Much like celebrities, professional athletes are people we see every day. At least, if you follow a certain sport, you are guaranteed to see someone’s face almost every day. For example, if you are a basketball fan, there is no way you are going to go two days without coming across LeBron James’ face in a YouTube video or on television. That is just a given. With that in mind, just try to consider how often you try to picture what these athletes looked like before they were famous. Yeah, this is a tough exercise, isn’t it?
We get so used to seeing these people as grown adults performing ridiculous tasks that we, humble “regular” human beings, would not be able even to try that sometimes we forget these are people just like us. Well, not exactly just like us, but they were born from a mother, they have a father, they probably went to school, and they were definitely kids one day. Yes, these are human beings, and it would be good for us to remind ourselves every now and then that they are not aliens. For that reason, we decided to put together a list of 20 photos of professional athletes before fame that you will have a hard time recognizing.
20 Cristiano Ronaldo
Let’s start off our list with what might just be the craziest transformation of an athlete before and after he became famous. We are, of course, talking about Cristiano Ronaldo. When you see this guy on television today, you imagine that he has always looked as good as he does. Women have always lost their breath in front of him and everything else that goes along with someone being as handsome as Cristiano.
Well, it turns out that Cristiano was not always the handsome man he is today. Much on the contrary, even as he was already attaining worldwide recognition in soccer, he did not look anything like he does today. We are sure that he probably used the millions and millions of pounds he earned at Manchester United to buy cars and all that kind of stuff. But one thing that is guaranteed is that he spent some of that money going to the dentist.
19 Brock Lesnar
Most of the transformations athletes go through that we can see in before and after pictures are interesting to look at. But few are as funny as the one Brock Lesnar went through since his days as a middle school or high school wrestler to his days as a WWE superstar. Yeah, it turns out that Brock was always a big guy. Still, it seems like back in the day, he was not as muscular as he is today, which was probably a good thing for everyone who had to fight him at the time.
One way or the other, we cannot help but giggle every time we look at this picture. It is funny imagining how that tall kid right there would one day become the beast that is Brock Lesnar. Although we are sure that he was already destroying other people back in those days.
18 Tom Brady
This picture is just too good for us to risk putting it somewhere down on the list and you not seeing it. As much as people might hate him today, it would be hypocritical for a lot of guys to say that Tom Brady is not handsome. After all, it wasn’t just the money that helped him land Gisele Bundchen as his wife. Brady is a good-looking guy, and he has been one since we got to know him as a football player.
But here is a treat for all of the Brady haters out there. Tom wasn’t always the good-looking guy in his class. No, it turns out that when he was younger, Brady was this awkward-looking chubby little kid. Now, we just wonder how good he was at baseball these days. Our guess would be not good at all if his catching ability with a mitt were anything like him trying to catch a pass in the Super Bowl.
17 Venus And Serena
Venus and Serena Williams have arguably become the greatest duo of siblings in the history of tennis. And unless someone comes out of the blue and tells us that Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are related, we will stick to our assumption. By herself, Serena has already made a case for being the greatest female tennis player of all time. This woman won every single grand slam there is to win, and she won all of them multiple times. When we talk about tennis, most people start thinking about Wimbledon, right? Guess what? Serena won Wimbledon seven times.
Venus is also a force to be reckoned with as she has won Wimbledon five times. This is insane. Do you think President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, had any idea how great those two little girls they were posing with would become?
16 Anderson Silva
Like many athletes who come from developing or third world nations like Brazil, Anderson Silva did not have an easy childhood. Still, he eventually became one of the greatest fighters in the history of mixed martial arts. Anderson might have just been the most dominant and skilled martial artist to compete in a professional competition. But before all of that, he was that skinny kid on the picture working hard every day to develop and perfect his craft.
Coming from a low-income family in Brazil, his only worries were not only going to school and practicing, but he also had to work to help his family put food on the table. Anderson worked for some time at McDonald’s and even worked as a file clerk at one point. We are just glad that all his hard work panned out, and he became the success he is today.
15 Manny Pacquiao
Not many people can claim that they have literally become heroes for their countries. Still, that is exactly how the people of the Philippines look at Manny Pacquiao. The man has fought against everything. He fought against adversity, he fought against poverty, he fought against the crime-filled streets of his native land, and somehow, he managed to come out on top. So yes, Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest life examples sports has given us in recent times. It doesn’t matter how his political stances might rub people the wrong way; you at least have to respect what this guy has accomplished as an athlete and role model to a nation that desperately needed someone like him.
