A wrestler’s look is nearly as crucial as their other attributes when it comes to evaluating talent. There are plenty of skilled in-ring performers as well as charismatic wrestlers, but not everyone gets the look right enough to make it to the WWE. While the WWE does hold some shallow standards, like so many other entertainment platforms, it differs in some ways since they have characters. This means a wrestler has to be the right fit to efficiently portray that image.
Some may be lucky enough to immediately find the appropriate look, but the majority have to develop one through experience. For instance, we all know how different Steve Austin used to look before he took on the Stone Cold persona. At the time, he had already for WCW, ECW, and WWE yet the difference was drastic compared to his previous look.
Imagine the difference between their pre-fame looks as compared to now – it is even more than one would expect. Sometimes it could be the simplest of changes that make the biggest difference, such as hair color or style. But you also have those whose appearance significantly changed with age to the point where you wouldn’t recognize them.
Ranging from their teenage to early adult years, some of the featured photos are extremely rare and have likely never been seen by most wrestling fans. Others were taken during their days on the independent scene or while they were training to become wrestlers. With today’s list, we look at 15 Superstars that you won’t recognize from their pre-WWE days.
15. The Undertaker
Although he has had many phases during his illustrious career, we associate The Undertaker with his Deadman persona. It always seemed strange to think of him outside of his character and this photo taken in his younger years is the epitome proof. It goes to prove how important it is to have the right look in the wrestling business because The Undertaker above would have never cut it.
Like most Superstars, it was quite the struggle for him to find an identity as he initially struggled to establish himself with various gimmicks. During those days pictured above, The Undertaker had hoop dreams as he joined college on a basketball scholarship, but that didn’t last too long as he traded his dunks for chokeslams to dominate the next decades in wrestling. With The Undertaker returning soon to appear at Raw’s 25th-year anniversary show, you might have a different outlook.
We have gotten used to seeing Bayley in a certain light with an image that transported you to 80s wrestling with all the flashy colors. She didn’t exactly give you a Superstar vibe during her younger years although she has managed to become a prominent figure in the women’s division. She wrestled on the independent for several years before embarking on her current journey. Signed in 2012 for NXT, it took Bayley four years to make it to the main roster.
Like Sasha Banks, Bayley is another name who has always had an interest in pursuing a wrestling career after having grown up a huge of the WWE. Bayley has also been apart of the women’s revolution in WWE and has played a major role in improving the division. Not only did she capture the Raw Women’s Title, but she also became one of the most beloved faces in the company.
13. Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose has come a long way since his days as a pink-haired wrestler. Years ago, he tried out different styles that made him immediately stand out but not necessarily in a good way. During his time on the independent scene, Ambrose slowly developed a personality that would eventually flourish in WWE to become known as “The Lunatic Fringe.”
From 2005 to 2007, Ambrose had several tryouts for the WWE that either took place as dark matches or on lower-tier shows such as Heat and Velocity. He wouldn’t be signed by the company until years later when he penned a developmental deal in 2011, so it’s safe to say that WWE officials weren’t very keen on the pink hair. Since then, Ambrose became the youngest Grand Slam Champion and one of the most accomplished Superstars in modern times. I guess it’s a good thing that he changed his look.
12. Samoa Joe
Unlike many of his peers, it took Samoa Joe 15 years to be signed by the WWE. Although he trained with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton, Joe’s journey was significantly different as he wrestled on the independent circuit for over a decade. He has become one of the most dominant forces in WWE with the potential to wreak havoc for years to come. The photo above was taken in 2000 during his stint in OVW at a time when he looked much less threatening than he does today.
In fact, he resembled Jonah Hill during those years but he has developed an image befitting of his wrestling persona. Some rumors claim that it took Joe so long to be recruited to WWE due to his weight, as the company had different and shallower standards until recent years. A feud with Roman Reigns appears to be on the books for Joe and that should only help push him further up the card.
11. Kevin Owens
Since coming into the WWE, Kevin Owens has certainly had a strong impact by engaging in some memorable feuds, while winning several titles including the Universal Championship. He has also been a somewhat controversial figure due to his outspoken personality and his unique look. In previous years, Owens may not have been signed by the company since they greatly cared about a wrestling’s appearance with the entire roster being ripped.
The majority of fans have sided with Owens whenever he has been criticized for not being in top shape, but you also have those who are critical for that very same reason. In his younger years, Owens appeared to leaner than he is today and not as threatening without the facial hair. Known as Kevin Steen on the independent scene, he had made a name for himself before being recruited to the company to become one of the top Superstars.
10. Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt has possibly undergone the most visible transformation out of the newer crop of Superstars, going from a very generic and bland look to become one of the most interesting characters. Even during his earlier WWE days on NXT, Wyatt looked much different than he does today. While fans have been upset with the way Wyatt has been booked throughout his career, the recent interaction with Woken Matt Hardy may have given everyone new hope.
With his beard, fedora and unique attire, Wyatt completely revamped himself to become one of the most unique Superstars today. The tattoos certainly played a part in changing his image – assisting his transition from a forgettable character to the man with so many nicknames. Bray Wyatt is arguably the only newer Superstar with an overly unique gimmick, which has garnered him extra attention due to the lack of personalities in today’s WWE.
9. John Cena
Before John Cena became the biggest wrestler of his generation, he had a stint in OVW as The Prototype. You will be disappointed to learn that he had another look before he took on that of a rapper, marine and later on SuperCena. He had the look of a bodybuilder who also happened to be a hipster with the blonde Mohawk, it looked extremely bland and was certainly not one fans would remember for a good reason.
While the potential had always been there for Cena, it just wasn’t so apparent towards the beginning of his career. It took him some years to truly find a fitting character that would get over with the fans. Thankfully, Cena had dropped his Prototype act once he got to the WWE. If you happen to be interested in his development days, there is footage available on YouTube – but it may alter the way you view John Cena.
