Professional wrestling has always walked the tightrope in an effort to balance an intriguing product for the fans. Sometimes, they take a risk with what could be a controversial gimmick in effort to get more people to tune into the show. There are a lot of times where it ends up working.
Promotions like World Wrestling Entertainment might push the envelope just enough to create characters like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker and Mankind. Over the last decade or so, the WWE has toned it down a bit as part of the shift to a more PG-friendly audience. That doesn’t mean the WWE has not gone a little over the top during that time.
In fact, WWE history shows a number of offensive gimmicks that would never fly in today’s WWE. They barely survived during the times when WWE television shows were rated TV-14. The reasons some of these gimmicks were considered the most offensive had a number of different factors. They weren’t always lewd or grotesque. It had to do with the timing and sensitivity of the content. Events of the time and concerns of race and gender also led to some gimmicks receiving a lot of criticism – even in an Attitude Era where The Undertaker sacrificed people and Val Venis was almost castrated.
The following are the 15 most offensive gimmicks used in WWE television that fans still hate today.
In 2004, RAW general manager Eric Bischoff had a special task for William Regal. The former European Champion was asked to babysit his nephew, who turned out to be Eugene – a special needs character. The gimmick was obviously insensitive to use a mental disability as part of a wrestling character. Interestingly enough, it got over for a period of time as Eugene would turn out to be pretty good.
The guy even had a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship against Chris Benoit. The bottom fell out as fans grew tired of the gimmick. While Eugene had some brief success, one disturbing segment in 2007 involved him having his head shaved by Vince McMahon to promote a Hair vs. Hair feud with Donald Trump. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that no one liked seeing a special needs person strapped to a chair crying while being shaved bald.
14 Hornswoggle Is Vince McMahon’s Bastard Child
There were a lot of things wrong with the idea that Vince McMahon had an illegitimate child. For several weeks in the fall of 2007, it was teased that it was someone on the WWE roster until fans learned that Hornswoggle was McMahon’s “little bastard.” McMahon would then put Hornswoggle in a gauntlet of matches to show him what he called “tough love,” but Finlay kept interfering in support of the little guy.
On an episode of RAW in February 2008, Hornswoggle was put inside a steel cage with Mr. McMahon in a one-sided affair. McMahon whipped the much smaller foe with a leather belt while Finlay was handcuffed and forced to watch. It was a disturbing moment, especially when it was revealed that Finlay was the real father.
13 Kai En Tai’s (And Their Dubbed Promos)
Professional wrestling has seen a number of gimmicks based on stereotypes, like Finlay and Hornswoggle as two Irish brawlers who loved to fight. There was a period of time where Japanese wrestlers were often given comical gimmicks that made it hard to take their efforts extremely seriously.
For example, Kai En Tai, the team of Funaki and Taka Michinoku were not doing their own promos. Instead, they would speak into muted microphones while a terrible English dub would speak for them, similar to a terrible D-list martial arts movie. One example was seemingly a long sentence that was translated into “Indeed” for Funaki and “Evil” for Michinoku. It might have been funny to a point, but it still felt racially insensitive. Both men deserved a better push in the company.
12 Jillian Hall’s Facial Growth
Jillian Hall made her main roster debut on SmackDown in 2005 as a helper for MNM. She would also end up helping John “Bradshaw” Layfield. But her character was more known for having an extremely large growth on her face that she merely called a “blemish.” Hall was getting over as a heel in matches where she earned victories against Stacy Keibler and others, but having the growth on her face seemed unnecessary for someone who was actually quite stunning. Her character helped JBL win the United States Championship at WrestleMania 22.
The real offensive part of the gimmick came when JBL was feuding with the Boogeyman in 2006, which resulted in Hall being a victim of worms being spat on her. The creepy character actually bit off the growth and ate it on television. Despite knowing that it was obviously a fake mole, it was still extremely gross and should have never been on TV.
11 Sgt. Slaughter Supports Iraq
This isn’t going to be the first time an international incident leads to a gimmick change in the WWE. While not necessarily the most controversial, Sgt. Slaughter turning heel to align himself with the General Adnan felt wrong on so many levels. Slaughter was a former drill instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps before going into wrestling. He felt like one of the most patriotic characters in WWE history.
But the news was heavily focused on the rising tension in the Middle East, specifically with Iraq. The WWE decided to have him turn heel and trade in his drill instructor hat for an Arab headdress. It was obviously a work, but it did lead to a number of real-life death threats for Slaughter. It could have been worse as there are some reports that he was asked to burn the American flag as part of the character.
10 Muhammed Hassan
Speaking of gimmicks based on real-life war and tension, Muhammed Hassan is a more recent example of a gimmick going wrong. The wrestler was able to get over as one of the biggest heels and was a likely candidate to eventually win the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown back in 2005. The gimmick was fueled by anti-Islamic beliefs as America was fighting a war on terror.
Things fell through for Hassan during the setup for a feud with The Undertaker where masked men viewed as terrorists attacked The Phenom. The pre-taped segment unfortunately aired after a train bombing in England. The networks felt the character was too controversial and it led to the WWE killing off the character via a Last Ride Powerbomb through the stage and onto concrete.
9 Jack Swagger And Zeb Colter As Heels
The most recent example of a patriotic gimmick viewed as offensive was when Zeb Colter debuted on WWE television as Jack Swagger’s new manager in early 2013. Swagger was never really a good speaker and Colter – also known as Dutch Mantel – was great on the mic. It got Swagger over as a championship contender with a lot of attention on their “We the People” movement.
