When it comes to professional athletes from other sports joining the ranks of professional wrestling, there is really two directions that their careers can go. On one hand, their time as a wrestler could go the route of someone like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who was a superstar wrestler during his time in high school and college, and then he became one of the biggest professional wrestling stars of all time. On the other hand, it could go route of someone like Mojo Rawley, a former professional football player in the NFL who has not achieved much of note during his time with WWE.
In order to be a successful professional wrestler, you need more than just athleticism. Vince McMahon loves to talk about the "it" factor when he's looking for new talent to sign, but it seems any sort of background in athletics sways his opinion as to whether a talent is worth signing or not. Unfortunately for many on the "And They Did Not" part of this list, they did not have any of the other characteristics - like charisma, timing and psychology - that make them successful.
Let's take a look at 8 Athletes Who Thrived In Professional Wrestling (And 7 Who Did Not):
17 Thrived: Goldberg
It has been well documented that Bill Goldberg was not a born-and-bred professional wrestler when he began his career in 1997 in WCW, and that he was initially looking to continue his career as a professional football player in the NFL, where he had briefly played for Los Angeles Rams and Carolina Panthers in the early-90s. Unfortunately for Goldberg, his football career cannot be considered a success by any means as he only played a total of 14 games in his five years bouncing around teams, and was not considered a strong asset on any roster.
While professional football did not work for him, it cannot be denied that Goldberg was one of the only bright spots about WCW in the late 90s/early 2000s, as the unstoppable Goldberg character captivated fans. While many may not be a fan of his kick-punch-slam-spear-jackhammer style of matches, he achieved a great deal of success in both WCW and WWE during his wrestling career, including a (very questionable) undefeated record of 173-0 in WCW. Who’s Next? Certainly not the Super Bowl for Goldberg!
16 Failed: Steve "Mongo" McMichael
If you were to make a list of the least deserving professional wrestlers to have a place as a member of the legendary Four Horsemen faction, do you know who you would find? Well, you would probably find Paul Roma, but not too far behind him would be Steve “Mongo” McMichael. While Mongo had a very successful career in the NFL, including a win at Super Bowl XX as a member of the Chicago Bears, his professional wrestling career left much to be desired. Mongo’s mass and size served him very well as a defensive tackle on the football field, but it caused him to be very awkward in the ring during his time in WCW, especially around much quickly opponents like Curt Hennig.
Mongo left WCW in 1999, therefore he was not a talent that was contracted during the Invasion program, but I feel confident in saying that he would not have had a change to debut in WWE at the time.
15 Thrived: Enzo Amore
Sure, Enzo Amore hasn't really blossomed into a stellar in-ring performer and one can make the case that bell to bell, he is in fact the worst wrestler on the WWE roster, but Eno makes up for it with his charisma and his ability to garner a reaction. We discussed in the intro that McMahon often looks for an it factor when looking for new talent, and clearly the WWE saw something in Enzo.
Unlike many other athletes on the list, Enzo didn't really reach a high level, even in the college ranks, as he played safety for the NCAA Division-II Salisbury University in the late 2000s. We wonder what his trash talking was like on a football field after seeing what he can do with a mic.
14 Failed: Karl Malone & Dennis Rodman
Putting these two together just made sense to me – both men are former NBA All-Stars, have both had their numbers retired by their respective teams and are two of the most highly-recognized defensive basketball players of their time. In addition to all of this, both of these men hold the record for having one of the worst professional wrestling matches in WCW history. WCW had a history of bringing in celebrity wrestlers, such as Jay Leno and even Robocop at one point, to assist with boosting their buy-rates for pay-per-views, but it certainly backfired when both Malone and Rodman were brought in to team and feud with Diamond Dallas Page and Hulk Hogan at the 1998 edition of Bash at the Beach.
Clearly both men were only trained to perform the most basic wrestling “moves”, and it showed in how awkward they were during this match. Unfortunately, Rodman also returned for a small stint in WCW in 1999, but Malone was smart enough to remove himself from competition after this stinker of a match.