That being said, Manny is also someone who changed a lot from his young days.
14 Chris Weidman
We talked about how Anderson Silva became a great fighter despite coming from an impoverished background. Well, some would say that fate gave that life example a punch in the face when it decided that the guy who would put an end to Anderson Silva’s reign in the UFC would be a kid from Long Island.
Chris Weidman did not have to go through the hardships that Silva did, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have to go through hardships of his own. Anyone who rises to the top of any sport has to work harder than the guy who was number two. That being said, that hard work sure changed Weidman a lot even from his college days, as the guy on your far left (a two-time All-American at Nassau Community College) looks very different from the former UFC champ.
13 Lionel Messi
Since we already mentioned his bitter rival, it would be unfair of us not to talk about Lionel Messi on this list. Cristiano Ronaldo changed a lot from when he was a kid and even a young player to how he looks now. Nevertheless, his transformation is nothing compared to the crazy science-induced change that Messi had to go through. While he might seem bigger whenever he has the soccer ball at his feet, Messi is only 5’7” tall. Yeah, most of us are probably taller than him. And this was a big problem at the beginning of his career as he even had to go through hormone treatments to grow.
Yeah, if you thought that this guy was all natural and talent, you were wrong. There was a lot of science involved in turning that little kid into a five-time Balon d’Or winner.
12 Michael Phelps
There were a lot of reasons Michael Phelps’ mom decided to put him in swimming classes back when he was seven years old. But you can be certain that him becoming an Olympic athlete was not the first thing on her mind. Phelps was what some would call an “electric” kid. Yes, young Michael was one of those kids who made life hard for his parents because of the ridiculous amount of energy he had. Luckily for everyone, his mom decided that swimming would be the perfect way for him to disperse some of that energy.
It turns out that he was amazing at dispersing that energy, and just a few years later, when he was 15 years old, he qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Not only that, this monster finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly competition. The rest, as they say, is history.
11 Nia Jax
She might not look as different from her young self as some of the other athletes on our list, but we cannot deny that it is kind of weird to see Nia Jax doing anything other than wrestling. It is just because she fit in so well within the industry and so many fans love her that we have to wonder why this wasn’t the only thing she did her entire life. In case you were wondering what Nia did before her wrestling days, she was going to college and trying to find her way in life.
Luckily for everyone, it seems like she has always been someone who loved sports. So, even before she found her place in the wrestling industry, she was already bashing people inside the paints of basketball courts. She was a collegiate player at Palomar College in California.
10 Phil Mickelson And Ernie Els
Some of the greatest rivalries in sports have roots so deep that even the fans of the athletes might not know about them. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els are two guys who have been at the top of the golfing world for so long that it is hard imagining a time when neither of these two superstars will be playing the game.
The funny thing here is that even though Phil was born in the United States and Ernie was born in South Africa, the two of them have been competing against each other since they were children. This rivalry has given the world two of the best golfers of their generation. Ernie has four PGA major tournament wins under his belt. Phil is ahead of him by one with five major championship wins.
9 Usain Bolt
The world is filled with amazing athletes who have abilities that might even seem superhuman. But there are not many guys and gals in the history of the world who have managed to push humanity’s understanding of our abilities to the limit that Usain Bolt has. Before this guy became a sensation in the world of track and field, experts thought they knew how fast human beings could run and that there was a limit to that speed.
Well, then Usain Bolt happened, and everything everyone believed dissipated out into thin air. Before Bolt, the 100-meter record was held by fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, with 9.74 seconds. That was already a ridiculous number, but when Usain was done, the record was already at 9.58 seconds. And yes, that young kid leaning on the wall became the fastest human ever.
8 Steph Curry
Dell Curry was a good basketball player. He was a good shooter who contributed to every team he played in the NBA from 1986 to 2002. Hell, the guy was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1994. That is the kind of award not many players get throughout their entire careers. The thing about Dell, however, is that while he was a good player, his elder son became one of the greatest players of his time.
Yes, Dell Curry is the father of a man who is arguably the greatest shooter in the history of basketball. Steph Curry is still only 29 years old, but he has already clinched his place as a future Hall of Famer. Steph is a two-time NBA Champion, a two-time MVP, and a five-time NBA All-Star. You can be sure this little kid had big dreams, but we wonder if he knew how high he would soar.
