Gimmicks are always going to be present in wrestling. While a number are tried, tested and true, a number of them leave a lot to be desired. One of the campiest eras in wrestling was the 1980s. During an era where leg warmers, teased hair, and acid washed jeans were all the rage, a number of wrestling gimmicks make fans today shake their head in disbelief. But during that era a number of fans enjoyed the family environment promotions were trying to create. However, for every Junk Yard Dog or Tito Santana, there were guys that represented a stereotype or cliché that really is insulting when we think about it. In fact, one of the gimmicks on the list was downright awful in its racism!
When we sit back and look at them, the gimmicks were intended to be fun, cute and harmless, but some of them were filled with stereotypes, lacked creativity, and stood out for all the wrong reasons. One of them took an incredibly talented wrestler had him pretend to be a farm animal, while another took a tough-as-nails wrestler and saddled him with an Elvis Presley-like gimmick. Even though opposites have a tendency to attract that wasn’t the case with these ten choices of gimmicks. We remember them, but it doesn’t mean they were actually very memorable. All of following gimmicks are unquestionably dated. Here are the 10 Worst Wrestling Gimmicks of the 1980s:
10. Corporal Kirchner
He’s a real American hero, but he’s not G.I. Joe! The problem with the gimmick wasn’t that it isn’t convincing having a military hero defend his country and earn the popularity of the fans. The problem was it was far from an original gimmick, but instead was based off another popular military gimmick character without offering anything new or different to the role. He came to the ring waiving old glory, just like Sgt. Slaughter. He talked about how proud he was of his country, just like Sgt. Slaughter. But did he really offer anything fresh to the character?
In Sgt. Slaughter’s case, even his heel turn as an American who was proud of his country but now sympathized with Iran and Iraq, showed how he was able to go in a different direction. Kirchner’s time with the company was relatively short-lived. Despite actually being part of the 82nd airborne, Kirchner was part of one feud, and again it was during a boom of pro-American support in the mid-to-late 1980s. While it did garner a reaction, fans could tell right away it wasn’t anything that Sgt. Slaughter had not done years prior, or after.
9. ‘The Natural’ Butch Reed
Good wrestlers aren’t always saddled with great gimmicks. Butch Reed also had a great look about him, except for one particular feature: his hair. Reed was brought into the WWF and had his hair bleached blonde, which certainly stood out considering that Reed was black. Did it help him? It’s doubtful. During his career prior to coming to the WWF he was known as ‘Hacksaw’ Butch Reed, but the nickname Hacksaw was used by Jim Duggan at the time. While it was a different look, it didn’t stand out or make enough of a difference with fans that you’d want to see it over and over again. Reed’s time in the WWE was short-lived and ‘The Natural’ gimmick, although inspired by Daddy Siki, didn’t do enough to generate heat with fans. The character was highly reliant on having Slick do most of the heat generation, which led Reed to simply be the one to act as muscle.
8. Adrian Adonis
Before there was the androgynous character of Goldust, there was Adrian Adonis. He arose at a time when homosexuality wasn’t as accepted as it is today. Adorable Adrian Adonis would carry a briefcase to the ring that said “relax and trudi” on it, along with an aerosol spray, though it wasn’t revealed what the phrase actually meant. Adonis had previously portrayed the character of a New York street thug, but became the effeminate Adorable Adrian after appearing on Piper’s Pit. He bleached his hair blonde and wore scarves, hats and an exorbitant amount of make up. His body shape was also rather unflattering, as he appeared out of shape, and certainly not in the mold of a typical muscular wrestler that Vince McMahon favoured. His most prominent feud was against Rowdy Roddy Piper, which saw Adonis even win the services of Cowboy Bob Orton and have him wearing a pink cowboy hat. The character wasn’t comfortable to watch in any way shape or form. The attire alone left many scratching their heads and was awful even during its time.
7. The Bushwhackers
Just because characters are popular doesn’t necessarily mean they have good gimmicks. As fun loving and jovial as Cousin Butch and Cousin Luke were, The Bushwhackers gimmick didn’t reflect what these two were capable of before this incarnation. Prior to coming to the WWF, they were known as The New Zealand Kiwis and The Sheepherders. The Sheepherders by comparison were a much more aggressive group that inflicted brutal punishment on their opponents.
While the Bushwhacker characters were appreciated by the PG audience, in retrospect the marching and chanting of ‘hey’ and ‘oh‘ was goofy. And marching to the ring in a very comical way doesn’t really fit with someone wearing camouflage; camouflage is normally associated with marching as part of the military. Towards the end of their run, The Bushwhackers even brought a giant kangaroo mascot with them as they made their way to the ring. Imagine how different they would have been had they carried on traits that they had as The Sheepherders.
6. Rhythm and Blues
During the push of the Honky Tonk Man in the mid-late 1980s, he was later used as part of a tag team, alongside Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. Valentine had always been known as a tough, no nonsense, tough-as-nails wrestler that would beat you down methodically. Someone in their infinite wisdom thought it would be a great idea to have Valentine change his entire look to accommodate the Honky Tonk Man‘s Elvis-like persona. Valentine’s blonde hair was dyed jet black so that he would resemble the Honky Tonk Man.
