In professional wrestling, almost anything can become a successful character for the ring. But just as no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, not every wrestling gimmick gets out of the starter gate, whether it’s due to awfulness, bad timing, or just strange and uncontrollable circumstances. Here’s a few of the most strange and odious pro grappling concepts that didn’t survive very long:
After Dustin Rhodes, who had been an icon of the WWE’s Attitude Era as Goldust, jumped ship to WCW, they decided to repackage him as a much darker character, known as Seven. A white-faced demonic entity who lured children into serving him for God knows what reason, GhostDust was a genuinely unnerving sight.
The higher ups at Turner Broadcasting Corporation, who owned WCW, got spooked as well, but not of the character. Rather, they freaked about the whole child abduction aspect of Seven, and thus the character was already dead even as he floated to the ring one night on Nitro, while fans were expecting to see what horrors would await. What they got instead was Rhodes going off script and delivering one of the most vicious tongue lashings ever witnessed in wrestling, or possibly even human history. Dustin crapped on WWE for having him be Goldust, before turning his scorn on WCW for making him dress up "like Uncle Fester," and for firing his father Dusty from the company. Although the whole thing was orchestrated by WCW head writer Vince Russo, wrestling fans still don’t typically expect a "hey, this isn’t real" spiel in the middle of the show, so they were pretty shocked.
Dustin ultimately got what he said he wanted: the chance to be himself, playing the "American Nightmare," a persona his brother Cody would make far better use of twenty years later in New Japan Pro Wrestling, as a member of the Bullet Club. But in 1999, WCW was where ambition and promise went to die, as far as up-and-coming wrestlers were concerned, and so Dustin soon returned to WWE, becoming his seemingly despised Goldust character for good.
Abe "Knuckleball" Schwartz
The Brooklyn Brawler is known to wrestling fans as the world’s most legendary loser, but he also had more secret identities than the Justice League, including his baseball player persona, Abe "Knuckleball" Schwartz. As it turns out, Schwartz may have been born out of the WWE’s desire to make (bad) social commentary. When Schwartz first stepped into the ring in 1994, a huge strike was happening in Major League Baseball that would last for nearly a year, thanks to team owners trying to keep baseball players’ salaries from rising.
Schwartz, apparently, was wrestling to make ends meet, — from his first appearance, he made it clear he was less-than-happy about the strike happening. But who did he blame for not being able to work? The owners? The players? Nope, Schwartz’s ire was saved purely for the wrestling fans, who apparently were the reason baseball was so insanely screwed up. If that logic makes sense to you, then congratulations on getting your internet access privileges back at the mental hospital. Backstage, the idea for the character came out of a desire to blast the MLB for their constant profiteering of the fans, something the WWE would absolutely never, ever do.
Abe proved to be as useless as the actual knuckleball, and he vanished from WWE television in short order. He did resurface in the WWE over a dozen years later in a skit where Triple H insinuated Vince McMahon mistook ‘ol Abe for a woman. There’s a ball joke to be made here, but we’re too mature to make it.
In 2016, after a very well-received heel run unfortunately got cut short by injury, WWE’s Emma announced her return to the ring via a new character change. She described it as a makeover from Emma to "Emmalina," and showed us a lot of photos that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Vanity Fair spread. The character seemed to be patterned after some sort of Instagram/fashion model, or possibly old-school divas like Sunny and The Kat. Fans didn’t seem to show much interest, so while the vignettes said Emmalina would be premiering "soon," WWE apparently decided "meh." "Soon" wound up being four+ months of "she’s coming soon" empty promises.
Then, the day finally came. Emmalina was finally here! Or … not. In a voice that sounded like Fran Drescher getting a colonoscopy, Emmalina informed the RAW crowd that now they would get to witness "the makeover of Emmalina … to Emma." Then, she turned around and walked right to the back, leaving the audience and commentators feeling like a bride that just discovered her beloved husband had another wife five states over.
In the aftermath, news would surface that Emmalina had gone over like a fart in church during rehearsals, so WWE decided that the character should be scrapped … at least for now. There is a possibility that another woman might get the character, but whomever it is, it certainly won’t be Evil Emma.
