The WWE remains consistent on ushering the words, “New Era”. Although it doesn’t seem like it program-wise with some lackluster storytelling as of late, internally, in terms of talent, the company is undergoing a massive overhaul and one that is without a doubt new to the company. Looking at the recent signings and wrestlers that are thriving, the word “indie” is often associated with these names. Back in the day, the WWE was fearful in signing such talents as they emphasized homegrown names, however, that’s all changed today as the indie names are making the biggest waves in the company.
The likes of A.J. Styles and Austin Aries rubbed Vince the right way both in the ring and behind the scenes. Seeing their success, McMahon ushered in new talents and the company is now littered with wrestlers that have years of experience prior to their WWE days. What many fans don’t know is how different they looked while competing on the indie scene. In this article, we highlight that point with 15 new era stars you wouldn’t even recognize prior to their WWE days.
Share the article with a buddy and be sure to let us know your thoughts on how much some of these names have changed. Here are 15 new era Superstars you wouldn't even recognize before their WWE fame. Enjoy!
15 Aleister Black
Black is currently projected to be one of the quickest WWE Superstars to make the transition from the WWE’s developmental brand in NXT to the main roster. The guy is an absolute star who belongs with the big boys despite the fact that he signed with the WWE less than a year ago in June of 2016. The future is quite bright for the Netherlands native.
Little do fans know, but the 32 year old has actually been around for quite some time, starting his indie career back in the early 2000s. He was known as Tommy End during the first half of his career outside of the WWE and he spent the bulk of his run in the UK scene and wrestling for other European promotions. Look-wise, the kickboxer has come a long way as you see in the picture above which was taken from his indie days as a wXw Tag Team Champion.
14 Pete Dunne
Age 23, there aren’t many sports entertainers that can say they stole a WWE show at such an age. Well, it seems like Pete Dunne is a rare exception as he recently tore the house down at the TakeOver Chicago PPV, alongside his opponent, another young gem in Tyler Bate. Even in his early 20s, Dunne already has the potential to be a top of the line heel with the WWE. Please, oh please do not put this guy with the Cruiserweights, signed every WWE fan.
Despite his young age, Pete has already been training for ten years if you can believe it, starting off in 2006 at the age of 12. He made a name for himself on the indie scene and over in the UK wrestling for promotions like Michinoku Pro Wrestling and of course, Progress Wrestling. He’s come a long way already from that dude you see in the picture above.
13 Tyler Bate
From one young gem to another, we now switch our focus to another youthful sports entertainer in the highly talented Tyler Bate who’s only 20! You would be able to associate his age with the picture above but not with his current look, as he resembles more a performer in their mid to late 20s. His in-ring style furthers that point as he performs like a seasoned veteran and that’s been evident every time we’ve seen him in a WWE ring.
He made his pro wrestling debut in 2014 with Preston City Wrestling and man, did he ever pick up the craft quickly. He would move on to Chikara and later, grow in popularity alongside Dunne in Progress Wrestling. He caught the achievement of a lifetime recently winning the WWE United Kingdom tournament. Despite his recent title loss, his future remains brighter than ever.
12 Nikki Cross
No disrespect towards the 28 year old UK native, but with her current persona as a member of sAnity, she isn’t necessarily someone you would associate with good looks. However, this picture from the past indicates otherwise as she looks more like a model than a wrestler.
For WWE fans, Nikki seems new but truth be told, she’s been in the business since 2008 working the indie scene. She spent the bulk of her career working with the likes of Shimmer and even Global Force Wrestling. Nikki also spent a brief amount of time with TNA taking part in the company’s British Boot Camp. Eventually, she made the transition to the WWE succeeding in her tryout. Cross actually started off as a Bayley type of enthusiastic character debuting as Nikki Glencross, although she was later changed to the heelish character we know her as today with the sAnity faction.
11 Tommaso Ciampa
This one probably gets the award for the most shocking picture of the entire article, especially when you consider the fact that Tommaso’s prior look was actually showcased by the WWE a long time ago. Ciampa appeared on an episode of SmackDown way back in July of 2005 serving as a lawyer to former WWE star Muhammad Hassan. The segment ended with Tommaso taking a beating from The Undertaker, which really isn’t a bad gig at all. He worked a couple of dark matches after the segment but was later released in 2007.
Like several other success stories, Ciampa kept working at his craft despite the WWE release. He thrived on the indie circuit, particularly with Ring of Honor. Ciampa was welcomed back into the WWE system during the Dusty Rhodes Tournament and he was signed to a permanent deal shortly after.
10 Jack Gallagher
Still only 27, Gallagher has become one of the most over acts in the Cruiserweight Division, despite the fact that his booking hasn’t been the greatest. He’s known for his comedic antics but the guy can also go inside of the squared circle despite his young look. Jack is only 27, but he already maintains over a decade of experience making his debut back in Greater Manchester at the age of 16.
Gallagher spent the bulk of his career wrestling the British indies, joining the likes of Grand Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Zero1. He beat Pete Dunne out of all people to enter the tournament during a qualifier match in Progress Wrestling. He made enough of an impact in the CWC Tournament to earn himself a WWE contract. Gallagher is yet another example of a British wrestler thriving under the WWE umbrella.
9 Paul Ellering
The younger fanbase might not appreciate Paul Ellering as much as the long-time WWE fan. His role with The Authors of Pain isn’t all that significant, but his track record certainly is, managing the likes of LOD as you see in the throwback picture above. The WWE honored Paul’s career by inducting him into the 2011 Hall of Fame class. He ended up returning to the squared circle five years later appearing at TakeOver: The End as the manager of the larger than life Tag Team.
