Just about every professional wrestler who makes it in a major promotion such as World Wrestling Entertainment or even Total Nonstop Action Wrestling goes through different gimmick changes, particularly during the early stages of their careers. Take the WWE character Kane as an example. You may need a scorecard to remember all of the gimmick changes Glenn Jacobs experienced before he and the WWE found gold in the original Kane character. Even the Kane gimmick has been tweaked and changed over time, however, so much so that you may not be able to remember every storyline involving Kane since he first ripped the door off of a Hell in a Cell cage during a match involving The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.
What one should remember before diving head first into this piece is that a character change does not necessarily mean a gimmick change. Steve Austin had plenty of gimmicks across multiple companies before he became “Stone Cold” in Extreme Championship Wrestling and then in the WWE. That same Stone Cold character changed from heel to babyface among wrestling fans without the company going out of the way to make Austin a typical “good guy.” Another prime example that comes to mind is the legend of the industry who kicks this list off. This man has been around the pro wrestling industry for decades, and he has changed from heel to babyface and back more times than one could count on two hands. His gimmick remains the same, however, and that has helped make him arguably the greatest of all time.
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15 Ric Flair
Here is a tidbit that will make more than a few wrestling fans out there feel ancient: Ric Flair first became “The Nature Boy” in the 1970s, well before some readers out there were ever born. Yes, that gimmick transitioned from babyface to heel, seemingly on a yearly basis, and Flair’s character changed based upon if he was a fan-favorite and if he was aligned with a group such as The Four Horsemen or Evolution.
Flair nevertheless remained Flair throughout the decades, a character who was “The Dirtiest Player in the Game” and a man revered as one of the greatest performers in the history of North American pro wrestling. In some ways, Flair remains the Nature Boy even though he is 67 years old and no longer an active wrestler. The truth of the matter is that those of us lucky enough to have watched Flair while growing up wouldn’t have it any other way. Woo!
14 Randy Orton
Randy Orton is an interesting case as it pertains for the purposes of this piece. Orton’s gimmick starting out from his early days in the WWE has been that he is Randy Orton, a third-generation wrestler who has no wacky character and who simply played a version of himself. Yes, Orton’s character evolved from a young prospect to the “Legend Killer” to “The Apex Predator” (whatever that means) to “The Viper,” but Orton’s gimmick is largely a grown-up version of the man who debuted in the WWE in the early 2000s and after the death of World Championship Wrestling.
Even Orton’s “RKO” finishing move has remained the same for well over a decade, although the company has done well in recent years to push the fact that Orton can hit the RKO out of nowhere. Orton being himself but with the figurative microphone turned up to maximum volume was enough for the wrestler to get over among crowds.
13 Shawn Michaels
Some older wrestling fans may point out that Shawn Michaels went through different variations of gimmicks during his early days in the business. That’s fair, but that also happened roughly 30 years ago. Only when Michaels split from Marty Jannetty, broke up the tag team of The Rockers and ventured out on his own did we really see what Michaels could do as a singles star.
It was all the way back in 1991 when Michaels adopted "The Heartbreak Kid” personality and nickname, the latter of which Michaels kept up through his final day as an active wrestler. While Michaels became “Mr. WrestleMania” and one of the finest overall performers in the history of WWE, his overall gimmick did not change all that much other than the instances when he changed from babyface to heel or from heel to babyface. Heck, Michaels has even used the same theme song for over two decades!
12 Triple H
It is somewhat easy to forget that Triple H has been Triple H for over 20 years following his decision to leave WCW and link up with the WWE in the 1990s. The original Hunter Hearst Helmsley character, that of a snobby blue-blood, lasted only a couple of years in the WWE before the company entered the Attitude Era.
Helmsley adopted the Triple H name, and he and Shawn Michaels formed the famous group known as D-Generation-X. The Triple H character evolved and changed over time as the wrestler became one of the top draws in all of the WWE. There was even a time when Triple H served as the Ric Flair of the heel faction Evolution. Triple H is now a real-life authority figure behind the scenes, but the progression of his character has been natural and also easy to follow. If only we had a time machine to tell the 1997 version of Triple H that he would one day be the heir to the WWE Universe. That’d be one entertaining conversation.
