Wrestling tends to be a cyclical business, as much as critics may say otherwise. Yes, fan tastes change a lot but the basics of the business still seem the same and things can come around to what they once were. That includes various angles as over the years, wrestling has repeated stuff a lot. It was easier in the territory days when fans didn’t have the Internet to let them know what was happening and thus you could run the same angle in multiple towns with everyone thinking it was the “first time ever.” It continues today as promoters and bookers keep trying to go back to old stuff that worked before, hoping it will again. Sadly, that’s rarely the case.
It’s no secret that rehashing a concept rarely works out very well, whether movies, TV or wrestling. Copies are rarely better than the originals, after all. Over the years, wrestling has tried slews of times to catch lightning in a bottle but very rarely has it ever worked. From characters to angles, types of matches and more, they come off just cheap rip-offs that only serve to look foolish rather than huge business. A lot of guys are guilty of trying to replicate stuff that ends up falling horribly flat and shows how hard it is to hit things right the second time around. Here are 15 concepts that wrestling tried to repeat to bad results and shows that sometimes, one hit is all you can hope for.
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15 Brother Bruti
In 1986, WWE did blockbuster business by having Hulk Hogan betrayed by Paul Orndorff and kicking off a fantastic feud. The next year came Andre the Giant to set up the Wrestlemania III battle and then came Savage. It didn’t work as well with Sid in 1992 but that was mostly due to Hogan leaving soon. Hogan tried it again in WCW when the masked man who had attacked him for weeks was revealed to be long-time buddy Ed Leslie, known as “Brother Bruti” at the time. This led to them facing off at Starrcade but the fans never bought this lifelong mid-carder as a World title contender or the entire betrayal arc which was tired in WWE let alone in WCW.
14 The Renegade
It’s hard to find a rip-off as utterly blatant as this. For weeks in 1995, Hulk Hogan promised “the ultimate surprise” for Uncensored with a figure in shadows shown with wild hair and tassels so of course fans expected the Ultimate Warrior. Instead came The Renegade, a wild man but having none of the Warrior’s charisma to pull it off.
WCW tried to give him the same push, including beating Arn Anderson in fast time to win the TV title but the fans were turned off from the start as the guy was never seen as anything but a cheap copy. His life had a sad end but really much of it lies on WCW promising him something he could never pull off.
One of the most famous and effective storylines in wrestling history was when the Fabulous Freebirds “blinded” the Junkyard Dog. Bill Watts had it sold as totally real, complete with the Dog walking around with bandages over his eyes in public so the eventual grudge match was blockbuster business. In 1985, World Class tried to copy that with Gino Hernandez blinding partner Chris Adams and WCCW doing the same with Adams selling it. However, before the angle could reach its height, Hernandez died of a drug overdose and they had to have Adams recover.
WWE tried it with Jake Roberts blinded by Rick Martel but it just ended up leading to the terrible blindfold match at WrestleMania. ECW may have pulled it off with the Sandman faking being blind but too often, attempts to play this angle just end up being stuff that makes fans wish they could unsee.
12 Abyss/Undertaker parents
Vince Russo loves to repeat stuff, no matter how bad it was. In WWE, he helped create the complicated backstory of Kane and Undertaker being brothers by Paul Bearer which was wild but did work out. In TNA, Abyss was managed by James Mitchell, a terrific pairing with the backstory of Abyss having been in jail for shooting his abusive father. It was then revealed (a year later) that Mitchell was the dad and when Abyss turned on him, he brought in his other son, Judas Mesias.
This set off what most agree was a terrible feud that muddied the waters and watered down the once-effective monster into more of a mess. Trust Russo to manage to mess up a copy of one of his own ideas.
11 Underdog Champion
TNA is no stranger to ripping off WWE but this was just ridiculous. In 2014, with absolutely no warning and no build, Eric Young, the guy long pushed as a goofball idiot, won a gauntlet match, then beat Magnus for the TNA World title. The reason was obvious: This was during the Daniel Bryan champion period and TNA picked Young simply because he had a thick beard. They didn’t even make a secret of it with Dixie coming out to say “the beard is trademarked” and act like WWE were the ones ripping off TNA despite having done it first.
They pushed Young as a “fighting champion” and such but it was seen as a total sham by many fans and while Young was a good worker, his sudden rise made no sense. Just to confirm it, as soon as Bryan had to give up his title, Young lost his own championship and shows how TNA is so much in WWE’s shadow.
10 Dusty Finish
To be fair, Dusty Rhodes didn’t come up with this finish but borrowed it from a booker he trained under. But he used it so damn much, it’s become synonymous with him. Starrcade ’85 is the perfect example: Dusty and Ric Flair going at it for the NWA title, the ref knocked down as the Andersons interfered. Dusty then pinned Flair as a second ref made the three count and Dusty was awarded the belt. However, it was announced the first ref had seen the Andersons interfere and disqualified Flair first so Flair was still the champion.
Time after time, Dusty would use this, not just for himself but others (the Road Warriors failed to win the NWA titles at Starrcade 87) and each time, it was a total rip-off for fans. Using it so much for the Flair/Luger feud in 1988 helped push Crockett out of business and times it’s been tried since by both WCW and WWE have fallen flat. Sad this may be Dusty’s biggest contribution to the business.
9 Winning Streak
It’s frankly astounding WCW didn’t drop the ball with Goldberg much sooner. Once they realized what they had, they smartly built up his winning streak into a fantastic thing that got him over massively as World champion. Of course, they blew it by ending it too soon to Nash and then the Fingerpoke and followed it with some bad losses. When Sid came in, WCW decided to push him as unbeaten in hopes of replicating that but it was messed up by how they kept adding in victories that hadn’t happened so his win streak rose without any reason. Russo then declared that in order to get a title shot, Goldberg would have to replicate the streak which could have been something cool. WCW then just dropped it before it got going.
