It can be argued that a wrestler’s look is even more important that their actual in-ring abilities. Ric Flair’s robes, Macho Man’s fringe, and even John Cena’s legendary jorts have become so synonymous with the wrestlers’ themselves, it would be odd to see them wearing anything else. However, these looks don’t always come together over night. Whether it be building a different physique or getting a new set of threads sewn, a wrestler’s appearance is usually so meticulously cultivated that putting it all together can take just as much time as actual wrestling training.
WWE also likes to have full say on a wrestler’s character, from the way they dress, to how they style their hair. They like the majority of their roster to feel like they are Vince McMahon’s creations, and not just another man or woman pulled off of the independent scene.
There are many reasons why a superstar’s look can change from before they sign to the WWE to them wrestling on the main roster. Time can take its toll, a performer might start wrestling when they are 18, but not make it to the big time until they’re nearly 30. The WWE Performance Center is known for their state of the art weight room, which gives wrestlers the perfect opportunity to add on as much muscle as possible. They could simply have more money than they used to and finally be able to put some more time and effort into their look instead of having something cheaply and hastily thrown together.
Here are 15 wrestlers whose look drastically changed when they began wrestling for the WWE.
15. John Cena
Before being called to the main roster and injecting Smackdown with some good old fashioned “ruthless aggression,” John Cena wrestled for both Ultimate Pro Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling as “The Prototype.” Judging by this picture alone, no other name would have been quite as apt for the future sixteen-time world champion. Cena was definitely a lot more shredded in his youth, as he had just come off of a career as a professional bodybuilder. His physique changed up partially due to him being on the road and also needing his muscles not just for “show,” but also for “go.” The picture also proves that the Champ always enjoyed a nice “high and tight” haircut. However, in addition to that blinding bleach-blonde dye job, his hair at the time was both way too high and way too tight. Still, not sure if his old look is better or worse than looking like a toddler who was zapped with a growth ray.
Cesaro is often regarded as one of the most underrated performers on WWE’s current roster. He’s got a great look and his wrestling abilities are unparalleled. Even when he wrestled on the independents, Cesaro was consistently outside of the world title pictures. He always had a great build, but man, dude would always come to the ring looking like he dressed in the dark. He would often rock bedazzled jackets, multi-pattered shirts, and dollar store neckties. Young Cesaro was a lot to look at. The baldhead really suits him though. He looks like the perfect combination of James Bond and Jason Statham. Cesaro’s new look is streets ahead of the stringy, thinning, look he had in Chikara and Ring of Honor. Thankfully, the former Swiss Banker is no longer wrestling on a budget and can afford some decent threads. Even if he’s just going to tear them apart during his entrance.
13. Becky Lynch
Nowadays, Becky Lynch is known as Smackdown’s resident fiery, redheaded lass kicker. Surprisingly, her bright orange hair doesn’t seem to be *GASP* “au naturel.” In her early years, she sported her natural brown hair, albeit with some blonde highlights for extra pizzazz. This was also before she discovered her love for gears, goggles, and all things steam punk, opting for a look that was as bland as it was plaid. She’s been around much longer than most would expect, having clocked over fifteen ears in the business and spending most of the mid-aughts wrestling for independent promotions in Japan, Europe, and Canada. It was on the Canadian Indies where she managed to win this hot pink and Velcro eyesore that makes the Diva’s Championship look like the Big Gold Belt.
12. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Look at this guy. Does he look like the cream of the crop to you? No way. The son of professional wrestler Angelo Poffo, Randy was a natural born athlete. Unfortunately, instead of going the way of his father, Savage initially chose to pursue a career in baseball. Although he was gifted enough to be signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, Randy would spend most of his time resigned to the minor leagues. After that endeavor didn’t take off the way he had hoped, Poffo changed up his appearance drastically. Putting on a ton of muscle that wouldn’t be seen in baseball until the days of Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco and growing a beard that Brian Wilson would envy, Randy was able to cultivate the perfect appearance for a wrestler. Next came a “macho” personality and “savage” demeanor, and one of the greatest sports entertainers of all time was born.
