A funny line in the “Young Justice” comic is someone saying that “the last truly original idea was Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins. Before that, you have to go to Aristotle.” The fact is, wrestling has long relied on basically copying old acts and putting a new touch on them. Some are just blatant copies of the past while others are more “inspired by.” Even some of the biggest and most successful acts of all time were really just copying ones of the past. It’s impossible to find a truly original idea in wrestling and thus you can cut some slack to promoters wanting to reuse what worked before. Of course, fan tastes can change and what worked in one era and a different company won’t in another.
Yet in some cases, the copy can actually be better than the original. It helps if the person behind it is a better in-ring performer and on the mic. It can also use what worked before and just streamline it. In a few cases, the original gimmick might have been forgotten so the new version comes off very fresh. True, a few blatant copies that flop but some turns on past acts work much better. It can be interesting to see how it comes off as every attempt at a new version of an old act fails for every one that works. Here are 10 times a stolen wrestling gimmick flopped but 10 when it was better than the original to show there are risks in a copy but they can bring about rewards.
20 Flopped: Powers of Pain (Stolen From The Road Warriors)
There were a lot of attempts to replicate the Road Warriors. Almost every promotion did their best to get a tag team with guys in leather outfits and makeup and made out to be monsters. WWE actually found a huge success with Demolition a rip-off that was a huge hit. The Powers of Pain didn’t do as well. Warlord and Barbarian were pushed in JCP to feud with the Road Warriors in some big matches.
Before that feud could really take off, they left to join WWE. Presented as faces, they didn’t do well so WWE pulled off a great double turn that made Demolition fan favorites. Still, even with Mr. Fuji on their side, the Powers couldn’t get the belts. They eventually split for bad singles runs to show a major attempt to copy the LOD that didn’t work.
19 Better: Johnny B. Badd (Stolen From Honky Tonk Man)
In 1987, the Honky Tonk Man was pushed in WWE with his goofy Elvis impersonator gimmick. It led to success that included a surprising record IC title reign. However, his poor in-ring work meant that when he lost the title, HTM slumped badly on the main roster.
WCW decided to emulate the idea of an act based on a musical legend. In their case, they choose Little Richard. Marc Mero came out made up to look as much like the wild musician and even had boas and a nutty aura. However, Mero was actually a very good worker and won fans over by being effective in the ring. He’d had runs as TV champion and was a dependable guy. He even faced off with Honky in a 1994 feud. Mero’s WWE run wasn’t as good but he showed he could work a musical act a lot better than Honky Tonk.
18 Flopped: Headshrinkers (Stolen From Wild Samoans)
The idea of a “wild man” tag team had been done before but the Wild Samoans did it better than others. Managed by Lou Albano, the Samoans were great in the ring as brawlers who could take off the ropes and held the tag titles a few times. They were so committed to the act that they actually allowed themselves to be arrested rather than reveal they spoke English.
After years in the indies as the Samoan Swat Team, the Headshrinkers were a new attempt at the act. They came out in the same island gear and acted like wild guys, mostly used as heels. They did hold the tag team titles but it was a short run. Samu was dropped and the Barbarian took over with a bad attempt to make them “civilized.” It just came off a pale imitation of the much better Samoans. At least Fatu went on to become Rikishi yet this showed copying a classic act doesn’t always work.
17 Better: Mr. McMahon (Stolen From Eric Bischoff)
As much as he’ll hate to admit it, Vince McMahon owes Eric Bischoff some credit. Like Vince, Bischoff spent his early time in WCW pretending he was just an announcer and not the boss. When the New World Order took off, Bischoff got into it by revealing he was a member. He then went about misusing his authority majorly to get the heels over. After Survivor Series '97, with everyone hating Vince anyway, he decided to finally admit he was the owner of the WWE and played into it.
It clicked as “Mr. McMahon” was Vince to the tenth degree and found a natural foe in Steve Austin. Their feud rocketed WWE back to the top as Vince was genius playing the evil owner far better than Bischoff. The fact he truly owned WWE was Bischoff was just a Turner flunky helped massively. Vince can still pull the act off today to show his superiority over “Easy E.”
