Gimmicks can make or break a wrestler's career. We have seen many bad gimmicks in professional wrestling throughout the years. Some wrestlers have been able to overcome bad gimmick and move on to better ones and become top names in the business. However, there are also wrestlers who have not been able to escape the dark cloud that a horrible gimmick shadows over their career.
Much like most things in life, gimmicks need to go through trial and error. Sadly, we have seen the trial of a bad gimmick last much longer than it should have. Most gimmicks are chosen by the creative department of the company, and the wrestlers have no choice to try them out and see where it takes them. If they want to make it in the wrestling world, there are some things they may not want to do, including being given a gimmick that doesn't completely suit them.
We have seen crazy gimmicks over time, including Glacier, The Kiss Demon, and let's not forget the Spirit Squad. One of those three gimmicks have brought us a superstar. Dolph Ziggler was formerly known as Nicky in the Spirit Squad, but thankfully he survived and revived his wrestling career with a gimmick that saw him win the many solo championships, whereas with Nicky, he couldn't achieve anything more than the tag team championships.
Here is a list of 10 superstars who escaped bad gimmicks and became superstars and 10 superstars who never recovered from the bad gimmicks they were given.
20 Survived: Batista
When he debuted on WWE television, the man we now know as "The Animal" Batista was seen as Deacon Bastita. As the deacon, Batista was the enforcer for Reverend D-Von. Barely speaking and just using his strength to help D-Von win matches, it was seeming like Batista wasn't going to get anywhere in his career. The gimmick was on that expired with the fan almost immediately.
No one would've that the man who followed around a reverend would later become a multi-time world champion in the WWE.
Thankfully, the gimmick only lasted less than six months before Batista was drafted to Raw, aligning himself with Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Triple H, forming Evolution. The four of them were at the top of the WWE, holding every male championship on Raw for just over a month. The faction was intended to be heels, but Batista was slowly becoming a fan favorite, showing that he wasn't truly behind the actions of the other members of the group. After finally leaving Evolution behind, Batista was on the top of the WWE after winning the World Heavyweight championship for the first time at WrestleMania 21. He continued to be a fan favorite until he left the WWE in 2010 to begin his acting career. He returned for one last run in 2013 to high fan fare, but it short lived as his acting career was thriving.
19 Never Recovered: Eugene
Nick Dinsmore was a multi-time OVW world champion before debuting in the WWE. That alone should've set him up for a great career in the big leagues. However, the gimmick that he was given was one that was one that didn't have enough dimensions to withstand a long career.
The gimmick of Eugene was one that if he were still on WWE television today, would be met with much more criticism that it had at the time.
Being viewed as a man with mental disabilities, Dinsmore would walk and talk as if he were a young child. His matches in the ring would only become physical when Eugene would appear "angry." In addition, the way that the faction of Evolution had bullied him, made it very hard to watch at times.
What was considered funny back then, would now be slated as highly offensive, which is a major factor as to why the gimmick had flopped. It is common knowledge that the WWE likes to push limits, but with their initiatives they have outside the ring, including the anti-bullying campaign, Be a STAR, gimmicks like Dinsmore's would no longer be widely accepted now as it was in the tail end of the Ruthless Aggression era.
18 Survived: John Cena
While in OVW, before he made his debut on Smackdown, John Cena was known as "The Prototype." This gimmick was that he was part man, part machine and was considerably a bad one. He did, however hold the OVW Heavyweight championship once as well as the company's tag titles on one occasion before moving up to the main roster. No one expected "The Prototype" to turn out the way John Cena has.
Upon debuting, Cena still donning the same trunks that he did when he was in OVW. It wasn't until the Halloween episode of Smackdown in October 2002, where Cena dressed up as Vanilla Ice and was seen backstage freestyling, did it spawn into the rapper gimmick he debuted the following week. The gimmick grew, allowing the West Newbury native to feud with the likes of The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar and the late Eddie Guerrero. He had captured his first singles championship at WrestleMania XX, defeating the Big Show for the United States Championship.
