Wrestlers, like athletes in other sports, have a career that benefits greatly from getting an early start in life. Generally speaking, some of the best athletes around are ones who have been practicing their craft since they were teenagers or younger. In regard to wrestlers, I’d say the average age guys and gals get into the biz is around 20, give or take about five years. Meaning some, who go to college or attempt other careers, won’t break in until about 25, but others, mainly those who have it in their blood, might get in at 15, or even earlier in some instances.
However, once in a while, the wrestling bug doesn’t bite someone until quite late in their lives (or they exhaust all other possible career options), when most competitors are already in their prime, or even a bit past it. Sure, some legends end up sticking around until they’re well over the hill, but they already established their status decades prior, generally starting at an early age. For purposes of this article, we’ll define “started wrestling late” as age 30 or above.
Before we get started, I’d like to specify that this list excludes a few different types of cases. First, if someone was in professional wrestling for a while but didn’t actually compete in the ring until late (like as a manager, authority figure, etc.) – especially if they only had a somewhat limited role – they were not included. Also, if an athlete broke in late but didn’t manage to stick, they were left off too; this list is meant to impress, after all, and not just be a collection of novelties.
With that, here are the top 15 wrestlers who started wrestling late.
15. Gene Snitsky – 32
Gene Snitsky may not have the most successful wrestling career, but he did compete with the WWE for six years, on the independent circuit (mainly with World Xtreme Wrestling) for eight years, and had a brief stint with TNA in 2014. Snitsky has won five championships, but unfortunately, none were with the WWE or TNA. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that he didn’t debut until 2002 when he was already 32 years old? It’s possible, but it’s also worth noting that Gene has always been in pretty good shape. He played college football with the University of Missouri and was briefly a member of the Canadian Football League’s Birmingham Barracudas.
14. Bad News Brown – 34
Allen Coage grew up in Queens, New York and began taking Judo lessons at the age of 22. He eventually won a bronze medal for the United States in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The next year, Coage began training as a professional wrestler with New Japan Pro Wrestling. In October 1977, at the age of 34, Coage made his debut as “Buffalo Allen.” Coage wrestled with the WWE in 1978 and 1979 under his birth name, and returned in early 1988 as “Bad News Brown.” Although he was only with the promotion for just over two years, he feuded with big names like Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Hulk Hogan.
13. Rico Constantino, 40
Americo “Rico” Constantino spent the early part of his life attending Northwestern Military and Naval Academy, graduating at the top of his class. He then worked as a paramedic, police officer (and possibly a SWAT team member), bodyguard, and American Gladiator contestant. In 1998, Constantino trained with the Empire Wrestling Federation before getting discovered by the WWE, signing a developmental contract, and heading to Ohio Valley Wrestling. He debuted in the WWE on March 21, 2002 at the age of 40 and wrestled with the promotion for two years, before getting unexpectedly released on November 7, 2004. Ironically, Rico, now 54, is wrestling for a promotion called Future Stars of Wrestling.
12. Steve McMichael, 38
The fact that Steve McMichael didn’t debut in the WWE (or wrestling at all) until he was 38 is perfectly understandable, considering he was Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle for 15 seasons, amassing 838 tackles and 95 sacks. After retiring from the NFL, he became a WWE commentator, but moved into the ring after less than a year (with the help of trainer Terry Taylor at the WCW Power Plant) and debuted at The Great American Bash on June 16, 1996. McMichael feuded with the likes of the Dungeon of Doom, Jeff Jarrett, Davey Boy Smith, Stevie Ray, and the nWo during his almost-four-year wrestling career, eventually retiring in 1999.
11. Ernest “The Cat” Miller – 33
Ernest “The Cat” Miller isn’t as famous as a lot of the wrestlers he fought with or against during his time with WCW and WWE from 1997 to 2004, but he definitely still had an eventful career – especially for a guy who didn’t debut until he was 33 years old. Ernest played football in college and became a karate tournament competitor and instructor after graduating, and it was WCW exec Eric Bischoff (whose son was a student of Miller’s) who asked him to become a wrestler. The Cat went on to compete in Slamboree 1997, The Great American Bash, and the 2004 Royal Rumble.
10. Vic Grimes – 33
Throughout his career, Vic Grimes wrestled for All Pro Wrestling, Power Pro Wrestling, WWE, ECW, Xtreme Pro Wrestling, Wrestling Society X, and a few other independent promotions in California. He won seven championships (in APW and PPW) and famously survived several freak accidents in the ring. These feats are especially impressive considering the fact that Grimes didn’t start wrestling until 1996, when he was already 33 years old. He was never an especially fantastic wrestler (although he definitely had his moments), but Grimes also suffered a lot of bad luck, as numerous promotions folded while he was still employed by them.
9. Professor Tanaka – 37
When one saw the size (5’11, 280 pounds, and built like a tank) of Professor Tanaka, it was pretty obvious that he was born to be either or professional wrestler or a sumo wrestler – except not so much in the case of the latter, since Tanaka was not Japanese at all, but Hawaiian. Born Charles Kalani Jr., his first job was as a professional boxer, but he was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly afterward. Kalani served for 11 years and rose to the rank of sergeant before a discharge in 1966. The next year, San Francisco promoter Roy Shire asked him to wrestle, adopt a Japanese persona, and team up with Harry “Mr. Fuji” Fujiwara. Kalani wrestled for over 15 years, amassed 33 championships (including four WWWF tag team titles), and eventually retired to pursue acting. He appeared in 15 films and TV shows during his 14-year career.
