In the world of wrestling entertainment, spontaneous, candid moments are few and far between. Oftentimes, the only look you get into a wrestler’s personality is the image he or she portrays in the ring. The over-the-top characters, scripted storylines, and the no-holds-barred matches are always intense and exciting. However, it makes you wonder what these entertainers are like outside of the ring, and how they achieved superstardom. Where did they come from, and how did their wrestling dreams take root? What drove them to pursue the lives of professional wrestlers?
Well, a good place to start if you want to get a fresh perspective on some of your favorite wrestlers is to take a look at their high school photographs. It’s hard to imagine that these larger-than-life characters were once regular people, just like us. They went through the same awkward grade school phases, along with dated hairstyles and wardrobe choices that render them almost unrecognizable.
Nonetheless, these photos offer a humanizing, humbling look at some of the men who ascended to the highest of heights in the wrestling business. Yes, Brock Lesnar once wore glasses. Yes, The Rock once sported a pencil-thin mustache, and yes, Bill Goldberg once had a full head of hair.
Don’t believe me? Have a look for yourself. Here are 15 shocking high school photos of wrestling legends.
15 Michael “The Miz” Mizanin
Michael Gregory Mizanin, also known by his ring name “The Miz” certainly lived up to his self-confessed geek image in this high school photo. Mizanin attended Normandy High School in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1990s, where he captained the cross country and basketball teams.
Mizanin also served as the editor of the Normandy High School yearbook, so it’s strange why he didn’t prefer to switch out or retake this picture.
Mizanin later shed his “geek” image in college, pledging to Theta Chi Fraternity at Miami University, and pursuing a brief reality television career in the early 2000s. He got his first big break in the wrestling business when he appeared on the fourth season of WWE’s Tough Enough in 2004. Mizanin made it to the final round but lost to Daniel Puder.
However, Mizanin still signed with the promotion the following year, and has gone on to win four WWE tag team titles and one WWE championship.
14 CM Punk
CM Punk is a true renaissance man in the world of wrestling. He prefers to be called a “mixed martial artist” now that he is in the UFC, but he is best known for his tenure in WWE. Punk was a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and two-time WWE Champion before moving on to MMA in 2014.
CM Punk was born Phillip Jack Brooks in 1978. He set up his own wrestling federation, known as the Lunatic Wrestling Federation, in the 1990s with his brother, Mike. He also attended Lockport Township High School in Lockport, Illinois, where he maintained a straight-edge lifestyle as a contrast to his father’s alcoholism.
Punk incorporated his straight-edge lifestyle into his in-ring persona, and forged successful runs in both ECW and WWE.
Unfortunately, his foray into MMA hasn’t gone as swimmingly. Punk lost his first UFC bout via first round submission to Mickey Gall in September 2016.
13 Macho Man Randy Savage
The late Randy Savage won 29 titles over his 32-year career in the wrestling business. “Macho Man” won four WCW Heavyweight Championships and two WWE Heavyweight Championships. He made the switch to WCW in the 1990s and stayed with the brand through the latter stages of his career.
Savage was born Randy Poffo in Columbus, Ohio in 1952. His father, Angelo, was a well-known wrestler in his own right. Poffo moved to Downer’s Grove, Illinois after middle school, where he attended Downer’s Grove North High School in the 1960s.
Poffo’s clean-cut, buttoned-up portrait pictured above stands in sharp contrast to the ferocious, trash talking persona he would trademark years later during his professional wrestling career. He ditched the fancy suit for colorful, unique costumes that made him stand out as one of the titans of wrestling lore.
12 Luke Harper
I know what you’re thinking. Where is Harper’s epic beard? I did a double take as well. Luke Harper, born Jonathan Huber in 1979, looks fairly unrecognizable in his high school portrait. Huber grew up in Rochester, New York, where he eventually made his wrestling debut for Roc City Wrestling (RCW) in 2002.
Huber ascended through several wrestling promotions, including Ring of Honor and Jersey All-Pro Wrestling, before signing with WWE in 2012. He joined villainous Smackdown! wrestling stable, The Wyatt Family, and adopted the ring name “Luke Harper”. The family famously feuded with the likes of Kane, John Cena, Randy Orton, and The Undertaker.
In late 2014, Harper captured his first title in WWE. He held the Intercontinental Championship belt for a mere 27 days.
Harper suffered a knee injury in early 2016 but returned to the ring seven months later to help Bray Wyatt defeat Randy Orton at the No Mercy pay-per-view.
11 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is revered across multiple wrestling promotions, including WWE and TNA. He has held five WWE world championships and six TNA World Heavyweight titles over his near-20-year career in the business.
