The name of a wrestler plays an important role in his or her success. Everyone wants to do well and most work hard to get their character over. Some names just prevent it from happening. You have to believe a wrestler is actually the person they are playing. The name is a part of that with it taking away from a performance if you view the wrestler as playing a character rather than just being themselves. On the flip side, a name change can help change a wrestler’s fortune if fans start to view the performer in a new light.
Wrestlers have witnessed their careers rise or fall with a simple name change. The reasoning for name changes can vary. Most of the time it is due to leaving a company where the prior name has been trademarked by the organization they no longer work for. Other cases see new gimmicks or character changes meant to make fans forget about past shortcomings. Quite a few wrestlers have completed great transformations in turning their careers around for the better following the name change. The others have fallen off the map. We’ll look at both sides of the spectrum with the top eight wrestlers to save their careers with a name change and seven to flop.
15 Success: Roman Reigns
The potential for greatness was there from day one for Roman Reigns. WWE signed him due to his athletic background, great look and family ties to the promotion. Reigns debuted in FCW under the name of Leakee as an arrogant heel talking down to the fans. The character sounds like something many readers wish would happen today, but the name change to Roman Reigns ended up being for the best.
Reigns would have been mocked from day one for the Leakee names with many negative chants in his direction during The Shield days. WWE changed his name and introduced him on the main roster with a huge push. Reigns has gone on to become one of the most polarizing and successful wrestlers in the world. WWE will likely push him as a top guy for many more years. The name change benefited his career greatly. It is hard to envision someone named Leakee main eventing the prior two WrestleMania events.
14 Failure: Junior Fatu
Rikishi is often forgotten but was one of the most popular stars in WWE during the latter years of the Attitude Era. Fans enjoyed his dancing along with Scotty 2 Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay in Too Cool. The silly maneuver of the Stink Face also endeared him to the younger audience with the comedic dose of karma when he rubbed his large backside into the face of hated villains. Rikishi’s popularity would dwindle after a failed heel turn and the inability to get momentum as a face again.
Following a release in 2004, Rikishi tried working the independent wrestling scene before getting a shot in TNA. The product of TNA was growing with a new Spike TV and optimism for the future at the time. Rikishi was one of the ex-WWE guys to get hired and was given the new name of Junior Fatu. Sadly, his run in TNA turned out to be absolutely abysmal. Fatu showed little to no motivation and gained the reputation of being lazy. At one point, he referred to Bobby Roode as Rick Rude showing his lack of care.
13 Success: Justin Credible
ECW is credited with many positives during its existence in the 90s as a third promotion offering an alternative to WWE and WCW. The thing ECW did best was find undervalued talent on the free agent market and showcase them under a new identity. Justin Credible is the perfect example of Paul Heyman giving a new name and identity to someone needing a change. Before Credible’s successful ECW stint, his reputation in wrestling was playing WWE bust Aldo Montoya.
The pun of a name seemed silly on the surface but it actually worked to perfection in establishing him as a brash heel. Credible quickly got over as a respected heel before moving into a top spot as a cornerstone in the company. In a shocking turn of events, the man who played the masked geek in WWE went on to win the ECW World Championship. WWE hired him again for another run and wanted him to wrestle under the Justin Credible moniker proving how great the name change worked out.
12 Failure: Flash Funk
Sticking to the ECW theme, one of the most exciting stars to watch in the promotion was 2 Cold Scorpio. The talented performer could give any kind of performance needed to mesh with the style of his opponent. Scorpio was a legitimate fighter that could implement toughness and violence into his matches, but the high-flying moves is what set him apart from the majority of wrestlers in the business. Scorpio could pull off athletic feats that you didn’t believe were possible.
WWE took notice of Scorpio’s appeal and signed him to a better contract during the early stages of the Attitude Era. The name change saw him work as Flash Funk with a silly gimmick dressing like a pimp and coming to the ring with dancers. No one took him seriously and he floundered instantly in WWE. Funk failed to do anything more than put over the bigger names. Funk would continue wrestling under his 2 Cold Scorpio name to this very day, but the name change and WWE run hurt his career from ever truly taking off.
