The wild and wacky world of professional wrestling is, for a lack of better terms, wild and wacky. One of the traditions of the business involves wrestlers using fake names. Some former World Wrestling Entertainment stars may honestly not even recall why or how they used certain fake names over the years. In other instances, the WWE gave a wrestler a fake name for marketing purposes and to prevent that individual from using his given name in a different promotion such as Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and other organizations. Daniel Bryan may sound like a joke name somebody would use in a create-a-wrestler mode for a video game, but that title is more known among casual fans who only follow the WWE than Bryan Danielson, the man who became a sensation and, arguably, the best overall worker in the world while on the independent scene. Fans can complain all they want about the WWE not allowing certain acts to use their actual names when they are members of the roster. In some cases, that practice is, to borrow the cliche that was given to us by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, what is best for business.
Not every wrestler who became a star and a money-maker while with the WWE was forced to use a fake name. For every Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Undertaker, there are multiple examples of individuals good enough to enter multiple halls of fame who kept their actual names during and after their stints in the WWE. Truth be told, it’s actually difficult to imagine some of these performers working under different and fake names. For example, everybody knew Kurt Angle was an Olympic champion even before he debuted at a pay-per-view. It would have been nothing short of ridiculous had the WWE given him a bogus name, such as Chad Gable (sorry, Chad), before he went on to win his first of multiple World Championship titles. As much as some fans and viewers may protest about this matter via social media platforms and Internet forums, we usually end up getting used to a fake name, in time. Eventually, we don’t even think about the name or consider it to be anything more than what is attached to that character. After all, it isn’t all that weird for us to call the “American Dragon” Daniel Bryan whenever he wrestles on SmackDown?
15 Fake Name: Shawn Michaels
Unless you were really into Total Nonstop Action/Impact Wrestling when that company thought it was cool to air “shoot” promos about certain WWE personalities, you may not know, off the top of your head, that Shawn Michaels was Michael Shawn Hickenbottom long before he was the “Heartbreak Kid.”
Shawn Michaels admittedly rolls off the tongue a bit better than his birth name, and it also prevents what would have been some cringeworthy promos from babyface performers making fun of his last name.
As important as a name can be for any performer, we’re fairly certain Michaels would have become a star and a Hall of Famer regardless of what he was called before and during his run in the WWE. Michaels evolved from being a high-flyer into a legendary all-around wrestler and performer, to the point that his second stint in the company following a four-year hiatus caused by a back injury was even better than his first that he enjoyed during what should have been his physical prime. Truth be told, there are still pockets of fans holding onto the hope that Mr. WrestleMania will come back.
14 Real Name: Owen Hart
We start the portion of the list of former WWE stars who kept their actual names with a member of a famous wrestling family that will appear a second time later on in the piece. Owen Hart, one of the sons of legendary wrestler, promoter, and trainer Stu Hart, had multiple gimmicks while in the industry, and he was known as Owen James (James was his middle name) for a time before he made it big in the WWE as Owen Hart.
Widely regarded as one of the more talented wresters of his time to never win a world time, Hart tragically and infamously lost his life during the 1999 Over the Edge pay-per-view when he fell during a stunt that went horribly wrong. Younger fans and also current WWE viewers who aren’t overly familiar with Hart’s work should go back and watch some of his best matches and also appreciate the heel promos he cut when he was allowed to showcase his personality. Stories about Hart being a popular prankster in the WWE locker room are still discussed by journalists and fans to this day, and the business and world, as a whole, remains worse off without him.
13 Fake Name: Jimmy Snuka
Here is one you may not have thought about if only because the man born James Wiley Smith was probably introduced to you as Jimmy Snuka when you first heard of him or saw him on television. In fact, news outlets and reporters even referred to him as Jimmy Snuka when discussing the legal case regarding the death of Nancy Argentino that played out during the final days of Snuka’s life.
