Skill, look, talent, athleticism, charisma, mic-work, ring-work, all of these are things a wrestler can improve on as they develop to try to become the best they can be for the big dance. And yet, if they're put into a terrible storyline or saddled with a nonsensical, debilitating gimmick, there's almost nothing they can do beyond ride it out and pick up the pieces. That's what this list is about, those who historically overcame dumb ideas and stupid scripts, versus those who got smacked with dumb so hard it interrupted their entire career trajectory.
It can depend on timing as much as anything, with a gimmick from the 80s making zero sense today, whereas a gimmick even older might just be nostalgic or kitsch enough to work. Those options aren't alone, with new and improved stupid ideas that have all the advantages of modern technology to maximize the ridiculousness and lengthen the fallout. State-of-the-art terrible ideas personally crafted for people trying to reach the pinnacle of one of the craziest industries known to man. It's never not going to be messy when they collide, and that's if they don't implode or collapse just from sheer absurdity.
Wrestlers are notoriously at the whim of WWE writers and Vince McMahon's peculiar tastes for whether they can personalize these things or if it's going to be a strict set of rules that can't be deviated from at penalty of disaster. Sometimes these wrestlers established a decent career before the earth opened up to swallow them whole, other times their relative 'newness' gave them a chance to overcome these bad ideas. Either way, here's a torrent of terrible that you should cross your fingers avoids your favorite NXT and indie stars for when they have a crack at WWE.
30 Couldn't: Bad News For King Barrett
When your previous gimmick is succeeding beyond expectations so the company saddles you with a cliched, cursed one instead you know your time is limited in the big leagues. Such was the case when Wade Barrett's turn as Bad News Barrett was shelved to shoehorn him into becoming King Barrett, removing everything good he had going for him.
Barrett became little more than a caricature of every 'king' wrestling has ever had, somehow winning his way into a lower spot in WWE.
He ended up in the ever-irrelevant League Of Nations stable and was cut loose from there after they entertained nobody for their entire existence.
29 Overcame: Husky Harris Went To The Swamp
Plenty of the superstars who came through The Nexus storylines fared poorly at best once the stable began to diffuse, and one of them was the future Bray Wyatt. He was one of the first superstars in a long while to not be ripped all to hell, and his on-the-nose name seemed destined to be a shackle for any chances he would have to be taken seriously. That proved the case, as it took an entire rebirth as the sinister backwoods preacher to overcome that hurdle.
Now, he's a former WWE Champion and is presumably waiting in the wings to make another grand assault against his fellow superstars, now that his excursion with 'Woken' Matt Hardy has been forced to an end.
28 Couldn't: Totally Funk'd
Vince has a love/hate relationship with dancing gimmicks, losing interest in them the moment fans get over the initial 'fun' they're supposed to be having. Brodus Clay is one of these recent mistakes, taking an intimidating presence of a big man and watering it down to, essentially, a surprise twist. It went nowhere, with Brodus never getting anything close to a significant win before WWE left him on the side of the road a couple of years later. He sold his soul for a quick flash of popularity, but you can't deny the silliness that was everything Funkasaurus related.
27 Overcame: Zack Ryder - The True Redemption Story
After this fiasco, Zack Ryder had every right to fade away into obscurity. WWE took his self-made popularity from his Z! True Long Island Story Youtube series and spent all of it making Ryder look like the ultimate chump.
Between being fodder for the Kane/Cena storyline and Eve Torres's pawn, they combined the two into Cena and Torres leaving a wheelchair bound Ryder for dust.
He never stopped fighting though, and over the years he's managed to maintain some form of popularity, and more impressively, get himself one top-tier championship short of being a Grand Slam Champion.
He may never get there without another major change, but Ryder gets infinite respect for continued determination alone.
26 Couldn't: Deserved Mordecai
Kevin Fertig had two memorable but doomed gimmicks in WWE, but the first one is the real clincher in terms of being a bum opportunity. WWE has forever used The Undertaker as a way to introduce more outlandish characters for him to battle against, Kane and Mankind being the most successful, and Fertig's Mordecai was supposed to be another one.
The light to The Undertaker's darkness, he was a religious zealot clad purely in white, who somehow fell on his face the moment he debuted. He had one lackluster PPV match, against Scotty 2 Hotty of all people, and then disappeared back to developmental.
25 Overcame: Spirit Squad Nicky Z (Dolph Ziggler)
Doomed to fail from the moment it was thought of, these five guys nevertheless tried to make the best of a goofy thing. Of those five, only one survived the stigma of it, with the former 'Nicky' transforming into the Dolph Ziggler we know today. Until very recently as part of The Dogs Of War, this was actually Ziggler's only run holding any form of the tag team championships.
