For some entries on this list, becoming a pro wrestler wasn’t always the plan. Even the very best the business had to offer once aspired to do other things, like play in the NFL (just like a few mentioned wrestlers were hoping to do). Wrestling wasn’t always on their radar. In fact, failure in sports ended up being a blessing in disguise for many of these wrestlers, as most of them went on to have tremendous careers at the highest level of the industry. The morale of the story here is: if you don’t succeed at first, dust yourself off and try again. These wrestlers took this motto to another level, enjoying great careers as pro wrestlers. Now, let us take a look at who these wrestlers are. Here are 13 wrestlers that failed to make it in pro sports and ended up becoming huge wrestling superstars. Enjoy!
13) Rusev: Powerlifter & Rower
You can attribute Rusev’s tremendous athleticism and strength to his days before he became a pro wrestler. Growing up in Bulgaria, Rusev thrived at a young age in powerlifting and rowing. What started off as a passion with his school, later carried on to his adult years. The former US Champion would end up entering professional rowing and power-lifting competitions during his adult years. He later decided to put his athleticism and strength on display in a different line of work. In the mid-2000’s, Rusev emigrated from his homeland of Bulgaria and decided to go to the US in hopes of become a professional wrestler. After training under Gangrel and Rikishi at “Knokx Pro Wrestling Academy”, it was evident that Rusev was the total package. In 2010, Rusev signed with the WWE on a developmental deal and well, as they say, the rest is history.
12) JBL: Played In The World League of American Football
Not surprising that a guy of JBL’s stature took up football at a young age, growing up in Texas. Before becoming a pro wrestler, JBL dreamed of becoming a pro football player. Layfield was a collegiate American football coach for Trinity Valley Community College, and later turned player for Abilene Christian University. Layfield enjoyed tremendous success as a player for Abilene for two years. He started on the offensive line and was named on the first-team All-Lone Conference in both years as a junior and senior. John later signed a deal with the Los Angeles Raiders as an undrafted free agent but was released before the season began. Layfield would end up playing in the World League of American Football, starting every game for the San Antonio Riders. At season’s end, Layfield stayed in Texas but changed gears, and began training with Global Wrestling Federation, aspiring to become a pro wrestler. After enduring 3 years on the independent circuit, he would later sign a deal with the WWE and make his television debut in January 1996, under his gimmick Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw.
11) Baron Corbin: Signed With NFL Team’s & Boxer
Still only 30 years of age, Baron Corbin had quite the career outside of the WWE. Corbin thrived in football at a young age. His coming out party was during his college days, playing for Northwest Missouri State University. Corbin started in his junior year, and he would go on to win four consecutive Division II National Championships with his team. After some great success with his team in College, Corbin surprisingly went undrafted. He was later signed by the Indianapolis Colts who would later release him just before the start of the season. Later on in January, Corbin would sign a deal with the Arizona Cardinals. After throwing a punch during a scuffle during training camp, Corbin was relegated to the practice squad and later released. After yet another rejection, Corbin decided to let go of football and switch gears to boxing. Corbin became a two-time Amateur Kansas-Missouri Golden Gloves regional champion.
Later, he once again switched gears to pro wrestling, and signed a deal with the WWE in August of 2012, despite having no previous experience.
10) Bill Goldberg: Played In The NFL
Before taking the wrestling world by storm, Bill Goldberg had one passion in life and that was football. After a successful career with the University of Georgia, Bill was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1990 draft. Goldberg would go on to play for the Rams in the 1990 season. He would have a stint in the CFL with the Sacramento Gold Miners and later, with the Atlanta Falcons. After being cut by the Falcons, Goldberg was later picked up by the Carolina Panthers during an expansion draft in 1995, only to be cut by the team. Things would end up getting worse for Bill, as he would go on to tear his lower abdomen off his pelvis.
Despite his will to return, Goldberg decided to call it a career, because he was not seen as an asset to any teams in the NFL. While rehabilitating, Goldberg was stopped by Sting and Luger, who convinced him to join the wrestling business despite him not being a fan. It turns out he made a pretty good decision.
9) Jim Duggan: Signed With The Atlanta Falcons
Jim Duggan was quite active at a young age, participating in football, track, wrestling and basketball. After graduating from high school, Duggan was recruited by Ohio State University but would instead chose to play football for Southern Methodist University. Duggan would go on to become team captain. In addition, Duggan would earn a bachelor’s degree in applied plant biology; quite remarkable. After college, Duggan signed with the NFL team, The Atlanta Falcons. He was later released because of re-occurring knee injuries. He then decided to switch gears and get into the pro wrestling business, after meeting his friend from university, Fritz Von Erich.
