Everyone has heard the old cliché claiming the definition of “crazy” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Although Merriam-Webster might disagree, there’s definitely something worth questioning whenever a given person or organization tries the same bad idea multiple times. In recent years, World Wrestling Entertainment has been particularly guilty of behavior such as this. It seems that the audience rejecting an idea merely emboldens Vince McMahon to double down and immediately try again, causing diehard pro wrestling fans to feel left out of the process.
Of course, those same longtime viewers of WWE shouldn’t be all that surprised, considering McMahon and his company have been doing this for decades now. Countless characters throughout wrestling history have bombed spectacularly, only for some other performer to come along some five, ten years later and try the exact same thing all over again. In most cases, it’s only at the insistence of McMahon or one of his writers that they would even consider doing so, yet that’s almost always enough for an up-and-coming superstar to give it a try.
Truth be told, it’s not like this practice has always failed. Very rare occasions have shown a gimmick that didn’t work at all with one performer bizarrely become a success with another. On the other hand, a gimmick being successful in a financial sense doesn’t necessarily make up for it being really stupid or in bad taste, and it’s still a shock when McMahon repeatedly promotes storylines that are patently offensive to his own audience. Keep reading to learn about 15 ridiculously bad ideas you won’t believe WWE tried more than once.
15. Backward Savages – Wild Samoans, Kamala, The Headshrinkers, Umaga
Once upon a time, good old-fashioned racism was as American as beer and apple pie, allowing countless offensive wrestling gimmicks to populate the WWE Universe and other major sports entertainment empires. A favorite gimmick of promoters in the pre-social justice age was the feared, violent savage. Already a stereotype by definition, these savages were usually dark-skinned, foreign, and barely capable of rational human thought. The most famous examples would be characters with names like “The Wild Samoans” and “Kamala,” who now get cut a little slack for existing before mainstream society was making attempts at promoting equality. However, there’s no excusing revivals of the gimmick like The Headshrinkers or especially Umaga, who felt outrageously out of time in more ways than one. Even though talented enough performers can make gimmicks like this work, they nonetheless offend more than they entertain, and it’s amazing WWE never got that message.
14. Wrestling Zombies – The Undertaker, Papa Shango, The Zombie
Professional wrestling is one of the strangest industries in the world, so sometimes, a totally ridiculous idea can actually be one of the greatest in history. Case in point: wrestling’s favorite undead zombie, The Undertaker. Introduced as hailing from Death Valley, The Dead Man struck fear into his competitors from day one despite the fact he was marketed as a supernatural being with magic powers. Considering how well The Undertaker worked out, it’s not too shocking WWE would try and try again, yet it’s equally unsurprising they failed to capture lightning in a bottle twice. Summarizing the next two attempts, Papa Shango wasn’t quite a zombie, but as a voodoo master, he was implied to control minds, while for the second, the less said about ECW’s Zombie the better. Unlike The Undertaker, Shango and The Zombie faded out almost instantly after being labeled as laughingstocks, more in line with how the concept of a “wrestling zombie” was expected to go.
13. Outdated Cowboys – The Smoking Gunns, Justin Hawk, Lance Cade
To this day, there are certain wrestling promotions that could easily introduce a cowboy wrestler and see that athlete turn into their most popular name virtually overnight. Whether we’re discussing wrestling or more general topics, there’s no denying that cowboys are definitely still beloved figures in parts of the American South, plus plenty of other select areas throughout the world. By and large, though, society is pretty much done with thinking that cowboys are cool, and the whole chaps-and-oversized-hats routine simply looks ridiculously out of context. It doesn’t help that WWE’s version of cowboys seems more based on rodeos than outlaws, with names like The Smoking Gunns basically dancing and yee-haw’ing for fans while wearing big smiles on their faces. Even when a name like Justin Hawk or Lance Cade tried to get a little meaner for it, they dressed exactly the same, making it hard for fans to view them as actual threats.
12. Goofy Hillbillies – Haystacks Calhoun, Hillbilly Jim, Uncle Elmer, Cousin Luke, The Godwinns, Jamie Noble
Growing up in a trailer park and then becoming a certified billionaire clearly took a toll on Vince McMahon’s psyche. Anyone who doesn’t believe that needs to look no further than his strange obsession with hicks, hillbillies, and rednecks — the sort of people he claims he grew up around before achieving his incredible wealth. In a word, McMahon finds these stereotypes hilarious and has been promoting the trope since purchasing WWE from his father. Before McMahon’s time, there were some legendary hillbilly style wrestlers like Haystacks Calhoun, but the concept didn’t really kick into full gear until Vince himself created Hillbilly Jim. In a matter of months, Jim had a whole family of goofy mountain folk to dance around with. Less than a decade later, McMahon did literally the exact same thing, except now, Jim introduced a new family of goofy hillbillies in The Godwinns. In both these cases and the ones that would follow, few people were laughing, except, of course, the man booking them to happen.
