Thanks to the fact they get hit in the head with steel chairs for a living, professional wrestlers aren’t necessarily known for being smart. One hardly needs to be a genius to bounce around in the squared circle, and some of the stuff Vince McMahon has his talent do might actually be detrimental to their mental health. Despite this perception, though, not every sports entertainer fits the cliché to a tee. In fact, a select few grapplers have shown absolutely remarkable intelligence, either by earning multiple diplomas, making incredible amounts of money, or simply having an impressive IQ.
While most wrestlers are probably far wiser than most fans realize, the correlation between intelligence and success in professional wrestler is predictably minimal. That said, in order to become a successful wrestling promoter, a great deal of business acumen is required, instantly making the titans of industry in that regard locks for this list. Of course, there are also plenty of superstars who didn’t necessarily achieve much in the business in spite of the fact they were hiding some serious brains beneath their gruff exteriors. Sometimes a wrestler’s intelligence gets brought up in his or her character, but even then, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction and figure out what WWE gimmicks are true to life. Keep reading to learn about 15 pro wrestlers you had no idea are way smarter than they look.
15 Vince McMahon
All right, so as the person who made more money from pro wrestling than virtually everyone else in the business combined, it should go without saying that Vince McMahon knows what he’s doing. In classic deranged billionaire fashion, however, the closer look a person takes at Vince, the less his success seems to make sense. McMahon has an extremely one-track mind coupled with a terrifying need for control, which has both hurt and helped his business in various ways. For all his confusing actions, questionable statements, and at times outright bizarre behavior, though, McMahon has indeed been a certified billionaire at certain points in his life. There’s no denying McMahon genuinely took WWE from a regional company into a worldwide franchise, and it takes concerted brilliance to pull a move like that off.
It might be fair to argue Bradshaw shouldn’t belong on this list, because his financial genius is fairly well known. Sure, he definitely would have belonged when he was an angry Texan, but after his breakthrough as a rich angry Texan, his success on the stock market was pretty much public knowledge. The change in character was predicted by JBL writing a book, Have More Money Now, all about how he became a self-made millionaire. Despite all this, thanks to a high-profile bullying scandal and a longstanding reputation for being a huge jerk backstage, chances are some fans are forgetting JBL has a pretty big brain beneath that cowboy hat of his. Quite frankly, this only makes his behavior more abhorrent, as he knows exactly how much damage he’s causing when terrorizing his victims.
13 Mick Foley
Thanks to his high profile, Mick Foley is another superstar who fans might simultaneously realize is pretty smart and yet still think he doesn’t look the part at all. This was doubly true back in the 1990s, whether Foley was portraying the hardcore maniac Cactus Jack or the deranged psychopath-turned goofball comedian Mankind. Granted, it was also at that time period that Foley started to reveal he was more than the glorified stuntman certain critics castigated him as by writing a series of autobiographies, memoirs, and then later fiction. It all started with Have A Nice Day, the eventual New York Times bestseller released in 1999. Unlike the average athlete, Foley wrote all of his books without any help from aides or ghostwriters, and his works of pure fiction were likewise entirely solo efforts.
12 D’Lo Brown
Europe couldn’t have asked for a better champion, regardless of whether or not D’Lo Brown was actually from the continent. Known mostly for spinning his head around and possessing a unique brand of charisma that made him a star in the Attitude Era, fans today might not even remember the four-time European Champion, nor his short turn with the Intercontinental title. Those who do likely also remember that Jim Ross loved mentioning D’Lo was a Certified Public Accountant prior to becoming a wrestler, having graduated from the University of Maine. In order to be any sort of accountant, a person needs to be pretty darn good at math, and public certification doubly ensures Brown must have filled that requirement. Brown’s math skills also must have been helpful in converting things to the metric system whenever he felt like living the gimmick.
Wrestlers who prefer to remain outside of the WWE Universe tend to have a lower profile, and that goes double for the female superstars who refuse to conform to the mainstream ideals of what women wrestlers should be. All it takes is one look at MsChif to realize she may not fit into Vince McMahon’s mold of what a “diva” should be, though this hardly means she’s lacking in skill. On the contrary, MsChif might just be too intense for the ladies of WWE, and her intelligence only adds to that viciousness, as per usual. Concurrently to dominating the women’s independent scene, MsChif has been working in a microbiology laboratory as a genetic scientist. Most of the superstars on this list at least slowed down their academic pursuits as their careers advanced, which could be one advantage of MsChif never breaking through to the mainstream.
Depending on what part of his career one looks at, Kane has at times looked like a silent, brainless monster and an evil political mastermind. That second one is probably closer to the truth, although he probably wouldn’t be entirely keen on the evil part. In contrast to his monstrous character, Kane has actually long held aspirations at one day entering the political field, cemented with a recent bid to become the mayor of Knox County, Tennessee. Granted, not all politicians are necessarily smart, and people who disagree with Kane’s philosophies may still deny he knows what he’s talking about. Even so, it takes a considerable memory to put together various philosophies and present lengthy speeches on any subject, which Kane has done with his politics all over the world. On top of this, Kane already proved he’s at least smarter than other wrestlers, by defeating his coworkers on an episode of The Weakest Link.
9 Eve Torres
WWE superstars have it bad enough when it comes making people take them seriously, and that goes double for women who look like Eve Torres. Simply wearing professional-looking glasses while being the Assistant General Manager of SmackDown wasn’t enough to make fans forget Torres entered the business through the Diva Search after spending a few years as a model. That said, Torres probably wouldn’t have even needed the smoke and mirrors if she simply explained to fans she attended the University of Southern California with a full scholarship. It’s not like she used this for some lightweight major either, as she eventually earned a degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering. She also received an award for Academic Excellence through her work with the Omega Phi Beta sorority, further confirming she was far more than a pretty face.
