The initial purpose for the WWE's state of the art Performance Center was intended to transfer the athletic abilities of an athlete into a sports entertainer. The WWE loves athletes and we've seen numerous examples of that in the past. Nowadays, the company is littered with those who have an athletic background; in truth, most usually have some form of athletics from their past. As you'll see in this article, the WWE is still walking down that road today in scouting for Superstars.
In this article, we examine some of the lesser known athletes both down in NXT and on the main roster. We've got a wide range of athletes, from football players to CrossFit champions to hell even a soccer player. What all these failed athletes have in common is the fact that they would eventually leave their respective sports and opt for a career with the WWE. All those involved on this list are currently employed with the company.
From Killian Dain down in NXT to Braun Strowman on the main roster, we've got a wide selection of former athletes on this list. Enjoy and like always, be sure to share the article with a friend. Here are 15 current WWE stars you never knew are failed athletes.
15 Killian Dain
The 32 year old is currently a part of the NXT roster and without a doubt, we’ll be seeing his talents on the main roster sooner rather than later. As of late, Triple H has pushed the sAnity member on his own, even recently taking part in a number one contender’s match for the NXT Championship. Given his size, look and athletic ability inside of the ring, he’s definitely one to watch in the future.
Before he trained alongside Robbie Brookside back in NWA Scotland, Dain actually had an athletic background.
He played in nets for a brief amount of time at the University level with his soccer team. Among other sports, Dain also played rugby till the University level.
Due to his love of pro wrestling from a young age, he would eventually put the sport on the backburner and pursue his dream starting way back in 2005. It took him more than a decade but he’s finally thriving where it matters most.
14 Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger’s road to the WWE was filled with trials and tribulations. He actually initially signed with the company way back in 2006, joining OVW. Following his lengthy developmental stint he’d join the failing ECW brand. Dillinger instantly became an after-thought and he was released from the company. He would go on to hit the indie circuit in 2009 and to his credit, would find himself back in the WWE in 2013. Dillinger struggled to find an identity once again but struck gold with the "Perfect Ten" gimmick.
Growing up Dillinger had two things he was passionate about: wrestling and hockey.
Of course growing up in Ontario, that isn’t too surprising. Dillinger pursued hockey for a decade till he finally let go of the sport for a career in pro wrestling.
13 Riddick Moss
A name that likely rings a bell, Riddick Moss is currently working down in NXT alongside tag team partner Tino Sabbatelli. Known as the “Gifted Athletes”, both certainly have the past credentials to back up such a statement. Moss thrived at the University level playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Once his stint was up in 2012, he attempted to get a tryout with an NFL team. He was successful joining the Miami Dolphins tryout camp, however he wasn't signed to a deal.
Due to a connection with Jim Ross, Moss would get a WWE tryout and sign with the company in early 2014. Looking at his current status down in NXT, the 28 year old has massive potential. The WWE loves putting wrestlers new to the business in Tag Teams early on; however, you can expect him to thrive once he’s off on his own.
12 Baron Corbin
Before the Performance Center became littered with talent from the indie scene, the initial purpose of it all was to convert athletes from other pro sports into pro wrestlers (or as the WWE would say, "sports entertainers"). Moss was an example of that but one of the very first recruits was Baron Corbin. Similar to Moss,
Baron thrived at the college level, even getting all-team honors. His college career got him a contract in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts after he went undrafted.
His career would eventually fizzle out, getting released by the Colts and later the Cardinals after an altercation took place on the field. Baron would leave the world of football for good in 2011 and in 2012, he would sign a deal with WWE reporting to NXT. The company was very careful with him early on and he’s now thriving on the SmackDown brand as one of the most natural top tier heels on the show.
11 Cezar Bononi
He picked up a massive victory against the current NXT Champion Andrade Almas, however, we haven’t seen much of him since. His record has been filled with losses as of late, surely the WWE is taking their time with the Brazilian talent who’s got some major upside. Billed at 6’7", Ceszar certainly has the look to be a top tier performer; it remains to be seen if his skills can sharpen up. His background is certainly unorthodox; it’s not everyday we find a WWE performer who has a background from the world of professional soccer.
