Although the action performed inside WWE rings is largely scripted and entirely predetermined, this hardly means the company’s superstars aren’t extremely athletic to pull it off. The first word in sports entertainment sometimes gets laughed off as marketing, but make no mistake about it, the men and women of pro wrestling are undergoing incredible physical strain night after night to entertain their audience. Fake or not, wrestling is as much a sport as weightlifting, gymnastics, bodybuilding, or any other athletic endeavor where precise appearances are everything, and this makes sports entertainers some of the hardest working athletes on the planet.
WWE Superstars are for the most part aware of how strenuous their job will be from the second they start pursuing it. Many would-be pro wrestlers play and train at other sports long before they ever stepped into a wrestling ring, in a way getting prepared for the nonstop physicality living their dreams will require. Of course, the mere fact these people later became wrestlers hardly means they were any good at the sports they tried first. Some future WWE superstars were indeed phenomenal at whatever athletic endeavor they tried, yet others were pretty darn miserable at any sport where the results weren’t decided before the game began. Keep reading to see 8 pro wrestlers who excelled at other sports and 7 who just embarrassed themselves.
15 EXCELLED: Mark Henry (Weightlifting)
WWE calling Mark Henry “The World’s Strongest Man” would make him sound imposing even if it were entirely kayfabe and related to the world of wrestling alone. That said, the fact Henry may well actually hold claim to such a title is considerably more impressive, especially since he has kept his standing as such for several decades while actively performing in the ring. Before he became a wrestler, Henry was already world renowned as a powerlifter/weightlifter, twice competing in the Olympics and winning more records and accolades than we have the space to list. To settle on a few highlights, Henry won three US National Weightlifting Championships, the first annual Arnold Strongman Classic, and the World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation Champion in 1995. Henry still holds many recognized weightlifting records to this day, a few of them showing he can lift or move well over 1,000 pounds through sheer strength.
14 EMBARRASSED: Kevin Nash (Basketball)
While it’s true Kevin Nash did find more success playing hoops than most people on this half of the list did at their given sport, there’s more than one way to embarrass oneself. Nash wasn’t that bad at basketball, yet the reason he left the sport paints him in such a pathetic light it probably would have been better he avoided it altogether. In his defense, Nash was indeed the center for the Tennessee Volunteers, and they performed reasonably well for the three years he was there. However, Nash got kicked off prior to his fourth years due to a physical altercation with his head coach. In his own words, Nash “bitch-slapped” his coach for telling him he cost the team the game. Bizarrely, Nash exhibits a strange pride when talking about this, yet the University of Tennessee though it was so embarrassing and childish as to invalidate his entire basketball career. For the record, we agree.
13 EXCELLED: Kurt Angle (Amateur Wrestling)
Well, obviously, the only WWE Superstar in history to win an Olympic freakin’ medal was going to wind up on a list like this. Quite frankly, Angle’s amateur wrestling acumen isn’t that rare amongst future pro wrestlers, yet his ability to climb all the way to the top of the world in the sport’s rankings felt significant enough to earn mention. For anyone who somehow follows Kurt’s career and doesn’t know, Angle won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Prior to that, he was a two-time NCAA Division I Champion and had won another gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 1995 World Wrestling Championships. Naturally, Vince McMahon was all over a prospect like Angle from day one, especially once it was revealed the Olympic Hero also happened to possess incredible comedic acting chops.
12 EMBARRASSED: Roman Reigns (Football)
The son of a Wild Samoan and Vince McMahon’s pre-ordained star from the day of his debut, one might say Roman Reigns was destined for WWE from his birth. As it would turn out, The Big Dog wanted to give football a go before stepping into the squared circle. Unfortunately for him, he was about as good with the pigskin as he would become at making wrestling fans cheer him. All right, so that isn’t entirely fair, as Reigns was decent enough at football during his time in high school and college, yet would go undrafted in the 2007 draft. Not letting this kill his dreams, Reigns signed with the Minnesota Vikings, but only lasted a month before getting released. The Jacksonville Jaguars gave him a shot next, yet he met the same fate even faster, fired in a manner of days. A short stint in the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos came last, and though Reigns lasted a full year there before getting fired, his release finally made him realize football wasn’t for him.
