Getting hired by the WWE is a dream for thousands upon thousands of aspiring wrestlers out there. Sadly, it isn’t always the cream of the crop that rises to the top. A lot goes into the recruiting process. One key aspect in making it is knowing somebody. This factor alone can turn a no into a yes; you’ll see plenty of examples of this throughout the article. If not for a certain someone behind the scenes, we wouldn’t be seeing the likes of Elias and Sasha Banks in a WWE ring these days.
A friendship and bloodline can also go a long way in getting someone recruited to the WWE. We also feature examples of that in this article. However for the most part, we focus on random names that helped to get these current stars a gig. It doesn’t get more bizarre than Triple H’s trainer Joe DeFranco recruiting a couple of wrestlers, or Rob Gronkowski’s dad putting in a good word about a certain someone. Even a certain performer who had a heavy influence on Cena getting recruited might surprise you.
Enjoy the article folks and like always, be sure to share it with a friend. Without further ado, here are 15 unusual names that got these WWE stars a job. Let’s get started!
15 John Cena - Samoa Joe
Logically, you would think that this one was the other way around but no, Samoa Joe was actually a crucial part in John Cena getting recruited by the WWE. Joe was actually his opponent during a tryout match and while Samoa Joe was labelled as still too young, Cena made the cut. During an interview with Jim Ross, Samoa Joe discussed the role he played in John getting a contract with the company;
"Actually, John Cena's match with me, the one that kind of got him hired with WWE, I remember they were there to look at John, obviously. He looked great, he was like the blue-chipper, and John was a good friend of mine, so I had no problem whatsoever helping him kind of highlight and do his thing. Hey man, he was a hard worker, man. He got it done, so after the match, I remember Jim Ross, head of Talent Relations at the time, I went up to him and I was like, 'is there any interest over here?' 'Ah, no, son. I don't think you're quite going to work out here.' Two years in, but it was cool because I was like, 'well, if I can't go there, I'm going to focus on all this other stuff. Where else can you make money? Oh, Japan!' So I focused on Japan, I got a contract over there, and the rest is history."
14 Braun Strowman – Mark Henry
Behind the scenes, Mark Henry is responsible for a lot of the talent we currently see. He brought in two monster wrestlers, both Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin. Not to mention he was a huge influence on Daniel Bryan finally getting the push he deserved. Yes, it seems as though the WWE Hall of Famer has a great eye for true talent.
Braun has admitted that if not for Henry, he wouldn’t even be in the spot that he currently is with the billion dollar company;
“Truth be told, I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Mark Henry. I traveled around the world doing strongman competition. That's the first time I met Mark, back in 2010 when I competed as an amateur. I introduced myself and said 'I've always been a fan of his in WWE and what he's done in the strength sports world.”
Henry discussed recruiting lots of wrestlers and he takes a great deal of pride in seeing those that he brought in thrive with the company. Here’s what Mark had to say;
"I feel like I'm paying it forward. It feels good to be able to look at somebody and go, 'Man, you're me 22 years ago; you can do this!' I find chunks of coal that have a glisten to them. They get to Orlando and [the WWE Performance Center coaches] start chipping away and chipping away. Next thing you know, 'Mark, there's a diamond under there. We're going to polish it up.' They do all that work. I appreciate the whole developmental process – coaching them, educating them and putting them out there to see if they can thrive. Every time I see Apollo, Braun or Bianca, Baron Corbin and other people I've helped foster, I gush. It gives a validation to my eye. I love it. There's nothing like it."
13 Elias – William Regal
“Shawn Michaels came to one of the tryouts I did,” Elias said. “He just said to everybody and I took it to heart that, ‘Hey, if the answer is no, that just means not yet.’ ”
He might be the hottest wrestler on the main roster at the moment but early on, nothing was guaranteed for Elias. Taking money out of his own pocket, Elias paid for several WWE auditions. He would attend a mini-camp and later, tryout for the company. Elias followed this path three-times only to hear the words “no” every single time. Wrestling since 2008, Elias was unsure he would ever make it. However, a call from William Regal changed everything.
Regal told Elias that he liked what he saw and that he would put in a good word with the others. A little bit after the phone call, Elias was offered a WWE deal. He’ll always have William Regal to thank for that.
