The story goes that every wrestler has to start somewhere – some performers are fortunate enough to begin their careers directly starting in WWE, while others have worked their way up through bingo halls and in front of less than a hundred fans. A wrestler’s rookie year is nothing to take lightly as the learning experiences through that time are invaluable, and will certainly shape the rest of their career.
Do you want to know what else they are good for? Brining up embarrassing memories for those wrestlers, and compiling them all together so we can laugh in unison. Sometimes wrestlers are slapped with embarrassing gimmicks, outfits and hairstyles that it is difficult to believe that they overcome it. Other times we are able to perfectly capture an awkward moment that took place during the wrestler’s rookie year, and now we can relive them all at once!
Every wrestler on the WWE roster had to go through some adversity in their career before making it big. Maybe they didn't have the right look, the right character, or they simply hadn't really grown into their bodies yet. In any event, they clearly don't look like the Superstars you see today.
Enjoy 20 Embarrassing Rookie Year Photos Of Current WWE Superstars You Need To See:
21 Roman Reigns
It is no secret that Roman Reigns’ popularity is split among wrestling fans (or as Michael Cole would like to call him, he is “controversial”). Fans are either big fans of the powerhouse wrestler, or they are consistently disappointed in his wrestling and promo delivery. No matter where you sit currently on the Roman Reigns project, there is one that is clear for everyone – this picture of him from his time in Florida Championship Wrestling is hilarious! Imagine Reigns still competed in this type of attire? Can you picture him wrestling Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania like this? Or better yet, try and picture him defeating The Undertaker dressed this way. If we were to analyze it a little bit further, there is a hint of inappropriateness in regards to Reigns’ heritage, but for purse hilarity, it still keeps me laughing whenever I see it.
It is difficult to remember just how young Paige was when she began wrestling – she became the youngest WWE Divas Champion when she was 21, but according to family sources, she began wrestling professionally at the age of 13 in her family’s promotion in Europe. She looks like an absolute toddler in this picture, but still has the same trademark style that Paige has displayed on television over the years. I personally hate looking at pictures of myself from my youth because of how awkward I looked as a teenager, and there is no doubt that Paige would feel the same way when she comes across pictures like this, especially knowing that the whole world can find them in a quick google search.
Want to see more of Paige now that she is grown up? Check out my other article here showing the pictures that will remind you of how much you miss her.
19 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is arguably the most entertaining competitor on the main roster. Not only can Owens wrestle a good match, but he's one of the few remaining true heels of the WWE. He knows how to get heat even when he's being extremely entertaining. Well, Owens had to start somewhere and that was back in his native Quebec, wrestling for Jacques Rougeau's family oriented promotion where it's normal for wrestlers to have cartoonish gimmicks akin to the 80s. Owens began his wrestling career at the young age of 15, so he truly is a seasoned veteran of the industry even though he's only 33 years old now. That means Owens has been wrestling for the majority of his life.
18 Jeff Hardy
We all have to start somewhere, right? Jeff Hardy knows this all too well considering that his first appearance on WWE programming was when he was 16 years old, featuring him jobbing to Razor Ramon on Monday Night RAW. While it is of course impressive that Hardy was able to get on to the show after lying about his age, it will always be embarrassing for him to look back and say “Remember that time I had to job to Razor Ramon while looking like a Marty Janetty knock-off?”. There are so many wrestlers from the 90s that were influenced by The Rockers, but it looks like Jeff took it too far and stole clothes from their suitcases! Jeff's sure earned his ticket to stardom.
17 Luke Gallows
If you have been a fan of New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor, you have heard of The Bullet Club. Due to the popularity and size of this faction, many of the original Bullet Club members have found their way into WWE over the past couple of years, including the resident tag-team of the group – I am referring to Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. While their run in WWE has not necessarily lived up to the initial hype from their acquisition, Gallows can always be pleased that he will not have to return to his first character in WWE. You may think I am talking about Festus, but Gallows once had the “pleasure” of being Kane’s Imposter, who attacked him to promote Kane’s film See No Evil. On the bright side, Gallows does hold a PPV victory over Kane while dressed as the imposter, so he can always hang onto that!
16 Triple H
The invention of the WWE Network has allowed wrestling fans to experience some of wrestling’s lost gems by allowing the access to their extensive tape libraries for other companies. Personally, I have been very fortunate to relive some of the American Wrestling Association and Stampede Wrestling libraries that I was not able to enjoy growing up. However, the Network is obviously missing items that WWE does not own, which does not allow us to see the careers of some of the most popular wrestlers prior to them entering any of the WWE owned promotions. An example of this is Triple H, who began his career (obviously with a lot of conditioner for his hair) alongside his mentor “Killer” Kowalski before joining WCW. I was one of the fans that did not enjoy when Triple H first cut his hair when he took his “corporate” job, but after seeing this, I think we can all say that it is a much better look for him.
