I grew up watching WWF/WCW/ECW/WWE/you name it. I loved the spectacle. I loved the athleticism and story. But, hell, to be honest the thing I loved the most were the gimmicks.
It was like watching a real life comic book. And like a real comic book, sometimes the characters were amazing and sometimes they were awful. This is my list of the best gimmicks. Gimmicks are basically those characters that have some one-trick idea that somehow works (or doesn't). In comic books, a character like the Riddler is a gimmick character. In wrestling, it's a character like that awesome wrestler, the original evil Doink (above). He was an evil clown, plain and simple. It was one dimensional but it worked.
Source: Goldust's debut, courtesy of the WWE.
Dustin Runnels has been saddled with a ton of gimmicks, some of them awful, some of them ok, and some of them were literally just himself (so, a lack of gimmicks). His best and most beloved gimmick was probably Goldust.
Dustin was the son of the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, a larger than life working man character who never looked quite like an athlete but could talk like a southern preacher. He was fantastic. So, what's the best way to get out from the shadow of your tough-as-nails, ridiculous father who was beloved by so many for so long? Being an possible-homosexual, possible-transgender wrestler that pushed the envelope and could give a real beating in the ring... just like his dear old dad.
Drag characters, gay characters, and characters of ambiguous gender and sexuality weren't new. From Gorgeous George to Adrian Adonis, great wrestlers had been challenging stereotypes or (more likely) making their own offensive version of those stereotypes. Luckily, Goldust took this idea and made it a little bigger, a little bolder, and a little better. That's why he's been around for so long and is still part of the WWE.
Source: Sports Illustrated.
Sabu was a huge star in ECW, wiling to put his body on the line for his craft. No one ever accused Sabu of being a technical master but he was memorable. It's hard to call Sabu a "gimmick". Some might argue he wasn't. But... consider the facts.
Sabu originally came out in a straight jacket, ala Hannibal Lecter. Despite being born in New York, he portrayed a classic insane foreigner character, sort of like a more extreme version of the Sheik... His uncle was the original Sheik, of course. Like all great gimmick characters, he grew and evolved and almost had a personality... if only his mic skills matched up with his insanity. The minor twist was that Sabu was an American of mixed-Lebonese and European decent who had an Indian name and was apparently a crazy Middle Easterner.
Bonus points for knowing that Sabu - born Terry Brunk - took his ring name from an Indian-American actor named Sabu Dastagir.
Source: Top Turnbuckle on YouTube.
Waylon Mercy wasn't around very long due to health reasons and, yeah, he was literally just Robert DeNiro's Max Cady from Cape Fear, but somehow it really worked well. Imagine a polite Southern gentleman covered in tattoos outside the ring who became a madman when the bell rang.
The journeyman wrestler Dan Spivey found his best idea in Waylon Mercy but, sadly, it came at the very end of his career back in the ancient days of 1995. See, "Waylon Mercy was a peaceful man..." At least until he starts beating the crap out of you. He had the creepy, cerebral greatness of Jake "The Snake" Roberts but the snappy dressing look of your dad shopping at Tommy Bahama. Oh, what could have been.
THE DUDLEY BOYZ
Yes, the Dudley Boyz aka Team 3D will go down in the Wrestling Hall of Fame. Bubba Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley - brothers from the same father but different mothers - were one of the best tag teams of all time. They had great runs in ECW, WWF/E, and TNA. But, wait! There's more!
See, the Dudley Boyz didn't start as a tag team. They didn't even start as a trio with Spike Dudley. Oh, no. Back in ECW they started as a hilarious parody of the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot. Ask your parents about Slap Shot because it was before your time. Hell, it was before MY time. It was a comedy hockey movie...
The Dudley Boyz started as the Dudley family back in the ECW days. They were all brothers, none of which looked at all related, fabled to be the illegitimate children of Willie Loman (ask your grandparents or English teacher who he is). The original Dudleys were Dudley Dudley, Big Dick Dudley, and Snot Dudley. Later family members included the aforementioned Dudley Boyz and Spike Dudley, as well as the racist Dances with Dudleys, Sign Guy Dudley, and more. They were great heels and HILARIOUS.
