It’s always fun seeing a star before they were a star. Many a Hollywood celebrity has put up with a talk show appearance that involves showing a clip of them in an embarrassing early role and laughing it off. Everyone has to pay their dues as very rarely is one a star instantly. That goes for wrestling too as many a person has had to put up with bad gimmicks and such before hitting it big. Mick Foley, The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H, they were all jobbers once. Even guys you know about today as big deals had their early stuff, including some WWE bits. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode have been showcased by brief stints in WWE back when they were starting out before they were major stars. So it’s easy to see an early guy’s work to marvel at their change.
But often, the appearances they first make in WWE aren’t in the ring at all. It can be as a background player in a skit or part of an entrance. It can be a brief bit on TV back when they were total unknowns. And sometimes it’s not on TV at all. It’s remarkable but thanks to how the Internet lets everything stay alive, you can track these down. Some cases are interesting while others are just hilarious to see how these folks got their first break in WWE. Here are 15 times a future WWE star was totally unnoticed in a cameo, some still unknown there and how one brief appearance leads to future stardom.
15 Edge and Christian at WrestleMania VI
You can be forgiven for missing this one as even WWE themselves would take a while to bring it up. WrestleMania VI is of course remembered for the epic clash of Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior that’s hailed as one of the best Mania main events ever. The SkyDome crowd was packed and hot, fans expecting this fantastic match. Among them were a pair of fervent young fans named Adam Copeland and William Reso. Copeland was a lifelong Hulkamaniac and seen on camera wearing a yellow “Hulk Rules” shirt and rocking a stylish mullet. Of course, these were the future Edge and Christian who cited this as a key decision to join WWE one day.
As fate had it, 12 years later, Edge achieved his dream of winning the tag titles with Hogan. Both men would be multiple champions and huge stars for the company, showing how being a big fan can pave the way for a bigger time in wrestling.
14 AJ Lee meeting Lita
Many have compared AJ Lee to Lita. It’s the attitude and skill, the punkish outfits, the way they take off being themselves. Both were skilled, Lita high flying and that lush red hair and tattoo making her stand out. Lee would be a good gal, a geeky lady at heart but won fans over with her 'crazy' character. As it happened, in 2001, a then 14-year-old Lee met Lita at a fan meet and greet. The future Crazy Chick openly sobs meeting her idol, crying openly as she thanks Lita for her help and success and lets her sign an autograph.
Lita is clearly moved by the adulation, giving an nice hug as a grateful Lee leaves. Lee cites this as a major push for her to get into wrestling where she would be a huge Diva champion and take off with her own attitude. Many a fan has wanted to meet their idol but few are able to follow in their footsteps as well as Lee did.
13 MVP as a cop
For a time in 2005, Kurt Angle had the gimmick of offering his gold medals up in matches. He built on it complete with the idea of marching out with the medals in a box and some police officers carefully keeping an eye on them. The cops, of course, weren’t real police but just backstage guys who fit the uniform. Among them was the former Alvin Burke Jr who, ironically, had spent time in jail himself for armed robbery. Turning his life around, he was making a go of it in wrestling and getting a shot with WWE in minor roles. Soon after his appearance on TV as a “cop,” he would get a makeover to become Montel Vontavious Porter and soon a big star as tag team and US champion. Ironic how playing a cop freed MVP to his future stardom.
12 Lita and Victoria as Godfather’s “Ladies”
For years, Charles Wright had bounced around WWE with some rough gimmicks like “shoot fighter” Kama and others. He joined the Nation of Domination and did okay as a worker, taking on the nickname of The Godfather. Breaking out on his own, Wright hit upon the idea of himself as a “pimp” character dressed like out of the 1970s. It took off wonderfully, fans loving how over the top it was as Wright would saunter out and even offer his “ladies” of “The Ho Train!” to opponents to win a match. It got him a run as IC champion and boosting up nicely.
The ladies were chosen as great lookers in hot outfits and among their number were two newcomers to WWE. One was a lovely redhead named Amy Dumas and the other a blonde named Lisa. Both ladies would become far more famous as Lita and Victoria, two of the most popular and successful Divas in WWE history. Amazing to see how these “hos” became good workers in a different way.
