On the October 4, 2016 episode of SmackDown Live, Kenny Dykstra and Mike Mondo made their return to WWE television. This time, however, they were reprising their old Spirit Squad roles as Kenny and Mikey, returning as lackeys to The Miz in his feud with former Spirit Squad member Nicky, a.k.a. Dolph Ziggler. And the fact that they returned under their old, much-maligned gimmicks brought back a lot of memories to fans who were following, or had followed WWE during its so-called “Ruthless Aggression” era.
Ruthless Aggression was right in between the shock TV of the Attitude Era and the arguably safer, watered-down product we got to know in the PG Era. But it had no shortage of bad, tasteless, and/or ill-timed gimmicks. The Spirit Squad is one of those poor Ruthless Aggression gimmicks we were forced to watch back then, and we’ll see just where they rank among the era’s worst gimmicks in a little bit.
Fans tend to be divided as to when Ruthless Aggression started, but for the sake of this list, we shall place its start date at May 5, 2002, when WWF had officially rebranded to WWE. Its end date, on the other hand, will align with the commonly agreed-upon date of July 21, 2008, which is when WWE programming had become PG. As such, all gimmicks in this list had debuted in between those dates, though some had overrun into the early PG Era and were still used during that time.
15 ROSEY (a.k.a. THE SUPER HERO IN TRAINING)
Although The Hurricane had all the potential to end up as a bad gimmick, Shane Helms somehow made it work. The only time it didn’t was when Rosey of 3 Minute Warning fame became Hurricane’s sidekick, thereby answering the trivia question – what’s worse for an Anoa’i than entering the ring to a chorus of boos despite being booked as a babyface?
The answer, of course, is being booked as a Super Hero In Training, and you don’t need to be a graduate of Springfield Heights Institute of Technology to figure out what that means. Roman Reigns’ real-life older brother Matt Anoa’i deserved much better than being the punch line in increasingly lame attempts to get crap past the censors’ radar. After splitting from The Hurricane, he was released from WWE in 2006 just as he and Jamal (later known as Umaga) were teasing a 3 Minute Warning comeback.
14 THE BASHAM BROTHERS (w/SHANIQUA)
Quick, how do you make a dull pair of lookalike “brothers” exciting? Why, give them an S&M gimmick and team them up with an African-American woman with a ring name straight out of Racial Stereotypes for Dummies! Danny and Doug Basham were bald, burly, and boring as a tag team of kayfabe brothers, but with Tough Enough Season 2’s Linda Miles repackaged in June 2003 as Shaniqua, they got themselves a manager who was supposed to make them interesting.
As it turned out, the submissive Bashams were still a virtual sleeper hold to Ruthless Aggression fans, and dominatrix Shaniqua was almost as bad in the ring as her Tough Enough co-winner Jackie Gayda. But if it’s any consolation, this writer would still prefer a Bashams/Shaniqua match or angle to Fifty Shades of Grey any day of the week.
13 THE ECW ZOMBIE
Urggggghhhhhh. Rawrrrrrgggghhhh. Arrrrgggghhhh. Meet the man who sounds like Jake Roberts on the mic when compared to Roman Reigns. Or Dusty Rhodes talking about “Hard Times” when compared to Jack Swagger talking about his amateur wrestling accomplishments.
Of course, we’re being sarcastic and snarky like a lot of those who commented on the YouTube video of the ECW Zombie’s sole appearance on the brand. But this was clearly WWE’s attempt to capitalize on the fact that the rebooted ECW was debuting on the SyFy network, and he was, as you can expect, gone after being squashed by The Sandman.
Unfortunately, the man who played the ECW Zombie is no longer with us, as Tim Roberts passed away in January of 2015.
12 B-2 (a.k.a. BULL BUCHANAN)
Barry Buchanan got his start in WWF as Recon, one of the kayfabe South Africans who made up the largely forgettable Truth Commission. He then billed himself as Bull Buchanan as the most forgettable member of another stable, the Right to Censor. Likewise, few remember him for that brief period he went by the name B-2 (or B-Squared) and served as John Cena’s bodyguard during the time he was establishing himself as a freestyle rapper. A heel freestyle rapper, in case you forgot the last time Cena was a bad guy.
B-2 had a stupid, unoriginal catchphrase (“Boo-yah!”), was a rather useless lackey to the soon-to-be Doctor of Thuganomics, and had a mediocre push. And you know why he was so forgettable despite having a decent look? He had no charisma whatsoever. No one cared about him when he turned on Cena, and no one batted an eyelash when the newly-renamed WWE dropped him in early 2003.
