In professional wrestling, a gimmick generally refers to a wrestler's in-ring persona, character, behaviour, attire and/or other distinguishing traits while performing which are usually artificially created in order to draw fan interest.
These in-ring personalities often involve costumes, makeup and catchphrases that they shout at their opponents or the fans.
Gimmicks can be designed to work as good guys (babyfaces) or villains (heels) depending on the wrestler's desire to be popular or hated by the crowd. A tweener gimmick falls between the two extremes. A wrestler may portray more than one gimmick over their career depending on the angle or the wrestling promotion that they are working for at that time.
Promotions will use gimmicks on more than one person, albeit at different times, occasionally taking advantage of a masked character which allows for the identity of the wrestler in question to be concealed. Razor Ramon was portrayed by both Scott Hall and Rick Bognar.
Gimmicks are annually rated for the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards by the publication's owner, professional wrestling journalists, and various industry insiders, such as Dave Meltzer, promoters, agents and performers, other journalists, historians, and fans. The two awards are given to the best and worst gimmick of that year. Current winners are "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt and Shorty G respectively.
Pro wrestling's history has been tied to the use of gimmicks from its infancy. From its circus origins in the 1830s, showmen presented wrestlers under names such as "Edward, the steel eater", "Gustave d'Avignon, the bone wrecker", or "Bonnet, the ox of the low Alps" and challenged the public to knock them down for 500 francs.
During the late 19th century-early 20th century, when wrestler Frank Gotch rose to prominence, the focus became on contests largely legitimate (see catch wrestling), which largely resulted in the abandoning previous character gimmicks.
It was not until the First Golden Age of Professional Wrestling in the United States during the 1940s-1950s, when Gorgeous George created pro wrestling's first major gimmick. His heel character focused on his looks and quickly antagonized the fans with his exaggerated effeminate behavior. Such showmanship was unheard of for the time; and consequently, arena crowds grew in size as fans turned out to ridicule George.
Gorgeous George's impact and legacy on wrestling gimmicks was enormous, demonstrating how fast television changed the product from athletics to performance. Before him, wrestlers gimmicks imitated "ethnic terrors" (Nazis, Arabs, etc.), but his success birthed a more individualistic and narcissist form of character.
In Britain, television took British wrestling to the next level when in 1964, it went full-time as part of the World of Sport show.
The style of wrestling at the time was unique with strong emphasis on clean technical wrestling. Heels made up a minority of the roster, with most shows containing an abnormally high proportion of clean sportsmanly matches between two "blue-eyes" (as faces were known backstage in the UK). This would remain the case for several decades to come. Gimmick matches were a rarity, midget wrestling failed to catch on, while women were banned by the Greater London Council until the late 1970s.
The WWF contributed to the explosion of gimmicks by becoming the most colorful and well-known wrestling brand because of its child-oriented characters, soap opera dramatics and cartoon-like personas. Most notable was the muscular Hulk Hogan, who marked the 1980s with his "all-American" gimmick and made his main events into excellent ratings draws. His dominant role in the industry at that time led to this era to be also known as "Hulkamania". Around this time, wrestling became a form of entertainment rather than an official sport.
In recent years, the emphasis has been on more realistic gimmicks that portray the wrestler as an actual person, sometimes using their real names, albeit with exaggerated personality traits. Wrestlers like Randy Orton, Batista, and John Cena are prime examples of this.
Exaggerating the characteristics of a wrestler's (on occasion fabricated) origin is one of the most commonly exploited gimmicks, in which overarching characteristics of a character play up to clichés and stereotypes.
A long list of wrestlers in this category includes: African (Kamala, Abdullah The Butcher), American (The Patriot, Hulk Hogan, 'Hacksaw' Jim Duggan, Jack Swagger), British (William Regal, Lord Alfred Hayes, Gentleman Jack Gallagher) Bulgarian (Rusev), Canadian (Team Canada (TNA), Team Canada (WCW)), Cowboy (Bob Orton Jr.), French (La Résistance), Irish (Finlay, Sheamus), Iranian (The Iron Sheik, Ariya Daivari), Hawaiian (Leilani Kai, Ricky Steamboat), Indian (The Great Khali, Jinder Mahal), Italian (Santino Marella), Jamaican (Kofi Kingston), Japanese (Shinsuke Nakamura, Yoshi Tatsu, Kai En Tai) Korean (Gail Kim), Mexican (Alberto Del Rio, Eddie Guerrero, The Mexicools), Native American/American Indian (Chief Jay Strongbow, Tatanka), Russian (Vladimir Kozlov, Nikolai Volkoff, Lana), Samoan (Samoa Joe, The Wild Samoans), Scottish (Drew McIntyre, Roddy Piper) Swiss (Cesaro), and Thai (Super Invader).
The undeniable influence of the Puroresu style in the world of Professional Wrestling has resulted in many wrestlers using fabricated Japanese origins or being billed from a Japanese city, without actually being natives of the country. Prime examples of this include Yokozuna, Awesome Kong, Hawaiians Professor Tanaka and Mr. Fuji, and British wrestler Kendo Nagasaki. Several Japanese wrestlers who wrestle outside of their home country are known to play up or exaggerate aspects of their cultural heritage as part of their gimmicks for an overseas audience.