16 Flopped: Muhammad Hassan (Stolen From The Iron Sheik)
He may have the reputation today of a complete raving lunatic but The Iron Sheik was one of the best heels of his time. This madman had fans going with his cool look, his Persian clubs and his deadly camel clutch finisher. He hit his height winning the WWE title off of Bob Backlund then losing it to Hulk Hogan. He really set the bar for the classic “foreign heel” character.
In 2005, WWE tried to replicate that with Muhammad Hassan. He had the same dark look, coming out in turbans and even used the camel clutch. However, Hassan got the wrong kind of heat thanks to cheap insults on the country. The downfall was when he staged an attack by masked men on The Undertaker that aired at the worst possible time. Hassan was fired and showed how the act doesn’t work as well for a modern audience.
15 Better: Hulk Hogan (Stolen From Superstar Billy Graham)
Superstar Billy Graham was a revelation in the 1970s. At a time when most wrestlers were bland guys, Graham exploded onto the scene in stunning fashion. From his bright tie-dyed outfits to his huge muscular physique, Graham was unlike anyone ever seen. Bigger were his promos as he would rant in rhyme come up with wild lines to captivate audiences. It led to a long run as WWE champion and changing the game.
Hulk Hogan has always been up front on how he borrowed as much of Graham’s act as he could. It’s obvious from the posing to the promos to dressing wildly that Hogan was copying Graham. Graham even credits Hogan for doing better and lasting longer with the persona as he could. Hogan has never been humble but he does acknowledge how he was just using the formula Graham had already perfected.
14 Flopped: New Razor And Diesel (Stolen From The Originals)
The “Monday Night War” series doesn’t hold back calling this one of the worst moves WWE could ever make. Vince McMahon was obviously not happy when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash jumped ship to WCW. He was outraged at how the duo seemed to be playing their own roles to make fans think Razor Ramon and Diesel were “invading” WCW. In his usual short-sighted thinking, Vince decided to prove anyone could do those roles. He made big noise of Diesel and Ramon returning to the point that Eric Bischoff seriously checked to make sure Hall and Nash weren’t bolting.
It turned out to be a pair of imposters in the roles and the fans hated it from the get-go. Vince stubbornly kept on pushing them despite the horrible reaction and it made WWE look like a joke. The fake Diesel would bounce back as Kane but most in WWE agree that this was a move that just made WWE look even worse at a bad time.
13 Better: The Usos (Stolen From Wild Samoans)
As the sons of Rikishi, Jay and Jimmy Uso had the skills and talent to be good wrestlers. They were pushed in the company as a new take on the Samoans/Headshrinkers, a pair of island guys with a modern edge. They kept up with face paint but mostly pushed as island guys, albeit with a “street touch” to them. The duo began to do much better in the ring, however, winning the tag titles and rising up nicely.
They really came into their own as heels, engaging in a fantastic feud with the New Day. The Usos have held WWE tag team gold five times and on both brands. They’ve mostly left the whole “savage” motif behind but can get wild in their matches to show they were great using the act to get in the door then rise on their own.
12 Flopped: Michael Wall Street (Stolen From Ted DiBiase)
In 1987, Ted DiBiase made a huge splash in WWE as the “Million Dollar Man.” He was a supposed rich man flaunting his wealth and bragging he could “buy” anything. A genius heel, DiBiase was a huge star for the era. WCW tried to emulate that by taking veteran Mike Rotunda and giving him a makeover. The idea was he had inherited several million dollars and it went to his head.
Calling himself Michael Wallstreet, Rotunda would be shown barking orders and flaunting his wealth while putting down people. He had Miss York (the future Terri Runnels) who would do “computer models” meant to let Michael win. He could never pay it off in the ring, often ignored and would be out of WCW in a year. In one of those weird wrestling ironies, Rotunda, as IRS, found huge success winning the WWE tag titles with DiBiase which was a lot better than a cheap knockoff of the Million Dollar Man.
