No matter how good somebody is at their job, chances are they weren’t as good at it when they started as they were after a few years of practice. There’s plenty to be said for natural talent, training, and general conditioning, but nothing beats real world experience when it comes to actually learning how to do something, and that applies for virtually every job in the planet. Professional sports are certainly not exempt, and maybe even more than any other athletic competition, professional wrestlers need to have some time in the ring before they can get called a superstar. Even the greatest superstars in WWE and wrestling history at large needed to start somewhere, and some of them were considered pretty horrible wrestlers when they first broke into the business.
When a wrestler is new to the industry, the veteran superstars will call them “green,” short for greenhorn. It’s not exactly an insult or anything, it simply means the wrestler doesn’t have the experience or knowledge needed to succeed in the industry yet, despite whatever great potential others may see in them. While a wrestler’s “look” can be one of the most important thing that lead to their success, oftentimes when a wrestler gets their start, they assume that’s all they’ll need. Of course, this is hardly the case, and there are an endless number of talents required in order to become a true WWE Hall of Famer. While several of the following wrestlers eventually became WWE Hall of Famers, or at least seem well on their way to doing so, there was a time early on in their careers where people may have told them to quit. Keep reading and discover which 15 future wrestling legends were considered terrible at the beginning of their careers.
15. Trish Stratus
These days, Trish Stratus has a reputation as perhaps the most talented female wrestler in WWE history. She held the original WWE Women’s title a record seven times, and it was through her intense matches and powerfully performed storylines that women’s wrestling was able to truly flourish in North America. There were female wrestlers throughout the 80s and 90s, but they rarely lasted longer than a few years outside of The Fabulous Moolah. Stratus actually lasted nearly a decade in WWE, although if you were watching wrestling when she made her debut, you never could have expected she would make it so far.
Stratus started in the entertainment business as a fitness model, which was often the case for future female wrestlers at the time. Unlike most others, though, Stratus was a lifelong wrestling fan, which is why she so quickly felt natural in her role as a manager of T&A and then Val Venis. Still, fans were surprised when she suddenly jumped in the ring at Survivor Series 2001 and won the Women’s title. She silenced all of her critics by holding the belt more times than anyone else, and defending it in increasingly great matches against women like Victoria, Mickie James, and Lita. She was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
Batista is one of the youngest wrestlers on this list and therefore had the shortest career, but we feel he’s already well on his way to legendary status. Batista debuted in WWE as Deacon Batista, the enforcer for Reverend D-Von, but quickly turned on him and aligned with Ric Flair, soon forming Evolution. While Batista certainly had his critics during this time period, generally people liked him, and WWE fans might be surprised to see him on this list. However, what most fans don’t know is that WWE was actually Batista’s second choice when it came to starting his wrestling career, and it didn’t go so well the first place he auditioned.
Batista first attempted to enter the wrestling business by way of WCW and their infamous Power Plant. The WCW Power Plant was highly controversial while it existed due to the fact it produced few actual stars, so listing Batista amongst their alumni would be a huge boon for the now defunct training school. Naturally, because it was WCW, they couldn’t even do that. Batista was rejected from the Power Plant almost instantly, and head trainer Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker told him he would never make it in the wrestling business. Batista has had his ups and downs with WWE and is still too young for a Hall of Fame nod, but six WWE World Championships should tell Buddy Lee Parker whether or not Big Dave was able to make it in the industry.
13. Gorgeous George
Gorgeous George was the world’s first sports entertainer decades before Vince McMahon coined the term to describe WWE. George wrestled throughout the late 1930’s to the early 1960’s, and though he started out as a minor talent who rarely made anybody look twice, he went on to become the first professional wrestler to be a bona fide star on television. George was smaller than the average wrestler and not as well built, but anybody was able to tell he had the athletic talent necessary to succeed. The problem was that George competed decades before pomp and circumstance became the norm in wrestling, and given his natural physique, he was going to need a character to stand out.
George crafted the Gorgeous persona with his wife after staging a wedding in the middle of the ring and discovering the power of flash and flair when selling a wrestling program. Ornate robes and increasingly pompous actions followed, and George Wagner went from a moderately successful wrestler to one of the most notable names in wrestling history. His arrogant heel mannerisms still inspire wrestlers to this day, despite the fact he died the same year the first WWE World champion was crowned. Gorgeous George was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2010.
12. John Bradshaw Layfield
In all fairness to this entry, there are still plenty of people out there who would call John Bradshaw Layfield terrible. He’s a racist bully who ruins every show he sits in the commentary booth during by endlessly mocking his co-hosts, blatantly lying about the crowd, and loudly towing the company line to an almost disgusting extent. However, these same qualities are the ones that make us certain he’ll end up in the Hall of Fame before long. And as much as we’re able to see the flaws of modern day JBL, it really doesn’t compare to how horrible he was when he started out.
