All roads in wrestling lead to the WWE. Well, that’s what WWE would like you think, as, of course, they are the world’s best and shiniest wrestling company and everything else is terrible, so you should never watch anything other than WWE. Ever. Obviously, this is nothing but propaganda from the WWE machine, as there is a plethora of incredible wrestling promotions out there for any wrestling fan to enjoy – from the ultra-realism of New Japan Pro Wrestling to the grittiness of Ring of Honour to... well, whatever the hell TNA is nowadays. Whilst back in the old days, WWE much preferred to train up their own performers from scratch, in this day and age, many of the current WWE roster actually had long and prominent careers in other wrestling promotions. However, since WWE is still being run like a dictatorship, none of these wrestlers' outside accolades are ever acknowledged on WWE TV.
Luckily for you, wrestling fans, I’m here to shed some light on the dark, mysterious pasts of your favourite WWE stars, as we take a look at 15 superstars who held major titles for other promotions. Now, obviously the word “major” is always debatable, but essentially we’re looking at any stars who won recognizable titles from wrestling promotions other than WWE. If you have a problem with any of my choices, please do write to me at any time. Oh, you don’t have an address for me? Shame...
15 Drew McIntyre
I’ll never understand why WWE didn’t give McIntyre his old theme music when he re-joined them in 2017. That song was badass.
Drew McIntyre’s first run with WWE was, shall we say, “interesting”. McIntyre debuted with all the promise in the world as “The Chosen One”, a wrestler handpicked by Vince McMahon to be a future champion. He won Intercontinental and Tag Team gold, but once The Chosen One gimmick was abolished, he quickly fell down the ranks, joining comedy stable 3MB and eventually being released in 2014. He re-signed with the company in 2017 and is now doing very well for himself in NXT, thankfully. Fun fact – the 3MB stable also contained current WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. Wrestling – where logic goes to die.
In his time away from WWE, McIntyre wrestled under his real name of Drew Galloway and was extremely successful. He won a number of titles in his native United Kingdom (Scotland is part of the UK, well, for now it is), but was most famous for his time with TNA. In 2016, Galloway invoked his Feast or Fired contract (TNA’s version of Money in the Bank) to win the TNA World Heavyweight Championship against Matt Hardy. For a man released by WWE, McIntyre did extremely well for himself and earned another run in the company. Let’s just hope things end a little better for this time and he’s not made the newest member of the Titus Brand or something. That would be truly heart-breaking.
14 Samoa Joe
As ring names go, Samoa Joe is a bit rubbish, isn’t it? Not that I’d ever tell him that...
Samoa Joe has done rather well for himself since turning up in WWE in 2015. He dominated NXT as a monster heel, becoming the first man to win the NXT Championship twice, as well as being the first person to defeat Shinsuke Nakamura and Finn Balor’s “Demon King” persona on TV. Joe ascended to the main roster the night after Royal Rumble 2017 and has since been involved in Raw’s main event scene, including a recent challenge for the Universal Championship against Brock Lesnar. Sure, that match only went 6 minutes, but, considering Brock’s recent match lengths, this was basically an Iron Man match.
Before arriving in WWE, Joe was already pretty well-known thanks to his work in promotions such as TNA and ROH. It’s his time in ROH that’s the most interesting, as Joe actually holds a pretty significant record with the promotion; he’s held their world championship longer than anyone else in history. Joe’s first (and only) reign with the title lasted a whopping 645 days between 2003 and 2004, coming to an end when Austin Aries defeated him on Boxing Day 2004. Considering Joe’s record still stands to this day, despite the multitude of talented wrestlers that have passed through ROH since 2004, this is a huge achievement for the Samoan Submission Machine and one that WWE should be extremely proud of. Well, that’s if they actually acknowledged Ring of Honor’s existence, which they don’t.
13 Brock Lesnar
Hold on, that should be... BRRRRRROCCKKKKKK LESSSSSSNAAARRRRRRRR!! That’s better.