It was a gimmick based on the views of the Tea Party who talked about taking the country back and wanting to deport “illegal immigrants.” This led to a feud with Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXIX. Swagger’s push was halted when he was arrested on charges related to marijuana. The gimmick would have been better suited for a face twist.
8 Chris Kanyon As Boy George
Chris Kanyon may not have gotten the support he would have expected when he came back to the WWE in 2003. He was hoping that he could be the WWE’s first openly gay superstar. He was an established name during his years with WCW. Kanyon always hid that he was gay from everyone for so long, but he decided to come out publicly in 2001.
Injuries caused a delay in his plans and it looked like he would get a chance, except the WWE wanted him dressed as Boy George to sing “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” as a gift from the Big Show to Undertaker. Kanyon was rarely seen after that and he would be released from the WWE shortly after. The termination led to him becoming depressed and he eventually took his own life.
7 Everything Involving Kane, Lita And Snitsky
While his character would claim it wasn’t his fault, Gene Snitsky was part of one of the more offensive gimmicks during the Ruthless Aggression era. Granted, it did come as a surprise considering it looked as if he was a regular enhancement talent who accidentally knocked Kane into Lita, who was carrying the demon’s seed in her womb.
The fact that Kane abducted Lita and got her pregnant was offensive enough because it was using rape as part of a storyline, but then to have an accidental miscarriage as a story line was even worse. The writing made the Mae Young giving birth to a hand fathered by Mark Henry look weak in comparison. The entire storyline just felt wrong and should have never made it out of the creative writing brainstorm session at WWE headquarters.
6 The Mexicools
The faction of Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis and Super Crazy lasted nearly a year in the WWE from 2005 to 2006. Three great luchadores were expected to do great things for both the Cruiserweight and WWE Tag Team Championship divisions. However, their gimmick was not what any fan would have expected or wanted. All three came into the WWE driving on a lawn mower and wearing matching coveralls.
They even did a promo talking about the current state of what a Mexican American was, claiming that they weren’t going to work for any “gringos.” While the team would eventually become fan-favorites, it wasn’t for their looks. It was because the fans knew they were really good in the ring. Backstage problems led to the group being split up and Juventud losing his job with the WWE.
5 Cryme Tyme
Speaking of negative stereotypes in the WWE, Cryme Tyme might have been one of the least subtle of them all. The WWE didn’t waste any time showing JTG and Shad Gaspard as two gentlemen who were up to no good before, during and after their matches. There were a number of vignettes and backstage segments that saw them robbing other superstars.
It wasn’t much different than their gimmick in developmental, but at least they changed the name from The Gang Stars. While getting over a little bit in their two runs in the WWE, the duo never won tag team gold. Both JTG and Gaspard struggled as singles superstars before they were each eventually released. Although JTG lasted in WWE four years longer than Gaspard, who was released in 2010.
While there have been a number of racial stereotypes used in professional wrestling history, very few were as offensive as Virgil’s character. Debuting in 1987, he was viewed as a servant for the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. Looking at it for what it was, the rich, white man hired an African-American to do a number of jobs for him. This included carrying DiBiase’s money in a suitcase and taking a beating for DiBiase.
A lot of people felt that it was a demeaning character overall, but beyond his run in WWE that lasted until 1994, Virgil was never really viewed as a superstar. In fact, he’s most famous for having the lonely autograph table at various wrestling conventions and independent wrestling events.
Kamala actually had a lot of success in wrestling with this gimmick, as he main evented in several territories across the country. The Ugandan Giant would march around like a "savage" and while this may have gone over to some people in an earlier time, time has not been kind to this gimmick. While even fans back in the 80s could see the racist undertones of the gimmick, it's even easier to spot today.
Unfortunately, the man behind the gimmick, Jim Harris now lives with a disability and to make matters worse, his contribution to the wrestling business remains somewhat hidden, all due to the fact that this gimmick was terribly offensive. Could you imagine someone trying to get over with a similar gimmick today?
2 Kerwin White
Chavo Guerrero, Jr., has every right to hate the WWE. Despite being part of one of the best families in lucha libre, he was never able to earn the success that his uncle Eddie Guerrero did. In 2005, Chavo decided to renounce his Mexican heritage and join the white demographic. This led to a name change of Kerwin White that featured driving a golf cart to the ring and dying his hair blonde. He would make comments about how people that weren’t white weren’t right.
Chavo admitted that it was Vince McMahon’s idea and that the one positive that came from the gimmick change was that he moved from Eddie’s shadow. The character didn’t last long on television as he would go back to his namesake after the sudden passing of his uncle. Unfortunately, it didn’t lead to Chavo Guerrero climbing the match card as he would continue to struggle before leaving in 2011.
1 Akeem The African Dream
The WWE managed to offend multiple cultures with this gimmick and it didn't even seem like they did so out of malice, but rather utter ignorance and cluelessness. One Man Gang was a typical big-man wrestler but one day, he was given the new gimmick of Akeem The African Dream. It was said that he had "discovered his African roots".
Despite his appearance giving away the fact that, well, he wasn't African, he portrayed every stereotype associated with Africans, and even emulated his black manager Slick.
Akeem would be shown in vignettes doing tribal dances, but this was obviously a huge farce, seeing as how everyone knew he had no clue about the African culture. This is all on WWE for even thinking of such a ridiculous gimmick for a wrestler.
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