When WWE ushered in the Attitude Era in 1997, it marked the dawn of a more realistic product, on top of the much-needed edginess it provided to wrestling viewers. The snooty aristocrat Hunter Hearst Helmsley had become the wisecracking badass Triple H, who eventually evolved into the sledgehammer-swinging, 20-minute-promo-cutting "Game"/"King of Kings" today's fans know. Rocky Maivia was no longer a good guy who couldn't smile enough; he had become The Rock, a master on the mic who could cut anyone down with his unique insults. That character continues to define Dwayne Johnson today. Then we also saw the rise of that ornery beer-drinking everyman "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Vince McMahon's transformation from ostensible good guy announcer to evil boss. And what about the bevy of controversial characters and angles that helped WWE cater so well to the 18 to 34-year-old demographic instead of young children? We could go on.
The bottom line, as Stone Cold would have said so, is that the Attitude Era marked WWE's most popular and exciting period in its history. But it was far from perfect, and a lot of those imperfections manifested in the gimmicks. Not all gimmick changes went as well as the ones mentioned above, and not all new gimmicks were well-received by fans. In fact, there were some gimmicks that crossed the lines of good taste, even by Attitude's raunchy standards.
Yes, that's right — we're back with another list of bad gimmicks from a specific WWE era, and this time, it's going to be all about the worst that the Attitude Era had to offer.
They were the Pretty Mean Sisters. Get it? Of course, you get it. This was a three-woman stable led by Terri Runnels, and also featuring Jacqueline, and Ken Shamrock's storyline little sister Ryan, who was given a predominantly male name just so Val Venis had an excuse to shoot a porno called "Saving Ryan's Privates." Their thing was that they wanted to stick it to the men of WWE and making them pay for their piggish, sexist behavior. Fair enough at first, until you realize they had a "love slave" called Meat, who also appears in this list.
Not surprisingly, this mixed-message idea was the brainchild of Vince Russo, and it wasn't exactly the blueprint for strong feminist characters like AJ Lee's during the latter part of her WWE run. Instead, it was another example of WWE trying to sell sex in the name of Attitude, but failing at it.
18 NAKED MIDEON
It was a step-up, for sure, when pig farmers Henry O. and Phineas I. Godwinn traded their grimy overalls for tailored suits and their lame-pun ring names for their real ones — Mark Canterbury and Dennis Knight, respectively. But Southern Justice (Jeff Jarrett's hired muscle) didn't last long, as Canterbury suffered a career-ending injury in 1998. That left Knight with nothing to do, until he returned later that year as Mideon, the lowest of the low men in The Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness stable.
With the Ministry disbanding late in 1999, Mideon was again left floundering and poorly-utilized, but he would be repackaged in 2000, leaving almost all of his clothes at home. That's because he became Naked Mideon, a streaker whose only "clothes" were a fanny pack and a thong. Too bad he never entered the ring to a mash-up of Ray Stevens' 1970s novelty "The Streak" and Sisqo's "Thong Song," which, as you may know, was really popular during Naked Mideon's brief (pun definitely not intended) heyday.
What? You mean WWE actually had a wrestler named Key? That was 30-something rookie Vic Grimes, who was part of a very short-lived stable with Droz and Prince Albert in 1999. And "Key," apparently, was short for "kilo," as in five keys of blow and another ten keys of weed. This guy was supposed to be a drug dealer, and Road Warrior Hawk was supposedly his best customer, and the reason why Droz was able to replace him in the Legion of Doom.
As Key was too raw for the big leagues, he was soon asked to hone his skills in ECW, where he most notably came close to getting killed by New Jack in a scaffold match. He never made it back to WWE, and the company probably wishes they never gave Vic Grimes such a tasteless gimmick, short-lived as it was. One, because wrestlers were still dropping like flies in the '90s and 2000s as a consequence of previous or current drug use. Two, because one of those wrestlers was Road Warrior Hawk, who died in 2003.