11 Success: John Morrison
The athletic talent of John Morrison was second to none in WWE with his amazing aerial displays leaving the audience in awe. Following his win on WWE Tough Enough and his time in developmental, the company introduced him on television as Johnny Nitro. The majority of his early success came in the tag team of MNM with Joey Mercury and Melina as their manager. Once the team ended, Nitro struggled to get over as a singles star.
WWE completely changed his character up and felt a new name was necessary. Under the name of John Morrison, he started to adopt a personality similar to famous musician Jim Morrison. It led to his status improving big time in WWE. Morrison never won the world title or became a consistent main eventer, but he was on the verge for the last few years of his WWE career. Fans appreciated him as an upper-card star making his name change one that turned his career around.
10 Failure: Kenny Dykstra
The Spirit Squad had a relevant heel run working against D-Generation X for a few months. All five members of the group had potential, but one star specifically stood out among his peers. Kenny had everything needed to become a star if he could progress to become a top name in WWE. Following the end of the Spirit Squad group, WWE gave him the only singles push as Kenny Dykstra. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because someone found inspiration from New York Mets star Lenny Dykstra.
WWE paired him with Edge and Randy Orton to continue feuding with DX and Ric Flair. Unlike the other five Hall of Famers in the feud, Kenny just didn’t belong and failed to rise to the occasion. WWE moved him lower down the card before eventually cutting bait with him. Kenny blames personal issues with John Cena backstage causing his demise, but the name change didn’t help. Thinking of an old baseball player isn’t something you want associated with a young rising wrestling star.
9 Success: Raven
Raven has an interest legacy in wrestling for his various ups and downs. The ECW legend failed to capture the same success in WWE and WCW. Before coming to ECW, he worked with both companies as Johnny Polo and Scotty Flamingo. The stints went as well as you’d expect under those names. ECW signed him as the new character of Raven and hit a home run.
Raven was the perfect character for the time with his wrestling intelligence allowing him to get the audience emotionally invested in everything he did. The stories told with Raven facing off against Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman and many others made him arguably the best ECW Champion of all time. WCW and WWE both eventually hired him back at various points allowing him to work under the Raven name. While he once again failed to find huge success in either company, Raven became a respected memory in wrestling making good money with the revamping.
8 Failure: Berlyn
WCW didn’t push many of the young stars very well. They relied on the older wrestlers living off past success at the top of the card with the rising talent working less noteworthy feuds. Alex Wright was one of the more talented performers that the company did very little with. Most of his matches would take place early in the show and involved the comedy of his dancing character. Das Wunderkind was forced to change his entire look and add a new name in the later years of WCW.
Wright shaved his head and started portraying the new character named Berlyn. Using his German background, WCW wanted him to portray an anti-American character with the hopes of him getting over as a top heel. Fans didn’t care one but and Berlyn went on to be one of the biggest flops of the Monday Night Wars era. WCW made Wright revert back to his old name and the dancing gimmick which seemed less impressive with the bald head and new look.
7 Success: Umaga
The Samoan family dynasty in wrestling has created quite a bit of stars in WWE. Sadly, quite a few of them have flopped in addition to the names that made it big. One wrestler that appeared bound to flop was Jamal. Teaming along with cousin Rosey, they worked as 3-Minute Warning and had a disappointing run together. WWE tried to repackage them both in very different ways. Rosey moved into comedic character work as The Hurricane’s superhero sidekick.
Things worked out better for Jamal when he adopted the new character and name of Umaga. The Samoan monster was a bit of an old school character but worked to perfection in the new time. Umaga posed a credible threat to the top stars such as John Cena, Batista and Triple H. WWE even used him as the representative of Vince McMahon against Bobby Lashley and Donald Trump in the “battle of the billionaires” at WrestleMania 23. Umaga shined as a heel and most fans forget he was on television in the past Jamal.
6 Failure: Big T
WWE pushed Ahmed Johnson instantly despite clearly not being ready for such a role. The massive size and overall physical look of Johnson impressed WWE management enough to align him with the other established top faces on the show. Unfortunately, the lack of in-ring talent or wrestling skills made Johnson stand out negatively every week. Johnson suffered a few injuries to fall out of favor with WWE and lost momentum built as a popular fan favorite.
