To become a WWE World Champion you need to be the total package. You need to be good in the ring, you need to be good on the microphone, and you need to do your best to avoid embarrassing gimmicks.
Not every gimmick is a winner, and there are quite a few wrestlers out there who have had to endure embarrassing gimmicks throughout the course of their careers. But an embarrassing gimmick doesn’t have to be a death sentence for a wrestler’s career.
There are wrestlers out there who have managed to shed their embarrassing gimmicks and to become success stories, and today we’re going to look at 10 WWE World Champions who survived a gimmick that was destined to fail.
#10 – Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler’s WWE career didn’t exactly get off to a great start. He made his debut as a golf caddy for Chavo Guerrero, which sounds pretty awful, but somehow things got even worse when WWE decided to make him a male cheerleader.
Dolph Ziggler, real name Nick Nemeth, debuted as part of the Spirit Squad in 2006 as Nicky, and the members of the group were constantly featured in over the top segments that made them look like not just male cheerleaders, but male cheerleaders on crack.
Luckily Dolph Ziggler was able to survive the Spirit Squad, although it could be argued that he didn’t exactly jump into another winner of a gimmick when adopted the name Dolph Ziggler, but he’s made it work.
Since making his debut as Dolph Ziggler, the man legally known as Nick Nemeth has been able to capture the World Heavyweight Championship twice, the Intercontinental Championship five times and the United States Championship once.
#9 – Daniel Bryan
Before making his way to WWE, Daniel Bryan wrestled under his real name, Bryan Danielson, and he was one of the most respected wrestlers on the independent scene. Bryan then joined WWE, got fired, and then he was eventually rehired.
Daniel Bryan got over with the fans thanks to his wrestler skills, but the WWE decided that wasn’t enough so they gave him one of their signature embarrassing gimmicks. When he returned, WWE decided to make him a geek, and then they had Michael Cole remind us every 15 seconds that Daniel Bryan was supposed to be a boring geek.
Things have changed quite a bit since then, but when Daniel Bryan first arrived in WWE, his body type wasn’t exactly accepted by the suits in the back as a body that a top superstar could have, and we were constantly reminded of it. We were also constantly reminded of the fact that Daniel Bryan was a full fledged vegan at the time. As if any vegan really needs help letting the world know they’re vegan. Talk about being unrealistic.
WWE continued to tell us, via Michael Cole, that Daniel Bryan was the most boring person on the planet, but people still gravitated to Bryan because of his excellent wrestling skills. Eventually more and more of his personality started to break through, and once he adopted the “YES!” chants his career exploded. WWE tried to make him unlikeable again by turning the “YES!” chants to “NO!” chants, but the people made sure their voices were heard, and the fans let WWE know that Daniel Bryan was their guy.
Daniel Bryan went on to headline WrestleMania XXX, and he became the top guy in the company for a short period of time before he was forced to retire.
#8 – Edge
Adam Copeland is a WWE Hall of Famer, and he made a name for himself in the WWE as the Rated R Superstar, Edge. Prior to his run in WWE, Edge adopted a name that was seemingly rated XXX when he dubbed himself Sexton Hardcastle.
Whether or not the name Sexton Hardcastle is actually embarrassing or not is up for debate, because let’s face it, you’ve got to respect a man who willingly goes into public places and tells people his name is Sexton Hardcastle.
Adam Copeland also did a little work in WCW under the name Damon Striker before he made his way to WWE. He debuted as Edge in 1998, and he worked as a mysterious loner before joining the Brood.
The Edge character went through several different transformations over the course of his WWE run, but most fans will agree that all of the different incarnations reeked of awesomeness.
#7 – Triple H
Triple H is one of the most powerful men in the wrestling industry, but even he has fallen victim to a few embarrassing gimmicks over the years. His reign of terror has ruled over WWE for quite some time now, but back in the day Triple H was known for bringing a different type of terror to the wrestling world when he was known as Terra Ryzing in WCW.
Things either got better or worse for Triple H, depending on how you look at it, when he was renamed Jean-Paul Lévesque. After a run as Jean-Paul Lévesque in WCW, he made his way to WWE where he became a “Connecticut Blueblood” known as Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
Eventually Hunter Hearst Helmsley transformed into an early version of the Triple H we know today when he started wearing leather coats instead of tailcoat suits, and he became absolutely ruthless.
Triple H’s ruthlessness made him a force to be reckoned with inside the ring, as he went on to win 14 World Titles. He’s currently the mastermind behind NXT, and he’s helping to shape the future of the WWE.