Source: Sweet vintage WWF merch.
"Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig may be the least gimmicky name on his list and probably has the best wrestling credentials. But he started out as a major gimmick. He wasn't just a wrestler, he was perfect. He was a cocky, expert in the ring and out, dressing like an amature wrestler, and always looking like he left the gym.
If you don't really like rasslin' and want to see why some of us grew up loving it, check out Mr. Perfect's 1993 Raw match against Ric Flair. Both of these greats were in their peak and both were masters of telling a story in the ring. It's damn good fun.
Source: mviolet026 on YouTube.
The Hurricane was great cruiserweight wrestler Gregory Shane Helms as a ridiculous super hero. I could talk about the comedy and athleticism, but just watch that video where he feuds with the Rock. It. Is. Awesome.
What more could be said about the Ultimate Warrior? Warrior - yes, he legally changed his name to Warrior - was a larger than life character inside and outside the ring. Lots of negative things have been said about the Ultimate Warrior. He sadly died recently, so I won't pile on him. Also, I loved him as a child.
Warrior was basically an Indian warrior gimmick ratched up to 11. He had the fringe and the warrior dances, but he was much more. Spouting bizarre motivational speeches that made no sense and always being over the top, Warrior was as big or bigger than Hulk Hogan in his prime.
If you want to understand why kids loved Warrior, find his weird anti-smoking promo and bask in the insanity.
(EVIL) DOINK THE CLOWN
Source: Matt Borne, the original Doink the Clown, in ECW courtesy of Wrestling Archives on YouTube.
Doink the Clown was played by numerous wrestlers over the years but no one did it better than Matt Osborne. Matt Osborne had his demons (the wrestling euphemism for drug and alcohol problems), but when he was an evil clown, he was brilliant. A clown gimmick as a good guy, like Doink ended up, is kind of silly. The original Doink, however, was both a masterful wrestler and a great tactician. Plus, clowns are creepy.
Matt would go on to be Borne Again in ECW, a parody of his ridiculous Doink character that did exceedingly well. Just ignore the fake Doink, Dink, and all the crap that came letter. A wrestling Joker rip off is a fantastic idea. Period.
THE ROAD WARRIORS (THE LEGION OF DOOM)
The Road Warriors aka the Legion of Doom are perhaps the greatest and most famous tag team in wrestling history. They were monsters with larger than life builds and larger than life personalities, all stuffed into characters that were straight knock offs of Mad Max background characters. Whaaaaat a rruuussssh!
It wasn't just the facepaint and shoulder pads that made them look like evil football fans, but it was the in ring work. They were big and mean, but they could put in a match and sometimes even fly off their feat. The Doomsday Device is still one of the best tag team finishers ever made.
Ignore all the later versions with extra people, Hawk and Animal ARE the Road Warriors and ARE greatness. What, exactly, were they doing with cartoonish facepaint and post-apocalyptic gear? I have no idea, but they kicked major ass when I was a kid. Oh, and Animal's son was a decent football player apparently...
The Undertaker, son of Paul Bearer and brother of Kane (or something?), is the greatest gimmick in wrestling history, hands down. There are better wrestlers in the ring. There are better wrestlers on the mic. There are better athletes and actors, sure, but none are better than the Dead Man when it comes to being a living, breathing cartoon character.
What the hell IS the Undertaker? Well, he's dead or he isn't. He's evil or he isn't. He has a brother, well half-brother, and he may have murdered a man (burrying Paul Bearer in cement). He once fought a man dressed as a naked bigfoot person. Through it all, Undertaker has been consistently popular and entertaining, bringing the bizarre undead zombie monster character to life for years and years and years.
Mark Calaway embodies being a professional wresterl and WWE star. He took a dumb idea ("Hey, Mark. You'll be like a Frankenstein monster guy and carry a vulture!"), building it into something far greater.
Thank you, Taker, for being such an important part of my childhood. May you have a many more Wrestlemania moments... And, seriously, are you dead or not? Does the urn grant you power or no? If you can shoot lightning, why don't you use it more?!?!
What's your favorite wrestling gimmicks? What's your most hated? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!