Most wrestlers begin their careers in the limelight as unknown entities. By working hard at their craft and developing their own personalities, they eventually make a name for themselves – gaining at least some fans along the way to titles and championships.
However, it’s very rarely a smooth ride for many wrestling professionals in an industry that has a lot to do with all-round personality, charisma, mic skills and of course, in-ring talent. That’s why wrestlers are very rarely loved from the get-go. It often takes fans and the wrestling fraternity a while to warm up to these newbies, but sometimes, attitude problems and issues inside and outside of the ring does little to help their cause.
When you get into wrestling you essentially become a public figure and for some of these wrestlers, that’s a bad thing as it allows the fans to gain an insight into their real characters, real attitudes and beliefs. Some wrestlers go on to change this public perception of themselves, while others are content to be hated throughout their careers.
The following list features the top 15 wrestlers who were once hated by fans but eventually turned things around and made fans realize they had the goods to succeeed.
15 Shawn Michaels
Michaels is undoubtedly one of wrestling’s most decorated pros. He’s won numerous championships across various promotions, but will mainly be remembered for his time with WWE. Look at his accomplishments and his in-ring credentials and you’d probably think Michaels was loved by the wrestling public from the get-go, right? Wrong! He only really rose to prominence at the turn of the century, and even then, the fan base that he won over was mainly in yhe United States. Towards the end of his career, no one can dispute the fact he was a high profile competitor.
But until then, especially early in his career, Michaels was hated by pretty much everybody, both other professionals and a large portion of male fans. Many wrestlers have described him as being an egotistical maniac with a major attitude problem, and this spilled out into the public’s eye, which also began to see this side to Michaels’ personality. Fans and those who know a bit about pro wrestling would also recall that in 1996 as champion, he didn’t draw the fans to major events – many people shunned him because of that. This period coincided with his drug problems and even Michaels has acknowledged that he was a jerk during that time and has called himself an “a**hole” during the 1990s.
14 Roman Reigns
There were many fans who didn’t give Roman Reigns the time of day when he first arrived onto the scene. Having arrived from professional football, many people were sceptical about this new guy on the block, a guy who didn’t really have much wrestling experience at the time. They thought he got a contract with WWE because of his connection to the Anoaʻi family – a family that carries a lot of clout in the industry. The fact that he’s headlined a lot of major events and taken the place of some prominent stars hasn’t helped the fans' attitudes towards him. Over the years, he didn’t do much to change people’s perceptions of him. His bland character and dead personality did nothing to endear him to the crowds, and combined with his limited in-ring skills and rather embarrassing mic skills, he was hated and in many people’s eyes, destined to flop.
But despite this, he’s persevered and has slowly but surely begun to win a lot of people over. He’s won several championships and is slowly coming into his own in the industry. Reigns is billed to be the next superstar in WWE, so more and more people have begun taking an interest and are getting on board to follow his journey – his potential rise to stardom.
Batista’s rise to the top happened pretty suddenly and very quickly. He seemingly came out of nowhere to be given title opportunities. This didn’t sit well with many fans who thought he was taking the place of other, more deserving wrestlers, and was getting preferential treatment from the company. This quick rise to fame just exacerbated Batista’s ego, and it seemed he felt it was his place to shut other people up; he had real clashes with fan favorite Booker T and has even threatened fans, too.
Whether it’s the same fans who hate Batista who have come to see him get obliterated, or it’s the fans that he’s won over, one thing’s for sure: Batista sure has drawn in the crowds. In other words, although there may be some lingering hate for Batista, he’s certainly developed a strong fan base over the years, and some of the same fans who once hated him have recognized the star appeal of Batista.
12 Randy Orton
Although Randy Orton has been around for what seems like forever, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Orton. Like we mentioned in the intro to this article, sometimes professional and personal issues can’t be separated and personal problems spill over into a person’s professional life. That’s what happened in Orton’s case. The fans came to know of his past misdemeanors, such as his dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Marines, and started forming opinions of him in their head. This wasn’t helped by his actions while with the company. He’s been suspended numerous times, is – or was – considered to be an all-round bad guy with a real negative attitude. He’s also berated fellow wrestlers, which hasn’t helped fans see him in a new light.
Despite these issues, Orton’s still with WWE, still going strong. He’s beginning to win people over because he now seems content – more content than ever before – to give other wrestlers a chance. The beating he took at the hands of Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam has also surely won the respect of many who have dissed Orton in the past.