#6 – John Cena
John Cena is a fifteen time World Champion and every wrestling fan knows who he is thanks to his bright colored shirts, and his corny catchphrases. Although some fans might not like the current incarnation of John Cena, he’s come a long way since his main roster debut.
When John Cena debuted on SmackDown, his gimmick was basically that he had no gimmick. John Cena was like the default settings for a CAW in a WWE video game, which may sound bad, but it was actually somehow better than what he was doing before, as he was playing a character called The Prototype who was basically supposed to be a robot in his early days. Isn’t wrestling awesome?
John Cena’s genericness started to wear thin after a while, and Cena himself has gone on record saying that Vince McMahon and Triple H were thinking about firing him at one point. It wasn’t until John Cena adopted the “Doctor of Thuganomics” gimmick that everyone bought in and got behind him. Then when the fans bought Cena’s schtick hook, like and sinker, Cena dropped the gimmick and pretty much threw away all the things that made fans like him after he reached the top. We’re all suckers.
#5 – Kane
Over the course of his career, Glenn Jacobs, better known as Kane, has been able to strike fear in the hearts of his opponents thanks to his intimidating gimmick, but he was also stuck with one of the most embarrassing gimmicks of all time.
Back in the 90s Jacobs worked as Isaac Yankem, a dentist. I probably don’t have to elaborate on why a dentist named Isaac Yankem was a gimmick destined to fail.
In any case after the Isaac Yankem gimmick was retired, poor Glenn Jacobs was given the unfortunate task of taking on the Diesel gimmick after Kevin Nash left for WCW. I probably don’t have to elaborate on why that gimmick failed either.
In October of 1997, Glenn Jacobs debuted as Kane, and he debuted in a big way, as he ripped the door off the Hell in a Cell. Since then he’s won just about every title there is to win in WWE, and he’s had one of the longest and most impressive runs with the company.
#4 – Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash is former World Champion and a WWE Hall of Famer, but he unfortunately had to endure his fair share of embarrassing gimmicks on his way to the top.
During his run in WCW, Kevin Nash worked as Oz, a character that was literally based on the Wizard of Oz, which sounds terrible, but don’t worry, it gets even worse. After dropping the Oz gimmick, he became known as Vinnie Vegas, a high stakes gambler with en epic mullet.
It seems almost crazy to be typing this, but for some reason or another, the Vinnie Vegas gimmick just never took off. Who would have thought?
Nash later jumped ship to WWE where he became known as Diesel, and he managed to win the WWE World Championship. He later jumped back to WCW as simply Kevin Nash, and he went on to make history with Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan when they formed the NWO.
#3 – Batista
Batista is a former WWE World Champion, and a WrestleMania headliner, but he was once known as Deacon Batista. Deacon Batista worked as the enforcer for Reverend D’Von (another gimmick that was pretty ill advised) but luckily for Batista the pairing only lasted a few months.
After breaking away from Reverend D’Von, Batista made his way to Raw where he eventually aligned himself with Triple H, Ric Flair and Randy Orton, and went on to make history as part of Evolution.
Although he was stuck with one of the most embarrassing gimmicks of the Ruthless Aggression Era, Batista still managed to become a huge star, and over the past few years he’s been making a name for himself in Hollywood.
#2 – Steve Austin
Steve Austin is known for being one of the greatest talkers in the history of the professional wrestling business, but when he made his WWE debut back in the 90s, he debuted as a quiet man known as The Ringmaster.
Austin found himself when he went to ECW and spent most of his time talking s**t about WCW in promos, so it seemed like a no brainer to let him run with that sort of thing. But that just didn’t happen, and he was paired up with Ted DiBiase and given The Ringmaster gimmick.
Steve Austin made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of embarrassing gimmicks, so when he asked for something else the office sent him back names such as Chilli McFreeze, Otto Von Ruthless, Ice Dagger and Fang McFrost.
Frustrated with the choices he was given, Steve Austin later adopted the moniker “Stone Cold” which was inspired by a cup of tea, and he rode the gimmick all the way to the top of WWE.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is one of the biggest stars the wrestling industry has ever produced, which is awesome, but one can’t help but wonder how Chilli McFreeze might have fared with a solid title run.
#1 – The Rock
The Rock is the biggest movie star in the world today, but even the biggest movie star in the world has to start somewhere. For The Rock that somewhere was Madison Square Garden when he made his debut as Rocky Maivia.
Rocky Maivia was promoted as a “blue chipper” with a perm, and it didn’t take very long for the fans to start telling him that they wanted him to die via some vicious chants.
Rocky Maivia soaked up all the hate from the fans, and channeled it to create the man we know today as The Rock. He went on to become one of the most recognizable names in all of wrestling, and then he parlayed that success into a film career in Hollywood.