Appearance is everything if you want to make it in the business of sports entertainment. Sometimes it’s the only thing that separates mid-carders from main-eventers, so changes in wardrobe are a major reason why some people made this list, while others weren’t even able to establish themselves enough as potential Superstars in order to make the cut. It’s a tough industry that’s solely dependent on a wrestler’s ability to hit on all cylinders: physique, mic skills, in-ring ability, and ring attire… but someone’s gotta do it. Some wrestlers were able to be dealt a decent hand right off the bat, while others had to scratch and claw to try to figure out what the people want and that’s the gamble that all wrestlers face. Will the fans connect with what you’re trying to convey?
It seemed like time progressed much faster in the decade of the 1990s alone. That lone decade saw more of the most drastic changes in appearances in all of professional wrestling history due in part from the infamous Monday Night Wars, because week in and week out storylines were getting more and more ridiculous. Every wrestler on the roster was being scrutinized not so much by their in-ring ability anymore, but more about how well they were being received by the television audience on a weekly basis. All of those factors culminated in the biggest ratings war between WWE and WCW in professional wrestling history, which in turn led to a whole slew of wrestlers doing everything and anything at all possible to try to maintain their coveted spot on their respective rosters.
Whatever degree of wrestler that is showcased on this list, let it be known that all of them had to undergo some sort of change in order to stay afloat within the business. Here are 15 examples of the best case scenarios throughout wrestling history!
15. The Undertaker Gets Inked
The Undertaker is one of those uncommon cases of an over-the-top gimmick working better than ever expected, clearly surpassing every expectation that he faced as he progressed through the WWE. Because he debuted in 1990, his initial bright red mullet look has greatly changed over the past 25 years, but what kickstarted his entire shift from a menacing dead man who rarely spoke to a modern day legend was a brief hiatus he was able to take after the 1994 Royal Rumble that lent him enough time off to get a considerable amount of tattoo work done, also shifting from grey gloves and spats to purple in the process. He also adapted a much more realistic character, but somehow he was still able to maintain nearly all of the momentum he had gained through his previous four years with the company. Having the ability to adjust your character to stay relevant has never been done better than The Undertaker throughout his illustrious career.
14. Scott Hall Loses the Awful Mustache
Did you know that Scott Hall’s first gimmick in WCW was to look exactly like former Red Sox player and baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs? I know, I know, it wasn’t really, but he did do a pretty good impression of him. Hall wasn’t gaining any ground with that look, so he lost the handlebar mustache and went for a 5 o’clock shadow appearance that changed the game for him completely. When he left the company and went to WWE as Razor Ramon, he became a Superstar that would later go on to make professional wrestling history in WCW with his nWo faction along with Kevin Nash and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
13. Sandman No Longer Surfs
Many people probably don’t remember this, but The Sandman used to be a full blown surfer in his early days in ECW. Honest to god, the same beer-swilling, kendo stick wielding maniac with an entrance that rivals only The Undertaker used to be a character dependent on a surfboard. You’d think that when a guy has enough brains to call himself Sandman he’d at least be smart enough to not be a cheesy ’90s throw-away gimmick, but that’s what he was billed as, and that’s what fans learned to hate. It wouldn’t take long before Sandman wisened up and started to brandish the weapon that we all know and love, but lest we all forget those years that Sandman wore Zubaz to the ring as well. Either way the surfer was dead and gone, and the hardcore icon survived.
12. Johnny Polo Channels Edgar Allen Poe
Most fans of early ’90s WWE may remember Raven as Johnny Polo, a manager who was very good on the mic and very sheisty on the outside of the ring. But it wasn’t until the emergence of ECW that his Raven character would start to take form, which really didn’t stray too far away from the grunge style of the time. Johnny Polo was a preppy pest, but Raven was an angst filled rebel, and all it took was a leather jacket, some ripped jean shorts, and a flannel shirt tied around his waist. This sudden embrace of the grunge culture would find him success throughout ECW and WCW for many years.
11. Brock Lesnar Switches From Tights to UFC Shorts
Brock Lesnar can wear whatever the hell he wants to and he’d still be a beast in the ring, but after his successful stint in the UFC and decision to continue to wear their style of ring shorts upon his return to WWE, he instantly became more believable as an unstoppable suplex machine. Throw in his upside down dagger tattoo in the middle of his chest and he looks incredibly more destructible than he ever did before. It also doesn’t hurt to have Paul Heyman as a mouth-piece to help him get over, but even without that crutch he simply looks the part, hands down.
10. Tommy Dreamer is Hardcore
Tommy Dreamer suffered the same fate as Double J Jeff Jarrett and Rocky Maivia, debuting with ridiculous ring attire that for some unbeknownst reason featured suspenders that connected from his shoulders to his shiny tights. To make matters worse, I believe he also wore cowboy boots, which is never a good idea when your promotion is based out of South Philly. Needless to say that he dropped all of that for a more modern ECW t-shirt and workout pants look that most late ’90s hardcore wrestlers switched to, but he was able to separate himself by being a quality technician in the ring who was never put over by Raven during their legendary feud. Suffice it to say that the lovable loser would have never stood a chance with ECW fans had he kept those lousy suspenders.
