In the world of professional wrestling, anyone who has decided to lace up their boots and enroll into a school to learn the tricks of the trade has the ultimate aim of getting signed by the WWE. That alone is a jackpot which many wrestling hopeful strive for and only a select few get a shot at being on the big stage.
For many of the current crop of WWE superstars, they may have hit that jackpot by being signed to a WWE contract, but not in the way they had hoped. The childhood dream of most of these superstars was to be in front of the bright shining lights of the WWE, not just as a bit player, but as a World Champion and the face of the company. Unfortunately there’s not much room at the top for everyone to be a franchise player and is dependent upon the backing of WWE management, timing, the support of the fans and a lot of luck.
While some stars were super fans from a young age who decided WWE was their calling in life that they would stop at nothing to achieve, others may have come from a rough and painful upbringing or had wrestling stumble upon them after their original goals in life didn’t go according to plan. Here we have compiled a list of 15 WWE superstars who may not be where they would like to be currently in their careers, they have overcome a lot of adversity to get where they are now on the WWE roster.
15 Heath Slater
The “One Man Rock Band” burst onto the WWE scene as an NXT rookie in the inaugural season of the NXT competition and while he did not win the contest, he made an instant impact when he banded together with his fellow NXT contestants and wreaked havoc on WWE as part of the Nexus. The stable didn’t last long and neither did a few other groups he’s been a part of like the Corre, 3MB and currently the Social Outcasts.
With his rock star style and charisma, Slater has made the most of his opportunities with WWE, often being relied on as comic relief. Though he may be floundering in the WWE mid card, he’s come a long way from his humble beginnings in Pineville, West Virginia as an only child raised by his mother, stepfather and grandparents. Slater started his wrestling training in 2004 and was signed to a developmental deal by WWE in 2006. Four years of paying his dues led to his official call up in 2010.
14 Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder’s career has had a lot more lows than highs but its through no fault of his own. After an insignificant stint as part of a tag team with childhood friend Curt Hawkins, Long Island native Matthew Cardona reinvented himself as Zack Ryder, a fist pumping party guy who gained a cult following with his YouTube channel and social media presence.
Ryder’s dream has always been to compete in the WWE and it’s a dream that very well could’ve been erased along with his life when he was a teenager. Ryder revealed in a 2016 interview with Michael Cole on WWE.com that in high school, he was diagnosed with cancer from a tumor in his foot which spread to both his lungs. After various surgeries and gruelling chemotherapy he would miraculously be cured. He has noted that what drove him during those trying times was his desire to be a WWE superstar and make it in the business. Ryder is passionate about this business and here’s hoping that one day he gets an opportunity to really show his value to the company.
13 Curtis Axel
Joe Hennig has come from a line of professional wrestlers—his grandfather was Larry “The Axe” Hennig who was best known for his work in the Minneapolis, Minnesota territories of the AWA and the NWA and his father was WWE Hall of Famer Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig. As a third generation superstar, Hennig had wrestling in his blood but unfortunately his run in WWE has not exactly been as successful as his father’s.
Joes’s early life wasn’t easy, his father spent much of his life away from home wrestling on the road for the WCW and WWE. Joe also had to deal with early loss when his Father passed away in 2003. Without the tutelage of his father, Joe Henning soldiered on with his dream to also be a successful WWE Superstar and after honing his skills in Florida Championship Wrestling, he debuted in WWE in 2010. After flopping as NXT rookie Michael McGillicutty, Hennig reinvented himself as Curtis Axel, a tribute to his father and grandfather. Axel was able to achieve a feat his father had done by capturing the Intercontinental Championship and while he’s not done anything of much significance since, there is hope that WWE gives Axel another shot at proving that he could be just as good as his father if given the opportunity.
Before he began getting the WWE universe to hum to his theme song as Fandango, Curtis Hussey trained with Killer Kowalski and worked the independent circuit before getting signed by WWE’s developmental territory Deep South Wrestling as Johnny Curtis. Fandango has cited that Shawn Michaels has been his biggest inspiration as a wrestler and after working on his skills in FCW, he’d debut onto the WWE roster to follow the footsteps of his idol.
Johnny Curtis spent considerable time paying dues as a rookie on NXT before the company repackaged him as a conceited ballroom dancer, Fandango. The character caught on early as at one point Fandango’s theme music became an internet sensation but since then he has fizzled out. The man behind Fandango is actually a lot more talented than his character gives off and hopefully, one day he can breakout as a legitimate superstar on the roster.
11 Xavier Woods
While he is enjoying some surprising success as part of the hilarious trio The New Day with Kofi Kingston and Big E Langston, Xavier Woods hasn’t been given his fair share of spotlight on the team other than being the comical third wheel. This is quite frankly an injustice to the talent and in-ring experience Woods brings to the table.
