Looking back at the development of our favorite wrestlers, most did not start off with the gimmick and look we would learn to love them for. Heck, take John Cena; the guy started off as The Prototype, rocking a look he’d win only a handful of matches with if he made his debut with the persona on the main roster. When you’re a rookie in the WWE and down in development, expect a lot of tinkering and experimenting. The 15 on this list are a perfect example of that as they were in a different place as rookies away from the main roster.
From Florida Championship Wrestling, NXT and even Deep South, these are 15 rookie picture that’ll make you cringe for the most part. Even “The Guy” Roman Reigns was in a different realm as a rookie and a long way away from being labelled as 'The Big Dog'. Some of the most absurd rookie photos will be examined in this article and for some, you won’t even be able to identify the wrestler.
From Jason Jordan’s afro to Roman’s Samoan kilt, these are 15 photos of current Superstars you wouldn’t even recognize as rookies. Enjoy the article and like always, be sure to share it with a friend, there’s no doubt they’ll get a kick out of this list. We begin with Jason Jordan who was a long way away from being presented as the son of Kurt Angle during his rookie days in FCW.
15 Jason Jordan
Before he was presented as the son of Kurt Angle, Jason Jordan was desperately trying to make it in the WWE’s developmental brands. Coming in with a background as an amateur wrestler, the company saw huge potential in Jordan. Believe it or not, he signed with the company way back in 2011, joining FCW.
His development was a long one and when the WWE transferred from FCW to NXT, his future looked to be in serious doubt; he had the look and in-ring skills but lacked the charisma needed. Enter Chad Gable and that would all change as the team would rock NXT and get promoted to the main roster. Obviously, looking at his rookie pic above, he’s changed quite a bit since his NXT days – just imagine Jordan rocking that afro on the main roster...
14 Alexa Bliss
Signing with the WWE in 2013, it took some time for Bliss to mold into the Goddess we see on WWE television today. She was slapped with some awful gimmicks early on as a rookie; the photo you see above was an attempt at making Alexa Bliss a trailer park-type character alongside Scott Dawson of The Revival – a gimmick rather reminiscent to the one of Jamie Noble and Nidia. Oh, how different things could have been for both of them...
That wouldn’t be it for Bliss and the lackluster personas, as she was also a Fairytale type Princess as well. She would finally find her way as the heel manager of Blake and Murphy, and the gig started forming her heelish demeanor. It wasn’t long after that she’d get the promotion onto the main roster and as they say, the rest is history. Bliss is already a four-time WWE Women’s Champion which is truly saying something given how little we’ve seen of her on the main roster (16 months).
13 Bray Wyatt & Bo Dallas
Looking like a bunch of wrestlers out of the 80s, things were very different for both Bo and Bray back in their rookie stints with the WWE. It was actually Bo who was considered as the one with the big time potential and the company booked him as such early on as he’d win both developmental World Championships as a three-time FCW Heavyweight Champion and one-time NXT Champion.
As for Bray, his potential would get exposed later on as he struggled out of the gate working in FCW as nothing more than a tag wrestler. He later joined Nexus but was once again nothing more than a background player. He would end up getting demoted back to FCW and once NXT launched he re-debuted his new gimmick under Bray Wyatt, the eerie character we know and love.
Starting off as a power-lifter, Rusev would move to North America in search of a potential career in the field of sports and entertainment. After taking on his initial training and working a couple of matches on the indie scene, Rusev would get the WWE contract he sought after. Appearing much different, Rusev began his rookie year under the name of Alexander Rusev, rocking the shaved head. Unfortunately for the Bulgarian Brute, his momentum was quickly halted with FCW as he suffered an injury putting him on the shelf for six months.
FCW turned out to be a nightmare as he’d suffer another lengthy injury upon his return. When the development rebranded to NXT, Rusev was also reborn, going by just Rusev, along with his “ambassador” Lana being placed by his side.
