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Never-before-seen Superstar sketches from the WWE Vault
Where do Superstars come from? It sure isn’t Parts Unknown.
Some of the most beloved personalities in sports-entertainment history began with a simple pen and paper. From 1984 to 2006, WWE’s former Senior Vice President of Creative Services Debbie Bonnanzio oversaw a team of artists that designed the unique masks, tights and entrance gear for the ring’s most colorful personalities.
With the help of WWE’s archivist Benjamin Brown, WWEClassics.com unearthed a massive collection of ultra-rare sketches that were created by Debbie’s team in the mid-1990s. WWE has allowed us to share these early visual concepts for the very first time, including never-before-seen plans for future icons like The Rock and Mick Foley.
For years, these masterpieces have been sitting in an unmarked drawer somewhere in Connecticut. Now, they are yours to enjoy.
Mankind and Dude Love
When Mick Foley arrived in WWE in 1996, he was largely known throughout the sports-entertainment world as Cactus Jack. Mr. McMahon, seeking to capitalize on The Hardcore Legend’s reputation for the extreme, rechristened Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy as a deranged masked mutilator. But before Foley took all mankind by storm, he was originally going to be known as “Headcase” – at least according to the concepts that we uncovered.
After Mick’s childhood creation Dude Love became something of a myth among his fans, WWE arranged to bring this face of Foley to the ring. But first, he needed a redesign. These sketches reveal that tie-dye and peace signs were always a part of the Dude’s colorful look, but that famous pair of white boots was originally a much less groovy shade of black. And that scrapped denim vest? We’re still singing the blues about that one.
BONNANZIO: “They wanted to disguise who he was and Mick was open to do anything and he really wanted to show off that ear that was torn off. It was supposed to be that he went crazy and went off the deep end because [Mr. McMahon] didn’t want Cactus Jack. He wanted a whole new [persona]. The original concept was to have straightjacket on him. For Dude Love, once we had the logo, the WWE merchandise department helped to get one of the manufacturers to do tie-dye for him. It was a pleasure to work with Mick Foley. He was just fun and really creative and so willing to do anything.”
Before he reinvented himself as the wildly controversial and endlessly captivating Goldust, Dustin Rhodes was presented with a number of possible personas, including The Cowboy, Shadow Roads and an Egyptian pharaoh named Stargate.
Once the Goldust name was settled on, the look evolved from styles that were evocative of both Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and Ric Flair before The Bizarre One’s can’t-miss gold bodysuit and facepaint were settled on. Good thing too. Who would have wanted to see Stargate brawl with Roddy Piper at WrestleMania?
BONNANZIO: “A lot of times we’d be told that a wrestler was coming on board. For Dustin, we did a design of his old persona to make him feel comfortable and then we brainstormed all kinds of other ideas. The Goldust idea was not imagined yet. A lot of times we’d be influenced by what was in movies or television, like the Stargate persona. But they never got very far. They were just concepts. Goldust was groundbreaking at the time and that’s what made him so interesting. He really pushed the limits.”
Scott Hall isn’t widely known for wearing long tights, but, according to the early designs of Razor Ramon, The Bad Guy almost never donned his signature trunks.
It's hard to imagine the future Ladder Match innovator in this outrageous garb — especially that black fedora. Although the sketches made Razor look like a mix of Scarface, Dick Tracy and Don Draper, they did feature his ubiquitous bling and toothpick, but that famous vest was almost scrapped for a jacket that definitely did not ooze machismo.
BONNANZIO: “This was one of my favorites. I just thought the persona was really interesting. It was something different that we never did before. The designs we came up with fit exactly what Razor and Vince had in mind for this Cuban [Superstar]. When I met Scott in Vince’s office he was already talking like Razor. It was so great to see it all come together. The costume just fit him. His body and the hair, he just had the whole thing down pat.”
Before Dwayne Johnson became The Rock, he was Rocky Maivia — a name culled from his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather High Chief Peter Maivia. Few Superstars in history have evolved as much as The People’s Champion, but these early sketches are representative of Rocky right before he made his WWE debut at Survivor Series 1996 inside Madison Square Garden.
Longtime WWE fans remember Dwayne Johnson’s tumultuous first few months in the ring, when spectators turned their backs on the happy-go-lucky “blue chipper.” Despite the hard work to put this persona together, Maivia quickly become The Rock and The Great One never looked back.
BONNANZIO: “It was based on The Rock’s Polynesian heritage that he was very proud of. That’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to be colorful and different. The colors looked great on him and it was something different that nobody else was wearing. Anything with movement definitely looks great on TV. And that outfit had more movement. Anything that was going to make that entrance more spectacular was what we were looking for. But sometimes things were just too goofy for the audience, especially going right into the Attitude Era. And The Rock was just so talented, he was willing to change.”
The man from Three Mile Island remains a favorite in the WWEClassics.com offices. Despite a brief two-year tenure in WWE from 1993 to 1995, Adam Bomb occupies a special place in the hearts of longtime WWE fans for his incredibly dynamic look. With his bright red tongue, goggles, imposing physique and mushroom cloud entrance, Adam Bomb was a true WWE original.
