6 Hilariously Random Ways Wrestlers Got Their Gimmicks
Professional wrestling is a strange beast of theater. The wildest expressions of human violence you can imagine -- hitting people with chairs, moves with names like "neckbreaker" -- are done by people with self-given nicknames dressed in silly costumes. Pageantry is important, though. Pro wrestlers know violence for violence's sake gets boring, so they spend a ton of time developing outlandish characters and creating storylines.
That way, when one person comes flying off the top rope to break another person's jaw and then another person comes sprinting into the ring and starts whaling on people with a sledgehammer, we know exactly what the stakes are and who to cheer for. Sometimes, though, those characters are built entirely by accident:
Dustin Rhodes Became Goldust Because He Didn't Know What Androgynous Meant
It's pretty common for wrestling to be a generational business. Vince McMahon's dad was a promoter, The Rock's dad and grandfather were wrestlers, and Charlotte Flair is related to some guy named Ric. Dustin Rhodes is the son of legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes and brother to AEW mastermind Cody Rhodes. Now, being successful is always more fun when you feel like you've earned success, not had it handed to you. So in his early years, Dustin wanted to forge his own path and make himself notable aside from nepotism.
Dustin was sitting at home one day when Vince McMahon called. That's a call you take, and a call where you usually spend a lot time saying "yes sir." So when Vince pitched the androgynous character Goldust, Dustin eagerly accepted ... despite not knowing what "androgynous" meant.
When he got off the phone, he reached for a dictionary and immediately said "what the hell?" He even showed the definition to his wife and asked her what she thought he should do (the answer being take the damn job, obviously).
You might not think the mid-'90s WWE would be the most welcoming place for a gender-bending, outlandishly-dressed weirdo, but Dustin was incredibly well received and turned the character into a legend. Various aspects of the Goldust character have followed Rhodes his entire career, and his signature face paint is iconic. So there you have it, kids. Don't be afraid to not know what words mean.
Scott Hall Invented Razor Ramon As A Joke
After years spent bouncing around various circuits, Scott Hall finally got the call to be a star in the WWE. This, of course, meant he had to invent a character. He really liked the word "Razor," which admittedly is a bit more threatening that "Scott." He'd also recently seen Scarface, a movie where Al Pacino does a lot of violence and also acts Cuban. Know who hadn't seen Scarface yet? Vince McMahon. So when Hall jokingly pitched his "I'm the bad guy" character, McMahon was all over it.
Thus, Razor Ramon was born: a menacing, jaw-jutting, greasy-haired stereotype played by a guy named Scott. He even threw in a fake Cuban accent. He was deservedly popular -- Hall is a decent wrestler and charismatic person -- but Razor Ramon hasn't aged great. The gimmick resulted in some really, really regrettable promos. Just pure, uncut cringe. When Hall's contract expired, he jumped to WCW. There, he wrestled under his given name while co-founding the nWo. I think we can all agree it was for the best.
Justin Credible Started As The Portuguese Man O' War Simply Because He Could Speak Portuguese
PJ Polaco has spent most of his career as Justin Credible, a ... uh ... a really good nickname. Yep. But everyone has to start somewhere, and when Polaco was first working out for WWE, Vince found out he was Portugese. Assuming being Portuguese meant he loved soccer, the creative team started developing a character named Aldo Montoya, a soccer pro who was going to come out and kick soccer balls into the crowd. Am I reading this right? Kick soccer balls into the crowd? "Had a great time at the wrestling, honey, and check it out! Free soccer ball!"
There was one problem: Polaco hated soccer. "But Chris," you ask, confused. "He hated soccer? But he speaks Portuguese!" I know, it's weird, right? Almost like an entire nation of people can have more than one opinion. So the creative team put their best minds on the job, desperately searching for another Portuguese thing. Finally, their eureka moment came: the fearsome jellyfish with "war" in its name! So in what sounds like one of the most half-assed moves in character development history, Polaco became Aldo Montoya, the Portuguese Man O' War.
