Professional wrestlers who have managed to break into mainstream organizations such as World Wrestling Entertainment and, during a former time and an era that is now but a memory, World Championship Wrestling and who have reached stardom while working for those companies have made great livings for themselves. Some, depending on the details of their contracts and the popularity they reached among fans, have earned millions of dollars per year from their wrestling deals and also off of endorsements that they picked up. That does not even include the television and movie roles wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Goldberg and so many others were awarded during their wrestling careers.
Contrary to the popular saying that suggests otherwise, wrestling stars are not born overnight. It takes performers years and all kinds of work and sacrifices that fans do not witness before men such as John Cena and Brock Lesnar become household names. The wrestling industry is filled with a long list of stories detailing how wrestlers had to work multiple jobs during the early days of their careers in order to afford the necessary in-ring training to achieve their dreams of reaching stardom in the WWE, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling or overseas.
The list of wrestling personalities who had what would be referred to as “regular jobs” before they reached stardom is not just made up of mainstays of Raw and SmackDown programs who are, more often than not, in midcard roles on those shows. Some of the biggest names in the history of the WWE either chose or were forced to find work outside of the wrestling industry before they were known as superstars worthy of being interviewed on sports shows such as SportsCenter. In fact, the man who built the biggest pro wrestling empire on the planet very easily could have embraced other business opportunities during his younger years.
20. Eric Bischoff – AWA Announcer
Eric Bischoff has to be regarded as one of the most important names in the history of North American pro wrestling. He helped make WCW a real competitor of the World Wrestling Federation during the 1990s, launching the “Monday Night Wars” that nearly put the WWF out of business. Before he was an executive serving for what was, for a time, the top wrestling company in the world, Bischoff was but an announcer who interviewed American Wrestling Association performers. However good he was on the microphone, Bischoff would contribute much more to the business behind the scenes and also as an on-air heel.
19. Stephanie McMahon – Model/Receptionist
The daughter of Vince McMahon has held the WWE Women’s Championship, and she has also been part of heel group “The Authority.” Stardom in the wrestling industry did not always seem to be in her future, as Stephanie McMahon had many prior roles within her father’s company. McMahon was a model for merchandise catalogs, and she also worked as a receptionist. She has since done well to work her way up the corporate ladder and earn her role as Chief Brand Officer. She and real-life husband Triple H will, sooner or later, be tasked with leading the WWE into a future that does not include Vince running the business.
18. Randy Savage – Baseball Player
The life and times of Randy Savage had been touched upon in documentaries and by journalists even before he tragically passed away in the spring of 2011. Savage was a talented baseball player who had the ability to feature in multiple spots on the field. A long-term future in Major League Baseball was not meant to be for Savage, though, and he went on to break into the wrestling business. Fans of the industry everywhere are grateful that Savage did not become an All-Star baseball player, as the world instead was able to enjoy the “Macho Man” for decades.
17. Maven – Teacher
Regardless of what happened after he became a member of the full-time roster, Maven will always be a part of wrestling history as a winner of the first ever season of Tough Enough. Before he was showcased on reality television and being given the opportunity to knock The Undertaker over the top rope at a Royal Rumble, Maven was working as a Grade 6 teacher. Maven’s run in the WWE had more downs than ups, and he spent some time away from the business. He made his return to the ring in the summer of 2015, but how long this stint in the business will last is unknown.
16. Layla – NBA Dancer
The WWE Diva who retired from the pro wrestling industry in the summer of 2015 and who was once part of the team “LayCool” had a much different career before her days inside of the ring. Layla was a dancer for National Basketball Association side the Miami Heat, and she also served as a backup dancer for John Legend and Carnival Cruise Lines. The spotlight was on her once she made her way to the WWE, and Layla would also have a successful modeling career after breaking into the wrestling company. She was largely an afterthought on the roster when she announced that she was stepping away from the business.
15. Kevin Nash – Basketball Player/Bouncer
It likely comes as little surprise that an athlete with the size of Kevin Nash was once interested in playing basketball at the professional level. A knee injury that he picked up long before he broke into pro wrestling kept him from reaching stardom in the NBA, so he attempted to find a life in the sport overseas. Nash also spent time as a bouncer in Michigan. Success in wrestling was not immediate for Nash, as he had several failed gimmicks in WCW before he found work in the WWF. Nash has since made a ton of money in wrestling and also via acting gigs.
14. Brodus Clay – Body Guard
One look at the man who played the character Brodus Clay in the WWE, and you would understand why a celebrity would want to have the big man as protection. Clay served as a bodyguard for rap icon Snoop Dogg for years, and his WWE name was taken from Snoop’s real name of Calvin Broadus. While he never won any major championships during his time with the WWE, Clay became a popular figure as the “Funkasaurus.” Now that he and the WWE have parted ways, one cannot help but wonder if maybe Clay could have been used better by the company.
13. Paul Bearer – Mortician
It is one of the coolest, most well-known and maybe even one of the creepiest stories of wrestlers having regular jobs before they reached stardom in the business. William Moody had a love of pro wrestling from a young age, and he worked as a wrestler and as a manager when aspects of adulthood resulted in Moody choosing to become an embalmer and mortician. He would, of course, return to the business and eventually take on the role of Paul Bearer, the ghostly manager of the Undertaker. It turns out that “art imitates life” is more than just a popular phrase.
12. Charlotte – Personal Trainer
Just because the pro wrestling industry happens to be in somebody’s blood does not mean that she would automatically pursue a career in the business upon reaching adulthood. Charlotte, the daughter of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, was once an accomplished and respected personal trainer working in the southeast. There are some urges that cannot be defeated, however, and that was the case for the women who would take NXT and later Raw by storm. Charlotte now serves as one of the major players of the movement that is being referred to as a “Divas Revolution.”