11 Stephanie McMahon as a kid model
Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, WWE had their own magazine to push stories, build up stars and even sell some of their shows. A highlight to many was the middle part of the magazine which was a huge catalog of WWE merchandise. Looking back, you can see fun stuff of action figures, posters, old video games and more to enjoy how many guys had their own merchandising stuff. The 2000s would enhance it by having the Divas showing off outfits in sexy stuff. Before that, you just had the typical model although, in a fun cost-cutting move, many were the families of WWE employees.
One catalog from 1988 shows a little girl modeling t-shirts, including one for Matilda, the bulldog companion of the British Bulldogs. That girl? Stephanie McMahon. Yep, the Billion Dollar Princess wearing a dog shirt and her very first appearance in a WWE product. Looks like she really did have the business in her blood to rise up nicely.
10 Tommaso Ciampa as a lawyer
It is remarkable how many times you see someone who becomes famous later in a low-level role in WWE. In 2005, The Undertaker was feuding with Muhammad Hassan which included the bit where Hassan had masked men attack Taker. However, this aired the same night as terrorist attacks in London and the backlash soon had Hassan fired. As part of the storyline, Hassan sent a lawyer out in a suit to deliver a restraining order and threat of action against The Undertaker. Taker responded by beating Thomas Whitney into a pulp. He worked with WWE briefly before going around and soon making a name for himself in ROH.
Hired back to WWE, Tommaso Ciampa teamed with Johnny Gargano to form DIY and becoming one of the hottest teams in NXT. Holding the titles, they had great feuds before Ciampa turned on his partner and while saddled by a leg injury, looks ready to return as a heel. It’s amazing seeing how different he is from that suited weakling to a major muscle man.
9 Brian Kendrick as a singing messenger
Singing telegrams aren’t as popular anymore but used to be a thing. This involved coming out in an outfit, often looking like a hotel bellhop out of the 1930s and doing a song while delivering a message. Brian Kendrick had been recently hired by WWE and in January of 2003, came out to deliver such a message to The Undertaker as part of a program with Kurt Angle. Naturally, Taker did not take to this very well and gave the poor guy a Last Ride power bomb.
Kendrick would bounce back as a low level guy before he and Paul London formed a tag team in 2006 and held the titles for almost a year. Kendrick then moved on as a singles star before being cut. But after years bouncing around the indies, Kendrick has returned to WWE in fine form, holding the Cruiserweight title and doing great with his work to deliver a new type of message.
8 Dean Ambrose as a druid
This was ignored for a bit but has been confirmed by the Lunatic Fringe himself. A major part of The Undertaker making an entrance at a huge show was him surrounded by some hooded and robed druids who would do chanting and often carrying torches. At the 2006 Royal Rumble, Kurt Angle beat Mark Henry in a poor main event, with some surprised this went on last. It turned out there was a good reason as The Undertaker made a surprise entrance on a chariot pulled by horses. Surrounding him were druids as The Undertaker waves his hands to cause lightning to collapse the ring around Angle. Among the druids was Dean Ambrose who had been doing work with a wild pink hairdo. Of course, Ambrose has become famous as a member of The Shield and WWE Champion, but it's still notable how he worked as an Undertaker underling.
7 Tye Dillinger as Stan
Tye Dillinger has been a standout star for NXT with his great drive and build. “The Perfect 10” caught on with fans with his good attitude and tough manner and that’s served him as a good star on the main brands. WWE even paid off on fan hopes by having him come out as #10 at the Royal Rumble. But Dillinger’s first stint in the company wasn’t that notable.
At Cyber Sunday 2006, DX was backstage, Shawn Michaels complaining about folks not voting for them. When Triple H suggested they weren’t seen as controversial anymore, HBK took exception. He went over to a tech guy with a headset and asked his name. When he replied “Stan,” Shawn gave him Sweet Chin Music and then yelled “See! I just kicked STAN! Don’t tell me I’m not controversial!” He then went around the hallway superkicking anyone in sight. Yes, that was indeed Dillinger as Stan with a full head of hair and no sign of the star fans would know.
