World Wrestling Entertainment is globally recognized as the largest wrestling promotion in the world, holding over 300 events a year, and broadcasting to an average 36 million viewers in more than 150 countries.
Vince McMahon’s billion dollar empire has built legacies for some of the most popular stars to ever wrestle in a squared circle. Stars like Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock and Shawn Michaels all rose to stardom during their illustrious WWE career, placing them among the greatest wrestlers the world has ever seen. It’s fair to say the WWE has produced some one of a kind stars.
Over the years, WWE has taken the time to scout talent outside of their promotions in pursuit of building a promising future for the company. Various companies including TNA, Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and many promotions around the world have been the stomping grounds for some of WWE’s finest recruited stars. Although these stars have found a new home in the WWE, a legacy was left behind in their previous promotions that made them who they’re today.
With that said, here is a list of 8 homegrown WWE talents who were made famous in the WWE and 8 stars who featured all over the globe before finally coming to Mr. McMahon’s company.
16. Team WWE: Randy Orton
Randy Orton has been one of the most successful WWE superstars of all time. Orton is a 14-year veteran of the company and a former 12-time world champion. His career took off in 2002 after he joined Triple H, Batista and Ric Flair, forming a stable known as Evolution, leading him to capture the Intercontinental Championship.
He would eventually acquire the nickname of “The Legend Killer” during a storyline where he began disrespecting and physically attacking WWE Hall of Famers. At the age of 24, Orton would become the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history. From there on out, Orton would become one of the most loved and hated stars of the last decade. Fans want to hate him because of his dirty snake-like tactics, which gave him the name “The Viper,” but at the same time, fans love an RKO out of nowhere.
15. Team World: Cesaro
The name Claudio Castagnoli may not ring a bell to a good portion of the WWE audience. But what if we said that he is the strongest man in the WWE? That’s right, we’re talking about The Swiss Superman, Cesaro. For the better part of Cesaro’s career, he wrestled under the name Claudio Castagnoli, which turns out to be his real name. It wasn’t until he joined the WWE roster in 2012 that he would wrestle under the name Cesaro.
Prior to WWE, the Swiss-born star wrestled for various promotions all over the world. Castagnoli was known for his techinical wrestling style and diverse skill set. His most notable non-WWE accomplishments include holding the Ring of Honor tag team titles for almost a year and capturing the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) World Championship.
14. Team WWE: Bray Wyatt
After an unsuccessful first stint as Husky Harris, the Bray Wyatt character would make its WWE debut in April of 201 down in FCW. Wyatt traditionally enters the ring looking very rugged, which is not exactly the ingredients to a Vince McMahon envisioned face of the company, but Wyatt possesses excellent in ring skills and cuts the most mesmerizing promos in the WWE. Bray Wyatt wreaks havoc upon the entire roster while serving as the new face of fear. He’s a modern day Undertaker in a twisted way.
There are very few stars in the business that can bring an arena together like Wyatt does. During his unique entrance, fans hold their cell phones up in the air with the flashlight on, filling the entire arena with fireflies. He brings an unmatchable presence to the ring that has you glued from start to finish.
Wyatt has been one of WWE’s most under-appreciated and undervalued heels of the past decade. He’s proven time after time that he as what it takes to hang with the likes of anyone and serves as a great representation of team WWE.
13. Team World: Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is no stranger to the independent circuit. The former NXT champion has wrestled in a staggering 29 countries. From 2002-2013, he wrestled under the ring name El Generico. During his 11 year tenure at El Generico, he would become a two-time PWG World Champion, ROH World Television Champion, ROH World Tag Team Champion and became the wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion in Germany.
In 2010, he earned the “Feud of the Year” award from Wrestling Observer Newsletter for his historic bouts with Kevin Steen (who WWE fans knows as Kevin Owens). Sami Zayn looks to continue his professional wrestling success in the WWE, as he now is a permanent member of Monday after being drafted there.