Talk about finding your way to the gym! When Neville first started wrestling, he was a scrawny eighteen-year old who wrestled under the name “Pac.” Pac was a natural athlete who was lauded worldwide for his impressive aerial offense. For some reason, a few years into his career, Pac rebranded himself as “Jungle Pac.” This new character, which was supposed to be an homage to Tarzan, just seemed like a white guy doing a bad Jimmy Snuka impression. He would continue to perform the world over, making a name for himself in places like Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Dragon Gate. Thankfully, when he signed to NXT, Neville was able to utilize the wide array of strength and conditioning coaches the developmental system has. There, he would develop weightlifting regiment that would lead to him increasing his muscle-mass while maintaining the high-flying abilities that help crown him King of the Cruiserweights.
10. Paul Bearer
There has never been a better wrester and manager combination that made more sense than the duo of The Undertaker and Paul Bearer. The pairing of the portly, pale-faced funeral parlor owner and his nearly seven-foot-tall, undead, Texan casket builder was a match made in hell. The character, who was actually based on Bearer’s real-life experience as an embalmer and mortician, seemed to be a natural fit. However, the dark clothes and bellowing must have come as a surprise for those who followed his career before the WWE. While performing for World Class Championship Wrestler and many other territories, he was known as “Percy Pringle, III.” There, he sported a bleached bob hairstyle and wore flamboyantly colored jackets that would be deemed tasteless at just about any funeral. He was still as sinister as ever. As PP3, he managed wrestlers who would go on to be some of the greatest heels of all time like Rick Rude, Steve Austin, and even a young Undertaker.
9. Jack Gallagher
When I was 16-years-old, I loved punk rock. Bands like Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio were constantly in rotation, and I loved just about any song that tells “the man” exactly where they could shove “it.” Then, like any person who grows into a fully functioning member of society, I learned that punk rock is a fallacy that asks a lot of questions without providing helpful answers (that’s not to say I won’t dust off Rancid’s …And Out Come the Wolves from time to time). It appears Jack Gallagher was in the same boat. Leaning heavily into an anti-authoritarian role, Jack could be seen sporting skulls and messy Hot Topic hair in his early years. Going by the name “Jack Toxic,” the Gentleman appeared to be more into anarchy than chivalry and wouldn’t know where to find a decent cobbler if they were lacing up his wing-tipped shoes. It seems that he has found a happy medium as a vicious, but well-dressed villain on WWE’s 205 Live.
8. Mae Young
Despite the fact that Mae Young began wrestling in the 1930s, the decade before Vince McMahon was even born, she wouldn’t make her debut for WWE until 1999. By that time, Mae had already been wrestling for sixty years. That’s insane. Granted, during her prime, women’s wrestling wasn’t even close to being the priority it is today for the world’s biggest wrestling company. Case in point her best friend, the Fabulous Moolah, was the inaugural champion and held the title for almost 30 years, hardly defending it. It’s a shame we don’t get to see much of Mae’s early work. From all accounts, she was a tremendous in-ring performer whose style and influence can be seen in most of today’s most technically savvy performers, both the women and the men. Also, after being introduced to Mae in her twilight years, who would have known she was such a knockout in her youth?
7. Baron Corbin
Standing at 6-feet-6-inches, Baron Corbin was unusually tall for an offensive guard when he played professional football for the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals, but boy did he have the mass to go with it. Tipping the scales at 317-pounds, Corbin made himself as large as he could to stop the incoming defensive players. When he signed to NXT in 2012, he soon learned that wrestling and football were vastly different sports. Knowing that he needed to go heavier on the cardio in order to keep up with folks in the ring, Corbin shed nearly 40 pounds to get into the shape he’s in today. Now, he is surprisingly fast on his feet and often incorporates some outside of the ring running into the majority of his matches. Since joining WWE he has also made the dubious decision to grow his hair out, which gets thinner and wispier as time goes on.
6. Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt. Slaughter has one of the most iconic looks of any professional wrestler. Even folks who don’t follow the sport can recognize the chin-heavy military leader from his appearances on the G.I. Joe animated series. Despite being famous for his fatigues, he wasn’t always clad in camouflage. Back in the day, with his long, blonde hair, and crocheted hat (why?) Slaughter looked like the poorest man’s Superstar Billy Graham. The most confusing thing to me is this: what kind of shirt needs two Mighty Mouses on it? The colors don’t even match! On his chest, M.M.’s body is pink, but on his arm, it’s yellow. It just screams that he bought the obvious knock-off t-shirt while walking down 8th Ave in Manhattan on his way to curtain-jerk a show at Madison Square Garden. Maybe this picture is where Vince McMahon got the alleged idea to rebrand Neville. Thankfully, that dirty hippy eventually enlisted in the military and got his act together.
