Sometimes, it amazes me as to how WWE could be, and was so behind the times when it comes to matters of race, sexual orientation, and other hot-button areas that could foster fear and hate among the narrow-minded. Or sometimes, WWE gives its talents defining characteristics that so blatantly cross the lines between edgy, yet acceptable television and "I can't believe they actually went there" content. You can probably guess that this was especially true during the Attitude Era, and still true during the Ruthless Aggression Era. Just what were these WWE gimmicks that offended all sorts of sensibilities back in the day?
One important thing we should note is that this list is exclusively for gimmicks. So while it still pisses us off that Triple H recreated necrophilia in the Katie Vick angle with Kane, or that Kane was involved in that storyline where it wasn't Gene Snitsky's fault that Lita miscarried, those are storylines or angles that didn't amount to a gimmick change. It's all about the gimmicks here, how they annoyed or offended us back then, and why they still annoy or offend us right now.
So here they are, without further ado – 20 of the most offensive gimmicks in WWE history that still make us palm our face and retch with disgust.
By the middle of 1996, WWE was seeing huge potential in Sunny as the first truly marketable female talent they had since the days of Miss Elizabeth. But what about those jabroni Bodydonnas who may have been holding her back at that point in her career? What were Skip and Zip to do, now that they lost the main, and possibly only reason people were paying attention to their matches? Why, it was simple – replace Sunny with a woman named Kloudi. Because, you know, bad puns?
Kloudi, unfortunately, wasn't just a bad pun – "she" was, no matter which way you looked at "her," a man dressed like a woman. And we're guessing it was all well and good for the guy behind the gimmick, Jimmy "Shoulders" Haney, who was close friends with Chris "Skip" Candido. Even then, this was not a good look for WWE as far as the portrayal of cross-dressers is concerned, and certainly not the last time WWE ran afoul in that regard. Just ask "Hervina" Wippleman, Big Vito, and "Santina" Marella.
19 Chris Kanyon (Boy George)
We don't know if this even counts as a gimmick, but being that this marked his return to the main roster after several months injured and in developmental, we're presuming that WWE wanted to make this into Chris Kanyon's new gimmick. We are, of course, referring to the time when Big Show offered Kanyon as a "present" to The Undertaker in February 2003, with Kanyon emerging dressed like Boy George, and singing a few lines from Culture Club's 1980s hit "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" before 'Taker beat the crap out of him.
You do the math. Boy George was obviously gay well before he came out. Kanyon came out as gay a few years before his tragic 2010 suicide. Perhaps WWE knew what poor Chris was hiding at that time, and as is often the case, wanted to tease his sexual orientation in the least subtle way possible. In any case, the gimmick was scrapped immediately, and that, we'd say, was much betta for Kanyon, pun intended. Even if he did get injured again, and subsequently released in 2004.
18 Kai En Tai
Back in the time of the Attitude Era, hardly anything was off-limits. And while that was often a good thing, it sometimes made for some uncomfortable television, or gimmicks we laughed at as kids, only for us to realize how offensive the gimmicks really were years after the fact. Take the example of Kai En Tai, a faction of Japanese wrestlers whose leader, in the most stereotypical of accents and comically broken English, once declared that he wanted to choppy choppy the pee pee of the wrestler they were feuding with. All while symbolically chopping a chunk of salami. Real subtle there, WWE.
When Kai En Tai was reduced to just two men, the stereotyping didn't stop, as Funaki and Taka Michinoku would insult their opponents before matches in hammy dubbed voices reminiscent of how English voice talents dub Japanese animated movies and TV shows. We've said it before, but Shinsuke Nakamura is lucky to be in WWE at a time when such antics have long been rendered passe. (Or so we hope.)
17 Saba Simba
By the late-'80s, former WWE Tag Team Champion Tony Atlas was down and out on his luck, addicted to drugs and apparently homeless. But thanks to Vince McMahon, he was back in WWE by 1990, albeit as someone who had rediscovered his African roots, to the point that he was entering the ring barefoot, wearing a tribal costume and wielding a spear and a shield. Nope, this wasn't the same Tony Atlas who had won tag team gold with The Rock's dad, Rocky Johnson – this was Saba Simba. Man, did that gimmick reek of African stereotyping.
Atlas credits the Saba Simba gimmick for helping him get back on his feet and remain committed to staying off drugs, so it did work out for him in the end. But on the other hand, what the heck was wrong with WWE bringing him back as the Black Superman, Tony Atlas, instead of a caricature of the average African tribesman?
Saba Simba was thankfully a short-lived diversion for Tony Atlas, but Kamala was on WWE television for nearly a decade (1984 to 1993) on-and-off, as another example of how WWE may have viewed Africa as a continent of tribesmen and cannibals. And while Saba Simba was the former, Kamala was the latter, a cannibal so vicious that he had once worked (in kayfabe) for Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and needed a handler to make sure he didn't eat his opponents for dinner. And since he only spoke in grunts and howls, he had a who's who of well-known managers doing the speaking for him – Freddie Blassie, The Grand Wizard, Harvey Wippleman, and Reverend Slick.
