Once the millennium came, wrestling fans must have rejoiced. The latter part of the nineties was filled with fear that impending doom was coming when the year struck 2000. Everyone was relieved we had all survived and lived through the change in millennium. When it comes to wrestling, it would have been great if fans had seen the same relief from lame gimmicks. But much like the 1990s and the 1980s, wrestling was filled with a number of great gimmicks and a number of awful ones. Awful gimmicks are memorable because they either insult, offend or discriminate against members of the audience because of how they come across. In some cases, the belief that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery doesn’t apply.
Since the turn of the century, wrestling promotions such as TNA and the WWE have primarily tried to rely on what was successful before. The problem in TNA’s case was, they were starting from the ground up, and for WWE they had lost some of their most prominent stars such as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin and needed to start over.
While starting over has its benefits, in these particular instances the characters flopped because of either the idea, the execution or the response from the fan base. It would be nice to think that the creative people in wrestling learned their lessons and weren’t as over the top, but continued pain and suffering has come to wrestling fans as a result of these choices. Here are the 10 worst wrestling gimmicks of the new millennium.
10. Hornswoggle – WWE
One character that has been connected with a number of different wrestlers and whose role was constantly changing was Hornswoggle. He first appeared in the WWE in 2006 as a “leprechaun”. The character was paired at the time with Irish wrestler Finlay, and suggested he was also of Irish decent. As his time within the promotion grew, so did his role. At one point he was the illegitimate son of Mr. McMahon. After this, Hornswoggle was associated with D-Generation X and used in a feud with Chavo Guerrero, during which he always went over the veteran.
He was regularly exploited for his size and used primarily as comic relief. He was either decimated by others two and three times his size, or made to look silly during feuds against the likes of El Torito, or Divas who accompanied male tag teams to the ring. While his diminutive size is probably considered adorable, it is nothing more than an exploitation of the character. It is remarkable that the character has been in the WWE for almost 10 years. It should be noted that the performer playing Hornswoggle was suspended for violating the company’s substance abuse policy in the fall of 2015.
9. Black Reign – TNA
Dustin Runnels has been known mainly for one character in his career. Goldust has been in so many different forms and crossed so many boundaries that it’s often forgotten that he’s taken part in a number of other characters as well. After leaving the WWE and the Goldust character behind, Runnels was in WCW as the character Seven very briefly, but was also another character in TNA. A much heavier Runnels was known as Black Reign. The character dressed in a way that resembled Goldust, only he went with a silver and black colour scheme.
He was darker than Goldust, but was he memorable for anything he did while there? Not at all. One has to wonder if his character was created to BE Goldust without saying it. He didn’t appear happy while under the gimmick, and may have been in a dark place in his life while there. It didn’t suggest that he was going to change the face of TNA while he was there, or even create something special. He was aligned with James Mitchell, and part of a tag team with a character named Rellik. But the character was a shell of what Goldust was during his time in the WWE.
8. Flying Elvis Impersonators – TNA
During TNA’s inception, they had a collection of wrestlers that created a faction that must have been considered creative at the time, given they were situated in the south and the person they were impersonating was a legend. The problem was that the result only looked foolish (but maybe that was the plan). The Flying Elvis Impersonators consisted of Jorge Estrada, Jimmy Yang and Sonny Siaki. Presumably, because of their ethnicity, the gimmick was supposed to be over the top and amusing. It really wasn’t, but just a desperate attempt by TNA early on to get attention. Even if they could swivel their hips and came to the ring wearing identical Elvis Presley-inspired jumpsuits. The faction was awful.
It’s a shame too because they were incredibly talented workers that could provide really high impact matches. This could have been given a chance to showcase their talents, but sadly their time in TNA was looked away in the Heartbreak Hotel. Estrada even had a valet at one time named Priscilla. The gimmick was another example of throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks. For this particular group, the idea thankfully came to an end.
7. The Zombie – ECW
When we think of the top shows on television today, The Walking Dead is unquestionably one of those shows. During WWE’s attempt at recreating the ECW brand, they believed creating a character that appeals to Sci-Fi fans would be appropriate for the time. The ECW show even aired on the SYFY channel! It was at this time where they introduced a character known as The Zombie. The Zombie looked and dressed exactly as the name suggests. We wish it was better than we’re describing, but it really wasn’t. No one could believe that the character represented the undead, or that he was once living and came back to haunt his opponents.
While George Romero would probably have been proud of the idea being resurrected in wrestling, he would have shaken his head at how goofy it came across on television. Even though Zombies, Vampires and creatures of the night are popular in film, that didn’t mean it was going to translate well to the wrestling ring. The Zombie disappeared into the dead of night almost as soon as it had arrived. If there was anything this experience taught the writers, it was that some things are better left dead…rather than undead.
6. Little Petey Pump – TNA
During his time in TNA, Petey Williams was known for being incredibly talented and highly competitive as part of their X-Division. The Canadian wrestler first rose to prominence as part of the Team Canada faction. His look and feel were certainly something that endeared him to fans. If any move made wrestling fans jump out of their seat consistently it was his amazing finisher, the Canadian Destroyer. Something, however, changed for Williams. He didn’t stop having competitive matches or being liked by fans, but suddenly there was a need to reinvent Williams into something else, to create a personality that would get him attention.