The entire rich man, arrogant persona that JBL portrayed did nothing to endear him to the fans. Sure he was playing a gimmick, but it was actually a take on his real life persona as a stock market investor, and his entire attitude really pissed people off, including the fans. The fiery-tempered businessman had an ego the size of Long Island, which was stroked by the company as many felt WWE gave him preferential treatment; he got more opportunities than a lot of other stars in the mid-2000s and was forcibly pushed to the top of the card during this time when many felt there were other more deserving wrestlers.
JBL hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, but people are now beginning to take a shine to that touch of arrogance in his personality, meaning he’s gained a heap of popularity as a commentator. Initially, people thought he didn’t deserve the chances that came his way, but he grew to be a great heel on SmackDown, in a way justifying the company’s decision to give him that push. He ultimately vindicated the company, as many fans would now agree.
10 Lex Luger
Lex Luger got into wrestling by sheer dumb luck, despite having no wrestling background, yet was given a shot at the big time just a couple of weeks after making his debut. Because of this, and due to the opportunities he got over the next few years, many fans were outraged and felt that he hadn’t paid his dues, that winning the Florida Championship just two weeks after his debut was a kick in the teeth of the other pros who had worked hard for so many years.
He arrived into the wrestling industry from the NFL and because of that, his ego was already sky high. The fact that he was winning championships so soon after making the switch gave him even more of an ego boost and he was incredibly arrogant backstage.
His arrogant persona has slowly melted away over the years, revealing a softer side to his personality. He became more mellow after finding religion and has shunned his egotistical attitude. The fact that he’s now helping young up-and-coming guys and is working with WWE on their Wellness Policy has helped change many people’s perceptions of him and has endeared him to a lot of fans.
9 Brock Lesnar
Today, Lesnar is an icon in WWE, due to his skills and accomplishments, but also because of his successful transition to the world of MMA. He’s gained a whole heap of new fans because of his martial arts endeavors and has proven that he’s a seriously hard worker – you’ve got to be if you want to make it big in two major industries simultaneously. This has given him new found respect among those who previously trashed him and has given him a whole new, and large, fan base – people certainly want to pay to see Brock Lesnar.
But at times during his career, he found himself way down the pecking order in terms of fan popularity and many wrestling fans hated him due to various reasons.
Many felt he wasn’t serious or committed to WWE, as he retired to pursue other sports and outside activities. And when he was in the wrestling world, his ice-cold personality didn’t set the world alight; wrestling is sport entertainment, but when interacting with the pubic, it was as though Lesnar was in a comatose state – hardly entertaining.
The so-called pampered prince has also been perceived to have been selfish, but sometimes selfishness is good if it helps you reach your goals, as Lesnar certainly has.
8 Triple H
Triple H is a legend of the industry, simple as that – you can’t imagine wrestling without Triple H. Since you guys are reading this article, it’s fair to assume you know a little something about wrestling. So you should be aware of the immense power Triple H has been wielding in the company for decades. This hasn’t always made Tripe H a popular guy.
The bullying ways of The Kliq - Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Sean Waltman – ran things backstage during the 1990s. Triple H, Nash and Michaels in particular held a lot of clout and could pretty much run riot and do as they pleased without others stepping on their toes. Triple H was also like this - a backstage bully – away from The Kliq, and many fans came to know of his bullying tactics and some despised him because of it. Because of the influence he held over others, it’s unsurprising that Triple H got his way a lot of the time and because of this, he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. Preferential treatment is something the fans hate.
How has he won fans over? He has the personality perfectly suited to WWE, owns a share of WWE’s equity, and has tons of championships – enough said. He's also spearheaded the hottest brand in the wrestling business today - NXT.
7 Big Show
Initially, when the hulking giant made his foray into the world of wrestling in 1995, people were mesmerized by the utter size and on-screen presence of the man. But when they began to watch him more and more, they began to realize that he was only really in the ring because of his size, not because of any skills. His lack of wrestling training was soon evident and people began to hate Big Show more and more. He had a limited skill set and relied on his size to try and wow audiences, but looked very clumsy and ungainly in the process.
But over two decades later, he’s now a permanent fixture in WWE. He’s grown into a lovable bear-like character and his skill set has expanded. People have begun to recognize that he’s more than just a big clumsy guy - and he’s accomplished a lot to prove it.
6 John Cena
Today, John Cena might be a superstar, but at one stage he was anything but that. When he burst onto the scene and during those initial stages of his career, many people hated his entire persona – his in-ring persona and his interactions with people away from the industry. It was just his all-round personality, those same comments, those cringe-worthy jokes that many found abhorrent.