Since then, Cena has left his mark on the WWE in many ways. He has grown to tying the record of number of World Championships and being the face of the WWE. His career in the squared circle has slowed down since he has begun his acting career. Luckily for the WWE universe, he has not completely hung up his boots, still appearing on a part-time basis. Seeing how his career started, Cena definitely survived the Prototype.
17 Never Recovered: Simon Dean
Mike Bucci was known in the wrestling world before coming to the WWE. While working for ECW, he was known as Super Nova, and was a member of the Blue World Order. Once ECW had folded and was purchased by the WWE, Bucci had tried his hand at wrestling on the independent circuit before being recruited by the WWE and assigned to their then-developmental facility at OVW. During his time there, he had wrestled the likes of John Cena, whom he had defeated for the company's heavyweight championship, holding it for half a year. His career took a slight turn just before he made his debut on WWE television, as he tried out his new gimmick, physical fitness guru named Simon Dean.
Simon Dean was a horrible gimmick from the start, but the WWE thought it was worth a try. Coming to the ring on a Segway PT, it was hard to watch the gimmick unfold. He would try to enlist members of the audience, as well as fellow WWE superstars, to start his fitness program. It felt more like watching a bad infomercial than a segment during a WWE television broadcast.
When the WWE held the first ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view, Bucci returned as Hollywood Nova, in the Blue World Order and commentator Joey Styles mentioned that having Simon Dean on national television was one of the "most painful things to watch." The gimmick would come back shortly after the ECW pay-per-view, but it didn't last long before Bucci was released from the WWE. Following his release, he has been making the rounds on the independent circuit, teetering between his Nova and Simon Dean gimmicks.
16 Survived: Kane
We all know Kane as the "Big Red Machine" or the "Devil's Favorite Demon," but Kane was not the first gimmick that Glenn Jacobs had tried out in the WWE. He was the Fake Diesel, which was a complete bust, but the worst of the gimmicks he had tried prior to making it big with Kane, was Isaac Yankem. Yankem was a dentist was who threaten to "yank" the teeth of his opponents.
During the early 90s, where we had seen some of the craziest gimmick come through the woodwork, this was one we were glad didn't last too long.
Thankfully for Jacobs, he had a new lease on his wrestling career when he debuted at The Undertaker's "brother," Kane with the help of the late Paul Bearer. It would spark a great "brother vs. brother" feud. Jacobs would quickly become the then-WWF champion, and his career would continue to rise. He has been credited as one of the best "big men" in the history of the WWE. Aside from the horrible Katie Vick incident, there is many accolades to Jacobs' wrestling career as Kane that would easily qualify him to be a future Hall of Famer. He may not be making many appearances recently on WWE television as he is focusing on his political career, but it is clear that he came out of the greener side after going through some terrible gimmicks in the world of professional wrestling.
15 Never Recovered: Dean Malenko
Son of Boris Malenko, Dean Malenko, born Dean Simon, was a well decorated wrestler throughout his career. Though he never held a world championship, Simon held a total of 11 titles spanning his years in ECW, WCW and WWE. Known for being a great technical submission wrestler, it was incredible to see him join the WWE when he did, alongside Perry Saturn, and two late former world champions Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Simon came into the company with a lot of credibility behind him and he backed it up in the ring. Sadly, after the WWE splashed a slight twist on his gimmick, it was something that took over and overshadowed a lot of his accolades.
Once given the gimmick of being a ladies man, and was seen making advances to female WWE superstars such as Lita, it was a little demeaning to Simon's original gimmick and made him seem slightly weak. It was something that the WWE universe was not used to at the time, and he was slowly taken off of WWE television as the Invasion storyline began in 2001. Shortly after being taken off of Raw and Smackdown broadsats, Simon began his career as a road agent for the WWE. Though he had made two appearances in the independent circuit since, he is no longer wrestling and sadly, his career could not come back from being the "guy who got attacked in a hotel room by the Hardy Boyz."
