As 2023 comes to an end, we all tend to reflect on the year in wrestling. Everyone is thinking of the best match, best wrestler, promotion, etc. Here’s our round-up of the best WWE & AEW gimmick changes of 2023.
Before Steve Austin was “Stone Cold” he was a “Stunning” blonde “Ringmaster”. Before Mark Callaway was The Undertaker he was “Mean Mark” Callous and Texas Red. His psychotic, masked brother Kane was once a dentist.
Simply put, sometimes a gimmick change is essential in pro wrestling. So here’s a look at who got it right by adopting a fresh gimmick in 2023.
Best WWE & AEW Gimmick Changes From 2023
“Timeless” Toni Storm
Toni Storm has been a fan-favorite with her 1980s-inspired rocker persona for years. In the summer of 2023, Storm was sitting pretty as AEW Women’s Champion backed up by her follow rockers Saraya and Ruby Soho in the heel Outcasts stable.
Then at Dynamite 200, Hikaru Shida reversed a Storm pin to leave her with her butt in the air. Referee Paul Turner slapped the canvas three times and Storm was left without her AEW Women’s Championship. Typically a former champ would demand a rematch or fade into obscurity for a few months. Storm did neither.
Storm appeared in a series of interviews on Collision. She attempted to be poised now styled with her hair in curls – often with the curlers still in – and silk robes. By her admittance, she was ‘out of sorts’, ‘depressed’, and ‘vulnerable’. She failed to recognize interviewer Lexi Nair week after week. But each week got offended with the questioning. Storm stormed off and threw her shoe back at Nair.
Storm used All In Wembley as the perfect opportunity to debut her new Hollywood Golden Age heroine character. Sporting a Marilyn Monroe-inspired bob, lace gown, and more traditional ring outfit she pranced to the ring to a new fanfare. Nigel McGuinness referenced Monroe on commentary along with Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, and Elizabeth Taylor to let us know these stars inspired Storm’s new character.
She failed to win at Wembley. From here Storm went deranged. Cutting ties with Soho and Saraya and claiming she couldn’t trust anyone.
RJ City conducted a series of Portrait of a Star interviews with Storm. Storm’s make-up was a mess and she seemed exhausted. The character now seemed to be inspired by the behavior of Judy Garland or Monroe even more so.
RJ City said her look was timeless and from there, we got going with the new character. Storm ‘debuted’ “Timeless” Toni Storm in the ring. She would go over her script before the match, claim she was ready for her close-up and send the director to the advertising breaks. She was also winning. New catchphrases were also hitting the right note with fans. ‘Watch out for the shoe!’ ‘I’m ready for my close-up’. ‘How dare you?’ all became catchphrases of Storms’
Her vignettes were now styled as silent black and white movies and she was assisted by Luther as her new butler. At Full Gear, she faced Shida for the title she lost to her just three months prior. With the assistance of a metal plate stuffed down the back of her shorts, Storm hit a Hip Attack and reclaimed the championship from Shida.
She hasn’t looked back and continues to take offense at women attempting to upstage her. More and more layers are added to the character every week on AEW TV. Most recently, Turner Movie Classic host Ben Mankiewicz introduced her match as if it were an iconic picture.
Jack Perry went from his Tarzan-lite Jungleboy gimmick to a leather-clad Nepo baby. For many it was sad to see the back of his Baltimora Tarzan Boy entrance track.
But his new introduction in a black car to Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 hit just as hard with the gimmick change. He feuded with Hook, briefly held the FTR Championship and even wrestled Rob Van Dam on AEW Dynamite.
Perry was just finding his grove as a heel when he played a major role in the story of 2023.
To say Perry rubbed CM Punk up the wrong way would be putting it lightly. He wound Punk up so much by doing a car glass window break spot at All In Wembley that Punk hit him and allegedly threatened AEW boss Tony Khan. Perry exasperated doing the spot by saying ‘real glass, go cry me a river’. Allegedly in response to Punk refusing to do a glass spot.
AEW should look to have the last laugh by bringing Perry back and strapping a rocket to his back. To say he could dine out on the incident is – again – putting it lightly.
Here’s a gimmick change nobody saw coming. Roderick Strong went from a generic wrestler who’s admired because of his years of sacrifice in the ring to a sickly, annoying, and conniving friend of Adam Cole. Add whiney and manipulative to the list of other adjectives to describe Strong’s character change in 2023.
Confined to a wheelchair and in a neckbrace, Strong completed the character’s new look with a pair of nerdy glasses. He became Bart Simpson when he gets ‘hit by a car’ with a sprinkling of his peewee friend Millhouse.
Strong vied for Cole’s attention and claimed he was in emergencies when Cole was with his new friend MJF. His cry for help of ‘Adammm!’ became a big hit with AEW fans. Adammm! became one of the top signs on TV and chants heard around arenas. Strong my have recently stood up from his chair but the character remains the same. Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in his chair before too long.
Every single count of Roderick Strong screaming “ADAM!” in pain. 😂 pic.twitter.com/Mnel4DnWwB
— Drainmaker 🌧️ 💵 (@DrainBamager) September 14, 2023
The Next Top Otis
In January 2023, Otis was a heel as part of the Alpha Academy team with Chad Gable. Following a match on Raw, he was spotted by Maxxine Du Pri and her Maxximum Male Models. They labeled him ‘ugly’ and ‘grotesque’.
What followed next was proof Otis can tweak his character to fit any storyline and deliver hugely entertaining moments no matter how little time he is given. Otis has a history of being attracted to ‘pretty ladies’ such as his program with Mandy Rose. But this was different. Where Rose played hard to get, Du Pri went for Otis with a big-time charm offensive.
— WWE (@WWE) January 31, 2023
She promised him fame and glory as the face of her new campaign. She lured Otis away from ringside as he supported Gable and away from his lifelong friend. Otis was restyled. His hair was slicked. He was given trendy shades and a killer jacket. Otis became a male model and Du Pri’s ultimate project. She even changed his name from Otis to Otìsè. She spoke for him during interviews. It was a great storyline that left Gable and Dupri fighting over Otis, sorry Otìsè.
In the end, both Gable and Dupri won and thanks to Otis we saw another great character change.
It’s hard to say how far Dupri would have gone in the WWE as ‘Head of Talent’ for Maxximum Male Models. There are only so many times her recruiting new models could have remained entertaining. It reflects the power of Otis that when she tried to change him, it was her who changed.
Dupri spent a few months trying to change Otis for good and get rid of Gable. Then she left Ma.çé and Mån.sôör and her persona as a model executive behind. Otis returned to his Alpha ways and Gable accepted Dupri as his new project. Gable and Otis trained Dupri to wrestle. She started wearing singlets and adopted Gable’s ‘Thank You’ catchphrase.
— WWE (@WWE) June 13, 2023
Alpha Academy feuded with The Viking Raiders and Dupri had a match with Valhalla where she was given a major babyface reaction from the crowd. As 2023 comes to a close, Otis, Gable, Dupri and now Akira Tozawa as the “Alpha Academy” are hugely entertaining every time they are on screen.
Ma.çé and Mån.sôör were never seen again after Dupri left them and were released from WWE in September 2023. If Dupri hadn’t undergone her character change, she may have been released also.
Anyways here are Maxxine and Lash Legend a week ago… pic.twitter.com/jiz2xAjoYw
— Vin (@WhoisVindictive) December 12, 2023
So there you have it, the best WWE & AEW gimmick changes during 2023.
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