9. Taz Ditches the Fur
Taz was a monster in ECW… almost literally, actually. His debut character was the Tazmaniac, complete with fur covered tights that made him look absolutely ridiculous. I mean, how can you take anyone seriously that’s dressed like the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes? It wasn’t until he dropped that look and shortened his name to Taz that fans began to really rally behind his pure ability in the ring. He would go on to become the face of ECW winning their championship several times — eventually landing a role in the WWE — but his early persona is definitely more than regrettable.
8. Faarooq Loses His Helmet
Ron Simmons must have thought Vince McMahon was crazy when he pitched his character idea of Faarooq Asad, complete with a gladiator-type ring attire and helmet. After all, Simmons was the first ever Heavyweight Champion of the World in WCW and now he gets this gimmick? Well, Ron was right, because Faarooq was later rebranded into a leader of a group of radicals called “The Nation of Domination,” where he was finally able to put his personality into use rather than having to succumb to a ridiculous gimmick. This transformation was furthered after he teamed up with Bradshaw, where they became instant best friends and have both been each other’s “best men” at their respective weddings. Maybe all of that would have never happened had Faarooq continued to look like he was pilfered from Roman times…
7. John Cena Introduces Some Thuganomics
Would John Cena be the same John Cena that dominated the last decade of sports entertainment if he never chose to break away from his squeaky clean image and decided to rap in the middle of the ring? It seems silly now, but that little change in persona launched him into Superstar status, even putting his stamp on professional wrestling championship title history by introducing the “spinner” belt design. Kids all across the world have flocked to John Cena for over a decade and a half and the amount of WWE merchandise that features John Cena’s likeness cannot be computed by even the strongest of mainframe computers to this day.
6. Rocky Maivia Drops the Ridiculous Garb
The WWE debut appearance of one of the biggest stars on the planet is probably one that The Rock would like to forget. I don’t know what it was with WWE’s costume director during the early ’90s, but far too often did wrestlers have suspender-like garbs that did absolutely no favors for the wrestlers trying to cut their teeth in the business. Despite an immediate push from the WWE as a smiling, “try-hard and succeed” persona, Rocky Maivia was shunned by the fans which essentially forced Rocky to put up or shut up and try his luck as a heel. A quick toss in the garbage of his old ring attire and a revamped image of a flashy, cocky, $800 shirt wearing, brilliant on the mic persona later and “The Rock” was born, never looking back on his path to the highest of heights this business has ever seen.
5. CM Punk Salutes His Hometown Chicago
Chicagoans have a deep respect for their city’s flag and CM Punk is well aware of that. When he was making his name throughout the independent circuit, Punk was considered a highly skilled wrestler but his look was dependent on long hair and basketball shorts, which is not exactly what the WWE prefers for their next generation of Superstars. Once Punk finally made it to the WWE he figured that he was walking into the land of giants, so he bulked up to a staggering 240 pounds despite the fact that his frame is not that of a true heavyweight. He changed his diet, cut his hair, and modified his wrestling attire to incorporate the Chicago flag and the rest is history.
4. Hogan Goes Hollywood
Hulk Hogan is basically synonymous with sports entertainment. He brought about mainstream success for the industry by his huge physique, his intensity, and his yellow and red ring attire that would become a trademark look throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. After he was signed to WCW in 1994, fans – and society as a whole – were becoming more and more tiresome of the typical “hero” character, so changes had to be made in order for Hogan to stay relevant, and that would mean an historic shift from face to heel. It was a huge gamble but it paid off in droves, due in part to him ditching the classic red and yellow in favor of black and blue, with sunglasses and a dyed black beard that made all the difference in the world.
3. Sting Turns Crow
Much like when Hulk Hogan changed from a trademark look to a much darker persona in “Hollywood” Hogan, Sting also found himself in need of a new direction to keep up with the changing times. Since the nWo was wreaking havoc against the rest of the WCW roster year after year, Sting decided to go a much different route by neither joining the red-hot faction nor choosing to continue to align himself with WCW, making him a lone outsider looking in on the company as a whole. He adopted his now famous “crow” appearance which was his genius way of sending a message to WCW that he didn’t agree with how the company was behaving itself with chaos being commonplace during the Monday Night Wars.
2. Steve Austin Goes Bald
Stunning Steve Austin had a great look in WCW when he teamed with Brian Pillman to form the Hollywood Blondes, but there was absolutely no way that he would have ever been able to portray the beer swigging, ass-kicking South Texas redneck if he kept the long blonde hair and still continued to sport those awful early ’90s neon tights. When he made the switch he instantly developed a swagger, becoming a major fan favorite essentially overnight. A certain attitude is wielded simply by shaving your head and sporting a goatee, and nobody pulled it off quite as well as Stone Cold Steve Austin.
1. Daniel Bryan Grows Hair/Beard
Daniel Bryan has gone from WWE Superstar to cultural phenomenon and it’s all because he decided to no longer sport the extremely young baby face look in favor of an appearance that more closely resembles that of a grizzled lumberjack. It’s amazing how going from short hair and a goatee to long hair and a beard can definitively change someone’s appearance so much so that he’d look downright weird if he ever went back. Bryan struggled for years to find something that really resonated with the fans, but once he grew his hair out and started shouting “YES!” he was finally able to get over with the WWE universe.
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