In the wild and wacky world of professional wrestling, one of the key components of a superstar’s career can be the particular gimmick that he or she portrays. Sure, in-ring skills and the ability to talk are vital, but at times, it can be just as important to have a gimmick that helps talents connect with the audience and make them stand out from the crowd.
For example, The Ringmaster was a nothing gimmick that saw a superstar simply going through the motions back in the mid-90s. One quick gimmick change later – BOOM! – you have a fella known as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. And we all know what happened to him.
On the other side of the coin, though, are the gimmicks and gimmick changes that absolutely sink a talent and make it near-impossible for them to fulfill their potential. Granted, a reset of character or a change in direction can be great, particularly if somebody has been doing the same shtick for years, but in hindsight, it's maybe been best to leave some superstars as they were – for the change in character saw them bomb and drop off the radar.
So, here are 15 examples of when a gimmick change has done all it could to ruin the career of a WWE superstar over the decades.
15 From Mr. Ass To The One
At one point in time, it seemed as if Billy Gunn was on his way to the main-event picture. Having broken away from Road Dogg, Billy took on the Mr. Ass moniker and won the 1999 King of the Ring tournament -- an event whose previous winners included future WWF Champions Bret Hart, Steve Austin, and Triple H.
All looked up for Gunn, with him moving on to feud with The Rock and then Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett. Then, in a steam-killing move for his solo career, Billy would reform The New Age Outlaws with Road Dogg.
Injury would strike, and it seemed as if his return to action in 2000 would be the perfect launching pad for Mr. Ass to again continue to move up in the solo ranks. Only, he didn’t. Instead, he’d soon be given the bland gimmick of “The One” Billy Gunn, and any chance of solo success soon faded away despite a brief Intercontinental Championship run. After that, Billy’s career was again restricted to the tag-team division.
14 From A God To A Vampire
In 2004, an imposing new superstar was given a host of glossy, ominous vignettes on the SmackDown brand. Depicted as a supposedly pure and god-like figure, this superstar was Mordecai.
Straight off the bat, the Mordecai character was created with the plan to have him battle against the legendary Undertaker, potentially in a WrestleMania match. In terms of fighting a big name, it doesn't get much bigger a deal than the iconic Phenom. So Mordecai was to be a huge star, right? Wrong.
After a three-month stint on SmackDown, Mordecai was sent back down to the OVW developmental territory before ultimately leaving the company and working the independent scene.
Kevin Fertig, the man behind Mordecai, would return to the WWE fold in 2006. Instead of reprising the Mordecai character and going after big names, Fertig was given the gimmick of the vampiric Kevin Thorn and left to tread water on the poorly judged ECW revival.
13 The Issue Of Muhammad Hassan
The decision to scrap the Muhammad Hassan gimmick was a huge move for the WWE, and it effectively ended the career of Marc Copani.
Under the Hassan gimmick, Copani debuted toward the end of 2004 and was set to become a major player in the company. Hassan would get to share the ring with the legendary Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 21, and he’d then start feuding with the iconic Undertaker. In fact, the plan was for Hassan to defeat Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at the 2005 edition of SummerSlam, which would see him become the youngest-ever World Champion in the company’s history.
Unfortunately for Copani, the July 2005 London terrorist attacks saw the network put pressure on WWE to keep the Muhammad Hassan character off of TV. As such, his feud with ‘Taker was abruptly ended at The Great American Bash, and the Hassan gimmick was scrapped.
Copani was sent back to developmental while a new gimmick was devised, but nothing ever came of this, and he would ultimately be released in September 2005 – which he followed up by announcing his retirement at just 23 years of age.
12 Problems In The Stars
Cody Rhodes is currently making a big splash on the independent circuit and over in Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling following his decision to leave the WWE in 2016. But at one point, it seemed just a matter of time before Cody was to become a permanent fixture of the WWE main event scene.
After a so-so few months on the main roster, Cody’s future started to look up when he became a part of Legacy with Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase Jr. Once Rhodes branched out on his own, he was soon Dashing and the Intercontinental Champion. As he continued to show his versatility and range, it was decided to have Cody following in brother Goldust’s steps and become Stardust.
Cody was undeniably fantastic as Stardust, and it was a fresh and welcome change, but that gimmick ultimately ruined his WWE career (at least for now) as the company refused to let Cody drop the Stardust shtick in the aftermath of his father’s passing. A return to Cody Rhodes would have been huge if the trigger had been pulled, but it was this refusal that led to Cody departing the company.