14 Survived: Rikishi
As a member of the legendary Anoa'i family, Solofa Fatu Jr., better known to wrestling fans as Rikishi, went through some rough times and bad gimmicks throughout his early years in the WWE. While he did achieve some notoriety as a tag team wrestler with both the Headshrinkers and the New Headshrinkers, when he went solo in 1995, it was a struggle to find the right gimmick for him. He tried an urban "Make a Difference" gimmick, which lasted less than two months before being scrapped.
The next gimmick he tried out, the Sultan, was one that was confusing to most.
He never spoke and was accompanied to the ring by the Iron Sheik and Bob Backlund. Unsuccessfully challenging Rocky Maivia, who would later become The Rock, for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 13 was the highlight of this gimmick's two year span. In 1998, Fatu left the WWE to train at Dory Funk's wrestling facility in hopes of coming back to the WWE to revive his wrestling career.
Thankfully, in 1999, Fatu was back on WWE television. This time, he had gained a little weight, bleached his hair blonde and donned a thong loincloth. The name, "Rikishi," stems from the Japanese term for sumo wrestler, which he used in homage to his cousin, the late Yokozuna. Fatu began teaming the Scotty 2 Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay, better known at Too Cool, and quickly became a fan favorite. He had claimed his first solo championship in the WWE during that time, defeating Chris Benoit for the Intercontinental title on an episode of Smackdown, it showed that Fatu had grown as a wrestler. The gimmick gave Fatu the chance to be a part of many memorable moments in WWE history. He was a participant in the first-ever 6-man Hell in a Cell match along with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker and the Rock. Now that his sons, the Usos are dominating the tag team division on Smackdown, their father's name can be said with pride, knowing that he had finally caught a break through the horrible gimmicks he endured.
13 Never Recovered: Repo Man
Barry Darsow had a great career as Smash, half of the dominating tag team, Demolition. He, along with the his partner Ax, were three-time tag team champions during the course of their run in the WWE from 1987 to 1991. The first time the team won the tag titles at WrestleMania 4, they held them for a record 16 months. Originally heels, they turned into fan favorites at Survivor Series 1988 after their manager, Mr. Fuji, turned on them to manage the Powers of Pain, Warlord and Barbarian. The team added a third member, Crush in 1990, and Ax began to take more of a managerial role for the team. Following their third title reign, the team went on to have solo runs in mid-1991.
Weeks after Demolition went separate ways, Darsow was repackaged as Repo Man.
With a Zorro-like mask, he would come to the ring with a rope, which he used to tied up his opponents after defeating them and continuing to beat them up. His mannerisms were similar to that of the Riddler in the Batman television series from the 1960s. Darsow would have minor feuds with Randy Savage and the British Bulldog, but the gimmick only lasted until early 1993, ending his career in the WWE. Darsow would have small amounts of success in WCW with different gimmicks, but ultimately found himself on the independent scene, going back to using the gimmick of Smash.
12 Survived: William Regal
In mid-1998, William Regal made his return to the WWE with a horrible string of vignettes, showing him as a lumberjack of sorts. The gimmick luckily didn't last long, only showing Regal, born Darren Matthews, entering the tournament for the vacant WWF championship at 1998's Survivor Series. He began a short feud with the Godfather, but left the wrestling world for a short time while he checked himself in rehab. As sad as it was that he had to leave the wrestling world due to that reason, but it was nice to see the Vince Russo-created gimmick come to an end.
Thankfully, Matthews got over his issues and after he finished rehab, he was welcomed back into the wrestling world. He had a short stint in WCW, but in 2000, was re-hired by the WWE and quickly captured the European championship. Having a gimmick as a posh, English snob, the WWE made him the on-air commissioner and self-proclaimed "Goodwill Ambassador" for the company. The way his gimmick was portrayed allowed Matthews to grow and though he has held titles during his tenure, being in more a managerial role is something that the fans respond the most to. Currently the general manager of NXT, Regal is still creating waves on a weekly basis with the on-air decisions he makes.