Thanks to a wave of cryptic doublespeak and vicious brutality, Bray Wyatt sits at the top of WWE. But before he figured out how to channel his inner cult leader, Bray’s first real appearance in Florida Championship Wrestling (which eventually became NXT) was as Duke Rotundo (a nod to his father Mike Rotunda, the evil tax accountant/wrestler Irwin R. Schyster), a wise-cracking dude with a Shaft-esque partner. Together, they ran "sports entertainment’s number one detective agency," though Duke’s real MO was to show off his chest to any interested women of Florida.
Unfortunately for all those ladies, the agency went bankrupt quick, in favor of Duke being teamed up with his brother Bo Rotundo (the soon-to-be Bo Dallas). Eventually, he’d join the first season of NXT, and then the Nexus, as Husky Harris (was this WWE’s passive-aggressive way to tell Duke to lose some damn weight or something?). He’s now the creepiest wrestler since Undertaker, and a World Champion to boot. We’d say that’s a mighty fine improvement from "fat dude who thinks he’s Sexy Sherlock Holmes."
Desperate to connect with the kids of today (today being the mid-90s), WCW took a look at the hottest videogames, like Mortal Kombat, and were inspired to create … cheap Mortal Kombat knockoffs. Just what every wrestling fan didn’t want.
First, they brought out their K-Mart Sub-Zero, the mighty Glacier, and had him wrestle under blue lights (we weren’t kidding about the K-Mart thing) with snow falling over the arena. No fatalities, sadly. Shortly thereafter, he encountered his blood rival, the green monster Mortis (Reptile with a skull-face). The two fought tooth-and-nail against each other in their pay-per-view debut — after Glacier won, the third in this plagiarized trio, Wrath (one of those MK 4 jabronis nobody played as, probably), would make himself known and attack Glacier. The trio feuded for a few months, with Mortis and Wrath stealing Glacier’s helmet, and Glacier enlisting the services of karate champion Ernest "The Cat" Miller (Jax by way of Johnny Cage) to even the odds. However, everything came to an abrupt end when Glacier turned on Miller during a tag match against Wrath and Mortis, allowing them to win.
Wrath and Mortis would vanish after that, and Glacier would limp along as a jobber (wrestle-speak for "total loser") for about another year. Then, he was repackaged as, um, a high school wrestling coach. That makes stolen video game characters seem attractive by comparison.
The 1989 flop No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan as the hero (natch), also featured his evil foil, the mighty Zeus. Played by Tiny Lister, zeus may just have the most murderous expression as his default setting. The movie, produced by the WWF, ended much like most Hogan matches: Hogan wins, although in this case, he won by knocking Zeus off a catwalk to his death. At least Andre only got bodyslammed.
In WWF’s mind, the next logical step was to bring Zeus back from the dead and stick him in a wrestling ring. So Tiny Lister marched into a WWF ring in 1989, to take his war with Hogan into the real world because he was mad about not getting to win in the movie. Typical Hollywood diva behavior. Unfortunately for Zeus, WWF forgot a basic rule about making great monster characters: they need to win to keep being scary. That sure as hell wasn’t the case with Zeus — in his time at WWF, he wrestled five matches and lost every time. It didn’t help his cause that No Holds Barred barely made back its budget amid scathing reviews — since he was really only brought in to promote the film, Zeus barely made it to the end of ’89 before falling off a catwalk made out of pinkslips.
On the other hand, his time in WWF did inspire his BFFs, Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri, to cut some of the most delightfully bonkers promos of their careers. So thanks for that, you delightful, monosyllabic, grunting, weird-eyed actor-man.
That ’70s Guy
Mike Awesome jumped to WCW with some of the most promising buzz possible: he came while still ECW World Champion, causing a huge amount of consternation that ended in one of the most outrageous cross-promotional events ever: WWF’s Tazz winning the ECW title from WCW’s Mike Awesome at an ECW pay-per-view.
WCW, being the screw-ups they were, inevitably found a way to blow all of Awesome’s heat. First, they saddled him with the moniker "Fat Chick Thrilla," where he proclaimed his love for large women, mainly by giving them tons of food. After that lovely bit of body shaming, Awesome must have been desperate for a new lease on life, which would explain why he went with his next atrocious gimmick so readily.
Awesome was rechristened "That ’70s Guy." No, you don’t get bonus points for knowing where that name came from, especially since he suddenly had a slight resemblance to a certain sitcom character. He showed up to matches looking like he bus-jacked the Partridge Family, but even bad-ass moments like nearly murdering Insane Clown Posse’s Shaggy 2 Dope couldn’t make the character happen, and soon the matter was closed by the WWF purchasing WCW.
