JG's Ten Wrestling Characters Who Went Through Massive Personality Changes
By James Guttman Sep 13, 2012 - 12:41 PM
Hello everyone, my name is Michael Cole. When James Guttman asked me to introduce this list, I happily accepted and told him that nothing sounded worse than having to do that. So here we are. I'm so happy and sad. What follows is
JG's Ten Wrestling Characters Who Went Through Massive Personality Changes. This list is for people like me who keep their names, go to extremes like a Billy Joel song, and just can't figure out what they hell they want to be. Yes I can. No I can't. So there it is. Here's the list, read it, ignore it, love it, hate it. Go to hell and have a great day!
With Hateful Love, Michael Cole
He's the beer swilling, chain smoking, hardcore icon who swings a cane like no one's business.
But when he's not drinking and smoking and cane swinging, he's catching some gnarly waves on the coast, bro. The hardcore icon may have been King of Extreme when ECW ended, but he was King of The Sandcastles when it started.
Yup. For fans of ECW, the name "Sandman" conjured up images of sleeping children cowering in the corners of their rooms. But it all started with a little less symbolism. In fact, the original intent of his nightmarish name was to conjure up images of, well, sand.
Surf bored? So was the Extreme audience. But as the company grew and evolved, so did the mysterious man from the beach. Slowly, he transitioned from a skilled athletic surfer into a pimp and then finally a drunken proponent of Phillip Morris.
Wow. They ain't kidding when they say pimpin' ain't easy. Look what it did to the Surfin' Sandman.
Kids of the Hulk Hogan Rock-n-Wrestling era knew one thing about Bob Backlund. He was the boring guy who was WWF Champion before Hulk Hogan. Also, he looked like Opie Taylor from the Andy Griffith Show. OK, so that's two things. We knew two things about Bob Backlund.
For many young fans, Backlund was gone by the time the Hogan Explosion dripped down the face of Sports Entertainment. Following his disastrous defeat at the hands of the evil Iron Sheik, Backlund left the company and, as it was in the decades before the Internet, dropped off the edge of the Earth.
That's why when Bob resurfaced in 1992, everyone was surprised. His gimmick was that he was 43 years old and it ended there. The smiling Ginger grappler told us that he was "very excited to be making my return to the World Wrestling Federation." We weren't.
Oh and Bob neglected to mention that since we last saw him, he had gone monkeyshit insane.
Sure, he played it cool for a while and did his regular ol' boring schtick for a bit. He wrestled some low level guys on TV and shook their hands after beating them. He had a forgettable match with Razor Ramon at WrestleaMania 9. He just sort of hung out. As he mentioned, he was excited about making his return to the WWF. He just hadn't figured out what he was going to do now that he was back.
Then he wrestled Bret Hart and the rest is insane history. During an episode of WWF Superstars, the Hitman had pinned the aging former champion. Dejected, Bob shook Hart's hand twice. Then he slapped him once.
That's when we were let behind his Backlund walls. Bob went nuts and locked in his dreaded crossface chickenwing. Screaming and yelling, Opie yanked with all his might. After he was forced to let the WWF Champion go, Mr. Backlund looked down at his hands to make sure he didn't have all Bret's hair gel on them. Or something like that.
What followed was an insanity that Bob seems to carry with him to this day. He began using large words in awkward context and beating up guys who write for WWF Magazine. There was definitely something wrong with this guy. :
It was all downhill from there. Bob's eyes bulged more and more each week. He recreated his own WWF Title loss while instigating a feud in the Hart family. He started dressing like Pee Wee Herman. He ran for President. In a nutshell, he lost it. His craziest moment probably came when he joined TNA. Shudder.
Ironically, it was turning his back on the fans that made him most popular with them. Mr. Backlund remains one of the business's most unique characters…and one of the strangest transitions we've ever seen. Same sort of thing happened to the guy who took his WWF Title away too...
When I was a kid, the Iron Sheik spoke very little. It was usually to tell us the ranking of countries (Iran #1, American Phooey). Or it was to yell off-microphone to people who wouldn't let Nikolai Vollkoff finish his anthem. All we know is that the Sheik hated America and seemed to focus on dismantling opponents.
Year later, we'd learn the truth. Sheiky Baby actually loves America and hates every person in it.
It all started insanely with an interview segment the Iron One did in which he was asked about B. Brian Blair. Suddenly, the former Olympian launched into a tirade that ripped into the Killer Bee. The craziest part of his threat? He not only wanted to lock B. Brian in the Camel Clutch, but he wanted to "f**k his ass and make him humble".
And that's when the floodgates opened.
From there, it was nothing but that. Sheik had strong words for everyone and said them in a way that left listeners stunned. When I interviewed him for ClubWWI in 2006, I wasn't disappointed. Again, he threatened to sodomize Blair in an attempt to teach humility. It was great.
