You’ll often hear the sports entertainment world is hell-bent on telling stories and creating superheroes, rather than focusing on the historical qualities of the business. Companies such as WWE and the defunct WCW were not only neck and neck with each other in terms of competition, but also out to establish themselves as respectable brands in the world of pro-wrestling.
Over the last few decades, it’s safe to say the business has matured. There was once a time where grown men and women had to adopt costumes from what seemed like a fairy tale or fantasy world, being the subject of embarrassment. It’s a shame they had to listen to the higher-ups, who had no idea how to appeal to fans or get with the times. Skillset alone couldn’t even save accomplished wrestlers like Barry Windham (The Stalker) and Jim Neidhart (Who), whose characters were forced to change. Some wrestlers were just born to be a gimmick or at least that’s what their employers thought.
When looking back on the most horrendous wrestling gimmicks, you could write a list that fits a scroll or compose a thick picture book perfect for any coffee table or waiting room. The terrible ideas were endless back in the 1990s and it’s not fair to blame Vince McMahon’s product entirely, which influenced Eric Bischoff and the rest of the powers that be over at WCW to engage in warfare, as WCW had atrocious characters themselves. Gimmicks will always have a soft spot in a fan’s heart, because they’ve aged so terribly over time and become even funnier.
However, in those proposed lists or books, there will be a handful of names that force the casual wrestling fan to take a trip down memory lane, to the so-called “golden age” of wrestling where spectacle was embraced over sport. While most hardcores may be familiar with a number of names on the list, here are 15 wrestling gimmicks that are hard to remember:
When Goldust jumped ship to WCW in the late 1990s, he began a new journey under Seven. Vignettes aired of Rhodes’ new character in white face paint, dressed in black while standing outside a child’s window. The Standard and Practices executives at Turner Broadcasting suggested this was eerily reminiscent of a child abductor, and the gimmick was dropped after Rhodes cut a promo on Nitro about “bad gimmicks” (referencing Goldust, which turned out to be great one).
When Big Boss Man was serving as WWE’s nice-guy cop, one of his victims, a giant by the name of Nailz, had accused Bossman of abusing him while in jail. Genius.
Nailz, who put on a fake aggressive voice, competed in an orange jumpsuit, and to his credit, saw some pay-per-view (PPV) time against Virgil at SummerSlam 1992 and then Boss Man at Survivor Series 1992, not to mention competing against Bret Hart and The Undertaker at house shows, as well as stints in WCW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW). He was fired for attacking McMahon over money, and subsequently released from WWE.
Half-man, half-centaur, Mantaur was a prime example of Vince McMahon’s superhero gimmicks failing miserably. This really put a dent on Mike Halac’s wrestling career, as he was terrorized by Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) crowds when Paul Heyman gave him a shot shortly after. Even though he went back to being Bruiser Mastino with ECW, he could never shake this horrible gimmick.
Even though Phantasio was one and done in WWE, he developed a cult following among hardcores that kept tabs on terrible gimmicks.
Had the wrestler been an evil magician instead of one that looked like a mime, maybe he had better chances of sticking around. But WWE already experimented with Papa Shango. Anyhow, this was just as awful.
Poor Brad Armstrong.
The late wrestler from the Armstrong wrestling family had more than one bad gimmick. Up there with unfortunate characters Buzzkill, Candyman, or Badstreet, Armstrong also suited up as Arachnaman, a Spider-Man rip-off with a slightly worse costume and hair metal theme song.
Just like Spidey, he had rope too. This was a sign of the times.
10 Xanta Klaus
Out of all the wrestlers WWE legend Ted DiBiase managed in the mid-1990s, this one was the least memorable.
Xanta Klaus was basically an evil Santa Claus, played by ECW veteran Balls Mahoney. The slugger would get another chance in WWE years later, and thankfully, it wasn't as bad as playing Santa’s evil brother from the South Pole. Making his debut at In Your House 5, Klaus attacked Savio Vega and competed on Monday Night Raw until McMahon found out Santa wasn't real.
Before Kevin Nash was known as “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel and one half of The Outsiders, he wasn’t very cool at all.
Already performing as Steel, one half of the Master Blasters (yuck), Nash became Oz, a character WCW would unveil alongside his manager, The Grand Wizard. Oz was influenced from exactly what you’d expect it to be from: The Wizard of Oz. Complete with bright silver hair, Diesel was quite a turn around having made his WWE debut only a couple of years later.
