When Gimmicks "Infringe" on a Wrestler's Talent

Nick HaynesCorrespondent IJune 5, 2009

Watching "Smackdown" a few weeks ago made me realize something yet again--something I've thought of several times over the years, but which have now boiled over into this writing.

There were days, early in my childhood, where I would get up and watch wrestling.  Those were good days, when I could easily have the world broken down into little niches and segments, and where gimmicks didn't seem to really matter, because of the naivete of youth.

As I grew, so did the world of sports-entertainment.  Gone were the days of Doink the Clown and Tugboat, and in its place was the new, hip version of wrestling, replete with such realistic performers as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and the nWo. 

Oh, sure, there were still gimmicks—but they were no longer cheesy, but more realistic.  A man with a hatred towards mankind, a streetwise pimp, or a guy stuck in the 1970s.  Still somewhat out there, but with the right moves, these men could become champions.  As I had grown, so had sports-entertainment.  It was more...mature.

But a disturbing trend began to rear its head around the 2002-2003 timeframe.  The age of the goofy gimmicks had returned.  It might have been fine at one point, but as the world and the business had grown, it was, to say the least, outdated.

And that brings us to the current day.  We currently have: a brutal island savage (Umaga); a man who lapses between a catatonic state and a state of rage, depending on the ring of a bell (Festus); and an Italian immigrant who cannot grasp the English language (Santino Marella).  We said goodbye within the past few years to: a mentally-handicapped performer (Eugene); male cheerleaders (Spirit Squad); and a list of others.

This is not a new fad for WWE.  Often, a new hire will be given a goofy gimmick and thrown in the mix to see how they will get over with the crowd.

But there is a difference between a poor gimmick that gives the performer room to grow and turn it into something good, and a gimmick that literally leaves the performer no room to grow other than to reject the gimmick outright at some point. 

Usually, WWE gives its performers enough of an "out" to where they can transform the gimmick at some point.

With those I listed above, they are on the "will never draw" list, if for no other reason than the only way to get them credibility is to scrub the entire character and start from scratch.  There can be no evolution of the character—and that is a failure not of the star, but of the creative team.

And that is a loss, for some of those who are saddled with these impossible gimmicks are some of the best talent you will find.  Nick Dinsmore (Eugene) is a world-class wrestler, while Eddie Fatu (Umaga) is the product of a world-famous wrestling family and can pull off high-flying moves that are usually impossible for men much smaller than him.

When a gimmick fails, the creative team has to go back to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong.  Yet, time and again, they seem unable to look at a proposed gimmick and see that there is absolutely no room for growth in the character.

Rather, they are looking for a certain look at a certain time—and in not having a long-term plan in mind for the wrestler, they give the performer absolutely no incentive, other than personal pride, to give the gimmick everything they have.

Stone Cold Steve Austin (and others) is fond of saying that the best gimmicks are the ones that draw on one or two aspects of the real-life personality of the performer, and simply cranking the volume up as far as it will go. 

And he is right.  The most successful wrestlers of the past decade, and of decades ago, are the ones that are true to reality, with minor variations (other than the Undertaker, who is simply The Phenom and transcends the normal rules of reality). 

Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Rock, Kurt Angle, even Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and Harley Race...all champions, all legends, and all realistic.  Even Austin, after being given bad gimmick after bad gimmick, got proactive in the process and devised the Stone Cold gimmick from scratch.

My simple wish, if I were to be granted two or three, would be this: a creative team that has a long-term vision and the ability to see glaring roadblocks and logic holes when devising a gimmick for a new talent.  Perhaps then, we would not have to see otherwise-talented performers fall into a gimmick they can't escape from.