11. Wrestling Vampires – Gangrel, Kevin Thorn
Alright, so WWE has tried to make a bunch of zombie characters, and that’s pretty silly, but at least it worked out once, justifying repeat attempts. It’s a little harder to explain why the company would try to create two separate wrestling vampires, neither of whom made any impact on the business whatsoever. First up, there was Gangrel, who almost becomes defendable through his entrance alone — not to mention the fact that he introduced the world to Edge and Christian as his lackeys. That said, Gangrel himself almost never competed for a championship, never getting above the lower midcard. Some ten years later, Kevin Thorn and his girlfriend, Ariel, came along when vampires were more popular in the mainstream, yet the results were largely the same. The only difference was that Thorn didn’t have an Edge or Christian to keep him in the popular consciousness; nor was his entrance anything worth noting.
10. Evil Fitness Gurus – The Bodydonnas, Simon Dean
With how much most wrestlers care about their bodies, it was reasonable enough that self-obsessed fitness gurus would make their way into the business eventually. Long before either The Bodydonnas first appeared, there had been plenty of superstars who bragged about their superior physiques and workout regimens, almost making the shtick feel cliché. Unfortunately, the main thing separating an earlier gimmick like “Ravishing” Rick Rude from The Body Donnas or Simon Dean isn’t their focus on mocking others for failing to live up. The real difference was that Skip, Zip, and Dean didn’t exactly have great bodies, making the angry speeches directed toward the crowd constantly fall flat. One thing these gimmicks did have going for them was that the wrestlers at least possessed great skills in the ring, yet McMahon should have considered changing the wrestlers’ actual gimmicks instead of changing the performers using them.
9. Plus-Sized Dancers – The Oddities, Rikishi, Brodus Clay, The Great Khali
Vince McMahon’s strange sense of humor strikes again, as apparently, the man finds few ideas funnier than very large people busting a groove. In this case, one might have thought he had gotten it all out of his system at once, considering the first plus-sized dancers to appear in WWE did so in the form of a rather large stable. Golga, Giant Silva, and Kurrgan, all technically very intimidating and imposing, gradually turned into fun-loving goofballs by meeting Luna Vachon and the Insane Clown Posse. It didn’t help them elevate from jobber status, but hey, it looked pretty fun. Unexpectedly, the idea actually worked in spades the second time around, when Rikishi dropped his savage Sultan persona for sunglasses and new friends in Too Cool, almost becoming a main event star in the process. Unfortunately, future cases like Brodus Clay and “Punjabi Playboy” The Great Khali prove Rikishi’s example was the exception, not the rule.
8. Wacky Clergymen – Friar Ferguson, Reverend D-Von, Mordecai
Being an extremely personal and controversial topic, most mainstream entertainments attempt to avoid religion as a plot device unless absolutely necessary to the story. In the WWE Universe, it absolutely never matters what the wrestlers do or don’t believe in, and thus, the company generally falls in line with this trend. Generally. At least a few times, WWE has decided to buck convention and attempt to create silly religious figures who love to fight, like Friar Ferguson, Reverend D-Von, and Deacon Batista, or the more recent bomb that was Mordecai. Two out of three of these examples vanished almost overnight, and the only one to last came closer to killing Batista’s career than starting it. Every example followed the same pattern, in that fans had no idea why the wrestlers were talking about religion so much, feeling more confused and uncomfortable than angry or invested.
7. Evil Effeminate Men – Adrian Adonis, Billy & Chuck, Rico
A distressing number of items on this list prove Vince McMahon was never the most sensitive wrestling promoter out there. The only solace McMahon can take in this regard is that he was hardly alone, as just about every promoter in history has tried this particular awful gimmick at least once or twice, maybe more if it happens to work. For whatever reason, wrestling promoters believe the majority of their fans absolutely hate gay and/or effeminate men. The first high-profile example of WWE falling in with this trend came back in the mid-80s when the badass biker Adrian Adonis gained lots of weight and started hanging out in flower shops, making him one of the biggest villains in the company. Two decades later, Vince literally doubled down on the concept, making a presumed gay tag team in Billy and Chuck, again turning the guys into top heels, at least in theory. Thankfully, modern times probably mean they won’t try something this crass ever again.
