Having the right look is very important for a WWE wrestler. For example, there's no way you would have thought Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels had the makings of singles stars dressed the way they were as The Rockers, but as Michaels went solo, became the Heartbreak Kid we now know today, and thoroughly revamped his appearance, he went on to look the part of a main event star. Then again, there are the likes of Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens, who don't look the part if you ask many an old-timer, but have nonetheless enjoyed tremendous success in WWE. Still, we can say that having a well-defined look, while not as important as talent, charisma, and having the right attitude, is more often than not a key ingredient in the recipe of main event stardom.
Looking at today's current crop of WWE Superstars, it's interesting to see how many have evolved so much in terms of their look, from their days in the indies to their days in the big time. But there are also a few who've hardly changed through the years, and are oftentimes better for it. Today, we shall be checking how things have changed (or not changed) for some of these Superstars, discussing how they look like right now and how they looked like in the indie scene.
Important note: When talking about the indie scene, we will not be including WWE's former and current developmental territories, meaning we won't count how a wrestler appeared when he or she was competing in NXT, or in previous years, OVW, FCW, or any other WWE developmental promotion.
16 LUKE HARPER
It's whatever day it is today. You know what that means. We may never know what Luke Harper means with his Twitter catchphrase, but we do know that he's one of WWE's most underrated big men. He debuted on the main roster just one year after signing with WWE in 2012, and we sure hope to see him break out and be more than just Bray Wyatt's former Family member.
There isn’t much separating the look of Chikara, ROH, and Jersey All Pro Wrestling standout Brodie Lee from the look of ex-Wyatt Family member Luke Harper. Everything’s still in place – the long black hair (which was a bit longer in the indies), the thick black beard, the usual getup of untucked white tank and blue jeans. But if you want to see a radically-different version of Lee/Harper, you can search for “Luke Harper high school” on Google Images, upon which you’ll see the circa-1997/1998 yearbook photo of one Johnathan Huber (his real name).
15 BECKY LYNCH
Compared to the average women’s wrestler in WWE, Becky Lynch has one of the more unique looks on the current roster, with her flame-red hair and her steampunk-inspired ring costumes. And the fact that she’s getting a good push on SmackDown Live is a long time coming, being that she’s been in the wrestling business since 2002, when she was just 15 years old.
We’d almost like to include the “Hey, look at me! I’m Irish!” green get-up she wore upon her NXT debut. You know, the one where she did a Riverdance-inspired jig en route to the ring. But since we mentioned that we naturally don’t count WWE developmental among “the indies,” we’d rather focus on how Lynch looked like while using the name Rebecca Knox in Shimmer. Aside from wearing more revealing outfits than what she currently wears in the WWE ring, she wore her hair much shorter for most of her time in Shimmer. Plus, she looked rather business-like in 2011 when she returned to manage the mother-and-daughter team of Sweet Saraya and Britani Knight, a.k.a. the wrestler soon to be known as Paige.
14 CURT HAWKINS AND ZACK RYDER
We wonder why WWE even bothered with bringing back Curt Hawkins, except maybe so SmackDown Live would have a low man on its totem pole. Furthermore, his weird haircut and ring attire is such a departure from the generic, long-haired look he had for most of his previous WWE run. His real-life friend Zack Ryder, on the other hand, has been taking care and (previously) spiking his hair since he cut it short in 2009, and has, in recent years, been rocking a full beard. Changing looks, but until last year's mini-renaissance and subsequent injury, same old lower-card push for Long Island Iced Z.
Hawkins and Ryder go back quite a long way to their indie days in their home state of New York. In 2004, they were both 19 years old, with Hawkins using his real name Brian Myers and Ryder (a.k.a. Matthew Brett Cardona in real life) reversing his first and middle name and going by Brett Matthews. Both appeared to be rocking a bro-ish look and gimmick when they won the New York Wrestling Connection Tag Team titles in June 2005, though they both grew out their hair by the time they joined WWE’s main roster in 2007 as Brian and Brett, the Majors Brothers.
Even with the success of his “odd couple” tag team with Sheamus, so many smart fans feel Cesaro deserves a lot more in WWE. But for what it’s worth, he’s been a fixture of WWE’s midcard since his 2012 main roster debut, with a few teases at main event status that haven’t amounted to anything. If you ask Vince McMahon, he feels that Cesaro doesn’t have the tools to connect with the WWE Universe. (Tell that to the Cesaro Section!)
Back in his North American indie days, Cesaro wrestled under his real name, Claudio Castagnoli, and he rocked a variety of different looks throughout his indie career, even going as far as wearing an ice cream cone mask as “A Very Mysterious Ice Cream” in Chikara. And some of you may be shocked to learn that the bald-headed Swiss Superman of today once wore his hair long around 2003-04. But as many long-haired dudes do when they start balding, he would soon begin shaving his head, and was wearing his hair closely-cropped in 2006 when made a cameo on RAW as a backstage cop.
