Professional wrestling has a long history of making superstars out of everyday people like you and me. Some wrestlers were able to take the ball and run with it for a lengthy career and become legends, some weren’t so lucky. Gimmicks came, gimmicks went, and sometimes that almighty championship push just never came from the powers that be. Either way, there is a long, long line of people who have come and gone in the industry, so this is an introduction of sorts to some of the characters that made a splash in sports entertainment in one way or another.
This list will not feature the usual suspects and household names that most wrestling observers are familiar with. You won’t see legends the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, The Rock, The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, or John Cena. However, you’ll see the focus shift to the players that made up that ever-present undercard, or some main-eventers that were given a huge push too soon, just to fade away in a few years. we’re talking about those over-the-top gimmicks, those ridiculous initial characters that were force-fed to television audiences whether or not the person portraying the gimmick himself was even a fan or just wrestlers who attained huge success in their brief time at the top of the card. we’re talking about those guys that seemingly had their shot on the biggest stage, but something intangible was missing or their careers just never took off. Maybe they found it in later characters, maybe they didn’t; either way this list is about them. It’s about those middling journeymen or flash-in-the-pain main-eventers whom you know all too well, so a surprise factor shouldn’t be the focus.
Without further ado, here’s our list of the 25 characters we felt the need to spotlight, who made an impact in professional wrestling in some way or another before fading away.
25. Doink the Clown
Ahhh, Doink: everyone’s favorite clown. Initially debuting as a heel (with creepy entrance music that featured little kids crying), Doink the Clown just had to kick this list off with a bang. An over-the-top gimmick to end all over-the-top gimmicks, Doink had a successful mid-card run in the WWE for a few years in the mid-90s, mostly as a crowd favorite who played playful pranks on opponents and commentators alike. He never had any championship runs, but he did have a match at WrestleMania against Bam Bam Bigelow and Luna Vachon alongside his tag-team partner: Dink, his 4-foot tall sidekick. Although the original Doink was only around for a few years, the character itself has been portrayed by several different wrestlers over the last two decades.
24. The Goon
Hands down my favorite wrestling gimmick of all time, The Goon was a former hockey player that was kicked out of every hockey league in the world, forcing him to become a wrestler (naturally). I don’t think he ever technically won a match by pinfall or submission, rather he chose to set up his opponents on the outside and “check them into the boards,” before proceeding to enter the ring for a win by count-out. His career as The Goon was very, very short, as he would debut and consequently retire from the WWE in late 1996. Can you believe that the WWE actually booked a match with the Goon against The Undertaker on TV? The Goon?!
23. Duke the Dumpster Droese
The WWE had a serious problem before the Attitude Era where the majority of the newer talent on their roster had characters based off of occupations. He’s already the third one on this list, but a character based off of a garbage man? Rumor has it that the gimmick was 100% due to the fact that Vince McMahon was so confident in his ability to single-handedly make superstars in the WWE that he could do it with absolutely anyone. It’s debatable as to whether that’s true, but either way the wrestling world was blessed with the presence of Duke the Dumpster Droese in the process.
Kamala rose to fame in the late ’80s as the brainchild of Jarry Jarrett and Jerry Lawler. Not known for his in-ring ability or mic skills, Jim Harris was in search of a character that made him stand out, and “the Ugandan Giant” Kamala would be that character. Portraying an African native, Harris painted his face like a skull, rarely spoke, and wore a loincloth as his wrestling attire. He is probably remembered most as The Undertaker’s first opponent in the debut of his famous “casket matches.” Sadly, life after wrestling hasn’t been so good for Harris, who recently lost his left leg (below the knee) due to diabetes complications.
21. Koko B. Ware
Koko B. Ware was known for his energetic entrances where he would dance and flap his arms like a bird alongside his trademark macaw named Frankie. He rose to mid-card prominence in the late ’80s and early ’90s and fought against such stars as The Undertaker (he’s actually the first person to receive a Tombstone Piledriver), The Big Boss Man, and Mr. Perfect (also the first person to receive the “Perfect Plex”). WrestleMania III would be the highlight of his career where he wrestled in front of the largest crowd to date: 93,173 people. Interesting fact: Koko B. Ware was featured in the first ever match on Monday Night Raw on January 11, 1993.
