A journey of a wrestler in the world of sports and entertainment starts with the smallest steps. It is never certain whether the wrestler will indeed be a big star like the legendary Hulk Hogan or remain a mid-card star or worse spend most of his career even below that level. There are various factors that go into a development of a character of a wrestler - his in-ring ability, his ability to connect with the audience, his charisma, his mic-skills and then there is that ‘X-factor’ which can elevate one from the mid-card roster to becoming a main-eventer.
There are various stars who come through the ranks to the big stage and people go “Yes, I think this guy will make it big. He is a future main-eventer.” and then as years pass by for one reason or another his character just does not make it past even the first hurdle.
The stories of failures in the wrestling business are dime a dozen but in this article, we look at the opposite spectrum. We look at stars who started off low-key and not many fans would actually put their finger on these superstars and call them future main-eventers. Here, we look at top 15 superstars who were not expected to be huge stars but they defied the odds and became top names in the business.
Today, Batista is a Hollywood star, a multiple-time WWE Champion, has held numerous titles in the WWE and was a part of one of the most dominant stables in WWE, Evolution. Batista initially began training in WCW's Power Plant and was told by WCW trainer DeWayne Bruce that he'd never make it in the business.
When he started his career in the WWE his role was far from that of a headliner. In fact, he was not even a wrestler at one point of time as his character was that of a ring-side enforcer of D-Von Dudley. That gimmick though lasted short as Batista’s potential was spotted and he went on to join Evolution and subsequently became a top name in the company.
14 Nikki Bella
From just a pretty face to being the longest reigning Divas Champion in WWE history, Nikki Bella has certainly come a long way in the company. Having the advantage of being a twin did help Nikki in standing out from the crowd but her in-ring abilities were under severe scrutiny. Actually, they still are but she has come a long way from being a total dud to a decent performer. Her success is usually been credited to her relationship with WWE’s top star John Cena but as they say, it does not matter how you get there as long as you do.
After a brief trial with the WWE in the late 1990s, Fatu made a return to the company in 2002 as a part of a tag-team named 3-Minute Warning, a pair of enforcers for Raw GM Eric Bischoff with the name ‘Jamal’. But even that did not last long as the tag team was released within a year.
It was not until 2006, that finally after a gimmick change, he became ‘Umaga’. The name referred to the final and most painful part of the Samoan tattooing process with the meaning "the end. He quickly went to the highest level and even main-evented with John Cena challenging him for the world Title.
12 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy, the high flyer, the risk taker, ‘The Charismatic Enigma’, you could use a hundred other adjectives for this daredevil, but Jeff Hardy still wouldn’t have been pictured as a main-eventer when he started off. The tag-team specialist did himself no favors with the drug abuse and the after-effects of that, but Jeff Hardy from being a jobber eventually turned himself around and managed to stake a claim for the World Title in 2008 and also went on to win numerous titles at TNA.
11 The Miz
There was never ever a doubt that the former reality TV star would have any issues pulling off good promos but the same could not even be imagined for his in-ring ability let along being a top star in WWE. From being a runner-up at Tough Enough, The Miz slowly but surely made progress in the WWE hierarchy winning the Tag team titles, the U.S Championship and Money in the Bank, cashing it in to win his first WWE title and to top it all off, he defeated John Cena at the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania.
Christian might have always been the second fiddle for when it came to charisma and even in-ring ability as compared to his long-time tag team partner Edge, but his growth was remarkable over the years. From being a vampire in The Brood with Edge and Gangrel to finally stepping out and going on to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Although it was one of the most disappointing title reigns ever, with Christian losing the title within five days of winning it, Christian head-lined many pay-per-views following that so it worked out decently for him.
9 Bray Wyatt
If there was ever one gimmick change that changed a wrestler’s career in the past decade, then it certainly has to be Bray Wyatt’s. From being Husky Harris on NXT, to being a jobber in the Nexus revolution to finally coming up with what is arguably one of the most intimidating characters in WWE, Bray Wyatt has come a long way. Plus when you stop jobbing and answering to Wade Barrett and compete with The Undertaker at WrestleMania, you know your career is doing much better.
