WWE’s most memorable characters were those who succeeded in generating the strongest emotions from the audience. Cheered or booed, loved or hated, the reasons for these intense feelings were all different depending on the gimmick.
The Attitude Era produced some of the most intriguing and edgy angles of all time. Some gimmicks were racy, obscene and offensive though nonetheless highly entertaining. Others were mistimed given the political and social climate of the times they were performed in, demonstrating a certain lack of sensitivity on the WWE’s behalf. Some would argue that this was done on purpose for shock value. Others were so wild, they were simply written off, or dropped all together. With an audience so large, it is almost impossible to not hurt someone’s feelings.
The current WWE roster seems to lack the charisma of generations past, due in large part to a company wide shift towards a more PG-friendly product. Decrease in viewership numbers are a testament to this PG makeover. We recount some of those politically incorrect gimmicks that may have propelled the company into the state of affairs it finds itself in today.
Originally dubbed as an Ugandan cannibal, Kamala’s gimmick left as much to be desired as did his technical wrestling prowess. Inept on the mic, WWE tried to bill him as a vicious mauler, clad in face and body paint. During a segment of Tuesday Night Titans in 1984, Kamala appeared to eat a live chicken during an interview alongside Classy Freddie Blassie. Following several unsuccessful pushes, Kamala was paired with new manager Reverend Slick. In another questionable call, Slick was mandated to “civilise” the Ugandan terror. Classic segments featured the newly appointed manager attempting to instruct Kamala to perform common “human” activities such as bowling.
The Native American chief was a highly successful character during his career that included several different stints during the 90’s and 00’s. But the gimmick, much like the NFL organisation the Washington Redskins, never flew over with those who should be directly concerned with it, the Natives themselves. The recognition of a race and people that suffered through such hardships to preserve their rights in North America displays a clear lack of sensitivity towards the subject, even to this day. Albeit without intention to mock the natives, one can understand how the gimmick never really caught steam with those who were associated with it. The red stripe in his hair, his elaborate ring entrance including the famous tribal dance, his ring gear and the war cry may not have seemed offensive to most, though many Natives would beg to differ.
10. Akeem the African Dream
Akeem made his debut in the WWE in 1987, sporting the in-ring name “One Man Gang”. One year later, his then manager Slick, dropped quite the bombshell that would receive some backlash. The superstar’s name was indeed Akeem, a 6 foot 9, 450 pound Caucasian, and he was supposedly from African descent. One of his original vignettes featured the African Dream gallivanting in what seemed to be an American ghetto, though was described to the audience as one of the “darkest parts of Africa”. The promo showcased African tribe members dancing and chanting around a fire. Even more infuriating to some viewers was the stereotypical, heavy black accent in which Akeem spoke, all the while attempting to dance to an African ritual. Yikes.
9. Mae Young
A true pioneer in women’s wrestling, Young’s career spanned decades in the independent circuit and later with bigger promotions alike across North America. It was not until 1999 where she made her debut on WWE television, at the age of 76. A seemingly sweet-looking elderly lady always found herself in the most absurd scenarios. Many hallmarks include, but are not limited to: winning the Diva’s title in an evening gown handicapped match where she was stripped down to her bra and panties, being figure-four leg locked by Jeff Jarrett, flashing the crowd at Madison Square Garden, being impregnated by Mark Henry, powerbombed (twice) through tables by the Dudleys, and holding the distinct title of “Miss Royal Rumble 2000” by winning a bikini contest.
Dubbed the Bizarre One, and rightfully so, Dustin Runnels’ character Goldust will be remembered as one of the most provocative, daring, disturbing and controversial of all time. The son of the late Dusty Rhodes has masterfully carried out one of the most unique gimmicks of all time. The golden face paint, the crossdressing, and the creepy and suggestive body language served as integral parts of his promos and gimmick. From his debut in 1996, the unsettling character drew attention whether you liked it or not, and that was exactly what the WWE was aiming for. His flamboyance was puzzling, as his valet and then wife Marlena was as well, she managed Goldust at start of his bizarre run. The intensity of his actions were eventually watered down as the company shifted towards a more family-friendly product. Nonetheless, Goldust’s legacy has forever been cemented as one of the most controversial yet legendary of all time.
7. The Godfather
A pimp escorted by a “Hoe” train (fill in the missing letters at your discretion). And probably amongst everyone’s favorite characters of the Attitude Era. Do I really have to comment further? This gimmick was wrong on so many levels, from his signature catch phrase “Pimpin’ ain’t easy”, to the entire concept of half naked women following him to the ring. Yet, the Godfather cemented his legacy as one of the most entertaining characters of his time with his infectious character. He was the personification of most modern day rap videos, and people loved it. Well, men did, anyways. Women and parents rightfully had a bone to pick with WWE creative.
