Whether or not a wrestler is technically sound in the ring or has a great presence, what undoubtedly decides whether they succeed or fail is their gimmick.
Every successful wrestler, from the 80s onwards, has become a hit on the back of portraying a character the crowd has truly got behind, whether it makes sense in hindsight or not.
From the 80s through to the early 2000s, wrestling experienced a number of extravagant characters and gimmicks, and it’s pretty easy to understand why the likes of The Gobbledy Gooker or The Shockmaster never shot up to incredible heights.
Legendary characters that rose to success on the back of strong, cocky personas like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Ric Flair would have succeeded at almost any time – as the character’s portrayer, combined with a strong character, led to success in each of the aforementioned wrestlers’ cases.
However, over the course of professional wrestling’s history, a small handful of wrestlers with gimmicks that are a little bit out there came along and somehow managed to forge success while portraying an odd or dull character.
When it comes to modern wrestling fans, who live in a professional wrestling world where kayfabe is nearly non-existent, most ‘out there’ gimmicks are immediately discouraged and the fans simply boo to their heart’s content.
As society has evolved, so has its taste in wrestling characters. As a result, there are a number of legendary gimmicks that would never have a chance of succeeding in the current day.
These are the top 15 most successful wrestling gimmicks that would fail today.
15. Val Venis
While the late 90s might have been a great time for a character like Val Venis, with females being treated as sexual objects at its peak in professional wrestling, there is no chance it would ever work today. In fact, it didn’t work in the mid-00s before WWE went PG, so why in the world would it work now? Remember when Kai En Tai attempted to chop off Val’s pride and joy on an episode of RAW? I rest my case. Bonus points for casual racism with the “I choppy-choppy your pee-pee” remark.
14. The Mountie
This gimmick would never get over today simply because of how stupid it is, but it needs to be noted that The Mountie actually won the Intercontinental title from Bret Hart and is a three-time WWE Tag Team Champion with Pierre Ouellet. WWE fans wouldn’t accept a police officer in this day and age, let along an RCMP officer from Canada.
What most people don’t know is The Mountie actually holds a clean victory over Hulk Hogan to his name, pinning Hogan during a non-televised WCW event in Rougeau’s home town of Montreal. Good god.
13. Johnny B. Badd
When signed to WCW, Marc Mero was portrayed as Johnny B. Badd, a more flamboyant version of music legend Little Richard. Arguably the biggest problem with this is that Little Richard was a black man and Mero is not. When you throw in the homophobic connotations as well, it would just be a massive train wreck today. Let’s try to forget that Mero won the WCW Television Championship multiple times under this gimmick and earned a massive contract with WWE as a result.
12. Doink the Clown
Never again. First portrayed by Matt Osborne, the Doink the Clown character was played by several wrestlers from 1992 until as recently as 2012. What you see is what you get, folks; Doink the Clown was an evil clown and that’s about it. Not only that, he was a fan favourite and at one stage had a little person sidekick named Dink. Oh, WWE in the 90s, even your comic relief is offensive.
11. Big Show
Anyone who tunes into WWE programming today knows that this gimmick no longer works and this goes for just about any big guy who isn’t sound in technical wrestling. The age of wrestling being a chance for promoters to shout “look how big MY man is” while other promoters subsequently did the same has come and gone. The latest addition to Vinnie Mac’s “look how big MY man is” group is Braun Strowman, a former strongman contestant who uses a Bearhug as his finisher. A Bearhug? A freakin’ Bearhug? This isn’t 1972…
10. The Honky Tonk Man
In no time period could a guy with a Honky Tonk gimmick hold the Intercontinental Championship for 64 weeks other than the 80s. Looking back, it’s really difficult to understand how The Honky Tonk Man even managed to get over. If someone were to debut with a Honky Tonk gimmick today, the over-the-top backlash would almost be enough to make you cry.
9. Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was the only guy who could possibly pull off the Razor Ramon character and Vince McMahon knew it. That didn’t stop him from recasting the role once Scott Hall left for WCW and Vince then attempted to sue WCW over Hall’s likeness being too similar to the Razor Ramon character. The closest anyone has gone to mimicking Razor has been Alberto Del Rio, a Mexican aristocrat and “La Esencia de la Excelencia.” Still, even if Hall himself was born in a different era and received the Razor Ramon gimmick, the world is no longer interested in that much machismo.
8. Jake Roberts
No seriously, imagine the media backlash from animal rights groups and journalists if a modern wrestler started bringing a snake down to the ring and using it as a weapon. It was cool in its time, but modern society would completely lose its collective marbles if WWE tried to incorporate an animal into its programming. Even Summer Rae receiving a puppy from Rusev received criticism – no, for real, the angle was criticized because the puppy seemed scared.
7. Jerry Lawler
The king gimmick is dead and buried, despite WWE trying to continue to give it life over the last 20 years through its various King of the Ring tournaments. In fact, King Barrett winning the tournament has effectively removed him from relevance, allowing WWE to use him as Stardust’s sidekick in recent times. Abolish this stupid gimmick, please.
While the Crow version of Sting would be a guaranteed hit in years to come, wind the clock back to when the Stinger was at his hottest in the 80s and early 90s and imagine him succeeding in this day and age. You could even describe Sting as the Hulk Hogan you probably didn’t know about and, in the case of modern times, don’t want to know about. People had a hard enough time dealing with Lex Luger.
5. Shawn Michaels/Rick Rude
Remember John Morrison? Yeah, that guy sucked as a heel. He was a great wrestler and all, but it was so easy to hate his character and not in a good way. The old formula of a heel telling the world how great he is will always be a winner, but a heel telling people they are straight-up better and more attractive than everyone else apparently strikes a chord. It’s why Tyler Breeze, an excellent in-ring worked with a cocky, male model gimmick, has spent so long in NXT while others have come along and leapfrogged him. Now that he is slowly moving away from being a bad guy on NXT, which resulted in a SmackDown debut, it seems to work. I don’t get it either.
4. Bret Hart
Although Bret Hard is undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers of all time – or if you will, the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be – it isn’t possible for a wrestler to get over solely on their in-ring abilities in the current day. Even the likes of He Who Shall Not Be Named, aka Chris Benoit, who was magnificent in the ring, didn’t shoot to WWE success until he started working under the Rabid Wolverine moniker.
3. Macho Man Randy Savage
Nobody else could have possibly made this gimmick work. Remove yourself from any positive “Macho Man” thoughts and imagine a wrestler debuting with wirey hair, colorful sunglasses and bandanas, bedazzled robes, pink and yellow trunks, speaking with a raspy voice and being billed as the “Macho Man” – it simply wouldn’t work. In fact, you could hardly even call Savage’s gimmick a gimmick – it was a personalized portrayal only he could ever pull off and that would only take off in the 80s and early 90s.
2. The Undertaker
You can throw the Undertaker’s kayfabe half-brother Kane in here and apply just about everything to him too. We’re not talking The American Badass or the modern watered down version of The Undertaker; we’re talking about the mystical, lightning-summoning, undead dude who likes to steal his boss’s daughter and throw her on a crucifix. It’s hard enough for some fans to get into Bray Wyatt, who is arguably a modern version of ‘Taker; could you imagine how the crowd would react if Bray started throwing lightning bolts at his foes?
1. Hulk Hogan
This character was dead in the mid-90s and Hogan knew it, hence the heel turn and forming of the most revolutionary faction in professional wrestling, the New World Order. There isn’t a place for the super-dooper America-loving superhuman anymore; Lex Luger learned this the hard way. In fact, if John Cena wasn’t as big as he was before he grew stale, there is no way he would ever be involved in the company as the ‘Murican patriot-like children’s super hero.
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