In recent months, there seems to have been a small but noticeable resurgence in the idea of proper gimmicks. For a long time, it seemed the undercard drifted along with no defined characters, no interesting roles, nothing remarkable to speak of.
Now we have the Funkasaurus, the Intellectual Savior, the Most Interesting Rugby Player In The World and the Sin City Carnivore. But there’s still a gap. There’s still a glut of wrestlers floating around on the roster who lack direction, who lack a strong character, or perhaps have been saddled with a terrible one.
Creativity is always subjective, and I would never claim to be the next Paul Heyman or anything of the sort. But WWE is better than captain vanilla Alex Riley, who doesn’t even have a character. WWE is better than Jinder Mahal and his hat box. And if WWE is going to employ all these guys, they deserve better than racist caricatures..
So here are five gimmicks I think wrestling should give a try. And just to push the envelop a little further, I’ll plug each one onto an existing WWE wrestler where applicable, just to show how the story could properly unfold in today’s WWE.
Once upon a time, the World Championship was everything. Being the WCW Heavyweight Champion, or the WWF Champion, or the Intercontinental Champion, meant something. Those titles were the focal point of the entire federation, the goal that everyone aspired to.
That was before star power became more important than prestige and the landscape became dominated by petty personal feuds and battles between and against authority figures.
The Gold Hunter doesn’t care about any of that. He has one thing on his mind. He wants to win championships. And he doesn’t just want to win the WWE Championship, though that is definitely on his list. He wants the U.S. Title, the Intercontinental Title, the Tag Team Titles. He wants to be the next Triple H, the next HBK, the next Edge, a Triple Crown Champion, a Grand Slam Champion.
For him, the only thing that matters is how much and how often and how long he can hold a title. Everything else is secondary, if not entirely irrelevant.
All of his feuds would focus, ultimately, on the titles. Whether he’s chasing a No. 1 contender’s match to be decided at a pay-per-view, or seeking bloody vengeance on a man who cost him a chance at the gold, whether he’s in the title picture or not, everyone knows what he’s after.
The effect here would be two-fold. It would grant a young guy who hasn’t picked up a lot of gold a chance to have a strong direction, and it would, I hope, elevate the idea of being a champion.
He would risk anything to acquire the gold, enter any match, fight any person with the chance to be champion. He storms the Royal Rumble, he scratches and claws for the chance to be in an Elimination Chamber, he wreaks utter mayhem in the Money in the Bank match for a chance at that briefcase. Nothing can stop him.
And when he finds a partner who can get him the tag-team belts, he’ll stick by them through thick and thin—unless he has to cut out some dead weight.
Also important would be to tag him with a valet, a female cohort who would fight just as viciously for the Diva’s Championship so that they could carry all the gold together. Someone like Eve or possibly even Beth Phoenix would fit in nicely in that role, and it would give another woman a chance to stand out on WWE programming.
As for who could fit the bill, I’m thinking it would have to be someone young. Having a guy come in with four or five title reigns to his name before taking on this gimmick would be a little much. I’d offer up either Jinder Mahal or Michael McGillicutty.
The latter is my personal preference, since he has better in-ring chops and seems to be really progressing as a mic worker from where he once was. But if WWE is high on Jinder, then giving him a better gimmick than “he wears a turbin” is a great place to start.
Recently there was an article comparing the WWE to cartoons, and piggybacking off that, another comparing WWE Superstars to their Dragonball Z counterparts.
Honestly, that’s a comparison that works really, really well. I’ve said to friends before that Pro Wrestling is, in many ways, a live action equivalent to Andie shows. It’s larger than life, full of fights to the finish that can settle a sometimes ludicrous variety of disagreements.
The characters are loud and brash, have dynamic signature moves, and it’s full of drama on a theatrical level, with backstabbing and plot twists and grand rivalries.
So why not push the comparison a little further? You’ve got a guy with a remarkable finishing move, or even a series of signature moves. They usually have flashy names. A Codebreaker, an Attitude Adjustment, a Go To Sleep. The only real difference between Wrestling and Anime in that respect is that the characters in Anime actually shout the move’s name as they do it.
You have a guy that comes out, and he doesn’t just do a big roundhouse kick as one of his signature moves. He shouts out that it’s his Guillotine Cyclone as he winds up and delivers the blow. Then he goes up on the top rope, cups his hands around his mouth and lets the crowd know that the Falling Phoenix is coming, or something of the like.
He lands a big move, he gets a pinfall. The crowd cheers. At least, at first.
Because while this would be a semi-comedic baby-face gimmick to start with, it could easily shift gears. Maybe the other superstars get used to him pulling off his signature moves and start to duck out of the way when they hear a shout coming.
He starts losing and losing from telegraphing his own hits. So he starts mixing it up. He’ll shout one move’s name, then land a completely different one out of the blue. At the same time, he starts cheating more, using shortcuts, drifting into heel-dom.
Now, instead of being something for the crowd to chant along with, the shouted names are a way to get under their skin, a more ostentatious version of the Yes!/No! duels.
And who plays the role? This one is easy, because this is actually the wrestler and the gimmick that inspired the article. It’s Justin Gabriel. What some of you may or may not know is that Gabriel is, in fact, a big Anime fan in day-to-day life. Looking at his pretty-boy style and ridiculous haircuts, I find that easy to believe.
I bet he’d do great if given the chance to play one of those characters in real life, and coupling his great ring skills and natural charisma with a defined character to play would give him a lot more momentum than he has today.
