It’s been said that there aren’t any original ideas left. Probably, that isn’t true. But unoriginal ideas are, in some ways, preferable to new ones. Thinking of new stuff is hard. It's way easier to lift a good idea someone else already came up with.
Wrestling has recycled plenty of ideas over the years, but that doesn’t make it different from any other entertainment medium. Hollywood has kept itself afloat over the last few decades with reboots, sequels, and big budget movies based on 50-year-old superhero origin stories that were, let us not forget, originally intended as children’s entertainment. Although it gets lucky and accidentally creates a glorious mutant like Miley Cyrus every now and again, what’s left of the music industry cranks out new versions of the same ol’ milquetoast pop stars every few years. Chuck Palahniuk cranked out different versions of the same novel for 20 years before he went back to the well and wrote the Fight Club 2 comic book. Can you remember the last time you ate something truly original for lunch? Not just, let’s say, a turkey sandwich instead of your usual chicken, or a sesame bagel instead of a poppy seed, but something entirely new? I sure can’t. Even national politics got lazy enough to plan a sequel to Clinton vs. Bush in 2016, until they realized that wouldn't keep us interested, and brought in a horrifying reality show host to infuse some excitement.
In this list of 15 wrestlers who stole - er, maybe we should say “borrowed” - their gimmicks, you’ll see reproducing aspects of previously existing characters has worked out bonkers well for a few noted sports entertainers. Not so much for others. Goes to show that just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done again, and a lack of originality isn’t always a deal killer.
12 “Razor Ramon” and “Diesel”
Fans who don’t remember have at least heard the story - Kevin Nash and Scott Hall left WWE for WCW in 1996, and because WWE still owned the intellectual properties “Razor Ramon” and “Diesel,” they briefly tossed Hall and Nash’s old nom de guerres onto Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs. We’re including "Razor" and "Diesel," but not near the top of the list. Bear in mind, the audience was supposed to recognize Bognar and Jacobs as cheap imitators. Although Razor and Diesel were old ideas, Fake Razor and Fake Diesel were, technically, entirely new ideas. Terrible new ideas, but new ideas nonetheless.
Legend has it that Sting did away with his longtime rainbow-and-sparkle-adorned beach bum persona in favor of a "Goth Mime In A Trench Coat" routine at the suggestion of Scott Hall. It's entirely possible Hall had just rented “The Crow” - a certifiable cult classic based on James O’Barr’s graphic novel, which stars a goth mime in a trench coat - from Blockbuster. Renting movies at Blockbuster was a thing people could do in 1996.
Oddly enough, Sting’s cultural visibility outlasted the movie from which spooky style originated. Following the disappointing “City of Angels” sequel and a pair of “pretty good…..for straight to video” installments, fans of The Crow have been waiting for a series reboot that’s languished in Hollywood development purgatory for years. Meanwhile, Little Stingers worldwide can still enjoy watching the baseball bat-wielding vigilante hero main event WWE Pay Per Views.
10 Razor Ramon
We’re not certain whether Scott Hall has any legitimate Cuban ancestry. While he may have sold an eight ball or two over the years, we’re completely sure he has never been the head honcho of an international cocaine shipping syndicate. Clearly, his wrestling schedule wouldn’t have left him with enough spare time to command a criminal empire.
But aside from those two key differences, Hall and Tony Montana had quite a bit in common 20 years ago when Hall portrayed Razor Ramon in WWE. It's been said several times that Montana, the charismatic anti-hero played by Al Pacino in “Scarface,” served as the inspiration for Ramon, which means Hall has Pacino director Brian De Palma to thank for some of the best years of his career. To my embarrassment, it didn’t occur to me why Hall named the character “Razor” until I put this list together (Spoiler: Razors are often used to slice up lines of cocaine).
During the 2000s, John “Bradshaw” Layfield played a wealthy, nativist, right wing Texas blowhard who wore a cowboy hat wherever he went, so as to project disingenuous populist sympathies. Some fans who weren’t old enough to remember the soap opera Dallas that ran through the 1980s assumed JBL was paying homage to George W. Bush, the polarizing president. It turns out Bradshaw’s personal politics had less to do with his post-APA reinvention than some would suspect and his new character was actually a hat-tip to Dallas’s arch villain, John Ross Ewing. Remember how the Simpsons cliffhanger “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” was supposed to be a parody of something called “Who Shot J.R.?” Ewing was that “J.R.”
