“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If that saying is true then wrestling promoters have been flattering each other for years. To be fair, it’s almost impossible to find original concepts anywhere today so it’s no surprise wrestling has copied many over the years. WWE has basically plagiarized themselves by repeating a lot of gimmicks with other stars. Sometimes it fails although other times it can work out and the new version can become far more successful. As WWE is the leader in wrestling, we’ve seen various promotions do their best to copy the company. WCW and TNA were the biggest cases of taking WWE acts and trying to do their own versions. Nine times out of ten, those turned out to be utter flops that made those promotions look worse.
But make no mistake, WWE has done just as much copying on their own. True, Vince McMahon hates to admit another promotion could come up with better ideas than him. Yet it can’t be denied that WWE has done gimmicks and angles that were blatantly lifted from other companies. Even TNA/Impact has been ripped off by WWE a few times. Sometimes, it does lead to success as a short-lived bit from another promotion leads to a hit WWE gimmick. Other times, it fails as it’s amazing how WWE think they can succeed copying failed gimmicks. Some are blatant while others aren’t as well-known but still notable. Here are 20 WWE gimmicks that were knockoffs of other promotions to show even the “E” can copy others.
20 The Undisputed Era (The Bullet Club, NJPW)
Right now, the Undisputed Era are dominating NXT. For years, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly had been stars in ROH as each held championship gold. Cole was also a member of the Bullet Club, the elite heel stable that would dominate in ROH and Japan. As soon as all three men debuted in NXT, they formed a group called the Undisputed Era.
It was obviously modeled on the Bullet Club, complete with hand signals and arrogant promos. The group has been stellar in NXT with Roderick Strong joining them. They’ve held the tag titles, Cole was the first N.A. Champion and they've stolen the show in the War Games matches. While the real Bullet Club is still around, WWE has their own version to shine just as well.
19 Umaga (Samoa Joe, TNA)
In 2005, Samoa Joe really took off as a star in TNA. Already well-respected in ROH, Joe’s amazing battles with AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels made him a breakout TNA star, holding the X Division title. The “Submission Machine” was dominating and became a big star. Edward Fatu actually had a brief TNA run, as well as being part of 3-Minute Warning. When he came back to WWE, they obviously had Joe in mind as they remade Fatu into a monster from Samoa called Umaga. He was a bit more of a wild type but it was pretty clear what WWE was going for with a powerhouse crushing all in his path. He would hold the IC title, challenge in the main event and had a big match at WrestleMania 23.
18 The New Day (Beat Down Clan, TNA)
It’s rather ironic that one of the biggest acts (and merchandise sellers) for WWE was inspired by a short-lived TNA group. In 2014, TNA made yet another attempt at “evil super-group taking over the company” with the Beat Down Clan. MVP had been the on-screen boss when he turned on champion Eric Young. He joined with Lashley and Kenny King to take on the company. The plan was for MVP to win the title and dominate as champion. However, he sustained a bad leg injury so Lashley got the title. It wasn’t long as MVP was fired and the whole thing ended.
By that point, WWE had decided to get their own “tough guy” unit. Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston and Big E were put together with the idea of them as a militant group attacking others. That was eventually changed into The New Day which has become one of the most popular tag teams around. So it’s a brief TNA gimmick fans have to thank for the New Day’s fun.
17 Gillberg (Goldberg, WCW)
True, it was meant as a huge joke but it still has to count. When Goldberg took off in 1998, he was truly unique. This bold powerhouse smashing guys in just minutes without ever speaking, had the definition of an 'it' factor. Obviously, WWE wanted to copy it but already had so many big stars that a pure Goldberg clone wasn’t needed. So instead they went for parody. Long-time jobber Dwayne Gill was given a makeover as “Gillberg.” He would come out doing the same posing which was laughable for such a small guy. WWE added to it with piped-in chants, fire extinguishers for “smoke” and sparklers. It actually won fans over as Gillberg even became Light Heavyweight Champion.
16 The Light Heavyweight Division (WCW's Cruiserweight Division)
A big part of WCW's ascension in the ratings was their cruiserweight division. Even WWE gives huge props to WCW for nabbing so many light heavyweight guys and using them well on “Nitro.” Fans loved the high-flying action that WWE couldn’t match. They tried, forming their own division in 1997. The problem was that WCW had already locked down the truly great cruiserweight stars so WWE got the cast-offs. Those from the time have noted the bigger problem was that WWE was always about bigger-sized stars and didn’t care enough about the smaller guys to give the division a real push. WWE did do better with the Cruiserweights in the mid-2000s and the current 205 Live division. Yet the first shot at that division was a very pale imitation of one thing WCW did right.
15 Elimination Chamber (War Games, WCW)
Most agree that War Games was probably the greatest concept Dusty Rhodes ever came up with. The dual ring with the roofed cage was home to truly epic battles and always a terrific sight for fans. For years, they pushed WWE to revive it but naturally Vince was reluctant to admit WCW ever did anything better. Instead, he wanted his own version of the War Games, keeping to the roofed cage motif. Thus the Elimination Chamber was born.
