The days of professional wrestlers being given ridiculous and over-the-top gimmicks that involved the athletes playing characters that were more-so out of comic books and movies than taken from real life are, for the most part, largely gone as it pertains to the more-recognized companies in the world. Take World Wrestling Entertainment as one example. The top draw in that company, a man on hiatus as of the posting of this piece, essentially plays the role of a badass mixed martial artist who throws competitors around during matches. In other words, he is playing a version of himself.
The WWE pushing mythological beings into the main event picture has since been replaced with men such as John Cena, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and other competitors struggling to remain at the top of the card and in hunt of the main championship title in the organization. While this makes for more realistic programming such as that found in MMA companies such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator, there are groups of wrestling fans out there who yearn for the days of old when cartoon figures were on their television sets every Saturday morning and evening.
It is, in certain instances, incredible to believe that men asked to play ridiculous characters got over with fans from all around the world as much as they did. One of those individuals is considered to be a living legend in the industry, a man who is so revered and respected by fans and by his peers that he can work just one day a year without anybody questioning his legitimacy inside of the wrestling ring. It is safe to assume, upon examining the current climate of the wrestling world, that the business will never again see such a successful mythological gimmick.
15. I.R.S./Wall Street
Why simply list one of the ridiculous gimmicks saddled onto Mike Rotunda when you can go with both? As absurd as it is to believe that a taxman would be interested in taking out the frustrations of his 9-5 job on opposing wrestlers, Rotunda made IRS work as a member of Money Incorporated alongside “The Million Dollar Man.” Rotunda was never going to win a world championship playing any of these gimmicks, but he was a fine midcard worker who was taken seriously by crowds when he feuded with the likes of the Steiner Brothers or with Bret Hart.
14. Jeff Jarrett
Double J. That’s J-E-Double-F, J-A-Double-R, E-Double-T. Before he was a creator of Global Force Wrestling, a co-creator of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and “The Chosen One” while with World Championship Wrestling, Jarrett was a failed wannabe country music star in the World Wrestling Federation. What was curious about the gimmick is that Jarrett would, at times, wrestle like Ric Flair; strut included. Jarrett did well to make the character one deserving of being pushed to multiple Intercontinental Championship victories, and it was this original push that helped him achieve the successes that he did in WCW and later on in the industry.
13. Hunter Hearst Helmsley
As with other performers showcased in this piece, Hunter Hearst Helmsley would be higher on the list had he completely gotten himself over as this snobby character who was seemingly too good for professional wrestling. Those of you with some extra time on your hands and who are looking for entertainment should log onto the WWE Network and go back and watch how HHH became associated with Shawn Michaels leading up to the creation of D-Generation X. It doesn’t completely make all that much sense in the storyline and your mind gets blown when you remember that it is Triple H who is now legitimately helping run the company. The pro wrestling world is funny like that.
Those of you with young children who find the current version of Goldust to be entertaining would do well to keep them from reading up on the PG-13 version of the character that originally debuted in the WWE. Dustin Runnels and the Goldust gimmick went through several evolutions during what were the early days of the “Attitude Era,” every one seemingly pushing the envelope more than the prior edition. There was even a time when Runnels suggested that the return of Christ was upon the WWE, only for it to prove to be a swerve and for Runnels to resume his Goldust character.
11. The Hurricane
Gregory Shane Helms was undeniably a talented in-ring performer throughout the prime of his wrestling career, but it was when the WWE went all-in on his true love of comic books and turned him into “The Hurricane” that Helms truly got over with crowds. Helms made what should have been a forgettable gimmick into a character worthy of feuding with, and even earning a victory over, The Rock on national television. Hurricane’s program with The Rock, one that included numerous hilarious backstage segments, lives up to this day.
10. Bray Wyatt
Where exactly Windham Rotunda will fall on such a list a decade or so down the road has yet to be determined, but one has to give him credit for doing all that he has thus far with two questionable gimmicks. The “Husky Harris” name given to him during his NXT days was downright ridiculous, and what World Wrestling Entertainment is going to do with the Bray Wyatt character following a second-straight loss at WrestleMania, this time to Yhe Undertaker, remains a question. Wyatt could be an entertaining throwback character, but only if he is properly booked by the company.
9. Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was Scarface come to life and he was one of the best overall performers in the midcard for the company. He never notched a world championship run while with the WWE, however, and it was his ability to walk the tightrope and portray a gimmick similar to Razor Ramon while using his own name that helped Hall, Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan changed the face of professional wrestling when they, in storyline, founded the nWo. Without Hall’s first days on Nitro sounding a bit too much like a former WWE performer, the nWo may have never been what it was.
It has been over two decades since he was first the top babyface in all of World Championship Wrestling, and I still remain unsure of exactly what Sting was supposed to be. His old theme song teaches us that Sting “does this, and does that,” but little explanation on the man is found there. The Ultimate Warrior, who broke into the industry with Sting, played the role of a crazy man who wanted to destroy everything in his path. Sting, meanwhile, was just a bodybuilder and surfer who wore face paint for whatever reasons.
7. The Ringmaster
Steve Austin would be atop this list if discussing the amount of money one particular wrestler made a company, except for one thing: Austin did not technically make “The Ringmaster” gimmick work. He instead survived the idea that he was the chosen champion of “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase before the WWE embraced Austin’s “Stone Cold” character that he had started out while with Extreme Championship Wrestling. Nobody could have imagined at the time that “The Ringmaster” would go on to be the biggest draw in the history of North American professional wrestling.
When they told Matt Osborne he had to wrestle as a clown, he probably thought his run in the WWE would last a month. Luckily, Matt Osborne played the role about as well as anybody could have asked someone pretending to be a wrestling clown. The gimmick was wasted once Doink was turned babyface, and it was never the same once Osborne was dismissed from the WWE for multiple battles with substance abuse. His “Borne Again” gimmick in Extreme Championship Wrestling that followed Osborne’s run in the WWE was some of his best work in the business.
5. The Giant/Big Show
Before he was a hired gun and mountain of a man hired by Vince McMahon to dispose of rival “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Giant was part of World Championship Wrestling faction “The Legion of Doom.” Hailed as the supposed “lost son” of Andre The Giant, Big Show quickly erased that ridiculous gimmick from the minds of fans by showing that he could get the job done inside of the ring. The Giant would go on to have successful heel and babyface runs in WCW before he earned a massive payday from the WWE, and The Giant remains a mainstay on World Wrestling Entertainment television to this day.
History would have suggested that Kane would have been nothing more than a short feud for The Undertaker when the little brother of the phenom emerged on the scene in the 1990s. Not only did Kane manage to become a mainstay of programs such as Raw and Smackdown. Glenn Jacobs has, along with writers, successfully made needed changes to the gimmick, which have included Kane masking and unmasking multiple times. The character is now “Corporate Kane,” a hired hitman of heel faction “The Authority.”
3. John Cena
Younger wrestling fans know him for his days as the “Super Cena” persona, but John Cena, who also spent time as “The Prototype,” got himself over in front of World Wrestling Entertainment audiences as a 2000s version of Vanilla Ice. While the idea seemed at first to be a comedic gimmick given to a wrestler who had no meaningful storylines ahead of him, Cena made the rap character all his own, and he eventually became the most over babyface in the company; that is until the WWE tweaked his personal and made him Hulk Hogan 2.0.
2. Cactus Jack/Mankind/Dude Love
He was a bizarre man who seemingly felt zero pain during matches, an emotionally broken individual abandoned by all who knew him, and then he was a psychologically damaged wrestler living a gimmick from his teenage years. It was not until the WWE fully allowed Mick Foley to be himself than some dastardly heel from the nightmares of children that he became the top babyface in the company and a man capable of carrying the WWE as the champion. Just do not go back and watch his “I Quit” match with the Rock. It is brutal to behold.
1. The Undertaker
The Undertaker started out in the WWE as a deadman. Seriously. His soul even “rose” to the heavens after he lost a casket match to Yokozuna. Not only has Mark Calaway been able to keep the ‘Taker gimmick going for over two decades, he has transitioned it into a biker who was looking for fights and then back into a version of the deadman Undertaker who was also skilled in aspects of MMA. While the Undertaker is now a figure who appears during WrestleMania season, his contributions to World Wrestling Entertainment and to the industry, in general, cannot be overstated.
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