Last week, WWE held its semi-regular Superstar Shakeup on Raw and SmackDown Live.
The War Raiders, the current NXT tag team champions, were repackaged as the Viking Experience. And wrestling fans are still racking their brains over the change. The War Raiders were very over in NXT and it was plain to see that they had the talent, both in-ring and on the mic, to make a true name for themselves on the main roster.
But apparently, Vince McMahon had other ideas.
The (ugh) Viking Experience are not the first WWE wrestlers to see their gimmicks completely upended. Vince McMahon often wants to tweak anything that comes through his doors just enough to call it his own.
And the results are … mixed, at best.
Here are just a handful of winning WWE superstars that the company turned into absolute duds.
5. Dusty Rhodes
In 1989, WWE got its hands on one of the greatest of all time.
Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream, made his way up north after a storied career with the National Wrestling Alliance. He was one of the most popular wrestlers of all time and a three-time world champion.
So naturally, Vince McMahon put him in … polka dots.
In the NWA, Dusty exemplified the common man. He was the regular Joe battling the flamboyant Ric Flair, standing up for the little guy. And apparently Vince’s translation of “common man” was to dress him up in black trunks with yellow polka dots and to team him up with women’s wrestler Sapphire.
Granted, ring attire alone doesn’t mean that the company treated him as a joke, but WWE never pushed Rhodes as a serious competitor. He never got a title shot, while Roddy Piper, who could barely put on a convincing headlock, got a run with the Intercontinental Championship.
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With Dusty Rhodes, WWE broke it and just kind of left it broken.
4. The Ringmaster
In 1995, nobody thought that Steve Austin would be a main event player.
He had moderate success in WCW as Stunning Steve Austin, where he held the United States and Television Championships, but he wasn’t regarded as anything other than a solid in-ring mechanic.
After WCW famously fired him by FedEx in 1995, as Sportskeeda explains, Austin landed in WWE, where Vince McMahon just didn’t see a star. He had a rough image, and that Texas drawl meant for sure that he couldn’t be a good interview.
By the way, Vince McMahon is a creative genius who makes WWE superstars.
Since he didn’t have any character and he couldn’t talk, WWE paired him up with Ted DiBiase to be his manager and mouthpiece. The company decided to make him DiBiase’s hand-picked Million Dollar Champion, but they still needed a name.
The following just about had to have run through Vince’s mind.
“He’s a master of the ring. HE’S THE RINGMASTERRRRRRR!“
Because creative genius.
Eventually, the weekly beatings WWE was receiving from WCW led Vince to give his wrestlers more leeway with crafting their characters, and the result was Stone Cold Steve Austin, the most popular pro wrestler of all time (fight me).
Have we mentioned that Vince McMahon is a creative genius?
Seriously, what is it with the Rhodes family?
Cody Rhodes is poised to try and set the wrestling world on fire today with the impending launch of All Elite Wrestling, but just a few years ago, he was running around in a full-body spandex suit and the Tin Man’s leftover makeup from The Wizard of Oz as Stardust.
Cody had been getting over as a WWE superstar on his own for years. He was a former Intercontinental Champion and a member of Legacy, alongside Randy Orton and Ted DiBiase, Jr.
But in June of 2014, he was repackaged as Stardust because … because reasons, I guess.
And Stardust’s character was — weird. Not interesting, not compelling. Just weird. His mannerisms seemed meant to evoke thoughts of the Joker, and he didn’t seem to do a whole lot besides lose. He did win the tag team championship alongside his brother, Goldust, but it was never clear what his character was supposed to be.
He cut rambling promos about finding “the Cosmic Key,” but the closest he came to finding it was getting his ass kicked by a TV star when he wrestled Arrow star Stephen Amell at SummerSlam 2015.
In May of 2016, Cody received his release from WWE after months of begging to be written out of the Stardust gimmick. Things worked out just fine for Cody, as he returned to the indy circuit, claiming the Ring of Honor and NWA World Championships along the way.
And as we mentioned earlier, he has some business venture on the horizon.
2. The Red Rooster
Terry Taylor was one of the most athletic and exciting junior heavyweight wrestlers of the late ’70s and early ’80s. In his early career, he posted wins over Buddy Landell and Ted DiBiase and challenged for the NWA World Championship.
So naturally, when he became a WWE superstar, the company called him the Red Rooster, gave him a red faux-hawk, and told him to strut and cluck like a chicken.
No, really, this is real. This happened, and they put it on TV.
As if WWE hadn’t done enough to damage Taylor, the character “evolved” to the point where they presented him as a complete imbecile who couldn’t do anything in the ring without the express direction of his manager, Bobby Heenan.
Taylor, naturally, is still bitter about the whole Red Rooster thing, and will gladly tell you all about it any chance he gets.
Um. So this one’s pretty racist.
The One Man Gang was one of WWE’s toughest and most feared big guys. He was a critical part of Andre the Giant’s team at Survivor Series 1987 and routinely shared main events with the likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage. One Man Gang even participated in the 16-man world title tournament at WrestleMania IV.
So it was a bit of a head-scratcher when his manager, Slick, announced that One Man Gang was actually from Africa and that he planned to embrace his African roots.
The transformation was complete when Mean Gene Okerlund went “on location” to (seriously, this is real) “the Deepest Parts of Africa” to find One Man Gang in stereotypical African garb, dancing around a fire, talking jive, and proclaiming himself Akeem the African Dream.
No, seriously, it’s WWE that’s going to transform the world for the better. JBL said so.
As Akeem, he stayed in the main event scene, even forming the Twin Towers alongside the Big Boss Man. Somehow, this repackaging didn’t completely derail his career, but it didn’t age well. At all.
They can’t all be winners, and some of these guys became successes in spite of Vince’s creative genius. It just would’ve been nice if we hadn’t had to watch them.
All images courtesy of WWE.