13 Thrived: Baron Corbin
Potentially a controversial pick to call Baron Corbin a success in his current place in WWE, but given his recent status as WWE United States Champion, and the fact that WWE Management clearly sees something in him, I would consider his career a success so far with a tremendous amount of upside for the future. The question is, has he been successful outside of professional wrestling? Considering that during his short career in the NFL, Corbin did not play a single professional game with either the Indianapolis Colts or the Arizona Cardinals, and is only infamous for getting into a brawl with a teammate during practice, I would say that he should continue to focus on his professional wrestling career. While Corbin’s size may have made him a target for football recruiters out of high school, it appears that he was not very adapt for the sport, but has found success as a professional wrestler so far.
12 Failed: Nathan Jones
Would any list featuring some of the worst professional wrestlers of all time be complete without an appearance by Nathan Jones? Of course, I say this from the comfort of my laptop which is not anywhere near Jones, but he has to be one of the worst wrestlers to ever make an appearance with WWE. Prior to joining WWE, and promptly winning the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards for Most Embarrassing Wrestler and Worst Wrestler in 2003, Jones also experienced a very poor showing during an MMA fight in 1997 in Japan, losing his only match in a decisive 2 minutes and 14 seconds.
While it appears that Jones has finally found his calling as a hulking, action movie actor, we are all glad that he has chosen to stay away from professional wrestling. Again, I say this from a place where Jones does not know where I am because I am terrified of the sheer thought of him.
11 Thrived: Roman Reigns
Boo all you like, live fans in attendance, but it is clear that the Roman Reigns Train is not stopping anytime soon. It appears that Reigns is following in the footsteps of other former World Champions, like the aforementioned Goldberg, who have transitioned from the professional football to professional wrestling. And also, just like Goldberg, he was not a very successful football player – he was initially drafted to the Minnesota Vikings but was released before playing a game and was moved around the league before being transferred to the Canadian Football League to the Edmonton Eskimos, where he was only featured in five games as an defensive lineman.
Reigns has clearly been the apple of WWE Management’s eye since his main roster debut in 2012, and it looks like he has found his calling as a professional wrestler because he was clearly not doing very well for himself on the gridiron.
10 Failed: Mojo Rawley
With professional wrestlers like Goldberg and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin having football backgrounds, it would appear that every prospective professional wrestler who has spent time on the gridiron would be a sure-fire superstar in the WWE – well, according to Mojo Rawley’s career, that is not the truth. Something that is twice as unfortunate for Rawley, he was not a very successful football player during his time in the NFL either – Rawley only played in pre-season games during his time with the Green Bay Packers, so he began to transition to professional wrestling by training at the Performance Center. Things started to look up for Rawley when he began gaining a slight following in NXT, and was moved to the main roster in 2016, and eventually won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33 (which like his NFL career, took place on the pre-show).
While this may seem like a successful career thus far, the WWE has not done anything with Rawley after his win, and he has faded away into obscurity on the SmackDown Live. Stay hype, bro!
9 Thrived: Ken Shamrock
I can distinctly recall seeing Ken Shamrock on my television screen when tuning in to Monday Night RAW in 1998 and being instantly afraid of him due to his moniker as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” and how legitimate he looked while wrestling. During the entire time I watched him as a child, I had no idea that Ken Shamrock had an entire background as one of the most famous Mixed Martial Arts fighters in the world. Prior to joining WWE, Shamrock had an MMA record of 23-5-2 record, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest fighters in UFC history.
Shamrock had a fairly successful mid-card career, including being crowned King of the Ring, and winning both the Tag Team and Intercontinental Championships, and later also being crowned as TNA’s inaugural World Champion while under the NWA banner. Shamrock has also been making headlines in recent weeks in professional wrestling - not necessarily for the better – when he challenged Brock Lesnar to a match and exclaiming that he does not know why WWE will not bring him back.
8 Failed: Monty Brown
If you were a fan of TNA during its “Asylum Years”, then you know how popular “The Alpha Male” Monty Brown and “The Pounce” were – well, not exactly. Brown’s time in TNA was marked as being a perennial upper-mid card wrestler, but he never achieved the status of a true main-event wrestler. On the other hand, Brown was a very successful NFL player for both the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots, where he played on the defensive line, even competing in the Super Bowl in 1994.