8 Mark Henry
Nation of Domination and ‘The Sexual Chocolate’ to being the World’s Strongest Man to the ‘Hall of Pain’, Mark Henry has seen so many ups and downs in his career that it is remarkable that he never gave up of one day being a top star at WWE. Mark Henry always had the physical strength to be a top star but a lack of charisma and weak mic skills could very well have been the reason for his late push. It took Henry over a decade to get to the top but his main event reign was very dominant and an impressive one.
7 John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield
In the late 90s, Bradshaw and Farooq had a pretty deadly tag-team combination full of power and domination. But even during the alliance with the Ministry of Darkness or during his APA Protection days, Bradhsaw never seemed like a huge star to many. But then his gimmick change to that of a wealthy, big-mouthed, fiery-tempered businessman, saw JBL manage to have one of the longest World title streaks in WWE with his 280-day reign being a very entertaining one indeed.
6 Trish Stratus
Though today we look at Trish Stratus as one of the greatest Divas of all time, when Trish was initially brought into the company, she was just a fitness model with stunningly good looks and was a manager to various wrestlers. Early on, she was mostly involved in sexually themed storylines including an affair with the owner Vince McMahon. But as her in-ring abilities improved and she turned into a crowd favorite, there was no stopping her from becoming a WWE Hall of Famer and seven-time Women’s Champion.
5 Dolph Ziggler
Remember the time when you heard “KENNY! JOHNNY! MITCH! NICKY! MIKEY! AND TIMMY! And we are, THE SPIRIT SQUAD”? Yes, the same ones who got human excreta dumped on them on an edition of Raw. Well, Dolph Ziggler was the ‘Nicky’ in that collection of jobbers. If that is not the lowest point for a superstar, I do not know what is. But from there on to re-enter the WWE scene with the ‘Showoff’ gimmick to being one of the best entertainers in the company and also winning the WWE title by cashing in his Money in The Bank Contract, Dolph Ziggler A.K.A Nicky has escalated his career a long way higher than expected.
4 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan does not need any introduction. The guy is a crowd favorite and could possibly do no wrong for the WWE Universe. But when you look at the Bryan now and the one which could eliminated from NXT way back in 2010, there has been a massive difference. The resistance to Daniel Bryan ever being such a huge star was unthinkably high but his in-ring ability along with his underdog status helped him win over the WWE Universe like no-one ever imagined.
Remember the long-haired guy in ‘The Brood’ with Gangrel and Christian in a vampire gimmick who drank blood during his entrance? Yeah, that was Edge. Edge was famous for his accolades as a tag-team specialist but the charisma and the x-factor or should we called it the ‘R-factor’ that Edge brought in the mid 2000s propelled him to a World title which subsequently saw him become a 11-time World Champion. Also his Rated-R live celebrations were pretty awesome too.
2 Triple H
Did you know that the Triple H of today was in fact a jobber named Terra Ryzing in his early days? Hunter Hearst Helmsley A.K.A Triple H almost messed up his chance of getting a push with the infamous MSG incident where ‘The Kliq’ consisting of Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Triple H broke character as Hall and Nash were set to leave the company. Though WWE punished Triple H by not letting him win the 1996 King of The Ring, Triple H eventually crawled his way back to the top and out of Shawn Michaels' shadow from his D-Generation X days to finally become the “King of Kings” and the ‘Cerebral Assassin’ becoming a 13-time World Champion to now running the operations in WWE.
1 Stone Cold Steve Austin
Speaking of the MSG incident involving ‘The Kliq’ and Triple H, the person who most profited from that was the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin. If it was not for that incident and the original plan of Triple H winning the 1996 King of the Ring would not be scrapped, the birth of Austin 3:16 might have never happened. It was after winning the King of the Ring that Austin delivered his epic promo telling Jake Roberts. “You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"
From being The Ringmaster to being ‘Stone Cold, Austin to date remains one of the main reasons for WWE’s surge in ratings during the late 1990s and into the new millennium and that’s the bottom line cause well, it just is.