Asuka’s current character on Monday Night Raw is very interesting. She mysteriously sashays her way to the ring in an extravagant fur coat and mask. Underneath is a technicolor outfit, full of vastly contrasting and mismatched patterns. Then, once the bell rings, she is a brutal striker who can take your head off with a perfectly executed kick. Sure, it’s a hell of a lot to take in, but she really makes it work. When she was wrestling under the name “Kana” in Japan, she was a lot more upfront about being a ferocious brawler. She would often paint her face to resemble a bloodied demon and wore darker colors like red and black to match her ghastly appearance. Needless to say, Asuka’s appearance was much more fearsome than the cornucopia of colors she parades around in today. That being said, she is still one of the most formidable wrestlers to ever step between the ropes, no matter what color she wears.
4. Scott Hall
Who would have known that Scott Hall used to be such a big boy? And what a mustache? There’s a special spot in the “Dad ‘Stache Hall of Fame” for that thing. Resembling Tom Selleck mixed with The Incredible Hulk, Hall was pegged by the American Wrestling Association’s owner, Verne Gange, to be the face of the company. After a few stints in both NWA and WCW, he would eventually find his way to WWE in the early 90s. This was right as the company was smack-dab in the middle of a steroid trial. With folks like Hulk Hogan being written off of TV in favor of smaller performers like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, it was not surprising that Hall debuted with a drastically different physique. As a leaner, meaner wrestler, Hall adopted the persona of “Razor Ramon,” a character based off of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana form the 1983 movie Scarface.
3. Bray Wyatt
If you put together these two pictures of Bray Wyatt, you’ll come so close to recreating that t-shirt where Bob Marley is standing back to back with a lion.
The man on the left (my left) looks so bright-eyed and full of wonderment, he can’t wait to get in the ring and one day become a world champion. The man on the right has seen things. Terrible things of which should never be spoken. He’s spent the better portion of the past five years laying on his back and counting the lights. The guy on the left even bought a new suit for picture day! Golly-gee, he’s just happy to be there! The guy on the right wants to know if he can go to your place to smoke whatever he’s found in his pocket because his van is getting fumigated. Astonishingly, these looks aren’t as bad or boring as his in-between phase as Husky Harris.
Before he was banzai-dropping jabronis as the Japanese Yokozuna, Rodney Anoa’i stayed true to his Samoan roots in the AWA where he wrestled as Kokina Maximus (which sounds like something a character from Pulp Fiction would order at Big Kahuna Burger). Resembling more of a Headshrinker than a sumo wrestler, the future World Heavyweight Champion would wear traditional Samoan gear and had messy hair to achieve the savage look that his family had made famous. He was also a couple hundred pounds lighter than when he was at his peak. When he became Yokozuna, his Samoan heritage was abandoned in favor of a Japanese backstory. He would wear the traditional sumo mawashi and kept his hair in a bun to achieve the look. His weight would continue to increase as his career when on. When he debuted for WWE in 1992, he was billed at 505-pounds, a far cry from the 760-pounds he allegedly weighed at his heaviest as a performer.
1. Kevin Owens
When Kevin Owens first got his start was a professional wrestler as a teenager, he was in very good shape for someone his age. As time went on, and he spent more and more time traveling from show to show, constantly on the road, his body began to change. He became rounder. His in-ring work would only progress though, as he became one of the most sought after workers on the independent scene. In an interview with Colt Cabana from 2012 on The Art of Wrestling Podcast, Owens said, “I’ve never really dedicated the time that I should have to getting in the kind of shape that would allow me to make a lot of money in wrestling.” Fortunately for KO, WWE would eventually change the way they see their ideal wrestler, and the prizefighter would indeed go on to making a lot of money in the business. Most impressively, he’s done it without six-pack abs and 24-inch pythons.
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