A quarter-century after the fact, it’s more-or-less public knowledge that WWE designed Ax and Smash (later, Ax, Smash, and Crush) to ape Hawk and Animal, a wildly popular NWA/WCW tag team in the '80s. When asked directly if Demolition was a Road Warriors ripoff, Bill Eadie does not confirm or deny the counterfeit nature of his career’s most recognizable character.
The fact that Eadie and Barry Darsow evolved into Mad Max-inspired roughs with colorful facepaint and almost unique identities of their own frames them as tragically underrated talents. Although it certainly helped that in the pre-internet ‘80s, the majority of WWE fans had no way of knowing The Road Warriors pre-dated Demolition by almost five years. Tellingly, Demolition was jobbed out and broken up pretty much immediately after the genuine articles arrived in WWE as the somehow-not-as-copyright-infringing "Legion of Doom" (from DC Comics).
7 The Renegade
Most longtime wrestling nerds should be familiar with the sad story of Rick Wilson, who arrived in WCW as “The Renegade” amid the company's hyper-cartoony, pre-nWo, Dungeon of Doom era. Audiences had been promised an “Ultimate Surprise” to ward off Kevin Sullivan and Co. by Hulk Hogan, and felt painfully bait-and-switched when presented with Wilson packaged as a blatant ersatz Warrior. Despite a brief run with the television title, Wilson’s tenure in WCW never recovered from his introduction as a poor man's Jim Hellwig. Wilson tragically took his own life following his release from WCW in 1999.
Looking back, one has to wonder whether J.O. Barr, or whoever owns the licensing rights to The Crow, didn’t sue WCW for appropriating its hero's costume, simply because a legal battle with WCW during its mega-profitable nWo-phase would've been long, costly, and not at all a surefire victory. However, business was going quite differently for WCW a few years earlier and nobody was afraid to sue them. Arachnaman - one of WCW’s most shameful attempts to get Brad Armstrong over - didn’t click with fans, but it did get Marvel Comics’s lawyers excited enough to serve WCW with a cease and desist, thus concluding B.A.’s brief adventures in wall crawling or being a friendly neighborhood anything.
5 Glacier, Mortis, and Wrath
What not everybody remembers about the first Mortal Kombat game is aside from the fatalities - which were not only hugely innovative accouterments, but the most violent thing 8-year-olds had ever seen in 1992 - it was pretty bland, even by fighting game standards of its era. That meant in order to make Glacier, Mortis, and Wrath effective Mortal Kombat character copies, WCW would’ve had to permit them to murder their opponents in garish, ghoulish fashions following each of their victories. Not even the company that brought us Arachnaman thought decapitating their employees on live TV sounded like a good idea.
7. Eric Young
Full disclosure: During a recent visit to the gym, a match featuring Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian played on one of the little TVs hanging from the ceiling to distract us from the self-inflicted misery that is voluntary exercise. I thought I was watching Impact Wrestling, until I found out that all the cool Impact/TNA wrestlers are in Ring of Honor as of about a year-and-a-half ago.
Suffice to say, like most wrestling journalists, I stopped paying attention to recent happenings on Impact quite some time ago. But I read on the internet that Eric Young won the world title last year and the storyline that led to him doing so was lifted entirely from Daniel Bryan’s epic triumph at Wrestlemania XXX. Plus, Eric Young obviously stole the idea of having a beard from Daniel Bryan.
4 Mankind and Al Snow
One of the most lopsided, co-dependent real life bromances in wrestling history also just so happened to spawn two of its most beloved inanimate-object-oriented gimmicks. According to Mick Foley’s biography, “Have a Nice Day,” when Foley needed to add a touch of additional “oomph” to a skit in which he failed to entertain a hospitalized Vince McMahon, Al Snow suggested using a sock puppet, latter to be christened “Mr. Socko.”
Appropriately, and not surprisingly, it was Foley who cooked up the idea of giving Al Snow head. After he finished, Foley told Snow that he could probably get more famous if he pretended to talk to a mannequin head during interviews and while he made his ring entrance.