Woods is not your stereotypical jock who decided to get into wrestling as he actually has a double major which he obtained while at the same time training to be a wrestler. Woods obtained master’s degree in psychology and a bachelor’s degree is philosophy and is trying to be the first active pro wrestler who is actively working on obtaining a PhD.
Woods also has had a longer wrestling screen than his New Day buddies, having had a career as Consequences Creed in TNA where he wrestled for four years before a short stint in New Japan.
R-Truth is perhaps one of the most recognizable and longest tenured WWE superstars on this list, having had a previous stint in the WWE in 2000 as K-Kwik before making a name for himself in TNA under his real like Ron Killings. During his TNA run, Killings held the World Heavyweight Championship multiple times and was a main eventer for some time with the promotion with a serious side to him.
In WWE however, Truth has been relegated to being a comedic character who has only sniffed the main event scene briefly with a one-off feud with John Cena which is a shame given the his exciting talent and in-ring prowess.
Killings was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina in a rough neighborhood. Though he possessed natural talent which he used in athletics like track and field, and football, his family was poor and to be able to get by, his father and himself sold weed. This lifestyle would get Killings arrested but it would introduce him to wrestling promoter Jackie Crockett who met him at a halfway house and urged him to get into pro wrestling. Killings took Crockett’s advice which eventually led him to a career with WWE.
9 Tyson Kidd
Canadian Native and student of the infamous Stu Hart Dungeon, Tyson Kidd possesses a wrestling acumen and natural ability that got his foot in the door with WWE but after a few failed stints on the main roster, Kidd start to hit his stride in NXT and then a tag team with Cesaro.
Kidd unfortunately was hit with a bit of bad luck when in a dark match with Samoa Joe he would suffer a career threatening spinal injury which required extensive surgery and nearly took his life.
Kidd was a childhood friend of wrestlers Natalya, daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and son of British Bulldog, David Hart Smith, which allowed him to get close with the Hart Wrestling Family and enabled him to study in the Dungeon under the tutelage of Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith. Kidd would become involved romantically with Natalya and they recently tied the knot. It remains to be seen whether Kidd will make a comeback to the WWE and prove that he deserves a spot with the company.
8 Dolph Ziggler
A wrestler with the WWE since 2005, Dolph Ziggler has always been an underrated talent with the company. His athletic ability, in-ring experience and penchant for being able to “steal the show” has produced some great matches and moments but WWE has not been trusting enough of the “Showoff” to give him a run as anything more than a mid-card player.
Ziggler became a fan of professional wrestling at the age of five and it was after attending a wrestling event at the age of 12 that he decided to pursue a career in professional wrestling. Ziggler would stand out as a high school and collegiate amateur wrestler and won multiple championships.
Ziggler would go to Kent State University where he majored in Law. At the time of his WWE tryout, he learned he had been accepted into law school at Arizona State University, it was then he made the decision to choose to join WWE and the rest you could say is history.
The Great White Sheamus has enjoyed a decent career in the WWE, capturing the WWE Championship on numerous occasions, a Royal Rumble victory, the Money in The Bank briefcase as well as a King of The Ring tournament victory. However, despite the backing from the WWE management and attempts to make him a marquee star, the crowd has never gotten firmly behind Sheamus to warrant giving him the reigns as a franchise star of the company.
Sheamus was born in Dublin, Ireland, and was a natural athlete, playing rugby and football in high school and college. His imposing physique led him to briefly be a bouncer at a nightclub and bodyguard musicians like Bono from U2.
It was at the urging of Bret Hart that he got into wrestling and participated in WWE tryouts when the company was scouting international talent in London. This would lead to his signing to WWE in 2008. While Sheamus’ career has been a bit disappointing, he has enjoyed some significant success
Naomi gained recognition when she was featured along with her husband Jimmy Uso on E’s hit show Total Divas but in regards to her wrestling career, there is a lot left to be desired after debuting as a contestant and rookie on the women’s version of the NXT elimination competition.
After losing the competition, Naomi would emerge as a backup dancer for the Funkasaurus Brodus Clay. This was a throwback to her previous career serving as a dancer and cheerleader for the NBA team the Orlando Magic and serving as a backup dancer for rapper Flo Rida. With a phenomenal mix of beauty and athleticism, Naomi broke out as an in-ring competitor.
Naomi was never able to capitalize on her breakout success however due to injuries at inopportune times. Naomi has stated that she only has a small window to be successful in WWE because of her desire to settle down and have children. Here’s hoping WWE gives her a run or two before she decides to hang it up for good and focus on creating a family.
