Appearance means so much in the world of professional wrestling. Wrestlers are highly trained, well-oiled machines in the ring. But as talented as they can be in between the ropes, a wrestler needs a look that fans will remember—one that helps define who they are. So many wrestlers experiment with so many different looks that being a cookie-cutter generic wrestler could be considered a “look.”
A look becomes such an integral part of a wrestler’s general persona that when a drastic change happens, there will be a response. It might be positive or it might be negative—but make no mistake about it, there will be a response!
With Triple H’s new corporate look, it’s time to take a stroll down memory lane and review some of wrestling’s most surprising appearance changes.
The Real American. Say your prayers, take your vitamins. Red and yellow. There are so many facets of Hulk Hogan’s dominant run at the top of multiple companies that can be associated with his look.
During his first WWF Championship run, Hogan was known to wear different colored trunks, including white, red and blue (along with the trademark yellow). But he eventually settled on yellow trunks with red knee pads. The red and yellow became synonymous with Hulk Hogan, and with Hulkamania. When Hogan shifted from headbands to bandannas, red and yellow was the only option checked on the order card.
So when Hulk Hogan shocked the world by turning heel and forming the NWO, he needed to take one big step—drop the yellow and red. And it was dropped, in favor of black and white. Hogan even went so far as to have a black painted-on beard to match his new heel persona: black-hearted and ready to tear the wrestling world apart.
The red and yellow would make a comeback, and we’d see tie dye and light blue as well. But the biggest transformation we ever saw in Hulk Hogan was the advent of Hollywood and the abandonment of the red and yellow.
Dolph Ziggler is known by fans around the world as an amazingly talented athlete, and one of the best wrestlers performing today. Comparisons are often made to legendary superstars such as “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and Shawn Michaels.
But it wasn’t always that way for Ziggler.
Several years ago, Dolph Ziggler was just a guy. A guy walking around backstage introducing himself to anyone who would turn their head. The gimmick seemed doomed from the start, but Ziggler owned it. He put everything he had into being Dolph Ziggler, a guy with platinum blonde, stringy locks.
Eventually, he started to catch on. When given a chance to wrestle, he did something that so many wrestlers were criticized for not doing. He sold everything. Sold it like death.
Dolph Ziggler raised his game and was eventually paired up with Vickie Guerrero, a move that garnered him more heat and more attention. Fans were reacting to his entrance. Dolph Ziggler, doomed from the start, was going to make it! And many were excited.
So imagine our dismay on an innocent Monday night when Dolph Ziggler showed up looking like Generic Wrestler B. Short brown hair, plain tights and a look on his face that told it all. Dolph Ziggler’s uniqueness was gone, and his career was soon to follow. This was not the Dolph Ziggler we wanted to see. This was a shell of a man who was headed right for the top.
Now you might have noticed that today, Dolph Ziggler has stringy, platinum blonde hair, flashy tights and a Money in the Bank briefcase that leads to gold. That’s because Ziggler’s generic look was gone in no time. No explanation was ever given for the sudden change or the sudden change back. We didn’t need an explanation; we needed to forget that it ever happened.
Sorry about that.
When the Jim Crockett Promotions purchased the UWF, there was an influx of talent into the NWA’s World Championship Wrestling promotion. One of those talents, Sting, had it all: youth, skill, good looks, charisma and a trademark style that would serve him well for years.
With Sting, you knew what you’d get. You would get bold-colored tights, a bright jacket, a painted face and blonde spiked hair. Sting was basically the west coast version of Hulk Hogan, and he held that role for 10 years.
But one day, that very same Hulk Hogan turned heel, and Sting was lost. Literally. He got lost and was gone for several months. No one could find him, and the NWO was so dominant that Sting was nearly forgotten.
Until one night, a man was seen walking in the rafters during WCW Monday Nitro. The man had jet black hair, wore a black trench coat and had white face paint resembling the popular character “The Crow.” You had to look closely the first time, but once you saw the eyes, you realized it: that was Sting!