“It hurts to admit it, but yes, Al Snow did think of Mr. Socko,” writes Foley. “...The only difference is without Mr. Socko, I’d still be a fairly popular wrestler. Without my “head” idea, Al would be doing my yardwork.”
5. John Morrison, Honky Tonk Man, and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince Iaukea
It’s a sad commentary on the modern state of the music industry that few contemporary artists wield a personality singular enough to influence a wrestling gimmick. Kanye West and Miley Cyrus pop to mind as two exceptions - although WWE would likely rather court either of them to make an appearance at at WrestleMania than alienate their fanbases with parody characters. For that matter, no one would take a wrestler with a Kanye West gimmick seriously unless he won the world title in his first match and kept it until he died at the age of 375 years old - just like the real Kanye would. Regardless, we have rock ‘n roll to thank for at least two very successful wrestling personas and one mostly forgettable shtick.
3 Zack Ryder and Robbie E
Granted, Ryder claims he was fist pumping to terrible house music at insipid nightclubs well before anyone had any idea what a “Snookie” was, and given his Jersey roots, Rob “Roobie E” Strauss could likely say the same. Do we know for sure that the cast of Jersey Shore didn’t steal their gimmicks from Ryder and Robbie? Definitely not. But had The Situation, J-Woww, and the rest of the gang not risen to ubiquitous pop cultural visibility for about a week in the late ‘00s, wrestling fans might’ve been confused by Ryder and Robbie’s broski lifestyle. It would’ve been like if Gangrel debuted without anyone in the crowd knowing who Dracula and Lestat were.
It’s a downright blemish on wrestling history that a performer of Brad Armstrong’s caliber winds up on this list not once, but twice, because WCW creative teams of yore inexplicably saddled him with their worst ideas. In life, Road Dogg’s older brother must’ve made a habit of seducing wrestling writers’ mothers and bragging about it a lot - such is the only to way to explain their obvious vendetta against him. Given that a meager pair of YouTube videos exist to verify its existence, we can surmise that the “Buzzkill” persona lasted about as long as Arachnaman. Apparently, fans were less than receptive to a version of Brad Armstrong sporting his more famous sibling’s long braids, interview style, and theme music. But at least someone in authority had the good sense to borrow his ring attire from Dude Love, making Buzzkill a copy of not one, but two well-known characters from WCW’s esteemed competition.
Asya was a female wrestler with a bodybuilding physique in WCW during its downward spiral into non-existence. Asya is pronounced “Asia,” which is the continent that contains China. Chyna, who had been quite established as a star in WWE at that time, pronounces her name “China,” like the country. So the not-very-subtle implication here is that Asya is bigger than, and therefore superior to, Chyna. Isn’t that clever? Isn’t it amazing how Vince Russo went his entire career as a pro wrestling writer without having a single bad idea?
No, it isn’t clever, and it isn’t amazing because Vince Russo was absolutely teeming with awful ideas. Characters like Buzzkill and Asya gallivanting around on Monday Nitro might as well have been intended to remind viewers that the genuine articles, Road Dogg and Chyna, could be seen on a better wrestling show airing simultaneously on a different network. Was Russo sent by Vince McMahon to infiltrate WCW and destroy it from the inside? Boy howdy, we wouldn't be shocked!
1. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
Some would call it blasphemy to suggest Ric Flair is anything less than one of the, if not the one and only, greatest wrestler in history. But I think an individual’s opinion of Flair hinges on when they were born. For instance, those whose lives began in the mid-’80s weren’t old enough to watch TV until the early ‘90s. By that point, Flair was arguably already past his prime. Meanwhile, if you were born in the ‘20s, it might’ve irked you that Flair stole his nickname, the figure four, the strut, and his bag of dirty tricks, all from one of that era's greats, Buddy Rogers.
Considering that Rogers jobbed the “Nature Boy” monicker to Flair in the late ‘70s, it’s possible that he willingly passed the torch and was pleased to see his legacy carried on by the much-lauded Flair. Still, it makes you wonder - if Ric Flair is so great, why couldn’t he come up with his own gimmick?