8 The Ding Dongs
Don’t kid yourself, there’s been a hefty amount of terrible tag team gimmicks too. Remember the likes of The Dicks or Well Dunn?
The Ding Dongs were the creation of Jim Herd, Executive Vice President of WCW in the late 1980s, up until around 1992. It is well documented that Herd fired Ric Flair from the company (wanting him to change his character to Spartacus) and tried to come up with some pretty terrible gimmicks to rival his competitors.
When The Hunchbacks didn’t work (a proposed tag team who simply couldn’t get pinned), Herd created The Ding Dongs, two men in jumpsuits sporting bells.
This was as bad as it got.
7 Waylon Mercy
Based on Robert De Niro’s character in Cape Fear, Waylon Mercy wasn't a terrible idea more so than a failed experiment. They made Dan Spivey, who was no slouch in the wrestling world, dress like he was on vacation in Cuba, equipped with a fake tattoo of a knife on his forehead. He portrayed himself as a nice American man from the South, usually ending promos with his one-liner, “D’You Know What I Mean?” When the bell rang, when he would savagely attack his opponents.
However, it seems like Mercy’s WWE career was influential for Bray Wyatt, who credits the madman for his own transformation from Husky Harris to the “Eater of Worlds.”
6 Friar Ferguson
Mike Shaw seemed to always be given a terrible gimmick and this one was no different. Friar Ferguson made his WWE debut in 1993, dressed as a friar and wore a notepad on the front of his costume. How officials thought this was a good idea is simply puzzling.
If some don’t recall Ferguson’s action in the ring, he was also Norman The Lunatic and Bastion Booger, which were two slightly better gimmicks than this one.
Not by much, though.
5 Salvatore Sincere
WWE continued to explore absurd characters heading in the late-90s, when they would repackage Johnny Gunn (Tom Brandi) as Salvatore Sincere, an Italian character with suggested Mafia ties who tricked his opponents and fans with his sincerity.
Thankfully for Brandi, WWE let him compete under his real name shortly after, and he was even accused of gimmick infringement years later by Del Wikes, who stated Brandi was using the Patriot gimmick in the independents without his permission.
4 Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz
Imagine you’re a jobber that gained a following by losing to major superstars on a weekly basis. Then, WWE tries to capitalize on your misfortunates by giving you an even more depressing gimmick.
The Brooklyn Brawler, who remains a household name for any nostalgic wrestling fan, was once billed as Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz, a player on strike who insulted Major League Baseball (MLB) fans after the incompletion of the 1994-1995 season.
Schwartz was usually seen sitting in areas with signs or jobbing in battle royals.
3 Tekno Team 2000
Billed from the future, Tekno Team 2000 looked like two characters straight out of Lost In Space or an Aqua video.
Portraying what mindless individuals thought the future would look like, Erik Watts and Chad Fortune (adopting Troy and Travis) wore shiny leather vests, looking like the ancestors of The Ascension.
They didn’t last long in WWE, feuding with the likes of The Heavenly Bodies and The Body Donnas before they were released in 1996.
2 “Mr. Hole In One” Barry Darsow
Demolition will forever be one of the most successful tag teams in WWE history. Even though they looked like they would fit perfectly in a dominatrix film, they weren’t your average goons.
“Mr. Hole-In-One” Barry Darsow, however, wasn’t exactly the real deal. Having served as Repo Man after his stint as Smash in WWE, Barry Darsow was a victim of bad gimmicks. It’s not like WCW Saturday Night had a shortage of them, featuring characters like The Gambler and Roadblock.
He then became “Putting” Barry Darsow before he was released from WCW, which was the best-case scenario for all parties involved.
1 Just Joe
A forgotten character in the Attitude Era, Just Joe didn’t have a lengthy career, or an important one, for that matter.
Working as Joe Legend throughout the better part of his wrestling days, Just Joe would parade around WWE locker rooms, getting under the skin of his fellow wrestlers by acting like a messenger and spreading rumors. Only Joe came off more as a snitch than anything else.
He wasn’t worth keeping, seeing how WWE released him in less than a year’s time. He was a familiar face on Sunday Night Heat, losing his debut match to Dean Malenko and served his purpose for a short period of time as the pesky character that fit the Attitude Era perfectly. He didn’t walk around like he meant any harm, other than informing wrestlers of the latest news he heard from the grapevine.