However, Brown’s passion always lied with professional wrestling, so he kept trying to pursue it as a career – unfortunately professional wrestling did not feel the same way, and it constantly let him down, particularly during his time on WWE’s ECW brand as Marcus Cor Von where his character did not catch on with fans, and was released from WWE after only a year on the roster. Sorry Brown, but I don’t know if many people are clamoring for your surprise return from retirement. Period.
7 Thrived: Kurt Angle
No one's really sure what Kurt Angle did before entering the WWE. He has never mentioned it before, and I have no reason to believe that he has any athletic background other than professional wrestling. I do remember hearing once about him being the first Olympic Gold Medalist in WWE history after winning at the 1996 Olympics in Heavyweight division amateur wrestling, and having also won his medal with a broken freaking neck. I think I remember reading something about that once.
All kidding aside, Angle is clearly one of the most decorated athletes that has ever entered the WWE, and he still wears his medal proudly before entering any match. Angle’s success as an amateur wrestler made his transition to professional wrestling very seamless, as he has arguably been considered one of the best pure wrestlers of the modern-wrestling era. From his debut with WWE in 1999, through his multiple World Championship wins in both WWE and TNA, until his current run as RAW General Manager, Angle has had a very successful wrestling career that has earned his place in the WWE Hall of Fame.
6 Failed: Adam “Pacman” Jones
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic award present tonight! Let me introduce you to Adam “Pacman” Jones, who has made this list despite not ever wrestling a professional wrestling match, but certainly deserves a spot here. During 2007, the successful Dallas Cowboy was suspended from the NFL for various misconduct outside of the ring, including a well document incident in a Las Vegas strip club, and TNA took it upon themselves to hire Jones, despite the fact that he could not contractually wrestle with the company due to his employment with the NFL.
Did that stop TNA Management from making him a Tag Team Champion? Of course not! While TNA has made some incredibly strange booking decisions over the years – some of which you can see here at this article – signing Jones to a wrestling deal when he could not be physical in the ring is one of the strangest.
5 Thrived: Matt Riddle
If you haven’t heard of Matt Riddle yet, then you are in for a treat. For those that follow The Ultimate Fighter, Riddle was a contestant the Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest season, quickly impressing his coaches with his strength and conditioning. While the future initially looked very bright for Riddle’s MMA career, he was suspended and eventually released from the UFC following multiple failed drug tests. Following his UFC release, Riddle began training for a career in professional wrestling, and quickly has become a sensational wrestler, even being named the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s Most Improved Wrestler and Rookie of the Year in 2016.
While the independent wrestling circuit does not institute mandatory drug testing like the UFC, so we are unaware of Riddle’s “extra-curricular activities”, it is easy to see that he is thriving in his new sport, as he is heavily featured in big-time promotions PWG, Evolve and Progress Wrestling.
4 Failed: Gene Snitsky
It wasn't his fault! Gene Snitsky is mostly remembered as being entangled in one of the worst storylines in WWE history, back when Kane 'impregnated' Lita with his demon seed, only for Kane to eventually turn face when Snitsky shoved him into Lita causing her to fall and lose the baby. Other than that, Snitsky was just one of Vince's many failed pet projects.
Prior to his WWE career, Snitsky was playing college football at the University of Missouri, but failed to make it to an NFL roster. He eventually spent some time in Canada in the CFL, with the Birmingham Baracudas, back when the CFL attempted to expand into the United States. The CFL's attempted expansion into the States was about as successful as Snitsky's WWE career.
3 Thrived: Brock Lesnar
Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Dan Morris, and I am here to represent the reigning and defending WWE Universal Champion Broooooock Lessssnar, and let everyone know about Brock’s past before entering the WWE. While there has been a lot written about his career in the UFC where he achieved World Champion status, or his endeavor into the NFL in 2004 where he did not make it past the practice team for the Minnesota Vikings, Lesnar’s career before WWE is often forgotten about. If someone were to describe Lesnar’s current wrestling style, the most often used words would be “Suplex City” due to the smash-mouth style that Lesnar represents as the Universal Champion, but Lesnar has a past of being a very successful amateur wrestler.
Lesnar is a former NCAA champion, which has created the foundation for the multiple 4+ star matches he has had in WWE with mat-based wrestlers like Kurt Angle. While Lesnar’s current wrestling style can make people overlook his wrestling ability, it is best not to forget where “The Beast Incarnate” came from because he can still wrestle circles around most WWE roster members.