11 EXCELLED: Ken Shamrock (MMA)
So, Mark Henry is the “World’s Strongest Man” and can lift really heavy stuff high up over his head—big deal. Prior to joining WWE, Ken Shamrock had attained recognition as the “World’s Most Dangerous Man,” a much more terrifying moniker in leaps and bounds, and just like Henry’s sobriquet, Shamrock earned this title legitimately. Back in the early ‘90s, the UFC was a much different beast than what it is today, but the basic idea of mixed martial arts remained the same. Two men (or later, women) would fight it out until one could not continue, and unlike wrestling, these contests would be entirely real. Shamrock was one of the UFC’s first stars, and the inaugural Superfight Champion, a title he held for nearly a full year. With this success behind him, Shamrock entered WWE a massive star, though Vince McMahon never fully capitalized on his potential.
10 EMBARRASSED: The Rock (Football)
Believe it or not, there is a minor downside in being the most electrifying man in sports entertainment and the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Given the unmatched success The Rock has found in almost every category he’s touched, the expectations are extremely high whenever he tries something new. For the man himself, this attitude applied before he was even a star, as he fully expected to be a football legend before ever stepping inside the ring. At first, The Rock’s pigskin prospects looked pretty good, excelling in high school and college. However, after graduation, no major NFL teams came knocking at his door. The CFL’s Calgary Stampeders were mildly interested, only to quickly change their minds and cut the so-called Great One two months into his pro football career. Rock later admitted this failure caused a deep depression within him, which he was only able to beat by moving on to something he was better at in wrestling.
9 EXCELLED: Bobby Lashley (MMA)
While nowhere near the international acclaim and success of Brock Lesnar, two-time ECW and four-time TNA World Champion Bobby Lashley has had a remarkably similar career path. Prior to trying his hand at sports entertainment, Lashley was a respected amateur wrestler who nearly participated in the Olympics until a knee injury dashed his hopes in that regard. Lashley kept his legitimate wrestling background in mind throughout his career in WWE and TNA, however, using the skills he learned to aid him in his later career in MMA. Concurrent to his time in TNA, Lashley has been regularly participating in fights for Strikeforce and Bellator, racking up an impressive 15-2 record. These companies aren’t quite the juggernaut of UFC in the same way TNA or GFW don’t live up to WWE, though this in no way means Lashley’s dual sports success is any less commendable.
8 EMBARRASSED: Bart Gunn (MMA/Boxing)
Truth be told, Bart Gunn probably doesn’t belong on this list, if only because his attempts at sports outside of wrestling have been few and far between. Sure, he failed miserably each time he tried anything other than scripted grappling, but it’s not like he made a career of it. That said, one of Bodacious Bart’s embarrassments was arguably the highest profile incident of such in wrestling, because it took place inside a WWE ring. Quickly recapping, in 1998, WWE decided to hold the Brawl for All tournament, a legitimate boxing/wrestling/MMA hybrid tournament, and Gunn somehow became the winner. The next year at WrestleMania, a second legitimate MMA contest was held, this time seeing Gunn face pro boxer Butterbean. In 35 seconds flat, Butterbean turned Gunn’s brain into jelly with a single punch. Amazingly, Gunn didn’t give up at MMA there, later trying his hand at the sport after ending his wrestling career, lasting all of two fights before retiring.
7 EXCELLED: Marcus Cor Von (Football)
One of the few wrestlers to become a true star in TNA and get wasted in WWE, Marcus Cor Von or Monty Brown should have been a much bigger deal than he turned out to be. The self-proclaimed Alpha Male was already proving his mastery of sport prior to pouncing into the wrestling ring, as a former NFL linebacker who competed in Super Bowl XXVIII for the Buffalo Bills. Cor Von also played for the New England Patriots, allegedly switching teams to be closer to WWE HQ in Stamford, Connecticut. For whatever reason, though, WWE never acknowledged his potential, saddling into the strange ECW New Breed stable instead of letting his talent stand on its own. At least fans will always have his brief time on top of TNA to remember the power of his Pounce.
