Athletes Who Live Their Gimmicks

Zac Wassink@ ColumnistAugust 26, 2016

Athletes Who Live Their Gimmicks

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    Ryan Lochte made waves outside of the pool at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
    Ryan Lochte made waves outside of the pool at the 2016 Summer Olympics.John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

    The idea of "living the gimmick" differs depending on if we are talking about professional wrestling or legitimate sports competitions. 

    Ric Flair is "The Nature Boy" when he is at a World Wrestling Entertainment show, the NBA Finals or other public events. Odds are you will interact with Hulk Hogan and not Terry Bollea if you encounter "The Hulkster" at an autograph signing. 

    Athletes who live their gimmicks are not necessarily playing characters. They, intentionally or not, merely emphasize certain aspects of their real personalities. 

    Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Conor McGregor the man and McGregor the gimmick are both straight out of pro wrestling. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and New England head coach Bill Belichick have seemingly embraced their roles as heels. We'll remember Ryan Lochte for reasons other than his swimming accomplishments. 

    Living the gimmick isn't always a negative. In fact, individuals who successfully live their gimmicks often make more money than some peers. We are drawn to big personalities, whether we love or hate them. We spend money and time to watch such athletes win or lose depending on our preferences. 

    It's a cycle that will be repeated so long as sports exist. 

Nate Diaz

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    Nate Diaz earned millions of dollars for his fight against Conor McGregor.
    Nate Diaz earned millions of dollars for his fight against Conor McGregor.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Nate Diaz's gimmick is that he is Nate Diaz. He doesn't care if you are entertained by his interviews or style of fighting. He wants you to spend money to watch him fight. 

    That's about it. 

    Diaz doesn't borrow from pro wrestling and boxing personalities as does Conor McGregor. Diaz doesn't show up to press conferences wearing custom suits. He doesn't sound like The Rock, John Cena, Ric Flair or Muhammad Ali when talking about opponents. 

    Diaz is his own man. 

    Diaz's personality was on display throughout his UFC 202 battle versus McGregor. Diaz talked trash and offered a middle finger as a salute to his opponent during the encounter. The brash Diaz dared McGregor to take the fight to the ground after McGregor floored him with numerous leg kicks and a punch. Diaz even shook his head to indicate he wasn't hurt after McGregor landed what looked like a solid blow. 

    Diaz's most noteworthy performance of the evening may have occurred after the fight. 

    As Marc Raimondi of MMA Fighting explained, Diaz vaped cannabis during a UFC post-fight press conference. Diaz even admitted it was cannibidiol oil, or CBD, when asked about the vape pen. We don't yet know if USADA will suspend Diaz for using the pen. It is, however, difficult to imagine Diaz didn't know he was potentially violating UFC anti-doping policy when he elected to use the pen. 

    Diaz earned millions of dollars from the purse of the fight and also from the pay-per-view buys, an amount not yet announced. He can afford to wait a year for his rematch against McGregor if he must. 

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

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    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a great NFL heel.
    New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a great NFL heel.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    You have to pair Tom Brady with Bill Belichick for the purposes of this piece. They go together like love and marriage or peanut butter and jelly. 

    The perception is that the Patriots are the top heels in the NFL today. Brady and Belichick serve as the faces of the Patriots for obvious reasons. Brady is the franchise quarterback who guides the team's offense, while Belichick is head coach and, as far as fans care, the CEO of the organization. 

    Isn't it funny how it's often the Patriots at the centers of NFL controversies? The New York Giants weren't accused of conducting a Spygate scheme. Neither the New York Jets nor San Francisco 49ers were responsible for the Deflategate matter that resulted in Brady earning a suspension. 

    We dislike Brady, Belichick and the Patriots because they win so much. That must be said. They wouldn't be such massive heels if they weren't so successful. That is part of the gimmick. 

    Belichick and Brady being winners is, of course, only part of the equation.

    Belichick plays his role as the unlikable leader almost better than anybody in the business. He often looks angry at press conferences and on sidelines. Belichick offers short non-answers while speaking with reporters. Such traits are accepted parts of his public persona. 