But glancing at the uncovered sketches reveals that Bryan Clark almost wasn't Adam Bomb at all. Early concepts reveal a mercenary called The Soldier of Fortune, complete with a ninja star. Even more interesting, he was nearly dubbed The Ring Master – a name later notoriously used by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
BONNANZIO: “We went through lots of different concepts. Three Mile Island had just happened and we just came up with concepts. When he came on board with us, one of the things with him was that he had a really long tongue like the guy from KISS and we always tried to capitalize on the Superstar's assets.”
Just say the words “Papa Shango” to any fan of sports-entertainment during the early 1990s and you’ll send them running under the covers with a shiver down their spine. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound voodoo master had the dangerous combo of an imposing frame and ominous demeanor. His unorthodox personality led the spellcaster into an infamous rivalry with Ultimate Warrior and a WWE Championship opportunity against Bret “Hit Man” Hart.
Several potential designs were created for Papa Shango’s nightmarish facepaint and ghoulish garb. WWE even acquired actual voodoo handbooks in preparation for the competitor’s debut. Despite the effort and the persona’s lasting image, the big Papa was gone from WWE in only 18 months.
BONNANZIO: “We were in a big meeting about this [persona]. It was based on the movie "Angel Heart" about voodoo with Lisa Bonet, Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro. WWE wanted a voodoo wrestler and we did all kinds of research and presented drawings based on voodoo and island symbolism.”
Irwin R. Schyster
Throughout the mid-‘90s, the deranged taxman known as I.R.S. was like nails on a chalkboard for the WWE Universe. Mike Rotundo, a patriotic former World Tag Team Champion, had departed WWE in the '80s and became Michael Wallstreet in WCW, due to his slight resemblance to the star of 1987’s “Wall Street,” Michael Douglas.
With his newfound “greed is good” attitude, Rotundo returned to WWE as Irwin R. Schyster, an uptight briefcase-toting, suspenders-and-tie-wearing weasel who would stop at nothing to pry fans’ hard earned dollars out of their fingers. As the sketches show, many designs were discussed that involved Schyster competing in business attire, including some that featured a lit cigar. Can he write that off?
BONNANZIO: “He was going to pair up with The Million Dollar Man from the start and we came up with sketches and a costume he could wrestle in that looked like he worked for the government. The pinstripes came in because it was like "Wall Street." We made his shirt out of stretchy material. Whenever we designed something, we had to find material he could wrestle in.”
Doink the Clown
Once dismissed as the type of dopey persona that defined a slumping WWE in the mid-90s, Doink the Clown has come to be appreciated by admirers who realized the considerable talents of the man under the makeup. Regardless of the WWE Universe’s appreciation for the creepy prankster, it’s hard to deny the skill that went into creating the sports-entertainment harlequin.
The sheer volume of concepts that were developed for the master of the Stump Puller was astounding. From the facepaint patterns to the color variations on the outfit, Doink was one fickle clown. Clearly, much thought went into creating the bizarre circus act that tossed pies on Raw and faced off with everyone from Crush to Jerry Lawler.
BONNANZIO: “WWE went to find a wrestler to play this killer clown. It was supposed to look very ‘circusy' and colorful like Bozo the Clown. That’s where the hair and the nose came in. People would remember the good clown, but he would actually be scary and bad and was also going to be funny and irritate other wrestlers with a squirting flower. When we researched different clowns, some had jackets, some didn’t. Some had ties, some didn’t. So we just showed a variety of concepts based on the research.”
When Shawn Michaels split from longtime tag partner Marty Jannetty, a new look was needed to distance the future Showstopper from his past and evolve him into a distinct persona. A thuggish style was developed, complete with shades, backwards cap and biker gear. And in case that wasn’t clear, the jacket said “Biker” on the back. Still not on the nose enough for you? The “B” in biker was a motorcycle.
In 1992, nothing was cooler than solid black and metal chains straight out of a Hell’s Angels gang. But other than the infamous moment where Michaels slammed Jannetty through The Barber Shop’s window, the WWE Hall of Famer rarely wore a similar getup. HBK became more synonymous with broken hearts and cow-patterned tights than Harley Davidsons.
BONNANZIO: “We were told that Shawn was going to be breaking from Marty Jannetty, was going on his own and he wanted a tougher look. Something cool. This was an early concept for The Heartbreak Kid persona. It was all around the same time period. We already knew that Shawn was the more charismatic wrestler than Marty, but we had no idea he was going to be as big as he was.”
Hailing from “Outer Space,” Max Moon made an impression when he debuted in late 1992. With his highly unique look, the futuristic spaceman defeated dastardly villains including Repo Man and Rick Martel, which led him to an Intercontinental Championship opportunity against Shawn Michaels on the very first edition of Raw. Moon was defeated by HBK and was gone from WWE the following month.
But this blip on the WWE radar is fondly remembered for his streamer-filled entrance and spectacular outfit, which required plenty of work. Piles upon piles of sketches were created for Max Moon, some of which were immediately recognizable as the Moon WWE fans know from childhood. Others resembled a combination of a Robocop wannabe and a decked out Power Ranger. The final getup was so complicated, the sketch featured an intricate set of instructions for use.
BONNANZIO: “We didn’t even know what the wrestler looked or much about him. It was the start of the computer age so we based the designs on computers and circuitry and all the sci-fi movies that were coming out then. He started out being a total robot costume and then morphed into something else. [The robot] would have been expensive to make and difficult to wrestle in. But the fans just didn’t like it being too goofy.”