16 THE ODDITIES
The Parade of Human Oddities originally consisted of Golga (the former Earthquake, slimmed down and wearing a mask) and seven-footers Giant Silva and Kurrgan, and were led by The Jackyl as a heel faction. Then along came Sable replacing Jackyl in mid-1998, and in a kindhearted move, the future Mrs. Lesnar repackaged The Oddities as a bunch of happy, fun-loving, positive-thinking good guys who danced after matches, even if they often lost. New Day these guys weren't.
Things got even stranger when The Oddities were joined by Luna Vachon, as WWE proceeded to waste the talents of the otherwise fearsome women's wrestler by having her join a comedy stable. Insane Clown Posse also went along for the ride, performing the stable's theme song. And George "The Animal" Steele was briefly a member, advertised as the "Original Oddity." Nothing helped, as fans mostly reacted with apathy to this half-baked attempt to portray perceived "freaks" in a positive light. Be a Star, everyone.
15 "SEXUAL CHOCOLATE" MARK HENRY
"Oh, sweet Jesus, you've got a penis!"
Mark Henry may nowadays be remembered for his catchphrase "That's what I do!" and his Hall of Pain, but the grizzled WWE veteran is also remembered for that one line above, which he uttered when he discovered he was making out with a transvestite. That was one of the many angles that took place as part of Henry's "Sexual Chocolate" gimmick, and it was so bad that fans still chant "Sexual Chocolate" at the World's Strongest Man whenever he's playing a heel.
Aside from the above misadventure, Henry got into a storyline relationship with Mae Young, who was old enough to be his grandmother but still gave birth to their "child," which turned out to be a hand. Who could forget that? That's something people almost always mention when they talk cringeworthy Attitude storylines. But there was also the sex therapy session, where he admitted, among other things, to having had lost his virginity at eight. To his sister. Whom he still had incestuous relations with. Alright, can we please have Jerry Springer on the line?
14 THE "NEW" TAG TEAMS (MIDNIGHT EXPRESS AND BLACKJACKS)
The Midnight Express were a big deal in the Southern territories, and with manager Jim Cornette, they had one of the finest mouthpieces in the business. Unfortunately, not even Corny could turn this garbage idea into gold — the New Midnight Express, featuring "Bodacious" Bart Gunn and "Bombastic" Bob Holly. These two midcarders had nothing on their plates at that time, so it was decided that they be teamed up as part of the "NWA Invasion" angle of 1998. Just like the angle, not too many people cared for these half-baked pretenders.
The New Midnights weren't the only "New" tag team from the early days of Attitude. Thinking they could recapture the magic of the original Blackjacks — Blackjack Mulligan and Blackjack Lanza — WWE had Mulligan's son Barry Windham team up with the wrestler then known as Justin Bradshaw, and repackaged them as the New Blackjacks, with the blonde Windham dyeing his hair black and growing a similarly black mustache. Not even Blackjack Windham turning on Blackjack Bradshaw could make this "new" version interesting.
12 TIGER ALI SINGH
While not a "blue-chip" prospect like the future Rock, Tiger Ali Singh was also a second-generation talent, and his signing was also made a big deal of when he joined WWE in 1997. Yet this exciting new talent, as fans were led to believe, was off television for months after his April 1997 TV debut. And when he returned, he was back with a manservant of his own, taking great pleasure in making fans embarrass themselves in the ring for a small amount of money. Hmmmm, when and where did we see that before?
While Ted DiBiase and Virgil, er...Vincent were in WCW, Tiger Ali Singh and Babu were bringing back their late-'80s gimmick on WWE television. But unlike the Million Dollar Man, Singh didn't have the charisma to make the gimmick work, and he proved to be quite green in the ring as well. And the fact that most fans knew that Singh/Babu were blatant DiBiase/Virgil ripoffs didn't help matters any. Singh didn't do much better managing Lo Down (Chaz and D-Lo Brown) after his Million Dollar Ripoff days were over, and it was a miracle he stayed employed by WWE until 2002.