    Brady, meanwhile, is the best heel in the NFL. He is a winner who allegedly bent the rules. Brady is married to a supermodel. He is a spokesman for UGG boots. 

    No wonder fans around the country tune in to root against these guys. 

Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Nobody loves Cristiano Ronaldo like Cristiano Ronaldo.
    Nobody loves Cristiano Ronaldo like Cristiano Ronaldo.Claude Paris/Associated Press

    Cristiano Ronaldo is the best heel in sports today, so much so that you have to assume he does it on purpose. 

    Ronaldo is arguably the greatest footballer of his generation. He has hoisted every meaningful domestic trophy offered in England and Spain. Ronaldo has won the Champions League on multiple occasions. He has been recognized as the best player in Europe and the best player in the world. 

    Some fans, however, choose to not embrace Ronaldo for legitimate reasons. 

    Ronaldo has not only claimed to be the best player in the world. he also has done so on multiple occasions. Per BBC Sport, Ronaldo stated in an interview that he was a "legend" and "always the best." As Jake Russell of the Washington Post explained, Ronaldo told reporters that he was the best player of the past 20 years after he and Real Madrid won the Champions League. 

    Such boasts of arrogance go beyond the media. Ronaldo taking his shirt off and flexing his many muscles after scoring a noteworthy goal has become part of his gimmick. He did so after clinching the 2014 Champions League title from the penalty spot. He did so again this past May when his shootout goal won the Champions League for Real. 

    Ronaldo is the perfect foe for Lionel Messi. While Messi is an unassuming superstar in many ways, Ronaldo seems to embrace his celebrity more so than any other footballer. It's difficult to imagine Ronaldo being any other way. 

Usain Bolt

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    Usain Bolt can now eat chicken nuggets every day.
    Usain Bolt can now eat chicken nuggets every day.Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press

    Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, perhaps in more ways than one. 

    Bolt is one of the greatest Olympians in history. He won nine Olympic gold medals during his legendary career. Bolt dominated the 100 meters and 200 meters unlike any man before him, and he is literally the fastest man ever as it pertains to running 100 meters. 

    Bolt is also a superstar on his own terms. 

    Bolt jokes during interviews about how he hates mornings. As Thomas Burrows of the Daily Mail explained, Bolt loves eating McDonald's chicken nuggets. According to that same story, Bolt allegedly ate "1,000 chunks of chicken," fries and apple pies, and he apparently also enjoys the occasional pint of Guinness. 

    Bolt is not only fast on the track. Per Rob Gill of Sun Motors, Bolt has an affinity for sports cars. Bolt is apparently not the world's best driver, however, as he has experienced multiple accidents. Whether or not those crashes were caused by Bolt driving barefoot is a matter of opinion. 

    Bolt lives in the fast lane another way. According to Phillip Boucher of People, Bolt was seen with three different women during the 2016 Summer Olympics. Bolt then allegedly brought "up to 10 women" with him to a London hotel room. 

    Give the man credit. He knows how to celebrate. 

Andrew Luck

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    Andrew Luck is the most boring superstar in sports. This take was offered by ESPN's Mike Golic this past July. 

    Luck is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL today. He's also somewhat of a superstar in name only. Luck doesn't dance after scoring touchdowns. He isn't known for wearing custom suits or for entertaining interviews. As Kevin Clark of the Washington Post wrote in December 2014, Luck offers compliments for defensive players who knock him down during games. 

    Even Luck's television commercials are, no disrespect meant, dorky. 

    Earlier this year, Luck put pen to paper on a contract that could earn him over $100 million when all is said and done. Some athletes would use such funds to purchase fancy cars, multiple homes and the best technology money can buy. Luck, via ESPN's Mike Wells, recently bought a new flip phone. 

    Yes, a flip phone. In 2016. 

    As Will Brinson of CBS Sports pointed out in July 2014, Luck once stated that he would "never" buy a smartphone. The Indianapolis Colts QB is living that part of his gimmick through the end of August 2016. 

