Let’s face facts: professional wrestling has never been the most socially progressive type of entertainment out there. Part of a wrestler’s job is to get the audience to boo them and more than a few wrestlers have attempted to do this in borderline morally reprehensible ways. Perhaps even worse, other wrestlers, or their promotions, have created outrageously racist, offensive, and derivative gimmicks with the intention of getting cheered for how accurately they believed they were portraying a subculture. Either way, using potentially offensive subjects to make a crowd react typically doesn’t end the way wrestling executives want it to, with the obvious reason being that people are too offended to care about wrestling anymore.
The purpose of sports entertainment hardly needs to become social change, but in the very least, WWE and other wrestling companies should try and avoid the mistakes of the past and stop creating obviously offensive gimmicks. Although controversy creates cash and sometimes being offensive sells, pro wrestling has enough people calling the sport low class already and the industry seriously needs to stop having characters resort to hate speech to incite a crowd. Thankfully, it’s been a few years since a mainstream wrestling company had an outright atrocious gimmick. However, some WWE, WCW, and ECW gimmicks were so bad, we’ll never quite get over how disrespectful and hurtful they were. Keep reading to discover 20 offensive wrestling gimmicks we still can’t stand.
22 Saba Simba
The worst part about Saba Simba is that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Tony Atlas to begin with. Atlas was already a former WWE World Tag Team Champion with Rocky Johnson and could have easily become a solo star around that time had his drug problems not intervened. That was back in the mid 80s, and for some reason, when Atlas returned to WWE in 1990, Vince McMahon decided to have him do so not as a former champion, but as Saba Simba. Saba Simba dressed in “traditional African headgear,” while dancing his way to the ring like a racist caricature. Commentary made things worse by making fun of Atlas, barely able to prevent themselves from admitting the gimmick was stupid and racist. Atlas himself acknowledged it was somewhat racist, but nevertheless appreciated that he was able to get a job, since he had become homeless in between his two WWE runs.
21 Kai En Tai
We’re not gonna knock Kai En Tai’s infamous “Evil”/”Indeed” promos, which might have blurred the line between racist and clever parody a bit too much for some people. However, even fans of karate movie references are in agreement the even more infamous segment in which Mr. Yamaguchi-san “choppy choppy [Val Venis]’s pee-pee” shot all the way past that line into a uniquely offensive category. Pretty much everything about Kai En Tai prior to Yamaguchi-san taking his leave from the group was in the flat-out racist category, especially if it involved his relationship with Mrs. Yamaguchi-san. One particularly awful Monday Night Raw segment featured Yamaguchi-san prepared to spank his wife, which the WWE allowed, on the precipice this sort of thing was totally normal for Japanese men to do to their wives. If this is what Vince McMahon thinks about the land of the rising sun, maybe Shinsuke Nakamura should stay in NXT.
20 Hawk The Alcoholic
The strange thing about the more racist and offensive gimmicks on this list is that the performers typically had some hand in creating them. The demise of The Legion of Doom, caused by Hawk’s alcoholism and drug addiction, is different in that Hawk and his partner Animal were both openly against the gimmick ever happening. Of course, the situation is also different in that less people were overtly offended by it, although any fan of Hawk and any person with knowledge of drug problems had plenty of reason to be outraged. Hawk had struggled with various addictions throughout his entire life and WWE decided to make an angle out of this in late 1998. He regularly appeared on television “drunk,” and the story culminated with Hawk falling off the Titantron. The entire ordeal poked fun of the very real substance abuse problem in wrestling and utilizing a wrestler’s personal problems in this manner is never an acceptable idea.
19 The Wild Samoans
One of the biggest reasons WWE needs to stray away from offensive characters is that should one of these characters somehow became a huge success, significant portions of WWE history will be stained with racist stereotypes. Take for example the case of WWE Hall of Fame tag team The Wild Samoans, Afa and Sika. The feared duo won the WWE World Tag Team Championships on three occasions, amongst a plethora of other regional belts. The Samoans are veritable legends of tag team wrestling, but unfortunately, their legend was built on outrageously racist characters. As their name would imply, The Wild Samoans were uncivilized savages from Samoa, controlled by the manipulative Captain Lou Albano. Despite Afa, Sika, and the majority of American Samoans all speaking English, The Wild Samoans were inaccurately presented as brutes who spoke in grunts and moans. The true tragedy of the gimmick is that it lasted for decades and teams like The Islanders, The Headshrinkers, and solo acts like The Sultan and Umaga would all continue pushing this awful stereotype.
