When it comes to being a WWE Superstar, the company loves to have a strangle hold on their wrestlers. Whether it be with contract terms or gimmicks, the company has the final say in all proceedings. This has caused some of our favorite stars to look past the company while enjoying their freedoms independently.
One concept the WWE decides for a Superstar is their name. In some rare instances, a wrestler can keep their actual name, like John Cena for example, whose real name is John Felix Anthony Cena Jr. However, for the most part, others haven’t been as lucky. Even some of the more prominent stars had name changes like Shawn Michaels, whose real name is actually Michael Hickenbottom, or Triple H who is known as Paul Levesque. Even if you used a name on the Indie circuit you aren’t exempt, as the company would usually change your name, like Fergal Devitt who was re-branded to Finn Balor. Although it should be noted the WWE finally became a little more lenient with this. The likes of Samoa Joe, Nakamura and A.J. Styles have all been allowed to keep their Indie names. It'll be interesting to see if this stays the same in the future. We certainly hope so.
For now, let us take a look at some of the more peculiar name changes that might surprise you. These are the 15 real-life WWE Superstar names you wouldn’t believe. Enjoy!
15 Roman Reigns: Leati Joseph Anoa’i
Can you imagine Roman’s in-ring name being altered to LJ Anoa’i? Yikes. Thankfully, the WWE decided against using his real name, despite his family’s storied legacy in the wrestling business. Signing his first developmental deal with FCW, Roman was named Roman Leakee. He was called Leakee most of the time and his entire look and persona was quite different to the dominant force we see in the ring today.
Once FCW re-branded to NXT, so did Roman. The company made the wise choice to change him into Roman Reigns and his wins began to pile up as well, as the company began to see some big time potential in the Superstar. His NXT stint was very short, and despite his limited experience, the company felt like he was ready for the big-time alongside his Shield Brothers Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Say what you want about Roman, but no wrestler on the main roster has improved more than the current United States Champion.
14 Nikki Bella: Stephanie Nicole Garcia-Colace
Born in California and raised in Arizona, Nicole Garcia-Colace is of Mexican and Italian decent. Along with her sister Brianna Monique Garcia-Colace, the twins booked their ticket with the WWE through the 2006 Diva Search. Despite them not making the final cut, the WWE had seen enough to offer the duo a contract.
Obviously, there can only be one Stephanie in the WWE and that’s Vince McMahon’s daughter, Stephanie McMahon. While down in FCW, the company labelled the two as the Bella Twins. Brianna used the name Brie, while Nicole played the role of Nikki, both nicknames from their actual real-life names. Despite their minimal talents, both would improve dramatically. It doesn’t hurt when you’re with the likes of Daniel Bryan and John Cena. Brie would peak during a storyline with Stephanie McMahon, while Nikki would also become a dominant figure in the division following her heel turn against her sister Brie. The two would explode following the debut of Total Divas gaining immense popularity. They were even given their own spin-off recently, Total Bellas.
13 Cesaro: Claudio Castagnoli
His name sounds like he came out of an Italian mob movie, although as you probably already know, the Swiss Superman is born in Lucerne, Switzerland. Since his arrival to the North American pro wrestling circuit, Cesaro continues to play off of his European roots using a wrestling style that pays homage to his heritage like using the ever so popular European Uppercut in his arsenal of moves for several years now.
Not only does Cesaro pay homage to his European roots, but he is also quite educated. The Swiss Superman speaks fluid in several languages which includes German, French, Italian and his native tongue, Swiss German. The educated pro wrestler has been competing since his European days back in 2000. In 2005, Cesaro finally made a permanent move to North America joining ROH for several years. He’d finally ink a WWE deal in 2011 reporting down to the territory, FCW.
12 Michael Cole: Michael Sean Coulthard
This one sounds truly bizarre for the simple fact that you wouldn’t think the WWE would go as far as to change a commentator's name, but they actually have more times than you’d think.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Michael Cole actually went by Michael Sean Coulthard. Joining the WWE in 1997, Coulthard was permanently changed to the more generic Michael Cole, a name we’ve grown accustomed to in the last couple of decades.
Before his days as Michael Cole, the voice of Raw actually worked as journalist for CBS Radio. He covered presidential campaigns and even spent nine months covering the Yugoslavian civil war. He would later make the transition because of his friend and former WWE employee Todd Pettengill, who would recommend his name to the company. Cole went from a backstage interviewer, to the voice of SmackDown, to the voice of the flagship program Monday Night Raw. Not too bad.