In later years, Awesome would claim that his lack of success in WCW was because of Hulk Hogan, though not in the usual "Hogan played politics and buried me" way. Awesome was friendly with the Hulkster’s nephew Horace, and after Hogan and WCW parted ways on less-than-friendly terms, Awesome claimed he was punished by proxy with those dumb gimmicks. So be careful who gets a job, because it may just be the same idiot who helps you lose it.
Full-time businessman and part-time musician, Gene Simmons, wanted to get involved with wrestling, because it was popular and he could make money through them. He initially approached WWF with the idea of a KISS-branded pro wrestler, meaning Stone Cold and the Rock might’ve been slumming it with a guy dressed as a middle-aged 70s glam rocker. Thankfully, we were spared that darkest timeline when Simmons decided to go with WCW, who rarely missed an opportunity to embrace something incredibly stupid.
Despite the almighty "KISS Demon" just being journeyman wrestler Dale Torburg in Gene Simmons cosplay, the character was introduced in extremely hot fashion. KISS showed up live on Nitro, in the middle of their massive "farewell" tour, to welcome the Demon to pro wrestling. They went all out — the Demon’s His entrance theme was "God of Thunder," and they even called his finisher "The Love Gun."
But even an introduction straight out of the Psycho Circus couldn’t keep the Demon from slamming into the emotional brick wall of wrestling fans’ hatred. For once, WCW agreed with its fans, writing off the Demon long before the character’s debut. But, since they had to honor their deal with KISS, they wound up shoving the Demon into some of the most wretched situations possible. He lost to the "Hardcore Legend" Terry Funk in his first appearance, came out on the wrong end of a minute-long squash match against Sting, then teamed with Vampiro and the Insane Clown Posse before turning on them — as a result, they stuffed him in a coffin and set it ablaze.
Amazingly, the KISS Demon was supposed to just be the beginning. In his autobiography, Simmons detailed further plans for KISS-inspired wrestlers, starting with Paul Stanley’s Starchild, and extending even further into women and children. Even though those never materialized, Simmons still thinks the band got the better end of the deal, since WCW did the work and KISS made the money. At least he’s honest about rock-and-rolling all night, and cashing out every day.
Over his twenty-plus year run as Kane, the scarred, pyromaniac brother of the Undertaker, Glenn Jacobs has made it into wrestling legend with multiple championship reigns, insane feats of violence, and a fanatical hatred of Pete Rose. But you can’t grow a flower without burying it in a couple feet of crap, and Jacobs had a lot of crap to wade through before he made it to the Big Red Machine. Probably the most cruel and ridiculous of his awful gimmicks was the Christmas Creature. A giant green apparition clad in the remains of a Michael’s Christmas clearance sale, the only thing diabolical about Christmas Creature was the amount of tinsel strapped to his body.
As fellow wrestler Mad Man Pondo tells it, the character inspired a lot more chuckles than screams, and thankfully had a short shelf life. Sadly, Jacobs still had a imposter Diesel run, and some time as Jerry Lawler’s evil dentist to look forward to. After that, he got to be Kane. Maybe we’ll see the Christmas Creature again this year, since Kane is running for political office, and what could be better attack ad fodder for Kane’s opponents?
Wrestling gimmicks sometimes seem to focus on making famous movie and comic book characters into wrestlers, and there was no more ostentatious attempt at this than Oz, which was Kevin Nash slapped into a goofy wizarding costume, and sent out to beat down his foes. Best part is, they didn’t have to worry about those pesky copyright issues, because Turner Broadcasting owned the rights to The Wizard of Oz! Everybody wins! Except Nash.
Oz did get a few victories for a few weeks and, somewhat not surprisingly, got massively over in Japan. That is, before Ron Simmons stomped a mudhole in him at the 1991 Great American Bash, after which he apparently clicked his heels three times and bailed back to the Emerald City. In reality, Oz’s push vanished after Nash refused a new pay structure from WCW, and he disappeared a year later to join Shawn Michaels in the WWF as Diesel. Eventually, he’d come back to WCW and start the infamous New World Order, because who wouldn’t want revenge on a company that shafted them years back by getting stronger and attempting to destroy it from within?
