In 2016, professional wrestling isn’t known so much for its over the top characters anymore. Today, WWE Superstars are, for the most part, relatable personalities who are approachable on social media and are striving to succeed in their sport of choice. There are a few exceptions, such as Bray Wyatt and holdovers from past eras such as Kane, the Undertaker and Goldust, but most competitors in the ring are those like Seth Rollins or Sasha Banks, people who make children and adults alike feel as if they can achieve any goal they set their mind to.
That was all very different not so long ago. As recently as some time in the mid to late 2000s WWE was trying to pass off its Superstars as vampires and zombies, and that was tame compared to the state of the business in the early 1990s. When the comic book heroes and villains of the ‘80s such as Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Andre the Giant had left the World Wrestling Federation, the company jumped head first into a pool full of wacky gimmicks. What resulted were such gems as a grungy garbage truck driver, a dentist with rotten teeth, a barber who obsessively tried to cut his opponents’ hair and a wizard who practiced voodoo magic.
It wasn’t all bad, either. The notion of extreme characters spawned for us current and future Hall of Famers like Razor Ramon, George “The Animal” Steele, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and perhaps the most respected man in the entire industry, the Undertaker. The successes are comparatively few, however, when we look at just how many bad gimmicks have spelled the end of a WWE career. Here are fifteen such cases where a WWE Superstar left the company due to a poor attempt at a character makeover.
15 Max Moon
Before Vince McMahon decided to grab hold of him and twist him into something sad, Paul Diamond was a respected pro wrestler, having become known as a tag team wrestler and winning championships in legendary organizations like the American Wrestling Association. When the tag team of Diamond and his partner Pat Tanaka, known as the Orient Express, had run its course in the World Wrestling Federation, no one could have foreseen what would result.
Another popular wrestler known as Konnan was set, at the time, to portray Max Moon, a futuristic wrestler who looked a lot like Mega Man, wearing a space suit complete with a jetpack and fireworks which shot from his wrist cuffs. When Konnan abruptly left the WWF, the role fell to Paul Diamond and the rest is history. Diamond left the company when the gimmick, which is now famous for just how awful it was, unsurprisingly failed to gain any steam.
14 Brodus Clay
Who knew that an overweight funk dancer who referred to himself as the “Funkasaurus” and who lead two sexy backup dancers known as the “Funkadactyls” to the ring wouldn’t leave a lasting impact on the world of pro wrestling? The “Funkadactyls” were former WWE Diva Cameron and current member of the SmackDown Live roster Naomi, and the “Funkasaurus” was a man named Brodus Clay.
Clay started out as the bodyguard of Alberto Del Rio, but when that didn’t work the dancing gimmick was born and it went on for a painfully long time. Well after it was clear that the character was going to go nowhere, WWE insisted on featuring Brodus on the undercard in vain hopes that he might eventually catch on with fans. He didn’t, and after a brief attempt at turning him heel the company let him go. He now competes with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling as Tyrus.
Matt Bloom had moderate success during the Attitude era as WWE Superstar Prince Albert, eventually known as just Albert. Perhaps the peak of his WWE career came as a part of T&A alongside the late Andrew “Test” Martin, a tag team famously managed by WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus early in her career. However, after years away from the company he returned as the Japanese inspired character Lord Tensai. Once he failed to get over with the WWE Universe, the otherwise serious character was retooled into one of comic relief and paired with Brodus Clay as the dancing duo Tons of Funk.
Clearly, Tensai was not working and eventually the gimmick was retired. Although Matt Bloom didn’t technically leave WWE, he did retire from active in ring competition and is now serving as the head coach at the WWE Performance Center, where the Superstars of the future are being trained and groomed.
12 Luke Gallows
He’s having a successful run right now alongside his partner Karl Anderson, but Luke Gallows hasn’t always had it good in WWE. He’s been stuck with some pretty embarrassing gimmicks, such as an imposter version of the Big Red Machine Kane which tanked horribly. At another time Gallows played Festus, a slow Southerner who had to be lead around by his cousin Jesse. However, one last attempt was made at turning Gallows into something useful when he was paired with CM Punk and Serena in the Straight Edge Society.
