Watching some of these current WWE Superstars inside of the squared circle, we are at times led to believe that they envisioned this occupation their entire lives. John Cena grew up thinking about inspiring millions with his slogan, “never give up,” while a young Mark Calaway thought about walking around in cemeteries. Although it might seem that way now, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, although he got an education, Cena struggled following college having to rely on a limousine service job. As for The Undertaker, he was just a dude known as Mark, thriving in basketball due to his superior genetics.
We also feature the flip side in this article with wrestlers that envisioned becoming stars, even during their high school days. The likes of Bayley, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor are all prime examples of that. All three experienced bumps along the road but as Mr. Cena says, never give up, especially when it comes to your dreams.
All 20 of these WWE stars did something right as it led them to lucrative deals. In most cases, they weren’t doing much prior to their WWE careers. In this article, we pay homage to their pre-WWE runs, taking a look at photos of these wrestling stars when they were in high school or college. As you will come to realize, time has changed the identity for a lot of these current WWE Superstars. Enjoy the article folks and like always, be sure to share it with a friend. Let’s get started.
Before she was “Bayley to Bellying” her opponents as an occupation, Pamela Rose Martinez had an obsession with the world of pro wrestling from afar as a fan. She envisioned becoming a performer her entire life.
It wasn’t all about wrestling, however. Bayley dipped into other activities while in high school such as basketball. Not only was she a member of the Independence High School team in San Jose but she was also the leader of that said team. As early as 2008, Bayley would change gears and start the pursuit of her wrestling dreams.
19 The Undertaker
It might be hard to believe, but he wasn’t The Undertaker his entire life. In fact, he was capable of smiling during his earlier days. At that point, he was generally known as some dude that went by the name of Mark Calaway.
Like plenty of others on the list, he wasn’t digging up tombstones at an earlier age but instead keeping active in high school sports. While attending Waltrip High School, The Undertaker was a member of both the football and basketball teams. He continued on with basketball until his university days. However, as of the mid-'80s, he switched fields into pro wrestling – a good decision to say the least.
18 Alexa Bliss
Alexa Bliss was a multi-sport athlete growing up. Although that’s great and all, according to WWE.com, Alexa’s mom worried that she was wasting time focusing on one too many sports. In truth, that’s just a mom being a mom. Bliss took part in softball, track, kickboxing, gymnastics, bodybuilding and cheerleading. So yeah, her mom’s concerns were understandable.
It all worked out for that young teen visible in the photo above. All those sporting involvements led to a WWE deal. Just a little over three years after signing her first WWE contract with no prior experience, she was already crowned as the WWE Women’s Champion. Not bad.
17 Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman posted this photo to his Instagram account and man did fans ever have a laugh. Back in his younger days, Strowman experimented with track, amateur wrestling and football. His father was an iconic softball pitcher, so as you might expect, the pressure to become someone was quite high.
He pursued football until the wheels fell off. Entering strongman was the best decision he made at the time as it got him on WWE’s radar. He definitely made his father proud as one of the most popular WWE Superstars nowadays. He has come a very long way from that confused looking kid wearing a Superman t-shirt.
16 Baron Corbin
At the high school level, Baron Corbin wasn’t thinking about anything WWE related, but instead he set his goals on a potential NFL career. He went full throttle during his younger days, as evidenced by the photo above. Corbin joined Northwest Missouri in college playing as an offensive guard. He wasn’t drafted but still managed to sign a deal with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts - though it just wasn’t meant to be.
Converting from Thomas Pestock to Baron Corbin, the current RAW Superstars saw his entire life change completely. Despite no experience, Baron caught on quite quickly thanks to his dedication to the new craft. Nowadays, seeing how his promos have improved dramatically, it is clear that Corbin can adjust to whatever he puts his mind to.
15 Brock Lesnar
In this high school photo, Brock Lesnar looks destined for a career in computer engineering or something of the sort. Who would have thought that this same dude would become an explosive amateur wrestler, one of the most dominant WWE stars off all-time and a former UFC Heavyweight Champion? Judging by the photo above, not very many could have pegged him with such a career, at least at that point.
What’s even more remarkable is his longevity. At the age of 41, not only is he still atop the WWE mountain, but he is also still in discussion with UFC for future marquee matchups.
14 Big Show
Even back then a pencil looked like a small eraser while in Big Show’s mammoth hands. Way back in his college days, not only was Show getting an education, but he was also working various side jobs such as a bouncer and bounty hunter! Meeting Hulk Hogan changed his life forever and Big Show would enter the world of pro wrestling. In large part, thanks to his overpowering look.
It took time to get adjusted but he finally caught on during his WWE days, improving his in-ring style thanks to the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin - who was rather harsh with Show in the ring. A lesson well learned, at least.
13 Finn Balor
What were you doing back in high school? According to WWE.com, Finn Balor was eating corn on the cob in his backyard while rocking a Stone Cold Steve Austin t-shirt. Wrestling was always Finn’s only love and destiny. Heck, he brought a World Championship title to his prom while rocking a suit! Now that’s some serious love right there.
By the age of 18, Finn was already off on his own wrestling for this likes of NWA over in the U.K. It might be hard to believe, but the young looking Balor already has nearly two decades of experience. That sets him apart from most on the RAW roster.
12 Nia Jax
Nowadays, WWE loves to state that “she’s not like most girls.” Well, at least in her theme song. However back in the day, she really was like most girls participating in her high school and college basketball teams.
However, unlike most girls, Nia Jax did a lot of moving around. She went from Hawaii to San Diego to San Marcos, California. That’s a lot of moving around for a youngster, let alone an adult. Despite her promising skills on the hardwood, Jax decided to follow her bloodline, joining the world of sports and entertainment in 2014.
