You really have to hand it to the creative minds behind some wrestling gimmicks. Many of them are brilliant and the skill required to come up with some of the story-lines is impressive. There are reasons the sport is so popular, and athleticism is only one of them, often taking a back seat to intriguing characters, and addictive stories.
Of course, gimmicks are a lot like people in general. Most are unremarkable but serve some sort of a purpose. Likewise, there are a few that are amazing, impressive, likable (or dis-likable, depending on face or heel) and memorable. Finally, there is no shortage of gimmicks that are memorable for being so atrocious that we wonder whether some people got fired for ever even suggesting such an explosively bad idea.
While The Undertaker, Mankind and Mr. Perfect are examples of some of the greatest gimmicks ever to grace the squared circle, the worst that wrestling has to offer are sometimes even more entertaining, for the sake of laughter and ridicule. Some more recent terrible gimmicks include Kerwin White and The Spirit Squad, but for us, (feel free to debate this in the comments) the real heyday of bad gimmicks was back before 2000. Looking at this period, mostly the 1990s and especially WCW, we have to wonder how much cocaine (hallucinogens, perhaps? Maybe a potent cocktail of several cheap drugs?) these writers and wrestlers ingested before coming up with some of these characters.
A few of the worst gimmicks resulted in a quick exit from the profession, but many just saw wrestlers repackaged. But it is interesting to look at what happened to some of these wrestlers who were so poorly written for, after they left the big promotions. Here are fifteen of the worst gimmicks from before the year 2000 and what happened to those wrestlers.
15 Max Moon
The Max Moon suit/gimmick was originally meant for Konnan, back in the early 1990s, but he quit WWE abruptly, and Paul Diamond was a similar size and fit into the costume. It was ridiculous by the way, looking like something put together for a futuristic villain in bad 1970s era sci-fi. His time with the promotion didn't last long, as they didn't keep him around after 1993's Royal Rumble.
An actor before he made his way into the world of wrestling, Tom Lister Jr. was hired to star alongside Hulk Hogan in a WWE-financed film back in 1989. He played Zeus, a maniacal heel and one of the main villains of the film. Shortly after the film was released, he was hired on by the promotion to play the exact same guy. While the premise of a super-human heel no-selling half of what any opponent could throw at him was decent on paper but the gimmick ended up being very short-lived and never really won the ire of fans as it was intended to. He was released after a few months in the promotion, in early 1990.
After his few months in WWE, he went back to movies, and spent another couple of months working with WCW, with about as much success as he had in WWe. He found Jesus in the late 1990s and became an active member of the Christian community, working with kids, public speaking and participating in Christian television events.
13 The Booty Man
Most of you will know wrestler Ed Leslie as his most famous persona, Brutus Beefcake. His time in WWE lasted from 1984 until the early '90s and included a Tag Team Championship with Greg Valentine. His career was put on hold after his face was mangled in a brutal parasailing accident. His return to WWE was short-lived and he found himself in WCW by 1994. His gimmicks while there never lasted long and were pretty monumentally poor. The Booty Man, was not a man who liked "booty" (not a pirate or large-butt enthusiast), but a man who liked...his own posterior, and shook it any chance he got. As gimmicks go, this one was nothing short of an abomination.
Since his retirement from the sport he has started his own wrestling school, got married and divorced a few times, and worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority. While there, he left some cocaine lying around (who does that, right?) and someone mistook it for anthrax, which is hilarious. He had to confess to it having been his, and then spent some time in rehab.
12 Duke "The Dumpster" Droese
The Dumpster was exactly what it sounds like. Duke Droese was a garbage man who carried a garbage can to the ring with him and his stint with WWE lasted about two years in the mid 1990s. We're somewhat surprised that this potentially funny but frankly un-entertaining gimmick actually lasted that long. It has been suggested that Duke Droese was hired by WWE because in the mid 1990s Vince McMahon thought he could turn anyone into a star because of the promotion's marketing and writing.
Mike Halac's wrestling career took place throughout the 1990s and while his early gimmick in other promotions was Bruiser Mastino, a tough guy type character, WWE gave him a Minotaur (man-bull) gimmick that was somewhere between irritating and downright terrible. We don't know if this one ever looked good on paper, but inside the ring it translated into mooing at opponents. We need not say more than that.
10 The Gobbledy Gooker
This was back in 1990 and who the heck knows why this was ever thought to be a good idea (some sources have said it was Vince McMahon). For a few events prior to Survivor Series in late November, a giant egg kept showing up. People had no idea what was going on, but many hoped it would hatch a returning fan-favorite or a hot woman would pop out. Instead it was Hector Guerrero in a turkey outfit who popped out of the thing at Survivor Series. It wasn't discovered that it was Guerrero until a long time later.
9 The Mountie
French-Canadian Jacques Rougeau had a twenty year active wrestling career that started out in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling in Alberta, Canada. He and his brother Raymond teamed up as the Fabulous Rougeaus, a heel pair who enraged the fans by pretending they wanted to be American.
