It’s well known how wrestling is packed with some rather dumb gimmicks. A few are able to take them and actually make them work into hits. The Undertaker is a great example as it’s hard to imagine anyone but Mark Callous could have made “undead guy in funeral clothes” one of the biggest stars in the business. Sadly, more than a few very talented workers have been buried under ridiculous gimmicks that ruin them majorly for fans. There’s also how a lot of things are planned for guys only to be upset by an unexpected injury or sudden development that changes things up. It’s truly fascinating to see how many major things in wrestling are almost chance more than planned out.
That comes to some of the most famous gimmicks and storylines ever. Even lifelong fans are unprepared for how some huge acts or angles were never intended for the guy they went to. In many cases, they changed the course of careers and indeed, the entire business. Sometimes, it’s because of an injury or a sudden shakeup and other times it’s just some odd timing. Either way, it’s remarkable to see what could have been. After reading these, it's certain many fans will think to themselves if these outcomes would've been better, or who the biggest stars of the business could have been over the past 20 years.
Here are 20 wrestling gimmicks and storylines that were meant for someone else and show how different a lot of things could have been.
20 Finn Balor Was Supposed To Be Y2J's Best Friend
You have to feel for Finn Balor. After years in the indies as a guy most thought could never make it in WWE, he joined NXT. He was soon rising up with his “Demon” persona and winning the title with some great feuds. Even on the main roster, fans were uncertain of his chances but WWE decided to have Balor be the inaugural Universal champion. The plan was for him to feud with Chris Jericho for a bit but then form a partnership with him to get Balor over more.
As everyone knows, Balor sustained a shoulder injury in that title win and had to give the belt up the very next night.
Kevin Owens won a special challenge match for the vacant belt. He thus took over with the friendship/feud with Jericho that led to the terrific partnership that gave birth to “The List of Jericho.” As great as Balor is, it’s hard to imagine him having the same easy chemistry that Owens and Jericho used to be a great team.
19 Owen Hart As The Game
Owen Hart is still massively missed by fans thanks to his amazing work in the ring, his terrific promos and the stories of his legendary pranks. Owen was contractually obligated to stay in WWE, even after the Montreal Screwjob. He had some decent feuds but as 1999 went on, he wanted to rise up more. An idea was to have Owen suddenly pull off his Blue Blazer mask to declare he was sick of this act and go back to being an arrogant heel. He would start proclaiming himself to be “The Game”. This would lead to a new push and maybe finally the WWE title that long eluded him.
Sadly, Owen’s tragic accident ended all of that. “The Game” was too good an idea to leave lying around and Triple H would end up using it in an interview which led to his push to champion. Hunter has pointed out in several interviews that it was meant for Owen and he saw it as something of a tribute to him. No offense to Hunter but Owen might have played “The Game” much better.
18 Breaking The Streak
When the Undertaker lost to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX, fans were stunned. The Streak had become such an iconic part of WWE lore that most thought it would never be broken. It was a huge moment and some will claim it hurt the Taker’s mystique. However, there had been plans to break it for some time. Kane was expected to beat it at WrestleMania XIV but that was quickly vetoed. Even crazier was that plans for WrestleMania 21 originally had Taker and Kane losing a tag match to, of all people, Snitsky and Heidenreich.
Then, Randy Orton was set to beat 'Taker at that show but, amazingly, turned it down, out of respect for Taker. Taker himself was ready to have it broken in 2006 by Kurt Angle as he wanted he and Angle to have a major battle. But WWE decided to have Angle lose the World title to Rey Mysterio instead. So while it was stunning, Brock was just the guy finally picked to end The Streak when so many others flat out refused to.
17 CM Punk Leading The Shield (With Different Members)
The Shield rose up quickly as Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins tore up the main roster as a heel trio. Yet the original plans were much different. It was to be Kassius Ohno (better known as Chris Hero) in Roman’s spot. Also, the team was to be introduced by Tommy Dreamer and built up as faces. At which point, they’d turn on Dreamer and ally with CM Punk.
CM Punk has claimed he came up with the whole idea on how they would basically be a new Four Horsemen with The Shield running interference for Punk as he took on the title.
That’s been disputed by others but it’s confirmed that Hunter decided Reigns was a better fit than Ohno for the third role in the team. Either way, it’s intriguing to think how Roman almost didn’t get the spot that pushed him to stardom.
16 John Morrison Wasn't Supposed To Be ECW Champion
This is one of the most notable moments ever where real life throws a huge curve wrench into plans. In 2007, WWE was trying to give the ECW brand more of a push and revive it with real tough wrestling. Thus, the plan was set for Chris Benoit to win the title off of CM Punk at Vengeance, which would surely be a great match. He would then reign as a tough champion facing all comers to revive the brand.
When Benoit failed to show up (for obvious reasons), WWE had Johnny Nitro replace him to win the title. As the Benoit tragedy unfolded, WWE had to distance themselves. Nitro was now made the face of the brand and rebranded into John Morrison. This led to a good career that might not have happened if not for that infamous act.