11 Never Recovered: Rico
With a history of being a champion on American Gladiators, Rico came to the WWE with hopes of finding success in the wrestling business. After training at Empire Wrestling Federation in 1998, he was discovered by Tom Prichard and Terry Taylor and signed to a development deal with the WWE after only 12 matches under his belt at EWF. Rico was assigned to OVW for further training before being sent up to the main roster where he debuted as the homosexual stylist was Billy and Chuck on March 21,2002. He had won the World tag team championships with Rikishi after being forced to team with him against Billy and Chuck, but had turned on Rikishi giving the titles back to his clients three weeks later.
Rico would capture tag team gold again with Charlie Haas after he had parted way with Billy and Chuck, and had a small stint managing 3-Minute Warning. The gimmick was a flamboyant play on homosexuals. If the gimmick were around today, it would be considered highly offensive. Rico was released from the WWE in 2004, and had success in All Japan before retiring from the wrestling world. He has unfortunately been going through some terrible health problems. He may never wrestle again, but sadly, his gimmick in the WWE is not only unforgettable, but it is something his wrestling career can not come back from.
10 Survived: Raven
Scott Levy has had a great wresting career across many promotions, but like many great things, there are bumps in the road before achieving success. In 1993, Levy joined the WWE as a manager named "Johnny Polo." He was first seen managing Adam Bomb, but that partnership folded after four months when Harvey Whippleman replaced him. Levy's only success with this gimmick came when he was managing the Quebecers. He led them to three tag team titles reigns. Levy did wrestle during his tenure as Polo, but his time with the WWE ended in October 1994 after trying his hand in various odd jobs throughout the company.
His time as Johnny Polo was somewhat of a wake up call for Levy, as the next gimmick he debuted was the one that sky rocketed him to success.
Levy debuted as Raven in ECW in January 1995. The gimmick was inspired by Patrick Swayze's character in Point Break and Edgar Allen Poe's poem by the same name. His feud with Tommy Dreamer gave Levy the chance to showcase the best of his abilities inside the spared circle. His success with the character would follow him to WCW, WWE, TNA, and continues today on the independent circuit.
9 Never Recovered: Paul Burchill
Paul Burchill's entire run in the WWE was surrounded by horrible gimmicks. He had a great start when he was called to the United States, and ultimately the WWE by Tommy Dreamer in 2005. He started working alongside William Regal as his tag team partner, but it didn't take long for him to begin his pirate gimmick. While the Pirates of the Caribbean film series was successful, this gimmick was not met with the same praise by Vince McMahon. It went on for far too long then it should've, but when it was finally shelved after over a year, there was hope that he had improved. Sadly, his wrestling ability was overshadowed by his next gimmick, which made it seem as though he was in a incestuous relationship with his "sister" Katie Lea. The "siblings" were sent to ECW, where they finished their career in the WWE in February 2010, after being off television for several weeks.
Burchill had attempted to revive his wrestling career on the independent circuit for the next seven years, before finally retiring from the wrestling business altogether. He now works as a firefighter in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. It is clear that the gimmicks that he donned while in the WWE were too hard to come back from.
8 Survived: Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is one of the best examples of wrestlers who escaped bad gimmicks and became superstars. Debuting in the WWE as a member of the Spirit Squad, a group of five male cheerleaders, Ziggler used his real first name with the gimmick. As Nicky, he made his television debut in January 2006, helping Jonathan Coachman defeat Jerry Lawler to qualify for that year's Royal Rumble. As a heel on WWE television, Vince McMahon used the Spirit Squad in his feud with Shawn Michaels, having them attack Michaels and compete in handicap matches against him. They also competed in the tag team division, winning the tag titles and defending them through the Freebird rule. The squad's feud with DX was the last they would have together on WWE television, after losing a five-on-three handicap match against Michaels, Triple H and Ric Flair. Following the defeat, DX placed all five members of the squad in a crate stamped "OVW." Nicky, born Nick Nemeth, was back in OVW on January 17,2007 to be repackaged.
