As more and more grapplers move into their middle aged or older years, while still refusing to hang up their ring gear, it’s becoming clear that pro wrestlers aren’t ones to let a little thing like age keep them away from the sport. Of course, athletes have a natural shelf life they don’t exactly get to choose, and some wrestlers are forced out of the ring by their bodies or WWE management long before they actually want to on a personal level. Luckily, there are endless jobs in professional wrestling both in and outside of the ring, and plenty former wrestlers ended up being very important figures in wrestling behind the scenes after they retired from active competition.
While a wrestler reaching main event status or at least getting near there is a sign they probably understand the business pretty well, there are also dozens of wrestlers with an incredible business sense, who just didn’t get that far in the ring for whatever reason. Some were smaller than the average superstar, or others simply found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time until the only job they could still perform when they reached WWE took place entirely backstage.
Wrestlers have become producers, agents, writers, booker, and even promoters, who shaped and changed the industry significantly more than they even could have in the ring. Plenty of extremely talented wrestlers who never quite got a big break have turned into some of the most important and steady trainers in WWE, creating more money through future superstars than anyone would’ve thought possible during their own time as wrestlers. Keep reading if you’d like to learn about 15 wrestlers with significantly more important jobs behind the scenes than they ever had during their wrestling careers.
15 Dean Malenko - Road Agent for WWE
Dean Malenko wasn’t as big as some wrestlers, and he might not have had the charismatic personality of a superstar, but there was little argument he was one of the best wrestlers in the world while he was competing. Malenko’s brother and father were both also wrestlers, with family patriarch Boris once so hated in his heyday that he was stabbed in the stomach by fans in Virginia. Dean never quite inspired that level of rage, instead choosing to quietly impress fans with his pristine technical matches against people like Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Jericho. Dean was moderately successful in ECW and WCW, where he won a variety of singles and tag team titles, but he never became a main event player, nor did he receive any significant world title shots.
Malenko quietly retired in 2001 and immediately became a producer and road agent for WWE. Malenko explains his own duties by saying he walks around backstage with a pen and paper thinking up as many notes as he possibly can to help young wrestlers improve their matches and style. Dean was such a minor presence that although he’s been utilized on WWE television plenty of times after his retirement to break up fights, he never gets named as a former superstar himself.
14 Albert - Head Coach Of NXT
Matt Bloom has been known by dozens of names, most famously in WWE as Albert and A-Train. As he went through his dozens of sobriquets he floated up and down the card, and occasionally hovered near the main event, but he never quite broke through on a major scale. Albert debuted in WWE as the piercing artist of Droz, quickly moved into T & A with Test, and then joined X Factor with X-Pac and Justin Credible. Basically, he was a career enforcer for partners who weren’t particularly big stars in the first place, either. Albert’s only championship success in WWE was winning the WWE Intercontinental Title for a few short weeks during the Invasion, and he quickly faded into obscurity stateside after losing that belt.
Albert had a pretty great deal of success in Japan, and when he returned to America and WWE, they hired him back ready for him to take a bigger position. His career had moved into its twilight, though, and his final run as Lord Tensai was disappointing for anybody expecting it to be his big break. WWE wasn’t willing to give up on Albert just yet, and they eventually hired him as a trainer for NXT and the WWE Performance Center. It wasn’t long before Albert was promoted to the position of Head Coach, essentially making him the primary teacher for anybody hoping to become a WWE superstar. He’s hardly working alone in this goal, and plenty of his co-workers have stories very similar to his. In fact, his replacement was even less of a big star…
13 Bill DeMott - Former WWE Head Trainer
Bill DeMott is best known these days for a training scandal we’ll discuss shortly, but he also had a 14-year career in the ring. DeMott’s first minor brush with stardom was in ECW as Crash The Terminator, and he started to become a slightly significant name when he joined WCW as Hugh Morrus. Morrus was one of the primary members of Jimmy Hart’s Dungeon of Doom and First Family stables. Still, the biggest moment of his career under this name was being the first victim to Goldberg’s initial undefeated streak. DeMott was renamed General E. Rection in a terrible joke that earned him the WCW United States title for a few months while that company died. In WWE, he was back to being Hugh Morrus, and now his most famous career accomplishment was being the first person Steve Austin asked, “What?”
Despite his lackluster career, DeMott became a full-time trainer for WWE. He started training for the developmental promotion Deep South Wrestling, but was fired amidst complaints about his style. He was hired back by WWE in 2011 and held increasingly high-powered training positions until he was named head coach in 2012. He kept the position until 2015 when he resigned amidst dozens of bullying allegations from his former students.