18 "Last Call" Scott Hall
If you thought what WWE did to Hawk was bad, wait until you read about the saga of “Last Call” Scott Hall. Scott Hall’s personal problems were infamous and terrible enough to inspire an ESPN docudrama and WCW was the place where Hall’s demons started to become a matter of public discussion. The reason wasn’t just that Hall was having problems behind the scenes, but also that WCW was flaunting his alcoholism on camera, regularly having him appear drunk and even stopping his matches in order to take sips of mixed drinks carried around by Vincent. Regardless of how hard Hall may have been wanting to quit behind the scenes, WCW was forcing him to give into his worst impulses on camera, practically forcing his addictions to get worse every Monday night. It isn’t at all surprising Hall completely hit rock bottom after leaving the mainstream wrestling scene and, in fact, the only shocking part of the story is that it took so long for Hall to bottom out with WCW blatantly pushing him down.
Characters like Kamala explain exactly what is wrong with using an offensive gimmick to make an audience react by any means necessary. The real Jim Harris was so successful under the Kamala gimmick that he main evented all around the country during the territorial days, up to and including the requisite run against WWE World Champion Hulk Hogan during the height of Hulkamania. Unfortunately, even at the time, more enlightened fans were all too aware of the severely racist undertones of the gimmick. To sum it up as quickly as possible, a man from Mississippi pretended to be a native African “savage,” unable to speak English and possibly even a cannibal. Regardless of Kamala’s success, the wrestling industry has large turned their back on his legacy, due to the now unavoidable fact it dug in to the worst and most offensive stereotypes African Americans have suffered for centuries.
16 Cryme Tyme
Cryme Tyme are one of the harder examples to write about, if only because the fact they were offensive stereotypes seemed to be the only point and yet fans cheered them anyway. Nonetheless, it should be even easier in hindsight to recognize just how horrible and offensive the idea was, as it blatantly glorified some of the most negative stereotypes associated with black culture. And again, they got cheered for it. Individually, Cryme Tyme were Shad Gaspard and JTG and there’s a good chance they were aware of how bad their antics would look on camera, considering WWE felt the need to include a disclaimer on WWE.com shortly before their debut. The disclaimer promised “Saturday Night Live style humor” that would be “parodying racial stereotypes,” which should already be setting off a dozen buzzwords related to things fans know WWE has never been able to pull off. Despite some fans connecting with the gimmicks, others could never get over the horrible taste it left in their mouths and the group disbanded in 2010.
14 Akeem, The African Dream
The closest thing to an excuse gimmicks like Kai En Tai or The Wild Samoans have is that the performers portraying them were actually Japanese and Samoan respectively, and therefore at least we can assume the people involved had some knowledge of the actual subculture they were mocking. Not so with Akeem the African Dream, formerly known as badass biker The One Man Gang. The problem isn’t that there aren’t white people in Africa, but rather that Akeem wasn’t presented as a South African—he was presented as a stereotypical African American, impersonating his jive soul bro manager Slick. Thus, WWE managed to mock multiple cultures at once, doing so in the most reductive and racist way imaginable. Bizarrely, Akeem achieved greater success in this gimmick than he ever did as The One Man Gang, engaging in a prolonged feud with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
13 The Ultimate Solution
Jeep Swenson only wrestled one match for WCW and yet there was absolutely no hesitation in respect to his inclusion on this list. Swenson is better known for his talents as an actor and stuntman, particularly the fact he starred in Batman & Robin as the first motion picture version of Bane. That may have been offensive to Batman fans, but Swenson’s time in WCW managed to be offensive to just about everybody alive and the worst part of his entire tenure was the very first time the company said his name. Apparently, no one in WCW had heard of the Holocaust and thus Jeep Swenson’s initial WCW name was The Final Solution. Thankfully, someone clued the execs at Turner in on the ordeal and they legitimately purported not to have known the name had any significance to history. Swenson was renamed The Ultimate Solution, which arguably wasn’t anywhere near different enough and thus made it impossible for fans to forget his horrible original name.
12 The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust
The entire career of Dustin Runnels is marred with controversy and the character of Goldust in particular is one of the most contentious and debated gimmicks of the modern era. The initial phases of Goldust’s character depicted him as a man who used homosexuality as a mind game and thus received complaints from both gay rights groups and homophobes who didn’t want that sort of thing on their television. Individual segments may have gone too far, but the majority of the complaints proved the point on this one, so we can’t keep debating it ourselves.
