Wrestling organizations have different ways for debuting talent on main shows. One method utilized by World Wrestling Entertainment is to have wrestlers perform in what are known as “dark matches.” These contests occur before television programs such as Raw and SmackDown, and they are more meant to serve as tryouts for scouts and WWE personnel watching from behind the scenes than they are supposed to be entertaining matches for fans watching inside of the arena. Sometimes, one dark match can make all of the difference for a performer who is hoping to break onto the main WWE roster at a point of his career.
In other cases, however, the WWE does not know what the company has when a performer gets an opportunity to shine in such a match. This includes a man who has since gone on to have a fantastic career working in independent companies and in Total Nonstop Wrestling, an individual who is now being given a chance to work in developmental brand NXT. Last but certainly not least is a wrestler who has had to prove himself to those in charge of WWE time and time again, a worker who eventually earned the right to be in the main event of a WrestleMania.
10. Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is one of the more well-known cases on the current WWE roster of a wrestler who performed for the company long before the character made its official debut. WWE seemingly did not know what to do with the talented member of the Rotunda wrestling family, giving him names such as Alex Rotundo and then Husky Harris. It was as Husky Harris when he worked for WWE for a short time before being demoted back to the developmental territories. The company then awarded him with the Bray Wyatt character, one that has managed to get over with fans.
9. Kid Kash
Kid Kash was one of many pro wrestlers who were left looking for work in the spring of 2001. Extreme Championship Wrestling had gone under, and World Championship Wrestling was then purchased by Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation. The story goes that Paul Heyman convinced the WWF to give Kid Kash a dark match in the fall of 2001 even though the company’s roster was already overfilled. Kash did not earn a contract, and he moved on to TNA Wrestling for several years before he was given a chance to work in WWE for a brief amount of time starting in 2005.
8. Zack Ryder
Some of you out there may be upset with the way that the Zack Ryder character has been treated – or buried depending on how you may look at things – by the WWE over the years. Remember, though, that he is actually much better off today than he was when he first wrestled in the company. Ryder was an unknown guy named Brett Matthews who was fed to Matt Morgan during an episode of SmackDown back in 2005, and it was only a couple of minutes before the youngster was left looking at the lights at the end of an unspectacular debut.
7. Mick Foley
The WWF/WWE has done well, in interviews, television segments and documentaries, to break down the lows of the career of Mick Foley that occurred well before he was competing for the company’s world championship. One portion of his career that you may have missed is that Foley did make appearances inside of WWF rings before he began earning the reputation for being a hardcore icon. Those matches that involved a character known as “Jack Foley” are now only memorable because of what that wrestler would become nearly a decade after those matches occurred.
6. Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy is a wrestler who has gone through many character changes during his career. He was a tag-team specialist alongside real-life brother Jeff. Hardy was an entertaining singles competitor for the WWF/WWE during his “Version 1” role. He has also worked for companies such as Ring of Honor and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Before anybody would recognize Hardy as being capable of working higher up on cards, he was used as a jobber/enhancement talent meant to help make other wrestlers look better during matches. It would not be until later on in the 1990s that Hardy and Jeff would be paired up to form Team Xtreme.
5. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy was but a wide-eyed teenager who had allegedly lied about his age when he first appeared on WWF television as an enhancement talent paired up with the likes of the 1-2-3 Kid and Razor Ramon in singles competition. Hardy and his brother Matt would eventually catch the eyes of WWF talent evaluators, and the two would make for one of the most entertaining tag teams of the “Attitude Era.” It was Jeff, of the two, who has had the most success as a singles star in the WWE and in TNA Wrestling, although his personal demons which has been well-publicized over the years kept him from being the superstar he could have been on a national level.
4. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin were given a chance to perform in WWE dark matches during their time as tag team “The Minnesota Stretching Crew.” One of those contests featured an opposition tag team of Rico and some unknown guy named John Cena. While he was undeniably green during that portion of his career, one could see the potential for greatness in Lesnar at that time. He has since become arguably the biggest draw in WWE today during what is the post-Ultimate Fighting Championship portion of his career. Lesnar has come a long way since those early matches inside of WWE rings.
3. Dean Ambrose
Before WWE gave up on the program for multiple reasons, Velocity was a fun show that featured some entertaining matches. The tag-team battle that featured MnM taking on the duo of Dean Taylor and Jon Moxley was not one of the more memorable matches that was taped for the program, but it did feature a young potential babyface who would eventually break into WWE as Dean Ambrose. Ambrose would find his form in the company as one of the three members of group “The Shield,” and he is now working as a singles competitor on the main WWE roster.
2. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe once put Essa Rios over during a WWE event. No, that is not a typo. It actually happened all the way back in March 2001. WWE chose to not give Samoa Joe a contract at a time when the company was flooded with wrestlers who had before worked for ECW and WCW, but he nevertheless made a name for himself working in ROH and TNA Wrestling among other promotions. A wrong has somewhat been righted in that Joe has been acquired by WWE, and he is currently wrestling in NXT as of July 2015. It should be a matter of when and not if he gets called up to the main roster.
1. Daniel Bryan
Pro wrestling, as in other facets of life, comes full circle every now and again. “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson was enhancement talent and an afterthought when he was put in matches with the likes of John Cena inside of WWE rings over a decade ago. Little did fans know at the time that Danielson would one day take on the name of Daniel Bryan and defeat Cena clean in the middle of the ring for the WWE Championship. Bryan has overcome many odds en route to becoming a WWE superstar. He will have to do so again, as a serious neck injury is threatening his career as of August 2015.