15 Hulk Hogan's Original WrestleMania X8 Opponent
To this day, it’s the dream match that got away. In the late 1990s, as WWE and WCW were at ratings war, Hulk Hogan vs Steve Austin was a true great encounter. Two of the biggest stars at the time, they had different approaches and the idea of them going at it would be interesting. The idea was being presented as WrestleMania X8 was taking shape and having them headline it would've been major.
The reasons why it never happened are complex depending on who you talk to. It seems to finally boil down to either not agreeing on a winner, or Austin just feeling the match wouldn't have been that good. Either way, it turned into Hogan vs Rock and while that was a great encounter, it meant fans never got the true dream match they wanted.
14 Rusev’s Day, Not Jinder's
Quite often in wrestling, a simple injury ends up changing so many things. A key case was in 2017 as Rusev was being set for a run as WWE champion. It was a payoff many fans wanted thanks to how Rusev was over well as a monster heel and having him at the top would generate interest. It was being set with him beating Randy Orton for the belt. However, Rusev sustained a major injury that would put him out for some time. Thus, WWE came up with the bizarre substitute of Jinder Mahal.
This led to a title run most fans loathed to the extreme and hurt the ratings.
Rusev returned and ended up getting over majorly thanks to the “Rusev Day” bit. But his “Day” could have come up much sooner if not for an injury that gave fans one of the worst WWE champions ever.
13 Maven And Jindrak In Evolution
The idea of Evolution was pretty good as World champion Triple H and icon Ric Flair got a pair of younger guys to give the rub to. It worked out great as Randy Orton and Batista earned the respect of fans to become major stars in their own right. But those two spots could have been much different. The Orton spot was intended for Maven, the former “Tough Enough” worker that WWE wanted to give a new push to. It was hinted further in late 2004 with Maven offered Orton’s spot on the team but it never came off.
Meanwhile, the “enforcer” role was planned for Mark Jindrak, a guy WWE really wanted to push. He had the look and muscular build and would have become a star. However, his backstage attitude rubbed too many the wrong way and was replaced by Batista. Jindrak himself admitted in an interview he wasn’t a good fit thanks to his ego and Batista filled the spot much better than he could have. Still interesting to think on how this group could have evolved differently.
12 Mickie James As Lita's Obsessive Fan, Instead Of Trish
Mickie James was just bursting with star power when she joined WWE in 2005. Her perky mannerisms were offset by her great ring work and much of her act was her own idea. That included how she would come in a mega-fan of a certain Diva and follow them around constantly. When that Diva rejected her, Mickie would go nuts and face her in a major match. That may sound familiar but what’s not as known is that Mickie intended for LIta to be the target of her obsessive, being a long-time fan.
But by the time Mickie made her debut, Lita was turned heel with Edge and thus WWE didn’t want to mess up her new persona.
So it was changed to Mickie going after Trish, leading to a great Mania match and Mickie becoming a champion and star.
11 The Fallen Angel In The Brood
Gangrel had been a rising star in WWE in the late 1990s until a broken leg hindered his career. But he did break out with his great entrance of rising up from the stage in a ring of fire. Joining him were the “Brood” played by Edge and Christian. While Gangrel faded away, those two would end up becoming major stars. But the original choice to join Edge was indie star Christopher Daniels. Daniels had been offered a contract from WWE and being pushed into this group would give him a great way of breaking out.
However, Adam Copeland wanted to give his long-time best friend William Reso a break in the business and used his rising stardom to land the gig. Given Daniels would find fame as “The Fallen Angel,” it’s amazing to think how he’d have fit into this group.
10 RVD As Glacier
Throughout 1995, WCW was hyping up a big new star in Glacier. Obviously based on Sub-Zero from the Mortal Kombat games, he was in a cool blue ninja outfit and showing off martial arts moves. Originally, WCW reached to Rob Van Dam for the role. At the time, RVD was coming off a run as Robbie V for the company and some good skills. He also wasn’t a big star at the time and thus would have been cheap for the role. However, RVD smartly saw how silly this entire gimmick was and decided not to do it. Raymond Lloyd was chosen and soon stunk up the joint with his bad ring skills. It's amazing to think how close RVD came to this role.
9 The Crush Express
A terrible gimmick in 1993 is the “Lex Express.” This was when Vince McMahon became convinced he could turn Lex Luger into the new Hogan. Given a patriotic makeover, Luger was sent on an actual bus trip across America to “fire up” the fans. The problem being, Luger wasn’t exactly that well liked to start with and this did little to save him. Even more bizarre, was that the act was being planned for Crush.
Brian Adams had been taking off as a fan favorite with his great looks and charisma. He had been crushed by Yokozuna and it thus made sense he would be pushed for some payback.
The bus trip was planned to give him more support en route to a title run. Instead, Luger got it and never even got the belt while Crush suffered a poor heel turn and made the entire thing a huge wreck.
8 Mark Henry's "Hall Of Pain" Was Originally Brodus Clay's “House Of Pain”
Few guys have been messed up from the developmental program to the main roster like Brodus Clay. He was a good star in FCW as a monster worker using his size well. But on the main roster, he was turned into the “Funkasauraus” doing stupid dance moves and acting like a goof. The fact was, Clay did have a good idea of building himself as a true monster crushing guys down. He would then get on the mic to induct them into his “House of Pain.”
