If you’ve watched wrestling for more than about five minutes, you’re familiar with the concepts of gimmicks. Whether it’s a blue blooded snob from Connecticut, a yellow and red clad muscle man who loves America or an undead zombie who used to work in a funeral home except for a few years where he was a tough biker, almost every wrestler has some sort of character that can be used to enhance their career. Today we’re going to take a look at why gimmicks can help your someone go from average to memorable and why they’re more important than in ring abilities with a focus on one person in particular.
Like any other television show, wrestling is a visual medium, meaning you have to get the audience’s attention in a hurry. People are going to be flipping through the channels and if they aren’t instantly hooked, odds are they’re going to change the channel and find something that holds their interest even more. That’s where part one of a gimmick comes in: the look.
Let’s go back to two of the examples from earlier with Hulk Hogan and Undertaker. If you look at Hogan from his glory days, you’re going to immediately see the bright colors and the big muscles. Before he says a single thing or throws a single punch, Hogan is someone who can easily grab your attention. Where else are you going to see someone with his size and in such brightly colored clothes? The same is true with Undertaker. He’s a nearly seven foot tall man covered in tattoos and surrounded by lightning, thunder and smoke. This isn’t a complicated concept.
Now that they’ve got your attention, the next important step is the character. Who is this person and why should I care about them? This doesn’t have to be anything grand or amazing but it needs to be something people can be interested in. If this doesn’t work, it can make even the most talented workers a joke for the rest of their career. I mean, can you imagine asking fans to care about someone who walked around acting like a rooster?
The character doesn’t have to be anything brilliant. Look at someone like Sami Zayn, whose character is being an underdog. Couple something that simple with a great theme song and a ton of natural energy (and some of the best selling in history) and Zayn has been a star from the day he debuted in WWE. Put everything together and you have the fans’ attention way before the bell rings.
That brings us to the least important part of a wrestler: their in ring abilities. Consider two names from the past in William Regal and Dean Malenko. If you’ve ever seen either of them in the ring, you know these two can wrestle some of the best technical matches in the last twenty years. However, if you know your wrestling history, you know that neither of them ever made it past the midcard in WCW or the WWF.
Why is that the case? Simply put, neither of them are that interesting. Malenko’s character was that he was a very serious wrestler. Regal on the other hand was a very proper Englishman who didn’t care for anything he deemed improper. Neither of these are exactly thrilling gimmicks and both wrestlers look fairly average. In a word, they’re both pretty boring characters and aren’t going to make you interested in them without a lot of effort.
That’s wrestling in a nutshell: being a big deal is about being something interesting. There are rare occasions where wrestlers who are best known for their in ring abilities rise to the top (Bret Hart, Daniel Bryan) but these are few and far between. Even Ric Flair, considered one of the best of all time in the ring, had flashy robes and incredibly over the top promos to help carry him along.
Now let’s jump to modern times and consider one Aaron Haddad, better known as Damien Sandow or Aron Rex. He was signed to a WWE developmental deal way back in 2002 and spent the better part of ten years in the developmental system. Haddad even appeared on the main roster for a few months as part of a tag team called the Teacher’s Pets for about two months (yeah I barely remember it either).
Finally in 2012, Haddad was called up to the main roster full time and given the character of Damien Sandow, the Intellectual Savior of the Masses. Sandow was a well educated man who looked down on anything that he deemed less than intellectual. Clad in a blue bathrobe and pink trunks, his look easily caught your attention and his holier than thou attitude was very easy to dislike.
The character was successful in the short term but was ultimately dropped in favor of a comedy gimmick where Sandow impersonated just about anyone or anything. This evolved into Sandow being the Miz’s stunt double, which apparently meant him repeating everything Miz did rather than, you know, doing the stunts for Miz like a stunt double is supposed to actually do.
This seemed to be the big break that Sandow was looking for as his hard work and dedication made him a big fan favorite. Eventually Sandow and Miz won the Tag Team Titles for the peak of the new character’s run. The reign didn’t last long and it was fairly clear that Sandow was destined for a big face turn as he was incredibly over with the fans.
That went nowhere as he was eliminated last in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at “Wrestlemania XXXI” and then lost the big match to Miz to write Sandow off TV for a little while. After a failed run as a Randy Savage impersonator and a return to the intellectual character, Sandow was released in May 2016. Now Haddad is in TNA as Aron Rex, a character who used to wrestle in WWE and wants to just be himself.
That’s where it all falls apart. In a word, Rex is boring. Like, he’s really boring. He has no character to speak of and is really just a guy who used to be in WWE, wears generic wrestling gear and wrestles a very basic style. Short version: I have no reason to care about him and he’s less and less interesting every week, even now that he’s the TNA Grand Champion.
It’s becoming clearer and clearer every week that Rex is one of those wrestlers that needs a gimmick. When he’s just there on his own, there’s nothing to latch onto. He’s just a person wearing trunks and having wrestling matches and that’s not enough to care about. It might seem stupid to put him in a bathrobe and have him speak Latin but it’s also the peak of his career. It doesn’t matter if you call him Idol Stevens, Aaron Stevens or Aron Rex. All of those generic characters have ranged from boring to failures. The stunt double character wasn’t treated right and didn’t have a long future but it got Haddad over more than anything.
Finally, to clarify, it’s not a bad thing to need a gimmick. Consider Dustin Rhodes, who has been around on the big stage for well over twenty five years. The problem is he’s really uninteresting when he’s just Dustin Rhodes, an uninteresting wrestler. However, you slap a gold and black body suit on him, paint his face and have him quote movie lines and he’s probably going to the Hall of Fame. The same is true for his brother and a lot of other wrestlers.
Gimmicks may seem to hamper wrestlers’ development and seem stupid, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to market or make people care about someone with nothing that makes them stand out. Aron Rex may be closer to what Aaron Haddad is in real life but that doesn’t mean he’s a character that should be pushed on television. It doesn’t have to be as over the top as the Undertaker but almost every wrestler needs some kind of a gimmick other than “I’m a wrestler”. If you need any proof, just watch Aron Rex talk, assuming you don’t change the channel in ten seconds.
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