Have you ever looked at a wrestler and thought to yourself, “Gee, they sure do walk, talk, and look exactly like another character I know…”? Well, that’s because wrestling is infamous for copying (or more like ripping off) other popular personas and pop-culture icons for their own wrestlers and superstars. It’s a weird trend that started all the way back in the 70s because, for some reason, wrestling as an entity still assumes that its fans aren’t savvy enough to pick up the blatant cut-and-paste work that’s happening right in front of their eyes.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a case of drawing influence, because everyone draws influence from influential events and people every so often. There’s a difference between paying homage and downright trying to impersonate someone else… and these 15 wrestlers who I’ve listed below pretty much took someone else’s gimmick and tried to make it their own! While the creative heads behind wrestling organizations should be blamed for most of these decisions, I bet some wrestlers thought it was a good idea to be a knock-off themselves, and I’ll never understand that logic. This list showcases gimmick infringement at its finest, and folks, you’ll be shocked to know that some of your favorite superstars are on this list as well!
15. Booker T / The Rock
Booker T is a certified WWE Hall Of Famer and a legend in his own right. But back when the “Monday Night Wars” were rife and WWE and WCW were at each other’s throats, Booker T was an obvious rip-off and poor man’s version of The Rock. Although he came up the ranks as his own independent entity and tried to carve an original image for himself, Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff, for whatever reason, felt it would be better to turn him into a blatant copycat of The Rock. Not only did Booker T sport the same haircut and goofy sideburns (which were “in” at the time, to be fair), he also tried to replicate The Rock’s fashion sense by dressing in brightly colored “tropical island” shirts and slacks. And as if all that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Booker T started delivering “The Bookend” as his finisher… which was, in every way and form, the Rock Bottom.
Booker has come a long way since that phase in his career, and is now one of the few WCW main-eventers to have survived the WWE onslaught of talent. Not only did he main-event WrestleMania and add numerous top-tier feuds to his career, he also got comfortable doing live commentary and supports the wrestling community from behind the scenes via various initiatives. Now can you dig that…. SUCKAAAA!!!!?
14. John Morrison / Jim Morrison
The tag-team of John Morrison and The Miz had some of the best content when they were paired together as a tag-team back in the regurgitated ECW. And if you haven’t seen a single episode of The Dirt Sheet, a show brilliantly hosted by Miz and Morrison, do yourself a favor and get in on that because it was entertaining as f**k… and the duo also got away with some pretty loaded comments. Once John Morrison became a solo performer though, all parties involved decided that it would be best for Morrison to imitate the legendary lead singer of The Doors, Jim Morrison. Everything from the shirtlessness to the wavy hair to the sunglasses, and even down to the 70s inspired pants, were an homage to Jim Morrison. It’s also no surprise that their names sound almost exactly alike. If you’re still convinced it’s just a coincidence, keep in mind that Jim Morrison’s whole demeanor was one of epic calmness and coolness, laced with the most chilled out vibe in the cosmos. John Morrison pretty much took that and amplified it to create his “Shaman of Sexy” gimmick.
13. John Cena / Marky Mark
Since we’re on the subject of musicians being ripped off by WWE superstars, let’s check out one of the most cringeworthy copycat jobs in WWE history, courtesy of “the face that runs the place”, John Cena! Back when Cena was a rookie climbing up the ranks, WWE felt it was right to harness Cena’s natural talents, and one of those talents – apart from being freakishly strong – was his ability to spit dope rhymes. Or in layman’s terms, freestyle. But WWE being what it is, also felt that it was okay to turn John Cena into a caricature of Mark Wahlberg’s 90s hip-hop persona, Marky Mark. That’s right, for those of you who don’t know, Hollywood action superstar Mark Wahlberg had a brief stint as a hip-hop artiste back in the 90s. Who do you think sang “Good Vibrations”?
Maybe it was the fact that Cena legitimately resembled Mark Wahlberg, or just that WWE’s pop-culture references in 2000 were still stuck in the 90s, but they got Cena to be the Marky Mark of sports entertainment. Lucky for Cena, the persona evolved into the “Doctor of Thugonomics”, and then morphed into the polarizing figure that dominated WWE for more than decade, winning 15 world championships in the process. I guess it all worked out in the end.