Long before realizing he needed a character to match his douchebag persona, Layfield wrestled with a simple tough Texan gimmick under the name John Hawk. When he joined WWE in late 1995, his name became Justin “Hawk” Bradshaw, and eventually it was shortened simply to Bradshaw. Although he joined the company in 1995, it wasn’t until 2004 when he won his first WWE World title—one of the longest periods in between a debut and championship success in company history. Throughout these nine years, Bradshaw was mostly competing in the tag division with increasingly terrible partners, although he finally did achieve some success with Faarooq/Ron Simmons in The Acolytes. Still, Bradshaw was the weaker wrestler of the two, and absolutely no one expected him to break up the team and wind up WWE Champion by the end of the year.
11. The Godfather
We’re making a concession by putting The Godfather on this list, because in all fairness, Charles Wright is a Hall of Famer in name only. He didn’t really do anything to earn his spot in history outside of having a really fun gimmick, but he wound up in the Hall anyway, so we’re including him as a legend. And even with that in mind, there’s no denying just how fun The Godfather gimmick was. He may not have won any World title or main evented any shows, but he did win some minor titles and get fans to sing along with his every word, and that actually means a whole lot in the wacky world of pro wrestling.
Long before Charles Wright created The Godfather name, he was stuck in what some would call gimmick hell. Despite being a large and imposing man, Wright’s personality is more fun-loving and silly than his looks would imply, which cause him to regress far away from his true nature and play remarkably cartoonish characters that felt out of place in any era. First Wright was The Soultaker in Memphis, which morphed into the voodoo master Papa Shango when he signed with WWE. For some reason, WWE pushed Shango as a huge threat, but fans weren’t buying it and he was considered a lost cause in short order. Several years later he resurfaced as the Supreme Fighting Machine, Kama, who was later Kama Mustafa, and then briefly Kama The Godfather, before finally dropping the non-essential parts of his name and striking gold.
10. The Undertaker
The Undertaker has yet to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but the only reason anybody can see for that is the fact he keeps wrestling about one match a year, and only fully retired superstars seem to be eligible. The Undertaker has been wrestling for WWE nearly 26 years now and has been a heavy focus of the company since he walked through its doors during the 1990 Survivor Series, but there are two reasons The Undertaker winds up on our list anyway. First, there were those few years prior to discovering The Undertaker gimmick when it wasn’t quite obvious just how great Mark Calaway was. Second, even after becoming The Undertaker, it took him a few years to actually get good in the ring.
The Undertaker debuted in the late 1980s as Texas Red, before finding some success in Memphis as The Master of Pain, and then joining WCW as Mean Mark Callous. Mean Mark actually got some TV time, but was generally seen as a minor character, randomly thrust into The Skyscrapers when Sid Vicious was taken out of the team due to an injury. Mean Mark’s partner Dan Spivey left the company shortly before a huge match with The Road Warriors, and Mark was all but forgotten as a result. He floundered in WCW for the rest of the year, and some people might have even assumed that was it for him when he quit the company in 1990. Luckily, WWE came calling only a few months later, and with the right character, Undertaker became a huge star in no time.
9. Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash is a big and imposing wrestler, and this alone has often proven more than enough to allow a person success in the sports entertainment industry. Nash was more than merely successful, though, as he was integral to part of the angle that changed wrestling history, and that happened only a few short years after multiple consecutive gimmicks that even Nash acknowledges probably should’ve killed his career. First, Nash was one half of The Master Blasters with Al Green. The Master Blasters were a typical monster heel tag team, and didn’t last terribly long. A short undefeated streak turned into a losing streak, and Nash dropped The Master Blaster gimmick in less than a year. Unfortunately for him, a much worse gimmick came next.
The Great and Powerful Oz isn’t just a bad gimmick, it’s one of the worst of all time. The idea was that Nash was actually the wizard from The Wizard of Oz, and would be lead to the ring by a cackling Kevin Sullivan, who apparently was also the wizard from The Wizard of Oz. As you can see, it didn’t make much sense, and that was before he started wrestling for some reason. Amazingly, this didn’t kill Nash’s career, but he was repackaged yet again as Vinnie Vegas, a wisecracking bodyguard slightly closer to his real personality. Despite moving closer to reality, Vegas was as unpopular as Nash’s previous characters. Things took a huge turn the next year when he joined WWE as Diesel, and his career would skyrocket upwards from there all the way to a Hall of Fame induction in 2015.