11 John Cena
John Cena, for all intents and purposes, began making the transition from the “Doctor of Thuganomics” character that first made him a hit among WWE fans after he was drafted to the Raw roster in 2005. That was over a decade ago. Cena has since served as the ultimate babyface of his generation, even though some older wrestling fans around the world have not been willing to embrace Cena as their own for one reason or another.
In fact, one of the common complaints voiced by fans on social media websites and in wrestling forums is that Cena needs to go through a complete gimmick change or that his character should turn heel. We have no reason to believe that either is happening anytime soon as long as Cena continues to be responsible for solid merchandise sales and as long as Cena is a coveted commodity for awards shows, nationally-televised talk shows and other programs.
10 Jeff Hardy
Remember when Matt and Jeff Hardy were part of the faction known as “The New Brood” in the late 1990s? That, essentially, was the last big gimmick change for Jeff Hardy during his runs in WWE and TNA Wrestling. Hardy has had several nicknames over the years, but he not strayed all that much from the character of a wrestler who is undersized when compared to some opponents and who is willing to routinely sacrifice his body and his well-being in order to attempt to win matches.
Hardy may no longer be the ultimate underdog as he was when feuding with The Undertaker in 2002, but that has more to do with Hardy finding his feet as a solo act than because of gimmick changes. Yes, we know Hardy is responsible for the “Willow” character in TNA. The idea behind Willow is that Hardy is playing a character from his past. We are not counting that as a gimmick change, and thus Hardy -- or Brother Nero -- makes the list.
9 Hulk Hogan
When you think of the gimmicks played by Hulk Hogan throughout the decades, you likely remember two different characters: Hogan as the leader of Hulkamania and as the biggest babyface in the world, and the evil “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan who guided the New World Order faction. What is funny about those two characters is that Hogan largely worked the same as a babyface and a heel. Hogan raked the eyes and raked the backs of opponents even when he was a good guy wrestling in the WWE. Hollywood “Hulked Up” when wrestling against the likes of Ric Flair in WCW. The promos varied based upon if Hogan was a babyface or a heel, but Hogan remained Hogan even up through his last run in the WWE.
We do remember that time when Hogan played the role of Mr. America in an effort to fool Mr. McMahon. That was more of a storyline arc than it was Hogan experiencing a gimmick change.
Any piece on wrestlers who have undergone the least gimmick changes that gives a shout-out to Ric Flair has to mention Charlotte, Flair’s daughter, who is a former NXT Women’s Champion and WWE Women’s Champion, has worked as both a babyface and a heel during her stints in NXT and in the WWE, but her overall gimmick that is based on the fact that she is the daughter of the Nature Boy remains intact up through the summer of 2016.
We have to imagine the WWE will continue pushing Charlotte this way for the foreseeable future, perhaps even having Charlotte serve as the leader of The Four Horsewomen if the WWE chooses to run with that faction. The Four Horsewomen group was teased at the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn show in August 2015. All four of those women will be on the main WWE roster once Bayley receives her call-up. We are just sayin'.
7 Big Show
We can see the eyes of some wrestling fans rolling as they see Big Show mentioned in a piece of wrestlers who have undergone the least gimmick changes. Those people may be scoffing because of how often Big Show has changed from heel to babyface to heel to babyface throughout his career in the WWE. That’s fair, but Big Show’s gimmick has not changed all that much since he stopped playing the role of the fictional son of Andre the Giant during his days in WCW.
Even before Big Show signed with WWE, the man known as the time as The Giant was merely the “largest athlete in the world” and a wrestler bigger and stronger than his opponents. The Big Show character is the same person as he was in the 1990s, even if his associations with heels and faces change about as often as do the seasons of the year.
6 Roman Reigns
We wanted to add Roman Reigns to this piece because we are not all that sure what Reigns’ gimmick is as of the summer of 2016. Reigns debuted in 2012 as one of the three members of the Shield, and he worked as the silent assassin and even the enforcer of that group before it was disbanded in June 2014. Reigns and Dean Ambrose became babyfaces on the night that Seth Rollins turned heel and turned his back on The Shield, and Ambrose and Rollins did well to separate themselves as singles workers.