Prior to hitting the indie circuit in Brazil, Bononi was playing competitive soccer with the Brazilian team Sao Storm.
Growing up in Brazil, it isn’t too shocking that he played professional soccer, however joining the WWE with such a background is a rarity.
10 Rezar & Akam
It's remarkable that the two have rarely lost down in NXT and became Tag Champions – yet they’re both only 23 and 24 respectively.
Starting with Rezar, he was a gifted MMA athlete before signing a deal with the WWE. Competing in six professional matches, Rezar maintained a decent record of four wins and two losses.
After his defeat in 2014 at a Bellator event, he would transfer his skills to the WWE. Akam was the more impressive of the two when it came to an athletic background.
He was a terrific collegiate wrestler winning a gold medal at the 2009 Canada Summer Games.
He just barely missed out in qualifying for the 2012 Olympics and thought of maybe giving the 2016 Olympic Games a try, though instead, he would opt for a WWE career after getting scouted by the great Gerald Brisco (who loves recruiting amateur wrestlers). Both have huge potential moving forward.
9 Tino Sabbatelli
We discussed his partner earlier and now we turn our attention to the second half of the Gifted Athletes, Tino Sabbatelli. The guy has the look of an absolute star in the making, though as of this writing, he hasn’t fully grasped his potential just yet. Breaking Ground gave us a rare behind the scenes look, showing Tino’s struggles. We’ve seen many in the past manage to turn things around and Sabbatelli’s hoping to be one of those wrestlers.
His football past is certainly more impressive than his short-lived NXT run thus far.
Tino was drafted to the NFL as a second round pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007.
Injuries cost him a spot on the team and he was released by the team in 2010. He would sign with both the Browns and Chiefs in 2010 and 2011, though ultimately he quietly fizzled out of the league and took a liking for the world of sports and entertainment, in large part thanks to his brother (who’s wrestling on the indie circuit; he’s known as Sean Swag).
8 Heavy Machinery
Both members of Heavy Machinery have an athletic background which shouldn’t be too shocking given their size and athleticism for being such big men. Otis seems to be the popular choice of the fans when it comes to which member is the standout; Otis can move remarkably well in the ring which is quite surprising given the fact that he ways over 300 pounds.
Otis has a background as an amateur wrestler, competing at the collegiate level. He was even considered as a member of the US Greco-Roman team for the 2012 Olympics,
though ultimately the team passed. Otis would transfer his skills to the indie scene and he signed with the WWE just a year later.
Partner Tucker Knight had a similar route as an amateur wrestler himself; he earned All-American status at the University level in 2011.
After graduating he was signed to a Performance Center deal with the WWE. A recruit since 2013, he’s finally involved in a significant duo alongside Otis.
7 Bianca Belair
Belair is just starting to be known by the NXT masses. Her breakout was qualifying for the Mae Young Classic. Not only did she appear in the tournament but she passed the first round, eventually getting ousted in round two by the eventual winner Kari Sane. She recently made her NXT singles debut in a winning effort defeating Lacey Evans. Still only 28, she’s got one heck of a future.
Before the WWE, Bianca was one hell of a track athlete thriving as a hurdler.
She thrived winning a plethora of awards at the University level for her athletic prowess. She would transfer those same skills in the world of CrossFit entering the field as a competitor, thriving in both the power lifting and endurance aspects. She was a staple of several publications, though sadly she put the career on the backburner due to a rib injury.
Following the injury Belair was actually spotted by Mark Henry. She agreed to a tryout with the WWE and was signed two weeks later.
6 Sonya Deville
A member of the Tough Enough cast, Sonya came in with a legit background in the world of MMA.
She started training at the age of 17 and took part in three professional fights with a record of two wins and one loss.