His gimmick was made for the main roster. Elias had marginal success with NXT but once he made it to Raw, "Walk With Elias" became one of the famous catchphrases on the show. His singing segments truly are must-see television and he continues to enhance his reputation with the company on a weekly basis.
12 Liv Morgan – Joe DeFranco
Knowing someone within the WWE can make all the difference in getting hired. Whether it’s a family bloodline in the company or simply knowing one of the higher ups, it can be huge in getting a certain talent recruited. Well, Liv Morgan took a weird route. She trained at a New Jersey gym, and the trainer just so happened to be the same trainer that drives an hour to Triple H’s house on most evenings. Liv told DeFranco that she was a huge fan of the business and because of him, she was able to send a tape (which went directly to Triple H);
“I told Joe I was a huge wrestling fan, and that I loved WWE growing up. He took a chance on me, and gave me a really cool opportunity to work out with him. He sent my information along to WWE, which led to my tryout. DeFranco’s is still based out of New Jersey, so every time I go home I make sure I get in with him at the gym.”
Morgan isn’t the only WWE star recruited by DeFranco. Enzo Amore is another name that got an opportunity with the company due to Joe’s connections. Once again, Amore’s promo tape was sent straight to Triple H and well, like they say, the rest is history.
11 Sasha Banks – William Regal
Taking a look at The Boss, Sasha Banks, it was like she was destined for a career with the WWE. However, talent relation didn’t feel the same way. According to the rumor mill, Banks was seen as a generic talent early on. It was William Regal that went out of his way to get her hired;
“I don’t really like singling anyone out, but Sasha Banks. I’ve known her since she was 18, and the previous people that were doing what I’m doing wouldn’t even give her the time of day. When I was asked by HHH to be part of that team, of which there is nobody still here who was in the team at the time, I kept asking to bring her in, to which people replied ‘oh no, there is nothing in her, she’s useless'. Sasha was the first person I went to bat for, and her development is a great thing to see.”
Sasha is thankful for Regal’s influence. To this day she recognizes him as the biggest reason for her success;
"It's so hard to credit just one person for that because there are so many people who have come and supported us. For me, I'd say a really big one has to be William Regal. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't even have been signed to WWE originally.”
10 Mojo Rawley – Rob Gronkowski’s Parents
Knowing a famous figure your entire life can also help things along. Rawley and Gronk shared a long friendship since their youth;
"We all kind of grew up together, trained with each other, kind of coached each other along and helped each other out whenever we could. It's paid dividends for all of us, every single one of us."
With his NFL career done with, Mojo aimed at a career with the WWE. Who would have thought it, but his biggest advocate in getting the job turned out to be Gronk’s dad who contacted the company. Knowing his love and passion for the industry, Mr. Gronkowski got in touch with Mike Rotunda (aka IRS) who's working down in development. That helped to get Rawley’s WWE career going and he’s now already on the main roster despite his complete inexperience early on.
He also discussed the possibility of his good buddy Gronk joining the company as well one day, and here’s what he had to say about the matter;
"You take all those assets and just raw abilities that you have and you bring that here, it's kind of a recipe for success one way or another. He has a lot on his plate right now. Whether an appearance here in the WWE again comes at WrestleMania, or whether it comes to a WrestleMania five years from now, I'm sure at some point you're going to see him in a ring again."
9 Mike Kanellis – Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens signing with the WWE was unthinkable given his look, now just imagine that years after he signed he would also help in recruiting other talent. Knowing the WWE had interest in the Kanellis/Bennett duo, Owens wisely told them to hold off on a TNA deal with the company having interest in them once their deals expired. With Mike dreaming of a WWE contract, he chose to listen and days later, Regal called with an offer in place;
"We had talked to TNA and we were actually really close to re-signing and it was like maybe a, maybe a week before we re-signed where Kevin Owens reached out to us and he was like, 'what are you guys doing? I heard you are re-signing with TNA. I don't think you should do that. That's a stupid idea. You should come here.' And we were like, 'well, we're going to re-sign' and he said, 'I think you should wait off a week or so.' And when we saw him the first time at TV, he was like, 'aren't you glad you listened to me?' because he actually put the brakes on us re-signing with TNA. And we waited and that's when Regal had called."
