.” Thus, in a battle with Kevin Nash, Rey Mysterio, one of the biggest luchadore stars, lost and was forced to unmask.
It was a terrible move as without the mask, Rey looked like a teenager and robbed him of his singular style. He was soon lost in the lower card with bad stuff and just never getting the shots he deserved. Thankfully, when he debuted in WWE in 2002, they had him come back with his mask and immediately taking off. Their various DVDs and such skip it totally as this was a change that did Rey no favors.
6 Dustin Rhodes
When one talks about dramatic appearance changes, it’s hard to imagine one bigger than this. Dustin was pushed from the start thanks to his father and for a while, it was much the same act as a new “American Dream” type, showing his ring skills more than anything else. But in 1995, he broke the mold with a stunning transformation into Goldust. The makeup, the body suit, the fur coats and those bizarre promos were one thing but the homosexual overtones were unlike anything seen in wrestling at the time but it worked, leading him to massive success as champion and while he adjusted now and then, he keeps going back to the act. It’s ironic that it’s as Goldust that Dustin has felt himself more than ever and showing how you have to work hard to escape a long shadow.
JBL himself admits that the start of his run as heel WWE champion didn’t go over well because of how sudden it was. After various failed gimmicks, Bradshaw hit it with him and Farooq forming the APA, a pair of hard-drinking guys who dressed in jeans and t-shirts to beat guys as enforcers. When he was drafted to SmackDown in 2004, JBL suddenly transformed himself into a suit-wearing rich guy who came out with arrogant promos and was instantly elevated to the main event. It was a huge turn and fans didn’t react well to it at first as it was so sudden and strange and seeing this mid-card guy pushed fast soured them. But JBL kept it and by the end of his run, was over enough that when Cena beat him for the title, it was a huge deal. JBL has kept it up with good ring work and announcing abilities and so while it was rough at first, the transformation from rough and tumble guy to a real champion did end up giving WWE some new life at the time.
4 Bull Nakano
This is a change that made you do a serious double take. In the 1990s, Nakano was one of the best female wrestlers in the world, fantastic with her ring work, riding high in Japan and even a stint as WWE Women’s Champion. She was known for her large build, bulky size, harsh face and a massive spiked hairdo.
In her later years, she cut down on her ring work and even went on to become a professional golfer in the LPGA. But the most dramatic transformation was her appearance as she lost quite a lot of weight, let her hair go longer and smiling a lot more. It’s astounding to see the transformation, almost not the same woman and she seems to be a lot happier now then in her prime. She can be fierce if she needs to be but it’s a massive appearance change and that’s no Bull.
It’s hard for younger fans to get how huge a deal Sting was when he broke out in WCW. His amazing skills and charisma were incredible, the fans going wild from day one and that carried on. Fans would spike their hair and paint their faces to look like their hero and he was great in style with his colored tights and flashy coats. Even the arrival of Hulk Hogan to WCW didn’t hurt Sting’s popularity, still the biggest hero for the crowds.
When the New World Order arrived, fans expected Sting to fight back but not the way he did it. It was Scott Hall who came up with the idea to model himself after the “Crow” movie as suddenly, Sting had darker makeup, black outfits and spent an entire year just hanging out at the ceiling without any promos. And it made him hotter than he’d ever been before, an amazing act that helped push WCW to new heights. Sting showed he could change it up now and then (his wild “Joker” act in TNA) and it worked because of his great skill and drive, proving his worth as a star.
2 The Undertaker
Since his debut in 1990, The Undertaker had gotten over massively thanks to his terrific act of the unstoppable creature with possible supernatural traits. The bell sounding, the slow walk, the funeral clothes, it was all mart of his classic act that made him a hit and while he adjusted it slightly for the Ministry, it wasn’t that big.
But when he returned in 2000, it was with a huge change. Gone were all those trappings as he became “The American Bad-Ass,” riding out on motorcycles, dressed in biker outfits and showing some pain at times. His promos went from sinister and quiet to booming and talking more like a regular guy. It was a daring move but thanks to Undertaker’s skills and charisma, it all worked out and gave his character new life.
Thus, when he made his return to the Deadman in 2004, it was a big deal and felt fresher, a reminder of why The Undertaker is such a huge deal.
1 Scott Steiner
Looking at Scott Steiner when he debuted in 1989 and his fame a decade later and it’s as if you’re seeing two different people. When he came out, he truly looked an All-American athlete with his dark hair, handsome face, great body muscular but still lithe and pulling off moves unlike anything seen. In 1990, you didn’t see top-rope belly-to-belly suplexes or ranas so when Steiner pulled them off, it was spectacular. That continued on for years until his heel turn in 1998. At which point, he changed himself majorly with short blond hair, chain mesh tops and of course, a massively bulked up physique.
It was obvious steroids were used as he soon became slower in the ring. Also, his promos, usually quiet, became wild and more and more insane. It was a cool sight at first and pushed Steiner to the main event but hurt him as time went on, soon a shell of himself. It got Steiner to the top but it turned him away from the great worker he once was, making this a rough transformation.
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