Top Five: Gimmick Changes

Craig Wilson, Brian Damage & Russ Morgan

A gimmick is very often the making or breaking of a performer. A gimmick such as that of The Undertaker can help a wrestler become a hero to millions while being saddled with one that involves being a ballroom dancer is less likely to have the longevity. In today’s Top Five Craig, Brian and Russ share their favourite gimmick changes that helped create a superstar.


5. Dolph Ziggler: From golf caddy to male cheerleader, there probably weren’t many that expected much from Nicholas Nemeth. Thankfully though he was given another try and albeit a bit of a naff name – what does Dolph Ziggler really even mean? – but he’s gotten himself over big style and is one of the more popular guys on the roster. That’s inspite of everything before.

RockyMaivia4. Rocky becomes The Rock: The way that Maivia was pushed in 1996 effectively made him doomed. The wrestling world was changing thanks to the coolness of the nWo and the take no prisoners approach of the fledgling ECW but the powers at be at Titan Towers though the bland babyface Maivia would get over and proceeded to ram him down our throats. If modern day fans thought the reaction John Cena gets is bad, it’s not a patch on what Rocky got with “die Rocky, die” chanted at him. A stint with the Nation gave him a much needed tweak before a run as with the Corporation helped turn him into a superstar.

3. Bray Wyatt: One of the most interesting characters to debut on our screens in quite sometime. Gone was the Husky Harris gimmick and in its place was the Cape Fear inspired Bray Wyatt. It took a superstar from going nowhere to headlining PPVs. What a transformation.

2. The Undertaker: Few probably expected The Undertaker to have anything like the longevity that the character has had. It outlisted the cartoon early 90s and survived the Attitude Era almost intact. Not bad for the sort of over the top character that was entirely inkeeping with how the WWE would book a debuting superstar.

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin: It’s difficult to look beyond Stone Cold for this topic. Whilst in both WCW and ECW Austin has shown off his unique brand of charisma and promo skills, he was saddled with the lame Ringmaster gimmick upon his debut with the WWE and given The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase to speak for him. Who knows how long this would have lasted had it not been for the infamous Curtain Call but it meant that Austin was given victory at King of the Ring 1996 and thanks to his coronation promo, the Ringmaster became history.


I decided to do my top 5 a little differently…these guys weren’t necessarily main event guys…but a change in gimmicks certainly helped their careers greatly.

5. Thurman “Sparky” Plugg to Hardcore Holly: Okay, maybe the transformation into Hardcore Holly didn’t exactly make Bob Holly into a main event player…but it did give the wrestler a heck of a lot more shelf life in the WWF/E. The Sparky Plugg race car driver went nowhere fast. As Hardcore Holly, he was able to win multiple tag team and Hardcore titles and gained a reputation as a McMahon enforcer.

4. “Make a difference” Phatu into Rikishi: Despite the nickname, Phatu was not making a difference in fan reactions to him…not even making a dent. He bleached his hair blonde, wore an over sized thong and began dancing and all of a sudden…became an instant sensation.

3. Leif Cassidy into Al Snow with Head: Al Savern was wallowing in preliminary matches and undercards for months in the WWF…When he went to ECW to get a gimmick change…his fortunes turned around quickly. He was given a mannequin head and did a crazy gimmick and was one of the top babyfaces in ECW for a spell.

honkytonk man2. The Blonde Bomber Wayne Farris into The Honkytonk Man: Believe it or not, at one point in his career….Wayne Farris had long bleached blonde hair with a mustache. It wasn’t until he greased it jet black, grabbed a guitar and transformed into the Honkytonk Man that he became a top heel in the WWF during the 1980’s.

1. Flyin’ Brian Pillman into The Loose cannon: Personally, one of my favorite gimmick changes of all time. From a typical babyface…to arrogant heel…to crazed lunatic…Pillman pulled it off brilliantly and in doing so…became one of the hottest commodities in all of wrestling.


5. Bret Hart: From WWF baby face to the most hated heel in the USA, very clever work but unfortunately no going back. The demise of Bret Hart started at the Royal Rumble 1997 pushing through to his departure at Survivor Series. Aligning himself with the Hart Foundation was a breath of fresh air, especially to European viewers like myself. We all know what happened, but boy did it keep you coming back week after week.

4) Sting: From bleach-blonde surfer dude to dark side outcast, one of the more intriguing gimmick changes. Coinciding with the n W o storyline, we weren’t sure if he would join the “black and white”. He carried on the gimmick into TNA and finally the WWE. Sting will always be the WCW franchise in my eyes and it was a clever way to keep him fresh.

3) Dustin Rhodes into Goldust: Now Dustin was on big push in WCW back in the day, but due to a blading incident, was let go due to company policy. He went to the WWF and was repackaged as Goldust, a seemingly trans-gender weirdo with eyes on Razor Ramon’s pants!!! I know the character isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it was interesting. Despite ducking in an out of the WWE, he remains a favourite from the new generation era.

ScottSteiner_crop_north2) Scott Steiner into Big Poppa Pump: Now I know I have written about this before in my “Moment In Time” piece, but it would be sacrilege if I left this one out. One day dark haired member of the ever popular Steiner Brothers, next day bleach-blonde psycho. Match this with an absolutely stacked body type, this is one of the changes in wrestling people will never forget.

1) Rocky Maivia into The Rock: Rocky was about to be lost in the shuffle, the curly haired fan favourite was too clean cut to survive in the approaching “Attitude Era”. A quick change and join up with The Nation saw a different side and The Rock was born. Brilliant work by the WWF here and soon The Rock would transcend the world of wrestling and go into a rather successful movie career. He does owe a little bit to Vince McMahon…

All previous Top Five pieces can be found here.

One thought on “Top Five: Gimmick Changes

  1. I remember Rocky’s initial debut way back in 96. I was nine years old and remember actually feeling a bit sorry for him at first, I’m like “he seems like an alright dude, these fans are a bunch of assholes”. I didn’t really pay much more attention to him until he joined the nation. I miss the 90’s.


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