If you ever run into someone who thinks racism died with the ’60s, show them Kerwin White and you might change their mind. In 2005, WWE thought it would be an awesome idea to have Chavo Guerrero — third-generation scion of a proud lucha libre family — denounce his Hispanic heritage and become Kerwin White, a middle-class Republican whitebread golfer, with blond hair and a poor man’s Frank Sinatra as his theme. It was a literal, and figurative, whitewashing in every sense of the word. Chavo liked the character a bit, saying it helped him distance himself from his beloved uncle and ex-tag team partner Eddie, but nobody else did, especially when he was spouting his absolute gem of a catchphrase: "If it’s not White, it’s not right."
Despite the character not taking off, and how it probably would’ve petered out on its own anyway, it took too heavy a price to get Chavo away from the golf clubs: the death of his uncle Eddie in 2005 of heart failure. But the Kerwin White shenanigans did have one great silver lining, in that it allowed WWE fans an introduction to Kerwin’s caddy: future world champion, and full-time show-off, Dolph Ziggler.
Given the outrageous amount of violence in both sports, a wrestling hockey player seems like both low-hanging fruit, and an instant success. Unfortunately, the Goon was not destined to be such a hit with WWF’s audience.
Described as having been way too violent for professional hockey (something that seems either impossible, or deserving of criminal charges), this wrestling gimmick saw the Goon shamble his way to the ring to that "duh duh duh DAH duh-DAHHHH CHARGE!" music they play before batters get to play baseball (which tells you exactly how much thought went into this), before violently gunning for his opponents. The Goon left the WWF after a few months, but made his return to participate in a couple "gimmick battle royales," which are basically "your gimmick was old and dumb, so why don’t you fight for a few minutes while fans giggle at you?" Fits poor Goon to a T.
For some reason, wrestling loves its Christmas gimmicks, even though you can’t do a damn thing with them from January to November.
This here’s Xanta Klaus, the Bizarro to Santa’s Superman. Apparently, he stole presents from good little children, so if you’re ever wondering who these heartless monsters are who swipe from Toys For Tots, here’s Suspect #1. Sometimes clad in a black Santa suit, and also sometimes sporting a coal-black beard, ECW’s Balls Mahoney allied with Ted DiBiase to try and put the screws to Christmas, for no discernible reason — old-school bad guys didn’t really need a motive to be bad besides "we’re bad." However, even the legendary Million Dollar Man couldn’t make Christmas miracles happen for Xanta Claus, and he disappeared into ugly memory after about a half-dozen appearances. Ho ho no mo’.
Quite possibly the greatest wrestling flop of all time, the Shockmaster sounded a lot better being described by Sting than he turned out to be in real life. Fred Ottman had just left the WWF, and WCW decided the best way to introduce him would be to slap a bedazzled Stormtrooper helmet on his head, throw what looked like a sleeveless XXL bathrobe around his shoulders, and make him the mystery partner for Sting’s team in an eight-man tag match.
Ottman burst through the wall, but tripped over a piece of the wall in the bottom, toppling him face-first and knocking his helmet off. As he struggles to put it back on, you can almost feel the moment die. You can also hear wrestlers like Ric Flair laughing, and the British Bulldog forgetting he was around live microphones and blurting, "He fell on his f***ing arse!" Dusty Rhodes, who came up with the Shockmaster gimmick, claimed there was sabotage involved, as the rehearsals had gone much better, but we could say the same thing about our years in high school theater.
WCW tried to make lemonade out of this incident, first by portraying the Shockmaster as a clumsy goof, then really doubling down by making him the "Super Shockmaster." Neither worked, and the Shockmaster quickly wound up forever confined to the annals of hilarious history.
Dear wrestling: anything can be a gimmick, but that doesn’t mean anything should. Case in point: TL Hopper, the WWF’s resident evil plumber. He apparently was good enough at his post that he had time to wrestle, in spite of the amount of junk food and beer going around WWF arenas, and eventually into the toilets.
Portrayed by one Tony Anthony, the wrestling gimmick apparently came thanks to McMahon learning Anthony’s father was a plumber. This made him a real "son of a plumber," unlike that faker, Dusty Rhodes. Rather impressively, TL Hopper was a lot less attractive than the blobby, splotchy Rhodes. Balding and mulleted, and holding and kissing his toilet plunger like a pet cat, he was a pretty tough sight for anyone’s eyes. He didn’t last long, because Vince McMahon shockingly had no interest in pushing such a character. We’ll tell you why it really failed, though: not enough buttcrack.