Raymond retired in early 1990 and Jacques became the Mountie, a dirty cop and member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada's national police force who carried a cattle prod (less funny these days after actual RCMP members tasered a handcuffed Polish immigrant to death in an airport back in 2007). It wasn't the worst gimmick on this list, but it was ridiculous and any humor in it was lost on most fans at the time.
8 Waylon Mercy
Waylon Mercy actually could have been a great gimmick, but Dan Spivey didn't seem like a great fit for the part. It was his second period of time in WWE, and many fans knew him from the 1980s with The U.S. Express and remembered him from WCW. Waylon Mercy was based on the villain from Cape Fear: he was polite; a perfect gentleman outside of the ring but turned into an absolute psychopath while wrestling. The gimmick may have been better if he lasted longer, but Spivey's body was falling apart and he retired in 1995.
7 The Yeti
Over seven feet tall, Ron Reis would have made a decent Yeti. By Yeti of course we mean the abominable snowman (though this would have made little or no sense as a gimmick, on that topic, did gimmicks have to make sense in the 1990s? Do they have to make sense now?). Given that the character was announced while frozen in ice, it would have made sense but when Reis was reveals in costume, it was all bandages. Why was a mummy called a Yeti? This was a classic example of WCW not having their act together. Ron Reis as the Yeti later changed to more of a ninja character and we also have no idea what anyone was thinking.
6 The Repo Man
While he is best known as Smash and still wrestles from time to time, Barry Darsow was The Repo Man. He was in and out of promotions throughout the 1990s with gimmicks ranging from good (most of them were at least alright) to...well...The Repo Man. This gimmick saw him carrying a rope to tow cars that he used to tie up defeated opponents after matches. Since 2000 his appearances in wrestling have been rare, but he's been busy with other things.
Maybe one of the best overall athletes to ever work in wrestling, Raymond Lloyd's career in martial arts and football included a World Karate Association championship and four years playing offensive line with Valdosta State University. He studied education, and got a teaching position after college rather than try to make the NFL.
While teaching he took up wrestling part time at first in small promotions throughout Georgia, before joining WCW. In 1996 his time as Glacier started; the gimmick was heavily based on Mortal Kombat's Sub-Zero character, but never really caught on with fans (not to mention his ridiculous entrance and in-ring theatrics were very expensive).
4 Akeem the African Dream
More commonly known as the One Man Gang, George Gray was one of those guys who had no problem with most of the WWE's talent, but suffered against the major stars of the organization in the late 1980s. Managed by Slick, it was determined that the character would be changed in 1988 to accommodate his new "African heritage." Billed from the "Deepest, Darkest Africa," he wore what looked somewhat like what some Africans may have worn at some point, and the entire gimmick was at least a bit racist (but less so in the late 1980s; he would likely be chased by social justice warriors with pitchforks who had never seen wrestling before if he tried this today) but wasn't even entertaining. The gimmick didn't work, but it lasted a little under two years. He took back his One Man Gang persona in 1991 when he went over to WCW.
We know our title says pre-Y2K and we also know that Ed Ferrara was active in the wrestling community after that point and played his Oklahoma character gimmick after that point, but he is a special case for this list. A writer who wrestled, he was working part time as a wrestler in a small promotion while writing for television. A meeting was arranged with Vince McMahon and he got his start in WWe in 1998. This was where he met his long time writing partner Vince Russo.
When they went over to WCW in 1999 and Ferrara took the name and gimmick of Oklahoma, a wrestler persona mocking commentator Jim Ross, even making fun of his Bell's Palsy (the disease that partially paralyzes the muscles in one side of the face). He's made apologies for this part of the gimmick in recent years.
2 Fake Razor Ramon
Back in late 1996, Canadian wrestler Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs (Kane) were introduced as the new Razor Ramon and Diesel. This was necessary because the two men who originally played these characters: Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, had both left WWE for WCW. While we all know that Glenn Jacobs earned great success as Kane, Rick Bognar was out of the WWE within a year of his signing. He went back to Japan but ultimately sustained a broken neck (from a DDT gone wrong) that would end his career before in 1999.
1 The Shockmaster
Safety manager for a business, lives a quiet life.
The Shockmaster was a 1993 WCW gimmick that was doomed from the start. A stormtrooper helmet covered with glitter, some pyrotechnics and a wall through which the massive Fred Ottman was supposed to smash. His gimmicks in WWF were by no means this ridiculous (Tugboat and Typhoon were alright) but his move to WCW saw a ludicrous gimmick that was never meant to be. During his introduction, Ottman couldn't see very well in his helmet, and while he made it through the top portion of the wall with ease, he tripped over the bottom half, losing the helmet and looking like an absolute buffoon. Even the other wrestlers in the scene could barely hold it together.
WCW tried to salvage their work by then making him an intentionally awkward character, but the damage was already done, nobody could take him seriously. He had a couple of notable matches as Shockmaster but left WCW in 1994. Ottman went on to work in Japan but left the business in 2001.
While he still looks back at his wrestling days fondly (even The Shockmaster incident, which he now laughs about), he lives a quiet life these days and wouldn't trade it for the world. He's a dedicated family man who worked for some time as a safety manager for an industrial cleaning company in Florida.
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