Nothing is more important in the WWE Universe than how a sports entertainer presents him or herself. While we like to think the cream always rises to the top, Vince McMahon has shown a penchant for pushing the wrong workers with the right gimmicks for decades now. The trend shows no signs of stopping even as Vince is giving his daughter and son-in-law exponentially more power, and will likely continue to explode if and when they take over.
On the plus side, this practice ensures WWE will be filled with interesting characters for a long time to come. On the downside, actual in-ring wrestling talent has become secondary, at best. This doesn’t necessarily matter when a bad wrestler gets a lame gimmick, but when great wrestlers are stuck with duds, it can outright kill their careers all the same. Because WWE has shown poor judgment on who to give what gimmick in the past, great amounts of potential have been lost when wrestlers filled who could have been the future of the industry were stopped dead in their tracks with a ridiculous or otherwise horrible character.
Some seemingly awful ideas have become hits in the past, and concepts that looked like sure things have fallen apart almost instantly, and for reasons the world may never know. Half of the time, the worker is able to recover and try something new, but not everyone has been so lucky. Keep reading to learn about 15 great wrestlers who had their careers killed by terrible gimmicks.
15. Chavo Guerrero Hates Hornswoggle
It isn’t entirely fair to compare Chavo Guerrero, Jr. with his uncle Eddie, although that’s what just about everyone had done throughout both men’s entire careers. Eddie was a juggernaut in terms of pure wrestling skill and natural charisma, while Chavo was decent, albeit nowhere near his supremely talented uncle. After Eddie tragically passed away in late 2005, WWE never quite figured out what to do with Chavo. Before long, the gimmicks the company gave him destroyed his reputation to the point whatever ring skills he had left didn’t matter. The nail in the coffin was a feud against Hornswoggle, who not coincidentally also killed the WWE Cruiserweight Championship when he defeated Chavo for the title. That was about two years before their more fully fleshed feud, which saw Hornswoggle repeatedly best Chavo in a series of gimmick matches and completely remove any credibility he had as a contender to any title, cruiserweight or otherwise. It was bad enough that Chavo lost every match, and adding increasingly cartoonish stipulations to them only served to make him an even bigger joke.
14. Road Warrior Hawk Gets The Worst Kind Of Rush
Not only did Vince McMahon contribute to The Legion of Doom careers collapsing, he also played a direct role in Road Warrior Hawk’s actual life spiralling out of control. At a point in time Hawk’s very real drug problem was at its worst, Vince McMahon thought it would be hilarious to have him pretend he was bombed out of his mind every time he and Animal were on TV. Hawk’s out of control drunken antics ultimately culminated with him climbing the Titantron and threatening to kill himself, with Droz following Hawk to help out with the job by pushing him off. Unsurprisingly, the segment was met with a great deal of controversy, and LoD themselves hated it so much they quit WWE shortly after it aired. Both Hawk and Animal would pop up in WCW, TNA, and even WWE again in the future, albeit in much smaller and less dominating roles than they had throughout the rest of their careers. In all fairness, they were probably nearing the end anyway, but WWE still didn’t need to make them go out on such a low note.
13. Golga Idolizes Cartman, Causes Zero Aftershocks
Truth be told, John Tenta may not have had that much left in him by the time he made his WWE return during the Attitude Era as Golga. His career with the company started in 1989 when he made his debut as Earthquake, fast becoming one of the most hated heels in the company through feuds with The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. Quake remained popular after a face turn, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships with Typhoon as The Natural Disasters. He remained a top talent after a jump to WCW, switching names to Avalanche, although his downward spiral started in that company when he kept rebranding, first as The Shark, and then by his real name. WCW being indecisive about what to call Tenta made it hard for fans to care about what he was doing, and yet Vince McMahon managed to make things so much worse when he returned to the WWE Universe. Placed in a skintight beige mask and forced to carry around an Eric Cartman plushie, the once dominating Earthquake was now the Human Oddity, Golga. Quake had fallen so far no one could ever imagine him in a main event again, yet alone react to any of his matches at all.
