We’ve all seen it. It’s one of our biggest shames as wrestling fans. The promoter of any wrestling company, (not just Vince, though he is most guilty of it), thinks up the most goddamned STUPID idea for a wrestler’s gimmick or character, convinced we the fans would eat it up. Examples come to mind from many feds.
WCW for example had a long storied history of gimmicks that made most fans want to drive sharp implements into our grey matter through our eyeballs. From a masked Tag Team called the Ding Dongs to Kevin Nash’s (I took drugs to make it) forgettable stint as Oz, to the Yeti to the Shockmaster, to even having Robocop help Sting at Halloween Havoc one year, WCW seemed determined to compete with the then WWF’s track record for mind-numbingly stupid ideas, such as Duke “The Dumpster” Drose, The Goon, and Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz, which wasn’t even the worst of the gimmicks Steve Lombardi has been saddled with in his WWE career.
And then there were those rare times when a wrestler debuted with a completely stupid gimmick we were disgusted by as always, and we would boo as always. And then suddenly we were booing not because the gimmick sucked but because the guy was legitimately drawing heel heat, or worse, we were CHEERING.
Sometimes, even the stupidest gimmick can get over huge in the hands of the right man. So here in no particular order except however the hell I choose to do it are my picks for some of the worst wrestling gimmicks to somehow actually succeed.
#5; Irwin/Irving R. Shyster AKA IRS (Mike Rotunda)
So it’s the early 90’s and Mike Rotunda has rejoined the WWF, after a forgettable stint in WCW as Micheal Wallstreet, leader of the Varsity Club. He’d been gone around 5 years, since his brief but successful tag-team run with Barry Windham in the mid-80’s. For reasons known only to Vince, he decided Rotunda’s personality, suited to a heel role, seemed to say “Obnoxious tax collector”. Now I suppose one could see to a point the inherent logic of the character. Everyone hates the Tax Man, so it guaranteed him some cheap heat. People were going to boo the crap out of IRS no matter what. But this by ANY stretch of the imagination should have been a one-note character that would be gone in 6 months after a face squashed him.
The first few vignettes preparing for his debut listed him as Irving which, also for reasons known only to Vince, was changed to Irwin after 3 vignettes. Maybe he had a friend named Irving who took offense? We’ll never know.
Rotunda however, has always been good in the ring and great on the mic, and managed to stretch 4 goddamned years out of this albatross, to the point that the character STILL gets recommissioned every so often for a cheap nostalgia pop. Rotunda as IRS didn’t just settle for the cheap heat of playing a tax collector, he gave us concrete reasons to absolutely bloody LOATHE him.
He was so good at making us hate him that he actually got fanse to briefly give an actual shit about Chris “Tatanka” Chavis, who was, as we like to say here on Inside Pulse, “Pissed-Off Racial Stereotype #12”, (the “whooping Indian”). Chavis was devoid of any personality or charisma, and as a face no one cared about him nor was he getting over, until Hall of Fame Whitewasher “Chief” Jay Strongbow presented him with a ceremonial Native Headdress for some reason and IRS destroyed it because Tatanka refused to pay a “Gift Tax” on it. After that he went on to form a successful tag-team with Ted DiBiase Sr.
For giving longevity and genuine heel heat to a one-note cheap heat paint by numbers gimmick, Mike Rotunda makes this list. One question always ate at me though; Why did NO ONE ever just yank his tie that he kept on WHILE wrestling?
#4; The Honky Tonk Man (Roy Wayne Farris)
Seriously? A Goddamned Elvis Impersonator? THAT’S the best Vince could come up with for the cousin of Memphis Royalty Jerry “The King” Lawler? Well, to be fair, this WAS before the WWF/USWA working relationship, so maybe making Roy into a bad Elvis impersonator was a jab at Lawler at the time. After all Elvis was supposedly the King. (No I’m NOT an Elvis fan, why do you ask?). This is yet another silly stupid gimmick that should have vanished after 6 months maximum. Especially given he was supposed to be a face. Fans turned on it pretty quick, loudly crapping all over it every time he came out. It could very easily have died right there, if not for Roy’s natural charisma and a well-timed heel turn pulling off a cocky heel vibe that made the fans care.
As we all know, to succeed as a heel, you can’t just get cheap heat and last very long. No heel ever thrived for long by just saying “(insert local sports franchise here) sucks!”. Sure he gets booed, and the fans cheer if he gets beaten, but otherwise they get no reaction because the fans have no reason to care. No, to SUCCEED you have to make them hate you so goddamned much they will pay good money JUST to see someone kick the crap out of you.