In fact, Angle has wrestled since the age of seven. By the time he started attending Mt. Lebanon High School in Pennsylvania he had already had several years of experience under his belt. This high-school portrait shows Angle's intense, intimidating nature, one that likely explains why he was an All-State linebacker for his school's football team, and a Pennsylvania State Wrestling Champion as a senior.
Angle continued to wrestle through college and even trained for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games under Dave Schultz at Foxcatcher Farms.
After a brief two-year stint in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), Angle signed with the WWE in 1998.
10 Triple H
What can you say about Triple H that hasn't already been said? The five-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion is married to Stephanie McMahon, so he is literally family to chairman Vince McMahon. He has found renewed success with his own wrestling promotion, NXT. He currently serves as Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative, a post he has held since 2013.
However, before he rose to international prominence as Triple H, he was known as Paul Levesque. He is pictured here in the yearbook for Nashua South High School in New Hampshire. If he looked like the typical high school athlete, that's because he was. Levesque played both basketball and baseball in high school, in addition to bodybuilding.
Levesque eventually met world-renowned powerlifter Ted Arcidi while working at his local Gold's Gym. Arcidi introduced Levesque to former WWE wrestler, Killer Kowalski, who agreed to train the young prodigy at his wrestling school in Massachusetts.
Thus began the professional wrestling career of Triple H.
9 John Cena
It’s hard to argue John Cena’s popularity. Since 2002, Cena has enjoyed almost unprecedented success both in and out of the ring, and has become the face of professional wrestling over the past 10-plus years. Cena is a 15-time World Champion, and has successfully journeyed into the entertainment world with starring roles in movies and hosting gigs at award shows like The ESPYs. He even released a rap album in 2005.
Before his breakthrough in professional wrestling, Cena attended Cushing Academy, a private boarding school in Massachusetts. Yet, just because he attended a private prep school in the mid-1990’s doesn’t’ mean he was always straight-laced and serious.
Take this photo for instance. Cena looks at ease although it’s unclear what exactly he was doing when this picture was snapped. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was doing impromptu standup comedy, given his gift of gab in the ring, and penchant for one-line zingers.
8 Bill Goldberg
Fan favorite Bill Goldberg made his highly-anticipated return to WWE in 2016 after a decade-long hiatus from professional wrestling. Goldberg rose to prominence in the late 1990s after winning 173 straight matches in WCW. He made his grand entrance into WWE in March 2003, delivering a spear on The Rock on a post-WrestleMania XIX episode of RAW.
However, before his wrestling stardom, Goldberg played high school football at Tulsa Edison High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One standout in this high school photograph is Goldberg’s full head of hair, a stark contrast to the bald look he became known for.
After graduation, Goldberg accepted a football scholarship at the University of Georgia, where he played defensive tackle. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound Georgia Bulldog was drafted in the 11th round of the 1990 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams. He played in 14 games before an injury ended his NFL dreams in 1995.
7 The Undertaker
Mark Calaway became an icon in WWE as “The Undertaker.” He has worked under the WWE banner since 1990, and is the promotion’s longest-tenured performer. Calaway got his start as “Mean” Mark Callous in a one-year stint in the WCW in 1989.
Calaway was born in Houston, Texas, as the youngest of five boys. He graduated from Waltrip High School in 1983 and split his college years between Angelina High School in Lufkin, Texas, and Texas Wesleyan University in Forth Worth. He stood well over six feet tall and was a talented basketball player on both his high school and college teams.
However, Calaway soon decided to abandon his basketball aspirations to pursue a career in professional wrestling. It's safe to say he made the right choice. Calaway has since gone on to establish himself as one of WWE’s all-time legends since his debut as The Undertaker in 1990.
6 Mick Foley
Look at that stud. Yes, that photo is of none other than Mick Foley. This handsome, kempt look from his high school years at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York differs sharply from his long-haired, flannel-wearing image as a wrestler.
Michael Foley was originally born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1965, before moving to the Northeast as a child. Foley wrestled and played lacrosse in high school. He was even on the wrestling team with classmate and future actor, Kevin James.
Foley found the motivation to pursue a career in wrestling as a college student at SUNY Cortland. He was enthralled after seeing Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in a steel cage match at Madison Square Garden.
After a few years competing in independent wrestling circuits, Foley signed for WCW in 1991. He debuted as Cactus Jack as a heel before he eventually moved to WWE in 1996.