Those of us who weren’t there will never be able to say, for sure, what happened on that fateful night, but it will forever hover over the status and reputation of the man who was a beloved babyface during his best days in the WWE. Mick Foley and other noted wrestlers have, in older interviews, discussed how seeing Snuka complete that famous leap off of a steel cage impacted their lives and made them want to mimic what they witnessed. Granted, fans who are used to seeing Superstars do 450 splashes and other flips and dives with ease may not understand what the big deal is about a guy using a standard splash, albeit from a great height. What they’d have to understand is that Snuka stood out among others who rarely, if ever, took flight.
12 Real Name: Bill Goldberg
Some out there may say that this one doesn’t count since Goldberg only went by his last name during his time in World Championship Wrestling and also his two stints in the WWE. Don’t forget, though, that the former football player was introduced to WCW fans as Bill Goldberg ahead of the the start of his first match.
In some instances, a WWE star has the perfect real name that helps that individual get over, and that happened to be the case here.
Back in the late 1990s, fans would chant “Gold-berg! Gold-berg!” even before he emerged from behind the curtain at events, and that trend continued when he worked as the Universal Champion who feuded with foes like Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar. Goldberg was different than anybody else of his time because of how WCW protected him up until his first loss, and the aura that surrounded that character remains to this day in the eyes of fans who remember watching him 20 years ago. Perhaps Triple H and Vince McMahon should go back and watch how WCW presented Goldberg back in the day. Pro wrestling can be easy to book when those running a company realize what fans want to see.
11 Fake Name: Jake Roberts
WWE fans who were kids when Jake “The Snake” Roberts worked as both a heel and babyface in the promotion in the 1980s and 1990s likely didn’t know that he was born Aurelian Jake Smith Jr., the son of wrestler Aurelian "Grizzly" Smith. Instead, we remember Roberts as the man who cut creepy and believable promos, who brought large snakes down to the ring ahead of every match and who was the master of the DDT finishing move.
Roberts, an icon of the business who has been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, has experienced a plethora of ups and downs over the past several decades, and he has discussed his struggles with addiction and other issues in interviews and television segments. The belief, as of May 2018, is that Roberts has notched wins over those demons and is doing well at 62 years old. Perhaps the WWE should consider sending Roberts to the developmental portion of NXT to teach younger would-be stars how to cut promos. Backstage segments and vignettes featuring Roberts talking about punishing opponents live up to this day, and there is little doubt he has plenty of knowledge to pass down to the next generation of wrestlers.
10 Real Name: Eddie Guerrero
Like other big WWE stars from prior eras, Eddie Guerrero was able to perform under his actual name because he came from a famous wrestling family and also because he used that name in other large promotions such as Extreme Championship Wrestling and WCW. While WCW largely squandered having such a talented and gifted wrestler on its main roster, Guerrero eventually received the chances, push and recognition he deserved working for the WWE.
Winning the WWE Championship as a member of the SmackDown brand was the crowning achievement of Guerrero’s Hall of Fame career, and his title victory remains one of the top WWE moments of the 2000s. Those who watched Guerrero earn the pinfall on that fateful night will hold the memories of his energy, charisma and personality in their hearts as long as they continue to watch the WWE and follow the business. Like far too many in the industry, Guerrero left us too soon, and his untimely passing in November 2005 brought with it what became the current WWE Wellness Policy. There is still plenty wrong with the WWE and pro wrestling, in general, but the promotion deserves some credit for looking out for the safety of wrestlers more so than it did roughly 15 years ago.
9 Fake Name: Dusty Rhodes
Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. was the embodiment of the American Dream even if WWE fans never knew him by his real name. We, obviously, recognize this man as Dusty Rhodes, the iconic and all-time great babyface who had memorable feuds with heels such as Ric Flair and who also cut some of the best promos anybody has seen from a performer working for a national promotion. Younger fans may not understand how somebody who looked like Rhodes managed to become such a Superstar who was beloved by fans of varying ages and who was cheered in arenas all over the country.
