The mere fact a wrestler no longer has the energy to mix it up between the ropes hardly means Vince McMahon is going to send them packing. From the WWE Universe’s humble beginnings, the McMahon family has always championed an industry trend seeing former superstars transfer to backstage roles as their careers wind down. That’s not to say the McMahon’s invented this idea, as wrestlers have been well aware their best shot at finding a second career was to remain in the industry pretty much since it was created.
Wrestlers aren’t the only ones to benefit from this situation, as many of them are even better at their backstage duties than they ever were as performers. Of course, that’s not to say many weren’t iconic in the ring as well, using their own skills and experiences to impart wisdom on future generations of WWE superstars. Nonetheless, there are indeed a handful of executives who had modest careers in the ring at best, and are now dictating the entire state of sports entertainment through their current roles as writers and producers. All they needed was a special link with Vince McMahon, Triple H, or someone else backstage that made the brass decided they should stick around no matter what. Keep reading to learn about 20 former wrestlers you never knew worked for WWE behind the scenes.
20 Sara Del Rey Trains The Women Of NXT
Unlike most names on this list, Sara Del Rey was almost a complete unknown to the WWE Universe before she started working for the company behind the scenes. That isn’t to say she wasn’t an accomplished wrestler in her own right, as Del Rey was in fact a godmother to the women’s revolution through incredible performances on the independent scene. Spearheading the industry for her gender, Del Rey was the first ever Shimmer Champion, while also making regular appearances for Ring of Honor and Chikara, usually in teams with Claudio Castagnoli, now known as Cesaro. WWE finally came calling in 2012, but rather than continue Del Rey’s in-ring legacy, signing with the company technically ended it.
Despite having no experience working for WWE proper, Del Rey’s previous time in the ring perfectly suited her to become the company’s first ever female coach at the Performance Center. Del Rey remains a huge presence in the program to this day, serving as the assistant head coach alongside Matt Bloom. It was Del Rey’s influence that helped craft current stars like Charlotte Flair, Bayley, and Alexa Bliss, truly making her an architect of the current female roster. Not that she’ll ever get the credit she deserves for it, though, because Triple H and the McMahon’s need to take that for themselves.
19 Lord Tensai Reigns Over The Performance Center
No matter what Vince McMahon tried calling him, Matt Bloom was never quite able to “make it” in the WWE Universe. That’s not for lack of trying on anyone’s behalf, though, as Albert, A-Train, or Lord Tensai always gave it his all, and McMahon’s writing team definitely gave the guy plenty of chances to get over. Unfortunately, the effort only ever paid off with a single reign as WWE Intercontinental Champion, with Albert otherwise floating around the midcard for years in various tag teams and forgettable angles. In America, anyway. Overseas, the man called Giant Bernard was able to become a massive star in New Japan, All Japan, and Pro Wrestling NOAH, making him one of the most successful foreign wrestlers the country had seen in years.
Given the repeat attempts at turning Albert into a star despite moderate results in the past, it was clear Vince McMahon always saw something special in the guy. Albert’s omnipresence in Japan proved McMahon wasn’t wrong, even if American audiences could never connect with him. The point is that he definitely understands a variety of wrestling styles, which is why Albert has been the head coach of NXT for several years, assuring his students are as well rounded as he was in his own career.
18 Tyson Kidd Is Recovering As A Producer
Unfortunately, such is the nature of the sports entertainment industry that certain performers will occasionally have their careers suddenly cut short due to terrible injuries. The world will never know what men like Tyson Kidd could have become if not for tragedy striking at the worst time, but at least for Kidd, the important part is that he’s still alive. Initially, it very much looked like he wouldn’t survive the botched Muscle Buster that broke his neck and nearly left him a quadriplegic. Some reports suggested Kidd would eventually return to the ring, but talk of that ended in 2017 when he officially retired. Short as his career was, Kidd had already managed to earn three reigns as WWE Tag Team Champion, two with his childhood friend David Hart Smith and one with Cesaro.
The one upside of Kidd’s horrible injury is that Vince McMahon has historically been pretty good to performers who got hurt under his watch. At the same time news broke Kidd had accepted his fate and decided never to wrestle again, it was announced WWE hired him as a full-time producer, thus allowing him to stay in the industry he loves despite being physically unable to participate in matches. He also gets to stay close to his wife Natalya and occasionally appear on Total Divas.