Many people also found that his skill set was below par, that he had limited skills, both in the ring and on the mic and hasn’t really made any effort to change and develop. As the years rolled by, people got fed up tuning in and seeing Cena do the same things. He was stale and should have slipped down the pecking order but kept getting opportunities that many felt weren’t deserved – add to that that he seemingly never lost clean, and it's easy to see why he was not well-liked.
Despite the hate and the naysayers, there’s no doubting that Cena has risen to superstardom. He also put AJ Styles over at SummerSlam and is beginning to give other wrestlers a chance.
His charity work which is very public also makes fans see him in a different light.
5 Hardcore Holly
Hardcore Holly may have had something about him in the ring, but backstage and away from the industry he was certainly more than a little hot-headed. He had a number of run-ins with fans and other wrestlers – incidences that became very public and made a lot of people turn against him. A notable incident was his altercation with Rene Dupree. Apparently, Dupree forgot to pay a parking ticket, prompting Hardcore Holly to threaten to kill him – a bit of an overreaction, right?! Then, when they next got in the ring together, Holly kicked his head repeatedly with a steel-capped boot. This incident didn’t help change his reputation as a bully; a lot of new talent felt the full force of Holly’s wrath.
But over the years, he evolved from his joke gimmick and became respected. His book also revealed a lot of things about him which made fans see him in a different light.
He’s also been totally committed to the industry through thick and thin and has come back from what was potentially a career-ending injury, giving fans a newfound respect for him.
4 Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash knew how to pull strings backstage and his arrogance and smarmy attitude when it came to all things wrestling rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. When he began to rise to prominence in the industry and get some backstage clout, many people – fans included – felt that he abused his power, which he wielded to protect his spot at the top.
Fans want to see guys who have a love for wrestling, but it was sometimes evident that Nash just treated it as a business, and stayed in the industry to keep the money rolling in.
He did nothing to smooth over these cracks and mend this relationship with his fans by regularly chastising those who dared to criticize him.
Despite these very obvious flaws to the guy that is Kevin Nash, there’s no doubting that he helped to revolutionize the wrestling industry. His business savviness eventually benefited others rather than just himself. He created the nWo and guaranteed contracts and is now a deserved Hall of Famer in many people’s eyes.
3 The Miz
Most wrestlers get into the movie industry at some point or other during their careers, but this usually occurs after they’ve made a name for themselves in the ring. But with Mike Mizanin, it was the other way around. He came into wrestling playing the arrogant TV star – well I shouldn’t say 'playing' because that was a take on his real life persona. His arrogance and ego were there for everybody to see and it certainly didn’t endear him to his peers or the viewing public.
People thought The Miz used his movie credentials and popularity – a small amount of popularity it must be said – to propel his way to the top; he certainly got a lot of opportunities rather quickly that were questionable to say the least.
This arrogant persona has dimmed down over the years and on Aug 23, 2016, he cut the best promo of his career gaining him newfound respect from some of those fans who previously hated him.
2 The Rock
You think of Dwayne Johnson now and you’d think it unfathomable that, once upon a time, he was actually disliked and in fact hated by wrestling fans. Cast you rewind back to the mid-1990s and you’ll remember a young, brash and clean-cut 20-something Rocky Maivia who thought nothing of badmouthing opponents and fans. His all-round persona certainly wasn’t anywhere close to resembling The Rock we all know and love today.
Again, it might sound ludicrous to say looking at all The Rock has achieved today, but when he burst onto the scene in 1996, people didn’t give him the time of day, didn’t appreciate his wrestling ability and attributed his place on the roster to family connections – he’s a third generation member of the famous wrestling Anoa'i family.
But over the years, people gradually began to appreciate him - he had the talk and charisma, and people loved his catchphrases. He's now one of the biggest superstars in history, ruling the roost in two industries.
1 Kurt Angle
When Kurt Angle debuted with the WWE in 1999, many felt that the Olympic Gold Medalist just wasn't going to cut it in professional wrestling. While many respected Angle's past accomplishments winning the gold in freestyle wrestling at the 1996 Summer Olympics, many were skeptical that Angle could make the transition to pro wrestling, which is obviously far different from a sport.
How would this Olympian, who was new to the wrestling business overall, all of a sudden learn the arts of cutting a promo, selling, playing to the crowd, drawing interest and piecing together a pre-determined match?
Angle was pushed pretty quickly as well, and fans resented it initially, but they soon began to see that Angle was in fact worth pushing. Angle learned everything so quickly and within a few years after debuting, he was already the best wrestler in the business.
It's hard to imagine the WWE ever catching lightning in a bottle with a former Olympian the way they did with Angle.