11 THE ASCENSION
While Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder, who are also on this list, are no longer a tag team, The Ascension still are, and have been since their dominant run in NXT. There’s no mistaking their Demolition/Legion of Doom-inspired ring gear and face paint, not to mention the unusual haircuts sported by both Konnor and Viktor. But as we’ve mentioned quite a few times in the past, the Demos and LOD have had more WWE tag team success in their little fingers than The Ascension have ever had since their late-2014 main roster call-up.
Prior to NXT putting them together as part of the stable-turned-tag team The Ascension, Ryan Parmeter and Eric Thompson took different paths en route to developmental tag team success. Parmeter, who would become Konnor, was part of the NXT rookie search’s fourth season as Conor O’Brian, and in between WWE developmental stints, he had a generic black leather/bearded look while competing for NWA Charlotte. Thompson, who now wrestles as Viktor, first emerged in the Canadian indie scene after being trained by Bruce and Ross Hart, and wrestled mainly as Apocalypse, looking like your average heavy metal musician with his longer hair and beard.
10 ERICK ROWAN
The main roster hasn’t been too kind to Erick Rowan, who, as part of The Wyatt Family, debuted on the main roster in 2013, over two years after debuting in the then-FCW before it became NXT. The bald-headed bruiser with a bushy beard of ZZ Top-esque proportions, sheep mask, and olive green jumpsuit has battled injuries, and had briefly gone on an unsuccessful babyface run. As such, he’s the least successful Wyatt Family member in terms of individual achievements, and we hope it’s not too late for him to turn things around.
If Brodie Lee and Luke Harper look almost alike, the same cannot be said about his former Wyatt Family “brother” Rowan, who competed in several Midwest promotions in the early-mid-2000s as Thoruf Marius. A 2003 picture shows him with short, curly brown hair and a brown goatee, wearing a wrestling singlet. He also appears to be much leaner, perhaps closer to 270 pounds than his current 315. If you weren’t a wrestling fan, you’d probably think Thoruf Marius and Erick Rowan were two different people.
9 DARREN YOUNG
Darren Young has had three notable looks during his time in WWE – the spiky hair he wore as the “South Beach Party Boy” on the first season of the NXT rookie search, his early Prime Time Players look with mini-afro and no beard, and the shorter-haired, bearded look he currently has as Bob Backlund’s protégé. If one would completely relate a wrestler’s look to their push, nothing has worked so far for Young, who was hardly on TV prior to suffering a serious elbow injury.
Before he signed a developmental contract with WWE in 2009, Young competed as Fred Sampson, wrestling for his home state promotion IWF in New Jersey. Looking at those old IWF photos, his appearance is quite similar to early-era Prime Time Players Darren Young, albeit with slightly shorter hair. Sadly, we couldn’t find any pictures of “Officer Sampson,” which we would have assumed was the future Darren Young working a policeman gimmick.
Once he takes off his trademark mask, Demon Kane is as bald as the day he was born, and he's been favoring this look for the past several years. That's pretty obvious once you see him making appearances as Corporate Kane and working as The Authority's often-incompetent Director of Operations. These days, though, he wrestles occasionally in his demon guise, often putting younger Superstars over when he's not hurt.
How’s this for a blast from the past? As Kane is one of WWE’s elder statesmen, and someone who will be turning 50 later this year, we’re going to have to go way back to the early-‘90s for Glenn Jacobs’ indie throwbacks. Like he did in his early WWE days, Jacobs wrestled under multiple gimmicks, including a run as the Christmas Creature in Jerry Jarrett’s USWA, and one as Unabomb in Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling. For the former (masked) gimmick, he looked almost as if Santa Claus had gotten plastered during the holidays and thrown up a Christmas tree, while the latter had him looking a lot like Isaac Yankem with the short blonde mullet, but trading in his dentist's outfit for generic black trunks.
7 SAMI ZAYN
Despite the fact he's often fed to main eventers as a jobber to the stars, Sami Zayn is one of the most popular names on Monday Night RAW. He's got a ring theme you can sing along to, as he enters the ring wearing a flat cap, a black jacket, and a full beard on his face. It's impossible not to identify him these days. But before that, many had wondered how he had looked like behind the mask.
Now this is probably an extremely obvious example we shouldn’t even be including. But for the benefit of our readers who aren’t familiar with his indie work, Zayn used to wrestle as the masked “generic” luchador El Generico, competing mainly for Chikara and Pro Wrestling Guerilla, and teaming up, then later feuding with Kevin Steen, or Kevin Owens as we now know him. A lot of indie fans are still miffed to this day that the colorful El Generico has taken off his mask and changed his ring name now that he’s with the ‘E, but as the then-Kevin Steen once said, Generico was found dead in his native Mexico, allegedly murdered by the cartel and survived by his friend Sami Zayn.
“Beard of evil” is probably the best way to describe how Neville currently looks as WWE’s Cruiserweight Champion. Though he was already sporting a beard while he was still “The Man That Creative Forgot,” it became a more focused-on part of his appearance when he turned heel and joined the Cruiserweight Division. And while it isn’t appearance-related, we should also add that Neville has wisely shifted to a more deliberate wrestling style as a villain, while surprising a whole lot of us with his promo ability.