TNA did well by building Samoa Joe up but then ruined it by having his streak broken by Kurt Angle, who didn’t need such a rub. TNA tried to push Crimson as an unbeaten monster but the guy had none of the skill or charisma to pull such an act off. It worked with Goldberg but you can’t just slap a streak on a guy when he can’t back it up.
Trying to replicate the most infamous shoot in wrestling history seems a pointless exercise but of course, they keep trying it. WCW was the first to really do it at Starrcade ’99 with Bret Hart beating Goldberg and seeing Bret in the role of Shawn Michaels was downright surreal. TNA has tried it themselves a few times with “shocking twists” and it didn’t work out very well there either. The fact is that Montreal was a unique moment, real-life conflict of two major stars coming loose in a fantastic turn and trying to script something like it will invariably fall flat.
In his latest autobiography, Jericho notes that the moment he made his big return in 2007, he knew something was off. He was fired up, ready to go, once more wild on the mic but somehow, the crowds just weren’t responding as well to his old stuff. He did his best but it just wasn’t working as the crowds were tired of his old Y2J act. Rather than get annoyed, Jericho smartly decided to play with it, taking on his new turn as a heel who talked in a somber and serious voice and it was a great move that got him newly over. He would eventually return in the Y2J form to become popular once more but Jericho showed he was smart enough to know always playing the same character didn’t lead to major success constantly.
6 Bill Watts and JYD
As Greg Klein once noted “if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Bill Watts spent his time in wrestling flattering the Junkyard Dog.” Charismatic, JYD was a bad worker but covered by Watts’ smart booking that turned him into box office gold. When he left for WWE, Watts tried over and over to replicate that success but never could. Butch Reed didn’t work, Eddie Crawford failed, Frank Wells was a drugged-up mess and fans just didn’t take to any of them.
Watts tried it with Ron Simmons as WCW champion in 1992 but it didn’t click either (not helped by challengers like the Barbarian). Watts’ old-school tendencies hurt a lot and his attempts to recapture that JYD magic with guys not ready for it was a key reason his power faded.
5 ECW Revival
It was one thing when WWE brought back ECW for a One Night Stand show, that made some sense as a big reunion and send-off. However, WWE’s attempt to create a new brand around the old promotion did not succeed to say the least. Trust TNA to make it worse by bringing in all these former ECW guys and trying to push an “invasion” of their company, acting like a bunch of out of shape workers from a long-dead promotion was an epic encounter. Once again, replicating the past is one thing but doing it with the exact same people is worse.
4 Hero vs. Authority
There’s an entire book to be written on how badly WWE has blown the Roman Reigns push. To many, this is a guy just not suited for the main event scene or to carry a company but WWE continues to shove him harder. That includes him set up to take on the Authority, the classic story of the “common guy” taking on the evil bosses. The problem being HHH is no Vince McMahon and Roman is certainly no Stone Cold Steve Austin.
True, WWE aren’t alone as TNA can’t seem to go a few months without this idea but they’ve pushed it in the past with Cena, Bryan and others. Yet the Reigns one showcases how badly the fans are against him and WWE messing up what potential he had and you just can’t plug anyone into that scenario and expect it to work out.
3 Hulk Hogan hero
Hulk Hogan was the patron saint of mega-face stars in the 1980s and early ‘90s but it eventually ran its course. WCW continued to push it but the fans there were of a different flavor and didn’t accept Hogan, leading to his heel turn. They tried to get him back as the “classic hero” later and then bouncing between heel and face. He was to be a heel in WWE in 2002 but the fans just welcomed back and WWE pushed him as the hero there. In TNA, he was set as the big guy to “save” the company but from day one, the fans were rough about it as it turned into the Hogan show.
The worst had to be when Hogan made sure his face turn at Bound For Glory would not be overshadowed and thus changed Bobby Roode’s planned World Title victory. Today, of course, Hogan’s star has been tarnished but it shows how his ego in always being the big hero didn’t always go over well.
2 Evil Boss
It’s not that the “evil boss” angle can’t work well given the right person. Look at how well Bischoff and McMahon both used it. But too often, the person in charge doesn’t click in the position as was the case with Kurt Angle as SmackDown GM in 2004 as Angle was much better as a worker than an authority figure. Mike Adamle…let’s not even start. Of course, TNA has been worse as Bischoff and Hogan in charge was just a cheap retread of WCW stuff.
But that’s nothing compared to Dixie Carter setting herself up as the “evil owner” despite the fact her acting skills make Linda McMahon look like Meryl Streep and her attempts to get over were just annoying as hell. You could hear the channels being changed whenever she talked and just marred TNA as a whole. It can work with someone like Vince or even HHH but too many times, the “evil boss” just ends up coming off cheap.
The New World Order was truly one of the most groundbreaking and important angles in wrestling history. It truly seemed amazing, these heels dominating WCW, tearing the place apart and taking charge, blurring lines of reality and fantasy and heels that looked so cool. Sadly, Eric Bischoff became convinced the NWO would truly last forever and continued to push them over and over and over again. Multiple turns and roster changes would run all through 2000, long past the time fans wanted them on top and just helped push WCW’s fall.
Bad as that was, it was worse as WWE tried to bring them back in 2002 but it fell apart with Hogan going face and Hall and Nash leaving. TNA was far worse as their obsession with an NWO-type group dominated, time and again needing an “evil group of heels running over the company” constantly. They even tried to get Hall and Nash to do it despite their age and terrible ring work. Every time, it just ended badly and pushed down ratings, showing that trying to continue a bit from the 1990s to today’s world doesn’t work very well.
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