The name of a wrestler is arguably the most important thing that will impact their career. Talent and opportunity obviously matter more in the long run, but a bad name can sink a performer’s chance at standing out to get said breaks. A wrestler will need a marketable name to move up the rankings and prove to be a draw. More importantly, a wrestler must avoid a negative name that will prevent them from getting over. WWE’s past desire to own the names of wrestlers showed just how terrible the concept of a name change for an established wrestler can go.
Almost every performer to leave WWE over the past few decades was hit with the task of finding a new name despite the fan base knowing them by their prior moniker. Luckily, that appears to be changing today with the new signees getting to keep their previous name or even their real name. These performers will be able to continue making money off it whenever their time with the biggest company in the world ends. However, most wrestlers from the prior eras weren’t allowed such a luxury. We’ll take a look at some of the worst case situations of fifteen wrestlers that completely fell off following their name change.
15 Junior Fatu
The WWE career of Rikishi was strong enough to land him a spot in the Hall of Fame. His peak run would come during the Attitude Era. Naturally, the intimidating wrestler would achieve the most success of his career when developing a dancing gimmick. Rikishi’s run as a top WWE star ended quickly and he would be released after a few years of mediocrity. Things took a turn for the worse when he made the move to TNA.
A new name of Junior Fatu did not replicate the same success as Rikishi. The signing created little to no interest from fans hoping TNA would sign some big stars to compete with WWE. Instead, Fatu was just another guy on the roster and one of the weaker all-around performers. At one point, Fatu accidentally referred to Bobby Roode as Rick Rude during a promo as his defining moment in TNA. The veteran would get released within a couple of months and never get another full-time wrestling gig on television again.
Alex Wright was never a major star, but he did manage to achieve a lot of success in WCW. The fact that he held a roster spot with consistent television time every week during the Monday Night Wars is very impressive. Wright had a heel dancing character that would see him annoy the fans every week with his dancing skills. The talent of Wright allowed him to have solid matches despite the limited gimmick preventing him from moving up the card.
A character and name change to Berlyn led to horrible failure. Wright shaved his head, dyed his beard and started playing the anti-American gimmick. WCW hoped it would lead to a run as a top heel as they were in the process of rebuilding. Unfortunately, no one took it seriously and the era of Berlyn ended within a few months. WCW tried switching him back to the Alex Wright character but he looked silly with the bald head. Wright’s career would never be the same.
13 Scotty Goldman
The independent wrestling scene started to boom in the mid-2000s with Ring of Honor’s success. Many stars such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe started to make waves in the business. Another standout performer that made a name in the smaller promotion was Colt Cabana. The comedic talent of Cabana added another element to his style that made him stand out in ways unlike the peers in ROH. WWE was impressed enough to sign him to a developmental contract back in 2006.
Cabana would get called up to the main roster with a new name of Scotty Goldman. Diehard fans hoped to see him thrive in WWE, but he had one of the least relevant runs in recent history. Goldman debuted in a forgettable manner losing his matches every week. To make matters worse, he didn’t get any chance to develop a character. Goldman turned into a huge flop until Cabana returned to the independent circuit to rejuvenate his career in a smaller world.
Awesome Kong dominated the TNA Knockouts division during the early inception. The feud between Kong and Gail Kim put the division on the map as a credible place for women’s wrestling to take place at a time when WWE was hitting rock bottom in that regard. It appeared her career would be on the way to the next level when WWE signed her to try to make their division credible again.
With the new name of Kharma, she appeared in mysterious segments intimidating the other women on the roster. No other woman in WWE had the same presence as her but the run just didn’t go well. WWE didn’t have a direction for her that made her an instant hit. People just cheered because they remembered her TNA days. A pregnancy forced her to leave the company and she would eventually get released from her contract. TNA signed her again but it just was never the same. Following the Kharma days, her wrestling career went downhill. Kong did recently land a role on Netflix’s GLOW so maybe her luck is on the rise.