8 Cedric Alexander – Triple H
Triple H is responsible for a lot of the great talent we see today. It was Hunter that personally contacted the likes of AJ Styles to get him onboard with the WWE. However, in this instance, it was truly bizarre to see the way Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander got his job with the WWE.
Following a dazzling in-ring display against Kota Ibushi, the fans let their voices be heard chanting “please sign Cedric". His road to the WWE was a difficult one as he shed so much weight just to make the tournament. In a shocking twist following his ring exit, Triple H came out and nodded to the fans. Alexander was signed to a deal shortly after. You won’t see anything like that again. Cedric commented on the aftermath of the bout;
"That really threw me off. I was already full of emotion from wrestling Ibushi – who, ironically, when we were doing interviews (for the show) that is the guy I wanted to wrestle. When the brackets worked out, that was enough to make me tear up. But hearing the crowd… my trainer, George South, used to say, 'Sometimes when you lose, you really win.'"
A shock to no one, he’s currently the champion of 205 Live, a show that’s being run by Triple H.
7 Titus O’Neal – Batista
Not only did Batista help get Titus a job with the WWE but he also convinced him to get into the business altogether. The two were close friends and it remains that way to this very day.
Titus recalls the influence The Animal had on making him change career paths and ultimately join the WWE;
“He (Batista) just used to talk to me about the good and the bad of the business. But he also used to tell me and try to encourage me to get into it because he thought I would be good for the business. And in return, that the business would be good for me. So I did explore the opportunity, and I’m very thankful that I did because it is something that I have an opportunity to have a platform to bless people all around with a positive message. As well as entertain people from all walks of life – all different types of backgrounds, races, s*xual orientation, etc. And it exemplifies—it gives me a chance to exemplify what I truly stand for which is really giving everyone an opportunity to not only enjoy entertainment, but also being involved in entertainment. And I think the WWE does a wonderful job of keeping the WWE Universe engaged through our various platforms, whether it be social media or through our WWE Network or through programming on television on a weekly basis.”
6 Gallows & Anderson – AJ Styles
Despite the success of Gallows and Anderson overseas, the WWE was only interested in AJ Styles. However, the duo wanted to move back to North America and it caused Styles to really force the issue during his WWE negotiations. Styles got the duo hired when he was barely even signed to a WWE contract. He recalls the process;
“[WWE] were like, well we’re just interested in you right now. I’m like, um OK. That same week they go, no, we want all of you. So it was like, yes! I didn’t want to pull them away and then get their hopes up and then oh, sorry guys, just kidding. So I’m so glad that they got to come with me and it made a huge difference.”
All three are now a part of the WWE and wrestling on the same show, SmackDown Live. When asked for advice on making it in the WWE, here’s what Karl Anderson had to say;
“I get a lot of guys asking me, 'What do I do? How do I get to the WWE, or how do I get to Japan?' The only answer I have is, you just have to stick with it. You just have to stick with it and be confident in yourself, listen to everybody and you just have to work hard. It's all I ever thought of.”
5 Kevin Owens – Triple H
If Vince McMahon was in charge of the hiring process down in NXT, to quote a wise man, there is simply, “no chance in hell” that Owens would get a WWE deal. He is super talented but given his look, McMahon would have likely looked the other way.
Triple H always had a soft spot for Owens and because of it, he was brought into NXT and shortly after, made his debut on the main roster feuding with the likes of John Cena. Owens knows that if not for Triple H, he wouldn’t be in the current spot that he’s in;
“He hired me. When I got my chance to be called up to the pros, the story I heard was that four or five people had a say in the decision. The vote was tied at two, and Triple H cast the deciding ballot. He gave me my chance. I appreciated that he was willing to risk signing me even though I'm not the typical WWE wrestler. Since I started working with him, we've become a lot closer. He helps me as much as he can for shows - like he does with everyone - but we both have young kids at home and we talk about a lot of other things that have nothing to do with wrestling. The fact that he's in my corner is what counts. I watched him fight when I was younger. I went to the Bell Centre to see him live. He's the one who motivated me.”