15 John Cena
Like Roman Reigns earlier, John Cena is clearly one of the most middle-of-the-road wrestlers in existence as not everyone agrees on. I am of the mind that if you cannot give credit for the contributions that John Cena has made to the wrestling world, you are in serious denial. While Cena may not be the most technical wrestler, he is certainly one of the most charismatic and entertaining, otherwise he would not have been able to remain on top of the company so successfully for close to 15 years.
While we may not all agree on Cena’s rightful place on the Mount Rushmore of WWE, we can all agree that he looked absolutely ridiculous during the beginning of his career. Cena began his career training outside of WWE at Ultimate Pro Wrestling, being trained by former WWE wrestler Simon Dean/Nova, before being signed on to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he was named The Prototype.
At one time, Rusev was viewed as one of the most promising mid-card wrestlers on the WWE roster, and considering that he was continually pushed as an unstoppable, unbeatable monster throughout the first part of being brought onto the WWE main roster, members of WWE Management must have thought so as well. Rusev is both freakishly strong and surprisingly funny and entertaining, which is a sure-fire recipe for a superstar.
Do you know what is not part of the recipe for a superstar? A ridiculous gimmick that involves writing your opponent’s name on a board, and then cracking it over your knee while screaming wildly. Most people will not remember this part of Rusev’s personality while he wrestled in NXT, and I think Rusev is probably one of them, but he is actively trying to forget it.
Cesaro has been one of the more criminally underutilized wrestlers on the roster and McMahon himself has openly admitted he doesn't feel Cesaro really connects with a crowd. That's complete nonsense, as while Cesaro can't really cut a good promo, his in-ring work tends to speak for itself and he always manages to get a crowd on his side even when he's a heel.
With a gimmick like this one above though, Cesaro probably wouldn't be getting many cheers. This early promotional photo of Cesaro makes him look like a sleazy nightclub owner out of the 80s, rather than the Swiss Superman. As ridiculous as he looks, we suspect that Vince might have actually liked this gimmick if he ever saw it on Cesaro.
12 Byron Saxton
We now journey to the magical land of the former NXT show, but this time we are looking at someone who used to be a wrestler and has since transitioned to a member of the commentary team. I’m sure that not many fans know that Byron Saxton once aspired to be a wrestler, but his time on the NXT reality show was his was of trying to realize his dreams. Unfortunately for Saxton, he did not realize his dream of wrestling in the WWE for long as he was eliminated in Week Two of the competition. He did however create an excellent wrestling meme named “Sad Saxton” with this face after his elimination was announced. So much for him being branded a tough-guy because I think I even see a little tear forming in his right eye.
11 Curtis Axel
And it is time to return to the goldmine that is NXT for one final time, and this time it is to visit one of the current members of The Miz-tourage. However, his entry is a little bit different – the picture of Curtis Axel (known as Michael McGillicutty at this time) is not necessarily embarrassing in itself, but it more about what it represents. During Axel’s season of NXT, the competitors were given the opportunity to try out their promo skills in front of the live audience. While most wrestlers would hopefully flourish when given this opportunity when competing for a WWE contract, but unfortunately for Axel, this showcase exhibited one of the most incoherent promos every showed in a WWE ring before. As he continued to run around in circles without a point in sight, Axel showed a big weakness in his ability. Thankfully, he has improved over time, but we will always have this to remember him by.
10 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins began his career at the age of 19 and mostly stayed in the American Midwest, near his home state of Iowa. He eventually earned the attention of Ring of Honor, where he would sign in 2007 and go on to hold the tag titles there, as well as earning a world championship under the moniker Tyler Black.
As for this early career photo, it's hard to say when exactly this was taken, as he clearly wouldn't have had any kind of devil gimmick in ROH so it had to be when he was still in his late teens. Why is he a devil here? Is it meant to foreshadow that one day he'll be the one to turn heel on The Shield?
9 Big Show
Let’s start off with this – I ask all of the wrestling fans who attend WWE shows live to stop chanting “Please Retire” at The Big Show. Chant like that are just plain rude and unnecessary to someone who has been in the wrestling industry for over twenty years and has accomplished just about everything in that time frame. I ask that you begin chanting something different in reference to this picture. Going forward, please chant “Andre’s Baby” when attending wrestling events.
For those that are not aware, Big Show’s debut gimmick when he arrived in WCW (while winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in his first match), was him being promoted as being the son of famous wrestler Andre the Giant, complete with matching wrestling attire. This aspect of his character was quickly diminished, but thankfully we have pictures like this to remind us of how ridiculous WCW was.
