Anyone walking through the ropes into a wrestling ring needs a gimmick or a character, something that sets them apart from everyone else in the business. Glenn Jacobs, now the Mayor of Knox County, went through a lot of failed gimmicks before he found Kane, the character that carried him through most of his career.
Some of the biggest names in the industry had horrific gimmicks early in their careers.
If you’re looking for a laugh, Google Kevin Nash as Oz. When you see the pictures or watch the videos, remember the guy wearing that gear eventually became one of the names that changed the game.
Gimmicks can be divisive too. One of the most consistently over gimmicks in the history of pro wrestling is The Undertaker. Heel or face, that character is a favorite among fans and other wrestlers alike. That being said, there was an era when the supernatural Undertaker shifted gears into being a biker who was still called the Undertaker. While some people liked the change, many wanted the Undertaker to go old school, again, which he eventually did. It fit that period of wrestling to an extent, but it didn’t hold up well over the years. The traditional, supernatural Undertaker character, on the other hand is timeless.
Joey Ryan’s current gimmick is definitely divisive, particularly if you’re Jim Cornette. Born Joseph Meehan, Joey Ryan has been in the game for almost two decades. He’s gone through a range of names and gimmicks during that time. These days, Joey Ryan is the sleaziest guy in the business and that has worked out extremely well for him.
The porn-stache. The aviator shades. The flower print, extra tight trunks that he squirts baby oil into before each match. Joey Ryan is the Master of Sleaze and the King of Dong Style. Not familiar with him? Head back to Google and search for the phrase, “Joey Ryan dick flip” and prepare yourself.
As absurd as all of this sounds, Joey is one of the most over wrestlers on the independent scene. He even has his own promotion called Bar Wrestling, where things get weird in the best possible way.
Joey has earned himself another name as well; the King of Controversy. There are a small number of critical wrestling fans who seem to have a problem with Joey Ryan’s current gimmick, despite the ever-increasing number of fans getting on board with it. Jim Cornette, a manager and commentator who has been around since the early 1980s, is one of the most vocal detractors of Joey Ryan’s work as well as other supposedly controversial wrestlers.
After AEW’s first event, Cornette had a lot to say about Sonny Kiss, an openly LGTBQ wrestler with a unique style that some might politely describe as non-traditional. If you’re one of the few people in the world that are inclined to pay attention to Cornette, you can listen to his full rant on Kiss here. His comments caused an uproar as many perceived them as attacking Sonny’s gimmick on a personal level rather than being insightful commentary. Cornette’s general sentiments about Joey Ryan often fall into the same category.
What’s forgotten about by people like Cornette is that what Sonny Kiss and Joey Ryan bring to the ring isn’t new. Dustin Runnels made a good living in WWE courting controversy and being unique.
When the son of Dusty Rhodes popped up in WWE for the second time, it was under the name of Goldust, an androgynous film fanatic who painted his face and wrestled in a full body suit. He groped his opponents, was overtly sexual and pushed the line as far as it would go and then some. One match with Rowdy Roddy Piper ended with him in women’s underwear.
While this wasn’t Runnels’ only gimmick or in-ring character, it certainly was his most memorable and arguably his most successful. The Goldust gimmick is now viewed as a classic, but at the time it was viewed as controversial and drew the ire of many fans.
Take a step back even further from Goldust. In the late 1960s a Welsh wrestler named Adrian Street debuted a character that was androgynous, effeminate and over the top outrageous. Exotic Adrian Street was talented in the ring and left a lasting impression on anyone who watched him, so much so that the WWE Network now has a short documentary about him.
There are people who believe that wrestlers like Joey Ryan and Sonny Kiss are taking something away from the business with their in-ring styles. In truth, they’re just part of the rich heritage built by people like Adrian Street and Goldust who add more dimension to what wrestling has to offer. The reality is that pro wrestling is absurd, so you need to lean into that to get by. Is one man squirting baby oil down the front of his trunks any more ridiculous than another pretending to be the spectre of death? Not really.
Getting over with fans is incredibly difficult and staying that way even more so. Someone like Cornette may have run down Exotic Adrian Street back in the day but people are still talking about him. Dustin Runnels remains one of the best in the business, no matter the gimmick. They are respected veterans, now.
Keeping in mind that Sonny’s in-ring persona is not so much a gimmick as it is an embellished version of his real life personality, he and Joey Ryan carry on the legacies of Exotic Adrian Street and Goldust.
Despite what some fans and personalities seem to think this is wrestling, controversial or not.
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