11 Better: Nature Boy Ric Flair (Stolen From Buddy Rogers)
Some fans can be forgiven for thinking Ric Flair was one of a kind. In reality, his entire persona was based on one of the greatest heels of all time. Buddy Rogers was the first truly great heel, a genius on the mic as well as a brilliant in-ring performer. He was “the Nature Boy” using a figure-four leglock and strutting about the ring. He basically set the bar every heel since has followed.
Flair copied Rogers’ entire act with the addition of robes, doing the same strut and cocky moves. He did it even better, a flashier style backed by fantastic work in the ring. That pushed him to become one of the greatest stars in wrestling history. The two even fought each other in a “Battle of the Nature Boys.” Rogers paved the way but Flair really made the act work so much better as the flashiest heel around.
10 Flopped: Ryback (Stolen From Goldberg)
It’s astounding Goldberg didn’t try to sue WWE over this. Skip Sheffield was an okay guy in The Nexus but nothing too special. WWE decided to improve him by making him into a full on Goldberg clone. He had the bald head and monster build, was given a winning streak with a dominant offense and his “Feed Me More” catchphrase was a parallel to “Who’s Next.”
WWE really tried to push him with major wins and a main event feud with John Cena. But fans turned on him majorly as they recognized how cheap this entire act was. Ryback really didn’t have a chance and wasn't helped by bits like winning the IC title in the worst-ever Elimination Chamber match. Him teaming with Curtis Axel marred him more. It's practically impossible to recreate Goldberg, as there was no tangible reason why Goldberg worked.
9 Better: Undisputed Era (Stolen From The Bullet Club)
The Bullet Club had been a fantastic sight. From Japan to ROH, this collection of heels has done a great job firing up fans. They get folks going with their antics with the Young Bucks members of several versions with Cody Rhodes, Marty Scrull and others. A few members included Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish.
When they joined NXT in 2017, the trio united into the Undisputed Era. They were great as a unit, working well and firing up fans nicely. O’Reilly and Fish won the tag titles as Cole became the first N.A. Champion. A major moment was Roderick Strong turning heel to join the group and be a tag champion as well. The group works even better than Bullet Club with a real friendship amid their heel antics and firing up NXT majorly. The Club is good but the Era is even better.
8 Flopped: Asya (Stolen From Chyna)
Here’s perfect WCW logic for you. Chyna was a huge breakout in WWE, this Amazonian woman who could toss around guys easily. She emerged into a huge star, winning the Intercontinental title and even gracing magazine covers. WCW decided to go for their own version by getting bodybuilder Christi Wolf under contract. They gave her the moniker of Asya as, obviously, Asia is bigger than China.
In the ring, Wolf was sloppy and didn’t look right. She lacked the same charisma that made Chyna work and her work with the New Blood was bad. That’s not to mention her sloppy wrestling that made Chyna look like Charlotte Flair. It’s yet another example of how WCW’s blatant copies of WWE rarely worked well.
7 Better: Bray Wyatt (Stolen From Waylon Mercy)
If ever an act was ahead of its time, Waylon Mercy was it. Dan Spivey played a character much like Robert DeNiro’s villain from “Cape Fear.” He showed up from swamps, talking in a creepy accent and doing wild promos. It was captivating and made him a menacing figure before he got in the ring. Sadly, injuries prevented Spivey from paying off on the character properly. But Bray Wyatt clearly was influenced by it and used it as the inspiration for his own character.
His cult leader persona was creepy with bizarre promos and an aura that captivated fans. It led to huge success on the main roster, including the WWE title. Even today, Wyatt can make it work to stand out nicely. Wyatt finally made the Mercy cult character work to bring it into massive mainstream success.
