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Last Saturday I went to a Liberty States Wrestling show. Chances are that you have never heard of the promotion Liberty States Wrestling, as it is a small independent company working with mostly young wrestlers in the Massachusetts area. While there was the usual display of promising young talent at the show, it was an older wrestler who caught my attention.
"Fabulous" Johnny Vegas looked to be on the wrong side of 40, and his offense consisted almost entirely of exaggerated open hand shots to his opponent's throat and the use of some form of foreign object. What stood out about Johnny Vegas was that he had a gimmick, and that every single thing he did was made to further portray that gimmick. He came out in a faux boxing robe with his name and "Fabulous" above it, written in silver glitter. He had a portly manager who came out in an ungodly eyelit black tuxedo, and hyped Vegas up every time he did something even remotely positive. There was plenty of dancing and taunting in the ring, including some very funny gambling-related taunts that brought down the house.
In most wrestling today, the great gimmick has gone by the wayside. Outside of The Undertaker's handful of appearances over the last few years, WWE, once the possessor of a bad reputation pertaining to poor gimmicks, has been severely restricted. One of the reasons Fandango may have gotten such a big sign of support early into his time in WWE was because Fandango was such a classic, old-school gimmick, that hadn't really been seen in a while in WWE. Now, Fandango's character either had enough depth into it, or WWE never cared to explore it, but Fandango is really the only guy in WWE (well, okay, Kane sometimes) that works full-time, but has an honest to god old-fashioned gimmick.
Back in the 80s, WWE was crawling with classic gimmicks that may be seen as cheesy right now, but back then they worked like a charm. The Honky Tonk Man, Ted Dibiase, Rick Rude, The Iron Sheik, Sgt. Slaughter and plenty more now legendary stars had gimmicks. These were not just character traits, but gimmicks that consumed every single action and movement that the wrestler completed.
Now a-days, we don't see gimmicks as much as we see character archetypes given to each wrestler. John Cena doesn't really have a gimmick, he is just kind of the cheesy, always fight the good fight, 80s-style hero. CM Punk was kind of the anti-establishment, rebel hero/villain. Daniel Bryan doesn't really have a gimmick, just that he loves wrestling and he has a lot of charisma. Even someone like Bray Wyatt, who is pretty recognized as having a dynamite gimmick, but even he works more in archetype than as an actual gimmick. When Wyatt gets in the ring, he wrestles pretty much the same way that Husky Harris did, and outside of the hanging on the ropes thing, he doesn't do a lot of the taunting. Not to say that Wyatt is bad or anything, his character is pretty much perfect, but he doesn't have the same type of gimmick that the older guys had.
Gimmicks can be kind of silly at times, but something that is overlooked is that they can add a lot to a wrestler, as long as the gimmick suits the wrestler. A perfect example of this would be the career of John Bradshaw. As a member of the APA, he was a beer-drinking, card-playing tough guy. There was not a lot of depth behind that character, but since he was only one-half of a tag team, it was all he really needed to be successful. But when the time came to split up his tag team, Bradshaw needed a gimmick with a little more substance in order to survive in singles competition. He switched into the JBL character, the nastiest aristocrat since J.P. Morgan, and away he went as a singles wrestler. The investment (pun fully intended) in the JBL character took Bradshaw from a top-of-the-card wrestler, to a legit main eventer.
A change in gimmick could really help a struggling wrestler, someone like Sheamus. Sheamus is currently the most boring character in WWE, considering how much focus is put on him. Sheamus' character is that he is Irish, and he likes to fight, THAT IS IT. Every promo he cuts is the same, every match is the same, everything is just so cookie-cutter and bland that I can't hardly stand it at this point, and he JUST came back from a long hiatus. Sheamus has the talent and his mic skills are fine, it is just a matter of finding the right character and having him embrace that character.
Gimmicks are something that make pro wrestling different from anything else. In today's incredibly competitive cable television market, gimmicks are something that can separate wrestling from everything else that is on TV. If I wanted to see a kick-ass 80s good guy, I could watch a Schwarzenegger movie over on TNT. If I wanted to watch a creepy cult leader, I would watch The Following over on Fox. If I wanted to watch an ex-military drill instructor give guys noogies and elbow drops, well, I really only have one choice then don't I?