When he came back to the WWE, Nemeth was the heel that we know and see on television today. Growing as a wrestler and leaving his previous gimmick far behind him, we have seen Nemeth, as Ziggler, to hold multiple championships over the last decade. Some argue that he is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the WWE today, but he has been helpful to give the new faces that join the WWE the chance to have great matches, much like he did when he started with this gimmick. A former World Heavyweight Champion, Nemeth is currently enjoying working alongside Drew McIntyre on Raw.
7 Never Recovered: Shaniqua
Linda Miles co-won the second season of Tough Enough with Jackie Gayda, and had a horrendous gimmick that drove her to leave the wrestling business altogether. After a promising start teaming with Trish Stratus shortly after debuting in June 2002, Miles and Gayda were sent back to OVW for further training following a major botch by Gayda in a mixed tag team match. Brought back to the WWE as Shaniqua, the dominatrix manager of the Basham Brothers in June 2003, Miles was used to interfere in matches for the Bashams as well as showing her dominance over the over women of the WWE. Walking to the ring with a whip and one of the Bashams wearing a ball-gag, Miles got breast implants during her time with the Bashams, which was explained on television as swelling from the "Clothesline from Hell" she received from Bradshaw. After brief feuds with Los Guerreros and the team of Scotty 2 Hotty and Rikishi, Miles was released of her contract in February 2004.
Following her release, Miles began working as a teacher, substituting in public schools in Cincinatti. In 2007, she was a full-time study hall teacher. With the wrestling world completely behind her, Miles is currently a college basketball referee.
6 Survived: Triple H
The way we see Triple H today is far different from the gimmick he donned before starting DX with Shawn Michaels. He was a posh, arrogant snob that dressed in a blouse and blazer with coat tails. He would bow to the crowd every time he entered the ring. He appeared in vignettes before his debut, displaying proper etiquette. He had some success with this gimmick, winning the Intercontinental Championship by defeating Marc Mero. Their feud began when Triple H, known then as the full spelling of the gimmick, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, had taken out a loss on Sable who had accompanied him to the ring.
The end of this gimmick led to him having Chyna as his bodyguard, kickstarting the gimmick we know and watched success blossom for today.
Helmsley had grown from having Chyna as his bodyguard to starting DX with his longtime friend Shawn Michaels. The stable that helped skyrocket him to stardom proves that he survived the horrible gimmick of the "Connecticut Blueblood." Currently, the senior producer of NXT and the Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, it shows that his knowledge and experience is greatly appreciated backstage. Being the husband of the boss' daughter aside, "the Game" is a far better gimmick, and the wrestling world has been far better off for it.
5 Never Recovered: Terry Taylor
In 1988, Terry Taylor made a horrible decision to don the gimmick of the "Red Rooster." It began after Bobby Heenan had started managing him. The point of the gimmick was that Taylor was a novice wrestler that needed to hear pointers from Heenan throughout the match to get through it. It seemed to be somewhat getting over with the WWE crowds, but by March 1989, Taylor started being used primarily to put over other talent. His last pay-per-view appearance as the Red Rooster was at the 1990 Royal Rumble, where he lasted two minutes before being eliminated by Andre the Giant. He left the WWE five months later.
After the fallout of the Red Rooster gimmick, Taylor had made several attempts to reprise his career. Sadly, he didn't have any success. After 22 years, Taylor finally found his fifth return to the WWE to be the one that stuck and lasted longer than a year. Since 2012, he has been a trainer at NXT. It was noted in 2017 that Taylor's experience in the ring is used to help train the highest level at WWE's Performance Center, along with Shawn Michaels. Though he may not have recovered his own wrestling career since his "Rooster" days, but he is now helping current and future talent with theirs.
4 Survived: Luke Gallows
Luke Gallows is one half of one of the best tag teams currently on the WWE roster. However, his path to that was paved with a stint in the WWE a decade earlier that saw Gallows, real name Andrew Hankinson, with a horrible gimmick. This gimmick, known as Festus, may have shown some of his wrestling ability, but it didn't allow Hankinson to show his true superstar quality. When he reappeared on WWE television shortly after the Festus gimmick, his time in the Straight Edge Society with CM Punk didn't go over very well either. After leaving the WWE in 2010, he went to TNA for two years, as Doc in Aces and Eights, then moving on to New Japan in 2013, using the name Luke Gallows to skyrocket his wrestling career. His time teaming the Karl Anderson as member of the Bullet Club had given the WWE a better look at him as a wrestler.