Masked wrestlers made their appearance in Europe (Theobaud Bauer in France, 1865) and the United States (Mort Henderson as "Masked Marvel" in 1915) considerably earlier than in Mexico, but it was the latter that popularised the use of masks. This, in some cases to signify a high-flyer style, influenced by Lucha Libre.
A specific masked gimmick may be used by more than one wrestler at a wrestling company's request since their identity can be permanently concealed. This is the case of Mexican Sin Cara and Japanese Tiger Mask. Masks also allow a wrestler to perform as more than one character for a variety of wrestling promotions.
Other wrestlers that have used masks in their performances include: Mexican-Americans Rey Misterio and Kalisto, Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame inductee Big Van Vader, Bryan Danielson during his masked American Dragon phase, Japanese legend Jyushin Thunder Liger and British wrestler El Ligero.
A high number of wrestlers who start their careers in another sport incorporate their athletic abilities as part of their act. That is the case for Olympic medallist Kurt Angle, who previously competed in freestyle wrestling and alludes to it in his attire and wrestling style. Brock Lesnar is also an ex-amateur wrestler, NFL player and UFC champion.
In the women's division, Ric Flair's daughter Charlotte has a gymnastics and volleyball background, Dana Brooke was a gymnast for 18 years and is a well known fitness competitor whilst Naomi was a cheerleader and dancer for NBA team Orlando Magic.
The theatrical nature of Professional Wrestling easily blends with comic hero characters, made popular in the 1980s by legend The Ultimate Warrior and Sting, whose character was inspired by the 1994 movie The Crow, based on the comic book of the same name.
Other wrestlers with superhero gimmicks include late WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes' sons Gold and Stardust, Samoan Rosey during his "the Super Hero in Training" (the S.H.I.T.) phase and his tag-team partner The Hurricane and valet Stacy Keibler.
Some of these characters are brought during very short periods of time for entertainment value. The Joker and Harley Quinn from the Batman comics have inspired wrestling attire for Sting and Alexa Bliss respectively. Finn Bálor's Demon King persona is visually based on Spider-Man villains Venom and Carnage.
Similarly to superheroes, supernatural characters add to entertainment value. Most famously in this category is The Undertaker, considered one of the most respected wrestlers in the business, whose gimmick is a horror-themed character of an undead, macabre and paranormal dark presence prone to scare tactics. He was managed by the ghostly character that was Paul Bearer and tagged with his half-brother Kane in The Brothers of Destruction stable.
Other wrestlers displaying supposed supernatural powers include Matt Hardy (as his Broken/Woken persona), Bray Wyatt, Mordecai, Papa Shango, and The Boogeyman. Japanese Onryo portrays a dead wrestler who returned for vengeance.
Since its beginnings in the circus circuit, the professional wrestler's stereotype has been that of large, powerful and strong. Various wrestlers have banked on the larger size which has influenced their in-ring style and persona.
Notable examples of these kind include Swede Tor Johnson, who weighed 181 kilograms, Big Show (7 ft 2 in), André the Giant (7 ft 4in), The Great Khali (7 ft 3 in), Gorilla Monsoon (182 kg), Awesome Kong (123 kg) and Big Boss Man (6 ft 6 in).
Whilst humor has long been present in Professional Wrestling matches and many wrestlers incorporate elements of comedy in their act, full-on comedic gimmicks are not commonly seen. These are sometimes reserved for wrestlers who not always have the stereotypical physique required in the industry and instead exploit their entertainment abilities.
Wrestlers who fall under this category are Scottish comedian and actor Grado, Doink The Clown which was majorly portrayed by Matt Osborne until 2013, Ring of Honor's Colt Cabana, Santino Marella, Japanese Wrestlers Stalker Ichikawa, Gran Naniwa and Kuishinbo Kamen, Charlie Haas during his impersonations run, and WWE's 1990s turkey character Gobbledy Gooker. Damien Sandow also falls under this category due to his 'stunt double' gimmick in late 2014 where he copied whatever his on-screen mentor The Miz did, due to the latter using a gimmick of an arrogant movie star.
Usually a villainous gimmick, initiated by Gorgeous George. Wrestlers that followed on with this trend include Bobby Roode, Ravishing Rick Rude, Rick Martel, TNA's Mr Pec-tacular, Curt Hennig's Mr Perfect, NXT's Tyler Breeze and women's tag team The Beautiful People.
Music influences are another popular choice for gimmicks, as demonstrated by John Cena's original rapper character, CM Punk's straight edge iconoclast hardcore punk, party boy Adam Rose, Chris Jericho, The Honky Tonk Man, Disco Inferno, Brodus Clay and his fun-loving, funk dancing gimmick "The Funkasaurus" and WWE's Fandango who includes salsa dancing in his routine.
The millionaire tyrant character works well as a villain in contrast to professional wrestling's working-class fan-base. It is because of this audience that Dusty Rhodes' Common Man was highly successful with the crowds.
The original gimmick of this type was created by "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase which consequently inspired wrestlers like Mr. McMahon, Tiger Ali Singh, JBL and most recently Alberto Del Rio's arrogant rich Mexican aristocrat character.