We cannot say the same for the Reigns character. We know about Reigns’ family history. We know Reigns uses the “Superman Punch” and also the spear. We also know some fans take joy in booing Reigns out of arenas. Reigns essentially is the same gimmick he was as part of the Shield. Even his music is identical. Perhaps a lack of a gimmick change is what has prevented Reigns from gaining popularity among pockets of fans.
5 Brock Lesnar
The Brock Lesnar character is a reminder that writing pro wrestling storylines is not all that difficult when one does not overthink the matter. In real life and in legitimate athletic competitions, Lesnar is a physical freak able to dominate opponents and win championships in amateur wrestling and also in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Lesnar, thus, did not require some goofy nickname or weird background story to get over.
That continues to be true to this day, as fans tune in to shows and attend events that feature Lesnar to watch him beat up on other wrestlers. Sure, Lesnar performs more suplexes these days than he did when he debuted alongside Paul Heyman as “The Next Big Thing.” That is merely part of the evolution of the Lesnar character. Perhaps the best part about the current Lesnar character is the he is neither a heel nor a babyface. Lesnar simply destroys, and you can boo or cheer him to your heart’s content.
4 Rey Mysterio
Some out there may mock the idea that a wrestler can get over playing the role of a classic babyface who gives high-fives to fans and who signs autographs for younger followers of the industry. Rey Mysterio continues to be one individual who disproves such critics. There is little, if anything at all, complicated about the Mysterio gimmick. Mysterio wears a mask to pay homage to those who came before him and also to Mexican wrestling traditions. Mysterio is undersized and that makes him an underdog that attracts fans of all ages.
It is as simple a wrestling gimmick as one can find in the business, and yet it draws fans and sells merchandise, even in 2016. Granted, it takes a special performer to be successful for decades as has Mysterio since he first appeared on WCW television. There are good reasons why Mysterio has not gone through many gimmick changes over the past 20 years, and also why the WWE “forgot” about certain tweaks made to the Mysterio character during his days in WCW.
3 Bret Hart
Bret Hart never really went through a major gimmick change throughout his pro wrestling career. As a young wrestler, Hart was advertised as the son of Stu Hart and a member of the famous Hart wrestling family. Unlike his brother Owen, Bret only played different versions of himself while wrestling in Canada, overseas and for the WWE and WCW. Hart’s character evolved and changed over the years, most notably during The Attitude Era when Hart turned heel and feuded with Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels before the events of the “Montreal Screwjob” in the fall of 1997.
Hart continued to be the “Hitman” and “Excellence of Execution” during those feuds and throughout his run in WCW. While Hart’s active in-ring career ended due to issues caused by concussions and also a stroke that he suffered, Hart was welcomed back to WWE television in January 2010. He was still the great Bret Hart even then and he remains respected as one of the best wrestlers of his era.
2 The Miz
This is a list of wrestlers who have undergone the least gimmick changes and not a list of the best wrestlers in the business today. That is why The Miz deserves a spot near the top. The Miz began his WWE career, intentionally or not, as a personality who found fame and fortune thanks to reality television, and that rather than his ability on the microphone or in the ring was why the character was featured on shows such as SmackDown.
Fans, predictably, rejected Miz, and that resulted in Miz evolving into a heel who eventually won the WWE Championship. While Miz is now more of a midcard worker, he continues to possess the gimmick of a character who is a star outside of wrestling and who is “better” than the fans. You may not love all of The Miz’s work inside of the ring, but you have to give the guy credit for being a natural heel in the WWE Universe.
1 The Undertaker
The argument could be made that The Undertaker is the best and most successful gimmick ever created by the WWE. The Undertaker began working underneath the WWE umbrella in 1990s and the character still draws huge pops from in-arena crowds to this day.
The biggest gimmick change to ever affect Undertaker over the past 16 years occurred in 2000 when he ditched the role of "The Deadman” in favor of "The American Badass.” While both the character and gimmick needed a change following a decade of destruction, Undertaker eventually returned to a version of the character beloved by fans. Undertaker did manage to evolve in certain aspects following 2004, however, incorporating portions of mixed martial arts fighting along with the moves that made the original character so popular.
We do not know for sure, as of August 2016, if The Undertaker wrestled his last match earlier this year. If that is the case, though, we hope that The Undertaker has his night at a WWE Hall of Fame ceremony sooner rather than later.
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