Once upon a time, there was a fantastic tag team called the APA. Bradshaw and Faarooq hired out their services to anyone who could pay to act as protection, muscle, or anything, really, as long as they got to fight and drink and got paid in the process. The Career Killer is something like that, with a mean streak a mile long.
He’s not in the WWE to wrestle matches and win championships. He’s in the WWE because hurting people is what he does, and he does it very, very well. If he can get paid for it, all the better.
He doesn’t follow the rules. He doesn’t play nice. He beats people down by any means possible, and in fact does his best when he’s introduced to end careers, just to make sure he’s got his mark made in the business. This would give him instant feuds, as you just throw him in with someone who took a legit injury, is filming a movie, or got a wellness suspension, and then have them come back looking for revenge.
More than that, though, he offers his services to the highest bidder. He’s happy to work as muscle to stand outside the ring, to jump people from behind prior to a match, or just to destroy them in the ring. He doesn’t have personal, petty feuds. He hurts people because he’s paid to, or to get something out of it.
To work as the Contract Killer, the gimmick needs to be placed on someone legitimately intimidating. Someone like Kassius Ohno in NXT could work, as he’s already got the “I hurt people” part of the gimmick down. Alternatively, you could take a risk on tuning up the ring skills of someone like Mason Ryan, and we can only hope that he’s been working on his ring skills—if he’s even still employed.
An established heel makes his way to the ring with a microphone. He is deeply sorry for the way that he’s carried himself the past months, even years of his career. He’s been selfish, arrogant, and taken shortcuts instead of acting like a real man in the ring.
For that, he wants to apologize to everyone out in the WWE universe. For the next few weeks, he really seems to have turned a corner, glad-handing with the fans on his way to the ring, wrestling clean matches and generally playing a picture-perfect baby-face, just long enough to get the crowd on his side.
But then things start changing. Every so often his composure slips. He has a burst of temper on the microphone, he flips out when a ref makes a call that isn’t in his favor, he trashes the backstage after a loss.
He still tries to show the baby-face smile, still primarily wrestles heels, but slowly his wicked roots begin to show. One of the other faces tries to take him aside and talk to him about his behavior, and he promises that he’ll change. He is a changed man, after all. He’s determined.
It gets to the point that when he’s not wrestling, he’s perfectly nice, polite, almost begging the fans to like him. When the bell rings, though, he becomes a completely different person, tearing into the opponent as savagely as a wrestler possibly can without getting immediately DQ’ed. And he does get DQ’ed often, when it suits the story to do so.
Meanwhile, he tries to woo one of the most sparkly and sweet Divas like Kelly Kelly or Layla, telling them what a nice, reliable guy he is. Until he’s in a No-DQ match and pummels a man into unconsciousness with a steel chair, of course.
And depending on how the fans react, he can either be a face with a mean streak in a Randy Orton-ish vein, or a heel trying desperately to be a face and getting hated all the more for it.
This one isn’t the most original. There’s a bit of Drew McIntyre in here, a bit of Festus with the snapping once he’s been in the ring. But no one has ever taken this gimmick and really run with it that I’ve seen. He needs to completely play the good guy one moment and completely the villain when he snaps.
For a wrestler to take on the gimmick, I can’t think of anyone better than Cody Rhodes. He’s enormously talented but seems to have lost his way as a character, and people have been talking about how a face-turn might suit him, anyway.
He has what should be a good look for it, is talented enough on the mic to sell the character, and his experience being “Un-Dashing” should give him a perfectly psychotic in-ring style to handle that part as well.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Isn’t this technically Brock Lesnar’s gimmick? Well, yes, sort of. But the simple fact is, Brock isn’t going to be wrestling any more matches than, probably, Wrestlemania and Survivor Series at most, and he’s almost certainly not going to stick around after that.
MMA, however, is a cultural phenomenon going forward and capitalizing on it could make for a deeply compelling character—as long as WWE doesn’t need to assert its superiority as “better” than MMA in the process.
You take a guy who doesn’t dress in the usual WWE style, first of all. He wears padded gloves, shorts, maybe boots but probably not, and a mouth guard. He wrestles a submission-heavy style and, unlike Daniel Bryan or Alberto del Rio, he has far more than one move that he regularly uses.
Armbars, heel holds, guillotines, kimura, triangle chokes. He tries to pull off anything that he can when he gets on the mat, and when he’s off the mat, he storms the opponent with big knees and punches, devastating clinches, anything that he can throw off.
At the same time, he comes out with an entourage. More than just a single manager, he comes out with a team of trainers and hangers-on who shout encouragement while he’s out there but don’t actually work that much interference. They’re there to make him look like a big deal, to flank him as he makes his way to the ring with a grim look on his face.
He’s here to do business. He’s here to win matches and be a devastating ass-kicker. MMA is the wave of the future, he tells everyone, more than pro wrestling, and he’s going to show it to people one match at a time. He knocks out Santino with an elbow, he drops Riley in a matter of minutes, and works his way all the way up to countering out of the STF and throwing dueling locks on CM Punk or Daniel Bryan, if he takes off with the crowd.
This one is harder to place, because you need someone who can work as a devastating striker and submission specialist. Del Rio has the legitimate MMA background, but it would be too much of a character change for him to go from rich snob to workmanlike bruiser.
The other best option I can think of off the top of my head is Tyson Kidd, who definitely has the in-ring chops, but after years of being a Superstars regular, it would be hard for the fans to take him seriously as a threat.
Bringing in someone from the indies or an actual MMA competitor for a brand new face might be the best option for this one. Which is fair, since it would have to wait for Brock to be out of the WWE for a few months to really sell.