Outside of that though, Ziggler is a multi-time World Heavyweight Champion, has challenged for the WWE title at SummerSlam, held the Money In The Bank, dominated both the Intercontinental and United State titles at various times, and been a perennial presence in great matches for both brands.
24 Couldn't: Things Get Tensai
WWE did a lot of things correctly here, but they couldn't get over the hurdle that was portraying a known U.S. born wrestler with a history like Albert's as a foreign force.
Fans are too savvy for this to work believably anymore, and so when the former Prince Albert came out in his Lord Tensai getup, they immediately rejected him.
No amount of Taiko drumming or manservant-having could make people take him seriously, and within a year he was dancing with the similarly silly Brodus Clay, and that was that.
23 Overcame: Isaac Yankem Didn't.Deserve.Saving
Looking back at this remnant of the 90s WWE's obsession with 'occupation' gimmicks, it's still one of the worst among the bad. A wrestling dentist with bad teeth is a one note pony and WWE didn't even ride it into the ground since once his initial feud with Jerry Lawler and Bret Hart ended, he was dead in the water. Luckily, Vince McMahon has a big soft spot for big, hard guys, and this dentist went on to be the Big Red Machine, Kane. One of a few offshoot superstars brought in especially to work with The Undertaker, Kane managed to overcome his initial dentistry debacle to become one of the longest tenured, most beloved big men in WWE history.
22 Couldn't: Jammed Luger
For a lot of people, the critical aspect of a patriotic gimmick is that it is a 24/7 deal and not just when it serves you personally. That's why when Lex Luger lamely transformed into a flag-waving patriot after years as a mirror-obsessed narcissist, it didn't fly.
No amount of WWE promotion could get Lex over the line, especially with perennial favorite Bret Hart vying for the same slot, and so Luger quickly faded away out of WWE.
He may have gone on to success in WCW, but in WWE he was a goofy, un-liked pretender. Even if some consider him one of their 'boys'.
21 Overcame: Natalya NeidFart
Almost nobody could've survived this abominable gimmick that Natalya went through for absolutely no good reason. You could hear fans in arenas groan every time they made one of their best female wrestlers make embarrassed faces while they played cartoony fart sound effects and snickered.
It went on long enough that Natalya had whatever credibility she currently held erased, but she started over and has rebuilt herself into a respectable constant who gives better than average matches to whomever she gets in the ring with. Anyone else might've faded away out of shame long ago.
20 Couldn't: Most Victories Postponed
MVP's great initial idea of being an over-priced sporting entrepreneur was great, but it was when the flip-side blowtorch was applied that the stupid set in and ruined him. Coming off of holding the WWE Tag and United States titles simultaneously, MVP suddenly went into a prolonged, debilitating losing streak. He lost to everyone, no matter how low on the totem pole, visibly sagging in confidence every truncated entrance he made.
It was as fatal to his WWE career as anything could be, and even when he formed a middling tag team with Mark Henry, there was no saving him. From half-man, half amazing, to just half a man.
19 Overcame: Ringmastered
There may be no greater transcendence of a weak gimmick than the former Stunning Steve Austin turning Stone Cold after his stint as the 'Ringmaster'. With Ted DiBiase doing his talking for him, thereby removing Austin's greatest asset, his ability to cut a promo, this knockoff protege schtick had no legs to speak of.
Austin rankled under the oppressively limiting name and presentation, having no room to express himself and make himself stand out.
Fortunately, Austin shed it as soon as possible, adopted the Stone Cold moniker, and went on to be the single biggest star in WWE history. Not a bad turnaround at all.
18 Couldn't: Sim Snuka - Lacking Legacy
If some fans had their way the duo of Deuce and Domino w/Cherry would've continued for a long while with their somehow slick greaser tandem. Instead, Domino got cut loose and Deuce became Sim Snuka, failed Legacy member. When you can't get into a stable that had Ted DiBiase Jr and a pre-breakout Cody Rhodes helming the ship, you're not doing well at all. It only got worse after the Legacy rejection when Sim went solo, petering out completely in mere weeks before disappearing. His final failure was being the cameraman who infamously missed catching The Undertaker for his dive at WrestleMania 25. No amount of legacy could save him then.
