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Monday, September 5, 2011

10 Cult Classic Wrestling Gimmicks

With wrestling gimmicks, you never know when something will hit or not. That's one reason why, over the years, there have been so many stupid, offensive, or down right horrible gimmicks; because wrestling is a strange business, and sometimes, the weirdest things can get over with a crowd. Look at the Undertaker. Here's a guy who took the awful, awful gimmick of an undead mortician and, thanks to the crowd taking a liking to it for whatever reason, has remained in the top tier of the WWE for nearly 25 years (not that I like the Undertaker, but that's another story for another day). While that was a gimmick that was intended to get over, there have been many others that really weren't. Yet, despite it all, have become favorites among many long time fans and have also enjoyed a pretty decent amount of success.On that note, I present 10 of the best "cult classic" gimmicks that were probably never meant to get over as well as they did. While I normally rank these lists, I found it a little hard to decide who ranked above who and why. Instead, I am just presenting them in no particular order. Again, it's my blog and my list, so I'll do what I damn well please.

The list starts off with the most recent cult favorite out of all of the entries you will see here. Jay Lethal was another X-Division wrestler in TNA not really going anywhere. He had all the in-ring talent in the world, but seemed to be missing something. Then one day, after receiving a blessing from no less than the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage, "Black Machismo" was born. Lethal, a long-time Savage fan, studied Savage's mannerisms, moves and speaking style until he had everything just right, and man, did he hit the nail on the head. Jay Lethal had an absolutely perfect Randy Savage impression down, even to the gravely voice and fried hairstyle. While this gimmick was probably only supposed to last a couple months, Lethal was so good in the role he ended up keeping it for a few years and developed quite a fan following in the process (as well as a handful of TNA titles). On top of that, Lethal proved he had natural charisma when given the chance to show it, and would later wind up also doing a somehow even funnier Ric Flair impersonation (dubbed "The Black Nature Boy" by some). Seriously, if you haven't seen Lethal's Flair impersonation, look it up on YouTube. You won't be sorry.

Val Venis still has one of the most memorable gimmicks of the last 15 years, and there's a good reason for that. Venis was basically playing the role of a porn star, a gimmick that you would probably think would never be able to get over in a wrestling ring. However, Venis worked the gimmick to the max, filming a hilarious series of videos prior to his debut, cutting sexual innuendo-laden promos at every opportunity and having one of the funniest Titan Tron entrance videos of all time (mainly nothing but stock footage of acts meant to represent sex, such as a train going into a tunnel). While intentionally meant to be a heel, Venis was so good and over-the-top in the role that he was getting heavily cheered during his debut match on WWF Monday Night RAW. As a result, he was instantly turned face despite playing the role of a womanizing, perverted horn dog.

Honestly, despite the fact that I loved this gimmick, to this day, I still have no clue how it ever got over in the first place. That's Paul Heyman's genius for you, I guess. Take a huge guy that's relatively agile, slap him in typical Amish garb and have him never say anything except the word "Chickens!" nonsensically any time he's presented with a microphone. Then, take all of that and pair him with womanizing pervert "Dastardly" Danny Doring and the gimmick becomes even more mind-boggling. Based on that description, it's absolutely insane that Roadkill ever got over. Despite this, though, he was an instant hit with the normally fickle ECW crowds and was a high mid-carder for the last four years of ECW's existence, including being one half of the very last ECW World Tag Team Champions in the company's history. Like I said at the beginning, when it comes to wrestling, you never know what's going to click with people.

Steve Lombardi was nothing more than a jobber in the 80's WWF. He was an average looking guy with an average body and an average skill set in the ring. Not the worst wrestler in the world, but not even close to the best. So, what do you do with a guy like this? Give him a cigar, a ripped up New York Yankees t-shirt and some filthy jeans, call him the Brooklyn Brawler, and the rest is history. After the transformation, Brawler went on to great things, such as...well, in all honesty, he continued to be nothing more than a jobber, probably picking up no more than a handful of victories over the last 25+ years. However, he also became one of the most famous jobbers in pro wrestling history, even appearing on a featured match at Wrestlemania V and winning a #1 contenders battle royal to face then-WWF Champion Shawn Michaels at Madison Square Garden. Granted, he was annihilated in both of those matches (and countless others), but the fact that he still dusts off the Brawler gear every once in a while nearly 3 decades later is a testament to the gimmick's staying power and cult appeal.