12 D'Lo Brown - Lead Agent Of TNA
D’Lo Brown was considered an extremely talented and charismatic wrestler during his time in WWE, but he never broke through to the main event or really even came close. Brown debuted as a hated member of The Nation of Domination, but through his magnetic personality he became one of the top midcard acts in WWE during the Attitude Era. Brown won the WWE European Championship four times and concurrently held the Intercontinental Championship once, but no world titles shots were forthcoming. Perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, he would finally receive a main event chance in the early days of NWA: TNA, but that run was short-lived, and he spent the second half of his in-ring career wrestling for independent promotions far away from TV cameras.
Regardless of the fact he spent years in the minor leagues, D’Lo was hired back by TNA in 2009 and instantly given the position of lead agent. D’Lo describes his duties at TNA as being similar to a movie director, acting as the liaison between the talent and the writers, helping everybody improve in the most efficient way D’Lo’s expertise guides them. D’Lo also had a significant role in TNA’s Gut Check program and talent outreach programs, overseeing the hiring and development of new talent. D’Lo left TNA in 2013.
11 Terry Taylor - WCW Booker And WWE Trainer
Terry Taylor was a highly talented wrestler with a brief brush with success in NWA during the mid-1980’s, but he quickly fell out of favor with the wrestling world thanks to a horrible gimmick that nearly ruined his reputation. Taylor exceled in Mid-South, UWF, and WCW, relying on his natural skills in the ring and eschewing any attempt at creating a character he couldn’t get over. When Taylor jumped to WWE in 1988, he was saddled with the career-killing gimmick of The Red Rooster, which saw him strut around the ring and cluck like a chicken. Taylor spent just over a year in the gimmick, before resuming bouncing back and forth between WWE and WCW. Fans would never support Taylor in the ring again, but he somehow recovered to become an extremely important figure in the history of every major American wrestling company.
Taylor first started working behind the scenes in WCW, where he was a road agent and booker. The full extent of his power isn’t clear, but rumors have implied he was one of the most important creative minds behind the New World Order take-over that helped WCW beat WWE for years. After WCW went out of business, Taylor was hired as the Head of Talent Relations for Total Nonstop Action, a position he held for eight years. Things have finally come full-circle, as Taylor now acts as a trainer for NXT.
10 Tommy Dreamer - TNA Agent And ECW Booker
Tommy Dreamer is famous as “the heart and soul” of ECW, where he was the focus of major storylines during nearly the entire history of the company. Despite being one of the company’s major superstars, Dreamer didn’t like to win titles, and as such he only held the original ECW World Championship for a few minutes before stepping out of the spotlight. Dreamer’s profile dropped significantly further once ECW went out of business, only participating in the hardcore division in WWE. Dreamer won the WWE version of the ECW Championship for a little while longer than he held the original belt, but the ECW brand was almost dead when he did so, meaning it was another minor accomplishment in a quiet, albeit dedicated career.
Although not a big deal in the ring, Dreamer was a huge deal behind the scenes his entire career. Despite his youth and inexperience, he was one of the principle driving creative forces in ECW, at times seemingly holding the unofficial position of second-in-command of the company. Dreamer didn’t get quite as much power in TNA, but he did end up as an agent for that company as well. Dreamer also runs his own company and wrestling school, called House of Hardcore.
9 Steve Keirn - NXT Trainer And FCW Figurehead
Steve Keirn was one half of the extremely popular 1980’s tag team The Fabulous Ones along with Stan Lane. Keirn did well for himself in regional promotions as a solo star, but after the success of The Fabulous Ones, he was branded as a tag team wrestler and stuck with no direction once Lane left the team to join The Midnight Express. Keirn decided to reinvent himself by signing with WWE and introducing the character of Skinner, a tobacco-chewing alligator hunter from Florida. Skinner is considered one of the worst gimmicks in history, foreshadowing the New Generation Era of dual-profession wrestlers that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Skinner somehow earned a shot at the WWE Intercontinental Title, but fell short of his efforts and never got another chance in WWE.
Things were better for the real Steve Keirn, who became such a respected trainer after his retirement that WWE was willing to base their developmental territory around his talents. Keirn’s school was the basis for Florida Championship Wrestling, which in turn helped form the foundation for what would become NXT. Keirn isn’t acting alone in the WWE Performance Center like he was at his school, but if anything, with more people helping the training, the insights of a minor star might actually teach something one of the other minor star trainers may not have thought to tell the students.