In my second book, Shoot First…Ask Questions Later, I talked about my experience with the Sheik and whether his "crazy" was more of an act or a reality. Here's the excerpt:
For the most part, Sheik is a nice laid-back guy. In fact, 90% of his interview is full of "that is very intelligent question you ask me" and "I had much respect for Mr." so-and-so. It's only when you hit a hot button that he goes nuts and starts to go off on people. If I had been B. Brian Blair at the time, though, I think it would have been a different story.
The real gist of this question is whether or not the Sheik is a work. After all, his craziness is legendary and caused Howard Stern great enjoyment. Many can’t fathom that this could be his real personality.
To be honest, I think it is…somewhat. Iron reminded me of the type of kid we all gathered around in school. He’d get worked up and start freaking out about something. Everyone would then keep egging him on until he got more and more out of control. He’d then throw something at the teacher or jump off the school roof on a dare.
That’s Sheik. He’s big on respect and honor. However, he has a short fuse. When he starts getting angry, there’s no stopping him. When he realizes that people enjoy hearing him get like that, why would he bother reigning himself in? What’s the fun in that? Think about it. If you knew that you could go buck silly – yelling and screaming – and find that people enjoy it, would you stop? Would you go to anger management or switch to decaf? Hell no! I’d go insane every chance I get!
I’d break your back! I’d make you humble! I’d f…uh. Hang on. Maybe I wouldn’t do everything that Sheik does, but I’d do most of it. Definitely the first two.
Did you know Scott Hall was once a porn star? Probably not because he wasn't. But you couldn't tell by looking at him. It was his style for a while.
When people think of Scott Hall, they think of many things. Outsiders. Demons. Razors. Whatever. But when I think of Scott Hall, I think of a guy who has completely changed his look…and ethnicity. You see, when Hall debuted. He was this:
Who the hell is that?
Then, after tiring of the bushy hair deal, Scott dropped his name, jumped to WCW and became the Diamond Studd. Suddenly he was Hitman Harting his hair and he started a look that we would all become familiar with.
OK. So far so good. New look, but also a new name. Hall was now a Studd and that's that. When WWF signed him in 1992 and turned him into the Latino "Razor Ramon", he kept the image but changed the accent. Again, though. He was still a new guy with a new gimmick.
Upon returning to the company in 1996, the former Razor had to revert back to his real name "Scott Hall". No longer bushy haired and mustached, Hall retained his whole "Hey Yo" accent and would routinely give surveys to the crowd. The entire time no one questioned how Scott Hall's voice and nationality had radically changed in the past 15 years. All we knew was that Scott was back…and now he was Cuban.
And it's been that way ever since.
I know a girl who married her high school sweetheart. They've been together since OJ Simpson was known as the lovable accident-prone guy in Naked Gun. Sounds like it should be a love story. They only problem? They break up a lot.
Every few days, you'd get a crying phone call and a laundry list of insane things about the guy. There was never any violence or things like that. Just weird stuff that made you uncomfortable…when you inevitably see him again a few days later at her house in his underwear.
America has a girlfriend like that. Her name is Sgt. Slaughter. Sgt Slaughter in his underwear on America's couch wondering why you're not being friendly.
For years, the walking talking chinsation made the USA his entire persona. Part man, part GI Joe figure, Sarge stood for truth, justice, and the American way. Sure, he had veered into some pretty violent territory early on in his career, but he always stood by the flag.
That is, until 1990. That's when he suddenly decided he liked Iraq better.
Why? I don't know. No one did. He never cited any particular reason. There was no Iraqi TV show he enjoyed. No restaurants in the country that he frequented. Nothing. He just liked it more. Oh, and he suddenly hated America.
How much? Well, at Survivor Series 1991, the Whacky Wanna-be-Iraqi took some time to taunt the members of the military who were watching the show for free via satellite. He laughed at how they didn't get to eat a proper Thanksgiving dinner. Nice, right? Sgt. Slaughter was cruelly mocking our troops. It's like Justin Bieber making fun of little girls for liking bad music. None of it made sense.
It made sense to Slaughter, though. Well, I should say it made sense until he lost to Hulk Hogan in one of the most anti-climatic WrestleMania main events in history and then again in tag fashion at SummerSlam. Freshly vanquished and no longer needing foreign sympathies for cheap heat, the GI Joe figure made a decision. He wanted his country back.
What did the Sergeant do? Did he save one of the WWF good guys from a dastardly attack? Did he help one of the heroes overcome a villain who had cheated in their match? Did he make little goodie bags of pogs, Simpsons T-Shirts, and other 1991ish chachkies to send to some members of the military?