They should probably go back and watch some of his emotional and believable promos that he cut during the prime of his career. Rhodes wrestled at an incredible pace for a man of his size, but it was his interviews and his ability to draw you in with his words that made him somebody you wanted to see beat dastardly and evil villains. As much as the WWE tried to turn the character into a joke, Rhodes really was the common man and a wrestler fans related to when compared to others who flaunted their supposed fortunes and their unattainable lifestyles.
8 Real Name: Bruno Sammartino
It’s unfortunate and even sad that pockets of younger WWE fans only learned about the career of Bruno Sammartino, who wrestled under his real name throughout his career, after his passing in April 2018. Sammartino was a performer unlike anybody many fans who never witnessed him during his prime has ever seen, as he was a world champion, in total, for over a decade, and viewers who may have realized what they were watching wasn’t real nevertheless believed that Sammartino’s matches were legit.
Sammartino, known as the “Living Legend” when he was the champ, was a true hero for fans of different nationalities and for those who simply loved watching him win bouts and defeat hated heels.
Critics who go back and watch his old matches may claim that they don’t hold up today and that his style wasn’t flashy or anything exciting. Such individuals just don’t get what Sammartino was for those who paid to see him fight in arenas such as Madison Square Garden. It is a guarantee, because of the nature of the WWE and the wrestling business as a whole today, that there will never again be a champion such as Sammartino. While he was an incredible wrestler, Sammartino was also a great man, and he is greatly missed.
7 Fake Name: Scott Steiner
Both Rick and Scott went by Steiner, a shorter version of their real last name of Rechsteiner. That’s close enough, we suppose, and it’s also easier to say and spell among wrestling fans who began watching these two work together as a tag team and, later, watched Scott become a World Heavyweight Champion in WCW. Scott went from being the more quiet worker of the two brothers to a man who cut supposed unscripted promos that earned him punishments and suspensions and who toppled Booker T and others while feuding over the big gold belt in WCW.
Granted, the WWE clearly didn’t view Steiner as somebody at the level of a Triple H after the death of WCW, and Steiner was obviously beyond his prime when he first signed with TNA Wrestling in the 2000s. None of his more forgettable and regrettable moments on television can take away from the persona who emerged as a major star in WCW during the dying days of that promotion. Steiner was a hot heel and character when that promotion was floundering, and we can only wonder what might have been had he been included in the failed Invasion storyline that the WWE gave viewers in 2001.
6 Real Name: Terry Funk
Some WWE fans out there may be old enough to remember when Terrence Funk, who wrestled under a version of his real name (Terry Funk) for decades, was called “middle aged and crazy” and was said to be retiring a first time. Funk is probably still a little off in the eyes of some who see the 73-year-old cut promos or even take bumps inside of rings these days. One thing he isn’t, though, is officially retired, and we are certain that he is not going to completely walk away from the industry until he is no longer breathing. Some people are just meant to be part of the business seemingly forever, and that is the case with Funk.
We don’t expect to see Funk wrestling inside of a WWE ring ever again, but those lucky enough to interact with him at a convention or a smaller show can appreciate everything he did for and gave to the industry.
Funk’s wild and unpredictable promos made him a must-see entity whenever the cameras were rolling, and he was part of multiple memorable and historic bouts. Anybody hoping to one day perform for the WWE could learn plenty by watching Funk film and highlights.
5 Fake Name: Brie Bella
Brie Bella sounds like a fake wrestling name, something the WWE would use for a generic Diva when the company couldn’t come up with something better. Sure, it probably works better than Brianna Monique Danielson, who had her real last name changed following her marriage to current wrestler Daniel Bryan, but it still exists as a reminder that the promotion went through a period when it gave performers some boring names.
Brie Bella made a return to the ring during the 2018 women’s Royal Rumble match, but it is believed that she is still, technically, a former WWE star who is now an ambassador for the brand and who is concentrating on her family more so than her days as an active member of the roster.
Brie could, theoretically, head back to SmackDown and become a top babyface while performing alongside her husband, but she is seemingly busy and content with matters and projects away from the grueling WWE schedule. There is no indication that either she or Nikki need to be on weekly WWE shows to keep the Total Divas program alive, and the women’s divisions on Raw, SmackDown and NXT are doing fine without either of the twins working.
