Professional wrestling really is just a high octane stage performance when you think about it. No other sports around the world have the athletes use names that they weren’t born with on such a regular basis. When it comes to pro wrestling, the percentage of wrestlers that use their birth name is so small, that it’s a huge surprise when it actually happens. Some people become the identity and legally change their names to their stage names, just like Steve Austin and Dallas Page.
Even though great wrestlers that have used their real names have been so few and far between, there have been some truly great ones. Whether their names were already cool sounding, they had a legacy from a family with previous wrestling success or they were already known before entering wrestling, you might be able to guess some of these great wrestlers. So who made the cut?
For this list, we went with birth names and shortening a first name was acceptable. It was also acceptable to insert a nickname into a real name, and the real name had to be used for a majority of their careers. For that reason, Mick Foley didn’t make the cut since he became famous through multiple personas. There are also a couple of wrestlers missing from this list mainly due to out-of-the-ring scandals (Chris Benoit) and Jimmy Snuka, while wrestlers that came close include Ted DiBiase. With that in mind, here are the top 15 pro wrestlers that used their real name during their careers.
15 Owen Hart
Owen is one of the many children of legendary wrestling promoter Stu Hart, and was in fact the youngest of the bunch. Hart would join the WWE in the late 1980s for a brief period before heading to the WCW briefly, then returning to the WWE in 1991. Though he wasn’t pushed in quite the same way his brother was, Owen put on some extremely memorable matches throughout the 1990s.
Hart would win several titles with his father’s Stampede Wrestling, and held seven titles in WWE while winning the 1994 King of the Ring Tournament. Sadly, Hart’s life was taken during the prime of his career at 34 years old. Still, Hart was able to build quite a legacy and some even consider him to be the best technical professional wrestler to ever step in the ring.
14 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is one of those rare wrestlers to use their real name without having family in the business or being well recognized beforehand. Hardy was fortunate enough to break into the pro wrestling business with his brother, Matt, and The Hardy Boyz was a natural fit since the name was a callback to the popular book series. The duo would find success, winning multiple Tag Team Championships in both WWE and TNA.
Hardy had solo success with both promotions, as well, winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championships on three occasions and also three world titles with WWE. He’s had his ups and downs throughout his career, but Hardy has seen more success than anything throughout his more than two decades as a professional wrestler.
13 Terry Funk
Terry Funk was able to use his birth name after his father, Dory Funk, had established success in the professional wrestling business. Terry was born in Indiana, but cut his teeth down in Amarillo, Texas with his brother (Dory, Jr.). Funk has had more than half a century in the wrestling business, and he’s known for two things. The first is putting on some of the most hardcore matches in wrestling history.
The other, of course, is how many times Funk has retired. It’s become a bit of a meme at this point to use Funk’s multiple retirements (especially the “Forever!” promo), but most wrestling fans recognize how much he’s given to the business outside of that. Now 73 years old, Funk still hasn’t completely retired from wrestling, typically coming back every other year.
12 Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig is one of the wrestlers that made the list despite having a nickname that was more identifiable. Throughout most of his career, Hennig was known as “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. Hennig is also another one of the legacy wrestlers after his father Larry Hennig established a name for the family. There was a point where Hennig didn’t use his real name at all during the Mr. Perfect run, but he had already been known as Curt Hennig and many fans still referred to him as such.
Hennig wound up winning the Intercontinental Championship twice during his time with the WWE, and won a pair of titles with WCW. Hennig sadly passed away at the young age of 44 years old, not too long after being released from the WWE following the infamous “Plane Ride From Hell” that got a lot of the talent in trouble.
11 Bob Backlund
Professional wrestling has looked to the amateur ranks for many, many years to pick out talent, and one of the success stories that they found was Bob Backlund. Backlund attended North Dakota State University, and won himself an NCAA Championship while there. After graduating, Backlund went straight into pro wrestling training and found himself in Texas working with Terry Funk.
Later in the 1970s, Backlund would join WWE and was hot shotted toward the top, becoming a main event staple for years. Backlund’s career lasted for decades, and we still see him on television every now and then. Backlund was a two-time WWE Champion, and won a Tag Team Championship with Pedro Morales. Eventually, Backlund would be inducted into the 2013 class of the WWE Hall of Fame.
This one might be a bit controversial since he mostly used just his last name, but Goldberg was indeed his real last name. These days, Goldberg is more referred to as his full real name of Bill Goldberg, so he never technically deviated from his birth name. For the most part, Goldberg was already pretty well known thanks to a career as a football player at the University of Georgia and a 1990 NFL Draft selection.
Goldberg spent five years as a professional football player, appearing in 14 total games and making one start. When Goldberg started wrestling with WCW in 1997, he started a long undefeated streak that almost won the Monday Night Wars for the promotion. As you already know, Goldberg hasn’t really officially called it quits, and his most recent match came at WrestleMania 33 against Brock Lesnar.
9 Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero’s in-ring name was a shortened version of his full birth name Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes. Guerrero was the son of promoter Gory Guerrero in Texas, and Eddie himself became an amateur wrestler that attended the University of New Mexico. When he started as a pro wrestler, Guerrero was actually a masked performer known as Mascara Magica, and was then the Black Tiger in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In the second half of the 199os, Guerrero started wrestling under his real name on the mainstream and became a big success in WCW. After the promotion was purchased by WWE, Guerrero was able to make the transition quite smoothly. Although he unfortunately passed in 2005 at the age of 38, he had a long legacy in wrestling that included a WWE Championship and nine other titles with the company.
