Terrible gimmicks are common in wrestling. Sometimes, like the Red Rooster, they end up killing a wrestler’s career. Sometimes, like Triple H’s early Terra Ryzin gimmick, it forces the wrestler to start all over again with something new. It’s not uncommon for a wrestler to be saddled with a horrible gimmick, only to shed it on their way to the top. The Wrestlecrap site is full of them.
But some wrestlers take the gimmick and run with it. Some even take it to the pinnacle of their careers. Which wrestlers took a gimmick so ridiculous that would bury most people and managed to transform it into a defining role?
#10 – La Parka
He’s an overweight Mexican luchadore with a skeleton costume. Normally, it’s not the most flattering fashion combo. La Parka, though, has managed to make a name for himself in several Mexican promotions by feuding with the likes of Lizmark and Hijo del Santo (the son of El Santo). The man in the mask has carried the WWA World Light Heavyweight title, the Mexican National Light Heavyweight Title, and AAA’s IWC World Title. His gimmick became so popular that when he left the AAA promotion, they wouldn’t let him keep the name, instead creating another skeleton-costumed wrestler bearing the same name. Of course, that’s not enough to stop the force of nature once known as “The Chairman of WCW”; he now wrestles as L.A. Park.
#9 – Honky Tonk Man
Music gimmicks, like Jeff Jarrett and the West Texas Rednecks, are everywhere in wrestling. But … Elvis impersonator? How far can that possibly get your career? As any wrestling fans know, pretty friggin’ far. Roy Farris, a.k.a. the Honky Tonk Man, went on to shake, rattle, and roll to become the longest reigning Intercontinental Champ in WWF history.
#8 – Montel Vontavius Porter (MVP)
Imagine a guy who’s modeled after Terrell Owens. He’s full of shameless self-promotion and fleeces the GM of Smackdown into signing him. Unfortunately, unlike TO … he totally sucks at what he does. When MVP first debuted, it seemed like he was instructed not to get any offense in. I remember a call on the Between The Ropes radio show where a caller said that this might be the turning point in the WWE/TNA wars: “Which was the bigger signing, MVP or Kurt Angle?” But where’s MVP now? He’s the current US Title champ and one of the fastest rising stars in the WWE. I wouldn’t be surprised if, by next year, he has one of the Heavyweight titles around his waist.
#7 – Exotic Adrian Street
Goldust, Chuck & Billy, Rico, Lenny & Lodi … flaming homosexuals have a long, proud tradition in wrestling. They owe it all, though, to Exotic Adrian Brody. The guy started it all: glitzy make-up, uncomfortable gay-panic mannerisms, and a hot woman by his side. Of course, such a gimmick would have buried most adopters. Adrian Street added a crucial element: when he was in the ring, he was a sick and incredibly brutal brawler.
(Goldust, by the way, would have made this list, too, but Adrian Street had already laid down the template for success. He’s still an interesting case, though. Rumor is that Vince McMahon gave him the gimmick because of a feud with his father, Dusty Rhodes. Goldust, though, turned it into a wildly successful persona.)
#6 – Mankind
One of the major complaints at the Wrestlecrap forum is the omission of the Undertaker from the site. I mean … undead wrestling zombie? Whats up with that? Occult symbols, though, are quite popular with the heavy metal crowd, and I have a sneaky suspicion that there’s a lot of crossover appeal with the wrestling crowd. So Undertaker becoming a crowd favorite is not as strange as it seems. Mankind, though, is a different case. I remember when Mankind first appeared, Foley played him like a psychotic retard. He’d have weird, weepy rants in the middle of the ring, which felt overly long and tortured at the time. This did not really endear him with the fans, and Foley cycled through other gimmicks … before, surprisingly, returning to Mankind. Only this time, Mankind was different. Foley injected a lot of his natural “goofy dad” charisma in the role, and Mankind v.2 was born. Sweatpants, a crooked tie, and Mr. Socko … it seems perfectly natural now, but isn’t it surprising someone could take this bizarre little gimmick all the way to the WWE Championship title?