12. Alexa Bliss / Harley Quinn
Alexa Bliss’ use of Harley Quinn’s gimmick is probably the most blatant rip-off on this list. And to make matters worse, Bliss stole the persona merely months after Suicide Squad was released in cinemas. It’s one thing to rip-off a pop-culture persona or famous musician’s getup that’s more than a decade old, but to cosplay as a very popular character like Harley Quinn so soon after the character made her big screen debut is just weird and shows a lack of any kind of creativity.
Now don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Alexa Bliss! I think she’s insanely talented as a storyteller in the ring, is a top-notch athlete, and I think she’s hands-down the best talker in the Women’s division right now. Yes, even better than Charlotte! It doesn’t matter if it’s in the ring or backstage, the girl can cut a damn good promo! But apart from that, I can’t see the logic behind prancing around like another popular character and pretending like it’s your own gimmick. It only cheapens Alexa Bliss as a performer, and shows how WWE assumes no one in the audience will spot the blatant plagiarism. What’s next, is someone going to rip-off The Joker?
11. Sting / The Crow
Speaking of people who have ripped off The Joker, here’s the man, the legend, the icon… Sting! And if you thought this was going to be about how one of the most legendary superstars in wrestling history pranced around for a whole year as Batman’s most evil foe, think again. Sting isn’t new to gimmick infringement. In fact, the version of Sting that we all know and love and consider to be iconic is in fact, a rip-off of The Crow.
I’ll give Sting credit though. He stuck to that gimmick so damn well that it became as synonymous to him as it did to its original comic book character owner. But that doesn’t change the fact that one of wrestling’s biggest stars literally reached the prime of his career by cosplaying as someone else. Back when the nWo was running amok, the creative heads at WCW wanted to bring a reincarnated Sting back into the fold… only this time he would dump the surfer flavor and don the dark and moody persona that would later turn him into an icon. For better or worse, WCW decided to outright copy a famous movie antihero, and the rest is history. I guess it doesn’t help that Sting also has a “Woooo” like Ric Flair.
10. Ric Flair / Buddy Rogers
Gasp! Ric Flair is a copycat?! Say it ain’t so! I hate to tell you this but, unfortunately, he is. Ric Flair – considered today as one of the pillars of professional wrestling and a name that is synonymous with greatness and perseverance – actually drew his gimmick, his style, his Figure Four Leg Lock finisher, and even his signature strut from Buddy Rogers, who also went by the name “The Nature Boy”. Heck, the reason people still call Flair by that nickname is because he resembles Buddy Rogers so much! Ric Flair was a huge fan of Buddy Rogers growing up. He loved everything about him and wanted to be like him… so he literally became like him! In fact, when Buddy Rogers wrestled for Jim Crockett Promotions back in the 70s, one of his most notable feuds was with a much younger Ric Flair. On July 9, 1978, Buddy Rogers had a match with Ric Flair and put the young wrestler over, passing the torch and the “Nature Boy” mantle to Flair in the process.
I guess when Ric Flair says “To be the man, you have to beat the man”, he isn’t kidding around! Flair beat the man alright, and in the process became the wheelin’ dealin, kiss stealin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, sonoffagun! Whooooo!
9. Abyss / Kane, Mankind
Was it ever a question that Abyss is Impact Wrestling’s version of Kane? He’s a deranged, long-haired hulking mesh of monster and man who just so happens to wear a mask? Sounds an awful lot like Kane to me. Not only does Abyss resemble Kane in more ways than one, the storyline that revolved around his unmasking pretty much blended the Kane-Rob Van Dam friendship angle (with Eric Young in RVD’s place) with the Corporate Kane-Demon Kane angle. Abyss basically played two characters – Joseph Parks, a goofy attorney who thought he was Abyss’ brother, and the Monster Abyss. To be fair, it was a pretty entertaining angle and Joseph Parks knocked the split personality persona out of the park (no pun intended), but between having a mask with a wig attached to it and a deranged personality, there wasn’t much originality to any of it.
But Kane isn’t the only wrestler to have inspired Abyss. He also drew a lot of influence from Mick Foley. Abyss regularly sports torn shirts and attire that resembles Mankind, while sometimes bringing a two-by-four wrapped in barb wire to the ring, which is oddly reminiscent of Cactus Jack. All in all, Abyss is an extremely talented dude and one helluva athlete, but his gimmick is unabashedly a mixture of part Kane, and part Mick Foley.