8) Vader: Drafted In The NFL
This was yet another career that ended due to injury. After a successful stint as an offensive lineman with the University of Colorado, Vader was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 3rd round. He was later forced to retire after a ruptured patella. Thankfully for Vader, he later found great success working as a pro wrestler all over the world, including a successful stint with the WWE.
7) Ron Simmons: Played In The NFL
Before entering the wrestling business, Simmons had quite the football career being regarded as one of the “greatest recruiting victories” out of high school. Simmons had a tremendous career coming out of high school, joining Florida State University. Simmons was an All-American finishing in the Associated Press Top 20 three times during his 4 year stint. His most notable accomplishments were back-to-back trips to the Orange Bowl. Simmons became the third player in school history to have his jersey retired. He was later elected into the college Hall of Fame in 2008. Unfortunately, despite all his previous success, his time in the NFL didn’t run as smoothly. After being selected in the 6th round by the Cleveland Browns, Simmons went on to play two seasons for the team. He later joined the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL. It was there where he met Lex Luger and later would decide to change career paths.
6) The Undertaker: College Basketball
Born in Houston, Texas, Mark Calaway aka (The Undertaker) enrolled into basketball at a young age. Due to his large size, Taker was quite successful playing for his high school team in 1983. Calaway furthered his involvement through his college days playing for Texas Wesleyan University, during the 1985-1986 season. This would be Mark’s final year playing basketball, as he would later take up pro wrestling on a full time basis.
5) Roman Reigns: Signed With NFL Team & Played In The CFL
Like Corbin, Roman Reigns was a high end prospect coming out of his college days with Georgia Tech. Reigns set a record for most sacks in the team’s history during one of his seasons. Despite his success at the college level, Reigns went undrafted. He was later signed by the Minnesota Vikings. After a month, Reigns was once released. He later signed with Jacksonville, only to be released once again. In 2008, Reigns decided that experience was key, and with this in mind he joined the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos starting three games for the team. After being released once again, Reigns switched gears to pro wrestling. Like Corbin, despite no experience Roman was signed to a developmental deal with the WWE. His connections and background was enough for the WWE. He is currently labelled as the future face of the company. Quite a turnaround for Reigns.
4) Stone Cold Steve Austin: College Football
Growing up in Edna, Texas, Stone Cold Steve Austin began playing football for his high school. He then got a full college scholarship to play football at Wharton County Junior College. He was later given another scholarship at the University of North Texas. Despite his talent, Austin decided to leave the game of football and become a pro wrestler, meeting Chris Adams, his first ever wrestling trainer. This later led to Austin’s first match and first ever payday, making 40 dollars for his efforts.
3) Brock Lesnar: NFL Tryout
Brock Lesnar shocked the wrestling world after WrestleMania XX, announcing he would be leaving the WWE for a chance to play in the NFL. This was especially a shock because Lesnar hadn’t played pro football since his high school days. After a great start with the Minnesota Vikings, Lesnar experienced a terrible set back after a minivan collided with his motorcycle. Despite numerous injuries, Brock was able to comeback during the 8th week of camp. At the end of the pre-season, Lesnar’s journey came to an end after he was cut by the team. Lesnar was later asked to play in NFL Europa, but declined the offer because he wanted to be close to home (a re-occurring theme we’ve seen from Brock over the years). Lesnar later joined the UFC, this time around he enjoyed tremendous success doing the unthinkable and capturing the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
2) The Rock: College Football
Always driven by passion, The Rock dreamed of a career in the NFL. Coming out of high school, The Rock had a promising future receiving offers from numerous schools. He would end up joining The University of Miami on a full scholarship as defensive tackle. In 1991, the Rock was a part of Miami’s championship team. After graduating in 1995 with two degrees, The Rock continued to pursue football. He would end up joining the CFL as a part of the Calgary Stampeders. After being cut by the team, Dwayne Johnson finally decided to change gears and give pro wrestling a try, something that was in his blood. After just one year of training with his family, The Rock would sign on with the WWE in 1996, making his debut as Rocky Maivia. He was instantly billed as the future of the company.
1) Vince McMahon: Owner Of The XFL
It takes some serious ‘you know what’ to try and go head to head with the NFL. Despite tremendous success in other areas, Vince failed miserably trying to run his own sports league. After debuting in February 2001, it was quickly evident that the league wasn’t going to work because they weren’t able to gather enough publicity. After only one season, the XFL closed its doors. The league will forever be remembered as one of the biggest flops in history. It was reported that the WWE and NBC each lost over $35 million. Thankfully, the league didn’t go any further after its first failed year. You gotta love Vince for trying, though.