The story here was actually quite good, but once the company split the group up they tried to turn Gallows into a standalone act and the crowd just wasn’t biting. After weeks of failing to get over with the WWE Universe in his new solo career, Gallows was released from his WWE contract and went to Japan for a career renaissance with the Bullet Club.
11 Mickie James
When Mickie James burst onto the scene in the mid 2000s few fans could have imagined the impact she would have on the course women’s wrestling would take. Just as WWE’s women’s division was starting to slip into the territory of almost exclusively consisting of barely trained models pulling hair over the Divas Championship, Mickie came into WWE and had one of the most legendary rivalries in wrestling history with WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus, and would go on to win a plethora of Divas and Women’s Championships before the company released her in 2010.
As one of the most successful women’s wrestlers of all time, it seems strange that Mickie James would have left WWE due to gimmick failure. That’s because the gimmick that failed was mostly that of a woman wrestler; the company released Mickie because they wanted to move further in the direction of hiring women for looks instead of athletic ability.
Virgil rose to fame in the 1980s as the stone faced bodyguard of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. That was a role that worked for him for years until the company saw fit to have Virgil turn on DiBiase, making a babyface turn in the process. The two feuded for a while with Virgil even winning DiBiase’s Million Dollar Championship, a title that was unsanctioned by the World Wrestling Federation, but soon Virgil’s appeal started to wane and fans started to lose interest. Virgil was used sparingly until his eventual release from the company, after which he moved on to World Championship Wrestling to join the New World Order.
Virgil never managed to achieve the level of success he had when he was associated with Ted DiBiase and today he’s the focus of a funny meme among internet fans. Virgil travels to autograph signings but often sees poor turnout, leading fans to post photos of what has become known as “lonely Virgil.”
9 Red Rooster
Terry Taylor is probably among the most respected wrestlers in the industry, having competed everywhere from the National Wrestling Alliance to World Class Championship Wrestling throughout the 1980s and winning championships just about everywhere he went. Later he would even go on to some success in World Championship Wrestling, but not before a stint in the World Wrestling Federation where he would be made a complete fool by Vince McMahon.
Soon after signing with the WWF, Taylor would be stuck with the unsavory job of portraying the Red Rooster, a character who wore red tights and acted like an actual rooster at times, spiking his hair up and dying it red. It was one of the silliest gimmicks in the history of pro wrestling, let alone in WWE, and it’s something Terry Taylor will never live down. Following the failure of the gimmick, Taylor left the company but would bounce back and forth between WWE and WCW throughout the 1990s.
8 Paul Burchill
If you don’t quite remember the name Paul Burchill you could be forgiven. It may seem like Burchill was only around in WWE for a cup of coffee but he was actually on television for several years. Unfortunately for him, it was in some of the most forgettable storylines imaginable while playing characters that were doomed to fail. While a few fans may remember him for a planned angle that never saw the light of day which saw him in a romantic relationship with his on-screen sister Katie Lea, most others who remember him will recall that he played a pirate character for a time on SmackDown.
That pirate gimmick turned out to be something he could never get away from. For such a cheesy character to make a debut in the 2000s was more than just about anyone could recover from, and Paul never did. Burchill never gained a following and retired from wrestling soon after being released from his WWE contract.
Perhaps it should be seen as a success that Ryan Reeves was able to overcome being pegged as Skip Sheffield early in his WWE days and build any type of fan following at all. He did manage to recover and, as Ryback, established the “feed me more” catch phrase that had even the most jaded of fans chanting. If so many fans were getting behind that chant, then why was Ryback such a horrible flop?
The Ryback character didn’t always seem so hopeless. Strong crowd reactions saw him reach temporary main event status, but his appeal died a slow and painful death. Ryback never lived up to the hype and failed to ever put on a memorable match. In 2015, WWE put the Intercontinental Championship on him in hopes of breathing new life into the character, but that plan didn’t work either and Ryback could never manage to achieve anything meaningful. In 2016, Ryan Reeves left WWE due to being creatively frustrated with the company.
6 Adam Bomb
It could be said that Bryan Clark actually had a pretty successful wrestling career, having won tag team gold in World Championship Wrestling and having portrayed one of the more memorable characters in the World Wrestling Federation in the early 1990s. That character, however, was Adam Bomb, and even though Adam Bomb was memorable it certainly didn’t earn Clark a lot of success in the way of championship gold. In fact, Clark never won any titles in WWE.