11. The Rock – Football Player
It may seem difficult to imagine, considering all that has happened over the past two decades, that there was ever a time when The Rock was not a success at something he attempted. At a time when the phrase “The most electrifying man in sports and entertainment” was likely not a thought in his head, Dwayne Johnson wanted to be a pro football player. It was the CFL and not the NFL that came calling following his years in college, but he never really caught on with a time. Has there ever been a person in history to be happier about not getting a football contract than The Rock? Oh, what could have been.
10. Batista – Bouncer
One would only need look to the man himself to learn about the life of Dave Batista, better known to wrestling fans as Batista, before he broke into the WWE. Batista worked as an imposing bouncer, and he earned himself a year of probation following an incident that involved the future member of Evolution failing to control his temper. When that lifestyle was no longer appealing, Batista decide to pursue a career in bodybuilding. One could say that pro wrestling was somewhat of an afterthought for the man who would reach stardom in both the WWE and later in Hollywood.
9. Steve Austin – Loading Dock Worker
Diehard fans of the pro wrestling business have heard about the struggles that Steve Austin had climbing the figurative ladder in the industry long before he became “Stone Cold.” Austin had a much different life after dropping out of college, as he worked on a loading dock that was located in Houston, Texas. It was around that time that Austin would become interested in pro wrestling, and he would eventually become “Stunning” while working in WCW. His best days as a professional and as a man who would reach stardom were of course to come, and Austin is now revered as one of the biggest wrestling stars of all time.
8. Trish Stratus – Gym Receptionist
Life is sometimes all about being in the right place at the right time. That was the case for Trish Stratus when she was working what she likely considered to be just a basic job as a receptionist at a local gym. The publisher of Muscle Mag International came upon Stratus, and the future WWE Diva was offered a modeling role. This was to be the first of many steps that would lead Stratus to the WWF, first as a valet/manager and later as a wrestler. Life as a pro wrestler was once not something she pursued, but Stratus ultimately became one of the greatest WWE Divas in the history of the company.
7. Sheamus – IT Technician
Sheamus had some of the cooler gigs of the wrestlers discussed in this piece before he found fame and stardom working in the WWE. He was serving as a nightclub bouncer when he picked up bodyguard work for some big names such as Bono and Larry Mullen, Jr. of the rock group U2. Do not, however, assume that the bruising wrestler was just a muscle-head. Sheamus also spent time as an IT technician. Sheamus would find his feet and his passion working in pro wrestling, and he has notched some memorable and noteworthy victories since first signing with the WWE.
6. Roman Reigns – Football Player
Like many success stories spread out in pro wrestling organizations, Roman Reigns is a case of a great athlete who originally wanted to reach stardom playing a legitimate sport. While Reigns went unselected in the 2007 NFL Draft, he was given a shot by the Minnesota Vikings and then the Jacksonville Jaguars. Reigns would not find success with either of those teams, though, and his time in the CFL was largely forgettable. Football’s loss would prove to be the WWE’s gain, as Reigns seemingly as the goods to be a top star for the company for years to come.
5. Goldberg – Football Player
WCW television commentators were not joking or “working” when they discussed the pro football career had by Bill Goldberg before he became the top babyface in that company for a time. Goldberg played in the NFL and CFL, featuring on the rosters of the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons. He never found stardom in pro football before an injury, one in which Goldberg “tore my lower abdomen off my pelvis” in his own words, ended that portion of his life. The pro wrestling industry then came calling, and Goldberg won world championships in WCW and the WWE.
4. Ric Flair – Bouncer
Long before he was the “Nature Boy,” the “Dirtiest Player in the Game” and quite possibly the greatest pro wrestler of all time, Ric Flair was a man weighing close to 300 pounds who was working as a bouncer. Flair, as he has discussed in the past, hit the gym hard in order to drop the excess weight and get in shape, and the former amateur athlete died his hair blonde en route to becoming the legend of the industry that the world knows today. To his credit, Flair has done well to keep himself in good shape despite the fact that he has retired as an in-ring worker.
3. John Cena – Worked at a Limousine Company/Gold’s Gym
John Cena has, throughout his career, often talked about how he has been big fan of pro wrestling for the majority of his life, but it was professional bodybuilding and not life in the WWE that he first pursued. To support himself while chasing that dream, Cena worked for a limousine company and also at a Gold’s Gym. The future leader of the CeNation eventually started training at a pro wrestling school in 1999, and the rest, so goes the saying, is history. Cena has become the biggest star of his era and one of the biggest in history, and even those who have not been fans of Cena can’t deny what he has meant to the WWE for well over a decade.
2. Hulk Hogan – Baseball Player/Gym Manager
The man who would go on to become arguably the biggest icon in the history of North American pro wrestling could have gone several other directions years before he even came close to achieving stardom in the industry. Hogan was a talented baseball player who attracted attention from some pro scouts before an injury ended that career. Those stories about Hogan once being offered a gig in Metallica may not completely be accurate, but the Hulkster did play bass guitar in a band. He also, as did many other to-be wrestlers before they broke into the business, managed some gyms.
1. Vince McMahon – Promoter
The famous story, as it has been told in interviews and documentaries, is that Vince McMahon Sr. did not want his son working as a wrestler, and thus Vincent Kennedy McMahon made his way to business school. While he did get involved in the industry following his college days, McMahon and his wife had other business endeavors. They purchased the Cape Cod Coliseum and also Atlantic Coast Hockey League team the Cape Cod Buccaneers in the late 1970s. Along with promoting hockey, McMahon and wife Linda hosted rock concerts and pro wrestling shows at the arena. Imagine how society would be different today had McMahon lost his love of the wrestling industry at some point.