Throughout the history of professional wrestling, it has been a very rare occurrence if one talent has stuck with one name throughout the duration of his or her career. Sure, there have been times were a wrestler has been lucky enough to make a living under one title; however, for many, they have had to change their identities time and time again.
There could be a wide variety of reasons for such a circumstance to come about – some may be seen as positives, while others could be thought bout and seen as negatives.
While some of the wrestlers change their names to give his or her character an added layer or dimension for the audience to connect with and become attracted to, others will go by a different moniker to regain some momentum, as the crowd may have become indifferent in whether to care or not about said talent – which is career suicide for a talent.
However, just because the wrestlers may be in a rut when it comes to their character, more times than not, a name change is exactly what the doctor ordered for the talent to reconnect with the passionate fan base. As you will read as you go on with this countdown, many of the featured talent were without a shadow of a doubt some of the biggest names to ever step foot inside of a squared circle throughout the history of top companies like the WWE, WCW and ECW.
Enough of the explaining and the chit chatter: here are the top 20 wrestlers who, at one point in their careers, changed their name.
21 Cody Rhodes - Stardust
When he burst onto the WWE scene back in 2007, Cody Rhodes went through a variety of different gimmicks while keeping the same look to his character.
After being a generic babyface while teaming with Hardcore Holly, the son of the late, great Dusty Rhodes joined Randy Orton’s Legacy stable, which saw him become a heel for the first time. Whether it was as the Intercontinental Champion, with the nickname “Dashing” or teaming with Damien Sandow as one half of the Rhodes Scholars, it appeared that Rhodes was destined to be a midcard heel for the rest of his career.
20 "The Natural" Dustin Rhodes - Goldust
Speaking of Goldust, he, too, went through various career identity changes before settling with the one that made him famous.
While wrestling with over in Japan, during his first run with the WWE and in WCW up until 1994, the older Rhodes brother went by the name Dustin Rhodes. While he had good size, he was never able to separate himself from the pack – that was, however, until he returned to the WWE in 1995.
Now going by the name Goldust, his character was mysterious, sexual and very odd – and at that time, he was definitely different than all of the other wrestlers on the roster at that time. He was so unique, that many point to the Goldust character as the first step towards the Attitude Era, as his edginess fit right in during the latter years of the 90s.
19 Jamal - Umaga
After spending nearly 10 years in WWE’s developmental system, Eddie Fatu of the famed Anoa’i wrestling family tree finally debuted on the main roster in 2002, as a part of Eric Bischoff’s tag team called 3-Minute Warning under the name Jamal.
Although he and his cousin Rosey were a strongly booked tag team for the better part of a year, Fatu was subsequently released due to varying reasons.
However, Fatu’s career took off when he returned to the company in 2005, where he went as the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga. Donning a unique look including tribal-like face paint, Umaga’s combination of size and agility made him unlike many wrestlers on the roster.
From 2005-2009, Umaga was positioned as a force, as he was typically seen decisively defeating opponents while also challenging for the Intercontinental and World Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately, violations of the WWE’s Wellness Policy led to his release in 2009.
18 Aldo Montoya - Justin Credible
The WWE was going through tough times in the mid-1990s; straying away from the Hulkamania Era, Vince McMahon created many cartoonish stars – one of those being Aldo Montoya.
Wrestling as the Portuguese Man of War, Montoya had strong midcard plans in his future; however, after the WWE had a falling out with a television deals in Brazil, Montoya became a glorified jobber.
Since McMahon didn’t want him to jump ship to WCW, he instead let him sign a contract with ECW – then, Justin Credible was born. During his time with the promotion, Credible became one of the most successful and well-positioned talents with ECW, as he won both the Tag Team and World Heavyweight Championship during his four-year stint.
17 Johnny Nitro - John Morrison
After appearing on and winning WWE’s third season of Tough Enough, Johnny Nitro’s talent was apparent; however, his character was not. While he served first as Eric Bischoff’s assistant and then as a tag team specialist in MNM and with The Miz, it looked as though Nitro wouldn’t make it past the tag team division.
That was, however, until he changed his name to John Morrison. Sure, he did capture the ECW Championship under the Nitro moniker, but Morrison really appeared to come into his own after being moved to both Smackdown and Raw.
During his time on the WWE’s top two brands, Morrison became a staple in the upper midcard division, which saw him compete for and capture Intercontinental and United States Championships, while also wrestling for the World Heavyweight Championship.
16 Isaac Yankem - Kane
Although Kane has been a household name on WWE television ever since the character debuted in 1997, many current fans fail to remember that Kane was always been the Big Red Machine.
Back in 1995 when he initially debuted in the WWE, Kane went by the name Isaac Yankem, which portrayed a dentist like character. It wasn’t long before the cartoonish character became a jobber. That wasn’t Kane’s only stop before stardom. After Kevin Nash jumped ship to WCW, Kane was asked to portray the Diesel character – one that was met with poor fanfare.
