The arc that many careers in professional wrestling take is an interesting one. Success is never guaranteed, and for those that achieve it, there is often a long road of performing on the undercard before attaining main event status. The story is much the same for many of the most renowned stars of the squared circle over the years. Many of these names were forced to start out as mere mid-card talent, or at the bottom of the totem pole as a jobber. It wasn’t a glamorous beginning, but eventually the extent of their talent would be recognized.
Before that happened, however, these wrestlers were slotted at a much lower level on the card then they would be years later. Some of them had to work their way up through various promotions, and others were in a mainstream promotion right away, but not at the main even level. Every story is different, but all of these top-tier wrestlers had to start out near the bottom of the pile before finding fame and fortune. Let’s take a look at who specifically forged through the tough road to superstardom.
Ranked below are 15 wrestling stars who first looked like jobbers earlier in their career.
15. Samoa Joe
With a career that began similarly to Styles’, and around the same time, Joe started in Ultimate Pro Wrestling, a short time after completing his training on the West Coast. While he had some initial success in the ring, there were many who believed that he didn’t have a long-term career in the business, and that he should give it up.
A few years later, Joe broke through in ROH, and he was able to finally get the recognition he deserved. It may have taken a while for people to accept his unorthodox body shape and intense character, but ultimately it was for the best. He’s proven himself to be one of the top talents in the world for the majority of his career. He just needed an outlet to showcase the extent of what his in-ring ability had to offer.
14. Mick Foley
Long before he was in WWE, or even in WCW as Cactus Jack, Foley was serving as actual enhancement talent on WWE programming in the mid-’80s. Of course, he was naturally always on the losing end of these squash matches, but it served to get him acclimated with the promotion, and would later be useful when he was one of the top stars in the company.
Foley also participated in numerous indie promotions around the same time, also working as a jobber for WCW. All of these various stints and appearances served him well several years later, when he was in the main event scene for numerous companies. When hardcore wrestling became commonplace in the ’90s, Foley was a natural fit, and got to showcase the best of what he had to offer, which include some of the greatest matches of the decade.
13. Owen Hart
There’s no doubt that Owen was one of the supreme in-ring talents of his time, but it took a while for him to really get going in WWE. He was first slotted as The Blue Blazer, where he was strictly a mid-card attraction, and then later teamed up with Koko B. Ware as one-half of the tag team High Energy. Nothing really stuck until he struck out on his own for a singles career.
Once the creative team allowed that to happen, he found himself on the winning end of matches far more often. It got to the point where some even claimed he had surpassed his brother Bret in terms of the quality of matches, and uniqueness in the ring. Whatever the opinion, Hart persevered through several limiting gimmicks before he became one of the top stars in WWE as the ’90s progressed.
12. John Cena
Cena’s career was on the fast track to nowhere when he began it using The Prototype gimmick in Ultimate Pro Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling. Both were WWE affiliates, but it was clear that this was not a character that was going to be conducive to success at the WWE level, much less in the waning days of The Attitude Era.
Thankfully, he didn’t adopt it when he got his main roster call-up in 2002, and instead opted for his Doctor of Thuganomics rapping gimmick, which was much more suited to the product at the time. Still, main event success didn’t ensue until a while later, but Cena at least somewhat had to pay his dues in the business. A couple gimmick changes was all it really took, but now he’s indisputably the most popular wrestler in the world on a mainstream, crossover level.
Entering the WWE as the 1-2-3 Kid, Sean Waltman wasn’t considered to have very much in the way of a future with the company. He spent some time as a jobber on the main programming, until he scored a famous “upset” victory against Razor Ramon on Raw one night in 1993. He quickly became a face underdog character after that, and went on to great heights as the X-Pac character in the late-’90s.
Exactly how much intentions the WWE creative team had of using the 1-2-3 Kid as a jobber until they booked his upset victory is up for debate. They may have had it planned from the time they signed Waltman, or they could have thought it up on the spot after he was already being used as a jobber. Whatever the case, Waltman’s transition from jobber to upper-card talent is one of the most famous in wrestling history.
10. Kevin Owens
It was a long road with many ups and downs before making it to WWE, but Owens has finally reached the top of the mountain. While he’s been a star at times on the indie circuit, he’s also been a certified lower card talent, someone who wasn’t exactly the prototype for a successful performer in WWE.
Which makes his elevation to the top even more impressive. Owens switched promotions many times over his early career (mainly under his real name, Kevin Steen), and while he carved out somewhat of a niche for himself, almost nobody predicted that he would one day go on to be one of the most recognizable wrestlers in the world, on the biggest stage. That’s exactly what happened however, and now Owens is reaping the benefits, with a highly entertaining character in WWE.
9. Rick Steiner
In the beginning of Steiner’s career, there was a brief period of time when his brother Scott wasn’t alongside him as a tag team. This was a nondescript time in Steiner’s career in the NWA’s Jim Crockett Promotions. He was shoehorned into a mid-card stable with Mike Rotunda and Kevin Sullivan known as The Varsity Club. It just never fit his style or personality that would eventually be recognized in The Steiner Brothers tag team.
Thankfully, that would come to fruition a short time later. Scott would join Rick, and they would go on to be one of the best tag teams of their era, winning titles in both NWA and WWE over the years, before each of them went on to a singles career in the late-’90s. Had Steiner’s career stayed on its original trajectory, his career may have turned out very different, and not for the better.