Brock Lesnar is what the WWE would call a “first-ballot Hall of Famer”. His illustrious WWE career has seen him win five world titles, a Royal Rumble match, a King of the Ring tournament, main event WrestleMania and end The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at The Showcase of the Immortals. Not too bad, all things considered.
Brock’s career outside of WWE has been highly publicised by the company; he is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion and had a short run in the NFL before turning to mixed martial arts. However, Brock’s wrestling career outside of the WWE is very seldom mentioned, which is strange, because he achieved something that very few other American wrestlers can say they have done. In October 2005, Lesnar defeated Kazuyuki Fujita to win New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) most valuable championship – the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The title had only been held by three other non-Japanese wrestlers before Lesnar and only one has done it since, which makes Brock a member of an elite group of wrestlers in the world of Japanese wrestling. Basically, Brock Lesnar is awesome and you should never argue with that.
12 Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens
Get ready for some earth-shattering news, everybody – Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn don’t actually hate each other. Minds = blown.
Zayn and Owens have gone on to become two of WWE’s most popular and successful superstars since they joined the company. Zayn became NXT Champion in late 2014 to one of the biggest pops in recent memory, whilst KO has won the Universal, United States and Intercontinental Championship on the main roster. The two have also had some great matches, including an amazing bout at Battleground 2016 and the duo have also competed in some insane ladder matches at Money in the Bank and WrestleMania. Not too bad for a fat guy and a ginger.
Before their time in WWE, Zayn and Owens made names for themselves in Ring of Honor. Owens wrestled under his real name of Kevin Steen and Zayn worked the gimmick of a masked luchador called El Generico. Both men were successful singles wrestlers in ROH – Zayn won their Television Championship and Owens is a former World Champion – but what might surprise the casual WWE fan is that these two were actually tag team champions together in ROH. The duo defeated the team of Jimmy Jacobs and Tyler Black (WWE’s Seth Rollins) in 2008 to win the titles and would hold onto them for 203 days. Knowing their track record in WWE, it’s quite shocking to think of Owens and Zayn as a tag team, let alone a successful one. But, you know what they say, good friends make better enemies.
11 Mickie James
Remember when Mickie James came back to WWE and everyone got really excited? Remember when Mickie James did absolutely nothing with her return and is now just another name on the roster? Remember when that made everyone really sad?
Mickie James set the WWE Women’s Division on fire when she debuted in 2005 as the crazed stalker of WWE Women’s Champion Trish Stratus. Her intense, elongated feud with Stratus propelled her to the top of the division when she won her first Women’s Championship from Stratus at WrestleMania 22. Okay, so maybe she botched the finish to the match and performed a rude hand gesture that had to be edited out of the final broadcast, but it was still good. Mickie won a grand total of six championships in her WWE career before leaving in 2010. This would lead to her time on the indies and eventually her aforementioned lacklustre return. Sigh.
During her time away from WWE, James made a bit of a name for herself in TNA, winning their Knockouts Championship (TNA’s women’s title) three times. The Knockouts Championship, despite having a dumb name, is one of wrestling’s most prestigious championships for female athletes, having been held by the likes of Gail Kim, Awesome Kong and Angelina Love, so Mickie’s three reigns with the belt are nothing to laugh at. A legendary performer who’s still only 37 years of age, there’s still a chance we could see another title reign from Mickie in WWE. That is, if WWE remember she exists.
10 Shinsuke Nakamura
Hardly surprising, Nakamura is pretty special.
Shinsuke Nakamura made the wrestling world skip a heartbeat when he arrived in WWE in2016. His debut match against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Dallas was one of the best matches of the year in any promotion and he went on to have other exceptional matches with the likes of Austin Aries, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor. He also won the NXT Championship twice, something only he and Samoa Joe can claim they have done. He debuted on the main roster the night after WrestleMania 33 and has impressed there too, including a great performance in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Yeah, he didn’t win and he spent most of the match in the back injured, but, when your Shinsuke Nakamura, these things don’t matter.
