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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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