11 Bray Wyatt
Certain wrestlers pretty much look the same throughout their teens into their adult life. Maybe not exactly the same, but quite similar. Bray Wyatt is a different story. If you take his high school look, early FCW look, Nexus look and main roster look, it is like looking at four different people. Never mind the Three Faces of Foley, what about the Four Versions of Wyatt? Maybe a new persona on the horizon?
His first love was both amateur wrestling and football. He played football at the college level as evidenced in the photo above. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, Wyatt wisely pivoted towards sports and entertainment.
10 Ronda Rousey
Ronday Rousey had a different kind of childhood. Instead of taking class photos with her peers, Rousey was out of high schoo,l dropping out at an earlier age, and instead, she would earn a GED.
Rousey’s ticket to success was in combat sports such as judo. By the age of 11, she was already taking part in judo competitions. As a 17-year-old, she wasn’t taking college pics but instead, Rousey was photographed for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. That was only the beginning for the “Rowdy One.”
9 The Miz
Attending Normandy High School in Ohio, he wasn’t looking like the A-lister of today but instead, maybe a member of the B-Team. Jokes aside, The Miz kept an active lifestyle during his younger days. He was the captain of his high school basketball team. He put his sporting skills on full display during the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, crushing some serious balls with decent bat skills.
The future looked kind of bleak for the former reality star. He was struggling with WWE both in and out of the ring. He was botching with the Diva Search while changing alone backstage and being yelled at by veterans. Despite the rocky times, he is now one of the most respected wrestlers backstage.
8 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho wasn’t breaking any walls down at that point. He was still a long ways away from becoming the current wrestling legend. Jericho’s family moved to Winnipeg and he would get his education in Manitoba. Chris even graduated with top honors in Creative Communications from Red River College, in Winnipeg.
After earning his degree, Jericho followed his heart entering the squared circle at the age of 19. It was rather evident real quick that Chris was destined to become something special. Almost 30-years later, he is still a talking point in the wrestling industry, that’s truly remarkable.
7 Charlotte Flair
Watching Charlotte Flair in the ring, you would think she was training for this her entire life. However, that’s more due to her genetic superiority. Flair was a multi-sport athlete before joining WWE, thriving in volleyball and track. Following her bachelor’s in P.R., Flair decided against pro wrestling, entering the field of personal training.
She wisely reconsidered and in 2012, Charlotte would join NXT. Nowadays, she is arguably the top performer in the entire WWE and perhaps, the entire landscape of women’s pro wrestling.
6 The Bella Twins
The soccer twins? That might have been their collective nickname back in the day. Prior to WWE and reality television fame, the Bellas kept active with their athletics. During their college stay at Grossmont College, Nikki persisted with her soccer career.
Nikki eventually made the wise choice to follow Brie to Los Angeles in search of stardom in the entertainment industry. A WWE Diva Search audition changed everything for the twins. They weren’t offered a spot on the reality show but instead, they received something better; WWE developmental deals.
5 Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler was likely the same show-off back in high school. However, he had ever right to show off, becoming an amateur wrestling legend for his high school, St. Edward. Ziggler set the record for most pins in a career, at 82. That same success would continue into his collegiate days. While at Kent University, Ziggler continued to dominate the field setting other records for most wins.
Given his success and wealth of experience, Dolph caught WWE’s attention. Despite a harsh start to his main roster career with The Spirit Squad, Ziggler was able to overcome that failed gimmick, turning into a household name shortly after.
4 Seth Rollins
Similar to the likes of Bayley and Finn Balor, Seth Rollins had one goal, and that was to make it in the wrestling industry. While trying to focus on his high school academics, Rollins was setting up backyard wrestling events at the same time. It became obvious real quick that his destiny was between the ropes (literally, the guy dives out of those ropes onto his opponents on a nightly basis).
Known as Tyler Black, Rollins made a name for himself outside of WWE with ROH. Once he debuted with The Shield, it was obvious he was a big time star for the future.
3 Stephanie McMahon
Both Stephanie and Shane McMahon have admitted that growing up with such a family background wasn’t the easiest. The McMahon family name was rather polarizing at the time. Some judged both Shane and Stephanie because of it, unfairly of course.
Stephanie got a full education, earning a degree from Boston University in Communications. Early on, she worked the office life with WWE, becoming a receptionist and later an Account Executive. Former Head of Creative, Vince Russo changed her life forever making Stephanie an on-screen act. Despite all of Russo’s later faults, he got the Stephanie decision right on.
2 Roman Reigns
At one point, Roman Reigns' football career looked quite promising. Playing three years at the high school level, Roman was named Defensive Player of the Year. Those accolades would carry him toward the NFL Draft, though he went undrafted. Moving on isn’t the easiest thing, but Roman was forced to pivot when NFL success was no longer an option.
Working for his family’s furniture company, Reigns had a light bulb moment, deciding on a WWE career. Those failed football days are long in the rear-view mirror. A similar story to Dwayne Johnson, Reigns would become a mammoth success for the WWE despite his football failure.
1 John Cena
He lives by three words, “never give up.” That statement really explains John Cena's rise to the top. He had very little growing up, yet he also managed to make the best of every situation. Following his college degree in exercise physiology, Cena was forced into a limousine driver gig in order to pay the bills. His hustle was all well worth it. In 2000, he would sign a WWE deal.
Although early on his future looked sketchy, Cena would turn into one of the greatest wrestling stars of all-time. When it comes to WWE’s Mount Rushmore, Cena definitely deserves a permanent spot. That young bald dude in the photo above would be proud.