For more than 30 years now for most professional wrestlers their ultimate goal is to make it to WWE. Even when Ted Turner's WCW was beating Vince McMahon's show in the ratings during the Monday Night War most in the industry have since admitted that they still viewed WWE as the biggest promotion in the business and the best place to be. Although WWE continues to get bigger and bigger though there is still not room for everybody. Despite Triple H continuing to sign a litany of wrestlers to NXT not everybody can be a WWE Superstar.
A lot more wrestlers get given the opportunity to prove themselves and leave a mark on someone meaningful at WWE though. Between indy wrestlers brought in to compete as enhancement talent to performers signed on developmental contracts, there are so many competitors in WWE that we don't notice or sometimes never see. If you're in a position like that it's up to you to turn it into something more. There are so many Superstars on the roster right now or who have made huge names for themselves that appeared on WWE television long before you realized.
Here are fifteen wrestlers that debuted on WWE before they made their actual debut.
15 Bobby Roode
There are a number of Superstars in WWE right now who have traveled the world and basically done almost everything that there is to do outside of the company before arriving on the big stage. Bobby Roode is one of those Superstars and he is doing pretty well for himself in WWE. NXT Champion, United States Champion, and perhaps one of the greatest entrances in wrestling today.
There was a time long ago when Roode tried to break into WWE long before he was glorious.
Between 2001 and 2004 Roode wrestled numerous times on now defunct shows such as Sunday Night Heat and Velocity. He had longer hair, wasn't so clean cut, and if you were watching a clip and not paying attention you probably wouldn't even realize that it was him.
14 Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss has made a splash on both Raw and SmackDown Live like very few people would have imagined following her call up from NXT. Bliss didn't hold any titles in developmental and some fans likely thought her call up came too soon. Boy has she proven those doubters wrong. Five Feet of Fury has now performed at two WrestleManias, going into both as a Women's Champion, and is one of the most valuable women in all of WWE right now.
What you might not know is Bliss actually appeared on The Grandest Stage Of Them All before her big debut.
Four years ago at WrestleMania XXX Bliss was one of the supporting actors in Triple H's entrance for his match against Daniel Bryan. Two other current stars joined her but we'll get to them later.
13 Braun Strowman
When Braun Strowman appeared on the ring apron as the mysterious fourth member of The Wyatt Family in 2015 there would not have been many fans watching who knew who he was. New to the wrestling business and a handful of NXT live event matches under his belt, Vince McMahon obviously got wind of The Monster Among Men and demanded he come directly to the main roster.
Before he carved the path of destruction that he is currently on however, someone thought it would be a good idea for the behemoth to be one of Adam Rose's Rosebuds.
For those of you unfamiliar with the former star's group of friends they were basically a colourful bunch that would party and dance with Rose on his way to the ring. Yes Strowman was a part of that, hard to believe we know.
12 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy has been around for so long that you will likely be extremely surprised when you find out how old he is. Despite making his WWE debut all the way back in 1994 Hardy is only 40 years old. The former WWE Champion lied about his age at the time in order to get a job with the company. They believed he was eighteen when in actual fact he was only sixteen at the time.
His first ever match in WWE at the tender age of sixteen was against Razor Ramon, so it was a pretty big deal.
He wasn't called Jeff Hardy at the time though and he naturally didn't have his brother with him. He wrestled that one match under the name of Keith Davis, the man who was supposed to wrestle Razor but never showed up.
11 James Ellsworth
James Ellsworth and Jeff Hardy actually have a lot more in common than you might realize. Both men started their careers as enhancement talents and managed to break free of that mold which can be extremely hard to do. Yes they broke free of that role through very different ways but they still managed to establish WWE careers for themselves after being cast in a very different way. Most fans' first memory of Ellsworth is when he worked a match as an enhancement talent against Braun Strowman but he actually appeared on WWE television before that. Ironically that was as a Rosebud just like Strowman did. For Ellsworth though he only filled that role when WWE was nearby in the Baltimore area.
10 Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks has been one of the main proponents of the women's revolution currently raging on in WWE. The Boss competed in the first ever women's Hell In A Cell match, first ever female Ironman match, was the number one entry into the first ever women's Royal Rumble, and has already won the Women's Championship four times on top of all that. We promised a call back to that Triple H entrance at WrestleMania XXX earlier in this article and this is it. Alexa Bliss did not assist The Game by herself and Banks was another of the women who was a part of his iconic entrance. That's two of them accounted for, but who was the third? Stay tuned.
9 The Young Bucks
We currently live in a world where many professional wrestlers don't necessarily see making it to WWE as being the be all and end all of their careers. Two men who appear to believe that concept more than any others are The Young Bucks. Matt and Nick Jackson have made a massive name for themselves via their work in New Japan and Ring Of Honor and show no desire to sign for WWE whatsoever. Surprisingly though they have actually appeared on WWE television. Matt Jackson wrestled as an enhancement talent on two occasions in 2008, losing to Chuck Palumbo and Big Show. He and Nick also played Triple H and Shawn Michaels during a segment where they were beaten down by The Miz and John Morrison.