6. ECW Invasions/Revivals – 1997, 2001, 2007, 2015
Don’t take this entry the wrong way, folks. At the time it existed, Extreme Championship Wrestling was a groundbreaking, trendsetting promotion responsible for countless hours of brilliant angles and hardcore matches. On the downside, the only person who could make it work was Paul Heyman, as no one else understood how to market toward their niche audience. Vince McMahon might be a better wrestling promoter, in general, yet three of his four attempts at reviving ECW all bombed spectacularly, with Heyman playing less of a role each time. The initial invasion in 1997 was actually pretty great because the real ECW was still alive, meaning they had some control over what happened. However, in all subsequent versions, especially the ECW On Sci-Fi era and, even worse, 2015 Team Extreme throwback, the performers looked old, beaten down, and like the very lifeblood of “hardcore” had long been sucked out of them.
5. Evil Teachers – Dean Douglas, Michelle McCool, Matt Striker
Generally speaking, there’s a perception that athletes and academics rarely mix, so Vince McMahon’s obsession with wrestling teachers didn’t come entirely out of nowhere. The first such example, Dean Douglas, almost looked like it may have worked with someone else behind the gimmick, as the bigger issue was Shane Douglas feeling unfit for the role. That said, future examples made it clear that the idea simply didn’t have any legs, to begin with. WWE’s next educator, Michelle McCool, wouldn’t become relevant until ditching her backstory, and Matt Striker’s days in front of the commentary booth were rightly forgotten the second he sat down. Believe it or not, few wrestlers found it particularly intimidating that these characters could read and define big words, as everyone knows it takes a different type of smarts to succeed inside the squared circle.
4. Fake Versions Of Real Wrestlers – The Undertaker, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Kane
Arguably the worst tactic any business can employ to trick its faithful audience is the disreputable practice known as “bait-and-switch.” Much like it looks, the expression describes when the public is promised one thing and then given something different, and WWE has done this on countless occasions. Sometimes, this is the nature of pro wrestling, with the words “card subject to change” having defined the industry for decades. However, this doesn’t excuse patently advertising that a wrestler will make an appearance and then providing fans with an entirely different human being, pretending like they somehow wouldn’t notice. WWE first did this with their fake Undertaker, repeating themselves twice with the duo of Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon, followed about a decade later by a Fake Kane. In all three cases, fans immediately knew they were being swindled and rejected the idea harshly. It doesn’t matter that the angles all had an end game or deeper meaning; the implication that fans were blind idiots was offensive enough.
3. Evil Dentists – Dr. Isaac Yankem, Jason Jordan (Almost)
Before this entry gets ahead of itself, we have to admit that this one didn’t actually happen twice, as WWE was thankfully able to come to its senses for once. That said, the mere fact an idea as horrible as an evil wrestling dentist crossed more than one mind is absolutely mind-blowing. Most WWE fans are aware of the first example: Jerry Lawler’s angry doctor of dental surgery, Isaac Yankem. Reviled and mocked upon arrival, it wasn’t until Yankem revived his career as Kane that anyone took him seriously. Despite this, quite recently, American Alpha member Jason Jordan revealed in an interview that he nearly went down the same path. Prior to meeting Chad Gable, Jordan apparently had trouble thinking up a gimmick and heavily contemplated using his real-life dental background to revive one of the worst gimmicks ever. Thankfully, some higher-up must have talked him out of it.
2. The Brand Split – 2002-2011, 2016-Present
This whole list is a testament to the concept “if at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again,” yet sometimes, this maxim has some serious downsides. Of all our entries, the brand split is definitely the idea with the highest potential of actually working out right, but history has proven WWE doesn’t understand how to do it properly. Both times the company has tried, the result was a stacked Monday Night Raw and an almost forgotten SmackDown Live. Paradoxically, a second side effect is that the shows are of a quality inversely related to the star power they possess, leaving unsatisfied fans watching disjointed programming on both ends. Last time around, this meant Raw superstars bled into SmackDown and vice versa until the concept was completely irrelevant. That a handful of wrestlers have already jumped back and forth for special matches probably means it’s only a matter of time before the same pattern happens again.
1. Anti-American Evil Foreigners – Too Many To Name
Going full circle, the only thing Vince McMahon finds more American that good old racism is the concept’s egocentric cousin, xenophobia. For some reason, WWE storylines operate on the idea that everyone watching Raw or SmackDown is American, loves America, and hates it when foreign superstars claim their country is superior. This trend has worked from the sport’s earliest days up to the modern era with varying results, yet moderate repeat success doesn’t make up for outrageous laziness and a complete lack of originality. Just to name a few offenders of this trope, we can start with a name like Nikolai Volkoff or even Bepo Mongol, continue the discussion with former WWE Champions like The Iron Sheik and Yokozuna, then catch up to the present day with the current top superstar in the company, Jinder Mahal. The latest case was definitely the most damning, with fans reacting with complete silence as Mahal goes through the typical spiel about how his homeland is the best.