8 Jerry Lawler
Although his list of championships in WWE isn’t very long (he actually never held a belt with the company), Jerry Lawler is easily one of the most recognizable wrestlers in history. Back when there were territories all over the United States, “The King” was appearing in many of them, especially in his native Memphis, Tennessee. All in all, Lawler has won nearly 170 championships, including the USWA World Heavyweight Championship 28 times.
Lawler was able to find mainstream success on a national level, especially thanks to his feud with comedian Andy Kaufman. Lawler is still making the occasional independent wrestling appearance these days, and is still with the WWE as an on-air talent, though in a smaller capacity these days. Interestingly enough, he started his career as an on-air radio talent down in Memphis.
7 Randy Orton
When you’re a third generation wrestler, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be able to keep your real name throughout your career. Orton is the grandson of Bob Orton, Sr. and son of “Cowboy” Bob Orton. Orton started down in Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2001 with the hopes that he would be a main event talent, and he certainly came through. By 2002, he was already on the main roster and was linked with Evolution, and he hasn’t looked back.
Orton has won a World Championship with WWE 13 times, meaning that he’s getting awfully close to the record. At only 37 years old, Orton has plenty of time to make his way to the top of the record books, though there’s a certain other person that uses his real name in the way. More on that later.
6 Harley Race
While younger fans likely know about the likes of Jerry Lawler and Bob Backlund, there aren’t too many that know about the greatness of Harley Race. Race had a name that was perfect for the business, so he was never asked to change it when he started out in the 1960s. Race became a member of the American Wrestling Association and National Wrestling Alliance, eventually joining the WWE in the late 1980s.
Race also spent some time in the WCW, and has a slew of titles throughout different promotions around the United States. On three occasions was Race given the prestigious Match of the Year Award by Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and he became a member of the WWE’s Hall of Fame in the 2004 class, even though he didn’t win a championship with the company.
5 Brock Lesnar
One of the very few active wrestlers on the list, Brock Lesnar was already a well known commodity after winning an NCAA Championship as an amateur wrestler in 2000 at the University of Minnesota. Lesnar was immediately signed by the WWE and sent to their OVW developmental promotion, making his main roster debut in 2002. Lesnar received a fast track to the main event scene and hasn’t looked back outside of leaving temporarily for the UFC on a few occasions.
Lesnar has won the WWE Championship four times during his career, and won the WWE Universal Championship against Goldberg at WrestleMania 33. Lesnar’s been able to hold on to his title ever since then, having defended the belt at SummerSlam in a fatal fourway match. Thankfully, we have some more time with “The Beast Incarnate” as a result.
4 Bruno Sammartino
The original pro wrestling superstar, he was born Bruno Leopoldo Francesco Sammartino in Pizzoferrato, Italy. Obviously, the name would be shortened to simply Bruno Sammartino when he became a professional wrestler. Sammartino had come to the United States at a young age, and dazzled people with his weightlifting abilities. That translated into the ring, when kayfabe wasn’t broken and Sammartino was a larger than life figure.
The success in Sammartino’s career speaks for itself, as he won the WWWF Heavyweight Championship for a combined 4,040 days, including one reign that lasted for more than 2,800 days. Due to personal issues with Vince McMahon, he didn’t become a member of the WWE Hall of Fame until 2013 when Arnold Schwarzenegger inducted the legendary wrestler after years of waiting.
3 Kurt Angle
After finding success in the NCAA as an amateur wrestler, Kurt Angle joined the United States Olympic Wrestling Team to compete in the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Angle would end up taking the gold medal in freestyle wrestling, making a name for himself before pro wrestling ever came calling. Angle actually started out in ECW, but was never featured on television because he was shocked by how controversial it would be.
In 1998, WWE offered Angle a huge contract that he accepted, giving him a quick push. Angle showed that he had the total package between being a believable wrestler (since he was), great in-ring skills and amazing promo performances. Angle last wrestled while he was with TNA, but he has teased an in-ring return with WWE ever since joining the company as Monday Night Raw’s General Manager.
2 John Cena
John Cena really dodged a bullet when the WWE allowed him to use his real name when he made his main roster debut. When he was first signed with the company in their developmental OVW promotion, Cena was known as “The Prototype.” Cena has been able to use his real name despite not having family in the business or being an established brand before entering the WWE. In fact, Cena was a relatively unknown bodybuilder when he started his pro wrestling career.
Cena has been one of the biggest names in wrestling since 2002, putting on some legendary matches whether the fans love him or hate him. Cena is closing in on the record for most world titles in WWE history, having won the WWE Championship 13 times and the World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions. There’s little doubt that Cena will end up breaking Ric Flair’s record.
1 Bret Hart
We started the list with a Hart, and we’ll also end the list with a Hart. Just like his brother Owen, Bret Hart used his real name since it was identifiable with his family legacy as the son of Stu Hart. Bret, of course, would also use the nickname “The Hitman” throughout his career, but never hid his real name behind the gimmick. Hart is considered by many to be the best professional wrestler to ever live, and a lot of his matches would back those claims.
Hart was a huge name on an international basis, winning multiple championships with his family’s Stampede Wrestling, as well as WCW and WWE. Many would agree that Hart’s best days came with Vince McMahon’s company, even if things ended poorly the first time around. Thankfully, Hart’s been able to bury the hatchet with McMahon, allowing us to occasionally see Hart back on television.