17 Norman Smiley Approves Of His Students
Screaming his way to fame, even the most vocal critics of WCW called Norman Smiley one of the best assets the company had left near it’s dying days. Of course, those who were really paying attention knew Smiley was a vastly underrated talent for a long time up until he started dominating the Hardcore Championship scene, having previously been a huge star in Mexico as Black Magic. Under any name, Smiley’s positive charisma and ever popular Big Wiggle could get audiences on his side, and it was only a matter of him getting a real push for him to become a star. For whatever reason, WWE wasn’t interested in Smiley once they purchased WCW, leaving the screaming superstar to finish out his career on the independent scene.
Notwithstanding the initial lukewarm reception, Smiley has since gone on to become the longest tenured trainer in the company today. In 2007, Smiley was initially hired as a coach to budding superstars at Florida Championship Wrestling, which has since morphed into NXT. Smiley remains one of the developmental brand’s top trainers, having a hand in almost every young superstar’s training from Roman Reigns to Bray Wyatt. With the success his students have found, it’s probably easy for Smiley to forgive and forget the fact his talents were overlooked throughout his career proper.
16 Shawn Michaels Teaches The Top Performance Center Classes
Destined from day one to become a show stopping main eventer, Shawn Michaels was born to be a true superstar. No matter what his challenge or who his opponent was, HBK could always be counted on to give an incredible performance that would have fans talking for ages to come. This reputation lead to more classic matches than we could possibly name, plus four reigns as WWE World Champion. More than that, Michaels was also the company’s first ever Grand Slam Champion, meaning he won every major title that existed when he was an active wrestler. All good things must come to an end, though, which is why Michaels chose to call it quits for good after losing a retirement match to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI. With nothing more to accomplish personally, Shawn Michaels had left the building.
Still recognized as perhaps the greatest in-ring athlete sports entertainment has ever known, up and coming superstars couldn’t possibly ask for a better trainer than the Heartbreak Kid. Though he no longer owns and operates his own wrestling school, Michaels can actually provide something better as the highest ranking teacher at the WWE Performance Center. Alongside former NWA regional star Terry Taylor, Michaels teaches the organization’s final class, giving students the last bits of fine tuning needed to become superstars.
15 Dusty Rhodes Helped Lay The Groundwork For NXT
Gone but certainly not forgotten, there will likely never be a day when pro wrestling stops feeling the influence of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Iconic as Dusty was in the ring with his three reigns as NWA World Champion, he was an even bigger presence behind the scenes from the very beginning, as one of the most creative minds the industry has ever seen. This lead to a role as head booker of Jim Crockett Promotions, where he designed his war with the Four Horsemen and helped the company stand against WWE. Rhodes also invented dozens of match types that remain popular to this day, inventing most booking norms that now feel commonplace.
When Dusty was at his peak, Vince McMahon typically saw him as a rival, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also a fan. Triple H was also hugely supportive of Dusty’s legacy, leading to his dreamlike creativity taking center stage once again when The Game devised NXT. In addition to writing the major storylines, Rhodes also served as a mentor and coach to virtually every NXT star, leaving a noticeable hole in the brand ever since his untimely passing in 2015. Of course, death has hardly caused the WWE Universe to forget Dusty’s gifts, with all future NXT writers and performers upholding his belief in traditionalism.
14 Michael Hayes Flies Above WWE Creative
With the heart of a rock and roll idol and the pugnacious attitude of a bar fighter, head Freebird Michael Hayes based his in-ring career on the idea of style over substance. With all due respect, few of his solo matches were much to write home about, but he made up for it with boundless charisma and unforgettable storylines alongside Terry Gordy and Buddy “Jack” Roberts. The iconic team won the WCCW Six-Man Tag Team Championships six times, before Hayes left for WCW and reformed the team as a duo with Jimmy Garvin. This lead to a few more pieces of gold, after which Hayes jumped to the WWE Universe as an announcer named Dok Hendrix. Eventually, dropped the silly gimmick, yet remained on board as a hype man throughout the Attitude Era.
By and large, Hayes has stopped making onscreen WWE appearances, but he still has a major role behind the scenes. Notwithstanding a few controversial blips and suspensions, the former Freebird has actually been one of the longest tenured creative minds in WWE today. Hayes has been sharing ideas with Vince McMahon and Triple H since the mid ‘90s, at one point getting promoted to the role of head writer on SmackDown. Though he no longer holds that particular position, Hayes remains an agent and writer of high regard.
13 Billy Kidman Still Has Great Timing
Even as he repeatedly scratched his face like a filthy animal, the youthful exuberance and high flying antics of Billy Kidman quickly made him a standout name in WCW’s legendary cruiserweight division. Matches against Psychosis, Juventud Guerrera, and Eddie Guerrero cemented him as one of the most excited names in the company, leading to three reigns as Cruiserweight Champion. Kidman also formed a successful duo with Rey Mysterio, once winning the WCW Tag Team belts. Kidman’s achievements in both divisions continued when he signed with WWE, earning another four Cruiserweight titles and one Tag Team reign with Paul London before temporarily leaving the company in 2005.