8 Wade Barrett
With his crooked nose making a past life in bare knuckles boxing clear for the world to see, it might be bad news for Wade Barrett to hear he doesn’t look like the brightest bulb in the box. On the other hand, hearing about what else Barrett was doing at that same stretch in his life might wash away any such negative connotations. When not punching people in the face, Barrett studied at the University of Liverpool, ultimately graduating with a degree in marine biology. This field meant Barrett spent most of his time in a science laboratory studying animals, hardly what people would expect members of a fight club were doing in their day jobs. Barrett has been away from WWE and wrestling in general since his release from the company, possibly having returned to the lab at least for now.
7 Kevin Nash
Reading books and earning degrees definitely goes a long way in proving one’s intelligence, but there’s far more to intelligence than what’s on paper. Take for example Kevin Nash, who has had a reputation as one of the smartest wrestlers in the industry amongst his coworkers largely due to the way he handled his jump to WCW in the mid-1990s. As controversial as Nash leaving WWE is to this day, no one denies he was making a completely rational decision from a financial standpoint. The logic kept on coming when Nash and his friend Scott Hall had their WCW contracts tweaked in a matter of months, adding more millions to their already-considerable wages. Due to Hall’s personal problems, Nash was seen as the mastermind behind these negotiations, and he remains highly respected for it to this day.
6 Xavier Woods
Unicorns or not, The New Day are some of the most ridiculous characters in WWE today, and Xavier Woods might be the biggest goofball of the bunch. Forget them being professional wrestlers; Woods and the rest of New Day tend not to look smart because that’s the entire point of their jokes. Of course, the real punchline is that Woods is not only the most intelligent member of the team, but also one of the more accredited superstars on the WWE roster. While training to be a wrestler, Woods concurrently attended Furman University, where he graduated with two degrees, a master’s in psychology and a bachelor’s in philosophy. Becoming a WWE superstar in no way slowed Woods down, as he tweeted in 2015 he’s still working towards a PhD in educational psychology, as well.
Typically, when a professional wrestler doesn’t look particularly smart, it’s because they do look like the cliché muscle head who never stepped into a library. Asuka most certainly doesn’t belong in this category, as a beautiful woman who also happens to scare the crap out of her competition. In addition to her terrifying expressions, Asuka also inspires fear with her vast intellect, which she showed off for years before becoming a wrestler as a successful graphic designer. After graduating from the Osaka University of Arts Junior College, Asuka worked for both Nintendo and Microsoft, easily two of the top companies in her chosen field. That she mostly put this lucrative and productive career behind her to tie women up in knots only adds to her mystique, a sign the Empress of Tomorrow is a multifaceted woman, to say the least.
Looking like a mixture of the coolest spies Hollywood has to offer, Cesaro is at least halfway towards wearing his immense intelligence on his sleeves. There’s just enough gruff Jason Statham beneath his suave James Bond style to make WWE fans wonder, although Cesaro himself could probably dispel all confusion in short order if he really wanted to. Not only that, but Cesaro could do so in five different languages: Italian, French, English, German, and his native Swiss German. Learning just one language can be a serious hassle, and although the process allegedly becomes easier the more languages one learns, this is no way cheapens how impressive it is for Cesaro to be so multilingual. Unlike some other examples on this list, Cesaro’s accolades may be reasonably well known, as intelligence tends to become part of his character whenever playing a heel.
3 Triple H
For all the talk about Triple H one day replacing Vince McMahon as the top executive in the WWE Universe, he still has a long way to go in convincing the public-at-large he’s ready for the role. Unlike most of the other names on this list, HHH doesn’t have much in the way of degrees to prove he’s more than your average sports entertainer. What he does have is NXT, combined with one of the most impressive climbs up a billion dollar industry anyone could possibly conceive. In less than 20 years, HHH went from a low-level performer to where he is today, essentially the equivalent to a climb from the mailroom to the executive board. With his developmental brand supplementing an already unmatched understanding of wrestling’s corporate side, Triple H is clearly more than Vince McMahon’s doofus son-in-law.
2 David Otunga
There are smart wrestlers, there are college-educated wrestlers, and then there’s David Otunga. Not satisfied with merely dominating one field, Otunga earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Illinois prior to attending Harvard Law School. Passing the Illinois state bar exam with ease, Otunga practiced law with the Sidley Austin firm for several years before he started wrestling, while working in laboratories to sate his psychological interests and occasionally acting on top of that, just for fun. With all these credentials backing him up, it was almost impossible for Otunga not to use his intelligence in his character, so fans are probably more in tune with his brains than the other names that have been mentioned. However, the breadth of Otunga’s intelligence is vast enough even experts may be surprised by the whole story.
Obviously, the wrestlers on this list are pretty smart. After all, that’s the entire point. At the same time, only one of them is smart enough to be a member of Mensa, recognized throughout the world as the largest high-IQ society around. In stark contrast to how he appeared inside the ring, the one wrestler to posses certifiably world-class intelligence happens to be the homeless looking derelict from The Bowery, Raven. Granted, this may not be entirely surprising as Raven’s deceptive genius had been part of his character even in the early days as Johnny Polo. Whether he was being an obnoxious jerk or a miserable one, the idea with Raven was always how his awful behavior didn’t match his intelligence quotient, which he claims is around 143—meaning he's smarter than about 98% of the population.