4 Seth Rollins – Evan Bourne
This one is truly surprising but it was Evan Bourne that convinced Seth Rollins to sign a WWE deal. Outside of the company, Seth was thriving as Tyler Black. He was the ROH Champion working with the likes of Austin Aries and Roderick Strong. Thanks to a nod from the former WWE Superstar Evan Bourne, he signed a WWE deal in the summer of 2010.
Although he’s arguably the best performer in the WWE these days, things weren’t the easiest for Seth early on. He grew frustrated that despite being the best talent down in development, others were being pushed to the main roster before him. Seth even contemplated quitting, however wisely, he chose to wait with a promise that he would be something special.
The wait was certainly worth it as Seth became part of one of the best factions of the modern era, The Shield. Once he turned on the group, Rollins really started to shine as a fantastic heel and dazzling in-ring performer. At the age of 32, it is clear that he’s well into his prime these days as one of the most over acts in the entire company. It wouldn’t shock us if he gets another Universal Title match at some point in 2018.
3 Nia Jax – The Rock
For Nia, being The Rock’s cousin certainly wasn’t a bad thing. When she told her aunt she was interested in working for the company, Rock suggested she join the Performance Center;
"Dwayne [Johnson] had heard about the Performance Center, and he said that I should try out to see if maybe that is something that I would want to do; to get in there and see how it is. I had a three-day tryout at the Performance Center," she said. "After the three days, Canyon Cemen (WWE Senior Director of Talent Development) said that we will get back to you to see if I get signed up or not. I didn't hear anything from anybody, but Hunter had contacted Dwayne and said that we were going to give her a shot in Orlando, so that was when I was signed," she revealed.
The decision has certainly paid off. Jax was fast-tracked to the main roster and she’s now the current Raw Women’s Champion. And oh, as if that wasn’t a big enough deal she’s now set to be Ronda Rousey’s first one-on-one match at the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV. I guess you can say things have worked out pretty darn well.
2 Alexa Bliss – Triple H
This one is truly odd due to the fact that Hunter is usually hands-on with experienced talent and not with those that take on raw auditions with no experience whatsoever. When Alexa got her WWE tryout, Hunter was on the panel and because of him, she was offered a WWE deal without going through a 30 day trial. Alexa opened up about the surreal experience during the Lilian Garcia Podcast;
“Went to the casting call, I walked in and Triple H was in there and I was like, “'Oh my gosh, you’re Triple H!' Like I totally had that fangirl moment, cause you know watching it and then seeing somebody for the first time and you’re just like, 'Oh my gosh that’s so cool!' So I just started talking and talking and talking about like these just terrible wrestling ideas I had. I was like, 'I want to be like The Great Kabuki, but with the Green Mist I want to blow glitter-I want to spit glitter out!' Just like all these kinds of things and I’m sure he thought it was a terrible idea.”
“And then I was told I made the thirty day trial after that which was you get in the ring for thirty days and you know, just learn as much as you can and they pick you from there. I got a call on the flight home saying I made it to the thirty day trial. I was super stoked and then I got a call a week later saying that I wasn’t going to the thirty day trial and I was like, 'Oh my gosh!' Canyon was like, 'We’re going to sign you.'”
1 Stephanie McMahon – Vince Russo
Now obviously Stephanie getting a job with the company had to do with her father. She worked at the HQ early on getting minor gigs in accounting and working the reception. However,
when it came to her on-screen life, it was actually Vince Russo who suggested to McMahon that Stephanie should appear on the program. However, the original purpose was to have her alongside the late Test in order to elevate him;
"Ed [Ferrara] and I knew all along where we were going with the Stephanie-Test storyline. It was never in question. Our plan all along was for Test to stand her up at the altar. That was the plan, and we were going to make Test a heel. And Test was gonna have an issue with Shane, and the whole family. That's where we were going. We never wrote a story we didn't know where the thing was going."
Russo also discussed that years later, Stephanie wouldn’t return the favor and because of her, he wasn’t given a second chance with the company;
"During that time, Stephanie was not there. I think Vince told her he hired me. I had one conversation with her, Bro. She was so freaking disrespectful to me," said Russo. "When she hung up the phone with me, I knew there's no way this is going to work out...She didn't want me there, Bro. Her and Triple H wanted the power."