One of the best observations of the wrestling business was stated by R.D. Reynolds, author of the “Wrestlecrap” books: So often, the ideas that look terrific on paper bomb while the ones that sounded incredibly stupid go on to draw big money. It’s probably why there’s been so many bad gimmicks in wrestling history as guys just don’t know what will or won’t stick. That’s always been true in the business as more than one promoter has seen a seemingly sure-fire character or angle die in the eyes of fans while something just thrown together ends up selling merchandise like crazy.
In wrestling, you constantly have to try new things, especially nowadays with how saturated the product is. With so much content to fill on a weekly basis, something has to go out on the air. While WWE seems to tip toe around more, afraid to push the envelope too much, we'll still see plenty of stupid gimmicks/storylines every once in a while.
In a way, it’s like the old saying about Hollywood “nobody knows nothing” as it’s just hard to see what will and won’t work. Wrestling has been filled with numerous examples of guys who seemed saddled with something idiotic but making it work better than anyone could have imagined. It’s not just workers, there’s the case of a match that seemed a bit wild but it ended up working well too. Here are 15 cases of gimmicks that looked so incredibly bad yet ended up becoming huge winners for the fans and promotions alike and proof you just can’t judge at first glance.
15 Hardcore Championship
It was literally a big joke. As part of his overall plot to win Mankind to his side, Vince McMahon took an old broken-apart version of the classic WWE championship with the word “hardcore” written on tape across it and gave it to Mankind, who acted as if he was the most esteemed title ever created. Maybe it was because of Foley’s popularity or the rise of hardcore wrestling but before anyone knew it, the fans had embraced this as a real belt so WWE soon recognized it as a legitimate title.
14 Johnny B. Badd
As the 1990s began, WCW seemed intent to top WWE in terms of wild cartoon characters. As proof, Marc Mero was given loads of makeup and a haircut to look just like Little Richard and pushed with a majorly effeminate act. He’d come down to the ring with feathered boas and after beating an opponent, would put plastic lips on his mouth and later add the “Badd Blaster” which would fire confetti out on the crowd. That’s not to mention promos spoken with a lisp and “I’m so pretty I wish I’d been born a girl!”
13 The Hurricane
Gregory Helms had been rising as a cruiserweight in the dying days of WCW, getting over with his good aerial style and promos but still lost amid the various characters of the Invasion. In the summer of 2001, he took on the persona of a goofy super-hero in a green outfit with hair to match, swooping in for promos and even wearing his cape in matches. It was ridiculous but damned if fans didn’t take to it with Helms’ funny promos (“Whassup with that?!”) and how he embraced the act so fully.
12 The Million Dollar Championship
In 1989, Ted DiBiase was in a tricky position. His feud with Randy Savage had run its course and with Hulk Hogan now champion, he was mostly out of the main event picture. However, he was still a big enough deal that he didn’t seem right for the lower run of the card either. The solution? Have DiBiase declare that if he couldn’t win the title, he’d just make his own and so got a jeweler to make a fancy title with diamond dollar bills and gold links he’d wear around.
11 Irwin R. Schyster
Mike Rotunda had been a good worker for a while but stuck with stuff like a run in WCW as a total rip-off of the Million-Dollar Man. When he came back to WWF in 1991, they decided to give him the character of Irwin R. Schyster, an evil tax agent, constantly doing promos mocking folks as tax cheats. It should have been just another of the many forgettable “occupational” gimmicks of the time but Rotunda was able to back the promos up with his great ring work. He also got over nicely by wrestling in the full suit with suspenders and even tie and somehow making it work.
9 Raven vs. Dreamer
It was a storyline so crazy even Vince Russo would think it too melodramatic to work: Tommy Dreamer and Raven had been at summer camp as kids together with Dreamer picking on Raven a lot and Raven angry because of it. Raven brought out Beulah McGillicutty, claiming she was an overweight girl Dreamer picked on at camp now grown as a fantastic beauty. That was a hell of a lot to take in but somehow, it managed to ignite what most consider the greatest feud in ECW history.
8 Ultimate X
TNA has given us a lot of gimmick matches over the years, many of them damn dumb (Reverse battle royal). When Ultimate X was announced in 2002, some rolled eyes at the idea of a ladder match without the ladder…and the fact that they did end up using a ladder in the first battle just made it worse. But the potential was there and TNA soon added to it, making the cables of the X stronger and more importantly using it to showcase the power of the X Division.
7 Macho King Randy Savage
As 1989 went on, Randy Savage appeared a bit lost after losing the WWE title to Hulk Hogan, the addition of Sherri Martel as his manager helping but still not as effective as he once was. When he beat Jim Duggan to win the “King of Wrestling” bit, it just seemed another poor come-down. But Savage made it work wonderfully, adjusting the act with a great crown and adding “royal” talk to his always fantastic promos.
Few rip-offs in wrestling are as blatant as Demolition. Leather outfits, studded vests, makeup and a hard nose offense, you couldn’t be more of a steal of the Road Warriors without getting sued. When they debuted in 1987, Ax and Smash were run down by fans, booed not as heels but because of how blatantly cheap they came off as. It just seemed a big shot at the NWA with “we can create our own LOD” and few doubted it would last long.
5 The Blue World Order
When the BWO reunited at the first One Night Stand PPV, a laughing Joey Styles summed it up best: “If any gimmick never deserved to make a dime and made a whole boatload of cash, this is it!” Stevie Richards, Nova and the Blue Meanie had been doing an act in ECW of parodying various wrestlers and rock acts before Raven’s matches, such as the Jackson 5, KISS and others.
4 The Honky Tonk Man
A wrestling Elvis. The very idea sounds completely stupid, something more fitting for the indie circuit than WWE in the late ‘80s. At first a face, HTM never got the fans on him with his arrogant persona and so turning heel made sense but he was still nothing more than jobber material for a time. According to reports, it was pure fate that he was chosen as the guy to upset Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental title in 1987. Fans thought it was a total fluke and he’d lose it fast.
3 John Cena
2 The Royal Rumble
1 The Undertaker
If anyone in 1990 had predicted that 25 years later, this guy was going to not only be around but one of the biggest icons of the entire business, they would have been laughed at. A pale guy in funeral clothes led by a guy named Paul Bearer who seemed to get his powers from a mystical urn? It sounded like an incredibly dumb idea, even by the standards of the cartoonish WWE. Yet, it all worked thanks to how well The Undertaker played the role and adapting from just a big slow guy to a really talented worker and clicking with fans. At first a heel, his amazing act won fans over to make him a face and pushed him on.
Undertaker was smart to adjust the act as time went on, with new outfits, new attitudes, the “American Badass” period before going back to the classic “Dead Man” motif. The “Streak” also added to his power as well as his loyalty to WWE, never tempted to go to another company even at the height of the Monday Night War. He’s been respected as a locker room leader and one of the biggest merchandise movers in the company’s history. Overall, The Undertaker is the greatest example of a crazy gimmick that worked and became one of the best characters in the entire business.
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