It’s very rare in wrestling to find a worker who hasn’t had a bad gimmick at one point or another. It’s almost a rite of passage in many ways. A wrestler has to cut their teeth and put up with something dumb before they hit it big. Steve Austin was “The Ringmaster,” John Cena was “The Prototype,” The Rock was “Rocky Maivia” and Triple H was Hunter Hearst Helmsley. It just shows how often wrestlers have to handle a lot of bad stuff before hitting it big. Indeed, it almost seems more impressive how a guy can go from some horrible gimmick to true stardom. A few are lucky enough to hit it big right off the bat (Kurt Angle) but most of the time, you need to earn yourself a few bad turns before the right look comes along. Yet, true stardom can never be kept down and thus guys are able to rise up despite bad stuff.
Sadly, way too often, too many truly good talents end up being crushed by bad gimmicks. They had serious problem but one bad character or look ruins them. That’s common in WWE which spent years handing out “occupations” as wrestling characters and too many good folks saddled with terrible ideas. It takes a truly great talent to rise up beyond that but too many others are unable to do so. It’s not fair but it’s how wrestling can be. Here are 10 WWE stars who were able to overcome bad gimmicks to hit it big and 10 who saw their careers ruined by them and showcase how it takes a really good worker to overcome the dumbest stuff.
20 Overcame: Stardust
Cody Rhodes always had the ingredients to be a star. As the son of Dusty, he had wrestling in his genes. He was rising up as a heel with ideas like one of him as a Tony Stark-inspired worker. However, in 2015, they saddled him with the character of Stardust, an obvious copy of brother Dustin’s Goldust.
He was encouraged to act even weirder and his makeup job just looked silly.
After a forgettable TNA run, he landed in ROH and “The American Nightmare” took off as World Champion and a great star. It shows how WWE could have used him and Cody has turned his career around, no thanks to WWE creative.
19 Never Recovered: Emma (Emmalina)
Emma had gotten over in NXT as a goofy lady doing a funny dance. Sadly, that didn’t win her fans on the main roster. However, in NXT again, she improved as a worker and performer. In 2016, WWE began promoting how “Emmalina is coming” with the idea of her as a throwback to the classic Divas of the past. They pushed it more and more in videos but kept delaying it. She finally came out…and announced she was going back to just Emma.
She was released soon afterward with word of how WWE just didn’t have faith in her, despite how it was their own idea to push this gimmick and then drop it in no time. She’s now in ROH and most think this was a bad move by WWE to ruin what could have been a major female star.
18 Overcame: Natalya (Farting Nattie)
Sometimes, you just have to shake your head and ask “why?”. Such a case was when Natalya, a great female worker was doing a promo and the mic caught her passing gas. Okay, it happens, just a funny bit. Yet somehow, WWE decided to turn this into her character. So Nattie would go around, letting out farts and folks reacting like she’d dropped a stink bomb into the room.
Thankfully, it was dropped as Stephanie wanted the women taken more seriously and argued this was detrimental.
Natalya would rebound, becoming a trainer for the various ladies and winning the SmackDown title herself to show how she could put this behind her.
17 Never Recovered: Brodus Clay (Funkasarus)
There’s always been changes when someone goes from developmental to the main brand. Brodus Clay was over in FCW as a monster worker. WWE signed him up for the RAW brand and hyped him in videos as an unstoppable monster. But for no reason whatsoever, WWE dropped all that to turn Clay into a goofy dancer complete with an entourage. Soon, the “Funkasauras” was showing up and dancing but not doing much else. His matches were bad as he was pushed to keep the dancing up and suffered for it. Clay was released for a bad TNA run and showed how WWE messed up a potential big guy star for a lame Rikishi take-off.
16 Overcame: Luke Gallows (Festus)
In 2006, Andrew Hankinson appeared in WWE in a role as an imposter Kane. He later came with Jesse with the typical “dumb country boys” gimmick mixed with the “small guy with a huge partner” dynamic wrestling loves to use. In this case, Festus was showcased as slow, but snapped out of it but when the bell rang. It had promise but was just overwhelmed by bad comedy bits.
He then changed his name to Luke Gallows and a tougher character to join the Straight Edged Society but that went nowhere. Leaving WWE for the indies and TNA, Gallows impressed in the Bullet Club. Returning to WWE, he joined with Karl Anderson and they were instantly over as a powerful tag team. They held the RAW tag titles and maintain success on the main roster to show that Gallows was a lot better as a tough guy.
15 Never Recovered: Tensai
WWE really wanted Matt Bloom to be a star. He had runs as a tag team champion but never achieved much singles success under various gimmicks. In 2012, after a long absence, Bloom returned as Tensai, a supposed star from Japan. He came out in red trunks and lettering from his "homeland" and had markings all over his body. Having a Caucasian guy in this role was crazy enough.