11 The Red Rooster
Terry Taylor was a respected wrestler throughout his career but one specific name is the one we always remember about him. The impressive career of Taylor is still existent today as a trainer in the WWE Performance Center. Taylor, however, didn’t achieve as much success as many of the wrestlers he gives advice to. WWE hired him in the late 80s and gave him the new name of The Red Rooster.
Taylor was forced to wear red tights and do his hair like a rooster’s comb. The strut to the ring like a rooster made it all the more comical. The Red Rooster is remembered among the worst gimmicks in wrestling history. After it predictably failed, Taylor tried to continue his career with new characters in both WWE and WCW. Nothing worked and it appeared his in-ring career was cursed after the time spent playing The Red Rooster.
As mentioned earlier, a stupid name can truly sink any wrestling character. If the gimmick is as dumb as the name, then things will certainly lead to disaster. Johnny the Bull achieved minor success in both WCW and WWE in the lower card. From the Mamalukes in WCW to the Full Blooded Italians in WWE, he played stereotypes of Italian characters but at least was able to get face time on screen.
That changed when he went to TNA under a completely different identity. Now wearing a mask, Johnny changed his name to Rellik. TNA wanted the fan base to know that Rellik spelled backwards signified killer. It was supposed to be part of his backstory as a glorified horror character. The team of Rellik and Black Reign had a terrible run as one of the worst acts on TNA television. Rellik would get released quickly and has yet to return to any major promotions.
9 V.K. Wallstreet
Mike Rotunda had a strong career in the wrestling business and still works for WWE as a producer. The best days of his career came during the WWE run as Irwin R. Schyster. It was a perfect heel character for the time as the apt acronym gave him the name of I.R.S. to talk down to the fans and demand that they always pay their taxes. I.R.S. had a great tenure as a midcard heel that got great heat.
A move to WCW however did not reach similar success. WCW tried to continue the character used in WWE but instead went with the name of V.K. Wallstreet. The speculation was that the V.K. initials were meant to be a shot at Vince McMahon. Sadly for Rotunda, he didn’t achieve the same success as his former boss with the initials. The character flopped and he continued wrestling for WCW until their demise, to no success.
8 Braden Walker
Chris Harris appeared to be a future star for TNA during their early years. The tag team of Harris and James Storm as America’s Most Wanted created huge success for both men before splitting. Everyone assumed Harris would become the bigger success of the two considering his good looks and face potential. WWE signed him after he was disgruntled with the way TNA treated him. It could have been the first major signing by WWE of a former TNA talent, but Harris didn’t experience such luck.
A name change to Braden Walker saw him come to WWE with the new moniker. His stint on the ECW brand showed instant failure. Walker would have his name heckled by fans at shows and online due to segments where he would tell knock knock jokes using his name. WWE is not all to blame as Walker showed up out of shape compared to his better days. The rest of his career would be a huge disappointment after the flop as Walker.
7 Coach Buzz Stern
WCW saw something special enough in the talent of Ray Lloyd to give him the highly anticipated gimmick of Glacier. Eric Bischoff was a huge fan of the Mortal Kombat video game franchise and wanted to develop some characters for the ring based off it. Glacier was one of them with a lot of time and money placed into the act. WCW fans fondly remember the lackluster tenure of Glacier for at least providing some unique entertainment.
The Glacier character would end over time and WCW changed his entire persona. A new character known as Coach Buzz Stern was introduced trying to coach the clumsy Luther Biggs. The former Glacier now played an over the top coach based off his prior career as a high school coach. Stern did not connect with the fans and struggled to get any momentum. WCW would release him after losing money and needing to change things up. The rest of his career would be spent in complete obscurity.
Many of the top independent wrestling stars to make their names following the end of the ECW era created memorable legacies. WWE has many of the stars from ROH and other promotions of the similar ilk. Low Ki was right there with the likes of AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and other top names of the era. The talent of Low Ki provided just as much entertainment as the others at his absolute peak.