In the summer of 2012, Ben Satterley signed a developmental deal with WWE and was, much to the chagrin of his many indie fans, assigned the oh-so-British-sounding name Adrian Neville. That was because he’d been known in several independent promotions (including PWG, Chikara, and Dragon Gate) as Pac – not X-Pac, not Wolfpac, not Pacman Jones, just plain Pac. (We’d assume WWE probably noticed the first two similarities.) As Pac, the future Neville had often wrestled clean-shaven in his younger days, while carrying less weight, perhaps only 170 to 175 pounds, on his 5'8" frame.
5 SASHA BANKS
All hot potato-ing of RAW Women's Championships aside, Sasha Banks is one of the most prominent female wrestlers on the Monday Night RAW roster, and also one of the most recognizable, thanks to her purple hair and distinctive ring attire that makes up her gimmick as "The Boss." And we don't need to remind you of her wrestling talent, or how she often likes to emulate her childhood hero Eddie Guerrero in the ring — Michael Cole will gladly take care of the latter for you.
Before she signed with WWE in 2012 and began her fast track to stardom in both developmental and the main roster, Banks was known in her hometown of Boston as Mercedes KV, a shortened form of her real name, Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado. She was only 18 when she first competed for local promotion Chaotic Wrestling (CW), and if you replace the purple hair with brown hair and take away the Boss-y bling she's known for today, Mercedes KV and Sasha Banks are almost identical.
4 DEAN AMBROSE
“The Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose was one of three prime NXT prospects who joined WWE in late-2012 as The Shield, and back then, he wore his hair combed up as one of the “Hounds of Justice.” Now, the reigning Intercontinental Champion is enjoying success in the singles division, instantly distinguishable by his messy brown hair, scruffy beard, and penchant for wrestling in tank tops and jeans. According to Ambrose, it’s all about looking like an average working guy who just “got off work from a construction site,” and we can’t really argue with him on that.
Known in the independent scene as Jon Moxley, the wrestler we know today as Dean Ambrose had a variety of looks in the indies. He wore his hair long, dyed it blonde and pink on various occasions, and during his final years in Combat Zone Wrestling, he was wearing it short and messy similar to how he does today. Just one thing, though – he often wrestled shirtless, and when he did wear a tank, it was frequently stained with blood at the end of his CZW matches.
3 THE BRIAN KENDRICK
Many have compared The Brian Kendrick’s present-day look as a mainstay of WWE’s Cruiserweight Division to that of a hobo. He wears his hair considerably longer and darker than he did in previous WWE runs, and he’s grown a beard that further accentuates his status as one of the division’s veterans. All in all, it’s a far cry from the fresh-faced kid we saw on WWE television (badly) delivering a singing telegram to The Undertaker.
Before all of that, Kendrick worked under the ring name Spanky, and looked quite similar to how he did in his early WWE days, still clean-shaven (as you’d expect from someone then barely out of his teens) but wearing his hair a bit shorter. He would then go by Leonardo Spanky during a brief ROH run in 2002, mainly because a) people said he resembles Leonardo DiCaprio, and b) he had a rather interesting way to stay awake while on the road. Best if you don't ask, in case it isn't obvious to you yet.
2 SETH ROLLINS
In 2010, the wrestler known in real life as Colby Lopez signed a developmental deal with WWE, upon which he was given the ring name Seth Rollins — another example of the company deviating from an indie wrestler's more familiar name, though Seth did admit he derived inspiration for his WWE ring name from punk rock legend Henry Rollins. The renamed Seth Rollins progressed well in developmental, both in the original FCW and the rebranded NXT, and he made his memorable debut in late-2012 as one-third of The Shield, notable for his long, blonde-streaked black hair. Now he's one of the RAW brand's top performers, though we do wish he was injured less often.
Years before that, though, he was known as Tyler Black, using that ring name in ROH, where he won two World Tag Team Championships alongside Jimmy Jacobs (who is now a WWE writer), and one World Championship. And we'd have to say he hasn't changed much in terms of appearance, except for the thicker beard he's been sporting in WWE.
1 KEVIN OWENS
Some people like his look, others think he doesn't have any business being anywhere near WWE's top titles. Kevin Owens truly doesn't look like anybody who would have had success in previous wrestling eras, with his all-black attire of sleeveless black shirt and long shorts, and his pudgy frame. But he's got the all-around talent, and until Fastlane, he had the WWE Universal title belt around his waist, making all those years wrestling in the indie circuit under his real name worth it.
Kevin Steen in ROH and Kevin Owens in NXT and WWE are very similar in terms of haircut, facial hair, and getup, save for the more PG-friendly “Fight Owens Fight” shirt replacing the old “Kill Steen Kill” shirt from ROH. (Because fighting is more PG than killing, of course.) But there are photos of a 20-year-old Kevin Steen in CZW, then a relative newbie in the indie scene and looking much leaner than he does today, with no facial hair whatsoever. In other words, he looks like a kid fresh out of high school, rather than someone more than happy to drive you through a table with a Pop-Up Powerbomb.