He’s managing two absolute beasts nowadays, but what so many tend to forget is the fact that Ellering himself was an even greater beast back in his day. Before stepping foot in a pro wrestling ring, Paul was an accomplished weightlifter, even breaking a deadlift record at one point in time of 338 KG.
8 Ruby Riot
Since the call up of all four Horsewomen, the NXT brand has tried revamping its Women’s Division. It hasn’t enjoyed the same groundbreaking success as of late, however, there have been a couple of bright spots, including Asuka, Ember Moon and, the female you see in the picture above, Ruby Riot.
Before she was converted to Ruby, the NXT women’s star was known Heidi Lovelace on the indie circles. She was actually signed to OVW at one point in 2012, but things never panned out on her first attempt. The young star made a name for herself with the likes of Chikara, Shine Wrestling and World Wonder Stardom. She finally signed with the WWE in early 2017, and Ruby continues to get great reactions by the fanbase. Still only 26, Riot has quite the future with the company.
7 Rich Swann
Known for his curly head of hair, Swann looks pretty far away from that look in this picture taken back in January of 2014 as he rocked a shorter head of hair. Swann had an uphill battle throughout his life, losing both of his parents by the time he was 16. Rich turned to wrestling at 14, already starting to train and by 2009, he was working alongside the likes of Drew Gulak over in CZW.
His resume pre-WWE was quite impressive, spending time with Dragon Gate USA, Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, all of which are highly respected indie promotions. It was actually Mark Henry who set up Swann’s WWE tryout and he’d go on to debut with NXT after he made the cut. Rocking a much different look nowadays, he’s currently showcasing his talents with the Cruiserweight Division over on 205 Live.
6 Andrade Almas
The prototypical WWE fan thinks of Almas as a decently talented wrestler that puts over others. However, what the common fan fails to recognize is the fact that Almas was a huge deal before his WWE days, working over in Mexico with Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre. He even spent some time working over in New Japan. As you see in the picture above, his look was also quite different as he rocked a mask prior to his WWE days. Still only 27, the wrestler already has more than a decade of experience taking part in his first bout at the age of 13, a month before his 14th birthday.
Since signing with the WWE, he’s lost his way a bit. The NXT brand eased him into the roster because of the language barrier and they also took off his mask because of his marketable look (without it). Almas might be a rare case of an NXT star that does better on the main roster (if he makes it).
5 Drake Wuertz
Yup, that’s right, even the WWE’s referees were former indie stars; it seems like WWE is getting everything but the kitchen sink from the indie scene. Referee Drake Wuertz wrestled under the name of Drake Younger throughout his indie days. He was mostly recognized for his brutal hardcore style of wrestling for the CZW promotion, alongside the likes of Dean Ambrose. Back in 2006, nobody on this planet would have predicted that he’d become a highly respected WWE official, and perhaps the very best in the entire company.
After a WWE tryout in 2014, he ended up making the company but this time, as a referee. He would take part in his final indie match before making the jump permanently. Looking at the picture, many fans would have a tough time figuring out that he’s a current WWE referee.
4 Drew McIntyre
That lanky, tall kid you see in the picture is in fact NXT star Drew McIntyre. Looking at him today, it isn’t all that hard to see that he’s filled out quite a bit ever since. Like so many others on the list, Drew began quite some time ago starting to train at the age of 15. He would go on to make a name for himself on the British indie wrestling scene.
It wasn’t all that long after that he caught the eye of the WWE. He was signed quickly in 2006 and deemed a very big deal by Vince McMahon who loved his size and overall look. However, things went south and Drew never met the expectations. It seems like his career went full circle as he rebuilt his name on the indie scene since the departure. He’s now back in the WWE for a second stint set to compete for the NXT Championship against Bobby Roode.
3 Eric Young
Eric Young is another “New Era” Superstar the WWE fanbase never expected to join the company. He was a TNA star throughout his career similar to Bobby Roode, starting his career in 2004 and finally leaving for the WWE in 2016. Eric was an iconic face with TNA and considered to be one of the founding fathers of the company. He won eleven championships with the promotion, but was ready for a shot at a WWE run late in his career inching towards his 40s.
The WWE completely altered his character and look as you see in the picture above from his days prior to the WWE. He’s now enjoying a formidable WWE run as the leader of the sAnity faction. It remains to be seen if and when he’ll get called up to the main roster.
2 Austin Aries
In the same boat as Young and Roode, the chances of Aries joining the WWE seemed to be quite slim taking a look at his resume that had TNA written all over it. Instead, the WWE would opt to sign the veteran and man, did they ever make the right decision. Because of his skill level and attitude, McMahon welcomed in more indie wrestlers. Aries made a decent impact with NXT during his short run, however, his persona really sparkled with 205 Live on commentary. Once he returned from injury, Aries became a popular face in the Cruiserweight Division battling it out against Neville, the same wrestler he’s still currently feuding with.
At the age of 39, Aries has changed quite a bit from his earlier days with ROH as you see in the picture above. He made his debut with the indie promotion way back in 2004.
1 Bobby Roode
It’s quite surreal to think that we're currently living in an era of the WWE that pushes former TNA World Champions. A.J. Styles is arguably the most over face in the entire WWE, while another former TNA Champion is leading the developmental brand down in NXT. Without a doubt, we're witnessing a New Era in the company and one we’d never thought we’d see.
Again, Bobby is another name that seems new, but really isn’t, at all. The veteran is 40 years old and actually started to train for his pro wrestling career in the late 90s. The bulk of his wrestling journey took place with TNA staying onboard with the promotion from 2004 till 2016. Leaving the company was a no brainer considering he won everything with the promotion. His decision certainly was not regrettable as he’s added at least another five years to his career enjoying the best run of his life under the GLORIOUS gimmick.