It has become a major part of WWE with some great clashes and while there've been a few duds (December to Dismember), it even highlights its own PPV with a female version. While WWE has used War Games for NXT, the Chamber remains the closest the main brands get to this WCW mainstay.
14 Demon And Corporate Kane (Abyss's Split Personality, TNA)
In early 2005, most thought Abyss was going to jump from TNA to WWE. Instead, Abyss stuck with his old company and has remained one of the few true stalwarts of the company. A quirky idea was when Abyss showed up sans mask and claiming to be Joseph Parks, Abyss’s lawyer brother. It was funny with how Parks acted like a wimp but when he sensed violence, became an enraged beast. It eventually turned out Joseph was Abyss with a split personality. He would bounce between the two personas for a time.
In 2015, Kane underwent a similar metamorphosis, suddenly going from the masked monster to the suited Corporate Kane for the Authority. He too talked of a different person inside him and would bounce between the two personas. It’s intriguing that while Abyss started off a copy of Kane, Kane emulated one of Abyss’ gimmicks.
13 Dual Champion Seth Rollins (Jay Lethal, ROH)
For a long time, Jay Lethal had been a dependable worker in TNA, although mostly a comedy guy. In ROH, Lethal took off as a great star, winning the TV title and then the ROH World title. Rather than give up the TV belt, Lethal instead defended both titles, even on the same show. It sparked up his act and won him major respect.
In 2015, WWE decided to emulate that as US champion John Cena challenged WWE Champion Seth Rollins. Most thought Cena would win but instead Rollins got the victory. Thus, Rollins went about with both the WWE and US titles and defending each. He would lose the US belt to Cena but kept up as WWE champion. It was a good move but the fact was ROH got there first with Lethal was more effective as a dual champion.
12 Mr. McMahon (Eric Bischoff, WCW)
Vince McMahon hates to credit anyone but himself for a great idea. But it can’t be denied that his transformation into the heel owner was clearly based on Eric Bischoff. After time as an announcer, Bischoff finally revealed he was a major boss in WCW and allied with the New World Order. He thus misused his power to make life miserable for the faces.
Likewise, Vince had long pretended to be just the announcer but came forward as the owner of WWE. After Montreal, with everyone hating him for what he did to Bret, Vince decided to embrace it. He ramped up his character and it worked out with his genius feud with Steve Austin that skyrocketed WWE to success. The joke in wrestling is that “Mr. McMahon” is softer than the real Vince, but it can’t be denied he pulled the heel owner act better than Bischoff did.
11 Ryback (Goldberg, WCW)
After a forgettable run as Skip Sheffield, Ryan Reeves needed a makeover. WWE took him and made him an absolutely blatant copy of Goldberg. The bald head, the intensity, a tough catchphrase (“feed me more”) and growling, Ryback was pushed ahead. He was even given an “undefeated streak” that was meant to make him an instant star.
However, Ryback lacked that special spark and charisma Goldberg possessed that really made him take off with fans. Ryback just never worked, eventually becoming IC champion and later a comedy tag team guy. If anything, the return of the real Goldberg in WWE showed how Ryback fell short.
10 ECW Invades WWE (The Outsiders Invasion, WCW)
It’s amazing that for all their failures, WCW managed to make an invasion angle work with Hall and Nash. They helped push the company to major success and dominated in the ratings over WWE. In early 1997, WWE tried to stage an invasion of their own using the rising ECW. With most of their stars on a tour of Germany, ECW invaded RAW, taking down a ring worker and Paul Heyman cutting promos. It was good publicity for ECW with their first PPV coming and it did do well. However, it was dropped faster than planned due to backstage reasons. A later attempt at an invasion in 2005 didn’t work out as well either even as it paved the way for the WWECW brand. Paul Heyman may have liked the push ECW got but the ”invasion” did little to shake up WWE.
9 Evolution (The Four Horsemen, NWA/WCW)
Triple H never made it a secret he considered Ric Flair one of his biggest influences and idols. Hunter loved the idea of finally working with Flair in WWE. In 2003, they decided to replicate the greatest heel stable of all time, the Four Horsemen. The idea was Flair the veteran, Hunter the champ and then giving two younger guys the rub. The chosen two were Randy Orton and Batista, each of whom brought some good skills to the table. The group worked out great with Orton as IC champion and Flair and Batista tag champs. They got along well and truly worked as a unit. Orton and Batista would learn the ropes with the other two to become fantastic stars in their own right. Thus, while a copy, Evolution did succeed in making two major stars for WWE.
8 Summer of Punk (ROH)
2005 was the year CM Punk truly broke out huge as a star. He won the ROH title but made it known he was headed to WWE. Punk even signed his WWE contract on top of the ROH title belt. This had Mick Foley popping up in ROH to urge Punk to do the right thing and defend the belt on his way out. Punk cut vicious promos on ROH and hinted he’d just head to WWE as champion. Ultimately, he did lose it before jumping ship.
