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5 WWE Legends Who Had Terrible Gimmicks Before They Made It Big

Isaac Yankem, DDS
Isaac Yankem, DDS
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In order to become a successful WWE Superstar, one of the main requirements is a good gimmick - a Superstar’s in-ring persona that affects the character he or she portrays. It also informs their behavior, outfit and even their wrestling moves. It's basically who their character is in a nutshell.

A good gimmick can elevate a Superstar while a bad one often leads to a change in persona that can be hard to overcome. For example, The Undertaker is arguably WWE’s greatest character ever, and his gimmick lasted for more than 30 years. His persona could have failed in the mid-1990s during the cartoonish era of the WWE but The Undertaker constantly evolved.

On the other hand, Shelton Benjamin was one of the brightest prospects WWE had in the mid-2000s. He was athletic, talented, and looked like a future WWE champion. However, the WWE gave him a "momma’s boy" gimmick in 2006 and he never really recovered.

While Shelton didn't fulfill his potential, there are other Superstars who were given terrible gimmicks before they became WWE legends. Here are five legends who made it big despite starting their careers with a terrible character.


#5 Oz – Diesel/Kevin Nash

Oz
Oz

Kevin Nash started his career with WCW in 1990. He had a few gimmicks in his first tenure with WCW like Master Blaster Steel, The Master Blaster, and Vinnie Vegas. However, the worst of the bunch was Oz, a ripoff of the Wizard of Oz.

Despite standing almost seven feet tall, Oz was never going to be successful with his silver hair and neon green attire. Add the fact that he was being managed by The Great Wizard (portrayed by Kevin Sullivan), while also being accompanied by Wizard of Oz characters on his way to the ring. The icing on the cake on how bad the Oz character was as he wore a turban and had a fake, white beard.

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The story goes that Ted Turner, who owned the promotion at the time, had recently acquired the rights to the classic fantasy movie. In order to build up hype for this, Turner had requested that a Wizard of Oz-related character be created for WCW programming.

Thankfully, Nash soon signed with the WWE and became known as “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel wherein he became a one-time WWE champion. Even though he returned to WCW, Nash was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame twice, individually in 2015 and as part of the nWo in 2020.

#4 The Prototype – John Cena

The Prototype
The Prototype

John Cena was the face of the WWE for almost 15 years before transitioning to a full-time Hollywood actor in 2018. But, before he became a WWE legend, Cena started his WWE career in Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2001. In OVW, he had a gimmick called The Prototype who was an engineered genius and 50 percent man, 50 percent machine.

A clear ripoff of the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, the Prototype, thankfully, did not cut promos in a robotic voice. The character had a great energy to it but Cena’s blonde haircut made it look bad. Nevertheless, Cena ditched the Prototype persona a year later when he made his WWE debut against Kurt Angle.

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The rest is history. Cena became one of the greatest WWE superstars ever. He carried the company for a decade and a half wherein he was a record-tying 16-time World Champion. His accolades are too many to list and he has followed the path of The Rock and Batista as the next great wrestler to make it big in Hollywood.

#3 Stunning Steve Austin/The Ringmaster – Stone Cold Steve Austin

Stunning Steve Austin
Stunning Steve Austin

Stone Cold Steve Austin is arguably the greatest WWE superstar of all time. He was the face of WWE at its peak during the Attitude Era, helping Vince McMahon put WCW out of business. Austin was the ass-kicking, beer-drinking anti authority figure that everyone loved.

But before becoming the Texas Rattlesnake, he was known as Stunning Steve Austin in WCW. He was part of a tag team with Brian Pillman, the Hollywood Blondes. This was a time Austin had blond hair and sparkling vests. The legend then moved on to WWE in 1995 as The Ringmaster.

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Generic as they come, The Ringmaster lasted less than a year as Austin became Stone Cold and rose to stardom by winning the 1996 King of the Ring and cutting the famous “Austin 3:16” promo. At the height of his popularity, Stone Cold Steve Austin was untouchable. The WWE dodged a bullet since they went with Stone Cold rather than these really bad ideas: Otto Von Ruthless, Ice Dagger, Fang McFrost and Chilli McFreeze.

#2 Isaac Yankem, DDS/Fake Diesel – Kane

Isaac Yankem, DDS
Isaac Yankem, DDS

The Undertaker character was so great that it helped introduce another WWE legend, Kane, back in 1997. But before becoming the Big Red Machine, Glen Jacobs had a tough time finding the perfect gimmick. Jacobs debuted in the WWE as Mike Unabomb in 1995. He then became the evil dentist Isaac Yankem, DDS.

It was a terrible character that Vince McMahon loved since he made Jacob’s teeth dirty despite being a dentist. When the Isaac Yankem character failed unsurprisingly, Jacobs then became Fake Diesel after Diesel and Razor Ramon jumped ship to WCW in 1996.

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As expected, the Fake Diesel persona was unsuccessful and Jacobs underwent another gimmick change. He became Kane, the younger brother of The Undertaker, in 1997. As Kane, Jacobs finally found the perfect character and became one of the greatest and most accomplished big man in WWE history. One of his biggest accolades is become a two-time World Champion. Who would have thought a demon is cooler than a dentist with bad teeth?

#1 Terra Ryszn’/Jean-Paul Levesque – Triple H

Jean-Paul Levesque
Jean-Paul Levesque

Before becoming a WWE legend and part of the McMahon Family, Triple H was part of WCW in 1994. He started off Terror Risin’ then became Terra Ryzing. Great gimmick, right? After it failed, Triple H used part of his real name as Jean-Paul Levesque, a French character who does not speak French but speaks in a terrible French accent.

Triple H joined WWE a year later wherein he became the “Connecticut Blueblood” Hunter Hearst Helmsley. It was the predecessor to the Triple H character and way better than the Jean-Paul Levesque persona. The only positive thing that came out from the terrible French gimmick is The Pedigree, Triple H’s iconic finishing move.

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As Triple H, he became one of the greatest superstars and heels in WWE history. He has won everything in the WWE and he is now part of the company as the Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy and Development. Triple H is also currently the head honcho for WWE’s third brand, NXT.

Edited by Kevin C. Sullivan
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