Much like the aforementioned Steve Lombardi, Barry Darsow has had numerous gimmicks throughout his career (although he has had much, much more success). While Repo Man was one of the stupidest gimmicks not only done by him but done in wrestling history period, Repo Man has become a cult favorite over the last few years or so, especially for older fans. Part of it was the stupidity of the gimmick-a guy in a Lone Ranger mask with chunks of tire and license plates glued to his jacket who filmed a series of infamous videos of himself repossessing everything from cars to bikes from people who were so much as a minute late on their payments. The other part of it was Darsow himself. Rather than complain about stupid gimmicks, Darsow was known for not only accepting any gimmick given to him, but having fun with the gimmick and playing it as over-the-top as he possibly could.

The gimmick of an Elvis impersonator was doomed to fail the second it came off the drawing board. However, due to a strange twist of events (and a rare usage of logic in wrestling), it not only didn't fail, but succeeded far beyond most could imagine. HTM started as a face in the 80's WWF, with support from no less than Hulk Hogan, the company's biggest star of the entire decade. However, despite the endorsement, fans shit all over Honky. No one was interested in seeing a rock-and-roll playing, jumpsuit wearing Elvis clone, and he was routinely booed in every single building he performed in. Instead of canning the gimmick and firing the man behind the gimmick, Wayne Farris, Vince McMahon and company decided to turn him heel instead, but have him continue doing the exact same mannerisms he was using as a face. It worked, and the Honky Tonk Man instantly became one of the top heels in the entire company. He continued running full throttle with the gimmick, including telling the crowd, "Thank you very much! You've been a beautiful audience!" despite the boos. Honky wound up feuding with practically every major face in the company during his tenure, and even won the WWF Intercontinental Championship and holding it for 14 months, a record that has yet to be broken. Not only that, but Farris kept the gimmick after being released from the WWF in 1991 and continues to use it to this day, spanning a nearly 30-year run as the Honky Tonk Man. A gimmick that should have lasted only a couple of months has now spanned across four different decades is would seem to be impossible, but HTM did it.

Much like HTM, this is a gimmick that should've lasted maybe a few months. Instead, Mike Rotunda made it last nearly 4 years, picking up 3 WWF Tag Team Championships in the process with Hall of Fame Member Ted DiBiase. As stupid as it was to have a wrestling tax agent, at the same time, it made sense. After all, the Internal Revenue Service is one of the most hated organizations in the United States due to the fact that we have to pay our taxes to them. I guess this is exactly what the fans thought as he quickly became one of the top heels in the company and remained so until he left in 1995. Much like Barry Darsow, the success of the gimmick really comes down to the man behind it. Rotunda was just too good in the role, talking about how people in the crowd were total tax cheats, accusing other wrestlers of not paying their taxes on their ring gear and costumes, etc. Today, he is a cult favorite among wrestling fans, and Rotunda (now a WWE agent) even gets to break out the I.R.S. costume every once in a while nowadays. Only this time, he actually gets cheered due to older, smart-ass smart-marks like myself realizing how awesome the gimmick actually was in retrospect.

And we get to our second musical-themed gimmick of the list. Much like Honky Tonk Man, the gimmick of the Disco Inferno was more or less a guy stuck in the wrong decade, still thinking he was cool. In this case, the 70's rather than the 50's/60's. Glenn Gilbertti went out and found the best-looking polyester jumpsuits he could find, had some tights made to look like bell-bottoms and seemingly studied the John Travolta characters of Vinnie Barbarino and Tony Manero for hours on end, and thus the Disco Inferno was born. Similar to HTM, Inferno pretended like the fans were cheering for him despite the fact that they were booing him mercifully. Although he started as a glorified jobber in WCW and spent nearly his first two years with the company on his back for a 3-count 10 times out of 10, fans slowly began to start cheering him for no apparent reason really, leading to a pair of World Television Championships and some great matches with far more established talent like Dean Malenko, Booker T and Perry Saturn. Perhaps it was because people secretly liked disco music; perhaps it was due to the fact that Inferno was great as an out-of-touch, clumsy dork. Either way, the Disco Inferno has gone down as a cult favorite among fans.