6 DDP as a Cadillac Driver
Diamond Dallas Page is infamous as a late comer to wrestling. He was in his 30s when he started out as a manager in the AWA with a cool style to himself. He did a tryout as an announcer for WWE that didn’t lead to anything, not as confident as he would become. But he kept up with some stuff with the company, the most notable being him being the driver of the Cadillac for Rhythm & Blues. The tag team of the Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine wasn’t that good but pushed and at WrestleMania VI, came out in a full-scale Caddy for a big match and DDP was the driver, almost unrecognizable in dark glasses. It’s funny as hell as Page would then move to WCW to begin his rise to the top and be a much bigger star than a driver.
5 RVD Hassled by DiBiase
This is a bit famous but still notable. When Ted DiBiase debuted in WWE in 1987, he was given the gimmick of The Million Dollar Man and pushed to be as much an arrogant rich jerk as possible. Part of that was DiBiase offering a hundred dollars to folks for stuff like dribbling a basketball or such. The “fans” were mostly plants but every now and then a real one was picked.
At a show, a 14-year-d old named Robert Alex Szatkowski was picked out of the crowd and told he’d get a $100 bill if he kissed DiBiase’s feet. Showing himself a good sport, the kid got right down and did so and earned the cash. That kid hung around for a while before taking on a variety of personas like Robbie V. In ECW, he landed on a new name: Rob Van Dam. From there, RVD became one of the most popular and dynamic guys around, doing sensational high-flying moves and a multiple champion in ECW, WWE and TNA. Looks like that foot kiss went a long way toward building a career.
4 The Hardys as Door Openers
Matt and Jeff Hardy were lifelong wrestling fans to the point they set up their own ring in the backyard to practice their high flying. They finally got their shot in WWE in late 1995 with Jeff facing Razor Ramon in his first match. They were used as jobbers, nothing much else and the occasional backstage role. At the 1996 King of the Ring, they got on video but not for any matches. Rather, their job was to stand by the entrance doorways in “royal” costumes and open them for the wrestlers.
This included a fun bit where Ahmed Johnson was so fired up for his Intercontinental title match with Goldust that he burst through the doors, sending the Hardys flying. Of course, Matt and Jeff would wait a few years before becoming one of the best tag teams around and then singles stars so this really did open some doors for them.
3 Wade Barrett and Sheamus As Security
It’s a common thing for young WWE talents to be used in a variety of backstage roles before they hit it big. Often, it’s for the “security guards” utilized as various rules means real security can’t take part in some of the wilder scripted bits. Thus when you see security staff, it’s really just would-be wrestlers paying their dues. A key example is in 2006 when Shawn Michaels and Triple H were doing some of their usual DX hijinks at a show in London. The Coach, taking charge for the night, snapped about them and demanded security escort them out (although the two would keep causing trouble during the night).
Among the horde of guards were a then unknown Sheamus and Wade Barrett. Both can clearly be seen as they haul the two out before each was then pushed as a major star a few years later. So keep an eye on the “security” around to see a future star in the making.
2 CM Punk as a gangster
This is more famous thanks to how Punk himself has brought it up. Despite his fantastic work in ROH, Punk was still seen as a risk to WWE. Sure, he had skills but his tattooed looks and straight-edged persona were a bit much for WWE to handle. So he was put in some low level stuff to prove himself first. Among them was at WrestleMania 22 which was set in Chicago. Thus, WWE decided to pay homage to the city’s infamous past by having John Cena come out in a 1920s gangster car, with him were some jobbers dressed up in gangster outfits, complete with Tommy guns. That is indeed Punk among their number and his expression making it clear how much he hated this. Punk would bring this up during his big feud with Cena in 2010, slamming WWE for wasting his talents like this and how he felt the entire thing was incredibly stupid. So dumb to see but did pay off later on.
1 Sasha, Alexa and Charlotte as Triple H’s Harem
They are three of the best female wrestlers today. They helped put NXT women's wrestling on the map then led a revolution in WWE’s main roster. Sasha and Charlotte have had a sensational feud trading the Women’s title back and forth and Alexa has followed them as a fantastic champion in her own right. Yet all three had to make their WrestleMania debut in a unique fashion. At WrestleMania XXX, Hunter came out for his match with Daniel Bryan in a giant “Conan” look with robes and mask. The trio accompanied him dressed as harem girls with blond hair and masks which was why it was easy for them to not be recognized. It’s remarkable how different they looked and how these three models would transform into three of the best female workers around and prove you can’t just dismiss a pretty face.