Jon Jones

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    Jon Jones is his own worst enemy.
    Jon Jones is his own worst enemy.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Jon Jones is either his own worst enemy or he is the most unlucky individual in all of mixed martial arts. Either way, Jones continues to live his gimmick through the summer of 2016.

    Jones should be the greatest fighter in UFC history. His reach makes him a nightmare matchup standing or on the ground. He is incredibly athletic for a man of his height and size. Jones possesses knockout power, he can win by submission and he can grind a fight out and win via decision. Jones can play babyface or heel depending on the opponent. 

    Jones also often trips himself up. 

    The only blemish on Jones' UFC record is a disqualification he suffered for using illegal elbows during a fight in December 2009. He has been accused of poking fighters in the eyes during matches. As explained by Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post, Jones spent all of one night in a rehabilitation facility in January 2015 roughly one month after he tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine. The UFC stripped Jones of the light heavyweight championship in April 2015 following a much-publicized hit-and-run accident that injured a pregnant woman. 

    Then came July 2016. Jones was set to face Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title at UFC 200, but Jones was removed from the card following a potential out-of-competition doping violation. 

    Jones denied all wrongdoing when speaking with reporters after being pulled off the UFC 200 card. Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting reported on August 24 Jones is facing a maximum one-year ban rather than the two-year suspension often given in such cases because, per the World Anti-Doping Agency Code, it's possible the substances Jones tested positive for "could be susceptible to a credible non-doping explanation." 

    "If there's a way to keep the stars in the universe, they're going to find a way to do it," Josh Nason said on the August 25 edition of "Wrestling Observer Live" when speaking about Jones potentially receiving a shorter ban than originally thought. We may not have to wait until 2018 to see Jones back in a UFC cage. 

    Here's hoping the UFC loads that card up with stars other than Jones just in case he runs into further misfortune down the road. 

Bryce Harper

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    Bryce Harper doesn't always play up to his "bad boy" gimmick.
    Bryce Harper doesn't always play up to his "bad boy" gimmick.Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Current National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper had quite the reputation even before stepping onto a Major League Baseball diamond. 

    As Deadspin's Tommy Craggs pointed out in April 2010, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus spoke with some scouts a couple of years before Harper earned Rookie of the Year honors: 

     It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. "He's just a bad, bad guy," said one front-office official. "He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer." 

    Harper's personality and emotions only grew over time.

    Harper joked about wanting to know the whereabouts of his World Series ring in February 2015, as explained by Mark Townsend of Yahoo Sports, after the Washington Nationals signed ace pitcher Max Scherzer. The outspoken superstar got into a tussle with then-Washington closer Jonathan Papelbon last September during a game that occurred a day after the Nationals were eliminated from the NL East race. 

    Kate Feldman of the New York Daily News referred to Harper as the "most hated" player on the Nationals last October. 

    Before the start of the 2016 season, Harper told Tim Keown of ESPN The Magazine he believed baseball was a " tired sport, because you can't express yourself." Harper then made headlines in May when he allegedly cursed at an umpire while celebrating a walk-off victory after he had been ejected earlier that same game. 

    We have no reason to believe Harper will stop speaking his mind anytime soon.  

Tim Tebow

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    Tim Tebow is moving on to a Major League Baseball career.
    Tim Tebow is moving on to a Major League Baseball career.Cindy Ord/Getty Images

    Remember "Tebowing?" 

    Fans around the country shared pictures of themselves dropping to a knee as they mimicked the actions of former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. That gesture wasn't a gimmick or an act for Tebow. It was an expression of his strong Christian beliefs. 

    Tebow remains outspoken about his faith. His official Twitter page is filled with Bible passages. As Casey Decker and Noah Fitzgerel of ABC News pointed out, Tebow led a group of passengers in prayer on an airplane after a man suffered a medical emergency this past June. 

    Tebow is unapologetic about his faith and also about wanting to play in the NFL only as a QB. As explained by Mark Fischer of the New York Daily News, Tebow told Larry King during an interview this past June he only wants to make a return to the NFL as a QB. 

