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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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