Having it be someone as instantly recognizable as Albert was even wilder as fans would openly chant his name during his matches.
Bloom is now better regarded as a trainer in NXT and doing a lot better there, but any chance he had of success in WWE was ruined by this gimmick.
14 Overcame: Triple H (Hunter Hearst Helmsley)
Paul Levesque had shown his stuff in WCW, first as Terra Ryzing and then the aristocratic Jean-Paul Levesque. Ric Flair himself saw great potential in the rookie but Levesque figured he couldn’t get much of a shot in WCW and accepted WWE’s offer. As it happened, Vince McMahon had wanted to create a character based on the snobs in his Greenwich neighborhood who were dismissive of him because of his wrestling career. Levesque fit the bill and thus was given the character of Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
He would come out to classical music in either hunting clothes or robes, doing bows and strutting in a snobbish way. It could have been a bad gimmick but Hunter’s talents soon led it to evolve and adapt over time. It’s just amazing how one of the biggest stars in WWE was created just because Vince was ticked at his neighbors.
13 Never Recovered: Barry Darsow (Repo Man)
Barry Darsow had been a longtime journeyman in wrestling whose biggest early contribution was holding the NWA tag titles as Krusher Khrushchev. In 1987, when Demolition formed, the original Smash had to drop out so Darsow was picked for the role. Demolition dominated as tag team champions in one of the golden generation of the division. They finally split up in 1991 with Darsow moving into singles work. He was given the gimmick of Repo Man, an evil repossession agent who dressed like the Hamburglar in a long coat and a Lone Ranger mask.
To his credit, Darsow went so over the top with the gimmick that it became fun to watch but didn't do him much good in the ring. He would go on to WCW and landed even dumber gimmicks (like an evil golfer) to show he was a lot better off in a tag team.
12 Overcame: Dolph Ziggler (Nicky of The Spirit Squad)
In 2006, Vince was clashing with a reunited DX and wanted revenge. He could have forged a new group of vicious warriors, a major heel squad, a pack ready to tear things apart. Instead, he had a quintet of male cheerleaders, complete with “routines” in the ring. It’s as dumb as it sounds and while they held the tag titles, it was impossible to take them seriously. The fact the five of them were routinely beaten by just Shawn Michaels and Triple H just made them a bad joke.
They just drifted off except for Nicky who showed he had some talent.
He was thus given a makeover and a new name: Dolph Ziggler. Yes, the multiple champion and popular worker was once a male cheerleader, an incredible comeback from a bad idea.
11 Never Recovered: Paul Burchill (Pirate)
A running bit in WWE is how Vince McMahon is about a decade behind in terms of pop culture. So when Paul Burchill took on a “pirate” act in 2004, some were surprised Vince was knowledgeable enough about the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to do this. As it turns out, it was Burchill’s idea and Vince knew nothing about it. Of course, that didn’t stop him from pushing Burchill to go over the top with it, acting like a real pirate and even thinking he was one. That led to clashes and while some liked the act, it was still a crazy sight. No wonder Burchill’s tenure in WWE was short-lived given that level of garbage.
10 Overcame: Rikishi (The Sultan)
As a member of the famed Anoa’i family, Solofa Fatu had the genes to make it in wrestling but in WWE, he had a lot of ups and downs. He started off as a member of the Headshrinker. He was then remade into just Fatu and coming out as a street hip-hop guy. Then came The Sultan, your classic “mysterious foreign heel” in a goofy mask and Bob Backlund and the Iron Sheik were his dual managers. That also failed.
So when he started going around as Rikishi, not much was expected. Incredibly, this big dancing guy who stuck his rear end into faces got majorly over with fans. He was soon a hit, winning the IC title and while hampered by the failed heel turn, he still remained a big star. It's amazing how many tries it took for Rikishi to land that perfect gimmick.
9 Never Recovered: Simon Dean
Most think the whole “just give a guy an occupation as his character” thing died out in the 90s. However, the 2000s seemed to have a comeback for that in WWE. Mike Bucci had broken out in ECW as Super Nova, soon a member of the beloved Blue World Order. After ECW died out, he spent time in the indies before joining OVW. He was promoted to the main roster under the gimmick of fitness guru Simon Dean.
He came out to the ring on a segway and did mini-infomercials promoting his “Simon System.”
They were naturally a flop and he was soon subjected to jobber status.
8 Overcame: Country Star Jeff Jarrett
The early 90s WWE was packed with guys holding “occupations” and WWE themselves love to mock how dumb a lot of them were. Jeff Jarrett had been a star in Texas and Memphis, over as a babyface. WWE played on that having him come out as an aspiring country music star, complete with a “mini-concert.” It was utterly goofy despite how Jarrett got an Intercontinental title run out of it. They then had the idea of his Roadie (the future Road Dogg) being the real “singer” of his “hit” songs but that went nowhere as Jarrett jumped ship to WCW.