20. The Renegade
WCW was never shy about blatantly stealing away talent from the WWE in the ’90s with guaranteed contracts in the seven figures (Hogan, Hall, Nash, etc…), but there were also some times where they went a little too far and blatantly stole character ideas and likeliness. This was never more apparent than with the wrestler who was briefly known to wrestling fans as The Renegade. Hyped for weeks as an “ultimate surprise” by Hulk Hogan leading up to the PPV event Uncensored, The Renegade was a face-painted, arm-tasseled, long-haired, amped-up wrestler who the WCW crowd had to confuse for The Ultimate Warrior. He had a successful run as WCW’s World Television Champion, that is of course before WWE issued a cease and desist order to WCW.
19. Disco Inferno
There are some gimmicks that need no introduction and Disco Inferno is one of those gimmicks. A direct copy of John Travolta’s role in Saturday Night Fever, Disco Inferno tried to single-handedly bring back the dead and gone disco movement to wrestling fans in WCW. To nobody’s shock, it didn’t work for an extended period of time, but that didn’t stop him from disco dancing before, during, and after every one of his matches. What was a surprise, however, were his WCW Cruiserweight and two-time World Television championship runs. He’d later join the nWo (when just about everyone in WCW was in the nWo in some way or another), but failed to achieve anything higher than mid-card status.
18. The Mountie
Here’s an interesting wrestler, to say the least. Jacques Rougeau was given a character by the WWE in the early ’90s that resembled Canada’s mounted law enforcement members, otherwise known as “mounties.” A built-in heel, The Mountie “always got his man” and would use his signature cattle prod to shock his opponents after a win. To his credit, his run had some moderate success with an upset victory against Bret Hart for the WWE Intercontinental Championship, but he quickly dropped the title a mere two days later to Rowdy Roddy Piper. He taunted American fans for two years in the WWE from 1991 to 1992, but here’s a quick fact: he was never allowed to perform under his Mountie gimmick in Canada due to legal reasons.
17. The Red Rooster
Yikes. Terry Taylor, under the management of Bobby “the Brain” Heenan, was known to the WWE universe as The Red Rooster for a short period of time in the late ’80s. Donning a chicken-hawk hairstyle that was dyed red at the top, on top of strutting around the ring like a chicken, The Red Rooster is probably one of the goofiest characters that the WWE has ever conceived. Never really making it past mid-card status, The Red Rooster’s run in the WWE was a rather short one: he debuted in 1988, feuded with The Brooklyn Brawler (of all people) and had a 30 second match against Heenan in 1989, was eliminated from the 1990 Royal Rumble by Andre the Giant and subsequently left the company in June of the same year.
You may remember Hayabusa from his appearance in the classic N64 video game “WCW vs. nWo: World Tour” as Hannibal. Still don’t know who he is? He wrestled exactly one match for an American wrestling promotion (ECW) when he was a part of a tag team championship match against Rob Van Dam and Sabu. Still nothing? He was also the flagship wrestler for Japanese wrestling promotion FMW (the same federation where Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka started their classic feud), but he was badly paralyzed during a match while attempting an Asai moonsault from the second rope (a move Chris Jericho ended up using in America). He was considered one of the best arial wrestlers in the world prior to his paralysis, so his inclusion on the list is a tribute to wrestling across the world.
15. Adam Bomb
Adam Bomb, despite the name, was just another mid-carder that failed to really make that much of an impact in the WWE. His gimmick was decent, his name was a pun, he was rather agile for a 6 foot 7 inch physique… what was the problem? After mild feuds with Earthquake, Bam Bam Bigelow, and even Giant Gonzalez, Adam Bomb wasn’t given that almighty “push” from WWE executives for any title shots, rather relegating him to Sunday morning air-time on Superstars after the advent of Monday Night Raw (their new flagship program). He wrestled in the WWE for a little over two years before he left the company for WCW.