And Roy did this in spades. He all but perfected the cowardly heel routine once he had the Intercontinental belt, managing to set a still unbroken record for longest IC title reign due to constantly getting himself counted out or disqualified, further enraging fans and making them want THAT much more to see him get his ass kicked eventually.
Roy lived his gimmick so seriously that he not only got it over hardcore beyond anyone’s expectations, he went so far as to sing his own theme music, which lead to the second WWF Wrestling Theme album. But his wasn’t just a silly fluff song like those of Hillbilly Jim and Junkyard Dog on the first one; Roy actually took guitar and singing lessons to ensure the song was actually GOOD, and hearing it every time he came out only further enraged fans because his very voice drove them nuts. Roy as Honky could often get drowned out by boos after getting only a few words out.
Like IRS, Honky still gets called back to TV from time to time for nostalgia pops, and has reached the point of being cheered when he shows up. The saddest thing about Honky? For a gimmick that wasn’t expected to go very far, more was spent on some of his Elvis Jumpsuits than on most of Ric Flair’s robes. One of Honky’s jumpers was rumoured to have cost 50 grand to make. I know if I had 50 grand I wouldn’t be spending it on one ugly mass of sequins.
#3; Abyss (Christopher J. Parks)
The only man on this list to have ever scored a World Championship reign of any kind, Abyss is the odd occurrence of a stupid gimmick wrestler that took nearly a decade to finally become the joke he should’ve been by all rights from the start. This of course can’t be blamed on HIM, so much as on the insipid booking.
As what could only be described as the bastard gay love child of Mick Foley and Glen Jacobs, this Mankind/Kane halfbreed had rip-off written all over him. In fact I think in the beginning when TNA was, for some inexplicable reason, a weekly PPV, he actually did get chants along the lines of “Fo-ley riiip offff! (clapclapclapapap)”.
And then he bled.
Abyss won over the crowd on pure giant iron balls, taking every week what Foley only pulled off at most twice a year to build up to his biggest beatings. Any batshit crazy crap Foley had accomplished by his first decade in the business, barbed wire, tacks, etc, Abyss crammed into his first year. In his first six months alone he could have fed a family of four vampires.
If the WWE HASN’T learned anything in the past two decades, it’s that wrestling fans LOVE them some blood and violence. And Abyss was a bloody violent muhfuggah until TNA’s booking ruined him. He was violent, destructive, and had no hesitation about being pummeled by, wrapped in or slammed on multiple sharp cutty hurty things. He may in fact be one of the few men in wrestling history to out-bleed Foley and out-WTF??? Sabu.
#2; Goldust (Dustin Runnels)
No, that’s not Lady GaGa there. That’s Dustin “Rhodes” Runnels, son of the late, great “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, in the first real “Gay man” gimmick since the also late “Adorable” Adrian Adonis.
You see, in the mid-90’s, Vince Russo, in all his manly glory, (*coughdouchebagcough*) decided to use the newly hired Dustin to insult Dusty, as a petty rib, by turning the son of “the Common Man” into the least manly thing in the business. Also, Russo thought he could score cheap heat by playing into the high homophobia of the target audience, for which Russo had only contempt, being a smug, egocentric Jersey douchebag.
And if he had slapped this gimmick on anyone but Dustin it’d probably have crapped out in a few months like 99% of Russo’s other pointless garbage.
But Dustin was ALWAYS better than anyone gave him credit for. Having long been dogged by accusations of only getting pushed in the business at all solely because of nepotism, he was salivating over the chance to truly finally separate himself from his father, and prove he could succeed on his own talent without riding on his father’s coat-tails. Dustin was willing to bust his ass doing damn near anything to escape from Dusty’s shadow, and Goldust was about as far from “The Common man/son of a plumber” as you could get.
Dustin DID play on the Homophobia of the audience, but he was goddamned brilliant at it. The psychology in his Royal Rumble match with Razor Ramon with brilliant, doing everything he could to just plain UNNERVE Razor into making mistakes. And his creepy promos, as seen above, made your skin crawl.