“Crow Sting” was the only man who could take down members of the NWO, and when he dropped from the rafters, people went wild. An iconic figure in wrestling was now reinvented and, much like his arch nemesis, Hulk Hogan, the change worked. It worked so well, in fact, that once Sting started talking and showing a personality again, he still maintained the Crow look.
And he’s never lost it, still sporting a look reminiscent of his anti-NWO campaign and nearly nothing like the blonde surfer look he maintained during his rise to prominence.
One fun August evening in Baltimore, Md., former NCAA All-American Ron Simmons had his name pulled out of a hat, giving him the opportunity to challenge Big Van Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. In doing so, Simmons became professional wrestling’s first African American World Champion.
Prior to winning the world title, Simmons gained notoriety as a member of Doom with Butch Reed. After having an unsuccessful run with Woman as their manager, Teddy Long took over managerial duties and turned the team into World Tag Team Champions. It was after the run of Doom ended that Simmons became a world champion.
Like so many gifted and talented wrestlers, Simmons would eventually make his way to the WWF, where he debuted as Faarooq. The trademark pastel colored tights with matching headband were gone from the former world champion, replaced with a gladiator-inspired outfit, complete with misshaped gladiator helmet.
No one knew what to think of the outfit, including the fans. It would be short-lived, as Faarooq would eventually form The Nation of Domination. That stable ran for two years, and Faarooq ended up teaming up with Bradshaw as The Acolytes (and later the APA, the Acolyte Protection Agency).
But Ron Simmons went from All-American first black world champion to gladiator Faarooq years before ever forming the popular duo with Bradshaw. And when the gladiator-inspired Faarooq first appeared, everyone had one reaction: DAMN!
Speaking of Bradshaw...
John Layfield played many cowboy-inspired characters early into his professional wrestling career before finally settling in as Bradshaw, one-half of the Acolyte Protection Agency, the APA. Along with Farooq, he was booked as a bad ass, someone you didn't want to mess with. The APA would routinely be hired out by other wrestlers for protection. They also played cards. A lot.
However, Farooq was (storyline) fired by then Smackdown general manager Paul Heyman and actually retired. This opened the door for Bradshaw, who had already changed his hair, to eventually take on a new persona. Although I used the word “eventually,” there was no slow burn to it. He immediately morphed into JBL.
JBL, or John Bradshaw Layfield, was the polar opposite of the APA’s Bradshaw. He was a JR Ewing-inspired Texas tycoon who entered the arena in vehicles adorned with horns on the hood, wore a robe complete with a towel underneath, tried to eliminate immigration as part of being a “Great American” and won the WWE Championship in a matter of months.
JBL would have a 280-day run as world champion, feuding with the likes of Eddie Guerrero, The Undertaker, The Big Show and the man who would eventually defeat him at WrestleMania 21 for the WWE Championship, John Cena.
When WCW’s Mean Mark Callous jumped ship to the WWF, I don’t think anyone saw what was coming. But today, The Undertaker is one of the most iconic performers in wrestling history, having held multiple world championships, boasting the most famous winning streak in the business and maintaining a persona that immediately elicits a huge response from any crowd upon the mere sound of his music. When that gong hits and that organ plays, the crowd goes nuts.
Typically adorned in purple and black with a signature hat, The “Deadman” Undertaker is a character that will be remembered in the world of wrestling decades after the talent retires. But The Undertaker’s entire run hasn’t been spent as a supernatural being.
After 10 years of being “The Phenom,” The Undertaker made a return to the WWF as “The American Bad Ass” version, a biker riding to the ring on a motorcycle, wearing sunglasses and being played out by Limp Bizkit or Kid Rock songs. This was a complete departure from The Undertaker of old, but it wasn’t a WrestleCrap special. In fact, it worked very well, and it remained his gimmick for nearly three full years before returning to the Deadman persona in 2004.
As The Undertaker nears the end of his career, he’ll forever be remembered as an undead mortician who has one of the most memorable ring entrances of all time. But there is a small percentage of fans (myself included) who would love to see him return to the “American Bad Ass” gimmick at least one more time before calling it a career.