Speaking of Slick, that's where WWE's portrayal of Kamala went from casually racist to patronizing, as the real-life reverend was now a babyface who made it his goal to civilize the Ugandan Giant. Yeah, as if bowling would soothe the savage beast. Kamala left the WWE soon after, and it's sad to note that the man who played him, Jim Harris, is now living on disability checks and a humble chair-making business now that he's lost legs due to complications of high blood pressure and diabetes.
15 Jeff Jarrett (Misogynist)
Given his sexist thinking and misogynistic opinions, even at a time when he claims to have found Christ, it's no surprise that Vince Russo gave the thumbs-up to some deplorable gimmicks based on male-on-female violence. One of these was Jeff Jarrett's short-lived gimmick where, in an effort to get himself more heel heat, he began attacking women. It didn't matter if they were competent (Chyna) or incompetent (Miss Kitty/The Kat) wrestlers, or even non-wrestlers (Cindy Margolis) – Jarrett suddenly developed a taste for misogyny, and it was quite painful to watch, even in the Attitude Era where anything often went.
Fortunately, that's not how Jarrett rolls, or used to roll in real life, as far as we know. But he didn't seem to have much of a problem playing such a vile role on television, as he followed Russo out of the WWE in October 1999, but not before holding Vince McMahon up for a cool 300 grand.
Nick Dinsmore was, and still is a talented in-ring worker. And he probably had his own good ideas on how to make the Eugene character work when he pitched it to WWE Creative. And to be fair to WWE, they did want Eugene to come off as a sympathetic underdog, a wrestling savant who'd eventually beat the bad guys who bullied him. Instead, he came about as a caricature of people with learning difficulties, and was mostly used as a prop in storylines. Not even an upset victory over Triple H could have changed that.
It's obvious that Dinsmore could have achieved more (yes, we know that rhymes) had he not become so invested in Eugene that he still uses the gimmick in the indies, though his battles with personal demons did play a part in the OVW great's failure to reach his big-league potential. Eugene could have good if he was portrayed in a more nuanced way, but as we know, nuance is oftentimes a foreign word in WWE Creative's vocabulary.
13 The Mexicools
The only thing good about The Mexicools, really, was the Juan Deere branding on the lawnmower they rode to the ring on, but even that got old after a while. The Mexicools' thing was that they were three talented luchadors who had had it with America's stereotypes of Mexican laborers, but instead of letting their actions do the talking, they hammered that point home by appearing like the very stereotypes they were rallying against. Hooray for WWE logic, everyone.
In the end, this gimmick was a huge waste of the talents of the men who made up the short-lived faction – Juventud Guerrera, Super Crazy, and Psicosis. And while we may lament the lack of TV time Gran Metallik and Lince Dorado are getting, even with 205 Live around, we should be glad that WWE didn't choose to package these two talented cruiserweights as goofy lawnmower-riding laborers.
12 Beaver Cleavage
With The Headbangers on hold in early-1999 due to Thrasher's injury, WWE Creative was left with nothing to do for Mosh...except for him to grow his hair out, wear oversized kids' clothes straight from the 1950s, and cut black-and-white vignettes starring him and his "mother" of a similar real-life age. But you haven't heard the punchline yet – Mosh's new name was Beaver Cleavage, and the fact that Mrs. Cleavage was obviously well-endowed was a central point of these hard-to-watch vignettes. I wonder what the real Beaver Cleaver, Jerry Mathers, thought of all this garbage, had he been so unfortunate to learn about it.
What saves this potentially incestuous and outright vile gimmick from a spot in the top 10 is the fact that it was all a bait-and-switch – the man behind Beaver Cleavage appeared on Monday Night RAW to denounce the gimmick and announce that from here on out, he'd be competing as himself. Which brings us right to our next entry.
You couldn't blame Chaz Warrington for taking a dump on Beaver Cleavage. Sure, it was just a worked shoot, but who wouldn't? Even for Attitude Era standards, it was pretty damn tasteless, but now that he was working under his real name, the wrestler simply known as Chaz was a plain-vanilla lower-midcard talent, and viewers couldn't wait for him to become Headbanger Mosh once again. But when Chaz and his mother Mrs. Cleavage, er...girlfriend Marianna, parted ways in September 1999, people finally had something to remember him by, albeit not in a good way.