    NFL teams apparently aren't interested. It has widely been reported that Tebow will host a workout for Major League Baseball teams near the end of August. 

    Would Tebow be in the NFL today if he made the switch to running back as did Michael Robinson after he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2006? We can't say. Tebow is his own man living life his way on and off the football field. Only he will determine if his dreams do or don't come true. 

    His stubbornness is admirable. 

Ryan Lochte

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    Ryan Lochte may become a bigger superstar outside of the pool.
    Ryan Lochte may become a bigger superstar outside of the pool.Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    Certain media members lashed out at American swimmer Ryan Lochte well before the 2016 Summer Olympics. 

    Vice's John Saward offered his description of Lochte several years ago after watching hours of the What Would Ryan Lochte Do? television show that lasted about as long as Lochte's trip to Rio de Janeiro earlier this summer:

    This is because Ryan Lochte is just barely a person. He is a walking treatise on bro culture: driven only by his basest impulses, no restraint, going hard, going big, getting your back, shredded abs, hot dog/penis jokes, iPhone pictures of friends mid-vomit. He is a debauched, self-impressed, permanently aloof human Labrador who thinks every night at some club named BREATHE or THE AREA or something named after an AXE body spray fragrance is worth mythologizing. Ryan Lochte is a Jagerbomb: juvenile, completely devoid of subtlety, responsible for tremendously regrettable female decisions.

    Saward wasn't alone in criticizing Lochte in 2013. Gene Demby of NPR mentioned Lochte as an athlete who "typifies bro-ness" back in June of that year. 

    We may never know exactly what happened with Lochte and some swimming teammates in Rio. Clay Travis of Outkick the Coverage believes Lochte and the other swimmers were victims of a robbery. Zac Thompson of The Huffington Post, meanwhile, used NSFW terms when writing about the Lochte incident and about "classic white male privilege that causes Lochte to believe he can act in whatever way he wants." 

    ESPN's Darren Rovell reported on August 24 Lochte may compete in an upcoming edition of Dancing With The Stars. Per Rovell, negotiations with Lochte began before the Olympics and continued after Lochte's incident in Rio. 

    Give Lochte credit for cashing in on his celebrity status while he is still in the news. 

Conor McGregor

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    Conor McGregor is the biggest draw in the UFC today.
    Conor McGregor is the biggest draw in the UFC today.Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    It's somewhat ironic Ric Flair is mentioned in the introduction for this piece. Flair recently accused UFC champion Conor McGregor of "borrowing" from the wrestler's act. 

    You may remember when McGregor hit out at WWE performers earlier this summer for reasons he and maybe some within the WWE know as of now. Perhaps McGregor was trying to make additional headlines, or maybe he is campaigning for a future role at a WWE show. Whatever the case, McGregor understandably upset some wrestlers with his unflattering comments. 

    Flair, as explained by Nick Schwartz of Fox Sports, took to his personal Twitter page to respond to McGregor. "Oh you're welcome for your gimmick," Flair posted. 

    McGregor seems to be playing an updated version of "The Nature Boy." McGregor wears custom suits during public appearances and post-fight press conferences. In November 2015, Brad Popkin of MMA Mania wrote about McGregor's impressive car collection. McGregor cuts boisterous promos on opponents. 

    Also like Flair, McGregor often wins. 

    Some fans were shocked to see McGregor lose to Nate Diaz in March of this year, in part because McGregor never before lost during his UFC tenure. McGregor is the man known for ending fights before they go to judges. He is the champion who knocked Jose Aldo out in 13 seconds last December. 

    He is now the man who avenged that loss to Diaz at UFC 202. 

    McGregor also happens to be the biggest proven draw in the UFC today. Per Andreas Hale of Yahoo Sports, McGregor earned a record $3 million purse for his fight against Diaz at UFC 202. That does not account for the additional money McGregor will earn from pay-per-view revenue. 

    Needless to say, McGregor will soon be able to afford additional custom suits and luxury cars.