Probably more so than any other wrestling promotion, WWE is known as being a gigantic spectacle. The company has an exponentially larger budget to work with compared to any of their competitors (the few that are left), and have decidedly centered themselves more towards entertainment, rather than pure wrestling. To enhance the spectacle, they have historically been willing to take the extra mile when it comes to gimmick characters, and no time period was more telling of this fact than the 1990s.
Obviously, there is a lot of room in professional wrestling for the use of gimmicks, and when done correctly, can serve as enhancement to the promotion. Not every match and segment on a card can be comprised solely of five-star matches. There has to be variation to make the in-ring classics reach their full effect. The problem arises when the gimmick characters become one of the main attractions of the promotion, such was the case for most of the 1990s in WWE, and there were some certified clunkers among that group.
It’s been widely publicized that for a fair portion of the 1990s, WWE’s ratings were less than spectacular. Many of the gimmicks on this list are a direct cause of that, and elevated inane, child-like characters in the squared circle far beyond what they should have been. Even more inexplicable, a good number of the names on this list were actually good in the ring, which should have eliminated the need for them to hide behind an exaggerated character. WWE’s creative team really dropped the ball on a lot of these, and the results were borderline cringeworthy. Be prepared.
Ranked below are the top 15 worst WWE gimmicks of the 1990s.
15. Giant Gonzalez
His stay with WWE was short, but Giant Gonzalez was pretty much the definition of a gimmick in and of himself. Given his huge frame; standing at a robust seven feet, seven inches, it was easy to market his size to the wrestling audience of the time. Unfortunately, the shallow nature of the character got old fast, and as a result, Gonzalez spent less than two years on WWE’s roster. It didn’t help matters that he was clumsy in the ring, so there wasn’t much else to offer besides his gigantic height. Though he certainly remains a curiosity, his character was just too bland to really make an impact.
14. Flash Funk
2 Cold Scorpio was talented in the ring, but was constantly held back from his Flash Funk gimmick which saw him donning Parliament/Funkadelic type attire, signaling mid-card obscurity in WWE. This was a fairly common occurrence at the time; for WWE to hamstring talented wrestlers with a goofy gimmick, draining every ounce of potential from their character. The Flash Funk gimmick may not have been the worst of the lot, but it was enough to limit Scorpio’s potential in WWE, and was a decidedly 1990s-type character. A true product of the time.
13. Marc Mero
Though Mero’s boxing getup made sense, given that he was a former New York Golden Gloves champion, it always came off as too premeditated when he made his late 1990s run in WWE. It was a case example of shtick, and ultimately it spelled a relatively short stay with the promotion, before Mero essentially faded into obscurity. Ultimately, Mero would have been better off sticking with his Johnny B. Badd gimmick that he used in WCW, as it was much more suited to the world of professional wrestling, instead of the boxing attire, which just turned out awkward when it came to the squared circle.
In the early half of the 1990s, the WWE product was struggling to generate quality ratings, and a debilitated mid-card was one of the main reasons why. The Kwang character was very representative of this, a masked character who spewed green mist in opponents faces. It was a character destined for mediocrity, and showed just how much trouble the WWE creative team was in at the time. Juan Rivera was the one who portrayed the gimmick, and at least his career was somewhat salvaged when he changed to the Savio Vega gimmick a short time after Kwang bit the dust. Ultimately, just another cringeworthy early 1990s atrocity for WWE.
John Tenta had previously experienced success with WWE with this Earthquake gimmick, but the by the latter half of the decade, creative thought it was time for a change. He started using the Golga gimmick upon a return to the company in 1998, as a member of the Oddities stable. Tenta was definitely out of his prime at that point, but it still wasn’t representative of his talent, and promptly had a limited shelf life. He mostly wrestled on the B-shows around this time, and left the company mainly for good in 1999. Unfortunately, Tenta passed away in 2006.
Some may not agree, but I always found the full-business attire aspect of I.R.S.’s character to be a cheesy attempt to accentuate Ted DiBiase’s career. It just never really worked in the ring, looking like a tired, obvious gimmick. Mike Rotunda was a skilled wrestler, but this character ultimately held him back in WWE, always playing second fiddle to DiBiase. It probably never would have worked in any other decade, and was typical of WWE’s creative output of the time period. Another gimmick best left forgotten, even though it was relatively popular for it’s time.
9. Papa Shango
Before he later portrayed The Godfather, one of the best mid-card gimmicks in WWE history, Charles Wright donned one of the worst gimmicks, his Papa Shango character from the early 1990s. The character was mainly the typical voodoo affair of the time, and it was clear that creative was taking a big gamble on this half-hearted idea, and it rightfully didn’t go over with the fans. All in all, it lasted less than two years, and Wright would leave the company for a short time, before returning several years later as Kama, as a part of the Nation Of Domination stable, which needless to say, fared much better than Papa Shango.