Shinsuke had a great career in his native Japan before arriving in WWE, particularly in NJPW. He won numerous titles with the promotion, as well as numerous tournaments and trophies, but his most prestigious victory came in December 2003, when he defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan to become the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the age of 23 years and 9 months. This makes him the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time and Nakamura would go onto hold the title twice more in his time in New Japan. Clearly a star from an early age, Nakamura more than lived up to the hype and is now one of WWE’s biggest stars. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to cry about how I’ll never achieve half as much as Nakamura has in my entire life, let alone by the age of 23.
9 Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick used to wrestle on the indies under the name “Spanky.” Just to let you know.
“The” Brian Kendrick first began working for the WWE way back in 2000 and, over the course of the next decade-plus, Kendrick won two tag team championships partnered with Paul London, including one reign that was, at the time, the longest WWE Tag Team Championship reign of all time. Safe to say Kendrick is not a fan of The New Day. Kendrick was returned to WWE TV full time when he was announced as a competitor for the 2016 Cruiserweight Classic and has since gone on to become one of 205 Live’s most recognisable stars, as well as reigning as Cruiserweight Champion in late 2016. Yeah, I’d forgotten that he’d won the belt too.
During one of his stints away from WWE, Kendrick found himself working for TNA (as most ex-WWE stars tend to do). During his time with the company, Kendrick defeated Abyss to become X-Division Champion. The X-Division is kinda like WWE’s Cruiserweight division – intended for smaller, more agile wrestlers – but, due to a number of stupid rules being put in place over the years, the belt has been held by giants like Abyss, Samoa Joe and Bobby Lashley. TNA – where consistency goes to die. The belt has also been held by the likes of AJ Styles, Kurt Angle, Low Ki, Rob Van Dam and many others, so being a former X-Division champion is definitely nothing to be ashamed of for Brian Kendrick. Those leopard print trunks, however, they’re a whole different story.
8 AJ Styles
Did you know AJ Styles wrestled in Japan? WWE never seem to mention it...
“The Phenomenal One” AJ Styles has been a breath of fresh air since he debuted in WWE in early 2016. His incredible moveset, brilliant wrestling mind and captivating persona has won him fans and championships alike, including the United States Championship (which he holds at the moment) and WWE’s top prize, which he held for 140 days. He also had the best match at WrestleMania 33... with Shane McMahon. If that doesn’t make him one of the best wrestlers in the world, then I don’t know what does.
AJ’s decade+ career on the indies before the WWE took him all over the world, but it was Japan that Styles made a name for himself just before he arrived in WWE. In New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Styles became the third man to lead the massively popular Bullet Club stable and his association with this group led to Styles winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in his very first match with NJPW. Can you imagine if this had happened in WWE? If someone walked into the company and won the WWE Championship in their debut match? The internet would actually explode. Styles’ wrestling resume is second to none and with his WWE career not slowing down, who knows just how many more titles AJ can win before he calls time on his legendary career.
7 Cesaro and Kassius Ohno
Bet you didn’t even know these two knew each other.
Cesaro and Kassius Ohno might both be in WWE at the moment, but they took very different paths to get there. Cesaro made his main roster debut in 2012 and quickly captured the United States Championship. He has since gone on to win three tag team titles and the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, as well as the hearts of a large section of the WWE audience. Ohno, on the other hand, spent some time in NXT between 2012 and 2013, before being released. He made a name for himself on the indies for a few years, before eventually returning to NXT in early 2017. He is now firmly established on the NXT roster and could have a bright future in store for himself.
