Gimmicks are something that you do not see enough of in wrestling anymore. Ever since the “Attitude” era began in the WWF, wrestlers began to have less and less distinct gimmicks, and their characters focused more and more on how much “ass” they could kick. Stone Cold liked to kick anyone’s ass, especially the boss’s. The Rock likes to kick ass, but he likes to make fun of you first. HHH is an “intense ass-kicker.” The Undertaker, while holding on to a fairly sound gimmick for most of his career, eventually dropped it in favor of the “biker who kicks ass” gimmick.
Gimmicks are cheesy at times. In the WWF’s heyday, you had car thieves, "working men," and African tribal monsters, Turkey-looking things and Geniuses. You average “Smart” looks at gimmicks with a distasteful eye- they can be cheesy, and they can at most times lack seriousness, but there is one thing that they do, and do well, and that is entertain.
The WWE is in trouble. Its rating continue to slide, and this is not because of the “IWC’s” complaints. The fact is that in general, these people will watch no matter how bad the product gets. The WWE is in trouble because it is losing the casual fan. And that is because the product really isn’t entertaining any longer.
What do we get week after week? Well, half the show is spent with one wrestler or another talking about how good they are, and how they are the absolute best. Twenty-minute promos that seem designed to put the audience to sleep. Then another wrestler disagrees, claiming they are better, and a match eventually happens. Now granted, this is how feuds happen, but take a look at it from the casual viewers standpoint. If you have no idea who any of these people are, why do you care about this exchange? GIMMICK!
Back in the day, wrestlers had open and OBVIOUS gimmicks that anyone watching for five minutes could understand. The Ultimate Warrior- an adrenaline fueled, basically good, berserker. The Iron Sheik- Iranian, proud, evil, anti-American. The Repo-Man, while a cheesy gimmick, you understood that this bad guy primarily was going to try and take something from the good guy… As goofy or out there as these characters were, they wore their motivations on their sleeve for all to see. Motivations for all the wrestlers were easier to explain and clearer to the audience, and the show was much more entertaining as a result.
Fast forward to today- yes, some motivations are apparent, but they are usually very limited in scope. The Undertaker wanted to fight the Rock. Why? Because the Rock interfered in his title match against HHH. OK… so if I recall that match correctly, the Undertaker attacked The Rock FIRST, while he was doing commentary. Why did the Undertaker do that? Basically we have this - The Rock coming out to do commentary, the Undertaker attacking him for some reason, The Rock fighting back, and now The Rock gets a title shot. Who cares? Now we are back to one guy who likes to kick ass fighting another guy who likes to kick ass.
There has been one recent shining example of gimmicks making a feud entertaining. The Hurricane vs. Jaime Noble. Gimmicks? They both have them. The Hurricane has one of the best gimmicks in the company right now. A Superhero. So basic! He fights for good. His cape and his mask are his honor. He is courageous. But The Hurricane is small, and has an inflated sense of his actual abilities. You see this time and time again when he tried to “Hurri-chokeslam” much larger opponents.
Jamie Noble, on the other hand, is your basic Trailer Park Trash. His motivations are clear as well. He is poor. Living in a double wide with RUNNING WATER are luxuries for him. He likes country music; pick up trucks, and flannel. Huntin’ sits just fine with him. And, as many such people are, they are fiercely loyal to their “women,” in this case-
Nidia, our catalyst. Any weaknesses in Jamie Noble’s character are made up for by Nidia (something all good manager/valets SHOULD do)- She plays the perfect Trailer Park Ho, and she and Jaime work VERY well together in that role.
So what is our motivation? Well, Nidia has decided to screw with The Hurricane’s head. It seems they were dating, and The Hurricane dumped her. As they say, Hell hath no fury-. So she starts seeing Jaime Noble, and she puts him up to punishing The Hurricane. And why wouldn’t he go for that? First off, The Hurricane wronged his woman, and second, the Hurricane has the Cruiserweight title. Winning that title means more money, and more money is motivation enough for any poor person.
So the feud begins. Noble and Nidia do everything possible to hurt and humiliate the Hurricane. They UNMASK him for crying out loud. And reason The Hurricane had for not fighting just went out the window. A superhero should never be unmasked, and like the perfect comic book villain, Noble and Nidia committed that very serious faux pas.
So the feud is winding down, Jaime Noble has the title, and The Hurricane walked away the loser. So maybe the match was not as spectacular as it could have been, but the buildup and the “hype” surrounding the match made up for it. This feud had all the elements- logical beginning, short but effective promos/skits building the plot- a decent number of run-ins/preliminary tag matches, and an appropriately timed ending. And the booking had to have been EASY because the gimmicks were so defined. Your standard heel/face dynamic was easy to present, since the Hurricane is so over with the crowd, it was easy to establish Noble as the heel. And their characters were defined enough to have not only understandable, but somewhat fresh motivations for their actions. They fought for reasons other than “I am good at kicking ass.” This feud may not have been a "smart’s" dream, but it sure made for good TV for the casual wrestling fan.
So what are some of the top gimmicks in the WWE today? I won’t bother to rank them, since it is really a personal preference thing, but these are some of the WWE’s best gimmicks. Normally when I watch wrestling, I am often doing something else, but every time one of these people are on the screen I usually stop and take notice because I know I will be entertained.
There are not as many as there should be, and even this list is dominated by the Cruiserweights. Is there any wonder that the IWC is salivating at potential Cruiserweight bookings? The fact is, good gimmicks, cheesy or cool, are REQUIRED for an entertaining wrestling program. People are tired of the same old thing. The Undisputed Title means nothing, because every title match has the same build-up. Part of the reason Hogan is so popular today is that the fans are SCREAMING for a revival of entertaining wrestling. When Hogan fought for the title, it MEANT something. He fought against the turncoat Sgt. Slaughter. He beat the unbeatable Giant. He faced insurmountable odds against the Earthquake. He fought his bitter jealous friend/tag team partner in the Macho Man over false allegations. He battled the Ultimate Warrior, title for title, in the ultimate battle for respect. Even the feud with Zeus had focus and direction. With a history like that, who cares that the Undertaker is pissed at the Rock for no real reason? Nostalgia runs wild when Hogan is in the ring, and people reminisce about the good old days.
Granted, you can't just put a costume on someone and expect it to work. You get Oz and the Black Scorpion that way. But a good gimmick can go a long way towards making the story line way more exciting, and eliminating the need for 20 minute promos. Put a good gimmick on a great wrestler, and you have a star.
What do you say, Vince, will you bring them back?