The involvement of NXT has been groundbreaking to say the least. All of a sudden, WWE fans became optimistic about the future seeing so many new stars being built down in developmental. What makes the brand so unique is the diversity of stars it continues to create, from athletes to pro wrestlers, the development caters to both sides of the coin.
It initially began as a groundbreaking developmental system for athletes all around the world. The goal was to turn these people into a new wave of fresh and exciting WWE stars. Judging by the names on this list, it’s rather obvious the plan has worked to perfection, especially with performers you wouldn’t believe that had absolutely no prior experience.
Their experiences however, came from elsewhere whether it was working in the NFL or as a manager at a Hooter’s restaurant (check out who this person was in the article), these are generally things you didn’t know these NXT stars did before they burst onto the WWE scene as wrestlers. Here is a list of 15 things you never knew these NXT stars, past and present, did before joining the developmental system. Enjoy!
15. Carmella: NFL & NBA Cheerleader
Still only 28 years of age, the former valet has graduated from the NXT ranks and is now a member of SmackDown Live Tuesday Nights. Carmella signed a developmental deal back in 2013. Billed from Staten Island (she’s actually from Massachusetts), Carmella instantly thrived as a manger alongside Enzo and Cass, as the three meshed incredibly well together. Once the duo got the call-up, the company decided to keep Carmella in NXT seeing loads of potential in her as an in-ring performer, which leads to her now being a member of the main roster. Some call it rather premature, although you can’t doubt her work ethic which is the main reason why she made the jump quicker than anticipated.
Before her WWE days, the former valet had no prior experience in the wrestling industry. Her first big mainstream gig came as a cheerleader for her hometown NFL team the New England Patriots, which lasted three seasons. She then transitioned into the NBA and endured a season as Laker Girl for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. Truly remarkable that just five years later she’s an active performer on the main WWE roster; a theme you’ll see a plenty in this article.
14. Mojo Rawley: NFL Player
Many WWE fans tend to forget that the initial purpose of the NXT training facility was to develop the greatest athletes (and not pro wrestlers), by turning them into world class performers with a state of the art facility. Rawley is exactly what the WWE had in mind when they began to promote NXT. He was a former football player with tremendous athletic abilities, along with an incredible personality which was oozing with charisma. Not to mention his age; Mojo only recently turned 30 this past July.
Before signing with the WWE in 2012, Rawley had quite the future as a football player after enduring a great college career. Despite going undrafted, the Green Bay Packers signed the wrestler to a tryout which he would succeed in getting himself a spot on the team. He later moved to the Arizona Cardinals, though his season was cut short because of injury.
During his rehab, Mojo still had NFL offers, though he ultimately decided to put that life aside and join the WWE’s developmental system down in Florida. His bold decision is paying out quite nicely with Rawley recently being called up to the main roster.
13. Baron Corbin: NFL Player
Similar to Mojo, Corbin was brought into the developmental as an established athlete with some serious potential. Corbin has become arguably one of NXT’s most polished performers coming from a non wrestling background. His future looks extremely bright especially because of the fact that he ended up on SmackDown, which seems like the land of opportunity. In his debut on the show, Corbin was placed in the main event of the night and absolutely thrived as a heel. Massive future for the Superstar, as it seems.
Before inking his WWE deal in August of 2012, Baron had established a career as a football player playing with the Colts and Cardinals. Even prior to his NFL journey, the NXT star had a previous boxing career and was a two-time amateur Golden Gloves Regional Champion. His polished background has aided the wrestler immensely thus far in his four year run as a WWE Superstar.
12. Gzim Selmani: MMA Fighter
His WWE future currently hangs in the balance; he made his NXT debut alongside Paul Ellering, under the Tag Team of the Authors of Pain. One thing the mammoth wrestler has on his side is youth; astonishingly he is only 22 years old and one of the youngest performers in all of the WWE.
Before he began training to become a pro wrestler, Gzim had a passion for MMA. He started doing Judo at four years old, which later transitioned into MMA which he picked up at 15. His MMA record was pretty good, fighting six bouts and winning four. Although his most recent fight and last one took place in October of 2014 at Bellator 130, Selmani found himself on the losing end of things via TKO in the second round.
