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A Mark’s Eye View: Wrestling’s most shocking gimmick changes

Changing things up is an important part of wrestling.

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling. 

Listen to the latest episode of our weekly wrestling podcast, PTW!

Wrestling is all about reinvention. The gradual shift to be less about sports and more like entertainment is one example, as is the more family-friendly and less blood and guts approach to the product. More than any other part of the sport, though, it’s the performers that are constantly changing. Some are due to necessity, like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. However, for most it is a case of trial and often error. Here are some of the most shocking rebirths and gimmick changes in professional wrestling.

Living the Dream

One Man Gang was one of the toughest dudes in wrestling. He warred with the Von Erichs in Texas, battled the main event stars in Japan, and was the second UWF champion for Bill Watts. When he jumped to the World Wrestling Federation in 1987, it was clear what the plan was: he would be built as the next big giant heel for champion Hulk Hogan to vanquish. OMG did receive title matches against the Hulkster and was unsurprisingly defeated. 

This is not what his run is most remembered for, however. With the help of his manager Slick, Gang embraced his… [checks notes] … African roots? He travelled to deepest, darkest Africa and became Akeem the African Dream. It was ridiculous, but did lead to a great Harley Race moment.

“The best black athlete in the world”

It all started with one statement. “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant referred to his friend and tag team partner “Pistol” Pez Whatley as the best black athlete in the world. Whatley rightfully became upset with the qualifier and turned on Valiant. This added a new layer to the sometimes goofy and never ending Valiant/Paul Jones war. Unfortunately, while there was some great moments (“I cut the honky’s hair!”), it never went anywhere. Whatley soon became a joke and a lower mid-carder.

Ironically, his new gimmick was tinged with subtle racism. He teamed with Tiger Conway Jr as the Jive Tones, complete with tuxedo tails top hats and gloves — a minstrel show gimmick.

From bloodletting to head licking

The Sheepherders are probably the most frightening wrestling act I have ever seen. Even in the hard-nosed wrestling world of the 1980s, the sport still had a certain charm to it — unless Luke Williams and Butch Miller were in the ring, then it became downright scary. They carved heads, won titles, and even competed in a five star match during their reign of terror.

For some reason, when Vince McMahon brought them to the World Wrestling Federation, he turned them into the Bushwhackers, two buffoons who licked heads. It may be the strangest turnaround in wrestling history. Old school fans were aghast. Ultimately, the joke was on them as Luke and Butch were inducted into the prestigious WWE Hall of Fame. 

The Gooker Award goes to…

Hector Guerrero is known for one of the most bizzare gimmicks in wrestling history. The Gobleddy Gooker, like it or not, is an iconic part of WWF history. Scorned at the time, it has lived on and is looked back on with a certain type of fondness.

The same cannot be said for Lazer Tron. Decked in a full Laser Tag costume, Guerrero would come to the ring as some sort of futuristic space person. Even though he won the NWA Junior Heavyweight Championship, fans did not care for him. He disappeared after a short run and was never heard from again.

A Rhodes by any other name…

Early shoot interviews all seemed to have one prerequisite: the wrestler being interviewed had to do their Dusty Rhodes impersonation. (Stu Hart was also a popular target.) Dusty is a larger-than-life figure that was also copied for obvious reasons. Akeem was clearly a rib on the “American Dream”. But he was far from the first Dusty imitator.

Roger Smith was one of the many men to team with Jody Hamilton as the Assassins. Due to his resemblance to Dusty, he would go on to greater fame as “Dirty Rhodes” in Memphis. Even more shocking was Mike Davis — during the mid-’80s, Kevin Sullivan was doing his awesome devil worship gimmick in Florida. He would constantly capture wrestlers under his evil spell, and one of his most memorable acts was Mike Davis. Davis did not just begin acting like Rhodes; he actually believed he was the Big Dust. He went on to have the greatest success of his career.

Next week: The not quite Dusty finish

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