The name of a performer in pro wrestling is one of the most important aspects of success. A terrible name could sink someone’s chances at getting over before they even do anything on television. Wrestlers typically want to use a stage name. Most regular names are quite boring and a stage name could help add excitement to the viewer. In recent years, wrestlers have tried to use their real name more often for copyright reasons. Promotions, such as WWE, like to own the rights to a wrestler’s name so they can’t profit off of their time on television when moving on to another company.
Damien Sandow having to change his name to Aron Rex following his move from WWE to TNA is the most recent example of this. The politics of wrestling makes it a difficult thing to work around and many are screwed over by it. There have been a few lucky souls that were able to use their real names on WWE television and it allowed them to build a brand around their own identity. If they have left or will leave the company, this sets them up for a better chance at thriving in the next chapter. We’ll look at the top fifteen WWE stars that didn’t have to use a fake name.
15. Dave Batista
WWE did change the spelling of his last name but Dave Batista was able to keep his brand strong by avoiding a fake name. The actual spelling of his last name is Bautista, but WWE decided to remove a letter for the ego-maniacal desire of owning a trademark. A huge push saw Bautista become one of the biggest wrestling stars of the era. WWE gave him the shining moment of capturing the World Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 21.
The post-wrestling career of Bautista has given him plenty of reasons to be happy that WWE allowed him to use his real name. Big Dave is currently a big time actor in Hollywood. You can find him in various hit blockbuster films, particularly the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. The fact that many people are already familiar with him and his real name gives Bautista the ability to have a fan base follow him into his new career.
14. Torrie Wilson
Torrie Wilson had one of the most successful careers for a performer that rarely wrestled in WWE. The strengths of Wilson focused on the looks aspect in gimmick matches, managing and photo shoots. Fans adored Wilson and made her a very big star in WWE for a couple of years. The initial brand split in 2002 made her the most popular female performer on SmackDown, landing her a Playboy spread.
WWE couldn’t change her name because she was established in WCW. Wilson was one of the more popular performers to make the jump when Vince McMahon purchased the dying company. They had to leave her name since she already had a brand attached to her actual identity. Torrie has delved into other careers following her retirement from pro wrestling. She’s the first to admit she hated taking bumps and doesn’t miss that aspect of the business. The real name of Wilson being her stage name helped her build a brand in various fitness projects.
13. Jerry Lawler
The life’s work of Jerry Lawler has seen him deliver all of his great matches under his real name. He may not be a king, but Lawler stayed true to his name through 46 years in the business. The gimmick of “king” would usually see a cheesy name attached to it but Lawler felt his name was the right way to go. Lawler was correct as he became a huge star in various federations before becoming a fixture in WWE.
Many only know him for his commentary work in WWE over the past two decades, but Lawler had a legendary wrestling career in the 80s. Fans paid to see him get beat up as one of the better heels of his era. The reputation forced WWE to allow him to keep his real name. Lawler currently runs his own restaurant in Memphis called King Jerry Lawler’s Hall of Fame Bar & Grill. The credible name adds appeal for wrestling fans visiting the area looking for something to eat.
12. Shelton Benjamin
The luck of wrestlers entering WWE developmental in the early 2000s allowed many of them to keep their real name. WWE was in between the era of cartoon-like gimmicks and name changes for trademark purposes. That gave many of the new stars the ability to use their actual name in the ring. Shelton Benjamin was one of those to keep his identity entering the WWE landscape. The athleticism and potential of Benjamin made him one of the better prospects in the company.
Benjamin had a great run for a couple of years. Between his tag team work with Charlie Haas in the World’s Greatest Tag Team and the singles Intercontinental Championship reign, Benjamin earned respect among the fan base. The great in-ring work shined, but Benjamin lacked the charisma to get to the next level in WWE. Both parties would part ways making Shelton happy he was able to use his name. Benjamin wrestled in Japan for many years using the name fans grew attached to in WWE – his own.