No. He begged like a big chinned dog for his "country back".
Come on, America. You know I love you, baby. Here, I bought you these earrings.
Know what his country did? They took him back. Well, actually, the country didn't. The WWF did. In the days before Twitter, no one got to vote. There was no #WWESlaughterYes or #WWESlaughterNo. There was just Vince McMahon yelling into his announcer headset, "Sgt. Slaughter is welcomed home!"
Years later, Hacksaw Jim Duggan would go a similar route with Canada. He renounced his citizenship for our neighbors North. The only difference was that it was WCW and no one really noticed much. Also, the United States wasn't at war with Canada…even though wrestling bookers always seem to think so.
But good ol' Sarge. He's still beloved today. If wrestling were a shoot, I'm pretty sure he'd still be in hiding.
I know everyone likes to talk about what a genius Paul Heyman was. One piece of genius everyone points to is how he managed to use the rather undersized Taz in a major role. According to many, Heyman found a way to distract from his small stature.
However, no one points out that Taz is one of the scariest dudes on the planet. At the time he was being geniusly packaged into an ass-kicker, he was sort of, well, an ass kicker. I guess now we file things in the "Genius" section that belong in the "No Duh" section.
With his threat of "Win if you can, Survive if I let you" and the F**k The World Title he wore proudly, the man who began his career as "The Tazmaniac" had become the unstoppable human suplex machine. Like an animal uncaged, the new Taz was ready to tear people apart.
So how did he go from that scary monster into being the voice we welcomed into our living room each week? How did the man who threatened to choke people to death inside a wrestling ring become the guy who talked over the matches about "cute little tomatahs" he saw outside the arena?
Now, I'm sure you're thinking that Taz the Commentator and Taz the Wrestler are different personas. After all, plenty of stars go from in-ring killers to happy broadcasters. Like Lord Alfred Hayes, Jesse Ventura, and Gorilla Monsoon, Tazzy just found his softer side.
Except that that's not true. You see, Taz's switch to commentary wasn't a career choice surprise. It was something that had been simmering on his mind for a long time. He began antagonizing the current announce team, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, almost immediately upon his WWF debut in 2000.
Mocking JR's Bells Palsy and things like that were just a glance into the angry eyes of a man hungry for commentary. After his violent feud with the announce team played out, Taz(z) eventually got his own chatty gig with Michael Cole on Smackdown. All was alright with the world.
But wait, I know you still think they're not related. After all, the Taz-Lawler clip we just saw had taken place years before he became a genuine broadcaster. By the time the ECW ass-kicker put on his suit and sunglasses, he was a kinder and gentler Taz. New guy. No more confrontational issues with announcers, right?
How many announce teams have you ever seen do this? Not many. But that was a long time ago and now Taz is a happier camper. Friend The World!. Win if you can, survive because you're nice.
He's free of his dark passenger. The anger he once had is gone…
…and now lives inside Michael Cole.
Scotty Leavy hates when fans call him Scotty Leavy. He prefers his wrestling name, Raven.
But there was a time when approaching the ECW icon and calling him "Scotty" was acceptable. You see, Scotty actually began his career as Scotty The Body. And after that, long before he was a Raven, he was another bird. A flamingo.
What about me? What about
Flamingo!?Doesn't have the same "oomph", huh?
Now before anyone starts with the emails about how these are different characters, think again. Scotty played the roles of The Body and Scotty Flamingo in many companies including the Pacific Northwest, WCW, GWF, and the USWA. But when WWF came calling in 1994, they changed him a bit. His flamboyance was toned down in favor of a more preppy tone.
Renamed "Johnny Polo", the character, while different, still retained much of the clumsy humor fans had come to expect from the former Flamingo.
When he jumped to ECW, though, that's when he found himself and the connection was clear. As Joey Styles pointed out many times, the newly christened "Raven" was "Johnny Polo in the WWF". The joke was made that working for that company can drive you crazy…which it did for Johnny…er, Scotty…er, Raven.
Even his own sidekick in ECW, Dancin' Stevie Richards, seemed to retain many of the Scotty Flamingo characteristics. Raven wasn't simply a new gimmick. Raven was a character progression for Scotty Flamingo and one that tied his entire career together in a way that few others ever get to do.
Quote the Raven…put on a headband and do the Cabbage Patch.
Hey, remember that time Junkyard Dog got tired of being Junkyard Dog? He came out and burned his collar and essentially "walked out" on his gimmick? No? Of course you don't. That never happened. Very rarely, if ever, does a wrestler do that.
Well, except Dustin Rhodes who did it twice in two different companies.
So, if you're keeping score, Dustin Rhodes has agreed to two different personas and then given them up in front of a live audience.
