Many former and current World Wrestling Entertainment stars wanted to become pro wrestlers from young ages due to following the product during their youths. Daniel Bryan is just one example of somebody who fell in love with the business and pursued a career in the WWE as soon as he could following his high-school years. What’s amazing about Bryan is that the figurative door was shut in his face again and again, and he and what was known, at the time, as World Wrestling Federation first parted ways roughly 16 years ago. That didn’t stop him from continuing to aspire to become the best wrestler in the world and a performer worthy of one day working in a WrestleMania main event, and he ultimately achieved that goal to the delight of fans around the world.
While multiple individuals listed among the WWE stars who originally did not aspire to become pro wrestlers mentioned in this piece unquestionably have a passion for the industry and for the promotion, it’s worth noting they didn’t always foresee competing inside of the ring as their main objectives. Truth be told, two of the biggest stars currently featured in main-event storylines and on pay-per-view cards could’ve gone down different paths, as both enjoyed other legitimate sports before they ever stepped foot inside any wrestling ring as performers. The list begins with a woman who, intentionally or not, changed the future of the WWE two decades ago when she agreed to be more than just somebody working behind the scenes for the organization. By playing an on-air character, she evolved into one of the most important people in North American pro wrestling.
15 Stephanie McMahon
One might think Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, was always destined to become a pro wrestler and on-air character. That wasn’t always the case.
After graduating college, Stephanie took on a role as an Account Executive, and, while she wore plenty of different hats in the front office, she did not aspire to become a wrestler until the idea was suggested during the Attitude Era. Different interviews and podcasts over the years have claimed either Vince Russo or Jim Cornette came up with the idea of turning Stephanie into a performer. Imagine how different the WWE, and the industry, would be today had Stephanie remained only an executive and never worked with Triple H more than a couple of times in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
14 Big E
Odds are that Ettore Ewen, better known among WWE fans as Big E and a member of faction The New Day, probably hoped to make it into the National Football League as a defensive lineman. Big E attended the University of Iowa and played for the school’s football team on the defensive front, but injuries ended the big man’s football days before they really ever began at such a high level.
After he was finished at college, Big E, not too surprisingly, pursued bodybuilding, and he was eventually discovered by the WWE. Wrestling fans around the world would agree that Big E rocks, but we can’t help but wonder if he could have had the goods to feature on an NFL roster had injuries not plagued him during his younger days.
13 Randy Orton
Randy Orton may have always had pro wrestling in his blood due to his grandfather and father being in the industry, but the business wasn’t always in his heart. Orton joined the United States Marines after graduating from high school, but the man who became the “Legend Killer” quickly realized he did not want to dedicate his life to the military.
In the end, a bad conduct discharge ended that career and opened a new door. The WWE gave him an opportunity, thanks because of favors phoned-in by his father, even though he had no clue how to wrestle, and Orton, unsurprisingly, proved to be a natural in the ring and, in time, on the microphone. The master of the RKO is now one of the most successful pro wrestlers of his generation who will be in the WWE Hall of Fame one day.
Long before Lana became the “Ravishing Russian” linked with Rusev and an athlete who later trained to become a pro wrestler, C.J. Perry worked as an actress, dancer and singer who landed numerous gigs outside of the wrestling industry. Lana found roles in television shows and, eventually, in the movie Pitch Perfect, and she has continued to pursue acting opportunities as a member of the WWE roster.
Upon taking one look at her, it’s easy to understand why movie executives would want to feature her on the big screen and on television shows. With that said, we’re still not all that convinced she will make it as a pro wrestler before the company turns her back into a full-time manager, hopefully, again for Rusev. Not everyone can be a champion, after all.
11 Baron Corbin
One should give those responsible for writing NXT storylines credit for changing the Baron Corbin character into one who actually did not aspire to become a pro wrestler, but who, nevertheless, was selected by the company because he was a better athlete than so many who made their names wrestling for independent companies.
Corbin played college football at such a high level that he received looks from multiple NFL teams, including the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, but he couldn’t find long-term homes with any clubs before he signed for the WWE. Corbin somewhat flopped as a babyface in NXT, but he turned things around working as a heel who wanted to destroy smaller competitors. He still isn’t the best wrestler in the company, but he has become a star for the SmackDown brand.
10 Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke deserves credit for working to improve as a wrestler and a character during her days in NXT and, later, on the WWE main roster. One may not be all that shocked to learn Brooke did not always aspire to become a pro wrestler. She was a talented athlete at a young age, though, to the point she nearly made the United States Olympics gymnastics team. A serious ankle injury unfortunately ended that dream, and she found a new interest in bodybuilding and fitness competitions.
Then, as she once told the Miami Herald, a WWE deal somewhat “fell into” her lap. Brooke found a love for the industry training as part of the company’s developmental system, and she now features on Raw, albeit as a lower card act.
9 Samoa Joe
Close your eyes and try to imagine “The Samoan Submission Machine” Samoa Joe working as a mortgage broker. Believe it or not, that happened before Joe, one day, wanted to take a jiu-jitsu class. Per an interview he gave Total Nonstop Action Wrestling during his stint in the company, Joe liked watching pro wrestling growing up, but he was more interested in mixed martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championship when he yearned to get into jiu-jitsu. In fact, he even admitted he wasn’t sure he would enjoy pro wrestling when first asked to participate in a training session.
