Today, wrestling is filled with people of all shapes and sizes – fat, small, tall and lean, muscular – there’s real variety on the roster of some of the major promotions out there. As long as you’re fit for wrestling and have the personality to attract the fans, the management does not really care whether you’re prancing about with a six pack or you have rolls of extra flab on your frame. Some who have graced the wrestling industry started lifting weights to get a bit more of a presence on camera, to sharpen up their physiques before stepping into the ring, but there have been plenty who lift weights just because they love to do so. They’ve had a love affair with the iron for yonks, not just to help them progress in the wrestling industry.
Bodybuilding is an art; bodybuilders build and sculpt their bodies, working on each and every body part to ensure everything’s visually striking, in proportion and aesthetically pleasing – it’s not all about packing on as much muscle mass as possible. Over the years, there have been pro wrestlers who have also been involved in the bodybuilding industry, some professionally and some for the enjoyment factor. Here are 15 of the most noteworthy wrestlers you did not know were bodybuilders.
15 The Ultimate Warrior
James Brian Hellwig had one hell of an eventful life. From writing to media appearances and motivational speaking, not to mention the legacy he left in the wrestling industry, Hellwig packed a lot into his 54 years.
Looking at footage of Hellwig in his prime, it’s obvious that he was no stranger to the gym. He entered the wrestling industry in 1985, at the still young age of 26, already possessing an Adonis-like figure, instantly putting the other wrestlers on the roster to shame.
That’s because he had already spent years pounding the iron – in fact, Hellwig entered the gym for the first time at the age of 11, and he was hooked. He started lifting to get some more confidence, then became infatuated with bodybuilder Robby Robinson and decided to pursue a career in bodybuilding. He competed on the amateur scene for a few years before wrestling came calling, and actually had a decent level of success, winning a couple of shows and placing in the top 5 of the others he entered. Bodybuilding’s one hard slog, so when the opportunity came to get involved with wrestling, it was a no-brainer for Hellwig.
14 Triple H
Now it’s obvious that Triple H in his prime liked to keep himself in shape and looking good, but what you guys might not have known is that it was actually his background in bodybuilding that got him into wrestling – just as he hoped it would.
The young Levesque was obsessed with wrestling – not really as a sport-entertainment industry at that time, but with how the wrestlers looked. At 14 years old, he made the decision to begin pumping iron, and quickly got the bug and got addicted to the sport of bodybuilding. Bit by bit, he built his body, and a few years later he was already competing and winning teenage shows – he won Mr. Teenage New Hampshire at the age of 18. All this served to give Levesque one solid physique when he made the foray into the wrestling, and he certainly fulfilled those early ambitions of looking like his favorite wrestling pros.
In 1985, Sting, or Steve Borden to go by his real name, got a proposition he couldn’t refuse, and made the leap from bodybuilding to wrestling along with James Brian Hellwig and a couple of other muscle men. These four wrestlers formed Powerteam USA and began wrestling in minor promotions in California wrestling territories.
Fast forward three decades and you wouldn’t really think Borden was once a bodybuilder but it’s true. He actually once embarked on a career pumping iron.
As a teenager he was very athletic and practiced a lot of sports, football, basketball, etc., so when he stepped into the gym for the first time and began taking bodybuilding seriously, his body just responded amazingly well and before long, Borden was competing in contests in and around California before getting spotted and making the transition to wrestling in 1985.
12 Hulk Hogan
In his prime – some may say even now – Hogan’s physique could rival some of the pro bodybuilders out there. It’s his body which enhanced his macho man persona and made him into an all-American hero, and one of the most recognizable figures in the wrestling industry today. Yes, steroids had a part to play – think back to the whole steroid scandal of the 1990s – but also a lot of hard work, dedication, perseverance, blood, sweat and tears went into molding the Hogan physique.
When Terry started bodybuilding for the first time, he certainly wasn’t a hulk. He was more preoccupied with rocking around the music scene and everything that comes with being a musician in a rock band – drugs, sex and rock’n’roll! However, he started bodybuilding and pretty quickly built an imposing physique, one which ultimately got him noticed and involved in wrestling.
11 John Morrison
The Adonis-like John Morrison may not be the biggest guy on the scene, but boy is he shredded and possesses one awe-inspiring physique. Guys want to be him and girls want to be with him. He has what many people would deem to be the perfect physique, not overly massive, not too lean and skinny – he’s chiseled his body to pure perfection and would give any Men’s Physique competitor at this year’s Mr. Olympia – the premier bodybuilding show in the world – a run for his money.
Morrison trains like his life depends on it and his hard work has certainly paid off. Wrestling aside, his body has got him noticed in the bodybuilding industry, and although he’s never stepped on stage in a bodybuilding competition, he’s graced the front pages of some of the biggest bodybuilding magazines around, such as the world-renowned Muscle & Fitness.
10 Billy Graham
The fact that the "Superstar" Billy Graham could hang with the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger – the best pro bodybuilder of all time – in the gym with him certainly warrants him finding a place on this list.
Arnold dominated the bodybuilding industry, then went on rule the roost in the movie industry. Graham may not have done the same in bodybuilding – he was still one of the biggest names, but compete with Arnold and you’re always going to be in his shadow – but he went on to marry bodybuilding and wrestling together.
He rose to prominence in the bodybuilding industry way back in 1961 and won a ton of shows. In his prime, he weighed in at 325 pounds of rock hard muscle and was as strong as an ox, competing in strongman events in addition to bodybuilding contests. When he began wrestling in 1970, the fans were awestruck; he was one of the first muscle men in wrestling and paved the way for the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair to follow in his footsteps.
9 Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner certainly had one of the best bodies in wrestling history. The guy was – and still is – massive and had one of the freakiest physiques in the industry.
