Pro Wrestling

20 WWE Wrestlers Before They Were Stars;jsessionid=A9B49C55F519D225CE51FE971A8423DA?r30_r1_r1:page=14 Source:

There’s a belief in professional wrestling that you never know where your next big star is going to come from. Just because someone is stuck in a lame gimmick today, doesn’t mean they couldn’t suddenly find a spark and connect with the fans, setting them down a path to the main event and possibly even the World title. Even the biggest stars this industry has ever seen started out as terrible or forgettable characters before they hit it big. Don’t believe us? Look at some of the entries on this list, see the ridiculous personas they began their careers under, and tell us that you could have predicted that they’d be some of the most memorable Superstars that have ever existed in professional wrestling.

20. El Generico

For many years, a mysterious masked man roamed the North American circuit. Known as “The Generic Luchador”, El Generico’s name became known far and wide as the ultimate good guy, a fan favorite everywhere he went, who always did the right thing. This led him into trouble more than one time, especially due to his friendship/rivalry with the dastardly Kevin Steen (now known as Kevin Owens, and we’d include him in this list, but he pretty much looks like the same angry guy he always has). El Generico won many titles in his long career, before reportedly retiring to run an orphanage in Mexico. Days after his disappearance, a young man named Sami Zayn appeared in WWE’s developmental territory, claiming to be the protege of El Generico*. Zayn had learned much from his master, including a cheerful exuberance and charm that instantly made him beloved by WWE fans everywhere. Unfortunately, he also seems to have inherited Generico’s lifelong feud with his worst enemy, a war that continues to this day, and constantly threatens to destroy both men.

* – Yes, we know. But it’s more fun this way! Source:

19. Papa Shango

Ah yes, the dark voodoo priest Papa Shango, who appeared out of the mists in the early 90’s and was instantly inserted into main event feuds, interfering in the main event of WrestleMania VIII and having high profile feuds with Ultimate Warrior and The Undertaker. And then he disappeared, because the gimmick was ridiculous and he wasn’t a very good wrestler in the first place. The wrestler playing Papa Shango, however, would persevere, and remain in WWE for over a decade under a variety of different gimmicks. After Papa Shango, he became The Supreme Fighting Machine Kama, then a member of the Nation of Domination, before finally settling into the gimmick that would win him the adoration of wrestling fans everywhere, and which also resulted in his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, everyone’s favorite pimp daddy, The Godfather. Source:

18. Aaron “The Idol” Stevens

Aaron Stevens (in the picture below, he’s the one on the left) was a decent prospect in WWE’s developmental system who showed some promise, and thanks to the brand split forcing WWE to bring up a bunch of young talent in order to fill out two separate rosters, ended up getting a short run on the Smackdown brand along with fellow rookie KC James as part of a tag team managed by future Divas Champion (and wife of The Undertaker) Michelle McCool. Unfortunately, the tag team was fairly generic and unmemorable, despite their cool names and attractive valet, so Stevens and James were quickly returned to developmental before eventually being released. However, Stevens did not give up, and earned himself another developmental contract with WWE, while managing to find a new gimmick that would earn him a more permanent place on the main roster. Yes, after growing a beard and adopting a superior attitude, Aaron Stevens found new life as the Intellectual Savior of the Masses, Damien Sandow. Source:

17. The Freakin’ Deacon

This would be an example of one of the many wacky gimmicks that never make it out of WWE’s developmental system, which is probably why its a good thing it exists. The Freakin’ Deacon didn’t do much of note under this gimmick, other than draw the attention of WWE officials thanks to his massive size. As a result, when there was a need for a big man to play a fake version of Kane, the Deacon earned himself that honor (and the dubious distinction of one of the worst PPV matches in WWE history, which led to the angle being quickly shelved). The Deacon would stick with the main roster permanently under the role of Festus, a simple-minded country boy who went berserk when the bell rang to start the match, before ultimately becoming more serious and joining CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society under the name Luke Gallows. Gallows would leave WWE shortly after the Society crumbled, and eventually made his way to Japan, where he formed a tag team with Karl Anderson that earned him a ticket back to WWE in 2016. Source:

16. The Blade Runners

Here’s a two-for-one special, as both members of this tag team would go on to become World Champions and members of the WWE Hall of Fame, which seems incredible considering that when they debuted, they were basically nearly fired on the spot for being absolutely terrible wrestlers who could barely move in the ring, and were seen as low-rent ripoffs of the legendary Road Warriors. However, both men persevered, and their careers took decidedly different turns, as Rock (on the left in the picture below) would eventually sign with WWE and go on to greater fame as The Ultimate Warrior, and Sting (on the right) would sign with WCW and become, well, you can probably guess. Source:

15. AJ Styles

Okay, so it’s pretty easy to recognize this fresh-faced young man, who made his WCW debut in 2001 under the name he would keep for his entire career, just before the promotion went completely out of business, as part of a cruiserweight tag team with Air Paris (who did not go onto anything notable) called “Air Raid”. Despite impressing many people, Styles was not one of the contracts picked up by WWE when they purchased WCW’s assets, and he ended up in fledgling promotion TNA, where he would become one of the cornerstones of the company and one of its most decorated wrestlers (although he was never inducted into TNA’s Hall of Fame). When Styles’ relationship with TNA went south, he left for Japan, becoming one of NJPW’s biggest stars in the process (and also finally growing out his hair and beard into the look he currently sports), and ending up with a fairly lucrative WWE contract that saw him make his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Source:

14. “Stunning” Steve Austin

Hard as it may be to believe, for a large portion of his career before he came to WWE, Steve Austin not only had long, flowing blonde hair, but had a character that was potrayed as a Hollywood heartthrob. Listen, it was a different time, all right? Admittedly, at least a portion of that was tongue in cheek, but just look at that picture. It almost seems wrong to see the man we all know as “Stone Cold” with hair. Heck, at times he was even clean-shaven! However, after getting unceremoniously fired from WCW and adopting a harder edge to his character in ECW, Austin shaved his blonde locks and adopted the bald look and goatee that would come to define his character during his rise to prominence. Source:

13. CM Punk

Look at that kid with the ridiculously-colored hair who still has a small amount of hope and innocence left in his eyes, meeting his idol, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, while “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith looks unimpressed in the background. That young man would get a good deal surlier as the years progressed, but was already making a name for himself in the independent circuit, putting on legendary matches with other indie stars like Chris Hero and Colt Cabana. After many, many years, he would finally work his way into a developmental contract with WWE, where he would find a staunch supporter in Paul Heyman, who was in charge of developmental at the time. When WWE revived ECW as a third brand, Heyman went to bat for his protege as one of the new faces of ECW, even making sure that he kept the name that he’d used for his entire career up to that point: CM Punk. Source:

12. Black Tiger II

The Black Tiger gimmick is legendary in Japan, as the original Black Tiger fought many huge battles with the first Tiger Mask, creating a legacy that six other wrestlers would carry on throughout the years. The immediate successor to the first Black Tiger was a man who had first risen to stardom in Mexico as one half of the infamous tag team Los Gringos Locos, and was a member of one of the most famous families in lucha libre. After leaving Japan for Mexico, he would don the Black Tiger persona and engage in some memorable battles of his own, including winning the Best of Super Juniors tournament in 1996, defeating Wild Pegasus (who would go on to further fame and infamy as Chris Benoit) and the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger” to earn the victory. Following his time in Japan, he would spend a short time in ECW before signing with WCW, and then eventually jumping to WWE in one of the most shocking moments of the Attitude Era. While in WWE, he would cement his claim as one of the best wrestlers in the world, even winning the WWE Championship, before his tragic death in November of 2005. In 2006, Black Tiger II, who you should recognize by now as Eddie Guerrero, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Source:

11. Scott Steiner

Admittedly, the Steiner Brothers were stars almost from the moment they debuted as a tag team, and Scott was such a wrestling prodigy that WCW tried to make him a World Champion almost instantly (Scott turned it down, preferring to remain in a team with his brother). However, while Rick Steiner still looks largely like the same “Dog-Faced Gremlin” he always has, it’s incredibly shocking to see how much Steiner’s look has changed since he began his career as a fresh-faced, long-haired babyface. In case you weren’t sure, that’s the future platinum blonde-haired, muscle-bound, chainmail-wearing, genetic freak Big Poppa Pump on the right. A heel turn during the Monday Night Wars saw Scott drop his brother and his classic look, adopting the persona of the Big Bad Booty Daddy that he’s become synonymous with. Source:

10. Flex Kavana

In the mid-90’s, a former University of Miami football player, who’d been toiling away on the practice roster of a Canadian Football League team and was all but done with the sport, decided to go back to the business that ran in his family’s blood and become a professional wrestler. The WWF was happy to bring him in, and sent him to the independent circuit to train, since he had absolutely no wrestling experience up until that point. Since his real name was fairly uninspiring and he didn’t want to use his family name to get special treatment (although the WWF would have plans on their own in that regard), the first wrestling name he chose was Flex Kavana. Very few photos and footage exist of Kavana’s young career, as it wasn’t very long before he was called up to the WWF roster permanently. And after an initial speed bump when he debuted under a gimmick celebrating his wrestling heritage, which actually combined his father’s and grandfather’s names, the man known as Rocky Maivia would go on to become the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, and a legitimate Hollywood star as well. Source:

9. Isaac Yankem, DDS

Brought in to portray Jerry Lawler’s dentist (who also happened to be a wrestler; the 90’s were an odd time full of wrestlers whose gimmicks were also professions), Yankem was actually thrust into the spotlight fairly quickly in a feud with former WWF Champion Bret Hart, leading to an under-rated match between the two at SummerSlam 1995. Unfortunately, the gimmick didn’t really have any longevity, and Yankem would disappear sometime in 1996. Later that year, Glenn Jacobs, the man behind the gimmick, would return to portray “Diesel”, copying a gimmick formerly played by Kevin Nash. Eventually, that gimmick would also be dropped, allowing Jacobs to finally find his true calling, when he would return one more time in 1997, in the persona he maintains to this day, as the demonic half-brother of The Undertaker, Kane.;jsessionid=0873EFC76C50B2AD5D038E75F9DA19F9?r40_r1_r1:page=6 Source:

8. Husky Harris

The man who claimed to be a pickup truck with a Ferrari engine inside was one of the notable participants in the second season of the original run of NXT. Harris nearly made it all the way, but failed to win a WWE contract right away. Instead, he caught on with the CM Punk-led New Nexus and established himself as one of the group’s heavyweight threats, although he was mostly lost in the shuffle as most of the group was treated as interchangeable soldiers tasked with protecting Punk. When Punk turned face at Money in the Bank 2011, the New Nexus was left to its own devices and quietly disappeared. Harris would return to the developmental system, and after a few false starts, managed to hit upon a new gimmick that would propel him back to the main roster. Donning a straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, Harris was reborn as the mysterious Bray Wyatt, a prophetic figure from the swamps of Louisiana who brought with him a message of doom for all WWE Superstars. Source:

7. Jean-Paul Levesque

The man who began his career under the ridiculous name of Terra Ryzing got his first big break in WCW. In the guise of an obscenely rich French Canadian (to this day, no one is quite sure why he had to be Canadian) named Jean-Paul Levesque, he was associated with WCW Television Champion Lord Steven Regal (now known as William Regal in WWE) as one of a long line of wrestlers who would assume aristocratic personas and team with the British brawler. While he did not last long in WCW, he would use vestiges of the gimmick in a new character once he debuted in WWE, playing a rich Connecticut snob named Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Over the years, he simply started being referred to by his initials, and became the Triple H that we know and love today. Well, maybe “love” is a strong word. Source:

6. Dos Caras, Jr

Who is that masked man? The son of famous luchador Dos Caras, he was a star in his own right for Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL), one of the largest wrestling promotions in Mexico, where he held their World title for over 500 days. He also established himself as a decent (if unspectacular) MMA fighter in Mexico, where he also competed under a mask. They do take that sort of thing seriously down there, you know. He was such a hot prospect that WWE spent months trying to negotiate with him to sign with them, only to be rebuffed several times. Eventually, an agreement was reached and he quickly ascended to some spectacular highs very quickly in WWE, including becoming a multiple-time World Champion and winning the largest Royal Rumble in history. Yes, the man under that mask who was once known as Dos Caras Jr is none other than the Mexican aristocrat, Alberto Del Rio. But you probably already knew that. Source:

5. Vinnie Vegas

We could have been so much meaner to Kevin Nash. We could have shown him as Oz, the tie-in character from the famous movie that he played briefly (unfortunately, the ridiculous amount of bright green in all pictures of Oz would have burned out too many computer monitors). We could have even dug deep and found a picture of him as one half of the mohawked tag team The Master Blasters. But instead, we went with arguably his most entertaining early gimmick as Vinnie Vegas, gambler and lounge singer, who hung out with several other future stars, Diamond Dallas Page, Scotty Flamingo (who would go on to minor fame as Raven), and the Diamond Studd (Scott Hall, also known as Razor Ramon). It was a dead-end gimmick that WCW itself barely paid attention to, but which allowed Nash and his friends to generally screw around and let their personalities show through slightly. Nash would, of course, go on to bigger things, first as WWF Champion Diesel, and then under his own name as one of the founders of the industry-changing New World Order. Source:

4. Leviathan

The Demon of Ohio Valley Wrestling, the man playing Leviathan got into wrestling later in life than the average wrestler, but made an impact immediately upon arrival. A member of the dominant Disciples of Synn, he had a long undefeated streak in OVW that made him a man to watch, even though he was actually less well-regarded than other OVW trainees like Shelton Benjamin, Randy Orton, and some guy named Brock Lesnar. Even when he debuted in WWE, not much seemed to be expected of him, as he came in playing a sidekick to Reverend D’von, a terrible gimmick that the former Dudley was saddled with post-brand split. After D’von went back to Dudleyville, the former Deacon shifted gears, and with his size and immense strength, quickly came under the eye of those in power in WWE. Years later, you might know him as Batista, multiple time World Champion and star of Guardians of the Galaxy. Source:

3. The Prototype

Yeah, you probably know who this guy is. If we have to run through the accomplishments that John Cena has had throughout his Hall of Fame career for you, we’ll be here all day. Also, we’re unsure why you’d be reading a column about wrestling. But yes, Cena was ear-marked for greatness from the moment he began his wrestling career. During his early days, he wrestled under the gimmick of “The Prototype”, playing (and we’re not making this up) a character who was implied to be at least partially a robot, designed to be the greatest wrestler on the planet. Mostly, we just wanted to make fun of his frosted tips. Look at that hairstyle. Who would believe that guy would go on to become one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time? Just awful.;jsessionid=A9B49C55F519D225CE51FE971A8423DA?r30_r1_r1:page=14 Source:

2. Terry Boulder

All right, so aside from actually having a hair line, there isn’t much different about this man. But for people who have always known him as The Immortal Hulk Hogan, it might come as a shock that he actually had a wrestling career before adopting the name that would be the subject of a lawsuit by Marvel Comics. As Terry Boulder (and occasiohally, Sterling Golden), he was part of a tag team with future barber Brutus Beefcake (then know as Ed Boulder) as he worked in the Southern territories, including Georgia Championship Wrestling, which would be the precursor to what would eventually become WCW, in the late 70’s. After a televised interview where he met Lou Ferrigno, who played The Hulk on the popular TV series at the time, someone noticed that Boulder was larger than Ferrigno, and he adopted the “Hulk” moniker as a result. When he came to WWE for his first, mostly forgotten, run in the early 80’s, Vince McMahon gave him the last name “Hogan”, and the rest is history. Source:

1. Mean Mark Callous

As much as the man known as The Undertaker is associated with WWE, there are few who remember that immediately prior to his debut at Survivor Series 1990, which would lead to a career that spanned nearly three decades, he was part of a tag team in WCW known as The Skyscrapers, under the name Mean Mark Callous. In fact, the team had already existed, but Callous was brought in to fill a spot when one of the original members was injured. You might know the man he replaced as Sid. The team was short-lived, however, as his partner Danny Spivey left the promotion almost immediately. Callous had a short singles run and even faced off against Lex Luger for the WCW United States title on one occasion, but Callous gave his notice and left WCW in mid-1990. He was snapped up by the WWF right away, because they had him in mind for a role that would become one of the most legendary in the history of professional wrestling. Source:

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.