The WWE Performance Center was one of the most expensive investments. WWE created this at the request of Triple H to create the WWE version of college for wrestlers entering the business or making the move to WWE. Both the Performance Center and NXT were meant to attract athletes from other sports to WWE. The hope was that athletic talents from football, basketball, gymnastics and other sports would have the desire to try their luck at professional wrestling. A great support system of top teachers at a state of the art training center along with the WWE name value would bring over quite a few athletes that wanted a career change.
WWE currently employs several athletes that failed to make it in their prior sports. Some of these athletes have progressed into incredible success stories on the main roster. Others are thriving in NXT while some are struggling at the Performance Center trying to get NXT television time. We'll look at just what these current WWE performers used to do in their prior athletic lives. The first choice of these wrestlers wasn’t wrestling, but it is where they ended up. These are fifteen failed athletes that turned to WWE to find new careers.
15 Roman Reigns
The rise of Roman Reigns makes it hard to forget that he didn’t want to be in the wrestling business as his first passion. Reigns comes from the Samoan dynasty with many relatives finding success in WWE. Despite loving the wrestling business, Reigns didn’t believe it was for him and wanted to make it in the NFL. Reigns was a successful defensive tackle at Georgia Tech and made it to the NFL.
The football skills of Reigns weren’t enough to hold down a roster spot. Reigns revealed he worked for a relative’s furniture installation business after his football career failed. The family connection and athletic background allowed him the chance to take the opportunity working for another childhood passion. Reigns signed with WWE and ended up becoming the face of the company.
14 Taynara Conti
NXT talent Taynara Conti has yet to find a consistent role on the television program, but she certainly has a great future ahead of her. Conti interfered in a match to cost Nikki Cross a victory after being manipulated by the heel faction Undisputed Era. It was something to give her while still looking for the ideal role.
Conti signed with WWE after competing in judo. At one point, she competed for the Brazilian 2016 Summer Olympics in jiu-jitsu. Conti didn’t make the team but managed finding another huge career option later in the same year. WWE saw huge potential in her and signed her to a contract at 21 years old. We'll likely see Conti receive many opportunities down the road if she continues progressing.
13 Big E
The success of Big E as a member of the New Day has helped make the trio one of the hottest acts in WWE. New Day is a rare stable when you realize all three members are essentially equals with no one being positioned above the others. Big E has always been a team player going back to his prior career in football.
The football career peak of Big E saw him play as a defensive lineman for the University of Iowa in college. Unlike most other football players on this list, Big E didn’t pursuit the NFL and instead went into powerlifting. Both prior sports on his resume played a role in him getting a WWE contract. Big E was the second ever NXT Champion and has made it a successful signing after joining the main roster.
12 Shayna Baszler
Shayna Baszler is currently one of the top women in NXT after joining WWE in 2017. Many fans know Baszler from her time in MMA as a member of the UFC. Baszler is one of the Horsewomen, but remained an afterthought with two of the others behind the more popular Ronda Rousey. The MMA career was no longer working out for Baszler and she decided to try her luck in professional wrestling.
Baszler is a diehard fan and attended numerous shows of various promotions while fighting in MMA. The wrestling bug made her start training on her own. An impressive run on the independent circuit in a short time impressed WWE enough to bring her in for the Mae Young Classic. Baszler made the finals and signed a WWE contract. Her career will likely reach bigger highs than her MMA stint.
11 Enzo Amore
A surprising name on this list may be Enzo Amore considering he is known for his big mouth more than anything else. Despite being a better talker than fighter in WWE, Enzo had a past in football. The high point of Enzo’s football life came at college when he played both linebacker and safety for Division III school Salisbury University.
Enzo was known for showboating and being a character on the field. Following the end of his college football life, Enzo posted videos on social media calling out other NFL stars in hopes of getting noticed. No football teams noticed him, but it helped play a role in WWE hiring him. Triple H has referenced watching the videos of Enzo suggested by his trainer and it helped Enzo become a part of the WWE roster.
10 Tino Sabbatelli
Someone that has been in the NXT system for quite some time after failing in another sport is Tino Sabbatelli. The football background of Sabbatelli saw him make it to the NFL as a safety. Sabbatelli played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs. It just never worked out as he couldn’t keep up at the NFL level of high caliber athletes.
WWE signed Sabbatelli in 2014 as one of the first athletes to get the luxury of training at the Performance Center. Sabbatelli has struggled to improve enough for a role in NXT or on the main roster. WWE Network’s reality series Breaking Ground showed him regressing and failing to pick up tools needed to thrive in WWE today. Sabbatelli’s WWE future isn’t one worth betting on at this point.
9 Braun Strowman
The success of Braun Strowman has made him one of the top stars on the Raw brand over the past year. Strowman decimated Roman Reigns on multiple occasions to earn the love of a large percentage of the WWE audience. Another fascinating aspect of Strowman’s career is that he was one of the only wrestlers to join the Performance Center and not have to work down at NXT.
Triple H knew Strowman would be a favorite of Vince McMahon and it made no sense to have him spend time in NXT if he was going to be called up quickly. Strowman originally got on WWE radar due to Mark Henry seeing him compete at powerlifting competitions. The connection was all he needed to impress WWE. Strowman made the right call and has a chance to have a strong career in WWE, no pun intended.