14. Masato Tanaka
Masato Tanaka had a very successful run in ECW during their prime, most notably his now legendary feud against ECW World Heavyweight champion Mike Awesome. A Japanese wrestler with a brawling style, Tanaka was a crowd favorite with the very raucous South Philadelphia ECW fanbase. And his feud together with Mike Awesome (which actually started in the previously mentioned FMW promotion in Japan and continued over in the U.S.) was main-event level entertainment that never failed to deliver. While ECW would eventually go under as a promotion, the WWE held a special PPV event in 2005 that featured their classic rivalry as the last match prior to the main-event.
13. Jerry Lynn
Although he had brief stints in the WWE and WCW, Jerry Lynn made a name for himself in ECW during their prime, with a notable feud against Rob Van Dam. Up-tempo and technical from start to finish, Lynn and Van Dam’s matches were poetry in motion. Whenever you have two guys in the ring who are rarely known to suffer from a blown spot, you could count on an instant classics from the moment the bell rang. While he had a rather lasting career (25 years), his best known work was between the years of 1997-2002 after four years in ECW and a brief year with the WWE. Jerry Lynn has widely been considered one of the most underrated wrestlers in sports entertainment history.
Raven was a brilliant character that directly fed off the grunge popularity of the time. He was an outsider: full of anger, full of rage, full of angst, and cut some of the best promos in professional wrestling history. He gained popularity through ECW in the late ’90s, but later shifted gears over to a much bigger audience in WCW, where he had an impressive one day run as their WCW United States champion. Although he would never reach the top of the card, his flock stable was featured on television screens week in and week out on WCW Monday Nitro, which made a fan out of outsider 15 year old wrestling fans everywhere.
11. The Sandman
The Sandman was a beer drinker and a kendo stick enthusiast, and gained massive popularity in ECW throughout their run as the third biggest promotion in the United States under WWE and WCW. What made The Sandman great wasn’t his in-ring ability: it was his entrance. When his music hit, fans in the arena knew that for upwards of three minutes, they were in for a beer shower. It was often joked about, too. Some former ECW wrestlers made mention that while his entrance would last forever, his matches certainly didn’t, often winning or losing quickly in the first 30 to 45 seconds. Nonetheless, he was still an imposing character in the heyday of ECW where he was a five-time ECW Heavyweight champion.
10. Isaac Yankem DDS
Ah yes, another one of those Vince McMahon products where occupations were the supposed next superstars of the WWE. Isaac Yankem was a towering seven foot tall former dentist of Jerry Lawler that also had a penchant for inflicting pain on his opponents, which served his character well in the short time he had with the company. Despite an immediate feud with Bret Hart (who was feuding with Lawler at the time), this character was in limbo for much of its existence. However, in the interest of a newer, better character, television audiences were instantly deprived of future Isaac Yankem matches for a little over a full year (with a very brief stint as the fake Diesel in between just for good measure) to prepare for his much larger eventual role with the company.
9. Texas Tornado
In one of the sadder sides of professional wrestling history, The Texas Tornado (Kerry Gene Adkisson) was a real-life member of the wrestling Von Erich family, who have mostly passed away too soon from a series of hardships. He had a successful run with the WWE in the early ’90s where he won the WWE Intercontinental championship against Mr. Perfect and defended it for three months before relinquishing the title back to Perfect. A little known fact: Kerry was involved in a motorcycle accident that eventually led to the amputation of his right foot, an injury that was kept hidden from wrestling insiders until his boot was removed accidentally during a match (taking the prosthetic limb that was attached in the process), exposing the lack of a right foot. He continued to wrestle seemingly unphased by his condition.
Everyone forgets about Nailz (real name Kevin Wacholz) and why wouldn’t they? But here’s an interesting piece of wrestling history: Nailz was about to start a push where he would feud against The Undertaker (after having previously feuding with the Big Boss Man), but due to a contract dispute over the payout he received from SummerSlam 1992, he stormed into Vince McMahon’s office and the two had a verbal altercation for upwards of 15 minutes. The altercation then became physical, shortly after which many WWE personel had to separate the two. This led to his immediate termination from the company, however, he would reappear once again, this time as a witness for the prosecution of the steroid trial against the WWE, in 1994. The prosecution wasn’t too happy when Wacholz blurted out “I HATE VINCE MCMAHON’S GUTS!” while on the stand, which many believe led to Vince and the WWE being acquitted of all charges against.