12. Eugene: A Very Special Wrestler
The second rumors broke WWE was planning on introducing a mentally challenged wrestler, controversy broke over the fact there was no way the company could handle the idea gracefully. Granted, that’s mostly because there’s absolutely no way a “special” wrestler could ever work without being offensive, and the way Nick Dinsmore played the role certainly didn’t help. This came as a surprise to those who saw him during his time in Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he held the OVW Championship a record ten times. His wrestling skills certainly persisted into his time as Eugene, but the reductive and embarrassing character made it impossible for him to show how great he really was. Typically in wrestling, if an idea gets over, it can’t be too bad, and not only did Eugene get over, he also won titles, namely the WWE Tag Team Championship with William Regal as his partner. However, Eugene was far too offensive for most people to overlook the fact some unenlightened fans thought he was fun or worth a laugh, discounting any ironic cheers he may have received. When even good crowd responses are kind of negative, there’s really no way for a wrestler to recuperate.
11. The One Man Gang Lives The African Dream
Vince McMahon has never been said to have his finger on the pulse of the African American community, and never was that more apparent than when he turned the One Man Gang into Akeem the African Dream. Quite frankly, it might be a stretch to call OMG a “great wrestler,” considering he didn’t have much to offer aside from a unique look and a commendable dedication to the craft. That said, a person trying their best always deserves a little credit, and One Man Gang was a hell of a lot closer to George Gray’s best than Akeem. Big and tough, Gray looked like a badass biker who could take care of business all by himself. Born in Chicago and proud of it, there was absolutely nothing about Gray that brought to mind traditional African culture, and adding bad dancing and outrageously offensive accents to the mix made it go from a miscast to a catastrophe. Amazingly, One Man Gang managed to revive his fortunes in WCW and on the independent scene, but he was never again able to find success in WWE after his African dream began.
10. Tensai Puts On Tons Of Funk
For whatever reason, certain American wrestlers have managed to become far more successful in Mexico or Japan than they ever could in their homeland. One of the greatest modern examples is Matt Bloom, who started his career in the tag team division as Prince Albert then took a ride on the mid-card A-Train before actually becoming a star in Japan as Giant Bernard. He returned to WWE as Tensai having significantly improved in the ring, yet once again fans had trouble connecting with his character and style. Though initially pushed as a main event player against CM Punk and John Cena, fans just didn’t care about Tensai, causing WWE to turn him into a complete comedy character. Harkening to his pre-success days as the Hip Hop Hippo, Tensai started dancing around the ring in matching jumpsuits with Brodus Clay, collectively calling themselves Tons of Funk. As though the insulting gimmick wasn’t enough of a burial, Tons of Funk naturally also lost the majority of their matches. While his in-ring career never recovered, Bloom ultimately did all right for himself as a trainer, currently serving as the head coach at the WWE Performance Center.
9. Simon Dean Plays A Joke On Fitness
At a time when virtually everyone to work for ECW was bolting for WWE or WCW, a former comedy character named Nova was slowly growing into one of the more unique and innovative talents to stick with the dying extreme promotion. After ECW went out of business, Nova wrestled on the independent scene generally in either the cruiserweight or tag team division, forming a successful and popular team named Evolution with Frankie Kazarian (no relation to the later WWE group). He was signed by the WWE developmental territory OVW in 2002 and fast became their Heavyweight Champion, reigning for over a year. His fortunes changed when he was called up to the main roster, mostly because he changed gimmicks from Nova to a hack fitness guru named Simon Dean. Force-feeding his victims the “Simon System” and riding around on the Dean Machine, Mike Bucci was no longer allowed to show off his considerable in-ring or comedy skills, and he ultimately retired after using the character for the better part of two years.
