It’s only natural in wrestling history that guys change their character a lot. It happens constantly, someone debuts, they kind of get stuck in limbo for a while and then click on a character change to elevate themselves. Tons of guys have seen their careers on the low side until they find the right character to get themselves massively over and become huge stars. Evolution is constant as several guys have to go through changes before they reach that point and it’s rare to find someone who hits it the first time. The Rock and Steve Austin had to undergo big changes before they hit the big time and likewise for many stars.
It’s easy to look back at evolutions of the past (Hulk Hogan and Sting) but there are a lot of current wrestling stars who look a lot different than when they started out. They adjust their character, make changes to their appearance and build themselves up, becoming major deals in the business. Some have seen multiple turns but remain quite successful thanks to their great talent and charisma. Here are 15 current major stars of wrestling and how vastly different they were in looks and character when they debuted.
A rather famous example to be sure. Dustin Runnels debuted in Florida in the late 1980s under the arm of father Dusty Rhodes. While small and thin, he had potential and was soon pushed in WCW. He ended up being more skilled than his dad, at least athletically, a cowboy motif at times but still a mostly clean-cut babyface worker. When hired by WWE, Dustin changed everything as Goldust, a character truly ahead of its time. The gold makeup, the wig, the homoerotic overtones, the bizarre promos, it was astonishing to see and it got him massively over.
14 Bray Wyatt
13 Eric Young
12 Christopher Daniels
11 Randy Orton
Terry Richards was little more than your usual jobber in WCW. A clean-shaven husky guy, he lost in matches on their syndicated and Saturday Night programs and didn’t seem that great a guy overall. In ECW, however, Rhyno soon clicked as a monster tackling people and rising into one of the company’s biggest stars. He continued that for a time in WWE than TNA and ROH as well as the indies. In 2015, Rhyno returned to NXT and instead of just a “legends run,” got pretty over again with a fresh new attack style.
9 Brian Kendrick
Brian Kendrick’s debut ranks among the absolute craziest imaginable. After work in various indies, he was signed to WWE in 2002 and first appeared when Paul Heyman was confronting The Undertaker in the ring. Heyman wanted to “send a message” and out came Kendrick on a bicycle with a goofy red outfit to do a “singing telegram” of a threat. This naturally ended with him getting his ass kicked. Kendrick moved onto Cruiserweight stuff until he and Paul London enjoyed a long reign as tag team champions. Kendrick then moved onto his arrogant “The Brian Kendrick” character that got a mild push but he was dropped in 2009.
8 Kofi Kingston
6 Dolph Ziggler
5 The Hardyz
From a young age, Matt and Jeff Hardy were into wrestling, loved watching it and soon were having matches in their backyards. When they came to WWE, they were just jobbers in outfits of headbands and tassels, often in singles stuff. One bit had them as guys in uniforms opening doors at the 1996 King of the Ring show. They were elevated in the 2000s with their fantastic tag team wars with Edge and Christian and others and pushing themselves into singles work as stars.
4 The Undertaker
So many times WCW has dropped the ball with talent but Mark Callous remains one of the biggest. After showing some stuff in Texas as “The Master of Pain,” a supposed ex-con out for revenge, that got him hired to WCW as “Mean Mark,” a tall and imposing guy who was part of the Skyscrapers team and could have been a bigger deal. But WCW just saw a big slow guy and dropped him. Signed to WWE, The Undertaker was born, soon becoming a massive star thanks to his incredible aura and surprising skills.
3 Chris Jericho
Originally coming out as “Lionheart,” Jericho was a typical babyface with high flying moves, long flowing hair and a wild fun style. In WCW he kept it up before latching onto his character as an arrogant jerk with killer promos that won the fans over. Soon, he was taking off but still being held back by management. So he jumped to WWE with a huge debut and won people over as that cocky jerk Y2J.
2 Triple H
1 John Cena
On one of his DVDs, it’s talked of how Cena debuted in OVW as “The Prototype,” your typical muscle man. JBL has laughed, as he claimed he once thought “this kid doesn’t have a shot in hell” as he was just a power guy with an okay move set although his mic skills were good (like his “rewinding” of talking a threat). When he debuted in WWE, Cena was a clean-cut athlete, a good worker but just lacking that edge needed. He found it with a Vanilla Ice impression at a Halloween show and was soon taking off as the wild “Doctor of Thuganomics” to become a major star.
Since then, Cena has shifted to the face of WWE, its biggest star with fun antics, standing up for the troops and more. He is the biggest name in the business and to see him evolve from that muscleman is pretty impressive to show Cena’s fantastic skill despite his detractors.
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