Gimmicks are a superstar’s bread and butter. In a league filled with eccentric characters, wrestlers must have a few things that their own characters hang their hat on. It’s what comes immediately to mind in their fans’ minds whenever their names are brought up. For many, it’s what makes or breaks their professional wrestling careers, as a wrestler with a cheesy gimmick is often a wrestler who isn’t employed for very long.
A wrestler who finds the correct gimmick niche, though, is often one that gains a large following. Often, it’s the engine that drives them onward to world championships and everlasting fame. Think: Hollywood Hulk Hogan, whose gimmick revolved around the laid back, Californian personality. It was a perfect mesh between the character and the individual, and the fans picked up on his genuine performances. The result was a gimmick that made Hogan a wrestling legend.
There have certainly been some whiffs in recent years by the WWE in the gimmick department. Matt Morgan, the stutterer, is one example that stands out. If you swing and miss, you fail to gain fans, and you fail as a wrestler. Yet, there have also been several professional wrestlers who hit the nail right on the head. Luckily for you, we’re not going to leave you in the dark. We’ve collected a list of the ten best WWE gimmicks of the past decade so that you can become more informed on the rising stars of today’s professional wrestling scene.
10 Muhammad Hassan
We’ll start this list out with a bit of a controversial entry. Hassan was billed as a Middle Eastern character sick of the portrayal of Muslims in the modern world. Of course, he was fighting a losing battle by taking his gripe to the WWE. He was a natural heel, and one that drew some hefty boos from the crowd whenever his music was played.
His gimmick was one that had great potential, based solely on the fact that it would be virtually hated and make for a great bad guy. Unfortunately, Hassan fell victim to some trip-ups in terms of political correctness. One of his wrestling matches involved a group of helpful “terrorists” that aided his victory. The show aired a day before the London bombings, and the league pulled Hassan aside in efforts to change his character. When the wrestler, Mark Copani, refused he was later released.
9 Damien Sandow
Sandow is a relatively new wrestler in comparison to a lot of names on this list. His presence hasn’t necessarily been felt over the past decade to the fullest extent, yet he earns this spot because he’s already gaining the momentum to become one of the most consistent stars in the WWE.
His gimmick, for a time, was basically being an arrogant genius. Sandow was better than you, and he knew it. What’s more is he wanted to tell you about it. He’s great on the microphone and could instantly create heat for his character whenever he spoke. While many have tried similar styles and portrayals in terms of their characters, we have to give props to Sandow for actually pulling it off.
More recently Sandow has been saddled with a "stunt double" gimmick which involved him mimicking other superstars including his former tag-team partner The Miz.
8 C.M. Punk
Punk is not necessarily concerned about what people think of him, and we highly doubt he even cares about his ranking number eight on this very list. That was all part of his gimmick in WWE, and the reason he’s grown to see such an astounding career. Essentially, he is this generation’s version of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and until he parted ways with the organization to pursue a career in MMA, he played the part to perfection.
His gimmick all revolved around the notion of the anti-hero. He was a rebel to the core, and rejected the establishment and all the WWE’s phony culture. That’s why the fans loved him so much (and still do). Its' clear that Phil Brooks is a man who does what he wants when he wants it, rules be damned.
Kane was a way for the league to capitalize on The Undertaker’s popularity throughout the years. He was originally billed as Undertaker’s brother, yet has since grown to form his own identity. It’s safe to say he’s been rather successful at doing just that. Debuting back in 1997, Kane continues to wrestle to this day, yet his gimmick has gone through a few changes.
Initially, he was a masked red character whose whole persona revolved around fire. He was billed as a ghoulish character, and wore his mask to conceal hideous burns on his face. More recently, he’s known as the Director of Operations after being appointed to the position by the McMahons. He was essentially the league’s bouncer, and took on a more “corporate” like act in which he was enforcing the will of the WWE brass. Whatever the gimmick, it’s clear Kane belongs on this list due to the mere fact that he’s stuck around for so long and continues to get a large pop from audiences.
This is honestly one of the most bizarre gimmicks of all time. Yet, Goldust has stuck around in the WWE and the rest of the wrestling scene for quite some time. He first debuted in the WWF back in 1995, and made several WWE returns throughout the years. He’s continued to wrestle in the league up to this day, even pairing up with his half-brother Cody Rhodes at certain times.