It doesn't end there, though. Rhodes has gone through extremes throughout his whole career. At no time did any company he work for pretend he was a new character. Despite his gimmick, he's always been Dustin Rhodes underneath. He just doesn't know where he stands on, well, anything.
Dustin began his time in wrestling as the son of Dusty Rhodes. From there, he became the homoerotic Goldust. Then he became the freaky perverted lick-Luna Goldust. Then he became the impersonator Goldust. Following that, he found God and began preaching against everything Goldust had been. Then came WCW. He was the nightmarish "Seven". He wasn't the nightmarish "Seven". Then he became himself once more before returning to WWF as Goldust once again. This time he stuttered. After doing another Goldust-esque gimmick for TNA, he returned to his Golden WWF roots one last time. He then capped it all off by being the crazy dude on Twitter before leaving the company last year.
So who is he really? What became of the young son of an American Dream? 20 years later, what do we know about Dustin Rhodes? Simple.
He's the homoerotic, freaky, Luna-licking, impersonating, bible-thumping, nightmare-teasing, stuttering, black raining, Twitter nut who likes to burn his clothes. That's who. See? Simple.
How is this the same guy?! How?!
The change in Scott Steiner was so severe and so sudden that I couldn't help but point it out in my interview with him. He doesn't even appear to be the same person. Out of everyone on this list, his change always blew my mind the most.
Long before he was "The Big Bad Booty Daddy", Scotty Steiner was the Michigan alumni with an early 90s style of wrestling gear. Splashed with color and boxes, the mulleted Steiner finished off opponents with his Frankensteiner. Then he signed autographs and worked out.
But a few years later, the Steiner Brother tired of the smiling. All these years, that grinning college boy was a horny toad and we didn't even know it.
You see, Steiner never spoke much. He just posed and once in a while said something like, "We're gonna keep these belts, Tony!" There wasn't much in the way of personal stories. To hear him speak now, while still playing the old role is enough to bug you out. It seems so unnatural knowing the things that voice would go on to say:
It was such a shocking and bizarre change that it almost felt like Steiner had become the first wrestler to work the fans for years without anyone knowing. He was a generic babyface that no one thought twice about supporting. Then, when we met his Freakzilla side, we couldn't help but wonder, "Who the hell have we been cheering for this whole time? This dude's nuts!"
And we came to love him for it. You can't help but think that Scott feels liberated today. We finally met the real Scotty Steiner…and he's going to use that Michigan jacket to choke you to death before he has sex with your girl. Ah. Nice to have you home, Scott.
Sometimes you wonder if Bart Gunn realizes how close he came to doing a wedding angle with Billy Gunn. I mean, had Brokeback Mountain come out years earlier, something tells me they'd be exchanging "I do"s on live TV. Oh Bart…I wish I could quit you.
Years before Mr. Ass was in chopping his crotch and proposing to Chuck, he was just a poor cowboy living off the land. With a giant Hulk Hogan 'stache and a six shooter in his holster, Billy Gunn's name made sense. He was a cowboy along with Brother Bart. They were the Smokin' Gunns. No one ever told you what they were smoking, but rumor has it that it was just oregano.
Either way, the Smokers were country folk. They rode horses and all that good stuff. It wasn't until Sunny reared her Sytchy head into their lives that things took a turn. It became clear that Billy enjoyed the ladies. Good for him.
He liked them a lot. Especially their asses.
Uh, OK. Thanks, Billy. Maybe you should keep that to yourself for a while.
Oh, he did. The cowboy eventually left his team to become a "Rockabilly". Managed by the Honky Tonk Man (famous for managing the careers of such great stars as nobody and no one), Gunn swiveled his hips for a few weeks and eventually smashed his guitar over HTM's head. At that point, he joined his former enemy "Road Dogg Jesse James" and the two became a team.
That's about the time that Billy thought we should all know about the ass fetish.
He changed his name to "Mr. Ass". He wore thongs a lot. His own theme song even said he loves to "flaunt 'em, loves to watch 'em, loves to pick 'em." Yes.
Pick 'em. He picks ass. Take that for what you will. Yikes.
From a cowboy to an ass man. It may have been too much information for people to take because a few years later, he dropped all the ass references and became "The One" Billy Gunn. What "one" was that? The one who likes asses and doesn't tell anyone anymore.
Shortly after the one stint played out, he became gay. Well, not really gay. Just fake gay for a while. He almost got married to Chuck Palumbo on Smackdown in what turned out to be a publicity stunt.
Here's the thing. Throughout all that, he's always been Billy Gunn. The name he arrived with as some sort of pun on cowpokes had become some sort of pun about butts, I guess. When you keep your cowboy name throughout a career than involves gay marriage and ass fetishes, you've definitely done something worth noting. What that something is, though, is anyone's guess.