7 Chris Jericho
I have been writing for The Sportster for months now, and this is the first time I have been able to fit my favorite wrestler of all time into an article (believe me, I have been trying!). I have been a Chris Jericho fan from the moment that I watched the Millennium clock count down during his debut in 1999 on Monday Night RAW. His outrageous hair and outfits, combined with his unmatched charisma and wrestling ability instantly made him someone to watch for me, and he became the first wrestler I started to do research on outside of WWE.
You think his hair and attire were extreme during his WWE debut? That means you’ve never seen him as part of The Thrillseekers while wrestling in Canada with Lance Storm! It looks like Jeff Hardy was not the only one raiding The Rocker’s wardrobe during the first part of his career.
Just like I mentioned with The Big Show earlier, Kane is one of the few wrestlers in WWE who have accomplished just about everything that is possible with the company – Kane has held almost every active title, he has main evented pay-per-view events and he has been an evil dentist. Wait, did you not know that? During Kane’s debut in WWE, he was billed as Isaac Yankem D.D.S (ha, “Yankem”, get it?), an evil dentist who took pleasure in causing tooth aches on his opponents.
Before his time in WWE though, Kane had several other lame gimmicks. He began his career as Angus King with the CSWA in the Missouri territory, then even appeared as a character called the Christmas Creature in the USWA.
5 Mark Henry
Believe it or not, but Mark Henry has been one of the employees that has been with WWE for the longest, clocking in at 21 years on the active roster (including an extended amounts of time on the injury list, that is for sure). Whether or not you are a fan of his wrestling ability, Henry is legitimately one of the strongest men on the planet, and it is not just a nickname. Henry is the type of person you do not want to cross because he could easily squash my head like a grape with minimal effort. That is only hard to believe when you see a photo like this of Mark Henry, smiling the world’s biggest smile and in a singlet that is four sizes too small. I really hope he doesn’t read this…
“Get Rowdy! Oh, you didn’t know? You better call somebody? The D-O-Double-G and K-Kwik, get rowdy!”
What do you mean, you don’t remember those lyrics? You were able to recall all of The Rock’s catchphrases from the 90s, but you don’t know the lyrics to K-Kwik’s rap from when he tagged with Road Dogg? Seriously!? You better brush up on your wrestling knowledge. In all seriousness, R-Truth/K-Kwik/Ron Killings is a very accomplished wrestler who has all the tools to be so much more than what WWE has given him over the years, but that was very difficult to see during his rookie year in 2000 when he was given the gimmick of…well, I’m not really sure what the gimmick was about because all he did was rap this song. I may be the only one to remember it, but at least I’ll always have my copy of the WWE Anthology CD to listen to it on as proof.
3 Samoa Joe
Every wrestler has to start somewhere, and the normal path includes this – become trained at a reputable school, being working independent wrestling shows, make a name for yourself on the indy scene and try and get extra/jobber work with WWE to gain additional exposure. With multiple wrestling companies running during the 1990s and early 2000s, this type of work was easier to come by. Couple this with the fact that both WWE and WCW were actively scouring the independent companies for new talent, and it was a great time to gather exposure as a professional wrestler.
Someone like Samoa Joe is a great example of this path, as he did work for WWE on their C-shows like Jakked and Heat. Unfortunately for Joe, he decided to wear very unflattering ring attire – including a t-shirt and work-out pants – during his one televised match with WWE. What does that mean for him? It means people like me get to google it and enjoy posting it on the Internet for others to find!
2 The Miz
Given The Miz’s excellent work that he has accomplished over the past five years in the Intercontinental Championship scene, it is almost wrestling-sacrilege to speak ill of him at this point, but I will bite the bullet. Mike “The Miz “Mizanin was not the excellent entertainer when he first got his start in WWE – in fact, there are numerous stories, accounts and proof of just how terrible he was in all aspects of his job during his rookie year. Would you like some proof? Check out this clip here of The Miz introducing the 2004 Diva Search contest, complete with mumbling, looking for help and trying to source out his lines. Is the picture embarrassing? Not exactly, but the memory of this happening sure is!
1 The Undertaker
It is only fitting for us to end on one of the biggest names that the sport of professional wrestling has ever seen. If you are not enthralled by The Undertaker’s body of work in the WWE over the past twenty-seven years, you should not call yourself a wrestling fan. Undoubtedly the third member of WWE’s Mount Rushmore, The Undertaker is a true legend in WWE, and deserves all of the respect in the world. That being said, that does not mean that we cannot find pictures from his past and laugh at them! Before Ted DiBiase debuted with The Undertaker at Survivor Series 1990, Mark Calaway was known as Texas Red in the southern United States wrestling world, beginning wrestling for the American Wrestling Association. Now, picture The Undertaker walking like this to the ring for his matches against Shawn Michaels, Triple H or Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Does some of the allure fade away? Yes, it certainly does. Thank you for not reverting back to this, Big Evil.