However, when Goldust kayfabe decided to split from his wife Terri in late 1997 for virtually no reason, things took a turn in a direction that could offend flat-out everybody. Mocking Prince, Goldust became The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust and would dress up like a crazed sexual deviant, led to the ring by Luna Vachon. There’s a fine line between mind games and stupidity, and that line is painted green wearing a pointed bra.
11 "Adorable" Adrian Adonis
“Adorable” Adrian Adonis is another example of the biggest problem being that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Adrian Adonis prior to him creating the new gimmick. Adonis had only recently lost the WWE Tag Team Championships with partner Dick Murdoch prior to taking time off, gaining an unfortunate amount of weight, bleaching his hair blonde, and taking a turn for the Adorable. While teaming with Murdoch, Adonis was a New York street tough. For some reason, after the weight gain, he became a highly effeminate stereotype, with an affinity towards flowers, make-up, and the color pink. Granted, even as a tough New Yorker, Adonis leaned closer to Cruising than Rebel Without A Cause. Regardless, biker Adonis had enough subtlety not to be a complete stereotype, whereas the Adorable version went all-in on every stereotype that existed at the time. Despite the offensiveness of the gimmick, there’s no denying it become part of history, when “Rowdy” Roddy Piper defeated Adrian Adonis at WrestleMania III in a hair vs. hair match.
This list should be indicating that wrestling tends to be a few years behind when it comes to social justice. Therefore, the fact the company tackled the transgender issue as early as 1996 is a minor miracle in and of itself. Of course, they did so with absolutely no tact and constantly made fun of the woman, using her very name as a joke about her gender. Cloudy was Sunny’s replacement in The Bodydonnas and the idea was basically that the announcers couldn’t figure out what she was. It was wrestling’s version of the Pat sketches from Saturday Night Live and, somehow, it was even less socially sensitive than the folks at Studio 8H. The only saving grace is that Cloudy only lasted a few episodes and thus wasn’t able to have gotten any more offensive than mere first impressions.
9 Kerwin White
Let’s take one more journey into the “nothing wrong with the initial performer” category to example perhaps the worst offense of its type: the rebranding of Chavo Guerrero, Jr. as Kerwin White. Chavo comes from one of the most legendary families in wrestling and, at the time WWE forced Chavo to turn into Kerwin, his uncle Eddie was still wrestling and participating in main event matches in the same company. Chavo wasn’t quite the same level of talent as his uncle and thus may have needed to rely on gimmicks a bit more than the rest of his family. However, that gimmick shouldn’t have been an outright mockery of his heritage and legacy, which Kerwin White was. The whole idea of Kerwin White was that Chavo wanted to pretend he was white, instead of being part of the most respected lineage in wrestling. Luckily, Kerwin White didn’t last long, albeit the fact Eddie’s death caused the gimmick to disappear makes the matter more tragic than lucky. Despite how short Kerwin White was around, fans could never forget the fact he had arguably the most offensive catchphrase of any gimmick on this list: “It’s alright if it’s all white.”
The world will never know whether or not these wrestlers could have become stars had they avoided their most terrible gimmicks. WWE tried with Heidenreich, by turning into the next Road Warrior, but fans could never forget the initial awful gimmick he was saddled with thus causing his stint with Animal to completely bomb. Reasonable enough, considering Heidenreich’s first gimmick was that he was a rapist. There’s not much more to it than that; Heidenreich read a bunch of creepy poems for a while, lured Michael Cole into a bathroom, and sexually assaulted him. The ordeal had next to nothing to do with wrestling and no other superstars ever seemed to comment on the issue or care that the lead announcer of the company was sexually assaulted on television. Heidenreich stuck around a few years after his attack on Cole, with the incident falling by the wayside.
6 The Mexicools
An idea like The Mexicools only gets worse when you try to figure out what part of it Vince McMahon and company thought was a good idea. Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, and Super Crazy weren’t quite on the level of a Tony Atlas or Adrian Adonis, because although they were well known, only Crazy had appeared in WWE prior to their collective debut (and it was years earlier, as the largely forgotten Super Loco). Likewise, the problem wasn’t the idea that they were proud of their heritage, considering all three men were genuinely proud Mexicans. The problem is that these three proud Mexicans were apparently proud of the most offensive stereotypes related to Mexican culture. In fact, some of The Mexicool trademarks, such as the fact they rode to the ring on Juan Deere lawnmowers, felt more like a bad comedian attempting to joke about a stereotype than an actual stereotype in and of itself. Somehow, this only made the whole thing worse, since it meant creativity was going in to the racism this gimmick clearly was bound to spread.
