Gimmick (according to dictionary.com)
a. A device employed to cheat, deceive, or trick, especially a mechanism for the secret and dishonest control of gambling apparatus.
b. An innovative or unusual mechanical contrivance; a gadget.
a. An innovative stratagem or scheme employed especially to promote a project: an advertising gimmick.
b. A significant feature that is obscured, misrepresented, or not readily evident; a catch.
If you read my debut column last week you learned that as much as I love pro wrestling, I often long for more reality and less nonsense. One thing that always makes my brain ache is the use of unbelievable, silly, cartoonish gimmicks and over-the-top costumes in the squared circle.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Wouldn’t you like to see less gimmicks and more characters?
In the great “moonlighting” frenzy from many years ago, it seemed that most pro wrestlers also kept a more common day job. Garbage man, hockey player, plumber, hog farmer, college professor, truck driver, priest, magician (ok, magician is not really a common job, but you get the idea). Why? Why was being a professional athlete not enough for these men? If anyone has an answer to that question, please drop me a line at email@example.com with your thoughts.
As fans, we’ve endured that heavy gimmick era. Today the average wrestler has a personality, but no real gimmick, as I’d describe it. To me, a gimmick is when the poor guy (or gal) has to act in very specific way all the time, like the Repo Man always sneaking around with his Lone Ranger mask and stupid trench coat, trying to “repossess” everything in sight, or Glacier coming straight out of the Mortal Kombat game. Unless the wrestler acts exactly the way the gimmick dictates, things don’t make sense. This severely limits the performer’s opportunity to become a compelling character, and dooms them to the lower half of the card until they get repackaged. Even then, repackaging can only work IF the original gimmick didn’t completely ruin the wrestler in the eyes of the fans.
In recent years, most crazy gimmicks have been replaced by much more believable characters with reasonable personalities. Many grapplers today are simply pro wrestlers; athletes looking to climb to the top of the mountain in their chosen profession. They have motivation that’s easily understood, and (usually) a fairly sane reason to battle it out with each other. However, there are still a few ridiculous gimmicks out there.
I’m not suggesting that every gimmick is an albatross around the wrestler’s neck. Some performers have evolved their gimmick, or used the gimmick to develop a more human character, like Mick Foley did with Mankind. Let’s face it, Foley’s breakout success in WWF was all about Mick’s personality – the original character was horrible, especially considering many fans already knew and loved Cactus Jack, and wanted to see the unpredictable madman from Truth or Consequences really let loose on the playing field that only Vinnie Mac could provide. On the other hand, the original “Deadman” Undertaker gimmick couldn’t miss. He was scary, he had that great look and eerie entrance, and everybody bumped for him like unborn babies around Gene Snitsky. Mean Mark didn’t have to add anything of himself at all – the gimmick did all the talking for him.
Doink the Clown is an example of a gimmick that was really cool at first, until the geniuses in creative turned it into just another stupid outfit that any number of performers could (and would, in fact) don at will. Doink’s original evil clown character, played to perfection by Maniac Matt Borne, was quite the novelty at the onset and some of us really liked it. But a generic, boring birthday party clown is not somebody I’ll buy a ticket to see.
The Road Warriors (and any pretenders, such as Demolition) were always fun, exciting, and visually stimulating. But every time I saw them, the cynic in me had to ask, “If they’re such dangerous animals from the mean streets of Chicago, why do they stop to paint their faces before kicking ass?” It never made sense to me. “Hawk, let’s go tear their arms off! Let’s beat them to within an inch of their lives! Wait a minute, do you have any more #25 scarlet dream? I’m all out. Oooooohhhhhh, where’s my blush!“
In modern times down in OVW, we saw Leviathan. He was ALL gimmick with nowhere to go, no room for character development. However, Raw’s Dave Batista is a real character. Let’s skip his embarrassing debut as the Deacon and focus on the stoic enforcer of Evolution. He was big, strong, and fierce looking for sure, but that was all we got to see. So why the meteoric rise in popularity lately? He’s GROWN. He’s showed us there’s more to his character. He’s pretty smart now, isn’t he? Not even the “Cerebral Assassin” can make big Dave play the fool now. He’s a determined athlete who’s ready to take his game to the next level, and he’s using something more than just his power-based wrestling. He’s using his cunning and savvy. He’s thinking clearly AND destroying opponents, and that’s a scary combination. Batista is suddenly more than he was before. High marks go to creative, because the change occurred slowly and subtly. We weren’t forced to accept a “brand new” Batista out of nowhere. The character actually developed right before our eyes. We can relate to him now, and that is why fans are getting behind him.
There was another fierce competitor who fans identified with, because he said and did the things that WE couldn’t get away with in our daily lives. The Rattlesnake represented us, and we cheered for him to KICK-WHAM-STUNNER (nod to Scott Keith) anyone in sight, from wrestlers to authority figures, and even the occasional diva, although I could have lived without the “domestic abuse” angles. But why did we embrace Stone Cold? Because he was like a real person, that’s why. Austin was a man who acted the same way we might have, had we been in his shoes. He was a character that we cared about, not a warm heartbeat inside some silly costume that happened to fit him the day he showed up at his first show with the company.