Cesaro and Ohno actually go way back to the mid-2000s through a stable called “The Kings of Wrestling”. What began as a large group of performers in the independent promotion, Chikara, eventually led to a tag team between Cesaro and Ohno (who performed under the names Claudio Castagnoli and Chris Hero respectively). As a duo, Cesaro and Ohno won tag team titles in Chikara, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Combat Zone Wrestling, but are perhaps best known for their reigns as ROH Tag Team Champions. The duo held the belts twice, including once for 363 days, the longest single reign in the title’s history. With Cesaro proving himself to be a formidable tag team wrestler in WWE and Ohno one day bound for the main roster, who knows, maybe we could see a Kings of Wrestling reunion in WWE. If this does happen, then WWE will have a slight problem with topping their entrance music on the indies – it was "We Are The Champions" by Queen, which is an absolutely brilliant song.
6 Kurt Angle
Ok, this one is a little confusing.
Kurt Angle is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, no questions asked. The WWE Hall of Famer has won almost every single championship going in the WWE ; the WWE Championship, the World Heavyweight Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship, the Hardcore Championship, the European Championship, the WWE Tag Team Championship, hell, he even won the WCW Championship. I think we’ve established one thing here – Kurt Angle likes to win championships.
This is true outside of WWE too, as Angle has won pretty much every championship going in TNA too, including being the first ever TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Angle also had a spell in Japan, where he was a part of one of the most convoluted storylines in New Japan history. In 2006, IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, was stripped of his championship due to being unable to defend it. However, Lesnar claimed that he was owed money by NJPW, so, in the spirit of Ric Flair in 1992, took the belt to the Inoki Genome Federation (IGF), a rival promotion ran by New Japan founder, Antonio Inoki. Lesnar, at this point, was pretty fed up with being a wrestler, so wanted to drop the title. However, he wasn’t going to lose the belt to just anyone, so Lesnar made one demand; if he was going to lose the title, it was going to be to his old buddy, Kurt Angle. Angle won the title in 2007 at IGF’s first ever event and held the belt for 233 days, before losing it to Shinsuke Nakamure, which returned the belt to New Japan Pro Wrestling. If you’re confused by all this, then don’t worry, so is literally everybody else.
Remember when this guy was a bullfighter? That was weird.
Primo, one half of The Colons (formerly The Shining Stars) in WWE, is actually a pretty important wrestler in the history of one of WWE’s Championships. At WrestleMania XXV, Primo and his brother, Carlito, unified the WWE and World Tag Team Championships, creating the “Unified WWE Tag Team Championships.” The “Unified” part of the name was later dropped, but it did make Primo one half of the first team to hold both of WWE’s tag team championships at the same time. Not a bad accomplishment for someone selling Puerto Rican real estate not too long ago.
Wrestling is in Primo’s blood, as he is the son of Carlos Colon Sr., a legendary Puerto Rican wrestler and promotor. Colon exploited a gap in the market and brought pro wrestling to the Puerto Rican mainstream in the 1970s, when he set up a company now known as the World Wrestling Council (WWC). The promotion’s top title – the WWC Universal Championship (yes, WWE did steal the name for their belt) – has been held by numerous iconic performers, including Razor Ramon, Scott Steiner, Mr. Perfect and many others. Primo is one of these others, having won his father’s world title five times, making him one of the most decorated wrestlers in WWC history.
4 Dean Ambrose
They don’t call him the Lunatic Fringe for nothing.
When Dean Ambrose burst onto the WWE main roster in 2012, he changed the landscape of the company forever. Alongside Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, Ambrose established himself as one of WWE’s biggest new stars, and all three former Shield members can now count themselves as some of the company’s most valuable players. Over the near four or so years, Ambrose would win Intercontinental, United States and World championship gold, as well as the 2016 Money in the Bank briefcase and would put on several amazing matches against the likes of Kevin Owens, The Miz and his former Shield brethren. He also had a feud with James Ellsworth, which was... fun.
Before his time with WWE, Ambrose garnered a bit of a cult following in CZW. Under the ring name Jon Moxley, Ambrose was one of the promotion’s top stars, headlining numerous big shows and winning their world title twice. Ambrose is one of the reasons why the CZW World Championship is now regarded as one of the independent scene’s most coveted, as he, alongside other notable champions like Kassius Ohno and Tajiri, have helped legitimize a belt that, for a long time, was seen as the symbol of a promotion of brainless violence. Okay, CZW is still a promotion of brainless violence, but it’s brainless violence that used to have a former WWE Champion in it, so shut your mouth.