His gimmick itself is rather hard to explain. Perhaps it is best described as one that revolves around being strange while painted in all gold and black. It’s a bizarre act that pushed the style and craft of character creation in professional wrestling before even the famous Attitude Era took off. He’s managed quite the successful career as well, and nearly any wrestling fan worth their salt knows his name.
5 The Undertaker
Listen, we get it; The Undertaker has been wrestling for 20 years, yet he still makes this list? Yes, he does, because of the simple fact that he does still wrestle and his gimmick does still work. It’s a gimmick that could have fallen flat on its face, yet the fans have shown their support over the past 20 plus years of his career and he’s built a legacy that has essentially ensured him a Main Event bout every time he takes to the ring.
For those inexplicably unaware of who The Undertaker is, we’ll enlighten you. Undertaker is exactly what he sounds like. His gimmick is a creepy, undead wrestler who enjoys toying with his opponents. Oftentimes, promos of him will involve the supernatural or mind games of some sort. Over the years, the fans have continued to eat it up. While Mark Callaway certainly had success with other gimmicks like American Badass, The Undertaker continues to serve him well to this day.
4 Bray Wyatt
Wyatt is another rising star that we’re sure will be sticking around for some time to come. Already the league is booking him matches with some very big names, including some that will make an appearance later on in this list. Many wrestlers have made a living off creepy gimmicks, but Wyatt’s is a refreshing take on the genre.
Wyatt’s character is reminiscent of the first season of True Detective; he’s a creepy, backwoods character, at one point surrounded by his cult-like family. It’s one of the more bone-chilling gimmicks the league has seen take off in recent years, and it truly has begun to catch on. Whenever Wyatt enters the ring, he does so by the light of a lantern. It seems with each consecutive match there are more and more cellphone lights beaming out of the darkness in support.
3 The Rock
Much like CM Punk is this generation’s version of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock may very well be a modern day version of Hollywood Hulk Hogan. In fact, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was so good at playing the Hollywood ham that he went on to have a rather successful acting career. It’s actually been so successful that it’s basically replaced his wrestling career all together.
Rock’s gimmick was centered on stardom. He was born for the limelight, and everybody knew it. He was the greatest microphone talker we’ve ever seen, and the fans absolutely adored him. He played the role of a celebrity to a tee, and nobody could challenge him in terms of the pull he could draw to an arena. Every single time he performed it seemed like it was golden, and his charisma has charmed WWE fans and movie goers for years on end.
2 John Cena
Cena’s the ultimate superstar of the past decade in the WWE. He’s been labeled the face of the WWE, and nobody in their right mind would dispute that fact. He’s absolutely been pushed onto the fans as the league personified, and he wins the WWE way. Typically, he’s billed as a babyface that fans can rally behind in order to put a stop to the more menacing heels the league has to offer. Recently, though, his babyface momentum has slowed and we wonder if we’ll witness a turn to the dark side in the future.
Nevertheless, Cena’s gimmick is simply being the hero. He’s a superstar who stands up to all the naysayers, or the “haters”, and has won every single title imaginable. He’s unquestionably the name that most will say when asked to name one modern day WWE wrestler, and there’s good reason for it. His heroic superstar act has taken him to the top, and he’s become the most well-known wrestler the league has seen in a long, long time.
1 Daniel Bryan
Bryan has risen up so fast he will likely be on this list if it makes a return in another decade or so. Unfortunately, his entire wrestling future is still a bit murky due to nagging injuries, but that doesn’t stop us from placing him on the top spot on our list. Bryan’s gimmick is the ultimate underdog, and if there’s anything we’ve learned so far in his career it’s to never count him out.
Bryan has grown to be one of the most popular wrestlers in the world today, and it’s largely due to his gimmick. Sure he has great wrestling skills, and is as good on the mic as anybody else, but who doesn’t love to cheer for the underdog? On top of that, he’s very relatable. Put him next to the supersized superstars of today’s wrestling world and Bryan looks like a regular human being. For many, Bryan is the embodiment of their own childhood wrestling dreams of stardom. Many have tried the underdog gimmick over the years, but few have nailed it in the way Bryan has, and for that he is the number one gimmick of the past decade.