5 Terrible Wrestling Gimmicks Made Great by the People Who Played Them
Last time around, we took a look at great in-ring characters who didn’t last because the performers weren’t able to sustain them for one reason or another. On the flipside, however, are the wrestling gimmicks that, when described, seem like utter lemons… but were made into sweet, intoxicating, Mike’s Hard Lemonade by performers who committed fully and made them memorable forever.
Oooh, the Undertaker has a hideously burned secret brother who can’t talk! That’s an excellent concept for a single feud, but once the Undertaker beats him in their inevitable final bout, what’s next? Glenn Jacobs, who had previously wrestled as the Christmas Creature, the New Diesel, and Isaac Yankem D.D.S., probably thought the full red bodysuit would only be on him for a year at most. Instead, the persona has lasted two decades and counting.
Cannily, WWE slowly stripped away the more obviously fake elements of the role. First, he started talking with a tracheotomy box; then it was revealed that he only thought he was mute. And that he just imagined his face and body were hideously burned. And that Paul Bearer was his birth father, and his half-brother Undertaker had deliberately tried to murder him. With each new soap opera twist, Jacobs added new layers to Kane, who even wound up showing a side when he was forced into anger management classes alongside Daniel Bryan. And any time a new storyline dead-ends, the character resets back to his default of angry pyromaniac and goes from there. The weirdest twist is that in real life, Jacobs is thinking about running for office.
The Dingo Warrior
If you’re an Australian mother, the word dingo may connote a scary canine who may steal your baby. In Texas, and the rest of the United States for that matter, it’s more likely to get the reaction it did from Beavis and Butt-head: “What if a dingo bit off your dingo? That would be cool.”
Whether you go with “baby-eating wild dog” or “penis,” Dingo just doesn’t seem like a great name for a tough guy, or even a particularly appropriate one for a guy who paints his face like a Native American war-dance mask and isn’t remotely Australian. Still, the chiropractor formerly known as Jim Hellwig played him with maximum intensity.
Vince McMahon noticed, and changed the word “Dingo” to “Ultimate.” The rest is history.
Dave “Fit” Finlay was a respected, tough-as-nails veteran looking for one last big run in WWE before transitioning into booking and training full time. And when it began, it was pretty much as himself: Finlay, the Irishman who loves to fight.
Yeahhhhhh, that wasn’t going to cut it. He’s Irish, you see, so naturally, he has to have a leprechaun! And considering a Leprechaun character named Braun had tanked hard in WCW, this seemed like a lousy idea destined to ruin a great in-ring talent.
Until it didn’t. Little Bastard, as he was initially known, was a little person who’d hide under the ring and attack, seemingly at random, either Finlay’s opponents or Finlay himself. There were no Lucky Charms involved; this character, played by Dylan Postl, was more like the Notre Dame fighting Irishman mascot made flesh. Finlay and Bastard’s extremely dysfunctional relationship made them a memorable pair, and there was nothing cute about it.
Eventually, WWE did realize they could make more money if he were cute, so Bastard was renamed Hornswoggle and given a more childlike persona.
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake
Let’s face it, “Brutus Beefcake” is a pretty terrible name, to begin with, but tag teams are allowed to have goofy matching names: Ax and Smash, Beautiful Bobby and Sweet Stan, and Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. It fits.
Once the Dream Team broke up, though, what was left for Beefcake? Piggy-backing on to Roddy Piper’s hair-versus-hair “retirement” (yeah right) match with Adrian Adonis, Beefcake joined in the victory trim, and with Piper now gone, had to carry on the feud himself…so for alliteration’s sake, why not be a barber?
Well, barbers really aren’t scary, unless they’re named Sweeney Todd. And a muscular guy is just going to look dumb in a white coat (as Glenn Jacob’s dentist character Isaac Yankem would prove definitively). But Ed Leslie made his barber demented, yet fun. He’d cut hair, and his clothes, with garden shears, and he’d only do it to the bad guys, after making them unconscious in his sleeper hold. His intensity in the role—and his friendship with Hulk Hogan—kept the barber routine going for six years.
Irwin R. Schyster
A generic all-American good guy in his first WWF run, Mike Rotunda moved to WCW in a “Varsity Club” gimmick drawing on his college past, and eventually got the nickname “Captain,” implicitly meaning captain of the wrestling team.
This being wrestling, that eventually changed into a sea captain gimmick instead. And from there, to a JR Ewing type named “Michael Wallstreet,” who came to the ring in a suit.
But it was in his WWE return that he spun gold out of the most grasping-at-straws gimmick ever. Keeping the suit and tie, he became Irwin R. Schyster, abbreviated as IRS…an evil taxman. This was a gimmick so goofy that Mad Magazine had actually created something similar to it in a joke years earlier in their WWF Magazine parody. And yet it worked. Rotunda was a good-looking guy hampered with what we might today call “resting bitchface,” and that was perfect for an accountant, who now actually wrestled in the suit and tie as well. It made good money for four years, and he still resurfaces at times.