Before Hollywood script writers were hired and enveloped “creative teams” in professional wrestling…..bookers and wrestlers came up with gimmicks for characters. They usually weren’t done in huge corporate conference rooms…but in locker rooms and/or while driving countless hours on the road.
Roderick Toombs career started out innocently enough…Go to the ring…get beat up for a couple of seconds and come back to the dressing room and get paid. For his wrestling debut, friends and members of the bagpipe band he was playing in agreed to play the instrument and lead him to the ring. The ring announcer at that time only knew his first name. After seeing him come to the ring led by bagpipers…the announcer called him “Roddy the Piper” and the name and character stuck.
‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes
Virgil Runnels…as a kid…was always nicknamed ‘Dusty’ by his Dad who was a big baseball fan. His favorite player at that time, was a guy by the name of James “Dusty” Rhodes.
Virgil would use “Dusty Rhodes” as a ring name to honor his father. ‘The American Dream’ gimmick came to be after a match in which his tag team partner Pak Song accidentally hit Dusty and turned Dusty into a babyface. ‘The American Dream’ was another inspiration from his father who told a young Dusty that, “Son, there is an American dream out there for you…you just have to go get it.”
The AWA was in a state of flux. Many of their top young talent had defected to either the WWF or Jim Crockett’s Mid Atlantic promotion. They needed fresh, young talent to replace the ones they lost. Verne Gagne had two relatively unknown…but young and talented workers named Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. Under the advice of Verne’s son Greg, the two youngsters were paired together as a tag team. Jannetty and Michaels had tagged on and off briefly for other territories in the past…but nothing steady.
Greg Gagne suggested the name of the Country Rockers…but Marty Jannetty tweaked it by naming themselves the Midnight Rockers after the Judas Priest song…”Living After Midnight.”
The Red Rooster
When Terry Taylor first came to the WWF, his moniker was “Terrific” Terry Taylor. He seemed to be groomed to be the WWF’s version of Ric Flair. Then all of a sudden he became ‘The Red Rooster.’ According to John Layfield, the reason Taylor became wrestling poultry was because it was punishment for being a behind the scenes stooge or tattletale. When Taylor would get ribbed (pranked) he would go to management and rat the culprits out. A no no during that era. So management made him a rooster complete with a chicken strut…red Mohawk and cock a doodling as a rib.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steve Austin was struggling under the WWF gimmick of “The Ringmaster.” WWF creative tried to come up with a plethora of names but nothing stood out. One day, while at home with his then wife and former valet Jeannie Clark…Austin was having a cup of tea. Jeannie noticed that Austin wasn’t drinking his hot tea and as legend would have it, she said…’Drink your tea before it gets stone cold.’ or it was Austin who complained his tea was stone cold…either way that was the birth of the iconic name.
Early in his career, Steamboat wrestled under his real name of Rick Blood. When he went to work for wrestler/promoter Eddie Graham…he felt that his name sounded too much like a heel’s name. So Eddie, renamed him Ricky Steamboat because he had a slight resemblance to another wrestler who worked for Graham named Sam Steamboat.
Jerry Lawler and Jerry Jarrett were looking for a new monster heel to challenge Lawler in the Memphis territory. They brought in wrestler James Harris aka Sugar Bear Harris and repackaged him as a wild, cannibalistic beast from Africa named Kimala…later spelled Kamala. The idea came from Lawler, who was friends with famed artist Frank Frazetta. He was inspired by a certain Frazetta painting and with Franzetta’s ,came up for the idea and look of the Kimala character.
The name itself is where it gets sketchy. Jerry Jarrett claims it is from a National Geographic article on a man named Dr. Kimala…while Lawler contends he is named after Uganda’s capital city…Kampala.
After training with Verne Gagne to become a pro wrestler…Richard Fliehr wanted to be copy the gimmick of one of his idols…Dusty Rhodes. He approached Verne before his debut match and asked if he could be named “Ramblin” Ricky Rhodes a brother or cousin of Dusty’s. Verne rejected the idea and instead told him to just use his real name and tweak it to be called Ric Flair.
He was nicknamed ‘The Nature Boy’ by the legendary promoter/booker George Scott. Scott gave the name to Buddy Rogers as well. George was also very close friends with Buddy Rogers and felt that if anybody could revive and honor that gimmick it was Flair.