3 Pete Dunne
Now, this might just be because I’m also British, but Pete Dunne is just the best.
After making a name for himself on the independent scene in the United Kingdom, Pete Dunne was announced as one of the participants for the WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament in January 2017. Dunne marked himself out as one to watch when he attacked Sam Gradwell at the end of the first show of the tournament, positioning himself as the top heel in the UK division. He made it to the tournament finals, where he was defeated by eventual champion, Tyler Bate. However, Dunne would have his moment when, at NXT TakeOver: Chicago, he would defeat Bate in a brilliant match to capture the title. Again, might just be patriotism, but seriously, this match was amazing.
Unlike everyone else on this list, Dunne is currently holding a major title in another promotion, alongside the WWE United Kingdom Championship. In November 2017, Dunne captured the Progress World Championship in a seven-way elimination match. Progress, which began in 2011, has quickly established itself as one of the UK’s most popular wrestling companies, and having their world champion also hold a title in WWE has done wonders for the company. WWE allowing Dunne to hold one of their titles alongside the Progress Championship is testament to the changing mindset of the company and leaves plenty of possibilities for collaborations between the world’s biggest wrestling company and the smaller indie promotions. Or WWE could just take over everything and be the only wrestling company in the world. Yeah, that’s probably more likely.
2 Roderick Strong
Roderick Strong’s real name is Christopher Lindsey. No wonder he changed it.
Roderick Strong made his WWE debut teaming with Austin Aries as a part of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic in NXT. Strong was forced into singles action after Aries’ injury and was quickly inserted into the main event picture. He recently challenged Bobby Roode for the NXT Championship on NXT and is looking like one of the next contenders for the title on the yellow show. Nice one, Roddy.
Before his time in NXT, Strong was a mainstay in Ring of Honor. For 13 years, Strong performed in ROH and did literally everything there was to do in the company, earning the nickname “Mr. Ring of Honor.” Strong won two TV titles and one tag team championship with ROH, but reached the top of the mountain in 2010 when he defeated Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) to win the ROH World Championship in a no-DQ match. This accolade helped Strong on his way to becoming the second ever ROH Triple Crown Champion (Eddie Edwards was the first), cementing him as one of the finest wrestlers ROH has ever produced. And hey, if you look at guys like Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Samoa Joe, it’s clear that WWE is a pretty big fan of former ROH Champions. Just don’t tell that to Austin Aries.
This fact always makes me laugh.
R-Truth has been in WWE in his current form for nearly ten years now and has established himself as one of the company’s most recognisable stars. With his family-friendly hip-hop gimmick, Truth has become one of the masters of crowd involvement, often leading fans in raps and sing-a-longs before his matches. Truth has been United States and WWE Tag Team Champion in his career and is still performing well for a 45-year-old man. Yep, you heard me. Next time you criticise R-Truth, you just think about what you’re going to look like at 45. That should shut you up.
In between his two stints with WWE, Truth performed under his real name of Ron Killings for a number of promotions, but most notably with TNA. Back in the early days of the promotion, TNA were in a partnership with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), one of the oldest pro wrestling bodies still in existence. Once the most highly coveted wrestling championship in America, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was defended in TNA for the first few years of its existence and, in August 2002, it was capture by none other than your boy, R-Truth. Believe it or not, R-Truth has held the same coveted world title as men like Sting, Ric Flair, Harley Race, Lou Thesz, Dusty Rhodes and AJ Styles. I know, right. This is remarkable for a number of reasons, but mostly because it makes Truth the first (and, as of time of writing) the only African-American NWA World Heavyweight Champion, as well as being only the fourth recognised African-American world champion in wrestling history. Whatever you think of Truth, these accomplishments are nothing short of impressive and he definitely deserves respect for them. And that, folks, is what’s up.