11. Mickie James
Most of the female wrestlers in WWE have been given “diva” caliber names or were forced to lose their last name for some reason. Maria and Melina are two examples of WWE wanting us to believe they only had a first name. Mickie James would be one of the very rare women to keep her full name when entering the WWE. The debut storyline saw her stalk Trish Status as a crazed fan and win the Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 22.
It was a humorous change of fortunes for wrestlers. James used a stage name as Alexis Laree in Ring of Honor and various other independent promotions. WWE was the company to want her to go with her real name. Most of the time features the opposite taking place. The WWE run made James one of the biggest female stars in pro wrestling. James had the ability to take bookings and for more companies outside of WWE with the name fans are associated with. That’s the magic of WWE letting you use your real name on the shows.
10. Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase sounds like a fake name perfect for his Million Dollar Man persona, but it was actually his real name. As the adopted son of “Iron” Mike DiBiase, Ted kept the tradition alive by using his real last name. WWE signed him after years of experience traveling around the world to earn the opportunity. DiBiase would become the most hated villain in WWE for a couple of years as the arrogant and wealthy Million Dollar Man character.
The company made a great deal of money by making fans invest more into the faces in feuds with DiBiase. Another generation of the family would see WWE allow the name to live on with Ted DiBiase Jr. The son of the legend kept his name but had a lackluster tenure in WWE before leaving the business at an early age. Regardless, the DiBiase name will live on in infamy within the history of pro wrestling.
9. Mark Henry
The weightlifting history of Mark Henry made him a valued prospect to WWE. Vince McMahon reached out to the former Olympian and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. The Olympic presence of Henry was the main reason for WWE signing him, so they had to allow him to keep his real name. Henry ended up having a wrestling career that has lasted over two decades. WWE has never let Henry go, making him one of the longest tenured performers in company history.
Henry saw the best work of his career come in 2011-2012 as a dominant heel. The first world title win came when he defeated Randy Orton to win the World Championship. Henry has earned a lot of respect among the fan base in the past five years. WWE will likely induct him in the Hall of Fame one day, likely soon. Henry will have the benefit of using the name fans know him by when doing autograph shows following his likely WWE departure following retirement.
8. Kurt Angle
Another Olympian makes the list, but it’s a more successful one this time. Kurt Angle signed with WWE just a couple of years after winning a freestyle wrestling gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics. No one had previously been able to claim having an Olympic gold medal in the wrestling industry, and it just made Angle more special. The harsh world of pro wrestling can be difficult for someone coming in from the legitimate sport background of competitive amateur wrestling.
Angle was able to pick up the entertainment aspect of WWE, and it made him one of the bigger stars in the company. Everything Angle did would work to perfection. He could play every role needed at any specific time. The bitter falling out with WWE made Angle lucky he could use his real name to grow his brand. A long run in TNA and other projects were helped by the fact that he didn’t have to make up a silly new name in starting a new life after WWE.
7. Matt and Jeff Hardy
The Hardy Boyz still hold the reputation of being one of the most exciting tag teams in wrestling history. WWE pushed them to the moon during the beginning of the new millennium. Jeff Hardy possessed the quiet charisma and daredevil mentality that made fans fall in love with him. Matt Hardy won everyone over with his consistent greatness in the wrestling ring. The brothers were allowed to use their real names and actually play amplified versions of their normal personalities.
Matt and Jeff are still quite valuable today outside of the WWE. TNA has struggled to find relevancy in recent years, but they are trying their best to change that. The cult classic Final Deletion segment featuring the two brothers battling in their backyard set a shocking rating high for Impact. The fact that they can use their names and connect with fans that remember their WWE days helps add to their current careers.
6. Stacy Keibler
The stunning Stacy Keibler had a highly successful career in WWE. She was discovered by WCW to be a member of the Nitro Girls dance team but quickly evolved into an actual character on the show. Keibler had the total package and fans adored her instantly. The look was perfect, but she also possessed the “it factor” everyone in wrestling tries to find. WWE retained her contract following the purchase of WCW for good reason.