4 Real Name: Warrior
Some urban legends about wrestlers are just that, tall tales and stories that exist because of kayfabe and/or because websites and Internet users helped spread these stories. For example, you may have once read or heard that the Ultimate Warrior actually passed away in the 1990s, and that the WWE used a different man to play that role following his death.
That was not true, but what is true is that James Brian Hellwig did, in fact, legally change his name to Warrior, meaning we can add him to a list of former WWE stars who kept his actual name while performing.
Warrior was able to use his name during multiple stints in the WWE, during a failed run in WCW that gave us one horrible match between he and Hulk Hogan and in independent promotions. It’s nice to know that Warrior and the WWE repaired the figurative bridge and came back together for a Hall of Fame induction and a segment on Raw before his surprising and tragic passing in April 2014. Many of the comments he made over the years were controversial and even wrong, but nobody can deny he deserved to be honored for his contributions to the WWE in the 1980s and 1990s.
3 Fake Name: Steve Austin
WWE fans who watched WCW back in the early 1990s have known Steve Williams as Steve Austin for nearly three decades even though the former WWE star and wrestler had numerous gimmicks and personas during his career. Austin was stunning, a Hollywood Blonde, a superstar and a Ringmaster before Vince McMahon and the WWE allowed him to be “Stone Cold” and one of the individuals who helped propel the promotion past WCW in the Monday Night Wars.
Austin’s promos and feud with the Mr. McMahon character became a focal point of the Attitude Era that is still referenced by WWE programming 20 years after it started, and the sound of breaking glass that precedes his recognizable theme song causes fans to leap to their feet in anticipation and joy even though he can no longer go in the ring because of injuries. Austin’s retirement from the WWE has not stopped fans from dreaming about him having one final goodbye bout underneath the company’s umbrella. The promotion even teased a potential match between he and CM Punk years ago. Oh, what could have been had those two been able to spark a program that ended with a match at an event such as a WrestleMania. They could have produced some classic segments.
2 Real Name: Bret Hart
Like his previously mentioned brother Owen Hart, Bret “Hitman” Hart kept his actual name and used it during his runs in the WWE and also WCW. Hart was the “Excellence of Execution” and “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” during his prime, and he was part of multiple five-star matches in the WWE. His first stint in the company ended in controversy following what became known as the Montreal Screwjob, and he remained away from the promotion, outside of a handful of appearances, from 1997 through January 2010.
The biggest shame with this is that Hart’s career ended because of concussion-related issues and, later, a stroke in the early 2000s, so fans never got to see him have a true retirement match when he was at his best. Looking back and knowing all that we know today, it probably would have been better for everybody involved if Hart would have remained in the WWE through the Attitude Era and the start of the 2000s. His character and persona was never given the push and storylines it deserved in WCW, and he could have continued to deliver good matches and entertaining segments had he remained with the WWE.
1 Fake Name: Ric Flair
The perception put out there in documentaries, interviews and by people who know the man is that the individual who was once known as Richard Morgan Fliehr no longer exists and, instead, has been overcome by Ric Flair, the “Nature Boy” and the legendary wrestler who is seen by many as the greatest to ever lace-up a pair of boots. Flair became known for living his gimmick in the 1980s, 1990s and even the 2000s, and that, by his own admission, left him with regrets regarding aspects of his personal life.
Die-hard wrestling fans don’t care about any of that. They remember Flair as the Rolex wearing, limousine riding, jet flying son-of-a-gun who routinely had attractive women on either arm, the finest clothes and expensive robes. Flair is the type of icon who goes beyond pro wrestling. Ultimate Fighting Championship Superstar Conor McGregor blatantly stole parts of the Flair gimmick to use for his promos and the persona that he shows during public appearances and via social media platforms such as Instagram. They’ll never be another Flair, and the impact he has made on the sports and entertainment industries will be felt for generations to come. Woooo!