11 Seth Rollins: Colby Lopez
Can’t imagine Rollins winning a World Title using the name Colby, although he did use his real name out on the Indie circuit when he first began in 2005. Signing with ROH in 2007, Seth was completely re-branded into his new persona of Tyler Black. He would take the promotion by storm and later win the ROH World Championship. Soon after, he left the company for a shot at a promising WWE career.
Signing in August of 2010, Rollins made his debut in a dark match using his prior name of Tyler Black. Once he would begin with FCW, Black was officially renamed to Seth Rollins, a name we can safely say that stuck with him throughout his rise to the top. Following his FCW stint, Seth would join the main roster as a part of the Shield angle. He’d go on to become the top heel in the entire industry and he’s now trying to do the same, this time, as a babyface on the Raw brand.
10 Eva Marie: Natalie Marie Nelson
She now goes by the name of Natalie Marie Coyle, after she married her spouse Jonathan Coyle in 2014. As wrestling fans, we kind of feel robbed with this one, although she did manage to keep her middle name Marie in the mix along with the newfound, Eva.
Growing up in the California area of Walnut Creek, Marie was the youngest along with her three older brothers. The WWE Diva is of Mexican and Italian descent, with her father Barry being of Italian descent and mother Josie, of Mexican decent.
After earning her degree in management and art, Eva branched out into the world of modelling. The WWE would later come calling and with no experience, the Diva was signed to a deal and reported to the WWE Performance Center. Despite her minimal in-ring contributions, Marie has managed to make a name for herself on social media and through the WWE’s reality show, Total Divas.
9 Corey Graves: Matthew Polinsky
As we discussed with Michael Cole earlier in the article, not even the announcers are immune from keeping their actual names. Commentating alongside Corey Graves, Byron Saxton actually goes by the name of Bryan Jesus Kelly. Yes, Jesus. Even Renee Young saw an alteration to her name as she’s actually really known as Renee Paquette. Even the most generic name in all of pro wrestling, commentator for NXT and SmackDown Live Tom Phillips, is really named Thomas Hannifan. As you can see, the company is quite selective with names and not even the commentators are exempt from keeping their original names.
Polinsky is another commentator who saw his name change when stepping into the ring with the WWE back in 2011. His real name is Matthew Polinsky but he used the alias of Sterling James Keenan on the Indie scene. Once he signed with FCW, he was officially labelled as Corey Graves, the name he currently uses as a broadcaster on the flagship wrestling program, Monday Night Raw.
8 Samoa Joe: Nuufolau Joel Seanoa
We've seen some of the more generic names get switched, but this one, seemed like an absolute must. Can you imagine commentators trying to pronounce the name Nuufolau? Talk about a commentator’s worst nightmare. He was thankfully changed to Samoa Joe playing off his middle name and last name.
Believe it or not, wrestling wasn’t always the plan for the veteran. Growing up in Orange County, California, Joe worked as a mortgage broker early on in his life. He would eventually make the transition and become an Indie legend working for various promotions outside of the WWE, which included Ring of Honor, TNA and Pro Wrestling Noah. WWE wasn’t always keen on Joe, but that all changed with Triple H in charge as Samoa was brought in during 2015 to the developmental brand of NXT. He's fit in perfectly thus far and we can’t wait to see his ugly mug on the main roster shortly.
7 Sasha Banks: Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado
Residing in Boston, Massachusetts, Sasha's real name actually seems like a generic pro wrestling name. Is it just us here on The Richest, or does Mercedes Banks have kind of a nice ring to it? Nonetheless, the WWE didn’t think so and changed her name to Sasha Banks once she made her in-ring debut with the company.
That wasn’t always the case for Banks who wrestled on the Indie scene as Mercedes KV. She wrestled for a couple of years with the name and made quite the name for herself on the Indie circuit before the WWE finally came calling and re-branded the current Women's Champion under a new name.
Outside of the WWE, Sasha has quite the family history as she is the real life cousin of rapper Snoop Dog. Believe it or not, the popular rapper helped Sasha in developing her Boss-like persona we see on display every week since her dominance began.
6 Bray Wyatt: Windham Lawrence Rotunda
The name Bray Wyatt fits perfectly looking at his character and demeanor but oddly enough, his real life name Windham Rotunda, seems like it would also fit the bill ironically. If the last name rings a bell, it's probably because you're thinking of his father Mike Rotunda, formerly known as I.R.S. His grandfather was also the great Blackjack Mulligan and his uncle is former WWE Superstar Barry Windham. Not to mention his brother Taylor Rotunda, aka Bo Dallas.
