The “new era” of wrestling stars has taken over WWE television. We are witnessing new talent featured with a true youth movement for the first time in a long time. The Undertaker has unofficially retired. Triple H only wrestles a handful of times per year. John Cena is now in a part-time role. The former era of top guys are no longer there for the company to rely on. That has led to new main event performers being given the opportunity to shine in a major role. WWE deciding on a brand split was once again needed only increased the number of relevant performers on television.
The road to stardom for many of the current WWE top names has seen many changes along the process. Many had completely different looks during their early wrestling careers on the independent circuit. Others worked in sports that required them to have a body type you wouldn’t expect looking at them today. All of these wrestlers have gone through an evolution to get to their peak today as WWE stars. We'll take a look at some of their pictures that will shock the wrestling fan with no idea of their backstories. These are fifteen pictures of “new era” WWE stars looking unrecognizable to the average eyes.
16 A.J. Styles
Longtime fans of A.J. Styles going back to his WCW and early TNA days will remember his prior look. However, so much time has passed and this current chapter of his career has surpassed everything in his prior life. Styles turned into a top tier performer during his New Japan run as the leader of the Bullet Club. This was around the time A.J. started to grow out his hair and sport the beard.
It made sense that he continued with it when WWE signed him. Styles is now one of the biggest stars in WWE and a legitimate contender for the “best in the world” claim. The longer hair and beard is way more known as his look now than the prior run as the clean shaven babyface with a short haircut. Styles gets made fun of by other wrestlers for the soccer mom haircut, but it's clearly working better for him than the previous look.
15 Nikki Cross
The addition of Nikki Cross to NXT has helped make the women’s division a hot product once again. Cross has delivered incredible performances against Asuka and Ruby Riot to get her momentum going. The unique look and wardrobe style is done to fit into the faction known as Sanity led by Eric Young. Cross is however a stunning woman as she took some of the steamier pics before her WWE days. Even before her Sanity gimmick, she looked quite different on NXT being simply known as Nikki Glencross.
The product of the United Kingdom did many photo shoots during her independent wrestling career proving she was just as gorgeous as any of her peers. WWE doesn’t necessarily want that presented in the new character as the unhinged personality is the more important aspect here. Nikki definitely looks like a different person today compared to her early wrestling career before the current character change.
14 Tommaso Ciampa
NXT has seen a turnaround over the last two years. Stars like Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura were all called up to the main roster leaving the promotion without a deep roster of talent ready for television. One of the better signings to help turn it around was the addition of Tommaso Ciampa. The NXT career of Ciampa has been incredible so far, but it isn’t his first time in WWE.
A prior developmental run in WWE saw Ciampa get called up for one night as an extra. Ciampa played the lawyer of Muhammad Hassan in a segment with The Undertaker. Naturally, he would get beat down by Undertaker, but the main story here is how different he looked back then. Ciampa had long black hair and wore glasses for the role. The average pair of eyes would not be able to process this being the same man that turned on Johnny Gargano a few months ago.
13 Karl Anderson
The career of Karl Anderson saw many struggles before getting a break in Japan. Anderson wrestled on West Coast independent shows looking to make a name with little results. The current bald look works perfectly for Anderson, but he tried to fight it with short hair in the past. It just didn’t look right with his former hairstyle and facial hair of choice failing to compare to the new look.
Anderson changed his look for the best when joining New Japan. Everything changed with the opportunity in NJPW allowing him to finally showcase his talent in a major way. Anderson was one of the founding members of the Bullet Club and arguably the most important member after Finn Balor. WWE was impressed enough with his work to sign him. You have to believe the prior look of Anderson wouldn’t have worked as well in the Bullet Club.
Carmella has a noteworthy career before signing with WWE as a cheerleader. Not only was she was a cheerleader, but she was employed by two of the most popular franchises in sports. The Los Angeles Lakers and New England Patriots each had Carmella on their cheerleading teams. Various pictures have shown her sporting a different look than what wrestling fans are used to.
WWE signed her based off the athletic background and her great look. Carmella took some time to progress but eventually moved up into a relevant role along with Enzo and Cass. The idea to separate them on the main roster actually helped her more than the other two. Carmella is now arguably the best female character on SmackDown. It's hard to believe her prior career with a former look as a cheerleader actually happened.
11 Baron Corbin
Similar to Roman Reigns, Baron Corbin made a huge change in careers when his NFL days ended. A connection to WWE landed him a tryout before getting signed to be a part of the Performance Center. Triple H often talks about the PC being set up to help athletes from other sports transition to the ring. Corbin has become one of the biggest success stories of a former football player to make it in the world of WWE as the current Money in the Bank briefcase holder.
The look of Corbin has changed through his career. Corbin played the offensive guard position meaning he had to increase his weight to 318 pounds. A larger frame made him look like a different person during his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. Corbin sported a short haircut and a different beard. The changes in his appearance over the years have helped his WWE career.
10 Aleister Black
Although the WWE keeps squandering NXT talents, the developmental promotion continues to harvest new future stars, the latest, 32 year old Aleister Black. Although he might seem new to the WWE fanbase, he certainly isn’t. Black has been wrestling since early 2000s going under the name of Tommy End in the European wrestling indie scene. With a background in kickboxing, Black enjoyed prior runs with indie promotions such as Progress Wrestling CZW, Evolve and Pro Wrestling Guerilla.