8. Rob Van Dam
In his days before ECW and WWE, Van Dam appeared on WCW programming as Robbie V, which included none of the theatrics or advanced move set that his character would develop later on. He won a few matches early on, but was quickly slotted in a jobber role, and it was clear that he would never advance as long as he stayed in the WCW ranks.
The truth was, WCW was sitting on a gold mine with RVD, but they were never able to recognize the extent of his ability. That would come a short time later when he became a star in ECW, which he used as a springboard for the rest of his career. Initially though, it looked like he was destined to remain a marginal talent for his entire career.
7. Kevin Nash
Nash broke into WCW around the same time as Van Dam did, and the results were fairly similar. After a plethora of terrible gimmicks from his early days which included Oz and Vinnie Vegas, he finally found traction in WWE as Diesel. Before that, however, he was just a huge wrestler that nobody in WCW had any idea what to do with, and his future looked bleak.
They really were terrible gimmicks, and it would take the leather-clad Diesel character and his association with Shawn Michaels to break him from his mold. This allowed Nash to go on to great heights with the nWo. Had these two things not happened, we likely wouldn’t be talking about him today, because it was clear he was D.O.A. when he first got into WCW in terms of being a viable, main event talent.
6. Justin Credible
Before really breaking his career in ECW as Justin Credible, he was billed as P.J. Walker in early-’90s WWE in the company’s stable of enhancement talent. He was mainly involved in squash matches for several years, before finally landing a somewhat viable gimmick in the form of Aldo Montoya.
This didn’t fare well either, however, and even though it started out promising, he was demoted back down to jobber status within a year. Ultimately, he was sent to ECW, where the gimmick change to Justin Credible would finally pay off, and send his career to new heights. During his time in WWE, it just wasn’t in the cards, and there was no hope for advancement through the ranks.
In the midst of a ton of terrible gimmicks from the mid-’90s WWE, Glenn Jacobs was first billed as Isaac Yankem; Jerry Lawler’s evil dentist who would defeat Bret Hart once and for all. If that sounds bad to you, then you’re on the right track. It was never a good use of Jacobs’ talent, and the Kane character would only come along several years later before his career would finally take off.
In the meantime, this was really a terrible gimmick. It didn’t allow Jacobs to win much of anything at all in the WWE ranks, and his career looked to be going downhill fast. Luckily for him, there were just enough equally terrible gimmicks floating around at the time, so his didn’t stick out nearly as much as it should have.
Here’s another victim of some truly horrendous early-’90s gimmicks. Before Raven adopted his most successful character, he was the definition of a faceless mid-carder. Several bland characters such as Johnny Polo and Scotty Flamingo surfaced during his early days with both WWE and WCW. To no surprise, he found little success with either of these endeavors.
It took a stint in ECW for him to adopt the Raven character, which has been one of the most successful gimmicks in the history of the business. From there, he would use the character wherever he went, and ultimately he became one of the best wrestlers of his era, capturing titles all over the circuit during the ’90s. It was definitely for the better, and Raven is one of the few to escape the doldrums of bad early-’90s gimmicks.
3. A.J. Styles
Before Styles won a title in seemingly every promotion under the sun, he was wrestling under the moniker of Mr. Olympia, a masked wrestler in the Georgia-based National Championship Wrestling promotion. He also wrestled in the lower card of both WCW and albeit very briefly, WWE. It was a far cry from the work he would later go on to do in TNA, ROH, NJPW and now WWE, but Styles had to start somewhere.
Thankfully for him, this only continued for another year or two, before he was able to sign with TNA, and make his way on to more respectable Indy promotions, which ended up catapulting his career in the ring, and making him recognized as one of the best wrestlers in the world. Styles has been one of the best wrestlers over the last 20 years, but even he had to begin his career in the doldrums.
2. Steve Austin
Having been one of the better young talents in WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin, logic would dictate that he would just carry over the gimmick when he first went to WWE. That didn’t end up happening. WWE creative, in all of their ineptitude at the time, gave him The Ringmaster gimmick, where he essentially was a pawn of Ted DiBiase, who they were trying to convert into a manager at the time.
The gimmick was faceless and terrible, and never showcased Austin’s true talents. Of course, it didn’t last long, and Austin’s career was revived at King Of The Ring ’96, where he cut the promo that definitively turned him into “Stone Cold.” As they say, the rest is history. Austin was a lower-mid card level talent when he first got to WWE, but that would change in due time, to the benefit of everyone.
1. Triple H
Having been given various lower-card gimmicks such as Terra Ryzing and Jean-Paul Levesque during his time with WCW, Triple H has overcome a lot to be one of the most powerful figures involved with WWE today. After surviving his faceless characters in WCW during the very early part of his career, things didn’t even improve when he first when to WWE. He was given his aristocratic Connecticut Blueblood gimmick, which wasn’t a great fit either. Maybe he wasn’t a straight-up jobber, but he definitely wasn’t anything more than a garden-variety member of the roster.
It wasn’t until he began teaming up with Shawn Michaels in what would become DX that the seeds of “Triple H” were beginning to be seen. From there on in he turned himself into one of the top main-event talents in the company, and simply one of the most popular wrestlers in history. Triple H’s career arc is almost astounding, as he went from essentially a no-name filler talent to one of the best wrestlers in the world, in a relatively brief amount of time in the ’90s.
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