Kurt Angle’s gimmick is that he’s an Olympic gold medallist, right? Guess what folks, that’s no gimmick. They incorporated a very real part of Kurt’s life into his character, and that just works. Period. Which reminds me – I hate to see the “Alpha Male” Monty Brown stop to smell the ropes, or whatever. Does he actually believe he’s a jungle cat or something? Stupid. The guy’s got huge potential, but I’d like to see him slowly wean himself off the whole “Serengeti” nonsense, and focus on adding a move or two to go along with that Pounce finisher of his. Shoulder tackle, huh? Wow…
I remember the debut of one Rocky Maivia at Survior Series in 1996. How the fans hated the smiling, poofy-headed blue-chipper then. But we LOVE the Rock now. He’s a person, not an image, not a costume. In Rocky’s own words, “The Rock is just Dwayne Johnson, with the volume turned way up.”
Glacier’s old pal Mortis was just as ridiculous as the Sub Zero knockoff, but Chris Kanyon could’ve been (and should’ve been, IMHO) a real impact player in the business. Even one of my all time favorites, DDP, became much more compelling as a character when he was the “People’s Champ”, working hard to overcome his age and the odds. That was more entertaining to me than the “Vinnie Vegas and the Diamond Stud” junk from earlier in his career.
Speaking of which, Razor Ramon had nowhere to go as a character, but when Scott Hall burst through the crowd to interrupt a boring match on WCW programming one night, he was suddenly the most interesting man in pro wrestling.
Most of the bigger stars got over quite nicely without a pronounced gimmick. Ric Flair. Dusty Rhodes. Harley Race. Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Rowdy Roddy Piper. Barry Windham. Arn Anderson. Andre the Giant. The list of guys with developed characters, but not gimmicks, goes on and on. Why did these wrestlers listed above NOT need a gimmick? They had charisma, athletic ability, and the “it” factor. That’s why fans still call out “whoooo”, whenever someone throws a “reverse knife-edge chop” (RIP, Gorilla). That’s why these legends can still mean something in front of the camera, even at their advanced age. They have “it”. No costume required.
OK, Chris Benoit wrestled in Japan under two slightly different incarnations of the masked “Pegasus” character, but in Japan, the mask thing hardly means the same as it does in America. Besides, he achieved his highest success and popularity in his career as Chris Benoit – a hardnosed, slightly undersized technical marvel who was tough as nails and brutally determined to win. It wasn’t any flying horse that really made him connect with his fans. It was the man himself.
Now I’ll admit, certain over-the-top gimmicks are fun. I love the Hurricane concept in a campy, goofy sort of way, but I respect the wrestler more. Let’s face it, poor old Sugar Shane will NEVER rise above the comedy midcard in that gimmick. Without the green hair and Hurri-Powers, beeyotch, I see him being a real player in Thursday’s cruiserweight division, or even (dare I dream?) in the X Division in TNA.
Speaking of TNA, how many true gimmicks have you seen over on Friday afternoons? Other than Shark Boy and the Mankind wanna-be, everyone else is more of a character rather than a gimmick. AJ Styles. Jeff Jarrett. Primetime. Christopher Daniels. AMW. Team Canada. Kid Kash. The Naturals. 3LK. Jeff Hamm… oops, sorry – lost my head there! The point is, these wrestlers all have pronounced personalities, not restrictive gimmicks with goofy costumes and no room to grow.
Compare these wrestlers who at one time or another appeared basically as themselves, and also as a pronounced gimmick. Which did you prefer?
Owen Hart — The Blue Blazer
Kurt Hennig — Mr. Perfect
Mike Rotunda — “Captain” Mike (the sea captain, not the Varsity Club honcho)
The One Man Gang — Akeem, the African Dream
Chris Kanyon — Mortis
Dave Batista — Leviathan
Rappin’ John Cena — Prototype (that’s a tough one!)
Al Snow — Avatar
Bill DeMott — Hugh Morris
Kevin Nash — Diesel/Oz/Vinnie Vegas
Scott Hall — Razor Ramon
Ron Simmons — Farooq Asaad
Shane Douglas — Dean Douglas
Tito Santana — El Matador
Ricky Steamboat — “The Dragon” (McMahon’s fire-breathing version)
Obviously the list could go on and on, but you get my point. I say to bookers everywhere: let the performers be athletes, men and women who want to win, earn money and titles, and succeed in their careers. Please don’t make them be spacemen, human acts of nature, accountants, Bigfoot (or the Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster), pseudo-spidermen, superhero sidekicks, fitness gurus, firemen, or Vikings. Allow us fans to care about the characters and why they compete, and we’ll pay money to watch them win. Or to watch them lose. Whichever.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – Ever heard of two-way glass? You can only see through it from one side. That seems more like one-way glass to me…