Now, a lot of you may be asking, "Who the fuck is Waylon Mercy?" And you'd be right to do so. Mercy was a very short-lived gimmick in the mid-90's WWF. Less than a year, in fact, as the man behind the gimmick, veteran Dan Spivey ended up retiring during this run due to numerous injuries sustained over a fairly lengthy career. However, before he bowed out of professional wrestling, he was given one of the coolest gimmicks I've ever seen, one that could not only be considered controversial in the then-still-family-friendly WWF, but one that I think could still hold up today. Rumored to be inspired by Robert DeNiro's character in the classic film Cape Fear, Mercy claimed to be a peaceful man despite having sadistic jailhouse tattoos all over his upper body (although they were fake), cutting very quiet and cryptic promos in a charming southern accent and ending them with the now-infamous line of "You know what I mean?" Not only did he have DeNiro's mannerisms down pat, but he legitimately looked like a psychotic serial killer. Seriously. Look at the picture above and to the left and tell me he doesn't look like someone who wouldn't hesitate to end your life. Before matches, he would even shake the hand of the ring announcer, the referee and his opponent. However, once the match was underway, Mercy would get the look of sadistic murderer in his eye and go apeshit on his opponent before putting them down with a sleeper, keeping the look in his eye the entire time. It's hard to say for sure where Mercy's career in the WWF could have gone prior to retiring, but there's a very strong possibility he would have been main eventing. He even appeared to be headed towards a main event run prior to his retirement, beginning a mini-feud with then-WWF Champion Diesel.

Rounding out the list is another controversial-at-the-time gimmick with Doink the Clown. While a wrestling clown might seem really, REALLY stupid (and that's exactly what it did become), it started out fantastically. Matt Bourne played the role of Doink in the gimmick's early days, but instead of Doink being a friendly clown who made people laugh, Doink was an evil clown who made children cry. No, really. He actually did make children cry on a few occasions, with acts such as pulling mean pranks on them to popping their balloon animals with a lit cigar. Yes, to complete the ensemble, he came to the ring smoking a big fat stogie. And he had some of the best entrance music ever used. It started out as a stereotypically happy circus theme, but instantly turned very dark and brooding (think Mankind's first entrance theme), complete with the sounds of kids screaming and crying while he laughed maniacally at them. Unfortunately, just as the gimmick was catching steam as a hot villain, Vince McMahon immediately pulled the plug, taking away everything cool about the gimmick and turning Doink into a typical family-friendly, fun-loving dork of a clown. Needless to say, fans actually hated face Doink more than heel Doink, and chants of "Kill the clown!" followed him everywhere. Sadly, Bourne was also replaced under the paint (by Steve Lombardi) due to substance abuse problems. Bourne did try to keep the gimmick going, though, as he showed up in the place least accepting of a wrestling clown: ECW. However, this time, Bourne and then-booker Paul Heyman embraced the fact that the crowd hated the Doink character and thus "Bourne Again" was created. Bourne came out with his face only painted halfway, would dress in the shabbiest of wrestling gear and berate the fans, blaming them for all of his problems, including the Doink gimmick. Although it didn't get as famous as Evil Doink, Bourne Again earned a cult following in its own right, despite being very short-lived.


  1. Great list. There are a few on here that I don't remember, or had never heard of. I really enjoy reading your wrestling related blogs here because you put so much into them, and your passion for the sport really comes out.

  2. @Heather: Thanks, babe. Now I just need to figure out what the next wrestling-related column will be about.

  3. I'm sure you'll think of something. You're good at that. :)