8 Norman Smiley - NXT Trainer
Norman Smiley started to become a minor star in America during the dying days of WCW, but it was a long journey for Screamin’ Norman before he received any notoriety. Smiley actually had his first brush with fame in Mexico, where he competed as Black Magic and won the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship. A brief stint in ECW followed, after which he spent the better part of four years in WCW. Smiley mostly acted as a dancing goofy comedy character, who also had a propensity towards screaming and running away should his opponents try to use a weapon against him. Naturally, this made him the longest reigning WCW Hardcore Champion. Smiley was out of work when WCW went out of business and would remain that way for several years.
Despite a brief career lull, nowadays Smiley is highly respected as the longest tenured coach of the modern WWE developmental system. This means Norman has had a hand in developing virtually every top star in WWE today. Roman Reigns, Big E, Sheamus, and Sasha Banks just make up a quick list of major names who Norman assisted in training. Banks has even referred to Norman as her favorite and most important trainer, and plenty of other wrestlers seem to echo the sentiment.
7 Tom Prichard - WWE Trainer
Dr. Tom Prichard was a brief success in the Texas area throughout the late 80s, and entered the national stage as a respected tag team wrestler in the early 90’s. In Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Prichard formed The Heavenly Bodies with Stan Lane, who was quickly replaced by Jimmy Del Ray. Prichard was the only team member to compete under the group name in SMW, WWE, and WCW, and he would come into even greater fame with his next major tag team. Prichard changed his name to Zip and joined Skip and Sunny in The Bodydonnas, and the group won the WWE World Tag Team titles at WrestleMania XII. Skip jumped to ECW after they lost the belts, and Prichard soon retired from the ring.
Once he moved backstage, Prichard instantly became one of the most important trainers in WWE. Prichard has been named as one of the most important trainers of super megastars like The Rock and Kurt Angle, and endless others have felt his influence over the years. Prichard was the main trainer for WWE during the Attitude Era, and he later returned to that position when they opened Florida Championship Wrestling. Prichard no longer works with WWE in any capacity, but his students still affect WWE in a major way whenever they make their presence known.
6 Johnny Ace - Former WWE VP Of Talent Relations
John Laurinaitis, or Johnny Ace, has one of the most unique career trajectories in professional wrestling. He was never a major star in the United States, and in fact his most well known stint in wrestling was as a member of WCW’s horribly maligned tag team The Dynamic Dudes with Shane Douglas. The Dudes weren’t very noteworthy aside from the fact crowds hated them in spite of their babyface status, so Ace left the country for Japan in the early 90’s and wouldn’t look back for nearly a decade. As minor of a star as he was in America, Ace became a hugely respected name for All Japan Pro Wrestling. He never won any major singles titles, but several of his matches against names like Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi were getting called some of the greatest of the decade.
After Laurinaitis retired from in-ring competition, he returned to America and quickly became the head booker of WCW. Laurinaitis replaced Vince Russo’s final stint, and as such he was the captain of a sinking ship, but that doesn’t change how important the position he held was. When WWE purchased WCW, they decided to keep Laurinaitis as a road agent, and he rapidly rose up the ranks in WWE corporate to become the Vice President of Talent Relations. He held the position for nearly eight years overall, before being demoted back to the still significant role of a road agent.
5 Kevin Sullivan - Head Booker Of WCW
Kevin Sullivan was a regionally famous wrestler throughout the 70’s and 80’s for his highly controversial devil worshipping character. Sullivan was sinister and scary in a way most wrestlers still are too sensitive to pull off, but those same uniquely evil qualities are probably what prevented him from becoming a major star as a wrestler. Sullivan eventually quieted down the more outwardly Satanic parts of his character and created The Varsity Club, a group of pretentious college wrestlers who felt their academic background made them better than the uneducated. Though they competed for the more popular NWA, Sullivan didn’t become a huge star through the Varsity Club, either. His turn in WCW as The Taskmaster lead to a feud with Hulk Hogan, but that was such a cartoony mess that Sullivan hardly felt like a big star.
Despite his questionable antics in the ring, Sullivan’s resume behind the scenes proves that people still have a great deal of faith in him. Sullivan was one of the primary bookers of WCW on multiple occasions, including the era he booked himself to feud Hogan. Not everybody opposed him, though—it was Sullivan’s promotion to the role of head booker that caused The Radicalz to walk out of WCW and jump to WWE.