Once she joined the Tough Enough show, she would no longer pursue the field. Despite an early exit from the show the WWE saw huge potential in Deville given her MMA background as a legit bada**, something the company naturally loves. She showed brilliance down in NXT, though she was ultimately fast-tracked to the main roster just recently joining the Absolution faction alongside the leader Paige and another one of her Tough Enough alums, Mandy Rose. She’s shockingly 24 years of age and already on the main roster; you can bet Deville is going to be a future Women’s Champion one day.
5 Big E
Nowadays, Big E seems like a natural and someone that aspired to be a pro wrestler his entire life, however, that’s not entirely the case. Big E was a fan growing up watching his favorite wrestler Goldberg kick butt in WCW, though his real passion early on was power-lifting.
Big E was a top tier lifter smashing several records at the time. His bench, squat and deadlift numbers remain remarkable to this day.
He was eventually recruited by the WWE and invited to join FCW. Langston, as he was formerly known, was a huge prospect for the company even winning the NXT Championship. Similar to Brock Lesnar, despite his lack of experience in the domain, Big E was a complete natural from his in-ring abilities to his personality. He really began to display his full potential as a member of The New Day.
4 Braun Strowman
Perhaps the most over WWE Superstar nowadays, Braun Strowman is finally an example of a big man thriving on the WWE platform. The company has searched for such an athlete in the past, only for it to fall flat on its face. Once the WWE realized Strowman was something special, he was removed from the Wyatt Family and pushed as a singles act alone over on Raw. He’s now converted into a babyface and the 34 year old has future-Universal-Champion written all over him.
Like Big E, Strowman had no prior experience in the wrestling business, instead he signed with the WWE based off of an athletic background in power-lifting. Not only was he a championship caliber power-lifter, but he also had the personality which was a big reason as to why the WWE extended a contract his way. Without a doubt, they aren’t regretting the decision one bit.
3 Taynara Conti
The WWE has massive plans for Taynara Conti who recently competed in her first NXT match at the age of 22, if you can believe it! She’s got the look and heck, the athletic background to thrive in the field.
Conti is the real deal in Judo, earning a black belt. She even took part in the Olympic trials for the Brazilian team prior to inking a WWE deal.
She took part in numerous Judo competitions all over Europe and she became a four-time regional state champion.
Her credentials certainly speak for themselves. She interfered on behalf of the Undisputed Era in late 2017 which just goes to show how highly the NXT agents already think of her. You can expect a huge 2018 out of the youngster as a potential upper-tier female in the division.
2 Shinsuke Nakamura
Yes, the person you see with his hand held in victory is in fact The Artist, Shinsuke Nakamura.
While overseas in Japan, Nakamura also had a passion for MMA, taking part in five professional fights from 2002 till 2004. He finished with a record of 3-1-1 ending his career with a submission victory.
While taking part in MMA bouts, Nakamura was known as the Super Rookie in Japan. He became a household name with New Japan and at one time was regarded as top wrestler in the world. Triple H salivated at the potential of Nakamura joining the NXT brand and that's exactly what took place in 2016 when he joined the developmental brand. His NXT run was terrific and he’s now on the main roster in search of his first WWE Championship. He might get a crack at it sooner rather than later with rumors swirling about a possible encounter against A.J. Styles.
1 Enzo Amore
We close out the article with a WWE Superstar that many would not regard as an athlete. It's not everyday that someone can have 'a football player', 'Hooters manager' and 'WWE Superstar', all on their resume; without a doubt Enzo is the first in WWE history to achieve such an accomplishment.
All jokes aside, he does have an athletic background. Amore played football in high school and continued on at Salisbury University playing in Division III. Amore was a linebacker and safety for his team playing two seasons. Another shocking confession stated by Amore himself - he also earned a degree in journalism.
Thanks to a connection with Triple H's trainer Joe DeFranco, Hunter was given footage of Amore reciting a promo. He got a tryout due to his mouth and eventually earned himself an improbable deal. Looking at his current status with the company, you can't argue his draw capabilities.