It’s obvious Joe found his true calling, and he won World Championships in TNA Wrestling and Ring of Honor before the WWE finally realized Joe belonged in NXT and, later, on the Raw brand.
8 Titus O’Neil
Long before he became the entertainer Titus O’Neil responsible for his own “brand,” Thaddeus Bullard was a defensive lineman with dreams of making it as a pro football player. Unlike the previously mentioned Baron Corbin, O’Neil did not receive real opportunities from any NFL teams, but he did spend several seasons in the Arena Football League.
O’Neil served as a journeyman from 2003 up through the 2007 campaign, which ended up being his last in the AFL. His pro wrestling career has had plenty of ups and downs since he first debuted on WWE television, but he is now a mainstay on both Raw and the 205 Live shows. The company seems set on making him both a manager and a person who can wrestle the occasional match, which isn’t all that bad a gig for the money he’s earning in WWE.
7 Charlotte Flair
Charlotte Flair, the daughter of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, was introduced to wrestling fans during a segment of World Championship Wrestling television as a teenager, and she worked as a personal trainer before she entered the WWE’s developmental system. According to an interview she gave to CBS Sports for a piece published in September 2017, she wasn’t convinced wrestling was for her until her brother, Reid Flair, died at the age of 25 in 2013 due to a drug overdose.
As heartbreaking as that was to endure, she decided she was going to make it in the industry as a tribute to her brother and also as a way to help her father cope with the tragedy. It didn’t take long, after her debut in NXT, to see Charlotte had the goods to become one of the greatest female performers the WWE has seen in decades, if not the best in company history.
6 Mojo Rawley
Wrestling fans know Mojo Rawley as one of the most hyped members of the SmackDown roster who happens to be friends with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Rawley signed with the Green Bay Packers in 2009, and he found a job as analyst for Merrill Lynch before the Arizona Cardinals decided to give him a shot.
It was not meant to be, however, as an injury sidelined him for roughly a year and a half before he realized he was not going to make it as an NFL star. He signed with the WWE in 2012 despite the fact that he had no wrestling experience, and he went on to win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33. Those believing his push has cooled should realize there’s still time for the 31-year-old to turn things around, possibly as a heel, beginning in 2018.
“The Princess of Staten Island” and “Ms. Money in the Bank” Carmella is the daughter of former WWE jobber Paul Van Dale, but that doesn’t mean wrestling was always in her future from a young age. Before she ever signed for WWE developmental, Carmella worked as a cheerleader for the New England Patriots, and she later found a position on the Los Angeles Lakers dance team as one of the famous Laker Girls.
Making the transition from a valet and manager to an active wrestler wasn’t always the smoothest for fans watching Carmella in NXT, but she has undeniably improved since her first televised match. It’s only a matter of time before the company puts either the Raw or SmackDown Title on her. She deserves a run with a championship.
4 Roman Reigns
Just because Roman Reigns is, like Nia Jax, a cousin of The Rock does not mean pro wrestling was his first love. As Matthew Byer of Slam Sports wrote back in 2013, football was Reigns’ true passion well before he joined the WWE. Reigns played defensive tackle for Georgia Tech, but no NFL team took a flier on him during the 2007 NFL Draft. He didn’t give up, though, and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League signed him in 2008 after both the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars cut him before what would have been his rookie year.
Perhaps everything worked out as intended, as Reigns signed with the WWE after his football career ended. He became one of the three members of The Shield, and he is now positioned as one of the company’s biggest and most recognized, not to mention most polarizing, stars.
3 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle has lived a fascinating life both in and out of the wrestling industry. Angle legitimately won a gold medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, supposedly with a “broken freakin’ neck,” and the talented wrestler and phenomenal athlete originally turned the WWF down to pursue gigs as an announcer in the Pittsburgh area after becoming a national sports hero.
He admitted, after the fact, he had an aversion to working in pro wrestling after proving himself in the real sport, but he eventually got over such feelings and signed for the WWF. As those who followed the industry in the late 1990s know, Angle picked up the business as quickly as anybody in history. All things considered, Angle may be the greatest wrestler, physically speaking, to ever work for the WWE. It’s true. It’s damn true.
2 Brock Lesnar
There is probably at least some truth behind the perception that Brock Lesnar loves the money that he makes from WWE contracts more than he loves the idea of being a pro wrestler. Lesnar, who won titles in the WWE and the UFC, once enjoyed a stint in the National Guard before he made a name on amateur wrestling mats and inside of rings.
Just think how different his life and the WWE would be today if he truly loved being in the military working with explosives before he embraced college life. While we have little doubt Lesnar would’ve served his country well and been an intimidating force for anybody opposing him face-to-face, we’re glad he entered the world of combat sports after his time at the University of Minnesota.
1 Braun Strowman
One could argue Braun Strowman is currently booked as the top babyface on the Raw brand and as the man who will eventually carry the Universal Championship assuming the company doesn’t once again try to force Roman Reigns as the “Big Dog” on that part of the roster.
Strowman pursued multiple careers before eventually landing in the WWE, largely because of his size and look, and it’s clear pro wrestling wasn’t his first love back in the day. He was offered an invite to the NFL Combine, but he never received any real consideration from teams due to lack of experience. Strowman also participated in strongman competitions until former WWE Champion Mark Henry introduced him to the industry. Too bad we’ll never get to see what could’ve been an awesome lengthy feud between Strowman and Henry in 2018.