11 The Red Rooster Ruins Terry Taylor
In the 1980s, Terry Taylor was viewed as one of the best in-ring technicians in the business. And then he signed with the WWF in 1988 and was given a gimmick that tarnished his legacy and made him into a joke figure. Yes, I’m talking about the Red Rooster.
Taking on red ring gear and a red robe, Taylor as the Red Rooster was given Bobby Heenan as a manager and would ridiculously, storyline-wise, be clueless in the ring unless Heenan was giving him constant instructions. Even worse, when Taylor as the Red Rooster was turned babyface, the rooster element was played up to the laughable level of him spiking his hair like a rooster and strutting around the ring like one.
Yes, this was all as bad as it sounds, and the in-ring master technician that was Terry Taylor was turned into an absolute joke courtesy of the WWF giving him one of the hands-down most embarrassing gimmicks in wrestling history.
10 The Kerwin White Debacle
You have Chavo Guerrero Jr., one of the most natural and smooth in-ring performers of his generation and a famed member of the legendary Guerrero family. So, what do you do with him upon moving him to the Raw brand in June 2005? Well, if you’re WWE, then you decide to scrap everything about this well-established performer and change his character to the point where he’s a white, racist, middle-class golfer.
Unfortunately for poor Chavo, that’s exactly what happened when the WWE gave him the gimmick of Kerwin White, a character whose main trait was seemingly the fact that he hated anyone of a non-white ethnicity.
In terms of rejigging a character, this is as awful as it gets. For the character to be dropped completely, it took the tragic passing of Eddie Guerrero in November 2005. After that, Kerwin White was scrapped and Chavo went back to performing as Chavo.
9 Tito Santana Becomes El Matador
Tito Santana was one of the biggest stars of the 1980s wrestling scene. A two-time Intercontinental Champion and two-time Tag Team Champion, Santana was one of the most valued members of the WWF roster. In fact, Tito was one of only two people – along with Hulk Hogan, brother – who appeared in every one of the first nine WrestleMania shows.
Unfortunately for Santana, his career began to nosedive when he took on the El Matador name and Spanish bullfighter gimmick in 1991. According to Tito himself, the logic for the switch was in order to potentially push him as the WWF Champion as the company looked to expand more into Central and South America. Instead, Vince McMahon had a change of heart and instead decide to expand more into Canada, thus moving Bret Hart into the WWF Championship picture.
Where poor Tito was concerned, he spent his days as a jobber to the stars before leaving the company in 1993.
8 Dusty Rhodes Given Polka Dots
Vince McMahon is famously known as a spiteful figure who will do whatever he can to cut certain talents off at the knees. And that, regardless of how the WWE likes to champion Dusty Rhodes these days, is exactly what McMahon attempted to do to the American Dream during his stint with the then-WWF from 1989 to 1991.
Before signing with the WWF, Dusty was a huge star, a true big-time player, one of the most captivating performers in the world, and was a three-time NWA Champion. So what did Vince do? Why, as a way to embarrass someone he deemed a longtime rival due to Rhodes’s time in Jim Crockett Promotions and the NWA, VKM decked Dusty out in polka dots and showed him in vignettes that had him delivering pizzas, working in a butcher’s shop, and serving as a plumber.
Not only this, Rhodes was kept firmly in the midcard as Vince did his best to show that Dusty wasn’t as big a star as many believed – although The Dream did his best to make the best of what he was given.
7 The One Man African Dream
When it comes to great big men, George Gray is one of the more underrated big men in the wrestling business. Taking on the One Man Gang moniker in the mid-1980s, Gray would take his act to the then-WWF in 1987. Depicted as a genuine monster and brute of the squared circle, Gang would often find himself up against huge stars such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage.
Then, in 1988, the decision was made to rebrand this hulking force of nature as a dancing fool. Enter, Akeem, the African Dream.
Managed by Slick, Akeem was billed as being from “the deepest, darkest parts of Africa” and was shown in vignettes where he was surrounded by traditional tribal dancers. It was ridiculous, it was offensive, and it took any threat away from the once-destructive One Man Gang.
6 Mr. USA Is Ugandan?
In the wrestling history books, Tony Atlas is a man who has ties to some massively monumental moments. Not only was he the first person to ever press slam Hulk Hogan, but more importantly, Atlas and Rocky Johnson were the first African-Americans to win a championship in the then-WWF.