11. Mandy Rose: Fitness Competitor
The WWE Universe first got a glimpse of her during Tough Enough. Although she didn’t win, the company decided to sign her seeing some serious potential in her as a future heel. Unlike the WWE’s repeated failed formula of rushing Tough Enough stars, this time around the company is wisely taking their time and Mandy is a perfect example of this, seeing as she’s yet to debut on NXT television.
Her look is quite marketable and this is in large part because of her career prior to joining the WWE’s reality show. In 2013, Mandy entered her first competition winning the entire event at the World Bodybuilding Fitness & Fashion Boston Show. She would continue her success in the field, winning another championship in 2014 at the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion Bikini Championships. Her winning pedigree has helped her reach this point. Still only 25, expect some big things from this Superstar in the future.
10. Byron Saxton: Traffic Reporter & FCW Wrestler
We tend to generally look at wrestlers who get big pushes, but Byron Saxton is another case of someone the WWE is heavily boosting as a commentator with a prominent position on Raw. Comical to think right now that Saxton was actually initially a wrestler, signing with the WWE all the way back in 2007 joining the former development of FCW.
With a background in reporting, the WWE gave up on Byron as a Superstar and transformed him into a polished announcer for NXT back in 2012, five years after his wrestling debut in the WWE. To his credit, Saxton has thrived becoming one of the main voices on Raw and generally one of the most worked announcers in the entire company with a spot at PPVs as well. His past experiences have helped greatly in his role today, as Byron previously worked as a traffic reporter for a news station in Jacksonville. He also worked as an associate producer for the news channel.
9. Renee Young: Host Of A Wrestling Program In Toronto
One of the most beloved WWE employees at the moment, Renee Young has absolutely thrived in her position performing as a host and backstage interviewer for the WWE. The company is extremely high on the Canadian, as her role continues to improve over time.
Before joining the WWE, Young initially aspired to become a comedic actress auditioning for several films, commercials and TV Shows. Her first big break however, would come on a Canadian Sports Network called The Score. She began working on the channel and later became the host of a WWE program called Aftermath, which would discuss what went down on the prior show whether it was Raw or SmackDown. Mauro Ranallo was also a part of the program at one point.
Once the WWE noticed her work, she was brought into the company with open arms. She made history at one point becoming the first female color commentator for WWE in over a decade, working episodes of NXT and WWE Superstars. Certainly quite the accomplishment.
8. Tino Sabbatelli: NFL Player
You can add a third name to the list of former NFL players down in NXT. You can argue Sabatelli had the best career out of all of them, getting drafted in second round to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tino had a tremendous career in college with Oregon State University. He bounced around several teams which included Cleveland and Kansas City, but injuries slowed him down and he eventually left the NFL for a new career in the world of pro wrestling.
From the start, the company was very high on Tino. It seemed like he had a bigger future than the other two on this list, though looking at how things unravelled with both on the main roster and Sabbatelli still yet to debut, he’s clearly gotten the shorter end of the stick.
Tino has the look but has yet to show his worth in the ring. The WWE continues to take steps back with him trying to ensure he is properly developed before they go any further with him. At the age of 32, that window seems to be closing with each passing year; if he’s going to proceed, that needs to happen sooner rather than later at this point.
7. Alexa Bliss: Fitness Competitor
So basically, what NFL players in NXT is to males, is the equivalent of fitness competitors for a female perspective amongst women in the developmental brand. Earlier in this article we discussed Mandy Rose in the same field, NXT alumni Dana Brooke was also a former fitness competitor working various competitions.
Bliss took a different road to going down that path, however. Unlike her peers, the Ohio native began as a gymnast and later transitioned those skills to professional cheerleading (like Carmella). Following her time in college as a Division I cheerleader, Bliss continued her fitness related route pursuing a career as a competitive bodybuilder, competing in the highly coveted Arnold Classic Tournament. It was at that very show, where the WWE saw Bliss and eventually signed her to a deal in May of 2013.
6. Big Cass: FCW Graduate In 2011
Many wrestling fans don’t realize, but Big Cass has actually been in the WWE system dating way back to June of 2011 when he signed a deal with the former development down in FCW. He made his debut under the name of Collin Cassady in a losing effort. Despite his great look and in-ring ability, he struggled to find a sustainable persona early on.
