Professional wrestling is an industry where different people’s opinions can and will shape the future of the business and the stars within it. At times, those opinions are going to clash with the views of others. Also, let’s be honest, sometimes those opinions are just going to be flat out wrong. When you’re helping to book a live show, often multiple times per week, there are going to be occasions where you make the wrong call.
We see it each and every week on Raw and SmackDown. Fans demand that every minute of every show be absolutely must watch, but simply by the law of averages, that isn’t going to happen. What wrestling promoters and bookers must do though is make sure if mistakes are made, that they aren’t big ones. Ones that won’t have a lasting effect on the company.
That’s where this list of 15 individuals comes in. Sometimes a mistake can be overlooking a talent that really should be getting pushed, or at least being given the opportunity to shine. So many times in pro wrestling history, we’ve heard stories of Superstars who are household names now being told at the start of their careers that they would never amount to anything.
These next 15 names are probably ones most of you will recognize, but at some point during their careers they were led to believe that wrestling was not the path for them.
Batista had a better run in WWE than anyone expected. During his stint, he managed a very impressive six World Title runs. Batista had a very tough upbringing though. As a child, he had murders happen right outside his front door. He stole cars at the age of 13 and later in life, he was arrested for a fight he got into while working as a bouncer. It wasn’t any of this that had him thinking he wouldn’t make it though.
Batista started his wrestling career at WCW’s Power Plant and was told by a trainer that he would never make it in the wrestling business. How wrong they were. Luckily for Batista, and for us, he tried his luck at WWE instead and they did see the potential in him. Just another one of WCW’s many mistakes in the company’s final days.
14. The Miz
The Miz took a very unconventional path to get to WWE. He began his career on reality TV show The Real World ,and during his time on the show, he developed an alter ego which is where The Miz we know and hate today was born. His next step was the WWE reality show Tough Enough and even though he was only runner up, he managed to eventually earn himself a WWE contract.
It was this novel and out of the ordinary path that made The Miz not very well-liked when he did arrive in WWE. The majority of the roster had, and still does have, a wrestling background or a sporting background. As The Miz recently indicated on Talking Smack, he was told by talents that he wouldn’t last three months. Almost 11 years and a WWE championship reign later, he sure proved them wrong.
13. Diamond Dallas Page
If you think The Miz broke the mold when it came to breaking into the pro wrestling business, wait until you hear about the path of Diamond Dallas Page. He was a manager in AWA and WCW and also spent a little time behind the announce table. DDP decided at the not so tender age of 35 that he wanted to step between the ropes and get a piece of the action himself.
To begin wrestling at such a late stage in life is pretty much unheard of. To do it and have the success DDP had in the years that followed is completely unheard of, aside from the case of Page. After finishing his training, DDP went on to win the WCW Heavyweight Title three times and will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017.
12. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes’ story is a slightly different one. Being the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes as well as clearly having the right ‘look’ to be a pro wrestler, I’m sure nobody told him outright that he’d never make it. However, it was plain to see over a period of years that WWE didn’t see the potential in Rhodes. Like so many before him, Rhodes was given tacky gimmick after tacky gimmick by WWE.
Dashing Cody Rhodes. Stardust. All personas Cody did the best that he could with but nothing that was going to shoot him to the top. In 2016, Cody took a leap of faith and left WWE. Since then, he has proven through the independent circuit that WWE were wrong to not let him just be himself. Hopefully it’s not the last we’ve seen of Cody Rhodes in WWE.
Even though she may be absent from the roster right now due to neck surgery and other issues, it can be argued that Paige was the one who really triggered the Women’s Revolution. The Brit first showcased her talents in some great matches on NXT and then won the WWE Diva’s Title on her first night on Raw from AJ Lee.
It wasn’t all plain sailing on Paige’s way to the top, however. In fact, it was kind of the opposite of what happened to Cody Rhodes. Paige had a WWE tryout back in the UK long before she was signed, where she dyed her hair blonde and acted how she thought WWE wanted her to. Evidently she failed with that attempt. When WWE returned to the UK, she tried out again choosing to be herself, the Paige that we know from WWE today.
10. Zach Gowen
Zach Gowen may be one of the most unique wrestlers to have ever been a part of WWE. For those of you who weren’t watching the product during Gowen’s run, he only had one leg. At the age of eight, Zach lost one of his legs to cancer. Growing up, when Gowen would speak of becoming a pro wrestler, while many may not have said it to his face, you can imagine most would have thought it was nothing but a pipe dream.
However in 2003, Gowen would make his debut for WWE on SmackDown. Not only that but he would do it alongside the immortal Hulk Hogan. Okay, Hogan was masquerading as Mr. America at the time but we all knew it was The Hulkster underneath the mask.
9. Ric Flair
The 16-time world champion Ric Flair’s inclusion on this list may shock you. Who in their right mind at any point in Flair’s long and storied career would have the audacity to tell The Nature Boy that he wouldn’t make it as a pro wrestler? Well, at one point very early on in Flair’s career, that really did seem to be the case.
In 1975, Flair was involved in a plane crash that broke his back in three places. Despite being told he would never wrestle again, Ric returned to the ring in a mere eight months, pretty incredible. Prior to the crash, you wouldn’t have recognized Flair’s wrestling style. The broken back forced him to adapt to his Nature Boy persona whereas before 1975 he wrestled as more of a brawler.
8. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy arrived in WWE at a time where big men and big personalities were the order of the day. Both him and his brother Matt, but Jeff even more so, did not have the look of a pro wrestler that was going to make it big. For his first three years in WWE, Jeff was merely a jobber, a wrestler that would lose time and time again to make bigger stars look strong.
Plus, he only managed to attain that gig by lying about his age as Razor Ramon’s original jobber failed to turn up, meaning Jeff took his place on short notice for his debut. Very few wrestlers manage to shake off the label of jobber to become a big star, but Jeff Hardy did just that.
7. Mikey Whipwreck
An undersized underdog, Mikey Whipwreck. His career in the pro wrestling business began as nothing more than part of the ECW ring crew. However, prior to the events, himself and others would mess around in the ring, and it was then that this otherwise normal looking guy caught the eye of Joey Styles and then subsequently Paul Heyman.
He was given formal training by Mick Foley, spoiler alert–a man who will appear a little later on this list. Whipwreck went from ring crew to ECW Superstar, to Television and Tag champion and even once held the ECW Heavyweight Championship. Pretty impressive for a guy under 6 feet tall, weighing in at less than 200 pounds.
6. Kevin Owens
Anybody that watches WWE’s current product knows that Kevin Owens should not be taken lightly. On first appearance, he may not look like the best in-ring performer you’ve ever seen but trust me if you haven’t already, give him a chance. Like I’m sure many fans have done, powers that be in the wrestling business have also judged Kevin Owens by looks alone. To this day, former WWE writer Vince Russo is extremely vocal on how he believes Owens shouldn’t be in the strong position that he finds himself in.
However, back in 2010, someone with much more say in KO’s career at the time shared that opinion, Jim Cornette. Owens’ contract with Ring of Honor came to an end and while others within the company kept promising Owens certain things and matches, Cornette would continually throw up road blocks. Kevin has come a long, long way since then though, yet I doubt Cornette would admit he was in the wrong even now.
5. John Cena
John Cena was probably the last man you were expecting to see on this list. However, even he found himself wondering at a time in his career whether he was going to make it to the big time. Cena was a member of the famous developmental class of 2000. He trained to be a professional wrestler alongside Batista, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar.
Much was expected of Orton as he was a third generation Superstar and also Lesnar due to his NFL and NCAA background. John had neither of those things going for him. Next to Randy and Brock, Cena was somewhat of an afterthought. Who knew that he would not only surpass both of those men in WWE, but also transcend the wrestling business itself.
4. Mick Foley
As I mentioned earlier in this list, here’s the appearance of Mick Foley. Any fan worth their salt will not be surprised by Foley’s appearance on this list. Much like Kevin Owens, even to this day long after his retirement from in-ring competition, Mick still doesn’t look like a professional wrestler. During the height of his popularity, he was a pretty big guy, but not muscular, and always looked pretty scruffy whether he was Mankind, Cactus Jack or simply himself.
If there’s a mold for a pro wrestler, then Mick Foley could not have been further from it. That did not deter the now WWE Hall of Famer. Foley would train all day then sleep in his car then train all day again the next day. Then when he finally made it to the big time, he made a name for himself by doing things no one had ever seen before.
3. CM Punk
Much like Jeff Hardy from earlier on in this list, CM Punk had the look of someone you wouldn’t typically imagine becoming a professional wrestler. Clearly during his time with WWE, that was a view that both Vince McMahon and Triple H shared. However, Punk wasn’t going to let that stop him from becoming a success in the company. Despite never being viewed as a main event draw, Punk proved all of his doubters wrong.
Not only did he become a firm favorite with the fans but he made it all the way up to the lofty position of WWE Champion. In fact, one of his two reigns lasted a mammoth 434 days, the longest of the modern era. Despite proving himself time and time again, Punk, Vince and Triple H still never saw eye-to-eye and it ultimately led to him leaving WWE in 2014.
2. Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder has a similar story to CM Punk in that he wasn’t being pushed by WWE when it seemed like the fans were behind him. Ryder took a different route to Punk though when it came to forcing WWE to notice him. Following the closure of the rebooted ECW brand in 2010, Ryder was left with not much to do in WWE.
Long Island Iced Z took to the internet and began his very own web series, Z! True Long Island Story. The series gained a lot of success among many WWE fans and even though it had nothing to do with the company per se, Vince and co had to take notice. Ryder began to feature more prominently on WWE television, reaching the pinnacle of his career at WrestleMania 32, when he won the Intercontinental Title for the first time in his career at the prestigious event.
1. Daniel Bryan
There is no underdog story in the business of professional wrestling quite like that of Daniel Bryan. So many entries on this list had to work for their shot at the big time because they didn’t have the right ‘look’ and Bryan fits perfectly alongside them in that category. Even after tremendous success with Ring of Honor and around the world. Even when the fans were completely behind him and he was the most popular wrestler in the company, perhaps on the planet.
Even after all of that, WWE still didn’t see the merit in making Daniel Bryan their top guy. But he persevered and eventually reached the very top of the wrestling business, no less than he deserved. With Bryan being forced into early retirement due to injuries, that crowning moment at WrestleMania XXX seems a distant memory.
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