8. Blue Blazer
This character probably would have been fine for a marginal talent, but Owen Hart was anything but that in his prime. With his skills on the mic, there was little logical reason to hide Hart’s persona behind a mask, and he never had as much success with the Blue Blazer gimmick as he did with his candid personality. In effect, it turned Hart into an upper mid-card dweller at best, particularly in the first incarnation of the gimmick. As we all know, he should have been at the main event level all throughout his career, and the Blue Blazer idea only slowed that process. Another time WWE creative dropped the ball.
7. Repo Man
No other gimmick screamed “1992” quite as much as when Barry Darsow donned the Repo Man gimmick. The character was bland, dull and signaled Darsow into the mid-card with no hope of advancement until he left WWE in 1993. Considering he was at one time a part of Demolition, and held the tag titles, it was a pretty steep fall into obscurity for Darsow. Given the amount of bad gimmicks that were present at the time, it didn’t really stand out initially, but looking back on it, Repo Man was easily one of the biggest fails of the time period.
6. Saba Simba
Portrayed by Tony Atlas upon his return to WWE, this character probably wouldn’t even be cleared to appear on television. Simba was a Ugandan warrior, with stereotypes put on full blast. Though it did serve some amount of good, allowing Atlas to get his career back after a somewhat difficult time, from a critical perspective it was an utter failure. It wouldn’t last terribly long, but it’s still representative of the mess that the WWE creative was in in the early half of the 1990s. It would also more or less signal the end of Atlas’ career as a full time in-ring talent. It wasn’t the best way to go out, but again, given that the company was rife with poorly constructed gimmicks and characters, it didn’t stand out nearly as much as it should have.
I’ve never understood why WWE takes pot shots at wrestlers in this manner. When Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan left the company in the mid-1990s, they came up with the “Huckster” and “Nacho Man” spot characters that made several appearances at the time. The Gillberg gimmick was a similar idea, and was obviously poking fun at WCW’s Goldberg, who was at his peak popularity at the time. It was never really the best idea, especially considering they actually gave Gillberg a Light Heavyweight title run, basically invalidating any credibility the title had garnered up to that point. One of the low points for the creative team in the late 1990s.
4. Damien Demento
It’s hard to believe that there were gimmicks from the early 1990s, that are worse than the names already on this list, but Demento certainly fits the bill for that criteria. The character was just simply ridiculous, and a clear indication that for a while, the creative team just ran out of ideas, resorting to stopgap characters like this to pad the mid-card ranks for a while to buy themselves time. Demento made just one pay-per-view appearance and was gone by 1993 for obvious reasons. Another character best left forgotten.
3. Max Moon
And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, enter the Max Moon character from the same 1992/1993 time period. It’s unfortunate that creative hampered Paul Diamond, who was a talented tag team wrestler, with such a poor gimmick, but that was par for the course at the time. Max Moon was the prototypical early 1990s character, and the loud colors combined with the jet pack were nothing short of cringeworthy. Brighter days would be on the horizon for WWE, but the company was truly in the doldrums during this time, displaying some of the worst gimmicks in the history of the industry. Max Moon was essentially the culmination of that-a complete product of the time.
2. The Ringmaster
Before he became “Stone Cold”, Steve Austin was hampered by his bland Ringmaster gimmick, with Ted DiBiase serving as his manager. It’s one of the ultimate “what if?” moments in WWE history, because the original plan for Austin was to have him toil in mid-card obscurity. Everything about this gimmick was designed to just be a carbon copy of the “Million Dollar Man” character portrayed by DiBiase. Austin even used his Million Dollar Dream finishing hold originally, and resembled little of the beer drinking, Texas Rattlesnake persona that would eventually revolutionize the industry. The gimmick proved to be a rocky start for Austin, but he obviously would work his way up to main event success.
1. Doink The Clown
Without question, no other gimmick in the history of WWE represents the mediocrity of the early 1990s quite like Doink The Clown. A character portrayed by five different wrestlers from 1992 to 1996, it has become synonymous with the goofy nature of the company’s mid-card during this time. Doink was put in both heel and face roles over this time period, but was most apparently a walking billboard for the lower-tier shlock that was rampant throughout the promotion at the time. If the Attitude Era was representative of an edgy, progressive wrestling product that brought popularity back to the industry, Doink was the antithesis of that. Overall, his cheesy character represents the worst time for popularity in WWE history, and is best left forgotten.
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