4 Billy Kidman - Producer of Monday Night Raw
Billy Kidman was one of the most popular cruiserweights in WCW, and he didn’t exactly wallow in obscurity during his time with WWE, either. He held both the WWE and WCW Cruiserweight Championships on multiple occasions, and won tag titles in both companies with Konnan, Rey Mysterio, and Paul London. Kidman also engaged in a number of high profile feuds, including a classic series with Eddie Guerrero, and a much less classic series with Hulk Hogan. Despite a few brushes with superstardom, Kidman never had the personality to become a main event superstar, nor was he really put in the position to be one. His size and general lack of mic skills meant he wasn’t destined to be a world champion, but Kidman arguably had bigger duties in store for himself.
These days, Kidman is the head producer of Monday Night Raw. Kidman is responsible for plotting out match, interview, and segment lengths, and he’s the guy who tells everybody when it's time to go to commercial. Obviously, any McMahon and several corporate executives could override Kidman if the situation called for it, but the trust they put in his production skills means they rarely have to. He has been described as a modern day Gerald Brisco, and considering Brisco’s longevity and respect within the company, that could mean Kidman will be producing Raw for years to come.
3 Rene Goulet - WWE Road Agent For Decades
These days, Rene Goulet is probably only recognized by fans of the OSW Review Podcast as the weird dude who shows up at nearly every WrestleMania in the 1980’s, and who looks comically similar to the classic British children’s character Worzel Gummidge. Goulet was actually one half of only the second ever WWE Tag Team Championship winning duo, and as a long time respected employee, he fell into one of the more interesting positions in WWE history. Goulet was a jobber to the stars in an era that produced some of the biggest in wrestling, meaning he was one of the first men to lose to future legends like Ric Flair, The Iron Sheik, and Tito Santana. Despite decades of losing, Goulet was a company man who stuck around for a reason.
It’s not entirely clear when he first took the position, but Rene Goulet was a road agent for WWE at least until 1997. Goulet held a position to the one held by men like Dean Malenko and Arn Anderson today, helping put together live shows, mentoring new talent, and reporting to the McMahon family with updates on the state of their employees when the bosses are too busy themselves. Goulet was one of the first minor stars to become a major backstage presence, but he was hardly alone.
2 Tony Garea - Longest Tenured Road Agent In WWE
Tony Garea is probably the only road agent with a longer tenure than Rene Goulet, and it’ll be a long time before anyone can beat him. Garea debuted for WWE in 1972, and he claims he’s spent all but two years of his career with the company. Although never a solo star by any stretch of the term, like many people on this list, Garea wasn’t entirely without success. In fact, it could be argued Tony Garea was the first “tag team specialist,” winning the WWE World Tag Team titles on five separate occasions with four different partners. Garea first won the gold with Haystacks Calhoun in 1973, and went on to win them again with Dean Ho, Larry Zbyszko, and Rick Martel twice. Once his final championship partner Martel started to gain traction as a potential solo star, Garea wallowed in the singles division before eventually retiring from the ring in 1986.
For at least the past 30 years and probably more, Garea has been one of the most respected road agents for WWE. Garea has also made rare appearances as a WWE legend on television, but perhaps more telling than his rare acknowledged appearances were his regular Attitude Era appearances as an unnamed “backstage official” who would deliver big news to Vince McMahon, such as The Rock’s major return in 2003.
1 Pat Patterson - Vince McMahon's Right Hand Man
Pat Patterson is a bigger name than any other wrestler on this list, but we feel he still bears mention considering how current fans view him in relation to just how important he was. He started as a fiercely hated heel primarily wrestling in California, and formed a legendary tag team with Ray Stevens known as The Blond Bombers. Patterson is also famous as the first ever WWE Intercontinental Champion, and he had legendary feuds with future WWE Hall of Famers like Ted DiBiase and Bob Backlund. Patterson himself was one of the first entrants into the hallowed Hall, but it’s worth pointing out that aside from his feud with Backlund, he never came anywhere near winning any world titles.
Patterson briefly become a commentator, referee, and interview host after retiring from the ring, but rapidly rose to the position of Vince McMahon’s right hand man. Although the title was never official, Patterson has been referred to as the Vice President of the company, and Vince himself didn’t seem to have any problem with that title. Patterson has left the company only to return more than once, and he’s gradually stepping down from his positions of power as he grows older and nears full retirement. Nonetheless, his contributions to WWE and wrestling in general can’t be overlooked due to his comparatively minor time in the ring.