If this sounds familiar, it’s for good reason. WWE liked the idea but didn’t think Clay was the guy to pull it off. Instead, the gimmick was renamed the “Hall of Pain” and given to Mark Henry. It led to a revival of Henry’s career, including the World title while poor Clay was stuck with his dance act.
7 Terry Taylor As Mr. Perfect
A great star in Mid-South, Terry Taylor signed with WWE in 1988. With his good mic skills and great ring work, Taylor was one of the candidates for the role of Mr. Perfect and could have pulled it off. But WWE also signed Curt Hennig, just as skilled and he had the promise of a big push too. According to legend, it was literally the flip of a coin that gave Hennig the Perfect gimmick. He would use that to become a two-time IC champion and one of the most loved heels in the company.
Taylor meanwhile, was saddled with the gimmick of The Red Rooster. With a red streak in his hair and “crowing” promos, Taylor’s career never recovered from this cheecy act. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Hennig as Perfect but Taylor could have been good.
6 The Greater Power's Identity
The whole “Higher Power” act was meant to be a big deal. The idea was a mysterious hooded figure commanding The Undertaker and his “Ministry of Darkness” and pulling the strings. Originally, WWE wanted Jake Roberts in the part and that would have worked wonderfully with his dark aura and brilliant promos. Sadly, Roberts’ personal issues meant they couldn’t trust him with a contract.
Rising star Christopher Daniels was approached and might have been interesting as a “dark prophet” type.
But Vince was not a fan of a smaller guy in the role and brushed it off. So, they went with the cop-out of Vince himself as the Greater Power as a grand plan to take down Austin. Fans still complain over the letdown of the payoff which might have been avoided by one of the original plans.
5 Sting As The Third Man
Going into 1996’s Bash at the Beach, Eric Bischoff was nervous. The plan had been set for Hulk Hogan to turn heel and join Hall and Nash as the “Third Man.” However, while Hogan had agreed, there was still the possibility of him changing his mind. Bischoff had hoped to get Bret Hart to jump over from WWE and be the Third Man and the idea of The Hitman with Hall and Nash was intriguing. Bret stayed however, so Bischoff figured turning Hogan heel (given most fans were tired of his act anyway) was the way to go.
But he was still concerned about Hogan not doing it and so he had the back-up plan for Sting to come in and turn on everyone just in case. As it happened, Hogan went through with it to lead the New World Order to success yet interesting who else could have been the third face in the group.
4 The Undertaker In The Egg
On a “Legends of Wrestling” roundtable, Gene Okerlund point blank asked “who the HELL thought up the Gobbledy Gooker?!” The answer, of course, was Vince McMahon. For weeks leading up to Survivor Series, WWE focused on a huge egg they said had a big surprise inside. Speculation was everything from a huge WCW guy to a newly debuting superstar. As that roundtable reveals, the original plan was having The Undertaker come out in the egg and crush some jobber.
Thankfully, someone realized it was better for Taker to actually be in the ring for his debut. So poor Hector Guerrero was stuck in a ridiculous turkey outfit for a lousy payoff. Amazing to think how one of the greatest careers in WWE history nearly started out.
3 Ultimate Warrior As Big Van Vader
The late Leon White is well known as one of the best big men in the business. His ultra-stiff manner combined with his ability to move quite well for someone his size, even flying off the ropes.
White was rising up when he found that New Japan was looking for someone to fill the role of a masked figure to face the legendary Antonio Inoki.
NJPW actually first looked to a rising muscleman named Jim Hellwig, who had been working in Texas as the Dingo Warrior. Hellwig chose instead to sign with WWE to become The Ultimate Warrior. White got the mask and helmet and launched his legendary career to make Vader a feared name in wrestling.
2 Edge As Val Venis
Throughout 1998, WWE was introducing a lot of guys who pushed the envelope in terms of “attitude” stuff. Val Venis was a clear example. Sean Morley made it work with his over-the-top promos and clearly enjoying the towel whip-offs. He got over well with the act, even getting a run as IC and tag team champion. However, the part was intended for another new hire named Adam Copeland. He’d had a fun bit as a ladies man type named Sexton Hardcastle and his good looks also suited the role.
WWE decided Copeland was better suited for the role of the mysterious outsider named Edge. He probably would have become a star anyway yet it’s hard to imagine Val Venis dominating the company like Edge did.
1 Kennedy As Vince’s Son
It’s rare to find a guy so often on the cusp of stardom only to have it hampered by bad luck as much as Ken Kennedy. WWE had huge plans for him with his good skills and terrific mic work. He won Money in the Bank but then got injured so had to give it up to Edge. The big idea was in 2007 as the plan was to reveal Kennedy as Vince’s illegitimate son to become WWE Champion and the company’s mega-heel. But just before that could go down, Kennedy broke the wellness policy and was suspended.
Thus, Hornswoggle was revealed as the son instead. Kennedy never got that huge break in WWE and his career dwindled thanks to some astounding bits of bad timing.