Much like any other noteworthy star to leave WWE during the Monday Night Wars, Johnson signed with WCW. The story of his introduction featured him playing an old friend of The Harlem Heat. WCW gave him the comical name of Big T made to put him in a feud with Booker T over the rights to using the letter T in their name. Booker lost it but still went on to become the most popular star in the company’s final days. Big T flopped horribly and lost his place in relevant wrestling promotions.
5 Success: The Rock
Everyone loves The Rock today. As one of the most successful actors in the world, The Rock gets celebrated for both his work in the box office and memories created in WWE. If someone told you this would happen back in 1997, you would have been laughed at. Rock wrestled under the name of Rocky Maivia and played the traditionally boring white meat babyface. WWE wanted to push him to the moon due to his look and pedigree as a third generation wrestler, but fans rejected him.
Enter the heel persona and name change. Joining the Nation of Domination, Maivia started to find confidence on the microphone. Along with the new demeanor came the name of The Rock and the rest is history. The name helped him become the star he is today. Rock speaking in third person and having such an egotistical name helped him get his character work across. While he does go by his name of Dwayne Johnson, we all still know him as The Rock.
4 Failure: Braden Walker
TNA developed the reputation of signing former WWE talents and having poor runs with them, but it happened in the opposite order at times. Chris Harris showed great promise in the early days of TNA as one of the better all-around performers. The tag team and singles work of Harris delivered variety showing you the glimpses of a potential future main event star. Following his contract expiring with TNA, Harris joined WWE to work on the ECW brand.
WWE renamed him one of the sillier names that helped make his career there become an instant flop. Fans chuckled upon the realization of him new name being Braden Walker. The name matched his character with a painfully dull short stint on WWE television. Walker gained no momentum and actually turned into a laughingstock. The name change and overall decline as a performer hurt his career going forward as nothing was ever the same for the failed Walker.
3 Success: Bray Wyatt
The best recent story of a name change saving a career has to be the tale of Bray Wyatt. As the son of former WWE star I.R.S, he entered the business with expectations as a second generation wrestler. The introduction on television as Husky Harris failed horrendously. No one took him seriously and he just looked like a lower card performer not ready for WWE. The transformation into Bray Wyatt saved his career and made him someone to pay attention to.
The formerly horrible promo now was cutting some of the best promos in the business and gained popularity due to his personality. Character work is the most important factor in getting over. Wyatt’s vision of the character and the perfect new name helped get him to the spot as a top heel in the company. WWE views Bray as a pivotal piece to their future and he will likely be there for many more years. Without the name change, he would have been fired a long time ago.
2 Failure: Stardust
Cody Rhodes had superstar potential from his early days in WWE. The growth as a performer came naturally to him from his time in Legacy to Dashing Cody to Undashing Cody to the hero stepping up against The Authority. Rhodes seemed like the kind of person that would spend his entire career in WWE. That was until his character and name change to Stardust. Instead of being the Cody we all knew him as, WWE tried to make him portray a bootleg version of his brother’s 90s gimmick.
Stardust had its charm in the first few months but quickly lost all appeal. Rhodes fell lower down the card adding to his frustration with the failing gimmick. The struggle backstage began with Cody wanting to wrestle under his name again. WWE made him continue to rock the face paint with no signs of cancelling Stardust, so he requested a release. Rhodes left WWE to hit the independent circuit with the hopes of building a legacy under his name rather than being remembered as Stardust.
1 Success: Steve Austin
The story of Steve Austin’s early years in WWE prove even the biggest stars in the industry need a good name to succeed. WWE hired him to play the character of The Ringmaster working on behalf of retired star Ted DiBiase. Austin carried around the old Million Dollar Championship and wrestled for DiBiase until the latter split for WCW. This opened up opportunity for a character revamp with WWE ditching The Ringmaster name and allowing him to be referred to as Steve Austin again.
Austin’s name returned and so did his confidence. WWE saw him skyrocket to the top of the company with the freedom to actually show charisma and microphone skills. Fans gravitated towards Austin making him the most popular wrestler in the business. The ascension of Austin helped WWE win the Monday Night Wars and achieve the greatest success in wrestling history. If he was forced to continue going on as The Ringmaster, history could be very different today.