It was at this time that “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner was a part of TNA. Steiner had signature blond hair and a blonde and black goatee that stood out to all his freaks. The creative team decided to take Steiner’s signature look and put it on Williams, creating a miniature version of Big Poppa Pump. Williams wore the blond hair and goatee, minus the tattoos, combining the athleticism Steiner possessed when he teamed with his brother with what he is now. The result? Hilarious, because it didn’t help poor Williams in the least.
5. The Mexicools – WWE
This was a stable that consisted of Mexican wrestlers who had achieved some popularity in WCW and ECW in the 1990s, branded with new personas in the WWE. The members were Super Crazy, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera. The team claimed that they were fed up with the stereotypical portrayal of Mexicans in the United States as illegal immigrants working low paying jobs. The problem was that they contradicted this ideology all the time. They made their initial debut riding in on lawn mowers and wearing matching overalls, an allusion to Hispanic Americans stereotypically working as gardeners. How can you fight a stereotype if you embrace and reflect the stereotype?
Juventud Guerrera conducted a promo where he questioned and challenged others Mexican wrestlers within the WWE. Their lawnmower was considered their “limo,” which played more on the stereotype that they said they wanted to eliminate. It was believed to be a parody, but it didn’t really come across that way. They only set the standard for Hispanic wrestlers back a generation. It was surprising that vignettes weren’t filmed with them trying to hitch a ride across the border and becoming “illegal residents.” Thankfully this awful stereotypical gimmick went away, but sadly not soon enough.
4. Kerwin White – WWE
One of the things that always stood out about Chavo Guerrero was his family lineage and pride. The Guerrero name is known for excellence and success, like many of the other great families in wrestling history. But this character came about because, in storyline, he was ashamed of his family name and wanted to denounce it. Are you kidding me? The Kerwin White character was supposed to represent an upper class, white male who had blond hair. He drove a golf cart to the ring and dressed in polo shirts, and often wore a sweater over his shoulders. He even had a caddy at the time who is now known as Dolph Ziggler.
His catchphrase was “If it’s not White, it’s not right.” The stereotypical gimmick was essentially White bad mouthing everyone; African Americans, Asians and even Hispanics. The character was memorable, but didn’t last as long as intended. The untimely death of Chavo’s uncle Eddie Guerrero is what may have contributed to the character ultimately being scrapped. While the idea was…different, it certainly was offensive because it didn’t hold true to what Chavo has long been proud of.
3. The Johnsons – TNA
During its inception, TNA boasted not one, but two penis-related gimmicks. Under the names of Richard and Rod, The Johnsons dressed in a cream colored body suit and mask. Apparently to the backstory presented by their manager, Mortimer Plumtree, they were bullied according to their manager. The commentary team would often make jokes referring to their names and what they were supposed to represent. What is equally unfair about the gimmick was that their attire resembled former WWE tag team Los Conquistadors.
It was a gimmick that didn’t have much life and went limp. Even though the jokes about The Johnsons were easy to come by, it was awful to see a gimmick based solely on a phallic implication. Fans would be safe in assuming that Vince Russo was behind its creation; Russo is known for creating characters or gimmick that pushed the envelope. The Johnsons didn’t last very long, and it is unlikely we will see them rise again.
2. Rainbow Express – TNA
When TNA started, they had a number of different gimmicks. One of their creations seemed to suggest that equality was important: the short-lived tag team The Rainbow Express was created as a homosexual couple that was also a tag team. Did they do anything meaningful or effective during their time in the ring? In 2002, this team was presented as heels and had support from the heel commentators. They were focused on getting the ire of the fans in the southern United States, playing to their bigotry and intolerance of same-sex relationships. Really, creating a tag team that were heels because they had beliefs that were different from others was awful.
Obviously, in an age where inclusiveness is an expectation, there is no harm in having wrestlers who represent different communities. What was even more insulting about the gimmick was that during a feud, a southern tag team had refused to compete against the Rainbow Express because of their choice in lifestyle. That is a human rights issue without question, and thankfully the controversy about the team was less about them, and more about how they were scripted to appear. Ironically the team that refused to fight the express were characters that suggested they were “inbred.” Pot calling the kettle black?
1. Naked Mideon – WWE
Long-time wrestler Dennis Knight has undergone many different characters throughout his wrestling career. While fans initially remember him as the Phineas I. Godwinn character, later on he was quickly kidnapped and recruited to be a part of The Ministry of Darkness as the character Mideon. After the faction disbanded, he returned at the turn of the century as Mideon with one difference…he only wore a fanny pack, thong and a pair of wrestling tights. The character was very much reminiscent of a streaker at sporting events, with one difference: he was getting paid to act this way.
Would Naked Mideon do anything of meaning or change the face of wrestling? Not really. The character was awful because it did nothing but make fans want to look away because it was uncomfortable to watch an out of shape wrestler wearing less than nothing in the ring. As Mideon, he was clearly a follower with a dark feel that had a role. As Naked Mideon, what exactly was the intention, other than to make others uncomfortable? If that was the case, why use the Mideon name instead of a completely different persona? Thankfully, Naked Mideon was soon gone, but the thought of his streaking through arenas will live on.