12. Team WWE: Dean Ambrose
Most World Champions and main event stars tend to have the Vince McMahon formula in mind; a bodybuilder’s physique. However, the current WWE champion is far from a Vince McMahon guy. Ambrose’s rise to stardom was organic, as he won the WWE Universe over with his intensity, nothing to lose mentality, and outright lunatic acts.
Ambrose started his career wrestling under the name Jon Moxley. Between 2004-2011, Moxley wrestled for a handful of promotions around the States. In 2012 he signed with the WWE, where he would debut a part of three-man stable formally known as The Shield. During this time, he would capture the United States Championship, holding it for 351 days. The group would eventually break up, allowing Ambrose to strive in singles competition.
11. Team World: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe shocked the WWE Universe when he made his NXT debut in 2015. Prior to WWE, Joe spent the first half of his illustrious career in ROH where he would hold the World Championship for a record 21 months from May 2003 to December 2004. In 2005, Joe joined TNA, making an immediate impact by having an 18-month-long undefeated streak and going on to hold the TNA World Heavyweight Championship.
Along his journey, Joe crossed paths with the likes of CM Punk, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Although he is up there in age at 37 years old, the current NXT champion is still performing at an extremely high level. It’s possible that he could be brought up to either Raw or SmackDown before the end of 2016.
10. Team WWE: Triple H
Triple H has gone through two decades worth of evolving, which has only made him better at his craft each and every year. From his days as a rich snob, to his major role as the leader of a bunch of degenerates, to being responsible for teaching future main eventers Randy Orton and Batista during the glory days of Evolution, while riding high as a dominate world champion, Triple H is rightfully recognized as WWE royalty.
The King of Kings is a 14-time world champion. This didn’t happen by beating a bunch of chumps, as the list of stars that have fallen victim to Triple H are among the best the company has ever seen. The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, John Cena and much more have all bowed down to The King.
Although Triple H is working part time as a wrestler, make no mistake, Triple H has demonstrated that he is still in tremendous wrestling shape and would be ready to lock up in the ring, whenever it’s best for business.
9. Team World: Kevin Owens
At the age of 16, Kevin Owens began his career in professional wrestling. Prior to joining WWE, Owens went by his birth name, Kevin Steen. Fighting for promotions all over the world, Steen would battle the likes of The Briscoe Brothers, Chris Hero, El Generico (Sami Zayn), Matt Hardy and Shinsuke Nakamura. His greatest accolades include being a former ROH Champion, PWG World Champion, AAW Heavyweight Champion and the CZW Iron Man Champion.
His success in professional wrestling wouldn’t stop there. Owens would eventually sign with the WWE in 2014. He would go on to defeat former rival Sami Zayn, capturing the NXT championship. His career in the company really took off after he defeated John Cena in his very first match on a WWE pay-per-view.
8. Team WWE: Roman Reigns
The saying “one versus all” seems like a challenge most are unwilling to take. For WWE superstar Roman Reigns, those are the words he lives by. As mentioned by Roman Reigns on numerous occasions, he’s been told his entire life that he won’t accomplish his goals. Well, maybe those naysayers were wrong after all. Since his debut back in 2012, the leader of the Roman Empire has made it clear that he has what it takes to be the top dog in the WWE.
Whether it’s wreaking havoc during his days as member of The Shield or dethroning The King of Kings Triple H at WrestleMania 32 for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns is “The Guy,” whether we like it or not. He’s shaping into a polarizing figure similar to the likes of John Cena and Hulk Hogan, which not only makes him the guy to watch, but the guy to beat.
7. Team World: Seth Rollins
There is a reason the COO and former World Champion, Triple H, picked this man to be the future of the company. Seth Rollins possesses every attribute it takes to be a bonafide star. He is already a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion and a Money In The Bank match winner. The Architect is revered for his fast paced in-ring style, high flying abilities, and top notch trash talking skills. There are very few men in the industry that can do it like he can.