He joined the WWE last summer and he’s already projected to be a huge star, as you see in the picture above however, his look as undergone some serious changes throughout the years. Don’t be surprised if this new era star is kicking butt on the main roster by 2018.
8 Becky Lynch
The talented Becky Lynch has become one of the top women to help push the women’s revolution forward in WWE. It was a very long road to WWE for Becky before becoming a top star. Lynch started wrestling at the age of 15 in Ireland after learning under the training of fellow WWE star Finn Balor.
During her early career on the independent scene, Lynch sported various looks. One of the more surprising ones is going with short blonde hair. It is impossible for any WWE fan to think of Becky with any look other than the long orange hair? The current look has become associated with her as much as anything in the ring. Lynch however didn’t go with this until looking to stand out in NXT.
7 Charlotte Flair
The extremely talented Charlotte Flair has always been a tremendous athlete with a great background in volleyball and other sports. Charlotte never wanted to be a wrestler until Johnny Ace presented the opportunity to her. As the daughter of the legendary Ric Flair, the company took a chance on her and it clearly paid off. The early days of Charlotte in NXT featured a different hairstyle that made her look like a different person.
The second generation Flair was actually a brunette for quite some time. It is apparently the hair color she most felt comfortable with but a change was definitely needed. Charlotte stands out more with the current blonde hair partly due to following in her father’s legacy. The blonde hair along with the Figure 8 finisher both helped her get over. Charlotte is now one of the top female wrestlers of all-time and potentially can pass her dad’s legacy if her current path continues.
6 Nia Jax
The prior career of Nia Jax before joining WWE saw her work as a plus size model. WWE signed her thanks to the connection of being the cousin of The Rock. The company has huge plans for Nia and is hoping she will become a top heel in the Women’s Division for many years. Jax did well as a model working for various employers that were impressed with her modeling work and look.
The pictures of Nia in her former career show her appearance drastically different from the current day look. Jax definitely has to look fiercer today with the role of a monster heel basically bullying the other women on the roster. Modeling Jax and wrestling Jax appear to be two completely different people, and WWE could use that to their advantage if she ever turns face.
5 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt is known for his unique look to match his unique character today. The long hair, beard and wardrobe all help add to his persona that made him a huge star. Wyatt struggled in his early career to find an identity. WWE saw potential in him for his athleticism as a larger guy with a pedigree in the industry as the son of Mike Rotunda.
Wyatt tried various different looks in developmental with the name of Husky Harris. Long blonde hair was the first idea and it just looked terrible. Wyatt also rocked the shorter blonde hair during his time on the NXT competition show. Fans did not buy into him at all as the Husky Harris character until changing everything as Wyatt. The rest is history with the current look clearly being the best choice.
4 Dean Ambrose
The success of Dean Ambrose and the other members of The Shield was a huge reason for WWE trusting young talent enough to start a “new era.” All three stars made an instant impact when they were given an opportunity to run with the ball. Ambrose did a great job in the role after years of working to get to WWE. The independent wrestling career of Ambrose allowed him to experiment with different looks.
One specific look of Ambrose that is hard to believe featured his time in a WWE ring. Ambrose received a tryout and was sporting long pink hair. The unique look of Ambrose was definitely intended to stand out and it did but for silly reasons. No one would believe this pink haired aspiring wrestler would go on to become a future WWE World Champion and main event many PPVs.
3 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens has one of the most unconventional looks in wrestling today. The look of being one of the heavier wrestlers in the company with the beard creates a polarizing reaction already. Owens wrestling in a t-shirt and basketball shorts takes it to the next level. The early wrestling career of Owens in ROH, PWG and other independent wrestling promotions featured him looking rather different.
Owens used to be smaller in size and sported a clean shaven face. Two things that remained the same was his ability to talk trash with the best of them and pull off incredible moves. The weight gain and the addition of the beard changed his look over the years. Many wrestlers would struggle being larger, but Owens just managed to make it work even better. All of the best success of his career came with the look we're all used to.
2 Enzo Amore
Enzo Amore is known for his trash talking ability and that is what actually got him signed to a WWE developmental contract. Triple H’s trainer recommended Enzo and Triple H signed him after watching videos of Enzo talking trash. The early years of Amore’s career in NXT featured a look very different from what we see today.
We know Enzo’s appearance for the blonde hair and the longer beard today. Amore didn’t always go with this look as he had short black hair and a clean shaven face. The experimenting with different looks helped Enzo out before he got called up to the main roster. By the time Amore was on the main roster, a large percentage of the fans were already used to the current look. Unless you’re a diehard NXT fan or a friend of Enzo, there’s no way you could have believed this guy is the same trash talker we watch on Raw every week.
1 Roman Reigns
We have gotten used to WWE pushing Roman Reigns so hard that it's impossible to envision him with any look aside from the current. Reigns didn’t always have the long flowing hair and incredible physique. The NFL career of Roman as a defensive tackle made him try to get over 300 pounds in weight for the position. Reigns looked like a different man with the shorter haircut and a larger body.
WWE signing him forced him to change things up. For all the reasons you may dislike Roman, you have to respect how he got himself into such great shape for the wrestling ring. Reigns looks like the prototypical top star which is a main reason Vince McMahon loves him this much. McMahon likely doesn’t like the idea of these old pictures of Reigns floating around on the internet. The progress however shows just how proud WWE should be of Roman’s evolution as a wrestler.