8. Eric Bischoff
Eric Bischoff is so prone to controversy in the wrestling business he wrote a book about how he loves to generate it, and that book naturally wound up pretty controversial in and of itself. Bischoff is best known as the President of WCW during the heat of the Monday Night Wars, and it was his innovation and television production knowledge that allowed WCW to beat WWE for a year and a half. That in mind, Bischoff would be the first to admit no one expected him to do this, especially given his comparatively low-key start in the wrestling business.
Bischoff got his start with wrestling working for Verne Gagne in the AWA as an accountant. One evening, the usual AWA interviewer was too drunk to appear on TV, so Bischoff stepped in, the sole reason being he was the only person nearby wearing a suit. He admits he wasn’t great at the job, and the AWA went out of business less than a year after he started appearing on camera (although in all fairness he had nothing to do with that). Bischoff applied to become an announcer for WWE, but they rejected him almost instantly. Somehow, he got a job announcing the smallest shows in the company for WCW, and even more shockingly, worked his way up to Vice President of the company in less than two years. While his announcing skills still left something to be desired, there was no longer any doubt Bischoff earned a unique spot in the wrestling world.
7. Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page called himself “the world’s oldest rookie” while in WCW, but that’s really only the beginning of the story to why people thought he wasn’t going to make it in the wrestling industry. DDP was tall and had long blonde hair, which made him a natural for the wrestling industry, but for whatever reason he chose to be a manager at the start of his career instead of a wrestler. He wasn’t a bad manager, either, as he got the crowd to hate him and boo the people he was managing, which is all he really had to achieve in the role. However, once Page decided to transition to being a full-time wrestler, people were highly skeptical that someone who was at that point in his mid-30s and had never been particularly athletic despite his build was getting ready to jump into the ring.
DDP actually wanted to be a wrestler earlier in his career, but life got in the way as it often does, and he was unable to train properly for decades, hence his decision to remain a manager. However, feeling that his career had lasted a long time and no longer wanting to rely on the work of clients, Page started training daily at the WCW Power Plant until he eventually became a great wrestler, himself. After about four years of losing to every name on the roster, DDP started winning minor titles and engaged in a feud with Randy Savage that made him an absolute superstar.
Goldberg is a unique case on our list, in that he barely even lasted long enough in professional wrestling to overcome whatever his first impressions were. Goldberg is also unique in just how dichotomous people’s first impressions of him may have been. While some people immediately saw him as a powerhouse who could easily reshape sports entertainment in his image, others saw him as dangerously unprepared for the role he was being thrust into as the next top name in WCW.
Goldberg was never a huge fan of wrestling while growing up, and only joined the sport on the advice of friends Sting and Lex Luger once an injury prevented him from furthering his football career. With only a little over a year of training provided by the WCW Power Plant, Goldberg debuted in late September of 1997 and was WCW World Heavyweight Champion in less than a year. People can argue over whether or not his matches ever got better, but the fact remains we’re still talking about him today, and some fans are even begging for him to make a return as he pushes 50 years old, so his legendary status is pretty set in stone. Goldberg was also bar none the biggest homegrown star WCW created in the 1990s, and that supersedes anything people said about his ability to perform a suplex properly during his first few months.
5. Jeff Jarrett
Everyone on this list is a legend or hall of famer in somebody’s mind, but Jeff Jarrett is the only one with an ego big enough he demanded the company he founded put him in the Hall of Fame if they wanted him to keep making appearances on television. Jarrett, along with his father, founded Total Nonstop Action in 2002 and was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2015, despite no longer working for the company on a full-time basis for a few years at that point. In all honestly, Jarrett probably deserved the nod, but he still gets called out for his ego thanks to the fact his entire career is a result of nepotism of the highest order.
Jeff Jarrett’s father is Jerry Jarrett, who was one of the most successful wrestling promoters in the world prior to Vince McMahon’s takeover in the 80s. Even after Vince started devouring wrestling territories around the country, Jarrett survived in the Southern United States for several decades, primarily by teaming with Jerry Lawler in the Memphis area. Lawler couldn’t be the only star on the show, though, so as soon as Jerry’s kid was ready to be a wrestler, his dad was grooming him to be the top star of the company. Fans rejected Jarrett for years, but luckily it would turn out Jeff had some actual wrestling skills and understood how to get a crowd to boo him like few others, which gradually made the fans to accept him for reasons other than his family name.
4. Dustin Rhodes
Similar to Jeff Jarrett, the main problem with Dustin Rhodes was the fact people instinctively compared him to his already famous perhaps eternally more legendary father. Dustin is the grandson of a plumber, in that his father was “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, one of the unquestionable greatest wrestlers in the history of the sport. Dusty shaped the world of wrestling in ways we don’t have the time to discuss in this article, so we’ll just focus on the fact he booked NWA and WCW during some of their peak years in the 80s. There’s a ridiculous amount of good to choose from when discussing Dusty, but the only bad thing we can point at is the fact he pushed his son the second he got a chance in the early 90s.