WWE signed him to a developmental contract and introduced him during the competition series of NXT. One big thing that hurt his chances was the name change to Kaval. The name didn’t hurt him on NXT as he won the competition to gain a spot on the main roster. Kaval, however, didn’t get much of a chance and only had one match on PPV against Dolph Ziggler. It was a poor fit and WWE eventually cut bait with him. Low Ki continued his career but has struggled to find relevance outside of a dying TNA.
5 The Guardian Angel
The legendary Big Boss Man is one of the better gimmicks of his era in WWE. Boss Man played the caricature of a police officer that brought him success as a memorable star of the 80s. A business decision to leave WWE for WCW turned out to be a terrible decision specifically based off the name. WWE owned the Boss Man name and it forced him to change it in WCW.
All of his WCW names were highly disappointing but the biggest bust was the first one. The Guardian Angel was the new name for Boss Man playing a character based off the unarmed crime prevention group that wore red berets. It just looked silly and the reference wasn’t popular enough for people to understand. The WCW career for Boss Man was disappointing for the rest of his time there. WWE signed him back for the old name but he never was able to get back his former popularity.
4 Flash Funk
ECW was home to many underrated talents that would eventually move on to WWE or WCW. Most of the extreme stars to move to WWE were allowed to keep their name. Sadly, that didn’t start until after 2 Cold Scorpio signed with the company. The talented wrestler did a great job having matches ahead of his time with a high level of athleticism and aerial moves. Scorpio impressed enough to get on WWE’s radar.
The WWE career did not go as planned with most of his work being planned to put over others. A new name of Flash Funk wasn’t helpful in getting him over with the bigger audience. Funk dressed like a pimp and danced with his Funkettes. It flopped right away and destroyed all of the momentum he gained in ECW. Following the end of his WWE career, Scorpio struggled to get back to a top spot thanks to the horrible time as Flash Funk.
3 Mr. Ass
Billy Gunn worked for WWE over a decade as one of the most loyal employees. WWE gave him countless gimmicks and numerous tag team partners before his peak run as half of the New Age Outlaws with Road Dogg. The tag team split up in 1999 with the intent being Gunn would get a singles run as a heel. Gunn actually won the 1999 King of the Ring by defeating his former DX stable mate X-Pac in the finals.
The big push of Gunn led to a name change of Mr. Ass. For some reason, WWE viewed being an “ass man” as enough of a reason for fans to view Gunn as a top heel after years of midcard work. Gunn faced off with The Rock at Summerslam 1998 before losing and moving back down the card. The rest of his WWE career was fine in the lower tier of the midcard. This was, however, his final chance to move into a main event spot after his peak success and it just didn’t work out for Mr. Ass.
2 Big T
One of the most heavily pushed wrestlers of the mid-90s for WWE was Ahmed Johnson. The muscular physique and large size of Johnson made him a young star the company wanted to build around. Johnson received a huge push early into his WWE career after winning the Intercontinental Championship. Unfortunately, he would never pick up the skills or improve enough to become a competent performer in the ring or on the microphone.
Ahmed found his way out of WWE after just a couple of years after injuries sidelined him and WWE realized he’d never grow into what they wanted. WCW signed Johnson on the free agent market and to his credit, he did still have name value as a former pushed star for WWE. However, WCW introduced him in the lamest of feuds with the silliest of names. Now named Big T, he feuded with Booker T over the rights to the letter T. Needless to say, it just sunk his career lower than ever before he was forced out of the wrestling business.
The Sandman will go down as one of the biggest stars in ECW history. Despite not having much talent, Sandman was an authentic character that was allowed to shine in the smaller promotion. Sandman would come to the ring drinking beer and smoking cigarettes as he looked for a fight. The hardcore style of wrestling made up for the lack of athleticism. WCW was impressed with the popularity of Sandman enough to sign him to a great contract.
A name change from Sandman to Hak saw him use one of his real life nicknames in hopes of finding success with it. Instead, fans often forget he was even in the company showing just how poorly his run went in WCW. Sandman participated in hardcore matches but they were often of little importance. They didn’t even try building a character or giving him the things that made him special. Sandman returned to ECW but he never was the red hot star he was before the Hak era.