8 AJ Styles
AJ Styles took an awfully long time to get to WWE. No slight on The Phenomenal One of course he was doing what he needed to do and making a name for himself in wrestling rings around the world. Plus now that he is in WWE he is more than making up for lost time. Despite debuting a little more than two years ago he is already a two time WWE Champion and one of the biggest stars in the company. Styles' career could have been very different though.
The WWE Champion wrestled two matches for WWE all the way back in 2002 and on the back of those was offered a developmental contract.
If he accepted it then though he would have had to uproot his wife who was studying to be a teacher at the time so he decided against it.
7 Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch is often the forgotten member of the four horsewomen of WWE. Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks were making history inside Hell Of A Cell, Bayley was ruling over NXT, meanwhile Lynch was lost in the shuffle slightly. The Lasskicker does have the title of first ever SmackDown Women's Champion to her name though, plus she was a part of the triple threat for the Women's Championship with Flair and Banks at WrestleMania 32.
Way before that though like a couple of other entries on this list Lynch was a rosebud.
It would seem that a lot of current WWE Superstars can claim that and if you look at any photos of Rose's Rosebuds you will likely see a lot of familiar faces.
6 Kenny Omega
The Young Bucks aren't the only wrestlers outside of WWE right now who don't appear to be all too interested in eventually working under Vince McMahon. Their good friend, or maybe former friend following the events at Supercard Of Honor XII, Kenny Omega also doesn't want a spot on the WWE roster. Apparently The Cleaner has been approached by WWE a few times over the last handful of years but is dedicated to his work in New Japan and growing that promotion's presence in the western hemisphere. Omega's reluctance to sign for WWE may also have something to do with the fact that he has been there before. Omega wrestled at Deep South Wrestling, formerly a WWE developmental territory, and by his own admission he did not enjoy his time there.
5 Charlotte Flair
When you've got the blood of one of the greatest professional wrestler's of all time pumping through your veins then it's likely hard not to be a terrific wrestler in your own right. Okay David Flair proved that isn't necessarily true but his sister Charlotte has made up for his misgivings.
The Queen is well on her way to becoming every bit as good as her father and is already a five time Women's Champion.
Like many Superstars currently on the WWE roster she honed her craft in NXT and while she was there she made an anonymous appearance on the main roster. Yes as you might have guessed Flair was the third and final masked woman who played a part in Triple H's entrance at WrestleMania XXX.
4 Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose has built a reputation for himself of being something of a loose cannon. To be fair that persona goes hand in hand with some of the places he made a name for himself prior to WWE such as the insane Combat Zone Wrestling. He's not the kind of wrestler you would necessarily imagine being a top guy in WWE but he has been to the top of the mountain and held the WWE Championship. If Vince McMahon had any memory of the very first time Ambrose appeared on WWE television then that might never have happened. Even though The Lunatic Fringe didn't sign with WWE until 2011 he made an appearance as an enhancement talent in 2006. He had pink hair at the time and went by his previous wrestling name Jon Moxley.
3 CM Punk
If you're like us then you too long for a time when CM Punk will mend the relationship between himself and WWE and make a triumphant return. At the time of typing this though that seems as far away now as it has ever been. Thanks to the WWE Network though we can go back and relive Punk's entire run in WWE including his famous pipebomb promo and his 434 day run as WWE Champion. You can also go back to a time before we really knew who Punk was yet he was making his way down the entrance ramp at WrestleMania.
Before he had made his WWE debut, Punk was a part of John Cena's entrance at WrestleMania 22.
If you go back and watch it you can see Punk dressed as a gangster hanging out the side of the car. He even gets a close up so there's no doubt whatsoever that it's really him.
Kane is one of the most iconic Superstars in WWE history. The Big Red Machine has been coming to the ring in his red and black gear for more than 20 years and will forever be remembered for a number of great matches and moments. Glenn Jacobs, the man behind the mask, didn't arrive in WWE and get the money gimmick that was Kane right off the bat though. In fact some of the stuff he got before was down right terrible. Jacobs was previously landed with one of the worst gimmicks in WWE history, an evil dentist named Isaac Yankem. That wasn't the only terrible character that Jacobs portrayed on WWE television either. Vince McMahon even had him play Fake Diesel after Kevin Nash left for WCW.
1 Diamond Dallas Page
Diamond Dallas Page is an anomaly in the professional wrestling business for a number of reasons. One of the main ones is when he decided to start training to get in the ring. Even though he had been in the industry for a while he didn't compete in the ring. It wasn't until his mid-30s that Page began training to wrestle and despite being so late to the game he went on to become a World Champion in WCW. WCW was where Page really made a name for himself both as a wrestler and as a manager.
Before all that he actually appeared on WWE television. Not as a wrestler or a manager, but as a driver.
WWE wanted to use DDP's pink Cadillac for an entrance at WrestleMania VI and Page agreed, but only if he could drive it. The deal was done and DDP drove the car to the ring all the way back in 1990.