The story was that Marianna began appearing on TV with a black eye, and it was implied that Chaz had been physically abusing her. Yes, people, Vince Russo went there, and in his last few months before joining WCW, he oversaw an actual domestic abuse angle in WWE. Ultimately, Thrasher returned to prove that his old buddy Chaz was framed up by his now-ex, and The Headbangers were thankfully back in business. Well, at least until Mosh became Chaz again and teamed up with D'Lo Brown to form the Tiger Ali Singh-managed Lo Down, but that's another sad-sack story for another time.
10 Kerwin White
"If it's not White, then it's not right." So went the catchphrase of one Kerwin White, average middle-class white man who loves playing golf and has a caddy who wants to be a male cheerleader and a show-off. Offensive enough as that all sounds, what makes this gimmick even more insulting is the fact that it was played by Mexican-American Chavo Guerrero, who renounced his Latino heritage as part of his repackaging. And while Chavo, er...Kerwin did get to retool his catchphrase a bit ("If it's not Kerwin White...") when WWE realized that they'd just crossed a line big-time, that didn't change the fact that he mostly disparaged non-white wrestlers, primarily Shelton Benjamin.
This gimmick was a huge disservice to Chavo and the Guerrero family name, and we'd imagine WWE wanting him to keep running with the Kerwin White gimmick, had Eddie Guerrero's November 2005 death not forced Chavo to go back to being himself.
9 All Samoans In WWE Pre-1995
These days, you see the likes of The Usos, Samoa Joe, and that Samoan named Joe who claims WWE is his yard, and observe them speaking fluent English and acting like members of "civilized" society. Ditto The Usos' father, Rikishi, and the late Jamal and Rosey of 3 Minute Warning, Rikishi's original gimmick and Jamal's future gimmick notwithstanding. But back in the day, hailing from Samoa or being of Samoan descent was an automatic signal for Vince McMahon to book you as a savage wild man who speaks in grunts, screams, and gibberish, while eating raw fish and almost threatening to eat your opponents and the fans.
Need evidence? Take a look at Wild Samoans Afa and Sika, and later on Samu, Fatu (the aforementioned Rikishi), and Sione (who was actually Tongan) of The Headshrinkers. Need more obscure proof? What about "High Chief" Siva Afi, the mid-'80s WWE jobber? With the probable exception of Rodney Anoa'i, who was booked as the faux-Japanese Yokozuna, being Samoan was a ticket to savagery, and it's a good thing modern-day WWE has steered clear of such stereotypes.
Then again... not always. Remember the aforementioned 3 Minute Warning? Rosey, a.k.a. Roman Reigns' late older brother Matt Anoa'i, became the Super Hero In Training after 3 Minute Warning disbanded. As for Eddie Fatu, who played the role of Jamal, his next WWE gimmick was a throwback to the lamentable era of Samoan savages. This all took place in 2006, well after the savage shtick had thankfully gone out of style, yet someone in WWE creative thought it would be a good idea to transform the swaggering urban brawler Jamal into the barbaric Umaga.
To WWE's credit, Umaga was booked quite strongly despite the stereotypical gimmick he was saddled with, as he held the Intercontinental Championship and served as Vince McMahon's proxy in the infamous hair vs. hair match against future President Trump at WrestleMania 23. (He lost to Bobby Lashley.) Sadly, he was also battling substance abuse issues, which led to his release from WWE in 2009. Umaga died just a few months later from a drug-related heart attack at the young age of 36.
Billed at 6'9" and 450 pounds, George Gray was a large, fearsome man whose original WWE ring name, One Man Gang, was as descriptive as you could get. But after he'd done his duties of squashing much smaller jobbers and putting Hulk Hogan over, he slid down the card, as there really wasn't much else to write home about – he wasn't a great worker, and his biker-esque gimmick was stock when you took away his size advantage. Then some Einstein in creative had an idea – hey, why not reveal that this big white biker dude was a black guy all along?
That's exactly what WWE did in 1988, as OMG was repackaged as Akeem, the African Dream, "The Doctor of Style" Slick's latest protege. And when he'd speak, he'd sound comically bad as he tried to affect a "jive talkin'" accent. Yes, we know it's so over-the-top in its political incorrectness. But the gimmick, in case you haven't noticed, was another one of WWE's attempts to troll Dusty Rhodes. Who, as you should know, was called "The American Dream," and was a white man who genuinely loved and respected black culture.
6 Mark Henry (Sexual Chocolate)
No, it's not what you think. Young Mark Henry falling in love with granny-aged Mae Young and fathering a hand was outright ludicrous and cringeworthy, but it's something we can laugh about now, and probably laughed at back in the day. But his Sexual Chocolate gimmick was tasteless in ways that could get us angry at WWE's creative team, even two decades after the fact.
If written correctly, you can get some mileage out of a sex addict gimmick. But when it involves Henry being so oversexed that he fell for Chyna's friend Sammy, only for him to yelp "sweet Jesus, you've got a penis!" when he discovers just why the "woman" is named Sammy, you're crossing the lines of good taste right there. But it gets worse – at a therapy session, Henry went as far as admitting he had sexual relations with his sister since their childhood days, and even as adults! And you still wonder why so many moral guardians were enraged by Attitude Era programming.