Jarrett returned in 1998 and was soon doing well as IC and tag team champion. He left for another run in WCW and eventually TNA to show he still had stardom in him despite how he overcame this out of tune gimmick.
7 Never Recovered: Eugene
Fans often complain of how guys can be great stars in NXT but falter on the main roster. That actually goes back to when WWE was using Ohio Valley Wrestling as their developmental system. Nick Dinsmore was a star there, a great worker and a top heel on the mic. Leave it to WWE to ruin that by having him come out as Eugene, Eric Bischoff’s slow nephew.
WWE actually seemed to grasp the character as Eugene turned out to be a wrestling savant who could mimic anyone he saw. Sadly, that was dropped as he was soon just doing comedy bits. The guy just didn’t have a chance with that gimmick and it’s a shame someone who could've been a good star was ruined by this idea.
6 Overcame: Kane (Isaac Yankem)
With his build, Glenn Jacobs had a great look for a worker, if a bit raw. His early stuff included the masked Unabomber in USWA where he first clashed with The Undertaker.
He was brought to WWE but then given a goofy gimmick. Jerry Lawler had been feuding with Bret Hart, and went to his private dentist Isaac Yankem.
So Bret feuded with this evil dentist for a bit and it’s as dumb as it sounds. He then had a run as the “fake Diesel” which was another horrific gimmick.
Then in 1997 he donned the mask to become Kane and has been one of the company’s biggest stars ever since.
5 Never Recovered: Terry Taylor (The Red Rooster)
It’s hard to find a bigger case of a guy totally ruined in WWE by a bad gimmick. Sadly, he got shafted in every way imaginable as he was given the gimmick of the Red Rooster, coming out with a red streak in his hair and his interviews even included crowing sounds. He started as a heel under Bobby Heenan, then turned into a face but the act was way too much for fans to take seriously.
Taylor has slammed the gimmick several times although he does work with WWE today in an agent position. Still, it’s hard to argue with how they took a great guy in his prime and destroyed him with this bad idea.
4 Overcame: Becky Lynch (Jig Dancing)
Becky Lynch, sadly, was pushed to live out just about every single cliché about Ireland imaginable. Her theme music was a lively tune of pipes and whistles, her outfit was all green and she even came out dancing a “jig.” On a WWE Network collection, Lynch admits it was more than a bit embarrassing and thankfully toned down although she was still pushed as a feisty fighter from Ireland.
It took her makeover with the orange hair and “steampunk” motif to finally get truly over as a star.
It’s led to success on the main roster as the first SmackDown women’s champion and still very popular and shows how she’s better as herself than just portraying a stereotype.
3 Never Recovered: Perry Saturn (Moppy)
Perry Saturn had always been a good worker in ECW with the Eliminators and rising up in WCW. He joined the rest of the Radicalz in WWE and while the odd man out, still showcased a good drive and persona. But in early 2001, Saturn was in a TV match against jobber Mike Bell. After an unprofessional display by Saturn during the match, WWE was naturally outraged but rather than fire Saturn, gave him an alternative form of discipline. After a blow to the head, they explained that Saturn became convinced a mop was his girlfriend and carried her with him everywhere. It was a bit sad to see Saturn have to go around with “Moppy” and unsurprisingly, his WWE career never recovered.
2 Overcame: Alexa Bliss (Fairy)
Alexa Bliss’ early work in WWE wasn’t that notable. In NXT, Alexa came out for her wrestling debut dressed like a fairy, complete with a theme that sounded like a throwaway song from a Disney movie. She pranced about, smiling brightly and even blew “fairy dust”. On a WWE Network collection, Bliss sums it up as “I was a little shy, I was a little too smiley and way too much pep in my step.”
Thankfully, like many NXT talents, Alexa was encouraged to be herself. So she changed to a more arrogant lady, which worked out as valet to Blake and Murphy. On the main roster, her fantastic heel persona and priceless facial expressions have elevated her status. It all added up to a star who’s held the RAW and SmackDown women’s titles and showing she had magic in her, just not the fairy kind.
1 Never Recovered: Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page got over in WCW with his meticulous work planning matches, very good on the mic and his Diamond Cutter finisher got fans going. DDP was soon a WCW Champion and still a huge star when they went under. He was soon one of the few big name guys willing to join WWE but was marred from the start. First there was the idea of him following The Undertaker’s wife, which was crazy and so out of character for DDP.
When that feud failed, Page came back with a motivational speaker bit, always smiling and didn’t fit into his long-time persona as a tough party-loving guy. DDP would leave for TNA and eventually retired. It shows how WWE so badly messed up one of the few big WCW guys they got.