11 THE DICKS
Remember The Dicks? Chances are you don’t, as their run in the WWE was of the blink-and-you-miss-it nature. But at least theirs was longer than the male stripper gimmick of Tyler Reks and Curt Hawkins (see: worst gimmicks of the 2010s by this same writer), as they spent late 2005 to early 2006 as part of the SmackDown brand, working as a pair of Chippendales dancers with the least subtle of ring names.
Chad and James Dick worked as heels, and won by spraying lotion on their (mostly) jobber opponents' eyes — Rick "The Model" Martel called, and he wants his gimmick back. But unlike Martel, The Dicks drew so little heat that toward the end of their run, they were being fed to The Boogeyman in handicap matches.
10 REVEREND D-VON AND DEACON BATISTA
What’s worse than bringing back The Dudley Boyz as a 40-something nostalgia act and doing jack with their subsequent heel turn? Placing them in different brands in the first-ever WWE draft in 2002 and turning D-Von into Vince McMahon’s “spiritual advisor.” D-Von was too good for his occupational gimmick as a reverend, and it was clear WWE Creative was lazily capitalizing on his catchphrase of “TESTIFY!”
With Reverend D-Von came a hulking recruit from OVW called “Deacon” Batista, who carried the collection plate and worked as D-Von’s silent muscle. Soon after, the Deacon turned on his boss and moved from SmackDown to RAW, where his occupational gimmick became a thing of the past and he became one-fourth of Evolution as a legit main eventer.
Aside from the gimmick reportedly being a punishment for Vito LoGrasso’s bad locker room behavior, it’s also sad to note that the gimmick of him wearing a dress was essentially an excuse for WWE heels to act homophobic in storyline, such as the times MVP, William Regal, and others made a stink about having to wrestle a cross-dresser who nonetheless claimed he was straight. Hadn’t anybody learned anything from Billy and Chuck, who mercifully escaped this list by forming in the last few months of Attitude?
The whole “Vito in a dress” gimmick of 2006 was unfunny and uncomfortable, and did no favors to the man wearing the dresses, as he was soon released by WWE. And it’s another example of why Ruthless Aggression was, in many instances, closer to Tasteless Aggression when it came to the gimmicks.
8 THE BOOGEYMAN
Marty Wright may have gotten disqualified from Tough Enough for lying about his age, but WWE saw enough potential in the aging, yet muscular rookie when they signed him to OVW, then called him up to the main roster as The Boogeyman. In Vince McMahon’s mind, this was a kid-centric heel designed to scare younger fans like Papa Shango (played by the unrelated Charles Wright, a.k.a. Kama/The Godfather) did more than a decade prior.
In the end, all he did was disgust fans young and old alike with his subpar wrestling and cheap attempts to gross out audiences. What’s truly scary, though, is the fact that The Boogeyman is currently signed to a Legends deal with WWE, which means there may be more bad comedy segments where Marty Wright reappears to eat worms or chew “moles” off of people’s faces. Ugh.
In theory – and believe us, you will be seeing that phrase again on this list – Jon Heidenreich didn’t have a bad gimmick. (Yes, we know he was a BAD wrestler, though that’s a different story.) He was booked as a total psychopath, which isn’t exactly original, but not that risky a gimmick. And while the Heidenreich gimmick began going south when he started reading poetry, that’s not the main reason why he still leaves a bad taste in fans' mouths.
Remember that SmackDown episode where Heidenreich forcibly dragged Michael Cole to the bathroom to, you know, violate him? That was dangerously close to Katie Vick territory, if you know what we mean. Oh, and he replaced the late Road Warrior Hawk on the Legion of Doom and won a Tag Team Championship with Road Warrior Animal. You do not replace Hawk with a talentless psycho like Heidenreich. You just do not do that.
6 THE SPIRIT SQUAD
To be fair to Kenny, Johnny, Mitch, Nicky, and Mikey, this five-man stable of male cheerleaders had some great individual talent. Bad as their gimmick was, they were meant to be annoying, and they delivered in spades, especially when they made great use of the Freebird Rule and held the WWE World Tag Team belts for a whopping 216 days, and when they bullied Joey Styles into delivering one of the classic worked shoots of the Ruthless Aggression Era.
Those are the mitigating factors that barely keep The Spirit Squad from making the top five of this list. Otherwise, this was not a good gimmick for five talented young prospects. Fortunately, Nicky became Dolph Ziggler and attained WWE stardom, despite often being stuck unfairly in the midcard. And as we mentioned in the intro, Kenny and Mikey’s Spirit Squad revival in 2016 wasn’t a one-time deal after all, though we might not see them around for much longer.
