“If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” This old mantra is actually quite true as most in sports and entertainment can attest. Many times someone fails their first time out but finds greater success later on and that works for wrestling as well. It’s rare a guy gets a great start and goes running along with it. Too many guys have to pay their dues a lot before getting more success. That goes for guys in WWE as numerous times, they’ve had runs, left and come back for something bigger. It was more common in the days when WCW and other promotions were around for guys to jump around. But even today, there are cases of workers whose early tries with the company weren’t that good.
Sometimes, it’s a case of them being too raw and not ready. Other times, they need the right character to take off while others just don’t click at first. It’s tricky but still notable how so many guys get a bad turn only to come back with a better one. Here are 15 guys whose first runs in WWE were forgettable but turned into stars later and how unique the business can be on second chances.
Back in the mid-1990s, Terry Richards was a guy you’d see on RAW and B-shows as a jobber who lost to some of WWEs stars. Barely out of his teens, Richards was a long-haired guy with a stocky build that just didn’t click with fans. After time abroad, he transformed into Rhyno, the massive monster in ECW who dominated as champion for a while.
13 Bobby Roode
He may be the oldest “rookie” on WWE’s current roster. Way back in 2001, “Rudy Rude” made some appearances on B-shows like “Velocity.” He had some skill but nothing special, losing to the likes of Perry Saturn and others in matches where the announcers were more interested in putting over other events than the talent themselves. After a bit of time on the indies, Roode moved onto TNA and soon became one of its biggest stars.
As the son of Dusty Rhodes, Dustin was naturally pushed to the upper mid card despite lacking a ton of experience at the time. In 1990, he got a few wins and was pushed into a feud against Ted DiBiase and Virgil. His TV appearances were rare, which ended with the Rhodes losing at the Royal Rumble. When Dusty left for WCW, Dustin followed and over the next few years, became a top worker as US, TV, and Tag Team champion.
11 Zack Ryder
Ryder’s career has seen some major ups and downs but started in a quiet fashion. He debuted in 2005 doing jobs on Smackdown. It took nearly a year for him to sign a developmental deal with WWE and spent time in OVW and then ECW and SmackDown.
10 Dolph Ziggler
His first gimmick is pretty forgotten as Nick Nemeth appeared as the “caddy” for Chavo Guerrero during his infamous “Kerwin White” phase. That was dropped after Eddie’s death and Nick was sent to OVW, only to be called back up as a member of the Spirit Squad, one of the most ridiculous stables of all time. Presenting a band of male cheerleaders as some sort of evil heel group was crazy and it didn't help that they were made out to be total losers in their feud with DX.
9 Dean Ambrose
It’s still a remarkable sight. Back in 2006, Jon Moxley was a jobber on SmackDown, notable for his bright pink hair. He had a good attitude and showed promise but nothing too sensational and was eventually cut. In CZW, he gained a major following for his skill and willingness to take savage blows in matches. Hired back with WWE, he washed out the pink and worked in FCW as Dean Ambrose. He had promise, and it was never more evident than when he joined Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to create The Shield and run roughshod over everyone. A long reign as US champion helped him out as the trio rose but it was assumed Ambrose would be shoved aside when they split up.
8 Owen Hart
In 1987, Owen broke out in Stampede Wrestling and established himself as possibly the most talented of the Hart clan. A great technical worker, he was a genius in the ring and rose up the ranks quickly. When signed to the WWE, it was assumed he’d be pushed under his brother Bret. But instead, he was saddled with a mask and costume as the Blue Blazer. His work rate was cut down and Owen had forgettable matches along the way.
7 Samoa Joe
It’s remarkable to see a much younger and far thinner Samoa Joe back in 2001, getting a shot on “Jakked” where he lost some matches. He didn’t last long as the influx of talent from WCW pushed him away and Joe would move on to help form Ring of Honor. He was soon wowing fans with his brilliant technical style and how, for a man his size, he could take to the ropes with ease. After his classic feud with CM Punk for the belt, Joe left for TNA and became one of their biggest stars. He held just about every belt in the company while riding high with some of the best matches TNA had ever seen against AJ Styles, Kurt Angle and many more.
Glenn Jacobs had what it took to make it in WWE. He was tall, strong and had a good presence but was saddled with some truly lame characters. In 1995, he came out as Isaac Yankem, an evil dentist feuding with Bret Hart. He then was given the “Fake Diesel” character which fans loathed.
5 Bray Wyatt
A football player and the son of multiple-time champion Mike Rotunda, you’d think this guy would have gone far pretty fast. He was a strong man with a good skill and seemed prepared to push himself hard. But then there was the name: Husky Harris. You just can’t get behind someone with a name so stupid, and his time in NXT wasn't spent well. He was part of The Nexus but just didn’t seem to click there and soon cast back to developmental.
4 Mick Foley
Foley himself chuckles about how he was once a pretty skinny guy when starting out in the indies. In 1986, he got a shot in WWE as “Jack Foley,” a simple jobber on TV shows. This included a famous episode where he faced off against the British Bulldogs in a tag team match. Foley went to the Bulldogs first to give the okay to do pretty much anything to him. He immediately regretted it as his lip was split by a savage clothesline and he took a harsh suplex for the pin. Foley did thank the Bulldogs later, as the beating proved to the higher ups he was willing to take some punishment in the ring.
3 AJ Styles
Styles had been doing well on the indie circuit as the 2000s began as his technical work and high-flying offense gained a ton of attention in the wrestling world. He was looking good in WCW in 2001 but the company’s end ruined that. In 2002, he got a few tryouts for WWE, appearing on TV and was offered a contract for the developmental school. However, Styles didn’t want to be away from his wife, so he declined. Instead, he cut his teeth in ROH and then became the star of TNA, holding every belt in the company en route to blowing away fans with his ring work.
2 Shawn Michaels
Shawn is fond of telling this story a lot on his DVDs. By 1987, the Midnight Rockers had taken off as AWA Tag Team champions and wowed fans with their amazing teamwork and moves. With the AWA doing badly, the two decided to take an offer from WWE and seemed ready to take off. However, a bar fight got them into major trouble. They showed up at Vince’s office with Shawn having just bought brand new cowboy boots and Vince couldn’t resist saying “those boots are made for walking” as he fired them. The Rockers bounced around the AWA, Continental and other areas before finally getting another shot at WWE in 1988.
1 Hulk Hogan
Yes, believe it or not, the Hulkster’s first run in WWE wasn’t that notable. He was a huge heel, a powerhouse guy with his look and build but he let manager Freddie Blassie do all the talking in promos. He had some flash but nothing too notable as he came up short against Andre the Giant and in a championship match against Bob Backlund. He was a decent heel but nowhere near the superstar he would become. Leaving for the AWA, Hogan clicked on his “Hulkster” character that led to success and nearly became champion there.
Thus, his return in 1983 was a major deal that boosted him fast as he won the title and embarked on his iconic run that transformed the entire industry. Everyone has to start somewhere, and even the Hulkster knows that the right thing will come, as long as you're patient.
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