Dustin Rhodes was 23 years old when he won his first WCW title, and though he was already started to show some promise, most people pointed at his father as the explanation for his gold. This feeling grew stronger when he left the tag division and started winning solo titles, without growing that much as a personality in the ring. Dustin left WCW in early 1995 and joined WWE as Goldust. While the Goldust character has been criticized for a variety of things over the years, one thing nobody has ever denied was the fact Dustin Rhodes is the perfect wrestler for the job. He turned a bizarre by design character into a role that has now lasted two decades, and will likely carry him all the way to the Hall of Fame when he’s ready to step out of the ring.
3. The Rock
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is such a consummate celebrity that it’s almost impossible to look back 20 years ago before he was dominating absolutely every form of entertainment and try and remember what people thought of him when he was first starting out. However, we’ve looked past all of that and done the research, and when you have the specifics, it’s probably even more shocking that he succeeded the way he did. The Rock had perhaps the most ideal lineage imaginable for a wrestler, with both his father and grandfather former wrestlers and his grandmother a former promoter, but for some reason, he chose the name “Flex Kavana” when he made his first few appearances on the independent scene. That could almost end the entry right there.
Luckily, The Rock knew that wasn’t the best name, and switched to Rocky Maivia when he made his major league debut for WWE. He was still extremely green, though, and fans violently reacted to the idea of him on their television sets. The Rock was receiving a record amount of hype from Vince McMahon and other commentary teams, but fans hated him so badly they chanted “Die, Rocky, Die” whenever he appeared on TV. This wasn’t your typical heel heat—people thought he was ruining wrestling with his horrible matches and unfair push. WWE acknowledged the negative feedback by having Rocky turn heel after an injury, and just as quickly as everyone decided they hated him, people started turning around on Rocky thanks to his hilarious heel antics. By the end of the year, he was getting cheered louder than ever could have been imaginable with the original character, and the screams only got louder from there.
2. Triple H
You’ve probably noticed by now one of the recurring themes of this list has been the fact wrestlers don’t always pick the best name straight out of the gate. The Undertaker was Texas Red, Kevin Nash was Oz, The Godfather was The Soultaker, and The Rock was Flex Kavana, but somehow Triple H has it worse than any of the others (well, except maybe Flex Kavana, cause what the hell is that?). When he first started wrestling, the man now poised as the future leader of WWE thanks to his marriage to Stephanie McMahon was referred to by the stupidly punny name “Terra Ryzin.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, he got his start in WCW, where nobody had any faith in his ability to turn a name like that into something special. Big surprise there.
WCW gave Ryzin the new name Jean-Paul Levesque, incredibly close to his real name but with the bizarre request he speak with a French accent while doing so. Because Triple H is not French, and does not speak the language, the gimmick died an immediate death and saw him pushed all the way down the card to the opening match jobber. His career could have ended before it even began when he was squashed by Alex Wright at Starrcade 1994, but Levesque jumped to WWE in 1995 and rechristened himself Hunter Hearst Helmsley. It took more than 20 years for his ego to build to what it is today, but considering most WWE fans shouldn’t even need us to explain what we mean by that thanks to his connections in the business, we feel his legacy is pretty set in stone.
1. The Ultimate Warrior
Plenty of future wrestling superstars started their careers with some pretty stupid names, as we just spent half our list covering. However, in the annals of wrestling history, there is no worse first name than that of the man who would legally change his name to Warrior years later, and it wasn’t even that far off from what he would later become. Warrior started his career as a member of The Blade Runners with Sting, and neither were considered good in the ring at the time, but both had such great looks everyone knew they could eventually become stars with the right marketing. When The Ultimate Warrior debuted as a singles wrestler for World Class Championship Wrestling, he was called The Dingo Warrior. This was not the right marketing.
Warrior claims he chose the name when a wrestler called him a Warrior backstage, which explains half of the name, but we have no idea where Dingo came from. Announcer Bill Mercer tried to say dingoes were vicious and ferocious animals, which is somewhat true, but aside from a famous story involving a baby, most Americans see dingoes merely as big dogs, if anything at all. The fact Warrior didn’t even try to come off as Australian or play up the nom de plume in the slightest only made it more confusing of a moniker, and thankfully he dropped it and switched to Ultimate when he joined WWE. He still had detractors saying he couldn’t wrestle or that he was all style and no substance, but astronomical success in the business and a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2014 ultimately proved the Dingo was a Warrior after all.
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