“How do you like me now?” –Hardcore Holly
Second chances. They are not given out often, but when they are, it’s best to take full advantage of it. There is no other better example of this than the WWE.
I mean, let’s be honest. It is not like wrestlers are lining up around the corner. Well, good wrestlers, I mean. Sometimes, in order for WWE to keep the roster fuller like they need to, they need to run back to the well and grab someone who they know can perform. However, most of the times that this happens, the person that they choose is either the same character or has the same name. Sometimes, once in a rare blue moon, WWE takes someone and completely changes them. Their name, gimmick, everything gets changed and thank God because most of the time when this happens, their second character has much more success than their first. The surprising thing is, if you don’t have a good enough eye, you wouldn’t notice it. Hell, there are some wrestlers on this list that I didn’t know were featured in WWE before. So, if you are one of those people who like saying, “WHAT?!” at wrestling shows, get ready because, when you read this article, that is all you are going to be saying.
Remember back in 2002 when Eric Bischoff came back (and better than ever, I must add) and became the General Manager of Raw? Remember when he used to tell people they are running out of time and only had “3 Minutes?” Now you got it. Before Umaga was donning all of the body ink and becoming the crazy Samoan that he was, he was Jamal in the tag team 3 Minute Warning. Although devastating and creative, 3 Minute Warning didn’t garner much praise (except for winning “Worst Tag Team” from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 2002). Fast forward to 2006. Out with Armando Alejandro Estrada comes this destructive force of a Samoan with too many tattoos to count and a fierce demeanor only seen in Samoans. Thus, Umaga was born. He went on to have a better career than being Jamal. Two-time Intercontinental champion. Great feuds with top names like John Cena and Triple H. He was a main-eventer for four years. Plus, to start his career as Umaga, he was not pinned or forced to submit in 34 TELEVISED MATCHES IN 8 MONTHS! Not quite Goldberg-esque but impressive nonetheless. It is safe to say that the change was well needed. He could have stayed the same character like his 3 Minute Warning partner, Rosey, did and be The Hurricane's Super Hero In Training. Or basically SHIT.
Hardcore Holly was…THURMAN “SPARKY” PLUGG?!
For some strange reason, back in the mid-1990s, WWE wanted to relate to the “common working man,” and they thought the only way to do that was to have “common working man” wrestlers. Like Duke "The Dumpster" Droese and Henry Godwinn. But, I digress. The shining example of this was Thurman “Sparky” Plugg: a real-life racecar driver/wrestler. I remember that I saw him for the first time when the rest of the Swoggle Squad and I were getting drunk to a Rumble. He came out and Mullet screamed, “How do you like him now?” and my jaw hit the floor. I just couldn’t believe that Hardcore Holly, a man who probably could be considered one of the toughest wrestlers ever in the business, was once a racecar driver character! Out of his entire 16 year career with the WWE, he only kept the racecar driver gimmick for close to 5 years. WWE did smarten up during that time, got rid of that silly name, and gave him the name of Bob “Spark Plugg” Holly (apparently, nobody in WWE can spell “plug” right). After that came much more success. He was a part of the New Midnight Express in which he was a NWA Tag Team Champion. He also was a two-time WWE Tag Team Champion and, of course, don’t forget a six-time WWE Hardcore Champion. His time during the Hardcore Championship era propelled him into the spotlight and made him a certified mid-card talent and his moniker as being one of the toughest wrestlers out there and that’s someone to respect. A lot more respect than wearing tights with checkered flag print and a mullet. A hell of a lot more.
The Godfather was…PAPA SHANGO?!
Before we all hop aboard the ho train and have a real good time, listen up for a second. Out of the whole list in this article, this one probably features the most radical change between two characters. Before the Godfather came to be in 1998, he debuted in the WWE in 1991. Seven years before! Where was he all that time? Well, despite being known by many names, including Sir Charles and Kama Mustafa, he was most well known for being voodoo practitioner Papa Shango in 1992. The man had a skull that blew smoke and also controlled arena lights. He was immediately put into a feud with the Ultimate Warrior and would cast spells on him. However, the feud went nowhere and fast. He eventually gave up the character of Papa Shango in 1994. While WWE had planned to bring Papa Shango back twice (including to explain why Bob Backlund went nuts), it never came to be and that probably was a good thing. As the Godfather, he went on to win the Intercontinental Championship and also was a tag champion during his time with Right to Censor. Shango probably wouldn’t have been a good fit in the Nation of Domination (what I consider one of the best stables ever) and he definitely wouldn’t have been a good fit in the WWE in the late 1990s and early 2000s namely the Attitude Era. During that time, it was cool to be a pimp daddy with a stable of easy women. He was living out every male wrestling fan’s fantasy during that time. And if you want to be over with the crowd, you have to be something that they would want to be. With that being said, all aboard!