Edge grew up under quite different circumstances from many on this list. Born Adam Copeland in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, Edge was raised in near poverty by his single mother, who worked two jobs to support the household. He received early wrestling training from Sweet Daddy Siki and Roy Hutchinson, but soon put his wrestling hopes on hold to help support his mother.
Copeland attended Humber College and received a degree in radio broadcasting. He began training full-time after college, honing in on agile, mat-based wrestling skills. Copeland joined WWE in 1996, and the company agreed to pay off his nearly $40,000 college debt.
After adopting the ring name, Edge, Copeland won his first singles title, (the WWE Intercontinental Championship) in July 1999, and has since gone on to win 31 total WWE championships, including a record seven World Heavyweight Championships.
4 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Steve Austin and Goldberg may have feuded in the wrestling business, but they did share some commonalities. They both accepted scholarship offers to play college football but soon abandoned those aspirations to pursue wrestling.
Another similarity was that, like Goldberg, Steve Austin stood out in his high school portrait due to his flowing locks of hair. Austin’s blond mop, which he sported during his years at Edna High School in Edna, Texas, looks out of place given the shaved-head look that we so associate with him today.
Austin was born Steven James Anderson in 1964, and played football at the University of North Texas. He began wrestling in his early 20’s, and trained at the Sportatorium in Dallas. After several years with the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), Austin signed with WCW in 1990, he spent a brief stint in the ECW as well before signing with WWF in late 1995.
The rest, as they say, is history. Austin won 19 championships, including six WWE championships, four WWE Tag Team Championships, and three Royal Rumbles. He remains the only three-time winner of the event.
Austin was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
3 Brock Lesnar
When I first saw Brock Lesnar on the cover of the SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain video game in 2003, I admit that I was a bit unsettled. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound heavyweight sported a menacing stare, and looked ready to deliver the F-5 finisher at any moment. So when I stumbled across this clumsy-looking picture of Lesnar from his days at Webster High School, I had to double-check that it was indeed The Beast Incarnate.
Sure enough, it was. In fact, Lesnar was already enrolled in the National Guard when this photo was snapped. He originally grew up on a dairy farm in Webster, South Dakota. Lesnar was a prolific wrestler at Webster High School, accruing a perfect 33-0-0 record during his senior year.
He spent his first two years of college at Bismarck State College before accepting a full wrestling scholarship for the University of Minnesota. He won the NCAA Division I heavyweight wrestling championship in his senior year, and signed with WWE in 2000. Lesnar was called up to the main roster two years later, and debuted on a March episode of RAW.
Lesnar defeated The Rock at SummerSlam in August 2002, becoming, at age 25, the youngest champion in the title’s history.
2 Hulk Hogan
If anyone was more charismatic in the ring than The Rock, it was Hulk Hogan. Hogan almost single-handedly revolutionized wrestling from a niche interest into a global phenomenon. He won 12 world championships; he was a six-time champion in WWE and a six-time champion in WCW. Hogan also served as the catalyst for the explosion of WWE’s merchandising empire in the 1980s. Vince McMahon and WWE marketed Hogan inspired T-shirts, action figures, and cartoons.
Before his global superstardom, Hogan (born Terry Bollea) spent his childhood in Port Tampa, Florida. Hogan played baseball in high school and attended wrestling events the Tampa Sportatorium as a teenager. ‘
It might not look it from this photo, but Hogan was a talented rock musician during his college years, and his band, Ruckus, gained quite a bit of notoriety in the Tampa Bay area.
Hogan dropped out of the University of South Florida in the mid-1970s to focus on his music career, and soon began working out at Hector’s Gym in Tampa Bay. His work impressed Jack and Gerry Brisco, who eventually convinced him to quit his band and pursue professional wrestling.
Hogan won his first title (the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship) in 1979 and met Vince McMahon later that year.
1 The Rock
There is no doubt that The Rock’s “fanny pack” photo from the early ‘90s is epic in its nostalgic glory. However, this high school portrait gives that famous photo a run for its money.
Dwayne Johnson sports a stylish pencil-thin mustache in this portrait from his teenage years. In fact, Johnson referred to himself as “a handsome SOB of a man child” who “rocked a dead caterpillar” on his lip.
Johnson graduated from the University of Miami in 1995 and spent a two-month stint as a defensive tackle with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (CFL). After he was cut, Johnson followed in his family’s footsteps and turned to professional wrestling. He signed his first WWE contract in 1996 and debuted as Rock Maivia at that year’s Survivor Series.
The Rock was instrumental in revitalizing the struggling WWE in the late 1990s with his mix of charisma and unrivalled skill at self-promotion.
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