However, Seth Rollins would not be where he’s at today if it wasn’t for his time on the independent scene. His most prestigious accolade from the independent scene was holding the Ring of Honor World Championship for 210 days.
6. Team WWE: Brock Lesnar
Every team has that one trick up their sleeve that’s used when the going gets tough. Just when you’d think Team WWE would be down and out, The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar, would be unleashed. Lesnar possesses the type of strength and intensity seen only among Supervillains. The 6-foot-3, 266-pound beast hailing from Minneapolis, has beaten the best the WWE has to offer, in convincing fashion, as well as dominating the UFC.
Since his debut back in 2002, Lesnar has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, 2002 King of the Ring, 2003 Royal Rumble Match winner, and conquered The Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak, making him a future Hall of Famer.
5. Team World: Finn Balor
The WWE Universe may know Finn Balor for his accomplishments in NXT, but the myth of The Demonic Irishman spans across the entire world. Balor began his career at the age of 18 fighting out of Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, where he would find success and eventually take his talents to Japan to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
During his time in Japan, where he was known as Prince Devitt, he captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship three times and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship six times. Most notably, he was the leader of one of the most famous factions in the world, Bullet Club.
After achieving great success in NJPW, he would take his talents to the WWE where he would wrestle under the name, Finn Balor. He now has his sights set on being the next big thing for Monday Night Raw and the sky is the limit for The Demon. One thing is for sure, the whole world will be watching.
4. Team WWE: John Cena
This man needs no introduction. Team WWE would not be complete without the biggest star of the last decade, John Cena. The face who runs the place has built a resume that no current star can challenge. Cena is a 15-time world champion, a Money In The Bank Winner, a two-time Royal Rumble winner and a former United States champion. The “Doctor of Thuganomics” has headlined WrestleMania on five different occasions, beating the likes of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and Edge.
Only a select few superstars before Cena have reached higher levels. Whether you’re a fan of this man or not, he’s beaten the best that’s come his way. He’s the most polarizing figure the WWE has ever seen and he undoubtedly stands among the elite to represent Team WWE.
3. Team World: Shinsuke Nakamura
The King of Strong Style is no amateur when it comes to wrestling. The Japanese-born star is a 14 year veteran of the squared circle, fighting the majority of his career in Japan with New Japan Pro Wresting. What separates him from the rest of the current WWE roster is his smash mouth offense and unmatchable charisma, thus giving him the nickname “The King of Strong Style”.
Nakamura has faced off against some of the best the world has to offer, including AJ Styles, former NXT Champion Finn Bálor, Kevin Owens, Hideo Itami and “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar.
2. Team WWE: The Undertaker
He may be far out of his prime, but The Undertaker has never said no to a challenge. For twenty-six years, fans have enjoyed the legend known as The Deadman, as he’s beaten the best the business has to offer while defending his legacy on The Grandest Stage of Them All, WrestleMania.
When deciding on a team for WWE, adding The Demon of Death Valley to this list should be no surprise. Although he is only working as a part-timer at the moment, his few matches are still a huge draw and he can still put on a high quality match in the right situation.
1. Team World: AJ Styles
If you’re looking for someone who has wrestled and succeeded in almost every major professional wrestling promotion in the entire world, look no further than AJ Styles. Widely known for his in-ring prowess and thrilling aerial maneuvers, The Phenomenal One has captured gold in every promotion he’s fought in. Styles originally made his name during his run with TNA. Styles was the face of the company for more than a decade, capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship three times and the TNA World Heavyweight Championship twice.
In 2010, Styles was ranked number one on PWI’s annual list of top 500 wrestlers. An accolade no other superstar from TNA has earned. He would eventually leave the company in 2013, traveling the world to find success in promotions like Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He now finds himself working for the world’s most popular wrestling company, WWE.
There’s no doubt that Styles will find success during his tenure with World Wrestling Entertainment, but the fact of the matter remains that he made his name famous outside of the WWE.
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