The history of professional wrestling is filled with colorful characters who were defined by a timeless gimmick which not only increased their box office appeal but cemented their legacy long beyond their retirement from the ring.
Such was the case for Texan Raymond George Wagner who was just another wrestler in a pair of black trunks before coming up with the idea to bleach his dark hair blonde, style it into a feminine coif and tour by the name Gorgeous George. Though considered to be an outrageous departure from wrestling tradition, Wagner became one of wrestling’s top drawing wrestling commodities and his appeal transcended the sport to influence performers in other sports and entertainment genres.
Sometimes, those outrageous ideas that are scoffed at by the fans and even industry insiders only to evolve to become pure gold such as The Undertaker. In the wrestling magazines of the day, the character was celebrated, but self-proclaimed experts predicted that it was a gimmick with a short shelf life. In that case, the experts were wrong and Mark Calaway has enjoyed one of the longest tenures in WWE history.
But sometimes the creative influences behind the scenes miss the mark by a wide margin. On paper, we still can’t reconcile that someone was paid to come up with these characters which did little to inspire awe, fear, or endearment. Further, in some cases, the re-packaging of known and credible wrestlers not only served as an injustice to the performer, but also to the fans who buy the tickets. The following list explores some of professional wrestling’s biggest head scratchers in terms of character changes.
Here are the 20 wrestling character changes that made no sense.
19 Greg Valentine
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine forged his reputation as a tough as nails competitor in the 1970s and 80s, best remembered as a master of the figure four leglock and for brutal matches such as his highly graphic dog collar chain match against Roddy Piper. A decorated grappler, he held almost every title short of the world championship in both the NWA and WWE by the mid-1980s. In fact, he has declared in interviews that he was being groomed for a WWE World title run after Bob Backlund until plans were re-routed with the arrival of Hulk Hogan to the company.
18 The Coach
In Los Angeles and most everywhere else he appeared during his storied career, Hamilton, Ontario’s John Tolos rose to the top of the roster and laid claim to dozens of championships during his career. His talent between the ropes was only eclipsed by his gregarious demeanor on the microphone which inflamed crowds on television and drew them into the arenas to see him get his comeuppance.
17 Any WCW character for Brutus Beefcake
16 Lord Tensai
We have to admit, Prince Albert was a character that fell pretty flat outside of the veiled innuendo of his partnership with Test (Andrew Martin) as T & A. However, as A-Train, he did show his skills and developed a credible following during his solo career in the WWE. After a hiatus where he re-invented himself in Japan, many were excited to learn about his pending return to the WWE. However, our excitement fell flat upon his re-debut as Lord Tensai.
15 The Boss
Ray Traylor generated an immediate impact in the WWE as The Big Boss Man, first as a villain tormenting favorites such as Hulk Hogan, and then later as a fan favorite. The character of a prison guard from the deep south fighting for truth, honor and the American way evolved to become one of the most endearing characters in WWE history. However, when he made the jump to WCW, there wasn’t a lot of imagination put into the character for the man who had wrestled as Big Bubba Rogers for them just a few years earlier. By trying to play off of Traylor’s WWE fame, it was only a matter of time before someone made a slip and called “The Boss” by the wrong name.
At the height of the Monday Night Wars, Vince McMahon was pulling out all the stops against his rivals in WCW. Vignettes portraying Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan as geriatric caricatures of themselves clinging to their past glory was only one example of what Vince was prepared to do in the ratings war. When Bill Goldberg exploded onto the scene and became WCW’s most heavily marketed commodity, the WWE team felt they needed to take a shot at him as well. The result was despicable.
14 New Midnight Express
12 Hoss Funk
As a chief tormentor of The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan almost as soon as he arrived in the WWE, the former sumo wrestler from Surrey, British Columbia known as The Earthquake was one of the most fearsome competitors in the WWE. Seeing success as a tag team champion alongside Typhoon (Fred Ottman), Earthquake’s place in WWE history should have been cemented, but after returning from a hiatus, he found himself re-cast under a mask and in a pair of sweat pants and a t-shirt as the largely forgettable and unimpressive Golga.
10 The Executioner
Let’s forget for a moment that Terry “Bamm Bamm” Gordy has since been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a member of The Fabulous Freebirds trio that stirred up notoriety throughout the 1980s. Gordy dominated most everywhere he appeared – the Universal Wrestling Federation, WCW, and was probably one of the most successful American wrestlers of all time in Japan. Gordy’s arrival in the WWE in the 1990s could have been his greatest triumph – finally arriving as a solo star in North America’s largest wrestling company.
9 Curtis Axel
If Curtis Axel hasn’t been the victim of WWE cuts by the time this list even reaches publication, this author will be abundantly surprised. A third generation star, we can understand that the company might want to put him out in front of the public with a name that ensured he wouldn’t coast on the laurels of his father and grandfather before him. So we were subjected to the rather unremarkable “Michael McGillicutty”. We held our tongues and waited for the talent Joe Hennig to earn his stripes.
8 Mr. J.L.
7 Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz
6 Saba Simba
Tony Atlas will forever hold distinction with Rocky Johnson as the first African-American team in history to win the WWE World Tag Team Titles. Atlas has had a rocky career, one of his own admission. However, when he was re-signed to the WWE in 1990, the opportunity to ascend to his previous success was limited by a character assignment that fans could see through. Dubbed “Saba Simba”, Atlas was declared to have been celebrating his ancestral roots.
5 Dok Hendrix
4 Akeem the African Dream
Almost from his earliest matches for the Poffo family’s International Championship Wrestling, George Gray dominated every territory that he appeared. The giant of a man at 6’9 and weighing 450 pounds, sporting a Mohawk hairstyle to show off the tattoos he was known as the One Man Gang and headlined Florida, Texas, and the Mid-South before arriving in the WWE. Unfortunately, his dominance in the territories didn’t translate to Vince McMahon’s portfolio and after being fed to Hulk Hogan like so many other monster villains of his era someone made the decision to re-package this fearsome antagonist.
3 The Shark
2 Col. Mustafa
The 1980s produced some of the most iconic wrestling characters of all time. The evidence of their lasting legacy can be evidenced by the number of wrestlers from that era who continue to find themselves in high demand for personal appearances and comic conventions as pop culture icons. Among them, few cast a shadow as large as the Iron Sheik. Best known for unseating Bob Backlund for the WWE World title and being the champion unseated by Hulk Hogan to spawn Hulkamania, Sheik stands as one of the most recognizable stars of the 1980s.
1 Chainsaw Charlie
Just when you thought the bell had rung on Terry Funk’s career, he re-emerged with even more vigor than before. It’s hard to fathom now that the younger Funk brother had actually first announced his retirement in 1983 with intentions to go a different direction with his professional life. We’ve since lost count of how many times the former NWA World champion has declared his retirement and embarked upon a farewell tour. When he debuted on Monday Night Raw, cutting his way out of a wooden crate with a stocking over his head and by the name Chainsaw Charlie, many were scratching our heads to ask “What the hell is this about?” Frankly, as I write this now, almost 20 years later, I’m still a little mystified about it.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!