11 Byron Saxton
You might be thinking: "why in the hell is WWE color-commentator Byron Saxton wearing in-ring gear?" Well, some WWE fans tend to forget but Byron was actually signed by the WWE to perform as an in-ring talent. He would be signed way back in 2007 if you can believe it, adopting the moniker of Bryan Kelly, a play off of his real name.
He would end up getting switched into a role as a commentator, the one we see today over on SmackDown Live. He actually got a huge promotion early on, taking Jim Ross’ place over on the ECW brand. He would really get accustomed to his role with NXT playing a ring announcer and color commentator. He would ultimately get promoted to the main roster and has been a breath of fresh-air alongside Corey Graves as the two have a great rivalry at the commentary position.
Elias began on the indie scene taking the independent route early on. He started professionally back in 2008 and by 2014, he signed his first deal with the WWE. This rookie picture shows just how far off Elias was from his current gimmick and look, rocking a shorter head of hair as a rookie with the company. He served as an enhancement talent for most of his first year with the company, jobbing out to up-and-coming NXT talent.
In the summer of 2015, his Drifter gimmick was finally given the green light, though early on fans weren’t buying into it at all. In a weird twist, Elias would receive greater success with the persona on the main roster as fans grew invested into his pre-match solos. It’s a rare situation of a wrestler thriving when it mattered most proving that once again, NXT success means very little in comparison to main roster potential.
Would you believe us if we told you that Viktor from The Ascension’s rookie year in pro wrestling took place in the 90s back in 1999. Yup, the 37 year old has paid his dues and he’d finally reach the WWE level in 2011, joining the FCW ranks. Going under the name of Rick Viktor, the rookie picture above shows the Tag Team artist looking rather different at the time; he was also pushed as a solo act with FCW taking on the likes of former FCW Champion Seth Rollins.
He would continue on a similar trajectory with NXT, though once he would be rebranded to a Tag Team wrestler, Viktor really found his groove alongside Konnor as The Ascension. The duo would become the most dominant team in NXT history going on an epic title run. As we mentioned earlier, NXT success doesn’t guarantee anything and the team would flounder on the main roster.
Another wrestler that’s been at it longer than you might've thought, Fandango got his first taste of indie wrestling way back in 1999. He’s been in the WWE system for more than a decade believe it or not, making his WWE debut for Deep South back in 2006. He would adopt the name Johnny Curtis during his developmental debut.
The talent would ultimately partake in all three of the WWE’s developmental branches, staying on board when it transformed into FCW and later, NXT. He was crowned with the Fandango gimmick over on the main roster, a rarity we really don’t see anymore nowadays. The company had high hopes for the talent, so much so that he would win his debut match at WrestleMania against Chris Jericho. He would falter shortly after and has had limited success but to his credit, he remains a part of the program more than a decade later.
7 Big Cass
Following a short stint on the indie scene, Cass was signed to a WWE deal and reported to FCW. He made his debut under the name of Collin Cassady and as you see in the picture above, he looked rather different rocking the short head of hair and looking a lot thinner. Cass recalled his FCW days, making the claim that some wrestlers and trainers had told him that he’d never make it, well he’s proved them wrong that’s for darn sure.
Following the FCW struggle, Cass would get a fresh start with NXT forming a Tag Team with Enzo Amore. Alongside one another, the duo would take NXT by storm becoming the most over acts at the time. They never won the Tag Titles but when you’re that over, you really don’t need the straps. They would get called up onto the main roster, enjoying the same type of receptions. The group has since split but you can expect a reunion at some point down the line.
6 Scott Dawson
Scott Dawson’s story pre-WWE is truly inspiring. He worked the indie scene and contemplated leaving the pro wrestling industry following a Japanese tour. Starting a family, Dawson wanted a job in a more stable field. Just as he was ready to call it quits, an email was sent to him by William Regal; talk about timing, huh!