15 The Tazmaniac - Taz
Before ECW went extreme, the then Eastern Championship Wrestling, too, liked to use characters that didn’t portray real life people – enter The Tazmaniac.
While wrestling in the Philadelphia based promotion, the Tazmaniac was a wild haired and outfitted small talent, whose behavior resembled that of the Tasmanian devil cartoon. And while he won both the Tag Team and Television Championships with that character, it wasn’t until he returned from his broken neck that Taz became what he is still known for today.
Cutting his hair and shortening his name, Taz became arguably the most prolific wrestler in ECW history. Now wrestling in a plain black singlet and adopting a UFC like moveset, Taz’s array of suplexes and choke holds made him appear more legitimate than any of the other wrestlers on the roster.
14 Bradshaw - JBL
Although he went by a few different names coming through the WWE ranks, up until that point in his career, Bradshaw found his highest form of success as one half of the APA with Farooq.
Whether it was being a part of the Ministry or playing poker backstage, both Bradshaw and Farooq were seen as ass-kickers who didn’t mind seriously beating their opponents in the ring or at the bar.
That’s why it was so weird seeing Bradshaw become a heel, cut his hair, wear short trunks, eliminate any signs of Texas from his character and go by the name John Bradshaw Layfield from New York. While it was different, the change certainly helped him.
Now known as JBL, he dominated the Smackdown scene in 2004 and 2005, as he spent his time either as WWE Champion or contending for the title. His success as a singles wrestler continued, as he had a strong run with the United States Championship as well.
13 The Roadie and Rockabilly - The New Age Outlaws
For both the Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, a case of poor character storylines led them to becoming one of the best tag teams in WWE history.
During the mid-to-late 1990s, both Road Dogg and Gunn, going by the names The Roadie and Rockabilly, respectively, were teetering on the line of obscurity. However, after having a random feud with one another, the two pitched the idea of them becoming a tag team, which led to the birth of the New Age Outlaws.
Dropping the poor gimmicks, both men began to terrorize the tag team scene before joining forces with Triple H and X-Pac, creating the second incarnation of D-Generation X. During the Attitude Era, the New Age Outlaws won the Tag Team Championships on five separate occasions.
12 Husky Harris - Bray Wyatt
There may not be a more captivating character right now than that of Bray Wyatt. However, it wasn’t always that way for the Eater of Worlds.
After competing on NXT, Wyatt, who was known as Husky Harris, helped Nexus leader Wade Barrett in a match against John Cena, thus putting him into the second version of the group. Always looking uncomfortable and out of place on camera, Harris never made any sort of impact on the WWE roster, as he was sent back down to developmental not long after his debut.
However, now given the chance to come up with his own creation, Bray Wyatt was born – and while the cult-like leader garnered “Husky Harris” chants on the first night he debuted as Wyatt, the overhaul earned the respect from the WWE Universe, and the chants died down immediately after.
11 Deacon Dave Bautista - Batista
When you think of Batista, either one of two things come to mind: his time in the super group Evolution, or wrestling as “The Animal.” However, Batista didn’t start off his career as a success story.
Back in 2002, the WWE creative team decided to separate the Dudley Boyz, so they gave D'Von the gimmick of a Reverend. Of course, any good heel needs a good backup, so Batista was called to the main roster as Deacon Dave Bautista, equipped with a suit and a box for charitable donations.
However, the gimmick didn’t go over with the audience, and Deacon Bautista was soon rebranded as Batista, as he joined Triple H, Ric Flair and Randy Orton. After that, The Animal became a multi-time champion and a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.
10 The Prototype - John Cena
Batista wasn’t the only future WWE Hall of Famer to go through a makeover before stardom. During his time in developmental up until right before he was called up, John Cena was known as The Prototype.
As The Prototype, Cena was largely portrayed as a robotic-like character that saw him mimic many characteristics like The Terminator. However, once called up to the main roster, The Prototype turned into John Cena – and the rest is history.
Starting out as a generic babyface, Cena then moved on to a heel rapper character before becoming the unstoppable force he is today. As it stands, Cena is just one championship shy of tying Ric Flair for his all-time record, and all signs point to Cena getting at least one more run with the company’s top prize before it is all said and done.
9 Johnny Polo - Raven
There may not have been a more drastic character change than that of Johnny Polo in the WWE to Raven in ECW.
Although he wasn’t an everyday wrestler in the WWE, Johnny Polo had many titles; wrestler, manager, producer and color commentator were just some of them. However, Polo wanted to be a full-time wrestler – and that is why he made the jump to ECW.
After being a happy-go-lucky type character on the family friendly WWE show, Raven was born as Paul Heyman’s ultimate project, as he portrayed a dark, twisted and fearless cult-like leader.
8 The Diamond Studd - Razor Ramon - Scott Hall
Just from a visual perspective, Scott Hall had it all – the size, the strength, the look and the swagger. Though he had many names, his first push came as The Diamond Studd in WCW. That push soon faded, and he went to the WWE in 1992, creating the Razor Ramon character.