5 Cryme Tyme
To be fair, WWE did try to warn fans that Cryme Tyme was meant to be a parody of urban black stereotypes. And it was hilarious listening to the hammy announcer talking viewers through Shad Gaspard and JTG’s various training drills, which were actually clips of the two Brooklyn thugs committing petty crimes. But that didn’t stop a lot of fans from being offended by Shad and JTG representing African-Americans in WWE through their stereotypical “gangsta” behavior. Take note, this was the same company where a Caucasian world champion (Triple H) told an African-American challenger (Booker T) that “people like him” don’t win world titles. And later retained his title at WrestleMania.
Cryme Tyme ended in 2010 when Shad, fed up with losing, turned on JTG. That could have had him teasing an edgier, angrier, stereotype-free gimmick, but he was released soon after. JTG stayed three years longer than Gaspard did, but you could swear there were times you thought he was gone…only for you to see him on WWE’s list of active performers.
If you come to think about it, Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Man gimmick was not supposed to be racist. Sure, he was callous and condescending, and glad to flaunt his wealth, but he mocked wrestlers and fans of all genders and races. Yep, he did mean it when he said that EVERYBODY has got a price for the Million Dollar Man. Sounds pretty safe, doesn't it?
That is, if you discount the fact that he had an African-American manservant named Virgil, whose only words would usually be a subservient "yes suh." And if you think that was no-go territory back in the late-'80s, how about the time when Virgil made a comeback in 2010 as the manservant to Ted DiBiase...Junior. It was the same old gimmick, though WWE this time had the good sense to pair Teddy Jr. up with Maryse, just weeks after Virgil's brief nostalgia run.
3 Sgt. Slaughter (Iraqi Sympathizer)
Back in the earliest days of Hulkamania, Sgt. Slaughter was enjoying a comfortable upper-midcard/main event role as a real American hero. Then again, he was also fighting alongside those Real American Heroes as part of Hasbro's G.I. Joe toy line, and that led WWE to abruptly can him in 1985. Five years later, he had turned his back on America, aligned with onetime rival The Iron Sheik (an Iranian who inexplicably became the Iraqi Col. Mustafa, even if anyone could recognize him for his old gimmick), and become WWE's most hated heel. And a transitional rival to Hulk Hogan.
Bear in mind that WWE was having Slaughter play a turncoat during the heat of the Gulf War, and that allegedly hit too close to home for many fans, who would go as far as sending death threats to the already-uncomfortable Slaughter. And get this – WWE even wanted him to burn the American flag to get even more heat from the fans! Slaughter was turned face soon after losing to Hogan at WrestleMania VII, but whoever greenlit his re-debut as an American traitor during a time of geopolitical strife deserves to be called a lowly maggot.
2 Muhammad Hassan
You'd think that WWE would have thought twice before launching an evil Arab gimmick after 9/11. But then again, this is a company where the boss' daughter compared her dad's steroid trial to 9/11, so just roll with it as we jog your memory once again on Muhammad Hassan, angry Arab-American fed up with post 9/11 paranoia and prejudice. We now know that Hassan was, in fact, an Italian-American named Marc Copani, but that didn't stop him from playing the gimmick to the hilt, and getting nuclear heat each time he praised Allah in the ring.
Hassan was also being groomed to become WWE's youngest World Heavyweight Champion ever, but something happened on the way to that mega-push – WWE's tone-deaf decision to air the angle where Hassan "summoned" a band of masked men to attack The Undertaker on the same day as the London bombings of 2005. With WWE raked under coals for airing the angle, Hassan was thrown under the bus and sacked in September 2005, without even getting a chance to be repackaged into something less offensive.
1 Billy And Chuck
And we've finally come to the bottom of the barrel, the creme de la creme of offensive WWE gimmicks, if you could call it that. And it isn't because of anything Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo did leading up to their "commitment ceremony." Sure, we did get to see a lot of homoeroticism from Billy and Chuck as their bromance was played out on WWE television, but GLAAD was apparently pleased at WWE's ostensible portrayal of a gay couple, and looking forward to that commitment ceremony.
Which, of course, turned out to be a sham – Billy and Chuck were, in fact, straight men who were pretending to be gay for the sake of publicity. This drew a rousing cheer from the audience, and this is the time when we remind you that Billy and Chuck were booked as heels. That's right – the ostensibly gay men were the bad guys, and their reveal of the publicity stunt (right before Eric Bischoff revealed himself as the minister and led a 3 Minute Warning beatdown on the faux-gay couple) was supposed to constitute their face turn.
If that isn't offensive, especially since we're still celebrating Pride Month as of this writing, then I don't know what it is.