Before striking gold as Bray Wyatt, the Florida native endured some awful names, starting with Alex Rotundo and later changing to Duke Rotundo. His ultimate worse character portrayal came as Husky Harris under the NXT label. It was a huge fail and thankfully for the sake of his career, he was repackaged into an entirely different wrestler known as Bray Wyatt, "The Face Of Fear".
5 American Alpha: Nathan Everhart & Charles Betts
Before entering the WWE, both Superstars were prominent amateur wrestlers. Betts, aka Chad Gable, enjoyed immense success and participated in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Jordan fared quite well also, taking the nation by storm and going 35-0 wrestling at the University of Indiana.
His success on the WWE level was much slower. In 2011, the WWE labelled him as Jason Jordan with FCW. His progress was quite slow constantly changing gimmicks although his name stayed the same throughout his trials and tribulations.
On the contrary, Betts, who uses the name Chad Gable paying homage to Olympian Dan Gable, took the development by storm and was quickly pushed to the forefront alongside Jason. Jordan finally found a meaningful role after flopping time and time again with both developments in FCW and NXT. He can now look past those days as he is now on the main roster of SmackDown Live along with his partner Betts, and the two are labelled as huge future stars in the company.
4 Bayley: Pamela Rose Martinez
Anything other than Bayley just doesn’t seem right following her triumph stint with NXT. Her connection with the crowd was something to behold and she is regarded as arguably the most popular wrestler to ever come out of the brand.
Obsessed with wrestling from a young age, Pamela Martinez couldn’t wait to make her in-ring debut. She began in 2008 wrestling for Big Time Wrestling under the alias of Davina Rose. Once she started with the WWE in 2012, Martinez pitched the name she used on the Indie circuit, but the WWE had none of it and changed her to Bayley. She began with a mask at a live event and later made her debut as an obsessed wrestling fan, playing off her actual real life ways. No one could have predicted that she would eventually mold into one of the most popular women in the entire company.
3 Sami Zayn: Rami Sebei
He began his journey wrestling for a small Montreal based promotion called IWS. Rami would find his footing under the masked alias of El Generico. As ridiculous as it might sound looking at him today with the WWE, the character gained huge amounts of popularity with various promotions including Ring of Honor which he used the name and gimmick to feud and partner with Kevin Owens.
With the emergence of NXT, Triple H looked for a veteran face to lead the way. Sami was the perfect candidate for the job. He debuted under his real name, Rami Sebei and took off the mask for the first time in a long while. The WWE would opt to keep his mask off while renaming him Sami Zayn.
For those of you who are curious, his name is in fact Arabic. Sebei is Syrian, although he was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec.
2 A.J. Styles: Allen Neal Jones
Ever wonder what the A and J stood for in A.J. Styles? Well, we finally have the answer for you. The initials come from his real-life name Allen Jones. So there you have it.
He seems flawless in the ring, but truth be told, Styles has done this for a very long time, since 1998 as a matter of fact. He made his debut for a promotion out of Georgia under the name of Mr. Olympia. He was later re-branded in 1999 to A.J. Styles, a name that would stick with the wrestling star for nearly two decades.
His body of work is simply phenomenal (no pun intended), he made his name known with Ring of Honor and then helping to put TNA on the map. In 2014, his career would take a dramatic turn as he would join New Japan and completely alter his brand becoming a dominant must-see heel as the leader of the Bullet Club. His stint overseas landed him a WWE deal, something many thought was no longer possible. Adding to his fairytale story, Styles is currently the WWE Champion and the best wrestler in the entire company.
1 Goldberg: William Scott Goldberg
Can you imagine Goldberg going under that dominant streak using the name William? No offense to William Regal, but that seems like a massive stretch. WCW wisely decided to change his name, calling him Bill Gold initially, which seemed pretty lazy and rather incomplete. Once he started to gain traction, the company officially changed his name to strictly Goldberg.
His career with WCW was groundbreaking to say the least. Although, once his streak ended, the company failed to keep his persona relevant as fans eventually grew tired of the star and changed the channel over to the WWE. His initial WWE debut was quite awful and largely forgettable. Thankfully, he was recently given a second chance and boy, oh boy, has it ever paid off with Goldberg spiking the ratings and getting standing ovations during each one his appearances. We don't believe this would have ever happened under the name of William Scott.
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