Two years after his initial departure, Kidman returned to WWE behind the scenes, now as a producer. While his title is technically the same as many others on this list, Kidman’s role is actually very specific—he’s responsible for timing out matches, promos, and angles to ensure they all fit the allotted TV time slots on Raw and SmackDown. This means it’s Kidman’s job to tell wrestlers they have less time than expected, or giving them the tough news they’ll need to stretch things out to fill space. Luckily, most of the wrestlers like him anyway, thanks to the fact he also helped train a few of them.
12 Road Dogg Runs SmackDown Like An Outlaw
Oh, you didn’t know? Apparently, the always talkative Road Dogg had some good ideas in his head all along, or at least that’s what D-Generation X buddy Triple H now seems to believe. Before it reached that point, the D-O-Double-G was also a top star during the Attitude Era, if not in terms of championship success, then at least in the way he always could always get a crowd on their feet. While he was never quite a main eventer, nor did he even challenge for the WWE Championship, Road Dogg nonetheless earned his fair share of gold in the tag division with his partner “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn as the New Age Outlaws. He also earned reigns with the Intercontinental and Hardcore titles, with and without other members of DX backing him up.
Road Dogg’s career in TNA and elsewhere couldn’t quite match his time in WWE, but these later jobs hardly diminished his past accomplishments. Never forgetting his friend’s creativity, Triple H later brought Road Dogg back into the company once he had the standing to do so. Initially an agent, the Roadie gradually proved he still had quite the mind for the business, gradually getting promoted to his current status as the head writer of SmackDown Live.
11 Dean Malenko Is A Man Of 1,000 Ideas
Despite how things may sometimes feel, success in the professional wrestling business isn’t measured on championship titles alone. Were that the case, Dean Malenko couldn’t be considered a legend, a distinction his performances in the ring repeatedly suggested he deserves. After forming an international tag team with his brother Joe, Dean started to become a solo star in America working for ECW. As a member of the original Triple Threat, Dean won two ECW Television Championships and earned one reign as Tag Team Champion with Chris Benoit. Future gold followed in WCW, where he was also a member of the Four Horsemen. The fun continued in WWE, where Malenko joined the Radicalz and won more titles still before retiring from the ring in 2001.
Never one to stop giving it his all, Malenko remains a key force in the WWE Universe more than a full decade after he technically called it quits. While he hasn’t been personally involved in crafting any expert matches for some time now, Malenko has been guiding younger superstars on how to do just that as a producer and road agent for the company. Alongside several other agents, Malenko closely watches young talent and offers his advice on how they could make small improvements and become better superstars.
10 Arn Anderson Enforces The Status Quo
Standing next to the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair throughout most of his career, Arn Anderson was pretty much the best backup a wrestler could possibly have. Anderson reaffirmed this theory by winning a half dozen WCW and WWE Tag Team Championships with a slew of different partners, running the gamut from Tully Blanchard to Paul Roma. He also earned distinction as the perennial “Enforcer” to the Four Horsemen, easily making the second most important member of the group after Flair. None of this is to say Arn always needed a partner, either, as he also won four WCW Television Championships, and his skills on the microphone were truly unbeatable at his peak. In fact, it was an impassioned Arn speech that named their iconic group.
Still the most helpful person a wrestler could look towards in their career, Arn almost immediately transitioned to a role as one of WWE’s top road agents after Vince McMahon purchased WCW. In this capacity, Arn has continued imparting his expert advice on any up and coming athlete who asks. Despite having retired during the Attitude Era, Arn also makes occasionally appearances on WWE television breaking up fights, and he even got involved with the action by delivering a thunderous Spinebuster to Dolph Ziggler at the 2017 Starrcade event.
9 Ricky Steamboat Drags The Best Out Of Everyone
Dominating the ring with the heart of a dragon, there will never be another performer quite like Ricky Steamboat. From his humble origins, Steamboat could be assured to wrestle one of the best matches of the night every time he hit the ring, deploying countless arm dragons and knife-edged chops to send his enemies through hell. For all his fiery energy, Steamboat was also one of the nicest and most respectful wrestlers around, making him the consummate babyface who would never once turn his back on the fans. Naturally, this turned him into a huge star in both the NWA and WWE, where he would win the World and Intercontinental Championships, respectively. Further gold was achieved in WCW, until Steamboat suffered a devastating injury that took him out of the ring for good.