6 Flopped: Buzzkill (Stolen From The Road Dogg)
Vince Russo’s tenure in WCW was not good to say the least. A major bit was Russo trying to show up WWE by copying so many of their acts in pretty lame ways. One of WWE’s biggest guys was Brian Armstrong aka Road Dogg, one half of the New Age Outlaws. Russo decided to capitalize on it by having his brother, Brad Armstrong, be Buzzkill. He was a truly lame takeoff on the act acting like a goof, doing bad singing and dancing and trying to copy Road Dogg’s moves. There was no point to the character other than WCW trying to say they could do it even better. They couldn’t as the entire act was hated by fans, had no buzz and they were more than happy when Russo killed it fast.
5 Better: Eugene (Stolen From Dave Sullivan)
True, saddling a great worker like Nick Dinsmore with this act was a waste of his talents. However, it was a better turn on the idea of a “mentally slow worker.” WCW had tried it with Kevin Sullivan’s “brother” Dave. The idea was, his true name was Evad but he was dyslexic and thus messed it up. Yeah, that didn’t come off very well. He was also a huge Hulk Hogan fan dressing up like him and teaming with Hogan.
The character was bad in many ways and Eugene was a bit offensive too. But Dinsmore did better in the role with the genius idea of Eugene being a wrestling savant who could copy moves easily. He was also funny to win fans over and having The Rock giving him a seal of approval helped too. The character didn’t last long but at least he did better with this bad gimmick than Dave/Evad did.
4 Flopped: The Renegade (Stolen From The Ultimate Warrior)
You can’t get more “flop rip-off” than this. In 1995, Hulk Hogan made noises of having “the Ultimate Surprise” in his corner at Uncensored. Naturally, everyone came to the conclusion the Ultimate Warrior was joining WCW. The moment came and out ran a guy with wild hair, makeup and tassels…who was clearly not the Warrior. Poor Rick Wilson never had a chance as the audience turned on him instantly. It wasn’t helped by how he was even worse in the ring than the Warrior without the charisma to cover his weaknesses. He got a TV title run but it did nothing to help him out. Many blame WCW for putting him into a role that he was unsuited for.
3 Better: Damien Sandow (Stolen From Lanny Poffo)
Lanny Poffo was a good worker but always in the shadow of his brother, Randy Savage. In 1989, he remade himself into The Genius, an arrogant heel who talked in poetry and flaunted a high education. It was good but did little to really help his career as he sunk into a managerial role.
After time in the Nexus, Damien Sandow decided to do a spin on the role. He came out as the “Intellectual Savior of the Masses” and cut some fantastic promos. He was terrific in the role and even better teamed up with The Miz. Their tag title reign was nice with good chemistry and Sandow was fantastic in the part. He even managed to move it to the “stunt double” bit well.
2 Flopped: Nature Boy AJ Styles (Stolen From Ric Flair)
Some guys can pull off a good Ric Flair impression. Buddy Landel was good with it and even Bobby Roode put a good spin on the part too. However, AJ Styles was completely wrong for it. The man’s in-ring style is totally unlike Flair. Leave it to TNA to try it as Flair became AJ’s “mentor”, giving him his robes and training him to act as Flair’s protege. Styles was totally wrong for the part, unable to pull off the arrogance in promos or the struts and copying Flair’s moves didn’t work for him. Worse was how he wasn’t even the focus of the feud as it was more Flair vs Hogan. It was thankfully dropped to show The Phenomenal One was better off being himself than mirroring the Nature Boy.
1 Better: D-Generation X (Stolen From The nWo)
WCW took off huge in 1996 and ’97 thanks to the New World Order. Fans couldn’t get enough of this huge group of heels dominating the company in wild style. It took a while for WWE to capture that as Shawn Michaels and Triple H joined together and an offhand comment led to them being called D-Generation X. It was good at first although they took a blow when Rick Rude bolted to WCW. However, it got better when Shawn was forced to retire and Hunter got X-Pac and The New Age Outlaws on board. They were wild and cutting edge, winning over fans with their crazy antics.
Better yet was that rather than become bloated with 20 guys, DX was also lean and mean with just a handful of rebels, never losing the initial purpose of the group. They broke up but came back and sparked up WWE while the nWo dragged down WCW. The fact that it helped Hunter to mega-stardom shows DX got the “rebel band” going much better than the nWo did.