Wrestling has changed a lot since the early 1990s. Today there are a lot of more wide open characters such as Bray Wyatt or Roman Reigns who clearly have a role but you can go a variety of ways with what they’re doing or their motivations. I can give you a basic definition of Reigns’ character, but you can’t lock him down with a single word or two. This is beneficial in a way as it’s easier to elevate a character who isn’t stuck in one spot. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no place for people who have a more defined role. Today we’re going to look at some of the more one note gimmicks and see why that’s not a bad thing.
Let’s start with two of the most easily defined one note characters in WWF history: I.R.S. and Tatanka. You can sum up these guys in two words each: evil accountant and Native American. You could probably add a few more details here and there, but their characters are almost entirely defined by those four words between the two of them. They were very simple characters, but that’s not a bad thing.
Here’s their major benefit: they were clearly good or bad. Save for Tantanka’s heel turn in 1994, there was never a time where these two weren’t clearly good or bad. They were obviously a midcard heel and a midcard face who could be moved up or down the card if necessary and used as a good opponent for a bigger star like Undertaker or Yokozuna to put on a house show match and give the star a credible win.
That’s the other key to someone like these two: they were firmly in the midcard and there was little room for elevation. However, that’s not a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with having someone stay in the same spot on the card for the entirety of their run, especially if they’re effective in the role. Tatanka and I.R.S. were more than acceptable in their spots, much like a Greg Valentine or Tito Santana were in the 1980s and exactly like a Kofi Kingston or Dolph Ziggler are today: solid hands in the ring who can put on an entertaining match but rarely leave the same basic range on the card.
Back to the characters though, aside from offering a series of good hands in the ring, they can also offer new life for a character. To get away from the 1990s for a bit, let’s take a look at a more modern example: Fandango. Johnny Curtis joined WWE developmental in 2006 and bounced around for years with nothing really sticking. At the end of the day, he was little more than a guy from Boston who had no character and was nothing special in the ring. Why was that supposed to be interesting?
After a failed gimmick where he would act out expressions like crying over spilled milk and the writing is on the wall, it was decided that he needed something else. That something else would wind up being Fandango, a ballroom dancer who breathed very deeply and respected the art of the dance. It was over the top, it was stupid, it had very little future, and it was the best thing that ever happened to Curtis.
Fandango made his in ring debut at “Wrestlemania XXIX” against Chris Jericho and scored perhaps the biggest upset in WWE history. To debut as a new character and defeat one of the best ever at Wrestlemania is a staggering accomplishment, especially with a character as dumb as Fandango. The following night, the Fandangoing dance was born and WWE had something with him.
Flash forward about two years and Fandango is a low level midcarder who occasionally appears on TV. Notice those last two words. Yeah Fandango isn’t anything special, but I can guarantee you he’s lasted longer and made a bigger impact with a one note character than he ever would have as Johnny Curtis: wrestler from Boston.
The examples could go on and on but the point is clear: there’s nothing wrong with gimmicks that are over the top and silly. Yeah they may not lead to everyone becoming a World Champion, but it’s better than having them sit at home because no one cared about their generic persona and average wrestling abilities.
Someone like Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan can take any stupid gimmick you give them and make it work because they have the talent and charisma to make anything work. Hogan got a reaction as Mr. America in a very stupid role that beat you over the head with its comedy, but the fans bought into it because he could make it work. However, not everyone is Hogan or Austin or Rock or Undertaker and they can’t make anything work.
Those are the cases where you give them a gimmick. Of course some of them are stupid, but it’s all about getting their foot in the door. If you can get something as stupid as a ballroom dancer or an evil accountant or an old west mortician over, maybe there’s room for you to move up the card and be given something more serious. Or maybe you sit in that same spot and make a name for yourself there, like say, Hillbilly Jim did. There’s nothing wrong with being famous for having a goofy gimmick, because at the end of the day, it’s better to be famous than to be another name on a long, long list of failures.
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