5 MUHAMMAD HASSAN
With 9/11 still fresh in the minds of many fans, WWE debuted the Italian-American Mark Copani as Muhammad Hassan toward the end of 2004, as he played the role of an Arab-American wrestler fed up with negative stereotypes brought about by the 9/11 attacks. It was, in theory, a good way to get heat and a nice twist on the “evil foreigner” trope that had been a staple of wrestling gimmicks since the days of Fritz Von Erich and Ivan Koloff. But in practice, it was an absolute nightmare, starting with the poor timing of the gimmick.
Hassan got a good push upon his debut and was reportedly on track to become the youngest WWE World Heavyweight champ in history. But even worse timing led to his downfall, as a segment where Hassan’s prayer led to five ostensible terrorists beating up The Undertaker aired just three days before the London bombings of 2005. WWE crumbled upon network pressure to remove Hassan from its programming, and when it was all over, Mark Copani was out of the WWE before the end of 2005, and retired from wrestling at the tender age of 24.
4 PAUL AND KATIE LEA BURCHILL
Paul Burchill’s original WWE gimmick – that of a pirate – had bust potential written all over it, but he played it so well in 2006 that it somehow avoided this list. When he was repackaged in early 2008, just months before the official start of the PG Era (hence his narrowly making the list in terms of timeline), he re-debuted alongside fellow English wrestler Katarina Waters, who was billed as his storyline sister Katie Lea. So far, so good, until you realize those two were awfully close for a purported brother-and-sister duo.
Okay, so Paul and Katie Lea weren’t exactly Jaime and Cersei Lannister. But they were written in such an unsubtle way that you had to know something was going on between those two. This “implied incest” gimmick somehow survived the advent of the PG Era, but neither Burchill sibling went anywhere past the midcard, even on the ECW brand.
3 THE MEXICOOLS
We get it. We know Juventud Guerrera, Super Crazy, and Psicosis are Mexican. But do you have to stick these three talented wrestlers in the most stereotypical of stereotypical Mexican gimmicks? Ironically, it wasn’t supposed to be that way, as Juvie introduced his new faction by denouncing stereotypes of his people, and deriding the “gringos” sticking Mexicans in menial jobs. Instead, they debuted in WWE as a stable of lawnmower-riding goofballs who interfered in tag team matches. There was indeed a lot of bad comedy to be had when The Mexicools were around.
Hey, at least the “Juan Deere” branding on their lawnmowers was clever. Everything else about the gimmick? Complete rubbish and a disservice to three talented wrestlers.
These days, WWE makes a big deal out of initiatives such as “Be a Star,” where Superstars speak to kids about the evils of bullying. But the company hasn’t always been a good role model, and that was especially true in 2004 when the talented Nick Dinsmore debuted as Eric Bischoff’s “special needs” nephew Eugene. It was painful to watch Dinsmore play the role of a mentally-challenged young man who had unexpected knowledge of old-school wrestling moves, but was almost always portrayed as a victim of bullying from the RAW roster’s nastiest heels.
Ruthless Aggression also had one-legged wrestler Zach Gowen being picked on by Mr. McMahon and Sable (with Vince making fun of Gowen’s condition) as another example of a tasteless bullying storyline. But the fact that Eugene’s handicap was actually his gimmick makes it deserving to be named one of the era’s worst.
1 KERWIN WHITE
We’ve listed a few examples of how the Ruthless Aggression Era had produced its fair share of insensitive and/or stereotypical gimmicks. None are worse, and none of those Ruthless Aggression gimmicks in general are worse than Kerwin White.
With Creative looking for something to do with Chavo Guerrero upon his move to RAW in summer 2005, someone had the bright idea of turning this Latino hero and member of a prominent wrestling family into a stereotypical white guy. And just like that, Chavo had become Kerwin White, a blonde-haired, ostensibly Caucasian man who entered to a faux-Frank Sinatra ring theme and drove a golf cart to the ring, complete with a future male cheerleader and “Show-Off” as his caddy. He also denied being Chavo and having Latino heritage, even if it was obvious that despite the attempts to whiten him up, this was still one of the finest Mexican-American talents WWE had ever had.
Sadly, it took the real-life tragedy of Eddie Guerrero’s death in November 2005 for WWE to retire his nephew’s utterly tasteless, intelligence-insulting gimmick.