It was hilarious, in a bad way. It was a change intended to get a reaction, but it wasn’t the right look or fit for Valentine. Valentine also dressed in similar coloured tights to the Honky Tonk Man. But did it really make sense to change all that he was just to create a tag team? In the eyes of the promotion at the time it seemed to make the most sense, but for fans it fell awfully flat, making the gimmick terrible to watch.
5. Red Rooster
One wrestler who carried with him great in-ring ability and style was Terry Taylor, a strong technical wrestler that competed in both the WCW and WWE during his career. While he is now part of the NXT product behind the scenes, there was a time when his character didn’t lend itself to being taken very seriously. And though that was probably the point, in retrospect the character didn’t reflect him as a wrestler in the least. When he first appeared as part of the WWF (at the time) Taylor was aligned with Bobby The Brain Heenan and labeled The Red Rooster.
The gimmick had him wear red tights and a red ring jacket, and he constantly needed direction by Heenan. I suppose roosters are confused creatures? When he became a face, he wore his hair in the style of a rooster comb and even strutted around like a rooster. The character was laughable, though the talented Taylor did the best he could with such a bad gimmick.
4. Outback Jack
During the late 1980s, the WWF had a character who was inspired by the success of the Crocodile Dundee films. The character was none other than the good ole Aussie, Outback Jack. He was featured in a number of different vignettes promoting his arrival to the company. But as quickly as he had arrived, he was gone. His was advertised seemingly forever, and when he did arrive he defeated what were considered by some as jobbers or enhancement talent, wrestlers which are there to make the featured guy look good. But Outback Jack began to follow suit and started losing almost as soon as he arrived.
He was defeated by wrestlers such as Ravishing Rick Rude and Ted DiBiase. Could the character have been more? Probably not. It was very gimmicky as it did not do anything more than exploit a stereotype of Australians. Even his finishing move was named the Boomerang. After two short years, Outback Jack was only remembered for his theme song “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.”
This character was memorable, but more due to his presence than his ability in the ring. Zeus was portrayed by actor Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr, who used the same name as his character the film No Holds Barred opposite Hulk Hogan. The character was brought onto WWF television and showcased him as a human wrecking machine. He would growl a lot and pound his chest, and often stumble through the names of the other talent on the roster.
Whether that was on purpose or by accident, it was awful to listen to. Lister once said he was told to no-sell the offense of his opposition, but that didn’t mean he was good himself. He was primarily used to heighten Hulk Hogan’s value, as his feud with Hogan was based on jealousy. He was part of an alliance with the Macho Man Randy Savage and then The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Lister would return to wrestling in WCW, with a different name, but equally forgettable gimmick, known as Z-Gangsta. He didn’t offer anything other than being intimidating, and even after awhile that wore off as well.
2. Hillbilly Jim’s Extended Family
Don’t go messing with a country boy! That’s what fans were told in the 1980s when they saw Hillbilly Jim. While Jim himself was lovable and really reflected the PG audience at the time, it was the WWF’s attempt to bring in additional members of his family to heighten Jim’s significance that fell flat. Cousin Luke, Cousin Junior and Uncle Elmer were characters that just didn’t offer anything other than a family to Hillbilly Jim. Neither character had a memorable match or feud that resonated with fans. If there was one thing that did stand out about the family members, it was the sheer size of Uncle Elmer. He was billed as being in excess of 500 lbs, which made him physically imposing.
However, like other big men, his mobility in the ring was limited. In Cousin Junior, we had a wrestler that was smaller than Hillbilly Jim. He wrestled barefoot and often would kick his feet up as he danced around the ring. He was probably trying to do a hoe-down but in actuality no one could have watched that and thought watching a grown man in overalls and bare feet losing matches and still dancing was entertaining. Thankfully for Hillbilly Jim, he remained the most standout member of his family, outlasting them and their time in the company.
1. Akeem the African Dream
We are all fine with enjoying and embracing other cultures and their lifestyles, but the same can’t be said about Akeem. Many may remember that the wrestler portraying Akeem was previously known as the One Man Gang. It was his manager that said he was, in fact, of African heritage. In what appeared to be a bad joke, a vignette was filmed showing a ghetto in the United States as “the deepest darkest parts of Africa,” and featured a version of a traditional tribal dance and chanting around a fire. It was there where Slick stated that the One Man Gang would now be known as Akeem the African Dream.
It was incredibly stereotypical, as the white Akeem spoke with an accent that conformed with Black stereotypes and danced while rituals took place in the background. The gimmick was insulting, but reflective of the over the top era of the WWF at the time. It didn’t help Gang in any way, but rather created controversy because the character was essentially a white man clearly being something he wasn’t. Between 1988 and 1990, Akeem would continue his run in the WWF as one half of the tag team The Twin Towers.