Steiner’s another guy who followed in Billy Graham’s footsteps. When he started out in the wrestling industry, Steiner was lean and chiseled, but over the years, he just grew and grew into an utter mass monster. When the “Big Poppa Pump” persona was born, Steiner weighed in at over 300 pounds of pure muscle. What was freaky is that Steiner transformed himself into the Big Poppa Pump within a matter of years, right in front of the fans’ eyes.
Even today ,Steiner could cut it on the Mr. Olympia stage; bodybuilding propelled him into the limelight and turned him from a star into a superstar loved by the masses.
When Aksana was on WWE television, she started out mostly as a seductive character who would engage in backstage segments with SmackDown GM Theodore Long. There wasn't really much to her character and she wasn't exactly an imposing figure, so being a former bodybuilder is not something that would have crossed your mind when examining her. But in fact, Aksana began bodybuilding as a teenager and even competed regularly. Eventually, she caught WWE's attention while also working as a fitness model and a personal trainer.
Unfortunately, Aksana's run in WWE was nothing that memorable once she started competing in the ring. With the WWE in a new era of women's wrestling where females are expected to tear the house down, Aksana was released from the company a couple of years ago.
If you take a look at former WWE Divas Champion Kaitlyn's Instagram page, you can tell that fitness is her life. She and her husband PJ constantly post photos of them working out and Kaitlyn (Celeste Braun) even has a clothing line designed for fit women. She even posed nude for a bodybuilding magazine earlier this year, as the sport is clearly still an influence on her daily life. While she no longer competes professionally, she still follows the lifestyle and she is never shy about showing her body off.
It was always clear throughout her time in WWE that she was a little more muscular than the other women on the roster and her bodybuilding background surely explains it. Her time in WWE lasted just a few years, as her first passion was, and still is, bodybuilding.
6 David Otunga
This guy’s just impressive all-round. From attending Harvard, managing a science lab, acting and wrestling, Otunga’s already packed a hell of lot into his 36 years on the planet; it’s a miracle he has time for anything else, let alone a sport which requires 24-hour-a-day dedication – bodybuilding.
However, he somehow managed to build one of the most impressive physiques on the planet, despite all of his other commitments.
Just like John Morrison, Otunga’s a bodybuilder just because he loves the iron game, and has never stepped on stage and competed. Like Morrison, Otunga’s also appeared on the cover of Muscle & Fitness and he credits his idol – Arnold Schwarzenegger – for sparking his interest in bodybuilding. The spark was lit many years ago, and now the results are there for all to see.
5 Alexa Bliss
When you look at Alexa Bliss's petite physique, you wouldn't suspect that she was once into bodybuilding, but that is indeed the case. Alexis Kaufman once competed in the Arnold Classic. Bliss actually suffered from an eating disorder early in her life and she credits bodybuilding with saving her life, as her disorder was life threatening. In fact, her anorexia got so bad, that her heart rate once dropped all the way down to 28, forcing her to be rushed to a hospital.
She was eventually signed by WWE in 2013 to a developmental deal and she has since worked her way up to the main roster. She's since toned down her physique but is obviously still in terrific shape.
She's certainly come a long way in the last three years, as it seems she will in fact one day win a Women's Championship in WWE.
4 Jesse Ventura
This guy’s had one hell of an eventful career, wrestling aside. He had already had an action-packed life before getting into wrestling. He served in the U.S. Navy for six years, after which he had to find something else to occupy his time and ease him back into civilian life. He got himself onto a college course in North Hennepin Community College in Minneapolis, and it was there that he began bodybuilding. He quickly built up a physique, did a bit of work as a bodyguard and then entered the world of professional wrestling as the bully-ish beach bodybuilder, Jesse Ventura.
He’s also a good buddy of Arnold’s; hang with the best and they bring you up to their level. Ventura hasn’t quite reached the heights of Arnold, but he’s certainly done damn well for himself.
3 Ric Flair
Flair has a legacy in the wrestling industry that’s going to be hard to surpass. He’s regarded as the best pro of all time because he had the complete package and was ideally suited to life in the limelight in wrestling.
Flair’s known for his wrestling prowess and charisma, but also for his body. He began lifting weights with former strongman, Olympian and wrestler, Ken Patera in the late 1960s. Like many of the others on this list, when Flair stepped into the gym with Patera, he was hooked. So when Ric Flair was unveiled to the wrestling world, he was already about 300 pounds of muscle. Eventually, a plane crash left him severely injured and in order to continue his career, he had to alter his look. A trimmed down Flair ended up being perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time and probably was the best conditioned wrestler of his time.
2 John Cena
John Cena’s without question one of the most decorated pros in the wrestling industry today. When wrestling began losing its star names during the early 2000s, the spotlight was thrust upon Cena, and he didn’t disappoint, winning a ton of titles and gaining a huge fan following in a career that’s still going strong. He’s evolved from a “punk ass” rapper to become one of the most popular figures in the wrestling industry today.
Before wrestling, Cena was actually a competitive bodybuilder. He built up his body at Gold’s Gym Venice, where he also worked, and stepped on stage a number of times before following in his father’s footsteps and entering the wrestling industry. Over the years, he’s still managed to maintain that awesome physique – credit to him for sticking at it.
Batista used the sport of bodybuilding to help him down a different path and make some positive changes in his life. Batista lived in poverty, witnessed horrific scenes of brutality at such a young age and was constantly getting into trouble with the law. He’s gone on record to say that bodybuilding saved his life and stopped him from ending up in the gutter.
During his early years in wrestling, Batista was massive – the very definition of a mass monster. He then leaned out a bit while he dabbled in MMA, but still has a considerable amount of muscle packed onto his 6'6" frame. Ultimately, his physique would help get him over in the wrestling business, as he clearly had the look Vince McMahon looked for in a top star.
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