Dawson would report to NXT working as a tag wrestler alongside Garrett Dylan, who was later released by the company, leaving Dawson to fend for himself as a solo act. It might have been faith, but an injury would end his lackluster solo run and he’d return as a member of the Revival alongside his new partner Dash Wilder. We all know what happened next: the duo would take NXT by storm and despite being so darn heelish, they became an over act due to their brilliant chemistry. We can expect the two to hold Tag Team gold once they return.
5 Erick Rowan
It’s hard to believe, but after a 14 year long career, one can argue that Rowan is finally getting the biggest push of his career as one half of the dominant Bludgeon Brothers Tag Team. Erick was signed to a WWE deal back in 2011 joining FCW. His involvement with FCW was pretty scattered and his rookie photo above shows just how different he was at the time.
With the launch of NXT, so to would the company launch a new gimmick for the wrestler. He joined as a follower of the Wyatt Family alongside Bray and Luke Harper. The trio had a successful run in NXT and would continue the momentum onto the main roster. Bray had to most success while Harper also thrived at some points. Rowan was the forgotten one as he didn’t do all that much away from his Wyatt family members. The tide seems to be turning for him nowadays though, as he's reuniting with Harper on SmackDown Live.
4 Big E
With a background in power-lifting, Big E was a welcomed addition to the WWE developmental roster as the company had high hopes for the talent. Heck, just look at his rookie picture above, the guy looked like a damn juggernaut! He made his debut as Big E Langston and would go on to have huge success with NXT, winning the NXT Championship. His run with the developmental branch was short-lived as he was quickly called up on to the main roster, forming a duo with AJ Lee.
He continued to thrive as a solo act, winning the IC Championship. Though, it was in a stable where he’d really find his groove. As a member of The New Day, we really got to see Big E’s personality shine as the group and Big E became the most over acts in the entire company. When the WWE decides to cut the cord on the group, we can expect another strong run by Big E as a solo act.
3 Baron Corbin
The initial purpose for NXT was to train wrestlers like Corbin. The WWE wanted to take professional athletes and mold them into future stars with the help of the Performance Center and the NXT shows. Like most of the others usually do, Corbin began as an enhancement talent while looking extremely different compared to his look nowadays. Corbin had a babyface along with a short head of hair. Along with his work, his look has also really changed in the last couple of years for the better.
He spent nearly four years with NXT and that paid dividends right out of the gate as he won his first main roster match at WrestleMania, winning the Andre The Giant Battle Royal. He’s had even greater success on the main roster, winning the US Title and Money in the Bank contract. It’s only a matter of time till he gets crowned as the WWE Champion.
2 Jinder Mahal
Working the indies for eight years, Mahal finally caught the eye of the WWE during a tryout, in large part due to his size. His Indian background also helped and he was signed to a developmental deal with FCW, looking nothing compared to what he looks like nowadays.
Mahal had a tough time on the main roster, eventually getting booked as a lower tier act with the comedic stable of 3MB. He would eventually get released by the company and hit the indie circuit. It was a shock alone when the WWE resigned Mahal after a two year absence. Making matters even more shocking, Mahal would win the championship defeating Randy Orton at Backlash in 2017. Say what you must about his in-ring talent but in terms of image, he looks like a champion and appears to be an entirely different human compared to his rookie days (as you see in the photo above).
1 Roman Reigns
When Roman realized that a football career was no longer plausible, he moved on to the world of pro wrestling and man, what a good decision that was! He started off as a rookie with FCW back in 2010; the company tinkered with some ideas as you see in his rookie photo above. Just imagine Roman rocking the attire today... No. Just no. He would ultimately debut as Roman Leakee, rocking the plain black Speedo-like attire. He worked as a tag team wrestler during the bulk of his FCW run.
Roman would be booked as a heel act with NXT working as a solo wrestler. His run was short-lived however as in 2012, Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose were all called up to the main roster invading the Survivor Series PPV. A little while after, Roman would become the most pushed wrestler on the roster and he’s now regarded as “the guy” in the company.