8 Riddick Moss
Riddick Moss is currently trying to find a consistent spot on NXT television. WWE signed him to a contract back in 2014 as one of the early athlete prospects to join the Performance Center. Despite training over the past three years, Moss has yet to reach a point where fans are excited to see him. There is potential there and NXT is hoping to find it by pairing him with fellow struggling performer Tino Sabbatelli.
Moss joined WWE after playing football for most of his young adult life. A strong college football career allowed him an opportunity in the NFL. Moss attended a tryout camp for the Miami Dolphins after his college stint, but he did not get offered a contract. A future WWE tryout came when Moss reached out to Jim Ross of all people leading to signing with WWE.
7 Baron Corbin
The main roster run of Baron Corbin has been met with ups and downs, but he has become a fixture on the SmackDown roster. Corbin will likely be a future World Champion despite missing out on his opportunity to cash in Money in the Bank in 2017. WWE values Corbin more than the average wrestler since he was the first athlete to crossover from another sport and thrive in the Performance Center.
Corbin was a former NFL player that often got into issues with teammates and couldn’t hold down a roster spot. The Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts each gave Corbin a shot at the offensive guard position. Corbin realized the NFL was no longer an option and took the chance of signing with WWE. The football background of Corbin added to his character as a rare NXT star that didn’t have an independent wrestling career. It made easy for him to get heat before getting called up to the main roster.
6 Matt Riddle
No, Matt Riddle has never wrestled for WWE and yes, he does seem to be perfectly content on the independent circuit. However, a WWE connection is the reason Riddle even entertained the idea of starting professional wrestling. Riddle was a talented UFC fighter that failed often clashed with management and got in trouble for using marijuana.
The end of his UFC career saw him wanting to change paths. WWE talent scout Gerald Brisco reached out to Riddle and realized his desire to start professional wrestling. A business relationship between WWE and independent wrestling promotion Evolve allowed Riddle to start wrestling in Evolve at WWE’s request. The original thought was that WWE would sign Riddle after a few months of experience. Instead, Riddle has become a top independent star and one of the best wrestlers in the world with no WWE deal in sight.
5 Mojo Rawley
One of the athletes from the NFL to find success in WWE is Mojo Rawley. You might know that Rawley has a background in football considering WWE will do anything possible to mention that he is a close friend of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Rawley played in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals as a defensive lineman.
The talent level of the NFL was too much for Mojo and he ended up having to find another path. WWE reached out and signed him back in 2012 before the Performance Center was even created. Rawley spent over four years in developmental trying to prove he was main roster ready. A recent heel turn on Zack Ryder to end their tag team is leading to his first push on SmackDown.
4 Tim Wiese
Tim Wiese is one of the more successful athletes from another sport to make the jump to WWE. The background of Wiese saw him play soccer as a goalie in various leagues for fourteen years. Wiese retired from soccer back in 2014 after a long career. Despite being older in age than most of the other names on this list, Wiese wanted to try his luck in the squared circle.
A change in workout and diet routines saw Wiese want to improve his opportunity to become a wrestler. WWE eventually signed him to a developmental contract in 2016. Wiese made his in-ring debut at a main roster live event show in his home country of Germany. Cesaro and Sheamus teamed with Wiese to defeat the trio of Bo Dallas and The Shining Stars. Unfortunately, Wiese has yet to do much else since that match at the end of 2016.
3 Brennan Williams
A somewhat recent signing by WWE brought over former NFL star Brennan Williams to the Performance Center. Unlike most of the failed NFL players making the jump to professional wrestling, Williams was a highly coveted asset entering the league. Williams was drafted in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Injuries derailed his NFL career before it started, and he couldn’t keep it going.
Brennan has been a huge WWE fan and moved to Texas to train for wrestling after his NFL career ended. Booker T trained him at his Reality of Wrestling school before WWE jumped in to sign the former NFL prospect. Williams is still training at the Performance Center but has a great deal of potential. The natural charisma and athleticism of Williams could make him a major player if he can understand the in-ring aspect of the business.
2 Cezar Bononi
Cezar Bononi has made a handful of appearances on NXT television since signing with WWE back in October of 2015. One standout moment saw him defeat Andrade “Cien” Almas in an upset victory. Bononi has the bragging rights of victory over the current NXT Champion, but he has yet to do much else since joining the NXT roster.
WWE signed Bononi after he played soccer for the Sao Storm in a Brazilian League. The talent of Bononi wasn’t enough to move over to a major soccer organization, but he was able to get on WWE’s radar. There is potential in Bononi considered they felt he was worthy of being the one to upset Almas. Time will tell if he is a success or failure when looking back at the stories regarding the failed athletes to join WWE.
1 Bianca Belair
Bianca Belair was one of the standout performers in the Mae Young Classic. The fans in attendance treated her like a star and she is now scheduled to be one of the fixtures in the NXT Women’s Division going forward. Belair competed in various sports before wrestling such as track and field, powerlifting and Crossfit competitions.
Intercostal chondritis forced her to leave the Crossfit competitions and her time in the other sports came to an end. Mark Henry discovered her and decided to reach out to her about joining WWE. Belair ended up signing thanks to Henry’s connection. The talent of Belair is already impressive, and she is only going to get better with the consistent television time. Belair has learned that art of wrestling quickly which is a great sign for anyone new to the industry.
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