Heath Slater has made an amazing transition over the past year. After spending most of his WWE tenure as a jobber, Slater is now one of SmackDown’s brightest stars.
His popularity has skyrocketed since fans voted him in as a Superstar of the Year nominee at the 2015 Slammys. But that wasn’t enough for either Raw or SmackDown to (kayfabe) pick him in the WWE Draft in July.
So the company put him in an angle where he played a free agent trying to support his large family. Hence Slater’s popularity reached even greater heights.
Now he finds himself as one half of the inaugural SmackDown tag-team champions alongside Rhyno. His segments are some of the most entertaining on either brand and he’s legitimately a Superstar fans want to tune in for. Not bad for the “redheaded guy from Nexus” (it’s worth noting, by the way, that he’s one of only two remaining active WWE Superstars from the group).
But Slater isn’t the only one to go through a complete career revival in WWE. In fact, some of pro wrestling’s greatest characters came out of the ruins of less popular gimmicks. Here’s a look at the seven best career revivals in WWE history.
Zack Ryder found himself as a jobber who rarely appeared on Raw or SmackDown in 2011. He admitted that his future with the company seemed bleak around the time of the annual “Black Friday” releases, so he created his “Z! True Long Island Story” YouTube series as a way to grab the attention of both the WWE Universe and management.
At the height of the show’s success, Ryder rivaled John Cena and CM Punk in terms of merchandise sales and popularity. He’s managed to stay employed since and added a United States and Intercontinental Championship reign to his resume.
New Age Outlaws
“Rockabilly” Billy Gunn and Jesse James were both jobbers before WWE decided to put them together as tag team partners in 1997. It turned out that they were the perfect compliment for one another.
James added “Road Dogg” to his name while Gunn switched “Rockabilly” to “Bad Ass” and the duo provided the trademark attitude of the late-’90s to their characters. Road Dogg’s unmistakable charisma paired with Mr. Ass’ in-ring experience to form one of WWE’s all-time greatest tag teams and one of the most entertaining acts of the Attitude Era.
Glenn Jacobs went through several different characters before finding the perfect fit. The man who formerly portrayed evil dentist Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS and “Fake Diesel” debuted as Undertaker’s estranged half-brother Kane at Badd Blood: In Your House in 1997.
The demon became a staple of WWE for the next two decades and won multiple world championships. Kane remains an active member of SmackDown, which is a credit to his longevity as a character and a worker.
It’s almost crazy to think that the “MAGGLE”-shouting SmackDown commentator was once a beer-swelling bodyguard and a cowboy even before that. And it’s even more impressive to think that the APA was only his second biggest gimmick.
But yes, nearly year-long WWE Champion and Wrestling God businessman was JBL’s most successful character. The drastic change in his appearance and gimmick needs to be mentioned. JBL was the top heel on SmackDown and had one of the best title runs of the millennium, even if it was because “Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays.”
It’s amazing that Hollywood’s highest-grossing actor had fans screaming “die Rocky die” as a babyface. But that’s exactly what happened to Dwayne Johnson during his first year in WWE as Rocky Maivia.
At the time, Maivia was a babyface “just because,” which is very similar to how fans have reacted to his cousin, Roman Reigns, 20 years later. It wasn’t until he returned from injury, turned heel and called himself “The Rock” that he truly displayed the charisma and swagger that made him the most electrifying man in sports [and] entertainment.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Stone Cold Steve Austin is easily one of the most popular Superstars in WWE history. The Ringmaster, however, was not.
But that was Austin’s original character in WWE after signing in 1995. Even he admitted on Tough Enough that “Ringmaster sucked” when taking about the old gimmick.
Fortunately, the moniker was short-lived. Austin evolved into the beer-swelling redneck known as “Stone Cold” midway through the Summer of ’96 and went on to be the toughest S.O.B. in WWE history, as well as the face of the Attitude Era.