The charismatic, larger-than-life presence of Mr. USA was infectious. But after leaving the company due to certain personal issues, Atlas’s return to the WWF in 1990 was massively disappointing. The main issue was that Atlas was rebranded as Saba Simba, a Ugandan warrior that many deemed as nothing more than a racist gimmick that was done in completely bad taste.
Regardless, the steam that Tony Atlas once had was long gone once fans saw the Saba Simba gimmick, and he’d never again hit the peaks of his previous glory years.
Jim Neidhart is rightly revered as one-half of one of the greatest tag teams ever, The Hart Foundation. Along with Bret “Hitman” Hart, The Anvil won the WWF Tag Team Championship on two occasions. But while Bret would branch off and have a solo career that yielded five runs as WWF Champion, Neidhart floundered at the bottom of the card.
After the whole ‘New Hart Foundation’ idea of Owen Hart and Neidhart sank after Jim left the WWF in 1995, The Anvil would return to the company in 1996 as a solo competitor. Unfortunately, Neidhart was given the stupid masked gimmick of Who – a gimmick seemingly designed just so the commentary team of Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler could make lame puns.
The Who run confirmed once again that Jim Neidhart was never going to be taken seriously as a singles act, and mercifully for him, he’d end up as part of the reformed, larger Hart Foundation stable in 1997.
4 The Ridiculousness That Was Beaver Cleavage
Having appeared individually as enhancement talents in the early 1990s, The Headbangers became a part of the main WWF roster in 1997, even going on to have a brief run as the Tag Team Champions.
When Thrasher suffered an injury in 1999, though, the decision was to rebrand Mosh as a singles act. Unfortunately for Mosh, however, the gimmicks he was given were horrendous – with the worst of the bunch being the ominous Beaver Cleavage, a character who was teased as having an incestuous relationship with his mother. In fact, Beaver’s curvaceous mother would often offer up her, err, “Mother’s Milk” to her son.
That in itself signaled the end of Mosh ever being taken seriously as a singles act, and the poor superstar’s stock dropped even further when that was followed by a domestic violence angle. Thankfully, Thrasher’s return from injury led to a reforming of The Headbangers.
3 Oh, Testify!
While Bubba Ray Dudley has proven himself to be a strong singles act – most notably becoming the TNA World Champion under his Bully Ray gimmick – his brother D’Von has somewhat struggled when left on his own.
The first time that this legendary tandem was split up in a major way was as part of the first WWE brand split, with Bubba drafted to Raw and D’Von heading to SmackDown to become Reverend D’Von. Even with the brutish “Deacon” Batista at his side, that change of gimmick fell flat and saw D’Von’s singles career nosedive from the get-go while Bubba did relatively well for himself over on Raw.
So damaged was D’Von as a singles act, he would only ever be taken seriously as a performer again during the times he reformed The Dudley Boyz (or Team 3D, for you six TNA fans out there).
2 The World’s Largest Love Machine
Following his time as one-half of Men on a Mission and then his ill-fated King Mabel stint, Nelson Frazier would spend a couple of years away from the then-WWF before his re-debut was quickly followed by him being repacked as Viscera in 1998. And that’s not the bad gimmick change.
As Viscera, Frazier proved himself to be a destroyer and enforcer for The Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness. Complete with an intense, intimidating new look, this was someone who felt like a genuine evil badass for a period of time.
Once The Ministry was over, lower card hell loomed large for Viscera, but it was during a separate spell in the company in 2005 when the awful gimmick change happened… as Viscera became known as The World’s Largest Love Machine. All this involved was him wrestling in pajamas while making eerie sexual advances toward anyone he could, in particular, Lillian Garcia. And just like that, any chances of taking Viscera seriously again were completely gone.
1 The Devil’s Favorite Corporate Demon
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
For years, Kane was the baddest, most brutish performer in the WWE. Even when depicted as a heel, fans still couldn’t help but cheer The Big Red Machine due to how much of a badass he was. Even when the decision was made to have Kane lose his mask, The Devil’s Favorite Demon was still viewed as a big-time player by most fans.
The problem here, though, began when Kane became the coffee-supping, backside-kissing, stooge-esque Corporate Kane, which rebranded one of the most dominant presences in WWE history as nothing more than a ‘yes man’ for The Authority -- and not just that, but a ‘yes man’ who was simply there to take a beating and lose matches.
To think we all believed that Isaac Yankem or the fake Diesel would be the worst years for poor Glenn Jacobs.
Sources: WWE, PWTorch, Wikipedia