7. Papa Shango
Finally, a character based on Voodoo! Papa Shango potentially could have got more “over” with the crowd if he was given the push, but WWE was likely worried about scaring children at the time and kept him low on the card. That, of course, didn’t stop them from pushing The Undertaker, so maybe there are other reasons why Papa Shango didn’t take off. Either way, Charles Wright made the most of his time in the WWE (later becoming The Godfather, whom he says is a direct version of his real-life personality), eventually winning the WWE Intercontinental championship and seemingly having a great time in doing so.
6. Ahmed Johnson
Higher hopes could not have been had for this flash-in-the-pan WWE Superstar. Debuting in late 1995 at Survivor Series, Ahmed Johnson was given a push from the very start: he would win the WWE Intercontinental championship from Goldust at King of the Ring 1996 after only seven months in the company. However, despite an engaging feud against the Nation of Domination (a stable that he would briefly join at the very end of his career), he struggled with injuries throughout much of his stint with the WWE, and was released from the company in 1998. His role within The Nation of Domination would be filled by a certain WWE Superstar that at the time went by the name Rocky Maivia. Could you imagine how different things would be today had Ahmed Johnson not been released from the WWE?
5. Ken Shamrock
It couldn’t have been easy for the “World’s Most Dangerous Man,” Ken Shamrock, to make the leap from ultimate fighting to the WWE Universe, but Shamrock seemingly bridged that gap rather easily due to his previous wrestling background. Obviously an attempt by the WWE to tap into some of the ultimate fighting fan base, Shamrock was able to gain success despite a very short career in the WWE. A two-time Intercontinental champion, a tag team champion along with the Big Boss Man, and a winner of the King of the Ring, Shamrock couldn’t have done much else in his short stint besides winning the most coveted prize in sports entertainment.
Tatanka made an immediate impact as a fan favorite of the early ’90s. An actual descendant of the Native American Lumbee Tribe, Tatanka quickly earned success with an undefeated streak that lasted a total of approximately two years from February 1, 1992 to September 28, 1993 (although his loss wasn’t seen on television until the October 30th edition of Superstars). His long undefeated streak predated a certain other streak that occurred a few years later, which built the WCW superstar Goldberg. Tatanka’s career highlight was a WWE Intercontinental title match against Shawn Michaels, which he would end up winning by count-out, meaning that the title never changed hands from Michaels to Tatanka. He’d have a very short run as a heel later on, but would eventually leave the WWE in 1995.
Now, hear us out: his career, compared to some others on this list, was relatively short. Yes, we know he was one of the very first WCW products to really get over with the crowd due to an undefeated streak that supposedly went 173-0. Yes, we know that when WCW was purchased by the WWE that he became the first person to win the Big Gold title belt from both companies. Yes, we know that he was almost an instant main-eventer, but he still fits the criteria of a one-hit wonder. He was only a two-time champion during a seven year career from 1997 to 2004. He was given that huge push from the very start and was able to start a successful movie career during his initial WCW stint, so had it not been for his two year stint in WWE, he would have only lasted a mere four years in WCW (before their demise).
The only female to appear on this list, Chyna made a huge splash during the Attitude Era of the WWE from 1998-2002. A former female bodybuilder built with an imposing figure, Joan Marie Lauler was brought in to be the bodyguard for WWE wrestlers Triple H and Shawn Michaels but eventually also competed against male wrestlers on the roster. She broke the gender barrier in the process by becoming the first female entrant to the Royal Rumble, first female to compete in the King of the Ring tournament, but most importantly the first ever female to ever win the WWE Intercontinental championship. Sadly, she crashed out of the company after she split with Triple H.
Big guys have always been a staple in the WWE, but one of the biggest and best to ever compete in the squared circle certainly has to be Yokozuna. Billed as over 500 pounds , and looking every single pound of that billed weight, Yokozuna was an unstoppable force from the moment he made his in-ring debut in 1992. He went on to win several WWE World Heavyweight championships very early on in his career, not only due to his size but also due to his impressive agility. Later on in his short career, however, his weight started to become a serious concern. 660 pounds proved to be too much for the WWE, so they began to phase him out until he proved that he could lose weight. He was released from the company in 1998 and, sadly, died a couple of years later.
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