Starting in 2005, the Dragon made his long awaited return to the WWE Universe as a road agent, which soon lead to a short comeback in the ring. It didn’t last long, but Steamboat’s few matches against Chris Jericho made it clear he “still had it,” which is why WWE quickly transitioned him to a role as a trainer at NXT. At this point, Steamboat is officially considered an Ambassador, representing WWE at public events and giving speeches on the company’s behalf.
8 Mike Rotunda Guides His Son And Their Contemporaries
Already a championship winning superstar in the early 1980s, Mike Rotunda was a rare midcard performer to remain a steady hand for no less than three major eras of the sport. His first success came as a member of The U.S. Express with Barry Windham, when the team defeated Dick Murdoch and Adrian Adonis for the WWE Tag Team titles just before the first WrestleMania. Once that team faded out, Rotunda created a large number of gimmicks to attempt and extend his fame, the most popular being evil taxman Irwin R. Schyster. Using that name, Rotunda nabbed three additional runs with the Tag Team gold, this time with Ted DiBiase as his partner in the team Money Inc. There was also a good deal of regional and territorial NWA championships along the way.
Despite having recently turned 60, Rotunda can still be seen on the rare WWE program, usually dressed as the IRS character. He’s not just there for the nostalgia, as he’s also helping guide younger talents in the company as a road agent and producer. In addition to supporting past stars like Jack Swagger and Kofi Kingston, Rotunda’s two proudest accomplishments in the sport are surely Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt, who he prefers referring to as his sons.
7 Robbie Brookside Begins The NXT Education
For all Vince McMahon efforts at true global domination, Europe has always maintained it’s own bustling sports entertainment scene entirely separate to the WWE Universe. This is how men like Robbie Brookside managed to become international stars in the UK, Germany, and other countries while only stepping foot in McMahon’s ring a handful of times at most. Not all WWE fans will recognize Brookside’s name but they’re surely familiar with his close friend William Regal, with whom he also regularly formed a tag team in the late 1980s. Nonetheless, Brookside found greater fame as a solo star, winning dozens of territorial championships long after Regal left for America.
Brookside resisted following Regal to WWE for as long as possible, but eventually, Vince McMahon must have made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. After making a handful of surprise appearances during overseas tours and spending many years as an unofficial talent scout, Brookside officially joined the company as a coach for NXT in 2013. Despite his considerable talent, Brookside’s role is now teaching the entry-level class that breaks new recruits into the industry for the first time, which in a way makes him the gatekeeper to the WWE Universe. It’s also appropriate his best students start working for his buddy Regal the second he’s done with them.
6 Steve Corino Is The King Of Old School Coaching
Once considered too “old school” for WWE, the tables have now turned to a point when Steve Corino’s sensibilities make him a perfect name to teach classes at the Performance Center. Although Vince McMahon’s opinion on Corino has apparently changed, the wrestling world at large has always been highly positive about his talents from the moment he debuted in ECW. Almost immediately, Corino became one of the hardcore promotion’s biggest stars for his loud mouth, not to mention his ability to bleed all over the ring while taking a serious beating. Naturally, Corino could dish it out just as well as he could take it, reigning as the final ECW World Champion and then winning the NWA World Champion shortly after ECW went out of business. From there, Corino remained a top star for various indies, most notably Ring of Honor.
Corino decided to leave the independent scene behind for good in late 2016, when he finally signed with Vince McMahon. Now in his early 40s, Corino had no intentions of trying for one last run on top, instead signing as a trainer and coach at the WWE Performance Center. Recognizing his incredible skills in the ring and on the microphone, Corino’s class is the second-highest level of study the system has to offer.
5 Mark Henry Finds Stars For The Future
Not only is Mark Henry rightfully considered “The World’s Strongest Man,” but he also has a genuine claim as the world’s most resilient and perseverant WWE superstar in company history. Despite his high honor upon arrival, it took Henry a full decade to assert himself as a true main event superstar who would win the World Heavyweight Championship. Before then, Henry was actually pretty much a total joke, forced through tasteless comedy angles that made it hard to recognize his talents. Luckily, WWE finally figured out how to let him shine by opening the Hall of Pain near the twilight of Henry’s career, and in just a few short years he made a big enough splash to also enter the Hall of Fame.
Continuing his reputation as a bit of a late bloomer, Henry may just now be slowly assuming the role that will ultimately define his legacy. What could possibly enhance a career that already earned every top honor in wrestling? Finding new superstars and introducing them to Vince McMahon, thus allowing them to do the same. Henry has already played this role for Apollo, Bianca Belair, and Greatest Royal Rumble winner Braun Strowman, quickly making him perhaps the best talent scout in the company today. After they get hired, Henry continues helping out the young stars as a mentor.