Adam Bomb was meant to be a survivor of a nuclear incident, evidenced by the contact lenses Clark wore in order to turn his eyes bright green. As a heel, it was an interesting enough gimmick, if still a little over the top. However, he would eventually become a babyface and the cheese factor really got turned up. Once Adam Bomb was being used less and less, Bryan Clark left the WWF.
5 Drew McIntyre
It’s difficult to say what exactly went wrong with Drew McIntyre in WWE. When he first joined the company and debuted on SmackDown, he seemed to have all the right people behind him. He had the in ring talent and the skills to talk on the microphone, as well as a killer entrance theme song. The crowd seemed to be behind McIntyre and he was given a quite impressive run with the respected Intercontinental Championship.
At some point, however, it seems WWE gave up on the guy. He began losing all steam after a while, especially once he was drafted to Raw and rarely used. McIntyre was eventually relegated to playing air guitar in 3MB with fellow rejects Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater before he was mercifully released in 2014. He didn’t look back, jumping to TNA for a much more eventful career which led him to the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
4 Lex Luger
For a man like Lex Luger, who is recognized as one of the most iconic professional wrestlers of the ‘90s, to be featured on a list related of failed wrestling gimmicks seems plenty strange. Luger’s successes in World Championship Wrestling are well known, including two reigns as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion and being closely tied to WWE Hall of Famer and WCW icon Sting throughout his entire career. He certainly made plenty of money for WCW during the Monday Night War, but he’s remembered less fondly for his time in the World Wrestling Federation.
In the early to mid 1990s, Luger was one of the WWF’s biggest failed characters. First showing up as the Narcissist, then being repackaged as an “All-American” athlete of sorts, Luger was consistently involved in the main event picture but never managed to have the impact he was intended to have. Eventually, it was clear that the relationship between WWE and Lex Luger was going nowhere and he left the company for WCW.
3 Damien Sandow
For a guy who made himself famous insulting the intelligence of the WWE Universe and referring to himself as “the intellectual savior of the masses,” Damien Sandow had a monstrous fan following. The guy could talk on the microphone with the best and his in ring skills were just as impressive. WWE severely tanked the character, however, when they had him cash in his Money in the Bank contract on John Cena, only to be completely dominated and become one of the only people to ever lose a World Championship match after cashing in that briefcase.
Once that gimmick had been rendered completely useless, new life was breathed into his career when he became the stunt double for The Miz and took on the name Damien Mizdow. Despite being a heel team, Damien himself began drawing one of the most impressive crowd reactions in the company until WWE decided the team had run its course and split them up. Sandow never recovered and eventually was released.
Another guy whose WWE career started off as pure gold was Montel Vontavious Porter, or MVP for short. His microphone and mat skills were on point and he racked up one of the longest and most impressive United States Championship reigns in the history of that prestigious title. During this reign, he and fellow WWE Superstar Matt Hardy were embroiled in a lengthy and memorable rivalry that saw them both benefit greatly and eventually become unwilling tag team partners.
MVP’s career was on fire until he was drafted to Monday Night Raw and the WWE creative team saw fit to throw him into a losing streak storyline which totally ruined all of the momentum he’d worked so hard to build. MVP left the company in 2010 after it seemed the character could not sink any lower and wound up competing for New Japan Pro Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
1 Cody Rhodes
The most recent and probably most memorable case of a wrestler leaving WWE due to creative frustrations would have to be that of Cody Rhodes. As the son of WWE Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and the brother of WWE legend Goldust, Rhodes brought with him a lineage of respect into the company. He found major success with Legacy, a group which also consisted of Randy Orton and the son of “The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase Jr. Once that faction split, Rhodes became “Dashing” Cody Rhodes on SmackDown and had an impressive run with the Intercontinental Championship.
A few years later, Rhodes was teaming with Goldust and soon the company saw fit to have Rhodes paint his face gold and dress up like his brother, calling himself Stardust. The character of Stardust was brilliantly played by Cody Rhodes, who ran with the role he was given, but WWE didn’t seem to believe in its own wacky creation. What was worse was that the company apparently refused to allow Rhodes to drop the gimmick and just become Cody again. In 2016 after years of underuse, Rhodes left WWE to compete on the independent scene.