5 David Otunga
David Otunga had the look and physique to be a promising superstar on WWE’s roster especially when he debuted as a part of NXT, but his wrestling has been nothing short of disappointing, leading Otunga to give commentating and being a WWE on-screen panelist while also giving acting a try by starring in WWE produced movies.
Many may be surprised to know that before being featured on WWE television, Otunga took part in a reality show on VH1 called I Love New York as a bachelor looking to score a relationship with the star of the show. Outside of WWE, Otunga is an accomplished lawyer and fiancé to singer and actress Jennifer Hudson.
Though wrestling may not be his strong suit, apparently WWE sees some value in David to keep him around. Now with the suspension of Jerry Lawler due to domestic abuse issues, it appears that the company is grooming Otunga to be a new face in the commentary booth.
4 Tyler Breeze
Matt Clement (who portrays Tyler Breeze) is another one of those classic cases of a boyhood dream come true. When Matt was a child, he fell in love with wrestling on TV and his love for the business propelled him to try to make it as a wrestler himself.
The native Canadian broke into the business at the tender age of 19 in 2007 where he trained under fellow Canadian and former WWE star Lance Storm at his wrestling school. After wrestling in different Canadian based independent promotions he found his way to FCW, WWE’s developmental grounds before it became known as NXT.
While the Tyler Breeze “Prince Pretty” male model character is over the top, Matt backs up his gimmick with a seasoned wrestling background. Matt is certainly a student of the game and hopefully the WWE will give him something worthwhile to sink his teeth into as he continues to build his resume.
3 Bo Dallas
A third generation pro wrestler, Bo Dallas is a young WWE prospect who has been working hard to move up in rank in the WWE and prove himself to management. Bo Dallas’ is a product of the Rotunda family and grew up around wrestling; his father is Mike Rotunda, a WWE agent who was known in the WWE as Irwin R Schyster, his Uncles are the Windham brothers and his older brother is even a part of WWE as Bray Wyatt.
Dallas started out in developmental at 18 and after a few years in FCW, he moved over to NXT where he started to get noticed for his resilient in-ring work. His memorable run in NXT was capped by a reign as NXT Champion before he was called up by WWE as a motivational style character.
Unfortunately, Bo didn’t catch on well and served as a jobber to the stars and now finds himself in a stable of misfits called the Social Outcasts along with Heath Slater and Curtis Axel. While Bo isn’t where he wants to be at this point in his career, at 26 years old he’s still very young and has plenty of time to work on improving himself. Dallas will surely work his hardest to make Bo-lievers out of all of us soon enough.
2 Jack Swagger
With his size, look and impressive amateur wrestling background, Jack Swagger has all the makings of a bonafide WWE superstar. However, his run in WWE has been disappointing to say the least. An accomplished collegiate amateur wrestling champion, Jack Swagger at one point was lauded as the second coming of Kurt Angle. Swagger was discovered by WWE’s Jim Ross while attending the University of Oklahoma. Ross was head of Talent Relations at the time and suggested to Swagger to pursue pro wrestling after he graduated.
Swagger took up Jim Ross on his suggestion and after graduating with a degree in Finance he got into contact with WWE. Swagger was about to join a financial firm after his graduation but WWE offered a contract before he was about to start at the firm so he signed on with WWE right away.
After a successful first few years with the company where he captured numerous championships and had a brief stint as a World Heavyweight Champion, Swagger has since been relegated to being mid-card fodder for much of his career, partially due to unfortunate arrests and violations which hurt his standing with the company.
1 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns is currently the WWE’s pet project, being carefully groomed as the face of the new generation of WWE Superstars. However, with the corporate machine firmly behind him, Roman has been met with resistance from a vocal majority of fans who feel he is not the right fit to carry the company.
Roman is a part of the famous band of Samoan wrestlers, the Anoa’i family. His cousins are the Uso brothers and his brother used to be in WWE as Rosey. After a failed stint as a football player in the NFL and CFL, Roman decided to give pro wrestling a try and was signed by WWE developmental in 2010.
After a couple of years in the developmental system, Roman made a great impact as part of the faction known as the Shield along with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Roman was regarded by WWE management as the star of the group who would lead the company into the future.
Roman would break from the group and go on a successful singles run, capturing the WWE Championship on three separate occasions however the majority of the crowd refused to accept him as the poster boy of the company, criticizing his in-ring ability, his poor booking and mediocre mic skills as reasons why he’s unfit for the heavy responsibility of being the company’s golden star. Now with a recent suspension for a wellness violation, the WWE universe may be right. However look for it to be a minor setback and motivation for Roman to continue to develop into a WWE superstar worthy of being in the upper echelon for the company.