8. Brodus Clay – 33
George Murdoch has gone by a lot of names throughout his career, and one of them, Brodus Clay, was actually a nod to what he was doing for work before making his wrestling debut with WWE’s Deep South Wrestling in 2006 at the age of 33. Prior to that, Murdoch was a bodyguard for Snoop Dogg – whose real name is Calvin Broadus – for four years. He has since been with WWE’s FCW (twice) and NXT, but has been with TNA since 2014 under the name Tyrus.
We’ll still think of him as the dancing wrestler called The Funkasaurus, which he used during his 24-match winning streak – which finally ended at the hands of Big Show in 2012.
7. The Boogeyman – 40
When The Boogeyman first broke into wrestling, he did so via the fourth season of WWE’s reality show Tough Enough in late 2004 when he was 30 years old – or so he said. In actual reality, Martin Wright was 40 years old, a full five years past the cutoff age of 35. Despite having already progressed to the final eight contestants, Wright was immediately cut from the competition, but the WWE nevertheless invited him to train with their Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental territory.
On June 25, 2005, The Boogeyman, at 40 years of age, made his OVW wrestling debut, followed by his SmackDown! debut four months later. Wright signed a legends contract with the WWE in November 2015.
6. Titus O’Neil – 32
When Thaddeus Michael Bullard was a kid, he thought he would eventually be an NFL player. He was an All-American in high school and played for Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators on a scholarship (and was elected class president his senior year), but never made it big, instead playing for four different Arena Football teams over four seasons. After a year off, Bullard signed a developmental deal with WWE, and eventually made his debut in 2009 at the age of 32 under the name Titus O’Neil. Although he was suspended for 60 days following a minor physical altercation with Vince McMahon earlier this year, O’Neil has been with the WWE for his entire seven-year career and won two tag team championships.
5. George “The Animal” Steele – 30
George Steele (born William James Myers) never thought he’d end up as a professional wrestler. He was an athlete in high school and college, but became a high school teacher, amateur wrestling coach and football coach after suffering a string of knee problems. It was only after he sought an additional source of income that he went into professional wrestling. First working undercover (as “The Student,” then George Steele), he was eventually scouted by the WWWF, and made his debut in 1967 at the age of 30. He wrestled for 21 years, but retired in 1988 due to a Crohn’s Disease diagnosis, having never won a championship. He was, however, a fan favorite at the time. Steele has made several appearances with the WWE since then, most notably in 1998, 2000, and 2010.
4. Goldberg – 30
When you look back on the career of Bill Goldberg, it’s actually quite impressive that he didn’t debut until he was already 30 years old – and even won Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Rookie of the Year as a 31-year-old in 1998. Goldberg also won four WCW championships, the WCW Triple Crown, and a WWE championship to boot. Then again, it’s not like he wasn’t already an athlete prior to beginning his professional wrestling career; Bill Goldberg played defensive tackle for the University of Georgia Bulldogs on a scholarship, was selected in the 11th round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, and also played briefly with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers.
3. Kevin Nash – 31
Believe it or not, Kevin Nash once had quite the basketball career. He was a center for the University of Tennessee for three years, and helped the team make the NCAA Sweet 16. After finishing his college years at Bowling Green, Nash moved to Germany to continue playing, but an ACL tear ended his career in 1981. He then worked as a military police specialist, Ford assembly line worker, and strip club floor manager before finally trying out for the WCW and making his debut on September 5, 1990 at the age of 31. Since then he has had a wildly successful career with WCW, WWE and TNA, even winning the WWE Triple Crown in 1994. He is still a member of the WWE today as part of their legends program.
2. Batista – 31
After working as a bouncer, lifeguard, and bodybuilder, Dave Bautista tried out at the WCW Power Plant and was told by Sgt. Buddy Lee Parker that he’d never make it in the wrestling business. Bautista then went to the WWE, who sent him to train with Afa Anoa’i’s school in the Wild Samoan Training Centre. He made his debut with Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2000 at the age of 31, and got called up to the big leagues two years later. Dropping the “u” from his name, Batista stayed with the WWE for 11 years over two stints (2000-2010, 2013-2014), and held the record for longest reign as a World Heavyweight Champion, but is now focusing more on his film career.
1. Diamond Dallas Page – 35
Prior to his debut as a wrestler, Diamond Dallas Page (born Page Falkinburg) was a nightclub owner and an AWA wrestling manager – but even that last job didn’t come until 1988, when he was already 32. Page made managerial appearances in the FCW, WWE, NWA, and WCW, where he finally became a wrestler after being trained by Buddy Lee Parker, The Assassin, and Dusty Rhodes.
The 35-year-old rookie made his debut in 1991, and has been wrestling ever since – amassing 10 championships with the WCW (three World Heavyweights, two U.S. Heavyweights, four WCW World Tag Teams, and one World Television Championship) and a WWE World Tag Team Championship.