7 The Bella Twins
Nikki and Brie Bella have become figures so tied to the wrestling scene that it is hard to imagine a time before these two were ever wrestlers. Well, guess what? There was a time before Brie and Nikki joined the WWE and became wrestlers. These two had childhoods just like any other person, but the one thing that might differentiate them from most people, aside from the fact that they are twins, is the idea that they loved sports no matter what.
A big part of being a wrestler is athleticism, and the people in the WWE are some of the most physically-gifted athletes in the world whether haters would like to admit that or not. A childhood in which you practiced a lot of sports is a key component to becoming a successful professional wrestler. For these two, the answer was soccer, which they played from a very early age. In fact, Nikki even continued playing at the collegiate level.
6 Sue Bird
When it comes to women’s basketball, you will have a hard time finding a better point guard than Sue Bird. A two-time WNBA champion, this 37-year-old lady has been dazzling crowds ever since she was a young girl, playing basketball in her neck of the woods down in Long Island. If you are familiar with Sue today, you can see how much she changed from her high school days. But, one thing that we are sure she always had was the fire to win and the unselfishness to be an amazing point guard.
We talk about Steve Nash and those kinds of guys in the men’s game when we think about great point guards, but in the women’s game, the number one name that will pop to a fan’s head is Sue Bird. After all, she was a three-time WNBA assists leader and selected as one of the top 15 players of all time.
5 Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin is someone who revolutionized the game of basketball. The game was already being played above the rim for quite some time, but Blake was someone who took that up another notch. We always thought that basketball players could jump high and perform amazing dunks during games, but it wasn’t until Blake Griffin that we really changed our definition of what was amazing. In terms of sheer athleticism, it is hard to compare anyone to this guy in his prime.
Griffin was so ridiculous at the beginning of his career that when we see him playing today, the amazing dunks he performs every night seem almost mundane because he made our expectations go up that high. That’s when you must remember that at some point, Blake was just a little human kid, just like this picture shows.
4 Conor McGregor
People who see Conor McGregor today imagine that he has always been the loose-lipped Irish character we see on television every time someone is trying to hype up a fight. But the truth is far from that. It is well-known that McGregor had a tough childhood, and he is the perfect example of a rags-to-riches story, but if anything, he didn’t look like a kid who went through much hardship. Just one look at this before-and-after photo can have your head doing laps trying to figure out how that smiling kid turned into the maniac so many people are terrified to step into an octagon with.
Either way, the picture is true, and this is what a young Conor McGregor looked like. That should be a good lesson for people who pick on smaller kids. They could eventually start practicing martial arts and become a maniac who will beat you up and take your belt.
3 John Cena
Get ready for what might be the craziest before-fame picture of a superstar wrestler. This little kid is none other than John Cena. Yes, this kid grew up to become Nikki Bella’s beloved. This kid would go on to become a three-time World Heavyweight Champion in the WWE. Oh yeah, he would also go on to win the WWE Championship nothing less than 13 times. Those are ridiculous numbers, but the most amazing thing is that we have to get through our heads that at some point, a kid as small and innocent-looking as this young John Cena could grow up to become a 6’1” 251-pound beast of a man who can pound and throw around guys who are even bigger than him.
Humankind is just amazing, and the transformations we go through as we grow old are nothing short of astounding.
2 Dwayne Johnson
Sometimes, we don’t even need to go that far back in order to see the kind of change a person goes through that makes it hard for you to recognize them. Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, is a perfect example of this phenomena. Even if you compare Johnson today to the beginning of his career, you will be astounded by the differences. First of all, everyone should be glad that he got rid of the moustache. It was weird and it should have never been there. We are glad that it’s gone, so let’s talk about something else.
Either way, Johnson is the perfect example of how working out can change a person’s body and even their face. Sure, we can see the resemblances, but it is hard to deny that he looks like a completely different person today.
1 Rafael Nadal
If you don’t know who Rafael Nadal is, you should probably start following tennis since it is an entertaining sport to watch, especially at the level that this guy plays. Nevertheless, the main reason we asked if you knew him is because if you don’t, you should stop right now and Google a recent picture of Nadal. Now go back and look at the picture on this entry. That is the crazy difference in appearance 16 years can have on a person. Back in 2002, that young Nadal was already a great tennis player and a force to be reckoned with. It was back then when he was just 15 years old that Nadal won his first ATP match, which made him the ninth player in history to do so before 16. Just one year later, he was already ranked among the top 50 tennis players in the world, and after that, it was all laurels and victories for young Rafael.