8. Mike Shaw’s Time In The Major Leagues
Admirable as it is for a wrestler to constantly reinvent themselves with divergent and unique gimmicks, if none of those gimmicks are able to get over, the achievement is considerably less impressive. Even so, Mike Shaw isn’t entirely to blame for his career in America never quite taking off, with the awful gimmicks given to him in both WWE and WCW being far more integral in his lack of success. When his career began in Canada, Shaw was known as Makhan Singh, a dominant and monstrous heel who could terrify and intimidate on the microphone. In WCW, he was an escaped mental patient named Norman the Lunatic, and when that didn’t stop him dead in his tracks, WWE gave him back to back bombs as a monk and a slob. Friar Ferguson upset Catholic groups enough WWE was forced to drop the character, and while Bastion Booger didn’t receive any religious complaints, it was too disgusting to actually help Shaw’s career. While a handful of independent appearances followed, that was pretty much it for Shaw’s time in wrestling altogether, fading away from the spotlight after leaving WWE.
7. Big Vito, The Toughest Man In A Dress
Like a few others on this list, Big Vito may not have necessarily been talented enough to main event WrestleMania, let alone any Pay-Per-View in WWE, WCW, or ECW, all of which he worked for in the 1990s. However, he was always a steady hand in the ring, and as one half of the Mamelukes was even one of the few original characters to find success of any kind in the dying days of WCW. Unfortunately, the part of his career everyone remembers is his WWE return circa 2005, when he inexplicably decided to start wrestling in a dress. And, uh, that was about it, as far as his gimmick was concerned. WWE also made a point of it to tell fans Vito wasn’t gay, just a cross-dresser, who enjoyed women’s clothing because it was fun to wear. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this as a lifestyle choice, it just isn’t enough for a wrestling gimmick, and barely even forms the foundation of one. With wearing a dress being Vito’s only characteristic, WWE was able to fire him without anyone noticing, and he’s been stuck on the independent scene ever since.
6. Perry Saturn Dumps Terri For Moppy
Lots of wrestlers are forced to do questionable and embarrassing things that make themselves look stupid, but only Perry Saturn has fallen in love with a mop. While Saturn was never quite a top star even before he met Moppy, he was at least respected for his in-ring skills while in ECW and WCW, winning a number of Tag Team Championships in both promotions (plus one with Triple H as his partner when they were training in the IWF). His success continued when he jumped to WWE with the other Radicalz in 2000, winning the European Championship from Eddie Guerrero as that group broke up. He also gained Terri as his girlfriend around that time, sticking with her nearly a full year before an incident with a jobber named Mike Bell on an episode of WWE Jakked in 2001 caused his career to go off the rails. Saturn legitimated attacked Bell and left him with a concussion, so WWE punished him by taking away Terri in favor of Moppy, and Saturn’s character was never the same. He had always been a little loopy and comedic, but falling in love with a mop is the sort of thing that makes a character unrelatable, too cartoonish to be viewed as a real person.
5. Mike Awesome: Fat Chick Thriller/That ‘70s Guy
On the surface, it’s pretty easy to guess what WCW was thinking when they made Mike Awesome “That ‘70s Guy.” That ‘70s Show was still fairly new, and popular, and though Awesome was one of the hottest acts from ECW, he never had much of a character outside of being a dude who put other dudes through tables. That in mind, he was a horrible choice for the role, with little finesse or personal charisma, and far more skill at, well, putting dudes through tables. On top of that, there is absolutely no justification for WCW making him “The Fat Chick Thriller” before he was even That ‘70s Guy, already making it hard for fans to accept him even if he had been in on the joke. That’s not even the end of it—there was also the issue that WCW already had a much better ‘70s guy, Disco Inferno, who had been doing the shtick for over four years with a much better understanding of how the gimmick worked. Awesome understood it so poorly he could never regain the buzz he started near the beginning of his career, and even continued fantastic performances in the ring couldn’t save him from fading into obscurity when WCW went out of business.