Portraying a Scarface-like character, Ramon was a fixture on WWE television, as he was constantly pushed as a top babyface. However, when he saw the money that could be made elsewhere, Ramon made the jump to WCW.
At first, Ramon, now known as Scott Hall, used the same voice and mannerisms that were used in the WWE. However, due to many lawsuits, Hall had to use less of that gimmick and more of himself – which ended up being a positive.
7 Oz - Vinnie Vegas - Diesel - Kevin Nash
As many of you who are reading this know, Kevin Nash’s story parallels Scott Hall’s, as they made the jump from WWE to WCW together.
Nash had some brutal gimmicks in WCW, going by both Oz and Vinnie Vegas before venturing up north.
While wrestling as Diesel in the WWE, Nash’s size made him an absolute favorite of Vince McMahon, which in turn made him one of the most successful wrestlers at that time. After being used as a bodyguard for Shawn Michaels, Diesel’s singles career was outstanding.
6 Terry Boulder to Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan may be the most recognizable wrestling name of all time – yet Terry Bollea wasn’t always running wild as the Hulkster.
Before making his way to the WWE, Hogan went by the name of Terry Boulder, as one half of the Boulder Brothers. However, after being seen with Hulk television star Lou Ferrigno and being noticeably bigger than him, many gave him the nickname The Hulk, which followed him to the WWE.
After a stint in Japan for two years, Hogan returned to the WWE in 1983, and soon, Hulkamania was born. Hogan could be viewed as the wrestler to put WWE on the map, as he was their main attraction for the better part of 10 years.
5 Cactus Jack - Mankind - Dude Love
While many wrestlers change their name to bring freshness to their personality, that wasn’t the case for Mick Foley – he was just great in every character he portrayed.
Foley made a name for himself as Cactus Jack, where he competed all over the globe, most notably in Germany, Japan, WCW and ECW. During that time, Cactus Jack was recognized as a hardcore legend that would do just about anything to hurt his opponent in as gruesome of a manner as possible.
When Foley made his way to the WWE in 1996, Vince McMahon didn’t want him to go by Cactus Jack – so Mankind was born. Straying away from his Cactus Jack personality, Mankind was displayed as a sick, twisted and sadistic character that didn’t only love to hurt his adversaries, but himself as well. Later on in his career, Mankind became the loveable underdog that was adored by fans across the WWE Universe.
Last but not least was Dude Love; while his run as Dude Love was short lived, the character was nothing like Cactus Jack or Mankind – instead, he was an overly corny, tie dye wearing, horribly dancing heel chosen by McMahon to go against Stone Cold Steve Austin.
4 Mean Mark Callous - The Undertaker
Mark Calaway went by several names/characters before hitting his big break as The Undertaker in WWE. His most notable one was Mean Mark Callous in WCW, a name created by Terry Funk. He had some success in the tag division as one half of The Skyscrapers, but it never seemed like he'd be a main eventer.
After signing on with the WWE in 1990, Vince McMahon gave him what turned out to be the greatest gimmick of all time, naming him The Undertaker. Calaway took it and ran with it, as nobody else would ever be able to pull off a gimmick like this. It's been tweaked, adjusted and has always evolved, but Taker has made the name a household one for 25 years.
Side note: Calaway initially wrestled as Kane The Undertaker, but Kane was dropped from the name for his on-screen debut at the 1990 Survivor Series.
2 Rocky Maivia to The Rock
In what is a sad reality to many wrestling fans today, The Rock is hardly viewed as a wrestler anymore, as he has completely taken over Hollywood. However, before he was the People’s Champion, The Rock was named Rocky Maivia – and the fans absolutely hated him.
Entering the WWE as a wide-smiled good guy, the fans saw that the WWE creative team was behind him – and they immediately turned their backs on him. It wasn’t uncommon for the audience to chant “Die Rocky Die” at Dwayne Johnson, simply because it was obvious he wasn’t being himself.
However, after breaking out of his shell as a part of the Nation, The Rock became a top heel with The Corporation before becoming one of the most beloved superstars of all-time.
1 Stunning Steve Austin - Superstar - Ringmaster - Stone Cold
That man was Stone Cold Steve Austin. However, before the beer chugging, bird flipping, anti-establishment star was born, Austin, too, was a character that no one could get behind.
After flashing his immense potential with both WCW (as Stunning Steve Austin) and ECW, Austin inked a deal with the WWE and debuted in 1996. In his first year with the company, Austin was the Million Dollar Champion with Ted DiBiase by his side, and was known as The Ringmaster. However, both the audience and Austin himself didn’t gel with the character, so he asked for the change – and in return, the WWE got arguably the greatest entertainer in the company’s history.
Instead of portraying a character, Austin was simply himself, multiplied by 1,000. He didn’t like anyone. He didn’t respect anyone. He didn’t trust anyone. And in return, everyone loved, respected and trusted him to put on a great show.
The accolades are endless. Austin, like The Rock, won everything that was put in front of him. And if it wasn’t for his name change, that may have never been able to happen.
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