Kane was…DR. ISAAC YANKEM, DDS?!
If you were to consider wrestlers that have had true success in the WWE, that list would be very short. One of the wrestlers on that list would be Kane. WWE and World Heavyweight Champion. Multiple time Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion. It is no doubt that, once he is retired, he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. However, unlike his brother counterpart, The Undertaker, Kane did not enter the WWE originally as Kane. In keeping with the WWE’s mid-1990s ideas of relating to the “common working man,” he was first known as heel dentist Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS. Yep, Kane was a dentist. Let that sink in for a minute. He was mostly used as Jerry Lawler’s lackey against Bret Hart and as a jobber for the big stars. However, he was put into the perfect storyline in 1997 by being Undertaker’s brother. However, it wasn’t the feud that made Kane over with the people. It was the fact that Kane was a big man that could actually wrestle. Despite having a career in the WWE since 1995 and more heel and face turns than any wrestler I think I know, Kane is over with everyone because of the fact that he can wrestle. Even though he was placed into a golden storyline, he has shown that, in a way, he didn’t need it. Sometimes, in order to be able to make it on the golden road, someone has to open the door for you and, believe me, no doors were going to open for a heel dentist. Or fake Diesel. But that is another story entirely.
Dolph Ziggler was…NICKY?!
This was the shocker that gave me the inspiration for this article. Everybody remembers the Spirit Squad. Those annoying male cheerleaders coming out every week and doing cheers made me want to take a bath with a toaster. I have no idea how they almost lasted the entire year of 2006. Probably because they were World Tag Team Champions since they weren’t doing anything with those titles anyway. But, that is WWE for you. However, Ziggler, one of the top stars on Raw, was one of those pom-pom shaking, green athletic suit wearing, frosted tip fruit cups. He was NICKY!!! I mean, I guess it cannot be said that he did not pay his dues. He was even Kerwin White's caddie! That story is for another time, though. After the Spirit Squad was done, he went back to developmental to get better and better. Thank God he did. He could have went the Kenny Dykstra route and stayed in WWE as a singles wrestler because that worked out well for Dykstra, right? Anyways, since he came back to WWE, he has grown leaps and bounds. His ring work and mic skills have gotten better and better to the point in which he can be a legitimate multi-year talent and the future of WWE. I know that is bold and you can’t say that about many wrestlers, but I am saying that about Ziggler. Now, after saying all that, imagine my face after I discovered that he was Nicky. But hey, he’s doing all the right things. I guess you can say he has a lot of spirit.
Zack Ryder was…BRETT MAJOR?!
WOO WOO Whoa! Hold up a minute! Who in the blue hell is Brett Major? What if I told you that Zack Ryder has been in the WWE since 2007? And he has been right underneath your nose the whole time? Don’t believe me? Well, get ready. Ryder debuted as Brett Major with his partner Brian Major (AKA Curt Hawkins) in ECW. Now, while you don’t remember that, maybe you will remember this. Remember when Edge won the World Heavyweight Championship at Armageddon in 2007 because two guys dressed up as him and interfered in the match? And those guys became the Edgeheads? Those guys were the MAJOR BROTHERS! And, like the song goes, it’s all coming back to you now. Before Zack Ryder was “The Long Island Iced Z,” he sported long hair and was buddy-buddy with Edge. The Major Brothers won the WWE Tag Team Championships in 2008, but after they lost the titles and Ryder went back to ECW, he changed his persona to what he is now. Ever since 2009, he has been fist-pumping his way up the ranks or at least trying to. Thankfully, he has been able to think outside the box with his “Z! True Long Island Stories.” By appealing to the masses, the masses have demanded him and he has been able to achieve more success as time goes on. Hopefully, he will be able to achieve more. That would be Major.
As you can see, the saying is true. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. Thankfully, WWE gave these guys a second chance with a new character and they used it to their fullest. Now, if they would only think about changing Heath Slater’s character. One-Man Rock Band? That’s worse than Kerwin White.