5 The West Hollywood Blondes
Despite how obviously offensive the gimmicks on this list are in hindsight, it might be fair to give some of the earlier examples we’ve mentioned the benefit of the doubt, in that the people creating them didn’t understand how they would be perceived decades later. The West Hollywood Blondes didn’t happen that long ago, so they don’t have that excuse and, making matters even worse, Turner executives blatantly told them to stop their horrifically offensive gimmick and they kept it up anyway. The Blondes were Lenny Lane and Lodi, and Lane in particular was an fabulously gay stereotype who always happened to be sucking on lollipops (because if wrestling is anything, it’s subtle). Lane got over enough with the gimmick to win the WCW Cruiserweight Champion, but, like we said, Turner executives got wind of the negative press Lane was generating and took the title away from him off screen. Lane apparently never got the hint, as he would later show up in the early days of TNA as a member of The Rainbow Express. The name should say it all.
While the gimmicks on this list are terrible, people can still be fans of the wrestlers forced to use them, looking past those bad points in their careers and choosing to blame the writers instead of the performers. No such luck with the character of Oklahoma, portrayed by WCW writer Ed Ferrara as a terrible and reductive impersonation of WWE Hall of Famer announcer Jim Ross. While JR has always been ripe for parody due to his colloquial nature, Ferrara instead chose to implicitly mock Ross for having suffered Bell’s palsy. Oklahoma was bad enough when he was a mere manager and parody of JR, but things got even worse when he stepped into the ring and managed to mock two genres of wrestling all at once by defeating Madusa for the WCW Crusierweight Championship. Ferrara was fired from WCW shortly thereafter, although it surprisingly had more to do with his writing than his character work.
3 The Original Harlem Heat
Booker T is a WWE Hall of Famer and Harlem Heat was the team that first allowed him to get noticed in the wrestling industry. The team turned into one that managed to win the WCW World Tag Team Championships a record 10 times, although unfortunately, they never would have come anywhere near doing so using their original gimmick. Referred to as Kane and Kole, Harlem Heat were said to be prisoners purchased from a warden by Colonel Robert Parker. To accomplish this look, the Heat came to the ring shackled in chains and lead by the Colonel, forced to fight for his pleasure. Amazingly, it actually took a few days before anyone in WCW realized this was outrageously racist and made it look like Harlem Heat were Parker’s slaves. In fairness to WCW’s executives, this aspect of the gimmick was nixed immediately upon higher-ups getting word it existed. However, the company doesn’t deserve complete absolution, considering they never did stop pretending the two brothers born in Texas were from Harlem and it would be hard to imagine that as anything other than a racially motivated decision.
There are your run-of-the-mill atrocious career-killing gimmicks and then there is Eugene. Prior to becoming Eugene, Nick Dinsmore had a reputation as one of the most promising talents in Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he still holds the record for the most reigns as OVW World Heavyweight Champion. All of Dinsmore’s promise was thrown away the instant he appeared on television as the mentally challenged nephew of Eric Bischoff, consistently overexcited and overwhelmed by the experienced that is the WWE Universe. Eugene shockingly managed to become popular, but anyone with actual sensitivity towards the struggles of the intellectually disabled knew the character was a terrible idea from the start. Dinsmore’s career outside of WWE stands as proof that fans won’t forget a terrible gimmick, as he has been virtually unable of returning to his real name, instead continuing to offensively perform as U-Gene most places he goes.
1 Reverend Slick
One of the most racist gimmicks on this list was Kamala and it has been argued that WWE can take solace in the fact that, in the very least, they didn’t create that one. Unfortunately for Vince McMahon and company, they did do something seemingly impossible and make it significantly more offensive than it already was, by turning the first ever African American manager into a stereotypical Reverend and having him try and teach Kamala how to pray the savagery away. Even weirder, Slick figured he could accomplish this by teaching Kamala how to bowl and wear shoes. What bowling has to do with civilization was never made clear, but what was clear was that whoever wrote these segments was outrageously racist and the only point was to laugh at people of color’s expense. At least Kamala could sell a few tickets against The Hulkster.