#5 – The Hurricane
A cape, a mask, and a cheesy entrance video. It’s a gimmick, based on Gregory Helms’ Green Lantern tattoo, straight out of the 1980’s … only it was some time after the year 2000 in the post-Attitude, post-WCW era. I guess that much of The Hurricane’s popularity came from the feeling that he was a throwback to a more innocent era. It also helped that Helms was also an agile wrestler. It also helped that the WWE gave him the opportunity to beat some of the bigger stars. I mean, he once beat The Rock. Cleanly.
#4 – Doink the Clown
I wish I could have seen Matt Bourne’s face when Vince was handing down the gimmicks. “You’re gonna be a wrestling clown! Grraaaah! With green hair and a big red nose! And polkadot tights! Grrraaahhh!!!!” The brilliance of Doink, though, was that he was an absolute jerk of a clown. Now, I wasn’t watching wrestling when Doink was on, so I can’t tell you, really, what fan reaction to him was. But there have been 5 wrestlers claiming the name of Doink, so this festive little gimmick has some legs, right?
#3 – Three Count
Even if it’s supposed to be a blatantly heel gimmick, there’s something about a boy band gimmick in wrestling that seems doomed to failure. So it’s a little surprising that there are fans who wax nostalgic about the three man team consisting of Evan Karagias, Shannon Moore, and (Gregory) Shane Helms. And, to be honest, Three Count segments WERE one of the most enjoyable things to see in the late WCW … at least until the black hole of charisma known as Tank Abbott joined their squad. Maybe it was their cute entrance video (which had girl-friendly vignettes of Evan, Shannon, and Shane). Maybe it was the round mats they carried around for their dance numbers. Or maybe (and perhaps most likely) it was because the rest of WCW at that time was about the most lethargic thing going on TV.
#2 – Irwin R. Shyster (IRS)
IRS is the textbook example of a terrible gimmick that managed to succeed despite the odds. Now taxmen can be scary, but not in a wrestling sense. And, since IRS debuted in the early 90’s when the WWF was kid-friendly, I doubt even that potential for fright would go way over their heads. By all rights, this should have been a gimmick that died after one month. Yet Mike Rotunda made the gimmick legendary. As one half of Money, Inc. (with Ted Dibiase), the man with the briefcase managed to capture the Tag Team Titles several times. How does a tax man became one of the most dominating presences of his era? It’s simple really: there’s nothing cooler than a total badass in a tie.
And finally… the most unlikely gimmick pro wrestler that got over….
#1 – John Cena
I’m still in shock over this.
When he debuted in the WWE, John Cena was one of the bland, faceless blue chippers. The only thing that made him stand out were his pastel tights. And then, one day, Stephanie McMahon caught him free-style rapping. Thus, Cena ditched the colorful shorts and put on some jean shorts as he adopted a white rapper gimmick. “Well, that’s it for Cena,” I thought.
And a weird thing happened. Fans started to root for him. This totally blew my mind. A rap gimmick hardly works for black wrestlers. Does anyone remember the No Limit Soldiers? Me neither. It’s even worse for white wrestlers. I mean, when I think of white rappers, I think of pop culture jokes like Vanilla Ice and Snow… and of a barely remembered tag team known as PG-13. How is this black hole of a gimmick actually getting John Cena over?
Then Cena took it to the next level. He started wearing throwback jerseys and pump shoes. He blinged out the US Title. OK, I thought, maybe fans are OK with white rappers since the Eminem thing. But Eminem’s not the kind of guy you associate with the “bling.” And Cena was also starting to do stupid puns revolving around the words “deez nutz.” Fans are going to turn on him soon, aren’t they?
In less than a year, Cena would ride the “white rapper” gimmick all the way to the WWE Heavyweight Title.
Oh, sure, eventually some fans would get tired of the gimmick and start booing Cena. And Cena would gradually drop the more overt aspects of his persona (like the rap offs) to become a superstar reminscent of Hulk Hogan. But that doesn’t change the fact that Cena parlayed a “white rapper” gimmick into one of the longest title reigns in WWF/WWE history.
Blows … my … mind.