8. James Mitchell / Paul Bearer
Speaking of ripping-off Kane, Abyss had a manager early in his career by the name of James Mitchell – who would pretty much channel Kane’s manager, Paul Bearer, whenever he was out in the arena with Abyss. He didn’t resemble Paul Bearer in shape or form, and he wasn’t as eerie as Paul, but his position in regards to Abyss was identical to Bearer’s relationship with Kane. After a number of years as Abyss’ manager, James Mitchell would reveal himself to be, in fact, Abyss’ abusive father. Sound familiar? Pretty much everything from the way James Mitchell managed Abyss to the way he dressed resembled Paul Bearer. Heck, he was also known as “Father James Mitchell” at one point, alluding to the fact that he held a position in the outside world much like Bearer did as a mortician.
The relationship between Abyss and James Mitchell would peak during a storyline that involved Abyss betraying Mitchell and turning face in the process, only for Mitchell to announce that he had a new “monster” – Judas Mesias, who was revealed to be Abyss’ half-brother! The storyline culminated with Mitchell also exposing to the world that he was Abyss’ biological father, pretty much mirroring the Undertaker-Kane storyline of 1997… with a few role reversals.
7. Judas Mesias / The Undertaker
We’re not done with this group of copycats just yet. Like I mentioned previously, Abyss and James Mitchell pretty much copied Kane’s and Paul Bearer’s late 90s stint in WWE. And to complete that saga, Impact Wrestling brought in someone called Judas Mesias to stand in The Undertaker’s place, in this weird, watered-down version of the infamous Brothers Of Destruction storyline. Given any other angle, I’m pretty sure Judas would have crafted an independent identity for himself. But because everyone insisted he replicate The Undertaker just so he could rival Abyss, Judas had to rip-off all of The Undertaker’s mind games and visual cues in the process. Not only are Judas’ eyes perpetually white – something that immediately relates to The Undertaker – he also oozes blood from his mouth, sports long hair, and wears Gothic, leather garb during his entrance.
And the worst part? He made his debut during a Six Sides Of Steel (Cage) Match by crawling out through a hole in the ring, and attacking Abyss, mirroring Kane’s debut in 1997 during the Hell In A Cell match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. The commentators on Impact even used the same language that that was used during Kane’s fiery debut.
6. Carmella / Iggy Azalea
I like Carmella. I think she has the charisma and the athleticism to be a top superstar in the WWE Women’s division. That being said, it’s no secret that Carmella’s entire persona is basically modeled off of international hip-hop and pop sensation, Iggy Azalea. Carmella’s demeanor, attitude, and attire are taken from the Iggy Azalea blueprint. But the most telling sign of this copycat job is Carmella’s entrance theme. If you haven’t heard it, go look it up on YouTube and give it a go and then play it with Iggy Azalea’s smash hit, Fancy, and listen to both songs back to back. You’d be lying if you said you couldn’t hear the blatant similarities in the lyrics, the beat, and even the rhythm! But let’s give Carmella and NXT creative the benefit of the doubt. In the one in a million chance that all these similarities are nothing more than a bunch of coincidences, how do you explain the fact that Carmella’s entrance theme is called, wait for it… Fabulous? Do you see the connection? Iggy Azalea’s chart-topper has the same beat and is called Fancy, while Carmella’s is called Fabulous.
5. Damien Sandow / Lanny “The Genius” Poffo
It’s a shame that Damien Sandow was released by WWE after all that Sandow had done for the company. He made a name for himself by imitating other gimmicks and characters, and at one point even dressed up like Magneto to confront Hugh Jackman in the ring, live on Monday Night Raw! Of course, Damien Sandow’s best work would come when he served as The Miz’s “stunt double”. His ringside antics of mimicking The Miz’s every movement garnered the crowd’s love and admiration, and soon he was getting some of the loudest pops of the night.
Ironically, a man who got his fame by copying other people was in fact doing it way before it became his actual gimmick. Damien Sandow made his WWE debut as a highly intellectual elitist scholar. He’d wear a robe to the ring and hold the mic like a glass of wine. However, this gimmick actually belonged to another wrestler named Lanny “The Genius” Poffo, who introduced the persona back in 1989. The Genius would come out wearing a “graduation robe” and berate the crowd, usually mocking local sports teams and heroes… which was almost identical to what Sandow was doing nearly two decades later.
4. Hulk Hogan / “Superstar” Billy Graham
And millions of Hulkamaniacs just cried in unison!