17 Overcame: Funkadactyls Are Glow
The only good thing to indeed come out of the 'Planet Of Funk' was Naomi, one of Brodus Clay's Funkadactyls. Despite her entire introduction being based around dancing with Cameron (the sole highlight of the entire 'Funk' experience, really) Naomi's undeniable athleticism allowed her to evolve out of the cheerleader mold into a credible and even beloved women's wrestler. Her 'Glow' character has a great entrance and her high-flying stands apart from most of the current women on the main roster, which is a far cry from Cameron who became that girl who didn't know how pins work in wrestling.
16 Couldn't: Million Dollar Jobber
Speaking of Ted DiBiase, many people pegged him as the likely success story coming out of Legacy, but what happened next only cemented the exact opposite. DiBiase looked perpetually grumpy and uncomfortable through holding his father's Million Dollar Championship, hanging out with Maryse, and finally having his 'DiBiase Posse' gatherings outside the arenas WWE went to.
The guy couldn't get people to invest in him at all, across several iterations, and eventually, he gave it all away to focus on his family and career doing stunt work.
15 Overcame: Real Man's Regal
William Regal is the epitome of British refinement, or at least he appears so these days. However, his initial WWE appearances had him as a hard-living 'Real man' who chopped wood and did other 'manly' things.
It's pretty comical seeing Regal in the role now, but back then it was just out-of-date 'occupation-as-gimmick' bad booking for one of wrestling's great unsung talents.
Fortunately, Regal overcame this gimmick and simultaneous addiction problems to become one of WWE's most valuable employees of today, overseeing NXT as GM and scouting worldwide for emerging talent.
14 Couldn't: Emmaloser
When WWE expends more than a year, and Vince McMahon is personally invested in guiding your gimmick to the main roster for your success, it pays to embrace it rather than tank it. That's what Emma did with the endlessly stewing Emmalina gimmick, where months of vignettes amounted to her coming out on the Raw stage looking fine, only to tell fans this was a mistake and to expect Emma back instead. We should've known her time was numbered right then, but she actually did begin appearing more regularly on Raw, only to be cut unceremoniously after she lost a pair of matches to Asuka.
13 Overcame: Lock-Box Batista
Pretty conclusive evidence here that if you're good enough you can come from any gimmick in WWE and turn it around to become full A-list Hollywood level megastar. Batista broke into WWE's main roster as a sidekick to D-Von Dudley. While Dudley preached, Batista protected the donation box like a thug bouncer, and it went nowhere. Luckily, a swap over to Raw and insertion as the final member of Evolution pretty much erased whatever lingering stench this left on the big man, and he went on to achieve all you can in WWE many times over, and into the MCU as well.
12 Couldn't: Somebody Called Shelton's Mamma
Nobody denies that Shelton Benjamin was, at one time a singular athletic talent who could defy physics like few others and amaze audiences with feats only he could pull off. But over the course of a few years, he began to stumble on those stunts, and fall behind the pack, so WWE came up with this regretful combination.
Pairing him with comedian Thea Vidale as his 'Momma', Shelton was presented as a complete dweeb and couldn't be taken seriously anymore.
He soon dropped even further from into obscurity until his release, proving the dumbness of this gimmick.
11 Overcame: Dawn Of The New Day
When the New Day debuted they simultaneously disappointed a bunch of fans hoping for a Nation of Domination redux, but also confused everyone else with their 'power of positivity' blandness. It immediately started going south, with fans turning on the group for not being entertaining nor doing much besides an oddly choreographed, color-coordinated entrance. Everything turned around though when they parlayed that vibe into over-the-top heels, becoming a thousand percent more entertaining. They've since gone on to become a defining stable of this era, a tag team dynasty, and a usual highlight for whichever brand they appear on.
10 Couldn't: No Way, Jose
He may still officially be with the company but we're calling it now. No Way Jose is the latest in a list of 'dancing/just having fun' wrestlers who fans are faster and faster dismissing. Brodus Clay lasted a couple of years. Adam Rose lasted a year. No Way Jose disappeared from Raw in a month. Catchy music and either good or self-deprecating dance moves aren't enough in today's WWE to carry you, and NWJ doesn't appear to have enough tools to work without the gimmick. The clock's ticking, but we're not confident he'll adjust in time and will be just the latest in this depressing conga-line.
9 Overcame: Festus Sent to The Gallows
Some people actually remember this particular gimmick with fondness due to how well the future Luke Gallows played it, but even so, the sheer absurdity meant that it was never long for this world.
Festus's bell-activated rampages were straight out of a comic book and he was able to have some fun matchups with the likes of Kozlov, but it couldn't be sustained.
Gallows did persist though, plying his trade in Japan before returning as a dangerous former member of the Bullet Club, and now he's calling people 'NERD' and looking badass doing it.