6. Chuck and Billy
In one of the riskiest angles of all time, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palombo were paired to create a homosexual tag-team. Their matching shiny red trunks and bleach blonde hair, coupled (no pun intended) with their overtly affectionate behavior towards one another gained more attention than the fact that they were actually two well accomplished wrestlers. They won the tag team titles on two occasions as well. Nonetheless, the WWE went as far as staging a marriage between the two on an episode of Smackdown where the couple stated the relationship was a hoax and a publicity stunt, naturally generating tons of heat from the gay community, who did not take lightly to the situation.
Nick Dinsmore holds the distinct honor of having played both a clown (Doink) and the mentally challenged wrestler Eugene. Introduced as Eric Bischoff’s hyperactive “special” nephew, Eugene would go on quite the successful run in the WWE, even winning a few titles. He was well received with the fans at first, and offered quite a few hysterical promos. All while in good fun, it was only a matter of time before too much negative attention would be drawn towards a character spotlighting such a sensitive subject. Eugene was later slowly written off the show. He was later put it into NXT as a trainer before finally getting released by the company.
4. The Mexicools
Originally a stable of the Smackdown brand comprised of 3 renowned Mexican wrestlers, the faction became a tag team when Psicosis and Super Crazy were the only two re-signed by the WWE in 2006. Much of their allure dealt with the stereotypical perceptions of Mexicans in the United States being no more than laborers and servants. Their debut included the group riding to the ring on a John Deere lawn mower with the sticker “Juan Deere”, and referred to their ringside transport as the “Mexican Limo”. Further controversy arose when some of their promos made reference to questionable remarks made by then Mexican President Vincente Fox, and how Mexican immigrants in the United States took the jobs even the African Americans would not. Most of their promos often addressed some Mexican stereotype or another. Nonetheless, the Mexicools would endure a pretty successful albeit short lived run which included a Tag Team Championship run and a brief face turn in 2006.
3. Cryme Tyme
JTG and Shad Gaspard burst onto the WWE scene parodying stereotypical street thugs. WWE exercised a rare form of caution in 2006 knowing that they had such over-the-top ideas for the duo. They placed statements and warnings on their website advising the general audience that racial stereotypes were to be highlighted in the vignettes of the soon-debuting tag team known as Cryme Tyme, and they would all be intended strictly for entertainment purposes. Not so sure how effective the disclaimers were. Weekly “training” vignettes featured the duo robbing people in order to improve things like speed, drive and endurance, as voiced over by a lame, thick accented African American announcer. During celebrations following victories, Cryme Tyme would parade with the announcers at ring side, and would steal their laptops at times. A lackluster feud with Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas also known as the “World’s Greatest Tag Team” would mark the end of Cryme Tyme. The angle had Benjamin denounce the acts of their adversaries as offensive to the black community, amongst other things. Before long, the team simply was written off television.
2. Kerwin White
The Guerrero’s are one of pro wrestling’s most storied families. This Hispanic family tree includes noteable legends Eddie and Chavo Jr. Their heritage was always an integral part of their in-ring personas. In 2005, Chavo renounced his Latino background. Instead, he changed his name to Kerwin White and adopted so called Anglo-American doctrines. Kerwin forcefully spoke a more “polished” English and would drive a golf cart to the ring. He even dyed his hair blonde and feuded with Mexicools. The biggest controversy surrounding this character was his unfathomable catchphrase “If it’s not white, it’s not right”. In a feeble attempt to right their wrong, WWE creative upgraded the sentence to “if it’s not KERWIN white, it’s not right.” Yea, that’s much better… Eventually, the WWE dropped the phrase altogether, for all obvious reasons. White also feuded with African American wrestlers like Shelton Benjamin, which saw on screen exchanges often held racist innuendos. The gimmick was abruptly halted by uncle Eddie’s untimely death, following which Chavo reclaimed his original persona and character in order to honor and carry forward the Guerrero legacy.
1. Muhammad Hassan
The American war on terror marked the 2000’s and still rages on today. Political villains always generated intense crowd reactions. Nikolai Volkov in the 80’s, as well as Rusev today, represented the US fight against communism. Given the sensitivity towards today’s current state of affairs which has carried over the better part of now two decades, a character like Muhammad Hassan was as risky as his reign was lackluster. But it is all about sparking reaction, generating intense emotions from the audience. The WWE thrives on villains. In the ring, Hassan was fairly talented. His persona however, suffered from not being far enough removed from the current state affairs. Following the London Bombings in July of 2005, WWE, under immense pressure from major news networks, decided it was best to scrap the idea of having a terrorist like gimmick amongst their ranks.