In 2011, Punk replicated the storyline with his famous “pipe bomb” promo and, after winning the WWE title, took it with him as his contract expired. He returned just over a week later with the title and a feud with John Cena. It didn’t work out too well at the time but did elevate Punk nicely to show he could be a star with or without a title.
7 Daniel Bryan's Therapist (AJ Styles, TNA)
It’s one thing to copy TNA. It’s another to copy arguably the worst storyline that company ever did. In 2012, Christopher Daniels and Kaz claimed AJ Styles had some skeletons in the closet. Out came Claire Lynch. It was to last longer with more twists but when the woman playing Lynch dropped out, the whole thing ended fast.
Somehow, WWE decided to copy it as in 2014, Stephanie McMahon was taking it to Daniel Bryan who had been forced to give up his WWE Championship due to injury. She brought out a woman claiming to be Bryan’s physical therapist, that was more than just a therapist. That got Brie Bella into a feud with Stephanie. The poor fan reaction dropped it even faster than TNA did but it's astounding WWE thought copying this was a good idea.
6 Jinder Mahal's Push (Mahabali Shera, Impact)
One of the most baffling moves of WWE in 2017 was making Jinder Mahal champion. To take a long-time mid-carder and elevate him to champion in just weeks made little sense to fans. As it happens, WWE was trying to emulate Impact. At the time, Impact had made a big deal with TV in India and touring there as well. That included giving a push to Mahabali Shera. Wanting to get the same market in India, WWE decided to push Mahal as a major star (ignoring the tiny detail that he is actually from Canada). Thus, fans were subjected to a dragging title reign and bad ratings just to copy Impact’s attempt to corner a new market.
5 The Wyatt Compound (Hardy Compound, Impact)
In 2016, Matt Hardy revived his career with his bizarre “Broken” persona. His wild behavior and crazy videos actually made Impact must-watch TV for fans. The highlight of it all was Matt and Jeff battling it out at the Hardy Compound. It was a crazy fight with nutty antics but somehow the sheer wild nature made it watchable for fans. WWE decided to copy it by having the New Day take on the Wyatt Family at the “Wyatt Compound.”
It was one of the worst segments of 2016, a total mess that failed to realize that without the Hardys, the whole thing didn’t work. The lighting and filming just made it look incredibly fake and did nothing to help the feud. As it happened, WWE eventually got the real Hardys to do the angle right.
4 Laycool (The Beautiful People, TNA)
At one time, TNA’s Knockouts division was far better than WWE’s Divas. They actually had the ladies presented as great workers and doing well. Among the big acts was The Beautiful People. Velvet Sky and Angelina Love were great as a pair of arrogant ladies who flaunted their beauty but could back it up in the ring. Each held the Knockouts title and the tag belts.
WWE obviously paid attention as they got Layla and Michelle McCool to join together as…a pair of arrogant ladies who flaunted their beauty and ran down others. They did do well, sharing the Women’s title and the act got over. However, TNA had done it first and did it better as LayCool was a product of the time more than something that can work today.
3 Smoking Gunns (The Young Pistols, WCW)
Wrestling cowboys were an old gimmick in the business going back to the 1950s. WWE had used it in the 1970s with the Blackjacks. So when the Smoking Gunns debuted in 1994, it seemed they were following that trend. In reality, WCW had recently debuted the Southern Boys, a team of Tracy Smothers and Steve Armstrong. They came to the ring in southern themed uniforms and became a good team. They switched to the Young Pistols, a cowboy motif and held the US tag titles.
It was thus obvious WCW inspired WWE to get a young tag team of their own with that same motif. It worked out for the Gunns as they held the tag titles a few times and Billy Gunn going on to bigger fame with the New Age Outlaws.
2 D-Generation X (New World Order, WCW)
WWE loves to talk about DX starting the “war” with WCW by “invading” Nitro. They leave off the tiny detail that DX was always a total take-off of the NWO. It was obvious as Shawn Michaels and Triple H joined forces as a team with Chyna and (briefly) Rick Rude. They acted loud and obnoxious, blurring the lines between what was real and what wasn’t and outrageous antics. Just like Hall and Nash when they started out in WCW. They would add X-Pac and the New Age Outlaws to dominate in the company and get over pretty well as mega-stars. However, as great as DX was, the fact remains they were WWE’s attempt to copy the success of the nWo…which actually worked out better than the real nWo did for WCW in the end.
1 Demolition (Road Warriors)
To be fair, WWE were hardly the only ones trying to copy the Road Warriors. There were the Powers of Pain, the Blade Runners and more. But Ax and Smash were incredibly blatant with the face paint, leather outfits and masks and presented as powerhouses in the ring. Many fans dismissed them at first because of how much of a copy they were. However, the two proved themselves to be an actually good team who succeeded in one of the most talent-packed periods for the tag division. They held the titles for over a year and became so over that they were turned face. They would have two more reigns and later added Crush to their ranks. While they came up short in the inevitable feud with the real LOD, Demolition proved they were a copy who did as well as the originals.