8 Couldn't: He, The Sheeple!
Jack Swagger had been given multiple chances by WWE to get over, but the final straw came when he became a patriotic bully spouting veiled racial animosity. The gimmick had two redeeming factors, that being Swagger's still impressive in-ring skills and the tremendous entrance music that accompanied it. But Swagger threw it all away by getting caught in legal trouble leading into his WrestleMania World Title match, losing Zeb Colter for a while, and then becoming nothing more than a catchphrase. A sorry end for a former World Heavyweight Champion.
7 Overcame: The Supremely Forgettable Machine, Kama
You're not likely to forget a character like Papa Shango, nor a fun-loving gimmick like The Godfather, but sandwiched in-between the two of those was an utter void known as Kama: The Supreme Fighting Machine. The man behind the gimmicks, Charles Wright, was never a particularly great in-ring wrestler, but he almost got finished up here with this turn being so utterly bland and boring.
It felt like a quick path to a release. Fortunately, the Attitude Era dawned and with it so did Wright's luck, becoming the Hall Of Fame-worthy Godfather character.
6 Couldn't: Del Rio's Odd Pairing
The ill-fated sequel to 'We The People' was Alberto Del Rio's comically mishandled Mex-America gimmick alongside Zeb Colter upon both of their returns. Alberto had proven himself a rather large-scale failure in WWE by not breaking through despite years of persistent pushing, but this time it made so little sense that he was dead upon arrival.
So weak was this association that it disappeared without a trace when Alberto joined up with the equally bad League Of Nations stable.
The damage had been done though, with Alberto clearly phoning in performances out of sheer boredom and apathy, before getting released again, this time for good.
5 Overcame: DDPeeper
The Master of The Diamond Cutter, WCW's People's Champion, Undertaker's wife's stalker. One of these isn't like the others and almost made Diamond Dallas Page a pariah to wrestling fans everywhere. From his heights in WCW as an unlikely late-bloomer World Champion, DDP's initial WWE gimmick when he debuted not only made little sense but painted him in a terrible light.
Fortunately, DDP is a consummate professional and he worked through this situation, copping beatings and humiliation galore, to emerge with his Positively Page gimmick that has, in essence, persisted to this day in his DDP Yoga lifestyle change. He overcame a dark idea to be a beckon of positivity, and that's surely a legacy he's proud of.
4 Couldn't: Piggy James
Mickie James may have returned to the WWE fold in the last year or so, but her first time around she got run out of the company by one of the stupidest stories they've ever foisted on one of their absolute best women. The tandem of Laycool randomly decided that Mickie James was in some way overweight, and worse they apparently convinced Mickie herself of it, as she took to crying and not just dismissing the baseless insult for the drivel it was.
This essentially led to a losing streak for Mickie. It all culminated with her leaving the company for an extended period, and it made next to zero sense the whole way.
3 Overcame: Celtic King
If it's not known as the 'Cursed Crown' by now, it should be. Between William Regal, Wade Barrett, Mabel, Billy Gunn, and more, being crowned King Of The Ring is a lodestone around a wrestlers neck that takes years to recover from, if at all. Of all the wrestlers to win the tournament and actually take on the kingly mantel going forward, only Booker T gained success. Sheamus was like his future League Of Nations partner, Wade Barrett, in that he not only began losing more prominently but actively tanked after earlier successes.
Sheamus though has the rare distinction of being a former World Champion when he won the crown, and well after it's imposed slump he once again raised the WWE Championship. It looked bad for a while, but he definitely recovered and continues to set The Bar.
2 Couldn't: Starbust
Cody Rhodes was on the verge of breaking out big when he and his brother Goldust toppled The Shield to win the Tag Team Championships and save their careers at Battleground 2013.
From there though, WWE sidelined his momentum by putting him under the face paint of Stardust, a cosmically confused derivative of his brother that slammed the door on his upward momentum.
He never recovered, instead choosing to forge his own path on the indies and become The Nightmare, Cody. Betting on himself paid off big, as did going All In.
1 Overcame: Hunter Hurt Helmsley
Triple H paid his dues in the WWE before catching his break. While many will point to Hunter's friendship with Shawn Michaels and his eventual involvement with Stephanie McMahon as a reason for his ascension, there's no doubt that Hunter had to eat a lot of crow early in his WWE tenure. His blue-blood Hunter Hearst Helmsley gimmick was basically Vince's way of making fun of his snooty neighbors in Greenwich Connecticut and clearly was a dead end. Fortunately, once DX was formed, Hunter adopted the name, Triple H and the rest is history.