4. Shelton Benjamin Needs His Momma
While there’s still time for Shelton Benjamin to make a stunning comeback to the WWE Universe once he’s medically cleared to do so, that doesn’t change the fact he could have been a such a huge star ten years ago had he never would have wanted to leave in the first place. Benjamin was considered one of the most talented up and coming stars in all of wrestling in the early 2000s, and friendships with names like Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar, and Kurt Angle almost made it seem like he had a shot at breaking through the political WWE landscape. That all went away when he was paired with comedian Thea Vidale, who fans were supposed to believe was not a world famous actress, but rather Shelton Benjamin’s overbearing Momma. While the gimmick did bring him mild success by way of an Intercontinental Championship reign, it nonetheless halted his rise up the card, leaving him a midcarder until his WWE career ended. Granted, it obviously didn’t help that his next gimmick was dyeing his hair blonde and calling himself the “Gold Standard,” which easily could have killed his career all over again if it wasn’t already on the downswing.
3. Bertha Faye, Queen Of The Trailer Park
The biggest victory in the women’s revolution thus far has been preventing Vince McMahon from killing it by taking a promising talent and turning her into an embarrassing mess like Bertha Faye. Before she signed with WWE, Rhonda Sing was a highly respected athlete in Puerto Rico and Japan using the dominant and destructive gimmick Monster Ripper. It looked like she was going to remain the Monster upon her WWE debut, only for Vince’s worst tendencies to shine through when he turned her into the Queen of the Trailer Park. Sing herself called it reductive and restrictive, and we’ll add insulting and offensive to the mix, denying her talents in favor of horrific jokes at the expense of her weight. Pairing her with Harvey Wippleman made things significantly worse because the two could never get along, making it difficult for them to pretend they were in love. Faye managed to win the WWE Women’s Championship for a few months at a time there was practically no one else to do so, but she completely faded away almost immediately after losing the belt back to Alundra Blayze. Despite a short tenure in WCW, she never again returned to the spotlight, and passed away in 2001 with few people knowing the Monster Ripper’s true story.
2. Skinner: The Not So Fabulous One
Certain wrestlers are meant to stay in the tag team division their entire careers, and few people represent that fact quite like Steve Keirn. During the territorial days of wrestling, Keirn could become a huge hit in the tag division no matter where he went, with a wide variety of partners including names like Bob Backlund, Mr. Wrestling, B. Brian Blair, Mike Graham, Terry Taylor, and “Superstar” Bill Dundee. His greatest success was with Stan Lane, who he won dozens of Tag Team Championships with in Memphis and Florida as The Fabulous Ones. By the time Keirn made it to the WWE Universe in the early ‘90s, most of his former partners had gone on to separate interests, and rather than find him a new one, WWE made him an alligator farmer named Skinner. It was bad enough that Keirn was better in tag teams, and the fact his gimmick didn’t make a whole lot of sense made the whole thing a complete failure from the start. WWE must have realized that before long, having Keirn switch gimmicks and become an imposter Doink the Clown, further dragging him into obscurity.
1. The Red Rooster Clucking Sucked
Few people jumped back and forth between WWE and WCW more often than Terry Taylor, and yet it wouldn’t be surprising if fans of either company had no idea who he was. His potential was drained before any of the jumping, due to his first tenure in WWE as The Red Rooster. Before then, he was a rising star on the territorial scene, winning championships with the NWA, WCCW, and Mid-South Wrestling before arriving in the WWE Universe in 1988. The idea behind The Red Rooster gimmick was that in spite of his previous success, Taylor had no idea how to wrestle without constant help from his manager, Bobby Heenan. Naturally, this made fans think he had no idea how to wrestle without constant help. He eventually dropped Heenan over the abuse, but he remained unable to win any matches, presumable because he no longer had that much needed help. WCW did their best to rehab his character as Terrence Taylor in the York Foundation, but it was too little too late, and Taylor kept bouncing around for years before finally deciding to retire to a second career as a trainer.