8 JEFF JARRETT THE MISOGYNIST
Usually, we'd call it leveling up when a wrestler would trade his country singer gimmick in for something more realistic and less cartoonish. That was what happened in 1998, when J-E-double-F, J-A-double-R-E-double-T dumped Tennessee Lee (a.k.a. Col. Robert Parker) and stopped pretending to be the "world's greatest country singer." With Debra arriving from WCW and stepping in as his new manager, Jeff Jarrett's star was rising, and fans (and Jerry Lawler) were screaming out for Debra to show her "puppies" and distract Double J's opponents.
In 1999, WWE retooled Jarrett's character once again, and instead of being an intense and realistic heel, he became an intense and abusive heel, lashing out at Debra and other female wrestlers and non-wrestlers, and ramping up the misogynistic behavior as he feuded with Chyna over the Intercontinental Championship. Let's get one thing straight: when written properly, there's nothing wrong with intergender wrestling. But portraying a male wrestler as physically abusive against women, all for the sake of shock value? That's another case of Attitude gone wrong.
Try to process this for a minute — the son of a former WWE (then-WWWF) World Champion was once a sex slave on TV. Of course, we're talking about Shawn Stasiak, son of Stan, and one of the few WWE guys to defect to WCW while the Attitude Era was on fire and WCW was going further south in a hurry. He debuted in WWE in 1999 as Meat, and if you're wondering what kind of man goes by the name "Meat," we'll tell you what —he was the love (read: sex) slave to Terri Runnels, Jacqueline, and Ryan Shamrock, a.k.a. the Pretty Mean Sisters/PMS. And he wrestled with a boner. Seriously.
Eventually, Meat would start jobbing regularly, and the announcers helpfully explained that having sex with three horny women before matches was tiring him out. He was soon back wrestling (and losing) under his usual Shawn Stasiak ring name, and was fired in December 1999 for recording an argument between Davey Boy Smith and Steve Blackman. Stasiak briefly returned to WWE in 2001 after WCW folded, but never quite got to live down his original man-ho gimmick.
6 "REAL MAN'S MAN" STEVEN REGAL
At the present, William Regal is well-respected as one of WWE's top midcard talents of the 2000s, and serves as NXT's on-air general manager. Likewise, he had a good midcard run in WCW as Lord Steven Regal back in the 1990s. So why repackage a guy best-known for working a snobby English royalty gimmick (and doing quite well at it) as a macho lumberjack who loves doing manly things?
It was a head-scratcher then, and is still a head-scratcher now. WWE teased the debut of lumberjack Regal for several weeks in late-1998, and when he finally made his debut, he made nary a splash, and was off television faster than you can say "Real Man's Man." As it turned out, Regal was dealing with "personal demons" that would send him to rehab and send him back to WCW as the company's tailspin continued. Fortunately, Regal's return to WWE in 2000, where he went by William Regal because that other guy named Steve was the company's biggest star, was far more successful. And he hasn't left the company since.
5 THE UNDERTAKER "AMERICAN BAD ASS"
By far the highest-profile entry in this list, The Undertaker wasn't immune to bad gimmicks in his long WWE career. And while it isn't a bad (albeit often generic) gimmick to have someone wrestle as a biker, it was an utter waste to have Undertaker, who was last seen as the evil, quasi-Satanic leader of the Ministry of Darkness/Corporate Ministry, return as the thoroughly humanized American Bad Ass, entering to the Kid Rock song of the same name, as well as Limp Bizkit's 2000 crime against music, "Rollin'." Yeah, we get it. Rap-rock was huge in 2000, and so was 'Taker. But like smoking a joint and writing wrestling scripts, they just didn't mix.
As the American Bad Ass, and later on as "Big Evil," the so-called "Biker-Taker" did retain his massive push, winning his share of titles and engaging in some memorable feuds. (In a good way — the DDP feud/burial doesn't count!) But it just wasn't the same for a lot of fans, and by 2004, he was back to being the same old ominous, undead 'Taker, with the macabre strains of his iconic ring theme burying those hard rock riffs six feet under.