Once FCW rebranded, in an attempt to salvage the Queens, New York native the company put him alongside a Jersey boy who was very green to the wrestling business in Enzo Amore. At the time, many were shocked at how great of a duo these guys instantly were, it was like they knew each other their entire lives. Fast-forward four years later and the team is now regarded as one of the hottest acts in the entire company. What a story for both these guys, especially Cass who struggled to find an identity early on.
5. Becky Lynch: Flight Attendant
You’d find it almost impossible to search for a wrestler on the current main roster of the WWE that went through as many ups and downs as Becky Lynch did. She began her journey as a teen training at Finn Balor’s developmental camp, and she later joined the independent circuit wrestling full time across Europe and North America.
In 2008, Becky put a stop to her dreams after she was a no-show at an event for Shimmer Women Athletes. Lynch decided to move away from the industry and start pursuing something with more stability. She left the business for two years and became a flight attendant.
In another courageous decision, she’d later step back in the ring, this time working predominantly in the North American circuit. It would lead to an improbable opportunity with the WWE, signing with the company in April of 2013 and immediately joining NXT. She did nothing but thrive in her time down in developmental, becoming one of the most popular faces on the planet pertaining to women’s wrestling.
4. Chad Gable And Jason Jordan: Amateur Wrestlers
How many times have we seen this pattern? Amateur wrestler turns into incredible in-ring WWE Superstar. Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Dolph Ziggler, are just a couple of names that instantly come to mind when thinking about performers that successfully made the transition.
American Alpha is the latest duo to follow this trend. Jason Jordan began amateur, wrestling at the age of seven. He went undefeated in his senior year, going undefeated in 35 bouts. At the time he was the second best wrestler in the nation.
Gable faired just as well, if not better. The Minnesota native was a State Champion at Northern Michigan University, and his success later earned him a spot at the 2012 Summer Olympics, which is a remarkable accomplishment. Fast forward and the two are now one of the hottest pairs in all of pro wrestling. Many former wrestlers call the duo the best performers in all of sports and entertainment today.
3. Bayley: Started As Davina Rose
She dreamed her entire life of becoming a WWE Superstar, emulating the ways of Lita at a young age. She broke into the business at the age of 18, wrestling with Big Time Wrestling (there her name was changed to Davina Rose). She wrestled all around the world using the name, but once she got to the WWE it was immediately changed, with too many performers using the name Rose.
Her love for wrestling was huge in cementing her persona that she uses today. In promo class she struggled to find a character, though that changed when she played the role of a super fan which eventually transitioned into Bayley, a role she plays to perfection today.
2. Shinsuke Nakamura: MMA Fighter
Wonder why he has so much power behind those kicks? Well, a background in MMA certainly helped his cause, molding him into the dominant king of strong style that he is today.
2002 was a huge year for Nakamura, not only did he debut with New Japan but he also burst onto the MMA scene. He instantly enjoyed success in both fields. His MMA record stands at 3-1-1. His New Japan career also got off to a huge start, being labelled as the “Super Rookie” after his debut. It was clear early on, Shinsuke was going to be a huge star in the Japanese wrestling scene for a very long time.
Ultimately, Nakamura chose correctly and continued in the wrestling business forging a tremendous legacy down in New Japan. He is currently building a similar reputation in North America with NXT. Once he makes the jump to the main roster, you can expect his stock to absolutely explode.
1. Enzo Amore: DJ, Piano Mover & Manager At Hooters
Reading what he previously did before joining the WWE, most of us that know Amore aren’t all that shocked by these odd occupations he embarked in. It seems like something Enzo would do prior to his claim to fame.
He does come from an athletic background, playing Division III football. He also apparently earned a degree in journalism. Among other things, he was a piano mover, manager at Hooters and a DJ for the New York Jets. His huge break came after a buddy of Triple H’s, Joe DeFranco, spotted Amore at a gym in Jersey. Amore, a huge WWE super fan, discussed his love for the business to DeFranco. Oozing with charisma, DeFranco went with his gut and sent Hunter a video of Amore, and before you knew it, Enzo was signed to a WWE deal in November of 2012 under the name of Eric Anthony. And well like they say, the rest is history!