Returning to the WWE, this time with Anderson, in 2016, was the break that Hankinson's career needed. The duo helped their former leader in the Bullet Club in New Japan, AJ Styles, and began teaming with him until he was drafted to Smackdown. Anderson and Gallows were left alone, but kept the momentum going with their careers, headlining the tag team division on Raw. Now known as the Good Brothers, Gallows and Anderson are now on Smackdown Live, with new and fresh teams to compete against as they climb the ranks to become the tag champs once again.
3 Never Recovered: Muhammad Hassan
Muhammad Hassan, real name Marc Copani, had a real tough go trying to start his wrestling career. The gimmick that he was given by the WWE's creative department, an arrogant Arab-American, was met with massive amounts of controversy. It appeared to be in bad taste, after the attacks of 9/11, and have an Arab belittle Americans at a time when they were still trying to heal, even if it was three years after the tragedy. The level of controversy only heightened when the tragic London bombings happened in July 2005, causing the network that aired Smackdown at the time, to ask the WWE to keep Copani's character off WWE programming. Unfortunately, Copani was sent back to developmental and ultimately left the company and the wrestling business altogether.
Copani had left the wrestling world behind following his release from the WWE. He became a social studies teacher. He went back to school and received his Master's, focusing on wanting to help mold young minds. His wrestling career may be over, but he did make a career move that he had be wanting to pursue for a long time. He did make a one-time return to wrestling back in April, stepping between the ropes for the first time in 13 years. The mark that his WWE gimmick left on his name, may not be something that he can come back from.
2 Survived: Kevin Nash
Before he was Diesel, Kevin Nash went through many gimmicks that even he himself doesn't like to be reminded of. From 1990 to 1993, Nash went through three gimmicks that we're largely unsuccessful. From the Master Blasters, to Oz, then finally to Vinnie Vegas, Nash's first three years in WCW was full of repackaging and gimmicks that were loosely based on characters from books and movies. It is strange to look back a believe that all three of these gimmicks were the same name who became Diesel, or the man who, along with Scott Hall, changed the wrestling business in 1996.
Thankfully, when the WWE finally signed him in 1993, his career began to take a turn and brought him success that he never thought he would see with the gimmicks that were thrown his way previously.
Nash had grown as a wrestler when he stepped foot in the WWE in 1993. With the help of his friends, Hall, Shawn Michaels, Triple H and X-Pac, Nash had helped influenced the beginning of the Attitude Era. Using the gimmick Diesel, Nash finally captured the WWF Championship and the gimmicks he donned before were nothing more than a bad memory. There was no way that Nash would've made it to the WWE Hall of Fame with Oz or Vinnie Vegas.
1 Never Recovered: Perry Saturn
When looking back on the career of Perry Saturn, the thing that fans will remember most is his time with "Moppy." Seeing a man spend all of his time with a mop was incredibly strange. Though it seemed to have been a punishment for his action after attacking a jobber during a match, it was still something drove Saturn's wrestling career into the ground. To see a man who had achieved relative success in both ECW and WCW before coming to the WWE be given this gimmick was not only sad to watch, but it was scary to see how far he had fallen. Saturn was released from the company in November 2002. He had dropped the gimmick shortly before tearing his ACL. He would never return to the company after he had fully healed.
Since his release, Saturn, real name Perry Satullo, has gone through a roller coaster in not only his professional life, but his personal life as well. He had dealt with a lengthy substance addiction, and in his most recent interviews seems to be a shell of his former self. He revealed to Bill Apter in September 2016 that he's been dealing with a traumatic brain injury, limiting his abilities to perform day-to-day activities. Now 51, it would be a huge surprise to see him make a return to the wrestling world in any capacity after everything he has been through in recent years.