Now, this was the '90s. The era of radical and xtreme. "Portuguese Man O' War" is exactly the kind of name some coke-addled exec would think would appeal to kids. It's not the worst name. But still ... it's a jellyfish, man. A deadly one, sure, but a jellyfish. The gimmick lasted three years before he jumped ship to ECW and Justin Credible was born. Which, again, is a great wrestling name. Incisive, clever, it's a pun ... just pure poetry, Justin Credible.
Stone Cold Steve Austin Got His Name Because His Wife Wanted Him To Drink His Tea While It Was Hot
Stone Cold Steve Austin's brand of corporate-hating, hard-drinking, less-athletic-but-very-violent wrestling was the embodiment of tough guy redneck. He unrepentantly drove trucks into the arena and chugged beers in-ring. He considered shirts totally optional. One of his go-to moves was tackling a guy and then just hammerin' away on the poor sap's melon. He was the ultimate badass, so mean he earned a second nickname: the Texas Rattlesnake.
That's what makes it very funny to learn he got his name because his wife made him tea and wanted him to drink it before it got cold. Steve Austin seems like the kind of dude who'd think anything other than sweet tea served in an icy pitcher filled with moonshine is a silly British drink for namby-pamby weirdos who talk different. But no. Stone Cold drinks tea. Proper tea. That means he presumably got his nickname while holding tiny chinaware with his pinky out, munching scones. What a wonderful reminder that life is complicated and people are multi-faceted.
WWE Decides Paul Bearer Should Make A Career Of His Day Job
Bill Moody loved wrestling. He was a ringside photographer as a teenager. He
But in 1990, the WWE came calling. They wanted Moody on the roster. Did they bring back Percy Pringle? No! Moody became Paul Bearer, the pun-named pale freak in bad suits who carried an urn everywhere and served as The Undertaker's manager (and Kane's surprise father? Were the entire '90s a fever dream?). Vince McMahon spun Moody's career as a funeral director into a full-on character, complete with embalming attempts and funeral rituals.
He must've really enjoyed being a mortician. My first job was at Taco Bell. If Vince McMahon asked me to join WWE under the name "The Burrito Maker," I'd never be able to show my face in public.
The Intertwined Fates Of Mr. Perfect And The Red Rooster
In 1988, Terry Taylor and Curt Henning were two talented, athletic blonde dudes who had just signed their first WWE contracts. All they needed were gimmicks. Creative had two characters worked up: Mr. Perfect, an unstoppable machine in the ring, and Red Rooster, a guy who wore rooster feathers on his head and was meant to struggle in his early days before breaking through. How they planned on making someone named "Red Rooster" anything other than a dork and a dweeb is unknown, lost to the cutting room floor. It's a shame, too -- as we've seen throughout this article, the creative team really takes their jobs seriously and are nimble, thoughtful character developers.
Before we get into why Red Rooster was not meant to be, let's go back to Henning and Taylor. As (possibly apocryphal) legend has it, the two were made to have a tryout match to see who got which gimmick. Henning (another son of a wrestler) got the Mr. Perfect gig, and Taylor had to settle for Red Rooster.
Gotta be a bit deflating to be on the wrong side of that match. Still, a WWE spot is a WWE spot, right?
Eh, sort of. Mr. Perfect was hot out of the gate, winning every match he wrestled for two solid years. He was constantly portrayed as cocky and confident, and seemingly earned it. His career spanned three decades and he even won the Intercontinental Championship a couple times. Red Rooster? Flamed out of WWE in just two years. Taylor had a similarly lengthy career, but Red Rooster was simply not meant to be. Turns out trying to be tough while wearing chicken feathers on your head can do a number on a man's confidence. Taylor spent his career in various promotions, bouncing between names like "Scary Terry Taylor," "Terrific Terry Taylor," or as a twist, "Terry Taylor." Longevity is longevity, but it's hard to say any of those gimmicks are as cool as "Mr. Perfect."
Chris Corlew does not have a wrestling gimmick, but likes the idea of it involving beer drinking and/or communion with the dead. Find him on Twitter and listen to his album and podcast.