Keibler became one of the very few WCW talents to blossom in WWE. The television time would improve every week until she was one of the most popular women in the company. To make it more impressive, she almost never wrestled but found a huge role on television. Keibler did her best work as a manager for various wrestlers through the years. Her retirement led her into the world of action and she had the benefit of continuing to use the name people knew her as. Hollywood may not have been a home run for Keibler, but she scored some decent roles thanks to her brand popularity.
5. Brock Lesnar
With a name like Brock Lesnar, the world is setting one up to be one of the most dangerous professional fighters. Lesnar had an outstanding amateur wrestling career and was scouted by WWE at a very young age. The company debuted him on television with one of the biggest pushes someone can get making their television introduction. Brock would defeat The Rock to become WWE Champion at the age of 25. Talk about having confidence in someone.
Lesnar hated the traveling aspect of pro wrestling and chose to leave WWE just two years into his main roster run. The real name being used in WWE allowed him to use his past success in the new world of MMA. Lesnar would become one of the top draws in UFC history thanks to his work in WWE and overall dominant display in the octagon. WWE got the opportunity to hire him back, and he’s now one of the richest men in fighting sports. The story could have been different if the WWE name generator changed his life for the worse.
4. Eddie Guerrero
The legendary Guerrero family has a rich history in pro wrestling and Eddie Guerrero is the best star from the bunch. Eddie used his real name to follow the tradition in his family. WCW signed him after years of traveling the world in various promotions. Guerrero delivered some of the best matches in the business at the time. Fans developed respect for him but WCW never treated him like a credible talent on the rise.
WWE made a huge move signing Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn. The body of work put in by all four in WCW forced WWE to let them keep the names fans already attach to him. Guerrero became the biggest star of the bunch with unbelievable character work and outstanding marches. The legacy of Eddie grew with each showing and he became one of the top stars to work under his actual real name in the WWE.
3. Randy Orton
As a third generation superstar with the ideal look, Randy Orton was pushed to the moon from day one in WWE. The company believed he could be a top star for many years and they found a way to make it happen. Orton struggled with various personal issues in the early stage of his career before getting his head on straight. WWE marketed him as the son of Cowboy Bob Orton so his last name was a necessary thing to keep.
The fortune of keeping his own name was one of many good breaks for Orton. WWE would have fired most other wrestlers for having an attitude issue, but Orton received chance after chance until he was ready for the top position. The career of Orton still lives on today as seen with his recent Summerslam main event match against Brock Lesnar. Orton has a few more years left in the tank to perform at a high level. The brand split will continue to give him big matches and a huge spot at the top of Smackdown.
2. Bret Hart
Bret Hart is another star on the list that comes from a family of wrestling legends. Stu Hart ran Stampede Wrestling in company and most of his kids grew up to become professional wrestlers due to the nature of the business being in their lives every day. Bret signed with WWE and was allowed to keep his real name. Vince McMahon is rumored to have more respect for the second or third generation stars, and the freedom of having their own name proves it.
The in-ring work of Hart was second to none and was the first WWE Champion to get there via his work in the ring rather than his look. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and other muscle head stars were out of the company. This opened up the opportunity for Bret to dominate WWE until his bitter ending with The Montreal Screwjob. Hart using his real name in WWE for years built up his brand enough to give him interesting opportunities, such as writing a book. It would have been more difficult to land a book deal under a name no one knows.
1. John Cena
John Cena is the biggest star of this generation, but he scored a bit of good luck on the way there. The fact that Cena was allowed to wrestle under his real name in WWE has played a huge role in his current position in life. The rocket was strapped to the back of Cena as he became the face of the company for the past decade. Cena has done everything asked of him by WWE and continues to put out a strong body of work on a consistent basis.
After years of working a full-time schedule with no breaks, Cena has finally started dabbling in others projects. The noteworthy movie roles, television hosting duties and other outlets of mainstream media have come his way in the last year or two. You have to imagine it would be a tough sell for Cena to get all of these opportunities if he couldn’t be marketed with the same name he built up in WWE. No one has benefited more from being able to use their real name in WWE than John Cena.