8. Becky Lynch
It’s mind blowing how different Becky Lynch looks without the red hair, which further proves how important it is to have the right look in wrestling. A brunette or blonde Becky Lynch may not have been as popular with the fans as she is today. Since coming to WWE, she has been one of the most impressive talents with one SmackDown Women’s Championship reign to her name.
Although she wasn’t signed by the company until 2013, Becky Lynch had been around for over a decade with her wrestling debut taking place in 2002. She certainly paid her dues by working for years on the independent circuit – many wrestlers give up at some point and never make it to the WWE, but Becky Lynch was persistent and eventually received an offer from WWE’s NXT brand. With her in-ring talent and distinctive red hair, she has carved out a place for herself on the roster.
7. Mick Foley
For as long as we have known him, Mick Foley has always had a distinctive look whether he was Dude Love, Cactus Jack or Mankind. What these three always had in common is long wavy hair and a significant amount of facial hair – from a full beard to a goatee. Before he became one of wrestling’s biggest stars, Foley looked unrecognizable in his younger days. Although he does look more built than we have come to know him, the short hair combined with the clean-shaven face make him look like an entirely different person.
With his previous bland look, he probably wouldn’t have achieved tremendous success at the height of wrestling’s popularity, but he developed many characters to establish himself among the best during the Attitude Era. During Foley’s last run with the company, he served as the Raw manager and parted ways with his long hair although he never got rid of the iconic goatee.
6. The Miz
The Miz‘s appearance has significantly changed since his first WWE appearance during the 2004 edition of Tough Enough, playing a major part in the way he is perceived by fans. During the first couple years, he was known for rocking a mohawk and not-so-fashionable shorts. Even during his WWE Champion run, he still hadn’t found a unique identity but that soon changed with The Miz suiting up and changing his hairstyle.
But The Miz has never been a stranger to television as he appeared in MTV’s The Real World back in 2001, years before he traded it for a wrestling career. He definitely didn’t have the look of a WWE Superstar at the time, if anything, he resembled those jobbers that WWE randomly uses from time to time. Thankfully for him, his fortunes have taken a turn for the better with The Miz being arguably the best heel in the WWE for the past two years.
Over the years, we have seen Batista in different looks from spiky hair to a buzz cut to clean cut to a full beard. His style has also changed in some ways, we have seen him rocking suits during his prime years before he adopted a more casual sporty look upon his last return. But we have never seen him with hair so long that he is nearly unrecognizable.
Due to the image of Batista that is engrained in our minds, one might even think that it’s a wig or photoshopped – fair assumption albeit a false one. In the photo above, Batista was clearly putting in time in the gym prior to his days in the WWE. While he was part of OVW alongside the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton, Batista had previously tried out for WCW but the future WWE Champion was rejected at the time and the hair might have played a part.
4. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is undoubtedly one of the biggest sex symbols in WWE history, there is a reason why you always hear women scream every time his theme song plays. From his early beginnings with the company, Hardy stood out due to his unique look that made him cool in every possible way. But it appears that he hadn’t always carried that same aura around him although one could argue that the haircut above simply didn’t fit him.
While some may not have any difficulty identifying him, the majority of people are more likely to think that Vanilla Ice is the one pictured here. The photo was supposedly taken in 1995 when Hardy was only 18 years old and already pursuing a wrestling career. He mostly served as a jobber for other Superstars before he came into his own along with his brother Matt in 1998.
3. Sasha Banks
We are all familiar with the Sasha Banks story by now after having heard it throughout many of her promos. She truly dreamed of becoming a wrestler at a young age with Eddie Guerrero being her main influence. And like so many wrestling fans, Banks used to attend various wrestling shows while also trying to meet her favorite Superstars. Even before signing with the company, she was pictured with some top names, including Chris Jericho and John Cena.
Being the first cousin of Snoop Dogg certainly had its advantages as she met the latter thanks to the connection between them. Since joining WWE, Banks has developed a personality to become known as The Boss, which helped her become a multi-time WWE Women’s Champion. But she didn’t always look as charismatic as she does now with Banks revamping her image to fit the character. It should serve as motivation for all people who dream of being WWE Superstars but haven’t found their niche yet.
2. Hulk Hogan
The photo above doesn’t exactly scream Hulkamania. The full hair completely alters Hulk Hogan‘s look and even his biggest fans may not easily recognize him. The clean-shaven Hogan is missing the signature mustache, and it’s a significant loss since it has become one of wrestling’s most famous trademarks. Inspired by Superstar Billy Graham, Hogan slowly transitioned into a new look that helped to push him into becoming the biggest wrestling star.
Hogan carried that same look for the majority of his career, adding a full beard during his heel days while also trading in the red and yellow to black and white. It’s a good thing that The Hulkster found a suitable look once given a chance by the WWE – his older look probably wouldn’t have made much noise. In the 80s, nearly every Superstar had a distinguished look and persona, making it the perfect opportunity for Hogan to capitalize on.
1. Nia Jax
Nia Jax is not like most girls as we have come to learn since her main roster debut. Being the cousin of The Rock, many believe that her connections helped her rise through the ranks at a rapid pace. She is currently one of the most unique talents in the women’s division despite not having accomplished much in recent times. Fans have criticized the company for misusing Jax and killing her momentum, which reportedly upset her to the point she nearly asked for her release.
While we are all familiar with her current look, she did look much different in her modeling days before receiving a contract by the WWE. For nearly a decade, she proudly promoted the image of a plus-size model and continues to do so in the WWE. Nia Jax has dropped the curly hair and found a suitable attire to portray her current persona.
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