4 Terry Garvin Was Shrouded In Controversy
While few people today remember his name, there’s really no doubt that Terry Garvin is one of the most controversial names in WWE history. This was a bit of a surprise given the man’s modest career, rarely managing to free himself from his fake brother Ronnie Garvin’s shadow. Not that he necessarily would have wanted to, as the Garvin Brothers were a dominant duo in multiple territories, winning at least five regional NWA Tag Team Championships together. When Ron went on to bigger things as a solo act, Terry started teaming with Duke Meyers, continuing his dominance over the tag division with another handful of titles. Throughout it all, Garvin was also a close friend of Pat Patterson, which led to his later role in the WWE Universe.
Starting in 1985, Garvin began working as a road agent, helping out with the booking of local events and supervising the ring crew. It was under this capacity Garvin achieved the greatest notoriety of his career, albeit not at all in a good way. After seven years with the company, accusations began to fly that Garvin had abused various young men helping him set up the ring, including wrestlers Barry O and Tom Cole. Garvin was forced to resign due to the scandal, and his contributions are largely forgotten or ignored today.
3 Gorilla Monsoon Always Made His Position Known
It was always pandemonium in Madison Square Garden, the Philadelphia Spectrum, or any other major arena where the monstrous Gorilla Monsoon was on the card. Billed as a vicious monster from Manchuria, young fans in the 1960s were genuinely afraid of Monsoon’s menacing antics, especially as he challenged Bruno Sammartino and twice won the WWE United States Tag Team Championships, one with Killer Kowalski and the other Bill Watts. In contrast to this evil persona, Monsoon is probably better known today for the second half of his career, when he took on a kind grandfatherly role as the voice of reason announcing WWE broadcasts during the Hulkamania era. Monsoon also spent two short years as the onscreen WWE President before suddenly passing away in 1999.
If any one wrestler was deserving of the WWE President title, it was certainly Monsoon. No other wrestler has been so integral to the company that their name is used to describe a part of the stage, but each time wrestlers step behind the curtain, the enter “Gorilla Position,” named after Monsoon’s preferred stomping ground. It was from there he provided young superstars with advice and comments. Long before taking up that residence, Monsoon had also been one of Vince McMahon, Sr.’s business partners, which is why Junior kept him employed for life.
2 Gerald Brisco Is Much More Than A Stooge
Typically, a career like Gerald Brisco’s would speak for itself, and make any member of the family proud. In his case, however, Gerald was always in the shadow of his older brother Jack, a true icon of the industry and a two time NWA World Champion. Then again, the younger Brisco achieved a great deal of success in his own right, including more regional tag team titles than we could possibly list, with Jack and various other partners. Gerald also won his fair share of singles gold before becoming a controlling partner in Georgia Championship Wrestling, also with Jack, and the brothers eventually sold their stake to Vince McMahon, effectively ending their in-ring careers.
The Brisco Brothers both kept wrestling for a short while after joining the WWE Universe, but it was only a matter of months before they decided to transition to roles as road agents. Gerald was also a booker for many years, in addition to providing the very important role played by Billy Kidman today. From the ‘80s to the Attitude Era, Brisco was generally the guy behind the scenes making sure everything was timed properly for television. After a series of health scares, Brisco’s role gradually wound down to the point he is now simply a talent scout.
1 Pat Patterson Was Vince McMahon’s Right-Hand Man
Throughout the Attitude Era, the only sycophantic Stooge of Vince McMahon more annoying than Gerald Brisco was his closest confidant, Pat Patterson. This might be because Patterson had been occupying the role for even longer, though he didn’t pick it up until after already experiencing an iconic and groundbreaking career inside the squared circle. Throughout the 1970s, Patterson teamed with Ray Stevens as The Blond Bombers, considered one of the best teams of their era. After the team broke up, Patterson continued to find great fame as a solo star in WWE, where he was the first ever Intercontinental Champion and a repeat challenger to Bob Backlund. Patterson also helped define the early stages of hardcore with vicious “Boot Camp” matches against Sgt. Slaughter before transitioning out of the ring in the early ‘80s.
Even before he stopped wrestling for good, Patterson had gradually grown closer with Vince McMahon from the day he signed with the company. Before long, the two were considered best friends, and Patterson was recognized as McMahon’s right-hand man. This status allowed Patterson to craft many of the greatest angles and ideas in WWE history. Now in his late 70s, Patterson’s duties in the company have greatly diminished, but he still remains on the payroll as a creative consultant.