6 EMBARRASSED: CM Punk (MMA)
It might be worth taking a second at this point and questioning what exactly it means to be embarrassed. Sure, the wrestlers on this half of the list didn’t do that great outside of the squared circle, but on the other hand, they tried their best at activities few people have the courage to attempt. That’s CM Punk’s explanation for why his two minutes and 14 seconds of glory in MMA weren’t embarrassing, anyway, though one look at his face after Mickey Gall was done with him painted a different story. Granted, the alleged half a million dollars Punk earned to get his face smashed in might nonetheless have justified the entire thing. Either way, the fact remains a continued MMA career doesn’t look to be in Punk’s future, and in that sense, his decision to leave wrestling for a more legitimate venture can ultimately get called a failure.
5 EXCELLED: Ron Simmons (Football)
Compared to some of the others on this half of the list, Ron Simmons may not quite deserve his placement here. In and of itself, however, Simmons’s football career could probably get people to let out an impressed, “Damn,” which is good enough for us. Simmons’s greatest pigskin accomplishments came in college, when he played nose guard at Florida State University for four years. Twice Simmons brought his team to the Orange Bowl and finished 9th in the Heisman voting in 1979. Ultimately, this would earn Simmons a place in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. For all the greatness he achieved in college, though, Simmons’s time in the NFL offers a lot less to talk about. He played for the Cleveland Browns and USFL’s Tampa Bandits for two seasons each, yet neither team noted him as a standout, and his pro football prospects quickly faded out from there.
4 EMBARRASSED: Goldberg (Football)
Similar to The Rock, it isn’t that Goldberg was a total dud at football from day one, it’s just that a man like him expects a certain level of success he simply couldn’t achieve passing around the pigskin. Goldberg’s football career started off with promise, as he earned a scholarship to play for the University of Georgia and played well enough to get drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1990 draft. Unfortunately for Goldberg, however, the Rams cut him after a year, and later stints with the Atlanta Flacons, Carolina Panthers, and the CFL’s Sacramento Gold Miners all went pretty much the same way. Goldberg would later claim he was happy to achieve the goal of playing in the NFL and on several noteworthy teams at that, yet he always felt disappointed that he never performed as well as he had dreamed of doing.
3 EXCELLED: Steve McMichael (Football)
In all fairness, Steve “Mongo” McMichael probably shouldn’t be on this list. The former Super Bowl winning Chicago Bear is not a wrestler who excelled at football; he’s a football player who did all right for himself in wrestling later on in life. McMichael played admirably for the New England Patriots in his 1980 pro debut season, followed by 12 years as a starting defensive tackle for the Bears. These were definitely the best years of McMichael’s athletic life, including the aforementioned victory in Super Bowl XX. McMichael left the Bears in 1994, briefly joining the Green Bay Packers before deciding to retire. The next year, his interest in wrestling began, commentating on an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw. Several months later he was hired to perform the role full-time for WCW, soon leading to a stint in the ring that saw him become a member of the Four Horsemen and one time United States Champion.
2 EMBARRASSED: Brock Lesnar (Football)
From the moment rumors started swirling that Brock Lesnar was leaving WWE to live out his dream of playing football for the NFL, insiders wondered if he was making this move without proper preparation. Lesnar hadn’t played football in a solid eight or nine years, making many assume it was some sort of publicity stunt. In fact, Lesnar was wholly serious about putting wrestling on hold to pursue this side dream, which made it all the more embarrassing how badly he failed at it. Lesnar did defy expectations merely through getting signed by the Minnesota Vikings, yet this success was extremely short lived, as the team cut him barely a month after he joined. Invitations from foreign teams in NFL Europa followed, but Lesnar turned them all down, accepting his time in football was a bomb.
1 EXCELLED: Brock Lesnar (MMA)
Furious that anyone would dare call him a failure at football, Brock Lesnar was far from done proving himself as a legitimate athlete outside of pro wrestling. Rather than wallow in his defeat, Lesnar focus his energy on becoming the toughest real fighter in the universe, a status he handily achieved by reigning as UFC Heavyweight Champion for over two years. Ultimately, Lesnar’s history in MMA and UFC would be marred somewhat when his final bout against Mark Hunt was ruled a “no contest” when the Beast Incarnate tested positive for illegal substances. Up until that happened, though, Lesnar was as much a beast in MMA as he was in WWE, with an impressive 5-3 record that largely saw him compete only in main events against high-profile opponents. Is this justification for Vince McMahon giving him whatever championship he pleases, then letting Lesnar leave the company for months at a time? Let’s not go that far.