Now, let me tell you somethin’, brother! The Hulkster may have his pythons and his bandanas and his tanktops and his shades, but if you thought he came up with all of that by himself, think again, dude! Practically everything about Hulk Hogan was taken off another wrestler named “Superstar” Billy Graham. Billy was making his rounds in wrestling circuits a while before Hogan was and came up with the look, the attitude, and the promo style that would later become the basis of everything that Hulk Hogan did. The only problem with Billy Graham was that he didn’t draw crowds the way Hogan did and he also had his own issues when it came to holding the company on his shoulders. Needless to say, Hulk Hogan did both those things extremely well! So the reason you hardly ever hear about “Superstar” Billy Graham is because, while he was the original WWE Superstar, he was also the original Hulk Hogan, and unfortunately WWE at the time needed to focus solely on Hulkamania.
To be fair, no one could have done what Hulk Hogan did for the business back then. He was a walking, talking phenomenon and could draw a crowd unlike anyone in the history of sports-entertainment. Hogan’s life and career have been marred by controversy over the last couple of decades but, as far as WWE legends are concerned, you can’t argue about Hogan’s place right at the very top.
3. Gravedigger / The Undertaker
Okay fine, Alexa Bliss ripping off Harley Quinn isn’t the most blatant copycat job on this list, because this one is! The Undertaker is such a powerful entity in wrestling history, that he has influenced numerous superstars to follow in his footsteps. Some take bits and pieces of his persona and incorporate them into their own characters, while others try to replicate his reputable work ethic. And then there are those who are nothing more than cheap knock-offs of the legendary Deadman. Cue The Gravedigger. He’s cloaked in black, has long hair, and walks to the ring with eerie organ music. He’s accompanied by what looks to be his manager; some dude with a wheelbarrow and a white rat on his shoulder. He replicates The Undertaker’s moves and ring movements, and once he’s done delivering a Chokeslam, he pins his opponent the same way Taker does. Of course, no knock-off is complete without a body bag, which he also puts his opponents in. I don’t know if this indie promotion wanted people to actually believe that Gravedigger was in fact, The Undertaker, or if they just thought it was cool ripping someone off 100% like that.
2. The Road Warriors / Mad Max (The Road Warrior)
Whaaaaaaaaaaat a RUSH!! As much as I like The Road Warriors (or Legion of Doom, depending on which era we’re referring to), I knew from the moment I saw them that these guys were imitating the style of characters from Mad Max and his post-apocalyptic wasteland. Heck, there’s even a movie in the classic Mad Max series titled Road Warrior, so no, the style and “armor” isn’t just a stylistic coincidence. Keep in mind that when Hawk and Animal were making their rounds in wrestling circuits, The Road Warrior was still a fairly new film that had a strong pop-culture footprint. The tag-team took visual cues like the Mohawks, the war paint, the motorcycles, and even the gnarly attitudes from the dystopian degenerates portrayed in the Mad Max series. The gimmick worked wonders for the duo, and it’s funny to think how those rugged suits are now synonymous and almost signature traits of WWE’s Road Warriors, instead of the characters from the Mad Max movies.
Arguably the greatest tag-team of all time, the Road Warriors would go on to become a massive chunk of wrestling lore back in the 80s and 90s, and both Hawk and Animal went on to influence tons of younger superstars in the process.
1. Paul Burchill / Jack Sparrow
It’s the pirates life for me! Let’s get one thing straight; there’s only one person in this world who can play the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow, and that’s Johnny Depp… and even he gets criticized sometimes for his slightly over the top or inconsistent portrayal of the character. So what made Paul Burchill think that he could adopt this persona and make it his own? Or better still, what made WWE think fans wouldn’t cringe at the thought of someone trying to be Jack Sparrow? These are the things that make me wonder if WWE will ever transcend that barrier from sports-entertainment into pop-culture relevance again. Because I guess as fans, we’re also apologists for gimmicks like “Pirate Paul”, but non-wrestling fans who see this may not be able to help themselves from experiencing face-imploding cringes.
For whatever reason, Paul Burchill pretended to be some kind of swashbuckler for a while on SmackDown, and I guess I blame WWE’s creative heads for coming up with the gimmick, because what did they think… that fans wouldn’t see right through their lack of originality, and that someone named Paul Burchill was cosplaying as a pirate heavily influenced by the most famous pirate in modern cinematic history, Captain Jack Sparrow!? Give me a break!