And he had longevity with the character, moreso than the other WWF/WWE folks on this list, as he’s still on the roster today. This is because his character evolved. First he took the character to the furthest extremes in his TAFKA phase when the late Luna Vachon replaced his then real life wife Terri “Marlena” Runnels as his valet. When all the true creepiness and homophobia had been squeezed out of the character, (pun intended), he changed Goldust into a comedy act. Unlike other comedy acts like Santino Marella, who tried too hard and overdid everything, Goldust kept his comedy bits simple and to the point; You always knew what the joke was and he never overstayed his airtime.
There was of course a few brief periods where Dustin left the WWE, but Goldust followed him wherever he went. In WCW, Russo, who was pissed that Goldust had become such a success when he intended it to a rib on Dusty, decided to punish Dustin with an even creepier gimmick, saddling him with a ghostly demonic Uncle Fester (the Child Molester) look and gimmick, complete with vignettes filmed outside children’s bedrooms. Dustin saw through this crap and took his career into his own hands with one of the best worked-shoot promos ever, having convinced management the character would bite them in the ass but forced to compromise and blame Vince MacMahon and not Russo. Russo further made him agree to trash the Goldust character, which he agreed to do but after leaving WCW explained all of this and returning to Goldust in 2002.
He also had a brief Goldust inspired run in TNA as Black Reign, which we will quietly pretend never happened. I’m looking at you Metalhead. Seriously. IT NEVER HAPPENED. I will bitchslap anyone who claims otherwise.
Now go buy a copy of Dustin’s autobiography “Cross-Rhodes”. It’s awesome.
#1; Doink The Clown I (Matt Bourne)
The reason for this is obvious. Wrestling fans hate when people call wrestling a circus. Or at least at the time we still did. And this was a fucking clown in wrestling. When Doink first started appearing in the crowds on Challenge and Superstars, most serious wrestling fans reacted the same way BD does when Mark Henry’s music hits; gratuitous self-beatings and repetition of the phrase “Make…. the hurting… STOP….”
And then this happened.
Do you get that? New fans won’t remember this shit, but it was bloody awesome. Let me clarify; Most serious fans hated Crush too. He was a bargain basement Hulk Hogan clone after already having destroyed Demolition by phasing out Bill “Ax” Eady. He was being shoved down our throats every week in eye-hurting neon. And this guy in a clown outfit who by all rights we should want impaled on a dull signpost, takes off his arm and beats the crap out of him with it. Brian “Crush” Adams suffered a legit concussion from one of the hits, and instantly the stupid clown didn’t seem quite so stupid anymore.
And that was because of one “Maniac” Matt Bourne.
Yes we all know Doink went to seed when Bourne was fired over his rampant drug use and they slapped the costume on Steve Lombardi, pairing him with a dwarf version of himself to help begin Bamm Bamm Bigelow’s slow decline into mediocrity. But while Bourne was in the costume, Doink absolutely ruled.
First of all he was DAMNED good in the ring. He was smooth, fluid, and technically proficient. On top of that Doink was legitimately frightening. Many folks have a fear of clowns to begin with, but Matt Bourne’s cold serial killer facial expressions and manic mood swings made him seem genuinely dangerous, something to be feared. Doink could fucking HURT you. He tapped into the common fear of clowns many people have as children and sometimes retain as adults. He was Pennywise and the Joker, but far more real. And he had arguably the best heel theme of all time next to Demolition’s Derringer theme. When people heard it they were unsettled, as something that began so carefree almost immediately devolved into something dark and threatening.
You’ll notice that video is pretty much a highlight reel of Bourne’s sharp moveset and schizophrenic facial expressions.
Doink makes Number 1 because he took the single stupidest gimmick and got it the most over. Evil Doink kicked ass, period.
Honorable Mention Paul Burchill’s Pirate Gimmick
Adding this as an honorable mention because even though it got over hugely and WAS a stupid gimmick, it didn’t last long enough to count as a true success, with Vince stupidly shelving it after only a scant few months because apparently he’s never heard of Captain Jack Sparrow and was oblivious to the insane pops Paul was getting. Including it as an afterthought because, honestly, this just absolutely rocked.
Sadly the poor bastard would end up having his career pretty much destroyed by Vince McMahon’s disturbing recurring obsession with getting an incest storyline onto WWE TV. Granted, they wisely shelved the incest aspects of the pairing of he and Katie Lea before it got TOO intimate, but almost everyone KNEW the gimmick’s original intent, and that was enough to destroy Paul’s career.
We now return you to whatever life you’re living.
Tags: Abyss, Bad Gimmicks, Goldust, IRS