4 KAI EN TAI
Let's admit it. Hearing Kai En Tai leader Yamaguchi-san scream "I CHOPPY CHOPPY YOUR PEE PEE!" at the oversexed Val Venis may have been funny when we were much younger. Hearing Taka Michinoku deliver promos in poorly-dubbed English (c/o Shane McMahon, apparently) and Funaki follow up with "INDEED!" was hilarious for many of us who grew up on Japanese robot cartoons in the 1980s. But let's just think for a moment of what Shinsuke Nakamura has achieved in NXT and what he could achieve on the main roster, and thank the wrestling gods that he never suffered through such indignities and, in hindsight, tasteless Japanese stereotypes.
During their run in WWE, Kai En Tai were little more than comedy jobbers, and they sadly paved the way for similar wastes of Japanese talent such as Kenzo Suzuki and Yoshi Tatsu. Hardly anything was taboo in the Attitude Era, but racial stereotypes were, and still are, one of those places you don't want to go to, regardless of how risque your programming is.
3 PERRY SATURN AS MOPPY'S BOYFRIEND
It doesn't matter if it's a lowly, insignificant jobber. If you feel someone's stiffing you in the ring, don't go mental on him and beat him up for real. That's a harsh lesson Perry Saturn learned the hard way after he assaulted Mike Bell during a dark match. As punishment for the incident, Saturn was given a storyline concussion, which would then result in one of the worst gimmick changes of the Attitude Era's final years. That gimmick change had Saturn thinking he was in a relationship with an inanimate object, and that inanimate object was a mop. No, "she" wasn't given a feminine name like the rifles in Full Metal Jacket; "she" was simply called Moppy. And we haven't mentioned how the "concussion" made Perry spout out word salad promos and display other eccentric behaviors.
The "Moppy's boyfriend" gimmick led into a Saturn face turn and a rivalry with Raven, but if you think of the gimmick for a moment and realize that concussions are no joke, that makes it even more off-putting in hindsight. It may have been a form of punishment, but couldn't they have just fined Saturn instead?
2 BILLY AND CHUCK
In theory, it should have been a good gimmick. Long before the term "bromance" became commonplace, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo formed a tag team in 2001, and would become so affectionate to each other that the only thing remaining was to out them in kayfabe as a gay couple. Everything was going swimmingly for Billy and Chuck as they won WWE's Tag Team Championships, got the even more flamboyant Rico to act as their manager and personal stylist, and earned kudos from GLAAD for their positive portrayal of two gay men who were, on the September 12, 2002 SmackDown, set to be "married" in a "commitment ceremony."
Then the ceremony took place. WWE pulled the ultimate cop-out by having Billy and Chuck admit that they were only pretending to be gay for the sake of publicity. The preacher unmasked himself as Eric Bischoff, and Eric's thugs Three Minute Warning laid a beatdown on the straight-all-along tag team. Billy and Chuck's push was ruined. And GLAAD, quite understandably, was furious.
WWE hasn't had a very good history when it comes to LGBT storylines and characters, and that, my friends, is all the proof that you need. Unless you want to learn more about Bischoff's "Hot Lesbian Action" segments.
1 BEAVER CLEAVAGE/CHAZ
Glenn "Thrasher" Ruth's knee injury in early-1999 came at the worst possible time for Chaz "Mosh" Warrington, who had nothing to do with The Headbangers on forced hiatus. A few weeks later, Warrington was back on television, appearing in 1950s family sitcom-style vignettes with his "mother," who looked, and was actually a few years younger than he was. He was now Beaver Cleavage, who, unlike the squeaky-clean Beaver Cleaver, thought little of flirting incestuously with his "mother," Mrs. Cleavage.
Beaver Cleavage wrestled just one match on Monday Night RAW before, in a worked-shoot promo, the man behind the gimmick publicly renounced it and chose instead to wrestle as the less-offensive, but far more generic Chaz. But what was that about being less offensive? Chaz was involved in a very awkward storyline later in 1999, where he was accused of domestic abuse by his girlfriend Marianna, a.k.a. Mrs. Cleavage in the aforementioned Beaver Cleavage vignettes. It turned out to be a frame-up, as Thrasher helped reveal, and an unusual, uncomfortable way of getting The Headbangers back together again.
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